The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel really didn’t need a 39-page opinion on Friday to decide that, yes, Congress has the right to obtain from the Treasury Department and the IRS the personal income tax returns of a president (or a former president). We’ll do it in two sentences: No one is above the law. And that means everyone. The fight started with six years of Donald Trump’s returns, from 2013 to 2018, (assuming he filed them). House Ways and Means Chair Richie Neal wanted to see those papers, in accordance with a long-standing and crystal clear law giving that panel the rig...
Years ago in a high school anatomy class, I saw film footage of a man — perhaps a prison inmate or a patient at a mental hospital — who "volunteered" for a heinous medical experiment. His brain was bisected, meaning the left and right spheres were surgically split from one another. He survived the procedure, but his left and right hands now behaved as if they belonged to two different people. The man was told to use his right hand, the one over which he still had conscious control, to seize control of the left hand. The left hand continually escaped, and the two hands essentially began fighting with each other. He begged the doctors for help, but they were too busy obsessively noting every detail of the "subject's" behavior. Our teacher told us the film came from her "private collection."
This article first appeared in Salon.
That has stuck with me ever since, and it now seems a perfect metaphor for America in the Age of Trump, plagued by a fascist movement and so many other pathologies and signs of moral and political rot. We are like that unfortunate man, a psychically split nation whose hands are fighting with one another.
A new CNN public opinion poll reports that most Americans "feel democracy is under attack in this country," with 51% of respondents saying "it is likely that elected officials in the U.S. will successfully overturn the results of a future election because their party did not win." Nearly all those surveyed said that democracy in America was either "under attack" (56%) or "being tested" (37%), with only 6%, barely over one person in 20, saying that "American democracy is in no danger."
But there are important differences:
Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to say that democracy is under attack, and that view is most prevalent among those who support former President Donald Trump. All told, 75% of Republicans say democracy is under attack, compared with 46% of Democrats. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, those who say Trump ought to be the leader of the party are much likelier to see democracy as under threat: 79% in that group vs. 51% among those who say Trump should not be the party's leader. ...
Among Republicans, 78% say that Biden did not win and 54% believe there is solid evidence of that, despite the fact that no such evidence exists. That view is also deeply connected to support for Trump. Among Republicans who say Trump should be the leader of the party, 88% believe Biden lost — including 64% who say there is solid evidence that he did not win — while among those Republicans who do not want Trump to lead the Party, 57% say Biden won legitimately.
Furthermore, Democrats and Republicans polled hold very different views on whether voting rules "make it too hard to vote" or "aren't strict enough to prevent illegal votes." Among Republicans, 83% take the latter position, while 66% of Democrats believe voting rules are overly restrictive.
These polls and others show the depth of America's democracy crisis goes well beyond reasonable differences of opinion about mutually agreed-upon facts. Instead, America's democracy crisis reflects a battle over the nature of reality itself.
Agreement on basic facts and a shared reality itself are necessary for a functioning, healthy society. These shared beliefs are especially critical in a democracy because of the role citizens play in collective decision-making. To that end, attacking truth and reality is one of the primary weapons used by fascist leaders and movements.
Democracy can eventually be exhausted by these attacks before succumbing to disorientation and confusion where fascism is normalized as a type of "solution" — a way to restore order and address the very social and political problems it has both created and made worse.
This week, during an interview on the podcast SmartLess, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns described America in this moment of extreme crisis, saying, "It's really serious. There are three great crises before this: the Civil War, the Depression, and World War II. This is equal to it."
In a new essay, legendary CBS News anchor Dan Rather sounds a similar note of alarm and concern: and alarm about America's democracy crisis.
What is happening now in our nation's capital, and radiating throughout the country, is enough to put even the most cynical of politicians of past eras to shame.
I fear that we don't have an adequate framework to make complete sense of the depravity and disingenuousness of what is taking place. Basically, we have one political party at the national level, the Republicans, who have long since ceded any pretense of actually doing the work of government, namely making policies to solve problems. Instead, it is raw power for power's sake, and that has turned Congress into what is in essence largely a troll farm on their side of the aisle.
CNN's new findings offer further proof of the Orwellian power that the Republican Party and fascist movement have over their followers. In practice this power involves creating an alternate reality through the manipulation of language and the use of disinformation, outright lies, moral inversion and other tactics.
In the Republican alternate reality, democracy itself has been redefined to mean a condition under which Republicans and Trumpists win every election. If they somehow lose, then by definition the result was not "democratic" and is therefore deemed illegitimate. Such elections must be overturned or reworked or reverse-engineered until the "correct" result is achieved.
Free and fair elections where the public will is respected, minority rights are guaranteed and leaders are held accountable to the voters and the rule of law — although inevitably imperfect — are the most basic criteria for a democracy.
The Republican Party and its nearly coterminous neofascist movement has mutated those norms as part of a plan to create a form of "managed democracy" or "competitive authoritarianism," under which chosen candidates are guaranteed to win but the superficial norms of democracy are observed and opposition is tolerated (up to a point).
Today's Trump-controlled Republican Party and the larger white right have become obsessed with "election fraud" and "securing" the votes. In their version of Orwell's Newspeak, "fraud" refers to the alarming possibility that votes cast by Black and brown people might be counted on an equal basis with those of white Republicans in affluent exurbs and "red states."
Through that same logic, "securing" the vote ultimately means that nonwhite people and other core Democratic constituencies should have their voting rights severely restricted. Voting is to be understood as a privilege granted to the "right kinds of people."
Projection is also a powerful weapon in the neofascist assault on American democracy and society, which often employs Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels' famous dictum: "Accuse the other side of that which you are guilty."
Perhaps most troubling, Trump and his neofascist movement's "Big Lie" strategy about the 2020 election is gaining momentum: Now more than three-quarters of Republican voters (and increase since the events of Jan. 6) endorse it. The Big Lie is now a proxy for supporting Donald Trump, a signal that you are a loyal member of his personality cult.
In the bestselling book "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump," therapist Elizabeth Mika warns of fascism's alluring and seductive power:
Tyranny feeds on the irrationality of narcissistic myths and magical thinking, even though its ideology may be disguised as hyper-rationalism, as it was the case with Communism. In this, it very much resembles the narcissistically psychopathic character of the tyrant himself: solipsistic, withdrawn from reality, full of grandiose and paranoid beliefs impervious to the corrective influences of objective facts.
In his essay "The Politics of Disimagination and the Pathologies of Power," philosopher and education professor Henry Giroux argues that American society is experiencing such extreme and rapid decline that engaged and responsible citizenship — which offers robust protection against the allure of fascism and other anti-human movements and beliefs — has become increasingly uncommon:
Civic illiteracy is the modus operandi for creating depoliticized subjects who believe that consumerism is the only obligation of citizenship, who privilege opinions over reasoned arguments, and who are led to believe that ignorance is a virtue rather than a political and civic liability….
The politics and machinery of disimagination and its production of ever-deepening ignorance dominates American society because it produces, to a large degree, uninformed customers, hapless clients, depoliticized subjects and illiterate citizens incapable of holding corporate and political power accountable. At stake here is more than the dangerous concentration of economic, political and cultural power in the hands of the ultrarich, megacorporations and elite financial services industries. Also at issue is the widespread perversion of the social, critical education, the public good, and democracy itself.
Those who choose to live inside TrumpWorld and the MAGAverse are lost souls, they are the Lost Americans.
There is little if anything that can be done to return them to normal society and empirical reality. What such people have found in those imaginary realms is too compelling, too exciting and answers too many of their needs and existential questions. The poison they have found there soothes their pain, even as it destroys them. It is foolish to hope or believe that the Trumpites and other neofascists will ever willingly abandon their safe space.
Fascism is governed by the passions, soul and spirit. It is the enemy of intellect and reason, which is why the uninitiated are so confounded by it. Fascism is the mind-killer. The alternate reality it has now created within American society is in danger of conquering and absorbing the other reality — the real one, where most of us still live.
The legal saga of Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., just keeps getting stranger — even by Florida standards. Just three days before news broke publicly of a federal probe into the Congressman's alleged child sex trafficking, Scott Adams — the Trump acolyte and creator of the popular newspaper cartoon "Dilbert" — was apparently discussing "inside knowledge" of the investigation with an employee of the Israeli consulate in New York City, according to a new report from POLITICO.
Jake Novak, who the publication identifies as the director of broadcast media at the Consulate General of Israel, and Adams were reportedly friendly on social media and spoke sometimes. But during this conversation, Novak apparently indicated that he was involved in a plot to convince Gaetz' father, a longtime Florida politico himself, to give $25 million as part of a plan to free a U.S. hostage in Iran.
"Scoop I can't report: Rep. Gaetz is the subject of a sex with minor…. I trust the source. Charges/accusations apparently 'very credible'," Novak wrote to Adams, according to text messages first reported by the American Conservative. After the news became public several days later, Novak followed up with another message: "told ya."
There was no indication Novak believed the scheme to be a crime, POLITICO reported — though another man, the Florida real estate developer Stephen Alford, was indicted late last month for attempting to defraud Gaetz' father. Court documents allege that Alford claimed he could broker a presidential pardon for Gaetz in exchange for freeing the hostage, named Bob Levinson, who most intelligence officials believe to be dead.
The Israeli consulate told the outlet that neither it nor the state of Israel were involved in the plot.
"Jake Novak is a staffer at the Israeli Consulate in New York, and is not serving in any official diplomatic capacity. His correspondence mentioned in this story was not in any way, shape or form a part of his role at the consulate," Itay Milner, a spokesperson for the consulate, told POLITICO. "After this matter was brought to our attention, it was made clear to Mr. Novak that this is not acceptable by the consulate general, he must never be involved in such matters again and that he must cut immediately all his connections to the issue."
Gaetz has been accused of participating in drug-fueled orgies and paying for sex with an underage woman — as well as funding a trip for that underage woman across state lines. Many of the allegations were corroborated by a series of confession letters penned by Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg, an ex-Florida tax collector, and obtained by The Daily Beast.
The salacious details of the case have enraptured Washington, D.C. and beyond — with Law and Order even featuring an episode Thursday night with a Congressman storyline eerily similar to the Gaetz saga.
This case is just the beginning. #SVU returns with a 2-HOUR premiere event Thursday, September 23 on @NBC. https://t.co/vkZqSlqjUc— 𝐋𝐀𝐖 & 𝐎𝐑𝐃𝐄𝐑 (@𝐋𝐀𝐖 & 𝐎𝐑𝐃𝐄𝐑) 1631553611.0
Adams, a cartoonist best known for creating the office comedy strip Dilbert, likely entered the story because of his connections to Trumpworld.
"People with connections to Israel had a high interest in me during the Trump days. Presumably to influence me," Adams told POLITICO. "Jake and I shared an interest in the mechanics of persuasion, and in interesting business/political stories in general. Most often the stuff with a persuasion or Israel angle. That was our initial connection … people often tell me their scoops before they hit the news just to build credibility. Might have been that."
After the text messages between the two parties became public, Adams also added that he did not know how reporters had gotten the information.
"We have not communicated since," Adams told POLITICO. "I'm just as confused as you about why Jake had any involvement and why he thought he needed to tell me."
The Texas secretary of state's office announced late Thursday that it has begun a "full forensic audit" of the 2020 general election in four Texas counties: Collin, Dallas, Harris and Tarrant. But the statement from that agency did not explain what prompted the move.
There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Texas in 2020. And earlier this year, an official for the agency called the 2020 election in Texas "smooth and secure."
Sam Taylor, a spokesperson for the office, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. No elections officials in the four counties immediately responded for comment.
The announcement came hours after Republican former President Donald Trump requested Gov. Greg Abbott add an election audit bill to this year's third special session. While Trump lost his reelection bid, he did win in Texas.
It was unclear if his request spurred the announcement from the secretary of state's office. Texas does not currently have a secretary of state. Former Secretary of State Ruth Ruggero Hughs, who oversaw the 2020 elections, resigned when the Texas Senate refused to confirm her appointment. Abbott has not yet picked a replacement. A spokesperson for the governor did not immediately respond to a question about the audits late Thursday.
Taylor's press release said the agency has "already begun the process in Texas' two largest Democrat counties and two largest Republican counties—Dallas, Harris, Tarrant, and Collin." While Tarrant has long been a Republican stronghold, Democratic President Joe Biden narrowly beat Trump there, according to the county's election results. The release said the agency expects the Legislature to provide funds for the audits. It did not describe what the audits entail.
Trump has pushed baseless claims of massive voter fraud for months since he lost the election last year — as he did after winning in 2016 — and has mounted numerous legal challenges to the certification of the 2020 election's results.
Many Texas Republicans have echoed or supported Trump's efforts to cast doubts on the election. But few Texas voters actually believe voting fraud is common, with only 19% believing ineligible people frequently cast ballots, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll from June.
Before Trump's term ended, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued four battleground states — Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — whose election results handed the White House to Biden. The U.S. Supreme Court briskly rejected the long-shot case.
U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, filed a far-fetched lawsuit asking Vice President Mike Pence to challenge Joe Biden's legitimacy as president-elect. After a federal court tossed it, the Texas Republican appeared to propose violence in response.
On Jan. 6, as Congress prepared to certify the results of the election, Trump again falsely claimed at a rally in the nation's capital that he had won a second term. After that gathering, a mob of pro-Trump rioters clashed with police, scaled the U.S. Capitol walls, and violently forced their way into lawmakers' offices and onto the floors of the House and Senate.
Some Texas Republicans denounced the Capitol insurrection, but they didn't acknowledge their role in stoking false claims about the election that led to the day's violence.
Paxton made an appearance at the Jan. 6 rally before the insurrection, but his office refused to release records of his text messages and emails from that day to media outlets. Since then, the U.S. House committee investigating the siege has specifically requested Paxton's communications.
In a series of legislative sessions that began in January, Texas Republicans pushed for legislation to restrict voting access in the name of election integrity, despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud. And after three legislative sessions and dramatic Democratic quorum breaks meant to stop legislation, Abbott signed a sweeping bill into law in September that will tighten state election laws and limit counties' abilities to expand voting options. It took particular aim at voting initiatives used in Harris County, one of the largest and most diverse that voted Democratic in 2020 by banning overnight early voting hours and and drive-thru voting.
Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, responded to the secretary of state office's announcement on Twitter late Thursday.
"Let me be the first to congratulate the disgraced former president, Donald Trump, on his apparently becoming the new governor of Texas," Turner tweeted. "Pitiful yet predictable that @GregAbbott_TX has capitulated to Trump yet again."
Patrick Svitek contributed to this story.
Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Raw Story Investigates and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.
$95 / year — Just $7.91/month
I want to Support More
$14.99 per month