Tag Archives: Press

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Our Obsession with Trump Shows Authoritarianism Has Arrived

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Bernie Sanders has joined the chorus of politicians and pundits who warn that the U.S. is sliding into authoritarianism under Trump. But he’s kind of wrong about how.

There are indeed reasons to worry that civilian and constitutional rule are giving way to institutional post-democracy. Trump’s cabinet and top White House staff contain enough military generals to give Pakistan a run for its money. Trump’s party controls both the House and Senate yet the president prefers to dash off executive orders rather than making the necessary effort to shepherd legislation through Congress. And of course there’s his police-state rhetoric, like when he “joked” that cops should bash their suspects’ heads into the sides of their squad cars.

But the most reliable indicator of looming authoritarianism can be found in the media, specifically in its obsession with the president.

A study by Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that 41% of all news stories during the president’s first 100 days were about Trump. That’s three times higher than any other president. Six months in, news outlets still devote hundreds of broadcast hours and thousands of words dissecting 100-character tweets Trump dashed off in seconds at four o’clock in the morning.

Trump has a lot on his plate: healthcare, tax reform, the border wall, Venezuela for some reason. But one story towers above all others in news coverage: the Russia-Trump connection. Fifty-five percent of all stories about Trump on TV network news since Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel have been about the Russia probe, according to the conservative Media Research Center.

(Count me among the guilty: as a political cartoonist, it’s hard not to notice that images of Trump garner more clicks than those about climate change. Here I go again, right here in this column.)

Americans are divided along party lines. But Trump has brought us together in one respect: he’s making everyone feel anxious by creating a constant atmosphere of crisis.

The president’s Republican supporters are worried sick that a Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy will force Trump out before he can carry out his promises. “BREAKING NEWS! WATCH: Top Republican Issues Warning About ‘Taking Out’ Trump – This Is Terrifying…. ” warns an email blast from TeaParty.org. From the same email: “Establishment RINOs just teamed up with the bloodthirsty Democrats to betray their constituents and keep Obamacare – the DISASTER that is destroying he [sic] lives of millions of Americans.”

            These emails hit in boxes of Republican voters at an hourly rate. Here’s another:Within the darkest, dankest bowels of our government, the Leftist Deep State has nursed its wounds and regathered its might. They’re preparing for another surprise attack. The highest Deep State archons have gone absolutely berserk with gnashing, fist-bleeding, spit-flinging rage.” Terrifying! Given how much effort goes into working them up, it’s amazing how few gun owners go on a shooting spree.

Liberals are going crazy too. “Get Organized to Drive Out the Fascist Trump/Pence Regime. In the Name of Humanity — We REFUSE to Accept a Fascist America!” urges an email from RefuseFascism.org. “We’re in a crucial moment in history, when the danger of a full-out fascist regime, as we have analyzed, threatens the people all over the world and the planet itself as a viable place for humans and other species to thrive and survive.” Even the bugs are doomed!

No false equivalence here — I’m an unapologetic leftie. The point I’m making here is, everyone is obsessed with Trump, not just the media. And that obsession is a strong clue that the authoritarian era may already be underway.

For 15 years the global embodiment of authoritarian rule was Turkmenistan under former Soviet strongman Saparmurat Niyazov. Like Trump, Niyazov was a quirky megalomaniac who routinely issued executive orders on everything from grandiose construction projects (a vast manmade lake in the world’s hottest desert) to the mundane (a ban on chewing tobacco, ejecting dogs from the capital because of their “unappealing odor”).

Like other visitors to Turkmenistan, I was struck by the ubiquity of Niyazov’s image on currency stamps, statues and posters. But what really made an impression on me was how carefully the Turkmen people studied his every move, both literally and figuratively.

Whenever Niyazov’s motorcade left the presidential palace, the police shut down most streets in Ashkhabat. Motorists carefully tracked his schedule to avoid getting stuck in traffic — or arrested. Because college applicants knew that the president personally reviewed their applications, savvy students sprinkled their essays with quotes from the leader’s book, the Ruhnama. When the Father of All Turkmen let his hair go from dyed to white back to black again, countless thousands of his hapless subjects felt it wise to follow suit.

As in the U.S., where leftist opposition increasingly focuses against the person of Donald J. Trump (as opposed to the systemic oppressions of capitalism and militarism), political opposition in Turkmenistan was directed against Niyazov, the center of the nation’s personality cult. En route to my hotel, my taxi driver pulled over to toss his saved-up household trash over the fence surrounding the presidential palace. Judging from the lawn, he wasn’t the only one.

Prisoners will tell you that serving time safely requires a close watch on guards’ mood swings and shift changes. Survival is part of human nature; studying those with power of life or death over you is key to survival in situations where individual rights are slim to nonexistent.

The U.S government has become increasingly violent, intrusive and capricious since 9/11, brazenly listening to our calls and reading our emails and generally treating individual rights like quaint relics of the past. Obama announced his right to drone-kill Americans on American soil; he and now Trump are even deporting U.S. citizens. The erratic nature of Trump’s personality and policy prescriptions have amplified the sense that Americans, like the Turkmen, had better pay close attention to the man in charge if they want to survive.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) 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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How the Press Leads “The Resistance”

The Trump Administration is guilty of countless wrongdoing, including monstrous acts that no one cares about, at least not in the press. In the meantime, the media is obsessing over a meeting between a 2016 Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, Donald Trump, Jr. and a number of other attendees.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Democrats Can Only Beat Trump By Out-Trumping Him

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At a water cooler or Starbucks near you, speculating about Donald Trump’s psychological state is America’s newest cultural obsession. Is the president crazy? Or crazy like a fox?

I don’t know. What I do know is that Trump’s Democratic opponents are doomed if they think they can beat him by acting reasonable. Haven’t they learned anything from Hillary’s disastrous “when they go low, we go high” shtick?

Point of order: what follows are musings about political strategy, not an impassioned “Trump is evil and here’s how to get rid of him” advisory column. If this makes you want to read no further, here’s the big reveal: Democrats are congenital wimps.

Still here? Awesome.

This Week In Trump (TWIT): the president accused ex-president/drone killer/kitesurfer/eight-figure author Barack Obama of having his phones tapped during last year’s election. Is he right?

I don’t know. What I do know is that corporate media is ridiculing Trump for “offering no evidence.” That phrase was in the New York Times’ headline. Nice qualifier; a similar expression of uncertainty would have saved hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives during the Bush-Judy Miller days. “Citing no evidence,” said the Los Angeles Times about Trump’s claim. Since when does that corrupt paper care about evidence? If you can see past its crazy tone and placement on Twitter, the substance of Trump’s charge is hardly outlandish.

True or false, Trump’s accusation is a blockbuster. Whether by design or coincidence, the resulting tsunami of coverage wiped the question of whether attorney general Jeff Sessions lied under oath about meeting with the Russian ambassador and whether he made any untoward promises during those rendezvous.

Political observers have noticed a pattern in Trump’s behavior. Whenever he’s under fire, Trump does something bigger and more outrageous.

Magically, Trump’s troubles go: poof!

“Grab them by the pussy,” Trump was caught saying on video just before his key second debate against Hillary Clinton. “You can do anything.” Seasoned politicos, including your humble narrator, thought his campaign was all over. So Trump invited three women who’d accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct to attend the debate. It was a gangster move. A WWE move. And no one could stop talking about it.

Goodbye PussyGate, hello White House!

Again, I’m not weighing in on Trump or his policies here. This is about politics and human psychology and how Trump understands them better than the Democrats.

It has been suggested to me by frustrated Democrats and progressives that Americans should be reminded that the Real Issue is Jeff Sessions’ lying about Russia. They say that the media ought to ignore Trump’s accusation against Obama.

Sorry, guys. That won’t work.

Asking the media to throw shade on PhoneTapGate is insane. Interest in our wild and crazy president is Making the Media Great Again! Newspaper circulation is up for the first time in decades! So are broadcast ratings — because TV cable news covers stuff like this.

There’s only one way to beat crazy: with more crazy.

As one of the few lefties to publicly humiliate the hectoring bully Sean Hannity, and one of the few lefties Ann Coulter is scared to debate, I’m beginning to think I’m the only person in American politics who understands what it would take to take on a loudmouth like President Trump.

Louder.

Meaner.

More over the top.

Love does not Trump hate. It certainly doesn’t Trump Trump.

Trump trumps Trump.

If I were running the DNC, I’d replace the party’s milquetoast rhetoric of watered-down feints with full-bore Trump-style attacks.

Bad: “I am going to be sending [Jeff Sessions] a letter to have him explain himself.” (Al Franken)

Lame: “This is a very real & serious threat to the national security of the United States.” (Elizabeth Warren)

Better But Not Good Enough: “He has proved that he is unqualified and unfit to serve in that position of trust.” (Nancy Pelosi)

To beat Trump, you have to out-Trump Trump with talking points the media can’t ignore and people can’t stop talking about. Here are some lines that might make Sessions the story again by washing away Trump’s TWIT distractions (the alleged Obama tap and Trump’s Muslim Ban 2.0).

Good: “Jeff Sessions is a traitor. He should be locked up in prison, now.”

Better: “Let’s say Sessions is telling the truth. Let’s assume Jeff Sessions can’t remember meeting with the Russians. Then he’s a goddamn idiot and too stupid to be attorney general. Why is Trump appointing morons to the cabinet?”

Best: “Of course Obama tapped Trump. Snowden told us. Obama tapped everyone! Which is how we know Sessions is a traitor!”

These sample talking points would be scurrilous. They would be unfair. They’d play fast and loose with the facts.

But they’re the only approach that would work.

(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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Smooth Transition of Power

We keep hearing that Democratic officials are being polite and deferent to president-elect Donald Trump because they respect America’s tradition of smooth transitions of power. Given what Trump has said during the campaign, and the people he has appointed so far, however, that may not be appropriate.

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Trump’s Maniacal First 100 Days

Trump’s political genius is centered around his manic style. He issues one outrageous statement after another, so that the media and critics can only begin to respond to each before it gets eclipsed by the next one, with the net effect that nothing ever gets fully processed. If elected president, he’ll probably do the same thing. Hey, it worked for George W. Bush!

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The Leftie Who Came In From The Cold

After a hard-fought primary campaign, Bernie Sanders capitulated and endorsed his rival Hillary Clinton for the presidency. In the final analysis, Clinton gave up little more than lip service to Bernie’s agenda of a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition at public universities, and universal healthcare. To the contrary, Clinton is now moving to the right, considering a general as vice president and asking the platform committee not to oppose the TPP free trade agreement.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: How the Media Manipulated the Democratic Primary

IMG_2255Though it might not always seem like it, the news media is composed of human beings. Humans aren’t, can’t be, and possibly shouldn’t be, objective. Still, there’s a reasonable expectation among consumers of political news that journalists of all political stripes strive to be as objective as possible.

At their minimum, media outlets ought to be straightforward about their biases.

They certainly shouldn’t have, or appear to have, their thumbs on the scales.

Unfortunately, all too often, it appears that the political system is rigged – and that the major media companies play an important role in gaming the system. That’s what has happened throughout this year’s Democratic primaries, in which the vast majority of corporate media outlets appear to have been in the bag for Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, against self-described “democratic socialist” insurgent Bernie Sanders.

Examinations of coverage have confirmed the impressions of cable news junkies that Sanders has been the victim of a blackout, thus depriving him of a chance to make his case to voters. When the chairwoman of the Democratic Party, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, scheduled the first round of Democratic debates at times the party hoped nobody would be watching – again, a seemingly obvious ploy to deprive Sanders of exposure – corporate media outlets had little to say about it.

Then there has been the media’s complicity in spreading Clinton campaign talking points that bore little relation to the truth.

MSNBC and other DNC-aligned media outlets kept pointing out that Clinton won 3 million more votes than Sanders. True, technically. But that’s pretending that caucus states didn’t exist. Sanders did better than Clinton in caucuses.

Most recently, they conflated pledged delegates – those won by a candidate based on votes cast – with superdelegates, the Democratic politicians and party officials who will be able to vote however they want at the convention this coming July. Back in November, an Associated Press survey found that Hillary Clinton – unsurprisingly – enjoyed the support of the vast majority of the superdelegates. Assuming that the superdelegates will not change their minds, the AP called the Democratic race for Hillary Clinton on Monday, the night before a set of important primaries, including California. Does anyone doubt that calling a race over as the effect of depressing voter turnout?

It’s impossible to quantify that effect, to know how many people didn’t bother to show up at the polls because they were told it was all over. In California, however, Hillary Clinton won 56% of the vote in a state where polls showed the two candidates neck and neck. (California’s state election officials also did their best to keep voters away from the polls.)

As a journalist, I’m reluctant to categorically argue that the AP ought to have held its statistical analysis of the race until after Tuesday’s vote. News ought not to be suppressed. When you have it, you ought to report it. Similarly, I’m not sure that the New York Times was wrong to report the AP story. However, I do question the editorial wisdom of running it as a banner headline. The United States is a democracy. We elect our leaders based on votes actually cast by real people, not polls. Even after Tuesday’s vote, Hillary Clinton still didn’t have enough pledged delegates to claim the Democratic nomination. Since those superdelegates aren’t going to vote until July, she won’t be able to really claim the nomination until then.

Agreed, it’s a silly system. But it’s the system the Democrats have. They – and the media – ought to abide by it. Besides which, think how embarrassing it will be if the Justice Department indicts Hillary between now and July. There’s a lot to be said for leaving things hanging.

The thing that disgusts me most about this system – besides the perpetual state of war, the manufacturing of mass poverty, the prison industrial complex, the miserable state of the justice system, the fact that it’s impossible to make a decent living working 40 hours a week – is that it doesn’t even pretend to follow its own rules in a consistent way. Consider, for example, how the New York Times couldn’t wait to report its “Hillary Clinton becomes first woman nominee from a major political party” story until after the primaries in California et al. Would one or two days have made a big difference? (Well, yes. Sanders might have won California.) If the idea is to get the story out first, no matter what, even if it suppresses the vote, I can respect that. But then they ought to be consistent.

It was a very different story back in 2004. A few weeks before the general election in November, the New York Times researched and came to the conclusion that George W. Bush, the incumbent, may have cheated in at least one of the presidential debates against Sen. John Kerry. Photographs of the debate clearly showed a suspicious bulge in Bush’s shoulder; the Times did report the story as a light he-says-she-says piece. But then experts concluded that the tongue twisted former governor of Texas had been using a receiver paired with an earphone in order to get advice and retorts to carry from an unknown co-conspirator.

Editors at the paper decided to hold a serious exposé until after the election so that its coverage would not affect the results. Then they killed it. Four more years of Bush followed.

Actually, the corporate media’s policy is brutally consistent. If holding a story benefits the forces of reactionary conservatism, it gets held. If releasing it does so, it gets released. Time after time, the system exposes itself for what it is.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. His next book, the graphic biography “Trump,” comes out July 19th and is now available for pre-order.)

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First They Came for the Chairs

The media went crazy over false reports that Bernie Sanders supporters threw some chairs at a Democratic convention in Nevada. They deplored the burning of Make America Great Again hats at a Trump rally. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton personally destroyed several Middle East nations…yet the media doesn’t have anything to say about that.

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Summertime Blues

During the dog days of summer, I find out it’s extraordinarily difficult to get the media, or my colleagues, interested in my firing by the LA Times at the behest of the LAPD, who provided them with a tampered tape that wound up exonerating me. Or, perhaps, their silence has nothing to do with summer vacation season.

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