a third, run out of a suite of well-appointed offices on M Street in Washington. Founded by neoconservative journalist Clifford May just after 9/11, the non-profit Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has emerged as perhaps the most powerful outside influencer of the Trump White House today.
FDD is notorious: a self-styled “non-partisan policy institute,” the non-profit organization is funded primarily by right-wing supporters of Israel, including billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
.. Over the nearly two decades since its founding, FDD has
- promoted the Iraq War,
- banged the drum for an attack on Syria,
- opposed the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran,
- extolled the virtues of Benjamin Netanyahu, and, at the beginning of this decade,
- launched a crusade that targeted the tiny Persian Gulf country of Qatar where the U.S. maintains an airbase.
.. Tillerson, it turns out, was not only blindsided by the embargo, but, as was reported in these pages last June, suspected that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner had known of the UAE’s plans, failed to notify him, and instead urged the president to endorse the UAE initiative, which Trump did. Tillerson was not only shocked, he was angry. “Rex put two-and-two together,” a close associate of Tillerson told TAC at the time, “and concluded that this absolutely vacuous kid [Kushner] was running a second foreign policy out of the White House family quarters. [UAE ambassador to the U.S.] Otaiba weighed in with Jared and Jared weighed in with Trump. What a mess.”
.. Tillerson’s efforts, while prodigious, failed to heal the rift between Qatar and its neighbors, but it clearly backfooted the anti-Qatar coalition, who’d hoped to pressure their neighbor into ending its relations with Iran, isolate Turkey (a strong Qatar supporter), and shutter the Doha-based Al Jazeera television network.
.. only deepened the uneasy alliance of forces arrayed against him. Those forces, according to emails leaked in early March by the BBC, now included Erik Prince sidekick Elliott Broidy, a U.S. businessman and Trump campaign donor with deep business ties to the UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed. According to the emails, Broidy met with Trump in October and told him that Tillerson was “performing poorly and should be fired at a political convenient time.” The emails described Tillerson as “weak” and “a tower of jello” who needs to be “slammed.”
.. While Tillerson’s demise can be dated to the moment it was reported that he called the president a “moron” back in October, the clock actually started ticking the previous June, when Tillerson decided he would work to reverse the UAE-led embargo against Qatar. Which is why, within hours of Trump’s announcement that Tillerson was being shown the door, his enemies in the Gulf States held a mini-celebration. Among the celebrants was Abdulkhalez Abdullaa, a prominent UAE political science professor, who insinuated that his country could take credit for Tillerson’s demise. “History will remember that a Gulf state had a role in expelling the foreign minister of a superpower and that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he wrote on Twitter.
.. FDD President Mark Dubowitz tweeted his approval of the move. “BREAKING,” he tweeted. “Trump ousts Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, will replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.” Dubowitz linked the news to a Washington Post report on Tillerson’s ouster, but then CC’d the entry to three Iranian officials: “@khamenei_ir,” “@HassanRouhani,” and “@Jzarif “: Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
God’s Plan for Mike Pence
Will the vice president—and the religious right—be rewarded for their embrace of Donald Trump?
Casting himself as the heir to the popular outgoing governor, Mitch Daniels, he avoided social issues and ran on a pragmatic, business-friendly platform. He used Ronald Reagan as a political style guru and told his ad makers that he wanted his campaign commercials to have “that ‘Morning in America’ feel.” He meticulously fine-tuned early cuts of the ads, asking his consultants to edit this or reframe that or zoom in here instead of there.
.. set about cutting taxes and taking on local unions—burnishing a résumé that would impress Republican donors and Iowa caucus-goers. The governor’s stock began to rise in Washington
.. In recent years, the religious right had been abruptly forced to pivot from offense to defense in the culture wars—abandoning the “family values” crusades and talk of “remoralizing America,” and focusing its energies on self-preservation.
..“Many evangelicals were experiencing the sense of an almost existential threat,” Russell Moore, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, told me.
It was only a matter of time, he said, before cultural elites’ scornful attitudes would help drive Christians into the arms of a strongman like Trump. “I think there needs to be a deep reflection on the left about how they helped make this happen.”
.. Coming into the game, Trump had formed an opinion of the Indiana governor as prudish, stiff, and embarrassingly poor, according to one longtime associate.
.. Pence asked what his job description would be if they wound up in the White House together. Trump gave him the same answer he’d been dangling in front of other prospective running mates for weeks: He wanted “the most consequential vice president ever.” Pence was sold.
.. “I knew they would enjoy each other’s company,” Conway told me, adding, “Mike Pence is someone whose faith allows him to subvert his ego to the greater good.”
.. Pence spent much of their time on the course kissing Trump’s ring. You’re going to be the next president of the United States, he said. It would be the honor of a lifetime to serve you.
Afterward, he made a point of gushing to the press about Trump’s golf game. “He beat me like a drum,” Pence confessed, to Trump’s delight.
.. Trump released a list of potential Supreme Court nominees with unimpeachably pro-life records and assembled an evangelical advisory board composed of high-profile faith leaders.
.. One of the men asked to join the board was Richard Land, of the Southern Evangelical Seminary. When the campaign approached him with the offer, Land says, he was perplexed. “You do know that Trump was my last choice, right?” he said. But he ultimately accepted, and when a campaign aide asked what his first piece of advice was, he didn’t hesitate: “Pick Mike Pence.”
.. Then, on July 12, a miracle: During a short campaign swing through Indiana, Trump got word that his plane had broken down on the runway, and that he would need to spend the night in Indianapolis. With nowhere else to go, Trump accepted an invitation to dine with the Pences.
.. In fact, according to two former Trump aides, there was no problem with the plane. Paul Manafort, who was then serving as the campaign’s chairman, had made up the story to keep the candidate in town an extra day and allow him to be wooed by Pence.
.. Pence spoke of Trump in a tone that bordered on worshipful. One of his rhetorical tics was to praise the breadth of his running mate’s shoulders. Trump was, Pence proclaimed, a “broad-shouldered leader,” in possession of “broad shoulders and a big heart,” who had “the kind of broad shoulders” that enabled him to endure criticism while he worked to return “broad-shouldered American strength to the world stage.”
.. Campaign operatives discovered that anytime Trump did something outrageous or embarrassing, they could count on Pence to clean it up. “He was our top surrogate by far,”
.. “He was this mild-mannered, uber-Christian guy with a Midwestern accent telling voters, ‘Trump is a good man; I know what’s in his heart.’ It was very convincing—you wanted to trust him.
.. Even some of Trump’s most devoted loyalists marveled at what Pence was willing to say. There was no talking point too preposterous, no fixed reality too plain to deny
.. When, during the vice-presidential debate, in early October, he was confronted with a barrage of damning quotes and questionable positions held by his running mate, Pence responded with unnerving message discipline, dismissing documented facts as “nonsense” and smears.
.. It was the kind of performance—a blur of half-truths and “whatabout”s and lies—that could make a good Christian queasy.
.. Marc Short, a longtime adviser to Pence and a fellow Christian, told me that the vice president believes strongly in a scriptural concept evangelicals call “servant leadership.” The idea is rooted in the Gospels, where Jesus models humility by washing his disciples’ feet and teaches, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”
.. when he accepted the vice-presidential nomination, he believed he was committing to humbly submit to the will of Donald Trump. “Servant leadership is biblical,” Short told me. “That’s at the heart of it for Mike, and it comes across in his relationship with the president.”
.. “His faith teaches that you’re under authority at all times.
- Christ is under God’s authority,
- man is under Christ’s authority,
- children are under the parents’ authority,
- employees are under the employer’s authority.”
.. “Mike,” he added, “always knows who’s in charge.”
.. On friday, october 7, 2016, The Washington Post published the Access Hollywood tape
.. Most alarming to the aides and operatives inside Trump Tower, Mike Pence suddenly seemed at risk of going rogue.
.. Republican donors and party leaders began buzzing about making Pence the nominee and drafting Condoleezza Rice as his running mate.
.. The furtive plotting, several sources told me, was not just an act of political opportunism for Pence. He was genuinely shocked by the Access Hollywood tape. In the short time they’d known each other, Trump had made an effort to convince Pence that—beneath all the made-for-TV bluster and bravado—he was a good-hearted man with faith in God. On the night of the vice-presidential debate, for example, Trump had left a voicemail letting Pence know that he’d just said a prayer for him. The couple was appalled by the video, however. Karen in particular was “disgusted,” says a former campaign aide. “She finds him reprehensible—just totally vile.”
.. Pence turns to a favorite passage in Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
.. “They thought they were going to be able to get him to drop out before the second debate,” said a former campaign aide. “Little did they know, he has no shame.”
.. Trump showed up in St. Louis for the debate with a group of Bill Clinton accusers in tow, ranting about how Hillary’s husband had done things to women that were far worse than his own “locker-room talk.”
.. In political circles, there had been a widespread, bipartisan recognition that Pence was a decent man with a genuine devotion to his faith. But after watching him in 2016, many told me, they believed Pence had sold out.
.. watching Pence vouch for Trump made him sad. “Ah, Mike,” he sighed. “Ambition got the best of him.” It’s an impression that even some of Pence’s oldest friends and allies privately share.
.. “The number of compromises he made to get this job, when you think about it, is pretty staggering.”
.. Pastor Ralph Drollinger, for example, caught Trump’s attention in December 2015, when he said in a radio interview, “America’s in such desperate straits—especially economically—that if we don’t have almost a benevolent dictator to turn things around, I just don’t think it’s gonna happen through our governance system.” Now Drollinger runs a weekly Bible study in the West Wing.
.. On one side, there are those who argue that good Christians are obligated to support any leader, no matter how personally wicked he may be, who stands up for religious freedom and fights sinful practices such as abortion. Richard Land told me that those who withhold their support from Trump because they’re uncomfortable with his moral failings will “become morally accountable for letting the greater evil prevail.”
.. On the other side of the debate is a smaller group that believes the Christians allying themselves with Trump are putting the entire evangelical movement at risk. Russell Moore, of the Southern Baptist Convention, has made this case forcefully.
.. only 30 percent of white evangelicals believed “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.”
.. One pastor compared Pence to Mordechai, who ascended to the right hand of a Persian king known for throwing lavish parties and discarding his wife after she refused to appear naked in front of his friends.
.. Pastor Mark Burns—a South Carolina televangelist who was among the first to sign on as a faith adviser to Trump—told me Pence’s role in the administration is like that of Jesus, who once miraculously calmed a storm that was threatening to sink the boat
.. Of the 15 Cabinet secretaries Trump picked at the start of his presidency, eight were evangelicals. It was, gushed Ted Cruz, “the most conservative Cabinet in decades.”
.. Pence understood the price of his influence. To keep Trump’s ear required frequent public performances of loyalty and submission—and Pence made certain his inner circle knew that enduring such indignities was part of the job.
.. “Look, I’m in a difficult position here,” Pence said, according to someone familiar with the meeting. “I’m going to have to 100 percent defend everything the president says. Is that something you’re going to be able to do if you’re on my staff?”
.. Trump does not always reciprocate this respect. Around the White House, he has been known to make fun of Pence for his religiosity.
.. During a conversation with a legal scholar about gay rights, Trump gestured toward his vice president and joked, “Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”
.. “They have moved to an ends-justifies-the means style of politics that would have been unimaginable before this last campaign.”
.. he thought it was so low class,” says the adviser. “He thinks the Pences are yokels.”
.. Social conservatives had been lobbying the president to issue a sweeping executive order aimed at carving out protections for religious organizations and individuals opposed to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and transgender rights. The proposed order was fairly radical, but proponents argued that it would strike a crucial blow against the militant secularists trying to drive the faithful out of the public square.
.. “Bannon wanted to fight for it,” says the Trump associate, “and he was really unimpressed that Pence wouldn’t do anything.”
.. But perhaps Pence was playing the long game—weighing the risks of taking on Trump’s kids, and deciding to stand down in the interest of preserving his relationship with the president.
.. What would a Pence presidency look like? To a conservative evangelical, it could mean a glorious return to the Christian values upon which America was founded. To a secular liberal, it might look more like a descent into the dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale.
.. What critics should worry about is not that Pence believes in God, but that he seems so certain God believes in him. What happens when manifest destiny replaces humility, and the line between faith and hubris blurs? What unseemly compromises get made? What means become tolerable in pursuit of an end?
.. Trump’s order merely made it easier for pastors to voice political opinions from the pulpit—a conspicuously self-serving take on religious freedom.
.. The faith leaders pulled out their smartphones and snapped selfies, intoxicated by the VIP treatment. “Mr. President,” Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, said at one point, “we’re going to be your most loyal friends. We’re going to be your enthusiastic supporters. And we thank God every day that you’re the president of the United States.”
.. “I’ve been with [Trump] alone in the room when the decisions are made. He and I have prayed together,” Pence said. “This is somebody who shares our views, shares our values, shares our beliefs.” Pence didn’t waste time touting his own credentials. With this crowd, he didn’t need to. Instead, as always, he lavished praise on the president.
We’re All Mad Here: Weinstein, Women, and the Language of Lunacy
“He has demons.” The language of madness is the last resort for a society that can no longer deny the evidence of structural oppression and violence.
We’re through the looking glass now. As women all over the world come forward to talk about their experiences of sexual violence, all our old certainties about what was and was not normal are peeling away like dead skin.
.. “Back in the day we’d all heard stories about it, but… well, the people telling them were all a bit crazy. You know, messed up. So nobody believed them.”
I took a sip of tea to calm down, and suggested that perhaps the reason these people were messed up — if they were messed up — was because they had been, you know, sexually assaulted
.. The process we are going through in our friendship group and in our culture as a whole is something akin to first contact. Abusers, like little green men in flying saucers, have a habit of revealing their true selves to people nobody’s going to find credible — to women who are vulnerable, or women who are marginalized, or who are just, you know, women.
.. So who’s the crazy one now? To be the victim of sexual assault is to fall down a rabbit hole into a reality shaped by collective delusion: specifically, the delusion that powerful or popular or ordinary-seeming men who do good work in the world cannot also be abusers or predators. To suggest otherwise is to appear insane.
.. Something important has changed. Suddenly women are speaking up and speaking out in numbers too big to shove aside.
.. Now, instead of victims and survivors of rape and assault being written off as mentally ill, it’s the abusers who need help.
.. The social definition of sanity is the capacity to accept the consensus of how the world ought to work
.. Anyone who questions or challenges that consensus is by definition unhinged.
.. Suddenly, it’s Weinstein, not the women calling him a rapist and a pig, who gets to be the one with “demons.” He needs to see a therapist, not a judge.
.. What’s the word for what happens when a lot of people are very sick all at the same time? It’s an epidemic.
.. They are not able to express righteous rage without consequence, because they are not men.
.. if you had sought justice or even just comfort and found instead rank upon rank of friends and colleagues closing together to call you a liar and a hysteric, telling you you’d better shut up — how would you feel? You’d be angry, but you’d better not show it. Angry women are not to be trusted, which suits abusers and their enablers just fine.
.. This is what we’re talking about when we talk about rape culture
.. If everyone around you gets together to dismiss the inconvenient truth of your experience, it’s tempting to believe them, especially if you are very young.
.. More to the point, predators seek out victims who look vulnerable. Women and girls with raw sparking wires who nobody will believe because they’re already crazy.
.. Now it’s the abusers who are seeking asylum. Asking to be treated as sufferers of illness, rather than criminals.
.. The language of lunacy is the last resort when society at large cannot deny the evidence of structural violence.
.. We can’t pretend it didn’t happen, so instead we pretend that there’s no pattern here, just individual maladaption. A chemical imbalance in the brain, not a systemic injustice baked into our culture.
.. Lundy Bancroft, who has spent decades working with abusive men, abusers are no more or less likely to be mentally ill than anyone else. “Abusiveness has little to do with psychological problems and everything to do with values and beliefs,” says Bancroft. “Abusers have a distorted sense of right and wrong. Their value system is unhealthy, not their psychology.”
.. The abusers who are now being excused as mentally ill are not monsters, or aberrations. They were acting entirely within the unhealthy value system of a society which esteems the reputation and status of men above the safety of women. Many abusers, on some level, do not know that what they are doing is wrong. They believe that they are basically decent. Most men who prey on women have had that belief confirmed over the course of years or decades of abuse. They believe they’re basically decent, and a whole lot of other people believe they’re basically decent, too. They’re nice guys who just have a problem with women, or booze, or their mothers, or all three.
.. Right now, all around me, I see women working to support men, as well as each other, through this difficult time. It’s not just because we’re nice and it’s not just because we’re suckers, although it’s probably a little bit of both.
It’s because we know how much this is going to hurt.
.. we worry that men are too weak to cope with the consequences of what they’ve done and allowed to be done to us.
.. The threat of extreme self-harm is a classic last-resort tactic for abusers who suspect that they’re losing control, that their partner is about to leave them or tell someone, or both. It’s effective because it’s almost always plausible, and who wants to be the person who put their own freedom and safety ahead of another person’s life?
.. the bone-deep knowledge drilled into us from birth that we were put on this earth to protect men from, among other things, the consequences of their actions. We’ve been raised to believe that men’s emotions are our responsibility. Even the men who hurt us.
.. As the list of names grows longer, the plea for mercy on the grounds of mental illness is being deployed in exactly the same way. These guys are suffering, too. If you carry on calling for them to come clean and change their behavior, well, that might just push them over the edge. And you wouldn’t want that, would you? You’re a nice girl, aren’t you?
.. We are expected to show a level of concern for our abusers that it would never occur to them to show to us
.. I’m worried about the several men I know who have hurt women in the past and who are now facing the consequences. I’m worried about the men who are analyzing their own behavior in horror, who stood aside and let it happen, and who are suddenly realizing their own complicity — and struggling to cope with the guilt, the shame of that knowledge.
.. we can worry about whoever we like — as long as we worry about the survivors first. We were not liars, or hysterical. We were telling the truth.
.. Reframing serial abuse as a mental health disorder stashes it conveniently on the high shelf marked “not a political issue.”
.. sickness does not obviate social responsibility. It never has. Sickness might give a person the overwhelming urge to act in repulsive ways but sickness does not
- cover for them during business meetings or
- pay off their lawyers or
- make sure they get women dropped from films:
it takes a village to protect a rapist.
.. toxic masculinity leaves a lot of broken men in its maw. That culture conspires to prevent men and boys from being able to handle their sexuality, their aggression, and their fear of rejection and loss of status in any adult way; that it is unbearable at times to exist inside a male body without constant validation.
.. People say that they are shocked, and perhaps they are. But shock is very different from surprise. When was the last time you were really, truly surprised to hear a story like this?
.. The truth is that a great many of those surrounding Weinstein did know. Just as the friends and associates of most sexual predators probably know — not everything, but enough to guess, if they cared to.
.. It is easier to cope with the idea of sick men than it is to face the reality of a sick society
.. I’m sure it’s not a lot of fun to be Harvey Weinstein right now, but sadly for the producer and those like him, the world is changing, and for once, cosseting the feelings of powerful men is not and cannot be our number-one priority. For once, the safety and sanity of survivors is not about to be sacrificed so that a few more unreconstructed bastards can sleep at night.