How to Lose the Midterms and Re-elect Trump

by Frank Bruni, Opinion Columnist, New York Times, June 13, 2018

Dear Robert De Niro, Samantha Bee and other Trump haters:

I get that you’re angry. I’m angry, too. But anger isn’t a strategy… You’ve chosen cheap theatrics over the long game, catharsis over cunning….You’re right that Donald Trump is a dangerous and deeply offensive man, and that restraining and containing him are urgent business. You’re wrong about how to go about doing that, or at least you’re letting your emotions get the better of you. It’s about maturity, pragmatism and plain old smarts — and the necessity of all three when the stakes are this high.

Many Democrats get that. Maybe even most do. In the primaries last week and on Tuesday, Democratic voters by and large chose House candidates whose appeals were tempered and whose profiles make them formidable general-election contenders. They’re the best bets for wooing less fiercely partisan voters and snatching seats currently in Republican hands.

The results in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District on Tuesday were a perfect example. State Senator Jennifer Wexton, a former federal prosecutor, won, and will take on the Republican incumbent, Barbara Comstock. That was precisely what Republican strategists didn’t want, and at the beginning of the year, they chattered hopefully about Wexton’s being thwarted by more strident Democratic rivals to her left. But she beat the second-place finisher by almost 20 points.

I’m buoyed by that and by what I’ve witnessed when I’ve met with Democratic candidates in potentially red-to-blue House districts. They’re not getting bogged down in impeachment talk, which can sound to many voters like a promise of ceaseless partisan rancor and never-ending Washington paralysis. They’re not frothing at the mouth about Trump.

They understand that there’s no need for that. …most American voters, who already know how they feel about him…[are] less certain about are their alternatives. If you want to make sure that at least one chamber of Congress is a check on Trump, talk to them about that.



Obama Won, But He Still Has to Contend with Millions of Americans Taught to Hate Their Own Government

By Robert Parry [2, Consortium News [1] November 8, 2012|

As Campaign 2012 ends, it is clear that perhaps the most profound transformation of American politics in recent decades has been the Right’s successful demonization of the federal government and its role in national life. Tens of millions of voters, especially white men, buy into Ronald Reagan’s dictum that “government is the problem.”

This animosity toward the federal government explains not only the Tea Party’s victories in 2010 but the buoyancy of Mitt Romney’s candidacy in 2012 despite his stunningly dishonest campaign and his off-putting political persona.

The hard truth for liberals and progressives is that the Right’s imposing propaganda machinery can make pretty much make anything into anything, whatever serves the Right’s ideological and political needs, while the Left has nothing to compare to this right-wing capability.

For instance, the Right’s propaganda has convinced many Americans of a bogus historical narrative which has the Framers enacting the Constitution as a states’-rights document designed to have a weak central government – when the reality was nearly the opposite.

The key Framers, James Madison and George Washington, organized the Constitutional Convention in 1787 to rid the young country of a governing document, the Articles of Confederation, that declared the states “sovereign” and “independent” and gave the federal government very limited powers. The Constitution stripped out the language about state sovereignty and made federal law supreme.

As Washington had noted earlier in supporting one of Madison’s ideas – to give the federal government authority over interstate commerce – “the proposition in my opinion is so self evident that I confess I am at a loss to discover wherein lies the weight of the objection to the measure.

“We are either a united people, or we are not. If the former, let us, in all matters of a general concern act as a nation, which have national objects to promote, and a national character to support. If we are not, let us no longer act a farce by pretending it to be.”

Washington had personally witnessed the dysfunction of the Articles of Confederation during the Revolutionary War when the “sovereign” states balked at sending promised supplies and money to his Continental Army.

The Commerce Clause

After the war, Washington recognized the need to build a national infrastructure of canals and roads to enable the sprawling young nation to grow and to succeed. That practical interest became a key factor for Madison as he devised the new Constitution with an explicit clause giving the federal government power over national commerce, the so-called Commerce Clause.

In Federalist Paper No. 14, Madison described major construction projects made possible by the powers in the Commerce Clause. “[T]he union will be daily facilitated by new improvements,” Madison wrote. “Roads will everywhere be shortened, and kept in better order; accommodations for travelers will be multiplied and meliorated; an interior navigation on our eastern side will be opened throughout, or nearly throughout the whole extent of the Thirteen States.

“The communication between the western and Atlantic districts, and between different parts of each, will be rendered more and more easy by those numerous canals with which the beneficence of nature has intersected our country, and which art finds it so little difficult to connect and complete.”

The Framers expressed through the Constitution what might be called a Founding Pragmatism. The Articles of Confederation weren’t working because the central government was too weak so the likes of Washington and Madison scrapped the Articles and created a strong central government under the Constitution.

Their interest was more in devising a system that would protect the nation’s hard-won independence and to thwart foreign commercial encroachment than in imposing some rigid ideology of liberty. After all, many Founders viewed freedom in a very restricted sense – at least by modern standards – applying it mostly to white men. In those years, slave-ownership was widespread and married women were legally subordinated to their husbands.

When the Constitution was publicly unveiled in 1787, Madison’s constitutional masterwork drew fierce opposition from defenders of the old order who became known as the Anti-Federalists. They immediately recognized what Madison, Washington and the other Federalists were up to.

Dissidents from Pennsylvania’s delegation to the Constitutional Convention wrote: “We dissent … because the powers vested in Congress by this constitution, must necessarily annihilate and absorb the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of the several states, and produce from their ruins one consolidated government.” [See David Wootton, The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers.]

It’s true that some of the Anti-Federalists were a bit hyperbolic in their concerns. But there can be no doubt that the Constitution consolidated under the new central government the power to act on matters of national interest, including to promote the “general welfare.”

Still, the Founding dispute over the balance between federal and state powers didn’t disappear after the Constitution was narrowly ratified. In particular, Southern states bristled at the imposition of federal authority, leading eventually to the Civil War in 1860. Even after the defeat of the Confederacy in 1865, white Southerners continued to resist federal demands for equal treatment of former black slaves and their descendants.

Economic Necessities

The spirit of Washington’s and Madison’s pragmatism reemerged in the 1930s in the economic sphere. Laissez-faire capitalism had failed, marred by a series of financial panics and recessions through the latter half of the 19th Century and into the 20th Century, finally culminating in Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.

At that point, President Franklin Roosevelt invoked the broad powers of the Constitution to impose regulations on Wall Street, to organize a national effort to put Americans back to work, to legalize labor unions, and to expand the nation’s infrastructure. His New Deal also created a limited safety net for Americans who were unable to work or who lost their jobs due to the vicissitudes of capitalism.

Subsequent presidents built on Roosevelt’s reforms, through such measures as the GI Bill, which helped World War II veterans buy houses and return to school, and the Interstate Highway System, which made transportations faster and cheaper. The federally funded Space Program provided a powerful impetus to technological development, and Medicare addressed the problem of families being impoverished to pay for medical treatment of senior citizens.

Overall, the reforms from the 1930s through the 1960s created the Great American Middle Class, which in turn fueled more economic and productivity growth. As Washington and Madison might have appreciated, the pragmatism of their founding document had helped make the United States the envy of the world.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government also began enforcing the legal framework for equality that had been enacted nearly a century earlier after the Civil War. The South’s walls of segregation were battered down by a combination of brave civil rights activists and a supportive national government.

That federal intervention, however, revived the old conflicts over states’ rights, with many white Southerners furious that they could no longer marginalize, humiliate and terrorize blacks. Under Richard Nixon, the Republicans also spotted an opportunity to peel off Southern states from the Democrats by appealing to these racial antagonisms.

The 1970s marked an important political turning point in the United States with many middle-class Americans having forgetten how they and their parents benefited from the New Deal, with many working-class whites resentful of gains by minorities, and with frustration building over a decline in American dominance in the world. The Vietnam War was lost; oil-producing states were banding together to raise oil prices; inflation soared; foreign competition increased; wages began to stagnate; and the environment became a concern.

The Right – detecting an opening amid these public resentments – began to pour vast sums of money into creating a right-wing propaganda system that combined sophisticated think tanks with extensive media outreach to the American people. The overriding message was that Big Government was the problem, interfering with states’ rights, corporate autonomy and individual liberty.

The Left inadvertently magnified the success of the Right’s new strategy by shutting down many progressive publications, downplaying the importance of information, and refocusing on “local organizing” about local issues. “Think Globally, Act Locally” became the Left’s new slogan, even as the Right began waging a national “war of ideas.”

The Rise of Reaganism

The stage was set for the former actor Ronald Reagan to emerge as a transformational figure in U.S. politics, playing to white racism with comments about “welfare queens” and ridiculing the work of government with the old joke: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

During Reagan’s First Inaugural Address, he declared that “government is the problem” and he soon enacted drastic cuts in the income tax rates for the wealthy. This policy of wealth redistribution to the upper levels was justified by a novel economic theory called “supply-side economics,” which held that the rich would then invest in new factories and other businesses, thus creating new jobs and improving productivity.

However, Reaganomics proved terribly flawed. The rich invested relatively little in U.S. manufacturing which continued to decline, while the well-to-do lavished themselves with luxury goods and showed little patriotism in where they did put their money, favoring fast-growth foreign countries, not the United States.

Yet, the Right’s propaganda system – now fueled by the diversion of money to the upper classes – continued to expand with right-wing media moguls buying up or starting up all sorts of new outlets, from newspapers, magazines and books to radio, TV and eventually the Internet.

The anti-government message became pervasive, sometimes cleverly tailored to specific interest groups, such as young white men who were told that they had become the victims of “political correctness” when they faced punishment for uttering racial or sexist epithets. Even as millions of Americans were pushed down the ladder of personal success, many kept believing that the federal government was somehow at fault.

The Right also devoted some of its vast supply of money to assigning “scholars” the task of reframing the Founding narrative by cherry-picking a few quote out of context to transform Framers like Madison into federal-government-hating, states’-rights-loving ideologues.

Much was made of Madison’s efforts to downplay how radically he had expanded federal power under the Constitution and his agreement to add the Tenth Amendment as a sop to the Anti-Federalists, though it had little real meaning since it only reserved to the states and individuals powers not granted to the federal government under the Constitution, when those grants of power were already quite extensive.

One-Sided Argument

But the Right made its loud propaganda case often unopposed. By the 1990s, the Left’s media had shriveled to irrelevance and the mainstream media was increasingly intimidated by right-wing attack groups that would go after individual journalists who could be labeled “liberal.”

In this hostile climate, many Democrats also scurried to the center and struggled to protect the core programs of the 1930s and 1960s, the likes of Social Security and Medicare. But they made major concessions on issues like Wall Street regulations, enabling freewheeling casino capitalism to return.

The consequences of decades of Reaganomics and hostility to “guv-mint” landed on the American electorate just weeks before Election 2008 when Wall Street experienced its worst financial crash since the Great Depression.

The collapse helped Democrat Barack Obama to become the first African-American U.S. President, but the underlying ideological realities hadn’t changed. The Republicans recognized that fact and immediately went to work seeking to ensure that Obama would be a one-termer, even if that meant worsening the suffering of Americans.

Drawing from the power of the Right’s propaganda machinery, the Tea Party quickly emerged as a potent force in U.S. politics. And, as Obama futilely tried to gain some bipartisanship in Congress, the Republicans worked to make his political life miserable and the country as ungovernable as possible.

Their success can be measured in the Republican congressional victories in 2010 and the closeness of the election in 2012 as Obama sought to refashion the argument for an effective federal government as a fight to protect the embattled middle class.

However, Obama found himself arguing against a powerful and longstanding dynamic: how tens of millions of Americans had been taught to hate their own government.

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How Conservative Radio Creates an Echo Chamber of Hate

Arturo Garcia, AlterNet, August 16, 2012 

By itself, Pamela Geller’s May 2010 appearance on the “Sean Hannity Show” was par for the right-wing talk-radio course. The conservative blogger was brought on to rail against the conservative raison d’outrage of the moment, what she habitually called the “Mega mosque on Ground Zero [3]” (SPOILERS: the whole building really wasn’t a mosque, but that wasn’t going to stop her) that was being planned inNew York City around that time. But a recent study places the Geller-Hannity encounter in a bigger, more dangerous context that observers have noted for years.

The study, released last month by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, used Hannity’s radio show and four programs – the “Rush Limbaugh Show,” the “Glenn Beck Program,” “Savage Nation” and the “John & Ken Show” — as the focus of an investigation of the influence and confluence of specific interests in ultra-conservative radio programming. The results, as you might imagine, were not surprising.

“The findings reveal that the hosts promoted an insular discourse that focused on, for example, anti-immigration, anti-Islam and pro-Tea Party positions,” the study concluded. “This discourse found repetition and amplification through social media.”

Geller’s appearance was part of that amplification. The study notes that her “Mega Mosque” rant became a gravy train for her during 2010, as it garnered her an “exponential” growth in appearances on the talk-radio circuit, thus presenting her as an authoritative source to the conservative audience Hannity and the like cater to. When you add in the fact that four of the five shows featured in the report were syndicated nationally, it became really easy for a microphone in Geller’s hand to become a megaphone – or a pipe bomb.

Using hateful rhetoric, these hosts have cast immigrants as disease-ridden, equated pro-immigrant organizations with neo-Nazis, called Islam an ‘evil religion,’ claimed the Obama administration is promoting ‘race riots’ and made fun of the ethnicity of Asian-American politicians,” Salvatore Colleluori wrote at Media Matters, [4] one of several sites that has been keeping tabs on the homogenous culture and conversations on this section of the dial.

These shows create this kind of social (or anti-social) network, the study says, like any other radio station would: with a tight rotation. In the six weeks measured for the studies, nearly every guest was white (89%) or male (81%). Nearly a quarter of the guests were identified as Fox News talent. And nearly all of the politicians who appeared as guests were either Republicans (93%) or Tea Party members (89%).

Similarly, the topics on the table were usually centered around a few hot-button topics: Undocumented Immigrants Are Bad, Islam Is Evil, etc.

What’s interesting, for a report talking about media influence, is that this study hasn’t gotten much attention in regular media circles. Google “talk radio study UCLA 2012″ and you won’t get any hits on CNN, MSNBC or even Current. The most prominent outlet to offer up a post about it seems to be Fox News Latino, which posted a wire report [5] discussing the anti-immigration rhetoric the study measured.

“It doesn’t surprise me that this type of dialogue is continuing on the radio waves,” Jorge-Mario Cabrera from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles says in the piece from the Spanish news agency EFE. [6] “In theUnited States we tend to greatly protect the right to expression, albeit at the cost of some of the words being said on the air being greatly harmful to certain populations.”

Cabrera can attest to that firsthand. After the “John & Ken Show” released his cellphone number on the air, inviting listeners to complain about a proposed bill that would have offered financial help toCalifornia’s undocumented immigrants, he said he received more than 450 angry calls, including threats against him personally.

The study also mentioned a tragic consequence of Geller’s rhetoric; a New York Times story on Anders Behring Breivik, [7] the man behind last July’s massacre in Norway that left 77 people dead, reported that he “frequently cited” Geller’s own “Atlas Shrugs,” the platform from which she launched onto the airwaves. Naturally, Geller accused the “liberal media” of drumming up hateful sentiments – around her. [8]

And as Crooks & Liars’ David Newert asserts [9], the situation hasn’t been getting better this election season. As Republican rhetoric grows ever bolder in its implications, “what emerges is a discourse that remains insular rather than open and that finds alignment, repetition, and amplification through social media,” the study says.

That might explain why, in the wake of the Oak Park gurdwara shooting, [10] even Republicans have begun calling for people like talk-radio favorite (four appearances during the survey, including three on the Savage show) Michele Bachmann [11] (R-MN) to tone down her efforts to “expose” Muslim influence in Washington.

Yet, the radio element the study examines will not take these kinds of suggestions in stride.

“It is our right and our duty to criticize the people who have put the fate of our country in peril,” Rush Limbaugh told the Times [12] after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting last year. What he fails – or refuses – to consider is whether he needs a mirror to do that.

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Pioneering Hate Radio by Dick Polman, OCTOBER 12, 2009       

Perhaps Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and all their right-wing broadcasting brethren will soon deem it fitting to visit the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, Mich.They could place a wreath at the base of the tall, narrow gravestone that marks the eternal resting place of Father Charles Coughlin, their spiritual godfather, the man who first blazed the trail for hate radio.     

Oct. 27 marks the 30th anniversary of Coughlin’s death, and it’s a testament to our characteristic American amnesia that his name barely resonates today. There was a time, during the Great Depression, when the bespectacled, powerfully built, organ-voiced “Radio Priest” hawked his demagogic wares to a weekly listening audience of 45 million. At the peak of fame he received an average of 80,000 letters a week, a volume that nobody else could match, not even President Roosevelt.     

Fortune magazine called Coughlin “just about the biggest thing that ever happened to radio,” and he pulled more listeners than the hugely popular Amos & Andy. Radio was new, but he figured it out fast. For starters, he was blessed with splendid vocal chords; one contemporary lauded Coughlin’s “mellow richness,” his “manly, heart-warming confidential intimacy,” his “emotional and ingratiating charm.” But Coughlin’s true gift was his ability to dumb down his message for mass consumption; as he liked to say, a radio broadcast “must not be high hat…. It must be simple.”     

And what a message it was. Never before had a freelance communicator possessed the technological tools and the instinctive skills to tap the paranoia, ignorance, and violence of the American id. Coughlin’s successors on hate radio owe him a debt of thanks for pointing the way.      

The historian William Manchester once wrote that Coughlin managed to “exploit aspects of the national character which were then but little understood: American innocence, the nation’s yearning for simplistic solutions, its joiner complex, and the carnival instinct for collecting shiny junk.” And these traits were exacerbated during the Great Depression; millions of credulous people yearned not only for easy answers, but also for convenient scapegoats.     

Coughlin’s scapegoats were the Jews.     

As a parish priest in suburbanDetroit- presiding over his church, the Shrine of the Little Flower – Coughlin had already built a big radio following prior to Franklin Roosevelt’s ascent to the White House in 1933. On his CBS-sponsored show – 6 p.m. on Sundays, titled “The Golden Hour of the Little Flower” – he seemed at first to be fairly liberal in his political leanings. He championed the little guy made poor by the Depression and strongly supported FDR in the ’32 campaign, coining the term “Rooseveltor Ruin.”     

But he quickly soured on the new president, and by 1934 he was telling listeners that FDR was a tool of “the international bankers”; he soon amended that phrase to be “international Jewish bankers.” By 1935 he was referring to the New Deal as “the Jew Deal.” He said on the air thatRooseveltwas “a liar” (back then, people didn’t talk publicly about presidents that way), and even suggested in a speech that it might be beneficial if FDR perished via “the use of bullets.”     

Meanwhile, Coughlin broadened his message to the foreign policy realm; the more the Nazis persecuted the Jews, the more virulently the priest attacked the Jews. He did so by adopting the Nazi’s favorite propaganda trick: painting the Jews as both predatory capitalists and predatory communists, this covering all ideological bases.     

During a late 1938 broadcast, he declared that the Nazis had been right to unleash Kristallnacht on Nov. 9 (burning 110 synagogues, arresting 30,000 Jews and murdering 91), because, in his view, the Jews were all communists.  He explained: “If Jews persist in supporting communism directly or indirectly, that will be regrettable. By their failure to use the press, the radio, and the banking house – where they stand so prominently – to fight communism as vigorously as they fight Nazism, the Jews invite the charge of being supporters of communism.”     

He also feared a Jewish-communist conspiracy on American shores, and warned in a speech: “When we get through with the Jews inAmerica, they’ll think the treatment they received inGermanywas nothing.” And he certainly didn’t think thatAmericashould fight the Nazis in battle: “Must the entire world go to war for 600,000 Jews inGermanywho are neither American, nor French, nor English, but citizens ofGermany?” (Actually, by the late ’30s, the Nazis had already stripped the Jews of their rights as German citizens. But hate-radio broadcasters, even back then, were not exactly members of the reality-based community.)     

Coughlin’s isolationism ultimately doomed him; after Pearl Harbor, and after Hitler declared war onAmerica, there was no longer a mass audience for his message. And the Catholic hierarchy made it official during 1942, when the archbishop inDetroitordered Coughlin to zip his lip and tend solely to his parish duties. Coughlin did as he was told; for the last 37 years of his life, before dying at age 88 in 1979, he confined his passions to the occasional anti-communist pamphlet.     

But what’s less well known, and well worth noting, is that even at his peak Coughlin was not always free to pump his filth however he pleased. CBS, discomfited by his stridency and perhaps even seized by a fit of decency, summarily dropped his show (although this didn’t stop Coughlin; with money from his grassroots fans, he put his show on 60 independent outlets). And a 1939 broadcast industry rule – bowing to the federal government’s belief that free speech on the radio was not limitless – ultimately drove Coughlin off the air inNew York andChicago. The stations insisted on pre-approving his scripts; he refused, and wound up exiled to a tiny station inNew Jersey.     

Coughlin’s successors – Limbaugh, Beck, and so many others, all of whom have their own scapegoats and straw men – would surely be aghast at these speech restrictions. Today they are far more fortunate. They have a major political party that hops to their tune. They flourish in a time of deregulation, with few government curbs on broadcast speech. They have a major broadcast powerhouse, Fox News, ready and willing to help them inflame and entertain. And, most of all, they have millions of credulous followers – “frenzied, bitter, hostile, irrational.”     

No, wait… that’s how historian Alan Brinkley described Coughlin’s followers. The American id is a hardy perennial, and Coughlin was the first to prove it on radio.  His successors owe him some graveside homage on this 30th anniversary day. C’mon, guys. It’s a be-there.