Ashlie D. Stevens

'Who cares!': Trump writes bizarre letter resigning from the Screen Actors Guild

Former president Donald Trump resigned from the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists on Thursday, after the union's National Board voted "overwhelmingly" to convene a disciplinary process that could have resulted in expelling him in response to Trump's part in inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol.

Trump released an open letter to SAG-AFTRA on what appears to be photocopied White House stationery addressed to union president Gabrielle Carteris (of "Beverly Hills 90210" fame) detailing his immediate resignation. "I write to you today regarding the so-called Disciplinary Committee hearing aimed at revoking my union membership," Trump wrote. "Who cares!"

Trump went on to write that while he was "not very familiar" with the union's work, he was proud of his work on movies and television shows like "'Home Alone 2,' 'Zoolander' and 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps'; and television shows including 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,' 'Saturday Night Live,' and of course, one of the most successful shows in television history, 'The Apprentice' – to name just a few!"

He also wrote that, due to his involvement in politics, he helped resurrect interest in television, which he characterized as a "dying platform with not much time left."

"[I've] created thousands of jobs at networks such as MSDNC and Fake News CNN, among many others," Trump wrote.

He concluded the letter by saying that he no longer wished to be involved in the union and was tendering his immediate resignation.

On Thursday afternoon, SAG-AFTRA offered a two-word statement, jointly attributed to Carteris and the union's National Executive Director David White, in response to Trump's resignation: "Thank you."

Trump's resignation letter was a response to a Jan. 19 release from SAG-AFTRA, which stated that the organization's National Board had ordered a disciplinary hearing regarding Trump's role in inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol and "in sustaining a reckless campaign of misinformation aimed at discrediting and ultimately threatening the safety of journalists, many of whom are SAG-AFTRA members."

"Donald Trump attacked the values that this union holds most sacred – democracy, truth, respect for our fellow Americans of all races and faiths, and the sanctity of the free press," Carteris said at the time. "There's a straight line from his wanton disregard for the truth to the attacks on journalists perpetrated by his followers."

The release stated that if Trump was found guilty of violating SAG-AFTRA constitutional guidelines during the union's disciplinary committee hearing, there would be possible penalties including reprimand, censure, fines, suspension from the rights and privileges of membership, or expulsion from membership in SAG-AFTRA.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Trump had pensions at both the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Radio and Television Artists — dating back from before the two organizations merged in 2012 — and throughout his time in office continued to receive residuals from roles in projects such as "The Apprentice," "Home Alone 2" and "The Little Rascals."

Steven Mnuchin's wife plays a cannibalistic killer in a weird trailer for her campy new film

The trailer for Louise Linton's new movie "Me You Madness" dropped on Thursday, and well, it's a lot.

I'm here to offer a description of a film that, while real, feels more like an insane game of GOP-adjacent "Mad Libs." "Me You Madness" stars Linton, the wife of former Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, as a sociopathic bisexual woman who, per IMDB, "hunts down and kills men with crossbows, martini glasses, and kitchen knives in order to eat them."

Catherine Black (Linton) is a 1980s Malibu hedge fund manager who is addicted to fashion, money and sex. "You may think that I'm a materialistic, narcissistic, self-absorbed misanthrope," Black muses in a voiceover in the trailer below. "I don't deny it."

Her life is an endless parade of stacks of cash, spin classes and metallic boots — that is until Tyler, played by infamous "Gossip Girl" star Ed Westwick, answers her ad for a roommate. Tyler, a petty criminal, thinks he's struck gold when he rolls up to her beachside mansion; Catherine thinks she's found her next meal. It's a love story for the modern ages (made all the weirder by the recent allegations that actor Armie Hammer allegedly identifies as "100% a cannibal").

Linton is not primarily known as an actress, though she's had several small roles in low-budget horror movies and on shows like "CSI: NY"; she did, however, write, direct and finance "Me You Madness" through her production company Stormchaser Films.

Rather, she rose to a certain level of infamy in 2017 when she Instagrammed a photo of herself and Mnuchin disembarking a military jet following a trip to Fort Knox. She added hashtags that nodded to her designer apparel #rolandmouret, #hermesscarf, #tomford and #valentino. A woman responded with the comment, "Glad we could pay for your little getaway. #deplorable," which incensed Linton.

"Aw!!! Did you think this was a personal trip?! Adorable!" Linton responded. "Do you think the US govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol. Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self sacrifice to your country?"


Me You Madness - OFFICIAL TRAILER www.youtube.com


Three months later, Linton accompanied her husband to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington. Someone took a photo of her holding up a sheet of freshly printed dollar bills while wearing elbow-length black leather gloves. The image went viral — as did the frequent comparisons to Cruella de Vil — and cemented her status as a real-life cartoon villain.

With that in mind, perhaps Linton's lines in the trailer that detail her obsession with "the accumulation of money" are a self-aware nod to the public's perception of her? Perhaps. In interviews, Linton has expressed that the movie is an attempt to subvert the femme fatale steretotype, with a little "American Psycho" thrown in for good measure.

But according to the New York Times, the weirdest parts of the camp-fest aren't revealed in the trailer.

"In one sequence that plays like an MTV video, Catherine caresses frozen, severed male body parts while dancing to 'Let's Hear It for the Boy' in stiletto-heeled boots." writes Brooke Barnes. "There is a drug-fueled poolside orgy. Please, pretty please, stay around for the madly spinning nunchaku, thong leotard and choreographed 'tomayto-tomahto' conga."

"Me You Madness" debuts on demand on Friday, Feb. 12.

Behind Donald Trump's childish Diet Coke button

President Joe Biden had a busy first day in office. He halted construction on the border wall and re-established DACA protections. He rejoined the Paris Climate Accord and recommitted the United States to the World Health Organization. And, according to broadcast journalist Tom Newton Dunn, Biden removed Donald Trump's "Diet Coke button," which the former president used to request cold sodas on-demand.

"When @ShippersUnbound [Tim Shipman] and I interviewed Donald Trump in 2019, we became fascinated by what the little red button did," Dunn tweeted. "Eventually Trump pressed it, and a butler swiftly brought in a Diet Coke on a silver platter. It's gone now."

Throughout Trump's presidency, his obsessive love of the beverage was well-documented. In 2017, the Washington Post published that he reportedly drank a dozen cans of Diet Coke per day and, while the majority of Americans are just finding out about the Diet Coke button, that same year, Demetri Sevastopulo wrote for The Financial Times about how he noticed the red button on Trump's desk. He jokingly asked if it was the nuclear button, to which Trump replied, "No, no, everyone thinks it is. Everyone does get a little nervous when I press that button."

According to the Associated Press, the button has been a fixture "on the Resolute Desk that presidents have used for decades," though not for summoning diet soda. The fact that Trump appropriated for it for such use is, frankly, unsurprising. Its existence is a reminder for some of the most laughable parts of Trump's personality (and its removal seems to have been an almost a necessary exorcism).

While assigning goodness or inherent value to a food item can turn into an uncomfortable pseudo-classist exercise (like when the New York Times hosted a quiz where readers could guess whether refrigerators belonged to Biden voters or Trump voters based on their contents), there's a certain "Home Alone 2: Escape to New York" childishness inherent to slapping a button 12 times a day as a way to demand a Diet Coke on a silver platter.

It's a warped idea of what fanciness or indulgence denotes, which is both a perfect encapsulation of Trump's public persona and, in part, what led to Diet Coke's heyday in the '90s.

Consider the often-memed image of Trump and Melania standing, wax figure-like, in their $100 million New York penthouse. It's gaudy and gold-covered with columns, chandeliers and frescos reminiscent of a Cheesecake Factory dining room. That photograph is the visual definition of the adage, "You can't buy taste."

Trump's tastelessness was a glaring, omnipresent facet of his presidency. A photograph that feels strikingly similar was taken in 2019, when Trump invited the Clemson Tigers, that year's national college football champions, for a White House dinner, only to serve them a buffet of Filet-O-Fish sandwiches and slices of Domino's pizza, a choice that many criticized as racist and classist. He stands beneath a portrait of Abraham Lincoln with his arms outstretched over a mahogany table, stacked high with cardboard burger boxes and flimsy plastic packets of fast food sauces that were balanced inside pewter gravy boats.

"We went out and we ordered American fast food, paid for by me," he told reporters that night. "Lots of hamburgers, lots of pizza. Three hundred hamburgers. Many, many French fries."

It may seem odd that a well-documented fast food devotee (and former McDonald's and Pizza Hut spokesperson) like Trump would opt for Diet Coke instead of the real thing, but it's important to consider what the beverage likely meant to him.

In his essay "The Decline and Fall of Diet Coke and the Power Generation That Loved It," Nathan Heller asserts that while the Coca-Cola company tried to endear the beverage to "hip, scrappy youths, it became, enduringly, the beverage of the power generation that emerged across the Clinton years and cheered tie-less, outside-the-box, rule-bending thought in business and in life."

"During the late eighties and nineties, Diet Coke seemed less fussy, less patrician, less 'Frasier' than second-wave coffee," Heller wrote."It helped define a novel archetype of masculinity — the bootstraps kid who'd made it big, who was cool and modern, in a suit."

This is, despite the fact, that diet soda was traditionally marketed to women as a way to control weight. Emily Contois, the author of "Diners, Dudes and Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture," wrote that while Coca-Cola went after male and female customers with Diet Coke, unlike their previous diet product Tab, they were largely unsuccessful.

"Men (and broader culture) seemed to deem the beverage derisively feminine in later decades," Contois wrote. "For example, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution an unidentified Coca-Cola executive declared that diet is a 'four-letter word' for men, or at least those aged 16–24."
When I emailed Contois to inquire as to why she thought President Trump, a leader who was deeply preoccupied with a limited and pugilistic view of masculinity, would drink Diet Coke, her answer was succinct.

"Trump seemed to believe that rules, of any sort, don't apply to him," she wrote via email. "That guided his food and beverage choices — from a dozen Diet Cokes a day to well-done steak with ketchup to copious fast food — and much of his presidency."

While it's impossible to know what exactly Diet Coke meant to Trump (though we know it was something he would request during tense conversations, like when he cried out for one while discussing purchasing the rights to a story about an alleged affair he had with ex-Playboy model Karen Mcdougall), the bizarre optics surrounding the revelation of the Diet Coke button is a fitting epilogue to his presidency. It's a reminder of a man who could have just used an office mini-fridge to satiate his cravings, but obviously liked the feeling of being able to summon a servant with a cold drink at the push of a button. While so many of his stump speeches were bolstered by ramblings about being a man of the people, his actions consistently contradicted that — even down to how he took his dozen daily sodas.

But the Trump era has concluded, and the Oval Office already looks different. Where a bust of Fred Trump used to preside over the office, there is now a statue of labor organizer Cesar Chavez; Trump's beige rug has been swapped out for a royal blue replacement, and a portrait of Andrew Jackson was taken down in favor of a painting of Benjamin Franklin. No word yet on whether the Resolute Desk button will be replaced — and if so, what pushing it will summon.

This young poet laureate stole the show at Biden's inauguration with an unforgettable performance

When poet Amanda Gorman took center stage during President Joe Biden's inauguration to deliver her poem "The Hill We Climb," it became immediately clear why she was chosen to precede him on the podium.

Only four presidents —John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and now, Biden — have had poets read at their inaugurations and Gorman captivated viewers across America as she spoke of a shaded past and a lighter future, not shying away from four years of grief and trauma, but nevertheless determined to offer an outlook for America's redemption.

Her presence as a young Black woman artist on stage felt deeply historic, especially as deep political divisiveness and racist rhetoric from government leaders and law enforcement has continued to come into clearer view over the last four years. And everything about her reading — from the development of her work, to her chosen outfit, to the poem itself — is imbued with symbolism.

Here's everything you need to know about Gorman and her performance:

Who is Amanda Gorman?

Gorman is a 22-year-old poet from Los Angeles and is the youngest poet to ever perform on Inauguration Day. According to the New York Times, Gorman developed a love of poetry at a young age.

As Gorman told NPR's Steve Inskeep, she, like President Joe Biden, had a speech impediment as a child. She said that was one of the reasons that she was drawn to poetry. "Having an arena in which I could express my thoughts freely was just so liberating that I fell head over heels, you know, when I was barely a toddler," she said.

Gorman was encouraged to really pursue her craft by her middle school teacher mother, Joan Wicks, and became the first person to hold the position of National Youth Poet Laureate at 16. Later, she attended Harvard to study sociology.

How was Gorman chosen to perform at the inauguration?

According to Harper's Bazaar, several weeks before the inauguration, Dr. Jill Biden stumbled upon a video of Gorman reading her original poem "In This Place: An American Lyric" at the Library of Congress in 2017. A Zoom call was set up between Biden and Gorman, during which Gorman was invited to compose and read an original poem.

"They did not want to put up guardrails for me at all," Gorman told the New York Times. "The theme for the inauguration in its entirety is 'America United,' so when I heard that was their vision, that made it very easy for me to say, great, that's also what I wanted to write about in my poem, about America united, about a new chapter in our country."

What was Gorman's writing process like?

Gorman described to several publications how she initially struggled with the enormity of the project ahead of her. She told the Los Angeles Times that she listened to music that helped put her "in a historic and epic mind-set," including soundtracks from "The Crown," "Lincoln," "Darkest Hour" and "Hamilton."

What enabled her to fully complete the poem, however, was observing the insurrection attempt at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

"I wasn't trying to write something in which those events were painted as an irregularity or different from an America that I know," Gorman said. "America is messy. It's still in its early development of all that we can become. And I have to recognize that in the poem

With this in mind, she wrote the lines: "We've seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it / Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy / And this effort very nearly succeeded / But while democracy can be periodically delayed / It can never be permanently defeated."

What poem did Gorman read and what did it mean?

Gorman recited her original poem "The Hill We Climb," a poignant, self-aware piece that speaks boldly to the deep divides in this country, led by people who would rather topple democracy than accept defeat. And yet, she acknowledges how powerful it is that we are in "a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one."

While "The Hill We Climb" describes the brokenness and hopelessness many in this country may feel following Trump's incitement of violence, the poem encourages listeners with the knowledge that they can "step out of the shade." Gorman told NPR that she dug into the works of orators like Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, who all were tasked with calling for hope and unity in times of division.

One particular line that seemed to stand out to viewers was, "Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid. If we're to live up to her own time, then victory won't lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we've made."

"Under their own vine and fig tree" is a phrase found in multiple places throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and is used to describe the simple life of a farmer who was independent of military oppression. It was later used by George Washington nearly 50 times in various correspondence, as a reference to the American Revolution. Then, in a 1787 issue of the New York Journal it was used by a writer to describe America as a place for oppressed immigrants to find independence.

You may also recognize the line from the "Hamilton" song "One Last Time," where it's contextualized as, "Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree/And no one shall make them afraid/They'll be safe in the nation we've made."

Gorman's inclusion of that phrase speaks to America's founding as a place that had the potential to be free of oppression, and the ongoing dream that it could be true for all Americans, regardless of race or cultural background.

How did people respond to "The Hill We Climb"?

Gorman's recitation was met with rhapsodic praise from celebrities, artists, and political organizations alike, who took to Twitter to express their own thoughts on her sober, yet hopeful outlook.

"I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise! Brava Brava, @TheAmandaGorman!" said celebrity entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey, "Maya Angelou is cheering — and so am I."

Gorman also got nods from people in the news media, with CBS National Correspondent David Begnaud saying, "Watch Amanda Gorman. It's a treat." Seth Abramason, a popular columnist from Newsweek, also boosted Gorman's poem on Twitter, urging others to do so.

Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Jericho Brown posted on Twitter, "Oh this is just lovely. Flow like water," later quoting one of Gorman's most poignant lines on Twitter: "If only we're brave enough to see it, if only we're brave enough to be it." American legal scholar Lawrence Tribe also applauded the youth poet: "Amanda Gorman's inspiring inaugural poem perfectly captured the challenge of the moment — and our hopes for the future.

Meanwhile, many Democratic politicians joined the chorus. Senator Cory Booker, expressed on Twitter, "Thank you, Amanda Gorman, for sharing such powerful and inspiring words today." Congresswoman Stacey Abrams said, "Amanda Gorman's message serves as an inspiration to us all." Former First Lady Michelle Obama also added, "With her strong and poignant words, @TheAmandaGorman reminds us of the power we each hold in upholding our democracy. Keep shining, Amanda! I can't wait to see what you do next."

Even Republican political action committee The Lincoln Project chimed in, "Amanda Gorman's poem on unity is one for the history books."

Dazzling as it was, however, reception to Gorman's poem was not without criticism. Editor-in-chief of The Dispatch Jonah Goldberg went against the grain, and admitted, "Not loving this poem."

What's the story behind Gorman's outfit?

Gorman accessorized with subtle symbolism in mind. She wore a ring bearing the emblem of a caged bird, a tribute to poet Maya Angelou, the author of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," who performed at the 1993 presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton.

That ring was a gift from Oprah Winfrey. As Gayle King reported on CBS News on Wednesday morning, Oprah had actually gifted Angelou with the coat she wore that day and wanted to continue the tradition, but Gorman had already purchased the yellow coat seen on Biden's Inauguration Day, so Oprah gave her the earrings she is wearing, as well as the ring, as a nod to Angelou.

Trump's 'American Heroes' list is truly unhinged

On Monday afternoon the White House released an executive order detailing the figures that Trump wants represented in his National Garden of American Heroes.

Trump originally pitched the idea during a July 2020 speech at Mount Rushmore, amid nationwide protests that again brought questions of who should be memorialized through monuments into focus; across the country, statues of slave owners and Confederate officers were vandalized and removed.

In his speech, Trump said that these actions constituted a branch of "cancel culture."

"This movement is openly attacking the legacies of every person on Mount Rushmore," he said."They defile the memory of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt."

He continued: "I am announcing the creation of a new monument to the giants of our past. I am signing an executive order to establish the National Garden of American Heroes, a vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the greatest Americans to ever live."

In the seven months since, there has been no movement on creating the statue park. No Congressional funding was secured for the proposed project and, despite the executive order, it's unlikely to be picked up by the next administration. Regardless, two days before leaving office, Trump released the list of figures he'd like to see memorialized — and it is completely unhinged.

The list is a bizarro grab bag of 244 individuals, defined simultaneously by its randomness and tone-deafness. Logistics aside (How large would the park be? How close will the insane amount of statuary be to each other? Will it be like a Madame Tussauds cast in stone?), Trump's definition of "hero" is muddled.

You'd have Grover Cleveland, Walt Disney, Whitney Houston and Dolley Madison all next to each other, flanked by Kobe Bryant, Louis Armstrong, Neil Armstrong and Theodor Geisel aka "Dr. Seuss." There are civil rights champions and abolitionists like Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman and Harriet Beecher Stowe, alongside slave-owning presidents such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. More members of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show are present on the list than Asian Americans.

In many ways, however, Trump's list of "American Heroes" — which can be viewed in its entirety here — is emblematic of his presidency. It's riddled with choices that will make readers pause due to their obvious lack of research, regard for the truth and sensitivity. Here are some of the most weirdest missteps on the list (there are many more), starting with the demographic breakdown:

Demographic Breakdown

While the list is overwhelmingly random, it's also overwhelmingly male. As Axios' Danielle Alberti reported, Trump's "American Heroes" are 73% men. Additionally, 86 of the nominees, nearly a third, were born between 1900 and 1950.

When asked in that same article by Axios about his views on the list, historian Michael Beschloss, who specializes in the United States presidency, said, "Any American who loves democracy should make sure there is never some official, totalitarian-sounding 'National Garden of American Heroes,' with names forced upon us by the federal government."

"The glory of American democracy is that every one of our citizens decides who his or her personal heroes are," Beschloss said. "That is not the prerogative of any president, especially one rejected by American voters and who is on his way out the door. Many of the people on this list of 'heroes' would be embarrassed to be singled out by someone like Donald Trump."

Additionally, as the Associated Press reported, when Trump first proposed the list in 2020, there were no Native American, Hispanic or Asian American individuals. The list has been diversified some, but it's obviously an afterthought.

Christopher Columbus

One of the most incendiary names on the list was Christopher Columbus — who was neither American, nor did he ever actually set foot in North America. He did, however, initiate the Atlantic slave trade and the genocide of thousands of indigenous people. His cruelties are difficult to fully quantify, ranging from allowing the settlers under him to sell 9- and 10-year-old girls into sexual slavery, to forcing indigenous people to collect gold for him.

In June 2020, three statues of Columbus were damaged or pulled down in as many days.

"In St. Paul, demonstrators toppled a ten-foot-tall statue that stood in front of the Minnesota state capitol," wrote Theresa Machemer for Smithsonian Magazine. "In Richmond, protesters pulled down an eight-foot-tall statue in Byrd Park, carrying it about 200 yards before setting it on fire and throwing it into the nearby Fountain Lake. And, around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, police in Boston received a report that a marble statue of the Italian explorer and colonizer had lost its head."

Andrew Jackson

This choice is very much in the same vein as Columbus. Jackson, who was the seventh president of the United States, was one of the primary supporters of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which authorized the government to extinguish any Indian title to land claims in the Southeast.

"The result was the Trail of Tears, in which Cherokee and other native peoples of the Southeast were forced at gunpoint to march 1,200 miles to 'Indian territory,'" Billy J. Stratton wrote for Salon in 2017. "Thousands of Cherokee died during the passage, while many who survived the trek lost their homes and most of their property. Ironically, much of the land on which the Cherokee and other removed tribes were settled was opened to homesteading and became the state of Oklahoma some 60 years later."

Because of this, it seems deeply tone-deaf to include Jackson next to Native American icons like Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull and Tecumseh.

Muhammad Ali

So, admittedly, this name stuck out to me because I live in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali's hometown, and have reported previously on why there are no full-body statues of the boxing legend. According to Jeannie Kahnke of the Muhammad Ali Center — whom I interviewed in 2018 — they receive a lot of requests to use Ali's likeness.

"Over the years, I cannot tell you how many times people have come to us, saying 'I want to do a Muhammad Ali statue,'" she said. "It has probably been at least 15."

However, Ali was a devout Muslim, and he felt his faith would prohibit full-body statues being erected of him — which, Kahnke said, would prevent Ali's family from giving their blessing for a life-size statue of him. Some sculptors have done so without his family's permission, but many have found other, more creative, ways to honor the boxer.

Including his name on the list demonstrates either an obvious lack of research or a willingness to dishonor Ali's wishes and religious beliefs.

Ingrid Bergman

In Trump's executive order, he stated that the park's goal is to honor those believed to be "historically significant," and "individual[s] who made substantive contributions to America's public life or otherwise had a substantive effect on America's history."

To that end, one of the defining characteristics of Trump's list is the mishmash of political and pop culture, but Swedish actress Ingrid Bergan stands out because she . . . wasn't American. And unlike Alfred Hitchcock and Alex Trebek (who were born in the U.K. and Canada, respectively), she never became an American citizen.

It really raises the question of what qualifies as a "substantive contribution to America's public life" in Trump's mind. Was he just a big "Casablanca" fan? Perhaps, because Humphrey Bogart is on the list, too.

Woody Guthrie and Hannah Arendt

As New York Daily News reporter Chris Sommerfield tweeted yesterday, there are several "incredible self-owns" found on Trump's list, like the inclusion of Woody Guthrie, "who wrote 'Old Man Trump,' a blistering 1950s tune about the Trump family's racist housing practices in Brooklyn."

Additionally, Trump included the German-born American political theorist Hannah Arendt, who was perhaps best known for her book "The Origins of Totalitarianism." Her writings on "the banality of evil" have been repeatedly invoked to describe Trump's apparent and growing desire for autocratic rule.

"I think she would be appalled," Roger Berkowitz, who directs the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College — on whose campus Arendt is buried and where she taught for many years — told Jewish Insider on Monday evening. "I think Arendt would find it ridiculous that Trump nominated her. I think she would find Trump ridiculous, and I think she'd find him dangerous insofar as he undermines the basic idea of truthfulness and truth in the country. His attack on the election she would have found abhorrent and dangerous."

Edward R. Murrow

Finally, Trump's disdain for legitimate, objective reporting is no secret. He has called the media the "enemy of the people," and as such, it was no surprise to see the phrase "Murder the media" scrawled on a door of the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

That's why it was kind of a shock to see Edward R. Murrow, the broadcaster and war correspondent who had a deep impact on journalistic ethics, included on Trump's list. If Murrow were still alive and writing, I have no doubt that he would have reported truthfully on Trump — just as he reported critically on Senator Joseph McCarthy — and been decried as another "enemy of the people."

For what it's worth, Trump's executive order directed the secretary of the interior to identify a site and provide funding and said a taskforce would "publish an annual public report describing progress on establishing the National Garden and on building statues."

Joe Biden has nominated Deb Haaland for the position, and neither she nor Biden's transition team have issued a comment on the garden, making it unlikely that it will ever actually take root.

New 'Heaven's Gate' series looks to Christianity to explain the method to the cult's madness

Many people first became aware of the Heaven's Gate cult in 1997, when — after an anonymous tip was called into the San Diego Police Department — the bodies of 39 men and women were found in a rented seven bedroom mansion. Each of the bodies were dressed in androgynous outfits with matching haircuts and Nike sneakers. On their arms were "Star Trek"-inspired bands that read "Heaven's Gate Away Team," and in their pockets were $5.75.

The discovery caused an inevitable media frenzy, especially after law enforcement authorities reported it as the largest mass suicide on American soil ( The "Jonestown Massacre," during which more than 900 Americans died, took place in Guyana in 1978). The group believed that once they shedded their physical "vehicles," they would ascend to heaven in a spaceship where they would reach the "Next Level. There, they would be transformed from their human shell into an alien form.

According to group documents, members had taken phenobarbital mixed with applesauce or pudding, followed by vodka, then asphyxiated themselves with plastic bags. The suicides occurred in shifts over three days, with cult founder Marshall Applewhite — known as "Do" — being among the final shift.

The scene was horrifying, but had enough of an aura of oddity to eventually become fodder for late-night television shows and comedy sketches. For example, in its first live show following the discovery of the bodies, "Saturday Night Live" aired a sketch in which the Heaven's Gate members actually make it to space, followed by a fake advertisement for Keds, with the tagline, "Worn by level-headed Christians."

Inherent to all jokes was a question that tends to underlie many mainstream discussions of cults: "How could someone be so easily taken?" The more fringe the group, the more blunt the question — but one that HBO Max's new docuseries "Heaven's Gate: The Cult of Cults," spearheaded by documentarian Clay Tweel, carefully attempts to dismantle and subvert over four hour-long episodes. It's a thoughtfully paced series, rich in original source material and striking watercolor animations in place of reenactments.

The first two episodes aren't the most salacious (if that's what you're looking for, skip ahead to the last two episodes), but they are the most illuminating when it comes to identifying where the tenets of Heaven's Gate fall in the orbit of culturally accepted religious and spiritual teachings.

If — like me — you grew up in or around a Christian church that was heavy on themes of sanctification and purification, some of the cult's ideologies won't sound, well, too alien; just replace the hellfire and brimstone with spacecraft and stargazing.

As this docuseries asserts early in the first episode, a key teaching of both mainstream Christianity and Heaven's Gate was that growing in one's spirituality hinges on shedding one's worldliness. As the Apostle Peter wrote to his followers, "Dear friends, I warn you as 'temporary residents and foreigners' to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls."

Meanwhile, archived footage of Heaven's Gate members — gleaned by Tweel from early videos of recruiting sessions, public access television appearances, and the now-infamous "farewell messages" from group followers — features them espousing similar sentiments.

"I don't think people know how deep their humanness goes," said Dick Joselyn, a one-time Air Force pilot trainee, who was a member of the Heaven's Gate cult for over a decade, but as another member, Margaret Ella Richter, said, "It's possible to overcome humanness."

"Heaven's Gate: Cult of Cults" is built on the insight of various sociologists and religious scholars — most notably author and researcher Reza Aslan — who thoughtly weave together this connection, before landing on one of the things that makes a cult a cult. The leaders "break you down and create a new you."

Again, this has a Biblical parallel. Ephesians teaches, "Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds."

Many of the teachings of Heaven's Gate have a spiritual, though not always Christian, analogue — ideas of ascension (like in the Biblical book of Revelation), a state of enlightenment reminiscent of nirvana, an afterlife. This gospel, if you will, was deeply influenced by New Age concepts, including the idea of "walk-ins," a person whose original soul has departed his or her body and has been replaced with a modified soul. These teachings were also eventually recorded by Applewhite in a series of videos that are deeply evocative of televangelism.

How could people be naive enough to join Heaven's Gate? Well, as one of the featured religious scholars posits, the group was something akin to an errant branch of Christianity (a point that host Glynn Washington made in his popular "Heaven's Gate" podcast, wherein he details his own upbringing in a Doomsday Christian cult.)

It appealed to members for the same reasons churches continue to fill their pews. People want to find connection, they want to feel like they are destined for something greater and that there is evidence of life beyond our immediate and perceptible surroundings. Some former members — who, like the members who eventually died by suicide, were largely educated with strong family ties — still describe their Heaven's Gate years as the best time of their lives. For a brief moment in time, they felt like they belonged.

That said, Heaven's Gates teachings were ultimately dictated by its leaders. Applegate's "spiritual partner," Bonnie Nettles — known as Ti — is presented as the mastermind behind the original recruitment. She was raised Baptist, but her beliefs ultimately became a kind of spiritual grab bag, influenced by New Age teachings, astrology, divination and science fiction.

And once she eventually died, and Applegate was on his own (and absolutely bereft, it should be noted) those teachings became flexible in order to cope with the cognitive dissonance that her "leaving her vehicle early" sparked. That's when, Tweel asserts, Heaven's Gate became more about the messenger than the message, and Applegate transitions from kooky, fringey New Age leader to the leader of the, as he puts it, "cult of cults."

That's when things dip into the salacious — and into more familiar territory for those who already know the story.

Where "Heaven's Gate: Cult of Cults" falls a little short is in its explanation or exploration of Applegate and Nettles' appeal. As leaders, they lack any kind of discernable charisma. While their teachings may have initially been palatable — even appealing — there's a disconnect when it comes to why their followers stayed, especially when they were asked to forsake their families, mainstream society and any source of income.

This wasn't just popping into a church service once a week — it was a full-time commitment, so I was left wondering when things became uncomfortable, what it was about their leadership that compelled their flock to persevere?

That said, "Heaven's Gate: Cult of Cults" is a thoughtful assessment of the mechanisms of how otherwise smart, savvy people are attracted to fringe beliefs.It takes a story that is larger than life and brings it solidly back to earth.

All four episodes of "Heaven's Gate: Cult of Cults" are now available to stream on HBO Max.

Trump's ongoing refusal to concede was the giant turkey in the room at bizarre annual pardon

Days before Thanksgiving 2018, two turkeys — Peas and Carrots — were vying for the presidential pardon, an oddball tradition formalized by George H.W. Bush in 1989. Leading up to the event, the White House had set up online and social media polls to determine the fowls' fates.

When the votes were finally tallied, President Donald Trump revealed that Peas had won in "a fair and open election."

"Unfortunately, Carrots refused to concede and demanded a recount, and we're still fighting with Carrots," Trump said at the time. "And I will tell you, we've come to a conclusion — Carrots, I'm sorry to tell you, the results did not change. Too bad for Carrots!"

Too bad for Carrots, indeed.

During this year's turkey pardon, held Tuesday in The White House Rose Garden, Trump didn't mention his own refusal to officially concede the 2020 presidential election, nor did he reference the numerous, baseless allegations of voter fraud he and his oddball legal team lobbed into courts across the country (despite the fact, as Salon's Roger Sollenberger has reported, no state election officials have reported evidence of such fraud).

The president did, however, open the event by talking about the stock market, and even managed to squeeze in a racist reference to the "China virus" between pardoning one of the "two magnificent gobblers" in attendance.

"Thank you very much, please," Trump said as he stepped in front of the microphone. "I just want to congratulate everybody. The Dow Jones Industrial Average just broke, for the first time in history, 30,000. That's good, that's great for jobs and good for everything."

The president had already held a surprise, one-minute press conference earlier in the day, The Hill reported.

"His appearance on Tuesday may have been an attempt to grab credit for the historic rise on the Dow, and to siphon some attention away from Biden, who was scheduled to speak at 1 p.m. about his Cabinet picks," The Hill's Brett Samuels wrote.

It's also worth pointing out that the Dow surpassed 30,000 shortly after several of Biden's Cabinet picks were announced, along with updates on the development of several effective COVID-19 vaccines.

The turkey pardoning was a short event as well, lasting less than ten minutes, much of which Trump spent talking about the novel coronavirus.

"During this Thanksgiving we extend our eternal gratitude to the doctors, nurses, healthcare workers and scientists who have waged the battle against the China virus," Trump said. "We give thanks for the vaccines and therapies that will soon end the pandemic. It's just such a tremendous feeling knowing they are coming, and they are coming likely next week or shortly thereafter."

The president then proceeded to officially pardon Corn — whose compatriot was named Cob — a 42-pound turkey who will retire to Virginia Tech's "Gobblers Rest," at the university's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

As Trump turned to walk back into the White House, a reporter called after him, asking what most Americans are probably thinking as the president's days in office draw to a close: "Will you be issuing a pardon for yourself?"


As winter approaches, America's racist produce distribution system makes food insecurity worse

In late July, a group of Kentucky gardeners and farmers marched through downtown Louisville, pushing wheelbarrows and demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old unarmed Black woman who was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Officers in March.

They started at a local farmer's market and moved 1-1/2 miles westward, towards Jefferson Square Park — now called Injustice Square, after serving as the nightly gathering place for protesters — where they had planted Breonna's Roots, an edible garden that was bursting with summer produce like ruby red tomatoes and peppers, deep purple eggplants and bunches of kale, dill, rosemary and parsley.

According to volunteer Jody Dahmer, the vegetables were harvested and transported a few miles further west to be distributed in Russell, one of Louisville's historically Black neighborhoods that is also one of the city's most barren food deserts. There are only two accessible major supermarkets to serve nearly 60,000 residents (and there's a longstanding rumor among food access advocates in the community that the nearest Kroger will eventually close permanently, after it shuttered sporadically amid protests, leaving only one option).

But now, the weather is snapping cold. Temperatures dip into the low 30s overnight, and soon, Injustice Square will be blanketed with morning frost, so the garden volunteers are having to pivot.

"With frost dates approaching, we are focusing on cole crops," Dahmer said, referring to a designation of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and brussels sprouts that grow better in cooler temperatures. "But [we] also have garlic and onions planted between."

This isn't a unique conversation — all across the country, community garden leaders are having to adapt their plots for the winter or, in some cases, simply latch the garden gates behind them until early spring. But in food insecure neighborhoods, those decisions can have a community-wide impact on produce access, a sad reality that is particularly evident during the colder months.

"It becomes a real scarcity over winter," said Cordia Pugh, the founder of Hermitage Community Gardens in Chicago. "A real scarcity as we race through the winter, waiting for spring to come when we can get back in the gardens to get fresh produce."

Pugh spoke with Salon earlier this year about her community gardens, which are located in Englewood, where, according to municipal data, nearly 95% of the neighborhood's residents are non-Hispanic Black, and nearly 80% of that population lives with low or volatile access to fresh produce.

"This is not hobby gardening, this is food security for us," Pugh said at the time. "This is food insurance in the epicenter of a food desert. If we did not grow this fresh produce, we would not have fresh produce accessible to us. There is no accessible big box store in this community — or if we bought it through those venues, it would be from vendors that would quadruple the price."

Typically, Pugh works with garden volunteers over the spring and summer to preserve fresh produce for the colder months, but the pandemic lockdowns and social distancing recommendations drastically impacted that initiative. There is very little produce stockpiled, as a result, and Pugh said that she's currently in the midst of attempting to get fresh produce boxes to her garden members.

"I'm speaking out of my own desperation this year, because I'm really scrambling now to get the resources in place for fresh produce food distribution over the course of November through April of next year," Pugh said. "Especially because some of our members don't have access — financially or otherwise — to those big box stores."

And even if they can get to the store, Pugh said, there's no guarantee that the quality of the produce available will be the same as in stores in more affluent or mixed-race areas.

This is a well-documented phenomenon. In 2010, The Food Trust, a Philadelphia-based food access nonprofit, and the Oakland-based PolicyLink published "The Grocery Gap," a comprehensive paper that detailed how, in hundreds of lower-income communities of color, access to healthier foods like high-quality produce, high-fiber bread and low-fat milk was compromised.

In Louisville, Shauntrice Martin has taken the last several months to examine these disparities, focusing specifically on the city's food deserts, like Russell. Martin is the founder and director of #FeedTheWest, a community food justice initiative that advocates for a Black-owned, fresh food source for residents.

She published her findings under the title, "The Bok Choy Project," wherein she compared five Krogers across five different zip codes, assessing four characteristics: the number of organic produce options available, the presence of police officers, the Black population of said zip code, and the availability of bok choy.

According to Martin, she chose bok choy as a stand-in for "premium produce" because it was an item that she only saw on shelves once she moved out of West Louisville to Maryland when she was in her 20s. Now that she's back, she definitely sees discrepancies in selection and quality between the supermarkets in the zip code with 11% Black population — 11 organic produce options — compared to the one with 92%, which had only three organic options.

"When you walk into that store, there is an 'organic section,'" Martin said. "But it usually only has pears and apples. The rest of it is conventional produce. It's wilted, some of it is rotten or expired on the shelf."

These are the options that are available, Martin and Pugh said, for food insecure communities, which statistically tend to be lower-income communities of color. And while community gardens like Hermitage Community Gardens and Breonna's Roots serve as a stopgap in warmer months, they aren't a replacement for equitable food access and distribution systems.

In Toronto, the food access nonprofit FoodShare spends a lot of time thinking about what food security actually means and what food sovereignty would look like in Northern climates that experience winter. According to Natalie Boustead, the organization's community gardens leader, a lot of our current eating habits are reliant on expensive greenhouse production and imported items to maintain a level of consistency in our diets throughout the year.

"Which, if we were actually eating locally, seasonally [and] within a framework of true self-reliance here in Northern climates, would not be possible," Boustead said. "If we were to shift our cultural expectations around eating seasonally to involve only eating dried fruits, and fermented, salted and sugared foods from summer harvest . . . we may have a shot at actual food sovereignty and self-sufficiency."

Not to mention, she said, there would need to be a complete overhaul of North America's racist food distribution system.

"Until all of that begins to shift, there are very few deeply meaningful ways that those experiencing food insecurity in an urban setting can do to lessen their systematically entrenched relationship to an unfair food system, especially in winter months," she said.

How this Pennsylvania Republican's bizarre tweet launched a furor

On Tuesday afternoon, Pennsylvania politician Dean Browning — a white, heterosexual, self-described "proud pro-life & pro-2A Christian conservative" — tweeted, "I'm a black gay guy and I can personally say that Obama did nothing for me, my life only changed a little bit and it was for the worse."

The tweet continued: "Everything is so much better under Trump though. I feel respected — which I never do when democrats are involved."

Browning, who is a former commissioner in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, sent this tweet in response to one of his earlier posts, in which he said, "What Trump built in 4 years, Biden will destroy in 4 months."

Twitter users leapt on Browning's bizarre response, many speculating that it was obvious that he had forgotten to log into his "sock puppet" account. A sock puppet account is an online identity used for purposes of deception by concealing its owner's real identity. In this case, it seemed Browning had exposed an account on which he masquerades as a gay Black Trump supporter.

Or had he?

If this situation already seems bizarre to you, just buckle up. Things are about to get much weirder.

After several hours had passed, Browning posted an explanation by way of an additional tweet.

"Regarding the tweet that is going viral from my account — I was quoting a message that I received earlier this week from a follower," he wrote. "Sorry if context was not clear. Trump received record minority votes & record LGBTQ votes. Many people won't say it vocally, but do in private."

But then, in a now-deleted tweet, the Washington Post's Philip Bump found a contender for Browning's sock puppet account. "You know who replies to Dean Browning a lot? 'Dan Purdy,' a gay black Trump supporter who joined Twitter in October," wrote Bump.

But then, in a now-deleted tweet, the Washington Post's Philip Bump found a contender for Browning's sock puppet account. "You know who replies to Dean Browning a lot? 'Dan Purdy,' a gay black Trump supporter who joined Twitter in October," wrote Bump.

When Salon reached out to Browning, he responded via email that his failure to make it clear that his viral tweet was a follower's quote was "an oversight on [his] part" and that "there will be a video up shortly that will clear things up."

Sure enough, just after 5pm, the Dan Purdy account posted a video — the first to be posted from the account — that featured a middle-aged Black man claiming, "I sent that message to Dean, Dean accidentally posted it somehow, that's the end of the story. No, he's not a sock puppet. No, I'm not a bot."

At this point, the entire saga had gone bananas on social media, and a horde of Twitter sleuths began dissecting the video. Some theorized that Purdy was merely an actor hired by Browning to help cover his gaffe. "Fiverr will get you any Dan Purdy you want," one tweeted in response, referring to online platform fiverr.com, in which anyone can quickly hire freelance talent.

Then there was a break in the case.

Some internet sleuths noticed the avatar used on the Dan Purdy account was identical to one used as a profile picture on the Facebook account of a Philadelphia man named Byl Holte — and that the man tagged in photos as Holte bore a shocking resemblance to the man who appeared in Purdy's Twitter video (purported to be Purdy).

A dive into Holte's background reveals several interesting things: He's written several articles on Medium, where he identifies himself as an "Anti-feminist TV Critic" and complains about anti-racism and feminism in the film industry; he is listed on LinkedIn as a "boutique landscape designer" in Pennsylvania; And, in the weirdest twist yet, he is music legend Patti LaBelle's adopted son.

LaBelle adopted the two children of her sister, Jackie Holte, after her death in 1989. They are named Stayce and William, or "Byl." Byl Holte's Facebook account features public photos of him with LaBelle at family gatherings.

The Dan Purdy account has since been deactivated, and Browning's last tweet reads: "I see I'm trending with Patti LaBelle tonight. I guess we've not gone only viral — but over the rainbow."

Regardless, some questions still remain unanswered: What is the relationship between Holte and Browning? Is the "Dan Purdy" account actually Holte's? Was Browning ignorant of the racist and sexist comments on the fake Dan Purdy account — and if not, why choose to quote that specific follower? And, most importantly, what does Patti LaBelle think about all this?

Here are 6 historic and progressive wins in 2020 that people are missing

While the unprecedented (and seemingly never-ending) presidential election took up much of the spotlight last week — as did the welcome news that Kamala Harris will be first woman and woman of color as Vice President — history was made in a lot of smaller state and local races, too.

From politicians of color reaching new heights in the legislature, to big shifts in local government leadership, here are some of the wins that should be on your radar.

A record number of Native American women were elected to Congress

Three Native American women have been elected to the House of Representatives: Democrat Deb Halaand, a Laguna Pueblo member representing New Mexico, Democrat Sharice Davids, a Ho-Chunk Nation member representing Kansas, and Republican Yvette Herrell, who is Cherokee and will represent New Mexico.

Halaand and Davids, the Guardian reports, both retained their seats after becoming the first Native American women elected to Congress in 2018. Additionally, the Center for American Women and Politics reports that 18 indigenous women ran for congressional seats this year, which is also a record in a single year.

Cori Bush becomes the first Black congresswoman in Missouri

Bush, a registered nurse and Black Lives Matter activist, will become the first Black congresswoman in the state's first congressional district, which includes Ferguson, where, as the New Yorker reports, she led protests against the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

All four members of the "Squad" were comfortably re-elected

Shortly after the 2018 midterm election, Representatives Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley — all Democratic, first-term congresswomen of color— gained nationwide attention and promptly dubbed themselves "The Squad."

The four freshmen congresswomen have vocally supported progressive proposals like raising the minimum wage, advocating for the Green New Deal and calls to impeach Trump — who had previously attacked the women, who are all obviously American citizens, in a series of 2019 tweets, telling them they should "go back" to their countries of origin.

According to the Associated Press, Pressley defeated Roy Owens in Massachusetts, Omar defeated Lacy Johnson in Minnesota, Ocasio-Cortez defeated John Cummings in New York, Tlaib defeated David Dudenhoefer in Michigan

LGBTQ+ politicians had several monumental victories

Sarah McBride, a former spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, will become the nation's first person who publicly identifies as transgender to serve as a state senator after winnng last week's election in Deleware; this makes her the highest-tanking trans official in U.S. history.

In Vermont, Taylor Small — the 26-year-old director of the health and wellness program at Pride Center of Vermont — was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives, where she will be the first openly transgender member of the state's Legislature.

Ritchie Torres, a New York City Council member, won his U.S. House race to represent the South Bronx, becoming the first Afro-Latino Congress member who identifies as gay, reports CNN.

Meanwhile in Kansas, former schoolteacher Stephanie Byers — who is a member of the Chickasaw Nation — beat out her Republican challenger, Cyndi Howerton, for the District 86 Kansas House of Representatives seat. This makes her the state's first openly transgender lawmaker.

Kim Jackson became Georgia's first openly LGBTQ state senator; Torrey Harris and Eddie Mannis became the first LGBTQ legislators elected in Tennessee and Shevrin Jones and Michele Rayner-Goolsby became the first in Florida.

Francesca Hong becomes the first Asian American to serve in Wisconsin's State LegislatureAccording to Madison 365, Francesca Hong, a restaurateur and activist, won Wisconsin's 76th Assembly District, which will make her the first Asian American to serve in the state's Legislature.

"Hong, a second-generation Wisconsinite, mother, community organizer, and service industry worker, easily defeated Republican candidate and real estate intern Patrick Hull, 88 percent to 12 percent," David Dahmer wrote for the publication.

Local government leadership is changing, too

According to WUSA9, a local television station in Washington, D.C., a majority of the city's Council will be women for the first time in more than 20 years, and a majority of members will be Black for the first time since 2013.

The cities of Asheville, N.C. and El Monte, Calif., both elected their first all-women city councils.

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