Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

February 17, 2017

Trump reportedly weighing use of National Guard

Filed under: Trump — millerlf @ 6:58 pm

By Garance Burke Associated Press  February 17, 2017

The Trump administration considered a proposal to mobilize as many as 100,000 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants, including millions living nowhere near the Mexico border, according to a draft memo obtained by The Associated Press.

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

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.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Friday the document was ‘‘not a White House document.’’

‘‘There is no effort to do what is potentially suggested,’’ he said. Spicer called the AP report ‘‘100 percent not true, adding that there was ‘‘no effort at all to utilize the National Guard to round up unauthorized immigrants.’’

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

The AP had sought comment from the White House beginning Thursday and DHS earlier Friday and had not received a response from either.

Governors in the 11 states would have had a choice whether to have their guard troops participate, according to the memo, which bears the name of U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general.

While National Guard personnel have been used to assist with immigration-related missions on the U.S.-Mexico border before, they have never been used as broadly or as far north.

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.


February 16, 2017

State Superintendent Tony Evers blasts challenger’s school takeover plan

Filed under: Elections,MPS Takeover — millerlf @ 10:18 am

Jan 26, 2017 Lacrosse Tribune

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin school Superintendent Tony Evers is blasting a plan from a challenger that would make it possible for low-performing public schools to be converted into private charter or voucher schools.

The idea comes from John Humphries, a former Dodgeville school administrator who is challenging Evers. His proposal would allow the lowest-performing schools with a high percentage of low-income students to be reorganized, possibly as a private voucher school.

Evers says Humphries has no vision and wants to dismantle public schools. Evers says Humphries is peddling ideas that haven’t worked and won’t be accepted.

Another state superintendent candidate Lowell Holtz is also criticizing the idea. He says “The last thing the children of Milwaukee and Madison need is another plan from a bureaucrat who has never lived in their neighborhood.”

February 12, 2017

Barbara Miner L.A. Times Op-ed: Critique of Private School Vouchers

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:11 am

If you care about our public schools and our democracy, beware of Betsy DeVos and her vouchers

Betsy DeVos’ confirmation marks the first time a vice president’s tie-breaking vote was needed to confirm a presidential Cabinet appointment. Feb. 7, 2017.

Barbara Miner:  L.A. Times Feb.9, 2017

The confirmation hearings for Betsy DeVos provided an inordinate amount of drama: guns and grizzlies, an all-night talkathon on the Senate floor, and Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote — and with good reason.

DeVos, now confirmed as secretary of Education, is not just another inexperienced member of the president’s Cabinet. She is an ideologue with a singular educational passion — replacing our system of democratically controlled public schools with a universal voucher program that privileges private and religious ones.

If you care about our public schools and our democracy, you should be worried.

Every state constitution enshrines the right to a free education for all children, and the U.S. Supreme Court has long upheld this right. In its landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, the high court noted that “education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments.” It went on to recognize its role in a democratic society, calling education “the very foundation of good citizenship.”

Given the controversy surrounding DeVos, Republicans initially may go easy in pushing school vouchers. But beware the bait and switch, the seemingly reasonable initiative that disguises radical change.

Since 1990, roughly $2 billion in public money has been funneled into private and religious schools in Wisconsin, and the payments keep escalating.

For more than a quarter-century, I have reported on the voucher program in Milwaukee: the country’s first contemporary voucher initiative and a model for other cities and state programs, from Cleveland to New Orleans, Florida to Indiana.

Milwaukee’s program began in 1990, when the state Legislature passed a bill allowing 300 students in seven nonsectarian private schools to receive taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers. It was billed as a small, low-cost experiment to help poor black children, and had a five-year sunset clause.

That was the bait. The first “switch” came a few weeks later, when the Republican governor eliminated the sunset clause. Ever since, vouchers have been a divisive yet permanent fixture in Wisconsin.

Conservatives have consistently expanded the program, especially when Republicans controlled the state government. (Vouchers have never been put to a public vote in Wisconsin.) Today, some 33,000 students in 212 schools receive publicly funded vouchers, not just in Milwaukee but throughout Wisconsin. If it were its own school district, the voucher program would be the state’s second largest. The overwhelming majority of the schools are religious.

Voucher schools are private schools that have applied for a state-funded program that pays tuition for some or all of its student body. Even if every single student at a school receives a publicly funded voucher, as is the case in 22 of Milwaukee’s schools, that school is still defined as private.

Because they are defined as “private,” voucher schools operate by separate rules, with minimal public oversight or transparency. They can sidestep basic constitutional protections such as freedom of speech. They do not have to provide the same level of second-language or special-education services. They can suspend or expel students without legal due process. They can ignore the state’s requirements for open meetings and records. They can disregard state law prohibiting discrimination against students on grounds of sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, or marital or parental status.

Wisconsin has sunk so deep into this unaccountable world that our voucher program not only turns a blind eye toward discrimination in voucher schools, it forces the public to pay for such discrimination.

I attended Catholic schools, and believe that this country’s long-standing defense of religious liberty is a hallmark of our democracy. But the voucher program has distorted this all-important concept of religious freedom.

In the guise of governmental noninterference in religious matters, the voucher program allows private schools to use public dollars to proselytize and teach church doctrine that is at odds with public policy — for instance, that women must be submissive to men, that homosexuality is evil, that birth control is a sin, and that creationism is scientifically sound.

Privatizing an essential public function and forcing the public to pay for it, even while removing it from meaningful public oversight, weakens our democracy. And we aren’t talking about insignificant amounts of money. Since 1990, roughly $2 billion in public money has been funneled into private and religious schools in Wisconsin, and the payments keep escalating. This year alone, the tab is some $248 million.

For more than 25 years, conservatives have used the seductive rhetoric of “choice” to blur the difference between public and private schools. It has been a shrewd move. Individual choice has long been considered a component of liberty.

Used appropriately, choice can help ensure that public education is sensitive to the varying needs and preferences of students and families. But when it comes to voucher schools, it’s clear that “choice” is also code for funneling tax dollars away from public schools and into private and religious schools.

No one doubts our public school systems have deep-seated problems. But the solution is to fix them, not abandon them. Our public schools are the only institutions with the commitment, the capacity, and the legal obligation to teach all children.

With DeVos’ confirmation, the entire country now must answer this question: If public education is an essential bedrock of our democracy, why are we undermining it?

Barbara Miner is a Milwaukee based reporter and the author of “Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City” (The New Press, 2013).

Bruce Murphy on Erin Richards Critique of Vouchers

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:10 am

Murphy’s Law

Taking Aim at Voucher Schools

Erin Richards, JS reporter’s story, details disturbing problems — but not in her own newspaper. See Erin Richards’ American Prospect article in full at:

By Bruce Murphy – Feb 9th, 2017 UrbanMilwaukee

A recent, in-depth story in the liberal American Prospect, “Milwaukee’s Voucher Verdict,” raises troubling questions about choice schools. Curiously, it was written by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Erin Richards while she was on leave from her job, and nothing like it has been published in the newspaper. Even more curious, Richards was the reporter that then-Milwaukee School President Michael Bonds wanted the JS to remove from the education beat, and yet her story if anything suggests more sympathy for public schools.

But it would be a mistake to pigeon hole the story, which is thoughtful, broad in sweep and ultimately a very disturbing look at a Milwaukee education scene where not much seems to be working. Richards begin with a description of the Ceria M. Travis Academy, a fly-by-night K-12 choice school where a teacher was given no curriculum, few books (one out of date) and where just “one student scored at least ‘proficient’ in language arts on the latest state exams, and none were proficient in math, science, or social studies.”

“Half a mile away at Holy Redeemer Christian Academy—another fixture in the blighted neighborhood, where it’s dangerous to walk alone even in broad daylight—just 4 out of 206 pupils tested were proficient in English on the latest state tests. None were proficient in math,” Richards recounts. “Together, Travis Academy and Holy Redeemer have received close to $100 million in taxpayer funding over the years.”

That a school like Travis Academy has been in operation for two decades, Richards writes, calls into question the philosophy behind private school choice, that “Introducing competition to the government monopoly on public schools will lead to higher academic performance.”

From there the story makes many punchy observations, including:

-The 2010 wave election that brought in many Republican-run statehouses has greatly increased voucher programs, growing from 15 states and 24 programs that year to 28 states and 61 programs in 2016, with some voucher programs now reaching beyond low-income students to include the middle class.

-Public money for vouchers doesn’t require much public information. Voucher schools in Wisconsin, “thanks to expansions signed by Republican Governor Scott Walker since 2011—are not compelled by law to hold public meetings or disclose high school graduation or dropout rates. They are not obligated to make public any data on student suspension or expulsion or attendance rates, or any information on teachers, from salaries to absenteeism to a simple roster.”

-Though vouchers were supposed to improve education in Milwaukee, choice schools on average do about as poorly as public schools, and the exceptions among choice schools have tended to be Catholic and Lutheran schools, “which would have never maintained a presence in the inner city serving poor children without taxpayer assistance.”

-There are no state policies in Wisconsin that aim to expand good choice schools and shut down the many dreadful schools because “choice advocates don’t want to give more power to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction,” which is seen as an advocate of public schools.

-The minority of voucher schools may benefit from weeding out difficult students. Many have stringent discipline policies that allow expulsion for vaguely described offenses. “Grade promotion records… revealed many voucher schools had a student population that dramatically diminished as the grade levels advanced.” The most robust study of choice schools found “more than half the students who started ninth grade in a voucher high school were not still there by 12th grade.” (And when those students leave, they can by law go back to Milwaukee Public Schools.)

-Higher-performing choice schools tend to attract more parents “who are well equipped to make educational decisions.” To enroll at St. Marcus Lutheran, a showcase school for voucher success, parents have to “sign a covenant agreeing to get their child to school on time and to oversee homework… agree to sit down with teachers in their home at least once a year, and attend parent-teacher meetings. And they have to find their own transportation, as St. Marcus does not provide busing.” Public schools can’t make such requirements.

-The disappointing results of voucher schools, instead of triggering calls for change, have simply shifted the rationale for them. “Instead of being championed as a panacea for failing urban schools… choice is now being positioned as a fundamental right that should be guaranteed to all families.” (Republicans, I might add, have also increasingly justified them as cheaper than public schools.)

-As more states have approved voucher programs nationwide public support for them has fallen. “Between 2012 and 2016, nationwide public support for vouchers targeted at low-income students fell from 55 percent to 43 percent.” Interestingly, the support for vouchers was higher among Democrats than Republicans.

-As Wisconsin led the way in choice schools, other states put more emphasis on charter schools. That seems like a great misfortune. For what Richards’ story strongly suggests (and high-profile voucher supporter Howard Fuller concluded at least a decade ago) is that giving low-income parents the power to choose their child’s school does not result in bad ones being rejected. Quite the contrary.

In short, it appears we need the “nanny state” or some form of government oversight, which is what you get in charter schools: In Milwaukee that could be city government or UW-Milwaukee, for instance, that operate as the chartering authority. As Urban Milwaukee columnist and former Milwaukee School Board member Bruce Thompson has concluded, charter schools that are independent of MPS have had pretty promising results.

And it may be that Catholic and Lutheran schools, because they are part of a system of schools, also have more oversight than other choice schools. (The impact of religion is probably a factor as well.)

We might have had many more of these independent charter schools if not for the all the GOP political pressure and conservative Bradley Foundation funding for choice schools.

I supported school choice as an experimental program back in 1990, but the experiment has gone on for 27 years and choice schools in Milwaukee now constitute what amounts to the second largest school district in the state. And there is no evidence that education in Milwaukee has improved as a result. At what point will this be recognized by state and local policymakers? Clearly we need a new approach.

Richards completed this article while on leave from the Journal Sentinel, and with support from the Spencer Fellowship in Education Reporting at Columbia University. It’s certainly timely, given President Trump’s promise to spend $20 billion in federal funds on choice and charter schools. The experience of Milwaukee, the national trailblazer for vouchers, strongly suggests choice is not the way to go.

The brief controversy over Richards’ reporting in Milwaukee, which arose in the fall of 2014, was reported by Urban Milwaukee and was something of a comedy of errors. There is little evidence anyone with MPS besides Michael Bonds was pushing to replace Richards. And the idea that she has it in for public schools is hard to square with her American Prospect piece.

Of course, reporters like Richards must deal with editors, who can sometimes shape the direction of stories. Beyond that, the conventions of daily journalism, with the inverted pyramid narrative and “balanced” reporting, can often result in murky stories that leave readers with more questions than answers. Richards tells me she hopes to do a two-part article on some of her findings for the Journal Sentinel. I doubt it will be as incisive as this story.

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here. 

Nate Silver Gives 14 Possible Roads for the Trump Presidency

Filed under: Trump — millerlf @ 10:08 am

14 Versions Of Trump’s Presidency, From #MAGA To Impeachment

Nate Silver Feb. 3, 2017 FiveThirtyEight Filed under The Trump Administration

14 Versions Of Trump’s Presidency, From #MAGA To Impeachment

When faced with highly uncertain conditions, military units and major corporations sometimes use an exercise called scenario planning. The idea is to consider a broad range of possibilities for how the future might unfold to help guide long-term planning and preparation. The goal is not necessarily to assess the relative likelihood of each scenario so much as to keep an open mind so you’re not so surprised when events don’t develop quite as you’d expected.

This technique might be useful in the case of President Trump. He’s made so much news in his first two weeks that it feels as though he’s been president for two months — or two years. I worry that we, the community of Trump-watchers, may be making too many extrapolations from this small sample of data and have become too narrow-minded in our efforts to imagine what might come next. Play with a few variables — such as Trump’s relationship with Republicans in Congress, his approval ratings, and whether he’s a real authoritarian or just sort of a troll — and you’ll soon find yourself wandering down some interesting paths in which Trump’s presidency is variously a stunning success or a threat to the future of the American Republic — or both at once.

Take David Frum’s recent article at The Atlantic (“How to Build an Autocracy”) about one possible future Trump could build, for instance. Frum doesn’t rely on a straight-line extrapolation of what we’ve seen from Trump so far. Instead, he imagines a scenario in which Trump crosses Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and shifts toward a more populist economic program, with lots of spending on infrastructure and social welfare. Using that fairly popular agenda, Trump wins re-election. But Trump wouldn’t be some sort of Bloombergian center-left technocrat, Frum says. There would still be plenty of nationalism and social populism mixed in with his economic populism. He’d also continue to defy and disrespect democratic norms and institutions, using the presidency as a platform to bully the opposition and enrich himself. It’s a kinder, gentler, more insidious, more media-savvy form of authoritarianism: “a mix that’s worked well for authoritarians in places like Poland,” as Frum notes.

No, things probably won’t unfold in exactly this way. The point is that it’s a plausible outcome. If the past year and a half has taught us nothing else, it’s that things in American politics often aren’t as certain as people assume, especially when it comes to Trump.

Here, then, is a list of 14 plausible futures for Trump, grouped into a few broad categories. Some of them are mutually exclusive while others can be mixed and matched. And there are undoubtedly many possible futures that I haven’t considered.1 But I hope that these make for a reasonably representative range of possibilities. If you find yourself feeling a strong urge to rule some of them out, ask yourself whether there’s really enough evidence to do that given that we’re just 1 percent of the way through Trump’s first term.

Group I: Extrapolations from the status quo. (more…)

February 9, 2017

Donald Trump plans to completely eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Filed under: Trump — millerlf @ 4:43 pm

The administration wants to shrink federal government spending by eliminating “waste.” Not only are art, culture, and creativity vital to a thriving society, but funding for NEA and NEH is a very tiny portion of the federal budget.

Add your name:  Demand that Congress reject any budget that eliminates funding for the arts and humanities.

This budget proposal is not about saving money. Funding for the NEA and NEH each constitute only .003% of federal spending. This is about minimizing the power to shape the culture we live in.

Artists tell our stories, highlight our struggles and victories, and inspire people to see beyond what is in front of them and forge a new future. Arts sharpen our thinking with innovative perspectives. The NEA and NEH open access to a vibrant arts culture to diverse Americans, regardless of class or income.

Eliminating the Endowments would have a negligible impact on the budget, but it would create huge barriers to the work of so many artists, museums, libraries, universities, researchers, educators, and arts education programs. In so many ways, artists inspire us to resist the status quo and we must resist this proposal.

Add your name:  Demand that Congress reject any budget that eliminates funding for the arts and humanities.

February 7, 2017

Visit Larry Miller’s School Board Election Blog

Filed under: Elections — millerlf @ 5:01 pm

Check out my school board election blog at:

You can view a short bio. You can read my 6-part program for MPS and Milwaukee. And you can support my campaign by going to the “contact/contribute” link.


Conservative Charlie Sykes Writes About Trump Lies

Filed under: Trump — millerlf @ 4:26 pm

Why Nobody Cares the President Is Lying

by CHARLES J. SYKES February 4, 2017 NYTimes

MILWAUKEE — If President Trump’s first tumultuous weeks have done nothing else, at least they have again made us a nation of readers.

As Americans grapple with the unreality of the new administration, George Orwell’s “1984” has enjoyed a resurgence of interest, becoming a surprise best seller and an invaluable guide to our post-factual world.

On his first full day in office Mr. Trump insisted that his inaugural crowd was the largest ever, a baseless boast that will likely set a pattern for his relationship both to the media and to the truth.

At an event marking Black History Month last week, the president took a detour from a discussion of Frederick Douglass — he described the abolitionist as “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more” — to talk about the press. “A lot of the media is actually the opposition party — they’re so biased,” he said. “So much of the media is the opposition party and knowingly saying incorrect things.”

Mr. Trump understands that attacking the media is the reddest of meat for his base, which has been conditioned to reject reporting from news sites outside of the conservative media ecosystem.

 For years, as a conservative radio talk show host, I played a role in that conditioning by hammering the mainstream media for its bias and double standards. But the price turned out to be far higher than I imagined. The cumulative effect of the attacks was to delegitimize those outlets and essentially destroy much of the right’s immunity to false information. We thought we were creating a savvier, more skeptical audience. Instead, we opened the door for President Trump, who found an audience that could be easily misled.

The news media’s spectacular failure to get the election right has made it only easier for many conservatives to ignore anything that happens outside the right’s bubble and for the Trump White House to fabricate facts with little fear of alienating its base.

Unfortunately, that also means that the more the fact-based media tries to debunk the president’s falsehoods, the further it will entrench the battle lines.

During his first week in office, Mr. Trump reiterated the unfounded charge that millions of people had voted illegally. When challenged on the evident falsehood, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, seemed to argue that Mr. Trump’s belief that something was true qualified as evidence. The press secretary also declined to answer a straightforward question about the unemployment rate, suggesting that the number will henceforth be whatever the Trump administration wants it to be.

He can do this because members of the Trump administration feel confident that the alternative-reality media will provide air cover, even if they are caught fabricating facts or twisting words (like claiming that the “ban” on Muslim immigrants wasn’t really a “ban”). Indeed, they believe they have shifted the paradigm of media coverage, replacing the traditional media with their own.

In a stunning demonstration of the power and resiliency of our new post-factual political culture, Mr. Trump and his allies in the right media have already turned the term “fake news” against its critics, essentially draining it of any meaning. During the campaign, actual “fake news” — deliberate hoaxes — polluted political discourse and clogged social media timelines.

Some outlets opened the door, by helping spread conspiracy theories and indulging the paranoia of the fever swamps. For years, the widely read Drudge Report has linked to the bizarre conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who believes that both the attacks of Sept. 11 and the Sandy Hook shootings were government-inspired “false flag” operations.

For conservatives, this should have made it clear that something was badly amiss in their media ecosystem. But now any news deemed to be biased, annoying or negative can be labeled “fake news.” Erroneous reports that the bust of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office or misleading reports that sanctions against Russia had been lifted will be seized on by Mr. Trump’s White House to reinforce his indictment.

Even as he continues to attack the “dishonest media,” Mr. Trump and his allies are empowering this alt-reality media, providing White House access to Breitbart and other post-factual outlets that are already morphing into fierce defenders of the administration.

The relationship appears to be symbiotic, as Mr. Trump often seems to pick up on talking points from Fox News and has tweeted out links from websites notorious for their casual relationship to the truth, including sites like Gateway Pundit, a hoax-peddling site that announced, shortly after the inauguration, that it would have a White House correspondent.

By now, it ought to be evident that enemies are important to this administration, whether they are foreigners, refugees, international bankers or the press.

But discrediting independent sources of information also has two major advantages for Mr. Trump: It helps insulate him from criticism and it allows him to create his own narratives, metrics and “alternative facts.”

 All administrations lie, but what we are seeing here is an attack on credibility itself.

The Russian dissident and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov drew upon long familiarity with that process when he tweeted: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

Mr. Kasparov grasps that the real threat is not merely that a large number of Americans have become accustomed to rejecting factual information, or even that they have become habituated to believing hoaxes. The real danger is that, inundated with “alternative facts,” many voters will simply shrug, asking, “What is truth?” — and not wait for an answer.

In that world, the leader becomes the only reliable source of truth; a familiar phenomenon in an authoritarian state, but a radical departure from the norms of a democratic society. The battle over truth is now central to our politics.

This may explain one of the more revealing moments from after the election, when one of Mr. Trump’s campaign surrogates, Scottie Nell Hughes, was asked to defend the clearly false statement by Mr. Trump that millions of votes had been cast illegally. She answered by explaining that everybody now had their own way of interpreting whether a fact was true or not.

There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts,” she declared. Among “a large part of the population” what Mr. Trump said was the truth.

“When he says that millions of people illegally voted,” she said, his supporters believe him — and “people believe they have facts to back that up.

Or as George Orwell said: “The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.” But Ms. Hughes’s comment was perhaps unintentionally insightful. Mr. Trump and company seem to be betting that much of the electorate will not care if the president tells demonstrable lies, and will pick and choose whatever “alternative facts” confirm their views.

The next few years will be a test of that thesis.

In the meantime, we must recognize the magnitude of the challenge. If we want to restore respect for facts and break through the intellectual ghettos on both the right and left, the mainstream media will have to be aggressive without being hysterical and adversarial without being unduly oppositional.

Perhaps just as important, it will be incumbent on conservative media outlets to push back as well. Conservatism should be a reality-based philosophy, and the movement will be better off if it recognizes that facts really do matter. There may be short-term advantages to running headlines about millions of illegal immigrants voting or secret United Nations plots to steal your guns, but the longer the right enables such fabrications, the weaker it will be in the long run. As uncomfortable as it may be, it will fall to the conservative media to police its worst actors.

The conservative media ecosystem — like the rest of us — has to recognize how critical, but also how fragile, credibility is in the Orwellian age of Donald Trump.


Combating Trump’s Neo-Fascism and the Ghost of “1984”

Filed under: Trump — millerlf @ 4:12 pm

Combating Trump’s Neo-Fascism and the Ghost of “1984”

Tuesday, February 07, 2017 By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | News Analysi

The US may be on the verge of witnessing how democracy ends. We must fight the normalization of Trump and his actions.

The US may be on the verge of witnessing how democracy ends. We must fight the normalization of Trump and his actions. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

“Ignorance is Strength.”
— George Orwell

In a strange but revealing way, popular culture and politics intersected soon after Trump first assumed the presidency of the United States. On the side of popular culture, George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, surged as the number one best seller on Amazon both in the United States and Canada. This followed two significant political events. First, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s advisor, echoing the linguistic inventions of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, coined the term “alternative facts” to justify why press secretary Sean Spicer lied in advancing disproved claims about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd. Second, almost within hours of his presidency, Trump penned a series of executive orders that compelled Adam Gopnik, a writer for The New Yorker, to rethink the relevance of 1984. He had to go back to Orwell’s book, he writes, “Because the single most striking thing about [Trump’s] matchlessly strange first week is how primitive, atavistic and uncomplicatedly brutal Trump’s brand of authoritarianism is turning out to be.”

In this amalgam of Trump’s blatant contempt for the truth, his willingness to embrace a blend of taunts and threats in his inaugural address, and his eagerness to enact a surge of regressive executive orders, the ghost of fascism reasserts itself with a familiar blend of fear and revenge. Unleashing promises he had made to his angry, die-hard ultranationalist and white supremacist supporters, Trump targeted a range of groups whom he believes have no place in American society. These include Muslims, Syrian refugees and undocumented immigrants, whom he has targeted with a number of harsh discriminatory policies. The underlying cruelty, ignorance and punishing, if not criminogenic, intent behind such policies was made all the clearer when Trump suggested that he intended to roll back a wide range of environmental protections. He asserted his willingness to resume the practice of state-sponsored torture and deny funding to those cities willing to provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

Trump reaffirmed his promise to lift the US ban on torture by appointing Gina Haspel as the new CIA deputy director. Haspel not only played a direct role in overseeing the torture of detainees at a black site in Thailand, she also participated in the destruction of videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations. Trump’s enthusiasm for committing war crimes was matched by his willingness to roll back many of the regulatory restrictions put in place by the Obama administration in order to prevent the financial industries from repeating the economic crisis of 2008. In Trump’s worldview, there exists no contradiction between the principles and ideals of a democracy, on the one hand, and implementing state-sponsored torture, running “black sites” and waging an assault on poor people, immigrants, health care and the environment.

To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

And this is just the beginning. The ruling elites, banks and other major financial institutions now find their savior in Trump as they will receive more tax cuts and happily embrace the loosening of government regulations, while their greed spins out of control. Should we be surprised?

The memory of totalitarianism, with its demand for simplistic answers, intoxication with spectacles of vulgarity, and a desire for strong leaders, has faded in a society beset by a culture of immediacy, sensations and civic illiteracy. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to underestimate the depth and tragedy of the collapse of civic culture and democratic public spheres, especially given the profound influences of a permanent war culture that trades in fear, and the ever-present seductions of consumerism, which breeds depoliticization and infantilism.

Another shocking and revelatory indication of the repressive fist of neo-fascism in the Trump regime took place when Trump’s chief White House right-wing strategist, Steve Bannon, stated in an interview that “the media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while…. You’re the opposition party. Not the Democratic Party…. The media is the opposition party. They don’t understand the country.” This is more than an off-the-cuff angry comment. It is a blatant refusal to see the essential role of a robust and critical media in a democracy. Such comments suggest not only a war on the press, but the very real threat of suppressing dissent, if not democracy itself. Unsurprisingly, Bannon referred to himself in the interview as “Darth Vader.” A more appropriate comparison would have been to Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in the Third Reich.

What is clear is that the dire times that haunt the current age no longer appear as merely an impending threat. They have materialized with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. Trump and his administration of extremists epitomize the dire dangers posed by those who longed to rule American society without resistance, dominate its major political parties, and secure uncontested control of its commanding political, cultural and economic institutions. The consolidation of power and wealth in the hands of the financial elite along with the savagery and misery that signifies their politics is no longer the stuff of Hollywood films, such as Wall Street and American Psycho. If George W. Bush’s reign of fearmongering, greed and war on terror embodied the values of a kind of militarized Gordon Gekko, Trump represents the metamorphosis of Gekko into the ethically neutered Patrick Bateman. Yet, Trump’s ascent to the highest office in America is already being normalized by numerous pundits and politicians who are asking the American public to give Trump a chance or are suggesting that the power and demands of the presidency will place some restraints on his unrestrained impetuousness and often unpredictable behavior. Those members of Congress who railed against both Obama’s alleged imperial use of executive orders and later, during the Republican primaries, denounced Trump as unfit for office now exhibit a level of passivity and lack of moral courage that testifies to their complicity with the dark shadow of authoritarianism.

Wrongheaded Calls to “Give Trump a Chance”

As might be expected, a range of supine politicians, media pundits and mainstream journalists are already tying themselves in what Tom Engelhardt calls “apologetic knots” while they “desperately look for signs that Donald Trump will be a pragmatic, recognizable American president once he takes the mantle of power.”As comedian John Oliver pointed out on his show, “Last Week Tonight,” Trump is not ordinary and his politics forebode the storm clouds of an American version of authoritarianism. Oliver brought his point home by shouting repeatedly “This is not normal,” and, of course, he is right! It is even more surprising that Lesley Stahl’s “60 Minutes” interview with Trump portrayed him less as a demagogue than as a transformed politician who was “subdued and serious.” In addition, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported approvingly upon the transition, as if proposed White House counselor Steve Bannon and proposed attorney general Jeff Sessions, two men with racism in their pasts, were ordinary appointments. High-profile celebrity, Oprah Winfrey, stated without irony, in an interview with “Entertainment Tonight” that “I just saw President-elect Trump with President Obama in the White House, and it gave me hope.” This is quite a stretch given Trump’s history of racist practices, his racist remarks about Blacks, Muslims and Mexican immigrants during the primary and the presidential campaigns, and his appointment of a number of cabinet members who embrace a white nationalist ideology. The New York Times’s opinion writer, Nicholas Kristof, sabotaged his self-proclaimed liberal belief system by noting, in what appears to be acute lapse of judgment, that Americans should “Grit [their] teeth and give Trump a chance.” Bill Gates made clear his own and often hidden reactionary worldview when speaking on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” The Microsoft cofounder slipped into a fog of self-delusion by stating that Trump had the potential to emulate JFK by establishing an upbeat and desirable mode of “leadership through innovation.”

Such actions by the mainstream media and such highly visible pundits not only point to a retreat from responsible reporting and discourse, and a flight from any vestige of social responsibility, they also further the collapse of serious journalism and thoughtful reasoning into the corrupt world of a corporate-controlled media empire and an infantilizing celebrity culture. Normalizing the Trump regime does more than sabotage the truth, moral responsibility and justice; it also diminishes and sidelines the democratic institutions necessary for a future of well-being and economic and political justice. New York Times columnist Charles Blow observes insightfully that under a Trump administration:

The nation is soon to be under the aegis of an unstable, unqualified, undignified demagogue [who surrounds] himself with a rogue’s gallery of white supremacy sympathizers, anti-Muslim extremists, devout conspiracy theorists, anti-science doctrinaires and climate change deniers…. This is not normal [and] I happen to believe that history will judge kindly those who continued to shout, from the rooftops, through own weariness and against the corrosive drift of conformity.

Blow is right. Any talk of working with a president who has surrounded himself with militarists, racists, neo-fascists, anti-intellectuals and neoliberal fundamentalists should be resisted at all cost. It is well worth remembering that Trump chose Steve Bannon, a notorious anti-Semite and white supremacist to occupy the center of power in the White House. As Reuters reported, “White supremacists and neo-Nazis have rarely, if ever, in recent history been so enthusiastic about a presidential appointment as Donald Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon to be his chief White House strategist.” Trump has also surrounded himself with militarists and corporate ideologues who fantasize about destroying all vestiges of the welfare state and the institutions that produce the public values that support the social contract. Neal Gabler argues that the normalizing of Trump by the mainstream media is about more than the dereliction of journalistic duty. In his piece “And So It Begins: Normalizing the Election,” he writes:

Far more serious is their normalization not of Trump but of his voters. The former is typical cowardice under threat of reactionary populism. The latter is an endorsement of reactionary populism that may have far-reaching consequences for whether the country can ever be reunited after having been torn asunder.

Normalization is code for a retreat from any sense of moral and political responsibility, and it should be viewed as an act of political complicity with authoritarianism and condemned outright. What is being propagated by Trump’s apologists is not only a reactionary popularism and some fundamental tenets of an American-style authoritarianism, but also a shameless whitewashing of the racism and authoritarianism at the center of Trump’s politics. In addition, little has been said about how Trump and his coterie of semi-delusional, if not heartless, advisors embrace a version of Ayn Rand’s view that selfishness, war against all competition and unchecked self-interest are the highest human ideals. In addition, arguments in defense of such normalization appear to overlook with facile indifference how the rhetoric of authoritarianism has become normalized in many parts of the world, to grave effect, and that the Trump administration has clearly demonstrated an affinity with that sort of hateful rhetoric. How else to explain the support that Trump has received from a number of ruthless dictators who head reactionary governments, such as the Philippines, Turkey and Egypt, among others? Such a danger is all the more ominous given the current collapse of civic literacy and the general public’s increasing inability to deal with complex issues on one hand, and the attempt, on the other hand, by those who maintain power to ruthlessly promote a depoliticizing discourse of lies, simplicity and  manufactured distortions.

Ominous Echoes of a Totalitarian Past

The United States has entered a new historical conjuncture that echoes elements of a totalitarian past. Hannah Arendt, Sheldon Wolin and Robert Paxton, the great theorists of totalitarianism, believed that the fluctuating elements of fascism are still with us and that as long as they are, they will crystalize in different forms. Far from being fixed in a frozen moment of historical terror, these theorists believed that totalitarianism not only “heralds as a possible model for the future” but that its “protean origins are still with us.” Arendt, in particular, was keenly aware that a culture of fear, the dismantling of civil and political rights, the ongoing militarization of society, the attack on labor, an obsession with national security, human rights abuses, the emergence of a police state, a deeply rooted racism and the attempts by demagogues to undermine education as a foundation for producing critical citizenry were all at work in American society. Historical conjunctures produce different forms of authoritarianism, though they all share a hatred for democracy, dissent and human rights. More recently, Robert Paxton in his seminal work, The Anatomy of Fascism, provides a working definition of fascism that points to both its anti-democratic moments and those elements that link it to both the past and the present. Paxton’s point is not to provide a precise definition of fascism but to understand the conditions that enabled fascism to work and make possible its development in the future. Accordingly, he argues that fascism is:

A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints, goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

It is too easy to believe in a simplistic binary logic that strictly categorizes a country as either authoritarian or democratic and leaves no room for entertaining the possibility of a mixture of both systems. American politics today suggests a more updated if not different form of authoritarianism or what might be called the curse of totalitarianism. In Trump’s America, there are strong echoes of the fascism that developed in Europe in the 1920s and 30s. For instance, there are resemblances to a fascist script in Trump’s scapegoating of the “other;” his claim that the United States is in a period of decline;  his call to “Make America Great Again;” his blatant appeal to ultra-nationalism;  his portrayal of himself as a strongman who alone can save the country; his appeal to aggression and violence aimed at those who disagree with him; his contempt for dissent; his deep-rooted anti-intellectualism, or what Arendt called “thoughtlessness” (i.e., denial that climate change is produced by humans) coupled with his  elevation of instinct and emotion over reason; his appeal to xenophobia, national greatness and support for a politics of disposability; his courting of anti-Semites and white supremacists; his flirtation with the discourse of racial purity; his support for a white Christian public sphere; his use of a kind of verbal waterboarding to denigrate Muslims, Blacks, undocumented immigrants and women’s reproductive rights; his contempt for weakness and his enthusiasm for hyper-masculinity.

Trump’s totalitarian mindset was on full display both during his inaugural speech and in his actions during his first few days in office. In the first instance, he presented a dystopian view of American society laced with racist stereotyping, xenophobia and the discourse of ultra- nationalism. Frank Rich called the language of the speech “violent and angry — ‘This American carnage stops right here’ — reeking of animosity, if not outright hatred [and that] the tone was one of retribution and revenge.” As soon as the speech ended, the normalizing process began with the expected tortured clichés from various Fox News commentators calling it “muscular,” “unifying,” “very forceful,” “just masterful,” and Charles Krauthammer stating that it was “completely nonpartisan.” The fog of self-delusion and denial was in full swing at CNN when the historian Douglas Brinkley called Trump’s inaugural address not only “presidential” but “solid and well-written” and the “best speech” Trump has made “in his life.”

Once in the Oval Office, Trump not only enacted measures to facilitate building a wall on the Mexican border and prevent people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, he also cleared the way for resurrecting the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Trump’s broader assault on environmental protections is indicative of his disregard for the rights of the Native Americans who protested the building of a pipeline that both crossed their sacred burial lands and posed a risk to contaminating the Missouri River, which is the primary water source for the Standing Rock Sioux. In response to Trump’s inaugural address and early policy measures, Roger Cohen, a columnist for The New York Times, wrote a forceful commentary suggesting that Trump’s neo-fascist tendencies were on full display and that his presence in American politics contains echoes of former dictators and augurs badly for American democracy. He argued:

But the first days of the Trump presidency … pushed me over the top. The president is playing with fire. To say, as he did, that the elected representatives of American democracy are worthless and that the people are everything is to lay the foundations of totalitarianism. It is to say that democratic institutions are irrelevant and all that counts is the great leader and the masses he arouses. To speak of “American carnage” is to deploy the dangerous lexicon of blood, soil and nation. To boast of “a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before” is to demonstrate consuming megalomania. To declaim “America first” and again, “America first,” is to recall the darkest clarion calls of nationalist dictators. To exalt protectionism is to risk a return to a world of barriers and confrontation. To utter falsehood after falsehood, directly or through a spokesman, is to foster the disorientation that makes crowds susceptible to the delusions of strongmen.

The grave period Americans are about to enter into under a Trump regime cannot be understood without an acknowledgement of the echoes of a totalitarian past. With Trump’s election, the crisis of politics is accompanied by a crisis of historical conscience, memory, ethics and agency exacerbated by an appeal to a notion of common sense in which facts are regarded with disdain, words reduced to slogans, and science confused with pseudo-science. Under such circumstances, language is emptied of any meaning and constitutes a flight from ethics, justice and social responsibility. As language rapidly loses meaning, the American public is inundated with empty slogans such as “post-truth” and “fake news.” This culture is part of what Todd Gitlin calls “an interlocking ecology of falsification that has driven the country around the bend.” Against the background of an infantilizing culture of immediacy, spectacle and sensationalism, Trump will govern as if he is running a reality TV show, endlessly performing for an increasingly depoliticized public. But there are more dangers ahead than the toxic seduction of politics as theater and the transformation of the mainstream media as an adjunct of the entertainment industry or for that matter, a growing distrust of democracy itself.

The Complicity of the Media and Attacks on the Press

Under casino capital, the alleged celebration of the principle of a free press hides more than it promises. Noam Chomsky, Bill Moyers and Robert McChesney, among others, have observed that the mainstream media now work in conjunction with the financial elite and the military-industrial-academic complex as an echo chamber while further indulging in the rituals of shock, celebrity culture and spectacularized violence in order to increase their ratings. Earlier this year, CBS CEO Les Moonves stated that his network’s inordinate and disastrous coverage of Trump “may not be good for America but it’s damn good for CBS.” Moonves openly gloated not only because the network was pumping up its ratings but was also getting rich by inordinately covering Trump’s presidential campaign. As he put it, [T]he money’s rolling in … [T]his is going to be a very good year for us…. It’s a terrible thing to say, but bring it on, Donald. Go ahead. Keep going.” Moonves made it clear that the power of mainstream media in general has little to do with either pursuing the truth or holding power accountable. On the contrary, its real purpose was to normalize corruption, lies, misrepresentation, accumulate capital and allow the transformation of the press to become an adjunct of authoritarian ideologies, policies, interests and commodified values — if that is what it takes to increase their profit margins.

Normalization is about more than dominant media outlets being complicit with corrupt power or willfully retreating from any sense of social responsibility; it is also about aiding and abetting power in order to increase the bottom line and accumulate other cowardly forms of power and recognition. This is evident in the fact that some powerful elements of the mainstream press not only refused to take Trump seriously, they also concocted embarrassing rationales for not holding him to any viable sense of accountability. For instance, Gerard Baker, the editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal, publicly announced that in the future he would not allow his reporters to use the word “lie” in their coverage. NPR also issued a statement arguing that it would not use the word “lie” on the grounds that “the minute you start branding things with a word like ‘lie,’ you push people away from you.” In this truly Orwellian comment, NPR is suggesting that calling out lies on the part of governments and politicians should be avoided by the media on the grounds that people might be annoyed by having to face the contradiction between the truth and misinformation. This is more than a retreat from journalism’s goal of holding people, institutions and power to some measure of justice; it also legitimizes the kind of political and moral cowardice that undermines informed resistance, the first amendment and the truth. While such actions may not rise to the level of book burning that was characteristic of various fascist and authoritarian regimes in the past, it does mark a distinctive retreat from historical memory and civic courage that serves to normalize such actions by making dissent appear, at best, unreasonable and at worst, an act of treason.

Such actions become apparent in efforts by the mainstream press to rage against the rise of “fake news,” suggesting that by doing so, their integrity cannot be questioned. Of course, the term “fake news” is slippery and can be deployed to political ends — a maneuver which is on full display particularly when used by Trump and his merry band of liars to dismiss anyone or any organization that holds him accountable for his fabrications. Hence, there were no surprises when Trump at his first president-elect press conference refused not only to take questions from a CNN reporter because his network had published material critical of Trump but also justified his refusal by labeling CNN as fake news — reducing the term to a slogan used to silence the press. Clearly, we will see more of this type of bullying repression and censorship, and traditional democratic public spheres, such as higher education, will also feel the brunt of such an attack.

Any analysis of the forces behind the normalization of the Trump administration and its assault on the truth, if not democracy itself, must include the powerful role of the conservative media in the United States. Former conservative radio talk show host Charles Sykes recently published a remarkable op-ed arguing that over the last few decades, right-wing media played a major role in discrediting and delegitimizing the fact-based media. In doing so, it destroyed “much of the right’s immunity to false information.” According to Sykes, conservatives, including himself, created a “new post-factual political culture” that has become so powerful that even when the Trump administration is caught lying, it does so with impunity because it believes that “the alternative-reality media will provide air cover” that allows it to pollute “political discourse” and discredit “independent sources of information.”

Evidence of this major assault on truth can be measured in part by the magnitude of the lies the administration produces, which are truly Orwellian. For instance, Kellyanne Conway attempted recently to justify Trump’s executive order banning people from seven majority-Muslim countries by referring to what she called the “Bowling Green massacre, an alleged terrorist attack by Iraqi refugees that was to have taken place in 2011. According to Conway, Obama instituted a six-month ban on Iraqi resettlements. The attack never happened, no Iraqis were involved and the Obama administration never instituted such a ban. It gets worse. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently claimed that Iran had committed an act of war by attacking a US Naval vessel. That never happened. What did happen is that a Saudi ship off the coast of Yemen was attacked by Houthi rebels.

Normalization has many registers and one of the most important is the control by the financial elite over commanding cultural apparatuses that produce, legitimize and distribute highly selective media narratives that shore up the most reactionary ideologies and financial interests. The mainstream press says little about how such actions serve as an apology for the egregiously reactionary nature of Trump’s ideology and policies. Moreover, they fail to note how distortions of the truth, the endless production of lies by governments, politicians and corporations, along with the media’s flight from civic literacy, serve to bolster authoritarian societies willing to distort the truth while simultaneously suppressing dissent. Under such circumstances, it should not be surprising that Trump’s authoritarian and hateful discourse, threats of violence, loathing of dissent and racist attitudes toward Muslims, Blacks and Mexican immigrants are downplayed in the mainstream media. These structured silences have become more and more apparent given the benign manner in which the supine press and its legion of enervated anti-public intellectuals and pundits treat Trump’s endless nighttime Twitter outpourings and his incessant choreographed public fabrications.

For instance, The Wall Street Journal’s refusal to address critically Trump’s endless lies and insults is matched by the highbrow New Yorker’s publishing of a piece on Trump that largely celebrates uncritically how he is viewed by conservative intellectuals, such as Hillsdale College president, Larry Arnn. Arnn supports Trump because he shares his view that “the government has become dangerous.” If Arnn were referring to the rise of the surveillance and permanent war state, it would be hard to disagree with him. Instead, he was referring to the government’s enforcement of “runaway regulations.” What Arnn and Kelefa Sanneh, the author of the New Yorker article, ignore or conveniently forget is the fact that the real danger the government poses is the result of it being in the hands of demagogues, such as Trump, who are truly dangerous and threaten the planet, American society and the rest of the world. When Kelefa Sanneh mentions Trump’s connection to the “alt-right,” he underplays the group’s fascist ideology and refuses to use the term “white supremacist” in talking about such groups, reverting instead to the innocuous-sounding term, “white identity politics.” Trump’s misogyny, racism, anti-intellectualism, Islamophobia and hatred of democracy are barely mentioned. Sanneh even goes so far as to suggest that since Trump has disavowed the “alt-right,” his connection to neo-fascist groups is tenuous. This is more than an apology dressed up in the discourse of ambiguity; such reporting is a shameful retreat from journalistic integrity — an assault on the truth that constitutes an egregious act of normalization. This is only one example of what is surely to come in the future under Trump’s rule.

The Hard Road Ahead  

Under Trump’s regime of economic, religious, educational and political fundamentalism, compassion and respect for the other will almost certainly be viewed with contempt while society will increasingly become more militarized and financial capital will likely be deregulated in order to be free to engage in behaviors that put the American public and planet in danger. A form of social and historical amnesia appears set to descend over American society. A culture of civic illiteracy will likely be produced and legitimated along with a culture of fear that will enable a harsh law and order regime.

Policies will almost certainly be enacted in which public goods, such as schools, will be privatized, and a culture of greed and selfishness will be elevated to new heights of celebration. There will likely be a further retreat from civic literacy, civic courage and social responsibility, one matched by a growing abandonment by the state of any allegiance to the common good. Fear and the threat of state violence are threatening to shape how problems are addressed, and a growing culture of dissent may soon be ruthlessly suppressed in all of the public spheres in which it has functioned in the past. The free-market mentality that gained prominence under the presidency of Ronald Reagan will likely accelerate under the Trump administration and continue to drive politics, destroy many social protections, celebrate a hyper-competitiveness and deregulate economic activity. Under Donald Trump’s reign, almost all human activities, practices and institutions are at risk of becoming subject to market principles and militarized. The only relations that matter will likely be defined in commercial terms, just as civil society will be organized for the production of violence.

It is most likely that the most dangerous powers of the state will be unleashed under Trump against protesters, Black people, Muslims and undocumented immigrants. They will also be unleashed against the environment and against public and higher education. Surely, all the signs are in place given the coterie of billionaires, generals, warmongers, Islamophobes, neoliberal cheerleaders and anti-public demagogues Trump has appointed to high-ranking government positions. Americans may be on the verge of witnessing how democracy ends and this is precisely why Trump’s election as the president of the United States must not be normalized.

Trump’s repressive and poisonous attitudes and authoritarian policies will not change his role as president. If his first two weeks in office are any indication, he plans to consolidate his power and will be more reckless than he was during the primaries and presidential campaigns. Trump’s narcissism, indifference to the truth and intensive use of the spectacle will further increase his view of himself and his policies as unaccountable, especially as he institutes a mode of governance that suppresses the opposition and deals with his audience directly through the social media.

Fortunately, a number of diverse groups, including unions, immigrant rights groups, anti-fascist organizations, Black liberation groups, congregations and faith-based organizations, legal coalitions and reproductive rights groups, along with teachers, actors and artists are organizing to protest Trump’s neo-fascist ideology and policies. As George Yancy pointed out to me in a personal correspondence, such actions are unique in that they make the political more pedagogical by elevating protests, modes of resistance and criticism to the level of the cultural rather than allowing such criticism to reside in the voice and presence of isolated, prophetic intellectuals. Moreover, a number of independent publications, along with various public intellectuals, such as Anthony DiMaggio, Robin Kelley and members of the Black Lives Matter Movement, are producing instructive articles on both the nature of resistance and what forms it might take.

The current onslaught of revenge and destruction produced by Trump’s updated version of authoritarianism is glaringly visible and deeply brutal, and points to a bleak future in the most immediate sense. We live at a time in which totalitarian forms are with us again. US society is no longer at the tipping point of authoritarianism; we are in the midst of what Hannah Arendt called “dark times.” Individual and collective resistance is the only hope we have to move beyond this ominous moment in our history. Fortunately, the arrogant presence of this neo-fascist regime is not going entirely unchecked: The great collective power of resistance has ignited. Hope and a sense of humanity are in the air and the relevance of mass action has a renewed urgency. Demonstrations are taking place every day; some mayors are refusing to allow their cities to be placed under Nazi influence; and marginalized people and their co-strugglers are marching in record-breaking numbers to protect their rights. This resistance will continue to grow until it becomes a movement whose power is on the side of justice not injustice, bridges not walls, dignity not disrespect, compassion not hate. Let’s hope this resistance will dispel Orwell’s nightmarish vision of the future in our own time.

Note: This piece draws on some ideas that appeared first in “Normalizing Trump’s Authoritarianism Is Not an Option,” an article published by Tikkun Magazine on January 19, 2017.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Henry A. Giroux

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and dis the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. His most recent books are America’s Addiction to Terrorism (Monthly Review Press, 2016) and America at War with Itself (City Lights, 2017). He is also a contributing editor to a number of journals, including Tikkun, the Journal of Wild Culture and Ragazine. Giroux is also a member of Truthout’s Board of Directors. His website is


February 3, 2017

Trump’s Proposed Change Would Encourage White Supremacist Violence

Filed under: Trump — millerlf @ 5:05 pm
Friday, February 03, 2017 By Spencer Sunshine, Truthout

Two mourners comfort one another outside the Islamic Cultural Center of Quebec, where a gunman killed six and wounded eight more earlier this week, in Quebec City, Jan. 31, 2017. The deadly shootings have raised questions over whether law enforcement officials and media outlets like the New York Times play down the threat of far-right nationalist groups. (Photo: Ian Willms / The New York Times)Two mourners comfort one another outside the Islamic Cultural Center of Quebec, where a gunman killed six and wounded eight more earlier this week, in Quebec City, January 31, 2017. The deadly shootings have raised questions over whether law enforcement officials and media outlets like the New York Times play down the threat of far-right nationalist groups. (Photo: Ian Willms / The New York Times)

The Trump administration’s reported new plan to change a federal program which combats violent “extremism” into a project focused exclusively on “radical Islam” looks like another step toward demonizing Muslims — while adding to concerns that the administration will actively empower open white supremacist groups. Reuters reports that multiple inside sources say the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) grant program will be being renamed either “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism.”

Almost every year, the white supremacist movement is the political movement that kills the most Americans. (In the rare year that they don’t come in first, they come in second.) But, for many years now, the federal government has refused to focus resources on violent far-right groups. Instead, efforts have been poured into surveilling the Muslim community at large — even going so far as to entrap Muslims in order to arrest them. The FBI also spent years fixating on eco-saboteurs and animal liberation activists, even though they had not killed anyone. The far right, however, has gotten a relative pass. This is despite white supremacists having committed mass shootings in Charleston, South Carolina and Oak Creek, Wisconsin; armed conflicts with patriot movement paramilitaries in rural Nevada and Oregon; and multiple police killings by sovereign citizens.

Ignoring far-right movements seems to be a longstanding federal strategy. A 2009 DHS report warned of a potential far-right resurgence, especially if the movement successfully recruited disgruntled returning veterans. After a Republican outcry, the DHS team that produced this report was shut down, briefings were cancelled and other reports were withheld from release. Three years later, Nazi skinhead — and veteran — Michael Wade Page killed six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

Even though Islamic fundamentalist violence is also a threat, “over time … violence by terrorists in the US is by the predominately white right-wing” says Chip Berlet, co-author of Right-Wing Populism in America. He warns that “to simply focus on one will lead to a very bad outcome,” and that the change in priorities is a gift from President Trump to the gun lobby, the Christian right and Islamophobes.

Although it is not clear exactly what impact ending the CVE program will have, it may weaken efforts to prevent white supremacist violence before it starts. The best-known CVE program grant that specifically counters the white supremacist movement and may be on the cutting board is Life After Hate. Run by former leaders in the Nazi skinhead movement, it does the vital work of helping people to leave these movements. (Other grants are slated to go to local police departments, city agencies and Muslim organizations.)

The first CVE grant round of $10 million was only announced a week before President Trump’s inauguration. The money hasn’t actually been doled out yet, and DHS Secretary John Kelly is currently reviewing the awards.

Despite some loose interpretations in the media, changing the CVE grants will not stop federal agencies, such as the FBI, from monitoring white supremacist groups. According to the DHS website, the CVE program:

provides funding for activities that enhance the resilience of communities being targeted by violent extremists, provide alternatives to individuals who have started down a road to violent extremism, and create or amplify alternative messages to terrorist/violent extremist recruitment and radicalization efforts.

Nevertheless, if the change to the CVE program happens, Islamophobes will be let off the hook in both real and symbolic ways. While the federal government increasingly portrays Muslims as perpetrators of violence, Muslims themselves are being widely targeted by violent attacks. The FBI reported that in 2015 hate crimes against Muslims had spiked by 67 percent — and that was before Trump came to power. A Texas mosque was burned down just hours after Trump’s Muslim ban was signed.

A redirection of priorities away from countering the white supremacist movement is seen as a significant mistake by those who monitor the US far right. Regarding the rumored CVE change, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Heidi Beirich said, “We can only surmise, given that Trump has repeatedly taken cues and talking points from anti-Muslim extremists and that his chief strategist is a champion of the white nationalist movement, that this is a politically motivated decision.”

Local police departments may also have qualms with this change. A 2015 poll, funded by the Justice Department, showed that state and local law enforcement thought “anti-government extremism” was almost twice the threat (74 percent vs 39 percent) to their agencies as Islamist terrorism.

It’s important to avoid valorizing the CVE program itself: Even before the Trump administration’s announcement, the program was controversial. Although it included efforts to combat white supremacist violence, many pointed out that the emphasis was still on targeting Muslims. Some saw it as a potential surveillance tool being used against the Muslim community, and one group led by Lebanese-Americans even turned down a grant.

Still, if this change to the program does happen, it will signal that the Trump administration may be heading toward a realization of the Islamophobic threats it made on the campaign trail. In two weeks, President Trump has already engaged in an unprecedented abuse of executive power, and is attempting to turn the federal bureaucracies into a cadre of sycophants. If this change in CVE occurs, the Trump administration will demonstrate that it is not just using approaches borrowed from white supremacists, but is also willing to sit idly by as white supremacist terrorists inflict violence on other Americans.

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