SYNDICATED COLUMN: Republicans May Impeach Trump

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Campaign Ad: Paul Ryan for President 2020.

Speaker Ryan speaks into the camera.

“Impeaching a president from my own party wasn’t an easy decision,” Ryan says, looking sober as footage of disgraced former president Donald Trump departing the White House for the last time appears.

“Sometimes principle” — he pauses for a half-beat — “comes before party.”

A full beat.

“Country always comes first.”

Narrator: “He stood tall when America needs him most. Ready to make the tough decisions when they matter most. Paul Ryan for President.”

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Trump-haters want Democrats to push for impeachment. Setting aside the Dems’ congenital cowardice and the arithmetic — a minority party can’t impeach anyone — the real danger to Trump is his nominal Republican allies.

On the surface, Congressional Republicans appear to have been shocked and awed by the president’s surprise victory and ideologically aligned with a Trump Administration whose hard-right cabinet is prepared to grant every item on the GOP’s wish list. But you don’t have to look hard to see that the pre-November split between the party’s old guard (Ryan, John McCain, Mitch McConnell) and the Trump insurgency remains.

The Donald struts the marbled corridors of the capital, his head held high like Caesar. Beneath their togas, the senators’ sharp knives await.

This is speculation, but I bet Republicans with presidential ambitions — Ryan, Rubio, Cruz, Paul — have already grokked that Trump’s days are numbered. Odds makers agree. Whoever takes credit for bringing down a feared and reviled leader will rid themselves of a rival and reap rewards up to and including the highest office in the land.

Barely one month after taking office, Trump’s approval ratings are tumbling into territory historically belonging to presidents mired in scandals and unpopular wars. Voters tell the latest Quinnipiac poll Trump is dishonest and doesn’t care about people like them. Trump’s numbers are within a rounding error of Richard Nixon’s during Watergate.

Right now, Donald Trump is constitutionally impeachable over his temperament and his brazen violations of the emoluments clause. But nothing will happen until he’s politically impeachable. Trump would have to commit a crime or mistake so colossal and irredeemable that mainstream voters of both parties would find him repugnant.

If I’m Ryan or Cruz or some other crafty GOPer, I’m thinking to myself: every president screws up eventually. But this guy Trump will definitely screw up big. Given his manic pace, his Waterloo will occur sooner rather than later.

Whatever form it takes — provoking a war, crashing the economy, corruption, one authoritarian move too far, conspiracy and obstruction of justice — the inevitable Trumpian disaster leaves House and Senate Republicans with a stark choice. Defend him or stand back silently, and Trump drags the Republican Party along with him as he flames out. Or they can throw him under the bus.

Remember, they never liked him in the first place.

Plan B is far more appealing. Becoming the party of impeachment at a time when impeachment is popular transforms crisis into opportunity, allowing Republicans to cleanse their Trump-era sins (trying to repeal the increasingly well-received Obamacare, paying for the Great Wall of Mexico with deficit spending, etc.) and seize the moral high ground in one swoop. Vice President Mike Pence takes the helm, steadies the ship, promotes their right-wing agenda with more grace than his former boss, and Ryan and his buddies prepare for 2020.

As for the Democrats, this scenario leaves the party even more damaged than it is today. If they leave the task of deposing a wounded Donald Trump to the Republicans, they’ll likely never recover.

Still seething over the DNC’s shabby treatment of Bernie Sanders, the progressive base would consider the party completely discredited and hopelessly moderate for failing to lead the charge against Trump. Swing voters, and not a few Democrats, will give Team Ryan credit for their integrity in taking down one of their own. I can imagine the Warren wing forming a new Progressive Party, leaving the Democrats at less than half its current level of support.

Dems could dodge this looming catastrophe by declaring all-out war against the president. For example, Democratic lawmakers could shut down Congress, and thus deny Trump his entire agenda, by denying a quorum — i.e., failing to show up until the president agrees to resign. There are many ways to obstruct. But creating a constitutional crisis would require balls — something in short supply among Congressional Democrats.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Sue the SOBs? It’s Harder Than You Think

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Are you one of those Americans who say it’s too easy to file a lawsuit? As I can tell you from personal experience, it’s anything but. The canard that U.S. courts are jammed up by litigious jerks is based on anecdotes spread by corporate propaganda.

We do need “tort reform” — but we should make it easier to sue, not harder.

What about all those “frivolous lawsuits” you’re always hearing about? You hear about them because deep-pocketed corporations run TV ads complaining that they’re being victimized by predatory trial lawyers. The truth is, big companies don’t want to be held accountable in the courts for their misdeeds.
What most people don’t know is that judges are good at ferreting out frivolous lawsuits before they get very far. If you get sued, the first thing your defense lawyer will do is file a “motion for summary judgment” — a request that the judge throw out the case because it’s weak. Between this and other methods of winnowing out bad cases, at least 95% of civil claims never make it to trial.

The dirty secret is that American courts have created so many hurdles to sue that it’s become daunting for all but the most determined plaintiffs to pursue justice. My case against The Los Angeles Times illustrates how hard it is for an individual to sue a large entity.

The Times fired me as its editorial cartoonist in July 2015, apparently as a favor to LAPD’s police chief, whom I had mocked in my cartoons.

Neither I nor Times readers were aware that there was a conflict of interest between the paper and the fuzz: the LAPD’s union pension fund was a major shareholder of the Times’ parent company.

It ought to be illegal for a government agency or an entity associated with a government agency to buy stock in a media company — but it isn’t.

The Times published an article accusing me of having lied in a blog post. I was able to show that I’d told the truth. But after I sent the Times the exonerating evidence — which attracted worldwide media attention and calls for my reinstatement — instead of issuing a retraction and giving me back my job, Times executives doubled down, publishing a second piece reaffirming the first one. In March 2016, I filed suit in LA Superior Court against the Times for defamation, wrongful termination, blacklisting and other charges.

As I expected, the Times’ defense attorney filed a motion to dismiss my case on the grounds that it was not meritorious. The judge denied.

After that, California’s legal and financial hurdles became nearly insurmountable.
When free speech groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation get behind something, I’m usually all for it. The First Amendment is my religion. But speech advocates’ support for a federal anti-SLAPP law is wrong — and terrible for freedom of expression. Perhaps they haven’t thought this all the way through.

Twenty-eight states and D.C. have passed anti-SLAPP laws. On paper, they sound great. A “SLAPP” (strategic lawsuit against public participation) is a lawsuit the plaintiff doesn’t think he’ll actually win. The purpose of a SLAPP is to harass you by forcing you to hire a lawyer and tie you up in court. It’s an intimidation tactic sometimes used by big companies to silence individual whistleblowers and critics. Is the problem really widespread? No one knows. No one has done a serious study.

If you get sued in a state with an anti-SLAPP statute, your anti-SLAPP motion is a powerful tool. Discovery (depositions, subpoenaing of evidence) halts. If the judge rules in the defendant’s favor that a suit is frivolous, the case gets tossed and the plaintiff pays the defendant’s attorney fees. This is supposed to make jerky plaintiffs think twice before filing a SLAPP.

There are two big problems with this theory.

First, anti-SLAPP isn’t likely to deter frivolous SLAPPs filed by wealthy companies and individuals. Wealthy entities have more than enough money to litigate anti-SLAPP and to absorb the potential awarding of attorney’s fees to defendants. In fact, proponents have never come up with any statistical evidence that anti-SLAPP laws deter frivolous lawsuits.

Second, the intent of anti-SLAPP laws — to protect the little guy from the big guys — is constitutionally prohibited. You can’t grant rights to some defendants but not others; there are plaintiffs and defendants, period. So there’s nothing to prevent a rich megacorporation from using anti-SLAPP against Joe Schmoe.

Which is how the LA Times, the fourth largest newspaper in the U.S. and part of a $512 million media conglomerate, was allowed to file an anti-SLAPP motion against a $300/week cartoonist. In other words, the Times censored my cartoons and tried to ruin my journalistic career for their owners, the police. Then they accused me of violating their First Amendment rights!

Starting with their anti-SLAPP motion, Times’ lawyers have unleashed a barrage of tactics to delay my suit and harass me. And it’s worked — for nearly a year, I haven’t been able to question Times editors or LAPD officials under oath or subpoena documents that would help me build my case — or my defense to the anti-SLAPP motion. I’ll get my case before a jury in 2018 or 2019 — if I’m lucky.

Or I’ll be broke.

Three days of anti-SLAPP hearings in Rall v. Los Angeles Times begin February 28th in LA Superior Court. My attorneys spent many hours preparing our opposition to that motion. Legal fees aren’t cheap, so the expense of defending against an anti-SLAPP filing before the case even begins is enough to deter some plaintiffs from filing valid lawsuits.

If the judge rules for the Times, I’ll be ordered to pay the Times their legal fees. The Times told the court their bills would be at least $300,000. If she rules for me, the Times can and probably will appeal to the Court of Appeals. That means more work for me and my lawyers and months, maybe another year, of delay — and justice delayed is justice denied. If the appellate court agrees with the Times, my case gets thrown out and I’ll have to pay the Times’ bills — which by then will be significantly higher.

I know I’m right. And I think the law is on my side. But by filing a lawsuit in an anti-SLAPP state, I’m risking bankruptcy. How many would-be plaintiffs get scared away from pursuing their legitimate claims? How many defendants get away with illegal behavior by abusing anti-SLAPP laws?

Anti-SLAPP opens the door to unfair defense tactics. LA Times lawyers invoked an obscure California statute to require me, as a non-California resident, to post a cash bond to guarantee the Times’ legal bills if they win on anti-SLAPP. They asked for $300,000; the judge knocked it down to $75,000. Just to keep my case going — before it begins, really — 75 grand was the cost of entry.

Thanks to concerned readers who gave to my GoFundMe campaign, I raised the $75,000. After I turned over the money to a bond company who filed it with the court (more fees there), the Times tried to get the case thrown out on the ground that the form hadn’t been filled out perfectly.

Still think it’s too easy to sue?

There’s hope for change. In 2015 Washington State became the first state to find its anti-SLAPP statute unconstitutional because it denies plaintiffs their fundamental right to a trial by jury. Anti-SLAPP, the Washington Supreme Court ruled, “seeks to protect one group of citizen’s constitutional rights of expression and petition — by cutting off another group’s constitutional rights of petition and jury trial.” Minnesota and D.C. may do the same.

Congress should pass a federal law about this — one that bans anti-SLAPP laws.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Won’t Democrats Kick Trump While He’s Down?

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Trump is failing bigly. Why aren’t Democrats taking advantage of this amazing opportunity to rebuild their party?

Barely four weeks in office and the president has his first scandal. Flynngate has everything a president doesn’t want: a top national security official accused of treasonishness, messy investigations afoot, reinvigorated enemy journalists smelling blood.

At first glance, losing a Labor Secretary nominee might not seem to matter. All the other cabinet picks got through; Labor isn’t State. Still, Andrew Puzder’s withdrawal reveals staggering incompetence. Trump’s #1 issue was illegal immigration. Puzder hired an illegal immigrant; dude was a billionaire too cheap to pay her taxes. Seriously?

Trump’s first major policy move, the Muslim travel ban, ended in tears — within hours. So-called judges and their stupid “Constitution”!

Political journalists have a technical term for a cluster–k like this at such an early date in an Administration: a s–tshow.

So where are the Democrats?

The only thing more baffling than the Great Republican Unraveling is the failure of the Democrats to rise to the occasion exploit the situation. Yeah, conventional wisdom says to stand aside when your opponent is making a fool of himself. Right now, however, the Democrats’ failure to articulate an alternative vision — becoming a “party of outrage” doesn’t count — seems less like jujitsu than political malpractice.

He’s retired and deserves some rest after all those late-night droning sessions, but the Dems’ colossal cluelessness is epitomized by that video of Recently Former President Barack Obama kitesurfing — a sport most voters never heard of before — with Virgin mogul Richard Branson.

Given his fanatic dedication to detachedness, Obama as exiled leader of the anti-Trump resistance is probably too much to ask. Still, as John Oliver observed, “Just tone it down with the kitesurfing pictures.”

He continued: “America is on fire. I know that people accused him of being out of touch with the American people during his presidency. I’m not sure he’s ever been more out of touch than he is right now…You’re fiddling while Rome burns!”

Trumpism is collapsing with impressive rapidity. In a two-party system, citizens expect the party out of power to step up, say I-told-you-so, and explain how and why they can fix this s–tshow. So far? Nothing.

The cavalry isn’t merely not coming. It’s asleep.

It’s easy to see why. The Democratic Party still suffers from the division that cost it the 2016 election. All the party’s energy is with the progressive base who backed Bernie Sanders (henceforth, the Guy Who Would Have Won Had the DNC Not Cheated), now gathered around the awkward, oddly colorless Elizabeth Warren. But its leadership caste is still dominated by the Dems’ fading corporatist DLC-Third Way hacks who installed Hillary as nominee. What was needed in 2016 to defeat Trump is still needed to defeat him in 2017: Sanders or someone like him. But the ruling Clintonistas won’t give up centrism unless it’s pulled out of their cold, ideologically dead hands.

The refusal of the Democrats to pogo-dance on Trump’s grave is one of the biggest missed opportunities in recent political history. For example:

He who sees first, and says so, wins. Remember, Trump anticipated Rust Belt rage over NAFTA. Clinton didn’t. Now to 2017 or perhaps 2018: Trump will probably face a forced exit sooner rather than later. Pushing for Trump’s impeachment now would position Democrats as forward-looking thinkers who had it right before anyone else. Moral authority matters.

Oh, and if you don’t do it, the Republicans will steal the moral high ground by doing it themselves. Ryan 2020!

Co-opt the nascent left-wing Tea Party movement. Sanders-Warrenites are flooding Republican town hall meetings the way the O.G. Tea Party of the right did eight years ago to Democrats. Hey, DNC: those kickass activists can freelance, perhaps setting the stage for a left-right split of the party. That is, unless you do what the GOP when they faced their version of a populist insurrection. Let them inside. Let them lead.

Republicans let their Tea Party take over the party; now the party controls the government. Democrats should do the same.

Remember Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” for a “Republican Revolution”? Lay out a “Democratic Revolution” platform that explains to Americans what you stand for. Right now, most voters know that Democrats don’t like Trump, but not what Democrats are for. But remember Hillary’s lame $12/hour minimum wage, at a time when big cities already had $15? Don’t bother unless those platform planks go big. You might not get the $25/hour you ask for — but you’ll get people talking and thinking. Right now, the only thing anyone’s talking and thinking about is the orange monster in the White House.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Long Before Trump, News Media Wallowed in “Alternative Facts”

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Most of the news media is at war with Donald Trump, and rightly so. First, journalists should always be at war with the governments they cover. Nonadversarial journalism isn’t journalism — it’s stenography. Second, Trump Administration officials’ refusal to even pretend to be interested in the truth, immortalized by Kellyanne Conway’s notorious praise of “alternative facts,” demands highly caffeinated contempt.

But let’s not forget an inconvenient truth. Pre-Trump, the watchdogs of democracy were mostly lapdogs, gently licking the blood-soaked hands of those who fed them: America’s political and corporate elites.

Media malpractice has been so sustained and widespread that it’s hard to know where to start. Opinion pages and cable news panel shows where no one to the left of Hillary Clinton is allowed? The abandonment of local news coverage? Massive social and economic upheavals ignored because they only afflict the poor and the middle-class-en-route-to-poor: the rusting of the Rust Belt, the meth and opioid epidemics, the replacement of good jobs by bad ones, the faking of low unemployment and inflation rates?

Editors and producers are guilty of many sins. For my money, however, the biggest and lying-est are the big lies of omission that leave important facts unknown to the public for years and even decades, result in many deaths, and let the perpetrators off the hook both legally and historically.

August publications like The New York Times have finally begun reporting that the president lied when he, you know, lied ­— as opposed to some weasel word like “misspoke” or counterquoting from an opposing politician. They’re even using “torture” to describe torture (instead of “enhanced interrogation techniques”). But that’s new, and it’s only because they’re corporate liberal and Trump is blogosphere crazy right-wing. Give them another Obama and it’ll be back to giving the people the business as usual.

The high body counts of war spotlight the staggering moral failures of a press that, day after day, fail to remind readers of fundamental truths that usually get suppressed from the outset.

For the better part of a decade, American citizens paid good money for newspapers that purported to bring them the news from Vietnam. What those papers never told them was that the reason LBJ gave for entering the war, a 1964 attack on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, never happened. This isn’t controversial; liberal and conservative historians alike agree the war was sold on fake news.

Imagine if the media had begun every story about Vietnam with a Trump-era-ish reference to Johnson’s big lie? “Continuing Unprovoked Attack on North Vietnam, U.S. B-52s Rain Death on Hanoi Without Reason.” Significantly less than 58,000 Americans and 2 million Vietnamese might have died.

After the U.S. lost — which they reported as a withdrawal rather than what really happened — lazy and easily cowed journalists and editors let stand the canard that returning Vietnam War vets were spat upon, insulted as “baby killers” and generally mistreated by dirty leftie hippies waiting for them at the airport. It never happened. To the contrary, the antiwar movement was supportive of vets, running clinics and other facilities to help them out. The myth of the spat-upon hippie, it turns out, began with the 1982 movie “Rambo,” when Sylvester Stallone’s character says it — probably as a metaphor.

Afghanistan’s Taliban government had nothing to do with 9/11, but few Americans know that. Even the soldiers sent to fight, kill and die there thought they were avenging the attack on the World Trade Center — and why not? Thanks to the Bush-era fake news purveyors, few of even the best read and most informed Americans know that Osama bin Laden was already in Pakistan on 9/11, that the Taliban offered to arrest him and turn him over if the U.S. showed some evidence of his guilt, that Al Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan (the vast majority were in Pakistan, as were the infamous training camps), and that there wasn’t a single Afghan among the 19 hijackers.

Would Afghanistan have become America’s longest war if news headlines had read something like “Bush Promises To Hunt Down Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Country Where They Aren’t, Sends Weapons and Cash to Country Where They Are”? Doubtful.

That the media fell down on the job during the build-up to the Iraq War is well-documented. Yet, even after the WMDs failed to turn up in that country after we destroyed it, the media never applied the standard they now stick on Trump, e.g. “Continuing Unjustified Assault on Innocent Iraq, Marines Prepare For Battle in Fallujah.” Talk about fake news — even if Saddam Hussein had had WMDs, Iraq’s lack of long-range ballistic missiles meant it never could have posed a threat to the United States.

Alternative facts abounded under Obama.

Obama launched hundreds of drone attacks against Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere that killed thousands of people. Studies showed that 49 out of 50 people killed were innocent bystanders, and that the other 1 were local guerilla fighters who hated their own local governments, not anti-American jihadis coming to kill us here. Yet story after story about drone assassinations referred to victims as “militants” or even “terrorists,” without a shred of evidence. If you’re going to let your president kill people just for fun, the least the media as a watchdog could do is call it what it is: “President Murders 14 More Muslims Cuz Fun.” Did you know the military calls them “squirters” — because their heads, you know…?

The president called out as a liar? Better 240 years late than never.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: How I’ll Know It’s Time To Flee Trump’s America

 

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The Clash asked. Now I am too: Should I stay or should I go?

Celebrity liberals always threaten to head for the exits if a presidential election doesn’t go their way. Then they renege.

This year is different: some Americans really are leaving.

An early indicator of Trump-inspired flight came on Election Night, when Canada’s immigration website crashed due to visitors from the lower 48. Whether these scaredy-cats are motivated by Trump’s come-from-behind victory — so this is America? — or by the grim reality of Trump’s cabinet picks and executive orders — so he’s keeping his fascist campaign promises? — this is the first time I’ve seen people actually up and go in response to an election.

Trumping out” is far too tiny of a phenomenon to qualify as an official Thing. By mid-December, only 28 Americans had applied for asylum. But my instincts tell me that’s about to change. And my instincts are pretty sharp: counting yard signs in my swing state/swing county hometown of Dayton, Ohio gave me an early indication that Trump had a strong chance of winning.

If you’ve got some money, college degrees and speak a second language (ahem, French), it’s pretty easy to get into Canada, which has served as our go-to exile since the Vietnam draft dodgers. With help from a lawyer, a friend of mine who said he didn’t want his children to grow up in a fascist country scored residency documents for himself, his wife and kids in just a few months. Canadian colleges and universities are reporting a surge in U.S. applicants — many of whom would likely stay up there after graduation.

I think most people who are eyeing the door are like me, in wait-and-see mode.

Let’s be clear: this isn’t about voting with our feet. If I moved out of the country every time I didn’t like the election results, I’d be gone after every single election, and that includes the local ones. I hate both parties; I hate the entire system. This is about self-preservation: what if some Trump nut takes it upon himself to shoot me over a cartoon? It wouldn’t be unprecedented.

It’s also about practicality. Fleeing Trumpistan would be much easier for me than for most people. I have dual French/EU citizenship through my mom, a status I have maintained in the belief that economies and societies can collapse quickly so it’s good to have an exit strategy. My French is passable. Thanks to the Internet, my career is portable. I could draw cartoons and write columns and publish books from anywhere on earth.

I talk almost every day with a colleague, a conservative journalist, about how we will know it’s time to leave the United States. Not to express disapproval – honestly, who would care? – but to save our skins.

You know that Martin Niemöller “first they came for the…” quote? Political cartoonists know that here, in the U.S. under Trump in 2017, we could easily be the first. So we’re watching closely.

When your government turns psycho, you don’t want to wait until it’s too late to get out. When you ask Jewish Americans what year their family fled Europe to come to the United States, it’s striking how most left before, say, 1936. The Holocaust didn’t technically begin until 1941, but earlier departures were easier — and impossible after World War II began in 1939. On the other hand, moving is expensive. And I’m American. I don’t want to leave. I like it here. Why jump the gun?

I’ve been reading Volker Ullrich’s superb biography Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939. Trumpism isn’t Nazism but 20th century fascism provides some useful tips for America’s descent into whatever the hell this psychotic real estate honcho has in store for us.

As Ullrich reminds us, the machinery of state repression moved quickly after Hitler’s 1933 seizure of power. Censorship, then arrests of left-wing politicians were an early canary in the coalmine. This week we watched Trump’s Republicans silence the unfailingly polite Elizabeth Warren on the floor of the U.S. senate. The president himself personally joke-threatened to “destroy” the career of a Texas state senator as a favor to police, because the lawmaker wants to reform civil asset forfeiture (when cops steal your property and never give it back, even when you’re found not guilty of a crime).

Soon after becoming chancellor, the Nazis began insinuating their one-party state into commerce, punishing businesses they deemed insufficiently cooperative. Also this week, Trump went after Nordstrom’s in revenge for the department store chain’s decision to stop carrying his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line. Trump Administration chief propagandist Sean Spicer defended the president’s bizarre comments, declaring Nordstrom’s decision “an attack on his daughter.”

Should I stay or should I go?

Like porn, we’ll know The Moment Everything Changed when we see it.

The arrest of a politician would be such a moment. As would a “temporary” suspension of civil rights, even/especially if it followed the inevitable next terrorist attack.

I don’t have much use for the reliably impotent corporate news media — indeed, Trump’s win is largely their fault — but as a look-out-this-is-getting-really-real moment, Trump’s relentless beating up on the press makes me incredibly nervous. What will this guy do when the new Left gears up with big-ass protests later this year? Isolated from the rallies from whence he drew his strength, Boy Trump in the Beltway Bubble spells trouble; look for The Donald to wallow in paranoia so deep and dark that even Richard Nixon wouldn’t be able to relate. There he’ll be, surrounded by Steve Bannon and his other pet fascists — no one talking stay calm and carry on, everyone around him egging him on as he lashes out.

If you’re not scared, you’re not paying attention. Then again, maybe it’s not as necessary for you to watch the signs as it is for me.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Case for Left Nationalism

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Make America Great Again. Trump’s campaign slogan was a direct appeal to nationalism. As a son of the Rust Belt city of Dayton, Ohio, I wasn’t surprised to see that it worked.

People in the postindustrial Midwest and in much of the rest of flyover country are tired of being ignored by the urban coastal elites who seem to think laid-off factory workers should shake off their blues and get a job as a coder. Not that the children of the dispossessed stand a better chance: Silicon Valley is a great wealth generator but a lousy job creator. Many highly skilled American tech workers are unemployed, cheated out of jobs by sleazy companies who abuse the H1B visa program to hire compliant foreigners for a fraction of the cost.

If you’re one of the millions of left-leaning Americans shocked and awed at Donald Trump’s first week as president, his “America First” inauguration speech, his orders to build his Mexican border wall, tear up NAFTA, start a trade war, and especially the sudden brutalism of his Muslim travel ban, I have news for you: there are just as many others who are cheering him on, thrilled that he’s keeping his campaign promises. As far as they’re concerned, the rest of the world — including refugees from countries whose wars were started by the U.S. — can go to hell.

After all, their hometowns already have.

As Sabrina Tavernise recently wrote in The New York Times, victims of economic decline and their attendant societal ills — depression, alcoholism, the meth and opioid epidemics — revolted in the 2016 election against elites “who lived in isolated islands of economic opportunity and sneered at people who didn’t.” She cited NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who sees a clash between globalists and nationalists. “The globalists, who tend to be urban and college-educated, want a world like the one described in John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ — no religion, walls or borders dividing people. The nationalists see that as a vision of hell…They also want to limit immigration, an instinct that globalists are often to quick to condemn as racist.”

Globalism dominates economic policymaking in the Democratic Party. Beginning with the takeover of the party by the Clintons’ Democratic Leadership Council in the early 1990s, Democrats have pushed through free trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, and the creation of the World Trade Organization. This has not come without consequences: Globalization eroded the power of Big Labor, formerly a major source of income and manpower for the party. It also turned off people in Ohio and Michigan and Illinois and Pennsylvania — those who lost their own jobs, as well as their friends, families and neighbors. Democratic politicians have been so blind to the suffering all around that they never even once proposed a bill that would have helped victims of outsourcing with money or job retraining. Some even publicly praised the fact that wages were going up in places like Mexico! Trump gave long-seething Americans an outlet for their rage.

The globalist left vs. nationalist right paradigm, however, is a recent thing. In fact, the right part of that equation only dates back to last summer; pre-Trump, exporting American jobs via trade deals was a point of bipartisan consensus.

The short history of Democratic globalism suggests that one way back from defeat and political irrelevance, both for the party and for the broader Left, is to make the case for a leftist nationalism.

Until the 1970s, Republicans promoted free trade agreements. Democrats opposed them. Protecting workers, especially the highly-paid blue-collar laborers, from foreign competition, kept union donations pouring into party coffers. But then party fundraisers found Wall Street. Big finance craves freedom of movement for capital so business owners can find the cheapest raw materials, supplies and workers in the world — and a broken, dispirited workforce unable to organize and bargain collectively. Wall Street told the Democrats: dump your other girlfriend. You can’t have us as well as big labor. Workers have gotten ground up under the bus ever since.

The grassroots campaign of Bernie Sanders — and of Donald Trump, whose fundraising tactics and social media-driven campaign emulated Sanders’ down to the fonts and spacing of his email solicitations — have broken big corporate donors’ hold on campaign financing. Meanwhile, look what happened to Hillary Clinton (“My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders“) and her base of corporate and wealthy individual backers. Nationalism, not globalism, is the future of American politics — but right now, it’s only the right that’s riding the wave.

Though patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel and the first of the nativist, history shows us a long and honorable record of left-wing nationalism. The Chinese civil war turned in favor of the Communists over Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists after Mao Tse-Tung directed his cadres to lead the patriotic resistance against Japanese occupation. Most members of the French Resistance against the Nazis were communist. Fidel Castro was an ardent patriot/nationalist; so was Ho Chi Minh. These leftists understood that the oppression of workers by the ruling class often manifests itself via forms of globalization: invasions, colonialism, the establishment of puppet states via imperialism. It is not necessary to succumb to the dark forces of bigotry, or to deny refuge to victims of war as Trump did last week, to stand up for the citizens of your own country against those who would exploit or abuse them.

There’s nothing wrong with imagining a world without borders. It’s good for Americans, and for decency, when wages of workers in other nations increase — there are fewer wars and more consumers. As things stand today, however, nation-states are here to stay. In fact, there are more of them than ever before.

Is it really so unreasonable for American workers to expect the leftists who claim to care about them, to fight for them to earn higher wages? A left unable to appeal to nationalism has no future.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Women’s March Failed But Was Hopeful Too

Image result for women's march                  On Saturday, January 21st, three times as many people attended a demonstration against Trump as showed up the day before for his inauguration. Solidarity marches across the nation drew hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million, more.

The turnout was impressive. It vexed the new president. But what did the Women’s March mean?

Despite what pundits said, the Women’s March was not a movement. Nor was it the beginning of a movement.

It was a moment: a show of hands: “I’m against Trump,” these women (and men) told the world. Question was, who/what do they want to replace him?

As Occupy Wall Street instigator Micah White pointed out, Women’s Marchers didn’t issue any demands, much less posit a desire to achieve political power. “Without a clear path from march to power, the protest is destined to be an ineffective feel-good spectacle adorned with pink pussy hats,” he warned. Like other protests of the last few decades, the Women’s March was a spasm, a spontaneous expression of disgust and outrage doomed to lead nowhere.

If you don’t demand anything, (or if you demand everything) how will you get it?

If you don’t pose a threat to the establishment, why should they feel scared?

At the risk of both mansplaining and leftsplaining, a show of hands does matter. Events like the Women’s March are significant because American politics is centered (pun intended) around the fiction that leftist political movements taken for granted in other nations — communism, socialism and left anarchism — have no presence at the ballot box or in the news media in the U.S. because American voters aren’t interested.

Moments like Saturday prove that’s a lie.

The New Left was the last organized left-wing mass movement in American history. Since the organized Left collapsed in the early 1970s, we’ve seen other moments like Saturday, indications that there are Americans, tens of millions of them, whose politics fall to the left of the fake-left Democratic party and the lockstep center-right corporate media apparatus that props up it and its “rival” Republican brand. Signs that this Left-in-waiting really exists belie the party line that there’s no market for hammers-and-sickles in the good ol’ U.S.A.

Even during the somnolent 1980s, hundreds of thousands showed up to protest Reagan at demonstrations like Solidarity Day. There were violent, effective eco-terrorist attacks and anti-globalization/WTO protests like the Battle of Seattle in the 1990s. Millions marched against the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This decade brought us Occupy Wall Street and Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly popular presidential primary challenge, and polls that find that 37% of Americans would get rid of capitalism — the economic system we’re constantly being told is more sacred and popular than Jesus, mom and apple frappuccino.

These political impulses — opposition to war and militarism, fighting job-exporting free-trade agreements and suspicion of unfettered capitalism — have no place in the Democratic or Republican parties. To the contrary: war, free trade and letting business run wild are nastily bipartisan.

So more than a third of Americans find nothing of interest to buy in the American marketplace of political ideas. That’s a vast untapped pool of potential “customers.” These people — I’d say voters, but many of them don’t bother to vote because they hate both parties — represent an inefficiency in the market. Moments like Occupy, Bernie and the Women’s March remind us of the existence of this Left-in-waiting. Someday, obviously, someone or someones will build an organization that attracts America’s long-ignored leftists and channels their energies into something powerful enough to achieve power and smart enough to govern.

Until then, the real left will be co-opted by the Democrats.

Which is what happened to the Women’s March.

To be sure, many Women’s Marchers were Hillary Clinton Democrats. The “Love Trumps Hate” signs, hand-lettered rather than printed by the DNC as they were during the fall campaign, and the Hillary buttons, evidenced that. Yet many more of the demonstrators were Bernie Sanders progressives, socialists and communists who want to see radical change in society and the economy — and these good leftists (a third of the country, most of the left overall) allowed themselves to go unrepresented.

A good indication that the Women’s March got co-opted into a Democratic boo-hoo Hillary/Cory Booker-in-2020 pep rally was that the speakers were limited to celebrity millionaire liberal Democrats like Michael Moore, Ashley Judd and Gloria Steinem and defanged ex-radicals like Angela Davis. Had this been a militant action (i.e., one that might frighten Trump and the GOP), or a coalition of liberals who welcomed and respected their leftist allies rather than merely wanting to vampirize their righteous anger and energy into midterm votes, the roster of speakers would have included people calling for revolutionary change and action outside of the existing system. There would also have been some radical activists you’d never heard of who do important work.

Celebrity liberalism and pleas to vote Democratic are where the Left goes to die.

No wonder the Women’s March was doomed to join the list of fruitless liberal marches! Because they’re Democrats, none of the speakers suggested scrapping the whole sick system of systemized poverty, industrialized prisons, war and slave labor altogether. Instead marchers got a washed-up documentary filmmaker urging them to memorize a phone number they could use to call Congress because, yeah, that’s going to do so much good, especially these days with Republicans in charge of everything.

Still, despite the Democratic BS, those huge crowds were glorious. They showed up, they were heard, they hint at the better country we could have.

May they soon get the radical, genuine political movement they and the world deserve.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The 3 Rules of Resistance to Donald Trump

http://media.iwm.org.uk/ciim5/358/648/large_000000.jpg                To the French, it felt like the end of the world. 1940: defeated in six weeks, surrender, subjugation, overrun by German soldiers whose power of life or death were absolute and absolutely capricious. Fascism triumphant; organized resistance as yet unimaginable.

Simone de Beauvoir, who dedicated herself to the study of ethics, struggled to adjust to everyday life in Nazi-occupied Paris. On the Metro, a German soldier — Wehrmacht, low-ranking and therefore a conscript? — asked for directions. Seemed like a nice kid. Besides, refusal was dangerous. But he was an invader. What was the right thing to do: a little treasonous help, or send him to some dangerous neighborhood?

On a macro level, the French had to decide to what extent to cooperate with the terrifying new regime.

On one extreme were the collaborators and war profiteers who exploited their fellow citizens, welcomed every chance to advance their personal fortunes and thereby legitimized the Nazis and the Vichy-based puppet regime led by Philippe Pétain. Many were executed by extrajudicial tribunals after liberation in 1944.

At the opposite end of the behavioral spectrum were the Communist résistants de la première heure and the men and women of the maquis. Abandoning jobs and families, these people of principle lived rough lives underground, risking everything to terrorize the Germans and their French fascist allies. Many were tortured and murdered.

explainersmall                 Though it’s premature to draw a direct comparison between Nazi Europe and Trump’s America, it’s never too early to start thinking about the ethics of resistance in a United States whose government whose repressiveness is likely to feel unacceptably severe to a significant portion of the population.

What is the correct way to behave after January 20th? Should one Keep Calm and Carry On? (Given that those now-clichéed posters were supposed to have been plastered on walls by a retreating British government in the face of a Nazi occupation of the UK, my inclination is to say no.) Ought one take to the hills and practice shooting down drones?

Like the French during World War II, most Americans opposed to/afraid of Trump will muddle through some murky middle ground. In times that try souls, ambiguity abounds.

We Americans may not be familiar with them, but there are standards. Everything does not go. There are clear rights and wrongs. Now, as we plunge into the moral abyss, it is important to learn, spread and enforce the Rules of Resistance for people who want to be able to hold their heads high when their children ask “what did you do during the war, daddy/mommy?”

                  Rule 1: Anything for survival.

As a teacher, Beauvoir would have lost her food rations, ID papers and livelihood if she hadn’t signed an odious Vichy-required certificate swearing that she wasn’t a Jew. Though she was appalled, she signed. You’re not required to starve to death over a principle.

                  Rule 2: Nothing for Trump.

Even though Jewish writers were banned from publication, Beauvoir submitted her novel for a literary prize. “If I had been awarded the Prix Goncourt that year I should have accepted it with wholehearted jubilation,” she recalled. Disgusting. Her participation legitimized the regime’s anti-Semitism.

The Rockettees and the singer Jackie Evancho will perform at Trump’s inaugural. “I just kind of thought that this is for my country,” Evancho said. Jennifer Holliday initially said she’d do the gig as well: “I’m singing on the mall for the people,” said Holliday. “I don’t have a dog in this fight.” They are wrong: it is precisely for their country that they ought to have opted out, as Ice-T and Elton John did. The one thing Trumpism offers is ideological clarity; at times like this, everyone has a dog in the fight, ostriching not allowed.

When you’re considering whether or not to participate in something Trump-y or government-y during the next few years, get educated. Then ask yourself: what would I think if I were one of the people being targeted by Trump and the Republicans? How would an immigrant awaiting deportation feel about Jennifer Holliday while watching Jennifer Holliday croon on TV in a nasty ICE prison? How will someone dying of a disease because she can’t afford treatment after losing Obamacare feel about the Rockettes?

Normally, when your president calls, a patriot heeds his call. But Trump isn’t normal and these aren’t normal times.

                  Rule 3: Ignorance is no excuse.

Whether you live under Nazi occupation or Trumpian oppression, refusing to keep informed is no longer acceptable.

To her credit, Jennifer Holliday backed out of her scheduled inaugural performance in response to a social media firestorm, explaining that she had been “uneducated on the issues.” She continued: “Regretfully, I did not take into consideration that my performing for the concert would actually instead be taken as a political act against my own personal beliefs and be mistaken for support of Donald Trump and Mike Pence…I HEAR YOU.”

Everything is always a political act. Now the stakes are even higher.

If you’re a member of the armed forces or the police, you are morally required to resign and find another job.

If you work in a political post within the federal government — the diplomatic corps, for example — or a post that has policy implications, like the NSA or CIA, a morally upright person has no choice but to quit in protest.

If you have the opportunity to expose wrongdoing from within, you must act as a whistleblower.

If you have the chance to resist Trump’s protofascist policies, you must do so. You must hide the undocumented immigrant on the run. You cannot submit a bid to construct the Wall. You must, if you work for an insurance company, try to avoid enforcing rules that deny healthcare.

One of the things people overseas tell me they like about Americans is that we’re happy-go-lucky. That has to change.

It’s time to get serious.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Life Under Trump – What Happens Now?

http://www.polarinertia.com/june07/images/turkmenbashi/herwigphoto01.jpg

What happens now?

I suppose it’s my own fault that everyone’s asking me how America will change after January 20th. Such is the price one pays for being America’s political Cassandra: predicted Donald Trump would win the election, told the Democrats snubbing Bernie was a mistake, said we would invade Iraq two years before we did (and that we’d lose), may have been the only person besides Barbara Lee who knew that the “good war” in Afghanistan wasn’t good and wasn’t winnable. I wish I were this good at picking stocks; it pays better.

Anyway: what does happen now?

explainersmallThree scenarios show us what every day life in Trumpian America will probably feel like: Third World dictatorships, prison, and having an alcoholic parent.

In a dictatorship, particularly where the despot is a megalomaniac in the vein of a Saddam Hussein or a Muammar Gaddafi, citizens obsess over the Great Leader’s every move.

These days, there’s no better place to witness this phenomenon than the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan. These days, a guy named Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow is in charge of this former Soviet backwater. Berdimuhamedow recently made news by unveiling a massive statue of himself, in gold, riding a golden horse, on top of a cliff. (I assume he’s unfamiliar with “The Man From Snowy River.”)

Berdimuhamedow comes off as a relatively modest fellow compared to his predecessor, Sapamurat Niyazov. Niyazov, who gave himself the title “Turkmenbashi” (Leader of All Turkmen), plastered his face on even huger statues, posters, postage stamps, and the nation’s currency. He named everything after himself and his family, including a major city, months of the year, and a meteorite. But while it isn’t hard to draw a comparison between Niyazov’s ego and that of a certain New York real estate developer, what’s particularly relevant is the outsized impact Turkmenbashi had on Turkmens’ everyday lives.

Not unlike the pigeon- and kite-banning Taliban regime in nearby Afghanistan, Niyazov was constantly passing edicts and decrees about anything and everything that crossed his mind. He banned lip-syncing, dogs (only from the capital, because of their “unappealing odor”), smoking (only among government employees, and only after he had heart surgery), opera, ballet and circuses (“decidedly unturkmenlike”) and beards.

Imagine what he could have done on Twitter at 3 am.

New Yorkers facing four to eight years of midtown Manhattan gridlock due to the security cordon around Trump Tower can already sympathize with motorists in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat who know to stay put whenever their dictator is on the move because every major artery is closed. Neither Trump nor the Turkmen tyrant gives a fig for creating commuting havoc.

Whenever I visited Turkmenistan under Turkmenbashi, the only thing anyone ever talked about – and this included ex-pats – was Turkmenbashi. What wacky new rule might the quirky monster impose next? What psychotic new infrastructure project? A ski resort in the blazing hot desert nation? A giant lake?

There was no getting away from this guy. If your kid wanted to go to college, Turkmenbashi was the country’s one-man university admissions committee, personally considering every applicant.

Turkmenistan’s totalitarian regime controls where people work, what news they see, even their facial hair. In such a nation obsessing over the leader’s latest moods isn’t just a symptom of a sick society – it’s a tactic essential for human survival.

Trump probably won’t impose totalitarianism. He’s too lazy for that. But you can already see his manic mind at work, for example at his first post-election news conference. He’s all over the place, free-associating to the point of babbling: “Our veterans have been treated horribly. They’re waiting in line for 15, 16, 17 days. Cases where they go on in and they have a minor early-stage form of cancer and they can’t see a doctor; by the time they get to the doctor, they’re terminal. It’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen. So David is going to do a fantastic job.”

Ho-kaay.

Trump wants to control aspects of our lives that used to belong to us. He’s unpredictable and weird and on some sort of spectrum and now, he’s incredibly powerful. No wonder we are watching and waiting so attentively: we’re scared!

We ought to be.

Many of us will feel like inmates in a prison. People who have done time will tell you that it’s important to study the guards, particularly the sadistic ones. You don’t want to wind up dead just because some correction officer came to work in a foul mood following a fight with his girlfriend, and you weren’t smart enough to avoid or suck up to him.

If you have or had an alcoholic parent, you are probably well prepared for what we as a nation are about to endure. How much you get abused tonight will be directly related to how many Daddy Donald tied on after work. So it’s always wise to watch how fast he takes the turn into the driveway. Read the signs right, and you might just make it out the back door in time.

Of course, there’s also the big question: will America survive Trump?

The country will survive no matter what. The system? Maybe not. At this point, probably the only thing that would save the system would be for the Republican-controlled Congress to impeach Trump. (This would also have the effect of saving the Republican Party.) This would have to happen in relatively short order, no longer than in a year or two.

Sorry. I wish I had better news.

It’s never fun to be a Cassandra.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. Please consider supporting Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Useless Impotent Democrats Will Not Lift a Finger to Fight Trump

 

Image result for trump dictator“There’s no savior out there.” That’s a line from “Lord’s Prayer,” a song written by TV Smith for the Lords of the New Church, a band that trafficked in 1980s melodic punk. Here’s some more:

“There ain’t no savior out there

Your stairway to heaven leads nowhere

Don’t look to me for emancipation

You are your only salvation.”

That’s my message to Americans who want to resist Donald Trump and his works — or more precisely the policies of the most right-wing cabinet in American history. Waiting for divine intervention is lunacy. If you’re serious about slowing down the Pencites, you’d better get ready to take them on yourselves.

You sure won’t be able to count on the Democratic Party.

explainersmall

Take Trump’s cabinet nominees — please! In the old days, Democrats would only have needed 40 senate seats to filibuster a would-be attorney general accused of racism, an energy secretary who forgot the name of his own department and a sitting CEO of ExxonMobil as secretary of state.

Unfortunately for the republic, then-majority leader Harry Reid was such a fool that he thought Democrats would never lose another election. So, in a fit of staggering ahistoricity, he eliminated the filibuster for most nominees in 2013. As a result Trump will probably get all his picks, perhaps minus Jeff Sessions because he’s widely disliked by his colleagues.

OK, so unless you’re a character in the too generously reviewed movie “Arrival,” what’s past is past, no do-overs. But Democrats don’t seem to have much appetite for anti-Trump combat even when you consider their new self-imposed limits.

Democrats’ approach to policy is likely to boil down to “let the Republicans do what they want, then take the blame when they overreach.” They may even let the GOP repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Obama Administration’s sole major policy achievement. “Republicans are about to learn that there’s a big difference between being against something and being for something,” said Steve Israel (D-New York). “They’ve already stumbled out of the gate, and we should let them continue to stumble.” Unasked: How many Americans will die for a tactic?

On the nominees, look for bureaucratic foot-dragging of approvals with procedural votes and other stalling tactics. “I don’t want to needlessly prevent President Trump from being successful,” Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware) told The Politico. “But accelerating the confirmation of unacceptable candidates who have views that are outside the mainstream is not constructive.” In the end, though, those unacceptable candidates will get their gigs.

Dems even plan to try to find common ground on rebuilding infrastructure — an admirable goal that I’ve pushed for years. But Trumpism is already so extreme that Democrats ought to ask themselves whether they’re missing the fuhrer for the trees: is it possible to get behind an autobahn without endorsing the tyrant who builds it?

If they really wanted to mount a resistance to Trump, Congressional Democrats could do so with considerably more vigor.

Notably, any single senator can place a personal “hold” on a nominee or bill. There’s no time limit or limit on the number of holds. In 2008, for example, Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) placed a hold against a funding bill for 12 federal programs. A hold only goes away one of two ways: the senator lifts it, or 60% of the Senate votes against it. Democrats could use the hold to replace the filibuster Reid got rid of.

But there’s no reason to believe Democrats will put up a serious fight against the Trumpists. “In the end, a hybrid strategy might make the most sense for Democrats — use Trump and the GOP as a foil and slow them where they can — while seeking to pick one or two areas where his aspirations coincide with their values,” CNN muses. “A las Barricadas!” this is not.

Democratic impotence is nothing new; since the 1970s leaders have pushed the party’s ideology to the right while abandoning every pretense of resistance to the expansion of the corporate gangster capitalism that grinds up working and middle-class people’s hopes and aspirations. Now that Trump is about to impose an especially right-wing (here’s another punk reference, to The Clash) clampdown on ordinary Americans, the Democratic Party will lie completely exposed in the full glory of its uselessness.

Screw the Dems. You are your only salvation.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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