Eric Alterman

Holding Trump's enablers accountable

I've been forced to write about Donald Trump an awful lot during the past five years and the problem I always face when writing in a limited space, like this one, is which of his countless horrific qualities to focus on. The same thing happens when I need to address the consequences of the policies of his administration. There are so many terrible ones, so many victims and so many enablers. I always found myself asking, "Who deserves a thousand words today?"

Not today. I don't dispute the genuine horror, outrage and sadness genuinely patriotic people feel at seeing the desecration of one of the most potent symbols of American democracy. I share those feelings. But another part of me is glad about it. Finally, Trumpism has clarified itself. It's not about "economic insecurity." It's not about globalization. It's not about being "forgotten," "disdained by elites," or fear of the future. It's just about hatred: hatred of anyone and anything who is not a white, Christian, right-wing, American-born American. Any other attempt to defend or explain Trump's appeal is a lie and a dangerous one at that because it's a lie that perpetuates all the other lies that have allowed him and his minions to conduct a rampage against America and all that it stands for; the same rampage that finally found its physical manifestation in the insurrectional riot we saw on Wednesday.

What made all this possible? Obviously, there is Trump himself. His entire life, beginning with his real estate career, his TV celebrity, his presidential campaign and then of course, his presidency, had been built on a foundation of easily disprovable falsehood. And somehow, it worked. Trump apparently told the right kind of lies; the kinds of lies that were in the interests of the powerful people allied with him to pretend to believe. As for his victims, who cared? If they had any power in the first place, they would not have been victims. As far as Trump was concerned, lying worked. It pumped up his ego and got him what he wanted. After all, he got elected president of the United States without having any appreciable qualifications. It's not merely a mystery as to why he kept it up.

The more compelling question for our future is who were the people who bought into his lies, pretended to believe (or at least excuse) them and benefitted as a result? These, after all, are the people who betrayed their country and will still be around when Trump is either serving time or living in exile. Second, of course, was the structure of enablement his lies enjoyed. The Trump administration was one big bribe. The rich got their massive tax cuts and extremely relaxed enforcement of financial crimes. Evangelicals got their Federalist Society–appointed judges and extreme Zionism put into practice. Racists, Nazis and nationalists got their attacks on everyone who did not look and "think" like them. (These people came cheap.) Cops got to beat up and sometimes murder people with impunity. Corporations were free to pollute their communities and disempower their workers. The right-wing press got to give their "middle finger" as National Review editor Rich Lowry named it, at the rest of us and the mainstream media got ratings, subscriptions and stock prices they could not have imagined five years earlier. Remember CBS CEO Les Moonves speaking about Trump's candidacy, before Moonves lost his job following numerous claims of sexual misconduct? He may have been speaking for the entire industry when he said: "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS,"

All this added up to an irresistible bargain for all of them to embrace Trump's lies and pass them along to the voters, viewers, stockholders, churchgoers, whomever. The net result was the creation of an entire world of unreality in which nearly half the country lived and most of the rest of it agreed to indulge. Trump-supporting Kentucky Republican, Thomas Massie, sounds like he's making complete sense when he says, "Trump has a 94 percent approval rating among my Republican electorate—I've actually polled it twice," Massie said. "Those are people that vote in the primaries in Kentucky's Fourth District … I'm going to have a lot of explaining to do." The poor fellow…

Almost all the mainstream media expressed profound shock at the sight of Trump's most devoted followers attacking Congress on Wednesday. It played out as a "Drunk History" parody version of the Bolsheviks' 1917 storming of the Tsar's winter palace. Didn't these people know a wink when they saw one? Didn't they understand, as Selena Zito lectured the rest of us back in September, 2016 (in the Atlantic, no less,) that while, "the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally?" Apparently, not. These people have been fed a diet of literally nothing but political lies for decades now in the fantasy "propaganda loop" that right-wing billionaires like Rupert Murdoch, Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers and Rebekah Mercer have created for them. Donald Trump was just the Frankenstein monster that (we now see) pushed things a little too far. But give credit where it's due. Trump's 30,000 or so presidential lies were built on a mountain of lies that came before him, thanks to Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, both George Bushes (but especially the second one) and all of the politicians and pundits who embraced and enabled them.

Viewed from a certain perspective, one is almost tempted to feel sorry for these clowns — or "very special" people as Trump called them — in the Viking hats and the "Camp Auschwitz" sweatshirts. They had become, what Hannah Arendt called, "the ideal subject of a totalitarian state"; that is, the person "for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (that is, the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (that is, the standards of thought) no longer exist." Too bad, however, that — just like with Covid deniers — their purposeful ignorance combined with their maniacal aggressiveness is endangering the rest of us to the point of that (My God!) even Mitch McConnell recognized as a potential "death spiral" for democracy and said enough was finally enough.

The obvious question for which there is just as obviously no clear answer yet is, "Are we too far gone to save ourselves?" As posed by the punditocracy, it takes some form of, "How much of the Republican Party will remain in thrall to this guy that we now all suddenly discovered is a dangerous lunatic?" This question is always followed by references to rhetorical flamethrowers, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and the total of 179 lawmakers who, even after what they saw on Wednesday, still refused to recognize the rightful president-elect of the United States. (This is coupled with a running count of which rats are jumping from their sinking ship. ) But the Congressional Republican Party is just the head of an extremely pugnacious and poisonous snake. The reptilian structure it grows out of has strangled so many of institutions that make democracy possible and infected so many of the people who shape and influence it, one has a hard time imagining where we will find the resources to nurse the body politic back even to a semblance of good health.

One thing is for certain, however: we have no choice but to try. There is no "moving on" or "looking to the future" without first facing the truth. And that means legally holding responsible everyone who helped to create the criminal syndicate that took over our government and morally, everyone who supported it. They were not just "playing politics," this time around. They were toying with treason. And that's just how they need to be treated if we are to restore a semblance of functional democracy to our system and personal honor to our politics.

How Conservatives Played the Media Like a Fiddle to Elect a Racist Lunatic President

Two rules journalists live by: Keep things simple and straightforward and be fair to “both sides.”

Keep reading... Show less

How the NY Times' Use of False Equivalencies Badly Distorts the Presidential Campaign

On March 15, Donald Trump won Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, and Illinois, dispatching Marco Rubio’s campaign to the ash heap of history and giving every impression that he had become the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee. Hillary Clinton also did extremely well that day, taking Illinois, Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina. The New York Times gave its prime spot—the top-right corner of the paper’s front page—to a story headlined “2 Front-Runners, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Find Their Words Can Be Weapons.” Readers quickly learned, if they had missed it previously, that Trump frequently used words like “bimbo,” “dog,” and “fat pig” to refer to some of the women he didn’t like, and this had led to disapproval ratings among women that reached historic proportions. And what “weapons” did Clinton give her adversaries? During a recent speech in coal country, she had suggested that her support for sustainable, clean-energy jobs would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”

Keep reading... Show less

Why Roger Ailes Wins Big When Media Lets GOP Candidates Get Away With Lying

You may have heard that Carly Fiorina won the September 16 CNN debate and has since entered the “top tier” of Republican presidential candidates. Well, for now that’s true, but in the long run, the true winner will be the same guy who won the August 6 Fox debate and is winning pretty much every political debate we have in this country these days: Roger Ailes.

Keep reading... Show less

Bill de Blasio: The Progressive Movement Is Alive and Well in NYC

In October 2014, Nation columnist Eric Alterman sat down with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in his City Hall office. Open and affable, de Blasio spent the hourlong interview reflecting on his whirlwind first year as mayor, his earliest political influences, the meaning of the word “progressive,” and why he sees no contradiction between movement politics and holding elected office. The interview, which has been edited and condensed for publication, was conducted as part of a study supported by the Center for American Progress, where Alterman is also a senior fellow.  The study wlil be published as a forthcoming Nation eBook, Inequality and One City: Bill de Blasio and the New York Experiment, Year One, to be published in February.

Keep reading... Show less

Neocons' Shocking Iraq Revisionism: How They Are Utterly Divorced from Reality

In a column entitled “Bush’s toxic legacy in Iraq,” terrorism expert Peter Bergen writes about the origins of ISIS, “the brutal insurgent/terrorist group formerly known as al Qaeda in Iraq.”

Keep reading... Show less

Only the Koch Brothers Could Make Rupert Murdoch Look Like Journalism’s Savior

The following article first appeared in the Nation. For more great content, sign up for their newsletter here. 

Keep reading... Show less

Why Are Politicians Running from Economic Reality into Tea Party Fantasy Land?

The following article first appeared on the Web site of The Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its e-mail newsletters here. 

Keep reading... Show less

Zinn-ophobia at NPR

When the historian and political activist Howard Zinn died recently of a heart attack at 87, National Public Radio's All Things Considered ran a short obituary consisting of snippets of interviews from three people: the linguist Noam Chomsky, the civil rights leader Julian Bond and the radical right-wing provocateur David Horowitz.

Keep reading... Show less

How to Make Hundreds of Thousands of Dead Iraqis Disappear


According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, George Bush's lies have killed not 30,000 innocent Iraqis, as the president not long ago estimated, but nearly 22 times that amount, or 655,000. Neither the Pentagon, nor much of the mainstream media have made much attempt to make their own counts -- it's just not that important to anyone. So how has the U.S. media reported on these shocking-albeit-necessarily-imprecise findings, based on door-to-door surveys in 18 provinces, by the experts trained in this kind of thing? The actual methods included obtaining data by eight Iraqi physicians during a survey of 1,849 Iraqi families -- 12,801 people -- in 47 neighborhoods of 18 regions across the country. The researchers based the selection of geographical areas on population size, not on the level of violence. How strict were their standards? They asked for death certificates to prove claims -- and got them in 92 percent of the cases. Even so, the authors say that the number could be anywhere from 426,000 to 800,000.



Well, Greg Mitchell has written two columns on the topic for Editor & Publisher and he finds, here and here, that:



  • The Associated Press casts a very skeptical eye on the study, emphasizing the views of one "expert" Anthony Cordesman, (as the AP describes him) who charges that it is nothing but "politics," with the November election approaching.



  • The Washington Post, meanwhile, interviewed Ronald Waldman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University who worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for many years. He called the Johns Hopkins survey method "tried and true" and added that "this is the best estimate of mortality we have."



  • Sarah Leah Whitson, an official of Human Rights Watch in New York, told the Post, "We have no reason to question the findings or the accuracy" of the survey.



  • Frank Harrell Jr., chairman of the biostatistics department at Vanderbilt University, told the Associated Press the study incorporated "rigorous, well-justified analysis" of the data.



  • Richard Garfield, a public health professor at Columbia University who works closely with a number of the authors of the report, told The Christian Science Monitor: "That's exactly wrong. There is no discrediting of this methodology. I don't think there's anyone who's been involved in mortality research who thinks there's a better way to do it in unsecured areas. I have never heard of any argument in this field that says there's a better way to do it."



  • The sampling "is solid. The methodology is as good as it gets," said John Zogby, whose polling agency, Zogby International, has done several surveys in Iraq since the war began. "It is what people in the statistics business do." Zogby said similar survey methods have been used to estimate casualty figures in other conflicts, such as Darfur and the Congo.



    • I recall seeing on The Daily Show that when Bush got done playing around with Suzanne Malveaux and her fashion statement that day, she asked him about the study. He replied that "their methodology has been pretty well discredited." This is a bald-faced lie, of course. But here's my question. Were there any follow-ups? Or was the purpose of the question merely to get the president on the record without holding him responsible for anything at all, even the unnecessary murder of hundreds of thousands of people? What the hell kind of society kills all these people and cannot be bothered to care? Cannot be bothered to count them and when someone does, risking their lives in the process, lies to discredit them -- and no one cares about that either?



      A Republican political consultant seeks to discredit the survey in The Wall Street Journal today, here, and the madman, Hitchens, writes in Slate: "The Lancet figures are almost certainly inflated, not least because they were taken from selective war-torn provinces. But there is no reason why they may not come to reflect reality more closely. It is a reminder of the nature of the enemy we face, and not only in Iraq, and a very clear picture of the sort of people who would have a free hand in Iraq if the coalition were to depart." In fact, the first claim is flat-out false.

      The study specifically did not pick particularly violent provinces, as Hitchens could have discovered if he looked at the study, not that he gives any impression of having any experience with this type of statistical sampling. But even so, the sanctions were a social, moral, and epidemiological catastrophe as well. I never supported them either. The sad fact is that Hussein could have been contained militarily without all of these people dying unnecessarily. Easily. But our leaders couldn't prove themselves sufficiently macho for chickenhawk neocons to take the necessary steps, and so we have all this blood on our collective hands, to say nothing of our own soldiers' deaths, an increased terrorist threat, a trillion dollars wasted, and the hatred of the world toward our citizens.
BRAND NEW STORIES

Thanks for your support!

Did you enjoy AlterNet this year? Join us! We're offering AlterNet ad-free for 15% off - just $2 per week. From now until March 15th.