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Whistling Anti-Semitism in the Lone Star State

[ 125 ] August 1, 2017 |


To echo Erik from yesterday, “There’s never good news when we are talking Texas politics.”

Texas governor Gregg Abbott has published an alarmist opinion piece about redistricting, which, as we all know, is a desperate and diabolical power-grab by the Democrats. I’ll leave it to y’all to get into the nuts and bolts of Abbott’s argument–because what really got to me was the dog-whistle headline:

How George Soros Is Helping Obama Democrats Buy Their Way Back To Power

Since I happen to spend a fair bit of time in Budapest, this invocation of Soros as a political enemy is rather unsettling. A few months back, I laid out my concerns about Lex CEU (a Hungarian law passed as an attempt to shutter Central European University, which was founded by Soros). Since then, the Hungarian Parliament has also passed a law requiring NGOs that receive non-Hungarian funding to register as “foreign-supported organizations” and include that designation on all public materials and communications (a policy strongly opposed by Amnesty International and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, among others).

And, just in case, Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party supporters had left any doubt about their real target, they launched this massive poster campaign last month, warning Hungarians not to “let Soros have the last laugh.”



Those for whom the consistent linking of Soros (a Hungarian Jew), “cosmopolitanism,” wealth, and secret power manipulation was too subtle in its anti-Semitism took to defacing the posters with racial slurs (“dirty Jew” is scrawled across Soros’s forehead in the example above). Conveniently, the posters all disappeared by the time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived for his state visit (plus, Orban apologized for Hungary’s WWII Nazi collaboration and promised to be nice to Jews in Hungary from now on).

So, how does Abbott’s anti-Soros-ism stack up? A few highlights:

The Soros network has their sights set on re-drawing congressional districts in the Lone Star State to push their progressive agenda and turn the Texas dream into a California nightmare.
Invoking a shady network run by Soros and an outside power (California, gasp!) easily echoes the recent Hungarian policies.
The GOP needs to take the Soros network and the Holder, Obama, and Pelosi alliance seriously.
It’s hard not to notice that that particular list adds a woman and two black men to the dangerous cabal threatening traditional America. Moreover, Abbott’s rousing conclusion…
Complacency at the state and local level in 2018 will threaten the integrity of our elections and the future of our nation for generations to come.

…doubles down on the implication that not only elections (our political process and institutions), but generations (bloodlines?) are endangered by Soros and his shadowy network.

Abbott is taking a page straight from Orban’s playbook–and embracing ethno-nationalist rhetoric deep in the heart of Texas.

For years, checking in on Hungarian politics was the one sure way I had to feel better about our own. More and more, it strikes too close to home.


Napoleon Complex

[ 114 ] July 14, 2017 |

Trump’s visit to Napoleon’s tomb in Paris yesterday is an irresistible invitation to compare the two leaders. Trendy as it is to focus on historical parallels with fascism, it’s worth thinking a bit about what we can learn from that other dude crazy enough to invade Russia in winter.

(Unavoidable aside: this may be the best graph of all time.)

Napoleon crafted a governmental system with the kind of personal power of which Trump clearly dreams. The 1804 Civil Code shored up some Revolutionary ideals (the end of feudalism, basic equality before the law), but also enshrined a number of principles Trump and our current GOP still champion. Napoleon’s regime ensured greater stability and prosperity for wealthy property-owners and former aristocrats. He significantly reduced workers’ rights and strengthened employers’ powers. Women lost the ability to file for divorce, own or sell property, or disobey their husbands (some of these rights even predated 1789). And, of course, Napoleon revoked one of the First Republic’s greatest progressive policies by reestablishing slavery in the Caribbean.

While Napoleon didn’t, to my knowledge, call out the burgeoning French press as an enemy of the people (that was more Robespierre’s style), he certainly wasn’t the biggest fan of freedom of expression. By 1800, he had decimated newspaper production in Paris. Over the next few years, he essentially brought back a full state censorship regime.

One of Napoleon’s big moves in solidifying his power was his reconciliation with the Catholic Church in the 1801 Concordat. Napoleon was not a man of strong faith, but he did believe in religion’s utility as a form of social control, and as a vehicle for self-aggrandizement. Here the echoes of an irreligious Trump promoting a set of Christian policies are unmistakable.

For all his conciliatory cuddling up to the Church when it served his needs, Napoleon had no patience for papal disapproval:

For the Pope’s purposes, I am Charlemagne… My empire, like Charlemagne’s, marches with the East. I therefore expect the Pope to accommodate his conduct to my requirements. If he behaves well, I shall make no outward changes; if not, I shall reduce him to the status of bishop of Rome.

One imagines Trump tweets of a similarly dismissive and threatening vein (though lacking lyrical historical allusion) in the aftermath of the Vatican’s latest scathing critique.

Finally, even Trump’s foreign policy mantra traces back to Bonaparte. Insisting that French silk manufacturers should not under any circumstances face competition his Italian territories, Napoleon declared,

My principle is France first… It is of no use for Italy to make plans that leave French prosperity out of account; she must face the fact that the interests of the two countries hang together. Above all, she must be careful not to give France any reason for annexing her; for if it paid France to do this, who could stop her? So make this your motto too—France first.

In the end, Napoleon might also be too hopeful of a comparison. Setting aside, for a moment, the annihilation of the rights of women, workers, and people of color, Bonaparte got some things right. Not least was his respect for the rule of law and power of institutions—and the importance of real education. We also shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that he was a pretty amazing military strategist—and a general who was well-respected by rank-and-file troops (and by the population at large). Trump’s current approval ratings certainly do not suggest that he’d be able to rally a personal army to his cause while marching from Elba to Paris (Mar-a-Lago to DC?) in 100 days.

All of this, of course, begs the question of what Trump’s Waterloo could look like. An over-confident, poorly planned, and ultimately disastrous Russia strategy may indeed play a role. Given the current trajectory of scandal, missteps, and own-goals, it’s not so hard to imagine a Trump exiled for his betrayals—surrounded by only his closest family and cheating at cards (or maybe Monopoly). But let’s all just hope that the parallels end there and we’re not faced with yet another would-be-emperor in 2048.


*Translations of Napoleon’s writings taken from Keith Baker.

Why, Yes, It IS Terrorism

[ 23 ] June 19, 2017 |


Just after midnight, London time, yet another attacker drove a van into a crowd of people, killing one and seriously injuring nine more. All of the victims were Muslims leaving their evening prayers in Finsbury Park.

This tragedy, on one hand, is disturbingly unsurprising, given the rise in terror attacks, virulent anti-Muslim sentiments, and hate crimes. What is surprising, on the other hand, is just how quickly and publicly this has been claimed as an act of terrorism.

There have been too many good and important pieces written on the heavy bias in reporting violence for me to begin offering links here. But we’ve all heard and/or voiced our own concerns about the way that violence by people with a particular set of physical characteristics is immediately denounced as terror, while white male mass killers are always something else (troubled, isolated, mentally ill…).

Coverage of the Portland train stabbings invoked “hate crimes,” but not terror (except, ironically, when the perpetrator himself denied being a terrorist). Even days after the attack, FBI was claiming that it was simply “too soon” to determine whether this was an act of domestic terrorism.

This morning’s killing of a Virginia teenager is, we are told, not even being considered as a hate crime (to be fair, details on this crime are still sketchy, but the victimization of a young veil-wearing Muslim woman certainly raises red flags). At the moment of writing, the Washington Post’s main page is carrying this headline just below their story on PM May’s insistence that the Finsbury Park attack was indeed an act of terror.

Now, it’s odd to find myself wanting to cheer any Theresa May statements, but props to her and everyone down to the local police who identified the attack as terrorism within eight minutes. The attacker, who was protected from angry bystanders by the local imam, is officially being held for terror offenses. May herself was quick to declare the violence “every bit as sickening” as other recent attacks.

It is awful and heart-wrenching for any community to reckon with this level of senseless and hate-filled violence. But calling terrorism by its actual name turns out to be easy enough.

With Friends Like These

[ 21 ] May 17, 2017 |

In yet another clear signal about the consequences of embracing strongmen: violence erupted at the Turkish embassy in DC yesterday, just after Turkish President Erdogan enjoyed his cozy White House visit.

The clash involved pro- and anti-Erdogan groups. Turkish state media identified members of Erdogan’s own security team in the fighting. The videos and images are chilling.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration seems perfectly happy to ignore this blatant disregard for basic rights of speech and assembly. This comes in the wake of Trump’s congratulations for the April referendum that considerably strengthened Erdogan’s constitutional powers (despite observers’ concerns about the campaign’s fairness).

Canaries, coalmines, 1930s parallels… you know the refrain by now. The regular blows to democracy, civil society, and foundational rights risk numbing us. So keep your eye on this one, as we learn who was actually involved. This may be a case of riled-up opponents crossing lines—but it may also be that the security forces of foreign autocrat just directly attacked US residents and citizens on US soil with impunity.

Trump’s own history suggests he might even applaud such a move.


[ 21 ] May 14, 2017 |

Major news in European elections: Portugal won the Eurovision Song Contest last night.

Salvador Sobral’s stripped-down performance and heartfelt singing were somewhat of an anomaly in an annual extravaganza known for outrageous kitsch and over-the-top production. Previous contests have featured a Russian Olympian skating on a mini ice rink, Finnish monster-metal pyrotechnics, and a singing turkey puppet from Ireland. And, by all means, you should watch this top-ten video of crazy entries to the end (Tanzen!).

The fascination with Eurovision, however, goes beyond the wild costumes, questionable musicality, and surreal staging. The byzantine voting system, which even confused Sobral, has been the subject of many popular and academic analyses. Since voting is done by country (and countries cannot vote for their own entries), the contest also puts on a remarkable show of ethnic, nationalist, and/or cultural solidarities. These voting patterns, along with the range of cultural expressions on the stage itself, mean that there are well over 6,000 hits for Eurovision on Google Scholar.

Eurovision is also a hotbed for actual international politics. Ukraine, this year’s host, banned Russia’s contestant for having performed in Crimea. This follows last year’s winning performance by a Crimean Tatar singing about Soviet deportations. Armenia’s 2015 entry was forced to change its name from “Don’t Deny,” which was deemed too overt a reference to those who refuse to acknowledge the 1915 Armenian genocide. While the 2014 win by an Austrian drag queen incited Vladimir Putin to criticize the waning of “traditional values,” the context has long been notable for promoting openness to gay and transgender rights.

Embracing Eurovision lets us revel in the glitter and the flamboyance–and, in rare moments, drop the irony and just be moved by a performance like Sobral’s. But it also leaves me with a bizarre sense  of something important just behind the curtains. Eurovision’s artists have pushed many boundaries (not just those of taste). In the midst of the carnival hoopla and nationalist cant, the spotlights also illuminate debates and negotiations about values and identity. In a year when the EU’s future has repeatedly been called into question, Eurovision is one place where Europeanness itself is being worked out.

Ein, zwei, drei… [so stuck in my head].

Neocolonialism at its (Canadian?) Best

[ 102 ] May 4, 2017 |


So, clearly, I need to drop in soon with an update on this weekend’s French election. But, in the meantime, it turns out that France isn’t the only place where colonial history is back up for debate.

A constitutional scholar just published an apparently serious call for Haiti to relinquish its sovereignty–preferably to Canada.

The new Haitian Constitution should do something virtually unprecedented: renounce the power of self-governance and assign it for a term of years, say 50, to a country that can be trusted to act in Haiti’s long-term interests.

Since the US, France, and the UK have a bad record with Caribbean conquests,

The answer may be Canada, for years one of Haiti’s most loyal friends and foreign aid donors — and today one of the most popular destinations for the diaspora. Canadians today yearn for real influence in the world, and there may be no better way than building Haiti anew drawing from Canada’s values of equality, diversity, and compassion, and its unique expertise in humanitarian assistance. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is still looking for a major foreign policy achievement since his election in 2015, and this commitment could leave a legacy that would match his father’s own achievements as prime minister.

Now, this plan is not without its drawbacks:

The optics alone of a majority-white country running Haiti — even if in Haiti’s best interests — revive ghosts of the distant but never-forgotten past of slavery.

Really? In the place where the world’s largest successful slave rebellion resulted in the second independent republic in the post-Colombian western hemisphere? You don’t say.

Difficult times often yield impossible choices, and this would be an extraordinarily difficult decision for Haiti’s political leaders. Yet the greatest gift Haiti’s political class can give their fellow citizens is to give up the power to govern. This ultimate sacrifice would be a triumph of national over individual interests, and it would forever memorialize Haiti’s current leaders as the country’s modern founders.

I get that Haiti is in rough shape right now, but find it hard to see how a new imperial overlord would help things. I can’t even begin to imagine how Haiti’s revolutionary founders–and the thousands who fought with them–would respond to this. But this is what they said at the time:

It is not enough to have expelled the barbarians who have bloodied our land for two centuries; it is not enough to have restrained those ever-evolving factions that one after another mocked the specter of liberty that France dangled before you. We must, with one last act of national authority, forever assure the empire of liberty in the country of our birth; we must take any hope of re-enslaving us away from the inhuman government that for so long kept us in the most humiliating torpor. In the end we must live independent or die.

Marine Le Pen: Making France Revisionist Again

[ 190 ] April 11, 2017 |

It’s a good week for anti-Semitism in Europe.

Monday morning, the Hungarian President signed a law that essentially bans Central European University from operating (as part of the ruling party’s obsessive anti-Soros campaign).

But, ever a trend setter, Marine Le Pen made the spectacular statement this weekend that France was not responsible for the infamous Vélodrome d’Hiver roundup of 13,000 Jews, the majority of whom were sent on to their deaths at Auschwitz.

This is not run-of-the-mill Holocaust denial—Le Pen does not dispute that the Jews were gathered and deported. Rather, she refuses to allow that “France” was at fault. As translated by the Washington Post,

I don’t think that France is responsible for the Vel d’Hiv. I think that in general, more generally, if there were those responsible, it was those who were in power at the time. This is not France.

This is the magical version of French history where all the true French were valiant members of the Resistance. That myth was thoroughly propagated by Charles de Gaulle as a means of bringing the country back together post-Liberation. It was also thoroughly debunked by historians like Robert Paxton. The particular pathos that supported denials of (and, later, apologies for) Vichy’s actions was also well explored by Henry Rousso—you may remember him as the guy detained for ten hours in Houston in February and threatened with deportation.

Le Pen’s statement is a bit surprising, in that she has painstakingly distanced her National Front Party from the kinds of overt and explicit anti-Semitism her father (Jean-Marie Le Pen) had espoused. Conveniently, her support for Jews could be measured in overt anti-Muslim proposals.

Perhaps the most troubling bit of Le Pen’s revisionism is her insistence that it is necessary for France’s health:

France has been mired in people’s minds for years. In reality, our children are taught that they have every reason to criticize her, to see only the darkest historical aspects. I want them to be proud to be French again.

And here is the echo of every rising ultra-nationalist, make-the-white-world-great-again populist in today’s world. Acknowledging the historical sins of our societies and cultures (let alone actually critiquing them—or demanding that we reckon with their lingering effects) is weakness. National pride can rest only on the unsullied, imaginary foundation of whitewashed history. And in these newly proud nations, there is, of course, no room for those against whom we have sinned.

The War on Knowledge

[ 37 ] March 29, 2017 |

The Hungarian government is trying to close down Central European University (CEU), an American-accredited university in Budapest founded by George Soros in 1991 to support intellectual freedom and free speech.

CEU’s response to the Hungarian Parliament asserts that the proposed acts are intentionally discriminatory:

After careful legal study, CEU has concluded that these amendments would make it impossible for the University to continue its operations as an institution of higher education in Budapest, CEU’s home for 25 years. CEU is in full conformity with Hungarian law. The proposed legislation targets CEU directly and is therefore discriminatory and unacceptable.

This hardly comes out of nowhere. Earlier this year, the government launched attacks on the Hungarian NGO community, looking to root out Soros’s civil society initiatives (mostly supported by his Open Society Foundations). Other watchdog NGOs were also targeted, including Transparency International, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, and the Helsinki Committee.

In an interview with RT, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto explained,

We find it very anti-democratic if someone from abroad would like to influence Hungarian voters on whom to vote for…these organizations must be pushed back with all available tools, and I think they must be swept out, and now I believe the international conditions are right for this with the election of the new president [Donald Trump].”

Government friendly press outlets have long been peddling stories about Soros’s ties to the CIA and plans to overthrow the Hungarian government (and many neighboring regimes).

Much of the anti-Soros rhetoric has also drawn on old anti-Semitic tropes. Karl Pfeiffer neatly lays out some of these trends:

Soros is demonized and presented as the source of all evil by the government. The rhetoric used against him reminds me of the anti-Semitic propaganda from my childhood, according to which the Jews were responsible for all of Hungary’s problems, like poverty, ignorance, and landless peasants.

Moreover, the government media portrays Mr. Soros as an agent of the “international finance.” We know that this is a code for “Jews.” You don’t have to be explicitly anti-Semitic, you can be implicitly anti-Semitic – the message is quite clear for mainstream Hungarian society, which has never come to terms with its own prejudices against Jews.

Finally, Soros is presented by the government as responsible for mass migration to Europe. Did the 86-year-old investor really go to Syria and Iraq to politely ask people to come to Europe? This is a worldview deeply rooted in conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism.

All of these attacks—threatening civil society NGOs, perpetuating wildly xenophobic conspiracy theories, and now assaulting centers of higher learning—map perfectly onto Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chilling vision of an “illiberal state.”

As we consider the rise of nationalist-populist parties across Europe (and the US), we need to remember to take them both seriously and literally. Once in power, they tend to follow through.

[Disclosure: I’ve spent many summer months working in CEU’s library; it’s become a research home-away-from-home. Of course, this could be taken as further evidence for the institution’s support for “rootless cosmopolitans.”]

Damming the Nationalist Flood

[ 61 ] March 16, 2017 |


Geert Wilders fell well behind nationalist-populist hopes in yesterday’s Dutch elections.

His anti-immigration PVV party is set to gain a few seats in Parliament (from 15 to 19), but this is still below the height of Dutch nationalist politics under Pim Fortuyn (who got 26 seats in 2002) and Wilders’s own high point (24 seats in 2010). Meanwhile, the GreenLeft got a big boost (from 4 to 14 seats).

Not only does this mean that the new Dutch government won’t need to consider a coalition with Wilders, but it also hopefully means that likely returning PM Mark Rutte (VVD, Liberals) will not continue pulling to the right to lure voters. Exit interviews suggest that Dutch voters were concerned about Wilders’s wild rhetoric, especially his attacks on Islam and on the country’s migrant populations. Though Rutte’s recent spat with Turkish diplomats certainly helped him appeal to some of the Wilders crowd.

Moreover, this potentially takes the wind out of the Front National’s sails in France. Marine Le Pen is still polling ahead of her competitors for the first round of the French presidential elections on April 23. A strong showing for Wilders would have given her additional force, signaling a true rising tide of nationalist populism in Europe.

The road ahead is not exactly easy: forming the new coalition government will likely take months (and the results will not be the most stable).

But, for a brief moment, let’s enjoy a bit of good news for the fight against xenophobia and reactionary nationalism.

Proposal to Militarize Immigration Policy

[ 180 ] February 17, 2017 |

There’s a draft DHS memo floating around today, which proposed using up to 100,000 National Guard troops across eleven states to round up undocumented immigrants. It’s still unclear where this proposal originated, in response to what (though it seems part of the lead-up to the travel ban), and how far its discussion went (Spicer hasn’t denied that the report was discussed). But as Dara Lind makes clear over at Vox,

the fact that it was floated at all is still significant. President Trump arrived in office on the promise of a sweeping crackdown on immigration enforcement, and proceeded to sign executive orders that made substantial changes — but didn’t always provide details.

According to AP, who broke the story,

Staffers in the Department of Homeland Security said the proposal had been discussed as recently as Friday.


A DHS official described the document as a very early draft that was not seriously considered and never brought to the secretary for approval.

As for the details (also from AP):

The 11-page document calls for the unprecedented militarization of immigration enforcement as far north as Portland, Oregon, and as far east as New Orleans, Louisiana.

Four states that border on Mexico were included in the proposal — California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas — but it also encompasses seven states contiguous to those four — Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

The memo was addressed to the then-acting heads of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It would have served as guidance to implement the wide-ranging executive order on immigration and border security that President Donald Trump signed Jan. 25. Such memos are routinely issued to supplement executive orders.

Also dated Jan. 25, the draft memo says participating troops would be authorized “to perform the functions of an immigration officer in relation to the investigation, apprehension and detention of aliens in the United States.” It describes how the troops would be activated under a revived state-federal partnership program, and states that personnel would be authorized to conduct searches and identify and arrest any unauthorized immigrants.

If implemented, the impact could have been significant. Nearly one-half of the 11.1 million people residing in the U.S. without authorization live in the 11 states, according to Pew Research Center estimates based on 2014 Census data.

Use of National Guard troops would greatly increase the number of immigrants targeted in one of Trump’s executive orders last month, which expanded the definition of who could be considered a criminal and therefore a potential target for deportation. That order also allows immigration agents to prioritize removing anyone who has “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.”

According to the draft memo, the militarization effort was to be proactive, specifically empowering Guard troops to solely carry out immigration enforcement, not as an add-on the way local law enforcement is used in the program.

Allowing Guard troops to operate inside non-border states also would go far beyond past deployments.

Now, it bears repeating that there’s still a lot unclear about this memo’s direct relation to policy discussions and decisions. But in a context where policy details have been scant, directives have been rushed and poorly-thought out, and anti-migrant rhetoric is still pouring out from positions of power, that this was even floated should give us pause. Accomplishing the goals of Trump’s continuing campaign against migrants will require draconian methods (even if not in this specific form). Rejecting this particular proposal does not mean that equally troubling methods will not be forthcoming.

Party Like It’s 1939

[ 144 ] February 13, 2017 |

Attempts to connect our current situation with the 1930s are coming out pretty regularly (and more will follow). But when two leading historians of fascism speak up, it’s worth listening.

Timothy Snyder sat down with Süddeutsche Zeitung last week, while Richard Evans weighed in with Slate.

Snyder certainly thinks we need to be learning from the 1930s:

Most  Americans are exceptionalists, we think we live outside of history. Americans tend to think: “We have freedom because we love freedom, we love freedom because we are free.”  It is a bit circular and doesn’t acknowledge the historical structures that can favor or weaken democratic republics.  We don’t realize how similar our predicaments are to those of other people.

I wanted to remind my fellow Americans that intelligent people, not so different from ourselves, have experienced the collapse of a republic before. It is one example among many.  Republics, like other forms of government, exist in history and can rise and fall. The American Founding Fathers knew this, which is why there were obsessed with the history of classical republics and their decline into oligarchy and empire.  We seem to have lost that tradition of learning from others, and we need it back.  A quarter century ago, after the collapse of communism, we declared that history was over – and in an amazing way we forgot everything we once knew about communism, fascism and National Socialism.

Evans sees specific parallels:

When you look at President Trump’s statements, I’m afraid you do see echoes, and they are very alarming. For example, the stigmatization of minorities. First of all, the Trump White House failed to mention the Jews in its statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day. And that is very worrying because the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews was not just a genocide; it had a special quality, because Hitler and the Nazis regarded the Jews as an existential threat to Germany. They used hyperbolic and exaggerated language about Jews. If the Jews were not killed, the Nazis said, they would destroy Germany completely, whereas other groups that the Nazis stigmatized, discriminated against, and indeed murdered, like the handicapped, were only to be gotten out of the way. If you look at the language the Trump team has been using about Islamic extremist jihadis, it is exactly the same: They are an existential threat to America. They will defeat, dominate, and destroy America. That is a very extreme kind of language and a very disturbing echo.

Snyder also links rising Islamophobia to Nazi tactics:

[R]ight now the comparison we need to ponder is between the treatment of Muslims and the treatment of Jews. It is obviously the case that the point of the Muslim ban is to instruct Americans that Muslims are an enemy: a small, well-assimilated minority that we are supposed to see not as our neighbors or as fellow citizens but as elements of an international threat.

Both address questions of Trump’s maneuvering within a system of checks and balances. Snyder’s first concern was to disabuse us of the idea that institutions would in any way curb the new POTUS’s power:

He never took them seriously, acts as if they don’t exist, and clearly wishes they didn’t.  The story that Americans have told themselves from the moment he declared his candidacy for president, was that one institution or another would defeat him or at least change his behavior – he won’t get the nomination; if he gets the nomination, he will be a normal Republican; he will get defeated in the general election; if he wins the presidency will mature him (that was what Obama said). I never thought any of that was true. He doesn’t seem to care about the institutions and the laws except insofar as they appear as barriers to the goal of permanent kleptocratic authoritarianism and immediate personal gratification.

Evans specifically looks at the judiciary:

Again, if you look at the courts, that’s one of the most interesting aspects of what Trump has been doing. He clearly has a contempt for the courts and the law, which echoes that of the Nazis very, very clearly

and reminds us that, like the Ninth Circuit, German courts did try to make a stand:

A very famous example is, later in 1933, the trial of the people who Hitler had alleged had burned down the Reichstag earlier in the year. The courts acquitted all but one of them, thus completely undermining Hitler’s claim that the communists started the fire. Hitler then bypassed the courts. He set up a parallel system of justice, the so-called special courts and the people’s courts. In the end, the courts knuckled under, but it was quite a fight.

[S]ome in the judiciary were conservative, but they did have respect for the law and institutions of the law, and for the constitution as well.

Evans’s description of day-to-day administration is eerily familiar:

Hitler … did not rule, for example, through a Cabinet. He didn’t use the accepted institutions of government. He had a clique of people around him, Goebbels, Hermann Göring, and so on: a whole group of top Nazis who were his cheerleaders, really. They’re the ones who do the work. Within just a few years, the Cabinet didn’t meet at all. It’s just a very informal way of ruling that of course leads to a lot of chaos, because competencies are not clearly defined and there are a lot of rivalries within Hitler’s group of leading Nazis that prove often counterproductive. It’s interesting there again to see how the civil service, that’s the administration at every level, really, did not provide a very serious resistance to the orders that came down from above.

In terms of media opposition, Evans highlights the strategy to close down opposition voices–or just overwhelm them with alternative facts:

[O]f course Hitler’s propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, was an inveterate and incorrigible liar. He was an inventor of news. And he also was very strongly attacked in the liberal and left-wing press and threatened to shut it down, and in the end he actually did. Or he took it over.

Snyder also picks up on the repercussions of government facing down the press:

When you say that the press is the opposition, then you are advocating a regime change in the United States. When I am a Republican and say the Democrats are the opposition, we talk about our system. If I say the government is one party and the press is the opposition, then I talk about an authoritarian state. This is regime change.

Most chilling are Evans’s thoughts on how calculated all of this might be:

Many people thought that Hitler was a buffoon. He was a joke. He wasn’t taken seriously. Alternatively, they thought that he could calm down when he assumed the responsibilities of office. That was a very common belief about Hitler. There is a major difference in the sense that Trump speaks off the cuff in a very unguarded, spontaneous way. I think that’s true with his tweets. Hitler very carefully prepared all his speeches. They might seem spontaneous, but they were carefully prepared.

[Hitler] was such an actor. He’s somebody who projected an image of himself onto the public. He could also deceive himself, particularly in the last years of Nazi Germany, when they were clearly losing the war. He somehow managed to convince himself that they were winning. He carried on fighting where it was clearly in everyone’s interest, maybe not his own, but it was in everyone’s interest to stop.

I’m still not convinced that the disarray in the White House is purposeful–but I don’t doubt that folks are using this to their advantage.

Both historians have books coming out later this month, conveniently, so there’s plenty more where this came from.

And the racist Oscar goes to…

[ 25 ] February 4, 2017 |

File this one under: “of course”: Steve Bannon planned to make a three-part faux documentary about Muslim radicals taking over the US.

The outline shows how Bannon — years before he became a strategist for President Trump and helped draft last week’s order restricting travel from seven mostly Muslim countries — sought to issue a warning about the threat posed by radical Muslims and their “enablers among us.” Although driven by the “best intentions,” the outline says, institutions such as the media, the Jewish community and government agencies were appeasing jihadists aiming to create an Islamic republic.

The eight-page draft, written in 2007 during Bannon’s stint as a Hollywood filmmaker, proposes a three-part movie that would trace “the culture of intolerance” behind sharia law, examine the “Fifth Column” made up of “Islamic front groups” and identify the American enablers paving “the road to this unique hell on earth.”

The proposal is full of worn anti-Muslim tropes including suspiciously wealthy oil barons, a dangerous fifth column of crypto-Americans, and an array of allusions to Nazism:

The outline uses stark language to spell out the dangers posed by Islamist jihadists.

“The ideology is scary, and its ideologues will frighten small children as we bring to light an unbroken chain of ‘thinkers’ who epitomize the culture of hate,” the outline reads.

Part of the film would detail “the rise of a global holy war — financed by the cash flow of oil — to attack and destroy western civilization,” according to the outline.


The outline warns about “front groups and disingenuous Muslim Americans who preach reconciliation and dialogue in the open but, behind the scenes, advocate hatred and contempt for the West.”

It names the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America as examples of such “cultural jihadists.” After The Post’s revelation of the 2007 script, CAIR officials on Friday urged Republicans to call for Bannon’s dismissal, saying that he promoted “virulently anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.”

The proposal also lists other “enablers,” including The Post, the New York Times, NPR, “Universities and the Left,” the “American Jewish Community,” the ACLU, the CIA, the FBI, the State Department and the White House.

“The road to the establishment of an Islamic Republic in the United States starts slowly and subtly with the loss of the will to win,” the outline reads. “The road to this unique hell on earth is paved with the best intentions from our major institutions. This political/accommodation/appeasement approach is not simply a function of any one individual’s actions but lies at the heart of our most important cultural and political institutions.”

Inventing a dystopian “Islamic States of America” is hardly a fresh idea. Plenty of similar alarmist fantasies have circulated in Europe over the centuries, the most notable in recent years being Houellebecq’s Submission.

It’s also not like we needed additional evidence to be convinced of Bannon’s white nationalism.

But it certainly provides more context for the administration’s essential misreading of the Quebec mosque attack. The shooting of six Muslim men by a white supremacist was quickly spun into a justification for the Muslim ban:

“We condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday afternoon. “It’s a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant and why the president is taking steps to be pro-active, rather re-active, when it comes to our nation’s safety and security.”

That vigilance clearly does not extend to protecting Muslims in our own communities. Trump’s quick response to the Louvre attack that boosts his own clash-of-civilizations narrative is a stark contrast to the continued lack of comment on the need to address Islamophobia and other rising racist attitudes which culminate in violence and terror.


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