Buffalo: This is where Donald Trump's race-war fantasies lead

Donald Trump is a human cocktail of white racism, white rage and white supremacy. He also represents a special type of white freedom to act without accountability. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about this in his widely-read 2017 essay for the Atlantic on Trump as America's "first white president":

It is insufficient to state the obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump's predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness — that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump's forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America's founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump — a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit….
The first white president in American history is also the most dangerous president — and he is made more dangerous still by the fact that those charged with analyzing him cannot name his essential nature, because they too are implicated in it.

The evidence is clear that Donald Trump was elected in 2016 primarily because of racism and white supremacy. Those toxic beliefs continue to define his enduring power and the loyalty of his millions of followers.

Like other forms of fascism, Trumpism is fueled by violent hostility toward "the Other," however that is defined. Today's Republican Party is America and the world's largest white identity and white supremacist organization. Ever since Trump first launched his candidacy in 2015, America has seen a great increase in hate crimes and other racially motivated violence directed against Black and brown people, Jewish people, Muslims, LGBTQ people and other minority groups. Encouraged by Trump's rhetoric and the literal and symbolic power of his presidency, white supremacists and other members of the global right have committed numerous mass shootings and other acts of terrorist violence.

Donald Trump infamously described the white supremacists who rampaged in Charlottesville in 2017 as "very fine people." Three summers later, he disparaged supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement as un-American traitors. At his campaign rallies, Trump has repeatedly encouraged violence against protesters and other supposed enemies.

During his presidency, the Trump regime put nonwhite refugees and migrants in concentration camps and stole their children as part of a policy of "deterrence" driven by White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, an evident white supremacist.

The Trump cabal's attempted coup on Jan. 6, 2021, was an attack on multiracial democracy, and indeed on the premise that Black and brown Americans should have equal voting rights and an equal say in the country's present and future. In many respects, that coup attempt continues unabated.

Trump is now holding rallies across the country to support Republicans in this year's midterms, and quite likely to prepare for his 2024 presidential campaign. At these events, he often encourages violence against "traitors" and "socialist Democrats" who reject his fascist leadership and movement. He is fond of jokes about racial slurs. At one recent rally, Trump told attendees they should be willing to fight and die in order to protect their (white) children and (white) families and (white) country from the white supremacist "critical race theory" moral panic bogeyman.

Trump's 2022 rallies are full of racial slurs, calls for violence, coded appeals to QAnon and the "great replacement" and invocations of the Lost Cause.

Trump also makes coded appeals to the antisemitic and racist QAnon and "great replacement" conspiracy theories, telling his followers that (nonwhite) "invaders" are coming to "take over" and kill off "true" (white) Americans like them. He frequently channels the white supremacist Lost Cause narrative, with its claims that the treasonous war of the Confederacy for the "right" to keep Black people in bondage was somehow noble and honorable.

At these rallies, Trump wallows in malignant narcissism and white victimology, with a series of scurrilous lies alleging that Democrats, the news media, elites, the "deep state" and Black and brown people are somehow "oppressing" and "persecuting" him and his followers. Trump has even called for his followers to descend upon majority Black and brown cities if he is prosecuted for his crimes against democracy.

Of course Trump also continues to amplify and repeat his Big Lie about the 2020 presidential election, claiming that he is America's "real president" and that Joe Biden's victory was tainted by fraud and "fake ballots" in "urban" areas. The clear implication being that black and brown people "stole" the election from him and his white MAGA "real American" voters.

As I have previously suggested, through his words, deeds, and use of stochastic terrorism as well as overt threats, Donald Trump has shown that he is eager to incite a white-on-Black "race war." He believes such a calamity will help him return to national power. This is far from an empty threat or a hollow fantasy: Trump's followers have repeatedly shown that they are willing to kill and die at his command.

Consider what happened last Saturday in Buffalo. It appears that a day earlier, an 18-year-old white man named Payton Gendron drove more than 200 miles to Buffalo, from his home in a predominantly white and rural area of central New York state. The evidence suggests -- most notably his own words -- that his express purpose was to commit an act of white supremacist terrorism directed against Black people.

Gendron explained his plan and the logic and motivations behind it in a 180-page manifesto he published online, which makes repeated references to the "great replacement" conspiracy theory and its claims that white people are under threat of replacement or extinction by nonwhite groups. Gendron also referenced "critical race theory" and made fantastical claims that Jewish people are somehow manipulating world events.

Gendron was armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle. He had a pistol and another rifle in his car, wore body armor and had other tactical equipment in his possession. There was a racial slur written on Gendron's AR-15, which he reportedly fired at least 50 times during the attack at a Buffalo supermarket.

As explained in his manifesto, Gendron targeted that particular neighborhood because its population is predominantly Black. He spent Friday conducting reconnaissance on the targeted community. On Saturday, he used that information and experience to attack the Tops Friendly Market at a time when he would inflict maximum carnage, live-streaming his rampage on the Internet. He shot 13 people in the supermarket and parking lot outside, 11 of them Black. Ten of the 13 shooting victims died.

Gendron's online manifesto reads like a slightly more sophisticated version of the photocopied newsletters that white supremacist or neo-Nazi groups once had to spread by mail.

He surrendered to local police at the scene, and was reportedly eager to explain his motivations. It has subsequently been reported that Gendron made a "generalized threat" of violence a year ago, as a student at Susquehanna Valley Central High School in his hometown of Conklin. He was taken into custody and subjected to a mental health evaluation, but released two days later.

Gendron has been charged with first-degree murder. The FBI and Department of Justice are now investigating these killings as a hate crime and terrorist act. His manifesto could be described as an updated, slightly more sophisticated version of the photocopied white supremacist tracts like "The Turner Diaries" that neo-Nazis, Kluxers, and other white supremacists and racial fascists used to distribute by mail or in person.

(White) America is so accustomed to gun violence that we observe a de facto public ritual for events like the Buffalo shooting. Or at least we do when the accused killer is a white man and a "conservative" or apparent member of a right-wing group. The ritual is generally quite different if the accused mass shooter is a Muslim or a Black person, for example.

  • He will be described as a "lone wolf" who "acted alone." In important respects, this is misleading. Whether or not Gendron had personal contact with other right-wing fanatics, he is part of a global white supremacist project that includes the Trump movement and the Republican Party.
  • His actions will be attributed to "mental illness." In fact, in Gendron's manifesto he makes clear that he knows what he is doing and why. He clearly articulates the motivations, reasoning and planning involved in his act of anti-Black terrorism. Of course, the vast majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent.
  • The Buffalo attack is "shocking." This is an absurd reaction. The Buffalo attack was wholly predictable and is the obvious result of an American neofascist ideology that has taken control of the Republican Party and much of the right-wing media and "conservative" movement.
  • "A good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun." This is an appeal to the disproved claim that more guns equals less crime. There was an armed security guard at the supermarket in Buffalo. He shot Gendron several times without seriously injuring him. Gendron's body armor stopped the bullets. The brave guard, whose name was Aaron Salter Jr., was then shot and killed by Gendron.
  • It is too soon to talk about what happened. We must wait for the facts. The facts about what happened in Buffalo on Saturday are self-evident. A white man drove hundreds of miles to kill Black people because he believed they and other nonwhites, as directed by an imaginary global Jewish cabal, were "taking away" what he believed what "his country."
  • We must not politicize mass shootings. This is a tragedy: We send thoughts and prayers. Gun violence is a public safety issue. White supremacy is a public safety issue, as well as a national security issue. The same is true of domestic terrorism. It is the responsibility of a government to keep its citizens safe. These are inherently political matters.

The mainstream news media has already begun pivoting to a narrative of "healing" and "hope" in the aftermath of the Buffalo attack. That too is part of a long history in which the suffering and pain of Black and brown people is minimized so as not to injure the sensibilities and feelings of white society. Moreover, minimizing that suffering also serves to negate Black and brown people's demands for justice and equal treatment.

We will be told, ad infinitum, that Payton Gendron is an individual who is responsible for his own actions, and that it's unfair to suggest that Donald Trump, the Republicans or the right-wing media had anything to do with what happened in Buffalo. In point of fact, racism and white supremacy are learned behaviors. One of the greatest luxuries enjoyed by white people in American society is that of being perceived as the ultimate individuals, whose behavior is never understood to reflect on the larger group.

In the aftermath of Gendron's alleged crimes, we will hear no public demands that "white leaders" speak out and condemn white supremacist violence, or the larger movement it represents. There will be no demands by political leaders or media commentators for a national conversation about the "white family" or "white culture," and the pathological and other unhealthy values taught and learned there.

In fact, we should absolutely talk about those things, or at least about the values of white supremacy and white racial violence spread by the Republican Party and the larger right-wing ecosystem. The "great replacement" conspiracy theory and related claims that Gendron summons in his manifesto are now commonplace in right-wing public discourse. As seen with the moral panic about "critical race theory," these ideas are infecting the white American public more generally as well.

This kind of racist paranoia is not new in American or European society — but what is novel is the way these hysterical claims are being used to undermine and destroy democracy.

Of course this kind of racial paranoia is not new in American and European society. Such claims can trace their origins back to the invention of the concept of "race" in the 17th century. What is relatively novel is the way these hysterical claims about white people being driven to extinction are now a daily feature of mainstream right-wing politics and media, and are being used as part of a fascist campaign to delegitimate, undermine and overthrow American democracy.

This is all taking place at a moment when America's racial demographics are experiencing a historic change, from a "majority-white" country (who is deemed to be "white" being a concept that has itself shifted over time) to one where white people will remain the largest and most powerful group, but will no longer be an absolute majority of the population.

In this context, the "narrative laundering" of these previously fringe ideas about white extinction and white replacement has been highly effective. More than 30 percent of American adults now believe there is a plan to replace native-born Americans with immigrants as a way to win elections. In addition, almost half of Republican voters believe that white people are being "replaced" through mass immigration or some other means.

Others have observed that Gendron's manifesto reads like a script from Tucker Carlson's Fox News show. That is not a coincidence. Carlson and other Fox News personalities are radicalizing their viewers into white supremacy and other forms of right-wing political extremism. The process is strikingly similar to the radicalization process used by ISIS as it recruits and indoctrinates its followers into committing acts of Islamic terrorism.

In a recent essay at MSNBC, Cynthia Miller-Idriss explains how Carlson goes beyond conspiracy theory to spread anti-immigrant bigotry, "using exclusionary, incendiary and dehumanizing rhetoric and language like a 'flood of illegals' alongside descriptions of mass immigration as making America 'poor and dirtier'":

Carlson isn't the only Fox News figure pushing the great replacement theory. Laura Ingraham has warned viewers that "the Democrats want to replace many of you," suggesting there is an "invasion of the country" and referring to Texas as a state that is "completely overrun" by an illegal invasion. ... [As] the country moves closer to the actual demographic changes that are manipulated in replacement and genocide conspiracy theories, invoking the idea of a "great replacement" as an existential threat on mainstream network news reinforces and legitimizes white supremacists' fears and sense of urgency in a way that feels unique to this time….
These conspiracy theories ... that have been core to white-supremacist beliefs for decades have no place on mainstream networks that beam into millions of Americans' living rooms each evening. And yet, here we are, with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke praising Carlson, host of the most-watched show on cable news, for "finally" promoting the "great replacement," and a white supremacist website describing him as "literally our greatest ally."

As Matt Gertz at Media Matters has documented, the "great replacement" theory and other appeals to white supremacy are central to Fox News and its marketing strategy. As a former Fox News employee told Nick Confessore of the New York Times, Gertz writes, Carlson decided to "double down on the white nationalism" because the network's "minute-by-minute viewership numbers" made clear that the viewers loved it.

Indeed, a Times analysis of 1,150 episodes of his program reveals that Carlson "amplified the idea that Democratic populations and others want to force demographic change through immigration" in more than 400 episodes. That's the heart of the "great replacement" conspiracy theory, which is popular among white nationalists and was previously confined to the fringes of U.S. media. That racist trope motivated the likes of the mass shooters at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 and an El Paso, Texas, Walmart and two New Zealand mosques in 2019.

Donald Trump, the Republicans and the larger white right did not start the slow, long-burning fire of white supremacy in America. But they have gleefully thrown gasoline, grenades and other explosives on the fire and then danced around the flames as they spread.

Fascism is an ideology based on racial authoritarianism and violence. As the conflict created by the Trump movement heats up, we are likely to see more terrorist attacks against Black and brown people and other targeted groups, attacks just as horrifying as the one last Saturday in Buffalo, or perhaps worse. There is a line inscribed in blood that leads from Donald Trump's hateful rhetoric to Jan. 6, 2021, to last Saturday in Buffalo. Where it will lead next? Unfortunately, we will soon find out as the next chapter in the new American neofascist nightmare is being written all around us in real time.

Has Russia been beaten? This military expert says that moment is coming soon

When Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian military to invade Ukraine more than two months ago, he no doubt expected an easy victory from a lightning-fast assault intended to crush the smaller opposing force. This spectacular victory was meant to advance the Russian president's vision of a new manifest destiny, bringing his country closer to re-establishing itself as an imperial power on the global stage. But Putin's gambit failed in grand fashion. Instead of celebrating a victory on May 9 — the anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II — the Russian military is trying to reorganize itself after a series of stunning defeats and great losses in both materiel and personnel.

Speed was the key element in the Russian plan, but surprisingly strong and effective resistance from the Ukrainian military, and the Ukrainian people as a whole, exposed the Russian military's many weaknesses: Logistical capabilities were lacking, troops appear poorly trained and lack motivation, equipment has not been properly maintained. Russia's military now appears to be running short of ammunition, fuel, spare parts and even soldiers.

The Russian military laid siege to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, but after several weeks of intense battle was finally driven out. The Ukrainian city of Mariupol has become the site of savage up-close combat, with defenders still holding out inside the now-famous Azovstal steel plant.

The time bought with Ukrainian struggle and blood has meant that the U.S. and its NATO allies have continued to pour billions of dollars in weaponry and other critical supplies into the embattled country. These weapons, which include killer drones, heavy artillery, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, and other support are proving lethal to the Russian invaders. As reported by the New York Times last week, the U.S. is also providing critical military intelligence to the Ukrainian military, which has been used, for instance, to target and kill Russian generals and to sink the missile cruiser Moskva, flagship of the Black Sea fleet.

The Russian military has now pivoted away from Ukraine's capital city and is largely focusing on the eastern and southern parts of the country, specifically the Donbas region and Odessa. To this point, even with reorganized forces and a new battle plan and leadership, the Russians continue to encounter fierce resistance in those parts of Ukraine.

Despite Ukraine's spirited resistance, the international mood remains tense. Putin and his spokespeople have at times threatened the possibility of nuclear war if the U.S. and its allies continue to "interfere" in Ukraine. At other times, the Russian leadership has signaled being open to a diplomatic solution to end the Ukraine war. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently made clear that the strategic goal of the U.S. is not just to preserve Ukrainian sovereignty but to degrade Russia's military capability such that it will not threaten its neighbors again.

To discuss the current perilous state of the war in Ukraine, I recently spoke with John Spencer, a retired U.S. Army major who is chair of urban warfare studies at the Madison Policy Forum. He also consults for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the UN and other military and national security organizations. Spencer's essays and other writing have been featured by the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy and other leading publications. His new book is "Connected Soldiers: Life, Leadership, and Social Connections in Modern War," to be published in July.

In this conversation, Spencer assesses the Russian military's performance in the war and offers his views on why the Ukrainians have been able to fight effectively against a far larger and more powerful force. He discusses the effect of Western military intelligence as a key variable in the Ukrainian success so far, and how the war is changing as the front shifts away from cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv into the wide-open terrain of eastern and southern Ukraine.

Spencer argues against believing these sensational claims that the war in Ukraine represents a significant change in the nature of warfare based on technological innovation, and ends by making a surprising prediction: While the longer struggle for Ukraine's freedom from Russia may drag on for years, he says, this conflict in Ukraine is drawing near its conclusion.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

How do you assess the performance of the Russian military in Ukraine? Are they as bad as most outside observers are suggesting?

Absolutely. The Russian military has shown that it is in fact that bad. At the beginning of this war, they probably began as the No. 2 or 3 military in the world in terms of combat power. The Russian military will probably leave the Ukraine war diminished down to No. 25 or 30 at least.

On paper, the Russian military should have been able to dominate the Ukrainian military and win in three days, based just on the size of the Ukraine military. The problem with that prediction is armed resistance, which is when citizens rise up. That can take many forms. It's not just some of the images that we've seen of Ukrainian civilians with AK-47s. The Ukrainian government enacted a law right before the invasion that increased the territorial defenses from some 200,000 soldiers to about a million. That can't be discredited as a factor. I believe many outside observers underestimated the Ukrainian military's capabilities.

Russia's plan of attack was not ridiculous. It was a solid plan, but they didn't have the military strength they thought they had.

The impact of the weapons, supplies and support provided to the Ukrainians was also underestimated. They started getting the Javelin missiles, for example, around 2016. The Ukrainians didn't just start getting Javelins two months ago. One of the first things that was given to Ukraine from the outside world was superior intelligence. That includes everything from satellite imagery to help with signals intelligence and other aspects as well. That translates into the ability for a smaller and weaker force to be at the right moment to stop the other guy from doing what he wants to do. The Russian plan of attack in the beginning was not ridiculous. It was actually a solid plan, but they didn't have the military strength they thought they had to follow through on it.

It is now clear that the U.S. and NATO are providing intelligence information to Ukraine. The only question is what type of intelligence, how fast and in what detail. Once the war is over, what do you think some of those big stories will be?

The Ukrainians could not have sunk the Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea fleet, without such intelligence information. It wasn't a lucky shot to be able to hit that ship with the Neptune missiles. Superior intelligence information was required. I believe the same thing about all of these Russian generals being killed. Those aren't all lucky shots either. The Ukrainians being able to hit a vital fuel dump inside Belarus by using helicopters was also not possible without superior intelligence capabilities.

What did the Russians reasonably believe they could achieve — and how did their plan go so wrong so quickly?

Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe. There is so much happening at the same time. One of the biggest risks that the Russians took was coming across seven different fronts. In the beginning, they had one objective, and that was to take Kyiv. All other Russian military operations were in support of that objective. In order to take Kyiv, they needed to use speed.

Step one of invading a country is to take out the air defenses. The Russians failed there too, and that was a massive blunder. The airspace is contested to this day, in fact. Without that air superiority, their audacious plan to take the capital — which included special forces and other elite troops attacking the airport — did not go as planned. The Russians were also going to drive their most lethal mechanized unit down from Belarus, which is the fasted route. The plan was basically sound, but because the air defenses were not taken out the Russians got slowed down.

And if you get slower in this audacious plan of using surprise, audacity and speed, then everything starts to fall apart. That is part of war, of course, but you have to have the capability to respond. Because the Russians couldn't adapt to the loss of their momentum, they slowed down and stalled out. And of course, there is the truism, and wisdom, that it is not fighting that wins war, but logistics.

Amateurs talk tactics; professionals talk logistics. Once Russia pushed their units fast — we saw units just driving through towns, trying to get where they were going — they extended their operational reach. That is an operational risk. Such a move is not unheard of, but the Russians couldn't hold the lines to support everything they were pushing in at once. Those logistical lines are the lifeline. Once again, what wins wars, or loses them, are questions of logistics.

The Russian military's senior leaders are obviously professionals, very serious people. How did they make such basic and fundamental errors in the execution of their war plan?

Throughout the Russian chain of command, they thought they had a force that they did not. The war in Ukraine has been the biggest test of the Russian military since World War II, and how much it has changed. The Russians tried a Western-style invasion. The plan was to topple the Ukrainian government and then put in their own. It was supposed to be a Western, modern, Desert Storm or Operation Iraqi Freedom-style "shock and awe" invasion. Russian military leaders believed they could accomplished this, based on what they believed they had.

The Russians tried to fight like a modern Western military with a greatly weakened Soviet-style force. They have been exposed as suffering from years of graft, decay and delusion.

But the training and preparation of the conscripts was poor, and the Russian military lacks professional enlisted soldiers. They were trying to fight like a modern Western military with a Soviet-style force that even wasn't as strong as it was during the USSR. They failed, and have now been exposed as suffering from years of graft, decay and belief in a method of warfare that does not fit the strengths of their military.

What is going on other regions of Ukraine, such as the east and south? Some observers suggest that the Russians are in fact enjoying great success in those regions but that is being underreported by the Western media.

Kherson is an example where they've had success. They moved in and were able to secure it with a minimum number of forces. But as for Odessa, personally, I do not think they could ever take it. Mariupol, of course, the Russians had to take at great cost. The fact that the Russians had to fly in their top military officer, an adviser to Putin himself, to get control of the situation in Ukraine is the biggest sign one could ever have that things are not going the way the Russians want them to.

The fact that 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers held off 15,000 or more Russian troops in Mariupol is incredible. They didn't just do that by the way — those Ukrainians kept those Russian forces engaged. That means they couldn't go somewhere else for two months. I woudn't even call Mariupol a win for Russia, to be honest.

We know a great deal more about Russian losses. As for Ukrainian losses, there hasn't been public information about that, and we know a lot less. Clearly, the Ukrainians have lost a lot, and the fight is costing them greatly. As a military analyst, I see Russia making gains in some locations, but then I see them losing gains in other critical locations.

As the Russians move to the east and the Donbas region, they are shifting away from the urban warfare seen in Kyiv to what we describe as "maneuver warfare." How would you explain that term? What will the Russians try to do where the terrain is more open?

Maneuver warfare, as we understand it today, came from finding a way to break out of trench warfare during World War I. That involved using a combination of massive artillery fire, tanks, airplanes and radios to break stalemates in trench lines by penetrating at some point, and then massing all your capabilities into that penetration and overwhelming your enemy. That's the basis of maneuver warfare. In the eastern parts of Ukraine, the Russians are applying that doctrine. That is the most powerful form of open warfare across great distances.

In urban terrain, what we see is more what we call positional warfare. You have a piece of terrain that you're holding, and it is much like trench warfare or akin to siege warfare around ancient castles. It is very hard to find a break-in point. We saw that in Kyiv.

In eastern Donbas, I believe that we will see a combination of both wide-area and long-distance battles, 20-mile fire engagements. But we'll also see the closing in of formations where the Russians are trying to penetrate into critical areas including urban terrain. In the eastern Donbas, it's everything from urban terrain to heavily wooded swamps. There will be all types of warfare, but the more open terrain allows two enemies to find, fix, and finish each other, much more so than in urban terrain.

The ultimate goal is to destroy the other military and control the field of battle. The outcome will be largely determined by which military, the Ukrainians or the Russians, can get to the key pieces of terrain and hold them, and then seek some type of negotiation or other strategy for a resolution.

There are the classic definitions of "war" and "warfare," which are not the same thing. How is the experience of war and warfare similar in Ukraine to things we have seen in earlier time periods? How is it different? And what is the role of technology?

The biggest difference between "war" and "warfare" is that war is the overarching political function of armed fighting between two nations. That includes politics, economics and information. War is the pursuit of strategic objectives by the use of force by one nation versus another. Warfare is the simpler concept of armed fighting between two individuals, whether that's a non-state actor, a terrorist force and a military or two militaries going against each other or a military fighting a bunch of irregular civilians. Warfare is the actual fighting. War is the pursuit of the political and strategic objectives.

This is a war for the nation of Ukraine. This includes how many nations are in support of Ukraine and all the way down to the individuals fighting versus Russia. That will decide the outcome of this war just as much as the warfare, which is the fighting where one person is killing another person.

The nature of war is based on principles that will never change. War is politics. War is human. Yes, the weapons change. Yes, the technologies may change. Even how you fight may change. Yes, we are seeing kamikaze drones and cyber warfare and the like. But to me, these are just continuations of the basics of war fighting. Yes, you can increase somebody's range and you can reduce the cost to humans. If you can put a drone up, you can use intelligence differently.

But I have not seen anything, including the Ukraine war today, that proves to me that there is some radical aspect in which technology is changing the basic nature of fighting.

How do you make sense of the arguments some people have advanced that the war in Ukraine is a revolutionary event that represents a great transformation in warfare, such as with the fixation on the Javelin missile and how it has supposedly made tank warfare obsolete.

The tank, by its nature, is mobile protected firepower. From the start of warfare — from the days of moving up to the castle gates — that requirement to have mobile protected firepower is not going to change. Since the tank first appeared on the battlefield, there has been no replacement for it. There simply is no replacement for an armor-protected vehicle that allows you to get close to the thing you are trying to kill and then having the firepower to do it.

In urban terrain, no smart soldier goes into that type of fight without a tank. And only a dummy goes in sending a tank by itself, because everything in war is basically a chess match. Of course we have developed technologies that make a tank vulnerable, but a soldier on the battlefield is just as vulnerable. I'd rather be inside a vulnerable tank than standing out in the open wearing a Kevlar vest where basically anything can kill me.

These narratives about some revolutionary change in warfare from a given weapon are because people think that they've found something new, and they want everybody to believe them. You have to be a student of warfare to understand where history is rhyming and repeating itself or where there's actually something new.

What does it feel like to be a Ukrainian soldier right now? And what does it feel like to be a Russian soldier in Ukraine?

There are some things about soldiering that don't change. They're having ups and downs in terms of morale and unit cohesion. War does that to people. You endure great things. War is also extreme violence mixed with periods of boredom, punctuated by extreme fear and violence.That's normal life in combat, period.

War is a rollercoaster of emotion that is further impacted by the digital world we live in. Ukrainian soldiers have cell phones; Russian soldiers have cell phones. This fight for the narrative, even in the soldier's brain, is a part of war now.

But now there is this aspect of being connected online. So now the Ukrainian soldiers are hearing from their president. They get the messages that 40 nations are behind them. In Russia, while they try to control information, there's no controlling the fact that entire units are being taken off the battlefield and their equipment doesn't work. All of this information is part of what gives an individual the will to fight. It's a complex formula of personal motivations, their connections to their families, their belief in the cause, and how well the war's going for them. Ultimately, it is a rollercoaster of emotion that is further impacted by the digital world we live in, which is constantly connected. Ukrainian soldiers have their cell phones. Russian soldiers have their cell phones. Information can bleed through. This fight for the narrative, even in the soldier's brain, is there. That will be a part of war going forward forever.

Russian soldiers are committing war crimes in Ukraine. There are reports of Russian soldiers refusing to fight and sabotaging and abandoning their equipment. Officers have been attacked and killed. There is looting. Does this signal to a lack of proper non-commissioned officers in the Russian army?

They have officers and they have conscripts and they have contracted soldiers. They don't have the backbone of an army, which are the non-commissioned officers, the sergeants. When the rubber meets the road, he or she is there at the point of need, to motivate soldiers and take care of the health of soldiers. The non-commissioned officers can make decisions without instructions, and that's really the glue of your army. That matters, because everything's going to go bad in war. There's fog and friction, and when bad things happen, the non-commissioned officer is your glue on the ground. He can say, "OK, that plan went really bad. I know what the overall goal is. I'm going to execute that."

That is the power of any army. So when Russia doesn't have that capability, those people, when the military is put under extreme stress it can't make a decision. It can't create smaller teams of motivated soldiers. It can't keep soldiers from doing bad things. It basically falls apart. The Russians should have known that from history.

What do you think happens next in Ukraine?

You have to look for the "culmination points" when a military force takes so many losses that they will not be able to meet their goals. This is what we saw in Kyiv. They start to break down in their actual formation as an organized group.

This conflict, in a larger sense, won't end for years. Russia will always contest the borders of Ukraine as a sovereign nation. But this war, the battle for Ukraine, will end within weeks or months. That is my opinion. We will see the Russian military in Ukraine reach its culmination point soon.

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Global forecaster on 'another bad year for democracy': Is the world near a dire tipping point?

Global democracy is sick. In the United States, Donald Trump's supporters in the Republican Party continue to steamroll the Democrats and other pro-democracy forces. To say that the latter have for the most part been hapless, uncoordinated and paralyzed by denial is not overstating the case.

Political scientists and other experts have warned that in the wake of the Trump presidency and the coup attempt of January 2021, the country is now an "anocracy," hovering in limbo between naked authoritarianism and a slowly failing democracy.

As I have repeatedly warned this is an existential struggle: If the Republicans and the larger white right achieve their goals the United States will become a living nightmare for anyone who is not a rich white "Christian" heterosexual male, or otherwise deemed to be a "real American" and one of the MAGA-elect Trump cultists.

Writing at the Financial Times, columnist Martin Wolf describes this moment of peril and impending disaster:

"An American 'Caesarism' has now become flesh." I wrote this in March 2016, even before Donald Trump had become the Republican nominee for the presidency. Today, the transformation of the democratic republic into an autocracy has advanced. By 2024, it might be irreversible. If this does indeed happen, it will change almost everything in the world….
Thus, health permitting, Trump will be the next Republican candidate. He will be backed by a party that is now his tool. Most important, in the words of David Frum, erstwhile speechwriter for George W Bush, "what the United States did not have before 2020 was a large national movement willing to justify mob violence to claim political power. Now it does." It does so because its members believe their opponents are not "real" Americans. A liberal democracy cannot long endure if a major party believes defeat is illegitimate and must be rendered impossible.

Political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon echoed these concerns in a widely read essay last December in the Globe and Mail, warning that American democracy could collapse by 2015, "causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence, and that by 2030, "if not sooner, the country could be governed by a right-wing dictatorship":

We mustn't dismiss these possibilities just because they seem ludicrous or too horrible to imagine. In 2014, the suggestion that Donald Trump would become president would also have struck nearly everyone as absurd. But today we live in a world where the absurd regularly becomes real and the horrible commonplace.
Leading American academics are now actively addressing the prospect of a fatal weakening of U.S. democracy…. Once Republicans control Congress, Democrats will lose control of the national political agenda, giving Mr. Trump a clear shot at recapturing the presidency in 2024. And once in office, he will have only two objectives: vindication and vengeance.

In the shadow of such darkness we must not surrender to despair. That is how the global right and the fascist movement wins. Instead, those who believe in true social democracy and the liberal democratic project must stare unflinchingly into the darkness, exile the hope-peddlers and naïve optimists who believe that compromise with such evil is possible, critically assess the reality of the crisis, and then organize and rally to victory.

Two months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin, a hero and champion of the global right, unleashed a devastating war of aggression against Ukraine. The Ukrainians have resisted valiantly, and Russia's military has been embarrassed. What many experts foresaw as a quick campaign of conquest appears that it will now be a long slog of grinding death and destruction. The United States and its NATO allies have rallied to the aid of Ukraine; for the moment, at least, Western democracy seems (superficially) renewed through conflict with its former Cold War enemy.

French President Emmanuel Macron recently defeated Marine Le Pen and the far-right National Rally Party in that country's recent elections. However important that victory appears during this moment of democratic crisis, one should still be cautious for what it ultimately means about the power of the global right and its power in France and other Western European democracies. In her newsletter Lucid, historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat unpacks the larger significance of Le Pen's near-miss, which could have led to "the first female-led far-right government in Europe":

In the conclusion to my 2020 book on the subject, I singled Le Pen out in suggesting that such a shift is inevitable. "That male model of authoritarian power... may give way in the future as female-led authoritarian states emerge. ... Yet a female-led rightist state would pose no threat to authoritarianism's appeal as a legitimating force of misogyny, kleptocracy, and, in many countries, White racial domination." ...
For some voters, her "softer" feminine image likely goes a long way in making her seem acceptable. Her tasteful and understated clothing blunts the brute force of her racist proposals, such as her idea of eliminating birthright citizenship to more easily target French Muslims for discrimination. ...
In fact, as the global right doubles down on its attention to families — claiming it is a priority to protect children and schools from pedophilic homosexuals, satanist Soros puppets, childless left-wing radicals, and more — being a mother, who can mobilize other mothers, will become an advantage in politics. …
In the coming years, shifts in far-right tactics intended to normalize extremism and the aging of the current strongman cohort will likely produce a new wave of illiberal female leaders.
While these authoritarians won't pose bare-chested, in the tradition of Benito Mussolini and Putin, they will be just as racist, corrupt, and violent as like-minded male leaders, and just as dedicated to using disinformation to create the alternate reality they need to stay in power.

A hopeful commitment to the basic idea that progress and societal improvement are attainable constitute the beating heart of the centuries-old Western democratic project. The fascist tide can be beaten back by leaning into those democratic and pluralistic values and dreams and then making them real for the mass public.

The global democracy crisis is real; the future remains unwritten and what happens next is very much in flux.

What do we know and where do we go from here? In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Andrew Viteritti, a senior member of the global forecasting team at the Economist Intelligence Unit, about its recent report, "Democracy Index 2021: the China Challenge."

In this conversation, Viteritti explains the unit's findings that how global democracy has fallen to its lowest levels since the Economist began tracking it in 2016. He also reports that in many "advanced" or "mature" democracies there is growing cynicism and distrust of government and its ability to solve problems such as price inflation or the COVID pandemic, and that those sentiments are being exploited by illiberal and other anti-democracy forces. Viteritti also discusses the challenge that China's "state capitalism" model represents for global democracy, and what Donald Trump's coup attempt of 2021 and related events tell us about extreme partisan political polarization and how it has imperiled the basic functions of government.

Toward the end of this conversation, Viteritti expresses optimism that despite all these challenges to democracy in the U.S. and around the world, democratic institutions have shown themselves to be much stronger than many expected, which should be a source of hope for the future.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

How are you feeling about democracy and the overall state of the world, as it faces so many political and other crises?

The most recent edition of the Democracy Index shows that we've seen another bad year for democracy. The average global score has continued to decline. It is now at an all-time low by our measurements, 5.28 out of a scale of 10. That is a bigger decline than what we saw even in our previous studies, in the 2020 study, which is remarkable when you consider that was the year when the coronavirus pandemic hit. That had many implications for the state of democratic institutions, and also public perceptions towards government.

It is important to note that the decline that we saw in 2021 was only matched once before in our history of the study, which started in 2006. That was in 2010, in the shadow of the global financial crisis.

In our new study, many of what we call "full democracies" have also now fallen down to the "flawed democracy" category. We saw the number of authoritarian regimes increase as well. We also saw every region suffer a decline in its average score, except for Eastern Europe. The score there was unchanged. It is a very reasonable response to all this to feel very concerned and very discouraged.

The public mood, both here in the United States and around the world, is that something is very wrong. How do we quantify that?

One of the tools that we use for scoring individual countries is called the World Values Survey. It's authoritative, it's global in focus, it's up to date and it's standardized. We have results for the 165 countries and two territories that we cover in the Democracy Index. What we are seeing is that there is certainly a souring of public attitudes worldwide toward political institutions, the capacity of governments to respond to pressing concerns about the state of the economy and economic security, political concerns and also social concerns.

This is a trend that we've seen become acute in specific regions across the world as well as in specific countries, the United States included. These trends were at play before the coronavirus pandemic happened, but the pandemic accentuated and aggregated these trends, and even made these negative trends appear in countries where we had not seen evidence for such attitudes before. One example would be Canada, where there is a growing skepticism towards the ability of government to respond to these big societal and economic and political issues.

Canada just endured mass protests and disruptions by a so-called Freedom Convoy of truckers supposedly protesting COVID restrictions and protocols. What do we know about such anxieties and anger?

That reflects an increasing skepticism toward government and the capacity of governments to act effectively to solve collective problems. Canada is a very mature and strong democracy. But we still have seen a slippage in that country's ranking in our study in the functioning of government and measures of the health of political culture.

There has also been a hardening of attitudes. This has manifested itself in various countries. For example, in the United States there is intense polarization. Society has become incredibly divided, to the point where public consensus has virtually collapsed on even basic fundamental issues such as election results and public health practices around the pandemic. That was a trend that we discussed at length in our 2020 report for the Democracy Index and another trend that we explored in our most recent 2021 edition for the United States.

Polarization now has become the biggest threat to United States democracy, because not only has it generated an intense cleavage in United States society where we have these two camps that do not see eye to eye, but it has translated into the fact that it is now very hard for political institutions and democratic institutions to function. Looking at the data, there is little to suggest that polarization and that hardening of attitudes is going to ease up anytime soon. Reproductive rights are a big fault line right now. And of course, we're in a period where key elections are approaching, the midterms this year and the presidential election in 2024. Both Republicans and Democrats are going to frame these elections in existential terms. This does not bode well for the state of polarization in the United States, nor does it suggest that we're going to see things get better anytime soon.

Whatever happened to the "end of history" and the ultimate triumph of liberal democracy?

In this year's Democracy Index report we focus on what we describe as the "China challenge." We are in a moment where there is tension and conflict between two very distinct political systems. Is there a "China model" for democracy? What are its features? Is that sustainable? Can it be exported? Does China's leadership even want their system of government to be exported? Our quick answer to that is no.

We also look at the Western democratic model. Is there a democratic recession in the West, which many have been talking about, and which our studies certainly suggest is true over the years? We examine the causes and symptoms, and then ultimately what can be done to stop it. Ultimately, is the Western model of democracy — with its supposed superiority — sustainable?

There are some reasons to be optimistic when it comes to the state of democracy in the world, including the United States. One, we've seen very impressive voter participation in the United States. There was record voter turnout in the November 2020 elections. There was also record voter turnout in the runoff elections in Georgia that took place shortly afterward. And there are many reasons to believe we're going to see high voter participation and political engagement continue throughout this year, especially in the run-up to the midterms.

It is impossible to not think of the extraordinary events that happened at the beginning of 2021, which was our assessment period for the new study. Of course, we saw Donald Trump refuse to accept the results of an election that was held in a free and fair way. We saw Republican lawmakers also back that effort. We saw a sizable portion of the electorate refuse to accept those results.

It was pretty extraordinary to then see that Joe Biden's inauguration took place very smoothly. During Biden's first year in office, he didn't really face any major disruptions. To our eyes, that points to the strength and durability of United States political institutions. It is fair to assume that a smooth transition of power for Biden and a lack of disturbances over the first year in office for the new president would not have taken place in a country with weaker democratic institutions.

But at the same time, it is important not to take those institutions for granted. It remains to be seen whether these institutions can withstand similar types of stresses to those they saw at the beginning of 2021 and even during 2020, whether in terms of frequency or in terms of magnitude.

What do we know about the health of global democracy and how it was impacted by the pandemic?

There is a valid question as to whether, once we emerge from the pandemic, we will see any improvement in the democracy scores in our study. That may very well happen, especially since some of the indicators we use include public perceptions of things like whether governments are responding to crises effectively, and also questions about personal freedom.

There is also a risk that the trends that we've seen in policymaking by governments during the pandemic could in fact become "sticky" and thus could outlast the pandemic. There is an open-ended question as to whether governments will walk away from these restrictions quickly as the pandemic recedes. It's not a question that we have an answer to at the moment, because we're still in the middle of the pandemic.

Where does your optimism come from? I am quite surprised by it.

When we closed out 2020 and started 2021, it was a pretty dark moment for the United States for many reasons. And even just to see that bright spot in terms of the durability of the country's democratic institutions is very valid, valuable and positive, and certainly a reason to be optimistic.

What about what experts call "democratic backsliding," or the many examples of how Republicans are seeking to undermine democracy with their new Jim Crow strategy and other attacks? There is great concern about an existential democracy crisis in America, and perhaps even violent insurrection or civil war.

Polarization is one of the biggest issues in the country, and it hasn't gotten any better over the past year. We're not at the point of civil war, but we do have to keep an eye on this issue of polarization because there's nothing to suggest that it's going to go away immediately.

Where do these global trends bring us? How close are we to democratic collapse?

Our previous report was published at the beginning of 2020. In those two years, we see considerable slippage in terms of democracy at the global level. Certainly, that is alarming. One would assume that if we continue to see that happen next year, it could well be that the decline will continue to gain momentum and become harder to reverse.

What happens once the pandemic eases? There is reason to believe that will relieve some of the pressure that we've seen weighing down on the democracy scores of countries across the world. We will have to wait and see where the data takes us next year.

Trump's latest hate rally: A master class in cult mind control

Donald Trump's political circus and freak show is continuing its American tour. Everywhere it stops, Donald Trump unleashes a torrent of lies, hatred, ignorance, bigotry, racism, narcissism, authoritarianism, threats of violence and other antisocial and evil values.

Trump's political rallies resemble George Orwell's "two minutes of hate" from "1984," expanded to two hours or so.

The mainstream news media has made an obvious editorial decision to downplay or ignore Trump's political hate rallies and similar events. That may be an attempt to correct for the wall-to-wall coverage Trump received the first time he ran for president, but it won't save the American people or American democracy — or the "freedom of the press" — from the neofascist assault. Moreover, ignoring Trump's escalating threats at this point, given all we know, amounts to journalistic malpractice and betrayal of the public trust.

Many other Americans, to be sure, are also ignoring Trump's rallies. Most of those who are paying attention, it appears, are mostly doing so in order to mock Trump and his followers as ignorant or stupid. They are doing this rather than responding to the danger with an appropriate mixture of fear, caution and then effective planning for how best to defeat the threat. Such behavior is an example of what psychologists call "defensive contempt," a reaction born of deep existential fear.

As I have observed previously, mockery and laughter won't save America people from the hell that will be fully unleashed when Trump's Republican-fascist movement wins the 2022 midterms, and quite possibly the presidential election two years after that.

At this point, many professional centrists, pundits and hope-peddlers in the American news media and larger political class have convinced themselves that attention is like oxygen for Donald Trump and his followers, and therefore that depriving them of attention will suffocate their movement. That metaphor is incorrect: This is more like ignoring a fire and allowing it to burn uncontrolled rather than extinguishing it.

Many observers have convinced themselves that attention is like oxygen for Trump: Deprive him of it, and he will die. In fact, ignoring Trump's rallies is more like allowing a fire to burn out of control.

Trump's most recent political rally took place last Saturday in Delaware, Ohio. There he continued to escalate his threats of violence, wallowed even more in the Big Lie and other conspiracy theories and distortions of reality, spouted his white supremacist and racist talking points, and stroked his own narcissism and other mental pathologies. Trump also used the event to anoint Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance and various other Republicans as MAGA-approved surrogates in the midterm elections.

During his Ohio speech, Trump amplified his white supremacist race-war fantasies, which are clearly derived from the "Great Replacement" conspiracy theory and fears that white people somehow face extinction at the hands of Black or brown invaders. Trump has now fully mated the Big Lie claim that he is still the "real" president of the United States with white identity politics and grievance mongering:

The very same people who piously claimed to be defending democracy are the ones throwing open your borders, surrendering your sovereignty, defunding your police, prosecuting your politicians — like nobody's ever seen before, by the way… desecrating your laws, crushing your wages, diluting your vote, and handing your country over millions and millions of illegal foreign nationals — illegal aliens, I would call them — all without your consent.
You haven't consented to that. On top of that you, had a fake, phony election….
But no matter how big or powerful these corrupt radicals may be, you must never forget this nation does not belong to them. This nation belongs to you. This is your home. This is your heritage, and your great American liberty is your God-given right.

In this age of ascendant American fascism, everything old seems to be new again. Trump's white supremacist and nativist fictions echo the discredited "scientific racism" espoused by the likes of Madison Grant in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America and Europe. More than 100 years later, these pseudo-scientific theories have become daily talking points among Republicans, the "conservative" movement and the right-wing echo chamber anchored by Fox News.

Trump continues to use the propaganda and radicalization technique known as "stochastic terrorism" to amplify his threats of political violence against Democrats, liberals and others deemed by his movement to be a poisonous "enemy within" and a threat to America. This dangerous language echoes the eliminationist rhetoric that led to genocide in places like Nazi Germany, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere:

In this moment together, we're standing up against some of the most menacing forces, entrenched interests, and vicious opponents our people have ever seen or fought against. Despite great outside powers and dangers, our biggest threat remains the sick, sinister and evil people from within our own country.
There is no threat as dangerous to democracy as they are. Just look at the un-select committee of political hacks and what they're doing to our country while radical-left murderers, rapists, and insurrectionists roam free: Nothing happens to them.

Trump and his regime are guilty of de facto democide for their negligent response to the coronavirus pandemic. Of course, Trump now claims that it was Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public health experts, and the "liberals," "socialist Democrats" and "the left" who unleashed COVID upon the American people and that (somehow) he and his regime acted as saviors:

They created unyielding and unsustainable and totally horrific mandates and radical mask regulations — and we did just the opposite, and we had far better success in every single category.

In total, Trump's Ohio rally was a master class in cult behavior, mind control, right-wing propaganda and disinformation, and psychological warfare techniques. Reporters, pundits and other professional smart people with a public platform should be consistently warning the American people about the grave danger this represents. With a few admirable exceptions, they have refused to rise to the challenge.

A cult leader keeps his followers in thrall by creating fantastical threats from evil outside forces — from which, of course, he is going to save them.

Trump's rally last weekend was a textbook example of how a cult leader keeps his followers in thrall by creating fantastical threats from evil forces in the outside world. In this type of psychological conditioning, the leader becomes a savior figure for the followers, who learn to accept that they must never challenge his or her word.

Trump is also using Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels' technique of projection and the Big Lie, by literally accusing the Democrats and all others who disagree with him of the crimes against society and democracy that he and his movement have actually committed.

Trump's rallies create an alternate reality or state of malignant normality, where humane values, reason and truth are rejected or inverted, to be replaced by their opposites. As should be obvious following the events of Jan. 6, 2021, many of Trump's followers and the other members of the neofascist right are ready to kill, and perhaps to die, for their cause and their leader.

In a 2019 interview for Salon, Steven Hassan, one of the world's leading experts on cult psychology and deprogramming, explained Trump's power over his followers and the danger to society it represents:

Destructive cults are authoritarian, pyramid-structured groups where there is often a charismatic or authoritarian leader at the top who commands total power and loyalty. Destructive cults also use deceptive recruitment and specific control of techniques. These techniques include behavior control, information control, thought control and emotional control to keep people dependent and obedient within that group's structure.
The group really demands a pseudo-identity. It is not your real conscience or your real self. You become someone who is a tool of the leader, an instrument to be used or to be thrown away. Much of the manipulation, aside from telling the members, "You're the chosen ones," is about guilt and fear. It is actually a very unpleasant experience to be in one of these cult groups long-term. ...
Trump's violent threats are an example of fear indoctrination and phobia indoctrination for his supporters.
So the question then becomes, when Donald Trump is making these violent threats, what is going on in the minds of the people who are around him? Are Trump's inner circle, his followers and other supporters really willing to commit murder for Donald Trump? Will his followers go that far for him?...
Trump also tells his followers not to listen to other information if it is critical of him ... [and] tells his followers that if you don't follow him, terrible things are going to happen to you, the country and the world ... that the world will be overrun by evil people if they don't support him. Donald Trump is a stereotypical cult leader like Lyndon LaRouche, who's a political cult leader, or Sun Myung-moon, my former cult leader. Donald Trump is also like Jim Jones or David Koresh. It is clear when you consider Trump's malignant narcissism and examine his speeches and writing.

Hassan observed in the same interview that Trump's supporters could be "an easy target for another country, whether it's Russia or Iran or China or some other hostile country that wants to sow division in the United States," and concluded, "Unfortunately, I think that Trump's supporters are going to be a great danger to the rest of us in this country for some time."

Social scientists and other researchers have shown that there are many millions of Trump's followers who support terrorism and other forms of political violence against the Democrats and their supporters in order to protect "real America" (meaning, of course, white America). New research commissioned by The New Republic shows the extent of that danger: More than 50% percent of Republicans believe that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was an act of "patriotism."

Here is a thought experiment for those observers who have convinced themselves that by ignoring Donald Trump and his political hate rallies, the danger they represent to the country will somehow disappear. Donald Trump received 74 million votes in 2020 – roughly 11 million more than he did in 2016. If only 10% of those voters are willing to obey his incitements to political violence, that's 7.4 million people, a potential force so large that it would throw American society into total chaos and destruction.

If 0.1% of Trump voters embrace political violence, that's 74,000 terrorists — an insurmountable problem for law enforcement.

Let's take that a step further: If only 1% percent of Trump's voters, or 740,000 people, venture into political violence, that would still be a massive national emergency. If you reject that number as unrealistic, then let's take it to 0.1% of Trump's voters, or 74,000 right-wing terrorists and other extremists. Again, that would be huge and nearly insurmountable problem for law enforcement, the military and other security forces.

If the naysayers, hope peddlers and others mired in obsessive denial about the neofascist threat would like to force that number down even lower, it still implies a threat level that is likely to mean considerable pain, suffering, turmoil and destruction. Consider this excerpt from an essay by former gun industry executive Ryan Busse, published last November in the Bulwark:

"When can we use the guns?" The question hung in the air just long enough for some in the crowd to begin cheering. "That's not a joke," the man added. "How many elections are they gonna steal before we kill these people?"
The question, posed on October 25 during Charlie Kirk's Turning Point USA event in Idaho, made it clear that this man, and others like him, are hoping for a signal.
I've met men like this before. I worked in the firearms industry as a sales executive for a long time and beginning during the Obama presidency, gun business leaders like me, who helped build the nation's top gun companies, noticed this disturbing chatter from gun owners at firearms trade shows. Many in the industry dismissed these threats. I didn't. And now we hear them from gun owners across the country who dream of deploying their arsenals to kill fellow citizens.
It's tempting to wish these people away. It's a big country and there will always be malcontents and criminals. If you wanted to see the glass as half full, you could say that Charlie Kirk denounced the call to violence. Though to be honest, Kirk's disavowal didn't inspire much confidence. He rejected the call to murder not because it was wrong but because it would "play into all their plans" — you can guess who "they" are here. And Kirk then qualified this by saying that "we must exhaust every single peaceful means possible" — which sure seems to leave open the question of what to do after all of the peaceful means have been exhausted.
And the glass-half-empty view seems pretty convincing. America has a rapidly growing authoritarian army comprised of thousands of men like that fellow in Idaho. They have been groomed by Trump acolytes such as Kirk and Steve Bannon. They have also been developed as avatar customers by the gun industry, meaning that they are well armed.
But what non-gun owners may not understand is that these men are not your average gun-owning Americans. They are people who have fallen into a cult where it is normal to organize your entire culture around weapons of war. Some make it official by claiming membership in the Oath Keepers or Three Percenters. Some are just average suburban dads who've been radicalized. They laugh at "Let's Go Brandon" chants, drink Black Rifle Coffee, and wave "Come and Take It" flags at political rallies.

Such warnings are to be heeded and not ignored. Democrats, liberals, progressives and other pro-democracy forces are in a literal fight for their lives -- and for the future of America. Perhaps the most tragic aspect of America's democracy crisis is that the vast majority of Americans do not even understand that they are in the middle of an existential struggle. Most are exhausted and simply hoping to wait out the crisis, when they should be fervently battling against a reactionary-revolutionary movement that is fighting hard to win the present and future. To this point, that movement faces little serious opposition.

Democracy is running out of time. America's political class and leading figures in the mainstream media still want to pretend that we can somehow return to "normal," and that denial or wish-casting will make the neofascist assault go away. It won't.

Crime novelist Don Winslow imagines Trump behind bars — but will it happen?

Donald Trump is essentially a political crime boss. He controls the Republican Party from his palace at Mar-a-Lago where he dispenses favors and collects money and displays of subservience in exchange for his blessing and protection. Like other authoritarian leaders, Trump viewed the presidency — which he is still plotting to regain — as an opportunity to enrich himself, his family and others in his inner circle at the literal expense of the public. As documented by investigative journalists and public watchdog groups, Trump was remarkably successful in that regard.

Trump has no conception of public service or of any obligation to anyone or anything outside his own self-interest. Like other political thugs, Trump is compelled toward violence and causing harm to those he deems the enemy, largely because they refuse to show deference and comply with his wishes. As demonstrated by his regime's callous and negligent response to the COVID pandemic, Trump has shown that he has no regard for human life.

Throughout his decades in the public eye, Trump has demonstrated gross disdain for the rule of law and basic standards of human decency, compassion, care and concern. He has been credibly accused of sexual assault by numerous women. Like other such leaders, Trump corrupts the people around him. This is true of his inner circle as well as the Republican Party and the followers of his fascist movement.

Although Joe Biden is now president, America's democracy crisis shows no signs of ending anytime soon. Too many Americans are still in denial about the existential threat that Donald Trump, his movement and the broader white right pose to the future of the United States.

Don Winslow, the bestselling crime fiction author, activist and truth-teller, is not one of those people. Winslow has used his unique combination of skills, experiences, background, resources and public platform throughout the Age of Trump to sound the alarm about America's escalating societal and political disaster. His videos about the dangers to democracy embodied by Donald Trump and the Republican Party have been viewed online more than 250 million times.

Winslow is the author of many bestselling novels, including "Savages" (2010), "The Cartel" (2015), "The Force" (2017), and "The Border" (2019). His work has also been adapted for major Hollywood movies and TV series. His new book, the first in a trilogy, is "City on Fire."

Winslow recently announced that he is so committed to protecting American democracy from the threat posed by the Trump movement and American fascism that he is retiring from writing — at least for now — and will devote most of his time and energy to that struggle.

In this wide-ranging conversation, Winslow warns that the American people cannot afford fatigue or exhaustion in what will likely be an extended battle for the future of the country. He calls out those public voices he says remain in denial about the harsh reality that Donald Trump and his inner circle will in all likelihood never be prosecuted or punished for their crimes. Winslow also argues that the twin crises posed by the pandemic and Trump's authoritarian regime have harmed the American people on both a collective and individual level, and that real healing and serious accountability will be necessary if the country is to be made whole and move forward.

Throughout this conversation, Winslow also reflects on his journey as a writer, on how his working-class New England origins have shaped his new novel, and on the importance of family and friends in keeping him grounded amid the trappings of success. At the end of this conversation, he stresses the importance of hope in dark times, arguing that surrender to despair is not an option.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

You and I have spoken on several previous occasions and I'm always struck by your humility. For example, when you say that you have an office you sound genuinely appreciative of that fact. When you're a writer, or following some other creative path, to say, "I have an office" is really an accomplishment. That's a little thing for some people but a big thing for the rest of us.

It is a big deal. I was either six or seven published books into my career before I could quit my day jobs. Writing my first six or seven books, I never had an office. I was writing in hotel rooms and on trains and planes, wherever I could sit down. When I first got an office, it was a really heady experience. It was like, wow! I have kind of arrived. I can get up in the morning and walk over here and work and then leave it and go home.

Guess what? Now I have two offices. I have an office in my house where I do a lot of my work. But we rented this old gas station that's literally a minute walk up the dirt road that sits out on a little highway, the two-lane blacktop in this little town. My wife has the bigger part of it for a studio, and I have the smaller part of it for an office. I put industrial furniture and a heavy punching bag in it. I like it a lot. Then I get to walk a minute back to my house. That physical separation is significant. I can separate work from home.

You don't come from money. You are a working-class man at heart. For you to be able to say, "I'm a writer with an office," what would your parents think about that?

I wonder that too. But it's funny, because in Rhode Island, where I wrote most of the new book, I don't have an office. I could if I wanted to. I started to write outside on the old front porch, sitting on a futon in front of a coffee table. I was back in Rhode Island to help take care of my mother, who was in her declining years. I start work at 5:30 in the morning and I didn't want to wake anybody up by banging around the actual house.

I would wake up and go downstairs and make a quiet cup of coffee in the kitchen. I would then sneak out onto the front porch and sit down on this damn futon. At some points during the year, I was literally doing the Bob Cratchit thing, wearing gloves with the tips of the fingers cut out and a scarf. It was cold, and there was no heat out there. When the time came that I could have put an office anywhere in that house, I didn't. I liked my porch: I was just so used to writing out there. I wrote some pretty good stuff out there and I thought to myself, why change it?

You have your creative voice as a writer and also your political voice as a truth-teller about the Age of Trump and America's worsening disaster. How do you keep this all together and keep the momentum going?

I work with a colleague on the political matters. I'm not carrying that load myself. In terms of staying grounded, I've been married to the same woman for 37 years. If ever I got to the point of just being "the author" and all that comes with that stereotype, it wouldn't play well at home.

My son is an adult now. Being a parent grounds you, because I don't care what great literary thoughts you might be having, when your child is a baby, the diaper still needs to be changed. I never shut my door when our child was growing up, ever. If he wanted to come in and go play ball or chat or whatever, I just stopped what I was doing and did that, because that was more important both to me and to him. It's not hard to stay grounded when you come from blue-collar people. I was an overnight success at 55, so I have far more experience of failure than I do of success. Staying grounded has never been an issue for me.

The Trump regime committed crimes against the United States and the American people on a grand scale. It was really just Grand Theft USA. There is a plague that will kill more than a million people. Fascism is ascendant. There are so many challenges and simultaneous crises. This is a litmus test of our national character, and it's also a test on a personal level. What have these last few years done to our relationships with each other?

I lost my mom during the pandemic. We couldn't be with her. We were on the opposite coast and there were no planes, and we would not have been allowed in to see her anyway. There was no funeral. I'll be 68 in October. I have less time for people in general, but I have more time for the people who really matter to me. It's a funny thing. The close friends that I've had for 50 years are still the same friends. What I've taken out of this experience is that I didn't lose touch with them, but I didn't spend as much time with them as I wanted because I've been so busy.

The value of those friends is incalculable to me. The time that you spend with people who you care about is the one thing you can't make any more of. I can always make more money if that became an issue. I know how to do that now. But you can't make any more time. Once it's gone, it's gone. We also don't know how much time we have. It's not like you can look at the bank account and know what you have. The very essence of life, which is time, you do not know.

There's been no closure to this era yet. There have been no consequences for Trump's crimes.

We have not had any closure or other reckoning, because there have been no consequences. If you look at what Nixon did in Watergate, it's a misdemeanor compared to what Trump did in and around Jan. 6.

Clearly, we have not had any closure or other reckoning as a society, because there have been no consequences. If you look at what Nixon did in Watergate, it's a misdemeanor compared to what Trump did in and around Jan. 6 and at other points throughout his administration. What happened with Nixon? We had nationally televised hearings with people who were sworn in under oath and subpoena. The whole country could watch it. The whole country could see what was being exposed about Nixon's crimes. You might have different opinions and different feelings about it, but the American people got to watch the hearings.

Nothing like that has happened with Trump. We need an open investigation that reveals to everybody what happened on Jan. 6 and the related events — as if it's not obvious enough anyway.

These past few years, I think I've aged more than at any other time in my life. Part of this is because of the stress of Trumpism and COVID and the losses and the challenges and having to fight this fight for the country's democracy. What have I learned? I'm probably stronger than I think. I've also really learned the value of time and the value of close relationships.

Donald Trump and his inner circle made decisions that led to the preventable deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Trump and his cabal also tried to overthrow democracy on Jan. 6, 2021. He was prepared to institute martial law, using the Insurrection Act. How do you explain the collective lack of outrage by the American people? I'm disgusted and tired from their apparent lack of care and concern. Should I just lower my expectations?

Lowering your expectations is dangerous and ultimately self-defeating. Please don't do that. I believe that there are two major elements at work here. One, there are a significant number of people in this country who at the end of the day don't really believe in democracy. They believe in authoritarianism. They're comfortable with authoritarianism because it provides easy answers. It also plays into their racial prejudices.

Second, the country is tired. There is mental and emotional fatigue because of the Trump years and COVID. People are just worn out and they don't want to hear about what Trump did. Many people just want to say, "Oh God, that was in the past. Let's put it in the past." People like me and you and some others are saying, "That would be great, but it's not in the past." The reason that we need consequences is not so much for retribution. It's to prevent another Jan. 6 and what Trump did more generally from happening again, which it easily could in 2024.

There is a cadre of vocal people on Twitter and elsewhere, who continue to proclaim that Donald Trump is going to jail, or to insist that there's more going on with the DOJ and Merrick Garland than the public sees. "Just be patient," they tell us. You have been very vocal in rebutting such claims. What do you see that those people do not?

People would love to believe that Donald Trump is going to spend time behind bars. I would love to think that. I haven't seen evidence that we are moving in that direction.

You have to look at the evidence. What has happened? Nothing. People want to believe what they want to believe, and people would love to believe that Trump is going to spend time behind bars. I would love to think that Donald Trump would spend time behind bars. I haven't seen evidence that we are moving in that direction.

Is it just childish thinking? Do some people ultimately just want to live a life of denial?

It's wishful thinking. The alternatives are painful. It's part of our nature as human beings, really as animals, to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Some of these truths are really painful. It's painful to me. I would love to see Trump behind bars. I wake up every morning hoping to see that headline. But on a rational level, I don't see it happening.

So many people still believe in these fantasies about American justice, that in the end the good guys always win. What do you think it will do to the American people when they finally understand that Trump and his cabal are walking free, with few if any serious consequences for their crimes?

It would confirm what many people have thought for a long time, and not without reason. You could tell this story about Trump in Hebrew, Latin or Aramaic. If you look at history, there are not very many examples of the rich being held to consequences.

As a crime writer, when you look at this moment with Trump, how do you make sense of this? Could you write it?

It is not interesting to me to write. As the saying goes, organized crime only wished it were as organized as Congress. These are very old stories. Should we be surprised that white-collar crime is far more profitable and effective than other types of crime? It shouldn't come as a shock.

In a recent interview you observed that John Gotti, the legendary New York crime boss, was the only one in his family who didn't flip. He was on top, and you can't snitch down. Donald Trump is a political crime boss. Who does he snitch on?

Trump has nobody to trade. He'll try, if it comes to that, and the only person he wouldn't sell out would be Ivanka. Trump would sell out everybody else when it came to it.

What have you learned about human nature from writing about crime? How has that informed your understanding of the Age of Trump and this moment more generally?

We have a capacity for both good and evil that's unlimited. I've seen the best of people and the worst of people. In my 23 years of writing about the Mexican drug cartels, I've seen hideous psychopathic sadists and mass slaughter. I've also seen the incredible nobility and courage of Mexican women in opposing the cartels, for example. I have no way to explain the courage of Mexican journalists either, 200 of whom were killed in covering the cartels and the drug war.

Human beings have an enormous capacity for nobility and for tremendous evil. Donald Trump is legitimately a deeply evil human being. But I think we have to have some hope that there are more people who will listen to the better angels of their natures and defeat this thing.

We as human beings have this enormous capacity for nobility on the one hand and for tremendous evil on the other. How has that informed this moment in America with Trump and these crises? Donald Trump is legitimately a deeply evil human being. I think he's a narcissistic sociopath. Trump has gathered around him a group of accomplices who will do just about anything and say just about anything. On the other hand, I think we have to have at least some hope that there are more people who are going to listen to the better angels of their natures and defeat this thing.

What does it mean to be working class and from Providence?

That is what the new book is all about that. I had to go back and learn that language and dialect again. That kind of way of being. For the most part I've been out here in California for 30 years. This is an area that almost could not be any more different than working-class New England. Those are our people. Those are my people. My paternal grandfather went to work in a Providence factory when he was 14 and retired as the top salesman at Rhode Island Tool, the same company. My dad took a different path and went off into the Navy. But at the root I come from a New England working-class environment. It completely dominates the writing of "City on Fire."

I can speak to the Irish and Italian and what we would call "swamp Yankee" working-class experience. It means that you're gritty. You're generally pessimistic. I often joke about being Irish and looking forward to our next defeat. I grew up in an era when the fishing industry was on the decline. The factories had gone south. That identity also means having a tremendous sense of loyalty to your peers, family, neighbors, and friends. There is a certain type of hardcore toughness and resilience that I still find there. The outer shell of the New England working class — and the patrician class for that matter — is very tough and hard to penetrate. But once you do there is an incredible soulfulness and sweetness in it.

How are the organized crime families, the Mafia, that you write about in "City on Fire" and the new trilogy similar or different from organized crime in other regions of the country?

If you're in the New York Mafia, you may or may not know somebody in one of the other families. In New England, everybody knows everybody. So the guys in Providence are going to know the guys in New Haven, who are going to know the guys in Hartford, who are going to know the guys in New Bedford. So it's a much smaller, much more intimate community than you would find maybe in Chicago or in New York.

What is the role of that type of familiarity in the new book? And why did you have the compulsion to "come back home," so to speak?

The intimacy is critical because at the beginning of the book they're all friends, they're allies. There is an incident that drives them apart. As for the impulse to come home, I believe that eventually we all do that in one form or another. I physically went home to help take care of my mother, and then I started to fall in love with the place again.

I had reached a point where I was ready and capable of confronting the past and looking at where I grew up and how I grew up in a more objective, maybe mature way. I now am in a space where I have the ability to write about it. The other element is that the history of crime in New England matched pretty nicely with the stories I was reading in the Iliad and the Aeneid, and as a practical matter that worked out really well too.

The new book has been described as the Iliad meets organized crime. How does it feel to hear that comparison? How are you managing the expectations that come with writing an epic?

It's a commitment, of course. You're spending years of your working life on a book, and you hope it's worth it. For me, it was really worth it. I hope it's worth it to the readers as well who will be spending time with these three books.

Maybe that discipline can stand as a lesson for the American people in this moment of crisis. This disaster is not over. So many Americans are tired and ready to quit, and the fight hasn't even really started. What message do you have for them?

This is going to sound so simplistic, but the truth is that it is just right, left, right, left — putting one foot in front of the other and then getting up the next day and doing it again. It's as simple and as boring as that. I wish I had a more inspiring or romantic take on it. I don't. It is just a matter of saying, maybe today I don't feel like it, but I'm going to do it anyway.

Is hope a dangerous thing?

No. Perhaps hope can be dangerous in the sense that you can get hurt. That disappointed hope is maybe the most hurtful thing. But what are we supposed to do without hope? Consider a state of hopelessness. What does that mean in a practical way? What do you do? What would we do with all that hopelessness in this country and this world? Do you just lie down? Do you curl up into a fetal ball? Do you kill yourself? What do you do? We have to have hope, even though it's risky in an emotional sense, because we have to carry on. Otherwise, we just give up. I don't think that's a choice.

There’s something even more disturbing than the fact Trump incited an insurrection – according to this renowned scholar

The world is experiencing multiple crises at the same time.

Despite the availability of vaccines, the COVID pandemic continues to disrupt daily life around the world. Public health experts estimate that the pandemic has infected at least 500 million people and killed 6 million of them. The total human, economic, social and political costs of the pandemic are incalculably large and will continue long into the future.

Democracy is in crisis around the world as fascists, demagogues and authoritarians maintain or expand their power and influence. The global right is ascendant; pro-democracy forces in the United States and elsewhere are, in most cases, trying to hold the line or even retreating.

Vladimir Putin has become the symbolic and literal leader of the global right in its war against democracy, pluralism, and a more cosmopolitan and inclusive future. He has launched a war of aggression against Ukraine with the goal of expanding Russia's power and rebuilding its empire.

Meanwhile, the global climate emergency continues to worsen, and almost nothing is being done to address it. Civilization will be eviscerated, if not destroyed, unless drastic efforts are made to reduce carbon emissions. To this point, the world's leaders and the global public lack a unity of vision and a common desire to save the planet — and themselves.

RELATED: Is America the "world's greatest democracy"? In 2022, we don't even crack the top 50

The sum effect of these accumulated crises is an understandable focus on the here and the now. Many people -- if not a majority -- around the world are in a type of survival mode. We see this in the collective emotional valence in the United States and across the West: There is a shared sense that things are broken and wrong but little public will or leadership to do something about it.

To overcome these simultaneous crises will require some form of belief in a future that is better than the present, and a belief that the human race can actually get there. To discuss this enormous challenge, I recently spoke with political scientist and political economist Francis Fukuyama. He is currently the Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and a faculty member at its Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law.

Fukuyama is best known for his widely influential (and highly controversial) 1992 bestseller "The End of History and the Last Man." His new book, to be published May 10, is "Liberalism and Its Discontents."

In this conversation, Fukuyama argues for the central importance of the war in Ukraine in terms of the larger struggle to defend global democracy. He also warns that the forces of illiberalism and authoritarianism have gained an important foothold in the U.S. thanks to Donald Trump and the Republican Party, and suggests that the events of Jan. 6, 2021, should be understood as a preview of the much longer struggle to preserve democratic norms and institutions in America.

Fukuyama also presents the case for more social democracy as a way to address America's extreme wealth and income inequality, and argues that doing so is crucial to ensuring the legitimacy of the entire liberal democratic system. He also offers thoughts on why so many Republicans and other "conservatives" have embraced Trumpism and other forms of anti-democratic and authoritarian thinking. In the end, Fukuyama argues that despite its flaws liberal democracy still offers the best hope for human progress, and insists we should remain hopeful about the future.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

How are you making sense of the world, as it faces all these simultaneous crises?

Since Feb. 24, we've been in emergency mode because of Ukraine. The Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies here at Stanford has supported many Ukrainians over the years. In fact, I just spoke with 200 Ukrainians who are associated with the institute. It's very hard to figure out how to help them concretely given that we are here in California, but certainly through advocacy and in the realm of public policy, we are trying.

I think that our Ukrainian colleagues just like to know that they're not forgotten. Just having that contact with people I've known and worked with in the past is very important.

How did that feel, to talk with your friends and colleagues in Ukraine but to also be so far away from what is happening to them?

It's complicated. Many of them had to send their children and parents out of the country. The men are not allowed to leave. Some of them have quit their jobs and signed up for the territorial militia, so they're learning how to shoot AK-47s and RPGs and so forth. I feel a little bit abashed talking to my Ukrainian colleagues, because we Americans have been supportive of the Ukrainian people but we've not taken any of the kinds of personal risks that they're taking at the moment. Certainly our lives are not remotely as disrupted as theirs are right now. I always feel like I'm in the presence of people that I have got a lot of respect for. I wish them the best, but I'm not in their situation.

Do they have a sense of being on the frontline of history?

My Ukrainian contacts have this sense that they are involved in a larger narrative. Many of the questions they were asking me focused on how the outside world perceives the war: Do we perceive it as just something that is happening between Russians and Ukrainians, or do we perceive the war as something that involves us too? I keep trying to assure my Ukrainian colleagues that the war and all that is happening there definitely does apply to the rest of us. They're fighting on our behalf in many respects. That gives them some comfort, but then the question becomes what kinds of concrete help we are going to give them. That is the more difficult question.

How do we explain to the average American why Ukraine should matter to them? When people in Ukraine shared with you that they are fighting on our behalf, what does that mean?

What we are as Americans is built around our democracy. That's always been part of American national identity. It's been particularly important since the end of the civil rights era, when we stopped thinking of identity here in America in racial or gender terms and began to base identity around a certain set of democratic ideas. The survival of democracy in the United States depends on the survival of democracy abroad — and right now there is a very strong network of anti-democratic forces at work in the world.

If Vladimir Putin succeeds in Ukraine, then anti-democratic forces will succeed here as well and we could be facing a serious constitutional crisis in 2024. It is all connected.

Much of that centers on Vladimir Putin. But that network of anti-democratic forces reaches into the United States, because Donald Trump is a good friend of his. Many of Trump's supporters are on the wrong side of the war in Ukraine. They are on the Russian side. People like Tucker Carlson are on the wrong side of the war as well. The war in Ukraine impacts the American people in the sense that, if Vladimir Putin succeeds, then such people here — those anti-democratic forces — will succeed as well. I believe they actually pose a real and present danger to American democracy, and if they're not beaten back we could be facing a serious constitutional crisis in this country in 2024. It is all connected.

What is so seductive about Putin's ideology. What is the allure of the global right?

That has a great deal to do with the perception that he is a type of political strongman. A liberal democracy is built around many constraints on executive power. That's why we've got courts and an independent media and three branches of government and so forth. Donald Trump was certainly frustrated by the fact that these institutions wouldn't let him do all the things that he wanted to do.

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On his part, there's certainly this hankering after the ability to act like a strongman. Donald Trump has repeatedly said that he gets along really well with authoritarian leaders such as Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. He doesn't like people like Angela Merkel and other Western leaders who are willing to operate within the constraints imposed by liberal democracy. Unrestrained power is what is attractive for Trump and his followers. That is why they like Putin.

How do we explain to people who are attracted to right-wing authoritarianism that their lives will be worse in almost every demonstrable way under that type of regime?

That's why I believe that what has happened in Ukraine is actually a valuable lesson. When you live in a liberal democracy that is peaceful and prosperous, many people take that for granted and think there are no real threats to it.

I keep thinking about one of these incidents where, at a school board meeting during the pandemic, people showed up wearing the Star of David. Somehow, in their minds, a mask mandate or a vaccine mandate is equivalent to what Hitler did to the Jews. A person can believe something like that only if they are very ignorant of history, and moreover, if they do not really understand that there has been real authoritarian evil in the world. Such people just have no context in which to see reality, and what they know about the world is very limited.

What did you see in the events of Jan. 6, 2021?

I had been anticipating violence because I had been monitoring the chatter on right wing websites. I was not completely surprised when the violence took place. I thought to myself, yes, this is an insurrection right from the beginning and there is no question about it.

More than a year later, there are people who — contrary to all the public evidence — still claim that Trump and his allies were not attempting a coup, or that the people who attacked the Capitol were some type of uncoordinated mob, or that the events of that day were not an insurrection.

That depends on who's doing the talking. One of the things that has come out over the past year and as a result of the work being done by the Jan. 6 House committee is that the attack was much less spontaneous than people might have thought at the time. Anybody who has followed these events and what we know now realizes that it actually was a conspiracy to overthrow the government. The people that you are referring to are just partisans.

But what's probably more disturbing than the fact that Trump tried to stage an insurrection is the fact that he's gotten so much of the Republican Party to go along with it, and to try to normalize it. For them, it's just a matter of power. Many Republicans probably see that this really was an insurrection, but they don't want to admit it because they want to get re-elected. They're afraid of their own voters and believe that if they act like Liz Cheney and tell the truth about Jan. 6, they are going to get primaried and voted out of office and exiled from the party. That is the kind of cowardice that is taking place.

Something is very broken in America right now, and that has been true for some time. What do we do with these feelings of broken time and in-between-ness?

In the United States we have been undergoing a process of political decay. I've been writing about this for some time. We don't just make progress in history; we can also go backward. To that point, many American institutions that seemed to work pretty well in the 20th century have become very dysfunctional. For example, there is the Electoral College. And when you combine the checks and balances in the American system of government with the degree of polarization we have now, the result is a government that basically can't do anything. It can't make basic decisions about the budget from year to year. It's captured by lobbyists and moneyed interests. Many people recognize that there are these problems, but the system is so paralyzed that we can't actually fix them.

Yes, we are in the midst of a crisis. But the crisis is not one of those urgent things where if you don't fix it in the next six months there is going to be chaos in the streets. It's a much more long-term deterioration. People perceive that the system isn't able to right itself and that, in my opinion, is worrisome.

The problems with the government and American society — with "the system" — that people are looking at depends completely on which side of the polarization they are sitting on. So if you're on the right, a lot of people think that what made America great is being destroyed by liberals and that America's not going to survive in any form as they knew it.

If you are on the left, people believe, I think more accurately, that it's actually the right wing that is the big threat. It is the right wing that is going to upset the whole American constitutional system. The two sides then feed off each other, and in a way each confirms the fears of the other side.

To clarify, I do not want to make that all sound too balanced because I think that at present it is the right wing that is the much more critical threat. But I do believe there is a kind of interplay between the two sides of political polarization.

How do we reconcile the democratic project with extreme wealth and income inequality, both in this country and globally?

I believe that is actually a solvable problem. We solve the problem through social democracy. Democracy in the liberal tradition, in order to survive, must do a certain amount of redistribution because if there is not a de facto degree of equality in terms of outcomes, the system is not going to be stable. The mass public is not going to accept it. The people that lose out are going to want to overturn the system as a whole. In the American case, for example, that system worked relatively well into the 1960s and 1970s. There was a prolonged period of growth in Western democracy because, although everyone in society was not necessarily rising equally, everybody was doing better.

But since then, that has not been happening. Part of the explanation is because of the neoliberal turn where social protections were cut back, where property rights were more strongly enforced. Part of that agenda is actually reversible: If one can pass universal health care, it is possible to restore protections that have been lost. More redistribution is possible. Getting the balance correct is complicated, but conceptually it is not that hard to imagine a return to a more progressive economic policy that would try to equalize outcomes more across democratic society.

Of course, with a globalized economy that is harder to do. Capital is very mobile and such changes will require international cooperation to close down tax havens and money laundering and tax avoidance, for example, as well as all the other ways that the richest people in the world have shielded themselves from democratic accountability. That is a big challenge, but I do not believe that it is unsolvable.

How did such basic principles of social democracy become verboten among Republicans and American conservatives more generally?

Conservatism has changed a lot in the last few years. For example, the role of the state used to be anathema to Reaganite conservatives, and now they actually want to use the state to ban literature in schools. There's an even more authoritarian version of that behavior many of those conservatives are happy to live with, in terms of regulating companies that don't do what they want. Those changes took place under the influence of Trump and his form of populism.

There was a problem with the old welfare state: It had gotten big and sclerotic and there was a necessary correction needed. But those corrections became a kind of religion for some people and was carried to the extreme. In my opinion, that generated a reaction in the other direction as well. All of that contributed to the problem.

What about our big dreams? What about the future? What about progress?

"The End of History" was really about the existence of a progressive universal history and the idea that if you take a sufficiently long view of things, there has been historical progress. I believe that remains the case. If you don't believe that, you should probably go to Myanmar or a country that is living in a prior age where you don't have economic development, you don't have rule of law, you don't have basic justice. Compare that country to America with all of its warts, or Europe, or any other contemporary liberal democracy.

There's definitely been progress, and I would say that probably the biggest empirical evidence of this is how people migrate around the world. Every year, many thousands of people try to get out of poor, disorganized countries where they don't have any opportunity. There's too much violence, there's bad governance and so forth. Where do those people go? They go to liberal societies where their children will have a chance at getting an education, where they're not going to be stifled for their political views and the like. To me, that is testimony to the fact that there has been progress over the years as we've evolved modern liberal democracies. We shouldn't let our current discouragements lead us to think that progress doesn't exist or that it's not possible.

In the United States, the Republican Party is anti-democratic and actually working within the democratic system to destroy it from within. We are seeing such a dynamic in Poland, Hungary and other countries as well. How does a pluralistic democracy manage that type of internal threat?

You mobilize. You use the democratic process to push back. You need leadership, and that includes grassroots organization. Political parties play a role. That's the way you fight back. That will be hard. A lot of the pushback hasn't been very successful, for example, as in Hungary. But in the long run I am of the opinion that is the only way you're going to push these people back, because I think violence or more radical forms of action will, in the end, be self-defeating.

Is Vladimir Putin a great man of history?

He looks like a great incompetent fool at the moment. His invasion of Ukraine has led to exactly the opposite result that he was intending. Putin has unified the Ukrainians. He's cemented their idea that they are a separate nation with a strong national identity apart from Russia. Putin has wrecked the huge army that he's built. Those are not the characteristics of a great man or a great leader.

Does that historical framework have explanatory power in this day and age?

I do not believe that the Great Man theory of history was ever a particularly useful way of thinking about history. Historical change is always a combination of structure and agents, and there are big historical forces at play that limit or channel what individual leaders can do. Yes, individual leaders are important. But if one just emphasizes the "great man" then you are going to miss a great deal about what is happening in the broader society, because people who are working from the bottom up are powerful as well.

What do you think happens next with Putin?

I do not know that I can predict the future. I can tell you what I hope could be a possible outcome, which is that Putin will be defeated pretty decisively. In turn, that will take the wind out of the sails of the global authoritarian populist movement that he is the leader of, and there will be a rebirth around the world of belief in liberal democracy.

The terrifying truth about Trump and the media

The American news media has collectively decided to ignore Donald Trump's threats of white supremacist violence and sedition. If you believe this will keep you safe from his schemes and machinations, or from what his legions of followers may do, you are greatly mistaken.

Apparently, the gatekeepers of the approved public discourse have convinced themselves that they are somehow serving the public interest by ignoring these escalating threats. In reality, these gatekeepers are doing exactly the opposite: They are normalizing American fascism by minimizing its dangers. In a moment when the news media as an institution should sound the alarm even more loudly about the threat to American democracy, safety and security represented by Trumpism and neofascism a choice has been made to mock or whitewash the imminent danger.

One does not ignore an arsonist in the hope that he will stop burning down buildings; the same logic should apply to political arsonists as well.

Did you know that last Saturday Donald Trump held a political hate rally in Selma, North Carolina? If you follow the mainstream news media, the answer is likely no. Here is what you missed. As he has done repeatedly, Donald Trump summoned up the demons of Jim Crow and the Confederacy. He may try to hide his hatred and bigotry by sharing a stage with Black and brown people, and he may disingenuously employ the language of the civil rights movement, but Donald Trump is at his core a white supremacist and racial authoritarian.

RELATED: New research on Trump voters: They're not the sharpest tools in the box

Donald Trump remains the de facto leader of the Republican Party. He won almost 75 million votes in 2020 — significantly more than in 2016 — because Republican voters enthusiastically agree with him and what he represents. His values are their values. Trumpism and neofascism more generally are both a symptom and a cause of an American political culture and society that is deeply sick with multiple ailments: racism and misogyny, cruelty and greed, anti-LGBTQ bigotry, religious fundamentalism, anti-intellectualism, an obsession with violence and other antisocial and anti-human values.

The relationship between the leader and follower in a political cult such as today's Republican Party is deep and powerful. Diane Roberts of the Florida Phoenix summarizes this unhealthy psychodynamic:

Republicans are angry.
So very, very angry.
Deranged White Man Syndrome has not yet been listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but it's just a matter of time.
Seriously, these dudes (and they are mostly male-gendered persons) are on a rampage of rage and loathing which cannot be healthy….
Living in a constant tantrum must be exhausting for Republicans. I suspect that somewhere in the deep recesses of their brains, they know that while they may hold power at the moment, the world is changing.
And they can't stand it.
Let's hope they get serious therapy: This is a sick, sick, sick bunch of people.

To the uninitiated — and also to those who have just become numb to it all — Trump's North Carolina speech was an uninspired recitation of his personal grievances, malignant narcissism ("I've got to be the cleanest, I think I'm the most honest human being, perhaps, that God has ever created") and victim fantasies, mixed with now-standard talking points about the Big Lie, the 2020 election and Jan. 6, "parents' rights", "invaders" at the U.S.-Mexico border, supposed crime and barbarism in "Democrat-run" major cities and an assortment of lies both small and large about Joe Biden and the Democrats.

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But for those attuned to the poisonous gospel that is white supremacy in America, Trump's words and the danger they represent were very clear. As a matter of self-defense and survival, Black and brown folks must be keenly aware of such words. Trump's cult followers and other members of the conservative movement and larger white right also hear his words and understand their message clearly. For them, Trump's words are inspiration and aspiration.

Too many Americans choose not to hear Trump's gospel of hate — it all feels so unseemly and uncomfortable. They truly believe that they have the luxury to ignore reality.

Too many other Americans choose not to hear Trump and the white right's gospel of hate because it all feels so unseemly and uncomfortable. They may be fence-sitters, in denial about the realities of American neofascism and this moment of crisis. Or they may turn away because various forms of privilege, be it race, class, gender, religion or sexual orientation enables them to do so. Those who possess such privilege and other forms of unearned advantages truly believe that they have the luxury to ignore reality — until it is no longer possible to do so.

Trump's gospel of hate in Selma focused on three main points. He spoke about the "heritage" of the South and how it is supposedly being destroyed or deleted by "woke" liberals with their political correctness. Here Trump was directly alluding to Confederate statues and other monuments — as well as the Confederate flag — originally erected to honor the white supremacist Southern secessionist traitors and their bloody desperate struggle to keep Black Americans as human property forever. Many or most such monuments were actually erected in the first decades of the 20th century, specifically to terrorize Black Americans, reminding them that they are supposed to be second-class citizens in their own country.

Today's Republican Party embraces the Lost Cause ideology and the Confederacy as something noble and good. That was visible in the Confederate flags seen at Selma, as well as those seen at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Those symbols cannot be salvaged or reclaimed. They represent a white supremacist insurrection against the very idea of multiracial democracy.

In an example of the rhetorical strategy known as "narrative laundering," Donald Trump also summoned up the Black Freedom Struggle and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause while defending his followers who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6. This is the newest iteration of the Big Lie, with its claims that these fascists are "political prisoners" who were "entrapped" by the Democrats and law enforcement agencies. Trump echoed the lie that has become widespread among Republicans that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is somehow responsible for the violence of Jan. 6, rather than Trump and his fellow coup plotters.

To use the language of the 14th Amendment — explicitly added to the Constitution to protect the civil rights of Black Americans after their centuries of enslavement and then hard-won freedom — as a cheap tool for defending the fascists who were fighting to overthrow multiracial democracy is perverse even by Trump's standards.

Using the language of the 14th Amendment — added to protect the civil rights of Black people who had won their freedom — to defend fascists is perverse even by Trump standards.

As he has reliably done at all his recent political hate rallies, in Selma Trump continued to incite political violence and terrorism against Joe Biden, the Democrats and liberals and progressives more generally. He called the Democrats "sick and radical politicians," claiming they were "destroying" America from within and must be stopped. Trump also claimed the right-wing paramilitaries who were recently acquitted on charges of planning to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as fellow "victims" of some non-existent Democratic Party conspiracy.

Like other Republican-fascists and their propagandists, Trump continued to fan the flames of the QAnon conspiracy theory and the larger right-wing moral panic around "gender issues" and "critical race theory," claiming that (white) children and the (white) American family are in physical and moral danger from "the left." These threats are not implied: such language is an encouragement to violence and other forms of right-wing terrorism. As seen by the events of Jan. 6 such combustible language has real-world effects.

When more right-wing violence inevitably occurs, the news media will of course engage in collective shock and surprise, expressing wide-eyed disbelief that such things could actually happen in America.

Indeed, how could such things happen? After seven or so years of a rising fascist threat, none of this should be a surprise for anyone who has paid even the slightest of attention. That it is still a "surprise" to many of the country's pundits, opinion leaders and others who are supposed to know better says far too much about their increasing irrelevance in this interregnum of American history.

Trump's Republican Party and the larger neofascist movement are unified around one goal, which is creating a 21st-century version of American apartheid. This revolutionary campaign involves reversing the gains of the civil rights movement and Black Freedom Struggle and also undoing the victories of the women's rights, LGBTQ rights, labor and environmental movements, along with all other attempts to build a social democracy in which equal freedoms and rights are enjoyed by all Americans.

The Democratic Party has shown itself to be largely ineffective, powerless and incompetent in their response to the neofascist attacks on democracy. This is part of a much larger pattern: For more than 50 years the Republican Party and the "conservative" movement have won and kept power by leveraging the politics of white racial resentment and grievance-mongering, even though their policies are extremely unpopular with most of the public. In many ways, Trumpism, neofascism and straightforward white identity politics are the next step in that political strategy.

What should the Democrats do? They need to speak in clear and direct terms about the dangers the Republicans represent. Democrats also need to make clear to their voters and the larger public that Republicans (and the Trump movement specifically) view liberals, progressives, Black and brown people, the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups as enemies and an existential threat to their right-wing nightmare version of America. That animus is not about "mere" disagreements about public policy or just a matter of "polarization," partisanship or hyperbolic language. It is a direct threat of violence, with the goal of eliminating the "enemy" in order to "purify" America.

In even more plain speech: if you are not white (and a man), a heterosexual, and a so-called "Christian," today's Republican Party, the "conservative" movement, and the larger white right do not like you. They want you to suffer. Republicans are masters at the personalization of grievance, and will lie and distort reality and the facts to frighten their voters in order to win, maintain and expand their political power and societal control.

Democrats need to respond in kind by personalizing the dangers that Republicans, the "conservative" movement, and the larger white right pose to the American people as a whole. This is a remarkably easy strategy to implement: All it requires is for Democrats to tell the truth about the human misery that Republicans and "conservatives" have caused for decades — and the much worse misery they will cause in the future.

Yet out of gross denial, or perhaps naive investment in a "normal" political order that is dying and cannot be resurrected, the Democrats have not done that and likely never will. This is not even defeat. It's surrender, and a pitiable sight at a moment when courage is required to save American democracy and society from the neofascist assault.

'Trump knew exactly what was going on': Inside the thinking of the Jan. 6 committee

The House select committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021, was convened more than a year ago. Between the work of that committee, the FBI, various criminal and civil investigations, media interviews, books and other reporting, a great deal of information is now known about what happened that day and how.

Basic facts suggest that Donald Trump, his inner circle, senior members of the Republican Party and various other right-wing operatives worked together as part of a plan to nullify the results of the 2020 presidential election and keep Trump in power, in defiance of the popular will of the American people and in violation of the law.

As reported last Friday by CNN, this plot to keep Trump in power began months before that day in January. Donald Trump Jr. reportedly told White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Nov. 5, 2020 — two days after the presidential election, which was still officially undecided — "We have operational control Total leverage.…Moral High Ground POTUS must start 2nd term now."

Here are further details from CNN's report:

Immediately before his text to Meadows describing multiple paths for challenging the election, Trump Jr. texted Meadows the following: "This is what we need to do please read it and please get it to everyone that needs to see it because I'm not sure we're doing it."
The November 5 text message outlines a strategy that is nearly identical to what allies of the former President attempted to carry out in the months that followed. Trump Jr. makes specific reference to filing lawsuits and advocating recounts to prevent certain swing states from certifying their results, as well as having a handful of Republican state houses put forward slates of fake "Trump electors."…
Trump Jr. also texts Meadows that Congress could intervene on January 6 and overturn the will of voters if, for some reason, they were unable to secure enough electoral votes to tip the outcome in Trump's favor using the state-based strategy.
That option, according to Trump Jr.'s text, involves a scenario where neither Biden nor Trump have enough electoral votes to be declared a winner, prompting the House of Representatives to vote by state party delegation, with each state getting one vote.
"Republicans control 28 states Democrats 22 states," Trump Jr. texts. "Once again Trump wins."
"We either have a vote WE control and WE win OR it gets kicked to Congress 6 January 2021," he texts Meadows.
Trump Jr. ends his November 5 text by calling for a litany of personnel moves to solidify his father's control over the government by putting loyalists in key jobs and initiate investigations into the Biden family.

The attack on the Capitol by thousands of Trump's followers on Jan. 6, 2021, was not a spontaneous or random event. We now know from Department of Justice filings and other evidence — and what may be the most documented crime scene in American history — that the attack was wholly predictable if not premeditated, and that the goal of Trump's followers, which included various right-wing paramilitary groups, was to stop the certification of the election in Joe Biden's favor. In total, the Capitol assault was an integral part of the plot to keep Trump in power.

At this point in the House select committee's investigation into the events of Jan. 6, the questions are not focused on "unknown unknowns." Instead, the focus is clear: To paraphrase a famous line from the Watergate investigation of the 1970s, what did Donald Trump know and when did he know it?

Once that question is finally answered, a larger and more important one will need to be resolved if American democracy is to survive neofascism, the Trump regime and the lawlessness of the current Republican Party. That question is whether there is any room for justice in America, under the conditions we now face. Will Donald Trump and the other members of the coup cabal be criminally indicted and then face prosecution for their evident crimes against American democracy and the rule of law?

To gain some insight into that question, I recently spoke with Hugo Lowell, congressional reporter for the Guardian, who has been closely following the House select committee's investigation. In this conversation, Lowell provides an overview of the committee's many months of work and what its members appear to have concluded to this point.

He also shares what he sees as the consensus of the available facts about the events of Jan. 6, and says it is increasingly clear that Trump knew about the plot to keep him in power and was an integral part of it.

Lowell also offers details about the logic behind the House committee's decision not to hold televised hearings (so far), and why the committee is unlikely to subpoena congressional Republicans who may have been involved in the events of Jan. 6. Toward the end of this conversation, Lowell shares his worries that however damning the conclusions reached by the Jan. 6 committee may be about Trump's coup attempt, it ultimately may not matter in terms of shaping American public opinion about that day's events.

What is the tone of the committee? What does it feel like to be there monitoring these developments?

It feels like you are on the edge of history, and I don't say that lightly. It feels like that because, especially in the last couple of weeks, you can tell that there's an urgency in the air. I believe that the committee knows that time is not on their side, and they now have had about eight months of solid investigative work behind them. They know a great deal about the Jan. 6 attack, the events that led up to it, and the genesis of the events. They're really getting towards the end now.

When you talk to members of the committee and people on the staff, it feels like they are getting close to the end. There is an energy to the way that the investigation is being described now that was not there when it began. The dots are starting to be connected now. It feels palpable, especially when you're around the members and you're around the actual work that's being done.

What was the logic behind the decision not to hold televised hearings, at least to this point? That seems like a huge missed opportunity.

The public hearings are likely going to happen in May. The crux of the committee's decision-making is that the investigation has never been a made-for-TV process. The investigation is really complicated. There are about half a dozen teams and they are separated by specialty. They're looking at different things. The teams are working separately but also together when needed. Untangling all of the events from the November election through to Jan. 6 and past that day is very complicated. In my opinion, the approach taken by the committee to make sense of all this is probably the smartest way they could have done it. Ultimately, there are so many moving parts, and it wasn't the kind of investigation that was suited to daily television or having people testify in open hearings.

Much of how the Jan. 6 committee's report is going to get put together is by threading together the different pieces of evidence, what the investigation has revealed and how it all comes together. What one of my sources has indicated to me is that the committee and staff have been working really hard. They work from 8 in the morning through to midnight some nights. It just hasn't been the kind of investigation that is suited to constant public testimony and hearings. But I think that phase is coming, and in that phase they're going to show how all the pieces link together.

What is the overall narrative so far in terms of the investigation? If you were to present this for television, what would the broad strokes of the story be?

I would highlight two aspects. The evidence so far points to the fact that Donald Trump knew and oversaw what happened on Jan. 6. Trump knew in advance about these different elements that came together to form both the political element of his plan, which was to have Pence throw the election, and the violence that took place on Jan. 6. They haven't got all the evidence yet.

The reason why the American people should care about the events of Jan. 6 is because it was systematic, it was all encompassing and it increasingly feels like a corruption of the entire federal government. Donald Trump laid the groundwork for that to happen over his four years in office, and that should serve as a warning both to the American people and for democracy at large.

What are the remaining unknowns in this investigation?

There are still questions about the plan that Peter Navarro, the former Trump adviser, referred to as the "Green Bay Sweep." Where did this plan originate? When did it start? Who came up with it? These are key questions if we want to understand how Jan. 6 and that plan came together. The Green Bay Sweep was a plan that involved having Pence stop or delay the certification on Jan. 6, which would have thrown the country into a constitutional crisis. There is no doubt about that outcome. If that plan had come to pass, there probably would have been civil disorder across the country. The ramifications of the Green Bay Sweep are that huge.

There are counter-narratives being offered in some circles that 1) the events of Jan. 6 were not really a coup because there were no guns involved and 2) that this was a "mob" and not coordinated. Based on the hearings and the evidence, what is your response to such claims?

There are Justice Department indictments for malicious conspiracy in part because these militia groups brought weapons with them to Washington, D.C., with the intent to use them. The DOJ would not be moving ahead with those indictments if there was not overwhelming evidence. Moreover, the Capitol police found pipe bombs on the campus on Jan. 6. Capitol police and other law enforcement also found additional weapons.

We know for a fact that there were weapons on Jan. 6. We know some of the Capitol rioters had weapons on them, including guns. In fact, we know this because one of the rioters dropped his gun on the floor and reached down to pick it up again. That was captured by the security cameras. The idea that the events of Jan. 6 were just a bunch of hooligans who came with baseballs bats or something is nonsense.

As to the claim that Jan. 6 was just a whole bunch of lone actors and these events were uncoordinated, the committee increasingly has evidence to disprove that. The committee is not at a point yet where it can overwhelmingly prove a conspiracy. They may never get to that point. However, the way that the events of Jan. 6 unfolded and the communications that took place between the militia groups and the Willard Hotel suggest that these happenings were not spontaneous.

What do we know about the actual right-wing paramilitaries, and in particular the group who appeared to be highly organized and came with zip ties to "arrest" members of Congress?

The Department of Justice indictments reveal that the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys went to the Capitol with a plan. Even if you do not believe what the DOJ is saying for whatever reason, then the way those men were operating — and in fact some of the people on those teams were ex-military — shows that they knew what they were doing on Jan. 6.

Why is the committee not calling Mike Pence to testify?

Much of this comes down to the political realities of the Jan. 6 committee. This investigation is not happening in a vacuum. There are political considerations they have to take into account. What would it mean to subpoena Republican members of Congress? Or a former vice president?

For several weeks the committee has been trying to decide what to do about Mike Pence. They want Pence to come in. They've made that clear to his lawyers, and they've made that clear to his aides. If Pence is not willing to testify, the only other option left is to subpoena him. I do not believe the committee thinks it's worth taking that step. They already have a lot of evidence from Pence's aides, whether that's Greg Jacob or Keith Kellogg, about what went down that day.

The only thing they can't get without talking to Pence are his own conversations with Trump. But I think the committee has gotten to the point now where they don't need the actual substance or the word-by-word play of all those conversations. The committee knows the general summary, because the aides know to a large degree what was being said.

For several weeks, the committee has been trying to decide what to do about Mike Pence. They do not want the inevitable political circus that comes with subpoenaing a former vice president.

For the committee's purposes, it sounds like that is going to be sufficient. What the committee does not want is the inevitable political circus that comes with subpoenaing a former vice president. And of course Trump would characterize that as a political witch hunt, and it would indeed become a circus. The Jan. 6 committee has really tried to avoid that outcome from the very beginning, because it would undercut the legitimacy of what they are doing.

Why is the committee not making a criminal referral to the Department of Justice? These are exceptional circumstances and demand such a response.

The committee has not taken a formal decision on what to do yet. In fact, they are months from making that decision. In my opinion, it is premature to conclude that the committee is definitely not going to do criminal referrals. There are several open questions before the committee, of which this is one. I think if they have information that warrants a criminal referral, they will definitely do it. The chairman has been quite clear about that.

How is the judge's decision in California that Donald Trump more likely than not committed crimes in connection with the events of Jan. 6 impacting the committee's work and energy?

That decision has been one of the biggest boosts to the investigation to date. It helps the committee get witnesses to come in to talk and it enforces other decisions. The judge's decision also really helped the committee to push back against lawsuits from those individuals who did not have their records turned over to the committee. That ruling in and of itself was a victory for the committee.

Another narrative about Jan. 6 is that these events were really not that serious because Donald Trump is a hapless idiot who didn't really know what was happening, and that these concerns about a coup or conspiracy are much exaggerated because of that. What do we actually know?

Trump knew exactly what was going on. In the book "Peril," it was reported that Trump called Bannon the night before the insurrection. I reported separately for The Guardian that Trump, that same night, also called the lawyers at the Willard Hotel and Rudy Giuliani and Boris Epshteyn, and had separate conversations with them. We know that these are separate conversations because Giuliani made such a big deal about only having lawyers on legal calls to protect attorney-client privilege. We know that Trump was in direct contact with the Willard Hotel. I know the general substance of that call with the lawyers, which was that we need to find a way to stop the certification from taking place the following day.

That came about because Mike Pence had already communicated to Trump the night before the Capitol attack that he wasn't going to play ball. He wasn't going to follow through with Eastman's plan to effectively either throw the election to the House under the 12th Amendment, or unilaterally declare votes for Biden invalid and decertify the results of a certain state by himself.

Because Pence had already communicated that to Trump the night before, Trump then goes and calls up the Willard, which is where all the action was. Donald Trump knew exactly who to call up to complain. He knew exactly who to call to say, "What are we going to do next? What is our fallback plan?" So the idea that Trump had no idea what was going on, it's frankly nonsense.

Where are we with the phone log story and the missing seven hours?

We are closer to establishing where those phone call records went than we were when the records were first released. Those seven hours are the most crucial time. It is quite interesting: The gap in the presidential call logs start when Donald Trump leaves the president's residence in the morning and goes to the Oval Office. The calls resume again when he returns to the residence.

I believe we can see those presidential call logs from Jan. 6 as reflecting the calls he made in the residence. We don't know what Trump was doing and what his actions were in those seven hours as the Capitol was being overrun, the most crucial time. We know that he made several calls in that period that are not reflected on the call log. We know that he called Kevin McCarthy. We know he called Sen. Mike Lee by mistake, when trying to get to Sen. Tommy Tuberville. The call to Mike Lee was done on a White House number.

It is a central question as to what was taking place on Jan. 6, whether the Trump administration had bad intent and deliberately tried to hide those records, or whether they were just poor record keepers. But either way, that gap in the phone logs increasingly appears to be a crucial part of this puzzle.

Will Republican members of Congress who may have been involved in the Jan. 6 events be called to testify before the committee?

I reported back in January that the select committee was reluctant to subpoena Republican members of Congress — for the same reason, incidentally, that former Congressman Trey Gowdy didn't want to subpoena Democrats when he led the Benghazi committee. The reality is that Congress is hyper-partisan. Everything's political. The committee seems to think if it starts subpoenaing Republican members of Congress there will be intense blowback in the next Congress, particularly if the Democrats lose the majority.

Republicans are already talking about impeaching Biden. They're already talking about launching investigations into Hunter Biden. It's going to be Republican investigation central into the Biden administration. One might argue that the Republicans are going to do all these investigations anyway. But I think the committee doesn't want to provoke it any more than it has to. Therefore, if the committee can learn about what really happened on Jan. 6 through other means than calling Republican members of Congress to testify, they don't want to have to go there.

I do get the sense that if they feel like they have no other choice, they will take that route. But for the moment, at least, there does not seem to be much enthusiasm to subpoena Republican members of Congress.

A basic question: How do we explain to the American people whether this was a coup or not? How is the Jan. 6 committee approaching this question? Is there a possibility it was somehow something else?

If you ask Rep. Jamie Raskin, a committee member, what happened on Jan. 6 was a "self-coup." This was the existing government of the United States trying to take down, in many respects, the existing government of the United States, in order to make themselves the next government of the United States. I agree with Raskin's definition. These events were internal White House political operatives going out of their way to return Donald Trump to the presidency, using unlawful means that connected to both a) a political scheme, and b) violence.

We like to get caught up in definitions. We like to talk about whether this was a coup or not — what everyone has to remember is that Trump lost the election. Trump wanted to return to office at any cost. If it meant the end of democracy, it meant the end of democracy. That's small change to Trump. He doesn't care. If Trump got back into the Oval Office through a successful coup, even if it meant the end of American democracy, he would not have cared. That is the main takeaway here.

It has been reported that the Oath Keepers had stockpiled weapons at a hotel near the Capitol and were preparing for a days-long battle. Some members of these right-wing groups were apparently under the impression that they would not be punished. Where are we with that story?

There are two parallel investigations happening at the same time. There is a congressional investigation through the Jan. 6 committee, and there is also the investigation that encompasses the FBI and Department of Justice. They are sometimes uncovering information that the other investigation is not. I am focused on the Jan. 6 committee. I have seen that the FBI has made these allegations in the court filings.

I have no reason to believe it's not true. I don't personally have reporting on those matters, but I do believe that it speaks to the fact that these events were coordinated. Clearly one does not simply believe that one is going to get pardoned or somehow let off the hook after staging a quick reaction force across the river from the nation's capital — what they were calling "1776," as in another American revolution — to overthrow the seat of American government to return their preferred candidate to office even though he lost.

It just speaks to the coordination. These filings speak to intent as well. There was an intent on Jan. 6 to have some type of coordinated attack. You don't wake up in the morning and think, "Oh, I'm just going to carry weapons with me, drive all the way down to the Capitol, and stash them in case they're going to have a gun battle." There were also pipe bombs. The fact that there were weapons around and the fact that weapons were stashed, to me, screams conspiracy from the start. One does not just prepare with no reason for a battle or some sort of war and crazy protest.

Is the committee investigating the role of Mike Flynn, Steve Bannon and others in Trump's inner circle?

The committee is definitely looking at them. They are looking at everything which leads up to Jan. 6. For my own reporting purposes, I focus very much on: What did Trump know and when did he know it? But the committee, with all of its resources and all of its expansive investigative powers, is looking at every single facet related to Jan. 6. That does include the rhetoric and the genesis of the claims which propelled the entire "Stop the Steal" movement, Trump's speech on Jan. 6 and the actual storming of the Capitol in itself.

Mike Flynn was at the center of all of that, but we are not sure if Flynn was at the center of the Willard Hotel plan. We're not sure if Flynn knew about that plan. Steve Bannon did appear to know about this. In fact, Bannon has talked openly about the plan. He and Navarro have both credited each other as knowing in advance what would happen with the "Green Bay Sweep." Both say they were intimately involved. The committee now has to tie all these threads together and construct a picture of the events that led to the Capitol attack.

What does the public evidence suggest about what Trump knew and when he knew it?

I believe that Donald Trump knew by mid-December. His operatives were putting together a plan, or several plans, to put him back in office. He knew by the start of January about the plan to violate the Electoral Count Act, which was unlawful, and to have Pence insert himself into the certification process to return him the presidency. In total, Trump knew weeks before Jan. 6 the broad brushstrokes of what was going to happen. Closer to Jan. 6, I also believe that Donald Trump knew of the violence or the potential disruption by force of the certification. I do believe that the committee has reached that conclusion.

Once the committee issues its final report, will the American people even care about what happened on Jan. 6?

Half the population will care. The other half will not care.

Is there anything the committee could do, in terms of the framing and presentation of their findings, that could make more people care about this dire threat to the country?

I really don't know. I don't know because people who think Trump incited an insurrection already believe that. People who don't believe that already don't believe it. There is nothing the committee will do that is going to change their mind. If the committee comes out with evidence that suggests Trump was responsible for a criminal conspiracy of some sort, or perhaps even seditious conspiracy, the people who already love Trump are going to dismiss that as the results of a partisan witch hunt just like impeachment.

On the flip side, if the committee doesn't find enough evidence to make any sort of criminal referral or anything major that they can put in their report, people who think Trump already incited the attacks are still going to think Trump incited the attack, regardless of what the committee says.

This committee and the work they are doing, I think, is less about the here and now, and more about what they are leaving for posterity, to show that at least some people were determined to find the truth of what happened on Jan. 6, and the final report was the product of their work.

That is all a congressional committee can do. They don't have the power to prosecute. They don't have the power to convict people, or even to indict people. All they can do is lay what their investigation has uncovered out for the American people. Whether someone chooses to believe it or not — I don't know if people can overcome their political persuasions, especially in this day and age. Maybe in a different era. But as the last year and a half has shown, that's a very difficult task.

Why is the right so obsessed with bathroom issues?

Republicans have become increasingly obsessed with bathrooms, toilets, locker rooms and other such spaces. At Donald Trump's recent rally in Georgia, for instance, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene told the audience that "Pete Buttigieg can take his electric vehicles and his bicycles and he and his husband can stay out of our girls' bathrooms."

This article first appeared in Salon.

Greene was wallowing in obvious anti-gay bigotry and stereotypes. But she knows her audience well: Trumpists and Republican voters generally share her vile beliefs. Of course the facts do not matter: Like other so-called conservatives, Greene is fomenting a moral panic around the specious claim that the LGBTQ community somehow poses a "threat" to the "traditional family" and offers another example of how "real Americans" — meaning white, supposedly Christian conservatives — are somehow being oppressed or discriminated against in "their own country."

As seen most recently with the wave of culture-war legislation attacking LGBTQ rights, "critical race theory," school curricula and other related issues, this is a highly effective strategy for the Republicans and the larger white right in their goal of creating a new apartheid America — one in which women, the LGBTQ community, Black and brown people and other marginalized groups will have their most fundamental rights taken away.

RELATED: Marjorie Taylor Greene leads GOP revolt against "pro-pedophile" Republicans voting for Judge Jackson

The antisemitic QAnon conspiracy, with its vicious lies about how Democrats and leftists are kidnapping and abusing children —or, in the slightly more coded version, "grooming" them for sexual abuse — has become central to the white right's revolutionary strategy to return America to the distant and largely imaginary past.

As seen with the Republican attacks against (now) Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson during her confirmation hearing, these culture-war talking points will be their primary political weapons in both the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential election.

In her newsletter Lucid, historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat explores the connection between questions of freedom, bodily autonomy, fascism and laws that dehumanize LGBTQ people:

These developments are as predictable as they are horrifying. Anti-LGBTQ persecution is a constant among authoritarian governments around the world. Far-right regimes that uphold White racial privilege repress gays, but so do Communist states. Anti-colonial regimes such as those of Mobutu Sese Seko, which rejected White racial supremacy, were equally brutal.
Wherever strongmen rule, gays pay the price. Silencing and punishing those who engage in "nontraditional sexual relations," as a 2013 Putin law terms them, has been central to authoritarian claims of defending the country and upholding "tradition."
Authoritarian biopolitics is not just about encouraging the right elements of the population to procreate —fearmongering about declining White Christian birthrates recurs from the Fascists to Orbán and Tucker Carlson — but also about removing the wrong elements from the public sphere, by silencing them, locking them up, or worse.
What the Hungarian lesbian activist Dorottya Rédai describes as the "emotionally and psychologically devastating impact" of being "treated as an enemy" has been part of LGBTQ life under authoritarianism for a century.

As usual, to this point the Democrats have offered no effective defense against such culture war-moral panic attacks. Too many liberals, progressives and others outside the Republican-fascist echo chamber mock and dismiss these culture-war attacks as the stuff of fools and unsophisticated thinkers, as unreal issues or examples of "identity politics," or as something that can in the end be defeated with facts and reason, by educating the public about "real" such as economic class and other pocketbook issues.

Such attitudes and assumptions all but guarantee defeat for the Democrats and others who believe in a pluralistic society and real democracy. Liberal schadenfreude may feel good in the moment, but it is the path to defeat in the battle against American fascism.

To defeat these right-wing culture-war moral panic attacks, the defenders of democracy must go beyond superficial critiques. They must substantively engage, expose and discredit how and why such attacks resonate for Republicans and "conservatives" — and, unfortunately, for many independents and Democratic voters as well.

To gain more context and insight into the conservative movement's culture-war bathroom obsession, I asked a range of experts for their insights and what the larger implications of such culture war-moral panic attacks may be for American politics and society.

Dr. Justin Frank is a former clinical professor of psychiatry at the George Washington University Medical Center and a physician with more than 40 years of experience in psychoanalysis. He is the author of the bestselling books "Bush on the Couch," "Obama on the Couch" and, in 2018, "Trump on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President."

Toilet life is private life. Partly, that's related unconsciously to disgust and shame about the human process of elimination. But the Republicans displace anal disgust onto other things and people: For example, onto dark-skinned people and the LGBTQ community. Republican disgust with toilets and with homosexuals is becoming ubiquitous. Southern Republicans and others often talk about toilets, bathroom functions and LGBTQ people interchangeably. Not only do Republicans see things in black or white, they also see things as male or female, without any room for the complexity of "trans." Instead, they are primarily preoccupied with getting rid of what's disgusting to them.

Ironically, smearing shit in the halls of Congress is very much a primitive example of failed projection: On Jan. 6, 2021, MAGA insurrectionists expressed their disgust through feces because they were not articulate enough to use language or other symbolic imagery. After all, why not use the real thing to clarify once and for all how shitty our government is? Their feces was their ultimate smear tactic.

The current preoccupation with toilets has to do with anxiety being stirred up — sexual anxiety, racial fears, fears of women — and they all get condensed into one main conscious preoccupation: toilets and bathrooms.

Dr. John Gartner is a psychologist, psychoanalyst and former professor at the Johns Hopkins University Medical School. He is also the founder of Duty to Warn and was a contributor to the 2017 bestseller "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President."

Authoritarian regimes always cast themselves as the guardians of morality, and cast all who oppose them as perversely evil, deserving the severest of punishments. Since the founding of the Moral Majority by Rev. Jerry Falwell in the 1980s, there has been an alliance between "biblical morality" and GOP politics. It's worked well for them.

The problem the Republican Party has now is that it is losing the culture war. Marriage equality is popular, and no one is surrendering that right. So now, trans people are the new gays, and scapegoating them is the new way of rounding up votes. But like voter fraud, trans people in bathrooms is a non-problem. No one knows and no one cares who is in the stall next to them. They're grasping for straws, or straw men, to make a wedge issue out of nothing.

Dr. Anthea Butler is a professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her new book is "White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America."

It's not a surprise that the Republican Party and the conservative movement are so interested in toilets. After all, genitalia are important to their most loyal base, religious conservatives (evangelicals). Most if not all of these prohibitions and worries are also about policing people: where they go, what they do, who is allowed and who is not. Consider: If you have a political party that is steeped in ideas about law and order, gender and sexuality, the bathroom is one place you can control if you can't control the bedrooms, as states used to with sodomy laws.

Bathrooms are also historically places where people meet for illicit sex. The bathroom obsession, especially the previous bathroom battles in schools and states like North Carolina, is about their need to prevent sexual contact and the ways in which they are laser-focused on these issues, as we saw in the hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson. While it may seem to outsiders that this obsession with the bathroom is a fetish, it's actually about the irrational fears, and sometimes fantasies, of lawmakers influenced by religious conservatives who are also obsessed with controlling genitalia and bodily functions.

Wajahat Ali is an author and political commentator. His essays and other writing have been featured at the New York Times, CNN and the Daily Beast. His new book is "Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American."

The GOP are obsessed with toilets because it's beautiful, raw red meat for their base and to stir up cultural anxieties about LGBTQ folks ahead of the midterms and elections. They don't have any solutions or plans for climate change, income inequality or COVID relief. Transgender people are going to be the scapegoats and Trojan horses for their ugly culture war for the midterm and 2024 election. This explains Sen. Marsha Blackburn's question to Justice Jackson about how to define a woman. They're going to say that Democrats are all godless atheists who are going to turn your son into a woman, and also that they are part of an international cabal of sex traffickers, as in the QAnon theory.

This is tied to their manufactured weaponization of critical race theory. Democrats are allegedly going to "indoctrinate" your children not only to hate America, democracy and white people, but also to become gay. We laugh at this, but this is going to be a winning strategy. They are going to peel off independents and some Democratic voters from religious communities — and this includes people of color by the way. It would be foolish to ignore this cynical line of attack. The Democrats need a counter-message.

Tim Wise is an author, activist and leading expert on white privilege and racism. He is the author of many books, including his most recent "Dispatches From the Race War."

There is an obsession with purity. It is part of the right wing's hyper-religiosity and repressive sexual politics. It's part of their obsession with the notion of "contamination" by immigrants, especially from what Trump called "shithole" countries. And what better symbol of impurity and uncleanliness and contamination than a bathroom? What better symbol of filth and vulnerability than the place you go to shit? They are manifesting precisely the fears one would expect them to, given their obsessions with control and purity and order.

In addition, right-wing (and especially white) obsessions with purity and "contamination" are what long animated racism against Black folks: the fear being that white women needed to be protected from the impurity of Blackness.

Federico Finchelstein is professor of History at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College in New York. He is the author of several books, including "From Fascism to Populism in History." His most recent book is "A Brief History of Fascist Lies."

My general take is that it is essential for any wannabe fascist politician in America today to construct an enemy to define the "we." In the same way as the Nazis needed to create and define the Jews as total enemies, the followers of Trumpism and the GOP first have to define who to hate in order to define themselves.

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In order to do this, they return to the traditional enemies of American fascism and the extreme right (from Father Coughlin to the Ku Klux Klan) and they also invent new ones. More specifically, there is no fascism without hatred and xenophobia, and the United States has a long history of linking hatred to bathrooms. The later examples in North Carolina and elsewhere are typical smokescreens, aiming to turn us away from real problems (social, economic and political) in order to focus on bogus ones. Another example is of course the issues regarding critical race theory, the "don't say gay" law in Florida, etc.

There is no fascism without the invention of an existential enemy (of the self, the nation, the people, the leader). In America, fascists, as in the Ku Klux Klan, almost naturally endorsed bathroom segregation because, as in all forms of fascism, segregation, demonization and eventual persecution and extermination are different aspects of this deep need to define the other to elevate the self.

Matthew Sheffield is an expert on right-wing news media, messaging, and communication strategies. He is also the editor and publisher of Flux and host of the "Theory of Change" video podcast.

What calls itself "conservatism" in the United States is actually a reactionary movement that began in the 1930s as a frantic attempt by corporate interests to block Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration from adopting the worker-friendly tax and regulatory policies that were then emerging in Europe and some other parts of the world.

American reactionaries have for decades sought to trump up imaginary moral panics in order to scare less-informed Christians about various minority groups. The target group has always shifted over time, but they generally rotate between racial minorities, women and LGBTQ people, and atheists and liberal believers.

"Trans panic" is a complete repeat of the lies told in the 1970s and '80s by people like Anita Bryant to try to stop lesbians and gays from having any freedom to live openly.

It's all the same lies about bathrooms and "recruitment." This rhetoric, and the laws it inspires, are nothing more than scapegoat operations to distract lower- and middle-income people while Republicans pick their pockets, such as by canceling school lunch programs while many people are still jobless.

Jason Colavito is a journalist, author and professional skeptic whose work has been featured in the New Republic, Esquire, Slate and other publications. He is completing a book on James Dean and the sex panic of the 1950s.

The obsession with bathrooms revolves around the notion of purity, both physical and moral. As a place where genitals are exposed in public, bathrooms become a place of special vulnerability. Those feelings of being exposed can create particular anxieties in terms of seeking to protect oneself and others during those moments of vulnerability. When combined with the hygiene rituals of bathrooms, in which we purify ourselves of the results of bodily functions, it's easy to see how conservatives can transfer those feelings from excretory functions to sexual ones. They therefore seek more rules to reduce their own sense of impurity and vulnerability by displacing discomfort onto disfavored groups.

Moral panics have been a regular feature of American life and often serve to highlight the anxieties and fears that dominate an era. Today's moral panic over sex and gender is remarkably similar to the moral panic of the 1950s that saw nationwide efforts to restrict LGBTQ Americans. In both cases, political and social anxieties about changes to American society and America's place in the world manifested as an effort to "purify" the country in the name of morality.

Timothy Stewart-Winter is a professor of American Studies as Rutgers University — Newark. He is the author of "Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics."

My father tells me that when I was an infant, and only women's bathrooms had baby changing tables, he had to kneel and place a blanket on the floor of men's rooms to change my diaper. Indeed, public bathrooms are always changing. In the mid-20th century, few could accommodate a wheelchair, and it was more common than it is today both for gay men to cruise for sex in them and for undercover police to spy on and arrest those men (though both practices persist).

Public bathrooms were central to the Jim Crow order. Well within living memory, "white" and "colored" signs came down across the U.S. South, and even then, public bathrooms remained sites of white anti-Black surveillance and violence. In the spring of 1965, Sammy Younge Jr., a 20-year-old Black college student in Alabama, marched from Selma to Montgomery for the right to vote. The following winter, before he could exercise that right, he was murdered by a gas station attendant in Tuskegee for trying to use a bathroom reserved for whites.

Public bathrooms also teach us about gender. Especially since 2015, right-wing activists and the Republican Party have breathed new life into transphobic and homophobic ideas about trans women in bathrooms as purported threats to children, using these manufactured fears to undermine anti-discrimination laws and win elections. In the real world, it is people who defy gender norms who face harassment and violence routinely in public bathrooms — and we should recognize that there is nothing natural about that fact. As the sociologist Erving Goffman memorably wrote in 1977, "it has come to pass" that modern societies have separate bathrooms for men and women, a pattern that he believed set "a sort of with-then-apart rhythm" that shaped public contact between men and women more broadly.

For Goffman, the crucial thing about sex-segregated bathrooms was that they "cannot be tied to matters biological, only to folk conceptions about biological matters. The functioning of sex-differentiated organs is involved, but there is nothing in this functioning that biologically recommends segregation; that arrangement is totally a cultural matter." (Emphasis his.) For Goffman, and I think for us, what he called "the sequestering of public toilets by sex" produces gender norms — not the other way around.

Trump again shows himself to be a danger to America as his malignant narcissism grows darker

Donald Trump remains public enemy No. 1, and in all likelihood the most dangerous person in America today. If the rule of law was applied equally and fairly Donald Trump and his criminal confederates would have already been arrested, tried, convicted, and incarcerated for their many obvious crimes.

He leads a neofascist movement that attempted to nullify the results of 2020 presidential election. Through willful malfeasance, corruption, and negligence, Trump's regime was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. Trump openly admires Vladimir Putin and other political thugs. He and his allies in the Republican Party yearn for the same kind of power here in America.

Yet Trump still commands the loyalty of tens of millions of Americans. Even after four years of his ruinous regime, Trump won more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016; Sick societies produce sick leaders.

RELATED: Time for Merrick Garland to act: Trump can't get a pass on serious crimes over "politics"

I know that I am not alone in shaking my head, several times a week, and saying aloud, "Merrick Garland, what the hell are you waiting for?"

In an op-ed for Salon this week, Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, summed it up:

The sheer scope of Trump's likely criminality is unprecedented, as is its severity. It is hard to conceive of more serious crimes that a president could be involved in than illegally acting to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power, which is the cornerstone of a successful democracy. Investigating and seriously weighing prosecution would not be political under these conditions.
In fact, the failure to investigate and seriously consider prosecuting such egregious conduct would be inexplicable. Forgoing meritorious prosecutions for fear of political criticism is itself a political act, and one that would do grave damage to the republic. It would send the message that a president can do essentially anything without consequences. If Donald Trump regains the presidency, which he seems poised to try to do, he would most certainly heed this lesson and become still more brazen in illegal steps to consolidate his own power.

At his rally last Saturday in Michigan, Donald Trump again showed himself to be a danger to the safety and security of the American people, American democracy and American society. As has become habitual, the mainstream news media was largely if not almost entirely silent. In its recent coverage of Trump's rallies, the media has become more interested in mocking his followers and the size of his crowds than in calling attention to his threats of right-wing violence.

Donald Trump, like other members of the Republican-fascist movement, has become expert at stoking political and ethnic violence as a tool of political power. In a recent interview with Salon, political scientist Barbara Walter, author of "How Civil Wars Start," explains how Trump and allies such as Michael Flynn get away with "preaching violence":

If I were to show what Trump and Flynn are saying, their actual words, to the average American, they would say, "You're making that up, it can't be true." Thus we have a situation where these things are happening, but the information is not being shared with the general public, or if they are hearing what is happening then it is being distorted or not fully represented ...
Historically, the side that wants to do these horrible things and put themselves in a position of power, to lead a dictatorship or start a "race war" or commit acts of genocide — for example, to kill all the Jews in Europe — will spend a lot of time investing in propaganda because they understand that if they can control the narrative they can control the average citizen. That is exactly what is happening now in the United States. Experts and other people like us see the warning signs because we're paying attention and we're reading widely. Most Americans are not.

Predictably, at his rally last Saturday in Michigan, Donald Trump returned to his repeated Big Lie strategy with claims that the 2020 election was stolen — the clear implication being that he is still the "real" president and that his followers should do whatever is necessary to return him to power.

He wallowed in low-rent bigotry, racism and nativism, slurring Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib because of their names, which sound un-American to him and his followers. He claimed that Joe Biden and the Democrats are "destroying" America and that the country's cities are overrun with violent (black) criminals. He also could not resist his malignant narcissism and sense of victimhood, complaining about how "unfairly" he has been treated by the press.

These tired themes were just cover for his main thrust: threats of violence. Like other fascists and right-wing populists, Donald Trump personalizes the threat of violence for his followers, telling them that Black and brown people, Muslims, Democrats, "the left," LGBTQ people, migrants and refugees, and the Other more generally pose an existential threat to "real Americans" (meaning, of course, white right-wing Christians).

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The solution to such threats is preemptive violence. This is the same logic that was used to justify eliminationist violence and genocide in Yugoslavia, Rwanda and, of course, Nazi Germany.

In the alternate reality of Trump World, hordes of invaders are arriving daily with the goal of "replacing" real Americans, which of course means white people.

For example, Trump told his followers last Saturday that nonwhite immigrants and refugees are coming to America from the Middle East and elsewhere to take away their homes and communities. In the deranged alternate reality of TrumpWorld, hordes of invaders are arriving with the goal of "replacing" real Americans, which of course means white people. Although there are many minor variations, this "great replacement" theory has become common currency across the American right.

Trump also raged about "woke" leaders, "far-left gender theories" and "extremist" transgender "ideologies," aligning himself with the right movement that literally wants to make gay, lesbian or trans people into second-class citizens once again. This too is an encouragement of hate crimes and other violence against those deemed to be the Other in order to "defend" the American family by standing up for "parental rights."

The low point (among many) during Trump's speech last Saturday came when he told his followers, "The American people will not sit idly by and allow our children to be indoctrinated, segregated and mutilated by the lunatic left."

When a person's family and children are (apparently) threatened with such harm, the natural response is to do whatever is necessary to protect them. Trump is going beyond "mere" stochastic terrorism here. This should be understood as a direct threat of violence against the Democratic Party and its supporters. Such language and threats have already gotten people attacked, beaten and killed, and will continue to do so.

Again, the media did not widely report on Trump's incitements to violence.

All this is part of a larger cultural problem. Trumpism and American neofascism are a cult-like movement organized around a charismatic personality who gives his followers a sense of meaning in their lives. The cult also isolates followers and believers from "outsiders" who reject the "truth" by providing an alternative reality and belief system. Trumpism and contemporary right-wing politics more generally function as a political religion immune to outside facts and empirical reality, in which Donald Trump is a messiah or semi-divine figure.

RELATED: Trump's "hole-in-one" and Herschel Walker's "degree": Why MAGA loves lies too big to be believed

Trump's rally last Saturday began with an evangelical pastor offering this "prayer":

So we pray, father in heaven, we firmly believe that Donald J. Trump is current and true president of the United States…. Bless and protect him and his family from any physical, spiritual attacks and may his voice still the people to righteous action to bring godly men and women into elected office, in Michigan and across America. We declare that he will be back in office soon — very soon — in Jesus' name.

In total, Trumpism and Republican-fascism, like other authoritarian movements, creates and is sustained by a state of malignant normality. Psychiatrist and historian Robert Jay Lifton explains this phenomenon in his book "Losing Reality":

Donald Trump is a special kind of cultist. He is in no way totalistic — his beliefs can be remarkably fluid — nor is he the leader of a sealed-off cultic community. Rather, his cultism is inseparable from his solipsistic reality…. And in his way he has created a community of zealous believers who are geographically dispersed. A considerable portion of his base can be understood as cultists, as followers of a guru who is teacher, guide, and master. From my studies of cults and cultlike behavior, I recognize this aspect of Trump's relationship to his followers....
In recent work I have referred to "malignant normality," by which I mean the imposition of a norm of destructive or violent behavior, so that such behavior is expected or required of people…. [W]e have experienced a national malignant normality of our own: extensive lying and falsification, systemic corruption, ad hominem attacks on critics, dismissal of intelligence institutions and findings, rejection of climate change truth and of scientists who express them, rebukes of our closest international allies and embrace of dictators, and scornful delegitimization of the party of opposition. This constellation of malignant normality has threatened, and at times virtually replaced, American democracy.

The damage caused by the Age of Trump and what it unleashed upon America and the world is both a symptom of "malignant normality" and a factor that continues to nurture it. Joe Biden may be president, but malignant normality has not faded away. The disease is too great for any one person or president to vanquish.

Trump's cult-like power over his followers and the larger neofascist movement is also maintained through the use of projection, gaslighting and other thought-control techniques. Last Saturday in Michigan, Trump told his followers that the "Democrat Party," with its "extremist sex and gender ideology ... is waging war on reality, war on science, war on children, war on women…. The Republican Party is now the party of American women and American children, and we will protect women in sports."

In reality as it actually exists, the Republican Party is, of course, exactly the opposite of Trump's claim. He and his followers literally live inside an alternate reality that would have impressed George Orwell, where up is down and down is up. People living within such an environment have lost the ability to know right from wrong, or to engage in other fact-based ethical decision-making.

As documented by social scientists, investigative reporters and others, the Republicans' embrace of the antisemitic QAnon conspiracy theory is now a central factor in this dynamic. A significant percentage of Republicans and Trump supporters actually believe that Democrats and liberals are part of a "globalist" movement that is kidnapping, torturing and killing children. These themes are no longer confined to the "fringe"; they are within the mainstream of the Republican Party and the larger white right.

In a democracy, it is supposedly the task of the free press to help the public better understand what is important, and in turn how to respond to it. Throughout the Age of Trump and beyond, the American news media has largely failed in this most basic responsibility: to inform the public about existential threats to democracy. Moreover, it appears very likely that editorial decisions have been made to not issue such warnings in any consistent way.

In a recent essay at Medium, Wajahat Ali offers this blunt truth: "Fascism will be welcomed and applauded by media institutions as long as it's profitable, helps with ratings, and grants them access to power."

We will miss media critic Eric Boehlert's bold truth-telling, at exactly the moment we so badly need it.

I'd like to close this essay with a tribute to the media critic (and former Salon writer) Eric Boehlert, a voice of clarity, wit and compassion who died tragically this week. In a recent issue of his newsletter Press Run, Boehlert addressed one of his signature issues: the American news media's massive failures in response to the Biden presidency:

The glaring disconnect between reality and how the press depicts White House accomplishments means a key question lingers: Why is the press rooting against Biden? Is the press either hoping for a Trump return to the White House, or at least committed to keeping Biden down so the 2024 rematch will be close and 'entertaining' for the press to cover? Is that why the Ginni Thomas insurrection story was politely marched off the stage after just a few days of coverage last week by the same news outlets that are now in year three of their dogged Hunter Biden reporting? ("ABC This Week" included 19 references to Hunter Biden [last weekend]) …. Biden is facing not just one organized opposition in the form of the GOP, but another in the form of the Beltway press corps ….

Whatever the justifications or rationalizations may be, the American news media and other prominent public voices are not protecting the American people from harm by refusing to report on Donald Trump and the white right's threats of violence. Rather, the media is actually aiding and abetting such forces, because to ignore those dangers and threats is to normalize them. Ultimately, fascism and other anti-human movements operate best in darkness. Too many in the media appear to have decided to look away, as if that will minimize the danger. They should be shining the light ever more brightly and sounding the alarm.

That's what Eric Boehlert was doing. We will miss his urgent truth-telling, at exactly the moment we so badly need it.

NOW WATCH: Trump's political future 'in limbo' because he can't let go of 2020 loss

Trump's political future 'in limbo' because he can't let go of 2020 loss www.youtube.com

A new civil war? Maybe so — but it won't look anything like the first one

Almost every day offers more evidence of how American fascism is becoming a reality. We now know for certain that Donald Trump and his coup cabal attempted to overthrow American democracy on Jan. 6, 2021. The coup continues as Republicans and their agents are attacking America's multiracial democracy in dozens of states, seeking to make it impossible for Black and brown Americans and other Democratic Party constituents to have their votes counted fairly.

Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, a former Trump ally, said last week that, well after the events of Jan. 6, 2021, Trump continued his seditious attempts to pressure members of Congress to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Trump himself, along with acolytes such as Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon, continue to threaten and incite political violence against those deemed to be the enemy. At a rally last Saturday in Georgia, for instance, Trump continued to threaten violence against members of the media, calling them "animals."

As Salon's Igor Derysh reported last week, Trump's followers have been allegedly been going door-to-door in Black and brown communities in Colorado, engaging in acts of voter intimidation and harassment that echo the Jim Crow era of white supremacist terror and violence.

As shown by the vile attacks on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the antisemitic QAnon conspiracy theory has made major inroads into the so-called mainstream of the Republican Party. Federal and local law enforcement agencies continue to disrupt right-wing terror plots across the United States.

The rising neofascist tide is global: Some white supremacists and other right-wing extremists see the war in Ukraine as an opportunity to gain combat experience they can later use in their battle against multiracial democracy and pluralistic society in the U.S. and other Western nations. Experts on political violence, fascism and other forms of political extremism continue to sound the alarm about the perilous moment now facing the United States, where democracy is teetering on the edge of collapse. Their warnings have been largely ignored by the country's political elites and the public more generally.

Barbara Walter is a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, and one of the world's leading experts on civil wars, political violence and terrorism. She is also a permanent member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has consulted for the State Department, the Department of Defense, the UN and the World Bank. Her essays and other commentaries have been featured at CNN, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Walter's new book is "How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them."

In this conversation, Walter warns that the American people and their leaders have been blinded by a type of "status quo bias" that prevents them from responding properly to the democracy crisis and the danger of widespread political violence. She argues that privilege and a lack of historical experience with oppression have combined to create a state of willful myopia and denial for most white Americans about the existential peril the country now faces.

Walter draws upon some of the darkest moments in human history, such as the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust, to explain why so many (white) Americans will likely remain in denial about the country's descent into civil war and other massive violence, even as the carnage is imminent or already happening around them. She warns that many people will comply, or perhaps collaborate, with the right-wing extremists who are committing worsening acts of terror and political violence.

Walter does hold out some hope, however, and offers potential solutions to help mitigate this crisis, including new restrictions on the way social media platforms circulate and amplify politically extreme content.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Donald Trump continues to threaten political violence against his "enemies" if he is punished for his crimes. Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon and other right-wing propagandists are also threatening political violence on a near-daily basis across the right-wing media echo chamber. The FBI and law enforcement continue to uncover potential right-wing terrorist plots. Why are so few people taking these dangers of right-wing violence seriously?

I believe it is human nature for people to not want to believe that they and their fellow citizens are capable of such things. Many people want to live in a world of wishful thinking where life is going to continue to go on in the same way that it always has.

If it is sunny today and you go to work and afterwards you have drinks with friends and then there is the weekend when you get to watch football and it's like that today, your bias is that it's always going to be that way.

People are status-quo biased. They truly believe that the way things are today is the way that things are going to be forever. As a result, many people do not see the warning signs. What is so amazing is that throughout history, violent extremists are often very public about their intentions, what their goals are and what strategy they're going to pursue to achieve those goals. Hitler is perhaps the best example. He wrote and published "Mein Kampf," laying out exactly what he intended to do. If you look at neo-Nazis and other white supremacists here in the United States and elsewhere, they have a book called "The Siege" which details exactly what their plans and intentions are.

The bible of the alt-right is a book called "The Turner Diaries." It lays out exactly how they intend to start a second civil war in the United States. "The Turner Diaries" includes an attack on the U.S. Capitol, and in that book a working gallows is erected outside the Capitol where they're going to bring "traitors" out for trial and then kill them. They're not hiding what they intend to do, and yet throughout history, the people who are at risk have not taken those messages, warnings and manifestos seriously.

In societies at risk for widespread political violence, is it common for the public and its leaders to be in a state of denial? For people to just ignore the obvious threats or say it is all just hyperbole?

As a social scientist, the example I would start with would be the Jews across Europe prior to the Holocaust because there is a very interesting variation in how Jews responded by country. There is also a noteworthy variation in terms of how Jews responded to the perceived threat of persecution and how communists and socialists responded.

In terms of the Jews in Europe, it was German Jews who had their heads in the sand the most and refused to see the disaster that was about to hit them. They actually could read "Mein Kampf." Many Polish Jews and Romanian Jews saw what was coming and tried to take action by fleeing Europe. The German Jews, less so. Why was this?

The German Jews were highly educated. They were cosmopolitan, they were the most assimilated. They were the most vested in the status quo. They were not living in ghettos, and they had not experienced pogroms until more recently. Therefore, many German Jews believed that they were going to be relatively untouched or that they had a vested interest in the society.

The German Jews were more likely to be caught by surprise, whereas if you are a Jewish person living in Poland, you've been ghettoized your whole existence, you've been the target of violence, you already know what the state is capable of. You know what your fellow citizens are capable of. You've seen the evidence of that. Such violence does not take you by surprise.

I think a similar dynamic is happening here in the United States. The American people as a whole have not witnessed the horrible things that human beings can do to each other because they have not been the target of such violence — except, of course, for African-Americans and other people of color who do see the approaching violence and disaster. Many white Americans do not want to see it. They do not want to hear the metaphorical train that is coming at them because they have not been targets of such violence as a group.

White Americans as a group tend not to believe the warnings by Black and brown people and others who see what is happening. Because they haven't had the direct experience, the hard evidence, of such things being true. I also believe that's because white Americans have a vested interest in the system. They really want to believe that the system is OK, and if they just keep their heads down and just weather this storm, everything's going to be OK.

How do people reconcile their wishes and dreams, or their delusions, with the obvious facts?

Trump and Flynn are preaching violence. You can quote them on it. If you read what they are saying, it is shocking. Yet few people seem to know about it. If I were to show what Trump and Flynn are saying, their actual words, to the average American, they would say, "You're making that up, it can't be true." Thus we have a situation where these things are happening, but the information is not being shared with the general public, or if they are hearing what is happening then it is being distorted or not fully represented in a way that leaves most Americans ignorant of what is really going on.

Historically, the side that wants to do these horrible things and put themselves in a position of power, to lead a dictatorship or start a "race war" or commit acts of genocide — for example, to kill all the Jews in Europe — will spend a lot of time investing in propaganda because they understand that if they can control the narrative they can control the average citizen. That is exactly what is happening now in the United States. Experts and other people like us see the warning signs because we're paying attention and we're reading widely. Most Americans are not.

At one of Trump's recent rallies, he told his followers to be ready to die to defeat "critical race theory." Michael Flynn recently told his audience he wanted them to "charge machine gun nests" in service to their cause. How do you fit these examples within your model of a second civil war or other massive violence in the United States?

One of the challenges that violent extremists have is how to expand their base of support. If they don't expand their support base, they just remain fringe movements forever. One way is to provoke a harsh government response. Let's say that there are peaceful protests, but then there are provocateurs there who try to get the police to open fire or to bash a few heads. Violence entrepreneurs will use those actions as evidence that the police or the government or the opposition are evil and intent on crushing them.

That tactic is often successful in radicalizing at least some portion of average citizens. It pushes them towards the extremists. Donald Trump is what I would describe as an "ethnic entrepreneur." He and his loyalists want to regain power. He is an autocrat. Trump has no interest in ruling democratically. But Trump is not going to get that power back without the support of the average white American. This means that Donald Trump has to convince them somehow that his is a worthy cause to defend.

How many people, in terms of a whole population, does such a movement need to take over society and impose its will on the public?

There is not much data on that question. Research suggests that perhaps 3% of the population is necessary to challenge whatever leader or group is in power. That is a quite small percentage, but if there is 3% of the American population out in the streets in a sustained way, it is actually enormous. You do not need a lot of people to start a civil war that's going to be incredibly costly to the country as a whole. All they would need are a few militia groups who are effective at targeting infrastructure and shutting down the economy.

What has the response been to your book and its warnings about a second civil war or right-wing insurgency in America?

To my great surprise, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. People are reading the book. I didn't think that was going to happen. I didn't think Americans would want to read about the possibility of a civil war or read a book that is terrifying. And they did, in large numbers. But the second response has really been that 90% of the emails I get are people thanking me. They're grateful. They have been worried about what they're seeing and feeling in the country. The most grateful emails I get are from people who live in rural areas, who thank me for shedding light on this problem.

There are people who say I am being an alarmist and that somehow I am making a second American civil war more likely by talking about it. The reality is that we know that violent extremists on the far right have been growing significantly, especially since 2008. You can read what their plans are. You can see that many of them are stockpiling weapons and going through maneuvers and training for war. These right-wing groups were sending some of their members to Ukraine, prior to the Russian invasion, to gain combat experience. We know that these right-wing extremists are actively recruiting from former members of the military because they want individuals with combat experience.

What these right-wing extremists want more than anything else is for the rest of the American people to ignore them, because that way they can grow their numbers, get more training, and when they're ready to act they'll have the element of surprise on their side. These right-wing extremists are a relatively small, weak group. Any militias in the United States are going to be small relative to the U.S. military. They need the element of surprise. I wish that it were true that if we did not talk about this threat, it would go away. That is simply not the case.

I see a situation where the right wing is already engaging in acts of lethal violence and is mobilizing for widespread violence. It is a one-way battle at this point. Liberals, progressives and other pro-democracy Americans are doing little, if anything, to defend their country against the threat. I fear that once they realize what the neofascists and right-wing extremists are preparing to do, it will be too late.

In the CIA's manual on insurgencies there are three stages. The United States is in the second stage. The CIA calls it the "incipient conflict stage," and it is marked by discrete acts of violence. Timothy McVeigh's attack in Oklahoma City was probably the very earliest instance. Here is what the CIA manual says, almost verbatim: "The insurgents' goal is to broadcast their mission to the world, build support and provoke a government overreaction to their violence so that more moderate citizens become radicalized and join the movement."

The second stage is when the government becomes aware of the groups behind these attacks, but according to the CIA, the violence is often dismissed as the work of bandits, criminals or terrorists. What is so dangerous about the second stage is that citizens, politicians and law enforcement usually miss it. They don't connect the dots, they don't see that the movement is growing and that this is a precursor to open insurgency. Instead, these attacks are dismissed as idiosyncratic or the result of crazy people who have no connection to a larger movement. That's exactly where we are today.

When you and other experts use the term "civil war," how is it defined?

Experts use it as a type of umbrella term. Underneath that umbrella are all sorts of different forms of violence that can happen within a country. Civil wars mean violence that's fought by a domestic group within a country that targets the government for political purposes. It becomes a civil war or a major civil war if it kills a thousand people during the course of the war.

Civil war can take different forms. There are social revolutions, such as the Russian Revolution or Mao's revolution in China. Social revolution is the most destructive type of civil war. It's a civil war where the rebels want complete political, economic and social change. There can also be a violent coup that kills a thousand people and is contained to a capital city. There is everything in between.

What we tend to see frequently in countries with powerful militaries are insurgencies. These tend to be more decentralized and usually fought by multiple militias and paramilitary groups. These militias have political goals, but their methods are very different. They don't want to engage the military directly for the most part, don't want to target soldiers, because if they engage the U.S. military, for example, they're going to lose. They instead use unconventional methods, like guerrilla warfare, hit-and-run attacks, domestic terrorism, where they're targeting the soft underbelly of a society, such as civilian infrastructure. In the United States we are not going to see a civil war like we saw in the 1860s.

What do we know about the public mood and emotion in a society that is about to experience a civil war or other mass violence?

The groups that tend to start these civil wars and insurgencies are driven by resentment. As such, the groups who decide that violence is a justifiable means to try to create political and social change are those that are losing status and have a deep sense of resentment towards other groups who are perceived as rising or doing better. These are the "sons of the soil" groups.

It is that resentment that motivates their leaders. Average citizens are motivated by a different emotion to follow such leaders. That emotion is fear, which is an incredible motivator for average citizens to pick up a gun and start fighting. Ethnic entrepreneurs, violence entrepreneurs — those individuals who want to start a civil war to catapult themselves to power — understand the power of fear. What they do is create propaganda and circulate it among average citizens. They tell them that their lives are under threat.

In a given society, and most certainly here in the United States, most members of the general public, white Americans and privileged people in particular, are fence-sitters. They may know that something is deeply wrong in the country, but they will do nothing about it. What does that oft-discussed "silent majority" actually do when a society starts to fall apart and people are killing each other?

Such people are going to hold on to hope as long as they can. They're going to plug their ears and cover their eyes and engage in wishful thinking as long as they can. And then, when something happens and they're forced to choose sides, their base instinct is to survive and to do whatever they need to do to survive.

If there is a paramilitary group that is putting up roadblocks on their street, if there's a group of people wearing all black with no insignias controlling a roadblock in a neighborhood with machine guns, the average person is going to do whatever those people want them to do. Survival drives behavior. Those fence-sitters are going to hope they're not going to become the targets of the violence.

Not all the far-right groups are white supremacists, but many of them are. What they want is for the United States to become a white "ethnostate," or at the very least for certain states like Michigan to become white ethnostates. These white supremacists understand that if they don't shoot at white people, then many white people are probably just going to keep their heads down and not do anything. It's exactly what happened in places like Germany, where if you see that the Germans are targeting Jews, you do everything possible to make sure that you aren't identified as a Jew. I believe that the average human who is trying to survive will do a whole lot of ugly things to keep themselves alive.

How do we prepare the American people for this civil war or insurgency or other such right-wing violence? Will it be a series of escalating events? Isolated acts of violence? Something spectacular, like 9/11?

Their ideal scenario is to coordinate, so that on a given day there would be multiple attacks. As I see it, it would almost feel like 9/11, where you wake up in the morning and you're watching TV and you know that something has happened and everything seems chaotic. You're not really sure who's in charge or what type of threat this is and what you should do about it.

I see a scenario where there are bombings in multiple state capitals, or a series of assassinations, or maybe both at the same time. Suddenly the federal government is facing a leaderless resistance. The country's leaders are trying to figure out how to respond. In the meantime, the American people are watching this all happen and wondering: What the hell's going on, who's in charge, and what should we do?

Some of these right-wing militias are going to want to capture territory in certain parts of the country and hold it. Some of them are going to pursue their own agendas. For example, I could imagine militias in Michigan saying, "We're never going to gain control of the federal government, but Michigan could be a white state — we just have to convince all the nonwhites to leave. We do that by bombing their churches and targeting their stores with attacks. Eventually, the nonwhites will be forced to move south and we'll ultimately get what we want."

If the right-wing extremists are not able to coordinate their attacks, then we are just going to see a series of consistent attacks every few weeks. There will be a feeling that the country is under siege. Northern Ireland is a great example of this. The British military, as strong as it was, could not get rid of the IRA. The IRA continued to operate until the British government eventually negotiated with them.

If you had 15 minutes to brief President Biden or Attorney General Garland, what would you highlight as the first steps they should take to contain this threat?

Regulate social media. It's the easiest thing that the U.S. government can do. The five biggest tech companies are all American companies. Don't engage in censorship. Let people put whatever they want on social media, but regulate what tech companies are allowed to do in terms of their recommendation engines. Don't allow them to take the most incendiary material and push it out to the widest possible audience, because that is causing a range of really negative societal effects. These include helping to accelerate the decline of democracy, helping to grow the rise of ethnic nationalism and hate crimes and helping to make it easier to organize militias. Regulating social media would be the quickest and easiest way to reverse these negative effects.

Russia expert: Putin is a 'rational actor' — but he still might use nuclear weapons to avoid defeat

Most people have heard the most famous truisms about armed conflict. No plan, we are told, survives contact with the enemy. In any war, truth is the first casualty. Of course, there is "the fog of war."

Those truisms are playing out in real time in Russia's war against Ukraine. Much of the American and Western media is focused on sensational stories and images of human struggle and loss, rather than on the larger picture of what is really happening on the ground in this grinding, brutal conflict. Coverage is dominated by dueling propaganda narratives in which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a saint and his besieged nation is a "brave little Belgium" (a First World War reference) while Vladimir Putin is an "irrational" bully, driven solely by a desire for mayhem and evil.

Digital media means that we see nearly real-time coverage of events on the ground in Ukraine — but that has produced at least as much confusion — if not more — among the general public than traditional media coverage. In total, much of the global public's understanding of what is actually happening in the Ukraine conflict has been clouded by information overload.

Punditry has gone into overdrive: A global crisis attracts experts, both genuine and self-appointed, who are trotted out by the 24/7 cable news machine to offer sometimes questionable or dubious "insights" to a global public hungry for answers.

We hear, of course, the usual narratives of American exceptionalism: Russia's war against Ukraine has proven again that the United States is an indispensable nation and has reclaimed its place as leader of the free world.

One thing is clear: the historical importance of Ukraine, and of this war, is beyond reasonable dispute. As Yaroslav Hrytsak recently wrote in the New York Times:

Ukraine is once again at the center of a potentially global conflict. World War I, as the historian Dominic Lieven put it, "turned on the fate of Ukraine." World War II, according to the legendary journalist Edgar Snow, was "first of all a Ukrainian war." Now the threat of a third world war hinges on what could happen in Ukraine…. After all, the struggle for Ukraine, as history tells us, is about much more than just Ukraine or Europe. It is the struggle for the shape of the world to come.

In an effort to make more sense of the confusing and rapidly changing events in Ukraine, I recently spoke with Matthew Schmidt, a professor of national security and political science at the University of New Haven. Schmidt is an expert on Russia, defense, intelligence and foreign policy who has taught strategic and operational planning at the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College. He has also taught at the Army War College and served as a representative to Ukraine's presidential election after the 2014 Maidan Revolution. His analysis and commentary have been featured on CNN, NBC News, Fox News, CBC News, CBS News and other outlets.

In this conversation, Schmidt explains why Russia's invasion of Ukraine has gone so badly, leaving Putin's military in a stalemate and on the verge of defeat. He also argues that, contrary to the analysis offered by many commentators, Putin himself is a rational actor, whose decisions are meant to advance his goal of a form of Russian manifest destiny that places his nation at the center of human history.

Schmidt issues an ominous warning: He believes Putin may order the use of battlefield nuclear weapons against Ukraine as a way of forcing a surrender and peace on his terms. With Russia's invasion force blunted by fierce Ukrainian resistance, Putin is targeting cities and other population centers for destruction in an effort to force Zelenskyy to sue for peace.

At the end of this conversation, Schmidt describes Zelenskyy as the true leader of the free world and a model of leadership that will be studied decades into the future.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

As an expert in international relations and military affairs, when you look at Russia's war in Ukraine what do you see?

I see a war of independence that started in 2004 and will come to an end here. I do not believe it's just a war of independence in Ukraine. In the end, this all ends in the streets of Moscow. The shooting may stop in a year, it may stop in five years, or it may take considerably longer. But this is the event that has to bring down Putin. I think Ukraine frees Russia, eventually.

In terms of the mainstream American news media, 24/7 news cycle and all these talking heads and pundits, what are they getting wrong about the war?

The overall narrative frame was incorrect. We see this with all the retired generals who are on TV making their rounds. These generals are describing the war in Ukraine in terms of realpolitik. They take Putin's claims about Ukraine being in NATO seriously. Ukraine becoming part of NATO does not change the strategic balance.

The other incorrect assumption was that Russia was going to take Ukraine easily, that it was somehow inevitable. Too many observers misunderstood the nature of the Ukrainian military and how, in a good way, their society was militarized over eight years.

Putin talks as though we're going to roll tanks to Moscow from eastern Ukraine, which is just absurd. What such claims reveal is that Putin doesn't understand modern warfare. Stupidity is always a causal possibility here as well. Or Putin is engaging in maskirovka, this idea that you lie and deceive your enemy. One can even lie to their own people in the pursuit of this greater good.

The other error is a willingness by too many supposed experts to disregard the fact that Putin is driven by a vision, a form of manifest destiny.

What I find frustrating is the business of punditry itself. These people go from being supposed experts on the pandemic a few weeks ago to now being "experts" on military affairs and international relations. Some of the loudest and most confident voices do not have much specific expertise on matters of war and violence and politics.

You can do a lot of harm if you have access to mass media and you're not using that power to properly educate the public. When I am interviewed, I think of myself as a teacher. My class isn't in front of me in person, it's on the other side of that camera. I have 30 seconds to say something that will help people better understand this confusing and frightening situation.

Too many pundits go on TV and do interviews and focus on how they have 30 seconds for the the camera to be pointed at them. They are thinking about how to make this time about me, because this is my career now — or my second career in the case of retired generals or others with a similar background. Many commentators actually seem to be excited when they talk about the war in Ukraine. In my opinion, that is dangerous in terms of what it does to U.S. policy.

What are some analyses you have seen that are just pure hyperbole? Are there others that perhaps underplay the real dangers?

I'm not sure there is much hyperbole anymore. At the start of the war, the discussions about the potential for Putin to use nuclear weapons were hyperbolic. We have seen his tone change. We now have to take Putin's threats seriously and consider the most extreme possible outcomes.

I do not believe that Putin is going to nuke London and New York. I think that the real threat is the use of battlefield nuclear weapons. Because to me, what is driving Putin is his vision of manifest destiny for Russia and the larger region. I also believe that this vision is quasi-religious. What happens with secular "religious" fanatics, people possessed by some sense of destiny and vision, is that they often end up as martyrs and are willing to do extreme things. That is what is truly frightening to me.

There's good cause for people to be scared, but again, they are scared of the wrong thing. People are scared that New York is going to be nuked, instead of battlefield weapons being dropped across Ukraine, breaking that taboo.

Why would Russia deploy battlefield nuclear weapons? Why risk that spiral of escalation?

The danger is that Putin is losing the war. The Russians have — this comes from the Soviet era — written into their doctrine a theory called "escalate to de-escalate." Putin could escalate the war by using battlefield nukes to bring Zelenskyy to the table, who would then say that the cost to society, to his people, of doing this is now greater than the desire to hold on to their unity, their sovereignty as a nation. That's one way Putin could do it. He could use battlefield nukes in order either to push the West to act as an arbiter in negotiations with Zelenskyy, or to back the West off.

As long as he's using nukes inside Ukraine, it's a reasonable bet that the West won't intervene. Putin can use those nukes to regain control of what we in military planning call "operational tempo." Here Putin is forcing the other side to react to him instead of vice versa. At present, the Ukrainians and Russians are evenly matched to some degree. The Ukrainians are forcing the Russian military to react. The Russian military was not ready for that. But of course, using tactical nukes would radically change that balance.

Nobody starts a war planning to lose. What were Putin and his generals' assumptions? How did it go so wrong for them?

They thought they could take Ukraine in a few days and that they would have Kyiv and functional control of the rest of the country. They woefully underestimated the fighting spirit and commitment of the Ukrainian military and of ordinary Ukrainians. Putin and his generals also misunderstood that the Ukrainian military always had a two-line strategy. The first was to defend the borders as long as possible. The second was to fall back in a cohesive way so that those military units were still able to operate in an orderly way and then transition into guerrilla war. The civilian reserves are integral to Ukraine's defenses as well.

What was the Russian military's plan, on the tactical level?

I train people at the operational and strategic level of war. The mistakes the Russian military made are at that operational level. As a practical matter, there are errors in how they are trying to bring together a series of tactical operations into a whole that in turn leads to a strategic aim.

It appears that the Belarusian troops and the troops from the north are mostly conscripts. The plan was to roll them in, in large numbers, to take Kyiv. But these forces were second-tier. In the south, the Russians positioned the naval infantry, the marines out of Novorossiysk, to take the road that runs along the Sea of Azov and connects into Crimea. Those forces would then work as ground troops in cities like Mariupol and in the surrounding area. Russian forces are working toward Odessa, which is understood to be a "Russian city" culturally and is very important to Putin to take.

Putin had bad troops in the north who failed to maintain their vehicles. Stupidity was the causal variable that really caused that much-discussed huge convoy to bog down. The key error there was not maintaining the vehicles. The other error was that the Russians do not have a good NCO core, meaning the non-commissioned officers. Russian troops were also not told what they were going to Ukraine to do. That is a tactical error that has strategic-level importance.

And then, of course, where has the Russian air force been? The Russians did not expect the Ukrainians to be as capable as they have been in air defense. That's been a huge problem for the Russians, and will continue to be, because the United States has given Ukraine so many Stinger missiles. The U.S. and NATO are going to try to create a no-fly zone from the ground up. The Russian pilots were not given enough hours in their jets to properly train. They are not capable of effectively maneuvering around the Ukrainian air defenses, which they should be able to do.

Is this a story of the Russian military being incompetent or is the Ukrainian military that good?

It is both. The Ukrainian military is one of the best in Europe now. It's small, and it doesn't have the equipment, but it is battle-hardened. You have two or three generations of fighters who have now passed through the front lines in Ukraine, going back to 2014. There are a lot of Ukrainians that have really good operational experience on the ground.

I think the Russians really did underestimate just how good the Ukrainian military was. Putin misunderstood the nature of the war. I also believe that Putin, like Western armchair generals, overplayed the impact of fancy tech and fancy weapon systems, and underplayed the importance of solid small-unit capabilities and the will to fight.

And then I think you have a problem with the culture of the Russian military. It is true that Putin modernized the military, but the culture is still heavily Soviet. It is deeply hierarchical. It doesn't devolve command down to the tactical level because it doesn't trust tactical commanders. As a result, the Russian military under that system makes many mistakes on the ground, whereas the Ukrainian military has highly talented, mobile, independent units that can punch above their weight because they're led better than the Russians are, even if the Russians have better weapons.

But this is also why the war is going to get even bloodier. The Soviet tendency to work from the top down means that orders are given to just obliterate cities because that is the easiest thing to do.

There are many cheerleaders for NATO who are proclaiming that the Russian military is so incompetent that the U.S. military, along with NATO, would defeat them easily. What is the error of inference and assumption there, if there is one?

The error is that Putin would escalate. Putin sees Ukraine as Russian territory. If the U.S. and NATO were to go into Ukraine and impose a no-fly zone or something of that sort, Putin is going to see that as an attack on Russia. Putin would then have a rationale to escalate with things like battlefield nukes.

There are units such as the naval infantry that are probably Russia's best troops. They would put up a hard fight. But as good as those elite troops are, our entire Marine Corps is as good as they are. Not just our special forces in the Marine Corps, but your average jarhead is probably close to Russia's best in many ways. Yes, we would win if we were allowed to fight it at that level. But Putin would escalate to de-escalate.

Will the weapons and other support being sent to Ukraine by the U.S. and its NATO allies help to turn the tide of battle against the Russian forces? I am thinking specifically of Switchblade drones and other semi-autonomous weapons, as well as the S-300 surface-to-air missile systems that are being discussed.

When Zelenskyy says he needs a no-fly zone, we should listen. But in this case, I see the evidence as showing that the bulk of the damage is being caused by missiles and artillery. We've made a mistake not putting in Patriots or an "Iron Dome" system, and anti-artillery systems (counter-battery systems). Not doing that has given Putin leverage by being able to punish civilians and in effect take them hostage because he can target civilians with impunity.

Is Vladimir Putin a rational actor? That does not mean that you and I or anyone else endorse his behavior — that is a common misunderstanding of the definition. How do experts explain what that concept actually means?

Here is how I explain the concept of a "rational actor." You go home for Thanksgiving, and you have one side of your family that watches Fox, and you have the other side of your family that watches MSNBC. Both sides are rational, but you don't recognize the validity of the logic of the other side. But within their system of logic, they're behaving appropriately. If A leads to B leads to C, and someone on the other side of the table says, "Well, then the next answer is D," that's rational. That's following the system of logic. If they go, "A leads to B, leads to C, leads to F," that doesn't make sense, that is illogical. But Putin's not crazy. Putin is following his own system of logic. He's as predictable as any of us are.

What is Putin's theory of Russia's destiny?

Putin believes that Russia has a special place in world history. Russia's role is to drive world history by standing between what he sees as European values and Asian values. In Putin's mind, if Russia is not the center of this geographic and cultural and spiritual space known as Eurasia, then the future of mankind is different, perhaps even catastrophic. Putin is trying to preserve the capacity of Russia to keep its space as a great power in human history. Putin has to maintain control of Ukraine because it is historically and spiritually critical to that project.

For Putin, if Ukraine goes democratic and adopts European values, which "Eurasianism" is against, then Ukraine becomes the point through which Russia loses its Eurasian values and becomes European. He is afraid of a Westernized and Europeanized Ukraine that has a stable democracy, however corrupt and whatnot, that believes in things like gay rights and a free press. If that happens, that destroys what Putin believes is the appropriate cultural space for Russia to lead.

There is a multitude of competing images and narratives about the events in Ukraine. What advice do you have for the public about how to better navigate what is really happening? How can the public be more critical in terms of understanding propaganda and how these images and stories are generated and in whose interests?

The public needs to understand that the information war is arguably more important than the war on the battlefield. To some extent, the kinetic war is driven by the need to create images and narratives that are circulated across the information realm. In turn, this drives the willingness of the U.S. Congress, for example to pass bills that will bring aid to Ukraine. That is a huge strategic win for Ukraine, in terms of the information war and world public opinion. Propaganda works best when there is truth in it, even if there are things that are not real as well.

I also believe that, insofar as you can have a justified or a moral war, then Ukraine's defense of their country is one such example. The public needs to get ready for the fact that there will be atrocities committed by Ukrainian troops. There is a huge amount of anger in these troops. Especially as this devolves into a war with civilians, I think you'll see those stories come out. You'll find less disciplined civilian defense units that will commit war crimes against Russians if they have the opportunity.

How would Putin define some sort of "victory with honor," in terms of ending this war in a ceasefire or other negotiated resolution?

Victory for Putin is controlling the political future of Ukraine. Putin does not need to make Ukraine a part of Russia in the legal sense. However, Putin has to control the political future of Ukraine. I do not believe there is an ending to this war short of that which will satisfy Putin. That is why I'm afraid of escalation.

Again, ultimately this ends in the streets of Moscow with the destruction of the Putinist regime. For Russia, this means the culmination of its post-Soviet stage of development because it has replicated the same sort of personality cult as the czars and Stalin. Now it is in the form of Putin. That must end.

That's where we end up ultimately. It may be a long time after the shooting stops in the war. I do not see any other route for the Russian people but to decide that their country has to step down from being a world power and instead be a European power, with all the rights and theories of European governance in place. Russia must cede its position as a world player to countries like the U.S. and China.

The situation in Ukraine is dynamic. With all of the talk of negotiation, Putin's army supposedly stalled and daily images of atrocities, how do you read the big picture?

The Russian military has reached "culmination." That term means the time when the attacking force can no longer continue its advance. Russia has been hit unexpectedly hard. It's taken significant losses, including in senior officers, critical equipment and supplies. The front is basically static at this point.

The implication is that Putin will have to: 1) negotiate, 2) resupply and restart the same basic plan or 3) adopt a new plan that gets around the reasons he can't advance. Putin is not actually ready to negotiate. He will escalate the war with NATO and not Ukraine. The escalation is aimed at pressuring the West to be his weapon and to put pressure on Zelenskyy to capitulate, because he knows the West won't intervene to allow Ukraine to win on the ground.

Zelenskyy is now saying that he'd negotiate right away. Putin changed his plan and decided to use missiles and artillery — which the West could have helped to blunt — to take whole cities and populations hostage. Now Zelenskyy is being forced to choose between the population he's responsible for that is being held hostage, such as in Mariupol, and the things that population is fighting and dying for, which are independence, territorial integrity and European values and identity.

Putin's center of gravity is the fact that he can hold those cities hostage. Without that, he doesn't have leverage. But at this moment in the war, Putin has that leverage. In this moment, Putin is in fact not deterrable by anything Ukraine can do, because they don't have the tools to stop his hostage-taking.

The only other choice for Zelenskyy is to continue the fight until the conditions shift and he has leverage to counter Putin's leverage, but at a great cost in the lives of his people. The only other option is for NATO to intervene by forcibly setting up the necessary weapons to stop the missiles and artillery, which would be a significant escalation.

How would you assess Zelenskyy's performance?

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has effectively become the leader of the free world. He has articulated the values of the West better than any of his peers and proven himself the most capable military leader on the planet today. He has led his people to a stalemate against the second-best military on the planet. Even if he can't "win," he's shown Western militaries how to use information, diplomacy and force of arms to fight the most modern war yet. He will be studied in war colleges for decades to come.

It's science: Trump voters are dumb

The United States is experiencing an existential democracy crisis, with leading Republicans and millions of their voters and supporters either tacitly or explicitly embracing authoritarianism or fascism. Democrats, for the most part, have not responded with the urgency required to save America's democracy from the rising neofascist tide.

American society was founded on white settler colonialism, genocide and slavery. This unresolved "birth defect" at the foundation of the American democratic experiment meant that the country was racially exclusionary by design, from the founding well into the 20th century. At present, American politics is contoured by asymmetrical political polarization, in which Republicans have moved so far to the right that the party's most "moderate" members are far more extreme than the most "conservative" Democrats. This makes substantive compromise and bipartisanship in the interests of the common good and the American people almost impossible.

Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, Trump supporters and Trump-loathers, increasingly do not live in the same neighborhoods or communities. In all, they largely do not socialize with each other, or have other forms of meaningful interpersonal relationships in day-to-day life.

To the degree that "race" is a proxy for political values and beliefs, the color line functions as a practical dividing line of partisan identity and voting. Religion is also a societal space that is divided by politics. For example, public opinion research shows that white right-wing evangelical Christians have increasingly embraced authoritarian views, conspiracy theories and other anti-democratic and antisocial values.

As the new Faith in America survey by Deseret News & Marist College highlights, the basic understanding of the role of religion in a secular democracy has become so polarized that 70% of Republicans believe that religion should influence a person's political values, where as only 28% of Democrats and 45% of independents share that view.

Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, also do not consume the same sources of information about news and politics. Conservatives now inhabit their own self-created media echo chamber, which functions as a type of lie-filled and toxic closed episteme and sealed-off universe. The creation of such an alternate reality is an important attribute of fascism, in which truth itself must be destroyed and replaced with fantasies and fictions in support of the leader and his movement.

America's struggle for democracy and freedom against authoritarianism is taking place on a biological level as well. Social psychologists and other researchers have shown that the brain structures of conservative-authoritarians are different than those of more liberal and progressive thinkers. The former are more fear-centered, emphasizing threats and dangers (negativity bias), intolerant of ambiguity and inclined to simple, binary solutions. Conservative-authoritarians are also strongly attracted to moral hierarchy and social dominance behavior.

Recent research by Darren Sherkat, a professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University, demonstrates that America's democracy crisis may be even more intractable than the above evidence suggests. In his recent article "Cognitive Sophistication, Religion, and the Trump Vote," which appeared in the January 2021 edition of Social Science Quarterly, Sherkat examined data from the 2018 General Social Survey and concluded that there are substantial negative differences between the thinking processes and cognition of white Trump voters, as shown in the 2016 presidential election, as compared to other voters who supported Hillary Clinton or another candidate, or who did not vote at all.

Sherkat observes that Trump support has been linked to religion and level of education, but until now not to "cognitive sophistication," which was found "to have a positive effect on voting, but a negative effect on choosing Trump." He notes that "philosophers and political elites have debated the potential effects of mass political participation" for generations, concerned "about the unsophisticated masses coming under the sway of a demagogue." In effect, this debate was always about the quality he calls cognitive sophistication, since citizens who lack it "may not be able to understand and access reliable and valid information about political issues and may be vulnerable to political propaganda":

Low levels of cognitive sophistication may lead people to embrace simple cognitive shortcuts, like stereotypes and prejudices that were amplified by the Trump campaign. Additionally, the simple linguistic style presented by Trump may have appealed to voters with limited education and cognitive sophistication. Beginning with [T.W.] Adorno's classic study of the authoritarian personality, empirical works have linked low levels of cognitive sophistication with right-wing orientations....
Trump's campaign may also have been more attractive to people with low cognitive sophistication and a preference for low-effort information processing because compared to other candidates Trump's speeches were given at a much lower reading level…. While much of the Trump campaign's rhetoric and orientation may have resonated with the poorly educated and cognitively unsophisticated, those overlapping groups are less likely to register to vote or to turn out in an election.

As part of his research, Sherkat evaluated the political decision-making and cognition of Trump's voters, using a 10-point vocabulary exam. In a guest essay at the website Down with Tyranny, he explains what this vocabulary test revealed about white Trump voters:

Overall, the model predicts that almost 73% of respondents who missed all 10 questions would vote for Trump (remember, that is controlling for education and the other factors), while about 51% who were average on the exam are expected to vote for Trump. Only 35% of people who had a perfect score on the exam are predicted to be Trump supporters.
Notably, this very strong, significant effect of verbal ability can be identified within educational groups. While non-college whites certainly turned out more heavily for Trump, the smart ones did not — only 38% of those with perfect scores are expected to go for Trump, and only 46% of non-college graduates who scored a standard deviation above the mean. The same is true for college graduates — low cognition college graduates were more likely to vote for Trump. ...
What is really depressing isn't just the poles of the vocabulary exam, it's the average. The mean and median of the scale is 6 — so half of white Americans missed 4 of the easy vocabulary questions.

Sherkat's research also explored how religion impacted support for Donald Trump among white voters: "This study confirms that white Americans with fundamentalist views of the Bible and those who embrace identifications with sectarian Protestant denominations tended to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election."

Belief that the Bible is the literal "word of God" also impacted Trump voting: "Viewing the Bible as a book of fables is also significantly predictive of vote choice, with secular beliefs reducing the odds of a Trump vote by 80 percent when compared to literalists, and reducing the odds of a Trump vote by 52 percent when compared to respondents who view the Bible as inspired by God."

In an email to Salon, Sherkat offered additional context and implication on the relationship between white Christianity, American neofascism and cognition:

The problem of the contemporary American fascist right is rooted in education and information. And this problem is not simply about attainment of some quantity of education, but of the quality and content of education, how that leads generations of white Christian Americans to process information about a wide range of issues. The segregation academies that proliferated in the mid-1960s and accelerated in the 1970s have taught millions of Americans a radically skewed version of American and world history and encouraged a continued segregated society. The homeschooling movement augmented this division, and further denigrated the value of knowledge.
White fundamentalist Christians have always segmented their communities from the rest of America, and even exert considerable control over public educational institutions, particularly in rural areas and in the states which embraced slavery. White fundamentalist Christians distrust mainstream social institutions like education and print media, and they actively seek to eliminate public education and to provide alternative sources of information. As a result, people who identify with and participate in white Christian denominations and who subscribe to fundamentalist beliefs have substantial intellectual deficits that make them easy marks for a wide variety of schemes — from financial fraud to conspiracy theories.
If you can't read the New York Times, you're going to believe whatever you hear on talk radio or on television. It's simply impossible for people with limited vocabularies and low levels of cognitive functioning to make sense of the complex realities of the political world. And we now have a population where for 55 years substantial fractions of white people have gone to private fundamentalist Christian schools that leave them both indoctrinated in Christian nationalism and ill-prepared to process any additional information. Worse, we now have over a million children in a given year who are homeschooled by parents who are uneducated white fundamentalists — and that total has been pretty constant for three decades since the homeschooling movement blossomed.

What does this mean for the present and future of American democracy in this time of crisis? Sherkat cited the "disturbing ... influence of anti-intellectualism on American public life," which lends "performative power to ignorant elites":

Spouting off obvious untruths is no longer a mark of shame, because even basic historical and contemporary truths are not recognized. We seem to have a stable set of about 30% of Americans, 35% of white Americans, who are oblivious to political realities and incapable and unwilling to come to terms with any of our key social problems. The increasing control over public education by right-wing fanatics is entrenching ignorance and intellectual laziness in future generations. It does not bode well for the future of American democracy.

Donald Trump and his movement did not create all these American authoritarians and aspiring fascists. Such people have long been a feature of American society. What Trump and his movement have accomplished in recent years is to empower and normalize a dangerous set of antisocial, anti-human, retrograde and anti-democratic values and beliefs.

Saving America's democracy will require a moral and political reckoning and acts of critical self-reflection on a nationwide scale about the American people's character and values, and about how their leaders and governing institutions have failed them.

Changes in laws and institutions are necessary. But on their own, such interventions will not stop the spread of fascism. A lasting remedy will demand that the country's political, cultural, and educational institutions be renewed, re-energized, and reimagined. The questions Americans must ask themselves are simple yet enormous: Who are we? What are we to become? How can we unite in defense of democracy, the common good and the general welfare? Without real answers to those questions, there will be no democratic renewal in the 21st century -- and fascism wins.

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Don't be fooled: The GOP love affair with Putin is worse than it looks

Errol Morris' "The Fog of War" is one of my favorite documentary films. It is especially timely given Vladimir Putin and Russia's war on Ukraine.

Robert McNamara, who was secretary of defense under Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s and one of the chief architects of the disastrous war in Vietnam, is the film's subject. If you let people talk, they will show you who they really are. Morris demonstrates great skill at allowing villains to speak for themselves, and in doing so to reveal their complexity — and their sincere belief in their own victimhood and heroism. "The Fog of War" is a masterclass in that lesson, one which all interviewers and those others who use words for a living should internalize.

RELATED: "The Fog of War": Errol Morris tries to pin down Vietnam War chess-master Robert McNamara

In the film, McNamara tells this story from his World War II past:

The U.S. Air Force had a new airplane named the B-29. The B-17s and B-24s in Europe bombed from 15,000, 16,000 feet. The problem was they were subject to anti-aircraft fire and to fighter aircraft. To relieve that, this B-29 was being developed that bombed from high altitude and it was thought we could destroy targets much more efficiently and effectively.
I was brought back from the 8th Air Force and assigned to the first B-29s, the 58th Bomb Wing. We had to fly those planes from the bases in Kansas to India. Then we had to fly fuel over the hump into China.
The airfields were built with Chinese labor. It was an insane operation. I can still remember hauling these huge rollers to crush the stone and make them flat. A long rope, somebody would slip. The roller would roll over [that person], everybody would laugh and go on.

That story of laughter and death and numbness applies to America's current situation as well. Former Trump White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham recently told "The View" that Donald Trump wanted the power to kill with impunity. In explaining why Trump both admired and feared Vladimir Putin she said:

I think he was afraid of him. I think that the man intimidated him. Because Putin is a scary man, just frankly, I think he was afraid of him…. I also think he admired him greatly. I think he wanted to be able to kill whoever spoke out against him. So I think it was a lot of that. In my experience with him, he loved the dictators, he loved the people who could kill anyone, including the press.

A healthy society would have been stunned, disgusted, terrified and moved to action by Grisham's confession. The evident fact that Trump is a sociopath would have been the subject of extensive news coverage. If America were a healthy society, we would have an ongoing "national conversation" about the peril the country experienced from Trump, his Republican-fascist allies and their movement — danger that has only grown stronger.

A healthy society would now ask: How can we prevent another Donald Trump, another fascistic, sadistic demagogue, from ever coming to power?

What does it say about American society that Donald Trump and his cabal of coup plotters and other enemies of democracy and freedom have not been punished? That they are plotting in public how to overthrow American democracy and return Trump to power without fear of punishment or other negative consequences? And that Trump still has many tens of millions of followers — many of whom are potentially willing to engage in acts of violence, and perhaps even die, at his command? What does that say about a country and a people?

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What was the response to Grisham's comments about Donald Trump's desire to commit murder? Silence and indifference. Neither the media nor the American people seem to care. They have become desensitized to what not long ago would have been judged unconscionable.

America is a pathocracy. The masses take their cues from corrupted elites. Malignant normality is the new normal. Political deviance has been normalized. The Age of Trump constantly offers further proof that a sick and broken society can accept just about anything, no matter how surreal and grotesque

Fascism thrives in such societies. But the poison could not have spread so quickly if the soil and foundations were not toxic to begin with.

It is not adequate simply to say that Donald Trump idolizes authoritarians, demagogues, political strongmen and tyrants. The essential question must be this: Who are the specific objects of ideation and worship for Donald Trump, the other American neofascists and their followers?

The most prominent example, of course, is Vladimir Putin. The American people and the world should not be swayed and bamboozled by the Republican Party and its propagandists, who are now trying to claim that they are diehard Cold Warriors, forever united against Putin and his aggression. The American people and the world should also not be seduced by superficial public opinion polls that purport to show that Republican voters are now vigorously anti-Putin and do not support his war against Ukraine.

RELATED: Putin's invasion of Ukraine exposes the Fox News-QAnon feedback loop

Today's Republican voters and other Trumpists are part of a political cult. They follow, uncritically, whatever directives and various signals are sent to them by Donald Trump, Fox News, the white right-wing evangelical churches and the larger right-wing echo chamber.

Public opinion polls taken before the invasion of Ukraine show that Republicans view Vladimir Putin as a better leader than Joe Biden. That is no coincidence. It is publicly known that Putin and Russia's intelligence agencies have been engaged in a long-term influence campaign designed to manipulate (and manage) the Republican Party, its leaders, the right-wing news media and their public.

Putin is an authoritarian and a demagogue. He is anti-human, anti-freedom and anti-democracy. He stands against the future and human progress and pluralism. To many of his admirers in America and the West, he is a leader of "White Christianity." Putin has persecuted and imperiled the LGBTQ community, and is hostile to women's rights and women's equality. He kills and imprisons journalists, and is doing his best to silence free speech.

Most recently, Putin has indicated that criticism of his regime and the war in Ukraine will be viewed a type of thoughtcrime. He is using similar language to the Republican fascists and the larger white right in claiming victimhood and suggesting he has been "canceled" by elites.

Putin's Russia is a plutocracy and a kleptocracy controlled by an oligarchic elite of white men. He uses secret police and other enforcers to terrorize any person or group he deems to be the enemy. Republicans in the U.S., and many of their allies and followers, want to exercise that kind of power in America.

In a new essay at the Boston Review, Bethany Moreton elaborates:

Why would a group of ultra-nationalist Americans celebrate the invasion of a U.S. ally by someone both the left and right have largely understood to be an enemy of freedom?
In fact, though, the U.S. right wing has long cultivated ties with Russia. Some of these are self-evident quid-pro-quo affairs: The "sweeping and systematic" campaigns of election interference authorized by Putin in support of a Trump victory in 2016 and 2020; Trump's attempt to leverage Congressionally allocated aid to Ukraine for political dirt on the Biden family; the confessed Russian agent who infiltrated the National Rifle Association and the National Prayer Breakfast in a bid to develop informal channels of influence on the Republican Party.
More broadly, however, U.S. conservative evangelicals have developed strong symbolic and institutional ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. In recent years, these have dovetailed with white racist fantasies of Russia as an ethnically pure land of traditional religion and gender roles, symbolized by the bare-chested kleptocrat on horseback, Vladimir Putin….
At the much broader level of institutionalized ambitions to "dominion," the Russian partnership has proved invigorating to the American right's overlapping agendas of white supremacy, masculine authority, and anti-democratic Christian authority. If Putin's cooperation with the Moscow Patriarchate is a model for emulation, American theocrats are telling us what they seek here at home. We would be foolish not to take them at their word.

In total, the Republican fascists and the larger "conservative movement" have shown themselves to be Putin's puppets.

To make matters even worse, Putin now imagines himself as a 21st-century version of Joseph Stalin.

To wit. In a speech on Wednesday, Putin denounced "national traitors" who are supposedly undermining the war on Ukraine, saying that "real" Russians will "always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors." This is the man so many of today's Republicans idolize. That should make clear how dangerous to American democracy and society they truly are.

The form of politics modeled by Vladimir Putin and his Stalinist dreams cannot be precisely replicated in America. As such, it is being massaged and reshaped by the Republican neofascists and their allies to assimilate more easily into American political culture. But it is no exaggeration to suggest that those forces are engaged in a Stalinist revolutionary struggle against American democracy; their tactics, strategies and goals are that extreme.

For many reasons, this moment has brought renewed interest in George Orwell's classic dystopian novel "1984." In a letter written in 1944, a few years before the publication of that book, Orwell reflected upon the dangers of totalitarianism he saw in the U.S. and Britain:

But one must remember that Britain and the USA haven't been really tried, they haven't known defeat or severe suffering, and there are some bad symptoms to balance the good ones. To begin with there is the general indifference to the decay of democracy. Do you realise, for instance, that no one in England under 26 now has a vote and that so far as one can see the great mass of people of that age don't give a damn for this?
Secondly there is the fact that the intellectuals are more totalitarian in outlook than the common people. On the whole the English intelligentsia have opposed Hitler, but only at the price of accepting Stalin. Most of them are perfectly ready for dictatorial methods, secret police, systematic falsification of history etc. so long as they feel that it is on 'our' side. Indeed the statement that we haven't a Fascist movement in England largely means that the young, at this moment, look for their führer elsewhere. One can't be sure that that won't change, nor can one be sure that the common people won't think ten years hence as the intellectuals do now. I hope they won't, I even trust they won't, but if so it will be at the cost of a struggle. If one simply proclaims that all is for the best and doesn't point to the sinister symptoms, one is merely helping to bring totalitarianism nearer.

Orwell's "1984" was meant as a direct rebuttal to both Stalinism and Nazism.

The American people have been repeatedly warned about the dangers represented by the Republican fascists and the Trump movement. The past is prologue — but it does not have to be. The American people can choose to learn the lessons of the past about how democracies succumb to fascism and authoritarianism and act accordingly, or they can continue to insist, against all available evidence, that such evils only bloom elsewhere and cannot possibly happen here.

But democracy must be an active choice. Indifference and passivity are sure to destroy it. What choice will the American people make?

Trump and his allies issue disturbing calls for violence – and the media doesn't care

Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Tucker Carlson, Michael Flynn and the other leaders of the American neofascist movement are very generous, in their own sinister fashion. They make their escalating threats of right-wing violence, insurrection and other forms of mayhem in public. There is little skulduggery or subterfuge involved.

Why are they so bold? Because they have suffered no serious long-term negative consequences for their behavior. And for the most part, the Republican fascists and the larger white right are winning in their war against American democracy. Momentum is on their side. Why should they conceal their intentions?

When disaster follows — be it some version of Jan. 6 (which is almost inevitable) or other acts of right-wing terror — the American people and their leaders will not be able to claim ignorance. They have repeatedly been warned and have chosen to ignore those warnings.

RELATED: In the coming second American Civil War, which side are you on?

Last Saturday at a rally in Florence, South Carolina, Donald Trump continued with his threats of white supremacist violence. He suggested that his political cult members should enter into a lethal blood pact and fight an existential battle against the phantasm of "critical race theory" as proof of their loyalty:

Getting critical race theory out of our schools is not just a matter of values, it's also a matter of national survival. We have no choice…. The fate of any nation ultimately depends upon the willingness of its citizens to lay down — and they must do this — lay down their very lives to defend their country…. If we allow the Marxists and communists and socialists to teach our children to hate America, there will be no one left to defend our flag or protect our great country or its freedom.

Trump's commands are part of a larger pattern of behavior. At recent rallies in Arizona and Texas, he made similar hints at a "race war", and other appeals to fascist violence. His threats are becoming ever clearer and less veiled: His suggestion that his followers must be willing to die in order to stop the imaginary threat of "critical race theory" almost directly echos the infamous neo-Nazi "14 words" slogan and pledge.

How did the American mainstream news media respond to Trump's most recent white supremacist threats of violence and "race war"? For the most part, they ignored it. If an obligatory comment was offered about Trump's hate rally in South Carolina, it was derisive. Those reporters who did write about Trump's speech defaulted to obsolescent and dangerous habits of "horse race" political journalism, or whitewashing Trump's speech by focusing on "policy issues" or his signals that he is likely to run for president again in 2024. Such an approach normalizes, and therefore empowers, Trumpism and neofascism.

America's mainstream news media and larger political class continue to demonstrate that they are unwilling to respond to the escalating threats posed by the Trump movement and the larger white right.

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Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser and U.S. Army general turned coup plotter, spoke last weekend at a "ReAwaken America" event in Southern California that brought together election-fraud truthers, QAnon adherents and other conspiracy theorists. He also threatened violence against educators who resist the Republican moral panic over "critical race theory":

We need you to charge the machine gun nest…. Maybe I'm just asking you to dig a little bit deeper there or hold this side of the line, or form up cause we're gonna counterattack over here, and that counterattack is, we're gonna go after school boards.

Flynn's summoning of violence was not random hyperbole: He was an intelligence officer and is a trained expert in psy-ops, propaganda and manipulation.

Ron Filipkowski, a former federal prosecutor and an expert on right-wing extremism, was among the first people to sound the alarm about Flynn's recent comments. He offered further context in an email to Salon:

Flynn's general message is that there is a global cabal that runs the world, which is controlled by elites who want to erode national sovereignty. The supposed global elites use the media, universities and other institutions to manipulate and control the population. Part of these claims is that there is a "deep state" of career civil servants and government officials who really run things and that elected officials do not.
I am most concerned with supervisor of elections and secretary of state races. These officials in swing states, most of whom were establishment Republicans, refused to go along with the Big Lie and did their duty in 2020. That is why it is a high priority for Trump, Flynn, Bannon and others to replace them. These are low profile and low dollar races that can be won with far less effort than others. These are also races that the GOP is intensely focused on and the Democrats are not. If election fraud conspiracy theorists take over the offices that run and administer our elections, coupled with all the new "voter fraud" legislation, that would be a huge threat to the survival of our democracy.

As with Trump, the mainstream news media was largely mute in response to Flynn's comments.

In the Age of Trump and beyond, the Republican fascists' tactics of stochastic terrorism in combination with increasingly overt and direct threats of political violence against Democrats, liberals, Black and brown people and other targeted "enemy" groups have proven highly effective. The Capitol attack of January 2021 was a direct result of these tactics.

Domestic terrorism and other law enforcement experts are warning that right-wing extremists have been empowered by events such as Jan. 6, and continue to be a great (and growing) threat to the country's safety and security. The Department of Homeland Security has warned of an increased likelihood of right-wing terrorism and other political violence during the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential election.

Election board members and other public officials, particularly including school board members, find themselves under siege by threats of violence and intimidation. Public opinion and other research has shown that millions of Trump supporters are willing to support political violence and terrorism in order to "save" their notion of "traditional" America.

In recent interview at the Washington Post, political scientist Barbara Walter, an expert on civil wars and political violence, discussed the escalating threats America now faces:

There are definitely lots of groups on the far right who want war. They are preparing for war. And not talking about it does not make us safer.
What we're heading toward is an insurgency, which is a form of a civil war. That is the 21st-century version of a civil war, especially in countries with powerful governments and powerful militaries, which is what the United States is. And it makes sense. An insurgency tends to be much more decentralized, often fought by multiple groups. Sometimes they're actually competing with each other. Sometimes they coordinate their behavior. They use unconventional tactics. They target infrastructure. They target civilians. They use domestic terror and guerrilla warfare. Hit-and-run raids and bombs.
We've already seen this in other countries with powerful militaries, right? The IRA took on the British government. Hamas has taken on the Israeli government. These are two of the most powerful militaries in the world. And they fought for decades. And in the case of Hamas I think we could see a third intifada. And they pursue a similar strategy.
Here it's called leaderless resistance. And that method of how to defeat a powerful government like the United States is outlined in what people are calling the bible of the far right: "The Turner Diaries," which is this fictitious account of a civil war against the U.S. government. It lays out how you do this. And one of the things it says is, Do not engage the U.S. military. You know, avoid it at all costs. Go directly to targets around the country that are difficult to defend and disperse yourselves so it's hard for the government to identify you and infiltrate you and eliminate you entirely.

Walter continued by explaining that she was not surprised by the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and that in fact her "biggest emotion was just relief":

It was just, Oh my gosh, this is a gift. Because it's bringing it out into the public eye in the most obvious way. And the result has to be that we can't deny or ignore that we have a problem. Because it's right there before us. And what has been surprising, actually, is how hard the Republican Party has worked to continue to deny it and to create this smokescreen — and in many respects, how effective that's been, at least among their supporters. Wow: Even the most public act of insurrection, probably a treasonous act that 10, 20 years ago would have just cut to the heart of every American, there are still real attempts to deny it. But it was a gift because it brought this cancer ... out into the open.

The American political class, most of the news media and other elites remain committed to denial and happy-talk fables about the dire realities now facing the country. That applies to most of the public as well. But because of their experience with slavery, Jim and Jane Crow and other forms of white supremacy and fascist violence, Black Americans — as well as others who have suffered under power — know to take these threats seriously.

In a previous essay at Salon, I warned that the fascist train is bearing down on the American people and that too many of them have convinced themselves that if they ignore the danger, they will somehow magically escape the destruction. Many white Americans in particular believe, consciously or otherwise, that white privilege (or their class, their gender or their religion) will protect them from the fascist onslaught. That is a massive and potentially fatal error of both assumption and inference. American fascism is being powered by white privilege in its most lethal form, but ultimately it will spare no one, of any race or color.

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