Conor Lynch

Neoliberalism Is Being Rejected Around the World: Can Genuine Progressives Capitalize?

When Andrés Manuel López Obrador was elected president of Mexico earlier this month, many in the mainstream American media couldn’t help but see the left-wing candidate as the Donald Trump of Mexico.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Proves That Money Doesn’t Win Elections: Are the Democrats Listening?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s startling primary victory over the No. 4 House Democrat, Rep. Joe Crowley, could represent a seismic shift in the Democratic Party. Ocasio-Cortez, who was largely ignored by the mainstream media until her surprise win last week, looks a lot like the future of the Democratic Party. She is a 28-year old millennial, a woman of color from a working-class immigrant family, and perhaps most notably, a democratic socialist with an unapologetically progressive and anti-establishment message.

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Donald Trump’s Presidency Has Hit Remarkable New Heights of Corruption - and Most of It Is Legal

If there has been one overarching theme of the Trump presidency, it has been that of corruption. After less than a year and a half in office, Donald Trump’s White House is on pace to becoming the most corrupt and scandal-ridden administration since at least Richard Nixon’s — and perhaps in the entire history of the country. Rather than “draining the swamp,” Trump has ushered in a new age of corruption in Washington that reminds one of the brazen and widespread corruption of the gilded age.

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White Supremacists, Online Misogynists and the Rise of the Far Right: How to Fight a Rising Tide of White, Male Resentment

If there is one thing that seems to unite the most extreme political reactionaries throughout the world, it is their gender. Whether it’s alt-right white supremacists marching in Charlottesville with their tiki torches, misogynist “incels” and men’s rights activists who believe feminism is the root of all their problems, or Islamic extremists who aim to restore the caliphate, one thing is constant: they are overwhelmingly male.

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Trump Launches a New Drug War, Targeting the Opioid Crisis -- But Who's the Real Enemy?

In a characteristically incoherent speech last month, President Donald Trump displayed all the signs of a wannabe despot while outlining his plan to combat the opioid crisis, hich included the controversial call to execute drug dealers. “If we don't get tough on the drug dealers we are wasting our time, and that toughness includes the death penalty,” declared the president, who praised other countries where drug dealers are put to death, such as China, Singapore and the Philippines. “You take a look at some of these countries where they don’t play games. They don’t have a drug problem.”

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Trump Appears Delusional - But Then So Is the Republican Party

Donald Trump’s tenuous relationship with the truth has always been somewhat of a mystery, and it has often been difficult to tell whether the president is truly delusional or simply the biggest con man on the planet.

Since he announced his presidential candidacy more than two years ago, Trump has peddled conspiracy theories and falsehoods to the public like a false prophet selling hope, displaying an almost pathological disregard for the truth. As a result, many critics have assumed that he is a liar who deliberately and knowingly deceives the public. Others have contemplated whether he truly believes some of the nonsense that come out of his mouth, thus challenging the notion that he is consciously lying.

Both of these scenarios are disturbing in their own way — and, of course, they are not mutually exclusive. Trump may be a true believer one day and a liar the next; a credulous crackpot in one tweet, and a con artist in another.

Last week, however, the New York Times and the Washington Postpublished separate articles that suggest the president actually believes in his own BS most of the time, and that he has come to live in his own warped version of reality (call it “Trumptopia”). The coinciding reports, published on the same day, both portray the president as an increasingly deranged man who decides what is true and what is false (i.e., “fake news”), regardless of the evidence. According to both articles, the president has even come to question certain things that he had previously acknowledged as true, including the "Access Hollywood" tape in which he is heard bragging to Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women. “We don’t think that was my voice,” Trump reportedly said to a Republican senator in January — a claim he has repeated in private since.

“Mr. Trump’s falsehoods about the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape are part of his lifelong habit of attempting to create and sell his own version of reality,” the New York Times reporters write. “Advisers say he continues to privately harbor a handful of conspiracy theories that have no grounding in fact.”

Some of these conspiracy theories, according to the Times, include the "birther" conspiracy about former President Barack Obama (which Trump has publicly disavowed) and the discredited theory that Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton last year because of widespread voter fraud. The president’s friends “did not bother denying that the president was creating an alternative version of events,” the Times reports. “One Republican lawmaker, who asked not to be identified, said that Mr. Trump’s false statements had become familiar to people over time.”

The Washington Post article is no less disturbing, and the reporters note that even “when presented with irrefutable evidence, Trump finds a way to question unflattering facts.” Whether it’s his defeat in the popular vote, Robert Mueller's probe into possible Russian campaign collusion or Obama’s birth certificate, Trump doesn’t let concrete facts get in the way of his alternative reality. Peter Wehner, a conservative writer who served in the three previous Republican administrations, told the Post that the president “creates his own reality and lives in his own reality and tries to bend reality around himself and his own deep narcissistic needs.” What makes this especially troubling is the fact that Trump is surrounded by enablers who have simply come to accept his delusional worldview as a kind of harmless idiosyncrasy.

These reports seem to confirm that Trump is often a true believer in the conspiracy theories and falsehoods that he spreads. This is not to say that the president isn’t a liar, which he almost certainly is, but that he has been a bullshit artist for so long that he has come to believe in much of his own bullshit. When one builds his entire career on fabrications and “truthful hyperbole” — a euphemism coined by Trump himself — it is not surprising that he eventually comes to believe the hype (especially when surrounded by sycophants who would gladly bend the knee and call him “Your Majesty” upon request).

It is slightly more surprising that a deluded conspiracy theorist like Trump could vanquish numerous Republican opponents and then win the general election without facing any repercussions for his repeated transgressions against the truth. But it shouldn’t be. The GOP was the party of “alternative facts” long before it became the party of Trump, and conspiracy theorists took over the conservative movement long before Trump launched his campaign. Trump’s meteoric rise wouldn’t have been possible without a longstanding tradition of bullshit and paranoia on the right.

Right-wingers have historically been more susceptible to conspiracy theories and paranoia than liberals and leftists. When the historian Richard Hofstadter wrote his seminal essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” in 1964, it was Trump’s antecedents in the John Birch Society who were espousing elaborate conspiracy theories about the communist takeover of the government. One explanation for this excessive paranoia is the fact that conservatives are driven more by fear than their liberal counterparts. This has been demonstrated by various peer-reviewed studies over the years, including those conducted by Yale psychology professor John Bargh, who found that inducing “feelings of complete physical safety” in conservatives made them more likely to express liberal viewpoints.

Even though some on the left have become increasingly paranoid and hysterical since last year’s election, right-wingers remain the leading purveyors of conspiratorial nonsense in the age of Trump. This is partly due to the president’s inability to get anything passed by Congress, coupled with the endless scandals that have plagued his administration. Failing to accomplish even a fraction of what he promised, the president and his defenders deny reality and blame their problems on evil conspirators, whether that means "deep state" agents, the “fake news” media or the globalist elite. In his essay on the paranoid style, Hofstadter observed that paranoids have hopelessly unrealistic goals and, because these goals are unattainable, “failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration.”

“Even partial success,” he writes, “leaves [the paranoid] with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.”

Not all Republicans are full-blown conspiracy theorists, of course, and a number of prominent party leaders have disavowed Trump’s conspiracy-peddling on various occasions. But all Republicans are, to varying degrees, committed to “alternative facts.” This is because modern conservatism is an ideology that was built on them.

Consider the Republican tax bill and the trickle-down dogma that has been employed to defend it. The basic assumption has been that slashing taxes on corporations and the ultra-rich will stimulate the economy to such a degree that the changes will be deficit-neutral and the newly created wealth will trickle down to the middle class. “I’m totally confident this is a revenue-neutral bill. Actually a revenue producer,” declared Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after passing the legislation.

According to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, this is simply untrue. The bill is estimated to add around $1 trillion to the debt over the next decade, and that's after accounting for economic growth. Republicans have claimed that the tax cuts will essentially pay for themselves, but this is very much an alternative fact. Likewise, the notion of wealth trickling down has been discredited time and again over the past 40 years, going back to Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts. But this has done nothing to alter the Republican Party’s supply-side convictions (not even Gov. Sam Brownback’s disastrous supply-side experiment in Kansas could do that).

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The Republican Party as a whole is hostile to the truth, just like Donald Trump’s administration. Yet facts no longer seem to carry the same weight that they once did. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous maxim — “You are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts” — seems rather quaint in the post-truth era of Trump.

Still, as the president’s delusions continue to multiply, it may become too much even for some Republicans to bear. The difference between an ordinary Republican and Trump is that the former’s delusions revolve around his or her ideology, while the president’s revolve around his narcissistic personality. Trump’s falsehoods are easier to spot, therefore, because they are often so flagrant and petty, while the lies of conservatism are propped up by a massive propaganda machine, with right-wing think-tanks, media organizations and political action committees all devoted to refuting reality.

Republicans have become exceptionally tolerant of bullshit, but Trump’s bullshit has come to be a problem. It is so brazen and transparent that it has revealed how little the party actually cares about the truth — just as Trump’s racist and xenophobic rhetoric revealed the deep-seated racism within the Republican electorate. One can only spurn reality for so long before it finally takes its revenge, although one suspects this president will go to his grave convinced that he will live forever.

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Bono, the Queen and Many More: Paradise Papers Reveal the Rise of The Global Oligarchy

In response to the recent leak of 13.4 million files from two offshore service providers earlier this week, which documents how the world’s wealthiest individuals and corporations avoid paying taxes on their fortunes, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., warned that the world is quickly becoming an “international oligarchy.”

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Why Are Hillary's Approval Ratings Even Lower Than Trump's?

Hillary Clinton is back in the public eye to promote her new memoir on the 2016 election, but most Americans would apparently prefer her to just go away. That’s according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which found that just 30 percent of respondents had a very positive or somewhat positive view of the former Democratic nominee, who seems to be getting even less popular as the 2016 election recedes further into the past.

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'Weeping Nazi' Christopher Cantwell went from Libertarian to Fascist - and He’s Not Alone

One of the more curious trends of the 2016 election campaign was the tendency among many young libertarians to jump onto the Donald Trump bandwagon. As Salon’s Heather Digby Parton recently discussed, some more conscientious libertarians have begun to confront this problem directly.

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Bernie Sanders, and the Unexpected Socialist Revival

Since his grassroots presidential campaign took the world by storm last year, Sen. Bernie Sanders has been widely credited with bringing socialism back into the mainstream of American politics and introducing an entire generation to left-wing politics. As a major presidential candidate who unabashedly identified as a democratic socialist, Sanders essentially resurrected an idea that has been considered off limits in our political discourse for many decades: that there is an alternative to capitalism and the status quo.

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Emmanuel Macron's Sudden Collapse: French 'Radical Centrist' Now as Unpopular as Trump

A few months ago Emmanuel Macron was on top of the world. After being elected the youngest president in French history, Macron’s approval rating was above 60 percent and his independent movement, La République en Marche — which branded itself  as“neither right nor left” — won a large majority in the French parliament, giving the 39-year-old free rein to implement his “radical centrist” agenda.

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Lefties Criticizing Liberals for Helping Get Us Into This Mess

Toward the end of the 20th century the term “liberal” went from being a source of pride for most Democrats, who fondly recalled the New Deal era and the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt — the most beloved president of the century — to being a cause of embarrassment for many Democratic politicians, who were suddenly being berated for their liberalism. While the term “liberal” had been generally associated with FDR and his popular New Deal policies throughout the mid-20th century, it had come to mean something quite different as the century progressed.

This shift was partly due to the evolving social and moral values held by many Northern liberals and the subsequent cultural backlash that followed in much of the country. But “liberal” only turned into a snarl word after decades of right-wing rhetoric that painted Democratic politicians and liberal thinkers (i.e., college professors and journalists) as out-of-touch cultural elitists who knew nothing — and cared little — about “real America.”

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Donald Trump Is Destroying America's Standing and May End up Destroying the World

During his recent announcement about the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement — which makes our nation the third in the world to not be part of the accord, along with Syria and Nicaragua — President Donald Trump repeatedly insisted that his decision had to do with simple fairness. It was the same kind of sentiment that he frequently conveyed during his presidential campaign: The rest of the world has been disrespecting, mistreating and, worst of all, laughing at us for years.

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Berniecrats Are Winning in Trump Country: Why Populism Is the Pragmatic Way Forward for Democrats

Since last year’s presidential election, progressives have consistently stated that President Donald Trump’s election was not a victory for right-wing politics over progressive politics, but a victory for populism over the status quo. This, many have argued, is the key takeaway from 2016, which saw the Democratic Party lose control of all three branches of government, along with the majority of state legislatures and governorships.

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Trump Gets Worse Every Day: After a Week of Fiasco, Even Republicans Know Impeachment Could Be in the Cards

Shortly after Donald Trump was elected president last November, many of the billionaire’s critics tried to convince themselves that he would finally tone down his divisive rhetoric and curtail the unhinged behavior now that he was actually going to be president of the United States. It was a kind of defense mechanism against the utter shock of the situation. Hardly anyone had truly believed that Trump would — or even could — be elected president, so when he was, many dumbfounded (and terrified) people resorted to self-deception in order to cope.

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Authentic Populist vs. Bulls**t Artist: Why Bernie Sanders Is So Popular and Donald Trump Isn’t

More than four months after Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million, yet managed to win the election as a result of the archaic and undemocratic Electoral College, one thing has remained predictable in this highly unpredictable age of Trump: the president’s unprecedented unpopularity. According to Gallup, the most reputable polling company in the country, Trump’s approval rating has remained in the negatives throughout his first two months in office, and last weekend it dropped to a new low of 37 percent (with 58 percent of Americans disapproving).

President Trump is well on his way to becoming the most disliked president in modern history — and in record time too. By comparison, historically unpopular presidents Richard Nixon and George W. Bush didn’t see their ratings fall this low until their second terms, and only after Watergate and the Iraq War came to haunt their respective presidencies.

In addition to Trump’s abysmal approval ratings, public polling has revealed another constant in this populist era of ours: the steadfast popularity of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. According to a Fox News poll released last week, the majority of Americans continue to have a favorable opinion of the self-described democratic socialist, who has a net favorability rating of 29 (61 percent favorable, 32 unfavorable), along with an even higher net favorable rating of 41 among independents. Since becoming a nationally recognized figure during his presidential campaign last year, Sanders has only grown in popularity, and the senator is now one of the strongest critics of Trump and his reactionary agenda.

While pundits have long compared Sanders and Trump — labeling them both “populist” and “anti-establishment” — the two politicians couldn’t be more different, and Sanders is the antithesis of Trump as both a human being and a politician. Sanders is an honest and principled man, while Trump is a perpetual liar without a moral compass. Sanders has deep-seated political and moral beliefs, while Trump has no ideology apart from his own narcissism. Sanders is a self-professed democratic socialist who grew up in a working-class Jewish family in Brooklyn, while Trump is an exploitative billionaire who grew up in a wealthy and privileged family in a then-exclusive and all-white neighborhood of Queens.

If anyone can be called the “anti-Trump,” it is Bernie Sanders.

The most consequential difference between Trump and Sanders, of course, is their clashing political agendas. Though Trump doesn’t have any real political ideology, extreme right-wingers and Christian fundamentalists have taken over his administration, and thus the president is advancing a thoroughly reactionary agenda (whether he personally believes in it is irrelevant). By contrast, Sanders has consistently espoused a progressive and social democratic vision over the past 50 years that is essentially the mirror opposite of the Trump administration’s major policies (except perhaps on trade).

When considering why Sanders remains so popular (and Trump so unpopular) with the American people, all of the different factors above are no doubt important, and one cannot underestimate the power of personality in American politics. To the American public, personality has always been an important determinant in politics, and while Sanders is widely seen as a decent and authentic man who speaks truth to power, Trump is seen as a vulgar and obnoxious bully. Recent polls have indicated that the president’s temperament is a large reason for his terrible favorability ratings.

At the same time, however, actual policies and political beliefs have had a clear impact on this chasm in popularity between the two so-called “populists.” Simply put, Americans tend to agree with Sanders. Consider health care, a major issue in the news right now because of the Republican plan to repeal Obamacare and replace it with the American Health Care Act. The AHCA would give a massive tax break to the rich and cause more than 20 million people to lose their health insurance over the next decade, while increasing premiums for working people and the elderly.

On the other hand, Sanders has long advocated a “Medicare for all” plan that would cut out the middleman insurance companies (thus slashing administrative costs) and create a universal health care system comparable to those in other developed countries. Last year, a Gallup survey found that almost six in 10 Americans supported replacing Obamacare with a Sanders-stye universal health care system, while only 22 percent supported repealing Obamacare without a federally funded replacement, as Trump and congressional Republicans are advocating.

Americans tend to side with Sanders on many other major issues as well, from increasing taxes on corporations and the rich to raising the minimum wage to addressing climate change to limiting the role of money in politics. The majority of Americans agree with Sanders that wealth distribution in America is unfair, that marijuana should be legalized and our our prison population reduced, that systemic racism is a serious problem and that Wall Street must be more tightly regulated.

There are a few areas where the majority of Americans tend to agree with Trump — e.g., on renegotiating trade deals and rebuilding our infrastructure — and those are exactly the areas where Trump and Sanders have some agreement, even if they have different ways of addressing these issues. On Trump’s famous campaign promise to build a “big beautiful wall” on the Mexican border, about 60 percent of Americans oppose the president.

It seems as though Bernie Sanders is enduringly popular, then, because he has advocated a genuinely populist agenda that he truly believes in and supports; he is, one might say, authentically populist. Trump, in contrast, ran as a populist — and won, in large part, because Hillary Clinton was seen as personifying the hated establishment. But his agenda was never truly populist, and this is now becoming fully apparent. One might say that Trump was — and still is — authentically full of crap.

An obvious example of Trump’s populist nonsense is health care. As noted above, Trumpcare would throw more 20 million people off of their health insurance plans, and potentially leave 50 million Americans uninsured in a decade. But when Trump was in faux-populist mode, he repeatedly promised that his plan would provide “insurance for everybody.” He once said that the government would pay for it if necessary. Perhaps Trump never thought he would actually win the election and have to make good on his bullshit. But here we are, with President Trump’s approval rating in the gutter and Bernie Sanders standing as the righteous symbol of our collective indignation.

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Does the Trump Administration Want a Holy War Against Islam? It’s a Terrifying but Reasonable Guess

After multiple delays, President Donald Trump finally signed a new executive order last Monday that reinstated a travel ban on citizens from six of the seven countries (Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen) included in the previous order, which had been suspended after being struck down by the judiciary last month. The new ban arrived about a week after a Department of Homeland Security document that completely undermined the Trump administration’s stated rationale for the ban was leaked to the press.

The DHS report, which noted that citizens from the countries included in the first ban are “rarely implicated in U.S.-based terrorism,” and that an individual’s citizenship is an “unreliable indicator of terrorist threat to the United States,” was first published by the Associated Press as a draft document in late February. Less than a week later MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow obtained what appeared to be a final version, dated March 1.

The final analysis, coordinated with various other departments, determined that “most foreign-born, U.S-based violent extremists [are] likely radicalized several years after their entry to the United States,” and that different “experiences and grievances,” including “perceived injustices against Muslims in the homeland and abroad because of U.S. policies, feelings of anger and isolation, and witnessing violence as a child,” are the primary causes.

While experts have long contended that Islamophobic rhetoric and policies are more likely to fuel radicalization than to “eradicate” radical Islamic terrorism — the president’s purported goal — some were hopeful that Trump would rethink his ill-advised ban after being educated by his own government.

“I think the Muslim ban is dead,” remarked Maddow in her televised report.

Unfortunately, like most things that are based on facts, the report apparently had no effect on Trump, who has been firmly committed to some kind of ban since calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” in late 2015.

While Trump’s unwillingness to abandon this reckless policy is probably more about his massive ego and inability to admit when he is wrong than anything else, one has to wonder whether there are ulterior motives involved. When the original ban was first unveiled, experts widely denounced it as “counterproductive” and “stupid” — and in Trump’s case, stupidity is probably the right word.

But the president’s advisers are far from stupid, and the implications of the ban can hardly be lost on its chief architect, Steve Bannon. Is it too far-fetched to surmise that Bannon — who has previously said that the “Judeo-Christian West” is at war with “expansionist Islamic ideology,” and that we’re on the verge of a “global war” against “Islamic fascism” — is actually trying to alienate Muslims and fuel radicalization?

Like many right-wing extremists in the West, Bannon’s worldview mirrors that of his archenemies in ISIS and al-Qaida, who also proclaim that the Islamic world and the Christian West cannot coexist peacefully, and that we are on the brink of an apocalyptic holy war. While the Christian fundamentalist and the radical Islamist are, in their minds, sworn enemies in this “clash of civilizations,” they are both reactionary ideologues who feed off each other.

This process was recently demonstrated when Bannon and his bulbous nose graced the cover of the al-Qaida-linked newspaper Al-Masra, which published an article using the White House chief strategist’s words as evidence that Islam and Christianity are irreconcilable, and that the crusader West is preparing to wage an existential war against Islam.

In his prescient 2007 book, “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America,” Chris Hedges observed the many other parallels between Christian fundamentalists and Islamic extremists:

The Christian Right and radical Islamists … share the same obsessions. They do not tolerate other forms of belief or disbelief. They are at war with artistic and cultural expression. They seek to silence the media. They call for the subjugation of women. They promote severe sexual repression, and they seek to express themselves through violence.

Christian theocrats who are “arrayed against American democracy,” observed Hedges, “are waiting for a moment to strike, a national crisis that will allow them to shred the Constitution in the name of national security and strength.”

Though some may view this as paranoid, it is not unreasonable to suspect that Bannon and other extremists inside the Trump administration are waiting — even hoping — for another big terrorist attack that will give further credence to their clash of civilizations narrative and allow the Trump administration to crack down still further on civil liberties and democracy.

The fact that the Muslim ban will likely fuel homegrown radicalization and exacerbate the risk of a Islamic terrorism, then, is a strength, not a weakness.

While President Trump himself is hardly a Christian fundamentalist (it is unclear whether he even believes in God), he is both an ignoramus and an opportunist, and his White House has been thoroughly infiltrated by Christian zealots with millenarian visions of the coming apocalypse.

Trump’s CIA director Mike Pompeo believes, like Bannon, that we are in a religious war with Islam, and has said that politics is a “never-ending struggle … until the rapture.” Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, is a longtime supporter of privatizing schools, and believes that education should “advance God’s kingdom.” The secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, has compared secularism to schizophrenia. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has opined that the separation of church and state is unconstitutional, and that non-believers are unfit to govern. And of course Vice President Mike Pence is a “Christian supremacist” who has “been a reliable stalwart throughout his public life in the cause of Christian jihad,” as the Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill put it last year.

Since unveiling the new travel ban, the Trump administration has insisted that the president’s latest executive order is not a “Muslim ban,” and that it is necessary to ensure national security. But the facts tell us otherwise — and with an administration full of Christian zealots, one must consider whether the real end goal here is a global holy war.

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Will Americans Submit to Despotism in an Urge to 'Escape from Freedom'? Erich Fromm Saw It Coming

President Donald Trump took his rancorous feud with the press to a frightening new level last week when he posted an inflammatory tweet that echoed tyrants of the past, calling the all-caps “FAKE NEWS” media “the enemy of the American People.”

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Out of Darkness, Light: Will the Trumpian Nightmare Lead to a Real 'Political Revolution' After All?

Last November, the Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek turned a lot of heads when he announced shortly before the 2016 presidential election that if he were American, he would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton — not because he thought Trump was the lesser evil, but precisely because he was the greater evil.

The Slovenian intellectual’s hope was that the election of a vulgar, right-wing extremist like Trump would “be a kind of big awakening” that would trigger “new political processes” in America. In other words, with a reactionary demagogue as transparently abhorrent and dangerous as Trump in the White House, a popular movement on the left would emerge to challenge not only Trump’s reactionary populism, but the neoliberal status quo that had long prevailed in Washington. Clinton, argued Žižek, stood for an “absolute inertia” that would stifle a populist movement on the left, and while there was great danger in a Trump presidency, there was also great danger in electing Clinton — especially in the long run.

This was obviously a controversial — and very Å½ižekian — opinion that most on the left did not espouse. One of the most prominent leftist intellectuals of our time, Noam Chomsky, called it a “terrible point,” remarking that “it was the same point that people like him said about Hitler in the early ’30s.” Chomsky means the German Communists, who in the early 1930s were more critical of the reformist Social Democratic Party — which they preposterously labeled a “social fascist” party — than they were of the Nazis.

“The left could have been organized to keeping [Clinton’s] feet to the fire,” noted  Chomsky in an interview with Al Jazeera. “What it will be doing now is trying to protect rights … gains that have been achieved, from being destroyed. That’s completely regressive.”

While Chomsky is absolutely correct — the Trump administration’s assault on civil liberties, democracy and the Constitution has only just begun, and the left will be on the political defensive for the next four years — Å½ižek’s point was perhaps not quite as far off as as Chomsky believed.

Shortly before the election, many people wondered what would become of the far-right populist movement that had been energized under Trump after the election, which most assumed he would lose. It is doubtful that it would have just withered away, as many liberals no doubt hoped. With Clinton in the White House, the Democrats would have been at a clear disadvantage in both the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 elections (think of the Obama backlash during the 2010 midterm elections, and then consider how much more well-liked Obama was than Clinton).

This is particularly important when you consider that 2020 is a census year, which means that the party that comes out on top will have greater control of redrawing district lines across the country. The GOP has been able to maintain control of the House since 2010 in large part because of the extreme gerrymandering that was implemented after the 2010 Obama backlash — and in four years the winning party will have similar power (currently, Republicans control state legislatures in 24 states, while Democrats only control five).

Of course, this is still some distance away, and a lot can happen in the interim. Though we are just one month into Trump’s term, his presidency has already surpassed all recent predecessors in scandal and controversy, and the dysfunction is palpable. At times it is hard to imagine how the United States can survive another 47 weeks of this unhinged and extremist administration. While many had hoped that Trump would curb his divisive rhetoric as president and take a more pragmatic approach to governing, the exact opposite has occurred, and it is now clear that fanatics like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller are running the show (and that Trump’s erratic, impulsive and thin-skinned personality cannot be controlled).

Thus, Chomsky’s pessimism was well-founded when he said that the government is now in the hands of the “most dangerous organization in world history.”

At the same time, it appears that some of Žižek’s hopes are materializing as well. The clearest example of this was the massive Women’s March in Washington — along with hundreds of sister marches across the country — the day after Trump’s inauguration. According to various political scientists, it was the single largest day of protests in American history — and peaceful demonstrations have continued ever since.

Trump’s controversial executive orders and cabinet picks have led to a sustained grassroots resistance in the first month of his presidency, and it is unlikely to die down anytime soon. Moumita Ahmed, who founded the Facebook group “Millennials for Revolution” (originally “Millennials for Bernie”), recently told CNN that she believes this is “not just the beginning of the ‘tea party of the left’ but a larger movement for civil rights that could make history,” and that the protests will “continue and get bigger and bigger.”

As long as Trump is in the White House, the demonstrations are likely to grow. What remains unclear is whether this grassroots resistance will be as effective in shaping electoral politics as the Tea Party was back in 2010 — and whether the Democratic Party will be as welcoming to the populist left as the GOP was to the populist right.

The current tension between progressive activists protesting on the street and the Democratic establishment was displayed by an interesting exchange last week between House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and an NYU student at a CNN town hall. After pointing out that a majority of millennials no longer support the capitalist system, the young student asked Pelosi whether she felt that the Democratic Party could “move farther left to a more populist message, the way the alt-right has sort of captured this populist strain on the right wing,” and if the Democrats “could make a more stark contrast to right-wing economics?” The question — or, more explicitly, the statement that young people are rejecting capitalism — made Pelosi visibly uncomfortable, and the congresswoman felt it necessary to emphasize the Democratic Party’s loyalty: “I have to say, we’re capitalist ― and that’s just the way it is.”

This is understandable — after all, the Democratic Party does support capitalist party, and the House minority leader can’t be expected to make radical pronouncements. But Pelosi was so concerned with defending the sanctity of capitalism that she failed to answer whether the Democrats could or should espouse a more populist economic message, akin to the social-democratic platform that nearly carried Bernie Sanders to victory over Clinton.

That kind of Democratic resistance to economic populism is making many progressives question whether the party is ready to lead a viable resistance against right-wing populism. Some progressives are starting to join other left-wing organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Of course, it is a truism in American politics that third parties are not viable alternatives if the goal is to succeed in electoral politics — and as long as there is a winner-takes-all system in place, this will obstinately remain true. The pragmatic approach for the populist left is to work to transform the Democratic Party itself, as groups like Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats have set out to do, while sustaining a popular movement on the ground.

Likewise, the pragmatic approach for the Democratic leadership is to embrace the growing grassroots left and combat Trump-style populism with their own anti-establishment message. With a historically low approval rating, Trump is already the most unpopular president in modern history, and his party is now the “establishment.” That means the Democrats will have the perfect opportunity to lead a popular and successful resistance in 2018 and 2020 if they can adopt a compelling populist message of their own.

With the many profound crises that currently face humanity, there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the future. The worst-case scenario is that the Trump presidency could sound a “death knell for the human species,” as Chomsky put it last year. But if we are lucky enough to avoid World War III, this nightmare could also bring about the “big awakening” that Žižek imagines — and could trigger a popular movement to reverse the damage that has been done over the past 50 years.

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Only True Populism Can Save Us From Donald Trump's Cheap Knockoff Version

Donald Trump likes to think of himself as a record-setting kind of guy, and before his inauguration, he confidently predicted that there would be “unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout.” When turnout ended up being mediocre at best — around a third the size of Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration — the new president predictably threw a hissy fit, demanding that his press secretary tell the American people that it was the biggest crowd in the history of inaugurations. The president has similarly spewed self-aggrandizing falsehoods about his election, claiming that he won a “massive landslide in the Electoral College” when his victory actually ranked near the bottom of such measures, and parroting a debunked conspiracy theory that only massive voter fraud cost him the popular vote.

It is not surprising, then, that the Trump administration, so detached from reality, is now wildly overestimating the president’s popularity and public support. In this respect, Trump actually has broken some records — but not in the way he had hoped. According to Gallup polls, Trump already has a negative approval rating after two weeks in office, which took years for any of his predecessors — going back to Ronald Reagan — to achieve. The president has also prompted massive, relentless protests and demonstrations since he entered office, unlike any other president (including Nixon).

In other words, Trump is already the most unpopular and divisive president in modern history (which is truly something, considering George W. Bush was president not too long ago). Yet he and his team are currently acting as if they have a massive popular mandate. The White House has become a giant safe space for delusional right-wingers, where only “alternative facts” that the president reads on Infowars and Breitbart are permitted.

This has led to some incredible displays of hubris, clearly shown by Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon last week, when he told the New York Times that the “media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut,” and that “they don’t understand this country.”

The former head of Breitbart News seems to be under the impression that Trump won the popular vote by a landslide, and that he won it because the American people liked him and supported his agenda. This is absolute nonsense, of course. Trump only won the election because his opponent, Hillary Clinton, was by far the worst candidate that the Democrats could have nominated in this populist era — and she still managed to get nearly 3 million more votes than Trump did.

The 2016 election was a repudiation of neoliberalism and the political establishment, not an endorsement of Trump or the Republican Party’s far-right agenda. Indeed, on economics in particular, Americans overwhelmingly reject the GOP’s reactionary platform and tend to agree with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ social democratic policies. Luckily for Trump, no one symbolized neoliberalism and establishment politics more than Clinton — and he won because just enough voters reluctantly gave him their vote.

This reality is evinced by exit polls, which reveal that 20 percent of those who voted for Trump did not think he had the “temperament to serve effectively as president,” and a whopping 51 percent only voted for him because they “disliked the other candidate.” In addition, 83 percent of Trump voters thought that the most important quality in a candidate was the ability to “bring needed change.”

These numbers clearly indicate that Trump won the election because his opponent was the perfect foil for his populist message, not because he is well liked or his platform is widely supported. Voters detested the establishment slightly more than they detested Trump himself.

As many have pointed out, Trump’s victory was part of a wider “populist explosion” currently emerging around the Western world on both sides of the political spectrum. In Europe, some populist movements currently picking up steam, like Italy’s Five Star movement, incorporate both left- and right-wing ideas, and reject ideological labels. Others are firmly on the left or right, yet embrace some policies that are associated with the other side.

France’s National Front, for example, is clearly right-wing, but has put forth an economic platform that is, in many respects, further left than that of the governing Socialist Party, which has become increasingly neoliberal under the leadership of President François Hollande. Even Spain’s populist, anti-establishment Podemos party, although not right-wing or nationalistic, has been reluctant to identify itself with the left, and the party’s leader, Pablo Iglesias, has identified its ideology as “post-neoliberalism” rather than socialism.

In America, there are clear left and right populist movements, and though there are some issues where they may find agreement (i.e., the Trans-Pacific Partnership), their broader visions couldn’t be further apart. On the left, Sen. Bernie Sanders has become the de facto leader of the progressive movement, promoting egalitarian ideals and inclusivity, and advocating structural reforms that address systemic corruption and massive economic disparities. Trump’s right-wing populism, on the other hand, is a reactionary backlash against globalization and multiculturalism, promoting intolerance, nativism and anti-intellectualism. While the populist left identifies the economic elite as the class pulling the strings in Washington, the populist right tends to focus on cultural and intellectual elites, embracing conspiracy-theory thinking that singles out the so-called “globalists” as the sinister elite behind all of our ills.

Though the populist right is now in control of Washington, polls make it clear that a majority of Americans reject President Trump and his overall agenda. By contrast, Americans broadly support Sanders’ progressive platform, and the Vermont senator has been consistently ranked as the most popular politician in America. It seems obvious, then, that the way to defeat Trump and his reactionary movement is for the Democratic Party to embrace its populist wing and reject the “third way” centrism that it came to represent during the Clinton era.

It is not at all clear that the Democratic establishment, addicted to corporate cash, is prepared to accept this reality. Around the time of Trump’s inauguration last month, for example, the neoliberal think tank Third Way announced that it would launch a “$20 million campaign to study how the party lost its way and offer a new economic agenda for moving forward,” while Clinton hatchet man David Brock was throwing a retreat for billionaire donors in Miami, attended by various top Democrats. Brock, who slanderously attacked Sanders during the Democratic primaries, claiming that “black lives don’t matter to Bernie Sanders,” is now attempting to position himself as the leader of the so-called Trump resistance.

This would be a political and moral disaster. Individuals like Brock should be shunned by Democrats, and organizations like Third Way should have no role in shaping the party’s economic agenda. Trump may already be the most unpopular president in modern history, but the poisonous politics of David Brock would go a long way toward helping to re-elect him in 2020 (if he isn’t impeached or deposed before then).

The populist explosion isn’t going away. What is needed now more than ever is a popular movement on the left to combat the destructive populism of Trump, as well as the destructive force of neoliberalism. Only time will tell whether the Democratic Party is ready to face this reality head on. 

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Americans Overwhelmingly Support Bernie Sanders' Economic Policies - So How'd We End up Here?

During a CNN town hall held by Sen. Bernie Sanders last Monday, the Vermont senator and progressive icon tried to drive home a point that he has frequently made in the past: There is widespread support for most of the economic policies that he ran on, even if they were often portrayed as radical and divisive by the media.

“The overwhelming majority of the American people — including many people who voted for Mr. Trump — support the ideas that we’re talking about,” insisted Sanders. “On many economic issues you would be surprised at how many Americans hold the same views. Very few people believe what the Republican leadership believes now: tax breaks for billionaires and cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.”

Public polling tends to support his claim. A Gallup survey from last May, for example, revealed that a majority of Americans (58 percent) support the idea of replacing the Affordable Care Act with a federally funded health care system (including four in 10 Republicans!), while only 22 percent of Americans say they want Obamacare repealed and don’t want to replace it with a single-payer system. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll from last year had similar results: Almost two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) had a positive reaction to “Medicare-for-all,” while only a small minority (13 percent) supported repealing the ACA and replacing it with a Republican alternative. These are surprising numbers when you consider how the Sanders campaign’s “Medicare-for-all” plan was written off by critics as being too extreme.

On other issues, a similar story presents itself. Public Policy Polling (PPP) has found that the vast majority (88 percent) of voters in Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — four crucial swing states, three of which went to Trump this fall — oppose cutting Social Security benefits, while a majority (68 percent) oppose privatizing Social Security. Similarly, 67 percent of Americans support requiring high-income earners to pay the payroll tax for all of their income (the cap is currently $118,500), according to a Gallup poll. America’s two other major social programs, Medicare and Medicaid, are also widely supported by Americans, and the vast majority oppose any spending cuts to either. In fact, more Americans support cutting the national defense budget than Medicare or Medicaid.

It goes on and on. A majority of Americans, 61 percent, believe that upper-income earners pay too little in taxes. A majority of 64 percent believe that corporations don’t pay their fair share in taxes. Significant majorities believe that wealth distribution is unfair in America, support raising the minimum wage (though perhaps not as high as Sanders would like), and say they are worried about climate change.

So a consistent majority of Americans would seem to agree almost across the board with a self-proclaimed democratic socialist and object to the reactionary agenda of congressional Republicans. How, then, did we end up with a Republican-controlled Congress that is dead set on repealing the ACA without a viable replacement (let alone a single-payer type of system supported by the majority); cutting and possibly privatizing Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid; slashing taxes for the wealthiest Americans; and ignoring climate change?

One answer that usually comes to mind is the culture war. The modern political era can be traced back to the 1960s, when various liberation movements — from Civil Rights and gay liberation to second-wave feminism and the anti-war movement — emerged to combat different injustices, including white supremacy, gender inequality, homophobia and American imperialism. These progressive movements rapidly changed America’s cultural and political landscape, and triggered a reactionary movement that author Thomas Frank called “the great backlash” in his 2004 book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”.

The Republican Party exploited reactionary sentiments that had surged in response to the tumultuous ’60s, and a great backlash ensued. The GOP appealed to racist and resentful whites in the South, who felt persecuted by the civil-rights legislation that had finally brought legal equality to African-Americans. (This is a good example of the popular maxim: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”) The so-called Southern strategy was set in motion by Richard Nixon and perfected some years later by Ronald Reagan, and this precipitated a complete political realignment that saw the South go from being solidly Democratic to solidly Republican.

Since this realignment, the culture wars have steadily taken over American politics, and the reactionaries have invariably lost ground as social and moral values have evolved and Americans have become increasingly tolerant. Consider LGBT relations: In 2000, only 40 percent of Americans found gay or lesbian relations morally acceptable, according to Gallup; by 2015 that number had increased to 63 percent.

Ironically, this has actually benefited many right-wing culture warriors, who have taken up increasingly frivolous issues over the years for political gain (like the “War on Christmas,” for instance). As Thomas Frank observed in his aforementioned book: “As culture war, the backlash was born to lose. Its goal is not to win cultural battles but to take offense, conspicuously, vocally, even flamboyantly. Indignation is the great aesthetic principle of backlash culture.”

For the economic and political elite, of course, trivializing the culture wars and inventing fictitious issues like the “War on Christmas” has always been the aim, because it divides the public and diverts attention from other issues — especially fundamental questions of economic and foreign policy. It is no coincidence, then, that economic policy has been drawn inexorably to the right over the past several decades as the populace has become increasingly divided over cultural disputes, even though the majority of Americans support progressive economic policies.

This is only part of the story, of course. While a culturally divided populace has no doubt benefited America’s power elite, the rightward economic shift was primarily a result of corporate America and other monied interests successfully infiltrating Washington with an army of lobbyists and flooding the political system with big money (an interesting backstory to this is told in the book “Winner-Take-All Politics”).

A 2014 Princeton University study conducted by professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page confirmed this phenomenon, and illustrated that modern America is more of an oligarchy than a democracy. “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose,” write the researchers. This largely explains why a majority of Americans can support the economic policies advocated by Sanders, yet mainstream critics can decry his platform as “pie-in-the-sky” idealism.

The goal of Sanders’ presidential campaign was not only to take on the economic elite in America, but to promote solidarity among divided working-class and middle-class Americans and, eventually, to smash the plutocracy. This led many critics to accuse him of disregarding important cultural and social issues in favor of economic ones.

“If we broke up the big banks tomorrow,” asked Hillary Clinton during the primaries, “would that end racism? Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community?” It was a specious argument, of course, and one would be hard pressed to find any reasonable person who has suggested that economic reforms would suddenly cure all social ills or eliminate something as entrenched as racism. But economic and social issues tend to be interconnected. Racism against African-Americans, for example, was largely a product of landowning elites in the colonial era seeking to divide poor whites and black slaves after Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. As Michelle Alexander documented in her influential book, “The New Jim Crow”:

Deliberately and strategically, the planter class extended special privileges to poor whites in an effort to drive a wedge between them and black slaves … These measures effectively eliminated the risk of future alliances between black slaves and poor whites. Poor whites suddenly had a direct, personal stake in the existence of a race-based system of slavery. Their own plight had not improved by much, but at least they were not slaves. Once the planter elite split the labor force, poor whites responded to the logic of their situation and sought ways to expand their racially privileged position.

The point Sanders has attempted to make over the past two years, it seems, is that class can help transcend other social and cultural divisions and promote an economic solidarity that would go a long way toward overcoming deeply entrenched parochial beliefs and attitudes.

Of course, after the election of Trump — a politician who epitomizes “backlash culture” — the idea of overcoming things like racism and sexism in the near future seems far-fetched. But a different kind of backlash will ensue, perhaps, once the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress start enacting their widely unpopular economic agenda.

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Donald Trump’s Glorious Victory for Anti-Intellectualism: 'Drain the Swamp' Just Meant the Eggheads

When WikiLeaks published an email last October revealing different passages from the notorious paid speeches that Hillary Clinton gave to various Wall Street firms between 2013 and 2014 — including Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley — Donald Trump and his supporters were quick to use the transcripts as evidence that Clinton was thoroughly corrupt and in Wall Street’s pocket, even though her remarks were actually quite dull and predictable. Two lines that received the most attention from critics were the former secretary of state remarking that Wall Street reform “has to come from the industry itself,” and that “the people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry.”

For Republican Hillary-haters who believe Clinton is an evil feminazi, these comments were concrete proof that Clinton was a Wall Street shill who would be the most corrupt president in history. On the other hand, critics on the left found these comments pretty tame, revealing nothing new or scandalous about Clinton — simply confirming that she is, like the vast majority of politicians in Washington, not particularly troubled by the common practice of industry insiders (i.e., “experts”) taking on regulatory roles.

Over the past several decades, the revolving door has seen bipartisan consensus among Republican and Democratic administrations — especially when it comes to hiring so-called experts from Wall Street. If anything, Republicans have been the worst offenders when it comes to hiring insiders to regulate their own industries, and only progressive members of the Democratic Party, like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, have consistently called out the entire practice as corrupt and unethical.

So it was amusing to hear right-wingers assail Clinton for essentially preaching what their own party has long practiced. But of course, 2016 was ostensibly different, because the GOP’s presidential nominee wasn’t a standard establishment Republican. Donald Trump was a “populist” who would march on Washington like the strongmen of old and “drain the swamp.” The tough-talking billionaire was going to throw out the elites in Washington and create a government that “put America first” — or something like that.

Since winning the election, of course, Trump seems to have had a change of heart. Rather than draining the swamp, Trump has fully embraced the revolving door, and has hired insiders from various industries to oversee regulation of their own industries. If anything, Trump appears to be following his former opponent’s governing philosophy, which purports that “the people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry.” What is particularly ironic about Trump’s swampy administration is that it is made up of — surprise! — top Goldman Sachs alums, including his Treasury nominee, Steven Mnuchin, who was formerly a partner at the notorious Wall Street firm that Trump repeatedly bashed during his campaign.

On Wednesday, Trump let loose another alligator in the swamp, tapping Wall Street lawyer Jay Clayton to run the Securities and Exchange Commission. As the Washington Post reported: “Clayton is a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell, a well-known law firm, and has represented some of the biggest names on Wall Street, including Goldman Sachs and Barclays, and helped them weather regulatory scrutiny.”

And so the fabled tradition of Government Sachs continues unabated!

The question now is whether the millions of people who voted for Trump because they thought Clinton was corrupt and believed he would clean things up will realize that they were conned by a charlatan. Or will they continue buying into his faux-populist rhetoric, while his administration dismantles the regulatory apparatus and liberates big banks on Wall Street (ensuring a bigger and better economic crisis in the near future)?

Of course, it’s not quite that simple.

As Trump has packed his administration with lobbyists and industry insiders, many liberal commentators have mocked Trump voters as misinformed, credulous idiots, while shoving his swampy cabinet picks in their faces. Such liberals have missed something fundamental about Trump’s populist rhetoric. For many of the millions who voted for Trump, the “swamp” in Washington doesn’t necessarily denote corporate insiders, Wall Street executives and K-Street lobbyists — as those of us on the left visualize — but arrogant technocrats, bookish intellectuals and politically correct liberal elites who are indifferent to the struggles of the “forgotten men and women” in middle America.

In other words, Trump’s populism has always been more anti-intellectual than anti-elitist. (Of course many Americans perceive intellectuals and academics as the ultimate elites, even though they have little political or economic power.) Trump is loud, obnoxious, unlettered and uninformed. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t read books. At the same time, he is proud, supremely confident, practical and enormously wealthy. Trump may be an economic elite, but he sure as hell ain’t no egghead.

Is it any surprise, then, that he has become the anti-intellectual Moses of the 21st century?

Anti-intellectualism has a long history in the United States, and the leftist historian Richard Hofstadter wrote an entire book in the 1960s documenting anti-intellectual movements in America — from the “Great Awakening” evangelical movement to the nativist “know-nothings” of the mid-19th century to the John Birch Society in his time. Hofstadter is even more famous for his 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” in which he documented how many such anti-intellectual movements featured a “paranoid politics” rooted in conspiracy theory. That also has echoes in the Trumpian present.

It has always been ironic that a country founded by Enlightenment philosophers and bookish intellectuals like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton has long been a hostile environment for intellectuals, who are widely distrusted by much of the populace, not least because they are often irreligious or skeptical of religion (as were many of the beloved founders).

So Trump’s anti-elitism is directed more at climate scientists (after all, everyone knows that scientists are atheists), smug technocrats with Ivy League degrees and left-wing intellectuals espousing politically correct nonsense, than at wealthy oil company executives like Rex Tillerson, predatory Wall Street bankers like Steve Mnuchin, and powerful real estate tycoons like, well, Donald J. Trump.

This is not to say that none of those who voted for Trump actually believed that he would take on special interests and Washington cronyism. Perhaps some of those voters will feel betrayed and will think twice before supporting Trump again. But a substantial number of people voted for Trump specifically because of his anti-intellectual style, and therefore won’t be too bummed that he has the wealthiest cabinet in history.

The anti-intellectual mentality values perceived practical qualities over theoretical ones, and tends to think of abstract thinking as close to useless. When Trump called out Washington technocrats as incompetent on the campaign trail, he was appealing to the anti-intellectual impulse that regards all highly educated people as impractical, incompetent eggheads. This naturally leads to the assumption that those who have achieved material success — i.e., wealthy businesspeople — are better equipped to run government with their practical, business-savvy skills and insights. Of course, history tells us the opposite: Businessmen have notoriously made very bad presidents, while most of the top-ranked presidents have been longtime public servants or lawyers with top-tier educations.

When Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president, less than two weeks from now, he will bring with him to Washington an administration full of economic elites and industry insiders, and D.C. cronyism will expand to a whole new level. But for many Americans, the fact that all those know-it-all intellectuals — especially the leading know-it-all, constitutional scholar President Barack Obama — will be thrown out is a victory worth celebrating.

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Let's Face It: 2017 Will Be a Lot Worse than 2016

Though 2016 has been, for many, one of the most harrowing and depressing years in recent memory — with the deaths of many beloved entertainers and artists, the rise of far-right populism throughout the Western world, and the ongoing geopolitical crises in the Middle East, to name just a few reasons — there is little reason to celebrate the year’s end this weekend, or to be hopeful for 2017.

In just a few weeks, a man as shameless and opportunistic as the race-baiting demagogue George Wallace; as vindictive and thin-skinned as the 37th president, Richard “Enemies List” Nixon; as phony as the original American charlatan, P.T. Barnum; as unhinged as Stanley Kubrick’s mad general Jack D. Ripper; and as sleazy and authoritarian as Joseph McCarthy will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. And when “deplorable Don” arrives in Washington, he will have a Republican-controlled Congress full of partisan lackeys, unscrupulous sycophants and empty-suit pontificators to lick his boots and kiss his ring — as long as they can slash taxes for their wealthy donors, privatize Social Security and Medicare and, of course, repeal the Affordable Care Act.

In no time at all people will be feeling nostalgic for 2016 — longing for the days when Donald J. Trump was just a billionaire demagogue running for president, without any real power. Before he became the most powerful toddler in the world.

Of course, candidate Trump was a very dangerous man, and did more than any other individual in recent American history to normalize public racism, sexism and xenophobia, as well as political violence. His provocative campaign emboldened bigots and misogynists and rejuvenated white-supremacist and neo-Nazi hate groups, while poisoning political discourse and accelerating the country’s descent into a post-truth reality. If Trump had lost the election to Hillary Clinton, he would still have left the country hopelessly divided and more vulnerable than ever before to the forces of extremism and bigotry. But at least he would have left the country breathing.

Instead, this lunatic will have real and terrifying powers — including the power to unilaterally wage war around the globe and indefinitely detain American citizens, to order drone assassinations and, of course, to drop nuclear bombs (Trump can thank his predecessors — Democrat and Republican — for many of these powers). President Trump will oversee the Justice Department, the IRS, the NSA, Homeland Security and countless other federal agencies that can potentially be used to go after both political and personal enemies. Of which Trump has many — including journalists and popular critics, some of whom may choose to self-censor rather than risk retaliation from the vindictive and infantile president. The demagogue-in-chief will have the power to renegotiate or withdraw from trade agreements, start trade wars (and real wars) with countries like China and Mexico, and sabotage the Iran nuclear deal.

On and on it goes.

The power of the presidency is tremendous — especially when it comes to doing harm — and it is only slightly hyperbolic to say that a man as unprincipled and unhinged as Donald Trump in the White House, coupled with a Congress full of yes-men and fanatics, could singlehandedly destroy the United States (and the world along with it). It is, as the saying goes, much easier to destroy than to create, and the future of humanity will soon be in the hands of a petty, narcissistic reality-TV star who goes on impulsive Twitter rants at 3 o’clock in the morning and denies objective reality whenever it conflicts with his incoherent worldview.

There is no telling what Trump will do once he is in the Oval Office, or how much of his campaign rhetoric was empty talk. But his erratic behavior since the election and the far-right cabinet he has assembled over the past month indicates that he will be every bit as reactionary, demagogic and impulsive as he was on the campaign trail.

Thus, the New Year will bring great uncertainty — and great potential for catastrophe. As political satirist Bill Maher recently quipped, Trump is like “a toddler playing with a gun.” And in less than a month the gun will be fully loaded with the safety switched off. Whether the election of Trump will be “a death knell for the human species,” as Noam Chomsky put it earlier this year, remains to be seen. But it is all but certain that 2017 will make 2016 look like the good old days, regardless of which beloved celebrities drop dead. 

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The Strangest Bedfellows in Donald Trump's Authoritarian Movement

Of all the bizarre and contradictory aspects of Donald Trump’s political rise, one of the strangest has been the billionaire populist’s puzzling relationship with America’s libertarian movement.

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Identity Politics vs. Populist Economics? It’s a False Choice - Liberals Need to Look in the Mirror

For many Democrats, the fact that the Obama years have ended with one of the biggest party implosions in American history — and not the implosion of the Republican Party, as most had anticipated — remains a difficult reality to accept. Thanks to the Democratic Party’s historic collapse, Republicans will soon have complete control of all levels of government in the United States: All three branches of federal government, a large majority of state legislatures and an even larger majority of state governorships.

Facing this bleak reality, one would expect Democrats to quickly take a step back for some reflection, if only to figure out how to start winning elections again. As the country braces for a Trump presidency, it is absolutely critical that Democrats accurately assess what happened last month and learn the right lessons.

Unfortunately, many Democratic partisans have taken another approach; one that is all too familiar. As The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald reported last week:

Democrats have spent the last 10 days flailing around blaming everyone except for themselves, constructing a carousel of villains and scapegoats — from Julian AssangeVladimir PutinJames Comeythe electoral college“fake news,” and Facebook, to Susan SarandonJill SteinmillennialsBernie SandersClinton-critical journalists, and, most of all, insubordinate voters themselves — to blame them for failing to fulfill the responsibility that the Democratic Party, and it alone, bears: to elect Democratic candidates.

There is plenty of blame to go around, of course, and some of the scapegoats that Greenwald lists probably did have some impact, albeit minimal, on electing Trump. But when one looks at this year’s election objectively — not just at the Democratic Party’s failure to stop Trump, but at its failure to retake the Senate or make any gains at the state and local levels (Republicans now control 33 governorships and 32 state legislatures) — one has to be delusional not to recognize that the party itself is primarily responsible for this implosion.

Donald Trump — whom the majority of Americans view unfavorably and consider unqualified to be president — was a gift to the Democrats, and his nomination should have led to an easy electoral triumph. Instead, they nominated one of the most flawed candidates in history, and ran as an establishment party during a time when most Americans were practically begging for anti-establishment politics. As Trump’s loathsome chief strategist Steve Bannon recently put it: “Hillary Clinton was the perfect foil for Trump’s message. From her e-mail server, to her lavishly paid speeches to Wall Street bankers, to her FBI problems, she represented everything that middle-class Americans had had enough of.”

Trump’s victory was all the more depressing for progressives who had warned about the risk of nominating an establishment candidate with almost endless political baggage (in a season of angry populist politics, no less). During the Democratic primaries, these criticisms were either dismissed by establishment Democrats or critics were bitterly attacked for pointing them out. Recall back in February, for example, when Hillary Clinton implied that her progressive opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, was sexist for claiming that she represented the establishment: “Sen. Sanders is the only person who I think would characterize me, a woman running to be the first woman president, as exemplifying the establishment.”

Though Clinton did not explicitly call Sanders sexist, her campaign was eager to paint the senator and his supporters as misogynists who opposed Clinton solely because she was a woman. The “Bernie Bro” narrative — which portrayed Sanders supporters as a bunch of white sexist frat-boy types, harassing women and people of color online — was propagated by the Clinton campaign and sympathetic journalists. It was also discredited time and again, particularly by the fact that the Sanders-Clinton split was more of a generational divide than anything else — as evinced by Sanders’ 37-point advantage among millennial women (ages 18 to 29) across 27 states and his popularity among younger black and Hispanic voters.

The kind of self-serving identity politics that we saw from the Clinton camp during the Democratic primaries leads into what has been the most contentious debate among Democrats and progressives since the election: Whether the party has become too preoccupied with the politics of identity and political correctness, while straying too far from a class-based politics that addresses the structural inequities of capitalism. Not surprisingly, the debate has been full of deliberate misinterpretations.

Consider how various news outlets reported on comments made by Sanders on his book tour last week while discussing diversity in political leadership. “We need diversity, that goes without saying,” noted Sanders, who was responding to a question from a woman asking for tips on how to become the second Latina senator, after this year’s election of Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada. “But it is not good enough for someone to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me.’ That’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industries.”

From this comment, the New York Times reported that Sanders had said “Democrats need to focus more on economic struggles and less on the grievances of minorities and women,” while the popular liberal website Talking Points Memo posted the misleading headline: “Sanders Urges Supporters: Ditch Identity Politics And Embrace The Working Class.” These reports are both founded on a false dichotomy pitting economic justice and civil rights against each other. This was also illustrated by a tweet from the Times shortly after the election:

The Democrats' dilemma: appeal to the working-class white vote, or increase the number of minority and young voters?

— NYT Politics (@nytpolitics) November 17, 2016

It is extremely troubling that appealing to young people, people of color, women and working-class whites is perceived as an either/or question, or that “economic struggles” and the “grievances of minorities and women” are seen as mutually exclusive. In reality, economic struggles and civil rights are deeply interconnected. Women and people of color, for example, are much more likely to suffer disproportionately from poverty and economic inequality, while young voters who care deeply about social issues are currently facing crushing student loan debt, a subpar job market and low social mobility.

This illustrates the real problem with modern liberalism. Not that it is too preoccupied with promoting diversity or ending all forms of discrimination — there is really no disagreement on the left that these are vitally important goals — but that these efforts and achievements are often used to mask or divert attention from the deeper structural problems of our economic and political systems.

The fact that Goldman Sachs has been a leader in promoting diversity and inclusivity in its workforce, for example, should not comfort anyone when the same firm committed massive fraud leading up to the financial crisis and is still led by the same CEO, who recently entered the billionaire’s club. When Hillary Clinton gave her notorious $225,000 speeches for Goldman Sachs, it is reported that she lavished praise on the firm’s diversity and the prominent roles played by women in its internal hierarchy. She did not, however, talk about Goldman’s role in exacerbating the financial crisis or the way the firm committed massive securities fraud and reaped billions of dollars in profit, let alone the fact that none of the firm’s top executives faced any criminal prosecution for their misdeeds.

This is the liberalism that failed to stop Trump. This is the liberalism that self-servingly exploited identity politics to protect an establishment candidate whose severe flaws were evident long before the 2016 campaign began. This is the liberalism that must be overcome, and the sooner the better.

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Neoliberalism’s Epic Fail: The Reaction to Hillary Clinton’s Loss Exposed the Impotent Elitism of Liberalism

By the time last week’s presidential election was finally called for Donald Trump during the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the initial disbelief felt by the millions of Americans who had been assured of a Clinton victory by the media had turned into shock and panic — if not yet full-blown despair. As pollsters collectively changed their predictions and news pundits started to resemble confused and dejected children, the fight-or-flight response kicked in for countless viewers. Hearts pounded, stomachs turned and some of the more privileged liberals started seriously considering whether to flee the country in the face of a national nightmare that had just become a reality (privileged, because the average American doesn’t have the resources to just pack up and run at will).

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Is the DEA High? The Agency's Emergency Ban on Kratom Has You Wonder What They're Smoking

How insane is America’s drug war? Look no further than the Southeast Asian plant known as kratom, which the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced it would be temporarily adding to the list of Schedule 1 substances, along with heroin, LSD, cocaine and marijuana. This emergency ban, which the DEA justified by calling the plant an “imminent public health and safety threat,” may go into effect as early as this weekend, and can last up to three years before becoming permanent or being reversed.

Kratom, which is related to coffee, has been used for therapeutic purposes across Indochina for centuries, and has become increasingly popular in the United States over the past several years for treating chronic pain, depression, anxiety, PTSD and a variety of other ailments (veterans have been particularly vocal about the plantbenefiting their lives and getting them off of a plethora of pharmaceuticals). Kratom has also been reported to help recovering opiate and heroin addicts, even though it can be mildly addictive itself if used on a daily basis — not unlike coffee.

Online forums suggest that it is used predominantly by adults as a therapeutic herb, and a recent survey by the Pain News Network, which polled over 6,000 kratom users, found that over 50 percent use it for acute and/or chronic pain, almost 15 percent for anxiety, 10 percent for opioid dependency, and less than 2 percent for recreational use or curiosity. It is particularly popular for those suffering from back/spine pain, migraines and fibromyalgia.

The Schedule 1 classification is supposed to be reserved for substances that are considered to have high potential for abuse/addiction and no medicinal value, which any rational observer can see is not the case with kratom (even the DEA spokesman has admitted this much — but more on that later). As with cannabis, kratom does not appear to cause overdose or death when too much is taken because it does not slow down breathing as opiates do.

In The Verge, Alessandra Potenza reports on a study conducted by Edward Boyer, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who says that kratom looks like it could be a promising alternative to prescription opiates:

“The plant acts like an opioid painkiller without one of the worst side effects: difficulty breathing. In opioid overdoses, patients stop breathing. But when rats were given kratom’s major chemical compound (called mitragynine) in substantial doses, they breathed freely. The results suggest that kratom could one day be developed into a pain medication that doesn’t pose the same risks as opioids. ‘I think it’s worthy of additional scientific research,’ Boyer says.”

In its letter of intent, the DEA pointed to just 15 known deaths that involved kratom (just to put that number in perspective: roughly 88,000 people die each year from alcohol, which has high potential for abuse and little to no medicinal value). But even this small number is misleading, since almost all of these cases involved high doses of other dangerous substances in the subjects’ systems. Most kratom users report that consuming too much of the plant, which has an unpleasant taste and can give an energizing effect in lower doses, simply causes nausea and vomiting. Unfortunately, prohibition will hinder further scientific research that could establish better understanding of the plant’s safety and therapeutic benefits.

Hasty and ill-considered, the claim that kratom is an imminent public health and safety threat is enough to make you wonder whether they are getting high on their own supply over at the DEA. Indeed, policy experts seem to overwhelmingly agree that this knee-jerk measure will only worsen the current heroin and opiate epidemic in America by forcing many kratom users to turn to more dangerous and addictive drugs in treating their pain — thus exacerbating a legitimate public health crisis.

The agency’s spokesman, Melvin Patterson, has responded to the public backlash — which includes a White House petition with over 135,000 signatures and a letter from 45 members of Congress calling on the DEA to delay this “hasty decision” — with feigned sympathy and doublespeak.

“I don’t see it being Schedule 2 [or higher] because that would be a drug that’s highly addictive. Kratom’s at a point where it needs to be recognized as medicine,” Patterson told the Washington Post, seemingly contradicting his employer’s position. “I want the kratom community to know that the DEA does hear them,” he continued. “Our goal is to make sure this is available to all of them.”

Right — what better way to make kratom available than to make it illegal!

This entire episode provides an unsettling insight into the drug warrior’s irrational and authoritarian mindset. Of course, the DEA’s plan to ban kratom shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise (after all, just a few weeks earlier the agency announcedthat it would be keeping cannabis — which is now widely accepted as medicinal — as a Schedule 1 drug). But the impassioned response from the public has been encouraging. As noted above, 45 members of Congress have signed on to a letter asking the DEA to delay the emergency scheduling, while President Obama will have to respond to a White House petition asking him to stop this measure within the next month or so. The American people — the majority of whom now support the legalization of marijuana — seem to be waking up to how disastrous, counterproductive and harmful the war on drugs has been.

But the DEA depends on the drug war — they literally can’t exist without it — just as the criminal drug lord’s existence depends on the prohibition of drugs. Thus, the vicious circle will likely continue until the public stages an intervention.

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Why Millions of GOP Voters Bought Into Trump's Phony Populist Act

Donald Trump does not come across as a typical plutocrat — and if he did, it is doubtful whether he would be the leader of a new right-wing populist movement in America. Though the billionaire was born into great wealth and privilege, and started running his father’s $200 million real estate firm in the 1970s (a lucky break?), he has a very down-to-earth and unsophisticated way of communicating; as crude as the stereotypical drunk uncle and as slick and self-assured as a used-car salesman from New Jersey.

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What Critics Get Wrong About Millennial Bernie Sanders Supporters

It is no secret that Sen. Bernie Sanders  has dominated with millennial voters over the past year, winning as much as 80 percent of the under-30 vote in some states against his Democratic primary opponent, Hillary Clinton. All told, the senator has received more votes from under-30 Americans than the two presumptive nominees combined (by nearly 30 percent), according to a recent report from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. While an estimated 766,425 under-30 Americans cast their ballots for Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, over two million backed Sanders (while presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump received roughly 800,000 votes from under-30s, slightly more than Clinton).

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Why Gary Johnson Isn't Going to Find Many Progressives Who Can Be Duped Into Supporting His 1% Agenda

Last week, the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee Gary Johnson and his running mate Bill Weld made a cordial appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” to pitch their libertarian message to America. With some recent surveysshowing the Libertarian ticket nearing 15 percent in national polls, there is a slim chance that Johnson could end up participating in the presidential debates (third-party candidates need to reach 15 percent in five national surveys to be included). Thus, the more exposure the better.  

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It's All a Con: Trump's Presidential Campaign Is as Big a Scam as Trump University

There is no longer any doubt that Donald Trump’s defunct real estate school, Trump University, was one big scam that operated to swindle credulous people out of their money. As Ronald Schnackenberg, a former sales manager at the for-profit venture (who was once reprimanded for not pushing hard enough to sell a $35,000 “elite program” to a couple who had “no money to pay for the program” and would have had to take out an equity loan on their apartment and used disability income) wrote in his testimony:

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