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Trump’s Senate show-trial is the logical next step in the right wing’s decades-long assault on American democracy

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Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.

Back in 2016, Pew found that partisans weren’t just divided on the issues, they were frightened of what would happen if the opposing party gained power.

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More than half of Democrats (55%) say the Republican Party makes them “afraid,” while 49% of Republicans say the same about the Democratic Party. Among those highly engaged in politics – those who say they vote regularly and either volunteer for or donate to campaigns – fully 70% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans say they are afraid of the other party.

A functional democracy rests on the belief that losing an election isn’t an existential threat to one’s family or community. Fear of the opposite party achieving victory at the ballot box incentivizes various forms of electoral foul play, inspires fierce partisanship in well-adjusted people and results in sporadic acts of violence from the more unhinged among us.

It would be easy to lament how both sides have come to fear people who disagree with them as if those fears were equally unfounded. But just as our sharply increased polarization is asymmetrical, so is the basis of our anxiety.

Fox News and the rest of the conservative media relentlessly promote narratives of a violent left bent on destroying the country as we know it. In their alternative universe, mainstream Democrats embrace aborting newborns and are always on the brink of repealing the 2nd Amendment. They deploy millions of undocumented immigrants to tilt elections in their favor, and use the resulting power to persecute white Christians for their beliefs. The mainstream press aren’t just “biased” toward Democrats, they think reporters literally invent stories out of whole cloth to damage the GOP. Every source of knowledge is against them–the academy, scientists, fact-checkers, watchdogs like the Congressional Budget Office and even The Weather Channel. As Jared Holt explained on last week’s podcast, the lines between the discourse of brewing civil war in the fever swamps of the internet and mainstream conservative discourse are becoming increasingly blurred.

In contrast, Democrats have reason to be fearful. On policy, the GOP’s rightward lurch threatens people’s healthcare and economic security and results in children being kept in cages. White nationalism is a driving force in the party’s politics. Their opponents dress like ISIS fighters and protest even modest gun control laws with assault rifles. Right-wing terrorism is a real and growing threat. Elected Republicans have plotted attacks against antifascist activists and speak openly about jailing or killing their opponents. They introduce bills that would define abortion as murder and subject doctors who perform the procedure to prosecution.

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The Republican senators who debased Donald Trump’s impeachment trial this week by refusing to hear witnesses and review necessary evidence may not be motivated by the same fears as their base, but they too fear for their futures in a country that is becoming ever more urbanized and increasingly diverse. It’s true that they fear Trump’s base–themselves motivated by baseless terror of being “replaced” by immigrants and ethnic and religious minorities–but they also approve of his no-holds-barred campaign to win re-election and maintain power, even if it requires coercing an ally to launch a sham investigation of a prominent rival. Fear of losing their grip on power is the ultimate source of the rot we saw this week. It’s why they don’t care about bucking public opinion or establishing troubling precedents for future presidents or facing charges of hypocrisy. Winning is more important than upholding democratic norms or protecting the separation of powers because in their eyes, the alternative is too terrible to contemplate.

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The old “midnight court filing…”

Hours after the Senate voted against seeking new evidence in the impeachment case against President Trump, the administration acknowledged the existence of two dozen emails that could reveal the president’s thinking about withholding military aid to Ukraine.

In a midnight court filing, the Justice Department explained why it shouldn’t have to unredact copies of more than 100 emails written by officials at the Office of Management and Budget and the Defense Department about the hold on funds to Ukraine.

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Trump’s packed the federal government with obscure but influential people like this guy

A hard-charging conservative lawyer little known to the public is responsible for executing some of the White House’s most divisive and legally aggressive moves, including the hold on Ukrainian aid now central to President Trump’s impeachment trial.

Mark Paoletta, general counsel at the White House Office of Management and Budget, signed off on the delay of security assistance to Ukraine, overruling the objections of some career staffers at the OMB and the Pentagon. The Government Accountability Office recently determined that the delay was unlawful.

Paoletta’s below-the-radar role in a decision key to Trump’s impeachment is just one example of how he has enabled the White House to stretch the legal limits of the executive branch — forcefully pushing forward the administration’s agenda but sometimes incurring a severe backlash in the process.

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“U.S. farm bankruptcy rates jumped 20% in 2019 – to an eight-year high – as financial woes in the U.S. agricultural economy continued in spite of massive federal bail-out funding,” reported Reuters. 

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Months after The Southern Poverty Law Center outed a potentially violent white supremacist in the State Department, Matthew Gebert is still “steadily producing white nationalist propaganda” during his suspension. It’s unclear what his current status with the agency is.

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In related news, The Navy Times reports:

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A Coast Guard lieutenant accused by prosecutors of being a domestic terrorist intent on committing politically motivated killings inspired by a far-right mass murderer was sentenced Friday to more than 13 years in prison for firearms and drug offenses.

Christopher Hasson, 50, had faced a maximum prison sentence of 31 years at sentencing by U.S. District Judge George Hazel.

The severity of Hasson’s sentence hinged on two starkly divergent explanations for the cache of weapons seized from his Maryland home and the disturbing material found on his computer at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington.

Hazel, who sentenced Hasson to 160 months, said he believes the Coast Guard officer was preparing to carry out a “mass casualty assault as a way to act out his white nationalist views.”

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Internal emails obtained by BuzzFeed News revealed that “Trump’s fake hurricane map triggered panic, outrage, and an internal revolt among top officials at the National Weather Service and NOAA.”

Trump (falsely) tweeted on September 1 that several southern states, including Alabama, were “most likely to be hit” by the hurricane after its deadly pass through the Bahamas. Three days later, Trump shared a fake map in which a storm track, seemingly drawn with a black Sharpie, showed Dorian moving toward Alabama. When a National Weather Service forecaster tried to set the record straight, its parent agency, NOAA, released an unsigned statement disavowing the correction — seemingly to appease the White House.

Trump’s fake map and the administration’s insistence on defending it despite evidence to the contrary — dubbed #SharpieGate on Twitter — shows how the administration has prioritized politics over science, even during a fast-moving, life-threatening situation.

Officials and scientists, both inside and outside the government, were horrified…

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Politico reports that “allies of Donald Trump have begun holding events in black communities where organizers lavish praise on the president as they hand out tens of thousands of dollars to lucky attendees.”

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The first giveaway took place last month in Cleveland, where recipients whose winning tickets were drawn from a bin landed cash gifts in increments of several hundred dollars, stuffed into envelopes. A second giveaway scheduled for this month in Virginia has been postponed, and more are said to be in the works.

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Vox’s Dylan Scott explains Trump’s stealthy new scheme to cut funding for healthcare for low-income Americans.

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But he may not be satisfied with an assault on public healthcare in this country, according to someone in position to know. The Guardian reports

Donald Trump will put the interests of corporate America first and demand that the NHS pays higher prices for US drugs in a free-trade deal with the UK, the outgoing British ambassador to Washington has told the Guardian.

Kim Darroch, in his first interview since his resignation from his post in July, from where he spearheaded attempts to grow trade with the US, insisted that Trump would reward his backers in drug firms and farming communities by opening up British markets, while questioning where the UK’s gains would be found.

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We leave you this week with a bit of comic relief. You may have heard that a section of Trump’s stupid border wall blew over in a strong wind this week but WaPo also reported that if Trump gets his new wall built, it will likely “require the installation of hundreds of storm gates to prevent flash floods from undermining or knocking it over, gates that must be left open for months every summer during ‘monsoon season‘ in the desert, according to U.S. border officials, agents and engineers familiar with the plans.”


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2020 Election

Trump shows all the signs of being ‘rattled’ now that the White House is under siege from protesters: columnist

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In a column for the Atlantic, longtime political observer Peter Nicholas stated that Donald Trump is showing all the signs of a scared man as massive protests have broken out across the country over the murder of George Floyd at the hands of four former Minneapolis cops -- and angry Americans are taking their case all the way up to the White House gates.

As Nicholas wrote, "Presidents live within a protective cocoon built and continually fortified for one purpose: keeping them alive. But inside the White House compound these days, Donald Trump seems rattled by what’s transpiring outside the windows of his historic residence."

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2020 Election

US military brought in to monitor police brutality protests in 7 states: leaked documents

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According to an exclusive report from The Nation, based upon Defense Department documents, U.S. military members are being dispatched to seven different states to monitor the activities of Americans who have taken to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd at the hands of four former Minneapolis cops.

The report, by the Nation's Ken Klippenstein, notes that states include, "Minnesota, where a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, the military is tracking uprisings in New York, Ohio, Colorado, Arizona, Tennessee, and Kentucky, according to a Defense Department situation report," with the author pointing out, "Notably, only Minnesota has requested National Guard support."

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2020 Election

‘Insanity outside the White House’: After Trump stokes tensions, fresh clashes between police and protesters

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As protests against police violence and the killing of George Floyd continued in cities across the U.S. on Saturday, a massive crowd gathered outside President Donald Trump's White House as demonstrators again turned their ire and demands for justice and healing towards the nation's most powerful elected official. After tensions built, clashes erupted between law enforcement and demonstrators.

Tensions flared near the White House. Not sure what triggered it, all I saw was a blast of pepper spray and a sudden sprint backward. There’s a lot more pressure on the police cordon and they’re pulling out gas masks. pic.twitter.com/X4uCQRzPkw

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