Why are Democrats afraid to use their power? American democracy depends on it

There is no point in having political power if you don't use it. This is one of the first lessons of realpolitik.

Donald Trump is a political gangster who has learned this lesson well.

Under his command, the Republican Party is a de facto political crime family. They too understand power and how to use it.

Some time ago, Democrats understood this lesson as well. Now they appear to have unlearned it, at least as it applies to resisting the rise of the Republicans' neofascist movement. To be fair, Democratic leaders have maintained a keen understanding of power when it comes to suppressing progressives and others who are not beholden to corporate power.

To watch the Democrats be consistently outmaneuvered and defeated by the Republican-fascist movement is a pitiful thing to see. The Democratic Party's leaders can certainly do better; they choose not to.

Last week, Donald Trump executed a classic gangster move, strong-arming the Republican Party to remain fully loyal to him — even if that might cause them to lose the 2022 and 2024 elections.

Last Wednesday, Trump sent a fundraising email to his followers telling them: "If we don't solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented), Republicans will not be voting in '22 or '24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do."

On Friday, the twice-impeached ex-president continued with his threats. This time he focused on Arizona, where a fake audit by his own followers once again confirmed his defeat in the 2020 presidential election. Entirely ignoring that result, Trump decreed that the Arizona vote should somehow be undone: "Either a new election should immediately take place or the past election should be decertified and the Republican candidate declared a winner …"

The mainstream news media, with its professional centrists, hope peddlers, stenographers and guardians of approved public discourse responded with a common theme: This was supposedly further proof that the Republican Party is in disarray, and even devouring itself. It was widely seen as "bad politics" for Republicans to follow Trump's edicts about the Big Lie, and likely to lead to internal chaos.

These conclusions are wildly incorrect. Like other fascist and authoritarian political movements, today's Republican Party is purging itself of dissenters and those others not fully committed to Donald Trump. This is not a sign of disorder or weakness. If anything, it's a sign that the Republicans are becoming even more ideologically cohesive — and their sole ideology is unquestioned loyalty to their leader.

Republican elected officials and others in Trump World clearly understand they must follow Trump's lead. Indeed, they effectively have no choice. Public opinion polls and other evidence has consistently shown that Republican voters and right-wing independents are dedicated to Donald Trump. Indeed, their devotion to Trump is greater than their loyalty to the Republican Party. This includes a large percentage of Republicans — tens of millions of Americans — who are willing to endorse or condone political violence in order to seize and hold power. A majority of Republicans in so-called red states even express willingness to secede from the Union, presumably to create a 21st-century version of the Confederacy.

According to recent polls, 80 percent of Republican voters want Trump to be the party's presidential nominee in 2024. Senate Republicans have noticed. This week they demonstrated their commitment to Trump's war on American democracy by killing the Freedom to Vote Act — a "compromise" bill that Democratic "moderates" believed might attract bipartisan support — before it could even be properly debated.

As a practical matter, this means that Trump and his Republican fascists intend to steal the 2022 midterms, and then the 2024 presidential elections, using the same tactics as they did in 2020 — but more effectively.

In response to this escalating crisis, today's Democratic Party — as has been true for several decades — does not appear to grasp the power and importance of clear and consistent messaging that mobilizes its voters and demobilizes the opposition.

Democratic leaders and other messengers do not consistently use moral appeals, emotional language and calls to action in order to motivate their base and potential voters.

As documented by legal scholar Ian Haney López and others, the Democrats do not consistently use a narrative frame that effectively combines messaging about both race and class inequality, and how they overlap and reinforce one another. Democrats lack a simple, straightforward narrative — a big story to tell voters about what their party represents.

By comparison, the Republicans have a far more effective propaganda machine. They have branded themselves as "patriots" who love America and are "defending" it against those others — sometimes specifically named and identified, and sometimes not — who are not "real" Americans and are said to hate the country and its so-called traditions.

Because the Republicans and larger fascist movement have a brand that is clearly tied to whiteness, racial resentment, anti-intellectualism, misogyny, patriarchy, guns, Christian nationalism and other meaningful social identities, the specifics of their policies barely matter.

In fact, Democratic policies across a range of issues, from the economy to health care to defending democracy itself, are far more popular than those offered by the Republicans.

The Democratic Party's messaging failures about President Biden's Build Back Better plan — whose individual elements are remarkably popular, and not exclusively among Democrats or liberals — offer the most recent and glaring example.

Veteran White House correspondent Brian Karem recently offered these insights in his weekly column for Salon, writing that the Biden "honeymoon is indeed over":

Press pundits and analysts are all talking about how badly Biden is doing. This is in large part because he doesn't connect with people — because the White House staff doesn't let him. His communications team strictly limits his appearances, and therefore the administration comes off as arrogant, elitist and controlling. The photo I tweeted and the responses to it show, without a doubt, that a lot of people want to respond to Joe Biden favorably.
A wrangler told me they don't want me near the president. I responded that he always answers my questions when I am — and was told that's exactly why they don't want me there. The staff is afraid of what some of us will ask him, and what his responses will be. One byproduct of this that's invisible from the outside is that by making the press pool and a few others feel special by their proximity and access, the Biden administration has been far more successful in stifling free speech than Trump ever was with his bullying….

In a recent conversation with historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, political scientist Brian Klaas discussed the Democrats' messaging failures relative to America's democracy crisis and the global fascist tide, saying he was "encouraged" to hear Rep. Adam Schiff say that Republicans had "basically built an autocratic culture around a single individual":

That was one of the first times that I've seen it stated so clearly by someone so senior. I think the problem is that a traditional strength of American democracy was this idea of the Senate as elder statesmen of the country. They were all friends. That had its problems, but they smoked together across party lines.
And I think a lot of the people who were socialized politically in that world don't realize that the people they extend the olive branch to now have become authoritarian. Holding out an olive branch to someone who disagrees with you about tax policy is fundamentally different than doing so to someone who wants to burn down the system of government and install authoritarianism. I think people just haven't made that shift yet.
This is a different level of battle than every other battle that exists. Because if you lose the battle for democracy, you don't get to have another battle for taxes, infrastructure, healthcare, or any of the policies that change lives. In places I've studied where democracy has died, it's still dead pretty much everywhere. And if it's resurrected it is a kind of cookie cutout of democracy with rigged elections and deeply flawed institutions and so on.
I think the window is closing to fix this. If we don't fix it in the next two to four years, I don't think it's going to get fixed. The problem with that message is that it's not uplifting. One of the corollaries between authoritarian politics debates and climate change is that you're trying to galvanize people to preserve the status quo. You're saying, if you work really, really hard, you can have what you've always had. From a political messaging point of view, that's difficult. You're saying that we'll go back to having the same old political divides we used to have. Our system will be just as broken. And that's the really big rub the Democrats are grappling with.

Perhaps most critical of all, today's Democratic Party is not effectively using its power to protect democracy, the Constitution and the rule of law. Indeed, it appears afraid to do so. There are many examples.

The Democratic leadership, especially President Biden, has not used its full power to compel "centrists" like Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to support the popular and necessary legislation in Biden's Build Back Better package or the even more critical voting-rights legislation.

Perhaps the leadership fears that Sinema and Manchin will be pushed farther toward the Republicans. But in reality they are already de facto Republicans who are holding the Biden administration, the Democratic Party and the American people hostage.

Biden and the Democratic leadership can use their power to force through many key initiatives, either by bypassing Congress or by dumping the Senate filibuster.

They could also use their power to ensure that Donald Trump, his confederates and other agents and allies are prosecuted to the full extent of the law for their role in the insurrection and attempted coup on and around Jan. 6.

At the moment, Attorney General Merrick Garland appears to be protecting Trump and his allies from prosecution for their many and obvious crimes against democracy. As president of the United States and chief law enforcement officer, Biden could set the tone and insist on bringing Donald Trump and the other Jan. 6 criminals to justice.

Pro-democracy Americans and other real patriots must use their power while they still have it.

They must publicly pressure Biden and the Democrats to do what is necessary to defend American democracy. They must be willing to engage in massive acts of collective action to protect their democracy and society. There is power and strength in numbers. Democratic voters and other pro-democracy Americans outnumber the Republicans and their neofascist foot soldiers and must use that leverage to maximum advantage.

At every event where Republican fascists and other right-wing operatives gather and attempt to influence public policy — such as at school board meetings — pro-democracy Americans and other real patriots should stage counter-protests and exert as much pressure as possible. There is strength in visibility.

Biden and the Democrats appear to be treating political power as something to be saved and conserved for the future, but in reality their power is finite and time-dependent. If and when the Republicans take control of the House in 2022, and perhaps the presidency in 2024, the power that the Democrats believed they were hoarding will be worthless.

Power not used ultimately becomes power wasted, and this is even more true in a moment of dire crisis. If American democracy is to be saved, the Democrats must embrace their power — and use it.

Don't laugh: Trump's inner circle really calls itself 'Trump World' now

"Trump World" is not a joke, if it ever really was. That's no longer the term exclusively applied to Donald Trump's orbit by media observers or political opponents. It's now how Trump World describes itself.

When longtime Trump loyalist Corey Lewandowski lost his job leading the pro-Trump super PAC Make America Great Again Action, after facing accusations of sexual misconduct, Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich tweeted that Lewandowski "will no longer be associated with Trump World." (He was replaced by former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who is very much still associated with Trump World.)

Yes, it may be amusing to hear Donald Trump's agents and apparatchiks referring to the Great Leader's inner circle with a term formerly used by detractors. But only if you still believe that liberal schadenfreude and mockery offer an effective defense against the rise of neofascism.

Yes, Trump World has interesting and bizarre characters: a mattress salesman, a former mayor of America's largest city who has hair-dye issues, a Nosferatu-like white supremacist, a drunken would-be Renaissance man and various other hucksters, henchmen and rejects from the Republican Party's "land of broken toys" who are now Trump's agents of chaos and perfidy.

Yes, Donald Trump himself only seems to exist as a simulacrum, a TV or film character come to life, who exemplifies the worst aspects of the human condition. That is not a bug but a feature: As a man and a figurehead, Donald Trump is irresistible to his cult members precisely because of those attributes.

In essence, Donald Trump the man is identical to "Donald Trump" the character, who is so ridiculous that he could not possibly exist. Yet he does.

Some have even speculated that there is no Donald Trump — it's really the late legendary comedian Andy Kaufman, playing Tony Clifton, who in turn is playing "Donald Trump". We may never know the answer.

But one should not forget that fascists, authoritarians and autocrats more generally can often be funny, both in terms of style and personality. Such individuals and their followers are often mocked by "serious" leaders and intellectuals, as well as by the larger political class and other respectable types. That mockery and humor all too often turns into existential terror, recrimination, pleas for mercy and other desperate apologies.

In fact, a certain leader universally viewed as one of the greatest villains in human history, who brought the world to the brink of disaster, was frequently described by the American and European news media and other observers as a ridiculous buffoon who posed no real threat.

In the famous description by biographer Joachim Fest, said world leader "always appeared foolish to sage political minds, and for years — indeed, virtually to the moment of his final victory — arrogant conventional wisdom did not take him seriously. The widespread mockery heaped upon him has been justified by his appearance, his unhinged rhetorical flights and the theatrical atmosphere he deliberately created around himself. Yet in a manner almost impossible to describe, he has always stood above or outside his banal and dull-witted persona." Does any of that sound familiar?

Ultimately, Donald Trump and his movement — in other words, Trump World — offer a lesson and warning that they and people like them are capable of anything in their war on American democracy and society.

To wit: Politico recently reported on Trump's obsession with "challenging and changing election laws," which he hopes to convert into "legislative action" if he ever regains the presidency:

Trump is expected to mount another bid for president in 2024. And as talk of such a campaign has grown more concrete, so too has speculation over what type of agenda he'd actually pursue.
Some answers can be found in the work being done by America First Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank stacked with former Trump administration officials. Among the group's 20 main policy priorities, which include trade, immigration and education, is promoting more comprehensive voter restrictions in the name of election integrity. Officials describe it as a priority.
"One hundred percent yes," AFPI President and former Trump White House Domestic Policy Council Director Brooke Rollins said of having legislation on a set of issues ready to go should Trump prevail in a 2024 election. "If we do our job right we will have a package of model legislation for the federal government and the state governments where they align."


Joe Biden may be president, but Republican fascists and their movement are still in the ascendant. Trump World's war on democracy and the ongoing coup continue. What will America be like if Trump World emerges victorious?

Trump World is a fascist and authoritarian cult oriented around pathological, antisocial and anti-human behavior. Its leader is to be worshipped as a civil-religious prophet, savior and living God.

Trump World is also a type of "life world" that provides meaning through narratives, values, identity and an entire culture, at least for its true believers.

There is no objective empirical truth or reality in Trump World. Such concepts are bent and twisted to serve the agenda of the Great Leader and his or her fantasies, edicts and desires. Trump World is a closed episteme, whose logic is self-sustaining and self-justifying.

Trump World is a type of "democracy" — albeit a fake democracy where only the votes of "real Americans" count. The leaders and ruling party of Trump World reserve the right to reject any votes they deemed "fraudulent" and to control the results of elections such that the "correct" decision is reached.

Likewise, the Trump World regime also controls the courts and legal system. If "erroneous" legal decisions are made, the leaders and ruling party reserve the right to "correct" them.

Trump World is an apartheid society, a Christian nationalist theocracy and a plutocratic oligarchy. It worships death, violence and sacrifice for "the cause." Martyrs are to be revered, celebrated and thus given eternal life. Trump World is sadomasochistic.

Only right-wing political correctness is allowed in Trump World. Thoughtcrimes are to be immediately punished because they are "divisive" and undermine "unity" and "patriotism." Silence is deemed to be consent and agreement.

Trump World is terrified of genuine human freedom. As such, women's reproductive rights and freedoms are to be extinguished. The civil rights of nonwhites and other marginalized individuals and groups will not be protected. The natural environment is to be exploited by rapacious capitalism. Labor unions and other attempts by working people to fight for decent wages and better living conditions will be illegal.

Trump World is a realm of "white freedom," which in practice means the ability of white people — especially rich white men and "Christians" — to impose their will without restraint on other human beings deemed to be inferior.

In a recent conversation with Salon, historian Timothy Snyder described what such "freedom" actually looks like in practice: "The other side's idea of freedom is so impoverished that it does not exist anymore: it is a cliché with no real content. Freedom for them just means being rolled by the waves. Freedom for them just means their impulses or whatever they're feeling right now in the moment."

Trump World will come very close to devouring American society if Trump and the Republican Party (and the larger American fascist movement) "win" the 2022 midterms and then the 2024 presidential election.

In his newsletter, journalist Judd Legum recently explained how close America is to such a nightmarish outcome:

In 2020, Trump's strategy to overturn the election relied on Rudy Giuliani and a ragtag group of conspiracy theorists. It didn't work out. In Iowa, Trump made clear that his strategy in 2024 is to install unwavering Trump loyalists throughout the state and federal government. "The election was a fraud and if we want to save our country and make America great again, we have only one choice. We must elect strong and unyielding American Republicans at every level," Trump said.
This would facilitate a much more sophisticated effort to seize power in the next presidential election, regardless of the actual vote total….
Part 1: Put Trump loyalists in charge of election administration in key states...
Part 2: Elect Trump loyalists as governor in key states...
Part 3: Put Trump loyalists in charge of Congress
The third part of the plan is more straightforward: restore the Republican majorities in Congress. On January 6, 2021, about two-thirds of the Republican caucus objected to the certification of the Electoral College in an effort to reverse the outcome of the election. Some of the Republicans who did not object to the certification are retiring or facing primary challengers. A majority might be all that's needed to rubber-stamp efforts in the states to swing the election to Trump.


In a recent essay, Thom Hartmann offers this warning from history about America's crisis of democracy and how close we are to Trump World's final victory:

In addition to amplifying the usual barriers to voters in mostly Democratic neighborhoods (long lines, harsh ID requirements, short hours, limiting mail-in voting, etc.), Republicans are now putting open advocates for a Trump Oligarchy into positions to determine which votes to count and which to reject.
Trump and the Republicans going along with him (which is almost all of them now) are playing an old game. Instead of voters selecting their politicians, these Republican politicians are selecting their voters.
Boris Bazhanov was Joseph Stalin's personal secretary from 1923 to 1928, and later served as secretary of the Soviet Political Bureau. In his memoirs published in 1980, he recounts something Stalin told him about voting.
"I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how," Stalin said. "But what is extremely important is this — who will count the votes, and how." ...
And now Republicans are setting things up so when they flip elections, à la Stalin, it'll just seem like a normal part of politics. They tried it last year and it failed by a whisker, so now they're setting things up to pull it off in 2024.


Trump World is not an alternate reality or a different dimension of the multiverse. It is not a metaphor, a Jungian shadow or an archetype. It is not part of some thought experiment or counterfactual.

Trump World is the here and the now; it is not America's "undiscovered country."

The American people have two years, at most, to save themselves and their democracy. Tomorrow is not an option. Procrastination and denial will make matters worse. Only the "urgency of now" has the potential to save American democracy from Trump World. Do the American people, or those among them who still support democracy, have the energy, courage and strength to defeat Trump World? Or, have they already decided to surrender and assimilate into it?

Religion scholar explains how a specific strain of Christianity became a toxic political force

Since at least the 1980s, the conservative movement has increasingly been governed by faith, which can be described as a belief in things that cannot be proved by empirical means. In practice, this means that the Republican Party and the larger right-wing movement's policies and ideology across a range of issues — the economy, the environment, science, health care, democracy and the rule of law — have little if any basis in fact.

In the Age of Trump, movement conservatism has metastasized or devolved into its purest form: American fascism, a form of religious politics taken to its most illogical extreme. Facts, truth and even the conception of reality itself are being replaced with lies, fictions, and fantasies that serve the American fascist movement and its leader.

As public opinion polls and other research have repeatedly shown, white right-wing Christians, especially Protestant evangelicals, have pledged their loyalty to Donald Trump and his movement. Many view him as a literal prophet or savior: His evident immorality has been rationalized as somehow necessary to his prophetic role.

Violence is a key feature of the new American fascism, as dramatically illustrated on Jan. 6 but also at many other moments. Trumpists and other Republican fascists, many or most of whom identify as Christian, have widely embraced political violence, including outright terrorism, as a necessary measure to "protect" their "traditional way of life" against "radical socialist Democrats", Black and brown people, Muslims, LGBTQ people and pretty much all Americans who still believe in the constitutional separation of church and state and the rule of law.

Together, these forces exist in a state of collective narcissism and shared malignant reality. In that relationship, white right-wing Christianity is a nexus or type of glue.

To discuss this profoundly disturbing phenomenon, I recently spoke with Anthea Butler, professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She has been a guest on MSNBC, CNN, PBS and the BBC, and her essays have been featured in the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Religion News Service and MSNBC. Butler's new book is "White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America".

In this conversation, she discusses the phenomenon of "white Christianity" and its role in the Age of Trump and America's current crisis of democracy. She also explores the specific role this phenomenon played in the events of Jan. 6 and the ascendant fascist movement, and its crucial role in legitimating and normalizing the society-wide moral crisis catalyzed and empowered by the Age of Trump.

Toward the end of this conversation, Butler warns that too many white people have erroneously convinced themselves that racial privilege will protect them from escalating right-wing Christian terrorism and related political violence.

This conversation has been edited, as usual, for clarity and length.

Imagine that American democracy is a patient in the hospital. If you were a type of religious figure — a priest, an imam, a rabbi or the like — what counsel would you be offering that patient in this dire moment?

I will answer that question in the context of the Catholic tradition. In that faith tradition there is something called "extreme unction." This is when you are on your deathbed, and they come to you to give you a prayer. Before the changes of Vatican II, the priest also carried a little kit, which had what would be used for communion and other needs. If I were diagnosing democracy right now in America, it is in a state of extreme unction. American democracy is in its last moments and it is going to need a miracle to get up from that deathbed. I would whisper in that patient's ear right now that you had better decide to fight back or you are dead in the next 15 minutes. Your 15 minutes are about up.

What would penance look like?

Continuing with the Catholic tradition. Most of the time the penitence, in the old Catholic tradition, would involve beating oneself. Self-flagellation. There would be bloodletting. You would not want someone else to make the bloodletting happen for you.

In the case of American democracy, especially with the Democratic Party, they are holding on to some old, tired notion that they are still in power and that the things that they have counted on before will work for them in this moment of crisis. The Democrats are counting on Black folks standing in line for 20 hours to vote. They are counting on Black people to ignore the fact that the Democrats have not done much for them. The Democrats are counting on the good Black Christians to come and save them, once again, from themselves.

There are all these political leaders and others who claim to be Christians and say that America is supposedly a "Christian nation." But there is little talk of the many forms of evil both summoned and empowered by the Age of Trump. How is this being reconciled?

There are two primary reasons, as I see it. Half the time they do not believe that there is in fact a devil. Moreover, many of these Christians are the devils at work in this society. Two, if you don't believe in the devil, then you don't have to deal with anything that is evil.

Instead, you use language such as "people are misguided" or "they have the wrong idea" or "they didn't really mean to lie like that." Evangelicals of the 1950s, and even the '60s and early '70s, would have looked at Donald Trump and said that he was the Antichrist. Now evangelicals worship him. To be clear, I am not offering a position on whether or not I believe that Trump is the Antichrist or whether he should be worshipped. I'm just telling you what is happening.

Donald Trump, his regime and the Republican fascist movement are objectively evil. How do white Christians explain away such behavior?

Because they're in a bubble. Their pastor is reinforcing these messages. The people they live around are reinforcing these messages. They listen to Fox News. Their other information sources reinforce the same message.

Let's be frank: I don't care how many times they carry a Bible. Half of them are not reading it anyway. One may think that these people are evangelical Christians and therefore they know scripture. Yes, some of them do. These evangelicals may know it very well. But even though these evangelicals say, "I'm living by scripture," the reality is that they are living by the scriptures that are written by their politicians and their pastors.

The Jan. 6 coup attempt and attack on the Capitol was an act of white right-wing Christian terrorism against multiracial democracy. Given the Christian iconography and behavior seen on Jan. 6 — that huge cross, the prayers, the horns, and other examples — why do mainstream news media and others refuse to state such obvious facts?

It's intentional. They cannot come to grips with the fact that the Christianity of America is just like any other fundamentalist religion that gets weaponized in order to hold on to power. Therefore, they have to continue to tell themselves that everything that happened on Jan. 6 was an aberration and not something religious in nature. Those people are not "Christians" like us.

But the reality is that those people are you. And not only are those people you, they sat with you in the pews. They prayed with you. And if they had succeeded on Jan. 6, you would be right there on their side. And you would say that God must have blessed them to be able to overthrow the United States government.

Can you explain more about the horns and specific prayers that were used on Jan. 6?

They had horns, what are known as the ram's horn or the shofar, which appeared in the Old Testament. Those horns were blown before the walls of Jericho came down. It was like a battle. Those horns were used in rituals in ancient Judaism. That horn is also used in Jewish rituals today to mark certain kinds of events, whether that's Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. The blowing of the horn means that we are going into battle — in this context, that God is going with us into the Capitol.

The kinds of prayers we saw on Jan. 6 at the Capitol are called "imprecatory prayers." There are the kinds of prayers used when you want your enemy to die. On Jan. 6 they believed that they were on a mission from God to go into the Capitol and get Nancy Pelosi, Mike Pence and other people they saw as enemies.

And that huge Christian cross?

They used that cross to be like the crusaders during the European Middle Ages.

Tate Reeves, the Republican governor of Mississippi, recently said that Christians are not afraid of the coronavirus because they believe in "eternal life." How did you process his assertion? The country is in the midst of a deadly plague, and right-wing leaders are summoning God and their faith to encourage people not to take proper health precautions.

Those words are a claim that "we" are not afraid of death because we are Christians. It is a claim of certainty on going to heaven. It will all be fine, because if you die from the coronavirus then you are going to see Jesus. Well, what if Jesus is not there? What if there's no Jesus? What if you just drop straight down into the pit of hell?

I'm not saying that's what's going to happen, but the way in which the governor of Mississippi spoke about the pandemic was as though if you die, then it is all going to be all right. What kind of sense does that make?

As a matter of public policy, Christian nationalists, dominionists and other Christian fascists are trying to impose their End Times eschatological fantasies onto secular America in opposition to the Constitution and the separation of church and state. These are fantasies of death and destruction. These white right-wing Christians literally seem to be seeking out death.

They do in fact appear to be seeking out death. They have this huge desire to live the way they want to live without restraint. At some point it is death for you, but it is not death for them.

One of the dimensions here that many people do not understand is that when the pandemic started and many of these red-state and other right-wing leaders were telling people not to wear masks, they were kind of hoping that the "right people" would die. We know who the "right people" are.

Now, people in red states are dying and those Republican and other right-wing leaders can't get out of the spiral of telling people not to get vaccinated. They were hoping that all the people of color were going to die. But now in the red states, it's a lot of white folks dying. A lot of white children are going to die, and they still are doubling down on the same thing. It hasn't changed.

What is "White Christianity"?

White Christians tend to do very different things than Black Christians or Asian American Christians or Latino Christians in this country. You can be a Black Christian and believe in white evangelicalism. You can be Black and a Christian and be bought out and sold out to white evangelicalism or white Christianity because you accept the premises of what these white preachers are telling you, especially about how you're supposed to love America for example.

There are Black Christians, and others, who are not being discerning about what is Christianity, as opposed to what is better described as White American Christianity.

For some Christians, the question becomes, "Well, I'm a red-letter Christian," which basically refers to how the words of Jesus are red in the Bible. "I believe what Jesus says." My intervention there is: If that's the case, great. That means you have to be for the poor and all that comes with that.

White Christianity is a Christianity that is based on the following: Jesus is white. Jesus privileges white culture and white supremacy, and the political aspirations of whiteness over and against everything else. White Christianity assumes that everybody should be subsumed under whiteness in terms of culture and society.

White Christianity assumes that it does not have to look at poverty. We see this in the form of the so-called prosperity gospel, and that any blessing you get from God is because God favors you. If anybody else is out of favor, let's say some poor kid in Northwest Philadelphia who doesn't have enough to eat, well, that's just too bad because they're not blessed of God.

When suffering happens, it's blamed on anybody else but God.

As part of the right-wing culture war narrative there is a martial language that includes Christianity. There is talk of "Christian struggle" and "Christian war." What are the connections between such militant language and actual right-wing violence?

That language has a long history in this country. There's war imagery all through Biblical scripture. There are war songs that people sing in churches. This idea about battling for the Lord, whether we're talking about the Crusades or the Civil War or fighting communism and everything else, is embedded in our history. That language of war and fighting is being used to incite people now.

Most people in America do not want such violence to happen. The problem is that if you've got enough people who want such an outcome, who can make it hell for everybody else, and there are people in power who want to use the public to create decay and destruction, such violent language is going to be used to that end. Donald Trump knows how to push every one of these buttons.

How do you explain the role of white Christianity in the right-wing disruptions and threats of violence at local school board meetings about "critical race theory," vaccinations and other topics?

It is as though nobody remembers the 1950s, when white people were standing outside yelling and screaming and cussing Black children who were actually integrating these schools. These were Christians who were in churches, who were out there yelling and spitting and screaming. Women especially. Evangelicalism and harsh rhetoric have always been part and parcel of this.

We need to quit talking about evangelicalism as though it is some type of coddling religion and understand it for what it has been and what it is doing.

The language of "religious freedom" is central to the power of white Christianity in America. Other religions are rarely able to make such claims and have them accepted as normal or reasonable by the public, or especially by the Supreme Court and political leaders. In practice, the "freedom" of white Christianity is something unique in America. Muslims, for example, are rarely if ever afforded such protections and special rights.

The rhetoric of freedom is being used to elevate "freedom" for white Christians and to suppress freedom for everyone else. In order to remain on top, the freedom of everybody else is being suppressed. These types of white Christians want you to do what they want you to do. In turn, you will be controlled by them. Limiting women's reproductive freedoms is a way to keep everybody in check.

What is the role of white privilege in explaining why so many white Americans are able to deny the serious dangers embodied by white Christian fascist violence?

White privilege convinces many white people that they will not personally have to deal with the violence. They believe that, unlike other people, they will just be able to melt away into the background when the violence happens and nobody is going to shoot people who look like them.

White privilege has convinced them that nobody's going to take their home away from them. Nobody's going to kill their kids. Nobody's going to march them out as an example and shoot them. White privilege has convinced them that they can take some type of loyalty oath or pledge and they will be safe.

Fascism or freedom? America is stuck in an ugly and dangerous in-between

America's democracy crisis is rapidly getting worse. Collapse may be imminent, and coming far faster than many experts predicted. In a new conversation with Dean Obeidallah for Salon Talks, Harvard political scientist Steven Levitsky, co-author of "How Democracies Die," says that when the book was published three years ago, he and co-author Daniel Ziblatt still believed "that the bulk of the Republican Party was minimally committed to small-D democracy":

We believed there was a faction in the Republican Party, particularly in the Senate, that would be able and willing to draw a line that they wouldn't let Trump cross. And we were wrong about that. The speed and the extent to which the Republican Party has been Trumpified is way beyond anything that we expected.

We can only conclude that the country's democratic institutions were not as strong as many people believed them to be, and that the American people's faith in democracy was exaggerated. Furthermore, the Republican Party's move towards fascism was far deeper and more sincere than the country's political elites and mainstream media wanted to admit. Many other societal problems also helped bring America to this crisis.

This sort of slippage is often seen in a society during an interregnum, the sort of in-between historical period famously described by Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci: "The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters."

In a featured essay for the Society of Cultural Anthropology's online journal, Andrea Muehlebach offers this context:

Interregnum was the term used in ancient Rome to refer to the moment of legal and political in-betweenness that followed the death of the sovereign and preceded the enthronement of his successor. The declaration of interregnum was accompanied by the proclamation of justitium, for it was not only sovereignty but also legality that was suspended. Gramsci brilliantly played with these terms, extending them as he grappled with the generalized crisis of authority in his own time. Old hegemonies were crumbling. The ruling order had lost its capacity to lead through consent. The masses had drifted away from traditional ideologies and toward a structure of feeling that awaited full articulation. The horizon was open.
The rest, as we know, is history.

Such moments of crisis pose a fundamental challenge to the way individuals think about their role in society.

When a society's landmarks are erased and its lodestars or guiding lights are plucked from the sky, a collective confusion and disorientation — even madness — can take hold. Fundamental questions of personal identity come to the fore: Who am I in this moment? How do I make sense of it all? Will I even survive? Am I obsolete? Does my life have meaning?

To varying degrees and in different ways these kinds of questions are being asked by both America's elites and everyday people. There are no easy answers but the stakes are very high: America's choice between fascism and freedom.

In seeking these answers it will be tempting to default to obsolete habits and assumptions, which will often bring neither salvation nor safety. In a recent column for the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin — a somewhat repentant anti-Trump conservative — offers one such example:

Republicans' embrace of conspiracy theories, election denial, vaccine mandate opposition and, frankly, nihilism pose real threats to our democracy and to the health of Americans. But just because Republicans delight in "owning the libs" does not mean their behavior helps them politically. To the contrary, Democrats may well make hay out of Republican trail of chaos.

Rubin argues that the failed recall campaign against California Gov. Gavin Newsom offers an electoral strategy: "spotlighting Republicans' extremism is a winner for Democrats. ... There is nothing like the specter of misogynistic antiabortion policy or Republicans' willful refusal to fight a deadly pandemic to engage the Democratic base. Moreover, in stressing these issues, Democrats do nothing to alienate independents or sane Republicans." She concludes this way:

Even Democrats — who are often loath to sound "too negative" or to use blunt language instead of complex policy arguments — should be able to figure out a campaign message for 2022. Republicans are neither conservative in economic outlook (look at the business community's reaction to the debt ceiling standoff) nor pro-life (consider the innocent life they put at risk in their management of the pandemic). They fail to put the country's national security above partisan politics. Theirs is a radical, reckless and revanchist party — one far too dangerous to trust with power. Call it the "Chaos Party," a term that will remind suburban voters and college-educated voters why they fled the GOP in 2020.

Rubin is well-intentioned. Unfortunately, her hopeful vision withers in the harsh light of facts, and she is not alone — many people in the political and media classes share such dangerously naïve views.

Today's Republican Party and the larger right-wing movement no longer feel any commitment to "normal politics," with its traditional mores of compromise, consensus building and other forms of horse trading, and where each side strives to win as much as possible while maintaining some semblance of a functioning democracy.

Victory is all that matters for today's Republican Party. Destruction, not creation, is the Republican modus operandi. When they gain control of the levers of government, "democracy" becomes an instrument used to undermine the system itself on the road to creating an autocratic one-party state, if not an all-out authoritarian regime.

Republican leaders and their foot soldiers are using gerrymandering, voter suppression laws and voter exclusion, as well as political violence — as seen on Jan. 6 — and other forms of intimidation to limit the franchise to their own supporters. If the Republican-fascist movement achieves its goals, America will become an apartheid theocratic pseudo democracy similar to Russia or Hungary, where the Republican Party and its followers can effectively do whatever they want, without facing consequences or any significant accountability. One of the darkest indications of the way the Republican Party has abandoned democracy and "normal" or "responsible" politics, is its willingness to let its own voters die in the pandemic.

If anything, followers of Donald Trump and his Republican-fascist movement have become even more loyal to the cause than they were previously. This is true even when confronted by the mass death caused by the coronavirus and how Republican-fascist leaders made the pandemic much worse.

Jennifer Rubin's essay reflects the widespread hope that somehow, someday, Republicans will be punished for their assaults on democracy and other crimes. But this hopeful sentiment avoids the inconvenient fact that Rubin and her fellow "traditional" or "mainstream" conservatives themselves helped to create the conditions that gave rise to the Trumpist monstrosity she now hopes can be brought to heel. (Spoiler: It cannot be.)

This urgent crisis of democracy has forced a type of paradigm shift onto (white) American society and culture. It is a great personal and existential challenge for the fourth estate and the political class to acknowledge the unsettling new reality. What happens when they do not have the answers, and like the American people en masse, they feel disoriented and lost?

As the American people and their leaders navigate this dangerous period of crisis, interregnum and paradigm shift, they will need to resist seductive illusions and refuse easy answers offered by hucksters who assure them there is an easy way out. To defeat and survive the rising fascist tide, there is only one solution: Accept that the old world is gone, and fight to create a better one.

In my recent conversation with the Rev. William J. Barber II for Salon, he described the necessity of harnessing the strange and powerful energies of this moment:

Now the question is, where's the energy going to go? Because it's going somewhere. And it is always when a nation is about to burst that moral movements are birthed. If you do not have the moral movements, then that energy can go in directions that are utterly destructive. But that bursting can also be a birthing. As has been explained to me, when a woman has a baby, it is the most critical time between life and death, and the most creative time.
Is this moment in America going to be a tomb or a womb? Is it going to be the burying of democracy, or is it going to be the birthing of a new freedom?

In the weeks since that conversation — weeks that feel like years — it has become ever more clear that the American people will have to accept significant pain in order to survive this dangerous moment of interregnum. But on the other side of pain and struggle and sacrifice, a healthier civic life, and a genuine multiracial democracy may await them.

This authoritarianism expert warned us fascism was coming — now he says we can survive it

One reason historians study the past is to better understand the present.

In his books, essays and public scholarship, historian Timothy Snyder has been conducting a master class on authoritarianism, neofascism, and the existential threat that Donald Trump and his movement represent to America's multiracial democracy. Snyder, a professor at Yale, is the author of the bestselling books "On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century," "The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America" and "Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty from a Hospital Diary." His new book is "On Tyranny Graphic Edition," an adaptation of his 2017 bestseller illustrated by Nora Krug.

In a series of conversations at Salon, Snyder has repeatedly warned and predicted how Donald Trump's regime, the Republican Party and their ascendant neofascist movement would threaten the foundations and future of American democracy. In May of 2017, he speculated on how quickly American democracy could begin to crumble in the face of this assault:

Nobody can be sure how long this particular regime change with Trump will take, but there is a clock, and the clock really is ticking. It's three years on the outside, but in more likelihood something like a year. In January 2018 we will probably have a pretty good idea which way this thing is going. It's going to depend more on us than on them in the meantime. Once you get past a certain threshold, it starts to depend more on them than on us, and then things are much, much worse. It makes me sad to think how Americans would behave at that point.

Several months later, Snyder said this about the precarious state of the rule of law under Trump:

I think the most predictable thing, because it does not have to do with legislation, was the moral effect that his presence would have.
This works three ways. It works by what Trump does and says. For example, the outrageous things he says about the press and his obsession with violence. It also works by the things he doesn't say and the things he doesn't condemn. "On the one hand and on the other hand" is a way to destroy values and virtues, because if the leader of the country does not have a firm opinion about good and evil then it becomes very hard for other people to have firm opinions about good and evil.
People who have opinions which are in fact absolutely evil are supported by this kind of relativism. With the attempted terrorist attacks, defacing the Holocaust Memorials, and defacing the Lincoln Memorial — which just happened, by the way — you are looking at the demoralization of a society.
The second big trend is that we are hanging by our teeth to the rule of law. That was my judgment at the beginning of his presidency and it is still my judgment now. The rule of law is what gives us a chance to rebuild the system after this is all done.

Snyder offered this warning several months before the Capitol assault on Jan. 6 of this year:

Obviously, we are in a slow-motion Reichstag Fire right now. That is what is happening. Donald Trump is not as skilled as Hitler. He doesn't work as hard as Hitler. He doesn't have the same level of confidence as Hitler, but he's clearly looking for that Reichstag Fire emergency. Trump tried to make Black Lives Matter into that emergency. "Antifascists" and "thugs" and "law and order" and so on is part of that effort. Donald Trump keeps trying to make the Reichstag Fire work.
If Trump is not successful, then that is a credit to the people who are resisting. Donald Trump is not involved in a political campaign; it is emergency politics in the constant search of an emergency. Whether Trump and his allies can line up the emergency politics with the emergency, I do not know. But that is all that Trump and his allies have got on their side — and it is all they are going to have through to Election Day.

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party, the so-called resistance and other pro-democracy forces for the most part did not listen to Snyder and other experts' warnings. Matters are even more dire now than they were on Jan. 6 when Trump and his followers attempted a coup. Democrats and pro-democracy forces are not acting with the urgency required to defeat the Republican-fascist movement, and continue to behave as though compromise and "bipartisanship" can somehow save American democracy and society.

In this new conversation, Snyder reflects on how and why America's democracy crisis is getting worse, the seductive power of normalization and denial, and how Trump and the Republican-fascist movement have tried to capture and debase the concept of "freedom."

Snyder also offers advice for how to resist the rising tide of fascism: Americans must create lighthouses of truth and democracy — which should include more local news media and other civil society institutions — that can help our fellow citizens become better informed and more responsible. Toward the end of this conversation, Snyder observes that America is in a moment of interregnum, a turning point in history where there are hopeful possibilities for the future, but also nightmarish potential outcomes as well.

This conversation has been edited, as usual, for clarity and length.

How are feeling now? How do you make sense of America's escalating democracy crisis? You predicted more or less what would happen with Trump's regime and the country's path to autocracy.

Normalization has no bottom. People can normalize just about anything. Many people who supported Trump back in 2016 would, back then, have pronounced themselves appalled by things that did in fact happen. But if you don't make an active break, you will go along, right down through a coup attempt.

On the other side, for people who oppose Trump, the temptation is to think that problems can be solved in one stroke. They tell themselves, "Maybe I was wrong. Maybe some things did happen that were bad, but surely now we've taken some kind of turn." Those who like Trump are still thinking about him all the time. And those who don't have sometimes lost their focus since he left the White House.

And that is what is particularly frightening: there are structural changes underway that are more important than Trump. What's most frightening about this moment is that unlike in 2016 — where there were America's historic problems plus one person, Donald Trump — now there are those historical problems plus a coordinated, multi-layered effort to sabotage future elections.

America is in danger of drowning under a fascist tide. Should the American people try to float right now? Or do they need to learn to swim?

I believe we need to build a lighthouse. The very term "fascism" is also a kind of lighthouse, because it's a concept. As soon as you say "fascism," putting aside the question of how applicable it is, you're saying this situation is something which has historical precedent. We have seen fascism all over the world. It is not a concept or situation that just emerged from nowhere. Ultimately, America needs more such lighthouses.

The lighthouse allows us to then say, "OK, there's a rising tide. But look, there are rising tides everywhere. And come to think of it, when I look at my lighthouse records, we've seen rising tides in the past and here's what they look like. Here's how people have navigated them." We also need to make the noise being caused by the rising tide into something comprehensible.

For example, the level of discourse is getting lower and lower on the side of those who support authoritarian politics. They are abandoning concepts in favor of noise and personal attacks. Some of those values are worth picking up. One of the most important values and concepts right now is freedom. The other side's idea of freedom is so impoverished that it does not exist anymore: it is a cliché with no real content. Freedom for them just means being rolled by the waves. Freedom for them just means their impulses or whatever they're feeling right now in the moment. On the left, people are shy of the word, but we need the word, and we need the value. We can't do without the value.

Donald Trump represents a certain type of freedom. When I think of Trump and freedom, I see a man who is now an idea. What Trump represents is much bigger than one person. Trump is permission for his followers to engage in a perverse and vile type of "freedom" that represents the worst sort of human behavior. I see permission for freedom without responsibility. I see permission for violence. I see permission for destruction.

I always try to give credit where it's due. Donald Trump is a very talented entertainer. Entertainment is a form of education. He's setting an example, because he's simultaneously an entertainer whose life seems to suggest that you can behave like him and then rise all the way to the top. It can all be shtick all the way down, nothing beyond the shtick.

But Trump's behavior and life are not a useful lesson for people. Even if his behavior was not unethical and authoritarian, it's also just not good life advice for most people to follow. Most people are not going to have Trump's talent. They are also not going to have a fabulously wealthy father to save them from their bad choices. And just mathematically speaking, you can't have a society where everyone survives by conning everyone else.

What is the importance of corporeal politics as a form of resistance during this moment of crisis?

In my writing I have defined corporeal politics in a narrow way. This involves getting off the internet and doing something in the three-dimensional world. Make sure you take action with people who agree with you on some things but not on everything. Make sure that some of this action takes place outside. Make sure that you spend some time in places you hadn't known with people you hadn't known. A lot of this is about mood, about feeling better, about feeling more free.

I was also defining corporeal politics in terms of the mood change that you experience when you protest for something, or when you march for something.

We feel like we are on the defensive all the time — because we in fact are. But when we take action with other people around, we not only feel better, we start to see the problems in different ways, more imaginatively. I am also really concerned about how freedom, as being enacted by and through our bodies, is being taken away.

I am not just thinking about women's reproductive rights but also in the sense that when we are separated from one another by the internet or by the coronavirus or whatever it might be, it is harder for us to recognize one another as fellow citizens or fellow human beings. As a result, it is easier to fall into these traps caused by extreme political and other forms of polarization.

To my eyes, Joe Biden, the other leaders of the Democratic Party and too many other political and social elites are not acting with the "urgency of now." They are literally saying that America is experiencing the greatest political crisis since the years before the Civil War — but where is the urgent action? What can history teach us here?

One of the things we can learn from history is that if a leader has a large parliamentary majority, like FDR did, then they can pass many more laws. If the Democrats had more votes in the Senate, very important legislation having to do with protecting elections and democracy would have already passed.

The elections are close to being a meta-issue here. The American people are much better than their electoral system. Our electoral system makes real policy very difficult.

Where I see Biden and the Democrats failing is that they are not using enough positive language about the future. In terms of fighting the rising tide you alluded to earlier, positive language about how America could be much better is essential.

The culture war is a way of keeping everyone stuck in the present, or in the past. The voter suppression and the memory laws and the obsession with "critical race theory" is, among other things, about fomenting culture war in time for 2022. You can't win a culture war without a vision of a much better future. If the Democrats or other pro-democracy forces are trying to defend against the right wing and its culture-war tactics, then they are going to lose without such a vision.

One of the other problems I see with the Democrats and other pro-democracy forces also has to do with information and knowledge. We are in the middle of the largest Facebook scandal yet. All well and good. But how do we turn that around? The companies should be broken up. That is what antitrust is for. The algorithms should be opened up. You should be able to see your car's engine and you should be able to see your kid's school's curriculum. You should also be able to see the software that is designed to run your emotions.

The profits that social media make from polarizing us and making us stupid should be turned towards a project to recreate local news in United States. We need local news, news about people's lives, to provide a cushion between everyday life and the global.

We can do all the corporeal politics we want; we can get everything else right. But if people have no idea what's actually happening in their daily lives, then their politics immediately jumps to the national or the international or the conspiratorial, and perhaps even the entirely fictional. That is where we are in America right now.

We've just raised a whole generation of Americans who lack local newspapers. Most of America is now a news desert. You cannot deny people factuality and then blame them for how they act and vote. We need to resuscitate factuality, as a value but also as part of daily life.

Texas has now empowered vigilantes to prevent women from exercising their reproductive rights. These plans are going to be copied nationwide in GOP-controlled areas. What is the role of legal vigilantism, and the rule of law more generally, in a failing democracy?

For me this is not so much vigilantism, although it is that, as a kind of planned anarchy. Rather than the state taking responsibility for the law, the state is marking out a policy line and inviting citizens to enforce it. This is how one party-states operate. It is characteristic of both fascist and communist regimes. The law exists, but power is not defined by the law. Instead, the party courts a certain kind of chaos. The leader sends a signal, and then sees how people respond. The result is that people take part in their own oppression.

If you oppress someone else because you believe the state has given you license to do so, you are saying that you too can be oppressed by another private citizen.

I receive many emails from people asking me about leaving the country because of Trump and his movement and everything that is happening. They are concerned about what to do, and when it might be too late to make that decision. What would you tell them?

I would tell them to have a valid passport and an actual plan. If you have a plan, then you can think sensibly about the moment. Beyond that answer I would have to know them personally.

Where are we in the story of America's democracy crisis? Are we in the beginning of the story, the middle or something else? Finally, can this all be turned off or is the road ahead a function of path dependency?

History tells us that there are always more roads, for good or ill, than we can see at a given moment. We are close to a kind of managed democracy, brought either by "legal" changes at the state level, a dramatic repeated coup attempt in 2025 or likely a mixture of both. The scenario is right out there in the open, it is underway. But it is far from inevitable.

Defense is now played at a higher level than in 2016. There is more awareness of the need for structural changes. But above all, we need a sense of the future which is something better than an averted disaster. Without visions of a better future, it is hard to shake the sense that there is some kind of path dependency. Personally, I think there are much brighter versions of the future out there, alongside the much darker ones.

Black flag: Understanding the Trumpists' latest threatening symbol

It's an old truism that the "real bad men" (and bad women) "move in silence and violence." That's certainly true for the most dangerous and most effective of Donald Trump's allies, henchmen, henchwomen, and other followers. But for Donald Trump himself, and most of his political cult, that rule does not apply.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Trump and his followers were loud, exuberant and enthusiastic on Jan. 6. The lethal attack on the Capitol had been publicly announced weeks in advance, and should have come as no surprise. Trump's rallies and gatherings continue to celebrate violence and the prospect of revenge — and specifically of "getting even" with Trump's "enemies."

Steve Bannon, Trump's former campaign chairman and White House strategist, has now threatened to recruit Republican-fascist "shock troops" with the apparent goal of undermining the U.S. government, and by implication multiracial democracy, if and when Trump and the Republicans regain control of both Congress and the White House.

On a daily basis Fox News and other elements of the right-wing disinformation propaganda machine use stochastic terrorism and other techniques to radicalize their audience into committing acts of political violence. To this point, the Democratic Party and the political and news media class in general have remained in denial, and largely passive in response.

In one troubling new development, Trump supporters have begun flying all-black American flags, in an implicit threat to harm or kill their opponents — meaning nonwhite people, "socialist liberals," Muslims, vaccinated people and others deemed to be "enemies" of "real America." As media critic Eric Boehlert recently noted, the liberal opinion site Living Blue in Texas is sounding the alarm about the specific meaning of the black flag and the Republican-fascists support for terrorism and other political violence. That post, "Are Your Republican Neighbors Planning on Killing You?", merits lengthy quotation:

It didn't take long to find hundreds of videos where these Trumpers and so-called patriots were hanging black American flags. ...
Black American flags are the flags that mean "no quarter shall be given." They are the opposite of the white flag of surrender.
According to the people on TikTok and the Sun (British tabloid), the black American flag originated in the civil war and was flown by the Confederates.
It means that they will not surrender, will not take prisoners, and are willing to die for their cause. It means they will execute their enemies.
Who are their enemies? Pretty much any non-Conservative. You know, Democrats, Liberals, LGBTQ, BIPOC, and the vaccinated. ...
So, we're the enemy, and they're openly professing to want to execute us. … So, why are they doing this
Covid vaccinations, mostly. They believe that Joe Biden has declared a civil war on them by mandating that employers with over 100 employees and the military have vaccinations.
Yes, they say civil war, and they say it's already started. But, unfortunately, many of them also live in states where masks and vaccines are required by state governments, healthcare, and law enforcement.
An alarming number of military members have been making Tik Toks talking about how they are being discharged because they refuse the vaccine. It's alarming because there is probably an equal number of guys on there talking about the civil war plans and actively using Tik Tok to recruit these military and ex-military members.
The biggest message they have been sending out is, "it's time" or "the time is now." ...
Although showing guns on Tik Tok is supposed to be against community guidelines, they show lots of videos of their guns, shooting them, wearing them, or sitting on their bed.
They primarily use Tik Tok as a recruiting tool and let others know their willingness to commit violence. Then they tell people to message them or where to find them on Telegram.

However you interpret these videos posted by Trump followers and other neofascists — which could be mainly performative — it is clearly true that the American right is increasingly willing to accept or condone violence as a means of expanding and protecting their social and political power. (Salon did not find licensed news photographs of these flags, and has made the editorial decision not to reproduce the images mentioned above, which are easy to find on social media.)

Public opinion polls and other research have repeatedly shown that millions of Republican voters and Trump followers would support the use of violence to remove Joe Biden from office because of the "Big Lie" and their belief that that he is not a legitimate president. Similarly, a large proportion of Republicans believe that the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 were "patriots" whose use of violence was justified.

And a new poll from the University of Virginia's Center for Politics even suggests that more than 50 percent of Trump supporters want "red states" to secede from the Union. Republican elected officials and other right-wing opinion leaders have continued to escalate their threats of political violence against Democrats and other targeted groups.

In a recent speech to the North Carolina Faith and Freedom Coalition's "Salt & Light" conference, Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., issued what sounded like a declaration of war:

It is time for the American Christian church to come out of the shadows to say, "No longer are we going to allow our culture to be determined by people who hate the things that we believe in…. We are going to stand valiantly for God's incredible inherent truths that predate any version of government. Because, my friends, if we lose this country today, if we bend the knee to the Democrats today, our country will be lost forever, our children will never know what freedom is. It's our duty to stand up, Let us stand united as men and women of faith to fight for our country.

During an interview with MSNBC's Joy Reid, terrorism and national security expert Malcolm Nance said that Cawthorn's video "picks up on the themes that are not just coming from the Steve Bannon level and Donald Trump level, they are coming from the Republican street — and that Republican street is armed. They're angry. They have been fed an entire line which makes them believe that America is no longer America and that they no longer want the America that the rest of us, the 60 percent of the country, live in. And they`re willing to take up arms for it."

Nance also noted that Cawthorn's propaganda video is thematically similar to the type of propaganda used by Islamic terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaida to radicalize and recruit members.

During an interview with Scientific American magazine, Dr. Bandy Lee, the principal editor of the 2017 bestseller "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump," explained how a mentally pathological leader can "infect" his followers and perhaps even an entire nation:

I have outlined two major emotional drives: narcissistic symbiosis and shared psychosis. Narcissistic symbiosis refers to the developmental wounds that make the leader-follower relationship magnetically attractive. The leader, hungry for adulation to compensate for an inner lack of self-worth, projects grandiose omnipotence — while the followers, rendered needy by societal stress or developmental injury, yearn for a parental figure. When such wounded individuals are given positions of power, they arouse similar pathology in the population that creates a "lock and key" relationship….
"Shared psychosis" — which is also called "folie à millions" ["madness for millions"] when occurring at the national level or "induced delusions" — refers to the infectiousness of severe symptoms that goes beyond ordinary group psychology. When a highly symptomatic individual is placed in an influential position, the person's symptoms can spread through the population through emotional bonds, heightening existing pathologies and inducing delusions, paranoia and propensity for violence — even in previously healthy individuals. The treatment is removal of exposure.

Trump and his regime gave permission and encouragement to his followers and other supporters to engage in antisocial and other anti-human behavior on a national scale. Once such a process has begun, and those forces are unleashed, it is not easy to stop. Fascism is not a simple machine with an on-and-off switch. In practice, fascism is given life and takes corporeal form through its followers, with each one being a potential carrier of the pathology.

As Hussein Ibish warned in a recent article in the Atlantic, "The cancer of political violence is not an endemic American disease. At the moment, it is a Republican disease. No one but Republicans themselves can cure it. Until they do, the violence of the right is only going to keep swelling and crashing. From a Middle Eastern perspective, this is all appallingly familiar."

Fascism is a highly virulent social disease that usually destroys the host body – but not before spreading the disease to many other people. In fact, if the original host dies, he or she can be elevated to the status of martyr for "the cause," serving to inspire existing followers and lure in new ones.

Ultimately, Donald Trump, like other fascist and authoritarian leaders, is the symptom of a sick society. Trumpism is not actually the core disease. For America to counteract the deep underlying illness that has made Trumpism possible will require a long-term cultural and moral reckoning. Anything less, and the disease of American fascism will only go dormant until it is resurrected again — perhaps in a more dangerous and virulent form.

'Beyond our current worst nightmares': Mental health experts warn about the likely effects of a Trump comeback

Donald Trump's presidency and the destructive forces it unleashed are a mental health emergency — as well as a public health emergency in general. Trump may no longer be president, but his fascist political movement and the political party he controls continues to cause harm.

Trumpism is both a political cult and a manifestation of collective narcissism. Tens of millions of his followers now live in an alternate reality sustained by the Big Lie, an upside-down world in which Donald Trump is still the "real" president of the United States. Many of Trump's followers believe that he should be returned to power by any means available, including terrorism and other political violence.

The Trump regime and Republican policies more generally have literally caused trauma — physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual — for millions of Americans, including of course the deaths of at least 700,000 people from the coronavirus pandemic.

In a recent essay, author and pastor John Pavlovitz addresses this:

[F]or the first time in America's history the latent ugliness in people was revealed and validated and celebrated by a sitting president — it was officially normalized. And what we're experiencing now; this staggering, insensitive posturing in the face of so many people's suffering, is the late-ripening fruit of something that has been set into the bedrock of half our nation. It is the malicious entitlement that MAGA was designed to nurture from the beginning....
This quickly metastasizing moral cancer is something we've never experienced on this level in our lifetimes and it's something we're going to have to reckon with regardless of the political outcomes of the next four years. If the former president somehow takes that office again, these stories will surely grow exponentially more violent and more commonplace, but either way, the ugliness is here now.
The Trump Effect on America, is that once reasonable, rational human beings whose prejudices, fears, and phobias were all bound by some baseline decorum and common courtesy that kept them from intentionally harming others — have been empowered to revel in the worst of themselves. They believe cruelty is their birthright.

As early as 2015, many mental health experts began to warn that a Trump presidency would be disastrous for America and the world. They were correct in nearly all of their predictions.

It is likely that Donald Trump will be the Republican Party's presidential nominee in 2024. (In fact, the only unknown variable is whether he will actually decide to run.) Contrary to the naïve thinking of those Americans who believed Trump might magically go away, as president or otherwise he will be a fixture in American life for the foreseeable future.

What will happen to the American people's collective mental and emotional health if Donald Trump runs for president again — or if he is elected? What kind of damage would Trump inflict on America and the world in a second term? And how do we explain why so many Americans — both ordinary citizens and members of the political and media classes — continue to be "surprised" by the torrent of revelations about Trump's mental pathologies and his antisocial, anti-democratic behavior?

I recently asked several leading mental health experts — all of whom I have previously interviewed for Salon — to offer their warnings and predictions.

Dr. Lance Dodes is a retired assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a training and supervising analyst emeritus at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute.

The latest revelations about Trump confirm what we have known for years. Stephanie Grisham, his former press secretary, says, "The truth was that pretty much everyone eventually wore out their welcome with the president." This points to Trump's inability to comprehend or value other people; he can only use them while they serve his endless need to aggrandize himself, then discard them when they do not.

Grisham says, "When I began to see how his temper wasn't just for shock value or the cameras, I began to regret my decision to go to the West Wing." Here, she finally sees that Trump is not "crazy like a fox" but is truly a severely disordered person, in poor control and a danger to others. In Bob Woodward's book, as reported in the Guardian [and elsewhere], on Trump's way out of office, he drops F-bombs, "spewing expletives" and screaming at cabinet colleagues: "I don't care a fuck. You're all fucked up. You're all fucked."

This is an example of his paranoia, in which he denies responsibility for his multiple failures and losses, projecting these to others whom he condemns as worthless. Each of these revelations points to one or another aspect of Trump's delusional sociopathy: his absence of a conscience, incapacity to care about or empathize with others, projection of blame to others (paranoia) and his psychotic distortion of reality in order to maintain his belief that he has a godlike superiority.

Trump's primitive emotional state make him an enormous danger to democracy, which he cannot abide. As a consequence, if he were to again become president, the end of democracy in this country would become a realistic possibility.

Dr. Justin Frank is a former clinical professor of psychiatry at the George Washington University Medical Center. He is the author of "Bush on the Couch" and "Obama on the Couch." His most recent book is "Trump on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President."

Trump once had an internal conflict between being a builder and a destroyer. No longer is it a conflict; he is a destroyer, plain and simple. Unconsciously, his destructive force was originally directed against his tyrannical and punitive father, displaced onto investors, the media, banks, etc. But his ultimate displacement has been on the founding fathers of America's democratic experiment.

He attacks basic institutions, from the CIA to the FBI to Congress itself. And since November 2020, he has put our entire electoral process in his crosshairs. If he were nominated and elected in 2024 — accounting for skewed results, in the event that right-wing voter suppression tactics are successful — it would mean that more Americans than ever embrace authoritarianism, and that would deliver the deepest blow to our democratic process in our history.

Psychologically, people yearn for strong leadership. However, they fail to understand that sorrow is the vitamin of growth, of strength. President Biden has been strengthened over his lifetime by facing sorrow and loss. Trump denies loss by triumphing over it with powerful defensive grandiosity. A leader who breaks things is also admired, interestingly, by adoring followers. They admire his ability to say and do things they themselves could never say or do in public. Trump fills that need perfectly.

The other major effect of a Trump victory in 2024 would be the likely apathy and despair felt by those who fought against him.

Elizabeth Mika is a psychotherapist and contributor to the 2017 bestseller "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump."

The "revelations" really just confirm what we have known about Trump for years, long before he was elected. People with his character defect, malignant narcissism, are sadly predictable: They are driven by insatiable drives for adulation and power, and an unceasing desire for revenge on those who may interfere (or be perceived as interfering) with the realization of those drives.

It is really too bad that our media, broadly speaking, has remained in the dark about Trump's well-defined character pathology. Therefore, many journalists, mostly among the mainstream news media, continue to be shocked by these "revelations" as if unable and/or unwilling to finally arrive at an understanding of Trump's disordered character.

If Trump runs and wins in 2024, we will see an accelerated continuation of our demise. Every negative trend we are experiencing now will be augmented, especially our polarization, inequality and violence.

As of now, 21 million Americans believe that Trump, whose presidency was stolen from him, should be restored by violent force — and they are ready to make it happen.

Dr. David Reiss is a psychiatrist, expert in mental fitness evaluations and contributor to "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump."

I am totally unsurprised. But vindication does not soothe the national tragedy or my personal frustration and even bitterness (which are of much less significance) at having been ignored by those who had power to intervene.

No one could have predicted Trump's specific actions while in office or now: His specific behaviors are inherently unpredictable. But the nature of his behaviors, the irrationality of his behaviors, the immaturity of his behaviors and the dangers brought about those behaviors were all quite predictable and in fact, were predicted.

You asked: What do I think will happen to America if Trump runs for office and wins in 2024?

In my opinion, the even more frightening question is this: "What would it mean had happened to the American people and American society if Trump were returned to office in 2024?"

It would mean there had been: 1) a complete breakdown of rationality within the social order; 2) the destruction of our democratic system of elections and government; or 3) that something so horrible had transpired that all hope was lost and, due to fear and desperation, totalitarianism or fascism had been embraced.

As to what would happen afterward, it would depend upon who was actually "pulling the strings" of the totalitarian/fascist regime for which Trump was the figurehead. Trump himself, at age 78 certainly would not actually be in command. I cannot begin to predict the exact manner or type of dystopia that would be enacted. I can predict that it would be beyond our current worst nightmares.

Dr. John Gartner is a psychologist, psychoanalyst and former professor at the Johns Hopkins University Medical School, and the founder of Duty to Warn. He was also a contributor to "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump."

Democracy would be dead, and the coup complete. All future "elections" would be Putin-style shams, where the electorate never actually has the power to remove the Republicans from power.

We could expect criminal prosecutions against Democratic leaders, the press and anyone who opposed the regime. Experts of all types would be persecuted. "Patriots" would be encouraged to expose, punish and marginalize citizens at all levels of society who are not MAGA. Fox would become de facto state-TV propaganda. Only loyal "party members" would be allowed to work in government.

Hate crimes would skyrocket. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants would be incarcerated in concentration camps.

Thousands of ordinary citizens would join cells of an "underground resistance," which would become progressively more violent. This "terrorism" would be used to justify martial law and heavy surveillance. Millions would flee to Canada and Europe.

Internationally, the U.S. would become a Russian puppet state. NATO and our international alliances would crumble. The economy would contract. Global warming would spiral out of control. And we might well stumble into war.

Dr. Seth D. Norrholm is a translational neuroscientist and one of the world's leading experts on PTSD and fear. He is currently scientific director at the Neuroscience Center for Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma (NeuroCAST) in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Wayne State University School of Medicine.

The revelations that are merging from various sources who had access to the Trump White House are not at all surprising. As I and others have commented on for years now, no matter how you label or classify the former president's behavior (malignantly narcissistic, sociopathic, psychopathic, abusive), there is an underlying thread of immaturity. This immaturity plays itself out as an inability to regulate emotion, a behavioral profile typically seen in children and adolescents. It is therefore not surprising to hear about the former president's uncontrollable rage and the allegation that he had a handler specifically tasked with soothing him like a toddler. I expect similar stories to continue to come out.

What happens if the former president runs for office again in 2024 – and possibly wins? This would be a complete failure of several social, political, governmental, ethical and professional "guardrails."

From the perspective of the former president as an abuser, a future Trump candidacy and potential presidency would be a psychological slap in the face to all of his victims from the past six years. I've often used the analogy of an abusive relationship when it comes to the former president and his approach to governing. If the watering-down of the Mueller investigation and the acquittal following evidence-heavy impeachment proceedings was akin to the arrest and subsequent release of a criminally abusive spouse, a return to office would indicate zero accountability for, and an acceptance of, physical and emotional abuse from our leadership; a trend that has been gathering steam for some time now.

Considering the former president incited an attack on his own country and has continued to push the Big Lie undermining our electoral process, our democracy (already on life support) would suffer likely irreversible damage if this is further ignored and already eroded norms are obliterated beyond repair.

Moreover, considering that more than 700,000 Americans have died from a pandemic that could have been better controlled, which the former president downplayed to protect his political future, allowing a return to the campaign trail and potentially the White House would frankly forgive an accessory to negligent homicide on an unprecedented scale.

Taken together, the nation and the world would be presented with the psychologically untenable position of having to accept the worst that humanity has to offer, according to almost all of the "standards" established by modern society, as its leader once again.

Will Republicans really try to impeach Biden? He's wounded -- and they smell blood

Several weeks ago, I warned that the Republicans will impeach Joe Biden after they likely regain control of the House of Representatives next year. This is an obvious conclusion based on what leading Republicans, Donald Trump himself and the right-wing propaganda machine have been saying in public since Biden's election last year.

Impeaching Biden is one tactical or strategic element in a larger plan to delegitimize any election that Republican do not win. The ultimate goal is to replace America's nascent multiracial democracy with an unofficial apartheid system under which nonwhite people and other targeted groups are effectively second-class citizens. The Democratic Party would be rendered practically irrelevant, and the country would be a type of fake democracy ruled under a system of "competitive authoritarianism."

Predictably, the reaction to what is a basic and unsurprising claim about Biden's probable impeachment was one of rage. This is somewhat understandable: Many Democrats and other Biden supporters are still in a state of shock and denial over the Trump-fascist movement's escalating assault on democracy and society. Biden's presidency has done little to heal the trauma.

Moreover, the Trump movement's power — as demonstrated in the nationwide campaign to severely restrict voting rights — is re-traumatizing many Americans who have clung to the delusional belief that the Trump nightmare was finally over after the 2020 election. In fact, the events of Jan. 6 and its aftermath have made clear that the country's fascist nightmare is just beginning.

To tell Democrats and other Biden supporters that in all likelihood he will face impeachment in the not-too-distant future, and that salvation is not at hand, is to inflict an emotional and psychological injury. For many people, the truth about America's crisis of democracy is unbearable.

Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe this scenario won't play out. During a recent interview with Newsmax TV, Sen. Lindsey Graham continued his demands that Joe Biden be impeached for "dereliction of duty" because of conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border. Graham told Newsmax host Eric Bolling, "I think the guy deserves to be impeached for this," citing an "invasion" by migrants and immigrants from Latin America and Haiti.

Last month, Rep. Lauren Boebert introduced articles of impeachment against Biden and other senior members of his administration. Those articles were co-sponsored by several other members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, including Reps. Andy Biggs, Jeff Duncan, Ralph Norman, Louie Gohmert and Jody Hice. Their purported subject was the withdrawal from Afghanistan, with Boebert demanding the removal of not just Biden but also Vice President Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (Boebert was incorrect that Blinken is next after Pelosi in the presidential line of succession — that would actually be Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Senate president pro tempore.)

It is tempting to mock Boebert and her allies on the Republican far right as fringe characters untethered to reality. In fact, that's a grave mistake. Neofascists like Boebert, Biggs, Sen. Josh Hawley and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene are not exactly outliers; they are more like the future of the Republican Party, standard-bearers in the movement to end democracy.

Boebert, Hawley, Gohmert, Greene, and other Trump-Republican neofascists are the future-present of the Republican Party. In that way, they are a type of bellwether and the standard-bearers for the Republican fascist party and larger anti-democracy movement.

Even setting aside the prospect of impeachment, Biden's presidency faces other serious challenges as well. Painful as this is for Democrats, a new poll suggests that Biden and Trump are now roughly even in terms of favorability. The Hill offers details:

Forty-eight percent of respondents say they have a positive view of Trump compared to 46 percent who say they have a favorable opinion of his successor. Biden's favorability is slightly underwater, however: 49 percent of those surveyed said they have an unfavorable view of the current president, while slightly less — 47 percent — report an unfavorable opinion of Trump.
The findings are a remarkable shift for Biden, who repeatedly outperformed Trump's favorability numbers throughout the early months of his presidency.
But multiple crises, including a surge in new COVID-19 infections in recent months and the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, have bruised public perceptions of Biden.
Fifty-one percent of respondents now say Trump was a better president than Biden, while 49 percent prefer the White House's current occupant, the poll shows.


Of course, polls represent only a snapshot in time. But in combination with a Republican-fascist movement that is gaining momentum and increasingly willing to endorse or condone political violence as a way of getting and keeping political power, there is ample reason for concern.

As I wrote in my earlier essay on Biden's impeachment:

Donald Trump will either be the 2024 Republican presidential nominee or play the role of kingmaker. Impeaching Joe Biden will be a way of further weakening the Democratic Party by forcing it to fight on multiple fronts, making it easier prey for Republicans and the larger neofascist movement. Moreover, a Biden impeachment will excite Donald Trump's worst impulses, and those of his followers, who will likely engage in more acts of political violence against their perceived enemies. In the end, the events of Jan. 6 may merely have been a preview for what lies ahead.

If Democrats — and all Americans who still support democracy — open their ears and listen carefully, they can hear the sound of a not-so-distant train barreling towards them. But they are still sitting on the tracks and have done almost nothing to save themselves. Inaction is not an option and compromise is not possible: Fascists and authoritarians are only encouraged by such behavior.

The window of opportunity for action is closing quickly. But before Americans bestir themselves to act, they must come to understand that the threat is real and the danger is here.

Conservative scholar on the crisis of democracy: 'This is the same roadmap we saw in Germany'

In a recent interview with MSNBC, former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt issued a stern warning to Americans who have not yet grasped the nature of our present crisis of democracy. "We have an autocratic movement teeming with violence and the intimations of violence in this country," he said, inviting viewers of the liberal news channel to imagine "that domestic terrorist, that criminal who desecrated the American flag by wrapping it around his head, who committed violence in the name of right-wing extremism."

What is it that he has heard? He has heard that he lives in an occupied country with an illegitimate president who lost the election, who was put into power by millions of fraudulent votes, mostly Black and brown votes out of the inner cities. …

Discussing the threat still posed by former President Donald Trump, Schmidt observed that Republicans seem obsessed with "the language of violence, the image of the gun, the idea that their countrymen are their enemies":

So, historically, we know when you put all of that fuel on the ground and you start throwing sparks at it, you can ignite a conflagration, and when you dehumanize people the way that this man and this movement has, in the end, it kills people. Historically, this type of politics has wound up, in its worst excesses, killing tens of millions of people. That's why it's such a frightening moment, and that's why it's time to wake up and understand that we don't have a shortage-of-panic-buttons problem. We have a political extremism problem that is very quickly metastasizing into violent extremism that we'll be dealing with for a generation because of what happened over the last five years.

New polling and other research show that tens of millions of Americans have been radicalized into potentially supporting political violence in order to remove Joe Biden — who they perceive as a usurper — from office. This is part of a larger pattern where the Republican-fascist movement will support any strategy or tactics they believe will help preserve their "way of life."

To that point, a new poll from the University of Virginia's Center for Politics shows that more than 50% of Trump voters would support seceding from the Union. Given the racial grievance and white supremacy politics of Trump's followers, such a course of action could lead to a second American civil war. It is no coincidence that a fair number of Trump's terrorists waved Confederate flags as they attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Ultimately, the coup attempt of January is only a prelude to similar events in the future, when Republicans and their allies fully intend to overthrow any election they lose, and therefore deem illegitimate. In a much-discussed recent essay at the Washington Post, Robert Kagan summarizes this moment of existential crisis:

The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial….
We are already in a constitutional crisis. The destruction of democracy might not come until November 2024, but critical steps in that direction are happening now. In a little more than a year, it may become impossible to pass legislation to protect the electoral process in 2024. Now it is impossible only because anti-Trump Republicans, and even some Democrats, refuse to tinker with the filibuster. It is impossible because, despite all that has happened, some people still wish to be good Republicans even as they oppose Trump. These decisions will not wear well as the nation tumbles into full-blown crisis.


What comes next? Can a full-on collapse of America's democratic institutions and political culture be stopped? Why has the mainstream news media consistently normalized the anti-democratic and other politically deviant behavior of the Trump regime and the Republican Party? Can the media confront its own culpability in terms of failing to warn the American people about the rising threat of fascism?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Norm Ornstein, emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of the bestselling books "One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported" and "It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism."

Ornstein has been a guest on numerous cable and broadcast news outlets, including CBS News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR and "PBS NewsHour." His essays and other writing have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic and other leading publications.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

American democracy and our system of government feels like it's all on the verge of collapse. These deep crises that made Trumpism possible feel like a type of national breakdown or crackup. My concern is that once things are this broken, they cannot be put back together again. Help me make sense of these feelings and intuitions.

I believe that it is more broken than anything else. There are several layers of problems here.

One layer is that the Republican Party has really descended into the abyss. It's not a party anymore. It's a cult, a full-blown cult. We could call it a cult of personality, but it was really a cult before Donald Trump came along. He's just the leader right now. We see this, for example, with the fact that literally only two Republican members of Congress were willing to stand up to a violent insurrection and a complete collapse of norms — and that is in the House and Senate combined.

Mitch McConnell is saying that if the Republicans recapture the majority in the Senate, he won't vote to seat any Supreme Court nominee from Joe Biden. There is also the COVID response by Republican governors and other elected officials.

This problem is going to get worse before it gets better at the level of elected officials. Every serious candidate that Republicans have for president is going to be saying, "I'm just like Donald Trump, except I'm tougher, meaner and stronger." Anybody who is even to the slightest side toward sanity is going nowhere in today's Republican Party. That is a big problem at the level of elites and across the federal, state and local levels.

There is also the problem that begins with the leadership of Trump and extends down through Tucker Carlson, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham and many others, including social media more generally. That's the problem of disinformation, misinformation and conspiracy theories.

There is a major cultural gap that is not going away anytime soon. For example, 30% of the Republicans basically say that violence is appropriate if people are supposedly trying to "destroy your way of life." In this case, "destroying your way of life" means basically doing anything that does not protect white people first.

Then you've got the fact that there's not just voter suppression, but that direct attempts to overturn the results of lawful and fair elections are running rampant.

We are also seeing a Supreme Court that will basically provide no boundaries. There is the farce of having the most extreme partisan justices saying, "Well, it's ridiculous to think that decisions are made on the basis of personal views or partisanship." These Supreme Court justices are not only partisans, they are liars.

We can mitigate some of these problems with election and voting reform. We can also reform the laws that enabled Donald Trump to use executive power in misguided ways. But ultimately, I would say the system is broken.

Why do America's political elites, especially the pundit class, keep treating these "revelations" about Trump and his regime's criminality and attacks on democracy as something surprising? The coup attempt and attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 were all obvious and threatened in public by Trump and his followers.

The sheer volume of scandals dilutes the impact of each of them singularly and together. Most people don't pay close attention, day to day, to what's going on. When you see a scandal become something of political consequence is when it gets hammered away at, day after day and week after week. That can be a real scandal or a faux scandal.

An example would be the Afghanistan withdrawal. The American news media were all over that story for 10 days. Almost all of the coverage was harshly critical. For a large number of Americans who had not really spent three minutes thinking about Afghanistan previously, the story is processed as being something terrible that happened all of a sudden.

The signal that goes out to the general public is that if something is discussed on the front page on a regular basis, or on the cable news programs and the Sunday programs, over and over and over again, it must therefore be something serious and important. If a news story comes up and then disappears the next day, that must mean it is not important.

There is an obsession with being "neutral" and doing the "both sides" type of coverage. They do not know how to treat abnormal behavior, therefore the American news media largely normalizes it. And there's a certain amount of bandwidth that news organizations are going to give to stories about a president or a president's family or an administration. If there are 20 stories, 19 of them are not going to get covered — and the 20th story will soon be superseded by another one that comes along.

We are also in a situation where the mainstream news media wants to show equal treatment, which means they take a president like Joe Biden, who doesn't have scandals of any significance, and then blow them up by using the same amount of bandwidth as was used to cover Donald Trump. That story on Biden has more resonance because there is only one such story to focus on.

So many members of the media kept denying even the possibility that Trump and his regime would attempt a coup. They were openly contemptuous of voices who kept trying to warn the public about what was obvious and imminent. Will those individuals and organizations in the media ever publicly explain or apologize for their failings in terms of Jan. 6 and the Trump era more generally?

The New York Times, just days before the 2016 election, had a front-page, above-the-fold story saying that the FBI says there is no evidence of Russian connections to Trump's campaign. That story had a big impact. Whoever in the FBI gave the Times that story lied. Now, does the Times out the person who lied?

If you have a source and the bargain is that they will remain anonymous if they give you significant information, and they lie to you, that bargain is broken. Has the New York Times ever apologized for publishing an utterly inaccurate and distorted and deceptive story that could have turned the election? No, of course not. Are there news organizations that are willing to apologize for their failures or their misleading stories? No. If you get a story on the front page that's wrong and you show factually that it's wrong, you'll get a correction somewhere inside.

This notion that a news organization never explains and never apologizes unless they are under threat of a lawsuit that could cost them large sums of money is deeply ingrained in the DNA of journalism. This is especially true of large and highly influential news organizations. If they are wrong about a major story — because they just didn't get what was going on, not because they published something that was flat out wrong — the likelihood that you'll get an apology or that they'll learn a lesson from it or do anything about it is zero.

It is one thing to make mistakes and or do false equivalents on the small stuff. When a country is at a point where it is crystal clear that the fundamentals of your political system are on the cusp of being destroyed, the first thing that will happen, if and when those democratic norms and institutions are gone, is that the free press will no longer exist. We have seen that with every authoritarian society. So the failure to change, to understand and to be blunt about the reality of what's happening in this country is not just reckless for the American people. It is suicidal for the news media. In the end, that just shows how ingrained these practices I outlined above are.

For Black and brown folks, poor and working-class folks, women as a group, gays and lesbians, undocumented people and other marginalized folks, none of this is an abstraction. America's democracy crisis and the rising fascist tide are literally a matter of life and death for those communities. But so many in the media elite are members of a social milieu where they are deeply invested in the system and have convinced themselves that they are immune from these threats. Is it that simple?

In general, it is just denial. It's denial and it is also just an unwillingness or inability to change decades-long patterns of behavior. In terms of the reporters who cover the White House and Congress, their own careers are tied to access. They pal around with the people they cover. I see not just Manchin and Sinema but many others talking about their "Republican friends" and how they can all get along. I know a lot of these Republicans. I've had meals with many of them.

There are some who are really kind of fun to be around — not the completely crazy ones — but others have gone along with all of the bad behavior. You can get lulled into thinking that is all just temporary, or that the Republicans really don't believe these extreme things. You can convince yourself that it's only a small fringe group doing such things. It distracts a person who operates in this political insider world that the Republicans vote for these policies repeatedly. They protect each other and they're all in on the cult.

There is another disconnect as well. So many members of this political class I am describing have never faced discrimination. It is just not on their radar screens in the same way as people who have. They're not sensitive to it. How can you not look at what we have seen, with a violent coup and everything else that's followed, and not recognize that you are at risk of racism and nativism?

People who have had in their family histories a history of discrimination and worse are going to be more sensitive to the path that's being taken here in this country — and sensitive to the reality that this is the same roadmap that we saw in Germany.

But even for a whole lot of journalists who are or should be in that category, it gets superseded by the way in which they do their own business. To me, that is as sad as anything else.

Is American democracy and its political culture and governmental system facing a legitimacy crisis?

Yes, the United States is experiencing a legitimacy crisis. One recent prominent example: the Arizona fraudulent "audit" says that Biden "won."

How do I analyze that? What it says to me is this is the setup for the next election. What is going to happen is that the Republicans and their agents will say, "We, we did it fair and square so we can do the same thing all over again." And then they'll bring in the Cyber Ninjas or whoever and overturn the results of the next election.

The Trumpists and other Republicans have completely undermined the legitimacy of elections by targeting election workers as well.

The events of Jan. 6 were also at attack on the legitimacy of Congress. Gerrymandering, and the way the Senate does not properly represent the will of the American people are also a part of the country's legitimacy crisis.

For example, 30% of Americans will elect 70 senators. Those 30% of the population are in no way representative of the diversity of the country or its economic dynamism.

Those senators will not be representative of the country, and they are not going to be sensitive to the concerns of a large number of Americans. Over time, this notion that you vote and you're supposed to end up with representatives who will reflect the larger public's needs and views is going to disappear.

There is also the Electoral College, which is growing more and more distorted. Even if the elections are fair, it means there's a greater likelihood that we will elect, several more times, presidents who lose the popular vote, perhaps by millions of votes.

At some point the majority of Americans are going to see those presidential elections as illegitimate. We've got crises all over the place in this country and society.

America is amusing itself to death — and the media still can't face the truth

America remains in the grip of an existential democracy crisis: Donald Trump's Republican-fascists and their movement are on the march, winning victory after victory while the Democrats and the "resistance" are hunkered down, doing little if anything to fight back.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Yet the gatekeepers among the American news media appear more interested in stories about Nicki Minaj's cousin's possibly imaginary friend, who supposedly suffered swollen testicles because of the coronavirus vaccine — supposedly damaging his marital prospects — than in doing the hard work of advocating for democracy and real accountability.

America is literally amusing itself to death, even as we learn further details about how Donald Trump and his agents attempted a coup to overthrow American democracy after his defeat in the 2020 election. The newest "revelation": Step-by-step plans for this coup were outlined in a memo written by right-wing lawyer John Eastman, who became a key Trump adviser during the latter days of his presidency.

Some of the most influential voices in America's mainstream news media — with the notable exceptions of CNN and the Washington Post — have largely ignored this story. At Mother Jones, Tim Murphy offers these details of Eastman's memo, and the media's non-response:

In six concise bullet-points, the memo outlined a process by which Vice President Mike Pence could use his powers on January 6 to throw out the electors from seven states that President Joe Biden won in the 2020 election. The plan counted on Republicans in those states to submit competing sets of electors, based on the false and fabricated premise that Trump had somehow won those states … .
Not knowing for sure what happens when you dissociate "peaceful transfer of power" from "a society entirely predicated on it," I sort of think this is a pretty big deal. This is a break-the-glass moment, as some have said, only someone else already broke the glass and took the axe and is running around with it.
But it is not such a big deal, apparently, if you watch network TV news. On Wednesday, Media Matters' Matt Gertz reported that the total number of minutes devoted to the story on either the morning or evening editions of ABC, NBC, or CBS News in the first two days after the memo was published was zero. "In fact," Gertz wrote, "the only national network broadcasts to mention Trump's coup memo were the late-night variety shows hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, and Seth Meyers."

In a new essay for the Washington Post, Margaret Sullivan offers this warning about what the media silence surrounding this newest "revelation" reveals about America's democracy crisis:

In a normal world, the "Eastman memo" would be infamous by now, the way "Access Hollywood" became the popular shorthand in 2016 for the damning recording of Donald Trump's bragging about groping women.
But it's a good bet that most people have never even heard of the Eastman memo.
That says something troubling about how blasé the mainstream press has become about the attempted coup in the aftermath of the 2020 election — and how easily a coup could succeed next time.

The news media gatekeepers would likely defend their choice to focus on Nicki Minaj's tall tale with an argument that stories about celebrities provide a way to pivot to larger issues of public concern. In essence, that a pop star's Nicki uninformed comments about vaccines offer a "teachable moment".

But the more basic and more plausible explanation is that the American people are attracted to juvenile and immature distractions, and that those impulses drive the mainstream news media's ad revenues. Those concerns should wither away in the face of an unprecedented democracy crisis. Of course, that is unlikely to happen.

The news media fulfills an important agenda-setting function in a society, and this is especially true in a democracy where freedom of the press is foundational. As a practical matter, the fourth estate tells the public what they should pay attention to and how they should think about it. In that context, elevating a story about a celebrity's perhaps-invented vaccine anecdote over the details of a coup plot offers one more indictment of an American news media that continues to normalize neofascism.

Moreover, the news media's evasion of any sustained conversation about the Republican-fascist coup attempt reflects the pathologies of an emotionally immature society, incapable of facing the crises it is now experiencing. Given that, how will American society possibly confront or address enormous challenges such as the global climate disaster, the continuing pandemic, mass shootings and gun violence, wealth and income inequality, profound technological disruptions to labor and the economy, racism and white supremacy, right-wing terrorism and other violence, dire threats to the rule of law and the constitutional order and so much more?

America's democracy crisis reveals another frightening truth about our culture of distraction and immaturity: There are some in the media who actually yearn for Donald Trump's return to national office. For many in the media elites — who believe themselves to be largely insulated from the day-to-day consequences of fascism, white supremacy, and other antisocial and anti-human behavior — Trump was a source of huge profits and heightened prestige.

Media critic Eric Boehlert explored this in a recent newsletter, writing that while "American democracy is teetering increasingly close to the abyss," the media "continues to play a dangerous game by refusing to acknowledge the danger":

Even in the wake of the newest revelations of how Trump and his team aggressively tried to engineer a coup by invalidating millions of votes last year, he's still being normalized in the day-to-day coverage, as the press eagerly awaits his return to the campaign trail. ("When Will Trump Answer the Big 2024 Question?" the New York Times asked.)
There's nothing Trump could do at this point that would invalidate him in the eyes of the political press, and that includes him shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue….
He remains a captivating topic who provides endless angles of intrigue and who is treated as a looming star of American politics. Forget about that coup stuff; Trump's lawless, violent mob that rampaged inside the U.S. Capitol for hours, knocking officers unconscious and destroying offices of Democratic members. Whatever shock Trump's deadly insurrection initially generated among Beltway journalists has since worn off.
Annoyed by President Joe Biden's "boring" administration, journalists seem eager for the chaos and clicks that Trump creates — no defeated candidate has ever been showered with as much attention as he has.

Boehlert continues by observing that "the D.C. press can barely contain its excitement at the idea of the 2020 loser running again," adding that "everyone knows if he wins a second term, every minute of every White House press briefing would be carried live and in full, just as they were for his first term. ... A dangerous autocrat who's devoted to wrecking the American election process is waiting in the wings to become the GOP nominee in 2024, and the Beltway press can't wait."

In other words, too many in the media refuse to focus on the serious threats to American democracy and society embodied by Donald Trump and the neofascist movement, largely because they find the spectacle so enthralling.

I continue to ask myself what kind of movie this is. What version of the simulation are we stuck in as America continues to slip deeper into fascist unreality?

Perhaps it's as simple and complex as Mike Judge's 2006 film "Idiocracy," where the ignorant masses live in a full-on corporate dictatorship, where the most popular movie in the country consists of a naked butt farting on screen. Or perhaps America has surrendered to the prescient warnings of the 2018 film "Sorry to Bother You," where the most popular reality show on television features contestants who allow themselves to be physically abused and otherwise humiliated.

As the country succumbs to fascism, the American people, for the most part, are like the moviegoers in the cover image of the classic edition of Guy Debord's "Society of the Spectacle," sitting transfixed in 3D glasses, seduced by the images on the screen and numb to the world outside. Trump's agents, allies, and followers have set the theater on fire, but to this point the audience hasn't noticed and likely would not even care if they did.

Quit making fun of the Cyber Ninjas' Arizona 'audit' — the fascists are still winning

Just over a week ago, the company that calls itself the Cyber Ninjas announced the results of its supposed "audit" of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County, Arizona, the state's major population center. Their findings were disappointing to hardcore Trump conspiracy theorists: Joe Biden's margin of victory actually increased by 99 votes, and there was no finding of systemic errors or election fraud.

This article first appeared in Salon.

In response, Donald Trump's critics and detractors among the news media, the liberal "resistance" and the general public resorted once again to laughter in mockery, resplendent in self-satisfaction that Trump's false claims had been debunked once again. All this was taken as one more example of how stupid, foolish and out of touch with reality Trump and his cultists really are.

If liberal schadenfreude were a drug, many of the Trump opposition were "high on their own supply" after the Arizona announcement.

As Trump's opponents dance in celebration of what they believe to be embarrassing setbacks for Trump and his movement, they had better beware of the pitfalls all around them. In reality, the fake audit in Arizona — which is soon to be copied in other states, including Texas — is another victory for Trump and the Republican-fascist movement in its war against American democracy.

Too many among the mainstream news media and political class are unwilling to acknowledge this fact, because they are products of, and beholden, to an obsolescent way of thinking about politics and American society.

That world of "normal" politics is dying, and gradually being replaced by a malignant new normalcy. In response, new rules and frameworks must be adopted if we really want to stem the fascist tide. But decades of habit and personal, financial and emotional investment in a political and social system that rewarded American elites and their mouthpieces are not easy to reject.

To accept that new reality requires a type of narcissistic injury; one's own obsolescence is a difficult thing to admit. It is frightening and distressing to feel the old order turning into dust and sand as it slips through your fingers. In that moment, it's tempting to cling even harder, until there is nothing left to hold onto. Charles Pierce describes this in a recent essay at Esquire:

The scope of what is happening to self-government in this country seems to be far beyond the ability of many of our professional observers to contemplate. There is a straight line from angry school board meetings, to suppressive state election laws, to the continued thrall in which Trumpism holds the conservative movement, to the recalcitrance that will be demonstrated in the Congress over the next few days. The straight line continues beyond the events of this week, and you're not going to like where it eventually ends up.

If you still doubt that the fake election audits are successful tactics for Trump and the Republican-fascist movement, consider these facts:

Trumpism and other forms of fascism are fantasies dominated by backward reasoning. The leaders and followers have already decided that they have been betrayed, and will use any means available to win and keep power. They have committed themselves to a set of false "truths" in service to the cause. Reality as it actually exists will be bent and twisted to "prove" that these fantasies and their alternate reality are real.

For Trump and his followers, it is a declared truth that the 2020 election was "stolen" from him. They will unanimously reason backward from that conclusion to find the supposed proof. Whatever these so-called audits actually find will be viewed as evidence that the 2020 election was rigged and that Joe Biden is an illegitimate usurper.

These fake audits are a key component of the Big Lie, and strategically effective at maintaining control of the hearts and minds of Trump's followers and the Republican Party. Public opinion and other research has consistently demonstrated this; for example, more Republicans now believe the Big Lie about the 2020 presidential election than did after the insurrection of Jan. 6.

These fake audits and others will be used to provide false credibility to the Republican-fascist movement's attacks on democracy. If the fake audits "confirm" that Biden actually won — a self-evident fact — then the process has been shown to be "fair," creating a new norm in which the Republican-fascists and their operatives can "audit" any and all future elections in the future. Once this process becomes institutionalized, it can be used as a tool to undermine or overturn any elections won by Democrats.

The fake audits will also allow right-wing operatives to gain information about and access to voting systems, which will make vote theft, vote rigging and other types of real election fraud much more likely.

These fake audits are also a means of encouraging right-wing terrorism and political violence directed against Democrats and other designated enemies of the Republican-fascist movement. The Big Lie and its many associated little lies about the 2020 election have already resulted in violent threats and acts of intimidation against state and local election officials. These threats have become so extreme that many of experienced election workers are resigning or being forced out, and in many cases replaced by Trump Republicans in a coordinated campaign to control or undermine future elections.

Armed right-wing paramilitaries and other street thugs were present among the crowd in Phoenix waiting for the results of the fake audit. These threats of terrorism and other violence are not implied: If Trump and the Republicans lose elections or lose political power, the possibility of bloodshed grows more severe.

Belief in the Big Lie and the need for fake audits of the 2020 election has become a litmus test and loyalty oath for the Republican-fascist movement. If a Republican elected official, or even a private citizen, rejects these claims, they are to be purged from the movement for "disloyalty."

Donald Trump will in all likelihood be the 2024 Republican presidential nominee. The Big Lie and endless rounds of election "audits" are an excellent fundraising tool. Based on his previous behavior, Donald Trump will also use this money to line his own pockets.

In a new interview at Politico, Rick Hasen, a law professor at UC Irvine and expert on democratic institutions, explains the dire political crisis that America is facing and the role that "election subversion" — as seen in these fake audits — plays in the fascist onslaught:

So, Georgia recently passed a new voting law. One of the things that law does is it makes it a crime to give water to people waiting in a long line to vote — unless you're an election official, in which case you can direct people to water. That's voter suppression — that will deter some people who are stuck in a long line from voting. Election subversion is not about making it harder for people to vote, but about manipulating the outcome of the election so that the loser is declared the winner or put in power.
It's the kind of thing that I never expected we would worry about in the United States. I never thought that in this country, at this point in our democracy, we would worry about the fairness of the actual vote counting. But we have to worry about that now….
In 2020, things shifted. The rhetoric is so overheated that I think it provides the basis for millions of people to accept an actual stolen election as payback for the falsely claimed earlier "stolen" election. People are going to be more willing to cheat if they think they've been cheated out of their just deserts. And if [you believe] Trump really won, then you might take whatever steps are necessary to assure that he is not cheated the next time — even if that means cheating yourself. That's really the new danger that this wave of voter fraud claims presents.

The fake audits in Arizona and elsewhere are not a joke.Those who choose to laugh are driven by self-interest, anxiety, fear and denial. They are retreating from the ugly reality of the situation, and from the hard work that will be necessary to save or redeem democracy.

Fascism is a mind-killer — and Trump's version is destroying Americans' grasp of reality

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 (an 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 new 'revelations' about Trump are an indictment of the American political class

At times during the last five or so years, some of us have been living in the future. Sometimes just a day or two, but at other times it has felt like a week or perhaps even a month. During rare moments of immense clarity, it's like being in a time warp, a year or two ahead of the rest of the world.

I'm talking about those of us, both with and without prominent public platforms, who have consistently sounded the alarm about Trumpism, American neofascism and the escalating crises to come. We were mostly ignored, and sometimes mocked and derided. The truth, one suspects, was too painful to accept for those Americans who for reasons of self-interest, cowardice, willful ignorance or indifference found it convenient to ignore our warnings.

It's clear that far too many Americans held tightly to the illusion of "normalcy" and a naive faith in the "institutions" of democracy. That was a bit like trying to hold onto a life preserver in a hurricane.

For those who have understood the rising tides of American neofascism and the associated evils of Trump and his movement, the entire experience has often felt futile and frustrating. So why do we persist?

I can speak only for myself. Black Americans have many checks paid to us by American society — figuratively stuffed into our pockets and wallets, or hidden in shoeboxes or mattresses — marked with the words "insufficient funds." America's democracy is a work in progress; Black people are arguably its main architects and caretakers. Black folks have saved America from its own worse impulses many times over. That relationship is emotionally, physically and financially abusive. But we soldier on loving this country, because it is our own and we have built it with our stolen labor, creativity, genius, suffering, loss and pain.

As James Baldwin explained, "I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually." I take that wisdom as my motivation when I feel my energy beginning to wane.

We of the Cassandra coalition warned that Donald Trump and his movement would bring destruction to the United States. We were correct.

We warned that Trump and his movement would cause pain and ruin that few could imagine possible in the "greatest country on Earth." We were correct.

We warned that Trump had shown himself to be a mentally unstable white supremacist enamored of violence, and that his evil pathologies would infect an entire country. We were correct again.

We warned that Trump was clearly a fascist and an authoritarian, as well as a malignant narcissist and perhaps even a sociopath or psychopath who feels no loyalty to anyone but himself. We were repeatedly proven to be correct.

We told you that Trump, the Republican Party and their followers posed an existential threat to America democracy. I hardly need to belabor the point

In too many ways, Trump and the larger white right's antisocial and destructive behavior has become so normalized that the continuous "revelations" about the criminal aberrations of the Trump regime are losing their power to move the public and the political class. This is a classic example of the rule of diminishing returns, but it does not make what has been unleashed by the Age of Trump any less dangerous.

As reported by CNN and other media outlets, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa's new book about the presidential transition period, "Peril," reveals that Donald Trump was so out of control, dangerous and apparently unhinged after his defeat last November that Gen. Mark Milley and other senior military and civilian leaders made a sort of private pact to protect America and the world from him.

"Peril" details that after Trump's coup attempt and his followers' attack on the Capitol, Milley "felt no absolute certainty that the military could control or trust Trump and believed it was his job as the senior military officer to think the unthinkable and take any and all necessary precautions." Milley described those days after Jan. 6 as the "absolute darkest moment of theoretical possibility."

Woodward and Costa also report that Milley spoke to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who agreed that Trump was "crazy" and had been so "for a long time." It's hardly a secret that Trump is widely viewed as mentally unstable by Washington insiders and the political class, including members of his own party.

Milley and other national security officials were concerned that Trump would use the country's military, up to and including nuclear weapons, to start a war with China or Iran. The results would have been immensely damaging to world peace in security, at the very least, and could have led to a cataclysm. To prevent such an outcome, Milley reached out to the senior commander of the Chinese military to reassure him that the situation was under control and Trump would not be allowed to do something reckless.

Around the same time, then-CIA Director Gina Haspel reportedly told Milley, "We are on the way to a right-wing coup. The whole thing is insanity. He is acting out like a six-year-old with a tantrum."

In so many ways, these "revelations" about Trump and his regime's misdeeds are like the picture on the front of a jigsaw puzzle box. We know what the final image will look like, but still need to put together the pieces. So the end result is something of an anticlimax.

Most important, perhaps, that picture is a damning portrait of America's political class. As a group, its members understood that Donald Trump and his regime were an existential threat to American democracy. For various reasons, they did little or nothing about it.

Of course, most leading Republicans were complicit, if not active conspirators, with Donald Trump and his malevolent plots. But senior Democrats also knew of Trump's dangers to American democracy and society. Like President Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland today, they did not act with any urgency to investigate and prosecute Trump and his Republican confederates, or to hold them accountable for their crimes against democracy and the American people.

Many journalists and others in the news media likewise understood that Trump and his regime were immensely dangerous to democracy, the rule of law, the Constitution and American society. Again, too many of them chose to stay silent or to speak of such things only indirectly or through euphemism.

Much the same can be said of America's national security officials. There were certainly honorable whistleblowers, but there were not enough of them, nor did they sound the call clearly enough. Courage was in short supply when the country most needed it.

The coroner's report on American democracy will list many causes of death. Near the top of that list will be a failure of political and moral leadership.

As the Trumpist movement escalates its assault on American democracy and society, the country's political and leadership class cannot reasonably claim the defense of ignorance, or protest that this was all so "unprecedented" and came as a total surprise.

America in the Age of Trump and beyond is like a darker version of the famous folk tale about the Boy Who Cried Wolf. But in this 21st century dystopian version of that classic story, the boy is an adult, and he was telling the truth about the wolf — or rather the pack of wolves, which has begun attacking and eating the villagers. Instead of fighting back or defending themselves, the townspeople and their leaders just look away and go about their daily business, having convinced themselves that ignoring the wolves will somehow keep them safe. Once the wolves' bellies are full, they reason, they won't eat anyone else and will wander away, and gradually life will get back to "normal." But there is no normal to get back to, and the wolves cannot be so easily satisfied. That story does not end well for the village and its people.

Trump 'revelations' are an indictment of America's political class: They knew, and did nothing

At times during the last five or so years, some of us have been living in the future. Sometimes just a day or two, but at other times it has felt like a week or perhaps even a month. During rare moments of immense clarity, it's like being in a time warp, a year or two ahead of the rest of the world.

This article first appeared in Salon.

I'm talking about those of us, both with and without prominent public platforms, who have consistently sounded the alarm about Trumpism, American neofascism and the escalating crises to come. We were mostly ignored, and sometimes mocked and derided. The truth, one suspects, was too painful to accept for those Americans who for reasons of self-interest, cowardice, willful ignorance or indifference found it convenient to ignore our warnings.

It's clear that far too many Americans held tightly to the illusion of "normalcy" and a naive faith in the "institutions" of democracy. That was a bit like trying to hold onto a life preserver in a hurricane.

For those who have understood the rising tides of American neofascism and the associated evils of Trump and his movement, the entire experience has often felt futile and frustrating. So why do we persist?

I can speak only for myself. Black Americans have many checks paid to us by American society — figuratively stuffed into our pockets and wallets, or hidden in shoeboxes or mattresses — marked with the words "insufficient funds." America's democracy is a work in progress; Black people are arguably its main architects and caretakers. Black folks have saved America from its own worse impulses many times over. That relationship is emotionally, physically and financially abusive. But we soldier on loving this country, because it is our own and we have built it with our stolen labor, creativity, genius, suffering, loss and pain.

As James Baldwin explained, "I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually." I take that wisdom as my motivation when I feel my energy beginning to wane.

We of the Cassandra coalition warned that Donald Trump and his movement would bring destruction to the United States. We were correct.

We warned that Trump and his movement would cause pain and ruin that few could imagine possible in the "greatest country on Earth." We were correct.

We warned that Trump had shown himself to be a mentally unstable white supremacist enamored of violence, and that his evil pathologies would infect an entire country. We were correct again.

We warned that Trump was clearly a fascist and an authoritarian, as well as a malignant narcissist and perhaps even a sociopath or psychopath who feels no loyalty to anyone but himself. We were repeatedly proven to be correct.

We told you that Trump, the Republican Party and their followers posed an existential threat to America democracy. I hardly need to belabor the point

In too many ways, Trump and the larger white right's antisocial and destructive behavior has become so normalized that the continuous "revelations" about the criminal aberrations of the Trump regime are losing their power to move the public and the political class. This is a classic example of the rule of diminishing returns, but it does not make what has been unleashed by the Age of Trump any less dangerous.

As reported by CNN and other media outlets, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa's new book about the presidential transition period, "Peril," reveals that Donald Trump was so out of control, dangerous and apparently unhinged after his defeat last November that Gen. Mark Milley and other senior military and civilian leaders made a sort of private pact to protect America and the world from him.

"Peril" details that after Trump's coup attempt and his followers' attack on the Capitol, Milley "felt no absolute certainty that the military could control or trust Trump and believed it was his job as the senior military officer to think the unthinkable and take any and all necessary precautions." Milley described those days after Jan. 6 as the "absolute darkest moment of theoretical possibility."

Woodward and Costa also report that Milley spoke to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who agreed that Trump was "crazy" and had been so "for a long time." It's hardly a secret that Trump is widely viewed as mentally unstable by Washington insiders and the political class, including members of his own party.

Milley and other national security officials were concerned that Trump would use the country's military, up to and including nuclear weapons, to start a war with China or Iran. The results would have been immensely damaging to world peace and security, at the very least, and could have led to a cataclysm. To prevent such an outcome, Milley reached out to the senior commander of the Chinese military to reassure him that the situation was under control and Trump would not be allowed to do something reckless.

Around the same time, then-CIA Director Gina Haspel reportedly told Milley, "We are on the way to a right-wing coup. The whole thing is insanity. He is acting out like a six-year-old with a tantrum."

In so many ways, these "revelations" about Trump and his regime's misdeeds are like the picture on the front of a jigsaw puzzle box. We know what the final image will look like, but still need to put together the pieces. So the end result is something of an anticlimax.

Most important, perhaps, that picture is a damning portrait of America's political class. As a group, its members understood that Donald Trump and his regime were an existential threat to American democracy. For various reasons, they did little or nothing about it.

Of course, most leading Republicans were complicit, if not active conspirators, with Donald Trump and his malevolent plots. But senior Democrats also knew of Trump's dangers to American democracy and society. Like President Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland today, they did not act with any urgency to investigate and prosecute Trump and his Republican confederates, or to hold them accountable for their crimes against democracy and the American people.

Many journalists and others in the news media likewise understood that Trump and his regime were immensely dangerous to democracy, the rule of law, the Constitution and American society. Again, too many of them chose to stay silent or to speak of such things only indirectly or through euphemism.

Much the same can be said of America's national security officials. There were certainly honorable whistleblowers, but there were not enough of them, nor did they sound the call clearly enough. Courage was in short supply when the country most needed it.

The coroner's report on American democracy will list many causes of death. Near the top of that list will be a failure of political and moral leadership.

As the Trumpist movement escalates its assault on American democracy and society, the country's political and leadership class cannot reasonably claim the defense of ignorance, or protest that this was all so "unprecedented" and came as a total surprise.

America in the Age of Trump and beyond is like a darker version of the famous folk tale about the Boy Who Cried Wolf. But in this 21st century dystopian version of that classic story, the boy is an adult, and he was telling the truth about the wolf — or rather the pack of wolves, which has begun attacking and eating the villagers. Instead of fighting back or defending themselves, the townspeople and their leaders just look away and go about their daily business, having convinced themselves that ignoring the wolves will somehow keep them safe. Once the wolves' bellies are full, they reason, they won't eat anyone else and will wander away, and gradually life will get back to "normal." But there is no normal to get back to, and the wolves cannot be so easily satisfied. That story does not end well for the village and its people.

Rogue president vs rogue general: GOP cultists are willing to defend Trump destroying the world

Is it life imitating art imitating life, or something even more complicated than that? At this point in America's state of malignant normality and unreality I am no longer sure. America in the Age of Trump lost the plot some time ago.

Consider this narrative: A crazed and out of control president, viewed by political rivals and military leaders as so unstable he might start a war — even a nuclear conflict — to gratify his ego and hold onto political power. He has launched a coup attempt, which remains unresolved. But a few brave and patriotic souls are willing to stop this president in order to save the country and the world from catastrophe and potential annihilation.

That comes rather too close to the plot of the 1965 thriller novel "Night of Camp David." Unfortunately, these events are not fictional. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other senior military and civilian leaders felt it necessary to prevent Donald Trump from acting out his most destructive impulses after losing the 2020 election, fearing the risks of a new world war.

These details come from CNN's report on "Peril," the new book on the presidential transition period by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of the Washington Post:

Two days after the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, President Donald Trump's top military adviser, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, single-handedly took secret action to limit Trump from potentially ordering a dangerous military strike or launching nuclear weapons. …
Woodward and Costa write that Milley, deeply shaken by the assault, "was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election, with Trump now all but manic, screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies."
Milley worried that Trump could "go rogue," the authors write.
"You never know what a president's trigger point is," Milley told his senior staff, according to the book.
In response, Milley took extraordinary action, and called a secret meeting in his Pentagon office on January 8 to review the process for military action, including launching nuclear weapons. Speaking to senior military officials in charge of the National Military Command Center, the Pentagon's war room, Milley instructed them not to take orders from anyone unless he was involved.
"No matter what you are told, you do the procedure. You do the process. And I'm part of that procedure," Milley told the officers, according to the book. He then went around the room, looked each officer in the eye, and asked them to verbally confirm they understood.


In a conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Woodward and Costa report, Milley agreed with her characterization that Trump was "crazy" and had been so "for a long time." The authors write that after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Milley "felt no absolute certainty that the military could control or trust Trump and believed it was his job as the senior military officer to think the unthinkable and take any and all necessary precautions," calling it the "absolute darkest moment of theoretical possibility."

According to Woodward and Costa, national security officials appointed by Trump agreed. Then-CIA director Gina Haspel told Milley, "We are on the way to a right-wing coup. The whole thing is insanity. He is acting out like a six-year-old with a tantrum." Even Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had refused to acknowledge in public that Biden had won the election, told Milley that Trump was "in a very dark place right now."

Trump's supporters in the Republican Party are predictably focused on a single detail: CNN's report that Milley had "two back-channel phone calls with China's top general, who was on high alert over the chaos in the U.S.," in an effort to prevent a military incident between the two nuclear-armed nations. The right-wing disinformation machine is not interested in any form of accountability for Donald Trump, of course. Instead, leading Republicans and conservative pundits are demanding that Milley resign and be punished for alleged "treason." Trump himself has publicly declared Milley to be a traitor.

That response offers more evidence — if any was needed — of how today's Republican Party has become a fascist cult and a political crime syndicate, where loyalty to the leader matters more than anything else, including the survival of the nation or the entire world. Public opinion polls indicate that Republican voters largely feel the same way.

This is part of a larger right-wing impulse towards death and destruction, as seen with Republicans' collective response to the pandemic, the global climate crisis, mass shootings, police violence, economic inequality and other forms of injustice, and societal harm and human suffering more generally. In total, the "revelations" in Woodward and Costa's book are further proof that today's Republican Party is a massive danger to the world.

What happened? In 2015, the Republican Party made a devil's bargain with Donald Trump. He would provide the destructive energy and cult of personality that would give Republicans and the white right an opportunity to undermine, if not destroy, the country's democratic norms and institution. The proximate political goal was clear: Find a way to keep the Republican Party in power indefinitely, even in the face of demographic changes that threaten to render it obsolete.

As seen in Texas and many other states, the Republican Party's new campaign against democracy is scoring important victories and gaining momentum. Whether Trump himself believes in the cause is irrelevant: He is an instinctive fascist and demagogue, with no discernible ideology. For him, the presidency was a means to an end, an unlimited source of narcissistic fuel and a way to enrich himself (and his inner circle) and accumulate more power and attention.

As he revealed on numerous occasions, Trump's impulse was to seek out ways he could remain president into the indefinite future.

Per the account in "Peril", Vice President Mike Pence told Trump he had no power to reverse the results of the presidential election. Trump then asked him, "But wouldn't it be almost cool to have that power?"

Ultimately, Trump understood the Republican Party's voters and their darkest and most malevolent desires better than did nearly all Republican pollsters, pundits, opinion leaders and political strategists.

Donald Trump instinctively understood that his followers — the "deplorables" that Hillary Clinton warned the American people about — did not care about being "respected." They wanted permission to unleash their worst fantasies and desires, unrestrained by "political correctness" and other societal expectations that they respect the humanity of other people. Such a concept of "freedom" is central to Trumpism and other forms of fascism. Trump's followers see in him a projection of their ideal selves. This is why they are willing to kill and die for him and the movement.

In response to these new "revelations" about the latter days of the Trump regime, the mainstream news media is back on its hamster wheel of shock and surprise and outrage. This is largely political theater, not the kind of rigorous pro-democracy journalism that America's battle against neofascism demands. In a few days, the hope peddlers and professional "smart people" will move on to the next controversy.

To protest that the Republican Party is hypocritical or lacks principles, as some commentators invariably do, is a pitiful example of missing the point.

Peter Wehner expounds on this in a recent essay for the Atlantic, observing that the "MAGA brain" has been "rewired":

Republicans who assumed that the party would return to sanity after Trump left office never understood how deforming the effects of his presidency would be. For many, Trump's behaviors were initially a bug; eventually, they became a feature. Republicans ignored his corruptions and reveled in his cruelty. They entered Trump's hall of mirrors, and they rather enjoyed it.
To better understand what's happening in the GOP, think of a person with addiction who over time develops a tolerance; as a result, they need more potent and more frequent doses of the drug to get their desired high. And sometimes even that isn't enough. They might turn to a more potent drug, which offers a more intense experience and a longer-lasting high, but at the price of considerably more danger.

In the final analysis, today's Republican Party and the right-wing neofascist movement have no principles beyond winning at all costs. To deny that fact is to deny reality. Unfortunately, too many Americans, including everyday people as well as members of the political class, have convinced themselves that the Age of Trump and beyond is like a Hollywood movie, sure to arrive at a requisite happy ending in which good triumphs over evil. As most Black and brown Americans already know, such an outcome is not guaranteed in the real world. Such fantasies are not exclusive to white people, but they are definitely an artifact of white privilege.

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