Monthly Archives: January 2017

Trump, Bannon, and Lenin

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, AKA Lenin, one of the most influential figures in world history, engineered the Bolsheviks’ takeover of power after the Czar’s overthrow in 1917.

One hundred years later, a surprising successor gained a powerful position in our own country: the chief strategist and senior counselor to the current US president.

The Leninism theme started with “Steve Bannon, Trump’s Top Guy, Told Me He Was ‘A Leninist’ Who Wants To ‘Destroy the State’ by Ronald Radosh, The Daily Beast, 8/22/16, recounting a conversation on Nov. 12, 2013:

…we had a long talk about his approach to politics. He never called himself a “populist” or an “American nationalist,” as so many think of him today. “I’m a Leninist,” Bannon proudly proclaimed.

Shocked, I asked him what he meant.

“Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Bannon was employing Lenin’s strategy for Tea Party populist goals. He included in that group the Republican and Democratic Parties, as well as the traditional conservative press….

His goal was to bring down the entire establishment including the leaders of the Republican Party in Congress. He went on to tell me that he was the East Coast coordinator of all the Tea Party groups. His plan was to get its candidates nominated on the Republican ticket, and then to back campaigns that they could win. Then, Bannon said, when elected they would be held accountable to fight for the agenda he and the Tea Party stood for.

…Trump’s decision to take on Bannon indicates that he wants to wage his campaign along the lines laid down by him—that of destroying the Republican leadership and the Party as we know it. Trump’s behavior thus far has been compatible with Bannon’s belief in Leninist tactics. As the Bolshevik leader once said, “The art of any propagandist and agitator consists in his ability to find the best means of influencing any given audience, by presenting a definite truth, in such a way as to make it most convincing, most easy to digest, most graphic, and most strongly impressive.”…

345px-leninensuizamarzo1916-barbaroussovietr00mcbrphoto from Wikipedia

At the time that article was written, 3 years after the conversation, Bannon was the head of Trump’s campaign. By one standard–winning–he did a great job. By the standard of respecting his fellow Americans and the country’s political traditions, not so much. Like Lenin, he seems to follow the formulation that the ends justify the means or, in Malcolm X’s famed wording, “by any means necessary.”

In Salon, 11/19/16, “Steve Bannon, Bolshevik: Maybe Donald Trump’s alt-right Svengali really is a ‘Leninist,'” Andrew O’Hehir says:

I would speculate not only that Bannon didn’t expect Trump to be elected president but also that he didn’t want him to. Subverting and destroying the Republican Party certainly seemed a more realistic goal for 2016; the purged and cleansed party could then be redirected toward its alpha-male, un-cuckservative future, behind a more plausible and competent post-Trump candidate.

Probably Trump didn’t expect to be elected either, but the point fits in with Leninist history: it was a long shot too when Lenin and other Russian revolutionaries were allowed to travel through German territory to stir up the then Russian Republic, with which Germany was still at war. Losing a long shot can put one in a position of strength, as was the case with Ronald Reagan’s first attempt to win the presidency.

In “Why Steve Bannon wants to destroy secularism,” The Guardian, 12/7/16, Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins says about Breitbart’s “alleged Leninism” that:

He aims to destroy the political establishment and infuse the re-established state with Judeo-Christian traditionalism. This will aid in redirecting the central bureaucratic state away from globalism and towards economic nationalism.

Although hardly a proponent of “Judeo-Christian traditionalism,” Lenin also wanted to “destroy the political establishment” and build something new. He believed that the state would wither away after the victory of the proletarian–recalling Grover Norquist’s mantra of “drowning the government in a bathtub.” Such claims seemed ridiculous until this year. Now, who knows? Trump has no idea, because Bannon is probably the one managing his everyday political affairs. Perhaps “states’ rights” will triumph again, as at the height of the segregation era.

Before the Koch influence became clear, the Tea Party had its anarchist side; the “alt right” has something of the Confederacy in its rebellion against national policy; and Bannon is often described as a provocateur. But “anarchist,” “rebel,” and “provocateur” do not do justice to his talents. Given a chance, he is quite capable of destroying a government and certainly a party.

As commentators often fret: why don’t Republican leaders realize what is going on?

Trump and the history of political lies

There has been a lot going around in the media about lies. Perhaps ultimately some good will come out of all this, if people are sensitized to the difference between true and false. Here are just a few examples from the New York Times, going back far enough that Trump supporters really should have known better, if they hadn’t scorned the so-called mainstream media:

A Week of Whoppers From Donald Trump” by Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns, 9/24/16

The Lies Trump Told” by David Leonhardt, 9/27/16 (a lengthy list, that now would be even huger after 4 more months of whoppers)

Donald Trump’s Lies About the Popular Vote,” editorial, 11/28/16 (the lie that 3 million illegal votes gave Hillary the popular vote victory is preposterous, even in the Trump league)

“Truth and Lies in the Age of Trump,” editorial, 12/10/16

A Lie by Any Other Name” by Charles M. Blow (one of the fiercer denunciations: “Trump does not simply have ‘a running war with the media.’… He is in fact having a running war with the truth itself,” etc.)

And lots more; just search New York Times Trump lies.

trump-pinocchioNow an interesting analysis by Dan Barry, “In a Swirl of ‘Untruths’ and ‘Falsehoods,’ Calling a Lie a Lie,” 1/25/17, points out that “To say that someone has ‘lied,’ an active verb, or has told a ‘lie,’ a more passive, distancing noun, is to say that the person intended to deceive.”

So the question becomes, does Trump even know he is lying? Maybe he is so hypnotized by his own self-image, so out of touch with reality as a man who can spend days without going outside his own property, that he just doesn’t realize that what he wants to believe and what other people know may not be the same. It’s the triumph of magical thinking: “I want, therefore it is.”

We also hear that “George Orwell’s ‘1984’ Is Suddenly a Best-Seller” (1/25/17). Well sure: Orwell was a true predictive genius and the world he predicted is struggling to exist, with the likes of Trump and Putin as midwives.

A really good retrospective by Robert Kuttner, “Orwell, Hitler And Trump, Huffington Post, 1/22/17, bears the subtitle that goes right to the point: “Hitler was the first to describe the technique of telling a lie so often that people believed it. He called it the ‘Big Lie.'” Here is just one excerpt:

…Long before Trump, the “mainstream” Republican Party made lies a staple of its arsenal, from its lies about Obamacare to its bogus budget numbers to its false contentions of fraudulent voting.

Trump has embellished this technique by lying, then accusing his critics of lying, until the debate is hopelessly scrambled. Trump manufactures phony stories, then accuses the media of “fake news.”

Adolf Hitler was the first to describe the technique of repeating a lie so often that people would come to believe it. He called it the “Big Lie.”

From his denial of climate change to his denial that Obama was born in Hawaii, Trump has dusted off the Big Lie. But then he goes classic Big Liars one better ― by denying the denial.

As Jonathan Swift wrote in 1710, “Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late.” A version misattributed to Mark Twain has it that “a lie is halfway around the world while the truth is putting its boots on.” You get the point….”

Trump’s strategy is to flood the zone — to proliferate so many lies that by the time one lie is rebutted, he has put out several more, and he seems to believe even the lies that contradict previous lies. Ignorance really is Trump’s strength.

Which is more dangerous: if Trump truly doesn’t know he is lying, or if he is a conscious follower in the trail blazed by Hitler and Big Brother?

The case of Katie Rich’s tweet

Katie Rich, a joke writer for Saturday Night Live, was fired after tweeting on inauguration day: “Barron will be this country’s first homeschool shooter.”

Her job was to write plentiful jokes for the producers to choose among to air on the show. This one would presumably not have been chosen, but making it public drew a storm of adverse comment and she quickly apologized.

A New York Times article, “Chelsea Clinton and Others Say: Leave Barron Trump Alone” by Johan Engel Bromwich, 1/23/17, points out that the Carter, Clinton, Bush and Obama children were not spared in the media.

So what makes this case different? Is it:

1) because NBC and other media outlets are afraid of Trump’s vindictiveness and want to stay out of the line of fire? or

2) because there was something special about this particular message?

Fear of Trump would set a worrisome precedent, because then the media would be telling their employees to keep their heads down and pre-censor themselves.

Besides the inaccurate statement that Barron is being homeschooled, it’s the gun reference that really puts Rich’s tweet over the top, for two reasons:

1) Any humorous reference to the numerous school shootings this country has suffered in the past few years is unacceptable.

Gun violence is a really serious matter. The fact that Trump the father favors further circulation of deadly weapons, in keeping with his NRA patrons’ desires, makes this an important subject of policy debate, and protecting school children is part of the equation. Not funny at all.

2) The tweet seems to be suggesting that Barron would be shooting other members of his family, possibly his father.

When Obama was president, his foes were advertising and selling t-shirts transparently calling for his death by citing or quoting psalm 109. Verses favored by the anti-Obama t-shirt distributors were:

May his days be few;
may another take his place of leadership.

May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow.

Why the Secret Service and other agencies charged with protecting the president and upholding laws against “terroristic threats” did not shut down those purveyors of hate is a mystery. They should have.

The Rich tweet falls into the same category: appearing to envisage the death of a president (or anyone else) has no place in the public marketplace or social media.

Criticizing a leader’s policies, alliances, personal characteristics does belong in open discussion and is exactly why the founders created Freedom of Speech. So let’s use it!

Let the Record Show

(One of the most eloquent statements we’ve seen about the true moral and spiritual disaster represented by the one whose name John Pavlovitz does not wish to put in writing. We urge you to read the full post at his site:

By John Pavlovitz, Jan. 19th, 2017

Let the record show that I did not consent to this.

Let it show that I did not vote for this man, that he did not represent me, that I did not believe he was deserving of being here, that I grieved his ascension.

Let History record my objection to him, to the ways he humiliated women and vilified Muslims and threatened protestors and disregarded people of color.

Let it record my repulsion at his tremendous cruelty, his lack of compassion, his contempt for dissension, his absence of simple decency.

Let witnesses mark down my disgust at the way he boasted of infidelity, at how he ridiculed a disabled reporter, at the way he attacked female opponents for their appearance, at the way he marginalized immigrants.

Let it be remembered that I did not look the other way when women accused him of assault, when the reality of his Russian alliances came to light, when he refused to share his tax records—though large portions of the American media and its people chose to.  

Let it be remembered that I did not buy into the fear that he perpetuated of those with brown skin or hijabs or foreign birthplaces. ..

read more at John Pavlovitz

 Donald Trump Will Violate the Constitution on Day One

By Zephyr Teachout, The Nation, January 18, 2017

By refusing to sell his business, he’s opening his administration up to foreign influence.

Thus far, the debate over Donald Trump’s refusal to sell his assets has focused on whether he might use his position to make himself even wealthier, in ways that most people would regard as corrupt. But earlier generations of Americans—including the founders of our country—would have seen his actions in a far harsher light. They would have viewed Trump as a traitor, someone who was willing to become a stooge of foreign powers.

“Treachery” was the language used at the 1787 Constitutional Convention to describe a president “in foreign pay.” …

Teachout goes on to point out that:

• The Chinese government will be paying rent and receiving interest payments from the Trump Organization.

• He has the same relation to some other countries.

• His promise not to make new foreign deals is impossible to keep, as contract renewals and negotiations are the part of any real estate management.

• He does not have the right to take in and give away room fees to his hotels; the constitution gives that responsibility to Congress if it wishes to approve such “emoluments.”

• Foreign financial entanglements could influence his take on military action or non-action.

In sum, Teachout says, “How can he ‘Make America Great Again’ if he’s beholden to business cronies in other countries?”

Of course, we also have to bear in mind that with a man like Trump, promises have no value and only actions count.