Commentary

Donald Trump and the new Lost Cause

Lies are a denomination of power. The bigger the lie, the more power it represents. Right now in this country, we are being treated daily to the Big Lie that Donald Trump was the true winner of the presidential election of 2020, and the only reason he's not in the White House right now is because the election was stolen from him.

You may have noticed that the people pushing the Big Lie today are very good at it. This is because many of them have been pushing an even bigger Big Lie for most of their lives: the lie of the Lost Cause, that the Civil War wasn't really fought over the disgraceful secession of the Southern states and slavery, it was instead a noble cause fought for the "honor" of the South, and that slavery itself wasn't bad or immoral, because enslaved people were happy workers living much better lives than they would have lived where they came from in Africa.

The Lost Cause was — or still is, because it lives today across a broad swath of America — the foundational ethos of racism and was used to perpetuate the racial crimes of the Jim Crow era, when Black Americans in the South were stripped of the right to vote and segregated from whites and subjected to the pernicious political and social discriminatory practices of white supremacy.

The Civil War was, of course, lost by the Confederacy, but you wouldn't know it if you lived in the South through the disgraceful years of Jim Crow or even today in the states which comprised the Confederacy. One of the truths about wars is that they are often won or lost not in the big battles which become famous and end up celebrated — or lamented — in the history books, but in smaller out-of-the-way battles that get largely forgotten.

The battle of Franklin, Tennessee, was one such battle in the Civil War. Little celebrated in the history books or anywhere except Franklin itself, the battle was fought late in the war, on November 30, 1864, and was part of the campaign by the Army of Tennessee following the Confederate defeat by the Union Army of Lt. Gen. William T. Sherman in the battle of Atlanta. Commanded by Confederate General John Bell Hood, the Army of Tennessee, instead of pursuing Sherman after he left Atlanta and began his famous "March to the Sea," turned westward and began a campaign to take Nashville from the Union forces which occupied this important manufacturing center of the South.

The battle of Franklin and the battle of Nashville, which followed quickly on its heels, were a disaster for the Confederacy. The Army of Tennessee began its campaign with 38,000 men in November of 1864. By January of 1865, the Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, who was in overall command of the Confederate armies in the West, would report to Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, that his army was reduced in strength to 15,000, having lost more than 6,000 men on a single day in the battle of Franklin, and 2,500 more in the battle of Nashville. More than 2,000 losses were attributed to desertion in the ranks during both battles.

John Bell Hood was incompetent as a tactician and bloody awful as a combat commander. His campaign after the loss in Atlanta was "unfortunate" in the words of some sympathetic texts about the war. Confederate losses in the battle of Franklin were by some counts the largest in a single day in the war. Fourteen Confederate generals were either killed or wounded, along with 55 regimental commanders, decimating the leadership of the Confederate army in the west.

While living in Franklin a few years back, I visited part of the Franklin battlefield at Carnton Plantation with my son on a Cub Scout troop excursion. The house was transformed into a Confederate hospital during the battle of Franklin, and on the property is a cemetery containing 1,481 Confederate graves. The 48-acre site was the location of a plantation consisting of about 1,000 acres of land owned by Randal McGavock, who had been a state supreme court clerk and mayor of Nashville. The 1850 census showed 28 enslaved people working at the Carnton plantation. The plantation house and all the outbuildings, including a large sawmill, were built with slave labor. Records show that in 1859, McGavock's son John, who had inherited the plantation upon his father's death, "purchased a slave" for $2500 to run his sawmill. Currently owned by the Battle of Franklin Trust, you can visit the "historic" site seven days a week. An adult ticket costs $18, a child's ticket $8. All of the land you walk on was worked by the people enslaved at Carnton plantation. Every structure you walk through on the tour was built by enslaved people. Throughout the time the plantation existed, there were more enslaved people on the property than there were white people who owned them.

During the tour of the house, I was stricken by the way the docent described the battle of Franklin. Facing a group of us from a few steps up on the house's grand staircase, with a lavishly furnished entrance hall behind us, the docent went on at some length about what an "idiot" General Hood was, how he should never have been given command of a Confederate army, how his foolishness had led to so many sad deaths on the day of the battle. All of those now lying in the cemetery less than a hundred yards from the house were killed under Hood's command, due to his malfeasance as a commanding general. The docent's emphasis throughout his talk was on the tragedy of the deaths of so many good Southern boys. He didn't mention once the "cause" they fought for. In fact, the the words "slave" or "slavery" didn't pass his lips. It was as if the fact of slavery and the enslaved people owned by the McGavock family didn't exist.

Outside we had passed reenactors in Confederate army costumes. Inside the house, listening to the docent describe the incompetent General Hood and the incredible losses suffered in the battle, we could hear the reenactors firing blanks, showing the tourists how the Confederate soldiers fired their rifles. Omitted from the reenactor's demonstration was the fact that their rifles were fired in vain in a battle that cost the lives of several thousand Confederate soldiers attired just like them.

It was impossible to miss the implications of the whole scene at the plantation. The life of the distinguished McGavock family within the house was orderly, elegant, refined. The furnishings in the house were beautiful. The battle, as reenacted in a minor way outside and described by the docent inside, was tragic only in that the dastardly Hood had lost it. The Confederate soldiers had fought bravely, nobly for their cause, the Lost Cause that was on display all around us in the structures and land and furnishings. Unstated was the fact that the house itself was built by the enslaved and furnished and cleaned by them, the land was worked by the enslaved, indeed the life of the McGavock family had been made possible by slavery.

Carnton in its day was one of the grandest plantations in the whole Nashville area and had been voted "best farm" at the Williamson County Fair in 1860. For your $18 admission fee, you support the Franklin Battlefield Trust and visit this tribute to the nobility of a time and a way of life that is still celebrated in Tennessee and at similar sites of plantations and other battlefields across the South. Cherished for its "historical" value, the Carnton plantation is all the evidence you need that the Lost Cause was lost in name only.

The Lost Cause of Donald Trump's defeat at the polls is being celebrated in much the same way every day across the land by his supporters who send money to his political action committee, who buy and wear MAGA gear, who wave huge TRUMP flags alongside Confederate flags at MAGA demonstrations, and of course who wore and waved all of their Trump gear when thousands of them assaulted the Capitol on January 6 in his name.

Some of them are even paying for memberships to his personal plantation at Mar-a-Lago, and to his golf clubs in Sterling, Virginia; Bedminster, New Jersey; and Briarcliff Manor, New York. It has recently been reported that Trump himself has been seen wandering through Mar-a-Lago and his golf clubs, stopping to visit gatherings of members at their weddings and birthdays — in effect acting as his own docent, delivering lengthy descriptions of the Battle of the 2020 Election, which while lost, was nonetheless fought valiantly, nobly by his supporters. The battle is still being fought today in places like Arizona by his own army laboring tirelessly in reenactments in their so-called "audit" as they shove ballots beneath black lights looking for shreds of bamboo fibers which would show their origin in China and give evidence of having been "stuffed" into ballot boxes on election day on behalf of the dastardly Joe Biden.

They're going to keep this up. They've kept up the fiction of the Lost Cause of the South's defeat in the Civil War for more than 150 years, so why shouldn't they keep pushing the Lost Cause of Donald Trump's defeat in the election of 2020? The South has been enslaved by the lies they have told about the Civil War. Look at John Bell Hood! They even managed to get a United States Army base named after the man who lost more Confederate soldiers on a single day than anyone during the entire war! Why give up now? Next thing you know, they'll be pushing to erect monuments to General Michael "Let's have a coup!" Flynn! If they can celebrate the criminally incompetent Hood, why not the criminally pardoned Flynn? Why not rename the FBI building after Rudy "Hunter Biden! Burisma!" Giuliani? Or re-name the building housing the Department of Justice after William "What Mueller report?" Barr? Or erect a grand statue of Mitch "I forgot where I was on January 6" McConnell? Or name a federal courthouse after Sidney "I lost every election lawsuit I filed" Powell?

Just watch what they're going to do with the assault on the Capitol, which is perfect for the Lost Cause of Donald Trump. It's like their very own Battle of Franklin. They failed to stop the certification of the Electoral College ballots. Joe Biden was named president. They lost the battle of the Capitol, 400 have been indicted, and they accomplished exactly nothing. All they need now is a new Lost Cause battle flag. Or maybe they'll just adopt the old one, the Confederate battle flag, because that's what the followers of the new Lost Cause have become: Donald Trump's Confederacy of Dunces.

Tough truths are desperately needed about America's lost wars

Americans may already be lying themselves out of what little remains of their democracy.

The big lie uniting and motivating today's Republicans is, of course, that Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, won the 2020 presidential election. Other big lies in our recent past include the notion that climate change is nothing but a Chinese hoax, that Russia was responsible for Hillary Clinton's electoral defeat in 2016, and that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was necessary because that country's leader, Saddam Hussein, had something to do with the 9/11 attacks (he didn't!) and possessed weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the United States, a "slam dunk" truth, according to then-CIA Director George Tenet (it wasn't!).

Those and other lies, large and small, along with systemic corruption in Washington are precisely why so many Americans have been driven to despair. Small wonder that, in 2016, those "deplorables" reached out in desperation to a figure who wasn't a product of Washington's mendacious Beltway culture. Desperate times engender desperate acts, including anointing a failed casino owner and consummate con man as America's MAGA-cap-wearing savior. As the 45th president, Donald Trump set a record for lies that will likely remain unmatchable in its "greatness" — or so we must hope anyway.

Sadly, Americans have become remarkably tolerant of comfortable lies, generally preferring them to uncomfortable truths. Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the military realm that I've inhabited most of my life. The first casualty of war, so it's said, is truth, and since this country has remained perennially at war, we continue to eternally torture the truth as well.

When it comes to war, here are just a few of our all-American falsehoods: that this country is slow to anger because we prefer peace, even if wars are often necessary, which is also why peace-loving America must have the world's "finest" and by far the most expensive military on the planet; that just such a military is also a unique force for freedom on Planet Earth; that it fights selflessly "to liberate the oppressed" (a Special Forces motto) but never to advance imperial or otherwise selfish ambitions.

For a superpower that loves to flex its military muscles, such lies are essentially par for the course. Think of them, in fact, as government-issue (GI) lies. As a historian looking to the future, what worries me more are two truly insidious lies that, in the early 1930s, led to the collapse of a fledgling democracy in Weimar Germany, lies that in their own way helped to facilitate the Holocaust and that, under the right (that is, wrong) circumstances, could become ours as well. What were those two lies?

Germany's Tragic Lies After World War I

During World War I, the German military attempted to defeat the combined forces of Britain, France, Russia, and later the United States, among other powers, while simultaneously being "shackled to a corpse," as one German general described his country's main ally, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By the middle of 1916, the German Second Reich led by Kaiser Wilhelm II had, in essence, become a military dictatorship devoted to total victory at any cost.

Two years later, that same military had been driven to exhaustion by its commanders. When it was on the verge of collapse, its generals washed their hands of responsibility and allowed the politicians to sue for peace. But even before the guns fell silent on November 11, 1918, certain reactionary elements within the country were already rehearsing two big and related lies that would facilitate the rise of a demagogue and the onset of an even more disastrous world war.

The first big lie was that the German military, then considered the world's finest (sound familiar?), emerged from World War I undefeated in the field, its troops a band of heroes covered in glory. That lie was tenable because Germany itself had not been invaded in World War I; the worst fighting took place in France, Belgium, and Russia. It was also tenable because its military leaders had lied to the people about the progress being made toward "victory." (This should again sound familiar to contemporary American ears.) So, when those senior leaders finally threw in the towel in late 1918, it came as a shock to most Germans, who'd been fed a steady diet of "progress," while news of serious setbacks on the Western Front was suppressed.

The second big lie followed from the first. For if one accepted the "undefeated in the field" myth, as so many Germans did, then who was responsible for the defeat of the world's finest military? Not Germany's generals, of course. Indeed, in 1919, led by Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, those same generals would maliciously claim that disloyal elements on the home front — an enemy within — had conspired to betray the country's heroic troops. Thus was born the "stab-in-the-back" myth that placed the blame on traitors from within, while ever so conveniently displacing it from the Kaiser and his generals.

Who, then, were Germany's backstabbers? The usual suspects were rounded up: mainly socialists, Marxists, anti-militarists, pacifists, and war profiteers of a certain sort (but not weapons makers like the Krupp Family). Soon enough, Germany's Jews would be fingered as well by gutter-inhabitants like Adolf Hitler, since they had allegedly shirked their duty to serve in the ranks. This was yet another easy-to-disprove lie, but all too many Germans, desperate for scapegoats and undoubtedly bigoted as well, proved eager to believe such lies.

Those two big and insidious falsehoods led to an almost total lack of accountability in Weimar Germany for militarists like Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff who were significantly responsible for the country's defeat. Such lies fed the anger and fattened the grievances of the German people, creating fertile ground for yet more grievous lies. In a climate of fear driven by the massive economic dislocation brought on by the Great Depression of 1929, a previously fringe figure found his voice and his audience. Those two big lies served to empower Hitler and, not surprisingly, he began promoting both a military revival and calls for revenge against the backstabbing "November criminals" who had allegedly betrayed Germany. Hitler's lies were readily embraced in part because they fell on well-prepared ears.

Of course, a mature democracy like America could never produce a leader remotely like a Hitler or a militaristic empire bent on world domination. Right?

America may indeed never produce its own Hitler, a demagogue who might indeed be described as a very unstable genius, and by "genius" I mean his uncanny ability to tap into and exploit the darker passions of his people and his age. Yet the United States in 2021 certainly does have power-hungry, less-than-stable "geniuses" of its own — as all countries do in all times. Men without principles or limits, willing to repeat big lie after big lie until they gain absolute power. Someone like former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or Senator Tom Cotton perhaps? Or perhaps an updated version of retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's fleeting national security advisor, who only recently expressed support for a military coup to overthrow the government. Or perhaps, in 2024, Trump himself.

America's Own Big Lies

Of course, Germany in the aftermath of World War I is hardly a perfect analog for the United States in the aftermath of two decades of its disastrous but distant war on terror. And history is, at best, suggestive rather than duplicative. Yet we study it in part because the past provides insight into potential futures. Personalities and events change, but human nature remains much the same, which is why military officers still read the work of Athenian general and historian Thucydides with profit, despite the fact that his wars ended more than two millennia ago.

So, let's return to the two big lies that, in retrospect, were fatal to Weimar Germany's democracy. How might they apply to the U.S. today? Since 9/11, our military has prosecuted two big wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as numerous smaller conflicts in places like Libya, Syria, and Somalia. That same military has lost both of those big wars, while creating or exacerbating ongoing humanitarian crises and disasters in the "smaller" ones across the Greater Middle East and Africa.

Yet, in the American "homeland" (as it came to be known after the 9/11 attacks), it's remarkable how seldom anyone notes how badly that same military has bungled all those wars. Indeed, it's generally celebrated in most of the country and certainly in Washington as the finest military force in the world, perhaps even in world history. Its budget continues to rise as if in response to victories everywhere and therefore deserving of the lion's share of taxpayer dollars. Its retired generals and admirals are celebrated and rewarded with healthy pensions and even healthier pay and benefits if they so choose (and many do) to speed through the revolving door that links them to highly profitable war corporations like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon.

In essence, Americans have been sold on the idea that "their" military has been undefeated in the field, or, if "defeated" in the sense of suffering setbacks, not responsible for them. But if America's troops are the best of us and their losing commanders generally good enough to be eternally rewarded, who is to blame for America's loss in Iraq? In Afghanistan? Not them, obviously, not if you believe polling results which show that Americans have more "confidence" in the military than most other U.S. institutions (though those figures, still high, have been dropping recently).

If responsibility for defeat is not to be assigned either to the troops or their military commanders, and if we Americans most certainly can't imagine that an enemy like the Taliban is capable of defeating our mighty forces, who is to blame? An enemy within! Someone in the homeland who's stabbing America's noble heroes in the back. But, if so, who exactly?

Senior leaders in the U.S. military are already complaining that Joe Biden's troop withdrawal from Afghanistan may yet sow the seeds of defeat in that country (as if nearly 20 years of waging a disastrous war there had somehow set the stage for success). Republicans, as is their custom, have their knives out, too. They seem to be preparing to stab Democrats for being weak on defense and appeasers of "dictators" like the leaders of Iran and China.

And if you're thinking about a future "enemy within" narrative, don't forget the recent letter signed by 124 of our retired generals and admirals who seek to blame the decline of democracy in this country not on Trump and his lackeys, but on the spread of progressivism, socialism, even Marxism. That they might bear the slightest responsibility for the situation America finds itself in today would never occur to that company-sized gaggle of losers posing as self-appointed prophets.

But the truth is far harsher than those flag-rank opportunists are prepared to admit. Incessant war, insidious militarism, and our failure to face it all should be considered the real enemies within. And those "enemies" are helping to kill democracy in America, as James Madison, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others, warned us about decades, even centuries, ago.

Here's the simple truth of it: America's wars since 9/11 were never this country's to win. They were pointless conflicts of opportunity, profiting the Pentagon (and its ever-rising budget). They were tainted by a need for vengeance and badly mismanaged by some of the same flag-rank officers who signed that letter. Honest self-reflection would require a serious course correction within that military and most certainly a wholesale rejection of militarism and military adventurism. And this is undoubtedly why so many in the military-industrial-congressional complex prefer the comfort of big lies.

We've seen versions of this before. Ronald Reagan reinterpreted a criminal war in Southeast Asia as "a noble cause." George H.W. Bush referred to a rational and reasoned reluctance to fight needless overseas wars as "the Vietnam syndrome," claiming the U.S. had finally "kicked it" with its ephemeral victory over Saddam Hussein in the Desert Storm campaign of 1991. The Rambo myth in popular culture reinforced the notion that American warriors had won the war in Vietnam, only to be stabbed in the back by duplicitous politicians and antiwar protestors who also spit on the returning troops. (They didn't.) Together such myths worked to shelter the U.S. military from radical reforms, ensuring an ongoing business-as-usual attitude at the Pentagon until, after 9/11, its true "mission (un)accomplished" years arrived.

Tough Truths Are the Antidote to Big Lies

Americans need a day of reckoning that shows no sign of coming. After all, we're talking about a Congress that can't even agree to form a joint commission to investigate the January 6th storming of the Capitol. Still, a guy can dream, can't he? My own dream would involve the formation of a truth commission to hold senior leaders, military and civilian, accountable not only for their lies about America's many wars but for the decisions to launch them and the pathetic performances that followed, as they did their unprincipled best to absolve themselves of responsibility.

Allow me to dream as well about what such an exercise in truth-telling and true accountability would involve:

  1. Bipartisan Congressional investigations into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including sworn testimony by presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump, as well as vice presidents Cheney, Biden, and Pence, and those failed former commanding generals of ours.
  2. Bipartisan Congressional investigations into the military's endless lies about progress in its wars, coupled with war crimes inquiries as needed.
  3. Major reductions in military spending by Congress to curb present and future military adventurism.
  4. An end to military adulation, a rejection of militarism, and a recommitment to democracy and truth-telling.
  5. No future wars overseas without a Congressional declaration of the same, followed by mandatory conscription that would begin with the sons and daughters of members of Congress.

Through big lies and its allegiance to them, the United States today may be following a path already violently trod by Weimar Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s. Celebrating the military despite its defeats is a recipe for perpetual war and perpetual dishonesty. Equating democratic forces within America with divisiveness and sedition is a recipe not only for unrest but for a potentially harsher, far more violent future.

Here history teaches a disturbing lesson. What finally forced most Germans to face harsh truths, to reject militarism and megalomaniacal dreams of world empire, was catastrophic defeat in World War II. What, if anything, will force Americans to face similar harsh truths? Humanity can't afford yet another world war, not one in which a president has the power to unleash a thousand holocausts via an eternally "modernized" nuclear arsenal.

Just remember: Big lies do have consequences.

Welfare for weapons makers doesn't make us safer

These days my conversations with friends about the new administration go something like this:

"Biden's doing better than I thought he would."

"Yeah. Vaccinations, infrastructure, acknowledging racism in policing. A lot of pieces of the Green New Deal, without calling it that. The child subsidies. It's kind of amazing."

"But on the military–"

"Yeah, same old, same old."

As my friends and I have noticed, President Joe Biden remains super-glued to the same old post-World War II agreement between the two major parties: they can differ vastly on domestic policies, but they remain united when it comes to projecting U.S. military power around the world and to the government spending that sustains it. In other words, the U.S. "national security" budget is still the third rail of politics in this country.

Assaulting the Old New Deal

It was Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill who first declared that Social Security is "the third rail" of American politics. In doing so, he metaphorically pointed to the high-voltage rail that runs between the tracks of subways and other light-rail systems. Touch that and you'll electrocute yourself.

O'Neill made that observation back in 1981, early in Ronald Reagan's first presidential term, at a moment when the new guy in Washington was already hell-bent on dismantling Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal legacy.

Reagan would fight his campaign to do so on two key fronts. First, he would attack labor unions, whose power had expanded in the years since the 1935 Wagner Act (officially the National Labor Relations Act) guaranteed workers the right to bargain collectively with their employers over wages and workplace rules. Such organizing rights had been hard-won indeed. Not a few workers died at the hands of the police or domestic mercenaries like Pinkerton agents, especially in the early 1930s. By the mid-1950s, union membership would peak at around 35% of workers, while wages would continue to grow into the late 1970s, when they stagnated and began their long decline.

Reagan's campaign began with an attack on PATCO, a union of well-paid professionals — federally-employed air-traffic controllers — which his National Labor Relations Board eventually decertified. That initial move signaled the Republican Party's willingness, even enthusiasm, for breaking with decades of bipartisan support for organized labor. By the time Donald Trump took office in the next century, it was a given that Republicans would openly support anti-union measures like federal "right-to-work" laws, which, if passed, would make it illegal for employers to agree to a union-only workplace and so effectively destroy the bargaining power of unions. (Fortunately, opponents were able to forestall that move during Trump's presidency, but in February 2021, Republicans reintroduced their National Right To Work Act.)

The Second Front and the Third Rail

There was a second front in Reagan's war on the New Deal. He targeted a group of programs from that era that came to be known collectively as "entitlements." Three of the most important were Aid to Dependent Children, unemployment insurance, and Social Security. In addition, in 1965, a Democratic Congress had added a healthcare entitlement, Medicare, which helps cover medical expenses for those over 65 and younger people with specific chronic conditions, as well as Medicaid, which does the same for poor people who qualify. These, too, would soon be in the Republican gunsights.

The story of Reagan's racially inflected attacks on welfare programs is well-known. His administration's urge to go after unemployment insurance, which provided payments to laid-off workers, was less commonly acknowledged. In language eerily echoed by Republican congressional representatives today, the Reagan administration sought to reduce the length of unemployment benefits, so that workers would be forced to take any job at any wage. A 1981 New York Times report, for instance, quoted Reagan Assistant Secretary of Labor Albert Agrisani as saying:

"'The bottom line… is that we have developed two standards of work, available work and desirable work.' Because of the availability of unemployment insurance and extended benefits, he said, 'there are jobs out there that people don't want to take.'"

Reagan did indeed get his way with unemployment insurance, but when he turned his sights on Social Security, he touched Tip O'Neill's third rail.

Unlike welfare, whose recipients are often framed as lazy moochers, and unemployment benefits, which critics claim keep people from working, Social Security was then and remains today a hugely popular program. Because workers contribute to the fund with every paycheck and usually collect benefits only after retirement, beneficiaries appear deserving in the public eye. Of all the entitlement programs, it's the one most Americans believe that they and their compatriots are genuinely entitled to. They've earned it. They deserve it.

So, when the president moved to reduce Social Security benefits, ostensibly to offset a rising deficit in its fund, he was shocked by the near-unanimous bipartisan resistance he met. His White House put together a plan to cut $80 billion over five years by — among other things — immediately cutting benefits and raising the age at which people could begin fully collecting them. Under that plan, a worker who retired early at 62 and was entitled to $248 a month would suddenly see that payout reduced to $162.

Access to early retirement was, and remains, a justice issue for workers with shorter life expectancies — especially when those lives have been shortened by the hazards of the work they do. As South Carolina Republican Congressman Carroll Campbell complained to the White House at the time: "I've got thousands of sixty-year-old textile workers who think it's the end of the world. What the hell am I supposed to tell them?"

After the Senate voted 96-0 to oppose any plan that would "precipitously and unfairly reduce early retirees' benefits," the Reagan administration regrouped and worked out a compromise with O'Neill and the Democrats. Economist (later Federal Reserve chair) Alan Greenspan would lead a commission that put together a plan, approved in 1983, to gradually raise the full retirement age, increase the premiums paid by self-employed workers, start taxing benefits received by people with high incomes, and delay cost-of-living adjustments. Those changes were rolled out gradually, the country adjusted, and no politicians were electrocuted in the process.

Panic! The System Is Going Broke!

With its monies maintained in a separately sequestered trust fund, Social Security, unlike most government programs, is designed to be self-sustaining. Periodically, as economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman might put it, serious politicians claim to be concerned about that fund running out of money. There's a dirty little secret that those right-wing deficit slayers never tell you, though: when the Social Security trust fund runs a surplus, as it did from 1983 to 2009, it's required to invest it in government bonds, indirectly helping to underwrite the federal government's general fund.

They also aren't going to mention that one group who contributes to that surplus will never see a penny in benefits: undocumented immigrant workers who pay into the system but won't ever collect Social Security. Indeed, in 2016, such workers provided an estimated $13 billion out of about $957 billion in Social Security taxes, or almost 3% of total revenues. That may not sound like much, but over the years it adds up. In that way, undocumented workers help subsidize the trust fund and, in surplus years, the entire government.

How, then, is Social Security funded? Each year, employees contribute 6.2% of their wages (up to a cap amount). Employers match that, for a total of 12.4% of wages paid, and both put out another 1.45% each for Medicare. Self-employed people pay both shares or a total of 15.3% of their income, including Medicare. And those contributions add up to about nine-tenths of the fund's annual income (89% in 2019). The rest comes from interest on government bonds.

So, is the Social Security system finally in trouble? It could be. When the benefits due to a growing number of retirees exceed the fund's income, its administrators will have to dip into its reserves to make up the difference. As people born in the post-World War II baby boom reach retirement, at a moment when the American population is beginning to age rapidly, dire predictions are resounding about the potential bankruptcy of the system. And there is, in fact, a consensus that the fund will begin drawing down its reserves, possibly starting this year, and could exhaust them as soon as 2034. At that point, relying only on the current year's income to pay benefits could reduce Social Security payouts to perhaps 79% of what's promised at present.

You can already hear the cries that the system is going broke!

But it doesn't have to be that way. Employees and employers only pay Social Security tax on income up to a certain cap. This year it's $142,800. In other words, employees who make a million dollars in 2021 will contribute no more to Social Security than those who make $142,800. To rescue Social Security, all it would take is raising that cap — or better yet, removing it altogether.

In fact, the Congressional Budget Office has run the numbers and identified two different methods of raising it to eventually tax all wage income. Either would keep the trust fund solvent.

Naturally, plutocrats and their congressional minions don't want to raise the Social Security cap. They'd rather starve the entitlement beast and blame possible shortfalls on greedy boomers who grew up addicted to government handouts. Under the circumstances, we, and succeeding generations, had better hope that Social Security remains, as it was in 1981, the third rail in American politics.

Welfare for Weapons Makers

Of course, there's a second high-voltage, untouchable rail in American politics and that's funding for the military and weapons manufacturers. It takes a brave politician indeed to suggest even the most minor of reductions in Pentagon spending, which has for years been the single largest item of discretionary spending in the federal budget.

It's notoriously difficult to identify how much money the government actually spends annually on the military. President Trump's last Pentagon budget, for the fiscal year ending on September 30th, offered about $740 billion to the armed services (not including outlays for veteran services and pensions). Or maybe it was only $705.4 billion. Or perhaps, including Department of Energy outlays involving nuclear weapons, $753.5 billion. (And none of those figures even faintly reflected full national-security spending, which is certainly well over a trillion dollars annually.)

Most estimates put President Biden's 2022 military budget at $753 billion — about the same as Trump's for the previous year. As former Senator Everett Dirksen is once supposed to have said, "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money."

Indeed, we're talking real money and real entitlements here that can't be touched in Washington without risking political electrocution. Unlike actual citizens, U.S. arms manufacturers seem entitled to ever-increasing government subsidies — welfare for weapons, if you like. Beyond the billions spent to directly fund the development and purchase of various weapons systems, every time the government permits arms sales to other countries, it's expanding the coffers of companies like Lockheed-Martin, Northrup-Grumman, Boeing, and Raytheon Technologies. The real beneficiaries of Donald Trump's so-called Abraham Accords between Israel and the majority Muslim states of Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan were the U.S. companies that sell the weaponry that sweetened those deals for Israel's new friends.

When Americans talk about undeserved entitlements, they're usually thinking about welfare for families, not welfare for arms manufacturers. But military entitlements make the annual federal appropriation of $16.5 billion for Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) look puny by comparison. In fact, during Republican and Democratic administrations alike, the yearly federal outlay for TANF hasn't changed since it was established through the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, known in the Clinton era as "welfare reform." Inflation has, however, eroded its value by about 40% in the intervening years.

And what do Americans get for those billions no one dares to question? National security, right?

But how is it that the country that spends more on "defense" than the next seven, or possibly 10, countries combined is so insecure that every year's Pentagon budget must exceed the last one? Why is it that, despite those billions for military entitlements, our critical infrastructure, including hospitals, gas pipelines, and subways (not to mention Cape Cod steamships), lies exposed to hackers?

And if, thanks to that "defense" budget, we're so secure, why is it that, in my wealthy home city of San Francisco, residents now stand patiently in lines many blocks long to receive boxes of groceries? Why is "national security" more important than food security, or health security, or housing security? Or, to put it another way, which would you rather be entitled to: food, housing, education, and healthcare, or your personal share of a shiny new hypersonic missile?

But wait! Maybe defense spending contributes to our economic security by creating, as Donald Trump boasted in promoting his arms deals with Saudi Arabia, "jobs, jobs, jobs." It's true that spending on weaponry does, in fact, create jobs, just not nearly as many as investing taxpayer dollars in a variety of far less lethal endeavors would. As Brown University's Costs of War project reports:

"Military spending creates fewer jobs than the same amount of money would have, if invested in other sectors. Clean energy and health care spending create 50% more jobs than the equivalent amount of spending on the military. Education spending creates more than twice as many jobs."

It seems that President Joe Biden is ready to shake things up by attacking child poverty, the coronavirus pandemic, and climate change, even if he has to do it without any Republican support. But he's still hewing to the old Cold War bipartisan alliance when it comes to the real third rail of American politics — military spending. Until the power can be cut to that metaphorical conduit, real national security remains an elusive dream.

The media is being duped by Republicans' 'lab leak' theory

Last month, seemingly spurred on by this column from a controversial former science reporter for The New York Times, it became suddenly fashionable in some journalistic circles to scold the mainstream press for dismissing or ignoring something called the "lab leak theory" regarding the origins of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. To be sure, the possibility that the coronavirus was released in a lab accident in Wuhan, China, has never been fully discounted by the scientific establishment but long treated as less likely than that it emerged from a purely natural origin. Still, led by Matt Yglesias from his (sigh) Substack blog, a narrative started to form in May that the mainstream media was deliberately ignoring a scientifically valid hypothesis because of a, heaven help us, bias against conservatives. Otherwise reputable opinion writers like Jonathan Chait of New York, eager to demonstrate that they are Not Biased© and Care About Hearing All Sides©, took up the mantle, scolding the mainstream press for supposedly dismissing the "lab leak hypothesis" out of hand, simply because Donald Trump and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., were fond of it.

The scolding worked.

As Jon Allsop of Columbia Journalism Review wrote earlier this month, "we've seen a gusher of opinion essays in the same vein, indicting the mainstream press and prominent experts for characterizing a plausible hypothesis as a conspiracy theory for essentially political reasons." This, in turn, resulted in a slew "of news articles asserting that the lab-leak theory has 'gone mainstream,' and is getting a 'second look.'" Here at Salon, we addressed the sudden surge of interest in this theory by highlighting the basic reality: Scientists do not think it's likely, plus there is no new evidence that would suggest that it's become any more likely than it was before the pearl-clutching about "bias" began. Soon, however, President Joe Biden gave in to the pressure and ordered an intelligence investigation into the theory.

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The problem with all this moralizing about "bias," however, is that the original reason that the media wasn't doing more to hype the "lab leak" hypothesis had little to do with politics and everything to do with science. As science educator Rebecca Watson explained in a video responding to the controversy last week, "There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 originated in a lab. None." And, as Justin Ling of Foreign Policy argued Tuesday, "Despite proclamations to the contrary, there has been scant new, hard evidence pointing to the lab leak theory," and, in fact, the hype around the idea is literally "just speculation."

Indeed, the finger-waggers had it backwards. The media isn't biased against the right but biased in favor of the right.

If it weren't for conservative pressure, there would probably be no substantive media interest the "lab leak" hypothesis. Typically, news outlets are loathed to publish speculation that emerges from fringe conspiracy theory boards that have offered little in the way of real evidence for their claims. But when the conspiracy theorists are politically motivated right-wingers, they tend to get more of a media hearing than say, Bigfoot enthusiasts.

Wednesday morning, the "why won't the media do more to indulge this evidence-free right-wing speculation" crowd got egg on their face with a new report from the Washington Post that wreaked havoc on claims that the "lab leak hypothesis" failed to get a fair hearing. On the contrary, there has been "an ongoing, sometimes politicized and so far fruitless effort inside the U.S. government to determine whether the virus, SARS-CoV-2, could be the result of engineering or a lab leak."

The report documents an extensive hunt for evidence of the "lab leak" theory throughout the federal government. Much of it driven by Donald Trump's desire to blame someone else, ideally China, to divert attention from his own failures. But more responsible actors in the federal government, including prominent health officials like Director of the National Institutes of Health Francis Collins and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci also gave the "lab leak" hypothesis a good deal of time and attention. But while the White House was heavily pressuring every bureaucrat in sight to give them something, anything, they could use to push this "lab leak" hypothesis, the evidence simply wasn't there.

The report doesn't completely rule out the possibility of a lab leak, to be clear. But it is a reminder that it was incredibly irresponsible of mainstream media to hype an unevidenced theory simply to prove they aren't "biased" towards Republican actors like Cotton, Trump, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, people who have proven time and again that they will lie through their teeth for political gain.

The people with unsavory political motivations in this situation are not journalists who hesitated to run stories about a theory that has no real evidence to support it. It's Trump and his Republican enablers who, as Lindsay Beyerstein of Alternet explains, feel that if they "can convince his supporters that COVID is China's fault, they'll forget the parts that were his fault."

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Attention journalists: The way to avoid political bias in media is to, well, avoid political bias. Which means avoiding giving life to poorly evidenced ideas, simply because they're being hyped by the right. What happened instead is that the press gave into right-wing bullying. In doing so, the press ignored the usual journalistic standards for weighing facts and evidence. Now it's likely most Americans have heard more about lab leaks than they have about the far more plausible theory that the coronavirus pandemic emerged from nature.

To make it all worse, the hyping of the "lab leak" hypothesis meant politely ignoring the fact that Trump, Cotton, and Pompeo were winking at an even less plausible conspiracy theory that holds that China deliberately manufactured the coronavirus as a bioweapon. People who have heard this bioweapon conspiracy theory and see headlines or cable news chryons touting the "lab leak" theory will assume that's what is being discussed, and assume that it's now been proved. And once that kind of misinformation is out there, it's pretty hard to claw it back.

A lot of critics who accused the media of ignoring the "lab leak" hypothesis claim to be interested in putting facts before political bias. They worry that mainstream journalists are disregarding good information simply because the sources are conservative or even because they have a history of lying. (As if credibility isn't an important consideration in sourcing information!)

But what this debacle shows is that the mainstream media has the opposite problem. They all too often give in to Republican bullying and allow themselves to be used as conduits for right-wing disinformation campaigns. Yes, prioritizing truth over politics often leads to news stories that have a "liberal" feel to them. That's because the American right is wholly committed to lying and disinformation. But journalism should put reality before the tender feelings of lying right-wingers. Especially when it comes to scientific disputes where we all supposedly agree it would be better if politics were kept out of it.

The waters wars are coming to a state near you — in fact, they're already here

When it comes to dams, we're not just talking about hydropower. We're talking about agriculture, water storage and flood control. We're talking about storing hazardous materials. While the first dam Americans think of is usually the Hoover Dam or the Grand Coulee, most in the US are embankment dams (which are made from soil that retains the water). Many in the US were built and owned by the federal government. Today, however, more than half of them are privately owned, operated and maintained.

It may come as a shock, but the average age of the more than 90,000 dams in the US is 56. The number that are hazardous and outdated is growing. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that repairing them would cost nearly $45 billion. That price tag is prohibitive when neither the federal government nor the private owners of these dams is willing to front the money. We are seeing the makings of a 21st-century "water war," in the US and around the globe, but it's a war being waged over more than dams.

Underneath this story of development are the stories of conflict over water rights, the privatization of water resources, and the steady depletion of aquifers and rivers.

Especially in the American West, states are suffering through drought after drought, through problems with groundwater extraction and through conflict over who has the right to which water. In the US, as is the case in most other countries, maintaining the infrastructure for the safe use of water comes with a high financial cost as well as a high political cost. The financial cost is self explanatory, but the political cost comes from the fact that repairing things like dams and other hydrological infrastructure projects is rarely something politicians can point to as "savvy" or "impressive." It's attractive for politicians to claim they're building new and impressive water projects. But repairing infrastructure? Well, that just doesn't sound like a cool campaign ad.

In the 19th century, Americans packed their belongings and made their lives in the western United States in search of gold, coal, oil, or just to build a new life. But in the process of settling, and basically claiming the West as "American," one of the most important resources has become increasingly scarce and expensive: water.

In the West, water issues have been consistently a flashpoint, not just between and among states but also between and among white settlers, Indigenous Americans, federal government officials and the business elite. The West holds the headwaters of the major rivers in the continent, mainly the Columbia, Missouri, Mississippi, Rio Grande and the Colorado. But, importantly, the West also has the driest regions as well: the Mojave, Great Basin, and Chihuahua deserts. Historically, and to this day, the region depends on consistent irrigation to maintain agricultural production, especially because rainfall is totally insufficient. The scale of this irrigation development grew exponentially in the late 19th century as the federal government aimed to make the West attractive to agricultural settlers. The Bureau of Reclamation constructed dams across many western rivers to store water and then make use of it for irrigation. In the early 20th century, the dams the US Army Corps of Engineers constructed began to provide hydroelectric power as well as irrigation, water supply and recreation.

However, this so-called "great" era of federal investment came to a halt in the late 1980s, especially with the Water Resources Development Act in 1986. This legislation led to the general view that private and local interests should shoulder more of the financial burden for these water projects, that the environment is a new consideration that must be factored into planning and maintenance, and that smaller or more marginal projects (especially those on Indigenous American reservations) will most likely not be constructed. So for most of the 20th century, the federal government's massive investment in water projects fulfilled the main objective: attracting settlers to the West. Virtually none of the cities in the west today, nor any of the major industries in the region—such as mining, manufacturing, agriculture, and others—would have survived if not for the federal investment in water projects across the region.

However, underneath this story of development are the stories of conflict over water rights, the privatization of water resources, and the steady depletion of aquifers and rivers. Most of the rivers have been dammed to the limit to capture the runoff and in many western states the groundwater has been tapped beyond the recharging limits of the aquifers. The "water wars" of the 21st century are only going to get more intense.

In the 20th century, most fights took place in courtrooms or in legislatures, but there were also literal conflicts. One of the most famous was the conflict between Los Angeles County and the Owens Valley. In 1904, William Mulholland, the man in charge of the waterworks in Los Angeles, decided to divert the Owens River to Los Angeles County. This would mean enough water for decades. Despite years of pushback from residents in the Owens Valley (as well as some naysayers in the federal government), Mulholland achieved his objective, and his ditch in the San Fernando Valley was hailed as a great achievement that rivaled the Panama Canal itself.

In the 20th century, most fighting took place in courtrooms or in legislatures, but there was also literal shooting over water.

In what seemed like a few hours, Los Angeles transformed from a region plagued by water shortages into a virtual oasis. However, in 1924, citizens of Owens Valley decided to use dynamite to make their point heard and reverse the water diversion. With this, the conflict left the legislature and turned into a shooting contest. After three years of on-again off-again fighting, then some negotiation, the Angelenos coughed up $12 million to "clean up Owens Valley." For the citizens of Owens Valley, however, it was a Pyrrhic victory. Today, they're fighting back. Across the country (between Texas and New Mexico for example), there are other conflicts over water.

One of the most important fights over water comes from Indigenous Americans, who, since a landmark 1908 Supreme Court case (Winters v. United States), have been trying to get their rightful claim over water on reservations. Despite this case "reserving" water for Native Americans in 1908, the federal government as well as white citizens across the West have made it harder for Indigenous Americans to get even their fair share of drinking water, let alone funding for irrigation projects on their lands.

So the "water wars" in the 21st century are already upon us.

They might not be as bloody as the "war" in California in the early 20th century, but the stakes will be higher. Across the country there are failing dams that neither private companies nor the federal government is willing to repair; rivers like the Colorado are virtually dying from overuse, ensuring that eventually citizens, especially those living in arid and drought-prone climates, will be fighting harder for water; and most importantly, some of the most marginalized communities, like Indigenous Americans, continue to fight inside and outside the system for the basic right to water.

America was once hailed for its irrigation and dam development as a beacon of "modernization." As one looks deeper, however, it's clear the conflict over water has not only been drawn out, but it's also a fight that won't be ending anytime soon.

The Biden administration is turning a blind eye to the Trump regime's crimes. There's one big reason why

The constant drip of "revelations" about the Trump regime's crimes are about to become a torrent and a flood. In all, these "revelations" are very much like a firehose tied in a knot that is about to burst.

Over the course of the last few weeks, it has been revealed that the Trump regime spied upon journalists at the Washington Post and CNN who were reporting on Russian influence in the 2016 election.

The American people have also learned that the Trump regime's official policy of cruelty towards nonwhite refugees and migrants was even worse than publicly known: children were stolen from their parents by the United States government even when they could have been deported together as an intact family.

We now know that Donald Trump actually wanted the Army National Guard to be used as a protection force for his followers on January 6 as they gathered together prior to launching their lethal attack on the Capitol.

In keeping with his paranoia and aspirations to be an American Nero, Trump's loyalists at the Department of Commerce spied upon employees and members of the public deemed to be "disloyal" because they opposed changes to the United States Census which were designed to undercount nonwhite people, especially Hispanics and Latinos.

No longer the stuff of speculation, it is now an indisputable fact that Trump's campaign advisor Paul Manafort was sharing internal polling and other information with a known Russian spy during the 2016 presidential campaign.

In addition, audio of a 2019 phone call has been released in which Trump's personal attorney and emissary Rudy Giuliani explicitly attempts to intimidate the leaders of the country of Ukraine into participating in a disinformation campaign against then-candidate Joe Biden, with the goal of influencing the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

Over the last few days, there have been more "revelations" about the Trump regime's apparent high crimes, abuses of power, and other misdeeds.

CNN and the New York Times have reported that following Trump's defeat in the 2020 presidential election, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows pressured the Department of Justice to find ways to overturn the results in order to keep Trump in power.

On Thursday, the New York Times reported that the Trump regime spied upon House Intelligence Committee Democrats (and their family members and staff) who were investigating the Russia collusion scandal.

This surveillance was ostensibly designed to stop "leaks" of "classified" and other "privileged information" to protect "national security." Although I would suggest that the real goal was to gain information about what the House Intelligence Committee knew about Trump's and his inner circle's contacts with Russian and other foreign agents.

On Sunday, the New York Times also reported that in February 2018 the Trump regime ordered the Department of Justice to obtain the phone records and other information of then-White House attorney Donald McGhan and his wife. Such an order appears to be part of a larger pattern, whereby Donald Trump and his agents were obsessed with "leaks" and "traitors" and "disloyalty."

How has the Biden administration responded to these continuous revelations about the Trump regime's obvious high crimes?

Instead of bringing the full force of the law and other punishments down upon the Trump regime (including members of the Republican Party in Congress), the response by the Biden administration — as seen with former Attorney General William Barr's memos on not charging Trump for obstruction of justice, Trump's IRS tax documents and information about his D.C. hotel, the E. Jean Carroll lawsuit and other examples (most notably not creating a truth commission to fully expose and publicly document the horrors of the Age of Trump) — has largely been tepid.

Why is the Biden administration behaving this way?

Put simply, Joe Biden sees himself as a healer, a unifier, a type of secular national priest, and someone committed to consensus and bipartisan politics. This is his core temperament.

He truly (and incorrectly) believes that by "moving forward" from the Trump regime, and implementing public policies which help the majority of Americans, the country's wounds will be healed and neofascism defeated.

Joe Biden and the Democratic Party's leadership have convinced themselves that properly investigating the Trump regime and its Republican allies and enablers will be a distraction from their policy agenda.

Joe Biden and his administration also have an unwavering faith in and commitment to the stability and strength of America's political institutions. For them, the country's core institutions and their legitimacy must be protected at all costs.

But this involves an error in reasoning and assumptions: what if the institutions are already deeply flawed, and Trumpism only accelerated their decline (and perhaps even collapse)?

Moreover, the Biden administration and the Department of Justice are committed to maintaining precedent and protecting the presidency from what they see as undo limitations on the power of the office. Such a standard will only empower future authoritarians and dictators-in-waiting.

The above explanations are largely correct. However, they overlook the unifying and ominous explanation that is hiding in plain sight.

It is more likely than not that the true extent of the Trump regime's crimes are so great and horrible that the Biden administration and senior members of the Democratic Party have either actively decided or come to a tacit understanding that it is in the best interest of the country to somehow conceal them — or at the very least, to let these heinous acts leak out slowly, as to then be lost down the memory well.

In plain English, something about this whole thing stinks.

The image that comes to my mind is that of President Biden walking behind a Trump-Republican elephant with a shovel to pick up its endless waste. No matter how fast and carefully Joe Biden and his helpers scoop up the Trump-Republican elephant's turds, there is always a stink in the air and some residue on the ground.

Democracies fail a bit at a time, and then all at once. The United States is in a crisis moment. To slow the march of neofascism requires a great reckoning. Part of that reckoning demands a full public accounting of the Trump regime and its allies' and enablers' crimes against democracy and the American people.

In a new essay at Common Dreams, Thom Hartmann summarizes this idea of a great reckoning:

Prosecuting Trump, Barr, and the other corrupt members of his administration and people around him is not a matter of political payback. It has very little to do with Donald Trump or the Republican party, in fact: it's about the future of our republic.

They must be held accountable.

President Biden and Congress must appoint an independent, special prosecutor (or equivalent) and set up an office within the Justice Department to look into crimes committed in the White House during the previous four years.

If we fail to do this soon, it will become practically and politically impossible. And if America fails to hold its rich and powerful to account, particularly the man who corrupted the highest office in the land, we will have truly gone down the same path as an increasingly corrupted ancient Rome, leading straight to the death of our republic, too.


Are the American people mature enough to grapple with the true scale of what Donald Trump and his regime afflicted upon them and the country? I do not know. But the American people must learn the whole truth through public hearings and commissions, investigative reporting, from whistle-blowers, and all other available means if the country's democracy is to be saved.

Joe Biden may have convinced himself that it is best to protect the American people from such dangerous truths. And if Biden has indeed come to such a conclusion, it will be a stain on the legacy of his presidency and a note made in large print on the epitaph of American democracy.

COVID-19 is on its way to becoming a predominantly Republican disease

Vying for least surprising news of the day are two extremely unsurprising news stories, both about the pandemic. Try to contain your non-surprise, please, no matter how difficult it may get.

The first story is from The Washington Post, and uses data to again confirm the bloomin' obvious: States with high vaccination rates are now seeing fewer COVID-19 cases, while places with lower vaccinates are seeing pandemic infections "holding steady or increasing."

Yep. The vaccines are working—but only among the people that actually, you know, get them. The Post was able to determine that in counties with at least 40% of residents vaccinated, COVID-19 infection rates that were "low" and "going down." In counties with fewer than 20% of residents vaccinated, "not only are there higher case rates, but the number of cases there also is growing."

In the second story, we see the predictable effects of the first. From NBC we learn that people coming into local hospitals with severe COVID-19 symptoms are almost all Americans who haven't been vaccinated, from unvaccinated adults to children too young to be eligible for any of the current vaccines. So-called "breakthrough" cases of COVID-19 in vaccinated individuals are both rare and seldom require hospital treatment—except among immunosuppressed patients, for whom vaccines not may generate sufficient or long-lasting immune response.

From this, we can deduce several things. If you're vaccinated, you have very low odds of contracting COVID-19 and very low odds of it becoming severe enough to require emergency medical care. If you're not vaccinated, you're either just as likely or more likely to catch COVID-19 right now as you were through much of the rest of the pandemic.

And if you do get it, you're going to be the vector by which other Americans get sick and possibly die. The virus is spreading among children because children can't get the vaccine yet. The virus is killing immunocompromised patients because people who haven't been vaccinated are spreading it to them.

Once again, then, we're seeing the predicted real-world results from a buffoonish and incompetent Dear Leader figure attempting to pretend his way out of a world health crisis while stoking paranoia about actual health professionals and safety measures. We previously learned that masks have indeed been working quite well at stopping pandemic spread, thus turning Donald Trump's anti-mask fetishes into another way for his party to kill off its own voters.

The COVID-19 pandemic is getting closer and closer to becoming a primarily Republican disease in this country. It can never be a fully Republican disease because the virus does not verify voting status, when traveling from one person's cough to the next person's lungs. But in places with high vaccination rates, herd immunity may soon come close to eradicating the virus by giving it few places to viably spread.

In pockets of vaccine resistance, meanwhile, whether it be Q-styled conspiracists, avid Trump supporters who still believe the pandemic is a hoax, or deplorables whose principle objection to getting vaccinated is that it appears to be what the liberals and book-learners want them to do, Americans are going to continue to die.

There's still good news even in those pockets, however. The good news is that every percentage of vaccinated adults translates to fewer hospital services needed in an area, even in deep-red communities, so local hospitals will be far less susceptible to becoming overwhelmed this fall than during the pandemic's first year. There will be plenty of ventilators and oxygen, and if there is not then there will still be more resources to take patients out from Republican-dominated locales and drive them to places that have the pandemic better under control.

That's assuming a lot, though. A complicating factor here may well be the "delta" virus variant, the virus mutation that first took hold in India and is now threatening to become the dominant strain elsewhere. It seems 10% of all U.S. COVID cases are now of the delta variant, and it is expected to become the majority strain "at some point." Delta appears to be both more contagious and more deadly than other strains, making herd immunity a more challenging bar to reach.

It's these mutations that continue to threaten a full unraveling of all pandemic progress made so far. The longer the virus is allowed to stew inside unvaccinated populations, the more genetic variants will be naturally produced; the more produced, the more likely it becomes that any one of them will be able to evade current vaccines and reinfect even the vaccinated. The virus may this summer be reduced to a predominantly Republican illness, but it's not assured to stay that way.

So we know the vaccines work. We know masks work. We know social distancing works. We know even if the vaccines let an infection through, it will almost never require hospital intervention. And we know that it's unvaccinated people who will be letting the virus spread despite all that.

What's next, then? It's unclear. I still say that if we can convince Republican-leaning communities that "antifa" is trying to keep the vaccine from them, flag-waving patriots will be demanding to be needle stuck ten, twenty, or thirty times. You'll have Greg Abbott supporters hoarding spare vaccine in their cheeks like squirrels.

It's either that plan or darting people from helicopters, and ... oof. You may say that's a dumb idea, but it still beats nine tenths of what the Trump team came up with.

The core problem with American democracy has deep historical roots

The covid pandemic has taught us a couple things I want to talk about. One is that public health policies are not important to lots of people that we share democracy with. If the choice is between being wrong about democracy and dying, we have proof that lots of people we share democracy with will choose dying. Two is that politics does not run on a track separate from public health policy. They are the same track.

New research by political scientists Julie VanDusky-Allen and Olga Shvetsova finds that states with GOP governors saw more cases of the covid and more deaths by the covid, whereas states with Democratic governors saw the opposite. You might think GOP governors would change their minds—about mask mandates, for instance—after seeing so much death, but don't bet on it. "Recent history suggests that in the next public health crisis, governments across the US may once again focus more on politics than on policies grounded in the best available science," VanDusky-Allen and Shvetsova wrote. "Experience also suggests that even when this leads to bad health outcomes, Americans aren't likely to rethink the partisan divide over health care."

The conventional wisdom, at least among liberals, is that we should keep politics out of public health policy. The thinking is we should get people to do what's good for them. That can't hurt, I suppose, but it won't solve the problem given that, you know, lots of people would rather die than give bureaucrats the satisfaction of being right. To get people to do what's good for them, you have to do more than say it's good for them. More important than public health policy are political attitudes toward democracy.

We tend to think of the United States as a place where life changes swiftly, and where we're too busy keeping up with the next new thing to bother thinking about what just happened. But political attitudes toward democracy probably have not changed much since the country was fully settled by white people, since state and local governments were first established. According to journalist Colin Woodard, regional attitudes toward democracy are consistent with the settlement patterns of Europeans. The similarities are so striking Woodard wrote a book about them a decade ago called American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.

I use Woodard's book when I teach undergraduates how to understand American politics.1 It's reductive, but it's knowingly reductive. Woodard understands the weakness of boiling down United States geography and history into 11 neatly defined units. Even so, the scheme is useful, because it gives students, and I think normal people, a means of thinking about the country in ways they had not previously. When it comes to a pandemic that will probably kill before it's over more than a million Americans, Woodard helps us understand the question isn't whether politics should be involved in public health policy. It's whether the politics in question is good or bad.

Of the 11 "nations" in America, Woodard identifies two "superpowers." These are what he calls "Yankeedom" and "Deep South." Each has "the identity, mission and numbers to shape continental debate," Woodard wrote. "For more than 200 years, they've fought for control of the federal government and, in a sense, the nation's soul."

Over the decades, Deep South has become strongly allied with Greater Appalachia and Tidewater, and more tenuously with the Far West. Their combined agenda—to slash taxes, regulations, social services and federal powers—is opposed by a Yankee-led bloc that includes New Netherland and the Left Coast.
Other nations, especially the Midlands and El Norte, often hold the swing vote, whether in a presidential election or a congressional battle over health-care reform. Those swing nations stand to play a decisive role on violence-related issues as well.

Don't worry about all those names. They are his inventions. Focus on "Yankeedom" and "Deep South." Here are the former's political qualities. Since the outset, it has "put great emphasis on perfecting earthly civilization through social engineering, denial of self for the common good and assimilation of outsiders. It has prized education, intellectual achievement, communal empowerment and broad citizen participation in politics and government, the latter seen as the public's shield against the machinations of grasping aristocrats and other would-be tyrants. Since the Puritans, it has been more comfortable with government regulation and public-sector social projects than many of the other nations, who regard the Yankee utopian streak with trepidation."2

Here are the latter's political qualities

Established by English slave lords from Barbados, Deep South was meant as a West Indies–style slave society. This nation offered a version of classical Republicanism modeled on the slave states of the ancient world, where democracy was the privilege of the few and enslavement the natural lot of the many. Its caste systems smashed by outside intervention, it continues to fight against expanded federal powers, taxes on capital and the wealthy, and environmental, labor and consumer regulations.3

You'll notice something important by now. The first map showing more cases of the covid and more deaths by the covid in states run by Republican governors overlaps pretty well with the second map, Woodard's, showing where "Deep South" is and where its attitudes toward democracy prevail around the country. The more people think "democracy is the privilege of the few and enslavement the natural lot of the many," the more people have been getting sick and dying. Importantly, they have been insisting on getting sick and dying because they would rather die than be wrong about what they believe. In order to save American democracy, we should de-southernize it.

That probably won't ever happen fully. The best we can hope for is showing just enough people in regions of the country that have been in alignment with white southern politics that maintaining that alignment is the road to suicide. The best we can hope for is showing them public health policy is not just good for them but "a shield against the machinations of grasping aristocrats and other would-be tyrants"—which is to say, a Republican Party bent on denying the will of the people. Public health policy can take us only so far. We have to meet bad politics with good politics.

I'm hopeful the combo of Donald Trump's presidency and the pandemic has rejiggered the national electorate so that El Norte or the Midlands or Tidewater (again Woodard's inventions) stops siding with white southern attitudes toward democracy and starts siding with attitudes privileging the greatest good for the greatest number. Perhaps then democracy will thrive—if and when we get through this damn pandemic.

Jeffrey Toobin is back on CNN in an incredibly awkward segment and I have questions

On Thursday afternoon, were you also surprised to see disgraced legal analyst and Ryan Murphy adaptee Jeffrey Toobin re-emerging from a seven-and-a-half-month shame hiatus to reclaim his seat at CNN, where he had been placed on leave following an incident in which he was observed by New Yorker and WNYC co-workers masturbating on camera during a work Zoom call? In his first few minutes back on the air, Toobin performed a ritual act of penance — which, in a concession to discipline, I will not describe as "self-flagellation" — and after witnessing the good-natured grilling by anchor Alisyn Camerota, I still have questions beyond her opening salvo of "What the hell were you thinking?"

Is the cable news on-air legal analyst hiring landscape so dire that the network had no choice but to hold Toobin's position for him for two-thirds of a year while he worked on becoming, as he told Camerota, "a person people can trust again"? Was his masturbation incident, as Toobin said, a "deeply moronic and indefensible" choice that made performing community service while "trying to be a better person" necessary, or was it "one terrible mistake," as an unnamed CNN executive told The Washington Post, that shouldn't "define a person"? Is the cable news audience this hungry for legal analysis from makers of "deeply moronic" decisions? (And what Olivia Pope knock-off advised Toobin to tell us he has been "working in a food bank" in order to improve himself, like a slacker staring down the end of junior year and desperate to cobble together an adequate college application? Is it possible to cringe so hard at the TV you develop a cramp?)

Does this set a precedent at CNN that the entire staff understands and feels comfortable with? Would the network hire Toobin today if he hadn't already been a contributor before he got fired by the New Yorker as a result of their internal investigation — which Toobin assures us revealed no further incidents than the one caught on camera? If so, is this climate of forgiveness transparent in CNN's job postings? What types of previous workplace misconduct that might come to light during a pre-employment background check would qualify for red-flag status in the network's HR department? If he had gone Inner Toobin (don't look at me, I didn't name his Harvard column!) during a CNN meeting instead, would the network have fired him for it? If the answer is no, how many times can CNN's on-air talent masturbate in front of their colleagues before HR takes action? Is there a different number for workers who don't appear on air? Is this information shared with all new hires in an orientation, or just the men?

Are the four years Kathy Griffin has remained fired from her CNN gig after one terrible mistake, compared to Toobin's seven and a half months of personal leave, an example of a gender grace gap? If one agrees with the network executive that a terrible mistake shouldn't "ruin [a person's] employment opportunities for life," is there not a wide terrain of other opportunities available for someone of Toobin's experience and stature, outside of TV news celebrity, that could keep him from eviction or ruined credit? To paraphrase Ebenezer Scrooge, are there no Substacks, no Netflix option checks, no quiet consulting gigs? Is downgrading a man's celebrity status considered a cruel and unusual punishment in the media industry? On a scale of one to "flashed by a coworker," how degrading should we understand that to feel?

And finally, how should viewers expect CNN to handle legal analysis of stories about workplace sexual misconduct or harassment, especially when covering the industry itself? Level with us: Just how awkward is that going to get?

How I accidentally amassed a trove of horrors

Recently, I wanted to show my wife a picture, so I opened the photos app on my phone and promptly panicked when I saw what was there.

It's not what you think.

A lot of people are worried about what's lurking on their smartphones. Compromising photos. Illicit text messages. Embarrassing contacts. Porn.

What I noticed was a video in the photo stream between a picture of a document I sent to an editor and a shot of my dog — a clip of a man in Burkina Faso having his lower arm chopped off.

The still image of that act is bad enough. The video is far worse. The victim lies on the ground, pleading, screaming as another man, swinging a machete, forces him to place his right arm on a wooden bench. The attacker is trying to make the amputation easier, allowing him to make a cleaner cut. But "easier" is a relative term. The assailant hacks away, again and again and again, taking time to taunt his victim. You watch it happen. Slowly. You see the anguish on the face of the man whose arm is bleeding but mostly intact, then hanging at an odd angle, then barely attached. The video runs one minute and 18 seconds. It seems longer. Far longer. You hear the tortured screams. You watch the final swing, then see the victim kicking his legs back and forth, writhing in agony on the ground.

I shudder to think how many similar videos and images lurk on my phone — saved in the photos, in the files, sitting in text chains from sources, colleagues, fixers, contacts. There's the man lying in a street in the Democratic Republic of Congo as an assailant with a machete attempts to cut off his leg below the knee. I still remember the exact sound of his cries even years after first viewing it. There's the video of the captured Kurdish fighters. I recall how the second woman to be killed — just before she's shot in the head — watches the execution of her comrade. She doesn't plead or cry or even flinch. Not once.

There's the bound man shot at point blank range and kicked, still alive, into a ditch. There are the women and children forced to march to their execution. "You are going to die," says the Cameroonian soldier, who refers to one of the women as "BH," a reference to the terrorist group, Boko Haram. He steers her off the road and a young girl follows. Another soldier does the same to a second woman who has a toddler strapped to her back. The soldiers force the women to kneel. One of those men directs the girl to stand next to her mother. He then pulls the girl's shirt over her head, blindfolding her. Gunshots follow.

Binging on War Porn

My career in journalism tracks the global proliferation of "war porn," a subject that TomDispatch first covered in 2006.

In the twentieth century, this particular genre consisted mostly of still photos that only rarely surfaced. The Japanese "rape" of Nanking. Murders by Nazis. Decapitations during Britain's "Malayan Emergency." Most of those images were trophy photos, taken by or with the consent of the perpetrators and they generally received only modest circulation. In rare cases, as in an execution in South Vietnam, they were documented by the press, made front-page news, and were sometimes even captured on film.

Such photos and footage have become ubiquitous over the last two decades. As mobile phone technology has improved, cell-phone prices have dropped, and social media and messaging platforms have proliferated, people in conflict zones from Syria to Myanmar — often the perpetrators of atrocities, sometimes the victims — have been increasingly able to share video and photographic documentation of human-rights violations. During the 2010s, the Islamic State flooded the online ecosystem with gruesome execution photos and videos. Israel's most recent attacks on civilians in Gaza have also provided a seemingly endless stream of traumatic images and video.

While news consumers may increasingly be subjected to horrific images, exposure to limited amounts is, in most cases, unlikely to cause lasting distress. Binging on such footage is a different story. A 2014 analysis of exposure to media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, found that "repeated bombing-related media exposure was associated with higher acute stress than was direct exposure"; that is, those who consumed six or more hours a day of news coverage experienced greater stress than those who were at or near the actual bombing scene.

It's clear that immersion in atrocity content is bad for your mental health. But what if your job is to binge-watch trauma? The work of certain journalists, social media content moderators, human rights researchers, and other analysts now has them awash in graphic "user-generated content" (UGC) or eyewitness video that can leave a lasting mark on one's mind. The American Psychiatric Association's 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, its official manual, states that post-traumatic stress can be brought about by exposure to the graphic details of another individual's experience, including work-related exposure to disturbing television footage, movies, pictures, or other electronic media.

I've written articles based on video footage of executions and massacres. Sometimes atrocity photos figure in my reporting, so it's not surprising that sources often send me war porn. Still, I'm not immersed in such brutal scenes as regularly as some of my colleagues. In 2015, the Eyewitness Media Hub conducted a survey of people who often work with graphic UGC. Even then, more than half of the 209 respondents reported that they viewed distressing media several times weekly. Twelve percent of the responding journalists and almost a quarter of the human rights and humanitarian workers said they viewed such traumatic content daily.

"You witness it a lot more with UGC," said an anonymous senior editor at a news agency. "You're exposed to more intense visual material than battle-hardened war cameramen sitting in Sarajevo in the middle of the 1990s because it's coming at you from everywhere — even more so than, say, in Jerusalem. I was there at the height of the Intifada and there were body parts flying in and out of the office like nobody's business, but there's now a lot more of it."

Forty percent of Eyewitness Media Hub survey respondents said that viewing such traumatic content had a negative impact on their personal lives, leaving them with feelings of isolation, flashbacks, nightmares, and other stress-related symptoms. One quarter reported high or even very high "professional adverse effects."

In 2018, an anonymous staffer from Videre, an international charity that provides activists around the world with equipment, training, and support to gather video evidence of human-rights violations, offered a candid chronicle of the effects of two days of "cutting and splicing, frame by frame" video footage of a massacre of men, women, and children. "I went into auto-pilot: charred bodies, severed limbs," that staffer wrote.

"They ceased to be human. I needed not to think of their lost hopes and dreams. And for two days I edited. Headphones stuck deep in my ears. The sound of desperate cries crashing around my head… And then, I started sleeping badly — waking in the night, bad dreams. I was distracted at work. It all felt so futile. A couple of weeks later, I was out walking with my partner and I started to cry."

The next year, Casey Newton, writing for The Verge, offered a glimpse into the professional lives of Facebook's 15,000 sub-contractor-employed content moderators. After three and a half weeks of training — immersed in hate speech, violence, and graphic pornography — "Chloe" was asked to "moderate" a post in front of her fellow trainees. It was a video of a murder, a man stabbed again and again as he begged for his life. Chloe, her voice quivering, correctly informed the class that the post needed to be removed since section 13 of Facebook's community standards prohibits videos depicting murder.

As the next potential moderator took her place, Chloe left the room to sob. After that, the panic attacks began. They continued even after Chloe left the job and hers is not an isolated case. Last year, Facebook agreed to pay $52 million to 11,250 current and former moderators to compensate them for mental-health conditions resulting from the job. There is evidence to suggest that the situation may have worsened since then as Facebook has come under increased pressure to take action against online child abuse, forcing moderators to watch greater amounts of disturbing content.

"Even when the events depicted are far away, journalists and forensic analysts, deeply immersed in a flood of explicit, violent, and disturbing photos and video, may feel that it is seeping into their own personal headspace," reads a fact sheet on working with traumatic imagery provided by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma (where I was once a fellow) at Columbia University's Journalism School. "Intrusive recollections — re-seeing traumatic images one has been working with — are not unusual," wrote Gavin Rees, the Dart Center's senior advisor for training and innovation in a 2017 guide for journalists. "Our brains are designed to form vivid pictures of disturbing things, so you may experience images popping back into consciousness at unexpected moments."

A Hammer to the Skull

Days before I saw that traumatic arm-amputation clip on my phone, I was rummaging around for an old file in the digital folders of a cloud-storage service. I noticed a folder of mine labeled "Graphic photos DRC." I had uploaded those images — dozens of people butchered as if they were meat — while I was in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018. Back then, I needed to get the images off my phone but carefully labeled the folder as a warning to my editor back in the U.S., who was monitoring the material, about what lurked in that innocuous-looking digital version of a manila folder.

Not long after finding that cache of Congo carnage, I needed to contact a source via a messaging platform. I didn't realize that it was several years since we had communicated via that app and that our last "conversation," still sitting there, included a photo of the corpse of a colleague who had been shot through the head.

I have many other atrocity photos on thumb drives, portable hard drives, and external hard drives that sit on my desk. I know some of those photos by heart. A few from the research I did for my book Kill Anything That Moves on American war crimes in Vietnam have resided somewhere deep in the recesses of my skull for close to 20 years. Several of them that I found in the U.S. National Archives were glossy photos of the victims of an American ambush. The dead were officially reported as enemy troops, but the investigation and those photos made it clear that they were just average Vietnamese civilians — men, women, and children.

One image burned into my brain is of a young Vietnamese boy lying lifeless on a forest floor. His glassy eyes, still open, evoke an enigmatic sense of serenity. It could be an art photo if you didn't know that parts of his body had been obliterated by bullets and landmine fragments.

Newer photos stick with me, too, like one of a heap of mostly headless bodies that no one could mistake for art, for example. I could go on, but you get the picture — or rather, I got the pictures.

I once interviewed a Vietnam veteran who had kept grisly war trophies — a small collection of atrocity images — corpses of those his unit had killed, some visibly mistreated.

In Vietnam, a surprising number of American troops amassed such photos and made grim scrapbooks out of them. Some also collected actual body parts — scalps, penises, teeth, fingers and, most commonly of all, ears. For others, like this man, the preferred anatomical souvenirs were skulls.

That veteran had held onto those war "trophies" for most of his life but, ever more aware of his advancing age, he confessed to me that one day — soon, but not yet — he needed to burn the photos and take a hammer to the skull. He didn't want his daughter to find them when, after his death, she came to clean out his home.

For years, I wondered what it must have been like for that man to live with the skull of a Vietnamese man or woman, to wake up every morning with that specter of atrocity in his home. Only years later did I begin to grasp that I might have some idea of what that was indeed like.

I've never actively collected war trophies, of course. I've left every skull, every corpse that I've encountered as I found it. But I've nonetheless amassed a horrific collection of war porn, far larger than anything that Vietnam veteran had.

While I don't have a human skull in my closet, my atrocity collection is arguably far more gruesome. That veteran's collection is still and silent, but the screams of the victims, people being butchered alive on video, are part of my collection. His trophy skull sat on a shelf hidden from view, while my compendium of horrors is scattered about my computer, cloud storage, my phone, my message chains — the totality of my digital life.

That man's collection was finite and contained, the product of one war and one year of military service many decades ago. Mine lives with me and grows by the week. While I was writing this article, another video clip arrived. It's horrific. At first, I couldn't tell if the woman was dead or alive. The answer only became clear when… On second thought, you're better off not knowing.

Copyright 2021 Nick Turse

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel, Songlands (the final one in his Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch and a fellow at the Type Media Center. He is the author most recently of Next Time They'll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan and of the bestselling Kill Anything That Moves.

The dangerous American fascist: Why Fox News claims 'they' are destroying 'white culture'

Why Fox News Claims 'They' Are Destroying 'White Culture'

I'm struggling to explain why a Fox News host would say to the American people, "they're trying to take down the white culture!"

But first, let me back up.

Democracies don't turn into fascist oligarchies by being invaded or losing wars. It always happens from within, and is always driven by an alliance between demagogic, populist politicians and some of the very wealthiest people in society.

Step one for these right-wing politicians and the morbidly rich who support them is to pit one group of people within the nation against others: Marginalize and demonize minorities, deny them access to the levers of democratic power while openly attacking them for trying to usurp the privileges and prerequisites of the majority.

It's played out this way in every democratic country that has fallen to tyranny. It's how it happened in the 1930s in Italy, Germany, Japan and Spain, and today in Hungary, Poland, Egypt, Russia, The Philippines, and Turkey, among others.

And now Republicans and the oligarchs aligned with them are trying to pull it off here in the United States.

As German industrialist Fritz Thyssen writes in his apologetic book I Paid Hitler, he pressured German President von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as chancellor, and then lobbied the Association of German Industrialists, that country's and era's version of the US Chamber of Commerce, to donate 3 million Reichsmarks to the Nazi Party for the 1933 election. It brought Hitler to power.

Hitler's sales pitch to the German people was that Jews and socialists had "stabbed Germany in the back" by secretly participating in negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I. The Treaty imposed punitive conditions on the country, producing widespread poverty and an economic crisis.

Hitler blamed that crisis on German minorities and Germany's second-largest political party, and the German people believed him. Once the Nazis took power, they changed election laws in such a way that they would never again lose.

Republicans and right-wing billionaires, of course, are trying to do the same thing right now in America.

Standing against them is the Democratic Party, although the Fritz Thyssens of today's America, billionaire members of the Koch network, are doing everything they can to prevent Democrats from ensuring fair and honest elections in 2022 and 2024 by buying off Joe Manchin and others.

Those Republican voter suppression and voter nullification laws being passed by state after state are essential to their final take-down of the Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, the billionaire Murdoch family's Fox News is working as hard as it can to make Black people and Democrats 2021's version of Hitler's 1933 Jews and Socialists.

Their top-rated morning show, Fox & Friends, wandered into a discussion Wednesday about white people being "marginalized" by the possibility of our public schools teaching the actual racial history of America.

"[T]hey are not only trying to raise up minorities and make sure the playing field is even," Brian Kilmeade said, "they're trying to take down the white culture!"

Kilmeade, in full rant mode, went on, "Why are we being marginalized on a daily basis…? And it's not even subtle! It's actually out there! It is written in black-and-white!"

This is not America's first brush with oligarchic fascism, as I lay out in my newest book, The Hidden History of American Oligarchy. President Franklin Roosevelt and Vice President Henry Wallace struggled with it in the 1940s with Charles Lindberg's America First movement.

In early 1944, the New York Times asked Vice President Henry Wallace to, as Wallace noted, "write a piece answering the following questions: What is a fascist? How many fascists have we? How dangerous are they?"

Vice President Wallace's answer to those questions was published in The New York Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan.

"The really dangerous American fascists," Wallace wrote, "are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those. The dangerous American fascist is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way."

As if he had a time machine and could see the "conservative" media landscape today, Wallace continued, "The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power."

History is screaming warnings at us. Will America listen?

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and the author of The Hidden History of American Oligarchy and more than 30 other books in print. He is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute and his writings are archived at hartmannreport.com.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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