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The Twisted Roots Of Republican Insurrection

With the passing of a year since the attempted coup and insurrection of January 2021, the question that remains unanswered for many Americans is how our country came to its current peril. Why is the nation now confronting such an extraordinary degree of polarization, so many threats to democracy, and the prospect of partisan violence or even civil war? The obvious answer is to pin these woes on Donald Trump alone, who certainly deserves plenty of blame. But that would be wrong.

The former president, whose fascistic tendency was identified in this space when he first announced his presidential candidacy in 2015, didn't suddenly appear from nowhere. Trump was and is the expression of an authoritarian and malevolent spirit that has gained increasing influence within the Republican Party over the past three decades. Although the Nixon administration's antidemocratic excesses were an early warning, the first sign that this would become an irreversible trend could be seen in the rise of Newt Gingrich — now one of Trump's most implacable and aggressive attack dogs.

When Gingrich came to power in the House of Representatives in the early '90s, he first overthrew the old-line Republicans whose worldview permitted cooperation and compromise with Democrats for the nation's good. Nobody in Republican leadership before Gingrich would ever have considered something like defaulting on the national debt — a dishonorable and extremely dangerous tactic — for partisan advantage.

But to Gingrich, such extremist maneuvers were entirely justified by his ultra-right ideology, which depicted Democrats not as political competitors but as blood enemies. To advance that ideology within the GOP he created an organization called GOPAC, which taught right-wing candidates how to deploy a lexicon of slurs describing their Democratic opponents, and liberals more generally, as "sick," "pathetic," "radical," "socialist" and "traitors," among a long list of other insults. His smear campaign bore a distinct resemblance to the Gothic horror mythology of the QAnon cult — as when he blamed a mother's murder of her two children on the Democratic Party. (Actually, she turned out to be the daughter of a "Christian" Republican leader who had sexually abused her.)

It was an extraordinarily destructive and even nihilistic approach to politics, but it worked. As longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone has gleefully noted so many times, hate is the most powerful motivator in politics — and by harnessing hate, the Gingrich Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994, and never looked back.

From that day until today, the Republican attitude toward governance has veered between authoritarian and insurrectionary. It's authoritarian when a Republican occupies the White House, as we observed when the George W. Bush administration declared the "unitary presidency" with unlimited powers during time of war, specifically the war on terror. And it's insurrectionary when a Democratic president is in power, as we saw when Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that his only purpose was to deny Barack Obama a second term.

No rules or customs that had applied under Bush would be available to Obama, and any underhanded tactic would be employed to regain power. The usual courtesies and decencies were abandoned, as we know from decades of experience. Even respect for wartime service went down the drain, as Republican draft dodgers spit on the decorations of Democratic war heroes like John Kerry and the late Max Cleland. So Trump felt free to mock the sacrifice of the late John McCain and other veterans. This is the legacy of Gingrich and of Karl Rove, the Bush White House political mastermind who conceived a political system so thoroughly controlled by the Republican Party — by whatever means necessary — as to render all opposition merely symbolic.

Indeed, many of the Trumpian tropes that make most Americans retch can be traced back to that earlier era of disgrace. When Trump's evangelical followers proclaim that he was chosen by God to rule, they are merely parroting what they once told us about George W. Bush (whom they now despise). The Republicans and their echoes in media and the pulpit are purveyors of propaganda, without shame or scruple.

Yes, Trump and his minions represent a clear and present danger to democracy, but they didn't emerge from nowhere. Their brand of cancer has been growing in the Republican Party for a generation or more — and with all due respect to brave dissenters like Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), it will not be excised merely by defeating him.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


Are We Forever Captives of America’s Forever Wars?

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch

As August ended, American troops completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan, almost 20 years after they first arrived. On the formal date of withdrawal, however, President Biden insisted that “over-the-horizon capabilities” (airpower and Special Operations forces, for example) would remain available for use anytime. “[W]e can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground, very few if needed,” he explained, dispensing immediately with any notion of a true peace.

But beyond expectations of continued violence in Afghanistan, there was an even greater obstacle to officially ending the war there: the fact that it was part of a never-ending, far larger conflict originally called the Global War on Terror (in caps), then the plain-old lower-cased war on terror, and finally — as public opinion here soured on it — America’s “forever wars.”

As we face the future, it’s time to finally focus on ending, formally and in every other way, that disastrous larger war. It’s time to acknowledge in the most concrete ways imaginable that the post-9/11 war on terror, of which the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan was the opening salvo, warrants a final sunset.

True, security experts like to point out that the threat of global Islamist terrorism is still of pressing — and in many areas, increasing — concern. ISIS and al-Qaeda are reportedly again on the rise in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.

Nonetheless, the place where the war on terror truly needs to end is right here in this country. From the beginning, its scope, as defined in Washington, was arguably limitless and the extralegal institutions it helped create, as well as its numerous departures from the rule of law, would prove disastrous for this country. In other words, it’s time for America to withdraw not just from Afghanistan (or Iraq or Syria or Somalia) but, metaphorically speaking at least, from this country, too. It’s time for the war on terror to truly come to an end.

With that goal in mind, three developments could signal that its time has possibly come, even if no formal declaration of such an end is ever made. In all three areas, there have recently been signs of progress (though, sadly, regress as well).

Repeal Of The 2001 AUMF

First and foremost, Congress needs to repeal its disastrous 2001 Authorization for the Use of Force (AUMF) passed — with Representative Barbara Lee’s single “no” vote — after the attacks of 9/11. Over the last 20 years, it would prove foundational in allowing the U.S. military to be used globally in essentially any way a president wanted.

That AUMF was written without mention of a specific enemy or geographical specificity of any kind when it came to possible theaters of operation and without the slightest reference to what the end of such hostilities might look like. As a result, it bestowed on the president the power to use force when, where, and however he wanted in fighting the war on terror without the need to further consult Congress. Employed initially to root out al-Qaeda and defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, it has been used over the last two decades to fight in at least 19 countries in the Greater Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Its repeal is almost unimaginably overdue.

In fact, in the early months of the Biden presidency, Congress began to make some efforts to do just that. The goal, in the words of White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, was to “to ensure that the authorizations for the use of military force currently on the books are replaced with a narrow and specific framework that will ensure we can protect Americans from terrorist threats while ending the forever wars.”

The momentum for repealing and replacing that AUMF was soon stalled, however, by the messy, chaotic and dangerous exit from Afghanistan. Those in Congress and elsewhere in Washington opposed to its repeal began to argue vociferously that the very way America’s Afghan campaign had collapsed and the Biden policy of over-the-horizon strikes mandated its continuance.

At the moment, some efforts towards repeal again seem to be gaining momentum, with the focus now on the more modest goal of simply reducing the blanket authority the authorization still allows a president to make war as he pleases, while ensuring that Congress has a say in any future decisions on using force abroad. As Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), an advocate for rethinking presidential war powers generally, has put the matter, “If you’re taking strikes in Somalia, come to Congress and get an authorization for it. If you want to be involved in hostilities in Somalia for the next five years, come and explain why that’s necessary and come and get an explicit authorization.”

One thing is guaranteed, even two decades after the disastrous war on terror began, it will be an uphill battle in Congress to alter or repeal that initial forever AUMF that has endlessly validated our forever wars. But if the end of the war on terror as we’ve known it is ever to occur, it’s an imperative act.

Closing Gitmo

A second essential act to signal the end of the war on terror would, of course, be the closing of that offshore essence of injustice, the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (aka Gitmo) that the Bush administration set up so long ago. That war on terror detention facility on the island of Cuba was opened in January 2002. As it approaches its 20th anniversary, the approximately 780 detainees it once held, under the grimmest of circumstances, have been whittled down to 39.

Closing Guantánamo would remove a central symbol of America’s war-on-terror policies when it came to detention, interrogation, and torture. Today, that facility holds two main groups of detainees — 12 whose cases belong to the military commissions (2 have been convicted and sentenced, 10 await trial) and 27 who, after all these years, are still being held without charge — the truest “forever prisoners” of the war on terror, so labelled by Miami Herald (now New York Times) reporter Carol Rosenberg nearly a decade ago.

Through diplomacy — by promising safety to the detainees and security to the United States should signs of recidivist behavior appear — the Biden administration could arrange the release of the prisoners in that second group to other countries and radically reduce the forever-prison population. They could be transferred abroad, including even Abu Zubaydah, the first prisoner tortured under the CIA’s auspices, a detainee whom the Agency insisted, “should remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life.”

The military commissions responsible for the other group of detainees, including the five charged with the 9/11 attacks, pose a different kind of problem. In the 15 years since the start of those congressionally created commissions, there have been a total of eight convictions, six through guilty pleas, four of them later overturned. Trying such cases, even offshore of the American justice system, has proven remarkably problematic. The prosecutions have been plagued by the fact those defendants were tortured at CIA black sites and that confessions or witness testimony produced under torture is forbidden in the military commissions process.

The inadmissibility of such material, along with numerous examples of the government’s mishandling of evidence, its violations of correct court procedure, and even its spying on the meetings of defense attorneys with their clients, has turned those commissions into a virtual Mobius strip of litigation and so a judicial nightmare. As Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) put it in a recent impassioned plea for Gitmo’s closure, “Military commissions are not the answer… We need to trust our system of justice,” he said. “America’s failures in Guantanamo must not be passed on to another administration or to another Congress.”

As Durbin’s comments and the scheduling of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on closure set for December 7th indicate, some headway has perhaps been made toward that end. Early in his presidency, Joe Biden (mindful certainly of Barack Obama’s unrealized executive order on Day One of his presidency calling for the closure of Gitmo within a year) expressed his intention to shut down that prison by the end of his first term in office. He then commissioned the National Security Council to study just how to do it.

In addition, the Biden administration has more than doubled the number of detainees cleared to be released and transferred to other countries, while the military tribunals for all four pending cases have restarted after a hiatus imposed by Covid-19 restrictions. So, too, the long-delayed sentencing hearing of Pakistani detainee Majid Kahn, who pleaded guilty more than nine years ago, finally took place in October.

So, once again, some progress is being made, but as long as Gitmo remains open, our own homemade version of the war on terror will live on.

Redefining the Threat

Another admittedly grim sign that the post-9/11 war on terror could finally fade away is the pivot of attention in this country to other, far more pressing threats on a planet in danger and in the midst of a desperate and devastating pandemic. Notably, on the 20th anniversary of those attacks, even former President George W. Bush, whose administration launched the war on terror and its ills, acknowledged a shift in the country’s threat matrix: “[W]e have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within.”

He then made it clear that he wasn’t referring to homegrown jihadists, but to those who, on January 6 so notoriously busted into the Capitol building, threatening the vice president and other politicians of both parties -- as well as other American extremists. “There is,” he asserted, “little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home.”

As the former president’s remarks suggested, even as the war on terror straggles on, in this country the application of the word “terrorism” has decidedly turned elsewhere — namely, to violent domestic extremists who espouse a white nationalist ideology. By the end of January 6, the news media were already beginning to refer to the assault on lawmakers in the Capitol as “terrorism” and the attackers as “terrorists.” In the months since, law enforcement has ramped up its efforts against such white-supremacist terrorists.

As FBI Director Chris Wray testified to Congress in September, “There is no doubt about it, today’s threat is different from what it was 20 years ago… That’s why, over the last year and a half, the FBI has pushed even more resources to our domestic terrorism investigations.” He then added, “Now, 9/11 was 20 years ago. But for us at the FBI, as I know it does for my colleagues here with me, it represents a danger we focus on every day. And make no mistake, the danger is real.” Nonetheless, his remarks suggested that a page was indeed being turned, with global terrorism no longer being the ultimate threat to American national security.

The Director of National Intelligence’s 2021 Annual Threat Analysis noted no less bluntly that other dangers warrant more attention than global terrorism. Her report emphasized the far larger threats posed by climate change, the pandemic, and potential great-power rivalries.

Each of these potential pivots suggest the possible end of a war on terror whose casualties include essential aspects of democracy and on which this country squandered almost inconceivable sums of money while constantly widening the theater for the use of force. It’s time to withdraw the ever-expansive war powers Congress gave the president, end indefinite detention at Gitmo, and acknowledge that a shift in priorities is already occurring right under our noses on an ever more imperiled planet. Perhaps then Americans could turn to short-term and long-term priorities that might truly improve the health and sustainability of this nation.

Copyright 2021 Karen J. Greenberg

Karen J. Greenberg, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law and author of the newly published Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of Democracy from the War on Terror to Donald Trump (Princeton University Press). Julia Tedesco helped with research for this piece.

GOP Senators Stoke Irrational Hatred Of Nonpartisan Scientist Fauci

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

Dr. Anthony Fauci, now 80, joined the National Institutes of Health back in 1968 and has worked with a long list of Republican presidents — from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush to Gerald Ford. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, he has become an object of irrational hatred in the far-right MAGA movement. And journalist Alexander Bolton, in an article published by The Hill on December 1, explains why that hatred has recently become even worse.

Fauci considers his work with the federal government apolitical, often stressing that his top priority is public health regardless of whether the president is a Democrat or a Republican — and he typically dodges overtly political questions during his frequent appearances on MSNBC and CNN. But Fauci deeply offended thin-skinned MAGA Republicans when, during a Sunday, November 28 appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation, he told host Margaret Brennan that his detractors are “really criticizing science because I represent science.”One of those Republicans was Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who claimed, “Tony Fauci is nothing more than a Democratic operative.” Cotton would do well to research his party’s pre-MAGA history; Fauci got along fine with President Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush.

In fact, a June 19, 2008 press release from the George W. Bush White House stated, “Three decades ago, a mysterious and terrifying plague began to take the lives of people across the world. Before this malady even had a name, it had a fierce opponent in Dr. Anthony Fauci. As the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for more than 23 years, Tony Fauci has led the fight against HIV and AIDS. He was also a leading architect and champion of the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which over the past five years, has reached millions of people — preventing HIV infections in infants and easing suffering and bringing dying communities back to life.”

That press release went on to say, “Those who know Tony do admit one flaw: sometimes, he forgets to stop working…. For his determined and aggressive efforts to help others live longer and healthier lives, I'm proud to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci.”

Regardless, Cotton and other Republicans view attacking Fauci as a way to score cheap political points with the MAGA crowd, and no one is better at such pandering than former Donald Trump critic turned obsequious Trump sycophant Ted Cruz. The far-right Texas senator has slammed Fauci as “the most dangerous bureaucrat in the history of America” and made the ludicrous comment that Fauci should serve prison time for denying that the NIH funded virus research at a lab in Wuhan, China — which is where COVID-19 was first reported in December 2019.

Fox News’ Lara Logan, according to Bolton, has even compared Fauci to the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele of Nazi Germany infamy.

But one Republican who is calling out the far right’s anti-Fauci nonsense is Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah. Bolton quotes the 2012 GOP presidential nominee as saying, “A lot of politics today is performance politics, which is saying things which excite the bases of our respective parties. I look at Dr. Fauci as an expert in disease and viruses (and) respect his point of view. He’s not perfect; like all humans, he will make mistakes. Politicizing him is just par for the course these days in our highly politicized environment, but I respect him as a scientist.”

What’s So Bad About ‘Coastal Elites’?

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

There was a time when "coastal" was an innocent geographical adjective, as in "coastal islands" or "coastal flooding." It referred to events and places located on large bodies of saltwater. But somewhere along the way, "coastal" gained a sinister, shameful connotation.

Populists and pseudo-populists have long fulminated against elites. But these days, the only thing worse than being one of the elite is being one of the "coastal elite."

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After 20 Years, Holding Giuliani Accountable For Post-9/11 Toxic Air Debacle

Reprinted with permission from The Chief-Leader

The chairs of both the House Oversight Committee and the House Judiciary Committee have written to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio requesting that he release any documents in the city's possession pertaining to what officials knew about the air quality in and around lower Manhattan in the days and weeks following the September 11, 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center by terrorists.

The Congressional inquiry comes as the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund reported it had received 3,900 death claims related to WTC health conditions and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that 3,311 people enrolled in its WTC Health Program have died.

In their September 20 letter, Oversight Committee chair Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Judiciary Committee chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who co-sponsored the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, wrote that disclosure was critical to "help provide injured and ill 9/11 responders, survivors, and their families a better understanding of what the City knew at the time about the likely scope of the health crisis and when they knew it."

The de Blasio administration responded with a statement: "As we continue to remember both those that died on 9/11 and those that passed away years later from toxic dust, we will not forget the lessons we learned that day. We will review the letter."

Three days after the 9/11 attack, Christine Todd Whitman, then-head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, told reporters that "the good news continues to be that air samples we have taken have all been at levels that cause us no concern." Two years later, an investigation by the EPA Inspector General found that the agency "did not have sufficient data and analyses to make such a blanket statement" when it did.

Bush Doctored Releases

"Air-monitoring data was lacking for several pollutants of concern," the inspector general concluded. The report stated that President George W. Bush's White House Council on Environmental Quality heavily edited the EPA press releases "to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones."

The IG also found that the Council described the readings as just "slightly above" the limit, despite the fact that samples taken indicated asbestos levels in lower Manhattan were double or even triple the EPA's limit.

When the agency watchdog tried to determine who had written the press releases, investigators "were unable to identify any EPA official who claimed ownership," because they were told by the EPA chief of staff that there was "joint ownership between EPA and the White House," which gave final approval.

Reps. Maloney and Nadler cited those findings in their recent letter to the mayor. "This report outlined what the federal government knew about the extent of the problem and the clear health threat, after the EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman had repeatedly said that the 'air was safe to breathe,'" they wrote. "However, we have yet to see a full accounting of what then-Mayor Giuliani and his administration knew at the time."

The Congressional leaders linked their inquiry to "President Biden's ongoing review and declassification of documents related to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's possible involvement in the 9/11 attacks" and the need for "full transparency" about just "what the government knew about the health risks at Ground Zero" and whether it "potentially covered up that information."

"While previous reports have hinted at what the Giuliani administration knew about the health risks, it is time for a complete accounting of this history," Ms. Maloney and Mr. Nadler wrote. "If it is true that they knew that thousands of responders and community members would face tremendous long-term health impacts, the administration unnecessarily delayed the effort to provide health care to the thousands of responders and survivors exposed in the aftermath on the pile and in schools, offices, and homes around the area."

Health advocates from first-responder unions and the lower Manhattan neighborhood supported the call for the city to disclose all documents it has related to what it knew about the air quality in and around the site.Ultimately, Federal officials defined the WTC health impact zone to encompass all of lower Manhattan south of Houston Street and portions of western Brooklyn.

'Can't Repeat Mistakes'

Kimberly Flynn, the executive director of 9/11 Environmental Action, and Rob Spencer, director of media services for the Organization of Staff Analysts, who co-chair the WTC Health Program Survivor Steering Committee, wrote: "In the earliest days after the collapse of the towers, the City rather than the federal government led the initial disaster response. In addition, the City Department of Health issued hazardous guidance to those who lived or worked in Lower Manhattan below Canal Street, such as a recommendation to clean up potentially asbestos-contaminated dust in interior spaces using a wet rag and a mop. Respiratory protection was not mentioned."

They continued, "For these reasons and many more, Representatives Maloney and Nadler's request for full disclosure by the City of information about its decision-making and the origins of its guidance is welcome and the release of the information long overdue. We need to understand the failures of decision-making after 9/11 that led to decades of suffering and illness. Going forward, we cannot afford to repeat these mistakes."

Lila Nordstrom, who attended Stuyvesant High School adjacent to the WTC site and is a WTC Health Program participant, wrote, "This was not just a critical issue in the immediate aftermath but was an ongoing failure that continued into Mayor Bloomberg's tenure."

During a September 21 phone interview, former Uniformed Firefighters Association President Stephen Cassidy said he welcomed full disclosure of what the city knew about the air quality following the Trade Center's destruction.

'Knew It Wasn't Safe'

"In my view there wasn't a single Firefighter who thought the air was safe to breathe, but in those first eight to nine days, we thought we would still find people alive," Mr. Cassidy said. "But when it shifted from an actual rescue to [the months of] recovery, there is a legitimate argument that the city agencies did not provide the proper adequate protective gear. You had guys wearing cloth bandannas and those flimsy masks."

"We all know now the air in Lower Manhattan on 9/11 and in the months that followed was poison to breathe—but it is imperative that it is made clear what was known then," said Detectives' Endowment Association President Paul DiGiacomo. "We owe it to the detectives, their fellow first-responders, and every person who has died of a related illness or continues to battle for their life today."

Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Tony Utano stated, "Nothing should be left in the shadows. Thousands of us worked the pile at Ground Zero, helped evacuate people from lower Manhattan, or shuttled other first-responders to the site. They were told the air was safe and many have the paid the price of that lie. Hundreds have become seriously ill and dozens have died."

Vincent Variale, president of AFSCME Local 3621, which represents Emergency Medical Service Officers, said, "It seems they might be doing this for political reasons, particularly because it involves former Mayor Giuliani. But that said, they should investigate this and hold people responsible."

Nadler recalled at a recent 9/11 memorial that he "immediately" pushed back on the EPA's assurance about air quality at the time, explaining, "I knew immediately that this was ridiculous—you could just take one look and there was zero evidence that this was true."

Is Joe Biden’s Approval Rating In ‘Free Fall’? Nope

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Amid breathless reports of a political "free fall" and reeling from the White House's "summer from hell," the Beltway press has leaned into the idea that Joe Biden's presidency is unraveling — that his approval rating is in a state of collapse.

Except it's not true. Instead, it's the media falling in love with their favorite Dems In Disarray storyline. The same media that shrugged at Trump's chronically awful approval rating.

In a typical, overheated dispatch, a CNBC report recently announced, "Biden's Approval Ratings Have Plummeted, and That Could Spell trouble for Democrats in Congress." First off, the idea that Biden's approval rating in September 2021, is going to impact the outcome of November 2022 midterms makes no sense. Secondly, Biden's approval rating has fallen a grand total of four points in the past month, according to the polling average tabulated at FiveThirtyEight. So much for the "plummet."

Is Biden's' approval rating down this summer? It is, to 46 percent. Is he in some sort of manic freefall as the press suggests, fueled by the troop pullout from Afghanistan and the Delta surge? He is not.

A true ratings collapse would be like when President Ronald Reagan's approval dropped nine points in five days when the Iran Contra scandal broke. Or when George W. Bush's cratered 16 points in three months following the launch of the disastrous Iraq War.

Here are the Biden approval ratings from last 15 polls posted at FiveThirtyEight, minus the Rasmussen surveys, which are notoriously pro-Republican: 46, 44, 47, 47, 49, 47, 48, 42, 48, 49, 47, 44, 47, 50, 48.

If you take out the high (50) and the low (42) data points, the results have been markedly consistent this month. Where's the plummet?

When a recent Quinnipiac poll showed Biden's approval at 42 percent, Newsweek announced, "Joe Biden's Approval Rating Continues to Sink, Shows No Signs of Improving." Newsweek then ignored the fact that the next seven polls released after Quinnipiac all showed him improving.

The cherry picking seems intentional. When a NPR/PBS voter survey in early September showed Biden's approval at 43 percent, CNN's Chris Cillizza pounced: "This Poll Number Will Send Democrats Into a Panic." A week later though, Cillizza was silent when CNN's own poll found Biden's approval climbing to 52 percent.

CNN seemed to struggle with how to cover its good-news-for-Biden poll when the Beltway's preferred narrative was his "summer from hell." This was CNN's online headline for a story that showed Biden with a strong approval rating: "Americans Turn Pessimistic Amid Concerns Over Economy and Coronavirus." Later in a news segment, when a CNN anchor suggested the network's latest showing had Biden's rating at 43 percent, she had to be corrected by a guest who pointed out CNN's survey showed a 52 percent mark.

Biden's summertime slide has been fueled by Afghanistan and Covid, two unique and pressing challenges. But it also represents a natural progression for first term presidents as the so-called "honeymoon" with voters slowly wears off. Between being sworn in January 2009, and September 1 of that year, President Barack Obama, a successful two-term president, lost seven points on his approval rating, which is exactly how many points Biden has dipped since his inauguration.

Note that as with Biden, the press often obsessed over minor downward movements in Obama's approval in order to concoct a narrative about a president "sinking" and "plunging." At one point, a New York Times editorial was so anxious to push a narrative about Obama's supposedly broken presidency, it fabricated his approval rating, claiming it was 40 percent in a new poll, when it was actually 50 percent in that new survey.

The contrast with how the press has treated the popularity of the last two Democratic presidents with how they treated Trump's unpopularity couldn't be more startling.

When Biden's approval rating first fell below 50 percent this summer, it was considered newsworthy, as pundits weigh in on the approval "slide" and wondered if the Afghanistan story was going to doom his presidency. Rarely included in that heavy-handed analysis was the fact that at the same point in his presidency, Trump was sitting at a woeful 37 percent approval rating.

While Trump wallowed in abysmal ratings for most of his presidency (he never cracked 50 percent), the press mostly looked away, treating his poor standing as being usual. It was normalized.

Here's a quick example. In October, 2018 Politico published a piece about Trump's fire hose, "new media strategy," where he appeared on TV without pause and constantly answered reporters' shouted questions at the White House. In the eyes of Politico, it was a novel and winning strategy — it "worked" for Trump. And Politico even singled out Trump's top aide who was responsible for the approach.

Of course, what Politico never mentioned, and what the D.C. press didn't really think mattered in October 2018, was that Trump's approval stood at a lowly 41 percent.

Can you imagine today if Biden's approval fell five more points, to 41 percent, and the Beltway press started writing stories about how smart his communications strategy was? It's inconceivable because Democrats are held to a tougher media standard.

A Disturbing Decline, From 9/11 Unity To Pandemic Division

The 21st century in America has so far been bracketed by two terrible mass-casualty events. The first was the 9/11 attacks, 20 years ago today. The second is the COVID-19 pandemic. The radically different public response to these episodes reveals a lot about us, and much of it is not flattering.

The airline hijackings were the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history. They catalyzed a wave of fear and anger that permanently reshaped our foreign and domestic policies — or, rather, warped them.

The near-panic that gripped the nation back then is understandable. But it's plain today that our leaders, with broad public support, grossly overreacted. The consequences afflict us even now.

No one could have imagined on September 10, 2001, that an American president would authorize the use of torture against alleged enemies in secret prisons. Or that hundreds of American Muslims would be arrested and detained without charges for days, weeks or months. Or that hostility toward Muslims would grow widespread enough to require a new term: Islamophobia. Or that the government would soon be collecting millions of records of phone communications — many of them in violation of the law.

Worse yet, though, were the two protracted wars the United States launched after the 9/11 attacks. The invasion of Afghanistan was a legitimate response, because the terrorist group behind the attacks had been operating there. But after toppling the Taliban and routing al-Qaida, we stayed on in a foolish quest to remake the country — a quest given up only recently.

Then there was the invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. He had nothing to do with the attacks, which didn't stop President George W. Bush and those around him from using 9/11 as a pretext for war. Between Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. sacrificed more than 6,800 American lives and trillions of dollars. But the president who initiated them was rewarded with reelection.

All this came in response to attacks that cost fewer than 3,000 lives. This pandemic will kill more Americans than that in the next three days — on top of the 649,000 who have already died from COVID-19.

The risk to each of us is hundreds of times greater than the risk of being killed by terrorists ever was. But the spirit of unity that arose after 9/11 has been conspicuously absent in the face of the virus.

What accounts for the disparity? Americans may not be unique in finding it easier to rouse themselves against violent human enemies than against microbes that spread silently through the populace. Osama bin Laden was easy to hate. The pathogen, visible only under a microscope, doesn't stir the same primal fury.

The 9/11 attacks produced a pervasive alarm that vastly exceeded the real danger. The low mortality rate of COVID-19, by contrast, has been used to downplay the need for basic public health measures, such as vaccinations and face coverings.

Leaders matter, for better or worse. Bush used his bully pulpit to call for a "crusade" against "evil-doers," and soon was vowing action against an "axis of evil" consisting of North Korea, Iraq, and Iran. In hyping the threat of terrorism, he commanded broad support and little meaningful resistance.

President Donald Trump, however, used his office to minimize the risks posed by COVID-19 and undermine public health guidance from experts. In March 2020, he admitted to journalist Bob Woodward that he had deliberately downplayed the virus in the full knowledge of how dangerous it was.

Publicly, he compared it to the flu and repeatedly promised it would soon disappear. He refused to wear a mask in public, mocked the government's chief infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and held indoor rallies in packed arenas.

Trump declared war not on foreign enemies but on Democratic governors such as Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer. His credulous followers soon came to see the pandemic as a hoax cooked up to keep Trump from being reelected.

Perhaps the best explanation for the sharply contrasting public reactions is that the war on terrorism caused a negligible inconvenience to the vast majority of Americans. COVID-19 demanded significant changes in how we live — and millions of people not only refused to cooperate but celebrated their defiance.

The measures deemed necessary to fight terrorism exploited our eagerness to hate our enemies, which we had no trouble doing. Those required to combat COVID-19 required us to love our neighbors. Somehow, that's a much harder sell.

Follow Steve Chapman on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

On 9/11 Anniversary, Trump Will Do Ringside Chatter For A Boxing Match

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., and permanently altered life in the United States and the world.

And former President Donald Trump plans to spend that evening providing four hours of ringside commentary for a pay-per-view boxing event in Hollywood, Florida.

"I love great fighters and great fights," Trump said in a news release from FITE TV, the streaming network on which he'll provide commentary for a match between Evander Holyfield and Vitor Belfort. "I look forward to seeing both this Saturday night and sharing my thoughts ringside. You won't want to miss this special event."

There has been no word on what else Trump might be doing on Saturday.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will spend the day at memorials in remembrance of those killed during the attacks, in which hijacked passenger planes were crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth plane, intended by its hijackers to hit a target in Washington as well, crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers learned about the other hijackings and fought back.

In 2020, the final year of his only term in office, Trump spent the anniversary of the attack at a memorial at Shanksville, where he gave a speech. Biden visited Shanksville later in the day, as well as the annual ceremony at the 9/11 memorial in New York City.

Biden is scheduled to visit all three sites on Saturday, as did former President Barack Obama on the 10th anniversary of the attacks in 2011.

Harris will attend the ceremony in Pennsylvania, as well as the one at the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, two other former presidents will also be part of the commemorations.

Obama will attend the ceremony in New York along with former first lady Michelle Obama, CNN reported.

George W. Bush, who was president at the time of the attacks, is scheduled to make a speech at the ceremony in Shanksville.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.