Fifty Shades of Orange

 In a performance that would have embarrassed the most obsequious lackey of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Vice President Mike Pence delivered an encomium to his boss, who sat across the table with arms folded over his chest, absorbing abasement as his due.

“I want to thank you, Mr. President,” Pence said. “I want to thank you for speaking on behalf of and fighting every day for the forgotten men and women of America. Because of your determination, because of your leadership, the forgotten men and women of America are forgotten no more. And we are making America great again.” The president thanked him for his kind words, and Pence replied, “Thank you, Mr. President, and God bless you.”

.. Trump and establishment Republicans adopt one another’s worst qualities. Trump, who campaigned as a putative economic populist — even calling for higher taxes on the rich — will soon sign into law the tax plan of the House speaker Paul Ryan’s Ayn Randian dreams. The majority of elected Republicans, in turn, are assuming a posture of slavish submission to Trump, worshiping their dear leader and collaborating in the maintenance of his alternative reality.

.. From a secular perspective, Pence, like many other Republicans, appears to be a person inclined to authoritarianism.

.. Erich Fromm, a German-Jewish psychoanalyst who fled Nazism, described authoritarian personalities as simultaneously craving power and submission. “The authoritarian character loves those conditions that limit human freedom; he loves being submitted to fate,” he wrote. Fate, in his formulation, can be the laws of the market, the will of God, or the whims of a leader. According to Fromm, authoritarians might make a show of valuing freedom and independence — watchwords of the American right — but long to be ruled by a stronger force.

.. Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, spoke of his “love” for the president, who he described as “one heck of a leader.” He added, “We’re going to keep fighting and we’re going to make this the greatest presidency that we’ve seen not only in generations, but maybe ever.”

.. Either Hatch really believes this, or he believes in the utility of unabashed sycophancy. Neither possibility suggests he will be an ally in preserving democracy.

.. participating in the ludicrous fiction that there was a pro-Hillary Clinton conspiracy afoot in the F.B.I., an entity led by a succession of Republicans and described by one agent during the election as “Trumpland.”

.. If Republicans were as loyal to the country as they are to the president, they’d want to know exactly what had Strzok so alarmed.

.. It is, as they say, not normal for erstwhile law-and-order Republicans to attack the F.B.I. for being overzealous in its pursuit of Russian subversion.

.. Nunes’s inquiry appears similar to Trump’s voter fraud commission

.. Hannah Arendt once wrote of this sort of policy-as-disinformation: “Totalitarianism will not be satisfied to assert, in the face of contrary facts, that unemployment does not exist; it will abolish unemployment benefits as part of its propaganda.”

.. a lot of us have assumed that Republicans are putting up with Trump out of fear of their base or lust for tax cuts. We’ve imagined that beneath our mutual partisan loathing lies some remaining shared commitment to liberal democracy.

.. But there’s another possibility, which is that a critical mass of Republicans like being in thrall to a man who seems strong enough to will his own reality, and bold enough to voice their atavistic hatreds. Maybe Trump is changing Republicans, or maybe he’s just giving men like Pence permission to be who they already were.

How Donald Trump Opened the Door to Roy Moore

There was evidence that the father was abusing the kids, who by 2002 were teenagers. He acknowledged whipping them with a belt and forcing them to sit with paper bags over their heads. He refused to send the younger children to summer school, even though their grades were bad. When the kids called their mother, their father taped the conversations. By the time the case got to the Alabama Supreme Court, a lower court had ruled in the mother’s favor. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed the ruling, with then Chief Justice Roy Moore writing in a concurring opinion that a gay person couldn’t be a fit parent.

“Homosexual conduct is, and has been, considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God upon which this nation and our laws are predicated,” wrote Moore. He added, “The state carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution. It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle.”

.. But Moore’s victory is also a victory for Trumpism, a populist movement that has eroded normal limits on political behavior.

.. Fritz Stern, a historian who fled Nazi Germany, described the “conservative revolution” that prefigured National Socialism: “The movement did embody a paradox: its followers sought to destroy the despised present in order to recapture an idealized past in an imaginary future.”
.. What Moore’s critics see as lawlessness, his fans see as insurgent valor. Trump’s most prominent nationalist supporters, including Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, lined up behind Moore, describing him as part of the Trumpian revolution. Nigel Farage, a right-wing British politician and Trump ally, flew to Fairhope, Ala., to speak at a rally for Moore, saying on stage, “It is getting someone like him elected that will rejuvenate the movement that led to Trump and Brexit.”
.. Back then, anti-gay prejudice was far more acceptable than it is today, but Moore’s messianic denunciation of a lesbian mother was still shocking. Trump is not a pious man, but by destroying informal restraints on reactionary rhetoric, he’s made his party hospitable to the cruelest of theocrats.
Moore’s success is bound to encourage more candidates like him. The Republican establishment’s borders have been breached. Its leaders should have built a wall.

The Dangerous Reality of an Iran War

Washington has rejected a Turkish role in the liberation of Raqqa, knowing that Ankara will not tolerate the ISIS capital falling into Kurdish hands either. It’s becoming increasingly likely that the winning formula will see the city and its environs ceded to an authority friendly to the Syrian government, under a Russian umbrella ..

.. Just last week, the UAE reportedly upped the ante by demanding the Saudis abandon their puppet president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi—ostensibly the “legitimate” Yemeni authority the western-backed Saudi coalition was fighting to reinstate.

.. What’s notable is that all of these developments, at face value, serve Iran’s interests in the region and undermine those of U.S. allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

.. Iran will also be a useful tool to provoke or cajole traditional U.S. allies like Israel, Turkey, and various Arab monarchies into taking positions favored by Trump.

.. There are whispers of a Saudi-led “Arab NATO” that could partner with Israel to target Iran.

.. Trump’s choices are actually fairly limited.

.. Subversive activities—such as color revolution plots, propaganda, or cyberwarfare—have proven futile given Iran’s historic vigilance on and within its borders. Conventional war would require a substantial Iranian provocation and isn’t likely to be sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

.. James Mattis, a committed Iran hawk, almost did so several weeks ago when he considered letting U.S. forces board an Iranian ship in Arabian Sea international waters, according to a passing mention of the incident in the New York Times.

.. It has endured an eight-year war with Iraq, which was encouraged, financed, and armed by great powers and regional states alike. The Islamic Republic performed a remarkable claw-back from the assault and went on to amass conventional and asymmetrical capabilities to deter future attacks.

.. When the U.S. is there, Iran’s focus and discipline is better. They’re useful that way. It brings us together, creates support for our security forces, our army, our borders.”

.. because of Wikileaks’ 2010 State Department cables cache, we now know that—in private at least—U.S. officials are also skeptical of their own public charges.

.. “the U.S. military rarely beats Iran in asymmetrical war games unless it cheats or rigs it.”

.. the “Millennium Challenge,” a 2002 U.S. armed forces war game in the Persian Gulf between the U.S. (blue team) and an unnamed Mideast adversary (red team), believed to be Iran.

.. Why are U.S. armed forces in the Persian Gulf anyway?

.. between 1976 and 2010, Washington has spent an eye-popping $8 trillion protecting the oil flow in the Persian Gulf. As of 2010, the U.S. only received 10 percent of those oil shipments. The largest recipients were Japan (20 percent), followed by China, India, and South Korea.

 

Donald Trump: The Russian Poodle

Both Nixon and Trump responded badly to the revelations, Nixon by ordering a cover-up and Trump by denouncing the C.I.A. and, incredibly, defending Russia from the charges that it tried to subvert our election. I never thought I would see a dispute between America’s intelligence community and a murderous foreign dictator in which an American leader sided with the dictator.

.. Now we come to the most reckless step of all: This Russian poodle is acting in character by giving important government posts to friends of Moscow, in effect rewarding it for its attack on the United States.

.. Maybe all this from Russia to Angola was just Tillerson trying to maximize his company’s revenue, and he will act differently as secretary of state. Maybe. But I’m skeptical that his ideology would change in fundamental ways.

The Art of Subversion: What transgressive tastemaker John Waters teaches the right.

“You need to prepare sneak attacks on society. ‘Hairspray’ is the only really devious movie I ever made,” Waters boasted during his 2015 commencement speech at the Rhode Island School of Design. “The musical based on it is now being performed in practically every high school in America—and nobody seems to notice it’s a show with two men singing a love song to each other that also encourages white teen girls to date black guys. ‘Pink Flamingos’ was preaching to the converted. But ‘Hairspray’ is a Trojan horse: It snuck into Middle America and never got caught.

.. Conservatives, by contrast, never fought the culture war with the intention of winning converts. Instead, they simply watched their circles become smaller, older, and more exclusive. They reduced themselves to remnants of the Moral Majority and became more concerned with winning elections than winning the culture of the future.

.. He was part of that change, helping to bring it about, but he did it without ever seeming like an angry ideologue. “I always used left-wing politics, I love the Yippies and the comic terrorism,” Waters told the British Film Institute. “I think it could be effective today, you humiliate your enemies by comic terrorism, by embarrassing them, and doing ridiculous stunts and hoaxes against them.”

.. What’s more, “I respect everything I make fun of,” the filmmaker wrote elsewhere.

.. Conservatives hardly ever take on their peers in fear that they will be considered unfashionable, be disinvited for radio and cable news show appearances, and lose the chance at becoming the next established figurehead. The right needs its own brand of radicalism if it’s going to fight the culture wars from its new place as the underdog, the new counterculture. It’s not enough to create an endless series of pie charts about how the wage gap is a myth; conservatives need to create a moment that people will grab onto because it is interesting, fun, and has a purpose. No one ever started a chant because they read a pie chart.