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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

In science, nature abhors a vacuum. On cable news, Fox News abhors not having a Democratic villain. So the network is trying to bring back former President Barack Obama for the starring role.

Desperately searching for someone with a high profile to blame for the generally chaotic start of Trump’s controversy-filled administration, the conservative media are refitting the former Democratic president, who has kept a low profile since exiting the White House, as an all-powerful gremlin who’s to blame for Trump’s laundry list of political woes.

And now, of course, Trump has seized on the right-wing media theme. Brandishing little more than a right-wing radio rant that was typed up by Breitbart, Trump over the weekend made the wholly unsubstantiated, and nonsensical, claim that Obama ordered a wiretap at Trump Tower. Trump then demanded that Congress investigate the alleged abuses. (Surprise! Trump’s right-wing media allies support the call.)

The burgeoning blame game started last month with allegations that Obama was responsible for the big crowds protesting Trump’s presidency. (He wasn’t.) Since then, the allegations have widened, and now Obama is viewed as some sort of all-powerful troll who’s mysteriously capable of disrupting all factions of the Trump administration.

But let’s take a step back and understand what’s also going on: The right-wing media cannot survive without high-profile liberal villains who can be used to rile up the Republican masses. For the previous eight years, Obama was portrayed as an almost demonic figure bent on destroying the American way of life. And for the last two years of Obama’s term, Hillary Clinton received co-star status as America’s Villain on Fox News and in other right-wing media, which denounced her every move, real or imagined, as an outrage.

Being outraged, and especially being outraged about made-up things, has been a signature of the far-right press for years. It certainly defined the Obama era, blossoming into Fox News’ entire programming blueprint. Fox News posted huge profits each year by overreacting to imagined Obama slights. (Remember when Obama disrespected the Oval Office by putting his feet on his desk, watched too much sports television, was too mean to Republicans, and ordered too fancy a mustard on a burger?)

But with Republicans now controlling the White House, the Senate, the House, and possibly soon the Supreme Court, it’s getting hard for Republicans to focus on a single villain. (Can Trump’s failures really all be blamed on the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi?)

So Fox News and friends have for weeks been trying to drag Obama out of retirement for the top role of Democratic scoundrel. Even though Obama has remained mostly silent since Trump was sworn in, he has been denounced as a devilish figure and used to rile the GOP base.

Today, from Fox News to the National Enquirer, from Alex Jones to Rush Limbaugh, the rallying cry is emerging: Barack Obama is an omnipotent force who’s obstructing and dooming Trump’s agenda.

Here was New York Post writer Paul Sperry frantically sounding the Obama alarms on Alex Jones’ conspiratorial radio show, according to a transcript from the Austin American-Statesman (emphasis added):

“Forget about Hillary, Hillary’s gone. His main concern right now is Obama. I mean the guy’s set up a bunker down the street from the White House..He’s got a mansion. He’s got an office. OFA, the Obama Foundation he’s setting up. He’s got his own chief of staff, press secretary. He’s setting up his own shadow White House, just within two miles of the White House .. This is something on the order of a civil war here.”

Jones was a believer: “And I agree with you, at a gut level I am more concerned about this than anything I’ve seen in 20 years on air.”

The right-wing Daily Mail has also been issuing the warning, insisting that “Obama’s goal is to oust Trump from the presidency either by forcing his resignation or through his impeachment” and that Obama’s new Washington, D.C., home was being turned “into the nerve center of the mounting insurgency against his successor.”

Politically, why the urgent need from the Trump loyalists in the press to bring back Obama, and his allegedly conniving cohorts, just weeks after he left office? Because there has to be an explanation for why Trump and his administration have suffered such a chaotic first few weeks, why they have sparked so many controversies and experienced so many early losses. There must be an explanation for why Obamacare hasn’t been repealed, why the White House travel ban was overturned by the courts, and why Trump is so deeply unpopular.

Yes, the White House has declared war on the press, but that blame game doesn’t really address Trump’s endless political setbacks. So the default explanation has become “It’s Obama’s fault.” That, and his all-powerful “shadow government.” (He’s kinda like George Soros, but with Secret Service protection.)

By elevating the supposed looming, off-stage threat of Obama, the right-wing media also allow Trump to play the perpetual victim.

What’s funny is that while Obama has remained mostly mum about his successor, it was former Republican president George W. Bush who made headlines last week when he seemed to voice concerns about Trump’s presidency.

From The New York Times:

“Former President George W. Bush implicitly criticized President Trump on Monday, taking issue with his approach to immigration and the news media, and suggested that any ties between the new president’s team and Russia should be investigated.”

Today, there’s no evidence to support right-wing media claims that Obama has turned his home into an anti-Trump “nerve center,” or that he’s marshaling the forces of his “shadow government” to overthrow the administration. But there is plenty of proof that Obama’s living rent-free inside the heads of Fox News pundits.

IMAGE: Barack Obama meets with Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

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(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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