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Inciting Violence Is Now Intrinsic To The Republican Party's Fascist Lexicon

There was a saying in Hollywood when I worked out there in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s: To make a motion picture, first you need the written word. It was true. None of the moving images you’ve seen in a movie theater on your television would have been possible unless some writer had sat down in a room, usually alone, and written the screenplay or teleplay that told the story and described the action that would eventually fill screens for you to marvel at.

I should confess my prejudice from the beginning: As a writer, I have always believed in the power of words to inform, to entertain, to inspire, to soothe, to amaze, to stun, to motivate, to carry you away to places you’ve never been and to experience feelings you’ve never felt. Without words, we would be lost. We would not be able to communicate with one another. We would be unable to engage in commerce, to give directions, to express our love for each other or for wonderful things, even to grieve and recover from grief. Words are one of the most important things that make us human. The animal world is without them, although some species such as whales and birds and canines like wolves can “talk” to each other by making sounds that are emitted from vocal cords not unlike our own.

The Oxford English Dictionary estimates that there are currently 171,146 words in use in the English language, not to mention some 47,000 or so that were once used but have become obsolete. I don’t know the numbers for other languages, but with some 7,000-plus languages spoken around the world, there are probably two billion words in use by human beings on this planet.

Certain words are more powerful than others. The word “love” is one of them. It has been the subject of countless poems and books. It is a word found throughout the Bible and the sacred texts of other religions. The word “love” is as universal as the air we breathe. It expresses something seemingly all of us feel or are capable of feeling or want to feel.

But so is the word “hate” powerful. If words can bring us together, join us to one another individually or as a people, so can they drive us apart. Hate is one of those words. If you say you hate someone, you are expressing your apartness from that person. By hating a person or a place or an idea, you are marking it as wrong, as alien, as unlike yourself, as dangerous – a thing to be scorned, even to be destroyed.

And it is here that we enter the world of rhetoric, the art – if you will – of using words to serve the purpose of persuasion. You can persuade, or attempt to persuade, people for various reasons and in various ways. The academy, where rhetoric is studied, will tell you there are three ways to use rhetoric to appeal to an audience: As the Greek philosopher Aristotle observed, you can use “logos,” deploying reason. You can use “ethos,” counting on your own character and credibility to carry the day. And you can use “pathos,” appealing to the audience’s emotions and shared beliefs and values.

Political rhetoric, the use of words to persuade people, let us say, to be on your side rather than that of your opponent, can make use of all three corners of what they call the rhetorical triangle, involving reason, credibility (which we can read here as apparent truthfulness), and emotions. And that’s the way political rhetoric has gone practically since our country’s founding. Here are the reasons my program or policy is better than my opponent’s, and here are the reasons I’m more trustworthy than my opponent. For example, my opponent took campaign contributions from the “X” industry, so how can you trust that he will represent you and not the industry that gave the money? Here is a list of people with whom my opponent identifies, and these are the reasons his closeness to them is not in your interest. Vote for me! I will do the things I say I will do, unlike my opponent, who failed to keep his promises the last time you voted him into office.

Or politicians could decide to just sling mud and lies and hate.

There are plenty of examples of rhetoric visiting the gutter in American politics. In campaign ditties sung by troubadours – an early version of campaign advertising – John Adams accused Thomas Jefferson (accurately, as it turned out) of fathering children by a slave. Invective was slung about in campaign after campaign. Father Charles E. Coughlin, a famous “radio priest” from Detroit, at first supported President Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal. But when he turned against him, he hurled anti-Semitic attacks at Roosevelt, accusing him of being in league with “Jewish bankers” who controlled the world, and thus the American economy, to the detriment of ordinary citizens.

In the 1930s and '40s and '50s, right-wing politicians accused their liberal opponents of being communists and socialists. The examples of racism being used in American politics is long and sickening. In recent times, there was the so-called Willie Horton ad used against Michael Dukakis by George H.W. Bush. And the infamous Jesse Helms ad showing a pair of white hands crumbling up a job rejection letter with a black hand clearly shown on the letter and a voiceover explaining that he didn’t get the job because of racial quotas. Helms’ opponent in the Senate race in North Carolina was Harvey Gantt, who was Black.

I’m sure you can come up with examples of your own of what used to be called dirty politics through the years. But except for the vicious rhetoric which preceded the Civil War over slavery, when southern states under the banner of the Democratic Party banded together to attack northern politicians, Lincoln chief among them, the harshest rhetoric in American politics was more or less one-on-one, with individual candidates making nasty accusations against their opponents.

Until 1990, that is, when Newt Gingrich, using GOPAC, a Republican organization put together to help train and fund GOP candidates for office, began his campaign to elect Republicans to Congress who would one day elect him Speaker of the House. In service of that singular cause – Gingrich made it sound like it was about Republican ideas and programs, but it was really all about himself – he released a memo put together with the help of Republican pollster Frank Luntz. The title of the memo was “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” The memo was written because so many Republican candidates had told GOPAC organizers, “I want to speak like Newt,” who was then making fiery speeches on the House floor, usually to an audience that consisted of the House video cameras and zero members. The speeches made his reputation for using negative words and attack phrases meant to divide, diminish, distract, and destroy political opponents, namely Democrats and the Democratic Party.

The Gingrich memo codified Republican negative attack politics and was notable for language that was at the time called vicious and nasty, not to mention negative and outrageous. From the perspective of the week that Nancy Pelosi’s husband was attacked with a hammer by a right-wing extremist follower of Donald Trump who had posted long diatribes against Jews, the LGBTQ community, Blacks, and immigrants, the Gingrich memo seems to float into view on a pink cloud of lost innocence.

The memo has two lists of words Luntz had tested with focus groups to determine their political efficacy. The first was a list of “Optimistic Positive Governing Words,” meant to “help develop the positive side of the contrast you should create with your opponent, giving your community something to vote for!” It included words like building, caring, change, children, courage, crusade, commitment, family, fair, freedom, hard work, incentive, liberty, opportunity, peace, precious, preserve, principle, prosperity, protect, pride, reform, strength, tough, truth, we/us/our.

The second list, entitled, “Contrasting Words,” was meant to “define our opponents” and be applied to Democrats’ “record, proposals, and their party.” Here we go with the attack vocabulary according to Newt Gingrich: abuse of power; anti flag, family, child, jobs; bizarre; cheat; bosses; bureaucracy; corrupt; criminal rights; decay; destroy; destructive; disgrace; greed; failure; incompetent; intolerant; liberal; lie; pathetic; permissive; radical; selfish; self-serving; shallow; shame; sick; steal; taxes; they/them; traitors; unionize, waste; welfare.

The words themselves were not as remarkable as the fact that one of our two political parties made a decision at its highest levels to abandon persuasion in favor, essentially, of name-calling and attacking the other side not just as wrong on the issues, but as a group of “them” who were not as genuinely American as “us.” The fact that it was an organized effort to marshal a way of attacking the other side began to infect everything about the Republican Party.

An activist by the name of Grover Norquist, who ran a Washington D.C. lobbying outfit with the innocuous name of Americans For Tax Reform, began holding Wednesday morning coffee klatches for Republican campaign advisers, staffers, and legislative assistants on Capitol Hill, and he handed out what became known as “talking points” for the week to come. The Republican Party would speak with one voice for the next seven days about tax cuts or deregulation or what they termed “extreme” environmental policies, or whatever Norquist and other Republican organizers came up with. They would pepper their talking points with Gingrich’s attack words, and they would hammer their weekly message home with repetition ad nauseum. You would turn on a political program on television, and every Republican would be mouthing not just the party line in general, but a specific party line. And then next week, the talking points would change, and they would mouth a new one.

The words and the talking points worked. The Republicans took control of the House for the first time in decades and Gingrich was elected Speaker. Throughout the 1990’s and into the 2000’s, you could detect a difference in the way politics was practiced by Republicans as they deployed Gingrich’s attack words to demonize Democrats and label them as against everything “we” stood for. They were supposed to be used to contrast “good” Republicans from “bad” Democrats, and that is exactly what happened.

That is until, over time, the Gingrich list wasn’t nasty enough. Democrats became the enemy, or in the words of Donald Trump, the “enemy of the people.” Democrats are now “evil” and “in league with the Devil,” and not just anti-flag and anti-family, but “anti-God.” Democrats are going to “take your guns,” when no such policy has ever been proposed by any Democrat running for any office. And naturally, Democrats and any person straying from the Trumpian truth and narrow are now labeled as pedophiles, including a fellow Republican, former Arizona Speaker of the House Randy Bowers, who refused to go along with Trump’s charge that the election was stolen in his state. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, after she had been nominated to the Supreme Court, was smeared by Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri as being sympathetic to pedophiles because several prison sentences she had given child abusers were deemed not long enough. A rumor that a Democratic Party pedophile ring was headquartered in the basement of a Washington, D.C, pizza restaurant spread so fast and so far that the inevitable happened: An armed man showed up one day and shot up the place looking for all the pedophiles.

An entire movement, if it can be called that, QAnon, sprang up around the idea that leaders in the Democratic Party are conspiring to kidnap children, abuse them, kill them, and then drink their blood because of its “anti-aging” qualities. This charge has been levied against Nancy Pelosi by Republican candidates for office. Other Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene have labeled Pelosi a “traitor” and called for the “death penalty” for her. One Republican congressman ran an online ad showing him shooting a gun at a firing range with a voiceover calling for “firing” Nancy Pelosi. He was asked in a television interview if it wasn’t true that he was encouraging people who perhaps were not completely in control of themselves to take their guns and actually “fire” them at Nancy Pelosi or other Democrats. It had become so commonplace for guns to be brandished in Republican campaign ads by now that he just shrugged.

And so it has come to pass that this week we’ve got Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter and the world’s most wealthy man, as well as numerous Republican elected officials, gleefully spreading vicious lies that the attack on Paul Pelosi was somehow a gay tryst gone wrong. The garbage right-wing website they linked to just made stuff up. But Republicans linking to the site and Musk himself have become expert at using a kind of code to get across their hateful disinformation. It frequently takes the form of raising an apparently innocent question: I’m just asking, could this be true? Then they cite the lies they want to put across.

In his tweet about the attack on Paul Pelosi, Musk used another common way of spreading extremist lies: He didn’t come right out and endorse the story he linked to, but rather said “there is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye.” It’s the I’m just sayin’ scam writ large. The entire Republican Party has become adept at using the language Trump has employed when he wants to spread a story he knows to be untrue – people are saying, or I’ve heard from people who say. There are half a dozen wordings for the scam, but all serve the same purpose. Neither Trump nor any of the other Republicans who put across lies in this fashion have heard anything of the sort, but once they say it, everyone will hear it. That’s the point. A lie is no good unless it is spread widely, and they’re experts at moving lies around the information ecosystem.

I heard a Fox News host “just asking” why Paul Pelosi’s attacker had been jailed without bail when “lots of people hit other people with hammers,” and they don’t get arrested and held without bail, implying that because the attacker’s victim is the husband of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he is being singled out by prosecutors and discriminated against. The Fox News talking-head didn’t have to tell his viewers what they had been trained to know already: It’s the libs going after a man just because he’s a conservative.

It has become a common refrain from Republicans and their followers on the far right: They call the Trump mob that assaulted the Capitol “patriots” and claim they are being treated more harshly than liberals or Antifa or Black Lives Matter protesters would be treated for committing the same offenses. It’s utter nonsense, of course, but Republicans regularly spew such a miasma of hate and nastiness that it has become normalized, just another day in American politics. Some of the hate and lies are right out there in antisemitic memes and racist tropes and violent imagery like shooting guns. Other Republican rhetoric is coded or put in the form of “innocent” questions, but all of it is toxic, and its growth and volume have turned politics in this country dangerous.

This is how far things have gone: There are armed men in camouflage outfits and bulletproof vests standing watch at ballot drop-off boxes in Arizona. A state court judge recently refused to ban this blatant form of voter intimidation and called it “free speech.”

My friend Charlie Pierce in his Esquire column yesterday referred to the entire phenomenon of the Republicans’ descent not just into violent rhetoric but violence itself as “the prion disease [that] has jumped from one subject population to the general public, and in too many ways, it is creating its own reality in the national mind.”

“We are all lost and mad,” Charlie lamented. I can understand why he feels that way. I could continue this brief history of the descent of Republican political rhetoric into a radical politics that embraces anti-democratic principles and movements and leaders like the ones in Hungary and Italy, but enough is enough. It makes me physically ill to go back through this stuff and write it down for this column.

I would part ways with Charlie Pierce in one way, however. The prion disease infecting the Republican Party is a metaphor derived from mad cow disease that can destroy whole herds if not caught and treated.

But mad cows catch the disease from infectious agents in the wild. Republicans have administered the disease to themselves, beginning with Gingrich’s memo more than 30 years ago, and the virus has mutated and turned deadly. There was a purposeful takeover of the politics of a political party that used to be part of our democratic system but is no longer. It is now a fascist party that is actively spreading a political disease that can kill our democracy and has already killed some United States citizens. The political ravings of Vladimir Putin about Ukraine would be right at home in the Republican Party of today. In fact, they already are.

It has gone beyond rhetoric, folks. To the Republican Party and its leaders, Democrats are not fellow citizens to be persuaded but a people with whom they are at war who must be destroyed. There have been enough guns in enough Republican political ads recently that it’s not just a phenomenon, it’s a fact. Even with all their voter suppression and gerrymandering and threats at ballot drop boxes and lies about Democratic voter fraud, if Republicans can’t beat us at the ballot box, they’ll encourage their loon followers to “be wild” and “fire” us.

After years of hateful and violent rhetoric, they’ll know exactly what to do.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Reprinted with permission from Lucian Truscott Newsletter

Deeply Involved In Coup Plot, Gingrich Is Called By House Select Panel

The House Select Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection sent a letter late last week to Fox contributor and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich seeking his testimony. The committee says he advised former President Donald Trump’s effort to subvert the 2020 election. Gingrich also frequently pushed conspiracy theories about what he described as a “stolen election” during his media appearances, according to a Media Matters review.

Gingrich’s role, the committee wrote, included providing Trump’s senior advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Miller with “detailed input into television advertisements that repeated and relied upon false claims of fraud.” Those ads ran in the days leading up to December 14, 2020, the day the Electoral College convened. In a December 8, 2020, email obtained by the committee, Gingrich wrote:

The goal is to arouse the country’s anger through new verifiable information the American people have never seen before[.] . . . If we inform the American people in a way they find convincing and it arouses their anger[,] they will then bring pressure on legislators and governors.

The letter further stated: “Information we have obtained also suggests you were involved in the fake elector scheme,” a Trumpist plot to create a dueling slate of electors pledged to the defeated president in states won by Joe Biden.

Gingrich similarly used his media appearances to “arouse the country’s anger” with false claims of voter fraud and to try to encourage Trump supporters to “bring pressure on legislators and governors.”

“I would say to every person in Georgia who favors Donald J. Trump: Go to the governor's mansion, physically. Go to the Capitol, physically,” Gingrich said during a November 18, 2020, interview on Fox host Sean Hannity’s nationally syndicated radio show. “Communicate that you're prepared to stand up for America and you're prepared to stand up for an honest election and that you are sick of politicians selling you out.”

On January 5, 2021 — less than 24 hours before a violent mob breached the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election — Gingrich told Hannity’s radio audience that “Biden may at some place get sworn in. But I think for 40 or 45% of the American people, he will never be seen as a legitimate president, because the very process that put him there is so totally corrupted.”

He added, “I think this is the most dangerous assault on the very nature of America, certainly in our lifetime, and maybe since the previous Civil War.”

Gingrich joined Fox as a contributor in 1999 and is known for his demagogic commentary. In recent weeks, he has warned that “a cult of anti-white racism” is attempting to “impose itself on the country” and alleged that the FBI, which “could actually be called the American Stasi,” had “declared war on the American people” by executing a judge-approved search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. A close Trump ally, he was considered for the vice president slot in 2016, and the pair were reportedly working together to craft a GOP platform for the 2022 midterm elections.

Gingrich made at least 24 appearances on Fox weekday programming between Election Day 2020 and January 6, 2021, according to Media Matters' internal database. Fox personalities constantly alleged during that period that the election had been rigged, often promoting conspiracy theories that have led to multiple lawsuits against the network.

The former speaker repeatedly argued that Democrats had used systemic voter fraud to steal several states from Trump.

  • On November 4, 2020, the day after Election Day, Gingrich suggested that Democrats had “a setup to steal the presidency by the Democrats” and specifically may have stolen votes in Pennsylvania and Nevada, which Biden won. He urged Trump to get Senate Republicans to “open up investigations on all these different states” and to “be prepared to file suit in every single state.”
  • That night, he claimed that Democrats “are breaking the law in every possible way. And the correct answer is fine, none of those votes count. If you are going to be corrupt and illegal, we don’t have to count your votes. That means automatically in Pennsylvania, in Michigan, in Wisconsin, in Georgia, that Trump will carry every single state by a surprising margin.” He added that Trump “either has to fight and protect America, or he has to surrender to corrupt forces.”
  • The next night, Gingrich claimed that Democrats are “trying to steal the presidency, and we should not allow them to do that.” He described the situation as a “crisis” comparable to “Washington on Christmas Eve” and “Lincoln at Gettysburg,” and urged then-Attorney General Bill Barr to arrest election workers who he baselessly claimed “are breaking the law.”
  • On November 8, 2020, the day after Fox and other news outlets called the election for Biden, Gingrich claimed Democrats stole “five or six states” in a “corrupt, stolen election.” He added that “these people are thieves” and cited a pollster to claim that “this clearly was a stolen election,” a remark Trump live-tweeted.
  • On December 7, 2020, Gingrich said, “The objective fact is I believe Trump probably did actually carry Georgia,” adding that in Georgia’s Senate runoff elections, “Republicans simply have to turn out more votes than Stacey Abrams can steal.”
  • He pushed several conspiracy theories in a second interview the same day, including one in which he suggested voting machines may have been “rigged” because results supposedly “went through Barcelona, Spain, to Frankfurt, Germany to be counted.”

Since the January 6 insurrection, Gingrich has continued to use his Fox platform to allege that elections Republicans lose are implicitly the result of fraud; that the 2020 election in particular was stolen; and that the goal of Democratic voting reform measures is to “steal elections on a grand scale.”

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Gingrich Threatens Select Committee Members With ‘Jail’

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich went on Fox News over the weekend and threatened members of the select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Even in the language he used, not just the position he took, Gingrich made clear who rules his world.

“You’re gonna have a Republican majority in the House, a Republican majority in the Senate,” he said on Sunday Morning Futures. “And all these people who’ve been so tough and so mean and so nasty are going to be delivered subpoenas for every document, every conversation, every tweet, every email.”

”So tough and so mean and so nasty”? Gingrich might as well have painted his face orange before busting out that line, it’s such a direct imitation of what Donald Trump must be ranting to everyone who will listen in the Mar-a-Lago buffet line. But Gingrich wasn’t just threatening subpoenas.

“I think when you have a Republican Congress, this is all going to come crashing down,” Gingrich said. “The wolves are gonna find out they’re now sheep, and they’re the ones who are, in fact, I think, going to face a real risk of going to jail for the kind of laws that they’re breaking.”

Breaking laws? By investigating a bloody attack on the seat of government intended to stop Congress from doing its duty by certifying an election? This is the Republican position now: investigating crimes committed in support of Donald Trump is itself a crime. And Gingrich is not just some blast from the Republican past. He’s advising House Republican leaders in the runup to 2022.

Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the Republicans on the select committee, responded. Cheney took a serious tone:

Gingrich has been working on bringing the U.S. to this point for decades, though—and for most of that time, Cheney’s father Dick was right on board with it.

Kinzinger went for mockery:

But as ridiculous a figure as Gingrich is, as ridiculous as the threat may seem to be, this is where the Republican Party is: fiercely opposing any investigation of a coup attempt by its leader. That in itself is extraordinarily dangerous.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

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.


These 'Conservative' Grifters Will Be The Death Of Our Republic

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet. This article was first published on The Hartmann Report.

Trump just unleashed an unhinged, barely coherent rant about the possibility President Biden might reveal what was going on in the White House on January 6, the day Trump tried to finally end, once and for all, any possibility of governmental oversight of his ongoing criminal career. He believed he could follow in the footsteps of grifters before him who've taken control of and then drained dry countries from Hungary to Russia, Brazil to Turkey and The Philippines.

Thus it surprises nobody to discover that when Donald Trump and the people around him learned, in mid-November of 2020, that there was absolutely no meaningful voter fraud in that month's election, they chose, instead of acknowledging the truth, to go ahead with a plan to raise over $200 million dollars (and counting). That even today "President Trump" is sending out one or two fundraising emails a day, each one with the tiny "make this a recurring donation" box pre-checked.

Grifters occupy a unique niche in the world of criminals: they avoid direct violence, but live and act only to enrich themselves, whether it's with money, sex, power or all three. They're typically high-functioning sociopaths who sneer at the rules of civilized society the rest of us take seriously.

Republican appointees on the US Supreme Court cracked open the door for professional grifters in 1976 when, for the first time in American history, the Court redefined politicians taking money from billionaires away from being "political corruption" and "bribery"—what such behavior had been called since the beginning of the republic—to instead say it was a mere "exercise of free speech" on the part of the morbidly rich.

Two years after the Buckley decision, in 1978, Justice Lewis Powell (author of the infamous 1971 Powell Memo) pushed the door even farther open when he wrote for the Republican majority a decision granting giant corporations the same "free speech right" to own politicians in Boston v Bellotti.

And in 2010, with Citizens United, Republican appointees on the Court didn't just blow the doors open; they tore down the entire building of "good government" in America, reaffirming that any billionaire or corporation that wanted to own their very own pet politician—or, if rich enough, own an entire political party—was totally legal and not at all corrupt.

Which is why Richard Nixon, who resigned in 1974, was one of the last Republican politicians who actually believed that politics in America had something to do with governing the nation (even if he did it poorly). Ever since then, the GOP has been composed almost exclusively of professional grifters (which is a somewhat different type of cat from an ordinary criminal like Nixon who just took bribes, blackmailed people and lied about it all).

Grifters occupy a unique niche in the world of criminals: they avoid direct violence, but live and act only to enrich themselves, whether it's with money, sex, power or all three. They're typically high-functioning sociopaths who sneer at the rules of civilized society the rest of us take seriously. They combine the not-uncommon skill set of being charming and great salesmen and storytellers, but have no conscience or respect for the truth.

Grifters believe they're the only "real" people in the world and all the rest of us are here for their entertainment, satisfaction or to pluck clean of whatever we have that they want. They view us as cardboard cutouts; their pains and loves and desires are real while ours are merely background noise.

And the entire Republican Party has become one giant in-crowd of professional grifters, most all of them getting rich, getting famous, and/or getting laid in the process.

Ronald Reagan grew up during the Great Depression, became a Democrat who loved FDR, and once believed in government and that hard work and talent would get him ahead. Then Nancy Davis introduced him to her wealthy father, who let Ronnie in on the grift. Shill for General Electric and the GOP and he could marry Nancy, get rich, and might even have a bright political future. He was the first professional grifter president of the modern era.

Newt Gingrich was primed for the grift, screaming about Bill Clinton having an affair with Monica while porking Calista down the hall and fending off calls from his then-second wife. He got into the grift in a big way when he rolled out his "Contract With America" that was almost entirely tax cuts for giant corporations and the morbidly rich. Hell, he's still in on it; I'm getting an email almost every week from Trump with Gingrich's picture and signature asking for money.

Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia both knew that if any other federal judge were to go quail hunting with a defendant before the Court three weeks before trial or allow his spouse to take hundreds of thousands a year from a think tank with business before the Court, there would be hell to pay. But they were in on the grift and simply exempted themselves from the Federal Code of Judicial Conduct. Hell, they helped write the grift with Citizens United.

Since Citizens United the Republican grift has fully gone party-wide and even picked up a few Democrats along the way.

Some members of Congress get rich with money from Big Pharma, others choose to make their money with Big Oil or Big Coal, others are deeply in the pockets of airlines, telcom companies, the tobacco industry, banks, insurance companies or the food and hospitality monopolies.

Some Republicans even ran day-trading operations on insider information out of their offices until then-Democratic Congressman Brian Baird tipped off the world on my show and Air America's Majority Report 14 years ago.Paul Ryan pimped tax cuts for the obscenely rich his entire career, knowing when he left office there's be massive paychecks waiting for him the rest of his life.

Dick Cheney knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that Saddam Hussein not only had nothing to do with 9/11 but actively hated and hunted down Bin Laden's Al Qaeda operatives so he could imprison or kill them. But Cheney had run Halliburton into trouble, betting that if he picked up Dresser Industries on the cheap that the Clinton administration would cover their asbestos liability. When he lost that bet and Halliburton was in trouble, a nice war with billions in no-bid contracts for the oil-company-turned-defense-contractor was just the grift he needed to both bail him out and make him fabulously rich.

They all believe, as Bob Dylan famously sang, "You've gotta serve somebody." And the "somebody" they all choose to serve are always the ones who pay the most.

Which is why it only makes sense that the Republican Party would put up a lifelong grifter as their nominee for president in 2016. And that he'd surround himself with grifters like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who Forbes magazine said would, by any measure, "rank among the biggest grifters in American history," having scammed business partners out of at least $120 million.

Everybody in the GOP is either stuffing their "Leadership PACs" with money they can dip into after they leave office, living high on the hog, using their position to become famous or get into the pants of underage girls, or preparing for their well-feathered-nest after leaving politics.

I've been running a contest on my radio show since it started in 2003 offering a prize to anybody who can identify even one single piece of legislation that was originally sponsored by a Republican, passed Congress with a Republican majority, and was signed into law by a Republican president that primarily helped average working people or poor people instead of the rich or giant corporations.

Nobody has ever won the prize, and I'm betting nobody ever will.

This is not to say the Democratic Party doesn't have its share of grifters (two publicity-hungry senators come to mind). After all, when the Supreme Court legalized political grifting they didn't limit it to one party or the other.

But the single largest caucus in the Democratic Party is the Congressional Progressive Caucus (co-founded by Bernie Sanders) and its members generally refuse corporate PAC money and don't usually hang out with lobbyists. Former co-chair of the Caucus, Representative Mark Pocan, has joked on my show that "they say there are three Big Pharma lobbyists for every member of Congress, but I have no idea who mine are."

While Democrats are trying to legislate around the corrupting landmines laid by conservatives on the Supreme Court, Republicans are expanding on Donald Trump's "voter fraud" and "antifa" grifts to raise money and consolidate their own power in the face of an American electorate that's starting to figure out their game.

Trump and a handful of his grifter buddies who were up for full-out treason thought they could pull off the ultimate grift and seize the trillions in assets of the entire country. They only failed, we're learning, by a whisker.

Next time we may not be so lucky. Congress must grift-proof our politics by getting billionaire and corporate money out of politics, as Democrats tried to do when the House of Representatives passed the For The People Act that arguably Democratic grifters Manchin and Sinema are blocking in the Senate.

Perhaps the 2022 election will bring Democrats a large enough progressive majority that they can work around their own grifters. Or maybe it'll signal the death knell of the republic.

To an extent largely unprecedented in American history, that decision will be in the hands of activists and voters like you and me. We have a big job ahead of us.

Flattened By Vote, Recall Activists Wanly Claim 'Success'

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

On Wednesday, after the GOP effort to recall California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom officially came to an end in a resounding loss, Fox News hosted a roundtable of anti-Newsom activists who claimed they had achieved "success."

The recall results were not close. The ballot against recalling Newsom received 64 percent of the vote and held a lead of over 2.5 million votes, with 70 percent of the total counted.

However, Fox & Friends invited several guests who were a part of the recall movement to react to the results of the election, and many of them declared successes.

"I do think this was a huge success because a small group of people did put some fear into the governor to the point that he actually had to fly out the vice president and the president," Erica Kious, the former owner of a San Francisco hair salon, said, after saying she was "devastated" by the recall results.

In September 2020, Kious had released a video of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visiting her salon despite COVID restrictions.

"It was a huge grassroots effort," guest Aaron Bergh said. "It was great to see this revolution of small business owners and dissatisfied parents and just ordinary Californians to put their foot down and say we need change here."

The GOP effort to oust Newsom lost despite national support and fundraising campaigns.

While Newsom outraised his opponents, there were millions raised in favor of the recall campaign. The Los Angeles Times reported that pro-recall efforts received over $45.2 million in donations.

The recall campaign also had the support of the national Republican Party and the California Republican Party.

"Gavin Newsom has had three years to solve California's problems. He has only made them worse. His time in office is up," Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel wrote in an op-ed column on FoxNews.com on Tuesday.

Jessica Millan Patterson, chair of the California Republican Party, wrote a few hours before the election, "@CAGOP has grown to 72,000 volunteers and made 18 million voter contacts to #RecallGavinNewsom - the excitement and enthusiasm is there, Californians are hungry for change."

And then there was Fox News. As polling began showing a likely Newsom win, Fox began to promote baseless conspiracy theories alleging that the election would be stolen.

"The only thing that will save Gavin Newsom is voter fraud," Fox host Tomi Lahren claimed on the September 7 edition of the program Outnumbered.

On August 22, Fox contributor Newt Gingrich similarly alleged that "this is going to be an election where they go all-out to steal the referendum."

And on August 25, Fox host Tucker Carlson claimed that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris campaigning for Newsom was a threat to democracy: "Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are now set to campaign against the recall — 'No more democracy for you!' You've got to wonder, will the state survive this? Will there be a free and fair election?"

Despite the efforts of the state and national Republicans and their allies at Fox, the leading Republican candidate in the recall, Larry Elder, conceded on Tuesday night.

"Let's be gracious in defeat. By the way, we may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war," Elder said.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

With Newsom Leading In Recall, Fox News Cries ‘Fraud’

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Fox News is rolling out the next round of election-related conspiracy theories: This time, by casting doubt on the idea that a Democrat could win an election in the heavily Democratic state of California, where incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom is facing a recall election backed by Republicans.

For what it's worth, recent polls from SurveyUSA, the Public Policy Institute of California, and even Republican polling firm Trafalgar Group have all put Newsom ahead by significant margins in the key vote to remain in office.

Fox News previously served a major role in former President Donald Trump's efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election. And beyond that, attempting to cast doubt on any Democratic win is on brand for Fox — network personalities also attacked the Georgia Senate runoffs while votes were being counted, including by casting suspicion on the high voter turnout in the election. And in the wake of the January 6 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters, part of the network's immediate response was to push for changes to voting lawsthat would help to suppress Democratic turnout, which the network then supported in the months afterward.

In that context, Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren claimed on Tuesday's edition of Outnumbered: "The only thing that will save Gavin Newsom is voter fraud. So as they say, stay woke, pay attention to the voter fraud going on in California, because it's going to have big consequences not only for that state, but for upcoming elections."

And on Monday night, when Republican gubernatorial candidate and right-wing radio host Larry Elder appeared for an interview on Fox News Primetime, it was rotating host Rachel Campos-Duffy who brought up the subject of supposed election fraud: "A lot of people think you have the wind at your back but you seem to be concerned about some shenanigans that could be happening at the ballot box — or maybe in the mail."

Elder has indeed spread conspiracy theories about voting machines having been rigged in the 2020 presidential election, and suggested that this might happen again in the California recall, but in this instance he simply gave some rhetorical boilerplate on being "concerned about voter fraud," and said that his campaign website had a "voter integrity project set up with a bunch of lawyers ready to file lawsuits if anybody sees anything suspicious."

And last week, on the September 1 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson said that expanded usage of mail-in voting in multiple states, including in the case of California, were being done because Newsom "knows that mail-in ballots, which by definition lack any form of voter ID, cannot be verified. Those kind of ballots overwhelmingly benefit his party because they abet voter fraud."

Carlson has also spread falsehoods about non-citizens voting in the recall, and he claimed on August 25 that the state would need outside observers to "to make sure this election isn't stolen."

Some in media have argued that these right-wing talking points picked up recently because the early statistics on returned ballots have indicated that Democratic voters are not sitting the election out, and therefore the groundwork must be laid for a conspiracy theory to explain a possible Republican loss.

To the extent that this explanation might be true, it should also be noted that the foundation was already being laid weeks ago, including by one of Fox News' most shameless and vitriolic promoters of election denialism: Newt Gingrich. Appearing on the August 22 edition of Sunday Morning Futures, in a segment reminiscent of host Maria Bartiromo and Gingrich's previous false claims about the 2020 election, the former GOP House speaker painted a lurid picture of vast election fraud in California:

NEWT GINGRICH (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): Frankly, what people ought to look at is this is going to be an election where they go all-out to steal the referendum. The secretary of state of California has now said you can print your own ballots. I mean, you think about this. You talk about the opposite of election integrity. They're going to allow you to print your own ballots. They're going to allow people to come around and harvest your ballot.

So, the unions will be out there, and they will make sure that everybody votes, even if they don't vote. And I think this may well be the most rigged statewide election we have seen probably in at least a half century.

And I think people should look carefully at this, because there's pretty good evidence that, if Newsom is in a straight, honest count, he probably — he has a good chance of losing. But if they can stuff every ballot box in California and they can cheat in every way possible — and so [Vice President Kamala Harris is] part of raising the money to pay for the cheating. I mean, it's just that simple. It's not complicated.

MARIA BARTIROMO (HOST): That is so extraordinary.

GINGRICH: Yes.

BARTIROMO: And that is the reason we continue to focus on all of these audits going on across the country. We want fair and free elections.

(Just to be clear, Gingrich's references to voters being able to "print your own ballots" involves a state program, known as the Remote Accessible Vote-by-Mail system, made in order to accommodate disabled voters and expanded during the pandemic, which has safeguards to ensure that a person can only print one ballot.)

At around that same time, Fox personalities also latched onto a local story involving a reported felon who was found in possession of 300 mail-in ballots — although it quickly became clear that these were among thousands of pieces of stolen mail, along with other items such as driver's licenses and credit cards, rather than the alleged thief having actually targeted the ballots specifically.

"There's nothing to indicate this was anything specifically to impact the election," a spokesman for the Los Angeles county clerk's office said. "It seems like this person was likely trying to steal mail."

The August 24 edition of Fox Business' The Evening Edit ran a segment with the loaded chyron asking, "Why were 300 mail-in ballots stolen in CA recall election?" — even though the ballots made up just a fraction of the overall theft of mail. Republican strategist Ford O'Connell claimed that "to be perfectly honest with you, with Gavin Newsom on the ropes, you have to think that this is just a little more than coincidental." He later upped the rhetorical ante even further: "Remember, Nancy Pelosi said she was going to activate her own operation. Maybe this is what she meant."

"We don't know — I know you're being facetious," responded host Elizabeth MacDonald, though there was not any indication of such an intent on O'Connell's part.

And on the August 25 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, the host claimed that Democratic efforts to campaign for Newsom were themselves a threat to democracy: "Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are now set to campaign against the recall — 'No more democracy for you!' You've got to wonder, will the state survive this? Will there be a free and fair election?"

He then interviewed Republican lawyer Harmeet Dhillon, who used the story as an example of supposed Democratic malfeasance: "Of course, they are playing fast and loose. We've seen some very alarming scenes of 300 ballots bundled together in the car of a person with a gun and some drugs, and so we are definitely looking into all of these issues."

Dhillon's invocation of the story was then followed by an on-screen visual of the stolen mail, which Carlson's production would have needed to already have prepared.

On the subject of ballots being thrown out, as well as the need to ensure a free and fair election, Dhillon previously served as a campaign legal adviser to Donald Trump in 2020. In the days following the election, she appeared with then-Fox Business host Lou Dobbs and spoke of the campaign's effort to have the Supreme Court intervene in the ongoing vote counts: "We're waiting for the United States Supreme Court — of which the president has nominated three justices — to step in and do something. And hopefully Amy Coney Barrett will come through."

So perhaps these people might not be approaching the California recall from a standpoint of supporting democracy.

New Book: Sean Hannity Wrote Trump 2020 Campaign Ad

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Fox News host Sean Hannity's role as an off-the-books political operative to former President Donald Trump extended to writing copy for one of the Trump campaign's commercials, according to a new report.

Mike Bender, the Wall Street Journal''s senior White House reporter, reports that Hannity played a role in scripting a Trump campaign ad in his forthcoming book, Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story Of How Trump Lost. According to a write-up in PunchBowl News, "The ad was known in the Trump campaign as 'the Hannity ad' and 'the one Hannity wrote,'" and Bender describes internal Trump campaign emails which "referred to the spot simply as 'Hannity'" or "the 'Hannity-written' spot."

The ad, like Hannity's show during the campaign, is a semi-coherent mashup of pro-Trump and anti-Biden talking points that lacks a clear narrative.

And indeed, according to Bender, the ad was widely mocked within the Trump campaign and aired only once, on Hannity's program, at a cost of $1.5 million.

Hannity vaguely denied writing the ad copy, telling Bender, "The world knows that Sean Hannity supports Donald Trump. But my involvement specifically in the campaign -- no. I was not involved that much. Anybody who said that is full of shit."

It's hard to know what to think about a statement like this from a notorious liar. But one reasonable interpretation is that this helps to establish an outer bound for the type of political behavior Hannity thinks his employer would let him get away with. The statement suggests that he believes that Fox would have a problem with him openly accepting responsibility for writing one of the former president's campaign ads.

This is, of course, an absurdly low bar for a cable news host. But as I noted last year, Hannity regularly violated basic tenets of journalistic ethics throughout the Trump years, with the network brass either ignoring his behavior or offering slaps on the wrist:

2016: Amid a presidential campaign that saw Hannity actively using his show to boost Trump's candidacy and promoteunhinged conspiracy theories about his opponent, Hillary Clinton, Hannity endorsed Trump in a promotional video for his campaign, leading to a stern statement from Fox.
2017: Hannity triggered an advertiser exodus and internal dismay when he tried to defend Trump against reports linking his campaign to Russian interference in the 2016 election by championing the Seth Rich conspiracy theory.
2018: Profiles in The Washington Post and New York magazinedetailed the scope of Hannity's White House influence and regular conversations with Trump. He was revealed as a secret client of Trump's longtime lawyer Michael Cohen, a fact the Fox host had not disclosed in his commentary on Cohen's case. And he appeared on stage and spoke at a Trump political rally on the eve of the 2018 midterm elections.
2019: Hannity was a central figure in the Ukraine disinformation plot that triggered Trump's impeachment by the House of Representatives.
2020: Documents uncovered by BuzzFeed News showed that Hannity had served as a backchannel between Trump and his associates under investigation during special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.

Since then, Fox has become even less ethical and more propagandistic. The network hired a slew of former Trump administration officials. The list includes 2024 presidential hopeful Mike Pompeo, as well as the former president's daughter-in-law, would-be Senate candidate Lara Trump. One Fox contributor, Newt Gingrich, is working with Trump to develop the GOP's policy agenda for the 2022 elections.

But taking ownership of a campaign ad appears to still be a step too far.