The Faint Scent of Authoritarianism

Everyone knows that Hollywood is full of bleeding-heart liberals. They whine about this and that and lecture about this and that, as if their opinions mattered, and they sneer at Real Americans – the gun-toting God and guts and NASCAR folks. They whine about creeping authoritarianism. But they have no respect for authority – the cops or the Bible or anything else. That is unacceptable to many, but there’s a reason for that. There’s history. Back in the thirties, Hollywood started filling up with people fleeing that sorts of thing – Billy Wilder, Otto Klemperer, Man Ray, Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht and all sort of folks. Arnold Schoenberg settled here – there’s Schoenberg Hall over on the UCLA campus. Einstein chose New Jersey – Princeton. It was time to get the hell out of town.

Can we expect the reverse now? This guy is the former head of the American National Socialist Workers Party, which used to be called the American Nazi Party. He’s what some local Republicans came up with:

Like most candidates running for Congress, Arthur Jones has a campaign website. It outlines the Republican candidate’s education background, his stance on issues and how to donate to his campaign to represent the Illinois’s 3rd Congressional District. It also lays out Jones’s unapologetically racist and anti-Semitic views.

In a section called “Holocaust?” Jones describes the atrocities as a “racket” and “the biggest, blackest, lie in history.” Under another tab titled “Flags of Conflict,” he lists the Confederate flag first and describes it as “a symbol of White pride and White resistance” and “the flag of a White counter revolution.”

And in his most recent blog post – dated Aug. 24, 2017 – Jones railed against “Radical Leftists” and blamed them for starting racial violence in Charlottesville about two weeks before. Heather Heyer, 32, who had been there to protest a white supremacists rally, died after a driver rammed a car into a crowd of demonstrators. A self-professed neo-Nazi has been charged with first-degree murder in the incident. Jones painted the death as an accident.

Despite his views, Jones is all but certain to become the GOP nominee for one of Illinois’s most prominent congressional districts, one that includes parts of Chicago and several suburbs to the west and southwest. Jones is running unopposed in the Republican primary – and the deadline to file to run against him was in early December.

The local Republicans decided he’s their man – he is running unopposed – but this is a “safe” Democratic district. There are hardly any registered Republicans in the district. He’ll be gone in November, but he’s still a problem for Republicans:

Representatives from the Illinois Republican Party and the National Republican Congressional Committee, which supports conservative candidates, did not respond to questions sent by email Sunday. But Tim Schneider, the chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, told the Chicago Sun-Times that the party denounced Jones.

“The Illinois Republican Party and our country have no place for Nazis like Arthur Jones,” Schneider told the newspaper. “We strongly oppose his racist views and his candidacy for any public office, including the 3rd Congressional District.”

That’s fine, but there’s Donald Trump. There were Trump’s angry Charlottesville comments, that there were “fine people” on “both sides” there, even among those chanting “Jews will not replace us!” David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, keeps saying that he’s ecstatic that Donald Trump is on his side on all things that have to do with immigration – with those brown people. There’s that white-supremacist Richard Spenser, the guy who taught Stephen miller everything he knew – and it was Miller who wrote Trump’s “American Carnage” inauguration speech and Trump’s “blood and soil” Warsaw speech about preserving our “Western Heritage” – protecting it from all those “other” people. The implication was that too much democracy gets in the way of that. Sometimes you have to crack down, and crack heads. And it was Miller who whispered in Trump’s ear – and Trump listened. Trump changed his mind. The immigration deal that he said he’d sign he wouldn’t sign, and then he went off on all those “shithole” nations trying to send their miserable people here. Democrats don’t want Miller in the room for any further talks. Neither do any “moderate” Republicans.

No one’s calling Trump a Nazi – save for a few of the smug and sanctimonious in Hollywood – but there’s the faint scent of authoritarianism in the air. There was the Nunes memo. Trump went there. The nation’s Justice Department and its FBI are part of a Deep State conspiracy to overthrow the duly elected President of the United States – him. Trump defied pleas from the FBI and Democrats and released that memo. That memo gives him an excuse to replace Rod Rosenstein, Robert Mueller’s supervisor, with a more pliant fellow. He is entitled to federal law enforcement run by personal loyalists. Any investigation of him is clear evidence of disqualifying bias – and now the country is less confident in the independence of the FBI and everything else. They may be guilty of treason.

Something is up. One year ago, he called the CIA a bunch of Nazis – they must have been the ones who leaked the Steele dossier. Don’t trust the CIA – and by the way, Vladimir Putin told Trump that the Russians did not meddle in our election. Putin told Trump that in Europe, and then later in Asia. Each time, Trump said he believed Putin, or saw no point in arguing with the guy – let it slide. The whole Russian thing is a hoax.

And there’s more. Vladimir Putin seems to have captured Donald Trump, and Donald Trump has captured the Republican Party. Congress passed new Russian sanctions. Trump blew them off. The Trump administration may sanction certain businesses and banks that do business with certain Russian bad actors, but will certainly not take any action against any particular Russian. That may hurt certain Russian bad actors a bit, but there are other businesses and banks out there. Trump saved their asses – and Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee released that memo that accuses the Justice Department and the FBI of misusing their authority to obtain a secret surveillance order on a former Trump campaign associate. Trump is cheering them on. He doesn’t care, and he’s captured most Republicans too. They don’t care either. Someone else cares. Vladimir Putin may have won the big prize – the American government.

Too much democracy is a problem after all. Donald Trump has repeatedly called the free press “the enemy of the people” – those doing their assigned jobs to find out what’s going on with Russia and all the rest. Sometimes you have to crack down, and crack heads, but he’s not Putin. He won’t have them die one by one in mysterious circumstances. Change the libel laws. He’ll sue them. He’ll bury them in legal costs. He’ll run them out of business. Americans will cheer. Or they’d get the hell out of town. The von Trapp family – Maria, the Baron, and those irritating kids – will head out over the Hollywood Hills, in the other direction. Everyone knows that movie.

The faint scent of authoritarianism in the air has started to stink. The Illinois Republican Party and the National Republican Congressional Committee pushed back. They’ll have nothing to do with their local Nazi, Arthur Jones, but things aren’t that easy in Washington:

A fierce partisan battle over the Justice Department and its role in the Russia investigation moves into its second week Monday as Democrats try to persuade the House Intelligence Committee to release a 10-page rebuttal to a controversial Republican memo alleging surveillance abuse.

The panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), is expected to offer a motion to release his party’s response to the Republican document during a committee meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday. It was not immediately clear whether Republicans would join Democrats in voting for the document’s release, as some members of the GOP have expressed concerns about its contents.

Speaking Sunday on ABC News, Schiff called the GOP memo a “political hit job on the FBI in service of the president.”

“The goal here really isn’t to find out the answers from the FBI. The goal here is to undermine the FBI, discredit the FBI, discredit the special counsel investigation, do the president’s bidding,” Schiff said on “This Week.”

Schiff says the FBI is not the enemy of the people, and he’d like to prove it, if Trump would allow that, as he should:

Democrats spent the weekend pushing back against the claim by President Trump and some Republicans that corruption has poisoned the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 election.

That was the weekend talk, but this was odd:

Calling on Trump not to interfere in Mueller’s investigation, four Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee dismissed on Sunday the idea that the memo’s criticism of how the FBI handled certain surveillance applications undermines the special counsel’s work. Reps. Trey Gowdy (S.C.), Chris Stewart (Utah), Will Hurd (Tex.) and Brad Wenstrup (Ohio) represented the committee on the morning political talk shows.

Gowdy, who helped draft the memo, said Trump should not fire Rosenstein, and he rejected the idea that the document has a bearing on the investigation.

“I actually don’t think it has any impact on the Russia probe,” Gowdy, who also chairs the House Oversight Committee, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Stewart, arguing that the two are “very separate” issues, said Mueller should be allowed to finish his work. “This memo, frankly, has nothing at all to do with the special counsel,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”

These four Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee wanted to stop all this “enemy of the people” crap, and a fifth member decided to hide:

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), whose actions have been at the center of the debate over the memo, did not give interviews Sunday.

Trump, however, wasn’t hiding:

Trump tweeted Sunday that while “the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on,” the Republican memo “totally vindicates” him.

“Their [sic] was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!” he wrote from Florida, where he spent the weekend.

And he’s in charge:

If the House Intelligence Committee approves the release of the Democratic memo, it is expected to go to the Justice Department for redactions. Even if the motion succeeds, Trump has five days to block it.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged the president to support the document’s release in the spirit of fairness.

“A refusal to release the Schiff memo will confirm the American people’s worst fears that the release of Chairman Nunes’ memo was only intended to undermine Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation,” Schumer wrote Sunday in a letter to Trump.

That depends on who you trust, and now no one trusts anyone:

A new survey finds that the general population’s trust in U.S. institutions has fallen during President Trump’s first year in the White House.

According to the annual Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in institutions decreased in the U.S. more than any of the other 28 countries in the survey, Reuters reported.

Trump has done it:

Trust among the general population decreased by 9 points to 43 percent, according to the survey. Among the general population, it is the largest recorded drop in the survey’s history…

“The United States is enduring an unprecedented crisis of trust,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman.

“This is the first time that a massive drop in trust has not been linked to a pressing economic issue or catastrophe like the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In fact, it’s the ultimate irony that it’s happening at a time of prosperity, with the stock market and employment rates in the U.S. at record highs. The root cause of this fall is the lack of objective facts and rational discourse.”

The survey also finds that the media is not trusted in 22 of the 28 countries surveyed.

Trump has often railed on the media, accusing networks and reporters of publishing “fake news.”

Mission accomplished. No one trusts anyone, which might be dangerous:

President Trump’s dysfunctional leadership with the Department of Justice, FBI and other intelligence operations is harming the rule of law in the United States, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Sunday.

Panetta said on “Fox News Sunday” Trump’s frequent criticisms of the FBI, DOJ officials, and the CIA is weakening the trust between the White House and the federal law enforcement community. The ex-CIA director said it creates a crisis.

“In order for our democracy to function, you have to have a relationship of trust between the president and those who are responsible for enforcing the law, the Justice Department and the FBI,” he said. “And if that trust breaks down, then I think it does undermine the rule of law in this country, and that, in effect, creates a crisis.”

And no one should be surprised:

Trump has been critical of the intelligence community for years, including during the 2016 campaign when he ripped the intelligence that led the United States into the war in Iraq in 2003. During the transition, he often criticized the intelligence community’s work investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election because he felt he won the election on his own with no help from the Kremlin.

The intelligence community has determined the Russian government ran an influence campaign on the 2016 election to harm Hillary Clinton and eventually developed a preference for Trump.

“The president frankly needs to focus on the economy, on infrastructure, on improving the ability of all Americans in order to succeed in our country,” Panetta said. “That’s what presidents need to focus on. And if he spends his time tweeting about the investigation or trying to tweet about undermining the FBI, very frankly he’s going to hurt his presidency.”

That’s not going to happen:

Rumors are swirling that Trump is preparing to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – who is the person with direct authority over special counsel Robert Mueller as he investigates Russian meddling in the election – and Panetta said that would be a huge blunder by Trump.

“It’s a big mistake. These are people that he appointed for office. At least for my impression these are people who are credible in trying to do their job in a conscientious and dedicated way,” he said.

“I think if he tries to go after them and tries to somehow appear to be obstructing the process that’s involved in this investigation, he’s going to hurt himself, he’s going to hurt the presidency, but more importantly, he’s going to hurt the country.”

It seems he’s going to do that:

A SurveyMonkey poll for Axios released on Saturday found that just 38 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of the FBI, compared to 64 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Americans overall, which is odd for a party that purports to value law and order. Since last January, the proportion of Americans who feel favorably about the FBI has declined, while the proportion of Americans who feel unfavorable has climbed…

The Axios survey follows a HuffPost/YouGov poll released this week that also found confidence in the FBI has declined. According to that survey, 51 percent of the public says they have at least a fair amount of trust in the bureau, down 12 points from 2015. And that decline shows up mainly among Republicans and independents: The GOP’s trust in America’s main federal law enforcement agency declined by 22 points, and among independents it dropped 15 points.

And there’s more:

As Vox’s Dylan Matthews recently pointed out, American public opinion has undergone a sort of “Trumpificiation” in recent months and years. Trump and the hyper-partisanship that accompanied his rise (and which he engendered) have changed the way Americans think about politics.

In the age of Trump, Republicans have warmed up to Russia and Vladimir Putin, while Democrats have begun to think about both more negatively. Republicans have also begun to think more negatively about free trade and have become more skeptical of the media; Trump supporters have turned against the NFL, following his attacks on anti-racist protests by players; and Republicans even changed their mind about the state of the US economy seemingly overnight.

As Matthews notes, political scientists have known for decades that presidents help form public opinion, especially among their supporters. Evidence has recently begun to accumulate suggesting that people’s opinions follow those of leaders they respect more often than vice versa.

But what’s different about Trump is in the implications of that ability: If the polling shows GOP voters are on board with his criticisms of the FBI, that’s one step closer to undermining America’s rule of law.

In short, the faint scent of authoritarianism in the air has started to stink, and Jonathan Swan reports it won’t stop stinking:

The memo – which pitted the Justice Department against the White House and brought ugly partisan sniping into stark relief – is only the beginning. Republican sources close to Devin Nunes tell me he’s assured them there’s much more to come.

The House Intelligence chair and his team have told members and associates they’ve found other examples of politically motivated “wrongdoing” across various agencies, including the FBI, the broader Justice Department, and the State Department.

There are so many “enemies of the people” these days, aren’t there?

That troubles E. J. Dionne:

The autocratic leader lies and then falsely charges his opponents with lying. He politicizes institutions that are supposed to be free of politics by falsely accusing his foes of politicizing them. He victimizes others by falsely claiming they are victimizing him.

The autocrat also counts on spineless politicians to cave in to his demands. And as they destroy governmental institutions at his bidding, they insist they are defending them.

This is nothing new:

In her classic 1951 book, “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” the philosopher Hannah Arendt offered two observations that help us understand the assumptions and purposes behind the memo created by the staff of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee turned propagandist for President Trump.

The totalitarian method of the 1920s and 1930s, she noted, was to “dissolve every statement of fact into a declaration of purpose.”

She also said this: “Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.”

Bear Arendt’s warnings in mind in pondering the Nunes screed whose sole purpose is to discredit an investigation that appears to be getting closer and closer to Trump.

That memo is all that:

A blatant McCarthyite hit piece that breaks little new ground, it cherry-picks from troves of information to feed a dangerous narrative: Even if special counsel Robert S. Mueller III gets the goods on Trump — on Russian collusion, money laundering, obstruction of justice, or all three – the facts won’t matter because the inquiry was driven by partisanship…

The Nunes exercise fits snugly with Arendt’s second observation. The cynicism of a significant part of the public, particularly Trump’s supporters, leads them to believe that everybody in every institution lies. The Nunes talking points toss out distorted and disconnected facts, not to advance the truth but to cloud it in confusion. Thus did Nunes’ ploy accomplish the opposite of its intention. It simply showed how petrified Trump and his backers are of a comprehensive probe.

Our democratic regime is further endangered by the proclivity of Republicans in Congress to enable the executive abuses they’re supposed to check. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s disgraceful complicity in the release of the memo was made all the more shameful when he declared this past Thursday that it “does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general.”

Of course it does just that:

Autocrats don’t prevail unless they have allies to give them cover. Thanks to House Republicans, our country has taken another step toward the chaos that autocrats thrive on.

That’s what the Hollywood bleeding-heart liberals whine about, because, back in the thirties, Hollywood started filling up with people fleeing that sort of thing. When anyone or any institution could suddenly become an “enemy of the people” anyone or anything could be next. It was time to get the hell out of town. It was time to head for the hills, the Hollywood Hills back then. But now there’s nowhere to go.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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3 Responses to The Faint Scent of Authoritarianism

  1. Rick says:

    Two things:

    First of all, we all need to dissect this Trump tweet put out in response to the release of the Nunes memo:

    This memo totally vindicates “Trump” in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!

    Okay, that depends on what you call “Collusion” and also on what you call “Obstruction”.

    I would contend that, in his case, they are both pretty much the same thing — that Trump’s out-and-out obstruction is his way of colluding, by rewarding Putin’s election interference. No need to search very hard for them, since both the “obstruction” and the “collusion” are happening right now — as they say, “hiding in plain sight”.

    Firstly, by not stopping the release of the GOP memo, Trump is plainly telegraphing his intention to obstruct the Mueller investigation, evidenced by his crowing, albeit incorrectly, that the memo “vindicates” him in the probe.

    (And if that doesn’t do it for you, consider the fact that, while promising to cooperate with the Mueller investigations, Trump has continually tried to undermine them, through his tweets and his actions in firing Comey and McCabe, the officials who oversee them.)

    Think about it:

    American intelligence services, who have ways of knowing these things that Donald Trump doesn’t, have found proof that Russia has interfered in our elections, possibly changing the result, but every time anyone mentions this to Trump, he downplays it, sometimes by denying the certainty of it by suggesting maybe some other country did it, and usually by changing the subject to Hillary Clinton, for reasons too complicated to explain.

    Also, there are widely-held suspicions that Russia is still at it and will likely do the same in 2018 and 2020, yet there seems to be no evidence that the Trump administration is concerned about the possibility enough to start working on preventing it.

    In fact, while the American people’s representatives have voted to punish Russia with sanctions, the Trump administration has blocked them, effectively rewarding Putin for his attack on our country.

    Secondly, this obstruction can be seen as “colluding” with the Russian interference with the 2016 U.S. elections, which, at the very least, makes Trump an “accessory after the fact”:

    Example of a piece of Federal legislation defining the term.

    18 USCS § 3

    § 3. Accessory after the fact

    Whoever, knowing that an offense against the United States has been committed, receives, relieves, comforts or assists the offender in order to hinder or prevent his apprehension, trial or punishment, is an accessory after the fact.

    Except as otherwise expressly provided by any Act of Congress, an accessory after the fact shall be imprisoned not more than one-half the maximum term of imprisonment or (notwithstanding section 3571 [18 USCS § 3571]) fined not more than one-half the maximum fine prescribed for the punishment of the principal, or both; or if the principal is punishable by life imprisonment or death, the accessory shall be imprisoned not more than 15 years.

    Morgan v. Lafler, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93580 ( E.D. Mich. Oct. 7, 2009)

    Fifteen years? Assuming his sentence begins in June of next year, when he turns 72, he could be kept occupied until 2034, or age 87!

    – – – – –

    And the second thing has to do with Leon Panetta’s appearance on Fox this past weekend, in which he complains that, if Trump keeps even appearing to obstruct the investigation, “he’s going to hurt himself, he’s going to hurt the presidency, but more importantly, he’s going to hurt the country” — which is hard to deny.

    But Panetta also said this:

    “The president frankly needs to focus on the economy, on infrastructure, on improving the ability of all Americans in order to succeed in our country,” Panetta said. “That’s what presidents need to focus on.”

    In other words, do “presidential policy” stuff? (In his case, do “Republican agenda” stuff, which I’d actually prefer he didn’t do anyway?) Okay, maybe or maybe not, but that’s beside the real point, since that won’t solve our Russia problem.

    What Trump really needs to focus on is letting the American people know he sees Russian interference in our democracy as a serious matter, one that he will not tolerate, and one that we need to counter with everything in our power.

    He wants Russia to be our friend? He could, at some point, make that argument. I don’t agree with him on that, but that aside, it doesn’t matter. The UK is our friend, but if we ever caught them doing to us what Russia did in 2016 — for example, targeting the upper-midwest with the kind of propaganda that could actually swing votes during the elections — then we would be sanctioning them, too!

    Even putting aside the fact that Russia is attacking America, and also seems to be attacking other democracies, we still would not want to make them as close an ally as Trump seems to think they should be, if for no other reason than that the Russians see us as their adversaries, having just recently humiliated them in the Cold War. They’re pissed off and are seemingly keen to exact revenge on us.

    They’re a make-believe democracy, not a real one, and our president needs to stop envying Putin his dictatorial powers.

    I know Trump hates to hear this, but more Americans did not vote for him than did, which is to say that maybe he should stop trying to force America in a direction it doesn’t want to go.

    Rick

    • Very interesting, Rick. Personally, I feel that Trump is terrified of the possibility that for probably the first time in his life he is not in control, and has no framework of reference but his past way of doing business. In the meantime, our country is a train wreck just waiting to happen. We haven’t had anything quite like this, unless you toss in the Civil War.

      • Rick says:

        Agreed, Dick.

        Or maybe, like many of us of his age, he’s just realizing he’s not really been in control all along. I keep wondering if he’s even capable of understanding that he’s not nearly the genius he thinks he is. I suspect we will know the answer to that if, after the train wreck occurs, he puts out a tweet, probably from prison, that tries to blame it all on Obama.

        Rick

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