Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Pivot Has Come-- But, Predictably, In The Wrong Direction


By last February, long before it was no longer tenable for even Trump to keep clinging to Manafort-- now exposed as a well-paid operative of Vladimir Putin's-- Glenn Beck was routinely accusing the Breitbart website of being an arm of the Trump campaign and, according to likening its executive chairman, Steve Bannon, to Hitler's propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Referring to Bannon as "a horrible, despicable human being," Beck speculated that Bannon was either angling to become President Trump's chief of staff or is hoping to turn himself "into the next Roger Ailes." Beck to Bannon: "What that makes you is not Roger Ailes. By taking orders from a political candidate and reworking your entire site to promote the lies of a specific candidate without any kind of truth behind these things and just spinning all of it, doing what you've done to Breitbart and anybody who reads Breitbart knows exactly what's going on; if that is what your idea of being Roger Ailes is, you are so sadly mistaken. That doesn't make you Roger Ailes, that makes you Goebbels." Even Andrew Breitbart himself, just before he died after being disgraced in a debate with John Amato, described Bannon as "the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement." Now Bannon is the third person in three months to be given the honor of running Team Trumpanzee. One has to wonder what Ivanka, Eric, Donald, Jr, and Barron-- who persuaded Mr. Trumpanzee to dump Corey Lewandowski-- are thinking today. Laura Ingraham's interpretation of what just happened is spot-on:

Donald Trump shook free the last vestiges of political supervision on Wednesday with the appointment of a maverick new campaign chief likely to favour his freewheeling style.

Steve Bannon, a Breitbart News executive once described by Bloomberg as the “most dangerous political operative in America”, will wrestle day-to-day control of the campaign from current chairman Paul Manafort.

“I am committed to doing whatever it takes to win this election,” said Trump in a statement confirming the reshuffle. As campaign chief executive, Bannon will “oversee the campaign staff and operations in addition to strategic oversight of major campaign initiatives”, the statement added.

Despite a tumultuous month in which he hinted at the assassination of Hillary Clinton and attacked the family of a Muslim war hero, Trump is thought to blame his sliding poll numbers on attempts by Manafort and others to rein in his unpredictable campaign style with a more professional approach.

But Bannon, a former Goldman Sachs banker who made part of his fortune through a stake in Seinfeld, has been a key figure in the anti-establishment revolt that has swept through the Republican party, and is likely to favour the “Let Trump be Trump” approach of Manafort’s pugnacious predecessor Corey Lewandowski.

...Trump said that he had appointed Bannon and Conway because they were “big people” who would help him defeat Clinton.

“I’ve known both of them for a long time. They’re terrific people, they’re winners, they’re champs, and we need to win it,” Trump told the Associated Press.

Manafort’s apparent sidelining follows reports about his links with Ukraine and his business ties with post-Soviet oligarchs. Before working for Trump, he spent a decade in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, advising Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine’s former president, who fled to Russia in 2014.
I doubt Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are feeling too comfortable about this, but many far right extremists are excited that Bannon has apparently convinced Trumpanzee-- who didn't need much convincing-- that the rest of the failing campaign should be what Robert Costa dubbed "a bare-knuckles brawl, with full-bore populism/movement politics." America is about to learn what "Alt-Right" means. Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart editor asserts that it was Bannon who turned the cite into the "cesspool for white supremacists" it has become-- not exactly the way Ryan is trying to reposition the GOP's tattered image. (Oh-- and by the way-- the latest Economist/YouGov national poll out this morning shows Clinton leading the presidential field with 41%, while Mr. Trumpanzee has sunk to 35% and Johnson is at 7% and Stein at 3%.) Bannon's appointment is likely to accelerate the RNC shift of funds away from Trump and towards Republican House and Senate candidates who seem to be about to get flushed down the toilet with Trumpism.

Three weeks ago, long before Mr. Trumpanzee announced he was turning his shattered campaign over to Bannon, RightWingWatch fortuitously presented us with an excellent preview of how a Breitbart-run presidential campaign is likely to differ from any other presidential campaign in history by reviewing Bannon's brutal "Christian war film," Torchbearer, which stars the crazy old crackpot from Duck Dynasty, Phil Robertson and was written by Breitbart editor Rebecca Mansour. Trigger Warning: You can watch the trailer below.
Right-wing moviemaking has been a growth industry in recent years, as conservative activists set out to challenge what they see as the damaging cultural impact of liberalism’s dominance in Hollywood. The latest example is “Torchbearer,” which director Steve Bannon called “a Christian war film” in remarks before a screening in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention...

The idea for Torchbearer came from Robertson’s nephew Zach Dasher, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2014. The plan began to gel during conversations at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference, at which Robertson was honored with the Andrew Breitbart Award. The film includes a clip from Robertson’s CPAC speech warning about sexually transmitted diseases.

Dasher introduced other pre-movie speakers, calling Citizens United’s David Bossie “Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare” and celebrating that “Breitbart is waging war on liberalism in America.” Bossie said Torchbearer is the sixth collaboration between Citizens United and Bannon.

Dasher said he didn’t want to make a “typical cheesy Christian film.” Judging by that standard, you would have to say the movie succeeds. But it is hard to imagine anyone, even people who share Robertson’s evangelical faith and political beliefs, could enjoy the film very far beyond the opening sequences, which intersperse shots of Robertson calmly boating, fishing and hunting with sneering critics calling him bigoted and stupid, clearly meant to set up the narrator as a common-man hero despised by the cultural elites.

The film combines Robertson presenting an evangelical message of salvation through Jesus Christ with a theory about religion’s role in human history and society. Says Robertson, “When you take out God as the anchor of your civilization you open the door to tyranny and instead of human rights you have the will to power of the ruler who makes himself the sole determiner of what is true and just. Might makes right.”

More specifically, it is a warning to Americans that societies not grounded in reverence and fear for the Judeo-Christian God, and His teachings on right and wrong, inevitably descend into depravity and brutality.

...It is hard to describe how disturbing this movie is, on multiple levels.

Firstly, it visually and emotionally assaults the viewer by lingering on gruesome images of violence and death, using reenactments and animation as well as the most graphic historical footage from Auschwitz and more recent images of victims of ISIS and Boko Haram being beaten, shot and burned to death. I would call the movie’s infliction of trauma gratuitous, but it seems a very purposeful act meant to provoke and inflame and generate a rage to war.

Also jarring are the vast leaps through time and the excising of inconvenient truths that would undermine the moviemakers’ message, which seems to be that the history of the last 2015 years is a story of barbarity inflicted on Christians and others by those who have abandoned God or worship the wrong God or gods.

The movie’s timeline starts in the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve inviting evil into the world with their disobedience of God. Then we’re in Athens to talk about Aristotle’s belief in a “first cause” and four centuries later the apostle Paul’s trip there; then to Rome for the execution of Peter and Paul, the emperor Nero’s brutal massacres of Christians, and the Roman empire’s continued persecution of Christians over their refusal to adhere to the “civic religion” (dog-whistle alert) of the time, which required treating the emperor as a god.

From there, we hop to the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, conveniently skipping over a millennium-plus of history that includes abundant butchery carried out by people and societies fervent in their religious beliefs, particularly European Christians in wars against heretics and each other and during the conquest of the Americas.

Then it’s a short hop to the American Revolution. Robertson contrasts the American founders’ reverence for God with the atheistic French Revolution and Robespierre’s bloody reign of terror. The movie does not address the American Civil War, in which God-fearing Christians on both sides engaged in bloody combat.

At the turn of the 20th century, Robertson says, “worship of science becomes the new religion.” The film includes a segment on the development of the atomic bomb, “the first weapon of mass destruction.” It features a clip of nuclear scientist Robert Oppenheimer reciting language from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Robertson responds, “So fallen man, unanchored by God, uses the power of creation to destroy. Mechanized war is upon us.”

It is not entirely clear how this segment fits the movie’s thesis that without the Judeo-Christian God as an anchor, there is no protection for human rights and human dignity. Are the filmmakers suggesting that Franklin Delano Roosevelt-- whose public prayers for the D-Day invasion are cited admiringly in the film-- was “unanchored by God” and was wrong to back development of the atomic bomb in fierce competition with Nazi scientists?

Speaking of Nazis, the movie devotes significant time to Auschwitz, where Robertson talks at length about the details of the horrific, systematized mass murder that took place there, which he blames in part on philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s claim that God is dead.

...Moving to the present era, Robertson warns against poll-driven morality – a not-too-subtle reference to growing support for LGBT people – and says a “sentimental need to be nice to each other” is not enough to ward off barbarism. Warning that “sentimentalism falls prey to nihilism,” Robertson says of the Hippies, “what started out as free love and flowers in your hair ended up with the Manson murders.” The movie includes footage of abortion activists’ anti-Planned Parenthood “sting” videos as well as American pop stars in sensual performances. “We are crotch-driven animals following our instincts,” he complains. “The sexual experience is now the high summit of our happiness.”
Sounds like he's talking about his candidate.

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