Breitbart’s Bannon, More Proof that What Goes Around, Comes Around?

Bannon with Breitbart Crew

Little Rock   I don’t want to speak too soon, because I don’t want to put my dirty mouth on it, but as depressing as it has been to read the Stephen Bannon fan mail in the media since the election, it has been equally exhilarating to follow his comet’s rapid descent to hard ground. I don’t want to jinx this. He’s still in the West Wing of the White House, and he’s still carrying the title of strategic advisor to the president or some such, but it’s safe to say he’s currently taking a huge beating, including straight up slap downs from President Trump himself. No matter what ends up happening, how sweet it is this minute.

If nothing else all of the big whoops are finally getting some understanding about what it’s like over there at Breitbart and what’s it’s like to be on the receiving end of crazy-ville. When Andrew Breitbart was still alive, you could spend a minute speculating how much he personally believed all of his own site’s garbage spewing. He had been an early player in the Huffington Post startup, so the many cynical bones in my body could wonder if he simply saw an open niche he now had the ability to fill on the right, and went for it for the bucks and theater of it all. The more that comes out on scrutiny of Bannon, there’s no question here whatsoever. He lives in the darkness and embraces the night.

And, there’s some really creeping critters in his night it turns out. A recent story talked about how he is a huge fan of the discredited notion that history runs in 80-year cycles, and we are coming to the downside of one of those cycles. It’s a knocking on the door of the apocalypse notion that fits snugly with his chokehold on the necessity of disruption and chaos as an operating principle. He sees himself as a “Game of Thrones” character and “winter is coming.” Whether the President gets the message or just sees the storm clouds, I wouldn’t say, but clearly the fact that the new team at the National Security Council cashiered him off of the committee is worth at least one sigh of relief from the rest of us.

Bannon is made for the late night, afterhours show, not prime time. No matter what any of us think of Trump, we know for darned sure that he is never someone who likes wiping egg off of his face every day, and Bannon has been hurling them at him. First there was the divisive inaugural rant, roundly condemned everywhere. Then there was the visa fiasco that unraveled the Muslim ban for the president, making millions the face of his abuse.

As one of my organizers always says, “you gotta learn.” In Bannon’s case, he seems incapable. Trump only knows one thing well: how to run a family business. He still thinks the White House and the Presidency is just another huge division of his family’s business. Now Bannon has managed to get sideways with son-in-law, Jared, and alienate daughter, Ivanka. A lot of what Bannon believes and has done is just plain crazy, but not knowing that Trump is always going to default to family and getting crosswise with that foundational principle is just stupid.

The clock is ticking on Bannon. He’s probably debating how to save face now. The power in his job seems already gone.

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Bannon and Conway: Part of a Movement, Just Not Ours!

New Orleans   I’ve come to a conclusion that has been obvious in many ways, but I was refusing to recognize it probably because I was still in denial at some level. Unbelievably, I, along with probably a gazillion others, have been waiting for the evil axis of Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to explode and disappear, caught in the vortex of one mind thumping disaster after another, victims of their own self-delusion and President Trump’s mercurial impatience and narcissism. I’ve finally realized that’s not going to happen, because they are walled in behind the embrace and ideology of a movement which ensconces them totally, allowing them to perfectly rationalize every sting and arrow of outrageous fortune as simply “haters,” as Conway calls them and a broad “opposition party,” as Bannon has referred to the press.

I get it now. Part of the prerequisite for working within movements and organizations dedicated and determined to win change is a relentless conviction of the rightness of your cause, the expectation of constant attack, and the resilient ability to bounce back and continue on course no matter what obstacles and arguments are thrown in your path. I’ve been there and done that. In the middle of such operations you always have to work hard to keep some doors and windows open to the outside or you’re caught in a tactical and strategic jail cell of your own making. What finally slapped me awake to recognize my own mirror was reading a long piece by Molly Ball in a recent issue of The Atlantic which took Kellyanne Conway as it’s subject with extensive quotes from Stephen Bannon, working as her cheerleader.

Let me share the clues:

Stephen Bannon says, “Remember, Kellyanne was not a mainstream pollster. She had every marginal act out there, Social issues, security moms, immigration – she was a movement-conservative pollster.”

Bannon told me [Molly Ball] Sean Trende’s “missing whites” theory and Conway’s polling on immigration formed the “intellectual infrastructure” of 2016’s populist revolt. He added that Conway was part of a “cabal” he had started to build with Jeff Sessions and Sessions’s then aide Stephen Miller, who is now a senior White House police adviser. “This is her central thing,” he said, “the reason I got to know her.”

The idea that she was merely a spokeswoman rather than a true campaign manager misses the point, Bannon said: Communications was everything to Trump…”No offense, this wasn’t the Bush campaign.”

“She can stand in the breach and take incoming all day long,” Steve Bannon…told me [Molly Ball]. That’s something you can’t coach.” She’s figured out that she doesn’t need to win the argument. All she has to do is craft a semi-plausible (if not entirely coherent) counternarrative, so that those who don’t want to look past the façade of Trump’s Potemkin village don’t have to.

Anyway, she [Kellyanne Conway] contended, nobody cared about “alternative facts” except the elite, out-of-touch intelligentsia who spend all day winding one another up in the echo chamber of Twitter and cable news. “It was haters talking to each other and it was the media.”

Quoting Jason Miller, a Trump campaign and transition team member, “One thing people don’t quite get is that she is a living, breathing folk hero for millions of people around the country.”

Need I say more? You get it right? In their movement they have created their own closed circuit channel where they are only interested in talking to the base for their revolution and only – at least for now – really communicating to their people where both of them are heroes in their own parade. The problem for their movement, like every movement, is that you at least have to neutralize the opposition to win, not simply discount and ignore them, and to the degree their movement depends on one leader, Donald Trump, they face the same risk as any charismatic movement faces, especially if the patience and support of the public continues to wane.

Until that happens, in the rush and adrenaline of their moment, the rest is all just water off a duck’s back, and haters going hoarse who they don’t hear, who are just spitting in the wind.

***

Please enjoy Ani DiFranco’s Play God.

Thanks to KABF.

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Healthcare Lives Another Day, but Does Trump Have a Way to Win?

New Orleans   The Trump Tower has now been reduced to rubble. Ryan’s House is a shambles. Obamacare is now with us “for the foreseeable future,” according to the Speaker.

Right now the Affordable Care Act is better than nothing, but it could be nothing better.

The best news of the Trumpcare debacle and the inability of all of the concessions and arm twisting producing nothing is that it may have taught the President to write off the so-called Freedom Caucus, committee of no way. After having given away the store of all of the essential guarantees of the ACA, even the inclusion of children on parents’ policies until 26, which reportedly even the President understood was past the pale, the no-birds were still flying and demanding more, more and more. They had already pulled the bill so far right that what remains of moderates in the House of Representatives were forced to run from the bill and declare they would vote no. One lesson we can hope that Trump has learned is that these folks don’t negotiate in good faith, and it is worth walking away from their demands and their skinny 30 odd votes in their secret caucus, if you have a job that you want done.

Given the obstinence of the Republicans to countenance any fixes over the last seven years – and, yes, many are needed, as we have argued continually, especially capping deductibles – there might be an opportunity to get something good done if the President, the moderate Republicans, and the Democrats in the House and the Senate finally looked at “repair,” rather than “repeal and replace.” The polling on this recent abomination of a bill, thankfully pulled off the calendar, had indicated only 17% support and 56% opposition with 26% undecided. The Republican effort was failing most miserably among the so-called Trump base where as conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote that it was 26% “underwater” among non-college educated whites and an amazing 46% “underwater” in the 50 to 64 year old age group where people are more likely to forget to take their pills that day than they are to forget to vote. Trump couldn’t threatened to punish Congressman by mobilizing his base because they were in the bathroom losing lunch at the prospect that they would lose the healthcare they had gained under the Affordable Care Act.

If Trump wants to govern and we want to live through these next couple years, the President needs to stop all of this alt-right baloney and crazy flirting with the far right wing, and get closer to the where real deals are made. Even his former Breitbart Rasputin Stephen Bannon was reportedly disgusted with the concessions and bargaining posture of the far right, and that’s saying a mouthful.

I can remember presidents in Peru getting so low in popularity that they were hardly making it to two-digits. Trump is on his way there and the slope is no longer slippery, but fully greased unless he figures out a way to put the brakes on. Experts estimate that any new Congress only has about 200 days to get anything done for good or evil until mid-term elections suck the votes out of the room. For Trump and his gang 60 of those days are already gone, and we’ll all be counting on the death watch now.

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Getting Congress to Move: Get on the Blower and Hold that Line!

Illustration by Oliver Munday / Source: Gary Ombler / Getty (phone)

Little Rock   Ever wondered what your representatives in Congress really listen to other than lobbyists, local business people, and of course their donors? Well, Kathryn Schulz in an informative piece in The New Yorker waded into the Washington swamp and came back with some interesting answers to that question.

A lot of people might think its mail. In the Senate 6.4 million letters were delivered last year, so that’s something. A 2015 survey she cites says that senior staffers say personalized emails, personal letters, and hometown editorials rank highest. Nonetheless when it comes to disruptive action it’s the old school telephone that gets the job done. In Schulz’ words:

“For mass protests…calls are a better way of contacting lawmakers, not because they get taken more seriously but because they take up more time—thereby occupying staff, obstructing business as usual, and attracting media attention.”

What doesn’t work according to her interviews are Facebook posts, random tweets, online petitions, comments through app, or mass e-mails from advocacy and websites. She also found that you are more likely to be successful on a small, specific item from your district as opposed partisan and polarized matters. This resonates with me as well. I can remember easily getting an amendment to the budget reconciliation bill years ago to retain hazardous duty pay for our workers at the National Hansen’s Disease Center, but having to work like the dickens to get ACORN’s Homesteading Bill passed, even in watered down form.

But in this moment the telephone seems to have become the citizen’s weapon de jour. Calls are flooding into Congressional offices in record volumes. Schulz notes one Democratic Senator from Washington got 31000 calls in 3 weeks, while a Republican Senator from Colorado got 3000 in one night. Senator Bob Casey from Pennsylvania got 1000 pieces of mail over two weeks in January of 2016, but got 45,000 in the same period this year. As Schulz reports:

“Members of Congress claim that, Senate-wide, the call volume for the week of January 30, 2017, more than doubled the previous record; on average, during that week, the Senate got 1.5 million calls a day. Three of those days January 31st, February 1st, and February 2nd – were the busiest in the history of the Capitol switchboard.”

They don’t like being on the hot seat either. They are frightened by the “spontaneity” and the fact that it seemed “organic: people saw something in the news, it made them angry, and they called their member of Congress.” Yes, Americans are acting like the President, but the average America is grabbing her telephone and letting her Congressperson have a piece of her mind, rather than the President fumbling for his Twitter account on his phone.

Of course this is not organizational and neither is it sustainable, but it speaks to an important moment and a potential movement, if it could be marshalled, though that won’t be easily done since the response, interestingly, seems to be on issues across the board from health to education to appointments to general misbehavior.

There is something so American in the naiveté all of this, but it offers hope for change as well. As Schulz closes, she writes:

“The telephone might not be a superior medium for participatory democracy, but it is an excellent metaphor for it, and it reminds us of the rights we are promised as citizens. When we get disconnected, we can try to get through. When we get no answer, we can keep trying. When we have to, for as long as we need to, we can hold the line.”

How dear is that? It won’t really work, as most of us know, but, very importantly, it’s something to build on.

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Trump Militarization of Domestic Policies Is Getting Scarier

London   It is getting harder and harder to deny that there is a very scary, highly uncomfortable pattern emerging around Trump’s domestic policies, and it involves a steady effort to federally militarize policy and policing. These are not tendencies, but firmly expressed proposals. Coupled with his increasing attacks on the institution and independence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the court system, this adds up to something dangerous, even if I hesitate to call its name.

First, of course, we have the Trump immigration and deportation policies. The familiar outlines are well-known in all of their horror, but critical to these efforts, particularly in the light of the unwillingness of not only sanctuary cities, particularly in heavily populated immigrant areas, and already strapped local police forces unable to stretch themselves even thinner on unfunded federal mandates, is his proposal to hire an additional 10,000 immigration enforcement agents to speed up captures and deportations.

A second proposal surfaced in a press briefing that Trump’s press secretary held last week about the loosening standards, as the White House sees it, of drug enforcement. Sean Spicer was careful to say that Trump supports the continued use of medical marijuana for the relief of patients in pain, but that there needed to be a crackdown on federal marijuana laws being ignored in many urban jurisdictions. He indicated that they were likely to propose beefing up the federally controlled police force to do this by many thousands of officers, presumably referring to the agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

And, then there’s the blatant attacks and bullying of the Federal Bureau of Investigation which he is excoriating as a threat to the American people, rather than a critical protector of our safety. Some of this seems triggered by reports that Press Secretary Spicer had leaned on the FBI to deny a story in the Times that he asked them to refute a story about the Trump campaign’s communications with Russian operatives before the election. They were scuffling to deny that one of their top dogs had been the source of the anonymous leak, and the Trump team wanted them to go public with their obsequiousness, which they refused. Trump has also been unhappy that the FBI is continuing to investigate the Russian-Trump campaign ties. This is a Steve Bannon-Brietbart.com playbook exercise of attack and disruption meant to realign and control the department.

Fortunately, Congress hasn’t approved the appropriations for either of these expanded police forces for Trump policies, but the lack of independence of the transactional Republican Congress gives me pause that they will slam the brakes down as hard as needed.

Add two new federal police force expansions and one effort to take control over the formally independent federal police force, and what do you get? It’s not jack boots and Stormtroopers, but it is also nothing good for democracy and the American people.

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Fighting to Save Political Parties Out of Sorts with the Base

Edinburgh  Eating curry last night with leaders and organizers of ACORN in Scotland, once the usual questions about Trump were quickly exhausted, one veteran activist asked what Senator Bernie Sanders, last year’s surprisingly successful Presidential candidate, was up to and whether he was gaining ground and credibility in the current chaos. It was a good question, and my answer was that the best I knew his people where focused more on positioning in the Democratic Party than the larger issues. I told the ridiculous story of some moderate Democrats trying to convince Sanders to call off the dogs and make sure that town hall protestors only attacked Republicans, as if Sanders was pulling any strings at all in the activist moment. I found that notion among conservative Democrats as bizarre as the Republican conservative claim that poor old George Soros is paying demonstrators these days to voice their outrage.

Turns out I was either lucky or timely in my observation. Almost as soon as I logged on to the news I stumbled into a story reporting that Sanders’ operatives had been scoring some significant wins in Democratic inner party elections.

In California, supporters of the 2016 presidential contender, Barry Sanders, packed the obscure party meetings that chose delegates to the state Democratic convention, with Sanders backers grabbing more than half the slots available. They swept to power in Washington State at the Democratic state central committee, ousting a party chairman and installing one of their own in his place. Sanders acolytes have seized control of state parties in Hawaii and Nebraska and won posts throughout the party structure from coast to coast.

Presumably the agenda is to move the party in a more solidly progressive direction.

Observers in several papers noted that as miserable as the 2018 midterm elections look for the Democratic Party’s shot at control of the Senate, there’s an arguable path to pick up 24 seats in the House by targeting districts either won by Hillary Clinton by stout margins or where the demographics are heavily weighted with educated white and general Hispanic voters. Polls indicate that Trump’s slide steep has accelerated in both camps. There are fewer districts that Sanders won last year though, so that crossover is uncertain.

Others might argue that you have to be careful what you wish for though without a deeper strategy to engage the base. The Labour Party’s predicament in the United Kingdom is a case study here. Having moved in a more progressive direction as the left took control of internal elections without a program effectively responding to the working class base, right leaning pro-Brexit forces are cleaning their clock. By-elections in hard core Labour districts that they have held for more than 30 years are being watched closely to see if the party can even survive.

Sanders in some ways is well-positioned internally since Clinton is not part of the picture and a more moderate Democratic Party leader has not emerged.

Is it a winning strategy? That’s another question for sure. No lucky guesses will count on that one.

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