Archives for category: Trump

Since he lost in 2020, former President Trump has repeatedly and falsely alleged that the election was rigged, stolen from him. Millions of his adherents believe him. Sowing disbelief in the fundamental fairness of the nation’s voting system may be Trump’s greatest crime, for which he will never be prosecuted. It is a clear violation of his oath of office, in which he solemnly swore that he would “”to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

But the Washington Post obtained a secret study commissioned by Trump to determine the scope of any election fraud. The study did not confirm the claims Trump made in public. The voter fraud discovered by his team could not verify his wild claims.

When Donald Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2, 2021, in a now-infamous bid to overturn the 2020 election, he alleged that thousands of dead people had voted in the state.
“So dead people voted, and I think the number is close to 5,000 people. And they went to obituaries. They went to all sorts of methods to come up with an accurate number, and a minimum is close to about 5,000 voters,” he said, without citing his study.

But a report commissioned by his own campaign dated one day prior told a different story: Researchers paid by Trump’s team had “high confidence” of only nine dead voters in Fulton County, defined as ballots that may have been cast by someone else in the name of a deceased person. They believed there was a “potential statewide exposure” of 23 such votes across the Peach State — or 4,977 fewer than the “minimum” Trump claimed.In a separate failed bid to overturn the results in Nevada, Trump’s lawyers said in a court filing that 1,506 ballots were cast in the names of dead people and 42,284 voted twice. Trump lost the Silver State by about 33,000 votes.

The researchers paid by Trump’s team had “high confidence” that 12 ballots were cast in the names of deceased people in Clark County, Nev., and believed the “high end potential exposure” was 20 voters statewide — some 1,486 fewer than Trump’s lawyers said.

According to their research, the “low end potential exposure” of double voters was 45, while the “high end potential exposure” was 9,063. The judge tossed the Nevada case even as Trump continued to claim he won the state.

Are there penalties for lying?

Are there consequences for undermining public confidence in the democratic process of selecting those who govern us?

How do we hold accountable a president who violates his oath of office?

David Frum, formerly a Republican speechwriter but now a Never Trumper, writes in the Atlantic that Ron DeSantis has figured out how to woo the Republican base but not how to win a national election.

DeSantis spoke out on the Tucker Carlson show against support for Ukraine because the conflict is nothing more than “a territorial dispute” that does not concern us.

Never mind that the US, NATO, and the UN have a vital stake in protecting a rules-based international order where one sovereign nation does not invade another in order to extinguish its national identity.

Never mind, as Frum wrote, that DeSantis “was on record, in 2014 and 2015, urging the Obama administration to send both “defensive and offensive” weapons to Ukraine after the Russian annexation of Crimea.”

DeSantis is courting the base by imposing a nearly-complete ban on abortion, limiting it to the first six weeks of pregnancy, before women know they are pregnant. But a majority of voters in Florida oppose the ban: “That bill is opposed by 57 percent of those surveyed even inside Florida. Another poll found that 75 percent of Floridians oppose the ban. It also showed that 77 percent oppose permitless concealed carry, which DeSantis supports, and that 61 percent disapprove of his call to ban the teaching of critical race theory as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion policies on college campuses.”

How will DeSantis’s hard-right views play outside Florida?

More dangerous than the unpopular positions DeSantis holds are the popular positions he does not hold. What is DeSantis’s view on health care? He doesn’t seem to have one. President Joe Biden has delivered cheap insulin to U.S. users. Good idea or not? Silence from DeSantis. There’s no DeSantis jobs policy; he hardly speaks about inflation. Homelessness? The environment? Nothing. Even on crime, DeSantis must avoid specifics, because specifics might remind his audience that Florida’s homicide numbers are worse than New York’s or California’s.

Frum believes that DeSantis could win the GOP nomination but has no realistic path to winning the presidency.

I hope he is right. DeSantis has no respect for the very idea of a two-party system. He wants a one-party state, led by an all-powerful autocrat. As he bragged in Nevada, no member of the Democratic Party won any statewide races. His preference is to have no opposition, no criticism, no free press. He is dangerous. He has a fascist instinct.

Now we begin to understand how Trump and other demagogues win power and control people: Fear. Ordinary people do not have this mysterious charisma, this ability to frighten and intimidate others.

Aaron Blake, a columnist for the Washington Post, explains this power:

“What [Donald Trump]’s good at is destroying things. He’s the undisputed world champion of that,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson texted his producer, Alex Pfeiffer, two days after the 2020 election. “He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong.”

“We can’t make people think we’ve turned against Trump,” another Carlson producer warned Pfeiffer on Nov. 10.

“We don’t want to antagonize Trump further, but [Rudy] Giuliani taken with a large grain of salt,” Fox Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch told Fox News’s CEO in a Nov. 16 email. “Everything at stake here.”

“‘No unforced errors’ in content — example: Abruptly turning away from a Trump campaign press conference,” Fox News executive Ron Mitchell wrote in a Nov. 18 email to the CEO and Fox News’s president.

By the night of Jan. 6, 2021, after the dust had settled on the Capitol riot, Carlson declared Trump to be “a demonic force, a destroyer. But he’s not going to destroy us.”

The internal Fox communications shared last week in the defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systemspaint a picture of a cable news outlet that was preoccupied with its business model as it chose to air baseless and false claims about a “stolen” election. And a big part of those preoccupations was not just the pronounced worries about its rival Newsmax’s sudden ratings boom, but Fox’s fear of Trump. Rather than driving conservative thought as the nation’s leading right-wing media organization, Fox adopted a defensive and reactive posture.

And in many ways, these backstage exchanges mirror the dynamics within the broader conservative movement and the Republican Party.

It’s no novel observation to say that Trump has maintained this degree of power over the GOP in large part due to threats — whether stated, implied or assumed. Everyone knows that running afoul of Trump is a recipe for Trump making your life miserable with the base. And so the party sticks with Trump in some measure even though it’s obvious he’s proven more of an electoral liability than an asset.

Nor is Carlson is the first conservative to warn about Trump’s ability to “destroy” allies who displease him; Republicans have repeatedly pointed in this direction.

“He can make [the party] bigger. He can make it stronger. He can make it more diverse,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told Axios in March 2021. “And he also could destroy it.”

When Axios’s Jonathan Swan suggested that Graham was stroking Trump’s ego so Trump didn’t break off and form a third party, Graham didn’t at all disagree with the premise of the question.

Similarly, several Republicans have said their colleagues went along with Trump’s stolen-election claims out of fear — not just for their political careers, but for their personal safety. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has said GOP colleagues privately admitted they acquitted Trump at his first impeachment trial out of fear.

Trump’s former attorney general, William P. Barr, wrote in a November New York Post op-ed that Trump’s strategy is to control a sizable enough faction of the party, “which allows Trump to use it as leverage to extort and bully the rest of the party into submission.”

Barr added: “The threat is simple: Unless the rest of the party goes along with him, he will burn the whole house down by leading ‘his people’ out of the GOP.”

As political strategies go, it’s unquestionably proven and effective. Virtually all high-profile Trump critics have seen their numbers crater with the GOP base after they spoke out — from Bob Corker to Jeff Flake to John McCain to Liz Cheney to Mitt Romney. Former vice president Mike Pence saw his numbers fall off a cliff after Jan. 6 for the offense of not unilaterally attempting to overturn the 2020 election.

What’s left is the need to thread the needle between saying what you know or actually believe and keeping your seat at the table (and, in Fox’s case, your viewers). In private, Fox employees spoke repeatedly about that dilemma.

Mitchell privately derided Giuliani’s and Sidney Powell’s wild Nov. 19 news conference, but he also lamented that “those clowns put us [in] an awkward place where we’re going to need to thread the needle.”

The second Carlson producer, Justin Wells, noted, “We’re threading a needle that has to be thread because of” Fox News’s decision desk calling Arizona for Trump.

And just before Carlson warned about Trump destroying Fox, one of his producers intoned, “It’s a hard needle to thread, but I really think many on our side are being reckless demagogues right now.”

Carlson responded: “Of course they are. We’re not going to follow them.”

Carlson went on to apply some real skepticism to Powell’s claims, pointing to her lack of evidence — the rare Fox News host to do so. “It’s unbelievably offensive to me,” Carlson texted fellow Fox prime time host Laura Ingraham on Nov. 18. “Our viewers are good people and they believe it.”

The following day came Powell’s and Giuliani’s infamous Nov. 19 news conference in which they, among other things, repeatedly and falsely accused Dominion of rigging the election. Fox reporter Kristin Fisher fact-checked the claims, saying, “So much of what he said was simply not true or has already been thrown out in court.” Fox host Dana Perino noted Dominion could sue over the claims.

Both segments drew derision from executives who worried that viewers would feel disrespected, even as both Perino and Fisher were correct — prescient even, in Perino’s case.

Fox News is currently experiencing the legal downside of toeing Trump’s line out of fear. The national Republican Party has been failing to actually thread that needle for years now — and, looking ahead to its future, still has no idea what to do about it.

ProPublica wrote recently about a powerful organization of far-right conservatives that carefully avoids public scrutiny. They are wealthy, powerful, and networked, thanks to the Federalist Society and its mastermind Leonard Leo. Leo is the guy who picked judges for Trump and engineered the selection of Brett Kanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett.

Please read this article about Teneo, an organization with long tentacles and a goal of crushing liberal ideas, ideas that are central to our democracy.

A few tidbits:

ProPublica and Documented have obtained more than 50 hours of internal Teneo videos and hundreds of pages of documents that reveal the organization’s ambitious agenda, influential membership and burgeoning clout. We have also interviewed Teneo members and people familiar with the group’s activities. The videos, documents and interviews provide an unfiltered look at the lens through which the group views the power of the left — and how it plans to combat it.

In response to questions for this story, Leo said in a statement: “Teneo’s young membership proves that the conservative movement is poised to be even more talented, driven, and successful in the future. This is a group that knows how to build winning teams.”

The records show Teneo’s members have included a host of prominent names from the conservative vanguard, including such elected officials as U.S. Sens. J.D. Vance of Ohio and Missouri’s Josh Hawley, a co-founder of the group. Other members have included Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, now the fourth-ranking House Republican, as well as Nebraska’s attorney general and Virginia’s solicitor general. Three senior aides to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, are members. Another is the federal judge who struck down a Biden administration mask mandate. The heads of the Republican Attorneys General Association, Republican State Leadership Committee and Turning Point USA — all key cogs in the world of national conservative politics — have been listed as Teneo members…

Teneo co-founder Evan Baehr, a tech entrepreneur and veteran of conservative activism, said in a 2019 video for new members that Teneo had “many, many, many dozens” of members working in the Trump administration, including in the White House, State Department, Justice Department and Pentagon. “They’re everywhere….”

Soon after Leo took an interest in Teneo, the group’s finances soared. Annual revenue reached$2.3 million in 2020 and nearly $5 million in 2021, according to tax records. In 2021, the bulk of Teneo’s income — more than $3 million — came from one source: DonorsTrust, a clearinghouse for conservative, libertarian and other charitable gifts that masks the original source of the money. In 2020, the Leo-run group that received the Chicago business owner’s $1.6 billion donation gave $41 million to DonorsTrust, which had $1.5 billion in assets as of 2021.

Teneo’s other funders have included marquee conservative donors: hedge fund investor Paul Singer, Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, the Charles Koch Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, and the DeVos family, according to Baehr.

As the group’s finances improved, its videos became much more professionally produced, and its website underwent a dramatic upgrade from previous iterations. All of this was part of what Baehr called “Teneo 2.0,” a major leap forward for the group, driven in part by Leo’s guidance and involvement….

Many of the connections happen at Teneo’s annual retreat, which brings together hundreds of members and their spouses, plus allies including politicians like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and DeSantis as well as business leaders and prominent academics. Speakers at past Teneo retreats have included luminaries spanning politics, culture, business and the law: New York Times columnist David Brooks, federal judge Trevor McFadden, Blackwater founder Erik Prince, “Woke, Inc.” author and 2024 presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, former Trump cabinet official and 2024 presidential hopeful Nikki Haley, ultrawealthy donors and activists Dick and Betsy DeVos, and Chick-fil-A board chair Dan Cathy.

These are the only posts today. Read them. Think about it. What did you learn? What should we do? None of us is a billionaire. How can we save our democracy?

Organize. Be informed. Vote.

Heather Cox Richardson writes in her blog “Letters from an American” about the Republican Right’s fascination with the authoritarian leader of Hungary, Viktor Orbán. Orbán is a critic of liberal democracy and a great admirer of Trump. It’s scary.

She writes:

At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last weekend, Daily Wire host Michael Knowles said that “for the good of society…transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely—the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.” He worded his statement in such a way that it would inevitably create outrage that he could then angrily refute by insisting that “eradicating transgenderism” was not the same thing as eradicating transgender people. This sort of word game is a well-known right-wing tactic for garnering media attention.

Make no mistake: this attack on transgender people represents a deadly attack on the fundamental principle of American democracy, the idea that all people are created equal.

CPAC and its representatives have become increasingly close to Hungarian president Victor Orbán as he has asserted autocratic power in his own country. Orbán has explicitly rejected the liberal democracy that his country used to enjoy, saying that its emphasis on multiculturalism weakens national cultures while its insistence on human equality undermines traditional society by recognizing that women and LGBTQ people have the same rights as straight white men. The age of liberal democracy is over, he says, and a new age has begun.

In place of equality, Orbán advocates what he calls “illiberal democracy” or “Christian democracy.” “Christian democracy is, by definition, not liberal,” he said in July 2018; “it is, if you like, illiberal. And we can specifically say this in connection with a few important issues—say, three great issues. Liberal democracy is in favor of multiculturalism, while Christian democracy gives priority to Christian culture; this is an illiberal concept. Liberal democracy is pro-immigration, while Christian democracy is anti-immigration; this is again a genuinely illiberal concept. And liberal democracy sides with adaptable family models, while Christian democracy rests on the foundations of the Christian family model; once more, this is an illiberal concept.”

Orbán has focused on LBGTQ rights as a danger to “Western civilization.” Arguing the need to protect children, his party has made it impossible for transgender people to change their gender identification on legal documents and made it illegal to share with minors any content that can be interpreted as promoting an LBGTQ lifestyle. After Orbán put allies in charge of Hungarian universities, his government banned public funding for gender studies courses. According to his chief of staff: “The Hungarian government is of the clear view that people are born either men or women.”

As the opening speaker at CPAC in Texas last August, Orbán called for the establishment of a global right wing to continue to work together to destroy liberal democracy and establish Christian democracy.

The American right wing has heard the call, openly embracing Orbán’s principles. Vox senior correspondent Zack Beauchamp, who is a crackerjack analyst of right-wing political ideology both in the U.S. and abroad, noted in 2021 the rise of right-wing ideologues who saw themselves as the vanguard of a “post-liberal order.”

Beauchamp explained that these ideologues reject American democracy. They argue that “religious liberty, limited government, ‘the inviolability of private institutions (e.g., corporations),’ academic freedom, constitutional originalism, free markets, and free speech”—all central tenets of democracy—have created “liberal totalitarianism” that has destroyed “all institutions that were originally responsible for fostering human virtue: family, ennobling friendship, community, university, polity, church.”

They see the government institutions that defend these democratic tenets as part of a totalitarian system designed to destroy national virtue. If this were truly the case (it is not), it would be an act of heroism to try to destroy those systems altogether. Right-wing attacks on the FBI, the Department of Justice, and even the government itself over the arrest of January 6th rioters who they insist were peaceful tourists shore up the idea that the FBI and DOJ are part of a government determined to crush Trump supporters. That ideology invites those who believe it to continue to attack our government.

Knowles’s statement last week that transgenderism must be eradicated from public life was not simply an attack on transgender individuals, although it was certainly that. Tapping into the anti-LGBTQ sentiment that Orbán and those like him have used to win voters, the statement was a crucial salvo in the attempt to destroy American democracy and replace it with Christian nationalism.

But there is a very simple answer to the radical right’s attack on LGBTQ people that also answers their rejection of democracy. It is an answer that history has proved again and again.

Once you give up the principle of equality, you have given up the whole game. You have admitted the principle that people are unequal, and that some people are better than others. Once you have replaced the principle of equality with the idea that humans are unequal, you have stamped your approval on the idea of rulers and subjects. At that point, all you can do is to hope that no one in power decides that you belong in the lesser group.

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln, then a candidate for the Senate, warned that arguments limiting American equality to white men and excluding black Americans were the same arguments “that kings have made for enslaving the people in all ages of the world…. Turn in whatever way you will—whether it come from the mouth of a King, an excuse for enslaving the people of his country, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent.”

Either people—men, in his day—were equal, or they were not. Lincoln went on: “I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle and making exceptions to it…where will it stop?”

Dana Milbank, a fabulous columnist at The Washington Post, reviews Kevin McCarthy’s long record of claiming that he didn’t know, he didn’t see it, he didn’t hear it, he has no opinion.

After McCarthy gave 40,000 hours of security video from January 6, 2021, to Tucker Carlson, he was surprised to hear that Tucker Carlson took clips to “prove” that nothing much happened that day. He was confused. I’m confused too as I thought that Carlson had long advanced the claim that the insurrection and violence that we saw that day was actually a “false flag” operation, manipulated by the FBI, Antifa, and Black Lives Matter. All along, Carlson has pandered to his viewers by insisting that Trump supporters had nothing to do with the turmoil and desecration of the nation’s Capitol.

Just another day at the Capitol is the new line at FOX. If you thought otherwise, your eyes deceived you. The insurrectionists were actually peaceful protestors, now victims and patriots.

This new line was too much for many of the Republicans who were there that day and ran for their lives.

Milbank wrote:

Not since the Know-Nothing Party disappeared in the 1850s has a public figure boasted about his ignorance with as much gusto as Kevin McCarthy does.

It doesn’t seem to matter what you ask the speaker of the House. He hasn’t read it, seen it or heard about it.

The explosive documents from the Dominion case showing Fox News hosts privately said Donald Trump’s election lies were hokum but promoted the lies on air anyway?

“I didn’t read all that. I didn’t see all that,” McCarthy told The Post.

The way Fox News’s Tucker Carlson (predictably) manipulated the Jan. 6, 2021, security footage McCarthy (foolishly) gave the propagandist, giving the false appearance that the bloody insurrection was “mostly peaceful”?

“I didn’t see what was aired,” McCarthy asserted.

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, in an implicit rebuke of McCarthy, blasting the Carlson propaganda while holding up a statement from the Capitol Police chief denouncing Fox News’s “outrageous,” “false” and “offensive” portrayal of the insurrection?

You guessed it. McCarthy “didn’t see” McConnell do that.

The benighted McCarthy has been amassing this impressive body of obtuseness for some time. If ignorance is bliss, the California Republican has been in nirvana for years now.

How about Trump’s speech on the Ellipse on Jan. 6, 2021, provoking the sacking of the Capitol?

“I didn’t watch it,” McCarthy said.

Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) calling the insurrectionists’ rampage a “normal tourist visit”?

“I don’t know what Congressman Clyde said,” quoth McCarthy, and “I didn’t see it.

When his own designated negotiator reached a bipartisan agreement to form a commission to probe the Jan. 6 attack (a commission McCarthy ultimately killed)?

I haven’t read through it.”

Trump, in a recorded phone call, demanding Georgia’s secretary of state “find” enough votes to overturn the election results?

I have to hear it first.”

Trump telling four congresswomen of color (three of them U.S.-born) to “go back” where they came from, prompting chants of “send her back” among his rallygoers?

I didn’t get to see the rally.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) harassing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) with shouts and slander just off the House floor?

I didn’t see that. I don’t know what happened.”

Trump’s ludicrous allegation that former GOP congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough may have murdered a staffer?

“I don’t quite know about the subject itself. I don’t know this subject well.”

Trump’s scandalous claim that Democrats inflated the death toll from a hurricane in Puerto Rico to “make me look as bad as possible”?

“I haven’t read it yet,” McCarthy pleaded.

At best, McCarthy’s willful cluelessness is just a dodge. But this week, McCarthy’s see-no-evil approach was just plain evil.

After Carlson aired his phony portrayal of the insurrection, several Republicans finally spoke up about Fox News’s lies: “Inexcusable and bull—-” (Sen. Thom Tillis, N.C.), “whitewashing” (Sen. Lindsey Graham, S.C.), “dangerous and disgusting” (Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah).

Then there was McCarthy, questioned by reporters just outside the speaker’s office, which the supposedly “peaceful” insurrectionists had ransacked that terrible day.

“Do you regret giving him this footage so he could whitewash the events of that day?” asked CNN’s Manu Raju.

“No,” McCarthy replied, adding some gibberish about “transparency” (which is the very opposite of Carlson’s fabrication).

“Do you agree with his portrayal of what happened that day?” Raju pressed.

“Look,” McCarthy said. “Each person can come up with their own conclusion.”

Talk about dangerous and disgusting. Given a choice between fact and fiction, between law and anarchy, between democracy and thuggery, the speaker of the House proclaimed his agnosticism. In doing so, he threw the power of the speakership behind the insurrectionists and against the constitutional order he swore to uphold. McCarthy’s leadership team even endorsed Carlson’s fakery, promoting a link to the segment from the House GOP conference’s official Twitter account with four alarm emojis and a “MUST WATCH” recommendation.

Of course, were McCarthy to turn against Fox News, the speaker, weakened by the promises he made to secure the speakership, would be swiftly replaced by the likes of GOP caucus chair Elise Stefanik of New York (who claimed Carlson’s propaganda “demolished” the “Democrats’ dishonest narrative” about Jan. 6), or Rep. Tom Massie (R-Ky.), who went on Carlson’s show to congratulate him on his deception.

So McCarthy sells out democracy to preserve his title. He gave the security footage to Carlson in the first place because he promised that to the far-right Republicans denying him the speakership during his 15-ballot quinceañera in January.

Even Fox Corp.’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch, has expressed some regret over the network’s role in perpetrating Trump’s “big lie,” saying it should have been “stronger in denouncing it.” The internal documents exposed in the Dominion lawsuit show beyond any doubt that Fox News hosts knew the truth about the 2020 election and yet encouraged viewers night after night to believe Trump’s lies.

Those hosts continue to deceive and manipulate viewers nightly. The same day Carlson aired his Jan. 6 fabrication, Trump said on Sean Hannity’s radio show that he would have been willing to let Vladimir Putin “take over” parts of Ukraine. But when Hannity played excerpts of the interview on Fox News, the network edited out Trump’s proposed surrender.

The latest Fox News lies have proven too much for the Senate GOP leader. Though McConnell has enabled Trump at crucial moments, he said at a news conference this week that it was “a mistake” for Fox News to portray the insurrection “in a way that’s completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here in the Capitol thinks.”

Yet McCarthy continues to put himself before his country. In just two months on the job, McCarthy “already … has done more than any party leader in Congress to enable the spread of Donald Trump’s Big Lie,” the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, charged on the Senate floor this week. The speaker, he said, “has made our democracy weaker.”

And McCarthy isn’t finished with his depredations. Greene, given a position of influence and respectability by the speaker, is launching a probe, complete with a field trip to a D.C. jail, into the “inhumane treatment” allegedly suffered by the accused insurrectionists awaiting trial. McCarthy has also given the green light to a new probe designed to challenge the conclusions of the Jan. 6 committee.

The man who will lead that panel, Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), declared this week that Americans “didn’t see the other side” of the insurrection. “I think the truth is going to be somewhere between the violent videos and the supposedly peaceful actions there,” he said.

No. The only truth is that Jan. 6 was a violent attack on the seat of American democracy. There was nothing peaceful about an armed insurrection attempting to overturn an election — even if some people there that day weren’t themselves violent.

But that truth — and this democracy — are threatened by a dangerously weak speaker of the House, who has concluded that the only way to preserve his own power is to support Fox News in its sabotage of this country.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a historian of fascism and Italian Studies at New York University. The following appeared on her blog. Lucid.

“In 2016, I declared, I am your voice. Today, I add, I am your warrior, I am your justice, and for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.” Anyone who wants to understand how Fascist models of leadership can find expression in our own time need only read this passage from former president Donald Trump’s speech at the recent Conservative Political Action Committee meeting held in Maryland.

Trump’s CPAC speech brings forth a century of rhetoric and agendas that have been used to destroy democracy, conjuring threats that are meant to build support for authoritarian action and leadership, starting with the idea of the head of state as a vengeful victim.

“What did Italy need? An avenger!… It was necessary to cauterize the virulent wounds…and eliminate evils which threatened to become chronic,” Fascist leader Benito Mussolini wrote in his autobiography, striking a similar note to Trump as he explained why he had declared dictatorship in 1925.

Ever since Il Duce came to power a century ago, strongman leaders have proclaimed their unique ability to lead their people to greatness, including by righting the wrongs internal and external enemies supposedly perpetrate against the nation. In the process, the strongman absorbs the blows delivered by those enemies, putting his well-being at risk as he battles to save the nation and protect all that is cherished and dear.

The focus on victimhood sets up any repressive action by the state as self-defense. It justifies the literal weaponization of government, with violence used against enemies “for the good of the nation.” The “public safety laws” that jailed leftists and transformed Italy into a police state in the 1920s upheld this fiction.

And Nazi policies did not just make good on Adolf Hitler’s vows to punish elites who had “stabbed Germany in the back” by accepting the draconian terms of the Versailles Treaty (which held Germany responsible for all moral and material damages incurred during World War One). They also targeted groups that Hitler identified as threats to Germany’s survival in the future. These included Jews (“black parasites of the nation”); Bolsheviks (the “scum of humanity”); and war profiteers and international capitalists— the forerunners of the “globalists” Trump regularly denounces, including in this CPAC speech.

When such leaders feel their power is threatened, or are staging a comeback after having been voted out of office, they focus on gaining control of public institutions to exact revenge. This is one meaning of Trump’s declaration that “we’re going to finish what we started.” If he returns to the White House, he will punish all who did not collaborate with his attempt to overthrow the government.

Trump’s well-honed victimhood persona is the star of the CPAC speech, and he invokes a dizzying array of enemies who want to “kill America” and do him in as well. “A sick and sinister opposition, the radical left, communists, the bureaucrats, the fake news media, the big special interests,” as well as “Antifa thugs,” and “corrupt intelligence agencies.”

Fascist leaders pose as pure souls who risk everything to defend the nation. Trump followed suit at CPAC by presenting himself as an innocent and honest man who had never tangled with the law before “corrupt Democratic prosecutors” funded by “the George Soros money machine” sought to stop his “an epic struggle to rescue our country.”

“I had a beautiful life before I did this…”I didn’t know the word subpoena, I didn’t know the word grand jury. I didn’t know that they want to lynch you for doing nothing wrong.” Luckily for his followers, Trump is tenacious. “We’re going to complete the mission, we’re going to see this battle through to ultimate victory. we’re going to make America great again.”

But why stop at America? The true Fascist avenger fixes the world. “I will have the disastrous war between Russia and Ukraine settled. It will be settled quickly. I will get the problem solved. I will get it solved in rapid order—it will take me no longer than one day. I know what to say to each of them. I got along well with all of them. I got along well with Putin.”

In fact, as Trump remarks, had he been in office now, as fearsome and powerful as a mountain, “Russia would have never pulled the trigger. This is the most dangerous time in the history of our country and Joe Biden is leading us into oblivion…Biden is a criminal and nothing ever seems to happen to him.”

With this incitement to violence against a sitting president, Trump’s CPAC speech reaches its peak. Trump offers Americans no policy ideas, but rather a classic Fascist cocktail of negative emotions, satisfying promises of revenge, and a sense of heroism and power.

Like Mussolini and Hitler before him, Trump knows that the strongman must be everything to his people. His devoted followers must be so bonded to him that no other leader is possible in their minds. Only he can save them. “I am your warrior, I am your justice, and for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.”

References:

Benito Mussolini, My Autobiography (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1928), 205. Adolf Hitler, speech in Salzburg, August 1920, in Neil Gregor, “Hitler,” in Mental Maps in the Era of Two World Wars, eds. Steven Casey and Jonathan Wright (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 189; Hitler, “Rathenau und Sancho Pansa,” Völkischer Beobachter, March 13, 1921.

Trump spoke on Saturday night to an audience of wildly enthusiastic supporters. His 100-minute speech was chock-full of exaggerations and lies, and his audience loved it.

Before he spoke, he said that he would run even if he is indicted.

Linda Qiu of the New York Times did a fact-check, but it is not complete. For example, Biden withdrew from Afghanistan to fulfill a deal (the Doha Agreement) that the Trump administration made with the Taliban to withdraw American troops by May 1, 2021. Biden pushed the withdrawal back to August 30, 2021. It was a bipartisan disaster.

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald J. Trump revived familiar falsehoods and returned to old themes in a speech Saturday night at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Here’s a fact check of some of his claims.

WHAT MR. TRUMP SAID

“Killings are taking place at a number like nobody’s ever seen, right in Manhattan.”

False. Murders declined in New York by about 11 percent from 488 homicides in 2021 to 433 homicides last year. It was the lowest level since 2019, according to the city’s Police Department. Murders continued to decrease this year to 30 in January(compared with 31 in January 2022) and to 26 in February (compared with 36 in February 2022).

Those numbers also pale in comparison to the height of crime in New York in the 1980s and 1990s, when Mr. Trump was a mainstay of the city and when it regularly recorded more than 1,500 murders annually. Homicides peaked in 1990 at 2,245.

WHAT MR. TRUMP SAID

“We lost $85 billion worth of the greatest military equipment in the world.”

This is exaggerated. Mr. Trump was referring to, and overstating, the value of military equipment seized by the Taliban after the United States withdrew the last of its troops from Afghanistan last August.

According to quarterly Pentagon reports to Congress, the United States had provided $88.6 billion for security in Afghanistan from October 2001 to July 2021, and disbursed about $75 billion. That figure includes the amount spent on training, antidrug trafficking efforts and infrastructure, as well as $18 billion for equipment. Most of the $75 billion actually went toward “sustainment,” a category that includes salaries, communications and gas for vehicles.

CNN and other news outlets have reported that the United States left behind about $7 billion of military equipment.

WHAT MR. TRUMP SAID

“They want windmills all over the place that ruin our fields, kill our birds and are very unreliable and are the most expensive energy ever developed”

This is exaggerated. Mr. Trump has long been an ardent critic of wind turbines, but his complaints are overstated.

By one estimate, as many as 328,000 birds die each year flying into wind farms, but other things — inanimate and living — pose a far greater threat. Cats kill as many as four billion birds annually in the United States, fossil fuel power plants are responsible for 14.5 million and collisions with buildings as many as 988 million birds.

Wind power and other forms of renewable energy are becoming increasingly more affordable.

The Energy Information Administration estimated that onshore wind would cost about $30 per megawatt-hour by 2027, cheaper than the $52 for coal, $61 for nuclear, $41 for biomass and $47 for hydroelectric. It will remain more expensive than natural gas, solar and geothermal generation.

OTHER CLAIMS

Mr. Trump also repeated a number of other claims The New York Times had previously fact-checked:

  • Mr. Trump inaccurately claimed to have “shut down” unauthorized border crossings. (The number declined during the pandemic, but began to increase again in the final months of his presidency.)
  • He falsely claimed that “no other president had ever gotten anything from China, not even 10 cents.” (In the decade before Mr. Trump took office, the United States collected $8 billion to $14 billion per year from duties on Chinese imports.)
  • He misleadingly characterized members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as “delinquent” on payments. (All member nations pay their bills.)
  • He falsely said that “no one ever heard of” the Nord Stream 2 pipeline before he raised it as an issue and halted its construction. (His predecessors all opposed the project.)
  • He misleadingly claimed that the Obama administration had only supplied Ukraine with “blankets.” (It committed more than $600 million in security assistance to Ukraine.)
  • He falsely claimed to have “completed” building a wall along the southern border. (It has not been finished.)
  • He claimed to have presided over the “best economy in history.” (Average growth, even before the coronavirus pandemic decimated the economy, was lower under Mr. Trump than under former Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.)

Linda Qiu is a fact-check reporter, based in Washington. She came to The Times in 2017 from the fact-checking service PolitiFact. @ylindaqiu

Trump spoke to an adoring crowd tonight at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and he brought his fans to their feet with the usual fiery language, fear-mongering, and lies.

David Smith wrote in The Guardian:

Feeding off the energy of a crowd that wore “Make America great again” (Maga) caps, and watched by Brazil’s far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro, Trump returned to the authoritarian language that characterised his political rise seven years ago.

“In 2016, I declared: I am your voice,” he said, speaking for just over 100 minutes from a bright blue and red stage in a cavernous ballroom at the closing speech of the CPAC event in Maryland. “Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution,” he said.

Trump left office in disgrace after two impeachments and a failed attempt to overturn his defeat by Joe Biden in the 2020 election, culminating in a deadly riot at the US Capitol. He faces an array of criminal investigations yet announced another run for president last November at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida….

Perhaps stung by critics who say Trump has lost the swagger of his first campaign, Trump seemed determined to tap into supporters’ nostalgia and make the case that, together, they could rekindle the old magic. “For seven years you and I have been engaged in an epic struggle to rescue our country from the people who hate it and want to absolutely destroy it,” he said.

“We are going to finish what we started. We started something that was a miracle. We’re going to complete the mission, we’re going to see this battle through to ultimate victory. We’re going to make America great again….”

“With you at my side, we will demolish the deep state. We will expel the war mongers… We will drive out the globalists. We will cast out the communists. We will throw off the political class that hates our country … We will beat the Democrats. We will rout the fake news media. We will expose and appropriately deal with the Rinos [Republicans in name only]. We will evict Joe Biden from the White House. And we will liberate America from these villains and scoundrels once and for all,” he said.

Trump then sent a warning to the party that he has shaped in his own image in an effort to crush dissent. “We had a Republican party that was ruled by freaks, neocons, globalists, open border zealots and fools but we are never going back to the party of Paul Ryan, Karl Rove and Jeb Bush.”

In a zigzagging speech, Trump avoided references to DeSantis but repeatedly turned his fire on Biden. “This is the most dangerous time in our country’s history, and Joe Biden is leading us into oblivion,” he said.

Trump insisted that Russian’s Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine because of the US’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021. “And you’re going to have world war three, by the way. We’re going to have world war three if something doesn’t happen fast. I am the only candidate who can make this promise: I will prevent world war three.”

He made the unlikely boast: “Before I arrive in the Oval Office, I will have the disastrous war between Russia and Ukraine ended… I know what to say.”

Trump threw red meat to the base: additional border wall construction and a massive increase in border patrols to stop the flow of illegal drugs, one day voting with paper ballots, a crackdown on trans rights and gender affirmation surgeries. He repeated his false claim that he won the 2020 election “by a lot” when in fact Biden beat him by 7m votes.

But before a cult-like crowd, Saturday’s event was a warning against Democratic complacency, an indicator that Trump is down but not out and that, just as in 2016, history could take a perilous turn. “We have no choice,” he said in a startling contrast to Biden’s pleas for unity, warning “this is the final battle.”

He concluded: “If we don’t do this, our country will be lost forever.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis holds regular press conference where he issues new policies intended to curb the freedoms of some marginalized group or to impose his views on the whole state. Whenever he eliminates someone’s freedom, he boasts about Florida standing for “freedom.” What he means is that in Florida, everyone is free to agree with him.

Obviously he’s running for the Republican nomination for President, and he has decided that he must out-Trump Trump. He must be more racist, more homophobic, more xenophobic, and more contemptuous of democratic norms than Trump.

Trump often complained about his inability to sue reporters who criticized him. Many years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that prominent public figures could not sue the press for libel unless they are able to prove “malicious intent.” This standard was so high that it was virtually impossible for a president or governor or senator to sue and win.

DeSantis intends to change that by crafting a new law making it easier for him to sue reporters. This law, if challenged, would go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It could curtail press freedom across the nation.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has targeted one political enemy after another, from removing a top state prosecutor in Tampa who disagreed with him on abortion rights to promoting an “anti-woke” agenda that limits the teaching of racism in public schools and diversity hiring programs at universities. He even went after business behemoth Disney when its CEO opposed an educational bill, dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Now, Florida lawmakers — with the support of the governor — are taking aim at the media, pushing legislation that would dramatically weaken legal standards in place for more than a half century that protect the freedom of the press to report on politicians and other powerful public figures.

The bill would make it easier to sue media outlets for allegations of defamation and make it harder for journalists to do their jobs by undermining the use of unnamed sources, an important reporting tool — particularly for media trying to pull back the curtain on the dealings of elected officials.

Many First Amendment advocates and legal experts say it is clearly intended to muzzle reporters who serve as watch dogs for the public. “I see this as a deliberate effort to punish media organizations that have been critical of the governor and the Republican Legislature,” Thomas Julin, a First Amendment attorney with the Gunster law firm in Miami, said in an interview. “It’s doing that by stripping away protections that were seen as essential for those organizations to remain strong.

“It’s encouraging more people to file more damage claims and punitive damage claims against media organizations,” Julin told the Herald. “They’re trying to put them out of business. … What’s disturbing is that it’s meant to help DeSantis get elected as president — not because it’s good policy.”

The bill, filed by a GOP lawmaker this week, also poses a threat to press freedom beyond Florida. Given the governor’s clout in Tallahassee, it stands a solid chance of passage this spring in the Republican-controlled state Legislature and would likely spur more defamation cases in Florida, legal experts say.

Because of the clear-cut constitutional questions, the legislation could eventually be appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where at least two justices have already signaled they are interested in revisiting libel law and press protections.

The Florida legislation (HB991) aims to eliminate longstanding protections for the news media in their coverage of politicians, government officials and public figures. For starters, the bill directly challenges a 1964 landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, New York Times v. Sullivan, that created a formidable standard — “actual malice” — in defamation disputes.

When the Civil Rights-era case in Alabama was decided as a constitutional First Amendment issue, the Supreme Court unanimously defined the new actual malice standard as making a false statement about a public official “with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” Those words were critical because from that point forward, public officials, along with public figures later on, have been faced with proving that a media outlet knew its reporting was false or inaccurate to clear the “actual malice” bar in a defamation lawsuit.

If passed, Florida’s anti-media bill would be the only one of its kind in the nation. But First Amendment advocates fear other states could follow and the legislation could clear the path for weakening press protections across the county.

Two conservative Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas, who is admired by DeSantis, and Neil Gorsuch, already have expressed in prior libel case rulings their interest to reevaluate that bedrock legal principle, citing the rapidly changing digital landscape of news reporting propelled by rampant misinformation, inaccuracies and conspiracies posted on social media site.

The Court already demonstrated its indifference to precedent by overturning Roe v. Wade.

Read more at: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/article272580860.html#storylink=cpy