Neal Gabler

It's Ayn Rand's America Now, Thanks to the GOP

Sad to say, this will be my last column for billmoyers.com, where I have written for the past two years. In recent months, in the process of trying to understand for myself the cataclysm of Nov. 8, 2016, I have tried to examine a number of forces — demographic, economic, cultural, media — that may help explain it. I am certain that the question of  “what happened” will plague us for decades and that Nov. 8, 2016, will join April 12, 1861; Oct. 28, 1929; Dec. 7, 1941; Nov. 22, 1963 and Sept. 11, 2001 as one of the most calamitous and tragic dates in our history.

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The Real Evil Behind the Republicans' Tax and Budget Plans

It isn’t easy watching the country you love fall down a black hole from which it is not likely to emerge, but that is precisely what happened this past week with the Senate passage of the so-called “tax reform” bill. Bernie Sanders spoke for many when he said it will “go down in history as one of the worst, most unfair pieces of legislation ever passed.”

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One Year Later: The Political Cancer Metastasizes

Exactly one day short of one year after the election of Donald Trump, the fog finally seemed to lift and the skies brightened. On Tuesday, voters rejected Trumpism in New Jersey and in Virginia, where establishment Republican Ed Gillespie embraced Trump’s racism and nativism, indicating how deeply the president’s poison has penetrated even the precincts of the party that should be vigorously in opposition to it.

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The Media Should View Trump as Entertainer-in-Chief

It is becoming increasingly clear that to speak of a “Trump presidency” is a misnomer. There is no presidency, at least not by traditional standards. There is a “Trump show,” and that makes all the difference in the world. I and many others have written about how heavily our president borrows from entertainment: the cooked-up suspense (this week’s “calm before the storm” remark), the high concepts he keeps purveying (“Build a wall!”), the strong-man movie persona attached to the common man appeal, and the psychological underpinnings that tap American’s contrarian anti-elitism, which is a staple of our popular culture. By means of all these things and others, Trump has not only turned the presidency into a B-movie, which would be a remarkable feat unto itself; he has turned it into the very dregs of entertainment: a reality TV show.

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America’s Biggest Divide: Winners and Losers

There are plenty of reasons to bristle at President Trump’s tweets on Puerto Rico, which is suffering horribly from Hurricane Maria, not least of which is the racist suggestion that Hispanics there don’t deserve the same treatment as mainland white Americans. But in all his fuming, Trump did make another point, and it is worth examining: The poor people of Puerto Rico, he said, should stop complaining and begin helping themselves rather than rely on government assistance, intimating that their misery was their own fault. He added for good measure, but with no comprehensible logic, that the island was wallowing in financial disaster, as if Maria were some divine retribution for profligacy. In short, they were losers.

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We Are Being Held Hostage to Unpopular Conservative Thinking: 7 Reasons Our Democracy Fails

Of all the myths the Republicans have perpetrated, and there are a lot of them, perhaps none is more powerful or insidious than the foundational one that this is an overwhelmingly conservative country and that progressives are outliers in it, along with its pernicious corollary that conservatives are “real” Americans while liberals (and the minorities who support liberal policies) are somehow counterfeits.

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The Right's Admiration for Vladimir Putin Tells You Everything You Need to Know About American Conservatives

One of the most astonishing turnabouts in the history of American politics is the big bear hug with which so many conservatives and Republicans are embracing former KGB operative and current Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. This, after 50 years of lacerating the former Soviet Union as what Ronald Reagan called the “evil empire.”

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Your Health May Be in the Hands of This Republican Senator, and That's Terrifying

Susan Collins says she’s disturbed.

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Donald Trump's Presidency Is One Giant Middle Finger to the Rest of the World

Another week, another disaster, which is the way it goes in America nowadays. Just before Memorial Day, it was President Trump’s unwillingness to reaffirm America’s commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which calls for mutual protection among the allies. Last week it was his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, which puts the country in the company of Syria and Nicaragua as the only nonsignatories. The consensus was that the latter decision put ideology above science, and politics above everything. Trump was delivering on a promise he made to his base, and God knows he needs that base because he doesn’t have anyone else. The planet can go to hell.

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Don't Count on the Precedent of Watergate to Help Impeach Trump

“Our Constitution works.” So declared newly installed President Gerald Ford in 1974 after Richard Nixon’s resignation. “Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men.”

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The Sham Presidency: Trump's Obsession With Appearances May Connect Him to a Lot of America

Presidencies are often defined by images: FDR delivering his reassuring fireside chats; Harry Truman speaking from the back of his campaign train, whistle stopping in 1948 and giving ‘em hell; JFK and Jackie, elegant in Paris, defying Henry James’ stereotype of Americans as bumpkins; Reagan at the Berlin Wall; and George W. Bush in his flight suit against the banner reading “Mission Accomplished.”

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The 100 Days That Turned America Upside Down

“Don’t you want God to show up and say He’s kidding?” Louis C.K. asked Stephen Colbert on The Late Show a couple of weeks back.

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‘The New York Times’ Makes Nice With the Right

You have to have a pretty long memory to recall Roman Hruska, a beefy, bespectacled, old-school conservative Republican senator from Nebraska who served from 1954 to 1976 and looked right out of central casting for a Midwestern Rotarian.

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Why Trump Was Able to Sucker the World on Syria

It is pretty amazing how quickly the media and suck-up politicians can transform a mendacious, hypocritical, amateurish, ignorant, incoherent, bigoted buffoon who is way, way out of his depth into a man of courage, which is what they did to President Trump this past weekend. All it takes is some saber rattling and launching a few dozen missiles. Granted, the Trump brand is already so tarnished that he didn’t get the bounce or the adulation that the Bushes, pere and fils, got when they began their wars. According to one poll, only 51 percent of Americans approved of Trump’s action, but given that Trump’s favorability rating has hovered around or even south of 40 percent, this is an improvement.

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America Is Barreling Toward Political Anarchy, Not an Organized Fascist State

So many of us were wrong, myself included, about Donald Trump. We saw in the jut-jawed, brow-furrowed Mussolini-like posturing, in the blatant narcissism, in the reckless disregard for truth, the anger and incitement to hatred, the declamations that he would fix everything single-handedly on Day One of his presidency, his disdain for democracy and hints that he would lock up his opponents — we saw in all of these things incipient fascism.

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How Our Political System Has Cracked - and Why It Probably Can't Be Fixed

The system wasn’t supposed to work this way. The Founding Fathers deliberately devised a structure in which someone like Donald Trump — a vain, self-centered, mendacious demagogue — could never become chief executive, and in which the legislature could never be captured by a reckless, ideologically obsessed minority bent on overriding the majority interests of Americans. Those Founders labored to create an independent judiciary that was not captive to any single ideology or party. They carefully crafted a set of checks and balances in which no single branch of government could overpower another, and in which each held its own prerogatives dearly. In doing so, they thought they had provided posterity with a wise, cautious and magnanimous governmental operation that would serve the larger public weal rather than advantage any particular group or party, and that could withstand the gusts of any given historical moment.

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Donald Trump Simplistically - and Dangerously - Sees the World as One Big Reality Show

Anyone who has ever pitched a movie or television idea in Hollywood knows the tyranny of the “high concept.” It’s a staple of the entertainment world. A high concept is a simple, succinct, immediately comprehensible gimmick: Abraham Lincoln is a vampire hunter; the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and Jack Frost team up to defeat an evil villain; Superman and Batman face off as enemies; Pride and Prejudice is reimagined as a zombie war in 19th-century England; Lucifer comes to earth to consult with the LAPD. (By the way, these are all real movies or TV shows.)

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With Trump, We Are in a Fight for Reason Itself

The storm clouds that gathered over the inauguration on Friday seem like a portent. Jan. 20, 2017, a dark day, is likely to live in infamy alongside the attack on Fort Sumter, Black Friday, Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination and 9/11. Historians may see it as the day The Great Collapse began — the day when our political and moral values ruptured with the ascension to the presidency of the most dangerous man in American history. Nothing good can possibly come of this. Nothing good will.

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Grieving Is Over: Time to Fight Trump

To many of us, myself included, the anguish of Nov. 8 has not subsided. We think of the election almost as a kind of death — the death of the America we thought we knew or the death of a democracy we thought impervious — and ever since, we have been cycling through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief.

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It's Ayn Rand's America Now: Republicans Have Stripped the Country of Its Last Shred of Morality

If you have any doubts that the phenomenon of Donald Trump was a long time a’coming, you have only to read a piece that Gore Vidal wrote for Esquire magazine in July 1961, when the conservative movement was just beginning and even Barry Goldwater was hardly a glint in Republicans’ eyes.

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Fake News Is an Assault on the Very Principle of Truth Itself

Consider for a moment the oxymoronic concept of “fake news,” which we have been hearing so much about lately. This isn’t your typical disinformation or misinformation — generated by the government, or foreign adversaries, or corporations — to advance an agenda by confusing the public. It isn’t even the familiar dystopian idea of manipulated fact designed to keep people lobotomized and malleable in some post-human autocracy. Those scenarios assume at least an underlying truth against which nefarious forces can take aim.

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The Corporate Media Is Already Normalizing the Dark Side That Trump Channeled in the Campaign

It didn’t take a clairvoyant to predict that President-elect Donald Trump would be almost instantly normalized by the press since he had already been normalized by them when he was a candidate. After a “60 Minutes” interview, Lesley Stahl declared him “more subdued and serious.” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported approvingly upon the transition as if proposed White House counselor Steve Bannon and proposed attorney general Jeff Sessions, two men with racism in their pasts, were ordinary appointments. Mitchell’s colleague at NBC, Chuck Todd, chastised Senator Harry Reid, after his eloquent and impassioned attack on Trump, for being “too harsh.” And so the media fell into line. To which we can only invoke John Oliver’s emphatic post-election pronouncement: “THIS IS NOT NORMAL.”

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Farewell, America

America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.

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After Playing a Central Role in the Trump Catastrophe, Will the Mainstream Media Learn Its Lesson?

In the approach to Election Day, it becomes increasingly obvious that America has been situated on a fault line for a long, long time. Donald Trump was the earthquake. Whoever wins, the country has been damaged by that earthquake — perhaps irrevocably. We have told ourselves again and again that it can’t happen here; that despite our polarization, our democracy is strong and resilient; that the extremism that has afflicted other countries won’t afflict ours because we are fundamentally decent, and civility will ultimately prevail. Now we know differently. It can happen here. It has happened here. We are not who we thought we were. We have a lot of reckoning to do. I seriously doubt we can do it.

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How the Media Manufactured the Public's Anger at Hillary Clinton

We all know the story. This is the hate election, the lesser-of-two-evils election, the most-unpopular-candidates-in-the-history-of-modern-presidential-politics election. Everybodyhates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. If only we had different candidates from whom to choose, the pundits say, as they roll their eyes and emit heavy sighs! No doubt, you don’t like either one of them very much. You will pull the voting lever with resignation. Or so we are told.

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Trump's Reality Freak Show Rise Is Totally Television Dependent - but TV May Be His Demise as Well

There are all sorts of lessons to be drawn from Donald Trump’s “Access Hollywood” video. This is the one I draw because I think it speaks most forcefully to the Trump media barrage: a candidacy launched by television has now most likely come undone thanks to television, particularly one aspect of television — its macho culture.

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Has the Media Turned the Corner on Trump Coverage?

Just about everyone now concedes that the media have it in for Donald Trump. A survey of eight major news organs during the primaries, conducted by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy — one I cited in a previous post — showed that the press grew increasingly hostile to Trump, peaking at 61 percent negative to 39 percent positive at the end of the primary season. Even the conservative, Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journaleditorialized that he should consider quitting the race, and the normally cautious NBC Nightly News has turned reporter Katy Tur into a one-woman truth squad, correcting Trump whoppers.

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Does the Media Understand? This Campaign Is a Choice Between 'a Normal Political Party and an Abnormal One'

Did the media grasp the importance of the moment last night as the Democratic National Convention concluded? I don’t mean the importance of the first woman major-party candidate being nominated for the presidency. On that score, I think they did pretty well.

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At the GOP Convention, the Media Went AWOL

Having masochistically watched the GOP convention last week, here are just a few media takeaways:

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The Media's Gift to Trump: Low Expectations

I was struck over the past 10 days or so by the way the media covered two episodes. The first was Donald Trump’s retweeting of that now-infamous white supremacist meme showing Hillary Clinton against the backdrop of hundred-dollar bills with a red six-pointed star slapped beside her, suggesting that she was the puppet of Jewish money. The second was Trump’s press release on the killings of two black men by police and the murders of five police officers in Dallas.

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Giving Us Trump, This Is the Year the Media Overthrew the Party System

No matter how this presidential election turns out, it is crystal clear we are in the midst of a political revolution—and the media are a primary reason why. Never before has there been a major-party candidate created almost wholly by the media, full-blown and virtually outside the boundaries of the traditional parties’ apparatuses.

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