Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: Fascism is still fascist, and so are Donald Trump and Stephen Miller

Jonathan Chait and Trump’s war on democracy.
New York Magazine

Trump’s election inspired a wave of concern, sometimes shading into outright panic, over the stability of the republic. It is fair to say that nothing has yet occurred that would irreversibly impair the democratic character of the state or entrench Trump and his allies in power. In this light, an increasingly smug wave of revisionism has taken hold. Shadi Hamid, writing in the Atlantic, scolds the intellectuals who wrung their hands over the possibility of democracy’s backsliding under Trump. He mocks the widespread attention to the book How Democracies Die — dismissing it as “an alarmist bible” — and, especially, the widespread use of Hitler analogies.

Of course, it has never made sense to consider the Nazis a historical analog to the party of Trump. While Trump may be an instinctive authoritarian who admires the control exerted by strongmen, unlike Hitler, he is not a social Darwinist bent on a genocidal war of territorial conquest. The worst-case scenario with Trump is not going to culminate in anything resembling totalitarian rule, industrialized murder, and global war.

No. Trump is a genocidal isolationist who will inevitably start a war just because he likes to watch things burn. Soldiers in Stonewall Jackson’s brigade had a fair sense of how nuts their commander really was. They said “He would have a man killed at the drop of a hat, and he would drop it himself.” Trump would drop a dozen in a morning just because it was something to do while waiting for a cheeseburger. He would burn down Europe if he thought it would cause pain to a single liberal.

The democracy literature, including How Democracies Die, is an attempt to frame the problem in less dramatic terms without downplaying its seriousness. One myth the authors are attempting to correct, without any apparent success on the part of critics like Hamid, is the popular habit of treating democracy in binary terms, with the alternatives being either an idealized republic or the rule of the most murderous totalitarians of the 20th century. The phrase “democratic backsliding” captures a messier reality in which autocracy moves along a continuum rather than suddenly descending in a parade of jackboots in the street. It involves the subversion of democratic norms and recruiting neutral government actors into agents of the regime’s political interests.

We have slid far, far, far back. That sound in the not-so-great distance? Definitely boots.

Hamid Dabashi on the desire of some Christians to assign Trump a biblical role.
al Jazeera

Back in 2016, during a televised conversation on whether Trump has a “biblical mandate” to be a president, evangelical thinker Lance Wallnau opined: “America’s going to have a challenge […] With Trump, I believe we have a Cyrus to navigate through the storm.”

Then just a few weeks ago, during his visit to Israel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked: “Could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?” To which he responded: “As a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible.”  

It would be quite tempting to disregard the absurdity of these analogies, and rush to the conclusion that the people who believe in them inhabit a delusional world of their own – very much like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his ISIL gangs or the Hindu fundamentalists and their lynch mobs.

As someone who has a record of church attendance over the last few years that can’t even be described as “spotty,” it is not in my nature to be critical either of how, or how often, anyone chooses to worship. But let me say this — Donald Trump is anti-Christian. Not “the Antichrist” as in a figure conjured from the visions of St. John, but anti-Christian as in exposing a personal philosophy that is at absolute odds to the Christian faith. Trump expresses and encourages violence. Worships and celebrates greed. And openly admits that he feels no need to ask forgiveness of either man nor God.

It is not possible to be both a disciple of Donald Trump and a follower of Jesus Christ. The two stand at opposite ends of a road that cannot be reconciled. Anyone who believes that it is possible to follow both may be deceiving themselves, but they are certainly wrong.

Art Cullen is taken with Julian Castro’s foreign policy ideas.
Storm Lake Times

If we want to begin to solve the refugee crisis of all Latin America, we should pay more attention to Julian Castro. The former mayor of San Antonio and Democratic presidential candidate has laid out a detailed vision that meets the promise of Lady Liberty and provides for our own sovereignty: provide a pathway to citizenship for otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants, assist refugees in seeking asylum, devote more resources for immigration judges and staff to process cases, and set new visa limits that recognize workforce demands.

His two most important proposals are these:

Decriminalize immigration. Make it a civil penalty similar to a traffic ticket. … 

Develop a Marshall Plan for Latin America. Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have been mired in civil conflict as long as we can remember, with intermittent respites of peace brokered by the United States. Considering that much of the misery in Central America is seeded in US colonialism and propping up brutal dictators, it is appropriate that we should take a leading role in finally helping the region develop its potential with our support. 

Both proposals ought to be taken up by all Democratic candidates. Let Trump own policy intended to do harm and make people miserable. Embrace the idea that things can get better.

Renée Graham on how Stephen Miller encourages the worst in Trump.
Boston Globe

Stephen Miller hates people of color as much as he enjoys inflicting cruelty. That’s why he has President Trump’s ear on immigration policy.

For all racist intents and purposes, Miller, a speechwriter and senior adviser who shapes and amplifies Trump’s worst instincts, is likely behind the Department of Homeland Security purge. Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was the first to go, followed by other top DHS officials, including Secret Service director Randolph Alles.

I can’t copy enough of Graham’s piece to do it justice. Go read more.

Nielsen, who made Cruella de Vil look like Mother Teresa, oversaw the draconian migrant family separation policy. Ripping children from their parents purposely evokes some of this nation’s darkest eras. Up to the line of the law, she was willing to do anything to exact extreme suffering on people who had already experienced too much of it in their Central American homelands. Nielsen’s actions included putting children in cages and internment camps, and tear-gassing migrants on the Mexican border. …

Still, Trump and Miller considered Nielsen “weak.” The president wants even asylum seekers at official ports of entry separated from their children, criminalizing legal asylum. He wants the southern border closed, which would trigger an economic disaster on both sides of the border. For all of her immoral actions, Nielsen simply wasn’t barbaric enough for this administration.

Let me quote again from my own 2015 piece: “It was French poet Charles Baudelaire who said ‘the finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.’ The finest trick of the modern fascist? The same. Nothing is ever fascist. It’s just ‘very conservative.’ And this week’s very conservative, is next week’s middle of the road.”

Joan Walsh one the qualities of Kirsten Gillibrand.
The Nation

“I’m not afraid of anything!” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand tells a crowd in Davenport, Iowa, as she stands on a rickety chair in a packed bar. It’s one of six events she will do over the course of 30 hours here in the first caucus state. The 5-foot-2 New York senator, who’s made “bravery”—her own, her voters’—the centerpiece of her presidential campaign, hops off the chair from time to time and wanders the crowd with her microphone, Oprah-style, then jumps back on it to answer the questions she gets, tall enough for everyone to see. Her staff seems both elated at the way she is working the room, and a tiny bit worried about her safety on that unreliable chair. But Gillibrand can’t be stopped. Here, as elsewhere, she poses for pictures with people until the last voter is selfied. …

Sure, the Iowa caucuses were still 11 months away, but Gillibrand is averaging about 1 percent in most polls. Soon, reporters will skip covering candidates with numbers that low. So Gillibrand opens her stump speech wasting no time: “I want to tell you who I am, why I’m running, and why I can beat Donald Trump.” She has her family story, along with lots of facts and figures and policy points, but her pitch comes down to two key items: She’s a Medicare for All progressive who nonetheless knows how to win in red districts, and perhaps more important in this Democratic primary campaign, she is a Resistance mom, as are most of the women who make up her crowds. Crushed by the 2016 election results—in interviews, Gillibrand admits that she cried for a long time after Hillary Clinton’s loss, then emerged, renewed, by the 2017 Women’s March—she and other women have risen up together, and they’re going after the president, he who is not brave, and whom Gillibrand will famously call a “coward” in her campaign-kickoff speech.

I’ll confess that I’m one of those who presses the Gillibrand button in the Daily Kos polls — when I can. She’s second only to Jay Inslee in the importance she assigns to climate change, and she’s consistent in her application of progressive values. I still have my fingers crossed that she’ll start to gain ground.

Michael Tomasky on Trump’s willingness to destroy the law to hide his taxes.
Daily Beast

One of the most dishonest lines of argument to emanate from Trumpland in the last couple of years is that such-and-such an issue “was already litigated during the election.”

That’s a statement that others have used, and that can from time to time be true. For example, if an election is clearly fought over a particular issue, and the result is overwhelming, then the winner and his people can rightly say that the issue was litigated at election time. FDR’s handling of the economy was indeed litigated in the 1936 election, as was Ronald Reagan’s in 1984.

But nothing was “litigated” in 2016. First of all, the voters chose Hillary Clinton, by a hefty 2.8 million votes. Donald Trump benefited from a friendly geographic distribution of his 2.8 million fewer voters. So for anyone to say that “voters” came down on Trump’s side of any question in November 2016 is a lie. Voters did not. Electors did.

If voters in 1980 could have known what Reagan would do in a few months to union air traffic controllers, and how that decision would echo from that time on, they might not have believed that was the economy they were voting for. Ditto the massive pile of debt Reagan left behind.

But none of this stopped White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney from saying on TV on Sunday that Democrats will never see the president’s tax returns. “Never—nor should they,” Mulvaney said on Fox News Sunday. “That’s an issue that was already litigated during the election… The Democrats are demanding that the IRS turn over the documents, and that is not going to happen, and they know it.”

Surreal. Voters have seen the tax returns of every major-party presidential candidate going back almost 50 years. Except one. Well, two—Bernie Sanders, which is a whole ’nother issue, but not one for today.

Nancy Letourneau on the DNC’s strategy for 2020.
Washington Monthly

In other words, there will be a hyper-local focus on the failed presidency of Donald Trump. Obviously, the so-called “war room” has a lot of material to work with based on all of this president’s lies and broken promises. Their efforts will be modeled after this video that captured Trump pledging his allegiance to workers at companies like Harley Davidson in Kansas City.

This is yet another example of how Democrats can walk and chew gum at the same time. They can manage investigations that hold the president accountable while making sure that voters have the facts to combat his lies. But that’s not all. While they’re doing that, they can pass legislation to initiate electoral reform, expand health care access and affordability, and protect women from violence and abuse (to name just a few). That’s not a bad hat trick.

Virginia Heffernan on the ugly end of Julian Assange.
Los Angeles Times

Assange was freed by force from the embassy redoubt he despised and defiled for seven years. The breakup should have been mutual, but no. An oatmeal-colored Assange — he seems to have made little use of the sunlamp and treadmill the embassy generously furnished for him — left his digs at 3 Hans Crescent kicking and screaming. And manacled.

The video of his arrest ricocheted around the internet. Somehow WikiLeaks itself, which usually loves the spectacle of hubris brought low, failed to publish it.

Assange now faces skipped-bail charges in the UK, as well as the possibility of extradition to the United States, where he has been indicted for alleged computer crimes — specifically, having helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning break into government computers in 2010.

The charge that’s been filed against Assange in the United States, which on the surface appears to be little more than a discussion between Assange and Manning that led nowhere, would appear to be a singularly weak point on which to hang his extradition and trial. If the United States wants to try Assange for publishing government documents, they need to do so, and not try to win the case through what’s clearly a proxy charge.

But first they should hand him back to Sweden, where he can be tried on charges of rape in a case where the statute of limitations runs out next year.

It should not be lost in the inevitable portrayal of Assange as a 1st Amendment martyr that he originally sought asylum from Ecuador not because of computer meddling but because of allegations that he had committed rape in Stockholm. Sweden, stymied by the protection offered him in the embassy, stopped pursuing the investigation in 2017; on Friday, the chief prosecutor said the case could be reopened.

Charles Pierce is not buying the version of the Mar-a-lago story that we’re being sold.
Esquire

The whole story is hinky as hell, especially in the context of the parallel investigation into the alleged influence peddled by Cindy Yang, the founder of the now-famous chain of strip-mall massage parlors. Zhang herself seems alternately at sea with English and astute in her questioning about her own legal status. What we do know is that, in all things, Camp Runamuck’s concept of security is a little less stringent that that provided by a pack of Shih-Tzus.

Ninety percent of Pierce’s article consists of quotes from other articles. So if you want to know what led him to this conclusion, you’ll need to check it out.

Mike Littwin on Trump’s plan to dump asylum seekers in sanctuary cities.
Colorado Independent

As we all know, Donald Trump is the sociopathic liar of our time and, just possibly, of any time. It’s not only that he lies so frequently, but that he lies so brazenly. But knowing that he lies doesn’t solve one the great puzzles of the Trump era — whether the guy himself actually believes anything that comes out of his mouth.

This week — a tumultuous one even by Trump standards — we were given an important clue. We have go back to the beginning to understand it, back to the down-the-Trump-Tower-escalator announcement speech in which Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers and worse. It set the tone for the entire Trump campaign.

At the time, though — granted, a more innocent time — the Trump lie sounded to me less like Steve-King-style bigotry than simple demagoguery meant to exploit anti-immigrant feeling. Whatever your views on Trump’s level of bigotry — and mine have changed — it doesn’t explain Trump’s latest proposal to dump ICE detainees onto the streets of so-called sanctuary cities. By the way, I think “dump” is the correct word.

The idea is, of course, insane — sending the detainees to cities they’d probably like to live in anyway, on buses that may or may not come to a full stop before dumping them. And it’s probably illegal —or at least that’s what the people from ICE and Department of Homeland Security have been telling Trump, which is why the president is busily firing so many of them. Trump reportedly even considered sending agents into Mexico to arrest people marching in the caravans and sending them to sanctuary cities. I don’t know if Trump knows the briar patch story, but this is briar patch territory. Where does he think the marchers want to go?

Not just sending people who came to border locations applying for entry — but marching agents into Mexico to arrest people in Mexico and ship them to sanctuary cities. That’s an extra special detail.

Dana Milbank on Trump’s definition of treason.
Washington Post

This must be the season for treason.

In the Oval Office on Thursday afternoon, President Trump gave a lesson on American justice to the visiting South Korean president. Speaking about the Mueller investigation and its origins, Trump said: “This is actually treason.”

This wasn’t offhand. On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that the probe was a “Treasonous Hoax” and that “what the Democrats are doing with the Border is TREASONOUS.” That same day, boarding Marine One, he reaffirmed that what Democrats and Justice Department officials did in the Mueller probe “was treason.”

On April 6, he declared it’s “about time the perpetrators . . . start defending their dishonest and treasonous acts.” He added an injunction associated with the Holocaust: “Never Forget!”

I will never forget. I’ll never forget what Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and William Barr have done in an effort to end American democracy.

This has become routine. In the past few weeks, Trump informed the NATO secretary general that the investigation of him could be “treasonous” and let Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu know that “a lot of people out there” have done “treasonous things against our country.” Trump told Fox News’s Sean Hannity: “It was really treason. . . . We can never allow these treasonous acts to happen to another president. . . . you are talking about major, major treason.” Minor treason is a thing?

Minor treason is not a thing. But treason the act can easily be redefined by Trump’s regular misuse.

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