Tales of Our Continuing Kakistocracy
A lot of people are waiting for something dramatic to happen, some line to be crossed, an epic event like the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller III that will allow them to say that now we have had a coup and now we are ready to do something about it.
We already had the coup. It happened on November 8, 2016, when an unqualified candidate won a minority victory in a corrupted election thanks in part to foreign intervention.
Any time is the right time to pour into the streets and demand that it all grinds to a halt and the country change direction. The evidence that the candidate and his goons were aided by and enthusiastically collaborating with a foreign power was pretty clear before that election, and at this point, they are so entangled there isn’t really a reason to regard the born-again alt-right Republican Party and the Putin Regime as separate entities.
Take the recent revelations about the president’s personal errand boy, Michael Cohen. He ran a shell company from which money was used to pay Stormy Daniels to remain silent in what was quite likely an illegal campaign contribution. Money came in, along with major corporations, from a Russian oligarch close to Putin, Viktor Vekselberg, or rather from a corporation called Columbus Nova, run by a cousin of his apparently appointed to mask Vekselberg’s own role.
The New Yorker reports, “It is a company technically owned by others but which looks after money owned and controlled in large part—if not entirely—by Vekselberg and his family.” Or as Frank Rich put it at New York Magazine, it’s “an example of collusion so flagrant that it made Trump and Rudy Giuliani suddenly go mute: a Putin crony’s cash turns out to be an essential component of the racketeering scheme used to silence Stormy Daniels and thus clear Trump’s path to the White House in the final stretch of the 2016 election.”
The Washington Post reports that Columbus Nova “is listed as the organization behind a string of websites targeted toward white nationalists and other members of the alt-right.” That is, this Russian oligarch’s company was illegally attempting to influence the election, and they were giving money to the bagboy of the election’s winner.
Pro Publica reports that another personal lawyer of the president’s, Marc Kasowitz, also worked on behalf of Columbus Nova. There are a thousand other details like that of financial dealings—real estate sales, investments, odd transfers of wealth, social connections, meetings—that tie the Trump mob to the Russian mob—because most of the oligarchs are, in that autocratic regime, in one way or another mobsters, because Putin himself runs that vast country as though he was a mob boss intent on exerting control through fear, and profit through extortion.
The Trump family aspires to mafia status, a thuggocracy, but they are manipulable and bumbling where Putin and company are disciplined and Machiavellian. They hire fools and egomaniacs and compromised figures—Scaramucci, Giuliani, Bannon, Flynn, Nunberg, the wifebeating Rob Porter—and then fire them, with a soap opera’s worth of drama; the competent ones quit, as have many lawyers hired to help Trump navigate his scandals.
The Trumps don’t hide things well or keep their mouths shut or manage the plunder they grab successfully, and they keep committing crimes in public. Remember when Trump revealed highly classified data to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister when they visited him in the Oval Office, not long after he fired FBI director James Comey (but before he admitted it was to obstruct Comey’s investigation of his ties to Russia?). There’s a picture of that visit in which the Russians are laughing at him and he looks befuddled.
Remember when Donald Jr. met with the Russian agent in Trump Tower in June of 2016 to get purloined data on Clinton and tried to cover it up by saying it was about adoptions? Remember when the Trump team was forced out of the Panama hotel that Trump still profited from, and how his lawyers appealed directly to the president of Panama? How he profits from that business and others despite the emoluments clause of the Constitution? Or the various lawsuits for violating that clause, including one pending from the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia? Or the women suing Trump for defamation? Perhaps not, as so many scandals have piled up on those ones.-----------------------
Bluffers bluff, and President Trump just tried to bluff his way through one of the worst weeks of his administration.It's not working. Donald Trump is a terrible poker player.
His tells are so clumsily obvious and that we mistakenly give him credit for guile where none exists, and for some cinematic, supervillain cunning where there is only a howling, feral mass of insecurity and need.
The delta between reality and spin with Trump is always broad, and last week it was unspinnably vast. It's also been a stunning illustration of just how powerful the division between reality and fantasy has become in the two hermetic media silos that now exist in America.
For some Americans — a minority, I pray — Trump is a pied piper luring the credulous and the uninformed into accepting lies over truth, comfort over reality and conspiracy over fact. In Trump's world and that of his angry minions, the winning doesn't stop, the vast left-wing conspiracy's witch-hunt against him is both broad and insidious, and the truth is what he wants it to be on any given day.
Maintaining the Trump illusion requires an endless suspension of disbelief; denying facts, logic, reason, the law and the utterly evident cluster-you-know-what that this administration represents. The pinnacle of that illusion-at-all-costs philosophy came after the revelation that an FBI informant followed up on leads that Trump campaign foreign policy aides Carter Page and George Papadopoulos had been playing footsie with the Russians. On Fox News, talk radio and in the Trump-right online media armies, the innocent Trump campaign was the victim of FBI spying against them, ordered by notorious Kenyan Muslim sleeper agent Barack Obama, evil sorceress Hillary Clinton and their army of Deep State apparatchiks.
The President wants you to call the FBI's Russian counterintelligence program Spygate, but rational people have declined to indulge him. Stupidgate is instead just a ludicrous new chapter in the long chronicle of Trump dumbassery. It's only one of the many examples of Trump's behavior of which historians in the far future will look upon with the same stunned disbelief and discomfort as we now consider tulip manias, Beanie Baby investment schemes, Milli Vanilli and acid-washed jeans. There might have been a moment where those ideas were intriguing, but in the hard light of history, they're grim reminders that fads and passions are fleeting.
For the FBI actions Trump calls Spygate to be a real concern, it would require malice. Instead, we've seen justification after justification for a robust counterintelligence response to Russian malfeasance. Drawn to the Trump campaign like flies to the biggest manure pile in the universe, the FBI wasn't after him, but rather — quite properly — the Russians who sought to (and may have succeeded) in subverting American democracy and corrupting our elections.
There's a line in the 1990s film "Grosse Point Blank" where John Cusack's assassin character defends his line of work. He says, "If I show up at your door, chances are you did something to bring me there." It couldn't have been that an FBI counterintelligence investigation against the Russians kept finding lead after lead headed straight back to Trump associates, family members, friends, business partners and his senior campaign officials, could it? It couldn't have been because Trump advisers were boasting they had the Russian goods on Hillary Clinton, that his sons were taking meetings in Trump Tower with platoons of Russians tied to Vladimir Putin, or that his attorney Michael Cohen was signing letters of intent to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, right? And there's no way it was the opinion of every American intelligence agency that the Russians were all in with a program of information warfare in support of Donald Trump. No way? Way.
The central unspinnable story of the past week is the one over which Trump feels the most pressing anxiety. Three new stories reported on Michael Cohen's latest avenues of legal jeopardy, all of which increase the risk Cohen flips on Trump to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. First, Cohen's longtime business associate Evgeny "The Taxi King" Freidman copped a plea deal and agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York against Cohen. This development is bad news from every angle for both Cohen and Trump. There's not a chance in hell Freidman would have been given an easy plea deal unless he had something to provide prosecutors on Cohen, and by extension, Trump. Freidman comes from the same Russian circles as Cohen and Trump partner Felix Sater.
I know you're asking the same question I do all the time: for a President who claims to have never had anything to do with Russia, Russian business interests or Russian money, why are there so many Russians and so much Russian money tied to him?
As if that wasn't bad enough, the BBC's Paul Wood delivered another hard blow. In an impeccably sourced piece, Wood revealed this week that Cohen (along with the aforementioned Sater) worked illegally on behalf of Ukraine, adding "lobbyist" to his usual roles as the fixer for and conduit to Trump. The BBC reports that Cohen took a $400,000 to $600,000 payoff from Ukrainian interests without bothering the register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Oh, that Foreign Agents Registration Act. You know, the law that requires anyone doing paid work on behalf of a foreign government to register with the United States Department of Justice.
On Friday, one more piece of bad news ratcheted Cohen's stress level even higher when it was revealed that he met with Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch deeply tied to Putin, in January of 2017, just before Trump's inauguration. The denials from Team Trump that they have anything to do with Russia, their assertions that they have no business in Russia, didn't collude with Russia, didn't coordinate with Russia, never borrowed money from Russians, didn't accept dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russia, don't know any Russians, have never met any Russians and have never heard of the country of Russia ring more hollow with every revelation. The vise squeezing Cohen is tightening, and every day that passes increases the chances he'll turn Judas on his friend and boss. Trump knows what Cohen knows, and what Cohen knows about Trump's business dealings, finances, taxes, serial infidelities, hush money to adult film stars (and Lord knows who else) isn't pretty.
If you dabble at all in the odd world of far-right conspiracy theories, or happen to be a nazi-sympathizing, jew-hating, 4chan user who frequents the /pol/ thread on that site, then you have undoubtedly stumbled upon the person or people known as QAnon.
For the rest of you who believe in reality and don’t frequent message boards where hate groups congregate, QAnon first emerged on October 28, 2017 in a /pol/ thread on 4chan, titled “Calm Before the Storm,” clearly in reference to an odd quote by Trump in early October where he stood with military leaders and stated “Maybe it’s the calm before the storm. Could be, the calm. The calm before the storm.”
While it’s pretty clear he was talking about the military’s possible use of force, this individual, or group of individuals who have been posting cryptic images and messages on what amounts to an internet hate-group message board, believes that Trump was referring to something else entirely. They believe that Trump has been pretending to be influenced by Russia in order to force the FBI, DOJ and Special Counsel to investigate what really amounts to Russian ties on the part of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and others.
They also argue that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is not really investigating Trump, but instead is investigating Obama, Clinton, and their associates. Since October, QAnon has been suggesting that a “Storm is coming” any day now. It’s been 7 months now and as Trump associates continue to plead guilty, get indicted, or flip, not a single individual within the Obama administration or Clinton campaign has even been interviewed by Mueller, as far as we are aware.
Despite the lack of any evidence, what-so-ever, to verify any of these clearly baseless claims, QAnon continues to promise that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, Huma Abedin, and even John McCain will soon all be arrested, or are already under house arrest.
Besides the general “Trump is a superhero” rhetoric coming from the anonymous QAnon, the lost souls who follow every word of this account, almost as if it’s god himself coming to speak to them, also believe that Clinton and Obama were covering up child sex rings, and that the Las Vegas massacre was an inside job connected to a cabal led by the Saudis and Hillary Clinton.
There are always conspiracy theorists out there, but the group congregating around this QAnon pseudonym are incredibly vile, disguise themselves on 4chan with anonymity, and seem to be lost in a fantasy world where their hero is someone so heroic that he/she will only post on a known Nazi-sympathizing message board, anonymously. It’s one thing to question authority. It’s something entirely different when you unquestionably follow an anonymous user on an anonymous message board, posting theories which don’t remotely add up. This group is dangerous, not because they will influence the Mueller probe in any way, but because they are convincing an incredibly large number of internet users that reality is not reality and that hate, bigotry and lies are the norm.