Michael Winship

Republicans don't know much about history -- but that won't stop them

Years ago, when I was back in Washington for a couple of years, writing a series for public television, I lived for a while on Capitol Hill, a couple of blocks behind the Supreme Court. In the morning when I went to work, I would walk to a nearby Metro subway station, look at the Capitol dome and sometimes stare across the Potomac to Virginia.

During the Civil War, I'd think, the Confederacy was right there, just a mile or two away. So close, and yet they were never able to carry their flag onto Capitol Hill until this January 6, when rioters assailed the seat of government, some of them carrying the Stars and Bars, the banner of the Confederate States of America. Five were killed.

Now the US Senate is about to try former President Donald Trump once again, this time on a single act of impeachment for inciting that riot—a vain attempt to overturn the results of the fair and honest election that rejected Trump for a second term of office. Despite the evidence, and just as they did a year ago, almost all the Republicans in the Senate will vote to acquit their corrupt and feckless leader.

That's because in an echo of Dixie, they have adapted a new version of their "Southern strategy," that tactic dating back to 1968, when Republicans discovered that by blowing dog whistles of white supremacy and bigotry, they could flip some of those states of the former Confederacy over to Richard Nixon, then Ronald Reagan, Bush father and son and yes, Donald Trump.

The new version is slightly different. In this one, they don't imitate the old white segregationist politicians like George Wallace, Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms. No, now they act like those all-white juries of the deep South in the fifties and sixties that would, time after time—and despite all the evidence—find the murderers and rapists of innocent black men and women not guilty. Watch as they do it again on behalf of their mad dog savior Donald Trump. The overwhelming facts mean nothing when getting back their death grip on power and control is at stake.

As you know, this attitude of ignoring or distorting reality permeates right-wing media as well. Tuesday night, the cremated remains of Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick, murdered at the age of 42 during that January 6 mob riot, were brought up the Capitol steps and into the rotunda to rest in honor.

CNN covered the somber ceremony live. So did MSNBC. Fox News did not. Over there, after a blitzkrieg of commercials, Sean Hannity was acting out his usual extremist nonsense, ranting about "the People's Republic of Los Angeles" and "the People's Republic of New York," among other falsehoods.

A few minutes later, President and First Lady Biden arrived at the rotunda to pay their respects. MSNBC and CNN were there. On Fox, Laura Ingraham briefly acknowledged the Bidens' presence but spent most of her airtime not honoring the slain policeman but trashing Dr. Anthony Fauci and beginning a story about homicides in Chicago with the phrase, "The BLM-fueled crime wave…" Black Lives Matter, you see, is just one more manifestation of the imaginary socialist plot to take over America. No wonder their viewers think the world's aflame, a cynical awful place where progressives plotting evil lurk at every corner pizzeria.

By the way, Officer Sicknick, a 12-year veteran of the force, was a Trump voter in 2016, although The Washington Post reports, "Those who encountered Sicknick said his political views did not align neatly with one political party." He was against impeachment but supported gun control.

There hasn't been an official explanation yet as to exactly how Sicknick died but he was attacked and killed while resisting the crazed crowd brainwashed by Trump. They were lied to by him and other Republicans, conspiratorial right-wing media like Fox, OAN and Newsmax and alt-right social media. They fell for the phony scenario brewing for weeks that Joe Biden had stolen the election and that a violent uprising would change the results. They sought to hang Vice President Pence, shoot House Speaker Pelosi and bodily harm other members of the House and Senate, including New York Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Minnesota's Ilhan Omar and Michigan's Rashida Tlaib.

But now, as the Senate prepares for Trump's second impeachment trial next week, too many Republicans continue pretending January 6 never happened, that the slate should be wiped clean and history rewritten. Time to move on, they say. In fact, just a couple of hours after all of their lives were in serious jeopardy, six Republican senators still refused to certify the vote of the Electoral College that gave the presidency to Biden. And a week later, when the House passed its single article of impeachment charging Trump with inciting the 1/6 insurrection, all but ten of the GOP members voted against it and many Republican senators declared the whole thing unconstitutional.

If those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, Republicans and their allies covering it up and trying to erase the memory are prideful cowards condemned to seeing their once Grand Old Party dissolve into a mud puddle of mendacity, conspiracy fantasies, hatred and fear. What's left of what once was a past distinguished by occasional acts of bravery, grace and tolerance has become a toxic sludge of fascism and intolerance, much of it because they are afraid of one man, a blustering fool who no longer holds office but retains great cult-like control of their party.

"History will tell lies, sir, as usual." So says British General "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne in George Bernard Shaw's "The Devil's Disciple" as he rides off to what he knows will be an ignominious defeat in Saratoga at the hands of American patriots. But what we're observing now goes beyond prevarication or the boastful exaggerations of victors and lamentations of the losers; this is a twisting of facts and the concocting of false narratives that in other times would have been derided and dismissed as the cheap fakery it is.

Republicans have slid so far down the memory hole of Orwell's 1984 they have to reach up to touch bottom. They throw authenticity down into the hole's incinerator flames and create a new reality that's fictitious but which serves the needs of those who lust for power and control over all else. "The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake," Winston, the protagonist of 1984, is told. "We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing."

And so you have House minority leader Kevin McCarthy accepting QAnon fanatic, now-Representative Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia and denouncing her exclusion from committee assignments, despite her theories of Jewish space lasers, political assassination, 9/11 truthers and mass shootings as false flag operations. Nutty as those beliefs are (and on Thursday, she disingenuously tried to back away from them a bit), they confer influence because Trump likes her, she raises a ton of campaign cash and her followerspart of Trump's base—are urged by her to think these theories are the only explanation for their difficult lives. That, and the existence of people of color, of course.

Reducio ad absurdum. These days, the GOP even welcomes such facetious and absurd silliness as Eric Trump telling Hannity that there "has never been a more beloved political figure in our country's history" than his dad. Because that works for them, too (By the way, Eric said this during that time Tuesday when Hannity was ignoring the arrival of Officer Sicknick's remains at the Capitol. So much for Blue Lives Matter).

Meanwhile, the rest of us are supposed to buy into the GOP's big con because, you know, unity. Every time truths are spoken that Republicans don't like, they claim that it's for sure dividing the country further.

So brazen are the attempts at manipulation of truth whether present or past, that in the last months of his term, President Trump and his sycophantic crew appointed a Presidential Advisory 1776 Committee, charged with creating "a definitive chronicle of the American founding." The report partly was a response to The New York Times' award-winning 1619 Project, charting the history of slavery in the United States and our continuing record of racial discrimination.

With little regard for the facts and not a single professional historian on the panel (but with plenty of conservative activists and educators), and with time quickly running out for the Trump White House, it was decided to release their findings on the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday, months before the report was supposed to be completed and just two days before the Biden inauguration—timing that was either a stroke of haste, pure ignorance or malign spite—you make the call.

In any case, much of what the commission had to say was lost in the shuffle of last-minute Trump pardons and inauguration news but as per Sarah Ruiz-Grossman at The Huffington Post:

The 45-page report reads in places like a right-wing manifesto: It makes excuses for slavery and the Three-fifths Compromise that declared slaves counted as less than full humans. It decries socialism and "identity politics," celebrates the right to bear arms and calls the anti-abortion movement one of the nation's "great reforms…"
"The Trump commission's report also rails against socialism as leading people down a "dangerous path" of wealth redistribution and cites '"anti-Communism" and "the Pro-Life Movement"— or anti-abortion movement — as some of the "great reforms" of the country's history."

The report compares progressivism to fascism, seeking to "centralize power under the management of so-called experts." There are twice as many references to Christianity as of racism, no footnotes or citations, and not a single mention of Indigenous people, especially not the notion that upon our arrival, ninety percent of them quickly were wiped out by disease, murder, forced relocation, and other assorted territorial encroachments.

Many wondered what President Biden would do with the report. It didn't take long to find out. Within minutes of his swearing-in, an executive order wiped out the 1776 Committee. And shortly after, all evidence of its existence, including the panel's preposterous report, was removed from the White House website.

Via his Department of Education, the new president should lead an effort figuring out how to restore civics classes and revive the history curriculum that once taught young Americans how to be thoughtful, participating citizens by learning their past. This also should help them develop the kind of critical thinking that, when presented with the facts, responds with skepticism and debate but not in the belief of every crackpot version of reality that beckons to them from their televisions, radios and laptops. As we've seen, such an alternative truth—the real fake news as it were—can only lead to the violent end of American democracy.

For a party that used to preach responsibility and reason, the Republicans have devolved into an asylum for the proponents and hangers on of screwball revisionism fraudulent theories and the vicious overthrow of government. Don't know much about history but I do know that if the GOP have their way there will be little room for rational solutions that can help us. The angry braying mob has little use for those answers, but an embrace of practicality at every level of legislative action that leads to tangible progress could peel some of them away. Otherwise, we may be heading into more dark days echoing the fearsome years when our Capitol stood so close to enemy forces just across the river.

Republicans don’t know much about history — but that won’t stop them

Years ago, when I was back in Washington for a couple of years, writing a series for public television, I lived for a while on Capitol Hill, a couple of blocks behind the Supreme Court. In the morning when I went to work, I would walk to a nearby Metro subway station, look at the Capitol dome and sometimes stare across the Potomac to Virginia.

During the Civil War, I'd think, the Confederacy was right there, just a mile or two away. So close, and yet they were never able to carry their flag onto Capitol Hill until this January 6, when rioters assailed the seat of government, some of them carrying the Stars and Bars, the banner of the Confederate States of America. Five were killed.

Now the US Senate is about to try former President Donald Trump once again, this time on a single act of impeachment for inciting that riot—a vain attempt to overturn the results of the fair and honest election that rejected Trump for a second term of office. Despite the evidence, and just as they did a year ago, almost all the Republicans in the Senate will vote to acquit their corrupt and feckless leader.

That's because in an echo of Dixie, they have adapted a new version of their "Southern strategy," that tactic dating back to 1968, when Republicans discovered that by blowing dog whistles of white supremacy and bigotry, they could flip some of those states of the former Confederacy over to Richard Nixon, then Ronald Reagan, Bush father and son and yes, Donald Trump.

The new version is slightly different. In this one, they don't imitate the old white segregationist politicians like George Wallace, Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms. No, now they act like those all-white juries of the deep South in the fifties and sixties that would, time after time—and despite all the evidence—find the murderers and rapists of innocent black men and women not guilty. Watch as they do it again on behalf of their mad dog savior Donald Trump. The overwhelming facts mean nothing when getting back their death grip on power and control is at stake.

As you know, this attitude of ignoring or distorting reality permeates right-wing media as well. Tuesday night, the cremated remains of Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick, murdered at the age of 42 during that January 6 mob riot, were brought up the Capitol steps and into the rotunda to rest in honor.

CNN covered the somber ceremony live. So did MSNBC. Fox News did not. Over there, after a blitzkrieg of commercials, Sean Hannity was acting out his usual extremist nonsense, ranting about "the People's Republic of Los Angeles" and "the People's Republic of New York," among other falsehoods.

A few minutes later, President and First Lady Biden arrived at the rotunda to pay their respects. MSNBC and CNN were there. On Fox, Laura Ingraham briefly acknowledged the Bidens' presence but spent most of her airtime not honoring the slain policeman but trashing Dr. Anthony Fauci and beginning a story about homicides in Chicago with the phrase, "The BLM-fueled crime wave…" Black Lives Matter, you see, is just one more manifestation of the imaginary socialist plot to take over America. No wonder their viewers think the world's aflame, a cynical awful place where progressives plotting evil lurk at every corner pizzeria.

By the way, Officer Sicknick, a 12-year veteran of the force, was a Trump voter in 2016, although The Washington Post reports, "Those who encountered Sicknick said his political views did not align neatly with one political party." He was against impeachment but supported gun control.

There hasn't been an official explanation yet as to exactly how Sicknick died but he was attacked and killed while resisting the crazed crowd brainwashed by Trump. They were lied to by him and other Republicans, conspiratorial right-wing media like Fox, OAN and Newsmax and alt-right social media. They fell for the phony scenario brewing for weeks that Joe Biden had stolen the election and that a violent uprising would change the results. They sought to hang Vice President Pence, shoot House Speaker Pelosi and bodily harm other members of the House and Senate, including New York Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Minnesota's Ilhan Omar and Michigan's Rashida Tlaib.

But now, as the Senate prepares for Trump's second impeachment trial next week, too many Republicans continue pretending January 6 never happened, that the slate should be wiped clean and history rewritten. Time to move on, they say. In fact, just a couple of hours after all of their lives were in serious jeopardy, six Republican senators still refused to certify the vote of the Electoral College that gave the presidency to Biden. And a week later, when the House passed its single article of impeachment charging Trump with inciting the 1/6 insurrection, all but ten of the GOP members voted against it and many Republican senators declared the whole thing unconstitutional.

If those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, Republicans and their allies covering it up and trying to erase the memory are prideful cowards condemned to seeing their once Grand Old Party dissolve into a mud puddle of mendacity, conspiracy fantasies, hatred and fear. What's left of what once was a past distinguished by occasional acts of bravery, grace and tolerance has become a toxic sludge of fascism and intolerance, much of it because they are afraid of one man, a blustering fool who no longer holds office but retains great cult-like control of their party.

"History will tell lies, sir, as usual." So says British General "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne in George Bernard Shaw's "The Devil's Disciple" as he rides off to what he knows will be an ignominious defeat in Saratoga at the hands of American patriots. But what we're observing now goes beyond prevarication or the boastful exaggerations of victors and lamentations of the losers; this is a twisting of facts and the concocting of false narratives that in other times would have been derided and dismissed as the cheap fakery it is.

Republicans have slid so far down the memory hole of Orwell's 1984 they have to reach up to touch bottom. They throw authenticity down into the hole's incinerator flames and create a new reality that's fictitious but which serves the needs of those who lust for power and control over all else. "The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake," Winston, the protagonist of 1984, is told. "We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing."

And so you have House minority leader Kevin McCarthy accepting QAnon fanatic, now-Representative Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia and denouncing her exclusion from committee assignments, despite her theories of Jewish space lasers, political assassination, 9/11 truthers and mass shootings as false flag operations. Nutty as those beliefs are (and on Thursday, she disingenuously tried to back away from them a bit), they confer influence because Trump likes her, she raises a ton of campaign cash and her followerspart of Trump's base—are urged by her to think these theories are the only explanation for their difficult lives. That, and the existence of people of color, of course.

Reducio ad absurdum. These days, the GOP even welcomes such facetious and absurd silliness as Eric Trump telling Hannity that there "has never been a more beloved political figure in our country's history" than his dad. Because that works for them, too (By the way, Eric said this during that time Tuesday when Hannity was ignoring the arrival of Officer Sicknick's remains at the Capitol. So much for Blue Lives Matter).

Meanwhile, the rest of us are supposed to buy into the GOP's big con because, you know, unity. Every time truths are spoken that Republicans don't like, they claim that it's for sure dividing the country further.

So brazen are the attempts at manipulation of truth whether present or past, that in the last months of his term, President Trump and his sycophantic crew appointed a Presidential Advisory 1776 Committee, charged with creating "a definitive chronicle of the American founding." The report partly was a response to The New York Times' award-winning 1619 Project, charting the history of slavery in the United States and our continuing record of racial discrimination.

With little regard for the facts and not a single professional historian on the panel (but with plenty of conservative activists and educators), and with time quickly running out for the Trump White House, it was decided to release their findings on the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday, months before the report was supposed to be completed and just two days before the Biden inauguration—timing that was either a stroke of haste, pure ignorance or malign spite—you make the call.

In any case, much of what the commission had to say was lost in the shuffle of last-minute Trump pardons and inauguration news but as per Sarah Ruiz-Grossman at The Huffington Post:

The 45-page report reads in places like a right-wing manifesto: It makes excuses for slavery and the Three-fifths Compromise that declared slaves counted as less than full humans. It decries socialism and "identity politics," celebrates the right to bear arms and calls the anti-abortion movement one of the nation's "great reforms…"
"The Trump commission's report also rails against socialism as leading people down a "dangerous path" of wealth redistribution and cites '"anti-Communism" and "the Pro-Life Movement"— or anti-abortion movement — as some of the "great reforms" of the country's history."

The report compares progressivism to fascism, seeking to "centralize power under the management of so-called experts." There are twice as many references to Christianity as of racism, no footnotes or citations, and not a single mention of Indigenous people, especially not the notion that upon our arrival, ninety percent of them quickly were wiped out by disease, murder, forced relocation, and other assorted territorial encroachments.

Many wondered what President Biden would do with the report. It didn't take long to find out. Within minutes of his swearing-in, an executive order wiped out the 1776 Committee. And shortly after, all evidence of its existence, including the panel's preposterous report, was removed from the White House website.

Via his Department of Education, the new president should lead an effort figuring out how to restore civics classes and revive the history curriculum that once taught young Americans how to be thoughtful, participating citizens by learning their past. This also should help them develop the kind of critical thinking that, when presented with the facts, responds with skepticism and debate but not in the belief of every crackpot version of reality that beckons to them from their televisions, radios and laptops. As we've seen, such an alternative truth—the real fake news as it were—can only lead to the violent end of American democracy.

For a party that used to preach responsibility and reason, the Republicans have devolved into an asylum for the proponents and hangers on of screwball revisionism fraudulent theories and the vicious overthrow of government. Don't know much about history but I do know that if the GOP have their way there will be little room for rational solutions that can help us. The angry braying mob has little use for those answers, but an embrace of practicality at every level of legislative action that leads to tangible progress could peel some of them away. Otherwise, we may be heading into more dark days echoing the fearsome years when our Capitol stood so close to enemy forces just across the river.

Michael Winship

Trump's downfall marks an end to a global shame

A few weeks ago, I was contemplating writing a piece for right about now suggesting that as a symbolic gesture and public service, one of Joe Biden's first orders should be to tear down much of that ugly hurricane fencing around the White House and the surrounding neighborhood. After four years of corruption and skullduggery, as an emblem of a renewed openness and transparency, let the public see their new elected leader's home and office without all the barriers.

So much for that plan.

Now Washington is an armed fortress, still reeling from the January 6 fatal assault on the Capital by thousands of Trump supporters, an armed gang of white supremacists and other assorted, extremist tools and cranks determined to use force to stop Congress from officially certifying the votes of the Electoral College in favor of Biden and the new Vice President Kamala Harris, a woman of Black and South Asian heritage.

Since this attempted coup, seven-to-twelve-foot-high walls of security fencing have locked up the city in anticipation of Wednesday's swearing-in. Up to 25,000 National Guard are patrolling the District of Columbia, hoping to prevent another domestic terror attack. The bridges from Virginia are being shut down and law enforcement officials and citizens have been told to keep an eye out for IED's and other explosive devices.

Additional fences first were put up around the White House last spring, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice. Remember the images of peaceful crowds being cleared with gas, rubber bullets and batons so Trump could have a photo op? He stood outside St. John's Church at Lafayette Square clutching a Bible, which for some reason didn't burst into flames at his touch or turn into a swarming ball of vipers.

Then in the fall, the fences were reinforced and expanded yet again in anticipation of post-election trouble. But who knew the real danger would come not from Donald Trump's perceived enemies but from his friends, deceived and deluded white men and women who have bought into every lie and dark conspiracy? Irrationally, they ignore their own self-interest, instead stoking hate and elevating Trump into a smarmy god, behaving like the victims of Jonestown or those cargo cult worshippers in the South Pacific convinced that the next celestial delivery of toasters and mobile phones will drop from the sky any minute now.

Now, in the wake of the January 6 attack, and in anticipation of this week's inauguration, we see even more protective walls with razor wire at the White House and Capitol. The National Mall is closed and city streets barricaded. And all of this against the backdrop of a pandemic that will soon have taken more than 400,000 American lives, thousands every day, many of whom could have been saved but for the malfeasance and indifference of Trump and Republican governors and members of Congress –those who have turned the virus into a political football (much as they have with the election results they knew were accurate but denied to make their president and his devoted base happy). They eschew the most basic safety measures and misrepresent or hide scientific data to score points and make hollow arguments about freedom of expression and cancel cultures (when what's really meant is their taking responsibility for their actions).

In the last couple of days we've learned, according to The Washington Post, "When Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced this week that the federal government would begin releasing coronavirus vaccine doses that had been held in reserve for second shots, no such reserve existed, according to state and federal officials briefed on distribution plans…

Now, health officials across the country who had anticipated their extremely limited vaccine supply as much as doubling beginning next week are confronting the reality that their allocations will remain largely flat, dashing hopes of dramatically expanding access for millions of elderly people and those with high-risk medical conditions.

It breaks the heart to see such suffering inflicted by lies and idiotic, venal and needless behavior, just as it bruises the soul to see Washington under siege, even as the city tries to celebrate the end of Trump's grift and the beginning days of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris—days in which they will have to fight to pull this pummeled nation off the ropes of disease, unemployment, a shattered economy, conspiratorial delusions and a worldwide environment teetering on the edge of doom.

I lived and worked in DC for several years and often return. During the early months of the Obama administration, I was on the Hill one Friday with other writers for meetings with several members of Congress, including then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. An aide walked us from one of the Senate buildings over to Reid's office in the Capitol. As we saw the sun bouncing off the gleaming white cast iron dome, she said with complete sincerity, very "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"-style, "I've been here three years and still get a thrill every time I look across the street and see it."

Dorky and wonky, yes—so of course, I knew just what she meant. The dome is a bright and shining icon for the principle of American representative democracy. But I also know I cling to that notion as someone who's white and privileged.

I know that both the Capitol and the White House were built with slave labor, that African American men in bondage quarried the marble that clads the bricks and cut the wood and stone, that enslaved women and men served in the households of the early presidents, senators and representatives.

And I know that as our country's original sin, slavery and the brutal way we have treated human beings who are Black, indigenous and other people of color are at the root of our entire history from 1619 onward. To that long record of intolerance, add what has happened over the Trump years, plus the ridiculous GOP challenges to votes cast in states with majority-Black cities, and now, the January 6 riots at the Capital. Can you imagine the police response, the bloodshed and arrests if the protesters trying to break through had been people of color? You know the answer.

The core of the hatred, the madness, the resentment from the throngs that invaded Washington this month and various state capitals across America over the last year is not, as some would have you believe, simply about economic misery, misinformation and community dysfunction. It's not just about supporting Trump or even refusing to wear a mask against COVID. Much of it's the fear of the inevitable majority minority, about a quarter of a century away from now, when white Americans no longer dominate, when their sense of superiority by pigmentation is challenged perhaps as never before. Without skin color to tell them who's on top and in charge, there's little left but grievance, intolerance and a senseless lashing out. Unless, of course, this new world is understood and embraced.

There's a certain fearful symmetry to the fact that a racist president who fancies himself a mob boss should find his administration ending with an actual mob, a lawless gang violating the halls of Congress screaming they were "instructed" or "invited here" by the president. "I answered the call of my president," insisted one. "Fight for Trump!" others screamed as they vandalized the Capitol, shattered windows, battered down doors, stole documents, murdered one policeman and injured more than sixty others.

For this, Trump has been impeached a second time, charged with inciting insurrection against his own government. The Senate trial should proceed and President Biden will quickly have to decide if a further reckoning is necessary, not only when it comes to Trump but also the members of his cabinet and Congress who continued to pursue and endorse blatant falsehoods about the election – even after their chambers had been violated by those who would have executed them in a frenzy fomented by their wingnut commander-in-chief. To make this happen at the same time as Biden and Vice President Harris pursue an agenda vital to the nation's survival will require an adept and perhaps impossible threading of the needle.

But enough of this trauma. The end of Trump's time at the top, an end to this national nightmare and global shame, cannot come soon enough. Let us hope that "the better angels of our nature" that Lincoln tried to summon in his 1861 inaugural address on the eve of the Civil War can this time make a miracle. Clean up the stinking mess left behind, stanch the bleeding and then let the healing begin, but not without justice and not without an end to the self-serving lies.

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship

From profiles in courage to profiles in sore losing: The GOP's open sedition and clumsy coup is a crime

Ever since it first was published in 1956, there has been a joke about John F. Kennedy's book Profiles in Courage (largely ghosted by speechwriter and advisor Ted Sorensen), historical portraits of eight US senators who demonstrated bravery in the face of enormous political opposition.

Kennedy himself and others kidded that the volume would have been longer but there just wasn't that much valor in the Senate for a writer to celebrate.

Tragically, that rings even truer today. The quality of leadership, particularly among the GOP Senate majority, has dipped to a level not witnessed since the first Gilded Age, when 19th century members of the Senate still were appointed by state legislatures and cuddled snugly in the deep pockets of the oil, coal, lumber and railroad barons who passed out bribes like cigars, buying loyalty with piles of cash to keep members at their beck and call.

Remember the immortal words attributed to the thoroughly corrupt US senator from Pennsylvania (and briefly, Lincoln's first secretary of war) Simon Cameron: "An honest politician is one who when he's bought stays bought."

So while the current temporary occupant of the Oval Office rightfully has been excoriated by my colleagues and me over and again, perhaps we haven't paid sufficient attention to the enablers who served in the mercifully ended 116th Congress.

Unfortunately, most of them are popping right back up in the new 117th, men and women devoid of scruples and eager only for the power to hold the country back from healthy reform—and all of this in the name of greed, self-aggrandizement, political domination and slavish devotion to a childish, petulant demagogue—a soon-to-be-ex-president whose malicious bungling of a crisis has helped lead to the death of more than 350,000 Americans. Donald John Trump has thwarted every effort to save lives but one, the successful hunt for a vaccine, and yet, it now seems that the distribution of that lifesaver has been mishandled, too.

First, just take a moment to consider Republican members of the House of Representatives. In large part, for the past two years they've been held at bay by the Democratic majority there, now narrowed by the 2020 election results. (Remember, too, that those Democrats managed to pass an agenda of legislative progress only to find it stymied at every turn by Mitch McConnell and the GOP majority Senate.) Nonetheless, the GOP House members' closed minds, refusal to recognize the effectiveness of good government and urge to wreak havoc have had an indelible effect on American democracy, one that will take years to fully assess and repair.

Particular disgust should be directed toward those 126 GOP House members who recently signed an amicus brief in support of that now rejected, dizzy attempt by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to overturn election results in four other states.

(The satirical news site The Onion deftly handled this, calling out each of the 126 with an individualized message. To Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Florida, "You have been absolutely fearless when stopping the American people from participating in elections;" to Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, "Never again will we allow U.S. citizens to recklessly turn in their ballots;" to Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, "Thank you for bravely standing up to the American voters;" and so on. Each was accompanied by an especially beguiling photo of a maggot.)

Many of those same members and more—some 140—are now lending their names to the smoke-and-mirrors effort in Congress to challenge the votes of the Electoral College, which already has given the election to Joe Biden. The votes of the electors officially are to be announced on Wednesday by Vice President Mike Pence in his capacity as President of the Senate.

In normal times, this would be a mere formality, but Trump and Republicans have decided to turn it into a clumsy attempt at a coup d'etat, ignoring the rule of law and numerous court rulings. They're putting on an act, trying to overturn the results of a free and fair election as a dumbshow of power, all out of fear of Tin Hat Trump's "base" of voters and to preserve a status quo that ignores the diversity of America, cossets the rich and fosters hate, poverty and inequality.

In the House, the leaders of this effort include the feckless Louie Gohmert of Texas, known as "America's craziest and dumbest congressman." Having just had an election lawsuit thrown out by a Federal appeals court on New Year's Day, he went on Newsmax suggesting that the alternative now is going to the streets and "being as violent as antifa and BLM."

He's joined in this mad pursuit—simultaneously dumbing down and radicalizing a significant portion of the party and American populace—by the usual suspects, led by Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama and including Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, Jody Hice of Georgia and Joe Wilson of South Carolina. New members of the House are piping up, too, including QAnon queen Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

On the Senate side, opposition to finalizing the presidential result is being led by Josh Hawley of Missouri, a man of vaulting ambition who wants to be president so badly he's is willing to violate his sworn oath of office and destroy the Constitution and Bill of Rights to get there, using conspiracy theories and falsehoods to oil his way into the White House as early as 2024.

In a letter published Saturday, eleven other Republican senators and senators-elect demanded an "emergency 10-day audit" of results in "the disputed states,"—in other words, the states Trump is shocked—shocked!—that he lost to Joe Biden, states he assumed would be a cinch for him. They weren't.

Remember their names:

  • Ted Cruz (Texas)
  • Ron Johnson (Wisconsin)
  • James Lankford (Oklahoma)
  • Steve Daines (Montana)
  • John Kennedy (Louisiana)
  • Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee)
  • Mike Braun (Indiana)
  • Cynthia Lummis (Wyoming) (new senator)
  • Roger Marshall (Kansas) (new senator)
  • Bill Hagerty (Tennessee) (new senator)
  • Tommy Tuberville (Alabama) (new senator)

Sadly, this Dirty Dozen (including Hawley), a so-called "Sedition Caucus" in the Senate, probably won't be deterred by news of that phone call Trump made to Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, trying to bully him into finding more votes to change the result in the state from Biden to Trump—a conversation much like the one with Ukraine President Zelensky that a year ago got Donald Trump impeached.

Trump's impeachment didn't lead to conviction by the Senate, thanks to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who would brook no new evidence or witnesses, turning the trial into a sham with a predetermined outcome. But McConnell now is opposed to his colleagues' efforts to subvert the Electoral College. Why? Because McConnell is all about the raw power he alone holds in the Senate. He cares for that and little else except, of course, tax cuts for the superrich, holding rules and regulations at bay and getting as many conservative Federal judges approved by the Senate as quickly as he can.

Look to his refusal in 2016 to allow Obama's Supreme Court pick Merrick Garland to even get a hearing, claiming that it was unfair to voters to decide a court seat in an election year—and then hypocritically turning around and ramming through Trump's choice of Amy Coney Barrett for the court just before the 2020 vote. Then remember all the legislation he has kept from coming to the Senate floor at all. That's all you need to know.

In the midst of all the phony post-election turbulence perpetrated by Trump and company, what matters most to McConnell is hanging onto his throne. He's worried that all of this current craziness will cost Republicans those two seats in Georgia on Tuesday and take away his majority. Right now, nothing else matters. Donald Trump and his coterie of congressional sycophants are standing in the way.

It is quite a crew up there on the Hill these days. You all know some of the other reprobates—Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn, Chuck Grassley, Rick Scott—etcetera and ad nauseum, emphasis on the nauseum. The Senate used to be described as the world's greatest deliberative body. Now the Republicans act as if it's sleepaway camp for wayward boys and girls of the right-wing persuasion. Behind closed doors they may mock and dislike Trump's infantile behavior but they admire his authoritarian style and next time around hope to make it permanent. Not as a bug in the system, as the saying goes, but a feature.

Over these last few Trump years—years that have felt like decades— several have cited Leopold Amery, Conservative member of the British House of Commons who in the opening months of World War II told Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, "You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go!"

What often goes unnoted is that Amery's words were inspired by the speech Oliver Cromwell gave in 1653 dismissing Parliament. His words could apply as appropriately to today's Senate as they do to our vain and irresponsible president and his cronies.

"Ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government," Cromwell declared. "Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money. Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess?"

Apparently not. These senators and their leader McConnell wish to quash our nation's legacy of democracy, albeit imperfect for sure, that until now has saved us from permanent mayhem. If this be treason, make the most of it, they seem to say, grossly twisting the rhetoric of founder Patrick Henry. It is wrong, morally reprehensible and carries the seeds of our destruction.

This one thing we can hope: the excesses of Congress during the Gilded Age and the robber barons who paid for it finally led to some real reform. After these next two weeks, when the fog of nonsense and chicanery has momentarily cleared, the fight must instantly begin to rebuild, renew and reform once again.

The child king spends his final days throwing an extra ton of trauma-inducing tantrums

And it came upon a midnight clear during this holiday season that after weeks and months alternating between negotiation and inertia, Congress finally reached agreement with the White House and passed a new $908 billion relief bill that provided a stimulus payment of $600 to each qualified citizen.

Or so they thought. For lo, there rose a star in the East, albeit something more akin to a black hole sucking all the energy from the universe around it. Ah, good evening, Mr. President. I see you've brought your monkey wrench.

It was last Tuesday night when all of a sudden, Donald Trump declared that he might not sign the bill. This after he was nowhere to be seen during the actual negotiations, leaving them in the hands of his obeisant treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin, while he, Trump, concentrated on his crazed pursuit of election vindication—vainly hoping time and again to overturn the legitimate, certified results.

In a videotaped message, a four-minute rant, Trump announced that he was opposed to the $600 payment and wanted Americans to receive more—$2000. He's right about that, $600 is puny recompense indeed for the tragedy of COVID and the economic devastation it has caused. But of course, he's the one who caused so much of our misery in the first place.

One in every thousand Americans now has succumbed to the virus. In Los Angeles County, the current epicenter of our plague, the disease takes the life of someone every ten minutes. And the Associated Press recently reported that 2020 will go down as the deadliest year in United States history—not only because of the coronavirus but also increased deaths (many COVID-related) from heart and circulatory disease, diabetes, dementia, vehicle accidents and drug overdoses.

Last week, "the CDC reported more than 81,000 drug overdose deaths in the 12 months ending in May, making it the highest number ever recorded in a one-year period.

Experts think the pandemic's disruption to in-person treatment and recovery services may have been a factor. People also are more likely to be taking drugs alone — without the benefit of a friend or family member who can call 911 or administer overdose-reversing medication.
But perhaps a bigger factor are the drugs themselves: COVID-19 caused supply problems for dealers, so they are increasingly mixing cheap and deadly fentanyl into heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, experts said.

We have spent the last ten months dealing with the fatal consequences of this pandemic, both direct and indirect, biological and financial. And while the arrival of at least two effective vaccines is the second best news of this entire year, "that triumph of scientific ingenuity and bureaucratic efficiency does not conceal the difficult truth," a crack team of Washington Post reporters write, "that the virus has caused proportionately more infections and deaths in the United States than in most other developed nations — a result, experts say, of a dysfunctional federal response led by a president perpetually in denial."

In a major investigative report, they note:

The catastrophe began with Trump's initial refusal to take seriously the threat of a once-in-a-century pandemic. But, as officials detailed, it has been compounded over time by a host of damaging presidential traits—his skepticism of science, impatience with health restrictions, prioritization of personal politics over public safety, undisciplined communications, chaotic management style, indulgence of conspiracies, proclivity toward magical thinking, allowance of turf wars and flagrant disregard for the well-being of those around him.

So yes, a $2000 payment to Americans would, at the very least, be a little over three times better than $600. But that isn't why Trump demanded it. He was trying to burnish his populist image and keep the base happy while simultaneously creating some more of the dreadful chaos in which he flourishes. The result of Trump's latest impulse? A delay in a bit of relief for hundreds of millions of Americans, more pain, more sacrifice, more loss. And eventually, he wound up signing the bill anyway. (As I write, the House has voted in a separate resolution to make the increase to $2000, but word is out on whether the GOP Senate will go along -- on Tuesday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked one attempt, there will be others.)

As we've come to learn and loathe this last four years, during any given week, something like Trump's truculence on the stimulus bill sadly seems business as usual. But as his days in office dwindle down to a precious few, he spends even more time off his rocker than on it.

In addition to his endless tweeting and plotting about overthrowing the election, add his veto of the defense authorization bill (which Congress is in the process of overriding), the ongoing pardons of cronies and villains while stepping up executions at Federal prisons, interfering with the presidential transition and his encouragement of right-wing protests in Washington next week (on the day Vice President Pence is to officially announce Biden as the next president)—while so far ignoring the Christmas Day suicide bombing in Nashville that tore apart large portions of a city block.

And all the while, he enjoys the holidays on his Florida golf course as his vice president skis in Colorado and Steve Mnuchin whiles away the hours at his Mexican vacation home. A pretty picture as poverty, sickness and death continue to ravage the nation to which they swore an oath.

Thank heaven, this soon will be at an end. Good riddance to bad rubbish, as my mother used to say. Donald Trump has betrayed the United States and the rule of law. He is a thug, a crumb and a louse, aided and abetted by a party and a significant segment of the populace who for whatever twisted reason find his hate and penchant for mayhem appealing. Pray for peace and reconciliation but do not forget.

At The Irish Times, the great Fintan O'Toole warns, "Stripped of direct power, [Trump] will face enormous legal and financial jeopardy. He will have every reason to keep drawing on his greatest asset: his ability to unleash the demons that have always haunted the American experiment—racism, nativism, fear of 'the government.'

"Trump has unfinished business. A republic he wants to destroy still stands."

Donald John Trump is guilty of what Pennsylvania attorney general Josh Shapiro described a couple of weeks ago as "seditious abuse." Shapiro was talking about that bizarre Texas lawsuit that attempted to overthrow election results in four other states so that Trump could declare victory in the 2020 election, but the charge could be applied to virtually every action on every day he has held office.

What do you call Biden's inauguration? A good start but just a start, the beginning of a long hard road back to restore and make stronger what may be what Abraham Lincoln called "the last best hope" we have. Happy New Year.

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship

Trump's childhood fear of humiliation is inspiring a petty fit of vengeance on the entire country

In Mary L. Trump's book about her family, Too Much and Never Enough, there's a moment referred to in the index as the "mashed potatoes incident."

Apparently, young Donald was a major pill almost from birth, undisciplined, rude and nasty to his siblings and his mother. One night at dinner, he was, as usual, picking on his younger brother Robert. He had the boy in tears. Older brother Fred, Jr., then 14, intervened.

"Robert's crying and Donald's needling became too much," Mary Trump writes, "and in a moment of improvised expedience that would become family legend, Freddy picked up the first thing at hand that wouldn't cause any real damage: the bowl of mashed potatoes.

Everybody laughed and they couldn't stop laughing. And they were laughing at Donald. It was the first time Donald had been humiliated by someone he even then believed to be beneath him… From then on, he would wield the weapon, never be at the sharp end of it.

On November 3, a majority of voters dumped mashed potatoes on Donald Trump's head and he's still screaming from the injustice of it all. Despite overwhelming evidence that he lost the election, he continues to falsely bellow "Fraud!" via his Twitter feed and pursues one frivolous lawsuit after another to challenge the result, all to no avail. So far. (As of this writing, he and the Republican Party were 0-25.)

Meanwhile, he fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, installed Trump loyalists at the Pentagon, and terminated Chris Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), who had the audacity to do an exemplary job keeping this year's voting free and clear of hacking and other interference. "In every case of which we are aware," Krebs had announced, "these claims either have been unsubstantiated or are technically incoherent"— flying in the face of Trump's post-election attempts to flood the zone and work the refs with wild-eyed lies and conspiracy theories.

Judges are viewing his legal team's frantic fantasies with derision and contempt and lawyers have been dropping the Trump campaign like the proverbial hot un-mashed potato it is to the extent that clown prince Rudy Giuliani is now heading up the legal effort.

I'm hard-pressed to immediately come up with someone who needs to be twelve-stepped more than our city's former mayor. Rudy, who has not argued before a federal court in 28 years, appeared in one on Tuesday to argue on behalf of a case claiming voting irregularities in four Pennsylvania counties.

"The Trump campaign came in through Mr. Giuliani asserting a fantasy world," Mark Aronchick, attorney for the counties, told MSNBC's Chris Hayes. "It was a case that somehow involves 11 different states in a gigantic conspiracy with the biggest cities in the United States all joining in to somehow manufacture votes and change mail-in ballots, and somehow throw the election to Joe Biden. And I sat there dumbfounded because the story that was presented by Mr. Giuliani bore no relationship to the actual complaint in the case… Nothing that they said actually makes sense."

To which the perplexed judge replied, "At bottom, you're asking this court to invalidate some 6.8 million votes thereby disenfranchising every single voter in the commonwealth. Can you tell me how this result could possibly be justified?"

None of this has deterred the Trump campaign and the GOP itself from trying to disenfranchise voters and in particular, voters of color. Republican interest in protecting the vote or preserving democracy is virtually non-existent. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham in particular seems to have shown a willingness to subvert the democratic process, allegedly approaching Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to suggest that he "look hard and see how many ballots you could throw out." That much of their focus seems to be on voters in Black communities tells you all you need to know.

As reported in The Washington Post Wednesday night, one of Trump's latest ploys, with the help of Giuliani, is to convince Republican legislators in key states to stall certification of the election and have GOP-chosen electors disrupt the Electoral College come December.

"But that outcome appears impossible," the Post notes. "It is against the law in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin law gives no role to the legislature in choosing presidential electors, and there is little public will in other states to pursue such a path.

Behind the thin legal gambit is what several Trump advisers say is his real goal: sowing doubt in Biden's victory with the president's most ardent supporters and keeping alive his prospects for another presidential run in 2024.

Further, the Associated Press reported Thursday morning, "Getting nowhere in the courts, President Donald Trump's scattershot effort to overturn President-elect Joe Biden's victory is shifting toward obscure election boards that certify the vote as Trump and his allies seek to upend the electoral process, sow chaos and perpetuate unsubstantiated doubts about the count." Hence the craziness among Republican canvassers in Wayne County (Detroit), Michigan and in Arizona and other states.

Ugh on about 16 different levels. It's painfully clear that the next two months before Joe Biden's swearing-in will be all about Trump's petty vengeance and the Republicans building on resentments. Given what Trump's been up to since Election Day (and his sordid history embracing birtherism and other canards), it feels as if these eight weeks will be a concentrated Reader's Digest version of his entire administration, fueled with spittle, bile, ignorance and cupidity.

As insane and silly as it all seems, we cannot drop our guard for an instant. We'll need to remain vigilant; they are doing everything they can, no matter how illegal and repugnant, to stay in power. When they finally are forced to vacate, they'll leave behind a scorched earth the new Biden administration will struggle to coax back to life.

Trump never has been what you'd call a hands-on president—unless it served his self-interest or desire to create havoc. But now, as a result of his monumental, post-election petulance, even less than usual is getting done—except for his election chicanery (and the announcement of major troop withdrawals in Afghanistan and Iraq with more anticipated in Germany and South Korea, a potentially disastrous move).

Congress is hamstrung, unable to pass a new Covid-19 relief bill, and with a fully tested vaccine still weeks away, the deadly virus has exploded across the country more severely and widely than ever before, further proof of just how badly Trump has handled this disaster from the start. Now he peevishly refuses to allow the Biden transition team to work with the White House coronavirus task force—while simultaneously denying the president-elect access to national security briefings. This is graceless and stupid, verging on the traitorous.

So far, most of his colleagues at the White House and on Capitol Hill continue to coddle the infantile behavior of the president, perhaps hopeful that his legal eagles accidentally will stumble into some mass plot that upturns the results. Keep in mind that there are motives behind this effort that go beyond Trump's whining Baby Herman act—he and the party are raising significant amounts of money for his so-called defense fund. And Republicans leaders continue to placate their nutty boss, hoping he'll campaign for the two GOP U.S. Senate candidates in Georgia's January 5 runoff and allow them to hold onto the Senate majority.

As childish as Trumps' tantrums are, as mentioned, he's also hard at work using the attacks to keep his base in line for a 2024 candidacy—all (gulp) 73 million of them. There will be a huge advance for a memoir for sure, and his own TV network, maybe a radio talk show. Perhaps his pal Mark Burnett will come up with a new reality game show, a cross between "The Apprentice" and "Dancing with the Stars." Trump will serve as sole judge, kneecapping with a baseball bat the contestants he just doesn't like.

Also part of his rage, of course, is the knowledge that even if he pardons himself or a freshly sworn-in temporary President Pence does it for him right before Biden's inauguration, state and local lawsuits are out there waiting for Trump, and no presidential pardon can protect him unless, foolishly, prosecutors decide to drop charges in the name of Americans' purported need for harmony, peace and a return to normal. Gerald Ford fell for that trick when he pardoned Nixon in 1974; this is no time for Mister Nice Guy.

In the end, Republicans, all you're doing is delaying the inevitable while grievously damaging the country and its democracy. This isn't governing, it's thuggish stalling, damaging the transition by choosing malignant selfishness over patriotism and truth.

And for what? Face it, you're covering for a psychopath, a petty tyrant with the scruples of a scorpion. You'll look swell in the history books kissing the hem of your two-bit Caligula. Please pass the mashed potatoes, there's a job to be done.

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship

Trump has found his very own Dr. Death

After all this time, most of us realize that Donald Trump is a Russian asset. Not that he's a secret mole necessarily or even The Manchurian Candidate, but Vladimir Putin plays him like a balalaika strumming Song of the Volga Boatmen.

No one but the two of them knows with absolute certainty why this is—whether it's money-related (probably) or something else—but unwittingly or not, the cash-strapped president's certainly playing the "useful idiot" role so beloved in spy fiction and such TV shows as "Homeland." Doubtless to Putin's delight, a second term would see an even more concerted effort on Trump's part to tear apart the NATO alliance and other vital international coalitions, not to mention a further fracturing of these United States.

What's more, the intelligence community has made us aware, in no uncertain terms, that Russian cybermeddling in our election is still hammering away at American social media with trolls, bots and fake websites favoring Trump, and that he has been informed that Rudy Giuliani is a primary conduit for made-in-Russia leaks and misinformation about Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Trump waved the allegations aside.

One of Rudy's main sources is discredited Ukrainian Andriy Derkach, described by the US Treasury department as "an active Russian agent for over a decade, maintaining close connections with the Russian intelligence services." Nonetheless, Rupert Murdoch's New York Post has been publishing this rubbish (to the horror of many in its newsroom) and the primetime marionettes of Fox have pumped and bumped the story like a trumpet, even though the channel's own news department doubted its veracity.

But this week, what strikes me as particularly in the style of the old Soviet Union are the actions of Dr. Scott Atlas, the neuroradiologist with absolutely no experience in virology, immunology or public health who Trump has plucked from the toxic airwaves of Fox to take over the increasingly moribund coronavirus task force.

As per The Washington Post:

Atlas shot down attempts to expand testing. He openly feuded with other doctors on the coronavirus task force and succeeded in largely sidelining them. He advanced fringe theories, such as that social distancing and mask-wearing were meaningless and would not have changed the course of the virus in several hard-hit areas. And he advocated allowing infections to spread naturally among most of the population while protecting the most vulnerable and those in nursing homes until the United States reaches herd immunity, which experts say would cause excess deaths, according to three current and former senior administration officials.
Atlas also cultivated Trump's affection with his public assertions that the pandemic is nearly over, despite death and infection counts showing otherwise, and his willingness to tell the public that a vaccine could be developed before the Nov. 3 election, despite clear indications of a slower timetable.
Atlas's ascendancy was apparent during a recent Oval Office meeting. After Trump left the room, Atlas startled other aides by walking behind the Resolute Desk and occupying the president's personal space to keep the meeting going, according to one senior administration official. Atlas called this account 'false and laughable.'

Colleagues described Atlas as "ill-informed, manipulative and at times dishonest." So as I read and listened to these reports, the someone who Atlas' actions and personality reminded me of the most was a controversial figure from the Soviet Union's Stalinist era: Trofim Lysenko – a man who, as Sam Kean wrote for The Atlantic a few years ago, "probably killed more human beings than any individual scientist in history."

Lysenko, a biologist—sort of—rejected the science of genetics in favor of screwy theories that said the environment in which crops are grown was far more important than a plant species' genetic code. Food could be made to grow in the dead of winter, for example, if you soaked the seeds in cold water.

His nutty ideas were embraced by Soviet officials as properly Marxist. Russia was wracked by famine and death. Collective farms were a failure so Stalin put Lysenko in charge. The pseudoscientist helped make it even worse. Kean notes, "Wheat, rye, potatoes, beets—most everything grown according to Lysenko's methods died or rotted… Stalin still deserves the bulk of the blame for the famines, which killed at least 7 million people, but Lysenko's practices prolonged and exacerbated the food shortages. (Deaths from the famines peaked around 1932 to 1933, but four years later, after a 163-fold increase in farmland cultivated using Lysenko's methods, food production was actually lower than before.)"

Communist China adopted his methods, too—30 million died from starvation.

Russian scientists who dissented from the Lysenko school of humbug wound up denounced and jobless. Many were sent to prison and several were executed. His influence finally waned after the death of Stalin in 1953 although he remained at his job until 1965. Lysenko set back Russian agriculture by at least half a century.

Oddly enough, in Putin's Russia today, there has been a bit of a revival of interest in Lysenko's crackpot theories, in part because of an overall distrust in science and expertise. In other words, if Trump and Dr. Scott Atlas are any indication, Lysenko would fit right in at this White House.

Despite having contracted coronavirus himself, Trump still eschews masks and social distancing, attacks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FDA, then insults Dr. Anthony Fauci, the pandemic's trusted voice of reason, as "an idiot" and "a disaster." He mocks Joe Biden for listening to "the scientists," says he's "tired of covid," of talking about and hearing about the pandemic, poor thing. He'd rather throw mudballs, hurl scurrilous QAnon conspiracy theories, egg on armed extremists and yell at his rallies that he wants to throw Biden in jail on bogus criminal charges – anything to distract and keep from talking about an estimated 225,000 dead Americans by Election Day, 400,000 by year's end. In fact, according to the CDC, if we count undiagnosed cases and COVID-related sickness and death, the terrible human toll already is closer to 300,000.

COVID-19 is on the rise in forty states. On Sunday's Meet the Press, Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, warned Chuck Todd, "The next six-to-12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the entire pandemic. Vaccines will not become available in any meaningful way until early to third quarter of next year. And even then, half of the U.S. population, at this point, is skeptical of even taking the vaccine… [P]eople don't know what to believe. And that's one of our huge challenges going forward, is we've got to get the message to the public that reflects the science and reflects reality."

But the message from Trump and Dr. Atlas remains one of denial. Trump says the disease "is disappearing," that a vaccine is imminent. And just this past weekend, Atlas tried tweeting that masks are useless, only to have his message rejected by Twitter for misinformation. Although Atlas denies he supports the idea of herd immunity – letting the disease rage through the population until it burns out – he recently endorsed the so-called "Great Barrington Declaration," a pro-herd immunity document conjured by researchers affiliated with the libertarian American Institute for Economic Research and, as reported by The New York Times opposed by eighty "alarmed and angry" experts believing that "the declaration's approach would endanger Americans who have underlying conditions that put them at high risk from severe Covid-19—at least one-third of U.S. citizens, by most estimates—and result in perhaps a half-million deaths."

The bottom line is that Trump suffers from a different virulent disease, a callous indolence complicated by indifference and a lack of compassion, not to be unexpected from a lazy and ignorant man who has never worked an honest day in his life. When the nation fell deathly ill, he failed to do what needed to be done and now embraces Atlas as an expert who reverse engineers the president's lassitude and apathy and tries to make it look like smart policy. Marc Lipsitch, director of Harvard's Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics said it well, telling The Washington Post, "If your goal is to do nothing, then you create a situation in which it looks okay to do nothing [and] you find some experts to make it complicated."

If you would seek an elected official who seems to know what he's doing—at least on the pandemic front—look again to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, who, for all his many faults and infuriating anti-reform efforts, has managed to preside over a largely successful statewide campaign against COVID. (Although as The New Yorker's Nick Paumgarten recently pointed out, "Many of the moves Cuomo made in the earliest days of the pandemic were indicative of a governing style often hampered by political calculation and personal pique.")

Watch his media briefing this past Sunday, when he made a thoughtful presentation on vaccines and what needs to be addressed before successful inoculations can be administered to vast numbers of people. Some have suggested that he would make an excellent pandemic czar in a Biden administration; theoretically, a job he could hold while continuing as governor—much as Fiorello LaGuardia ran the nation's civil defense during World War II yet remained mayor of New York City.

In Scott Atlas, Donald Trump has found his Dr. Death, a Lysenko-like sidekick to the Superman that the president fantasizes himself to be. Yet in reality, this horrific pandemic turns out to be the Kryptonite that may take away his real and imagined political powers and send him, weakened and alone, back to the dark Bizarro world from whence he came.

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship

A national meltdown: Why Trump's debate ploy backfired miserably

Years ago, when I was a high school sophomore, at the beginning of the academic year one of our teachers gave us an assignment to come up with ideas to reform the American political system.

Dutiful wonk that I was even then, I came up with my list of serious, thoughtful changes not all that different from a lot of what we're still debating today—abolishing the Electoral College, an end to gerrymandering, making voter registration automatic, etc.

A friend and classmate, more sharp-witted than I, chose the satirical route instead, and to the horror of our teacher came up with a spot-on takedown of modern government, a parody of contemporary politics.

As I recall, her report ended with the presidential election being determined by a mud wrestling match in Madison Square Garden. It made more sense and possessed more dignity and class than the horror show that unfurled before the world Tuesday night in what laughingly was billed as the first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

Just minutes in, Trump turned it into a travesty; bellowing, repeatedly interrupting and talking out of turn, lying, pigheadedly violating the agreements carefully worked out by the official Commission on Presidential Debates and both campaign staffs for a proper discussion of policy. At a time when we're desperate for rational solutions, Trump was the proverbial bull in the china shop of democracy, and when he was done there was barely a piece of porcelain left intact. He acted as if this was one of his rallies, God help us, playing to our lowest animal instincts and insulting our intelligence.

Throughout his life and so-called career, Trump has always insisted that rules are for suckers and don't apply to him—he can shoot a person on Fifth Avenue, grab a woman by her genitals, refuse to pay his millions of debt—and last night was no exception. By all accounts, what happened Tuesday is what he planned all along. Maybe it satisfied his bloodthirsty, delusional base, stewing in a toxic soup of Fox News and QAnon conspiracies, but for most of us it was one more manifestation of the tragedy imposed on the nation—and the world—by a megalomaniac with nary a scruple or a scintilla of human kindness.

Behind in the polls, perhaps it was an act of desperation on his part, as some have suggested, a ploy to make Biden seem weak. If so, it backfired miserably and was just a further demonstration of why he is the worst president in the history of the United States—and we've had some beauts. Unfit for office, corrupt, delusional: a real triple threat. He must not receive a second term.

As many have noted, the lowest moment—the Badwater Basin at the bottom of a Death Valley-like rhetorical debacle—was Trump's refusal to condemn white supremacy and issuing what essentially was a call-to-arms to the Proud Boys, the right-wing racist thugs who are welcomed by many Republicans, and who frequently show up at peaceful protests to taunt, incite and bust some heads. Trump's people deny it's what he meant but the fringe group already has made his "Stand Back and Stand By" a new battle cry.

Further, when moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he would "urge your supporters to stay calm during this extended period [of ballot-counting], not to engage in any civil unrest," Trump refused and said, "I'm urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that's what has to happen. I am urging them to do it." With that kind of encouragement, harassment on Election Day could make the 2000 Brooks Brothers riot look like a tea dance. Advice: Don't watch that movie The Purge or any of its sequels between now and the resolution of this election; it's a little too close to the bone right now.

Washington Post national correspondent Philip Bump writes, "What Trump is obviously encouraging is to poll watching what armed militias are to police: self-appointed experts whose priority is less keeping order than confronting perceived enemies. It wasn't the first time that Trump had similarly called on his supporters to serve in that capacity, but it was probably the call that had the largest audience." Very scary stuff.

In the end, few, if any, minds were changed Tuesday night: as Republican analyst Mike Murphy succinctly said post-debate on MSNBC, "Men are split on Trump and women hate him." Those against him may have been galvanized by the president's rants to work even harder to get out the vote, an excellent thing, but others may have been so turned off by this Hindenburg explosion of an evening that they won't cast a ballot at all. What does this one-man riot tell them about our political system? And as for the next Biden-Trump debates, who's going to want to watch? I live in Manhattan; if I want that kind of twisted human turbulence, I can walk around my block a couple of times and get it out of my system.

For me, perhaps one of the defining moments came when Trump had launched into another incoherent harangue about Biden's son Hunter and then falsely claimed that his own children had "lost a fortune… by coming down and helping us with governance." Biden replied—addressing the camera in the way that was his safe haven several times during this melee—"This is not about my family or his family. It's about your family, the American people… You, the American people, it's about you. That's what we're talking about here."

Would that it was so. Right now at least, our American family is dysfunctional, led by a power mad liar. And almost half our relations have lost their ever-loving collective minds.

Bring on my high school pal's mud wrestling idea; it's nowhere near as filthy or frightening as this national meltdown.

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship

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