SYNDICATED COLUMN: By Law the President Should Have to Give Daily Press Conferences

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News conferences are a double oxymoron. Pressers aren’t conferences; conferences involve back-and-forth communication. Nor do they have anything to do with news. News is neither created nor conveyed at a press conference.

The one place in the world where news is least likely to happen is a press conference. If I were in charge of a media organization the last thing I’d spend money on would be a White House correspondent whose role is to sit politely holding up his or her hand, hoping like a compliant schoolchild to be called upon, begging for the privilege of being lied to.

Though there was that time an Iraqi journalist tried to bean George W. Bush with his shoe. Muntadhar al-Zaidi. He’s a journalist. And that was a news-making press conference.

Whatever CNN paid Jim Acosta to transcribe Donald Trump’s BS was too much. Even so, we owe Acosta for pushing the president so far that he yanked his reporter’s press pass in a fit of pique. With a brusque instruction to his despicable minister of propaganda Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump simultaneously exposed his authoritarian personality so that none could deny it. Even Fox News was alarmed, joining CNN’s (probably doomed) lawsuit against the president. “Secret Service passes for working White House journalists should never be weaponized,” quoth Fox’s Chris Wallace.

Trump threatened to revoke more White House press passes should his journalistic stenographers displease him.

The Acosta affair has convinced me of something I’ve been mulling for a long time: the president of the United States should be required to hold an hour-long daily press conference. Unless there’s a national emergency like 9/11. Then he can skip a day.

Why, if press conferences are total BS—and they are—should the president have to do them? Because this a democracy. Trump is not a king.

Roman emperors and generals rode through their triumphs next to a slave who whispered “remember you are mortal” in their ears lest their success convince them they were gods. Presidents should be required to host press confabs so they remember that they are not the people’s boss. Presidents are our servants. They are our slaves. They are accountable to we, the people or, the next best thing in this case, the people’s scribes. Presidents owe us answers.

The death of press conferences reflects the dedemocratization of America’s politics and the rise of an imperial attitude that belies the country’s moral and economic decline. During Donald Trump’s first year in office he held just one old-fashioned solo press conference.

The trend has not been a straight line but the overall track is unmistakable. Obama held seven during his first year, Bush 43 had four, Clinton 11, H.W. Bush 27, Reagan six, Carter 22.

JFK held an average of 23 press conferences a year. Track them down on YouTube; the witty banter and jovial self-confidence is a sad reminder of what we’ve lost.

Trump is not a king, American presidents are not kings, but even that comparison of accessibility is unfair—to hereditary monarchs. In many societies kings and queens were expected to clear their schedules for royal audiences where subjects could lodge petitions and plead grievances. These events are depicted in the alt-medieval fantasy series “Game of Thrones.” In India medieval kings, and then Mughal emperors appeared at their balcony for the Jharokha Darshan, a daily audience where the public griped, groused and begged for royal indulgence.

There will be those who argue that the president is too busy to meet the press. Fortunately, there is ample proof that Donald Trump, like Barack Obama and George W. Bush before him, have more than free time to make themselves available. He, like most former presidents, play the hours-long, fake sport of golf.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Let the Sellouts Begin!

Nancy Pelosi and her Democrats are already partying like it’s 1998: selling out to the Republicans by talking about working in a bipartisan manner. Here is some free advice: it’s not 1998. The Democratic Party is 72% progressive now. Progressives are out for blood. The last thing they want to see is a party that promised to hold Donald Trump to account work with him.

I know they’re not going to take my advice. They can’t. Because they have the same donors as the Republicans. They are owned.

For the many many left-leaning Americans reading this who still see value in the Democratic Party — voting for it, contributing to it, volunteering for it — I urge you to carefully study what the Democrats do during the coming year.

Are they going to try to impeach Donald Trump? After all, that’s something you probably want.

Are they going to subpoena embarrassing documents and witness testimony for public hearings that make the Republicans look bad? That’s probably something you want too.

Are they going to vote against every piece of Republican-sponsored legislation, including budget bills, and be willing to shut down the federal government? Probably not — but they should.

Are they going to get the Republicans on record as being opposed to important legislation? In other words, will they propose House legislation that will create a public option or single-payer healthcare? A $25-an-hour minimum wage? Free college tuition? It doesn’t matter that the Senate and the president can block that legislation. What matters is being able to get Republican senators on record so that they can be destroyed in future attack ads.

Obviously I don’t think they will do any of these things. They haven’t done it in the past. The leadership hasn’t changed. History suggests no reason to expect different behavior.

But never mind what I think. Watch for yourself. Pay attention to them. See what they do and what they don’t do. Then, a year from now, you can intelligently decide whether that party is worth supporting or giving upon.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Are the Police Caught Flat-Footed by Right-Wing Extremism? Because They Are Right-Wing Extremists.

Image result for right-wing police            Not for the first time nor the last, the U.S. has recently been hit by a wave of political violence by right-wing political extremists. People are stunned; aren’t far-right groups like the KKK and Nazi Party relics of history?

Clearly not. Package bombs mailed to Democratic politicians and celebrities, the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, another mass killing at a Florida yoga studio and the double murder of African-Americans in a Kentucky grocery store have Americans asking two questions: who’s to blame, and why didn’t the people we pay to keep us safe see this coming?

The answer to the first question can be answered in part by digging into the second: law enforcement and intelligence agencies have long had a dismal record of tracking the activities of right-wing extremist groups, much less disrupting violent plots before they can be carried out.

Considering that the right is responsible for three out of four political terrorism-related deaths, the police are failing to do their job of protecting the public from the biggest threat. (The other fourth are almost all attributable to radical Islamists. In the U.S. the political left hardly ever kills anyone.)

Turning a blind eye to right-wing violence isn’t new. “Law enforcement’s inability to reckon with the far right is a problem that goes back generations in this country,” Janet Reitman wrote in The New York Times, referencing the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.

Why don’t the authorities infiltrate and eavesdrop upon the “alt-right” with as much vigor as they dedicate to disrupting peaceful left-leaning organizations like Occupy Wall Street and the anti-nuclear nuns? Why do cops spend more time monitoring political cartoonists than Klansmen and neo-Nazis? Why do they pepper-spray pacifists while “standing down”—refusing to interfere—when a Klansman shot a gun at a black counterprotester at Charlottesville?

The answer is as obvious as it is terrifying. America’s state security apparatus, military and civilian police, alike, view the left as enemies. To the police, right-wingers are political allies.

Which is why the police routinely creates “safe spaces” for white nationalist violence. Crazy as it sounds, they even form working partnerships with racists and anti-Semites.

Washington D.C. police conspired with far-right groups Project Veritas and the Oath Keepers to use doctored evidence to prosecute people arrested for protesting Trump’s 2017 inauguration.

There is evidence that the California Highway Patrol is working with the Traditionalist Workers Party, a neo-Nazi organization.

In June 2017 U.S. Department of Homeland Security officers at an alt-right rally in Portland, Oregon worked in tandem with right-wing militia goons to arrest liberal counterprotesters.

“With the extremes of the American political spectrum squaring off nearly every week in tense rallies and counter-protests, where violence erupts not infrequently, police are drawing outside aid from only one side: the far-right,” The Intercept reported. “The relationship works both ways: Police get help, and alt-right demonstrators are seemingly put above the law in return.”

Violent right-wing extremists don’t just work with the police. Many times they are the police.

Most cops are conservative. Quite a few are far, far right. “Federal law enforcement agencies in general — the FBI, the Marshals, the ATF — are aware that [right-wing] extremists have infiltrated state and local law enforcement agencies and that there are people in law enforcement agencies that may be sympathetic to these groups,” said Daryl Johnson, lead researcher on an Obama-era DHS report. The FBI was concerned, Johnson said last year, but local police departments don’t seem to care.

“For some reason, we have stepped away from the threat of domestic terrorism and right-wing extremism,” Samuel Jones, a law professor at the John Marshall Law School, told The Intercept. “The only way we can reconcile this kind of behavior is if we accept the possibility that the ideology that permeates white nationalists and white supremacists is something that many in our federal and law enforcement communities understand and may be in sympathy with.” It’s more than a “possibility”—police unions overwhelmingly endorsed Trump.

The military leans right too. A 2017 Military Times survey found that one out of four servicemen and servicewomen have personally observed white nationalist activist among the ranks. According to a 2018 Pro Publica report a secretive neo-Nazi group called the Atomwaffen Division, a paramilitary organization accused of five murders, has infiltrated the armed services.

Veterans voted 61%-to-34% for Trump over Clinton.

A 50-50 left-right nation ruled by right-wing cops and soldiers is about as good an idea as a black neighborhood policed by all white suburban cops. But what can we do about it?

Part of the issue is self-selection. As local policing has evolved from a protect-the-public “guardian” model to a military-influenced “warrior” mentality, the personality type of recruits and applicants has increasingly skewed toward those with authoritarian tendencies. Your local PD isn’t hearing from many Bernie-voting hipsters.

But the biggest problem is the message from the top.

I’m not just talking about Trump. Liberal Democrats like Obama and Pelosi and likeminded media personalities like those on MSNBC are no less effusive about supporting the troops and first responders while turning a blind eye to the terrible truth that many of rank-and-file soldiers and police officers, as well as their leaders, are rabid right-wingers who ought not to be allowed to own a gun, much less legally train one on a left-leaning protester at a rally.

Both major parties share the blame for atrocities like Pittsburgh.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Who’s to Blame for Political Violence? The Terror Starts at the Top, Trickles Down

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There are no eye sockets big enough for the eye-rolling I want to do when I hear American politicians express shock at political violence like the last week’s domestic terror trifecta: a racist white man murdered two blacks at a Kentucky grocery store, a white right-winger stands accused of mailing more than a dozen pipe bombs to Democratic politicians and celebrities, and a white anti-Semite allegedly gunned down 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

There’s plenty of blame to go around.

The assault weapons ban expired in 2004 and Congress failed to renew it; eight million AR-15 semiautomatic rifles and related models are now in American homes. Mass shootings aren’t occurring more frequently but when they do, body counts are higher.

In 1975 the Supreme Court ruled that a state could no longer forcibly commit the mentally ill to institutions unless they were dangerous. It was a good decision; I remember with horror my Ohio neighbor who had his wife dragged away so he could move in with his girlfriend. Unfortunately it set the stage for the Reagan Administration’s systemic deinstitutionalization policy. During the first half of the 1980s mental hospitals were closed and patients were dumped on the streets. The homeless population exploded. Under the old regime, obviously deranged people like James Holmes (the carrot-haired mass shooter at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado), Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut) and Cesar Sayoc (the homeless man arrested for last week’s mail bombs) would probably have been locked up before they could hurt anyone.

This time, the post-mayhem political classes blame Donald Trump. He’s bigoted and loudly legitimizes far-right extremism. Did his noxious rhetoric inspire these three right-wing bigots? I think it’s more complicated: Trump can convince a reasonable person to turn racist. But it’s a bigger jump to turn a racist into a killer. That has more to do with insanity.

Tone, morale, what’s acceptable vs. what’s unacceptable: social norms come from the top and trickle down to us peasants. Trump’s rhetoric is toxic.

But the message that violence is effective and acceptable didn’t begin with Trump. And it’s hardly unique to his presidency.

To paraphrase the old Palmolive commercial: Violence? You’re soaking in it! And no one is guiltier of our culture of violence than the countless politicians who say stuff like this:

“Threats or acts of political violence have no place in the United States of America.” —Trump, 10/24/18. Untrue. Five days earlier, Trump praised (“he’s my kind of — he’s my guy”) a psychotic Montana congressman who assaulted a reporter, breaking his glasses.

“There’s no room for violence [in politics].” —Barack Obama, 6/3/16. Yet every week as president Obama worked down a “kill list” of victims targeted for drone assassination because they opposed the dictatorial governments of corrupt U.S. allies. And he bragged about the political assassination of Osama bin Laden rather than putting him on trial, as the law requires.

Textbooks teach us, without irony or criticism, about Manifest Destiny—the assumption that Americans have been entitled from Day One to whatever land they wanted to steal and to kill anyone who tried to stop them. Historians write approvingly of the Monroe Doctrine, the insane-if-you-think-about-it claim that every country in the Western hemisphere enjoys only as much sovereignty as we feel like granting them. Implicit throughout America’s foreign adventurism is that the U.S. invading and occupying and raiding other nations is normal and free of consequence, whereas the rare occasions when other nations attack the U.S. (War of 1812, Pearl Harbor, 9/11) are outrageous and intolerable and call for ferocious retribution.

After childhood the job of brainwashing otherwise sane adults into the systemic normalization of state violence falls to our political leaders and their mouthpieces in the media.

Even the best politicians do it. It’s a system. When you live in a system, you soak in it.

“In this country we battle with words and ideas, not fists and bombs,” Bernie Sanders tweeted in response to the mail bombs. What a lie.

The Obama Administration’s Department of Homeland Security used policemen’s fists and flash grenades and pepper bombs to rout dozens of Occupy Wall Street movement encampments in 2011.

The mayor of Philadelphia ordered that police drop a bomb on a row house in a quiet neighborhood in 1985. The botched effort to execute arrest warrants on an anarcho-primitivist group called MOVE killed 11 people and burned down three city blocks, destroying 65 buildings. Police shot at those trying to escape. Naturally, no city official was ever charged with wrongdoing.

Cops kill a thousand Americans every year.

Every president deploys violence on a vast scale. They’re cavalier about it. They revel in their crimes because they think bragging about committing mass murder makes them look “tough.”

How on earth can they act surprised when ordinary citizens follow their example?

After watching Islamist rebels torture deposed Libyan leader Moammar Ghaddafi and sodomize him with a bayonet, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chuckled gleefully about America’s role in his gruesome death (a U.S. drone blew up the dictator’s convoy): “We came, we saw, he died.”

How macho.

At the 2010 White House Correspondents Dinner Obama joked about his policy of assassinating brown-skinned Middle Easterners willy-nilly: “The Jonas Brothers are here; they’re out there somewhere. Sasha and Malia are huge fans. But boys, don’t get any ideas. I have two words for you: Predator drones. You will never see it coming. You think I’m joking.”

Imagine the president of France or Germany or Canada or Russia saying something that insensitive, tasteless and crass. You can’t. They wouldn’t.

“It’s already hard enough to convince Muslims that the U.S. isn’t indifferent to civilian casualties without having the president joke about it,” commented Adam Serwer of the American Prospect. Assuming Muslims are dumb enough to be convinced.

When political leaders in other countries discuss their decisions to commit violence, there’s often a “more in sorrow than in anger” tone to their statements. Don’t want to, can’t help it, regrettable—just don’t have a choice.

American presidents are different. They swagger like John Wayne.

The crazies who shoot up schools and synagogues sound a lot like them.

“Screw your optics, I’m going in,” accused Pittsburgh temple shooter Robert Bowers posted to social media hours before the incident.

“Hey mom. Gotta go,” Dylan Klebold said on video the day before he and Eric Harris killed 20 people at Columbine High School.

“Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well,” wrote Andrew Stack before he flew his plane into an IRS office in Austin in 2010.

There is, of course, a difference between killer elites and killer proles. The elites kill more people.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Left Will Never Thrive Without Its Own Smart, Entertaining and Well-Funded Media Organization

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Only in the right-skewed US media landscape would Salon be considered “hyper-partisan left.”

The U.S. occupation of Afghanistan is in its 17th year with no end in sight. The U.S. has killed a million Iraqis over the last 15 years. We’re killing Syrians, Yemenis and Somalis. None of the victims threatened us. We murdered them for fun and profit.

Some of the killers feel guilty. Twenty military veterans and active-duty personnel commit suicide each day.

Militarism is a gruesome sickness. Some people are trying to cure our country of this cancer. But pacifists are fighting an uphill battle.

On Sunday, October 23rd “About 1,500 women and allied men marched on the Pentagon on Sunday to demand an end to perpetual war and the funding of education, health care and other social needs instead,” reported Joe Lauria of the progressive website Consortium News.

Mainstream/corporate journalistic outlets memory-holed the event with a total media blackout.

One commenter on Facebook bemoaned national priorities: what does it say that so few attended the Women’s March on the Pentagon? More than 200,000 people crowded the Washington Mall for comedian Jon Stewart’s inane 2010 “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” a piss-take parody of protest, literally and by the definition of its organizers an apolitical march for nothing!

Cindy Sheehan, an activist who made national news by protesting her son’s death in the Iraq War at George W. Bush’s Texas ranch, responded on Facebook that people should show up rather than sit at home criticizing those who did on their computers.

Cindy is right. She usually is.

But apathy and laziness aren’t the main causes of low attendance at real, bona-fide Left protests and demonstrations (as opposed to coopted-by-the-Democratic Party marches like the annual January 20th Women’s Marches against Trump).

Our real problem is that there isn’t a real, bona-fide Left journalism outlet in the United States.

One that’s smart, i.e., well-managed. Not in the derpy leaderless consensus style that destroyed the Occupy movement, but top-down by brilliant Machiavellian can’t-be-bought leftist schemers who know how to motivate and build an organization.

One that’s well-funded. Not by some control-freak billionaire who can petulantly renege on his big promises after he loses interest or gets corrupted, but by generous ongoing crowdsourcing that guarantees editorial independence to an uncompromisingly left-wing team of editors with big budgets to hire kickass investigative reporters, back out-of-the-box journalists, humorists and editorialists. Give me $50 million a year (wonder if the person who won the $1.6 billion MegaMillions lottery is progressive?) and I could build and run an operation that could change the world. It’s not impossible: Bernie Sanders raised $100 million from small donors in one year.

One that’s entertaining. The way FoxNews and Rush Limbaugh are entertaining but MSNBC and Air America aren’t/weren’t. Because humor and entertainment are what attract new readers/listeners/watchers and keep loyalists coming back.

I only heard about the Women’s March on the Pentagon one day before. It was by happenstance. (I live in New York, six hours from DC, but like most people I can’t just drop everything and skip town with a night’s notice.)

That’s ridiculous.

I’ve been a leftie cartoonist and columnist for nearly three decades. Yet I have hardly ever received an email from a left-leaning organization inviting me to publicize or attend or cover a protest demonstration, or a press release explaining that one was about to occur. I’ve asked other pundits; they never hear from the Left either.

Meanwhile I’m constantly getting talking point lists, action memos, press releases and all sorts of sundry propaganda from right-wing organizations as well as the mainline Republican and Democratic party apparatuses. Which is all redundant because all that crap gets ample coverage on cable news, network news, talk radio, NPR, newspapers and news websites, not to mention social media.

I don’t need more junk email. Point is, my leftism-free inbox is a barometer of the state of the Left: disorganized and disconnected and incapable of broadcasting its message. If a protest march falls in the woods—or on the Washington Mall—does it make a sound? Not if the word doesn’t get out. Not if no one reports it after the fact.

Speaking for myself, I would push out events like the Women’s March on the Pentagon via my social media feeds if I knew about them in advance. I would attend some. I would cover some. I’m sure my left-leaning colleagues feel the same.

Grassroots organizing will never build into 1960s-level mass demonstrations without big, rich, smart, cool media distribution channels to give it space to breathe and expand.

First, we need a big-ass left-wing media group to educate people about what’s going on. You can’t expect people to get riled up about what the U.S. is doing in Yemen if they don’t know what’s going on there. Mainstream corporate media doesn’t cover the U.S. role in the proxy civil war.

Second, to redefine what’s “normal.” In the current media landscape, opposing war is abnormal. That message is subliminal: when’s the last time, during a foreign policy crisis, that a mainstream pundit suggested the U.S. simply stay out of it? A smart, well-funded, entertaining-as-hell media organization would provide an alternative to the establishment narrative. You can’t dream of peace if it’s not in your brain as a possibility in the first place.

Third, to showcase activism and direct action as feasible, fun and effective. 1,500 people is a good turnout for a wedding but a bit depressing if you drove hundreds of miles to attend a national protest demonstration. Movement-based media could get more people to rallies. It could frame such gatherings as exciting, fun and important. That framing would create real political pressure on the powers that be.

In the 1960s the corporate mainstream media allowed antiwar, pro-civil rights and other antiestablishment journalists and pundits to disseminate their views on TV (Cronkite criticizing the Vietnam War), on the opinion pages of major newspapers and in bestselling books. And they covered protests.

No more. The Left has been ruthlessly purged.

Not one single opinion writer or staff columnist or cartoonist employed by an American newspaper is a real, bonafide leftist—not a single one even supported Bernie Sanders (whose politics are basically McGovern in 1972 and was supported by half of Democrats) during the 2016 primaries.

Not one single TV or major radio talk show host is a real, bonafide leftist. None supported Bernie.

The same goes for “liberal” outlets like The Atlantic, Salon, Slate, etc.

It’s censorship. It’s systemic. It’s killing the Left.

Considering that it’s impossible for the Left to get coverage for anything, it’s a miracle that 1,500 people showed up for the Women’s March on the Pentagon.

If we had a real, smart, well-funded, organized media organization to publicize the news and the world from a socialist or communist viewpoint—an ideology shared by at least one out of three American voters overall and 57% of Democrats—there could easily have been 150,000 or 1,500,000.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Commenters Here Will Be Pleased

Thanks to frequent Rallblog poster CrazyH, who found the appropriate plug-in, commenters here now have the ability to edit their own comments so they can fix typos after they post. Note: editing ability ends 10 minutes after posting or before someone replies to your comment with theirs, whichever comes first. So if you make a boo-boo, fix it quickly.

Thanks, CrazyH!

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Brett Kavanaugh and the Politics of Emotion-Shaming

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America squandered an important national moment.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh wept. On national TV. For 45 minutes. The startling visual of a top-tier political figure quaveringly weaving between the emotional cones of anger, embarrassment and despair had the potential to launch a national conversation about masculinity and society’s response to men who lay bare their emotions.

Men need permission to cry, to be vulnerable, too. The #MeToo movement is giving women permission to proclaim their victimhood without shame. Under better circumstances Kavanaugh’s display might have given leave to American men to admit that they too are emotional beings, that they hurt and feel as much as women.

Instead of a national conversation about masculinity and gender norms we got predictable partisan politics.

“A crying Brett Kavanaugh. This is what white male privilege looks like,” sneered the headline of an op-ed by The Sacramento Bee’s Erika D. Smith.

Scorn was the standard liberal response to Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s furious, weepy reading of his prepared remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Men, particularly white and privileged men, find that they can get away with acting like colicky children, and they are infantilized when it suits them,” Jamil Smith lectured in Rolling Stone, equating acting out with childishness. “His testimony was a tantrum.” Smith’s emotion-shaming piece was titled “Brett Kavanaugh’s Fragile Manhood.” Not very PC.

Conservatives were no less hypocritical.

Right-wingers broke macho form in the divide over gender norms, defending their sobbing nominee. During the break between Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh’s appearances Rush Limbaugh presciently mused aloud: “Do you think Kavanaugh should cry?” Rush answered his own question: “Noooo.” Team politics prevailed. Despite the judge’s failure to take his on-air advice Rush later pronounced himself pleased: “He unloaded on them!”

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a progressive considering a 2020 presidential run, mirrored Trump’s description of Kavanaugh but for Dr. Ford: “brave, compelling, and credible.” Calling Kavanaugh “unhinged,” she said he “whined, ranted, raved, and spun conspiracy theories.” Praise versus contempt: the personal has never been more political. Had the roles been reversed, had Dr. Ford been the angry/weepy one, there is no world in which Warren would have described her as unhinged.

“I don’t believe in crying,” Trump told a biographer. “It’s just not my thing. I have nothing against it when someone cries, but when I see a man cry, I view it as a weakness. I don’t like seeing men cry.”

Crying makes me uncomfortable too. “The feminization of America,” a conservative colleague texted me as we watched Kavanaugh. Initially I agreed. Watching a man cry gives me what Germans call fremdscham: vicarious embarrassment for someone else. John Wayne didn’t do waterworks and neither do most guys. Studies find that men cry about one-fifth as often as women.

Were Kavanaugh’s tears the frustrated, desperate expression of an innocent man falsely accused before his friends, family and an entire nation? Or, as one of detractors alleged, did he wimper “because his past finally caught up with him and deep down, he knows it”? Could it be something in between, a blend of anger because some of the accusations are false and self-pity because others are true? We’ll probably never know what really happened at those high school and college parties.

But we don’t need to know why Kavanaugh cried to see why they matter.

However you assess Kavanaugh’s tears, they marked a giant leap for public emotionalism and a major political moment for malekind. Even in a Democratic primary campaign so dominated by liberals that George McGovern ultimately won, Edmund Muskie’s teary press conference defending his wife’s honor in New Hampshire made him look like a wimp. It marked the beginning of the end of his 1972 campaign—and he cried a lot less than Kavanaugh.

After Colorado Congresswoman Pat Schroeder broke down during her announcement that she wouldn’t run for president in 1988, The Chicago Tribune reported that “women reacted with embarrassment, sympathy and disgust” over a display that seemed to reinforce the sexist stereotype that women were too emotional to lead.

Twenty years makes a difference. Running against Barack Obama in 2008, Hillary Clinton cultivated a steely Maggie Thatcher-like image—and watched her polls sink. “If you get too emotional, that undercuts you. A man can cry—but a woman, that’s a different kind of dynamic,” Clinton observed. Turns out, voters don’t really want female versions of Spock from Star Trek. Talking about the toll of campaigning at a New Hampshire diner, she shed a few drops in search of a boost. The brief emotional display was almost certainly planned but she won the primary.

If the ideological shoe were on the other foot, if Kavanaugh were a Democrat and he were being grilled by Republicans, I bet my fellow lefties would embrace this moment. They wouldn’t be contemptuous. Far from questioning his judicial temperament because he cried, they’d applaud his courage. Conversely, Dr. Ford’s story might be disbelieved because she kept it together and stayed calm.

Men may not cry as much as women. Some scientists think testosterone inhibits tear flow. All the same, it is natural. “All their lives they were told, ‘Real men don’t cry,’ yet studies show how crying is a way for the body to release toxins from the body,” Sam Louie wrote In Psychology Today. “From a physiological perspective, when humans get stressed there is an increase in adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).  Over time as this builds it leads to more stress that demands to be released.”

For a political figure like Kavanaugh, however, research suggests that crying in public can achieve something even more important than releasing toxins: being relatable. According to a 2013 Tilburg University study published in Evolutionary Psychology, “respondents report being more willing to provide support to people with visible tears than to those without tears.”

Interestingly the left-leaning commentators opposing Kavanaugh’s confirmation focused on the nominee’s anger more than his tears. Tacit approval or fremdscham?

There’s nothing like a good cry. Men want that privilege too.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: How Brett Kavanaugh Framed Himself as a Martyr to the #MeToo Movement

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Innocent until proven guilty. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell floated a lot of arguments to defend Brett Kavanaugh, but that’s the one that carried the day: “We owe it to the American people to underscore that you’re innocent until proven guilty.”

The Kavanaugh confirmation battle was a grenade wrapped in an onion covered with more poisonous sexual politics than “The World According to Garp.” Yet in the end it was simple. Presumption of innocence was the argument that SWINO (SWing vote In Name Only) Senator Susan Collins used to justify treason to her gender.

“This is not a criminal trial, and I do not believe that claims such as these need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt,” Collins said, announcing her crucial support for the controversial Supreme Court nominee. “Nevertheless, fairness would dictate that the claims at least should meet a threshold of more likely than not as our standard.”

Once again Democrats asked themselves: what the hell happened? Why did we lose a fight we should have won?

Trump’s defeat of Clinton, Bush v. Gore, the 1940 Fall of France — those were perfect storms with numerous contributing factors. Not this one. Kavanaugh made it to the Supreme Court because his allies framed #MeToo as an out-of-control mob of man-haters.

Remember when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that Kavanaugh tried to rape her in high school first hit the news? Republicans were on their heels at first. Polls showed that a plurality of voters didn’t want him confirmed, the worst showing of any high court nominee since they began asking the question. Then came the one-two punch: Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez said Kavanaugh exposed himself and tried to force her to give him oral sex. Even with a Republican Senate, Kavanaugh was in real trouble.

Anti-Kavanaugh sentiment peaked after the marathon nine-hour hearing in which Ford and Judge Kavanaugh testified about her allegations. A PBS/NPR/Marist poll found that 45% of Americans believed her. Only 33% believed him. If that’s where things had remained nine days later when the Senate voted, Collins and other wobbly GOP senators might have voted nay.

#MeToo came to their rescue.

Nothing unites a party like a common enemy. That goes double when the adversary allows itself to be framed as scary and unreasonable.

As the Kavanaugh vote drew nearer #MeToo activists became increasingly aggressive. They chased senators down hallways, cornered them in elevators, doxxed them and picketed their homes. Ted Cruz was confronted at a restaurant. “We Believe Survivors!” activists shouted as he fled.

Direct tactics hold politicians accountable for their sins. Confronting right-wing senators, none of whom gave a damn about the possibility that they were about to put an attempted rapist on the Supreme Court, going after them one-on-one was empowering for victims of rape and sexual assault and the millions of victims they represented. It was more than fair; it was justified.

But it didn’t turn out to be smart.

The optics and audio of all that yelling were ugly, particularly to Republican-leaning voters. Shouting incoherently — you couldn’t hear what they were saying on TV — during hearings looked rude and hostile. Screaming at elderly senators as they ran down capitol corridors exuded chaos.

They shouted and carried signs bearing the mottos of #MeToo:

Believe survivors.

Believe women.

Such powerful words. Also sloppy. “We are worried as mobs chant, ‘We believe survivors!’ (What if Ford is not truly a ‘survivor’? Don’t we have to establish whether she’s a survivor first?),” Stephanie Gutmann, a Republican, wrote in USA Today.

#MeToo is a kind of revolution. Because revolutions follow years of resentment piled upon eons of abuse, their imperative to destroy what’s broken and evil necessarily leads to intemperance. Nowhere is the revolutionary impulse toward careless imprecision more evident than in rhetoric. So it is with #MeToo — what began with an uprising no reasonable person could oppose, against bonafide monsters like Harvey Weinstein, inevitably cast its net wider into the gray area of Aziz Ansari.

As the targets of #MeToo expanded from the undeniably disgusting to garden-variety piggishness, the slogans of the movement became more militant, more thoughtless, further out on a limb.

Official policy at HR and the local PD had always been “ignore women.” A rational corrective to “ignore women” would be “listen to women.” Accusers deserve respect, to be taken seriously. So do the accused. But revolutions don’t reform the old order. They destroy it.

“Believe women” doesn’t make sense to a society whose core judicial fiction is the presumption of innocence. In America no one, neither men nor women, neither accusers nor the accused, earns the right to be believed by virtue of their gender. Being believed is a zero-sum right, one that inherently comes at the expense of another person and so must be earned by a combination of corroborating evidence, witnesses and the intangible social currency of credibility.

Sensing that #MeToo had overreached, yelling too loudly and deploying slogans that reeked of overcorrection, McConnell and his fellow Republican leaders rallied their party’s base in two steps.

A Supreme Court confirmation hearing usually feels like a job interview. Despite Susan Collins’ denials the Republicans did everything they could to frame Kavanaugh’s as a trial instead, complete with a hired-gun prosecutor from Arizona to provide a veneer of legalishness.

After they’d made the spectacle look and feel like a trial it was easy to convince fence-sitting moderate Republican viewers that to be denied his seat Dr. Ford and her Democratic allies would have to follow the familiar rules of a criminal proceeding: establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, adhering to sharing of evidence (which is why they attacked Dianne Feinstein for withholding Ford’s letter), the burden of proof on her, not him.

Of course, the fix was in. Ford was the one really on trial; she fended off the questions of the rent-a-DA whereas Kavanaugh didn’t have to. It was all so clever. Once Democrats allowed Republicans to set the bar at beyond-a-reasonable-doubt guilt — something the he-said-she-said nature of the 36-year-old allegation made impossible — Kavanaugh was in like Flynn.

Shaunna Thomas of the women’s group UltraViolet Action, said: “This doesn’t end [on Saturday],” she said. “It ends in November.” But not, perhaps, the way she would like. Polls show that Republicans are so energized by their win on Kavanaugh that the Dems’ chance of recapturing the Senate are dropping in part because they’re buying the argument that the #MeToo movement is dangerous. “It’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of,” President Trump said in his memorably illiterate way.

Fair or not, right or wrong, the perception of many men is that #MeToo is willing to sacrifice 100 innocent men in order to end the career of one guilty one. In the same way that the civil rights movement needed white allies in order to succeed, #MeToo needs men not to fear them but to support them.

Whatever happens in the midterm elections, the #MeToo movement has arrived at a tactical crossroads. Should we Believe Women? Or Listen to Everyone?

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Trump Has Revolutionized Politics. Can Democrats Catch Up?

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Donald Trump may last; he may go away. But the influence of his revolutionary approach to American politics will endure. What he learned and taught about campaigning will be studied and emulated for years to come.

Social media matters. In 2016 his free Twitter feed defeated Hillary Clinton’s $1.2 billion fundraising juggernaut.

Foot soldiers don’t matter. Clinton was everywhere—every state, most counties. In many states Trump didn’t have a single office.

It’s not location, not location, not location. Clinton dropped buckets of cash on events in big expensive cities. Remember her Roosevelt Island launch announcement, the fancy stage using Manhattan as a backdrop? Trump rode the escalator down to his lobby. He held rallies in cheap, hardscrabble cities like Dayton and Allentown. He understood that his audience wasn’t in the room. It was on TV. It doesn’t matter where the event is held.

Stump speeches are dead. Stump speeches originated in the 19th century. In an era of mass communications you’re an idiot if—like Clinton—you read the same exact text in Philly as you read in Chicago. CNN covered Trump’s rallies more than Hillary’s because not because Jeff Zucker wanted Trump to win. TV networks are in the ratings business; Trump’s free-form extemporizing was entertaining because you never knew what he was going to say.

Now Trump is revolutionizing governance.

The biggest revelation from Trump’s first term—at this writing, I assume he’ll be re-elected—is that bipartisanship is dead. Even with the slimmest majority, a political party can get big things done. You don’t need the other party. Not even a single crossover.

The president can be unpopular. Ditto your party. All you need to govern successfully is party discipline. Keep your cabal together and anything is possible.

Trump’s approval ratings hover around 38%. That’s Nixon During Watergate level. Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate. Conventional wisdom, based as it is on historical precedent, dictates that controversial legislation can only pass such a narrowly-divided legislative body if the majority entices some members of the minority to go along.     There’s a corollary to that assumption: the implicit belief that laws are politically legitimate only if they enjoy the support of a fairly broad spectrum of voters.

Not any more.

In this Trump era major legislative changes get rammed through Congress along strict party-line votes—and Democrats suck it up with nary a squawk. Trump’s Republicans passed a huge tax cut for corporations and rich individuals. Protesters? What protesters? The GOP gutted Obamacare and suffered no consequences whatsoever…not even a stray attack ad.

The same goes for judicial nominations. Time was, a President would withdraw a nominee to the Supreme Court if the minority party wasn’t likely to support him or her, as Reagan did with the controversially far-right Robert Bork. Trump rams his picks through the Senate like Mussolini, Democrats be damned.

Rightist extremist Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to the Supreme Court by a slim 54-45. Considering that Democrats were still seething over Republicans’ refusal to consider Obama high court nominee Merrick Garland (a centrist) for 10 months, that was a remarkable success. We don’t know what will become of the battle over Brett Kavanaugh, hobbled by multiple accusations of sexual assault and his anguished, furious performance trying to defend himself on national television; if confirmed it will be by the slimmest of party-line votes.

One can, and perhaps should, deplore the new normal. In the long run, it can’t bode well for the future of a country for its citizens to be governed by laws most of them are against, passed by politicians most of them despise, and whose constitutionality is assessed by court justices most of them look down upon. But this is reality. Sitting around tweeting your annoyance won’t change a thing.

Darwinism isn’t survival of the fittest; it’s survival of the most adaptable. Crocodilians have stuck around hundreds of million of years in part because they’ve learned to eat just about anything. The same goes for politics: if Democrats want to win power and score big victories after they do they’ll learn the lessons of Trumpism or die.

Party discipline is everything. Traitors, Democrats In Name Only, cannot be tolerated.

There is no room in a modern political party for “moderates” or “centrists.” Only a strong, strident, unapologetically articulated left vision can counter the energized GOP base and its far-right agenda.

Politics as bloodsport? It was always so. Republicans knew it. Thanks to Trump, Democrats can no longer deny their clear options: get real or get left behind.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

I Don’t Trust Judge Kavanaugh to Hear My Case

As I watched Judge Kavanaugh blubber-rant incoherently last Thursday, several thoughts went through my mind.

First, emotion-shaming. Turns out, I’m old-school. I cry sometimes. But not often. It’s not for long. Right or wrong, I think a man who can’t keep it together is undignified and unworthy of respect.

Second, this is not a guy who does well under stress. No doubt, the stress was undeniable. But we’ve all seen other men and women under tremendous stress and they behaved with considerably more composure. Consider Dr. Ford. Her eyes watered but she kept it together. A Supreme Court Justice, I think, should pretty much be like Spock from Star Trek. Highly logical.

Third, and I think this is most damning, I wouldn’t trust this guy to hear my case.

It could happen. I’m suing the LA Times for defamation and wrongful termination in the California court system. Theoretically, there could be appeals all the way to the US Supreme Court. How on earth could I trust Justice Brett Kavanaugh to vote intelligently about my fate?

He has made very clear during his testimony that he dislikes Democrats. I lean further to the left than the Democratic Party. I assume he would despise me. When you go to a court of law in search of justice, you shouldn’t have credible reason to believe that one of the judges is biased against you, but that would certainly be the case.

My case, like many others, is complicated. It has a lot of moving parts. There’s a lot of case law to consider. As I watched him the other day, I did not see a disciplined logical mind. He jumped around from one concept to another, repeated himself constantly, failed to make points that might’ve helped him and said things that hurt him.

I wouldn’t trust him to judge my case. Not because he’s a conservative. I know plenty of conservatives who are logical, fair, and very intelligent. I wouldn’t trust him because I don’t think he’s any of those things, and I think ultimately the U.S. Senate should vote against him for that reason.