Donald Trump in Wonderland

Literally everything our president says and does reflects the opposite of reality

Monday’s fawning Cabinet meeting was just the latest example of a doomed presidency driven by dangerous fictions

Early on Monday a colleague of mine messaged me with a link to a Politico article detailing how Russian intelligence has allegedly gathered “kompromat” on about 2,300 well-known American media personalities and politicians, apparently in conjunction with Vladimir Putin’s ongoing effort to subvert American democracy.

My political writer friend added, “This is scary. What do you think will happen?”

“Nothing,” I wrote back. “Not as long as Trump insists this is nothing more than a scam by the Democrats because Hillary lost.”

We can’t repeat this enough: The United States and our democratic institutions were attacked by a hostile foreign power, yet President Donald Trump refuses to do a damn thing about it. Not only is he still infuriatingly chummy with the Russians, gifting them (without reciprocation) classified intelligence inside the Oval Office and reopening housing compounds that serve as bases for Russian spies. He won’t even acknowledge as legitimate the very basic nut of the story, that Russia hacked the 2015-16 election cycle. Never mind the question of possible collusion for now. The Russians attacked us and there’s copious evidence to prove it.

Imagine if, in the wake of 9/11, the George W. Bush White House had refused to accept that the attack even occurred. The entire world would have thought Bush had lost his mind or that our entire nation was caught in the grip of mass delusion.

Either way, Trump is behaving as if a series of ongoing events that were palpably real weren’t so at all. Those of us who have followed Trump’s ridiculousness since the 1980s know that he’s perpetually full of crap. For example, you may recall his yarn: “Trump Steaks are the world’s greatest steaks and I mean that in every sense of the word.” But as a presidential candidate, and subsequently as the country’s chief executive, his world of make believe is unparalleled. Everything orbiting in Trump’s universe — a universe that includes his 62 million voters along with Fox News — is a fantasy.

Everything that’s real is fake and everything that’s fake is real.

Trump held a Cabinet meeting on Monday morning where he asked his department-level secretaries to offer allegedly unsolicited praise for him and to express effusive gratitude for the honor of serving Trump personally. The usually stoic CNBC reporter John Harwood described the meeting by saying, “Honestly this is like a scene from the Third World.” Indeed. Vice President Mike Pence said serving Trump was “the great honor of [his] life.” (Pence has three children, by the way, whose births must be way down on the list of honors.) Chief of staff Reince Priebus, who’s fighting for his job, said, “Thank you for the blessing you’ve given us.” Yes, I’m sure it’s quite a blessing to be in charge of scooping the rhetorical feces from the cage of a clownish supervillain who needed four tries to correctly spell “hereby.”

The Cabinet’s gooey, over-the-top praise was cloying and artificial, but in Trump’s world of make believe the president and his disciples were sufficiently fluffed, injecting every word of the Cabinet’s Eddie Haskell-ish ass kissing into the news cycle. Insofar as perception is reality, we can assume it worked on the faithful. If all these serious people think Trump is the greatest president God ever created, then it must be true!

Likewise, Trump expects everyone to believe there might be tapes of his one-on-one meetings with former FBI Director James Comey. Knowing Trump and the mendacity of his online blurtings, it’s safe to say there aren’t any tapes even though (to coin a phrase), “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” If the tapes exist, he’d release them. But releasing the tapes is irrelevant because as long as his base believes Comey is what Trump claimed — a crazy, cowardly grandstander who’s obviously lying about the meetings — then pretending that such tapes might exist is enough for the voters who matter.

What else?

Contrary to Trump’s world of make believe, there weren’t 3 million illegal Hillary Clinton voters, nor did former President Barack Obama have Trump’s “wires tapped.” The tax reform bill Trump says is being negotiated doesn’t actually exist. The American Health Care Act (also known as “Trumpcare”) will not provide health insurance to more people and will ultimately leave tens of millions of people with no coverage, among other terrible things. His tweets about the “travel ban” won’t help his chances in court and only make matters worse for the future of his executive order.

Meanwhile, Trump praised his record on jobs so far: While 1.1 million new jobs have been created since Election Day, 1.3 million jobs were created during the previous seven months during former President Barack Obama’s administration. (Trump has also forgotten about the supposedly “real” unemployment rate he mentioned so often during the campaign.) Trump insists the Democrats are feckless, rudderless failures who can’t get anything done yet they’re also effectively obstructing his entire agenda despite the fact that the GOP controls everything. And sorry, James Comey is telling the truth.

I could do this all day. Nothing Trump says is real or accurate — nothing. Even discussing his statements as if they’re mere off-the-shelf political lies serves to only normalize him when, in fact, what he’s doing is galactically destructive. The world has lost faith in America’s leadership or is losing it fast. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans believe Trump has gone bye-bye. Why? Because his fictitiousness is so completely obvious that we have no choice but to wonder whether he’s mentally fit to lead. (He’s not.) He seems to sincerely believe that his kooky outbursts and cartoonish threats sound legitimate when anyone with a brain knows he’s tilting at windmills — even some of his core supporters.

Congressional Republicans are excusing Trump’s loony behavior, for the moment, as the consequences of his being “new to the job,” arguing that his rookie stature is the source of his nonstop flailing. I’m all in favor of any excuses that underscore the president’s massive incompetence, thanks. But the GOP seems to forget that Trump has acted like this for his entire career. He sculpts his own reality to compensate for his endless roster of inadequacies.

But before too long — and I hope this is true — the president and his supporters will be blindsided by reality. Sometime soon, Trump will be fully exposed for his part in the Trump-Russia attack whether as a willing participant or a conspirator after the fact, orchestrating the cover-up. No fairy tales from his Twitter feed will dig him out. The story has to end this way. Trump and all Trump’s men have to be held accountable, otherwise we might as well resign ourselves to believing our democracy is owned and operated by the Kremlin. We can’t allow Trump’s delusions to become American delusions. The bedtime story Trump is telling has to end and end the right way — or else.

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon.com. He’s also the host of “The Bob Cesca Show” podcast, and a weekly guest on both the “Stephanie Miller Show” and “Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang.” Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

The Death Knell for America’s Global Leadership

In an op-ed, the Trump administration’s “adults in the room” envision America in the image of its leader: selfish, isolated, brutish, domineering, and driven by immediate appetites rather than ideals or even longer-term interests.

President Donald Trump sits with his delegation, including National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of Defense James Mattis during a meeting at the EU.
President Donald Trump sits with his delegation, including National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of Defense James Mattis during a meeting at the EU.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

DAVID FRUM

MAY 31, 2017

H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn may not be the most influential people in the Trump White House. But the national-security adviser and the director of the National Economic Council are surely the White House’s most presentable faces. When they sign their names to a statement of Trumpism at its most dangerous, we are warned: The so-called adults in the room are shirking their responsibilities.

On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed bearing McMaster’s and Cohn’s names. It’s a good guess they did not actually write very much of it. However, they now own it—and the United States must bear the consequences.

The op-ed originates as an attempt to tell a story of success about Donald Trump’s catastrophic first trip abroad. During that trip the president spoke at the dedication of a monument to NATO’s Article 5 pledge of mutual defense—but notably omitted to endorse Article 5 itself. That omission was heard loud and clear. Its power was only amplified by the shadowy Russian connections of Donald Trump, his family, and his entourage. In private meetings, NATO leaders were dismayed by Trump’s behavior and bearing, so much so that the ultra-cautious chancellor of Germany declared in a major speech shortly after Trump’s departure that Europeans could no longer completely rely on the United States. Her chief political opponent in autumn elections agreed with her, and went further, comparing Donald Trump to an authoritarian leader.

So that’s the pig on which McMaster and Cohn tried to put lipstick. How’d they do it?

First step is the Trump administration’s fail-safe response to embarrassment: untruth.

As the president stated in Brussels, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is rooted in “the courage of our people, the strength of our resolve, and the commitments that bind us together as one.” While reconfirming America’s commitment to NATO and Article 5 …

This did not happen. You’ll find here examples of statements by President Bush and Obama that illustrate actual commitments to Article 5. Trump quite visibly veered away from saying anything like that. More to the point—since language is judged by what it communicates—none of his European hearers believe that he said it.

In any event, the WSJ op-ed confirms: He did not mean it.

Here is a key passage:

The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a “global community” but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors, and businesses engage and compete for advantage. We bring to this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural, and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.

This passage purports merely to describe. But in reality, it is recommending—and recommending something incompatible with American leadership. The United States leads an alliance of other wealthy and powerful states. Italy alone has an economy equal in size to Russia’s. This alliance defers to American leadership, to the extent that it does, because it trusts that leadership to be exercised with a view to something bigger than the selfish interests of the United States.

Since 1945, American leaders have based policy on two facts: a zone of cooperation encompassing democratic, rule-of-law states; a zone of completion between the group of democracies and other groups on this planet. Within the zone of cooperation, the usual frictions and disagreements of international life were to be managed by rules, especially trade rules, adjudicated by neutral arbiters. The ultimate expression of national power—military force—would be put utterly beyond the realm of things to be contemplated. But even such less-extreme manifestations of sovereignty as intelligence gathering would be done collectively, as if in this area the five closest democracies—the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—almost formed one government.

The national egoism that had inflicted so much suffering before 1945 would be suppressed on a new vision in which international politics would come to look more and more like domestic politics.

This vision was not always achieved of course. There were and are many disputes even between friends. But the theory of the case was that within the democratic world, cross-border cooperation would be regarded as the norm and the ideal; state-versus-state competition would be abnormal and unwelcome. All established democracies at least formally committed themselves to trade regimes based on the principle of gains from exchange.

This is the vision that the Cohn/McMaster op-ed rejects.

The rejection adds a sinister tint to these words:

At every stop in our journey, we delivered a clear message to our friends and partners: Where our interests align, we are open to working together to solve problems and explore opportunities. We let adversaries know that we will not only take their measure, deter conflict through strength, and defend our interests and values, but also look for areas of common interest that allow us to work together. In short, those societies that share our interests will find no friend more steadfast than the United States. Those that choose to challenge our interests will encounter the firmest resolve.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and none of it is good.

First, those bold words about defending “interests and values” against adversaries sound ill in the mouth of administration officials who may owe their high offices in some degree to the clandestine assistance of a foreign adversary. So long as Russia’s attack on U.S. democracy in 2016 goes not only unpunished—but actively denied—by the Trump administration, they have no standing for this kind of robust language.

But they may attach a private meaning to that language. Trump himself and some of those who influence him pretty obviously regard the European Union, not Russia, as their most important adversary. Donald Trump has consistently refused to recognize even the existence of the EU, vainly attempting to negotiate trade agreements with individual member nations, despite their treaty obligations to each other. You can mark that attempt to Trump’s ignorance if you like, but according to German reports, Cohn himself—the former COO and president of Goldman Sachs!—tried the same gambit on the president’s trip.*

But here is the truest tell. You can have friends. Or you can have people you work with only when your immediate interests align. Those are not the same thing. The Cohn/McMaster op-ed uses the word “friend”—without ever making clear who belongs to that category—but its logic is that of a nation friendless and alone. Perhaps the most terrifying thing about the Trump presidency is the way even its most worldly figures, in words composed for them by its deepest thinkers, have reimagined the United States in the image of their own chief: selfish, isolated, brutish, domineering, and driven by immediate appetites rather than ideals or even longer-term interests.

Like Trump himself, this general and this financier who speak for him know only the language of command, not of respect. They summon partners to join them “to enhance American security, promote American prosperity, and extend American influence around the world”—and never anticipate or answer the question, “Why should we British, French, Germans, Canadians, Australians, and on and on through the catalogue of your disrespected allies join that project?”

Under the slogan of restoring American greatness, they are destroying it. Promising readers that they want to “restore confidence in American leadership,” they instead threaten and bluster in ways that may persuade partners that America has ceased to be the leader they once respected—but an unpredictable and dangerous force in world affairs, itself to be contained and deterred by new coalitions of ex-friends.


* This article originally named Gary Cohn as CEO of Goldman Sachs. We regret the error.

 

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/05/mcmaster-cohn-trump/528609/

Psychiatrist Bandy Lee: “We have an obligation to speak about Donald Trump’s mental health issues. . . . Our survival as a species may be at stake”

“Malignant reality is taking hold” in American politics

Psychiatrist Bandy Lee: "We have an obligation to speak about Donald Trump's mental health issues. . . . Our survival as a species may be at stake"
Bandy Lee; Donald Trump (Credit: Yale/Getty/Mark Wilson)

President Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the United States and the world.

He has reckless disregard for democracy and its foundational principles. Trump is also an authoritarian plutocrat who appears to be using the presidency as a means to enrich himself and closest allies as well as family members. Trump’s proposed 2018 federal budget is a shockingly cruel document that threatens to destroy America’s already threadbare social safety net in order to give the rich and powerful (even more) hefty tax cuts. His policies have undermined the international order and America’s place as the dominant global power. It would appear that he and his administration have been manipulated and perhaps (in the case of Michael Flynn) even infiltrated by Vladimir Putin’s spies and other agents. The world has become less safe as a result of Trump’s failures of leadership and cavalier disregard for existing alliances and treaties.

Donald Trump’s failures as president have been compounded by his unstable personality and behavior. It has been reported by staffers inside the Trump White House that he is prone to extreme mood swings, is cantankerous and unpredictable, flies into blind rages when he does not get his way, is highly suggestible and readily manipulated, becomes bored easily and fails to complete tasks, is confused by basic policy matters and is unhappy and lonely. And despite bragging about his “strength” and “vitality” during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump appears to tire easily and easily succumbs to “exhaustion.” Trump is apparently all id and possesses little if any impulse control. He is a chronic liar who ignores basic facts and empirical reality in favor of his own fantasies.

Between the scandals and the emotionally erratic behavior, Donald Trump would appear to be a 21st-century version of Richard Nixon, to date the only American president forced to resign under threat of forcible removal. In all, this leads to a serious and worrisome question: Is Donald Trump mentally ill? Moreover, what does Trump’s election reveal about the moods and values of his voters? How are questions of societal emotions and collective mental health connected to the rise of fascism and authoritarianism in America? Do psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals have a moral obligation to warn the public about the problems they see with Donald Trump’s behavior?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Dr. Bandy Lee, a psychiatrist at Yale University who specializes in public health and violence prevention. She recently convened a conference that explored issues related to Donald Trump’s emotional health and how mental health professionals should respond to this crisis. The proceedings from this conference will be featured in a forthcoming book expected later this year.

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. A longer version can be heard on my podcast, available on Salon’s Featured Audio page.

How did a person like Donald Trump become president?

My being a psychiatrist, I will inevitably see things from that lens. I also tend to think about the social context that gives rise to the current conditions. For me the big shift in our society has been the increasing inequality, and with that a certain segment of the population will end up suffering from an undue amount of poverty — a relative poverty actually, deprivation, a lack of education, a lack of health care and mental health care. All those things will contribute to worsening of collective mental health.

As a clinician, when you watch Trump’s behavior day after day — his lying and obfuscation, his apparent confusion and anger management issues — what are you thinking?

I’ve been thinking from the very beginning that he exhibits many signs of mental impairment. I recently organized a conference on this at Yale. Afterwards, there has been almost an army of people who have shared with me how they have been wanting to speak about this issue. I did not expect to get such a massive response.

What are your peers’ specific concerns and what are they afraid of?

This situation has come to such a critical level. In fact, a state of emergency exists and we could no longer hold back. We have an obligation to speak about Donald Trump’s mental health issues because many lives and our survival as a species may be at stake.

What are two or three things you could cite about Donald Trump’s behavior that causes you the greatest concern, worry or alarm?

There are certainly the symptoms that he displays. He has a great need for adulation. He is angry if reality does not meet his needs. People have been expecting him to settle into his role and become normal or more “presidential,” but that does not ordinarily happen among those with such personality traits. In fact, what we’re seeing is a creation of his own reality, a reality that will meet Trump’s own emotional needs and the need to impose that reality on others. It is his imperviousness to facts and reality that could place us all at great risk.

On one hand, he can just be cantankerous, moody, angry and a spoiled child. I’ve described him as a man-child or a clown king. But how do we separate that from saying, “OK, there is something going on clinically”?

One does not make the other mutually exclusive. In fact, one can both be immature and a jerk, dangerous and ill-intentioned. In other words, bad as well as mad. It’s really the combination that makes it so toxic and unpredictable that we felt that there was a need to speak out.

How should the “Goldwater rule,” the ethical requirement not to diagnose a person you have not examined, be balanced with mental health professionals’ responsibilities as American citizens and members of the global community?  

In  an ordinary situation where matters were not so intense, we could balance out our political activism and separate that from our professional goals and actions. But when there is such a grave mental disability that is affecting the public sphere, the political sphere, such as in the current position of power, then those lines get blurred. Given that all human health exists in an ecological system, there is no rule that politics will never enter the sphere of health or the mental health profession. Right now we’re seeing that it does.

When we have a president who asks, What is the point of having nuclear weapons if we cannot use them?, who urges our government to use torture or worse against prisoners, who urges his followers at political rallies to beat protesters up so badly that they’ll be taken out in stretchers, and suggests that his followers could always assassinate Hillary Clinton if she were to be elected president, there is something very wrong. All this attraction to violence, threats of violence, boasts of his own violence and sexual assaults, and incitements to violence — all these have an effect.

As a clinician, how do you figure out the causal arrows? Is Trump causing an increase in violence or is his presidency a reflection of deeper cultural problems in America?  

Certainly it’s not a one-way path. It happens both ways in that we have elected a president who was somehow very attractive to his voters. But then he stokes and amplifies certain elements in the population that in turn create more conditions for violence and danger.

Why do you think more of your peers have not spoken about these concerns? Are they afraid of professional consequences? Personal threats of violence?

One of my colleagues said this was not the way she wished to spend her life — in other words, to spend the rest of her life paying for an expression of her opinion by fighting lawsuits, by fighting for her license. There was a fear of having her license taken away. Yes, the fear was present then and it is present still now, such that when I was editing this book, I had two co-editors who initially signed on, but the more they heard about the possibility that their license could be in danger, that they could somehow be targeted for this, they pulled out.

How did you overcome that fear and anxiety? It’s easier to be a bystander to history. It’s easier to say, “I’ll let somebody else do it.” Instead you actually chose to do something.

In my case, it became a grave enough emergency that my conscience would not let me rest in peace if I did not do something about it.

As a psychologist, as a human being, as a citizen, why do you think some people choose to be bystanders and others decide to act?

Bystanders do make a lot of difference. Human rights abuses could not happen if bystanders spoke up or did not approve.

On a practical level, how do you think a president should be psychologically evaluated before taking office? What do you think the actual remedies could be for dealing with Donald Trump now? Can we invoke the 25th Amendment, so that if enough people diagnose this man and there is enough of an outcry he will be removed?

I think by sounding the alarm about his mental instability and position of power that some kind of consensus as to a process would be developed. As for the 25th Amendment, I don’t think that’s really a psychiatrist’s domain. But that is certainly one avenue that has been proposed and it’s the only one that would be possible in terms of a case of mental impairment. I think what needs to happen next is a collaborative discussion among people of different fields. We could speak to the president’s mental impairment, the effects of that impairment and the dangerous situation we’re in. Other people could speak to the best political and procedural way to do something about that finding. Those would be lawmakers and politicians.

What do you think the United States is going to look like after Donald Trump leaves office?  

He has exacerbated the pathological patterns of our culture. What would happen if the presidency continues? I think more damage will be done. In fact, the latter part of the book consists of some of the effects of his policies, including repealing the Affordable Care Act, his immigration policies, his tax laws and his military policies. All these things could have ramifications and reverberations throughout —his environmental policies, his educational policies. In fact, Dr. Robert Jay Lifton said at the conference that Trump’s style of governing could be described as “anti-governing.” I believe we’re at a crossroads.

We can either amplify and encourage Trump and his followers’ pathology, or we can stop it and look for ways that are more life enhancing, healing, corrective. When you see a person falling into illness, the deeper the illness grows, the less aware they will be of their illness. The more insistent they will be on destructive ways rather than ways that are healing and constructive. At a later point, doctors and hospitals will be the thing that they will avoid at all costs. That is why sometimes physicians have to hospitalize against the person’s will or put them on a stretcher. The reason why the law allows that, that society allows that is because they feel better and then they thank you for it.

That is why simply respecting the choices of the electorate when the electorate is not entirely well can spiral into situations like fascism. Remember fascism is not necessarily an ideology. It could be on the right or the left. It is also an emotional experience to a certain political structure, and people will cling to it regardless of how destructive it is to their lives, regardless of what path it takes them toward. The pull is emotional, not ideological or even rational. It’s a situation that needs intervention, healing and treatment. The way to do that is to improve societal conditions.

Why do Trump’s voters continue to support him even when his and the Republican Party’s policies will hurt them economically and in other ways as well?

Because it’s an emotional compulsion. It’s an emotional reaction. It’s not anything rational. Trying to reason with them will not help. It’s really the conditions that have to change. Malignant reality is taking hold. It’s a kind of pathology cohesion that normalizes corruption, violence and harm, and there will come a the point where we’re no longer disturbed by it. At that point, all kinds of human rights violations, wars and loss of life become possible. Mental health professionals have to become witnessing professionals who continually point out this dynamic and call it out for what it is, so that it does not become normalized.

The Trump administration, and I might argue to a large extent the Republican Party, has been leading up to a need to impose a distorted reality and a kind of imperviousness to facts onto others. Facts and evidence almost do not matter. What matters is the emotional commitment to either an ideology or what they believe will make America great again, restore their position, or give them the kind of pride or self-esteem that they feel they have lost.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

A coup in real time?

Historian Timothy Snyder says the Comey firing is Trump’s “open admission of collusion with Russia”

Yale historian says Trump has now admitted guilt; former intelligence officer says Flynn was a Russian agent

A coup in real time? Historian Timothy Snyder says the Comey firing is Trump's "open admission of collusion with Russia"
James Comey, Donald J. Trump(Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer/Mark Wilson)

Has the other shoe finally dropped? Is this the beginning of Donald Trump’s attempted coup?

Trump is a plutocratic authoritarian. As I have previously argued, it is fair to call him a fascist. He has repeatedly demonstrated this fact through his words and deeds both during the 2016 presidential election and now while serving as president.

Like the leader of a banana republic or a Mafia boss, Trump has surrounded himself with a small group of advisers and confidantes comprised mainly of his family members. He has contempt for journalists and the concept of a free press. He leads a cult of personality, marketing himself as an autocratic who will protect and defend his “forgotten Americans” against all threats foreign and domestic. Trump has no respect for the standing norms of American democracy. He and his supporters evidently believe that the rule of law does not apply to him.

Authoritarians are paranoid by definition. To that end, they ruthlessly consolidate power and eliminate any threats to their power. In keeping with this script, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, in a hastily written letter of dismissal delivered to FBI headquarters by Keith Schiller, the leader of the president’s personal Praetorian Guard. Comey’s firing was also endorsed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a man who has no credibility after having been caught repeatedly lying about his own contacts with representatives of the Russian government.

Comey’s dismissal comes one day after Trump appeared to threaten former acting Attorney General Sally Yates before she gave testimony to the Senate about Vladimir Putin’s efforts to subvert American democracy and the dangers posed by likely Russian operative and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump’s dismissal of Comey came on the same day it was announced that a federal grand jury is investigating Flynn and his associates regarding their financial connections to Russian interests.

Trump’s claim that Comey acted inappropriately in his handling of Hillary Clinton’s email “scandal” is an obvious smoke screen. In fact, Trump repeatedly praised Comey’s controversial decision to release on one of the last days of the 2016 presidential campaign a damning statement about Clinton’s emails, which clearly helped Trump defeat Clinton and win the White House.

The president’s decision to fire Comey is an enormous abuse of presidential authority. To all appearances, Trump is removing a threat posed by the person who is leading the investigation of his administration’s (and his campaign’s) possibly treasonous connections with Russia. Trump will now be able to appoint a political loyalist as Comey’s successor.

For a widely read interview posted last week on Salon, I spoke with historian Timothy Snyder about what Trump’s election means for America. (He is the author of the new book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.”) During that conversation, Snyder warned that the American people have less than a year to resist the creeping tide of authoritarianism embodied by Donald Trump’s regime.

Snyder also predicted: Donald Trump will stage his own version of Adolf Hitler’s Reichstag fire — a manufactured crisis or some other type of political or social upheaval — to enact a state of emergency or otherwise consolidate his power by subverting America’s political institutions.

Is Trump’s firing of Comey the next step in this direction? I corresponded with Snyder by email on Wednesday to learn his thoughts about this new development.

His “very first thought” on hearing the Comey news, Snyder wrote, “was that this was a far more open admission of collusion with Russia than even a confession would be.”

Snyder also saw the Comey dismissal as a step toward Trump expanding his power, in keeping with a pattern influenced by Putin’s Russia:

I wrote the first article about Trump and Russia 13 months ago, using Russian sources. The evidence has been overwhelming for a long time. I think it is only our basic desire to cling to some familiar reality that prevented us from seeing all this in 2016. The man shared his political advisers with the Kremlin and Ukrainian oligarchs. Trump owed his success as a developer to mysterious inflows of Russian cash. He won on the Internet thanks in part to Russian trolls, bots, and fake news. Some of that information war ran through Cambridge Analytica, where Steve Bannon was on the board.

Trump’s first foreign policy speech was written by someone on the payroll of a Russian fossil fuels company. Carter Page was also working for the Russians. And that’s not even considering what has come to light about Michael Flynn. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner failed to mention his own Russian contacts to get security clearance. Sessions also lied by omission, perjuring himself to become attorney general, about his Russian contacts. And on and on.

Trump’s whole campaign was an imitation of Putin’s political style, punctuated by pathetic appeals to Putin for friendship. This is what is known through English-language open sources. When you include that Russia has been carrying out operations to derail democracy and support favored candidates elsewhere, the pattern takes shape.

Snyder also said that Trump’s recent moves are consistent with the predictions made in his book “On Tyranny”:

First, the continued attack on truth, twisting it and undermining it. Using Comey as a source for his argument that he is innocent and then firing Comey. Praising and blaming Comey for how he handled the Clinton case. Undermining an investigation that is after a simple and important truth.

My Russian friends refer to agencies like the FBI as siloviki. The agencies that use force. For Trump to build an authoritarian state in the USA, the FBI must cease to be a police agency that investigates according to law, and become a top-down instrument of force: siloviki. That I think is what Trump would regard as normal.

Or to use the example of Communist takeovers: Communists always first went for what they called the power ministries.

Is firing James Comey Trump’s Reichstag fire moment? Look, we have here a president with no interest in democracy and no popular policies to get him through 2018 or 2020, who admired foreign dictators and their approach to terrorism — which means their exploitation of terrorism to create an authoritarian state. That’s the template Hitler left from his use of the Reichstag fire. But for that to work here, agencies like the FBI would have to go along.

I asked Snyder how the American people should respond. “Realize that the presumption now must be that this man is covering up a meaningful relationship with a foreign power that helped get him elected,” he wrote. “Read the press. Pay for it. Support investigative journalists. Demand an independent investigation. Urge multiple institutions to investigate. Continue resisting in all other areas.”

Former U.S. counterintelligence operative Naveed Jamali, author of the new book “How to Catch a Russian Spy,” has also been trying to warn the American people about the threat to democracy posed by Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. In a phone conversation, Jamali connected Comey’s dismissal to the unanswered questions surrounding the Michael Flynn case, saying the following:

Flynn was, in my opinion, targeted and recruited by the Russians and was in fact a directed agent. But that targeted recruitment happened well before he met Donald Trump. Sally Yates informed the White House of those concerns. Once you are informed of those security concerns, your duty is to remove those personnel who are under suspicion. Trump’s decision to not do that raises serious concerns about his judgment, and frankly a lot of people will question if that event rises to a level where he should not remain president.

Jamali added this:

Keeping someone as a national security adviser — one of the highest-level Cabinet positions — when the Department of Justice and FBI present you with concerns that this man is a security risk, and to keep this person in place because of partisan reasons, questions Trump’s credibility and ability to stay neutral. It is very simply one of the greatest impacts of the 2016 election.

What is not being discussed is that this is a breathtaking counterintelligence failure on our part. The Russians succeeded. That this is not being discussed is disturbing. I want Americans to understand that the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans or Iranians may use a similar tactic. We as a country have to take a stance like after 9/11, where we investigate and take a different posture more suitable for these new threats from abroad.

In total, Trump’s firing of Comey, his hostility to an independent judiciary, his authoritarian behavior and his evident attempts to control or contain the investigation into his connections to Russia add up to a constitutional crisis. Unfortunately, Trump is being aided and abetted in his irresponsible, and perhaps even criminal behavior, by a Republican Party that, to this point, values power and partisan politics over loyalty to country and true patriotism. Trump’s supporters among the American people are deeply devoted to their leader, even if that means siding with Putin’s Russia and spitting in the face of American democracy. They are authoritarian lemmings.

While the supposedly “liberal” news media wrestles with its confusion about telling the ugly truth about Trump and the fascist movement he represents, the conservative media serves as Trump’s personal echo chamber, much as Pravda and other state-sponsored publications served the Communist Party during the Soviet era.

Unfortunately, this state of emergency is the new normal in America. In the future, people who are now living will tell their children and grandchildren how they watched American democracy being surrendered to plutocratic authoritarianism and fascism in real time. These same children and grandchildren will ask, “Why didn’t you do anything to stop it?” What will we tell them?

History is watching. The American people now have to choose if they will be bystanders or agents in their own destiny. I am deeply saddened that so many Americans seem ready and willing to choose the first option.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

Donald Trump literally knows nothing: The moronic fiction of his “really, really good” health care plan is now obvious

Trump’s idiotic pronouncements on health care can’t conceal that he has no plan and doesn’t understand the details

Donald Trump literally knows nothing: The moronic fiction of his "really, really good" health care plan is now obvious
(Credit: Getty/Saul Loeb/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Photo montage by Salon)

President Donald Trump’s ridiculous plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would be slightly less disgusting if we were confident that he knew what the hell he was talking about. Throughout the past two years, though, it’s impossible to point to a single instance in which anyone, including Trump’s staff and supporters, could say that he totally nailed the nuances of the issue. Not once — ever.

Sure, he’s regularly claimed that the ACA is collapsing, contrary to the recent scoring by the Congressional Budget Office. He’s also mentioned that the ACA is a disaster. Same situation. He’s mentioned that under his replacement plan, everyone will have coverage that he or she loves and will save a lot of money in the process.

Oh, and he said something about keeping the ACA’s language about pre-existing conditions and “children living with their parents.” He noted the latter on a small, seldom-watched show called “60 Minutes,” despite the fact that there’s nothing in the law about covering kids who live with their parents. Yeah, it’s one of the top two most popular aspects of the ACA, and he couldn’t accurately describe it:   The law allows adult children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26 — regardless of where they live.

Perhaps Trump’s ignorance about the law is allowed to slide because his supporters know even less about the ACA than he does. Though it’s not just when Trump talks about the ACA that he sounds like an eighth-grader bluffing his way through an essay exam. That describes everything he says about health care in general. The president who chose health care reform as his big legislative goal in his first 100 days doesn’t know anything about how health care works.

As part of his effort to resurrect a major legislative crash and burn, what’s been nicknamed “Trumpcare,” the president fielded a question last week about the status of his negotiations with the House Freedom Caucus, the far-right hotheads largely identified with members of the Tea Party.

During a joint press conference with the president of Italy, Trump said, “The plan gets better and better and better, and it’s gotten really, really good. And a lot of people are liking it a lot. We have a good chance of getting it soon; I’d like to say next week, but it will be — I believe we will get it, and whether it’s next week or shortly thereafter.”

Words have no meaning for Trump.

“It’s gotten really, really good” isn’t the language of a man who’s familiar with the details. In fact, he can’t say anything specific about anything related to health care, for two reasons. First, he just doesn’t know. Generally, the ongoing rule about Donald Trump is that he knows nothing. Second, the details of Trumpcare, at least in terms of what’s being discussed partly in secret, totally undermine his promises for universal, affordable coverage. Discussing those details out loud would expose the game. Oh and incidentally, “gotten really, really good” might sound familiar because it’s the same awkward phrase Will Ferrell once used in a George W. Bush parody video back in 2004 (check the YouTube clip at 40 seconds in). In other words, at least until recently, describing how things have “gotten really, really good” was merely a joke at the expense of stupid people. Now the actual president talks like that. Hashtag Make America Great Again.

Nevertheless, if Trump were to actually tell us what’s in the latest version of Trumpcare, he might have to acknowledge that there’s no legislative text; there’s no actual bill yet. Nothing exists on paper. He’d also have to acknowledge that this new iteration won’t be more affordable and indeed that many more people will be kicked off their insurance policies under the new “really, really good” version of Trumpcare than would have lost insurance under the now-defunct American Health Care Act.

Donald Trump literally knows nothing: The moronic fiction of his “really, really good” health care plan is now obvious.

The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson called Trumpcare 2.0 “comically bad.” But that language understates the awfulness of what’s being debated. Robinson reported last week that proponents of this new version are claiming it would protect essential health benefits (covering things like “hospitalization, maternity and emergency care” according to Robinson) and protect people with pre-existing conditions.

But here’s the catch. States will be able to opt out of covering essential health benefits. We can assume most red states will opt out, not unlike the way they opted out of the Medicaid expansion, for no other reason than they hate Obama. Smart. (By the way, the new version preserves the slow phaseout of the Medicaid expansion.) States can also opt out of the pre-existing conditions language as long as they create “high risk pools.” Of course this is totally unacceptable because Trumpcare 2.0 doesn’t prevent insurers from charging dramatically higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions — basically rebuilding the pre-ACA system of gouging and usury against people who need health care the most.

Making matters worse, especially in the near term, it appears as though Trump is planning to use subsidy payments to customers with existing ACA marketplace policies as potential ransom in the forthcoming battle over a potential government shutdown. To put it another way, if the Democrats don’t agree to support appropriations to build Trump’s ridiculous border wall, Trump will withhold subsidies for literally millions of ACA customers. That means Trump haters in blue states and, yes, Trump fanboys in red states, too. Everyone living below 400 percent of the federal poverty level will lose their subsidies unless the Democrats vote for Trump’s pointless wall, which (not insignificant) was supposed to be financed by Mexico.

If both sides fail to agree, the government will be shut down as of Saturday. So Trump is basically saying, “Yeah, I promised Mexico will pay for the wall. But now that I’m reneging on a major platform plank like the weasel I am, I’m going to hold the lives of millions for ransom.” Yes, this is the bargaining position of the chief executive who pledged in his inaugural address to be the people’s president. America first, etc.

Really, really gotten good? You decide.

Again, we have no choice but to wonder whether Trump has even the slightest idea what’s at stake. Does he know how many of his red-blooded MAGA-hat wearing loyalists will lose their subsidies in this ludicrous cash grab for the border wall? Do his loyalists know? I doubt it. Does he even understand how and why the ACA subsidies are distributed? Does he realize how obvious it is that he’s entirely clueless about what will happen in a government shutdown or that his health care plan will lead to far worse outcomes than the current situation — even if the ACA marketplaces collapse, as he has predicted?

Does he know that the marketplaces are only a part of a more comprehensive pair of Obamacare-related bills containing critically important consumer protections, which are supported by majorities of Americans? No way. He knows none of it. It’s worth repeating this maxim because the more we internalize it, the more we embrace the horror, the better: Trump knows nothing.

 

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon.com. He’s also the host of “The Bob Cesca Show” podcast, and a weekly guest on both the “Stephanie Miller Show” and “Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang.” Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

America is “a democracy on life support — it can’t breathe”

Philosopher Henry Giroux on the culture of cruelty and Donald Trump:

Author of a new book on Trump’s rise says we face “something so dark, so real, so evil” with no clear precedent

Philosopher Henry Giroux on the culture of cruelty and Donald Trump: America is "a democracy on life support — it can’t breathe"
(Credit: Getty/Jim Watson/Shutterstock)

Next week we will mark the 100th day that Donald Trump has been president of the United States. Tens of millions of Americans are still in a state of shock. These 100 days have made them feel like enemy outsiders in their own country.

It was said some years ago that “when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” This left the American people unprepared for how neofascism came instead in the form of Donald Trump, a reality TV star, racist, bigot, con artist and professional wrestling aficionado.

How did the United States arrive at this moment?

The American news media betrayed its sacred role as guardians of democracy who inform the public so that they can be responsible citizens who make informed political decisions.

There is a deep crisis of faith and trust in America’s political and social institutions. America’s political culture is highly polarized and divisive. The Republican Party has embraced a strategy of destroying the existing political rules and norms that make effective governance possible. Today’s conservatism is regressive and reactionary. It is an enemy of the commons and of the very idea of government.

Racism, bigotry and nativism compelled Donald Trump’s voters to act out in a nihilistic temper tantrum.

Voter demobilization and gerrymandering have subverted democracy and given Republicans a political chokehold on the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin used his country’s intelligence agencies to undermine the 2016 presidential election by manipulating the American news media and Republican voters in favor of Donald Trump.

But none of these forces would have been so powerful if not for a deeper cultural rot and moral weakness in American society. This is what philosopher Henry Giroux has described as the “culture of cruelty.” It is the intersection of creeping authoritarianism, militarism, surveillance, violence by the state against its citizens, gangster capitalism and extreme wealth inequality, the assault on the very idea of community and government, widespread loneliness, and social dominance behavior against the Other.

How did the culture of cruelty help to create the political and social circumstances for the election of Donald Trump? Is the United States now a fascist and authoritarian state? What are the issues that could potentially unite the American people to create a more humane society and to resist the cultural and political forces that helped to elect Trump? Are Trump’s voters victims? Is American democracy in a state of crisis and permanent decline? What should resistance look like in this moment?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Giroux, a professor of English and cultural studies at McMaster University in Canada. He has written dozens of articles and books, including “America at War with Itself” and the forthcoming “The Public in Peril: Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism.”

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. A longer version can be heard on my podcast, available on Salon’s Featured Audio page.

What does it feel like from your point of view, having written so much about the culture of cruelty and authoritarianism, to watch it unfold in the United States in real time? 

I’ve been writing about the potential for authoritarianism in the United States for 20 years. This is not a new discourse for me. What has often surprised me is not that it unfolded or the new liberal orthodoxy that increasingly made it appear more and more possible. What shocked me was the way the left has refused to really engage this discourse in ways that embrace comprehensive politics, that go beyond the fracturing single-issue movements and begin to understand both what the underlying causes of these authoritarian movements have been and what it might mean to address them.

You have to ask yourself, what are the forces at work in the United States around civic culture, around celebrity culture, around the culture of fear, around the stoking of extremism and anger about issues? About a media that creates a culture of illusion, about the longstanding legacy of racism and terror in the United States. I mean, how did that all come together to produce a kind of authoritarian pedagogy that basically isolated people, and made them feel lonely? All of a sudden they find themselves in a community of believers, in which the flight from reality offers them a public sphere in which they can affirm themselves and no longer feel that they’re isolated.

Are Donald Trump’s voters victims?

I think the notion of victim is really a bad term because it takes away any pretense for agency and social responsibility.

I try to crystallize it down to, “They voted to hurt people.”

That’s right. Exactly.

The corporate news media has refused to admit this. They want to rehabilitate these folks as having “buyer’s remorse.” That is absurd. The vast majority of Trump’s voters do not regret a damn thing. When you actually go out and look at the data it is clear that Trump is a Republican. Trump supports their agenda and conservatives are happy he is doing their bidding.

We know the anger that most of Trump’s voters were supposedly mobilized around was not against the rich. It was not about income inequality. It was about racism. It was about white supremacy. It was about inflicting pain on people. It was about taking away social provisions that even they would benefit from in the name of a false appeal to “individual freedom” and “liberty.”

This also gets us to how American liberals and progressives are seemingly unable to craft powerful narratives.

My take is that if they go to the root of the problem, they indict themselves. I think that language becomes for them simply a question of coding that often hides what they’re basically responsible for in terms of the culture of cruelty, barbarism and violence. When you talk about the mass incarceration state, you’re talking about Democrats. If you want to talk about drone strikes and private armies, you’re talking about Democrats. I think people who look to liberals for some sort of salvation in this country are fooling themselves. We need a third party and we need to stop equating capitalism and democracy.

What do you think will happen in America in the future?

I think that what we’re going to discover is that no society can exist when there’s no social fabric to bring them together. The emotional quotient has been so lowered, the bar is so low now that the only thing that people feel basically is around questions of violence and idiocy. That’s a lethal combination. It’ll be interesting to see how people talk about this issue in the future, in ways where they try to understand how the very notion of agency itself was destroyed, commercialized, commodified and turned into something that was weaponized.

Donald Trump is the crystallization of everything wrong in this country. It is funny to watch the talking heads on television and elsewhere wring their hands. They are trying to argue that Trump won despite being a misogynist, sexual abuser, bigot, racist and white supremacist. I argue that Trump won precisely because he was all of those things.

Donald Trump is the distillation of an attack on democracy that has become more cruel, more brutal and more poisonous, more militarized and more violent since the 1970s. To simply view him as eccentric, to view him as some kind of clown who now has tapped into a certain element of the culture, is to really miss the point.

What do you think are three or four specific policy goals or initiatives that could potentially bring together Donald Trump’s voters and the majority of Americans?

The first thing that has to be talked about, without any question whatsoever, is a national health care plan. Second, we need a social wage, a universal wage. Third, we need a jobs program.

Bernie Sanders was talking about many of these issues. Why do you think they did not resonate enough to win him the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination?    

It did not resonate because he is seen as part of the Democratic Party. He was a fool. I do not understand why he did this. Once Hillary Clinton won the nomination, it became embarrassing. All of a sudden Sanders is talking about issues that the Democratic Party hates. He’s talking about issues that the Democratic Party runs away from. Yet he’s arguing for issues that are basically very progressive within a structure that’s incredibly reactionary. What the hell is wrong with him? Does he not get it?

To return to questions of language, the news media has decided to legitimate white supremacists by calling them the “alt-right.” I view this as an act of surrender and cowardice.

I never use the word “alt-right” in my work. Never. I talk about white supremacists. I don’t use the words “fake news.” I talk about lies — state lies, state-manufactured lies.

What do you think resistance should look like against Donald Trump and his regime?   

Direct action. We need to talk about an economic strike. You need to bring groups together all over the country to shut it down. The country has got to become ungovernable. There are going to be moments here that even you and I will be shocked by. Trust me: This is coming. You are now living in a terrorist state. This is what the essence of totalitarianism is about. It’s organized around terror, and that’s exactly what this administration is about. I think more and more people will organize and more and more people will realize that this can’t be simply about local demonstrations. I think the only way that the Trump administration can deal with dissent is to attempt to humiliate people — but even more importantly, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions there will be a systemic expansion of what I call “punishment creep,” where every facet of society will be criminalized.

If you were to give a diagnosis for the health of American democracy, what would it be?

It’s a democracy that’s on life support. It can’t breathe. I don’t think we are tipping over into neofascism. I think we’ve tipped over. It’s just a more subtle form of neofascism than anything we’ve seen in the past. The argument that we have to have concentration camps to talk about fascism is nonsense. As any theorist of fascism will tell you, if it comes to America, it will come in different forms.

Are you ever afraid? Do you ever say to yourself, “My God, how did we get here?”   

I remember in 1980, watching Ronald Reagan get elected. I remember being around friends. At the time, I was teaching at Boston University. I thought, “Holy shit! This is really a turning point.” But it didn’t hit me existentially the way the Trump election did. I woke up the next day and I felt paralyzed. I felt that we had entered into something so dark, so real, so evil that there was really no precedent for it in terms of its all-encompassing possibilities for death, destruction and violence. I had a hard time functioning for about a week. I think in some ways there’s a residue of that I can’t shake, that now informs my work.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

US claims of Syria nerve gas attack: The anatomy of a lie

By Patrick Martin
13 April 2017

The claims by the US government that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhun, in southern Idlib province on April 4, have been backed by a week of nonstop media propaganda, as well as uncritical support, across the official political spectrum, for the missile strike ordered by President Trump against a Syrian base.

The charges against the Syrian government are absurd and unbelievable. The campaign mounted by the Trump administration, the intelligence agencies, the Pentagon and the Democratic Party demonstrates complete contempt for the intelligence of the people, and a belief that they can lie with impunity, because nothing they say will be challenged by the servile American media.

No lie is too great. If the US intelligence agencies declared tomorrow that Putin was responsible for an outbreak of tornadoes or a hurricane striking the US Gulf Coast, by means of a secret Russian program to alter the weather, their claims would be presented as the gospel truth by NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and Fox, while the New York Times would publish a four-page “investigative” report, complete with maps and charts provided by the CIA.

When a policeman shoots down a working-class youth, it takes months, sometimes years, to complete the investigation. In the case of the Syrian events, it required only minutes for the US government to affix blame and three days to carry out the punishment, firing 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase.

In analyzing a crime, there are three factors to investigate: motive, means and opportunity. In relation to the nerve gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun, neither the Russians nor the Syrians had any reason to carry out the attack. The Assad regime had nothing to gain from the use of nerve gas on a town that was not a significant military target. Moreover, carrying out such an attack would inevitably provoke US military retaliation, something that Assad, on the brink of complete victory in the protracted civil war, would hardly want to risk.

The Syrian rebels and the US government, on the contrary, had motive, means and opportunity. The rebels would view any loss of life as a small price to pay to bring about US intervention in the civil war which they were losing. They have stockpiles of nerve gas and have shown before, in the staged attack on Ghouta in 2013 which killed many more people, a willingness and ability to carry out such a provocation.

Just as importantly, the rebels and their CIA sponsors had opportunity. According to a detailed analysis of the Khan Sheikhoun attack by the respected US physicist and missile expert Theodore Postol, emeritus professor at MIT, the physical evidence strongly suggests that the delivery system for the nerve gas was a mortar shell placed on the ground, not a bomb dropped from a warplane. That means the attack was almost certainly carried out by those who controlled the ground around Khan Sheikhoun, the rebel forces linked to Al Qaeda.

Postol’s analysis is in reply to the four-page document issued Tuesday by the National Security Council, the White House body that coordinates US foreign and military policy, purporting to prove the Syrian government’s responsibility for the alleged sarin gas attack.

The American media described the NSC document as an unusually detailed and factual account, making use of US intelligence material that was declassified for that purpose. The Washington Post said the US government was “unveiling intelligence discrediting Russia’s attempts to shield its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, from blame in last week’s deadly chemical attack.”

The Post went on to characterize the “declassified findings” as “part of a coordinated broadside against Russia” that was supplemented by “new detail of what U.S. officials believe they know about the chemical weapons strike on Khan Sheikhoun,” offered by White House officials who briefed the press on the document.

The New York Times said the document “contains declassified United States intelligence on the attack and a rebuttal of Moscow’s claim that insurgents unleashed the gas to frame the Syrian government.” There were similar reports in the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the television and cable news networks, all of them presenting the intelligence agency accounts as unchallengeable fact.

These media reports are not only demonstrably false, they are absurd. Any serious examination of the NSC document reveals it to be a series of bare assertions without any supporting evidence.

The White House document closely resembles the assessment issued by the US intelligence “community”—the 17 agencies that comprise the massive apparatus of spying, political provocation and assassination for American imperialism—on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

It is filled with phrases like “The United States is confident” … “We have confidence in our assessment” … “We assess” … “Our information indicates” … “It is clear” … and so on. In other words, “this is the US government speaking, trust us.”

There is one reference to “signals intelligence,” without any elaboration. This is followed by the declaration, standard in all official statements citing information allegedly supplied by the spy agencies: “We cannot publicly release all available intelligence on this attack due to the need to protect sources and methods …” Once again, “trust us.”

The NSC report makes the first attempt by the US government to attribute a motive to the alleged Syrian gas attack, claiming, “We assess that Damascus launched this chemical attack in response to an opposition offensive in northern Hamah Province that threatened key infrastructure. Senior regime military leaders were probably involved in planning the attack.”

No evidence is cited to back these bare assertions, which raise obvious questions. Why should the Syrian government suddenly resort to sarin gas in a town of no obvious military significance, when it did not use nerve gas—and was never accused of doing so—during the critical battles of the past year in Aleppo? Government forces reconquered the rebel-held portions of that city, the country’s largest population and business center before the civil war, in a bloody struggle conducted without the use of chemical weapons.

Even when the forces of President Bashar al-Assad were under attack in his home province of Latakia, where the local population, from the Alawite religious minority which is his main base of support, faced the threat of extermination if the Sunni Islamists were victorious, they did not resort to chemical weapons to beat back the rebel offensive.

The New York Times sought to address this problem by citing “senior White House officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the declassified intelligence report.” These officials “asserted that the Syrian government, under pressure from opposition forces around the country and lacking enough troops to respond, used the lethal nerve agent sarin to target rebels who were threatening government-held territory.”

This account makes even less sense than the NSC report, since the alleged nerve gas attack did not “target rebels who were threatening government-held territory,” but civilians in a town in rebel territory, including, as media reporters and Trump administration officials have repeatedly emphasized, large numbers of women and children. In other words, the American media is simply piling lie upon lie, without even taking the time to make the new lies consistent with the old ones.

From a military standpoint, the resort to chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun is pointless. From a political standpoint, it is counterproductive, to say the least, for the Assad regime. For the US-backed Islamist “rebels,” however, such an atrocity is a political goldmine, potentially providing a pretext for US and eventually NATO intervention into a civil war that the rebels are losing badly.

The NSC document makes no attempt to address, let alone rebut, such arguments. Its four-page document includes only one page of supposedly factual “findings” by the U.S. intelligence agencies, consisting of vague and unsupported assertions, and then a page disputing the claims of Putin and Assad that no gas attack occurred.

In the course of this, the NSC document cites video and eyewitness testimony about the impact of a chemical agent, as well as medical reports from Turkish doctors, but none of this evidence indicates the source of the nerve gas, if it was indeed a factor in the deaths at Khan Sheikhoun.

Criticizing Russian claims of fabrication, the NSC document declares, “It is clear, however, that the Syrian opposition could not manufacture this quantity and variety of video and other reporting from both the attack site and medical facilities in Syria and Turkey while deceiving both media observers and intelligence agencies.”

Why should anyone believe that the “media observers and intelligence agencies” were among the deceived? Far more likely that the US intelligence agencies and the “media observers,” particularly those employed by the New York Times, Washington Post, and other conduits for the US government, were active participants in the deception.

The CIA has ample experience in the creation of provocations and fabrication of “evidence,” which is then supplied to its favored press outlets to create the impression of “objective” reporting. Absolutely nothing that is reported on such a basis deserves the slightest credibility.

It is noteworthy that the Russian government has repeatedly called for an objective, authoritative international investigation into what happened at Khan Sheikhoun. This is in sharp contrast to the conduct of the Trump administration, which has acted as judge, jury and executioner rolled into one—claiming to determine the facts, identify the perpetrators and carry out the punishment in a three-day period. This is the method, not of justice or the enforcement of “international law,” but the law of the jungle, in which the most powerful imperialist military power simply does what it wants.

There is every reason to believe that the poison gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun was staged by the CIA and its rebel stooges to force a reversal of policy by the Trump administration and pave the way for US military intervention. It follows the pattern of the last previous alleged chemical weapons attack, in August 2013, when the rebels were seeking to gain direct American support, and US Secretary of State John Kerry told them that something needed to happen. Soon after, more than a thousand people were killed by nerve gas in Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus.

The political beneficiaries of this attack were the Syrian rebels. Seymour Hersh, one of a handful of real journalists still practicing his profession and not in jail or exile, conducted a meticulous exposure of the Ghouta attack, demonstrating that it had likely been carried out by the al-Nusra Front, the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, with chemical weapons supplied by Turkey. The al-Nusra Front, under a new name, is the dominant force on the ground today in Khan Sheikhoun.

The Ghouta attack did not have the expected effect. After the British parliament voted against joining an attack on Syria, and in view of sharp divisions within the Pentagon over whether to intervene, President Obama pulled back, to the enormous frustration of the CIA, and of leading Democrats like his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

If Clinton had won the 2016 presidential election, there is no doubt there would have been an immediate and dramatic escalation in the American involvement in the Syrian civil war. Following Trump’s surprise victory, a ferocious conflict has ensued, centering on bogus allegations of Russian manipulation of the election to assist Trump, aimed at shifting the Trump administration’s policy towards Russia and Syria.

This has now culminated in the apparent victory of the US intelligence agencies and the Democrats in this internecine struggle within the US ruling elite, and Trump’s embarking on a course that threatens to produce full-scale US military intervention in the Syrian civil war, and poses the danger of direct confrontation with a nuclear-armed Russia.

WSWS