On Tuesday, former President Donald Trump announced on his campaign site that, if he’s elected in 2024, on his first day back in the White House he’d issue an executive order ending birthright citizenship — an action that would be unconstitutional and likely face an immediate challenge in the courts. “As part of my plan to secure the border, on Day One of my new term in office, I will sign an…
Archive for category: #Fascism
Some members of the most far-right group of House Republicans, the Freedom Caucus, admitted Tuesday their goals are to defeat the debt ceiling agreement, thereby killing the economy, which some of them believe would then help Donald Trump win back the White House in 2024.
Many of the House Freedom Caucus members are tied to the January 6, 2021 insurrection, by various methods, including supporting efforts to overturn state elections and spreading false claims about the results of the 2020 presidential election.
U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC) in Tuesday’s Freedom Caucus’s press conference pointed to the portion of the debt ceiling agreement, brokered by President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, which says the nation’s debt limit will not have to be raised until 2025. Outraged, Congressman Bishop admitted Republicans had wanted to have another debt ceiling fight next year, which would, he claimed, help a Republican presidential candidate win the White House.
Surrounded by far-right Republican Representatives Byron Donalds, Lauren Boebert, Chip Roy, Freedom Caucus chair Scott Perry, former Freedom Caucus chair Andy Biggs, and others, Bishop angrily complained, “And what does the device of two years do?”
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“It removes the issue from the national conversation during the presidential election to come. How could you more successfully kneecap any Republican President than to take that issue out of his or her hands?” Bishop asked, fully and freely admitting the GOP is trying to use the levers of government, and the U.S. and even global economy, to put a Republican back in the White House, regardless of cost to the American people.
As he spoke Rep. Boebert’s head was nodding in agreement.
Sirius XM host and journalist Dean Obeidallah blasted the North Carolina Republican: “GOP Dan Bishop says quiet part out loud: MAGA wanted to use debt ceiling in 2024 to tank economy to help Trump win.”
Freedom Caucus chair Scott Perry, who the Select Committee on the January 6 Attack reportedly saw as “central” to its investigation, also spoke at Tuesday’s press conference.
Rep. Perry tried to spin conspiracy theories, including by claiming that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has not been telling the truth on when America’s cash will run out.
“We’ve asked for Janet Yellen’s figures. And with all due respect, she comes with zero credibility to the discuss,” Perry claimed, falsely. “We don’t believe her figures, we’ve asked to see her figures.”
And he admitted Freedom Caucus members “will be absolutely opposed to the deal and will do everything in our power to stop it.”
Calling it a “bad deal…that we all campaigned to put an end to,” Freedom Caucus member Lauren Boebert also spoke at the press conference, declaring, “There is nothing real in this bill to enforce. In short, tomorrow’s bill is a bunch of fake news and fake talking points.”
U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) called the debt ceiling deal “crap.”
“Washington is doing it again,” Rep. Donalds declared, apparently attacking his own party since Republicans have the majority of the House seats.
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“While you were celebrating Memorial Day, all of our men and women who gave their lives for this great nation, and you were spending time with your family and your friends, this town was cutting another crap deal that’s going to put you more in debt with no real changes whatsoever.”
“Washington is lying, again,” said Donalds.
Republican turned Democrat, attorney Ron Filipkowski mocked the extremist GOP lawmakers.
“The Freedom Caucus members just climbed out of their clown car, and are upset that their cult leader won’t be able to run for president on a crashed economy,” he tweeted.
“Wait,” tweeted Seth Kaplan, the managing editor for Fox affiliate stations in the Twin Cities. “He wants to help ensure a catastrophic economic situation just so it can be a talking point during the 2024 election? Please tell me I’m misinterpreting.”
Earlier this month journalist Jay Bookman observed, “So basically, the debt ceiling crisis is just another version of the Jan. 6 insurrection: Give us what we want, or we’re going to tear the whole damn thing down.”
Reps. Scott Perry, Dan Bishop, Byron Donalds, Lauren Boebert, Andy Biggs, and other Freedom Caucus members earned a “very poor” grade by the Republican Accountability Project, which has been tracking Republicans in the wake of the 2021 insurrection.
Among the criteria for earning a “very poor” grade include signing the Supreme Court amicus brief “that sought to nullify votes cast in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia,” (Boebert and Donalds were not in Congress at the time to sign to that brief.)
Also, objecting “to the certification of Electoral College votes from at least one state,” making “public statements that cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election,” voting “to hold Trump accountable via impeachment or conviction,” voting “to create an independent commission to investigate the January 6th insurrection,” and voting “to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress.”
Watch the videos above or at this link.
Jeff Sharlet has been studying and reporting on far-right movements in the US for decades, but something feels different now. From Waco and Ruby Ridge in the ‘90s to the 2014 Bundy family standoff with the federal government in Nevada, from the rise of Donald Trump to the “martyrdom” of Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed raiding the Capitol on Jan. 6, from the overturning of Roe v. Wade to COVID-19, from the Q-Anon conspiracy to the veneration of vigilantes like Kyle Rittenhouse, new and long-brewing currents of rightwing rage and resentment are converging to change the American political landscape in ways that we will have to contend with for years, if not decades, to come. In the latest installment of our ongoing “Rise of the Right” series on The Marc Steiner Show, Marc speaks with Sharlet about his new book The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War, the volatile moment America is in right now, and what we need to do to confront the far right today.
Jeff Sharlet is the New York Times best-selling author and editor of eight books, including The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, adapted into a Netflix documentary series, and This Brilliant Darkness. His reporting on LGBTIQ+ rights around the world has received the National Magazine Award, the Molly Ivins Prize, and Outright International’s Outspoken Award. His writing and photography have appeared in many publications, including Vanity Fair, for which he is a contributing editor; the New York Times Magazine; GQ; Esquire; Harper’s; and VQR, for which he is an editor at large. He is the Frederick Sessions Beebe ’35 Professor in the Art of Writing at Dartmouth College, where he lives in the woods with many animals.
Studio/Post-Production: David Hebden
The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.
Welcome to the Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us once again, and as many of you know who listen regularly. Our rise to the right series is at the heart of our work. And this book we’re about to explore today, the undertow scenes from a sl civil, a war by, if Charlotte is at the heart of it, it was given to me by Max Alvarez, our editor-in-chief here, and he knew what, he knows what I like and I got into it deeply. He gets the heart of what we face and into the soul of the evangelical, right, those preparing for a noose civil war, the journey that Jeff took across this nation into the lives of the right, into their, into churches, into their homes, while carrying his stepmother’s ashes. The book ends of this work start with Harry Belafonte and the avid Lee Hayes and the Alman ex singers. It’s a warning, it’s a portrait. It’s something we need to pay attention to. So today is what I said. We talked with Jeff Sharlet, who wrote Undertow Scenes from a Slow Civil War. He’s a New York Times bestselling author, a book that he wrote at the family, the Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power was made into an incredible documentary series on Netflix. And he’s a federal obsession, B 35 professor in the Art of Writing at Dartmouth and where he is at this moment. And welcome, Jeff. Good to have you with us.
Good to be with you, mark. Thanks for having me.
It’s funny I said to you before we started that it’s clear that you’re not just writer but a professor of the art of creative writing because this is written like a poem. It’s a poem to America. It’s a poem to those evangelicals. It’s a poem to all of us.
It, yeah. And I think it’s also to me, I mean, it’s a morning song and I think as I try and contend, I’ve been writing about right wing movements for 20 years and the history going further back. And I’ve seen the transformations and I can confidently say something is happening now that at the very least has not happened in a long time. And we are contending with a threat that I hadn’t seen in my lifetime. And with that means it comes a loss, loss of a kind of certain kind of optimism, a kind of hope, but also it comes out of a loss. And I think so much of the moment of what I do, I use the F word fascism. The ascendancy of fascism now comes from a kind of broad grief in the American spectrum, but grief, unprocessed grief that is left to sit still, to curle, to curle and to rage, which then becomes, it becomes rage.
But the feelers, like I last time, feeling something intense and they understand it as love. So what is secure for the rage that grows from grief? Recognizing the loss and mourning, I believe is actually kind of a hopeful act because we contend with what is not there anymore. And we imagine and build a future without it. And so to do that, I couldn’t just go out and do a person on the street interviews and do the straight news and do you know, I had to write from a place of radical but transparent subjectivity. And I’ll go further to argue that because there’s an element of implicit media criticism in the book, the subtitle scenes from a slow civil war, but could also, I think of it as how to write stories about fascism, but not in the prescriptive sense. I’ve got the answer, but rather in the sense that none of us have quite figured it out or we wouldn’t be in this moment. But we’ve got to be experimenting with narrative modes and thinking about how do we contend with this thing because the old means of reporting aren’t working. We saw, maybe listeners saw that CNN Town Hall with Trump where they tried to fact check him in real time. It was a absolute disaster for journalism and an astonishing crowing victory for Trumpism. The old methods of journalism, not, they do not meet the moment. So I think that’s what I’m seeking in the language of this book is possibilities that might,
So it’s interesting. Let me just how you start this book to me, I was how you started it, but then when I finished the book, it was how you ended it. Because as I said in the beginning here you have these bookends. You start with this conversation you had with Harry Belafonte, who was one of the most brilliant figures you’ve had in this country who was deeply dedicated to a so socially just nation world. And you end it with Lee Hayes and the Almanac Singers. And then you take us through this journey all across America into the heart of the Evangelical. So TT talk about, I’m curious why you chose to do it in that way, why you chose to kind of begin with Harry Belafonte, end with Hayes and In the Middle, take us to this incredibly deep journey into the right.
The undertow was not originally called the Undertow when I was originally going to be a song book because I had written Become fascinated by songs. If I had Hammer and Harry Belafonte’s de, yeah, yeah. Songs that come down to me at least as these sort of innocent fun songs. A white guy and grew up in a mostly white working class town. We sang those in music class in elementary school and nobody told us that they were radical songs, that they were liberation songs, they were freedom songs. And I come to understand that and that deep resource that from sort of to understand the long struggle. So I was Richard read a song book about the songs that we, the secret history of songs, but then comes Trump, and then comes Trump. And this is the story of so many of our lives now. And because I have kids and because I am fearful for their future and because I have been writing about right wing movements for a long time, it’s something I know how to do.
I was like, well, this is a very small thing, but I knew know how to go and I talked to these folks and understand their stories and bring back these stories and maybe contend with it that way. But I couldn’t let go of those songs because they were the thing that gives me hope. I wanted to give my kids some hope, but not some sheep grace, not like, don’t worry, it’s going to work out. Harry Belafonte and Lee Hayes. The Almanac thing is the Weavers, if people don’t know, they know if I had a hammer, they know goodnight Irene. They know kisses sweeter than wine. And on top of old smokey all songs in the American songbook because of Lee Hayes, a man Broken by the Red Scare, the title of that chapter is The Good Fight is the One You Lose. That’s the long struggle.
He fought the good fight, he lost it. But I always knew the last line of this book. I knew right from the beginning this is going to be, this is what I’m writing toward. It’s a line uttered by Lee Hayes. He’s driving through the Arkansas Night with a bunch of union organizers and there’s gun thugs on his trails in the 1950s. And they’re terrified. They’re going to, afraid they’re going to be killed. And they’re singing they’re singers, they’re singing hymns and sing hymns that they made into labor songs, into freedom songs. And he says, for a while it was possible not to be scared, even for a while. It was possible not to be scared even. And to me, that is the hope. It’s not the cheap grace, not the optimism. It’s not even the safe space. I think of an activist who Suzanne Farr created a kind of lesbian separatist commune, rural Arkansas. And then local women started coming to them for help fleeing their abusive partners. And so they took them in and then they boosted, partners came and they decided to stand their ground. And I remember a younger activist saying, that’s so wonderful. You made a safe space. And Suzanne, who has the demeanor of a southern grandmother says, I don’t think I can say this on your show, but she says, oh yes you can, honey. Okay. Oh honey, there is no fucking safe space. And just like we were all so stunned to hear her curse,
But what there isn’t right. She had made us, stood her ground and the wonderful way to protect people that wasn’t a safe space. It was a safe moment. And Harry Belafonte songs, that’s what a song is. It’s a safe moment when you listen to that song, when you get courage and for a while it’s possible not to be scared even. And you build your energy to go back into the struggle, which with is a long struggle ahead of us. I not, yeah, I am optimistic, but not in any kind of like, oh, in 2024, we’ll just, we’ll take care of this and nip it in the bud.
No, you’re not pollyannaish about it, that’s for sure. No, but it’s interesting before we jump into the heart of the book, that the way you began in terms of the songs, it was also the defiance of the people you focused on who were in these songs, whether it was Harry Behan and Sidney Poitier, taking the Money to the South, taking $50,000 in cash to the civil rights workers kind of risking their lives or the battles that took place from the Paul Robeson concert and the attack from the right wing when they had those concerts and how they stood up and fought back. That it’s also deeply intertwined to me. It also spoke to the creative spirit and the power of song, but also the power of that creative spirit to stand up to oppression and not be frightened enough by it, not to stand up to it.
Yeah. I think because we lost Harry Bellfonte just a few weeks ago at age 96, the Man Long in the Struggle, and because I’d written about Harry Bellfonte as going to some interviews and I’d say, oh, well, how did you know? What was Harry Belafonte in his later years? And he was angry. That man was angry every one of his days. And people were disappointed, like, no, wait a minute, he was angry. He knew. He hated the Hollywood ization of the Civil Rights movement as he put it. And he knew the struggle was ongoing. He was angry and joyous. He was not broken by rage. What he said was, where your anger comes from doesn’t matter so much as what you do with it. And what he did with it was make these songs. And yes, they are defiant songs. Even the joyous ones, DEO, daylight Common may want to come home, want to go home.
Right. That’s a work song. The Jamaica Dogs. Right, exactly. It’s like I, I’m tired of working. I don’t like this job. I don’t like come Mr. Tallyman Tally Banana. That’s the boss who, who’s weighing your work and saying, here’s how much you get. Right. No love for the tallyman. Right. And that defiance too was something that’s part of the hope that I think we need has got to be some defiance. It’s got to be, this is a long struggle. And I think that is important because we add this sort, people like to say, unprecedented moment, the Trump scene, Trumpism. And there are a lot of ways in which it is, but the idea of struggle, that’s not unprecedented. Some of us have been given reprieve for some part of our lives from it, but the struggle has always been there. And so that’s why any book I think right now about fascism to me has to have some acknowledgement in it of the long struggle. And it’s not just World War II and the Greatest Generation. There are so many other ways that struggle has been fought and can be fought. And so that because fascism has a lie, the lie of fascism is inevitability. It’s the tidal wave that can’t be stopped. Well, that’s not true. And so we need to constantly be looking for those moments, those songs that help us surpass
That. So given that, before we get into some specifics about your journey, because you’ve took this journey across country, stopping at churches’, going into people’s homes unannounced because of the flags you saw out front or signs you saw out front and really putting your Well, I
Would knock on the door. I wouldn’t,
Right, right. Anybody
Home? No, no. I’m not the brave or weird
Enough, I hope. No, no, no, I didn’t mean, I’m glad you clarified that. I’m sorry. Right. But you did, but
Just showing up.
Yeah, you’re just showing up. Showing up. Just showing up. Yeah.
I’m curious how you started, how you ended, what changed for you? What changed in you? Because one of the things that struck me about how you approach this was that while you got into the politics of it and the power of whiteness, which we’re going to talk about in a bit, you also approach people with a humanness. And you saw the humanness in them and not just as a clear cut enemy, your racist white dog, you’re a fascist. And no, there was something else you were kind of bringing out to find out who these people were that set that in a different way than most would do it.
As I was traveling across the country, I was thinking about some sort of writing advice I was given once, and which I always hold onto, which is to remember the bodies, remember the bodies of the people that you write about. And so oftentimes we abstract people into characters. Characters that we have constructed using the stories that we have learned from television and movies and so on. Remember the actual body. And when you do that, this question of should I humanize someone or de it’s not there, I can’t humanize anybody. They are human. They are living in this world. They are subject to physical pain and aging and fear and desire just like I am. That does not mean we are all the same. I don’t want to make that mistake. I’m interested in the human. I’m not interested in and failing to recognize the radically different choices and the consequences and the choices that we make and the consequences of those choices. But when we look at some white supremacist and we say, that guy is nothing like me. Well, isn’t that reassuring right now as a white guy, I definitely can’t do that as a human. You can’t do that, right? Fascism is a human disease.
And it’s funny that after going through the pandemic and seeing that covid can inflict anyone, although it will inflict people differently and according to circumstances and so on, the idea that we would imagine some of us somehow just constitutionally immune from fascism, if we are immune from fascism, it’s because of choices that we made or in choices that people around us made for us, there is no natural immunity not to covid hate. And so you’ve got to be on that spectrum with people. You’ve got to sit with people, you’ve got to see how their bodies inhabits face. And that I think is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, all you’re doing is telling tales that reassure you, but do nothing to prepare you for a threat in front of you.
And you used the word bodies and part of me, the subtext of your book, a lot had to do with it tearing apart of the body and what
The body comes apart, the body comes apart. And I think so as sort of how it changes in some ways, there’s some stuff that happens before Trump, and that’s sort of the undertow, the currents that we’re drawing us out, that I’m drawing from my sort of long time reporting on the right. But in 2015, he comes down as golden escalator in Trump Tower. And because I’ve been writing about the ways in which Christian nationalism, United States exports a certain kind of authoritarianism, a certain kind of love for a strong man figure into other governments around the world, I say, oh, here he is. He’s coming back to us, coming down that golden escalator. And he’s bringing with him a fascist aesthetic. And we can talk more about what fascism means cause we can’t use the term loosely, but he’s bringing him with a fasc aesthetic. So I start to say, I immediately sort of like, all I want to write about this, this is what’s happening. Will he find a movement? Will he find reception beyond the small number that were always there? And he did. And it grew, grew in surprising ways. And so what changes for me across this is like that it keeps growing. And even watching this for so long, January 6th, 2021, I had to reboot the book, the book when Trump showed up. And then I had to reboot it on January 6th, 2021. I said, I need to make much more space for the so-called post-Trump years, which are not post at all.
And to see more and more how much this comes to define us. And I think coming to this term that I borrow from a friend of mine, Jeff Rue, a filmmaker here at Dartmouth College, it calls it the Trumpism, the age of Trump. And what that means is it doesn’t matter whether Trump is in power or not, Trump is replaced by another or not. Now, American politics takes place in a vernacular of Trumpism. We have one party that speaks Trumpish and another party that defines itself by speaking against Trumpish. But that constrains our imagination. And that the beginning of the book, I wasn’t sure that we would really come into the Trump scene. And now here we are and we’re going to have to go through it. There’s no no turning away. We’re going to have to go through it. So
You, you’ve covered this area in some ways before. I mean this is what you write about in many ways and about religion as well. But I wonder what you came away with that you didn’t expect, what you found, because you kind of really walked into the lives of people, you listened to them and sometimes they were a little hostile, sometimes they weren’t, but you were there to hear what they had to say. And one word that underlies this for me in somebody writing is grief.
Yeah. Well, would this be a good point? I’ve got a paragraph marked that sort of speaks to that
Grief. Go ahead, please. Can I share
Would that make sense? Absolutely. Wonderful. Jump into
It. So I’m writing here about the ways in which people who have given into the undertow of white supremacy, and what’s complicated is they’re not only white people can, as we saw in Alan Texas, there can be people of color who are seduced by what my friend Anthea Butler, in her great book, white Evangelical Racism, calls the Promise of Whiteness. And they see themselves as victims. Such victims feel themselves drawn together, not by whiteness, but by that of which it is made by their belief and a strong man and their desire for an iron-fisted God and their love of the way guns make them feel inside. And their grief over covid 19 and their denial of Covid 19 and their loathing of systemic as descriptive of that which they can’t see, can’t hold in their hands and way and their certainty that countless children are being taken, stolen and raped or if not in body, then in spirit indoctrinated to hate themselves.
They’re angry about their own bodies, about how other people’s bodies make them feel about eating too much because they’re afraid they won’t have enough about not having enough about others having more. They are drawn together by their love of fairness, which is how it used to be. They’re certain they remember or if they’re too young, they’ve been told, or maybe they’ve all, they’ve just seen it in a movie, a western or a space opera or a revenge fantasy. The forever frontier that is equal parts little house on the prairie and the punisher make America great again. The solace of totology, a loop, a return, a story, the end of which has already been written in the past. And I think that is one of my attempts in the book to sort of name the grief that they have. They feel that they have lost something and we can say, well, you should have lost your white privilege and so on, or you didn’t lose as much as you think you did, and so on. It doesn’t change the fact that they feel it and that they, they’re grieving it and instead of mourning it, right? Mourning might allow them to say, Hey, wait a minute. That little house on the prairie that’s not worth holding onto, that wasn’t helping me, that was hurting me. But instead I want it back. I want back the thing that never was
What, but it made me think of as I was reading this, and if I’m digressing time too much here, you can say, Steiner, come back. But let me try give you, but one of the things I thought about, because I spent a lot of time as an organizer in my life, both in unions and communities, and in a couple of those situations, a number of those situations, it had to do with whiteness. It had to do with the grief and loss. It had to do with bridging this line. It happened to me in Mississippi with the timber workers in the sixties in the Alabama, Mississippi border with black and white workers. It happened in Chicago with you Joinin and the Appalachian whites teaming up with the Black Panthers and our work with the Resu Port People’s campaign. And it happened here in Baltimore. We organized a tennis union against landlords and brought this kind of really racist white neighborhood together with a black neighborhood across one street to fight together. So I’m saying that to say that what I felt reading this book was that in some ways is what we’re missing is the ability to bridge this divide that it can be bridged. But your and your book in a sense really allowed the pain and grief objectively to come through with these white folks. You talk mostly white folks you talk to. And it wasn’t leave us with lack of hope, but it also talked about the root of why we’re not there.
And I think another answer to that question, what did I find that was surprising to me? And this is going to be an alarming word, is imagination. And in some ways, when I think back to the history of European fascism, which is rooted in an avantgarde artistic movement called futurism, an intellectual movement, I shouldn’t be surprised. And that fascism is kind of a, it’s kind of lucid dreaming. It’s a kind of dream politic. And it’s utopian, right? Utopia of course doesn’t mean the perfect place. It means no place, right? A place that never was. But it is this imagination of, that’s part of the colorblindness of white supremacy. They imagine a place where either they’ve erased all other color or they can’t see color, they can’t see difference, they don’t have to sit with difference and make up difference of strength, but they can just forget it.
And yet they do this with, they’re imagining a world. They are building this sort of movement that is having a gravitational force. So that, for instance, I go to a Trump rally in Sunrise, Florida, which is very blue part of Florida and Broward County, and I don’t know, I would say probably it’s less than half white. Now, people know about conservative Cuban Americans, but also flying in the dozens are Venezuelan flags and nicarag flags of nicarag Americans and Venezuelan Americans, and also pride flags at a Trump rally. This is the gravitational pull of this movement, which is the bridging is happening over there, and it’s happening with lies. But it is very effective. And I think one way of illustrating that imagination is as I’m driving across the country, I start documenting all the flags that I see, right? The false flags of fascism, which is to say, you’ve seen the Trump flags, you’ve seen the fuck Joe Biden flags, maybe the Gadsden flag, the coil snake on yellow.
The don’t tread on me flag. There’s also flags with skulls. There’s flags with AR fifteens. There’s a flag, the American flag, the stripes are made of long guns. The stars are handguns. There’s all the thin blue line flags, the police flags, which some people say it’s just about respecting the police. I interviewed the man who made the flag. He said, it’s an anti-black Lives Matter flag. It is what it appears to be and scariest of all the black flag. If you see this flag, a neighbor flying, you want to steer clear, this is a flag that means no quarter, no prisoners in the Civil War, they believe is coming. You kill everybody. It’s a genocidal flag. Now I see all those flags and then I come into Baltimore or Milwaukee or wherever. And you know what? This is just as many progressive flags, pride flags, primarily all the same flag.
You buy it for 1499 on Amazon is the same flag. And I’m like, where is out there folks are, they’re building, they’re carving trees into the likeness of Trump and painting silos with murals of their imagined fashion. Utopia, what do we got? 1499 polyester pride, flag weather, durable. It’s good. Put that flag up. You’re good. You and I, look, I have that flag and I think I want everyone to have that flag, but I want us, that bridging that has happened, that you have seen happen. It comes from this place of people being able to imagine something that wasn’t there before. Let us imagine how these, imagine this community coming together. It takes a lot takes of political work, but it takes a lot of political imagination too. And I do think implicit in this book, I want people to contend with a real force of imagination that is on the right, right now. And if people come away from that and say, well, I know here in this little pocket. In that little pocket, but if anyone’s looking at the Democratic party in America saying, wow, what a force of imagination. Well, as they say, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. That’s it. It’s we are coasting their surging.
Yes, you exactly right. Democrats are coasting and they’re surging. So after all of this and all the writing you’ve done in this book especially, what do you think about this slow tilt towards the Civil War? How do you think we’re sliding towards it? What is this journey you teach you about that? Where do you think we’re headed?
Well, I think in some ways I describe the Trump scene as having three big theological movements. First you got the prosperity gospel, that’s the 2016 campaign. We’re going to win, win, win. And I’m a rich guy. And don’t you want to be rich too? Then we’ve got 2020 much darker qan on conspiratorial dark forces as Trump puts it, right? But in January 6th, 2021, we have the center, the central sort of figure of the book is this white woman, Ashley Babbitt 35, which I want
To get to.
Yes, yes. Leads a mob into the capitol and gets killed by a black police officer. And I mentioned the fact that he’s black, because looking at that very day, I’m like, oh, okay, there’s going to be a big change. Now they’ve got their full force martyr. And it’s interesting cause you go to Trump rallies before that, and he was trying to get martyrs in the air talking about people who had been killed by undocumented folks. And they became, but no one really remembered their names. Ashley Babbitt is the martyr. Now we’re in the age of martyrs. And that is a huge escalation, what the Germans called blood witnesses. And it goes further than that because then once you get into the age of martyrs, well now you don’t actually have to die for the cause anymore. The January 6th prisoners martyrs you at your workplace and you think your coworker frowns on you because of your MAGA hat.
I have suffered from my faith, right? I too am a martyr. And of course, Trump the greatest Marty of all. Ashley Babbitt, just keeping the cross warm till Trump can push her aside and climb up there himself. Before the indictment, one of these court cases, he sends out emails that says, friend, this may be the last time I get to speak to you as it give me a break. But he loves the role and he plays the role, and I think they’re surging. I think that is, it is a reality. I think the slow civil war, which in January 6th and right after that, I started hearing historians use the term civil war and historian, I’m married to historian, they’re very cautious. They don’t move fast. They’re not flipping or glib. And even then I would go in the same way that in January 5th, 2021, I can tell you as one who was saying this was a slow coup, there were plenty of colleagues in the press who were saying, that’s hysterical.
There’s no coup attempt. Well, next day, a spring of January of 2021 Civil war talking to editors. Now that’s a bit much, is it? Well, now here we are. Trump openly uses civil war language. One of the pastors I visit in the church in Omaha, Nebraska runs a militia church, openly civil war church. Trump was just on the same pro civil war show that he was on Marjorie Taylor Granny’s a Civil War. I hear liberals saying, maybe we should just break up the union. And yet that’s all future. Some people say, do you think there’ll be violence? I’m like, what do you mean will be, there’s violence every day right now when pregnant people are dying for lack of reproductive rights. And we hear about only the few biggest cases, but every journalist knows. For everyone we hear there’s a hundred, those are casualties of the slow civil war. The waves of queer kids, trans kids, the suicide wave, not all of them, but they’re all being exacerbated that death toll is rising because of the slow civil war, these mass shootings in which one man, I read all the manifestos, one manifesto builds on another, and they speak directly to the ideas that are coming from the Republican party. These are not lone wolves. This is part of the slow civil war. We’re in it now. It’s not coming. We’re in a slow civil war right now. We have the power.
We do have, we, we’re not going to, we have to go through fascism, but we do not have to go through the full conflict. And I think, but we do have to recognize that it’s at risk because if we just sit there and say, well, the center will hold, it always has No, it’s already gone. We don’t have a center anymore. What are we going to build in its place?
There’s a lot of things you just said. Just think about this, that there a couple of people from me in the book that really stand out. One of the wilkerson’s. And the other is, and I do apologize, the interviewer blows it. I forgot the name, but the guy who you visited towards the end of the journey whose father was Jewish, but he was raised Lutheran.
Oh, Rob. Rob rum, right? Yeah. Rob rum, militia leader in Marinette with Wisconsin. Not his father, though. He would love to have heard you say that. He would love to say Mark Steiner and Charlie, look at those Jews recognizing my Jewishness. No, he’s about six generations removed from his Jewishness. But he suddenly decided, he found it like 23 or me or something, and decided, discovered he was Jewish and wouldn’t that be cool? And went out and bought himself a Israeli cycling team jersey and then start sprinkling Yiddish into his militia commands. And I say, are they, aren’t you? Aren’t you men anti-Semitic? And he says, yes, of course, but I’m the alpha wolf and if they sense weakness, they’ll displace me, but I’m still strongest. Right? His daughter, meanwhile is a Nazi. And I don’t mean figuratively. I mean, she’s a big Nazi tattoo. She’s very clear. I’m not Jewish. But interesting. I mean, those are two, those figures loom for me. But I I’m, how do you see them in conversation or in concert? How do you They go together in your mind.
Because one is the evangelical surge, which is maybe now half the Republican party, whatever that number is. People say it’s 10 million or it’s 40 million, whatever number that is in this country, the Nazis were a minority party as well, and they seized at the heart. And on the other side you have militias, whether he’s, as he said, 7,500 strong or 6,500 strong, whatever the reality is, they are there and they are armed and ready to fight. They’re both ready to take over the country from different ends. And they’re connected because the people in his
That, no, that’s it. That’s it. Exactly right there. So this is a guy named Rich Wilkerson, and he is got a hipster church in Miami called Vu Church. He’s the guy who performed the wedding ceremony for Kanye West before he was Yay. And Kim Kardashian, he’s Justin Bieber’s pastor. He’s a beautiful man. Looks like Leonardo DiCaprio, never lets you, he
Is handsome. Yes, he is, yes. Has a
Million followers on his Instagram where he posts bare chested selfies and so on. And he’s the SC of a evangelical sort of dynasty and so on. And he’s a really beautiful person. Rob Brum, the militia leader in Wisconsin, where I stop, I see I take a picture of his fuck Trudeau flag and wife comes out because it turns out I’ve tripped their security program and they’ve actually got a rule like they’re sizing me up. Is it a fed? Should we shoot? And you can be a fed or a fool, and I aced it. I’m a fool. And they end up inviting me in and they’re on their table. They’re preparing for an operation is just an arsenal of weapons. And there’s a picture in the book, and it’s interesting how I said, can I take a picture of your cat? Because he is a cat winding its way through the AR fifteens and the ammo and the, I
Love that picture.
He turns on the lights so I can do it. He says, all the guns, you see, these are the legal ones, and he is Rob you. You’ll see a picture of him in the book. He, he’s is one of the beautiful people like the Wilkerson’s. And yet you have these rich, beautiful people living in penthouse, mi, mining penthouses, and hanging out with celebrities. And you got this rural wisconsinite with all his guns. And here they are on the same side. And that’s what a social movement is. I think a lot of people on the left think that social movement is a term that belongs to us, but there are social movements of the right too. And what they’re marked by is, and this is what I mean by the undertow. It’s sort of drawing many currents together. What makes it threatening is the convergence of many forces.
So you’ve got Pius churchgoers, and then you’ve got proud boys, thrilled by their transgressive politics. You’ve got the Mike Pence’s of the world, and who cares about Mike Pence running against Trump. He’s part of the movement. And then you got the Stormy Daniels and the people who love Trump, not despite Stormy Daniels, but because of Stormy Daniels, because he is setting the IID free. And this is what we need to be alarmed at, is this convergence. But we also take some hope there, right? Because I think this history, social movements collapse when unlikely allies come together for a while. For a while it was possible not to be scared even, right? But those tenants unions you made in Baltimore and the racist white neighborhood in the black neighborhood, pretty sure Baltimore is still working on that issue.
Yes, it is. Yes, it
It comes together for a while. It achieves something. And we don’t take away that achievement, but it does split. And this can happen to fascism too. So then our job becomes like, Hey, how can we give you guys a nudge? You guys don’t get along. Let us encourage those fall lines.
So I’m going to come back to that, but I want to come back a moment to Ashley Babbitt and to her mother,
Nikki, be proud White Americans of who you are, of Ashley Babbitt. She says, but what’s interesting to me is that most people, unless they are on the right, which is a lot of people don’t even think of her anymore. She’s not. And what you’re describing here in this book is how she’s a centerpiece. She is a battle cry for an entire movement and a plethora of movements around the country.
Well, right, and that was sort of interesting to me, going to Trump rallies during his term in the beginning and throughout it is these wi people, mostly women who were killed by undocumented folks. And I was always this, I had not heard of these people before, but the crowd had crowd of 20,000 people would shout the name in the same way that if I was to go to an evangelical church, now I might go to a youth group and I might say, Cassie, and I know what they’d say they said. She said, yes, Cassie Benell was in Columbine. She was one of the victims of the Columbine shooting way back. And a myth rose up. It’s not true. It didn’t happen that the killers, young killers asked her pointing a gun at her, do you believe in God? She said, yes. There’s a like arena rock song.
She said, yes. Well, they didn’t ask. She didn’t say it. It doesn’t mean in some ways the desecration is here’s a person who was killed and we can’t honor her for who she was. We have to make her into a martyr, which is all martyrdom, as I write in the book, is a kind of magic trick, a slight of hand, right? By which the dead serve the needs of the living. So Ashley Babbitt does that, but you and I don’t need Ashley Babbitt, so she’s not serving our needs. We don’t talk about her. Tucker Carlson who rest in peace, Tucker, I mean really rest stay back. But when he had had three or 4 million people watching the show, but a reach of about 70 million and once a week, he was talking about Ashley Babbitt as this martyr, as does Trump, still talks about her at every rally.
And the CNN Town Hall talks about Ashley Babbitt always making of her this white woman killed by a black man. And so this is the old lynching story. White women vulnerable to these black predators in this racist imagination. They start aging her backwards. She’s 35. No, she’s in her twenties. No, she’s 16. She’s 125 pounds, no, 115, 110. She’s just a little white girl at the same time. She’s an Air Force veteran and who kills her? A fellow law enforcement officer. On the left, we make a big deal of the fact that Ashley Babbitt would, has once part of the capitol guardians, her job had once been to protect the capitol on the right. They also make a big deal of it. Another protector of the capitol shot her in the back, stabbed her in the back. It’s the old, that’s the World War I fascist.
The fascist myth that Hitler used. We would’ve won, but we were stabbed in the back. She is both. And to make this work, she has to be an innocent, which means she’s unarmed, which is why on the cover of my book is a photograph. The evidence photograph marked 16, 20, 20. One of the knife she was carrying, she wasn’t unarmed. I say it’s, it’s not a huge knife. And some people say, well, that’s a small knife. And to them, I sort of say, try and take it on a plane. And when T s A tries to take it away, try and hold onto that knife and calling it a small knife and see how far you get, I send me a note. No. And she was very clear. She was there to storm the capitol. She was there to be, in her words, boots in the ground. She was part of a mob that was chanting and smashing and seeking to do harm. She was right up there with some of the other scary figures. We’ve seen. The guy with a camp Auschwitz hoodie was right there. She was there to do harm. She was there maybe to kill, we’ll never know. But instead she got killed. And in doing so, became of much greater use to fascism than she was alive.
So as we conclude, two quick things I’m going to try to jump into here. And one is that the way you wrote about the people who you met across this country, either evangelicals or militia folks really, and you got into who they were as human beings. It’s a difficult divide because on one level it felt like you actually, and I understand this completely, you actually liked some of the people you met. You enjoyed their company. On the other hand, there was a danger that you were signaling that’s in these people who you liked as human beings. And that’s kind of this contradiction of what we face at this moment in this country.
And I think that’s always the contradiction. And there’s the risk of that. Contradiction is the myth of common ground, which I don’t believe in. Did you ever, and not since I thought deeply about it. I think in American history, common ground is the plant. Common ground is the plantation. The plantation is common ground because it is a way of erasing the power dynamics. Instead of saying, look, we coexist here and there are some inequalities and we need to work on that. We do not yet meet his equals, we aspire to do. So. That’s sort of the democracy that we have not yet achieved. And there’s a temptation when you see like, oh, but I can share pizza with Rob rum, the militia man as I did, or Dave g a militia man and aptly named Rifle Colorado, where I go to visit the bar and grill of Congresswoman Warren Bobber, which is called Shooters, but it’s like Hooters with guns, the waitresses and cutoffs and pack and heat and all the burgers. I had a guac nine. I chose a guac nine over the Swiss and Wesson.
I’m like, look, they think it’s funny too. I mean, it’s awful, but it’s funny. And that doesn’t mean I can sort of see the humanness, but this is where I do come back to another old song. Which side are you on? A labor song from the 1930s from the coal mining strikes. And I understand the temptation away from it to say, Hey, what do we don’t think in terms of sides? But I do think we have to contend if the right has created a moment when you have on a weekly basis, guys with ar fifteens lining up outside of, and this is if people follow this. No, this is happening somewhere around the country this weekend coming to you. We’ll be proud boys with guns or oath, keepers with guns or patriot front with guns outside a school or library or hospital or a bar doing a drag show.
And this is to say, speak of the states where it’s such being drag go. Doing drag being trans isn’t already illegal. And so if you’ve got kids one side for a story hour and you got men with guns over here, it’s real easy. Then which side are you on? Well, I’d like to stand in the middle. Really, really? You can’t commit to those kids in there. You can’t say, I’m going to be over there with them. Right? This is where this is. I’m not going to say, these guys with guns are not guys with guns. They’re people holding guns. They are fools. They have been diluted. They had turned their grief into rage and hate, but they’re still holding guns. And I think that’s what we need to do is kind of hold those simultaneity in our head at once. So
I mean you, to conclude here, I mean, one of the things that goes through this book for me is that is your own personal sense of urgency. That kind of fuels an urgency politica by what we face. That is all wrapped up in whiteness in America and how that underlies the entire danger that we face. We have faced and we do face.
I do think whiteness is essential to it and to friends in the left who say, what about class? What about gender? I say, yes. Is it race? Is it class? Is it gender? Yes. And this is where there’s a term left as academics and activists use this term intersectionality, the way things inform one race, class, and gender reform one another. Well, intersectionality, this is we’re talking here about the intersectionality of the right, but essential to that is this idea of whiteness. Now, I don’t mean just white people like you and me, and I think as Jews, in fact, right? We are increasingly suspect in that category. I have a neighbor, Nazi Ralph. It’s not a figure of speech. It’s hands covered with swastikas. Hey, we talk. He talks to me. I’m my father’s Jewish. My mother was not. So he says, I’ll talk to you because you’re half white. Whoa.
But he sits there holding his loaded Glock when he does, just in case, I guess I try to Jew him with my Jew powers if only I could, if only I had those powers. It is the same thing with people talking about Soros funding all these things. And I keep seeing people making jokes. Where can I get my Soros check? I’m ready. I’m the give me my woke check. I will take it. But I think that just to wrap up is like to say that underneath all that is that whiteness. And I think we can contend with it. And so I write a lot about movies and stories. The stories we tell ourselves in order to live as a great Joan Didian put it. And those stories are so wrapped up in whiteness. Maybe I’ll end on this. The first movie shown in the White House in 1915 was DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, right?
In which a white woman leaps to her death to escape a black man. Thus setting in motion, justifying in the imagination the movie, the Ride of the Klan. This the first movie shown in the White House, Woodrow Wilson’s White House was a movie based on a novel called The Klansmen, and the Klansmen as the hero, right? It’s there from the beginning, 1619, as we know, the 1619 project. Let us contend with it. Let us contend with whiteness and class, whiteness as class, whiteness and gender, whiteness as gender. The ways in which these come and take someone like Ashley Babbitt, who all her life is actually struggling to be a decent person. Favorite president after Trump was Obama. She stood up for little folks, and then there was a day she just stopped trying, and she gave in. And she was tired. She was tired of being a woman in the military. She was tired of dealing with predatory loans. She was tired of capitalism. And whiteness came and said, Hey, this will explain it all. And she just leaned back and laid back in the undertow, right? Let’s pull Ashley back to shore before she gets to the capitol, the next Ashley, I don’t want to give up more lives
To that. And Jeff Sharlet, I want to thank you for taking your time today. I want to thank you for this book. The Undertow Seems from a SL of a war. It’s really worth the read. It’s really written well. It’s as if a prose poet tells the story of where America could be going and why it’s here. So once again, thank you, Jeff. It’s really been a pleasure to have you.
Thank you, mark. Thank thanks for good questions. Thanks for reading and chat,
Chatting with me. Great book, great book. And want to thank you all for joining us today. Let me know what you’ve thought about, what you heard today, what you’d like us to cover. Just write to me at email@example.com. I will write you right back. And while you’re there, take a second. Go to the real news.com, ford slash support. Become a monthly donor, become part of the future with us. And so for David Hebden and Kayla Rivara and the crew here at The Real News, I’m Marc Steiner. Remember Jeff Sharlet the Undertoe, check it out, stay involved, keep listening, and take care.
Former President Donald Trump will face a criminal trial on March 25, 2024, over charges accusing him of falsifying business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels, a judge said.
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- Russia’s economic war against with the West is entering a dangerous new stage, Alexandra Prokopenko wrote.
- The Kremlin previously focused its retaliation on Europe’s energy markets, the Russia scholar said.
- But Russia recently set up a legal framework to temporarily nationalize foreign assets.
The Kremlin has shifted its tactics against the West, and now looks to take over foreign assets within its borders, according to a Russia analyst.
It’s an escalation on Moscow’s part, after prior retaliation against Western sanctions was focused on restricting energy supplies for Europe, Alexandra Prokopenko, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, wrote in the Financial Times.
“Russia’s economic confrontation with the west following the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine is entering a dangerous new stage,” she warned.
After Moscow suffered court defeats that kept Russian assets frozen in Europe, the Kremlin has since established a legal framework to temporarily nationalize foreign assets in Russia, Prokopenko added.
Projects that cost billions of dollars are now at risk, and the Russian government will likely take a “personalized approach” with each stakeholder, as it tries to divide the West, she wrote.
A key piece of Moscow’s new retaliation strategy is a decree that President Vladimir Putin signed last month, that Prokopenko said gives the government’s property management agency control over Western assets affected by halts to Russia operations and the ability to sell them to Russian buyers.
The decree also requires firms of “unfriendly nations” to pay a donation to Russia’s war efforts, equating 5% to 10% the value of a sold asset. Western companies are also required to sell their stakes in projects shared with Russian partners at a 50% deduction.
Since Putin signed the decree, the assets of Finnish and German energy firms have been placed under provisional management.
Between this and Western constraints on selling to Russia, “a growing number of such companies look increasingly likely to lose their investments in Russia entirely,” Prokopenko said.
However, she said that these new restrictions will be applied to companies individually, based on their ties with Russia’s government.
“So far, neither Russia nor Europe has a comprehensive strategy on how to deal with the stranded assets,” she said. “The breakdown of ties will almost certainly exacerbate the conflict as the Kremlin seeks ways to punish Europe for imposing sanctions and supporting Ukraine. The appetite of Putin’s cronies to seize western assets in Russia will only add insult to injury.”
The only way to have a rational discussion about immigration is to do everything possible to secure the southern border like never before.
The battle between DeSantis’s orthodoxy and Trump’s violent messianism.
Trump speaking in 2017. | Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
The CNN town hall was a wake-up call: If Trump wins, he’ll be even more dangerous than he was last time.
At Donald Trump’s CNN town hall on Wednesday, the former president took a series of policy positions that felt extreme even by contemporary Republican standards.
“In little over an hour, Donald J. Trump suggested the United States should default on its debts for the first time in history, injected doubt over the country’s commitment to defending Ukraine from Russia’s invasion, dangled pardons for most of the Capitol rioters convicted of crimes, and refused to say he would abide by the results of the next presidential election,” the New York Times wrote in a fair summary of the evening.
There is every reason to think that this kind of talk reflects what a second Trump administration would be like. As the Times notes, there has been a concerted behind-the-scenes effort in MAGA world to ensure that Trump will face fewer roadblocks in enacting his agenda in 2025 than he did in 2017 — starting with gutting the federal bureaucracy and replacing thousands of nonpartisan employees with Trumpists.
“These proposals have been incubating for more than two years within a network of well-funded and Trump-connected outside groups,” the Times reports.
In 2016, Trump put absolutely zero effort into preparing for the possibility that he might actually govern after the election. The result is that he took office with a staff heavily drawn from the ranks of the GOP establishment, some of whom worked to curb his most disruptive impulses.
This time around, we can expect no such discordance — meaning that we’re likely to get Trump unleashed from day one.
Moreover, experience with politicians like Trump abroad suggests that Trump’s agenda will be every bit as radical as the town hall suggests — with a focus on dismantling constraints on Trump’s authority and undermining the fairness of the political system.
In Hungary and Israel, electoral defeat radicalized current prime ministers Viktor Orbán and Benjamin Netanyahu. When returned to power in subsequent elections, they pursued policies that endangered their country’s democracy — and, in Orbán’s case, succeeded in destroying it.
Based on what we know about both American and comparative global politics, Trump’s radical CNN town hall was not some kind of joke or sideshow. It may well be an accurate representation of what a second Trump term would be like.
Trump 1 wasn’t prepared. Trump 2 will be.
Several days after his inauguration in 2017, Donald Trump attempted to make good on one of his signature campaign trail proposals: the “Muslim Ban.” He issued an executive order, crafted primarily by aides Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, that banned travel to the United States by residents of seven Muslim-majority countries.
Except, as you might recall, the entire effort was a disaster. The order was so poorly written that it failed to answer basic questions — like whether permanent US residents from those countries could reenter the United States after traveling abroad. The result was chaos at American airports: baffled Customs and Border Protection agents trying to apply the vague order with little guidance amid large-scale protests.
The order was struck down in litigation, as was a second attempt. Finally, a third watered-down effort came into effect months after the first order.
The whole episode was, in the memorable phrasing of legal writer Ben Wittes, “malevolence tempered by incompetence”: an attempt to do something awful that failed primarily because the people behind it had no idea what they were doing.
In general, the Bannon and Miller types — the true-believer Trumpists — regularly ran up against the limits of their own expertise and experience when trying to implement the MAGA agenda. By contrast, their rivals in the administration — like Jim Mattis, Trump’s first defense secretary — often succeeded in pulling the president away from his own instincts.
The result was, for years, a kind of incoherence in the Trump administration’s policymaking: what the president would say in his tweets and press conferences did not necessarily reflect what his White House was actually doing.
Take Russia policy: While Trump cozied up to Vladimir Putin, his administration deployed US troops to NATO’s eastern flank countries and provided lethal weapons to Ukraine.
David McNew/Getty Images
Demonstrators pass a volunteer immigration attorney at Los Angeles International Airport in February 2017.
In the extended MAGA universe, the idea that Trump was being betrayed by his own appointees became a common complaint. And over the course of his administration, the president and his allies got better at identifying yes-men and putting them in top positions.
John McEntee, for example, got his start as the president’s bodyman. By the end of the administration, he had worked his way up to director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office, where he worked incessantly to identify pro-Trump people and get them in positions of influence.
“McEntee and his enforcers made the disastrous last weeks of the Trump presidency possible,” ABC News’s Jonathan Karl writes in his book Betrayal. “Thanks to them, in the end, the elusive ‘adults in the room’ — those who might have been willing to confront the president or try to control his most destructive tendencies — were silenced or gone.”
What we see, then, is that Trumpworld learned its lesson: Personnel is policy, and they needed their people in the right places.
And in their time out of power, they have been preparing to do just that.
The Heritage Foundation is perhaps the most influential conservative think tank in Washington, and also one that has taken an increasingly Trumpy policy line under its new president Kevin Roberts. Currently, Heritage is operating a $22 million initiative called Project 2025 — an ambitious effort to compile a personnel database from which the next Republican president can quickly and efficiently select staffers to fill their administration.
In early May, Heritage hired McEntee as a senior adviser to Project 2025. His hiring suggests that the project is designed to allow Trump, if he is indeed the Republican standard-bearer, to quickly and painlessly find staff who are ready and willing to follow his aggressive lead. McEntee all but confirmed that in an interview with RealClearPolitics, saying that his role at Heritage will be to “bring the people that are a little more hardline, who are going to go in there and kind of shake things up, because that’s what we need.”
The effort to find Trump a friendly staff does not merely cover traditional political appointees. In 2020, Trump issued an executive order called Schedule F — which would, in effect, allow him to convert over thousands of career civil service jobs into political appointees. While Schedule F was not successfully implemented — President Biden rescinded it when he took office — there is an extensive plan in place to revive it as soon as Trump returns to the White House (one that Democrats in Congress tried and failed to block). If successful, it would allow him to replace what he calls the “deep state” with the Trump state.
Trump, in short, will be much better positioned to get “his” people in power this time around — and bend the entirety of the government to his will.
Recent history suggests that democracy will be his first target
Of course, just because Trump is planning a wholesale takeover of the federal government doesn’t mean he’ll actually do it. Trump has never had a second term before, and predicting the future is notoriously hard.
Here is where international comparisons are helpful. Because as much as Trump seems sui generis in American politics, his type is actually relatively common in global politics: the charismatic authoritarian who appeals to a segment of the population that sees themselves as the authentic people (“real Americans” in the Trumpist case) besieged by a corrupt elite and enemies both foreign and domestic.
Of these many leaders, two stand out as especially useful parallel cases: Orbán in Hungary, and Netanyahu in Israel.
Hungary and Israel are both comparatively wealthy democracies whose right-wing leaders have been friendly with Trump and popular on the American right. Moreover, both Orbán and Netanyahu spent some time out of power after their first electoral victories, meaning that they can give us some clues about what happens to leaders of Trump’s type when they are defeated and then return to office.
The answer, in both cases, is radicalization. During their first terms in office, neither Netanyahu nor Orbán seriously threatened the foundations of their respective democratic systems.
When Orbán was defeated after his first term in office, from 1998 to 2002, he never really accepted the loss. Spokespeople for his party, Fidesz, accused their opponents of fraud; in interviews, Orbán blamed the defeat on the lack of Fidesz-friendly media outlets that were parroting his party’s message.
Immediately after winning the 2010 election, Orbán launched a full-scale campaign to rig the system in his favor — rewriting Hungary’s constitution and gerrymandering its legislature to protect permanent Fidesz dominance. Since then, he has only tightened his grip on the system, seizing control of 90 percent of the media and winning three elections in a row under increasingly unfair conditions.
Israeli Prime Ministry Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Orbán and Netanyahu hold a joint press conference in Jerusalem in February 2019.
Netanyahu had a similar authoritarian conversion after his 1996-1999 stint ended in electoral defeat, reportedly saying at the time that “I need my own media” to regain and hold power in the future.
When he returned to office in 2009, he seems to have set about trying to do just that — allegedly attempting to trade political and regulatory favors for favorable coverage in two outlets, the leading daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth (“Latest News”) and the popular news website Walla. He seems to have succeeded with Walla, allegedly reaching a secret deal to approve a merger that its parent company wanted in exchange for a pro-Netanyahu editorial slant.
When Israeli prosecutors uncovered evidence of these schemes to suborn the free press and indicted him, Netanyahu doubled down, calling the whole thing a “witch hunt” by his political enemies.
When he lost power again in 2021, he allied with far-right parties to regain it in 2022 — and swiftly set about working with them to enact legislation undermining the independence of the judicial system. Their plan, unveiled earlier this year, was so threatening to Israeli democracy that it prompted the largest street demonstrations in Israeli history.
In both cases, the parallels with Trump should be obvious. In all three cases, you have leaders who never really accepted the legitimacy of their defeats — seeing themselves as the rightful leaders of the nation unseated by some combination of a hostile establishment and a biased liberal media. When handed power again, why wouldn’t such a leader take steps to ensure that this would never happen again?
Of course, there are also many important differences between Trump and these two leaders (and, of course, the United States and their countries). One important one: Orbán and Netanyahu are savvier policy minds than Trump, better capable of identifying the vulnerabilities in their democracies and effectively exploiting them.
Here, Trump’s much stronger staffing will likely make a difference. While Trump may not sweat the wonky stuff, he’ll have many more true believers willing to do that than he did before. And there’s every chance he would instruct his staff to take every avenue possible to prevent a repeat of what he sees as the ultimate humiliation: losing.
In the clip above, the ceremony takes place to the sound of “Horn of Plenty,” a piece composed by James Newton Howard and used in the “Hunger Games” films. You have to wonder if it even occurred to the Russian authorities that playing music from the film “The Hunger Games” where teenagers try to kill one another for rich people’s entertainment was perhaps not the most appropriate they could have used. The Panem anthem is played whenever the fallen die in the dystopian novels and films.
Russian authorities have unveiled a monument to a soldier killed in Ukraine to the soundtrack of the dystopian “Hunger Games” films, footage posted to social media shows.
The statue, which appears in a clip posted to Telegram by Russian independent outlet Novaya Gazeta, was created in memory of a 21-year-old soldier from the Buryatia republic in eastern Siberia, the outlet wrote in a post alongside the video.
The soldier was named by the outlet as Dmitry Farshinyov, who was killed in Ukraine on April 5, 2022, according to a local Telegram channel for Buryatia. In May 2022, Alexey Tsydenov, the head of the Buryatia republic, said Farshinyov had been posthumously awarded the title of “Hero of Russia” after serving in the 11th Guards Airborne Assault Brigade, citing the same date of death for the soldier.