Thursday, March 23, 2017

Matt Taibbi On The Anatomy Of An American Kakistocracy


I hope everyone's already read Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone piece this week, Trump The Destroyer, more a story on the ugliness of the Regime he's assembled around himself-- "Trump managed to stuff the top of his Cabinet with a jaw-dropping collection of perverts, tyrants and imbeciles, the likes of which Washington has never seen"-- than something on the level of Vlad the Impaler, although he did mention that the usual DC GOP gatekeepers had all "abandoned Trump during the 'grab them by the pussy' episode [and that] in a true autocracy, theirs would be the first heads gored on stakes as a warning to the others. Many D.C. bureaucrats had no idea what to expect. They were like shopkeepers awaiting the arrival of a notorious biker gang" has Trump prepared to descend from The Tower to decamp for Washington.

"The first and most notable consequence of Trump's administration," wrote Taibbi, "is that his ability to generate celebrity has massively increased, his persona now turbocharged by the vast powers of the presidency. Trump has always been a reality star without peer, but now the most powerful man on Earth is prisoner to his talents as an attention-generation machine. Worse, he is leader of a society incapable of discouraging him... On the campaign trail, ballooning celebrity equaled victory. But as the country is finding out, fame and governance have nothing to do with one another. Trump! is bigger than ever. But the Trump presidency is fast withering on the vine in a bizarre, Dorian Gray-style inverse correlation. Which would be a problem for Trump, if he cared."

But he doesn't, instead he does his thing: stokes chaos, creates hurricanes of misdirection, ignores rules and dares the system of checks and balances to stop him, "transforming not our laws but our consciousness, one shriveling brain cell at a time."

The horrific cabinet that Bannon-- on behalf of his masters in Mercerville-- oversaw Trump and Pence putting in place has one thread tying it together: "deconstruction of the administrative state... a state-smashing revolution disguised as populist political theater."
A president like Trump can have an impact even if he never manages to get a single law passed, simply by unleashing stupidity as a revolutionary force. Of course, no one can draw a direct line from Trump to incidents like the one in Kansas, where one of those "normal people" shot two immigrants from India, killing one, after accosting them about their visa status. Nor can anyone say that the Trump effect caused a Sikh man with American citizenship to be shot outside Seattle by a man yelling, "Go back to your own country!"

If Trump and his supporters don't want to take credit for this exciting new era of not knowing what a Muslim is, but shooting people for being one anyway, that's OK. But Trump's executive orders were the hallmark of his first days in office, as he signed the travel ban, pledged to overturn the Dodd-Frank financial rules and ordered the construction of the so-called "Great Wall of Trump," among other things.

But in most cases these orders only announced the start of long legal battles with highly ambiguous chances for success. Take away the impact they had as symbols of action, and most of what Trump has actually done so far, concretely, is pick a team. He soon enough stopped bothering with that, too.

...All of Trump's opponents sooner or later fall victim to the same pattern. He is so voluminously offensive that Christ himself would abandon a positive message to chase his negatives. His election so completely devastated Democratic voters that many cannot think of him except in the context of removing him as soon as possible.

A scenario under which he is impeached somehow for colluding with Vladimir Putin to disrupt last year's election seems like the needed shortcut. Unfortunately, despite a lot of lies about meetings and conversations and other curious behavior, there's no actual proof of conspiracy. The former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said there was "no evidence" of such collusion as of his last day in office.

That has put congressional Democrats in the perilous position of having to litter their Russia speeches with caveats like, "We do not know all the facts" and "More information may well surface." They're often stuck using the conspiracy-theory technique of referring to what they don't know as a way of talking about what they hope to find out.

Trump has responded to all this in a predictable manner, leveling wild counter-accusations, saying Obama had been "tapping my phones" and was a "bad (or sick) guy." Trump's senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, who will either be ambassador to Mars or in a straitjacket by the end of this presidency, followed up by suggesting the government may have used a microwave oven to surveil Trump Tower during the election.

Maybe Trump didn't plan this, and it's just coincidence that where we are now-- dueling accusations of criminality, investig-ations instead of debates, jail promised to the loser-- is what politics would look like in a WWE future where government is a for-profit television program. And maybe it's not the Trump effect that has Democrats so completely focused on him instead of talking to their voters, a mistake they also made last election season.

Still, the Russia story is the ultimate in high-stakes politics. If proof emerges that Trump and Putin colluded, it could topple this presidency. But if no such evidence comes out, the gambit could massively backfire, validating Trump's accusations of establishment bias and media overreach.

In the short term, however, there's no question that Russia is bloodying Trump politically.

..."At some point, he just stopped appointing people," says an incredulous Hauser, the capital watchdog, at the end of February. "He's only made 30 appointments. That means he's still got over 1,000 empty posts. Nearly 200 ambassador posts are in limbo. He named Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, but not a single judge beyond that-- with over 100 empty federal seats to be filled. Nobody knows what the hell is going on."

Sources theorize that Trump's appointments slowed thanks to a combination of factors. Those include a fear of more DeVos-style blowback and an inability to find people capable of passing security clearances (at least six White House staffers reportedly had to be dismissed for this reason).

A darker explanation was offered by a ProPublica story revealing that Trump sent waves of nonpolitical appointees to the agencies in so-called beachhead teams, i.e., people sent in groups under temporary appointments of four to eight months.

These appointees did not have to be confirmed by Congress. Some are freaks and fringe weirdos on a level below even the goofballs in Trump's Cabinet. A fair number carry amorphous "special assistant" titles, making it difficult to know what their duties are.

More unnerving is the presence in the Cabinet-level agencies of a seemingly new position, "senior White House adviser."

Some Hill sources believe these new officials are reporting directly to Steve Bannon, who is fast achieving mythical status as the empire's supreme villain. On the surface, Bannon is just another vicious ex-hippie of the David Horowitz/Michael Savage school, a former Grateful Dead fan who overswung the other way to embrace a Nazistic "culture first" alt-right movement. Everyone from Time magazine (which called him "the great manipulator") to the New York Times (which called him a "de facto president") is rushing to make him into a superempowered henchman of the extreme right, a new Roy Cohn-- fitting, since Cohn himself was one of Trump's first mentors. But whether he's Cohn or just a fourth-rate imitator with a fat neck is still unclear.

Rosenberg believes the anemic pace of Senate-track political nominations, coupled with this flood of unconfirmed political hires, may be at least in part a conscious strategy to try to decrease the autonomy of the agencies and increase the control of the White House, in particular the Bannon camp.

...We always assumed there was a goal behind it all: cattle cars, race war, autocracy. But those were last century's versions of tyranny. It would make perfect sense if modern America's contribution to the genre were far dumber. Trump in the White House may just be a monkey clutching history's biggest hand grenade. Yes, he's always one step ahead of us, and more dangerous than any smart person, and we can never for a minute take our eyes off him.

But while we keep looking for his hidden agenda, it's our growing addiction to the spectacle of his car-wreck presidency that is the real threat. He is already making idiots and accomplices of us all, bringing out the worst in each of us, making us dumber just by watching. Even if Trump never learns to govern, after four years of this we will forget what civilization ever looked like-- and it will be programming, not policy, that will have changed the world.
Goal Thermometer Yesterday Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren riffed off Trevor Noah's little song about how Trump is screwing over "the forgotten man" in regard to-- among other things, lots and lots of other things-- internet privacy. "If," asked Bernie, "Republicans are committed to protecting privacy, why are they letting corporations sell our personal information?" Warren postulates that Senate Republicans are so obsessed with using the Congressional Review Act to kill every consumer protection rule in sight, like the FCC rules that protected consumers by adopting Broadband Privacy rules on how companies collect/use/share/sell our data. Now the GOP wants to allow internet service providers sell private info without telling customers. When we talk about slowing Trump down in the 2017 special elections and in the 2018 midterms, this is the kind of stuff we're talking about. Today the Senate passed-- 50-48 in a party-line vote-- a resolution by Jeff Flake to dismantle the internet privacy rules. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, pointed out that "passing [the resolution] will take consumers out of this driver’s seat and place the collection and use of their information behind a veil of secrecy, despite rhetoric surrounding our debate today suggesting that eliminating these common-sense rules will better protect consumers’ privacy online or will eliminate consumer confusion." If you want to help that whole slowing Trump down thing, please tap the thermometer on the right and contribute what you can.

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At 4:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The privacy repudiation will simply make it easier for the deep state to track everyone's e-activities in secret. It'll allow ISPs to legally give the NSA whatever they want to see.

As the bill of rights rapidly recedes into the distance, under all admins since Carter, we're goose-stepping ourselves right into a Nazi reich.

Americans, however, are far too fucking stupid to ever wake the fuck up in time.

Taibbi is one of just a few writers we SHOULD be reading, instead of all the idiot punditocracy that has helped get us dumb enough to get us where we are.

At 6:18 AM, Anonymous ap215 said...

Taibbi is amazing i enjoy reading his articles.

At 6:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dovetails nicely with this.


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