We didn’t have a Pure Michigan summer. Pay attention to those climate warning signs.
Ali Abazeed – September 29, 2023
As summer draws to a close, it would be easy to forget the weather patterns and disruptions that took us about as far from a Pure Michigan summer as you can get. But we’re moving into an uncertain future, and we must pay attention to these warning signs.
Metro Detroit experienced unprecedented air quality alerts this summer, with over 23 days of air quality gauged unhealthy or worse, the first-ever air quality alert for the entire state, our own rash of fires due to unprecedented hot and dry conditions, and, thanks to Canadian wildfire smoke in early June, another air-quality alert first: a warning based on PM2.5, a form of fine particulate matter that wreaks havoc on the respiratory system.
Hospitals across the state reported increased admissions of patients suffering breathing problems due to poor air quality. For a region of the country that already ranks poorly in particle pollution, this summer’s alerts serve as a clarion call for action.
And it wasn’t just poor air quality. We’ve witnessed increases in extreme flooding, extreme heat, tornadoes and high winds, just this summer. If left unchecked, we are looking at scenarios that will lead to profound environmental degradation — and this for a state deemed a potential “climate haven” for its ability to weather the even more destructive effects of climate change.
Beyond the ‘hottest summer ever’: How climate extremes impact us
Flooding and erosion will likely disrupt Michigan’s precious freshwater systems, and could contribute to harmful algal blooms that damage aquatic life and pose a risk to human health. Just last week, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources added two new invasive species to the state’s watch list, likely the result of alterations in habitat conditions due to climate change. These environmental flags have far-reaching consequences for the region, our state’s social fabric, and public health.
The consequences of climate extremes extend beyond just the environment and health. The stress and uncertainty generated by extreme weather events also corrode our built environment and social square.
Upheaval due to extreme weather is leading to significant changes in the fabric of society. Research shows that climate change is causing “social tipping points”: fast and fundamental changes in human values, behaviors, the nature of relationships, technologies and institutions that are just as intractable and hard to undo as climate change itself.
Constant worry about the next flood or extreme weather event takes a toll on interpersonal relationships, and has a deleterious effect on community bonds. Neighborhood squares, once the bedrock of local culture and interaction, face an existential crisis as people are forced to move, houses are abandoned and the pressures of climate change reshape communities. The ironclad law of climate change is this: Underserved communities and communities closest to the pain will always bear the brunt of displacement, insecurity and devastation due to extreme weather.
This is to say nothing of the already growing political tensions likely to rise due to extreme weather.
Research has repeatedly shown that more extreme weather contributes to many adverse outcomes, including violent crime, political instability and even the collapse of global regimes. Locally, we have diverging views on accepting the science of climate change, let alone addressing its disastrous effects. Politicizing what should be a shared concern for our state will make it harder to enact meaningful change.
Climate change is a public health crisis – and a social challenge
So, what can we do?
First, we must accept that extreme weather is not just an environmental issue, but a public health crisis and a social challenge. A public health approach centers on the health and well-being of communities near and far, but also emphasizes the importance of our built environment and its effect on our health. If our built environment is constantly reconfigured and disrupted by the ensuing floods, droughts, storms, or wildfires, the consequences on our health will continue to be disastrous.
We must adopt and enforce policies that limit emissions and promote sustainable practices now.
It’s important to expand our conception of community, and invest in regional efforts vital to increasing the resilience of communities, like long overdue investments in regional transit.
Downstream communities like Dearborn cannot solve flooding alone — we need cooperation and support from upstream communities to improve resiliency.
Though climate change is often globalized, seen as a concept far removed from our day-to-day, local actions can provide significant outcomes in the short term. For example, research shows that though most climate-related actions save money and provide benefits in the long run, the benefits of emission reductions for improved air quality provide immediate results regarding improved health outcomes, agricultural benefits, medical expenses and economic benefits.
Actions at the local level matter, and there are essential steps you can take now in your own community: Encourage investment in green infrastructure that makes our terrain more resilient to inevitable extreme weather, shift toward renewable energy sources, and educate yourself and others on climate adaptation. Ask your local government whether it has a sustainability plan. When new developments are proposed in your community, make sure those developments move us closer to a green future. Political leaders should incorporate public health concepts and terminology into their climate policies to engage communities that are facing the brunt of the devastation.
The summer of 2023 was a glaring preview of what’s at stake for Michigan’s future. Our health, communities and shared social bonds are on the line.
The time for more decisive action was yesterday.
Ali Abazeed is a Dearborn native, founding director of public health for the City of Dearborn, where is is currently the city’s chief public health officer, and is a faculty member at Wayne State University.
Trump’s retribution plan: Becoming America’s first dictator
Chauncey DeVega – September 29, 2023
Donald Trump is a very honest liar.
When Trump says he is going to hurt you he means it. This is one of the primary reasons his political cultists are so loyal to him.
On this, journalist Masha Gessen warns and advises: “Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: Humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable.”
They are almost all dishonest and corrupt, but Comcast, with its one-side and vicious coverage by NBC NEWS, and in particular MSNBC, often and correctly referred to as MSDNC (Democrat National Committee!), should be investigated for its “Country Threatening Treason.” Their endless coverage of the now fully debunked SCAM known as Russia, Russia, Russia, and much else, is one big Campaign Contribution to the Radical Left Democrat Party. I say up front, openly, and proudly, that when I WIN the Presidency of the United States, they and others of the LameStream Media will be thoroughly scrutinized for their knowingly dishonest and corrupt coverage of people, things, and events. Why should NBC, or any other of the corrupt & dishonest media companies, be entitled to use the very valuable Airwaves of the USA, FREE? They are a true threat to Democracy and are, in fact, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE! The Fake News Media should pay a big price for what they have done to our once great Country!
Trump is not exaggerating, or posturing, or just being hyperbolic as too many in the American news media, the country’s political class, and among the general public would like to believe – which at this point is delusional. When Trump calls the news media “the enemy of the people” and invokes the Nazis and their attacks on the “lugenpresse“, he is threatening members of the news media (and public more broadly) with prison – and worse if they dare to oppose him.
At a rally in Iowa last Wednesday, Trump told his followers that he is going to invoke the Alien Enemies Act, which is a little-used law that gives the president unilateral power to deport and detain non-citizens who are older than 14 years old. The Alien Enemies Act was last used by President Roosevelt during World War 2 to put Japanese Americans in concentration camps. Trump has also promised to reinstate a ban on travel to America from Muslim countries as well as his regime’s evil “family separation” policy – and presumably the concentration camp system that accompanied it.
These are corrupt people. These are fascists. These are Marxists. These are communists. These are sick people that are destroying our country. We have millions of people coming in. I’m in New York right now, and I just rode through the streets. I’ve never seen anything like it. New York, I’ve never seen it looking like this. And you have thousands and thousands of people in plain sight that come from foreign countries that most people never even heard of. It’s not just countries adjoining us. It’s foreign countries that many people have never even heard of. They’re coming from all over Africa. They’re coming from areas of the world that nobody can believe, and how far it is away for them to get there. These cartels are making a fortune, and they’re destroying our country, and we’re doing nothing about it. And we have a president that’s incompetent and corrupt.
In his interviews and speeches and other communications, Trump is also continuing to announce his plans to deploy the military to occupy America’s cities (meaning major cities with large populations of nonwhites in “blue” parts of the country), put homeless people in camps, use the Department of Justice to punish and imprison his political rivals (including President Biden), and to criminalize transgendered people.
In all, Trump’s plans are an extension of a decades-long revolutionary project by the “conservative” movement and white right to end multiracial pluralistic democracy and replace it with a Christofascist plutocracy. These plans to end American democracy are detailed in Trump’s Agenda 47 and the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025.
In a 2022 essay at Current, historian John Fea reflected upon the lessons for how to turn the United States into a fascist nation as instructed in the 1938 satirical novel “The School for Dictators”:
1. Encourage anti-intellectualism.
2. Undermine moral standards, especially among lawmakers.
3. Pursue power for power’s sake.
4. Develop a spiritual connection with loyal followers.
5. Rewrite national history.
6. Create political chaos.
Some eight decades later, “The School for Dictators” is a prophetic guidebook for the Trumpocene.
For more than seven years, the American news media has, largely, continued to fail in its responsibilities to defend American democracy against Trumpism and neofascism. In a time of democracy crisis, the news media should be speaking truth to the powerful, shining a light on the threats to democracy and civil society, and helping the public to understand the nature of the challenge and what they should do about it. Instead, the American news media has decided to play referee or alternatively to behave like a traffic cop who does not intervene to stop the crimes he or she is witnessing.
Donald Trump is an objective threat to American democracy and civil society. That is a fact. Instead of stating that fact consistently and plainly, the American news media has decided to be neutral and to create false standards of “fairness” and “balance” and “bothsideism” that reduce these existential dangers to being mere “partisanship” and “polarization” where the Democrats and Republicans, Biden and Trump, those Americans who believe in a real democracy vs the supporters of the MAGA movement and neofascism, are all more or less equivalent.
In all, profits and entertaining and distracting the public matter to the mainstream news media more than telling uncomfortable truths.
In a recent post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, author Stephen Beschloss described such irresponsible behavior by the country’s news media in the following way:
Trump is getting worse, more dangerous, more bent on inciting violence. This is not a presidential candidate; this is a criminal defendant seeking to save his own skin no matter how much damage it causes. The media must stop pretending this is a normal presidential horse race.
In this context, a news outlet can cover Trump’s affronts to democracy. But it can’t quite internalize them. For such a publication to fully behave as though it has a working memory — and a capacity to rationally weigh the significance of disparate pieces of information — would be for it to resemble a partisan rag.
The most salient truth about the 2024 election is that the Republican Party is poised to nominate an authoritarian thug who publishes rationalizations for political violence and promises to abuse presidential authority on a near-daily basis. There is no way for a paper or news channel to appropriately emphasize this reality without sounding like a shrill, dull, Democratic propaganda outlet. So, like the nation writ large, the press comports itself as an amnesiac, or an abusive household committed to keeping up appearances, losing itself in the old routines, in an effortful approximation of normality until it almost forgets what it doesn’t want to know.
Once again, as Masha Gessen warns, “Believe the autocrat. He means what he says.”
The autocrat – and in the case of Donald Trump, he who wants to be a dictator – is not kidding. Denial, wishcasting, hope peddling, and hiding behind “centrism”, “norms”, “consensus”, “institutions”, “the guardrails”, “tradition”, “American Exceptionalism”, “our leaders”, “the adults in the room”, and other myths and fantasies and failed psychological coping mechanisms will not save you or American democracy from Trump and the Republican fascists’ cruelty and destruction and pain.
Donald Trump’s thrill ride is nearly over — but the media refuses to let go
Brian Karem – September 28, 2023
Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.
This is the end, beautiful friend This is the end, my only friend The end of our elaborate plans The end of everything that stands — Jim Morrison
I take no joy in saying this, but we in the press are moral cowards.
Last Friday, former President Donald Trump called for the execution of U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, branding him a traitor. This was because Milley told his Chinese counterparts, toward the end of the Trump administration, that the U.S. was not planning to invade China and start World War III. In other words, Milley reiterated official U.S. policy since the end of World War II, which Trump is apparently unaware that we won. But forgive him: He also seems to think Jeb Bush was president.
A few days later, our actual president, Joe Biden, made history by standing on a picket line with striking UAW members in Michigan.
We in the press didn’t tell you much about that, but we wasted airtime, pixels and ink reporting that Trump calls himself “pro-worker” — though there is no evidence of that to be found anywhere. We also told you that Biden wears tennis shoes. We pretty much ignored Trump’s threat against the chairman of the Joint Chiefs — who Trump himself appointed, by the way. We have also done minimal reporting on the New York judge who imposed the “corporate death penalty” on Trump’s business enterprises this week and may end up confiscating Trump’s property, after issuing a summary judgment that Trump’s companies actively engaged in fraud over many years.
There’s a potential government shutdown coming this weekend, but that took a back seat to an outlier political poll that shows Trump leading Biden by 10 points.
Those still capable of cogent thought may well wonder: When did this country jump the shark?
Dahlia Lithwick, a member of Mary Trump’s “Nerd Avengers,” said on the podcast Wednesday, “We have achieved a point where lawlessness is the goal itself.” So while she may not pinpoint when we jumped, she certainly knows where we landed. This is the end, beautiful friend.
Take a look around. Who would want their children to grow up and become members of Congress? Bob Menendez, George Santos, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Jim Jordan, Lauren Boebert, Kevin McCarthy . . . the list goes on and on with people we’d abhor if we met them in everyday life. There isn’t one of them I’d invite to a neighborhood barbecue. They are lawless without exception and without care. It’s not just Donald Trump.
They deflect from real issues by bombarding the public with facts taken out of context and outright lies. When that doesn’t work, they resort to bullying. “I’m at the point where, fine, investigate Joe Biden. Investigate Hunter Biden. But also hold Jared Kushner and Donald Trump accountable,” former GOP strategist Kurt Bardella said on the same podcast.
Bardella also said that after this week’s ruling by New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, if the press doesn’t “mention fraud every time we mention Trump’s name,” then we’re not doing our job. Mind you, Trump was also labeled as a rapist in civil court, and we rarely mention that either. We routinely ignore his 91 felony charges in four jurisdictions when we talk about his so-called politics, and we seem to have forgotten he’s already been impeached twice. We pretend that his many lies are changes in policy. Anyone who expects the press to responsibly report the reality of Donald Trump at this point may, in fact, be as delusional as Trump.
And Trump is truly delusional. “Brick by brick, Donald Trump is a fantasy. He’s the biggest fraud there is,” political commentator Danielle Moodie told Mary Trump.
Every bit of reporting we do on him should stress that. It’s not like his delusion is a secret. “We in the family knew it,” Mary Trump said, explaining the fraud perpetrated by her uncle — before describing him as the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on America.
Agreed. But don’t count on the press to inform you about any of that. We’re too busy pretending, and entertaining you by treating Trump as if he were a charmer, or a savior.
It isn’t just the press that is filled with cowards. The Republicans in Congress are repugnant criminal cowards. The Democrats are eunuchs and moral cowards. While the Republicans pursue Hunter Biden — and if he’s guilty of something, so be it — the Democrats have not said one word about Jared Kushner, Eric Trump or Donald Trump Jr. There is more than enough evidence to investigate those three for trading White House access for billions in foreign investment. Yet so far, nothing.
The Democrats don’t want to look like they’re gutter-fighting quite as dirty as the GOP, and seem to lack any desire to pursue obvious corruption. Thus it appears to millions of American voters, including many potential voters still on the fence, that the Bidens have the most to hide.
I cannot say it enough. We have two political parties in this country: One has no heart. One has no head.
And the press? We have neither.
So busy are we trying to pretend we’re even-handed that we present propaganda as fact just to look fair. That’s not our job. The moronic desire to be “objective” blinds us from our true mission: providing vetted facts.
Exactly three years ago, I asked a simple question of Trump in the White House briefing room: Would he accept a peaceful transfer of power? Three years and 91 felony charges in four jurisdictions later, we know the answer. He continues to deny that he lost the 2020 election. He continues to obfuscate, confuse, lie and cheat. We continue to let him get away with it.
When he said to me in the White House briefing room that if we stopped counting ballots at the moment of his choosing “there would be no change” in power, that should have been enough. Hell, when he made fun of a reporter with a disability, that should have been enough. When he made fun of veterans or called dead Marines “suckers,” that should have been enough. It wasn’t. It’s never enough, and we never doggedly pursue the facts.
Lithwick said that Trump has never been caught. I respectfully disagree: He is always getting caught in his own lies. We just allow him to go free without forcing him to take responsibility for his actions.
Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain And all the children are insane All the children are insane — Jim Morrison
The rest of the insane clown posse of children in the GOP got together Wednesday night for their latest attempt to stop Trump — who won’t attend a debate because he’s scared s**tless. How deeply disturbing it must be to be running against Trump as a member of the Republican party.
Not only do you have to run against a seditious criminal fool, but you have to do so in an environment where he has risen far above the other candidates who, while guilty of a great deal of stupidity, are not facing 91 felony charges. That alone should give them a leg up.
Nope. And they continued to support their near-certain standard-bearer on Wednesday night, even as they tried to run against him. Sure, there was slightly more negative treatment of him from some, like former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. But in the end, the also-rans lived up to their name.
If you want to defend Trump, go ahead. Defend a man who is a fraud, a rapist and an insurrectionist. He has been impeached twice and indicted in four different jurisdictions on 91 felony charges. Don’t forget he also kept classified information in his bathroom and refused to return it when asked. Defend all of that. Defend his criminality by using false equivalency and “whataboutism.” Defend it all with aplomb and own it.
I won’t. I was in Trump’s White House every day of that administration. If you weren’t, then you can stick your opinions someplace where ignorance and information are equal, like the nether regions of Trump’s mind.
Donald Trump is a menace. That’s not “politics.” That’s just a fact.
He is facing charges because he’s a dangerous would-be despot. There is no evidence any part of the electoral process was hijacked — except for the ballot boxes he tried to steal and the witnesses he desperately tried to intimidate.
Donald Trump is a traitor, a moron and a goon. If you believe he’s the second coming, mind your Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”
The Biden White House and the Democrats have no heart for the fight they face, and no head for it either. In an attempt to avoid getting their hands dirty, they’re allowing the country to bathe in Trump’s filth without responding to it. We heard a rare exception from Biden this week in San Francisco when he said, “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans are determined to destroy this democracy.”
White House spokesman Andrew Base backed that up by saying that “to abuse presidential power and violate the constitutional rights of reporters would be an outrageous attack on our democracy and the rule of law.”
We need more of that and a lot less of people in my profession giving false equivalency between Trump and his GOP competitors, much less the current president. If this is the end, then let it be Trump’s end — not our country’s.
At the end of the day, will some of my fellow journalists grow a pair? We make decisions every day based on money and audience share, not journalism. Trump went on “Meet the Press” because he’s good for ratings. We cover him as if he were equal to Biden for the same reason.
I encourage my professional comrades to consider this: There are millions of people who will tune into the facts if we consistently deliver them. Facts are the true coin of our realm. Ratings could be had if we did our job the way we’re supposed to. There is a market for solid reporting.
Here are some facts: Donald Trump is despotic and deranged. His politics are nothing but grift. His life is about fleecing others. We should preface every mention of him by stating that he’s been indicted in four jurisdictions for 91 felonies. He’s been labeled a rapist and a business cheat in civil court and he was impeached twice.
Report that every single day. Don’t tell me he’s “pro-worker.” He’s only pro-Trump.
Late on Wednesday evening, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan told Trump that she won’t recuse herself in his federal election interference case. That news, along with the New York summary judgment that could force Trump to forfeit all his real estate holdings in and around his hometown, offer the latest signs that Donald Trump’s prominence on the world stage is ending. He’s had a good run to ruin, and has never had to clean up any of his many expensive messes.
If he’d looked at the ticket he swindled to get on this ride, he might have seen that the bill comes due when the ride ends. It’s a bitch being held accountable. Just ask your average crossroads demon.
For Trump, the accountability ride has begun, and it promises to get much darker for him than the thrill ride that preceded it.
On that ride, anything goes and he always got what he wanted, no matter what.
But guess what? This is the end of that ride.
The West is the best Get here and we’ll do the rest The blue bus is calling us — Jim Morrison
Union Workers Who Support Trump Are Delusional Morons
Collin Woodard – September 28, 2023
Instead of attending last night’s debate over which unpopular loser would make a better vice presidential candidate, Donald Trump decided instead to speak at Drake Enterprises, a small parts supplier in Michigan’s Clinton Township that is notably not unionized. Somehow, that got spun into a few stories and posts about Trump speaking to union members, which is only true in the sense that some people at the event claimed to be union members. We have no real reason to doubt them, but that doesn’t mean you’re not a delusional moron if you think Trump is in any way pro-union.
Now, it’s not surprising that some UAW members are also Trump voters. His support among voters without college degrees is scarily high, and you can probably find a few MAGA chuds in pretty much any industry. It would also be understandable if they focused on how excited they were for Trump to hurt the people they hate, which is basically his whole schtick. Yeah, he’ll probably gut worker protections, make it harder for workers to unionize and make it easier for the rich to continue getting richer, but you can also guarantee that if he’s elected again, he’ll make life hell for queer people, women and racial minorities, which is what bigots care about most.
To anyone with basic reading comprehension skills, it’s clear that Trump is anti-worker and anti-union. And a lot of Republicans love that, especially business owners. But if you think for a second that Trump actually supports the UAW or unions in general, you’re a delusional moron. The only unions Trump is ever going to help out are police unions. But hey, at least he’ll probably hurt the people that UAW Trump supporters hate even more.
But it’s also because key electoral dynamics have been changing as well.
The Electoral College has long favored Republicans, and that advantage has grown in recent elections. Both Trump and George W. Bush were able to win the presidency while losing the popular vote because they fared far better in the pivotal battleground states than they did nationwide.
The main reason is that Trump has been improving his standing among nonwhite voters at the same time Biden has been holding his ground among white voters (especially college graduates).
Nonwhite voters are generally underrepresented in critical battleground states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and overrepresented in solidly blue states like California and New York. As a result, “Trump’s gains among nonwhite voters nationwide would tend to do more to improve his standing in the national vote than in the battleground states,” as the Times put it. Trump flipping a voter in Democratic Oregon is worth less than Biden flipping a voter in purple Pennsylvania.
That doesn’t mean Biden is heading for a blowout in 2024. In fact, current polling suggests a closer race than last time, when Biden won by more than 4 points.
But it may mean a shifting landscape. While more diverse battlegrounds such as Arizona, Georgia and Nevada are likely to retain their nail-biter status, the whiter swing states across the Northeast and Upper Midwest could become harder for Trump to win — and a state like North Carolina (which Biden lost by just 1.35% in 2020, and where Republicans face brewing abortion-ban backlash) could play a bigger role than ever before.
Compared to their older counterparts — two and a half million of whom die each year — that figure represents a net gain of 52 million potential Gen Z voters since 2016.
It also represents a potential advantage for Biden in a rematch with Trump. It’s not that Gen Z voters are loyal to the elderly president (or to any politician or party, for that matter). But 48% of them identify as people of color (compared to baby boomers, who are 72% white), and they’re more likely to be highly educated, to support LGBTQ rights and to list racism among their greatest concerns than the generations that preceded them.
Driven less, then, by party or personality than by “strong passion on one or more issues” — such as climate change or abortion access — young people in recent years have “vote[d] more frequently for Democrats and progressive policies than prior generations did when of similar age,” according to Lake.
Although still voting at much lower rates than older people, they’ve also turned out to vote in greater numbers than their forebears. As Lake writes, “average turnout by young voters (defined here as voters under 30) in the Trump and post-Trump years has been 25 percent higher than that of older generations at the same age before Trump — 8 percent higher in presidential years and a whopping 46 percent higher in midterms.”
The third-party spoilers
A third-party candidate ran in 2020: Libertarian Jo Jorgensen. But her candidacy barely registered, attracting just 1.2% of the vote. The Green Party’s Howie Hawkins did even worse (0.26%).
The possibility of a spoiler could be a lot higher this cycle, however.
For one thing, the left-wing Green Party is running a far more prominent candidate in Cornel West, the charismatic Princeton philosophy professor.
No Labels has said it has until March 2024 to decide whether to get into the race — and that it will announce its candidates no later than April 15, 2024, ahead of the group’s own convention in Dallas.
In the meantime, the group is amassing $70 million — from donors it has repeatedly refused to disclose — to purchase its own presidential ballot line in all 50 states. In 34 of those states, No Labels can hold a spot on the 2024 ballot for a potential third-party ticket by collecting and submitting a certain number of signatures. The group has already cleared that bar in Arizona, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon, and it says it’s “on track” to add another 24 states “by year’s end” (including battlegrounds such as Florida, North Carolina and Nevada). Elsewhere, it’s up to the candidates themselves — if any end up materializing — to secure their own ballot access.
Democrats fear that No Labels would siphon anti-Trump voters away from Biden — and help Trump win back the White House.
Vanity Fair hits the Kennedy family’s Cape Cod compound for a peek into the controversial 2024 candidate’s wet hot American summer.
By Joe Hagan – September 27, 2023
On an overcast afternoon in mid-August, I find myself on a ferry to Nantucket with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—son of Bobby, nephew of John, Democratic candidate for president of the United States. Trapped between Kennedy on my left and a window facing the Atlantic Ocean to my right, it is no exaggeration to say this is the low point of my summer—a supposedly fun thing I wish I’d never done.
A couple weeks before, Kennedy had responded to an interview request by calling and expressing exasperation at various hatchet jobs in mainstream media and skepticism that a correspondent for Vanity Fair, a card-carrying member of the legacy media, might be fair to him. “Your editor won’t let you write anything positive,” he promised.
Kennedy had had a rough ride since the summer started (he was virtually set ablaze by New York magazine) and so I proposed that instead of raking over his many controversial ideas—like his belief that the media has been infiltrated by the CIA, as he told the right-wing provocateur James O’Keefe in an interview this year; or his claim that pesticides in drinking water are causing “sexual dysphoria” in boys, as evidenced by a frog study—we meet up at the Kennedy compound and talk about his family history. Lean into his Kennedyness, have a little fun. I was scheduled to be on Cape Cod for vacation anyway and figured I’d go take the cut of his jib.
“So you’re saying this won’t be a hit piece?” he wrote back.
And so Kennedy agreed, reasoning that since we had a mutual friend in the late Peter Kaplan, his college roommate from Harvard and a mentor of mine in the journalism business, I would treat him fairly. The onetime editor of the weekly New YorkObserver taught me to give subjects a fair shake, though not to be afraid to have a point of view either. The first thing Peter used to ask when I returned from an interview was, “Did you like him/her?”
“What do you think is a greater threat to the republic, censorship or January 6?” Kennedy asked, then clarified that the answer is censorship. “You could blow up the Capitol and we’d be okay if we have a First Amendment.”
When I arrive at the Hyannis Port compound, I’m told Kennedy is on a boat somewhere and running late. And so I idle in the dining room of his house, a white colonial with soccer balls on the lawn and bicycles piled against the siding. I peruse books on his shelf: Best American Crime Writing 2004;How Al-Anon Works for Families & Friends of Alcoholics;Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises in U.S. Presidential Campaigns. There’s a photograph of Kennedy with a falcon on his arm and a picture of him and his brothers as young men, posing shirtless in an outdoor bathtub together. Near the front door are two iconic photos, one of the late Bobby Sr., holding his son; the other of John and Jackie Kennedy on a boat, Jackie’s scarf blowing in the wind.
A woman strolls in, barefoot and wearing hot pink sweatpants and a sleeveless T-shirt. It’s Kick Kennedy, RFK Jr.’s 35-year-old daughter. I tell her I’m waiting for her father, who by now is 45 minutes late. “Welcome to my life,” she says. She lives in Los Angeles and had planned to come out to the compound for a week but then one week became two which became three and, well, you know how summer on the Cape is.
Word comes down that I’m to meet Kennedy at the boat dock and go directly to the ferry terminal—he has to catch the 4:15 to Nantucket for a fundraiser and our time at the compound is scotched. When I express disappointment, Kick offers to take me to the crow’s nest upstairs for a quick view of the compound. It’s the same view Kennedy Jr. used as a backdrop in a social media post this summer, meant to underscore his family legacy. We climb a nautically themed stairwell and pass by a room with a man face down on a bed (Kick asks me to whisper lest we wake her friend) and emerge on the roof to a sweeping view of the houses that make up the compound, each one tidy and separated by fences. Boats dot the harbor beyond.
She points to a grand mansion festooned with red, white, and blue bunting. “That’s the house that everyone thinks is ours and it’s actually John Wilson’s from the college-admissions scandals,” she says casually, referring to the chief executive of Hyannis Port Capital accused of bribing college administrators to help his kid get into the Ivy League.
That house is a false flag, I joke.
That’s funny, she laughs, because she works at an art gallery called False Flag.
Kick surveys the surrounding property. “Grandma’s over there, and this was Jackie’s house, and now it’s Teddy Jr.’s house, and our house is new, meaning we’ve had it for 20 years,” she says. “Then over there, if you walk straight down, you’ll see the famous field where the touch football games happened.”
“I give famously good tours,” she adds. If I wasn’t presently scheduled to meet her father, she says, “I would have grabbed a golf cart and taken you to Squaw Island,” a scenic marshland nearby.
“Have fun with whatever they’re going to force you to do,” she says and wanders back to the living room.
Iwalk down the street toward the boat landing and soon see the unmistakable figure of Robert Francis Kennedy Jr., 69, barefoot in a T-shirt and faded neon-print swim trunks. I greet him and his entourage, which includes Maria Shriver and her brothers, Timothy and Mark. Everybody is jovial and relaxed, just back from a trip to Baxter’s, the famous fried-seafood shack near the Hyannis ferry terminal. “He’s going to do the first nice article about me,” Kennedy says by way of introduction. “The first one.”
“Oh, thank God!” says Maria, laughing.
Then Kennedy is informed he has to leave in 10 minutes to catch the 4:15 ferry.
He still has to tie up his sister Kerry’s motorboat after their pleasure cruise and I join him as he jogs to the dock and motors back into the harbor. His piercing blue eyes stare straight ahead, jaw firm, face stony, the classical profile of a Kennedy. I’d recently read his memoir American Values: Lessons I Learned From My Family, and I ask where his maternal great-grandfather, John Francis “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, used to sunbathe nude. He gestures faintly to a beach along the southern shore but is distracted because he can’t find the mooring.
I spy one with “Kennedy” printed on it and motion him toward it. There’s a pink buoy with a long stick for hauling the line up. “Grab the whip!” he yells hoarsely over the motor. “Haul it aboard super fast, get the whole rope on board.”
I yank the wet rope on board and Kennedy ties up the boat. The motor is still running but Kennedy can’t figure out how to turn it off. A dock worker who comes to fetch us says he’ll do it for him and we race back to the house and jump into a black SUV with Kennedy’s hired security guards. “If we go fast,” says Kennedy, “we can make it in like seven minutes.”
We gun it to the terminal and are fast-walking to the gangway, the last to board the ferry, when we’re stopped by a guard in mirrored glasses. “Sir, you gotta put shoes on, please,” he says, motioning to Kennedy’s bare feet.
An aide quickly digs his formal dress shoes out of a suitcase and Kennedy yanks them on, looking faintly ridiculous as he strides onto the ferry in neon trunks and black dress shoes. He heads to the upper deck, known as the Captain’s View, and we sit side by side in bucket seats.
After the whole mad scramble, we now have an hour to talk. My original plan scuttled, I turn to my notebook, which is full of questions.
Three days before my arrival, Peter Baker of The New York Times had published a story on the Kennedy family’s unhappy feelings about Robert’s campaign; his taking on their friend and ally Joe Biden; his claim that John, and possibly Bobby Kennedy, were assassinated by the CIA. “That’s the third story the Times has done,” Kennedy says grimly. “The same story, three times.”
“Well, I have a big family,” he says. “Some of them agree with me, some of them don’t agree with me. I think it’s like everybody’s family. People are entitled to their opinions. I can love people who disagree with me about the Ukraine war or about censorship, whatever.”
He notes that sister Kerry, a critic of his campaign, loaned him her boat for the afternoon. No hard feelings. “She saw my boat didn’t have a key so she said, why don’t you take my boat?”
He crunches some numbers. “I think there’s 105 cousins now,” he explains. “So I think four or five of them made statements against me. And then a lot of other ones showed up for my announcement.”
Does it hurt his feelings?
“No,” he says. “We grew up in a milieu where we were taught to argue with each other passionately every night at the dinner table. There’s five or six members of my family who work with the Biden administration. And there’s a lot of other ones who have 501c3s that are doing business with the Biden administration.”
Kennedy finds President Biden “congenial” but disagrees vehemently with the war in Ukraine (he believes the US is partly responsible for starting it) and accuses the administration of censoring his views on COVID vaccines and lockdowns (in short, the former are dangerous, the latter unnecessary and dangerous). Indeed, he joined a lawsuit against a consortium of media and tech companies, including the BBC, The Washington Post, and Google, over alleged violations of his First Amendment rights. Among other things, it accuses the White House of leaning on Twitter to take down his posts or labeling them misinformation. (A week after I see Kennedy, a federal judge will deny Kennedy’s request for a temporary restraining order against Google and YouTube, citing “the public interest of preventing the spread of illness and medical misinformation”; later still, an appeals court will rule against the White House, saying it “coerced the [tech] platforms to make their moderation decisions by way of intimidating messages and threats of adverse consequences.”)
For Kennedy, the “legacy media” is corrupted by pharmaceutical companies and an implicit allegiance to the Democratic Party. The federal judge who ruled against him is an appointee of President Joe Biden and is therefore in bed with the whole gang too—as am I. I assure Kennedy I wasn’t given any marching orders from the DNC or Big Pharma, nor was I on the CIA payroll. “You wouldn’t be sitting there if you were willing to depart from official orthodoxy,” he tells me, “so there’s a self-censorship that goes on.”
To be honest, it isn’t a great way to start off an interview. But for Kennedy, this is clearly personal. “I was the first person censored by the White House,” he says. “Thirty-seven hours after he took the oath of office, White House officials contacted Twitter and told them to take down my post.”
The post suggested baseball legend Hank Aaron’s death was related to his COVID vaccine. None other than Ohio Republican Jim Jordan would later defend Kennedy, saying “there was nothing there that was factually inaccurate. Hank Aaron, real person, great American, passed away after he got the vaccine. Pointing out, just pointing out facts.”
“Nobody has ever pointed to a single post that I made, ever, that was factually inaccurate,” Kennedy continues. “We have probably the most robust fact-checking operation of any news organization in the country.”
He’s referring to his nonprofit, the Children’s Health Defense, which he says has 350 PhD scientists and medical doctors who make sure all his public statements are “vetted and super vetted.”
Kennedy says he lost a lot of followers after Twitter took down his anti-vax posts. “They lost me 800,000 followers,” he says. “They removed 268,000 people. People still, in this country, don’t know that the vaccine is killing kids. There’s what, 1,500 student athletes that have dropped dead on the field for myocarditis? Americans don’t know that…and none of it’s recorded. It’s all censored.”From the Archive: Far From the Tree
I’d actually read that claim before—Ron DeSantis’s controversial surgeon general in Florida, Joseph Ladapo, hyped the theory from a study that admitted in the fine print that it could not “provide a definitive functional proof or a direct causal link between vaccination and myocarditis”—so it couldn’t have been very successfully censored, no?
“Well, you read little tiny bits, but you’re not reading about the kids that I read about every day,” he says. “New children dying. If an individual died of COVID, it’s front-page. If a guy dies of the COVID vaccine, you will not find it in a paper. That’s not right.”
Tonally, Kennedy’s raspy voice can make it hard to tell whether he’s pissed off or just struggling to make himself understood, but it’s ambiguous enough that I ask him if he’s pissed off.
“Do I go around angry?” he says. “No.”
But as I question him, he gets increasingly tense. His arms are crossed tightly across his chest. He hasn’t laughed or smiled once since we started talking. Given all that he’s saying about Biden, plus his wholesale embrace of, and by, the conservative media, plus his appearance before the Republican-led, anti-Democrat Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, not to mention unlikely fans like Donald Trump, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, and Ron DeSantis (who said he would consider making Kennedy the head of the FDA in his administration), I can’t help but wonder who Kennedy would vote for in a general election matchup between Joe Biden and Donald Trump in 2024.
“I wouldn’t answer that question,” he replies. “I think the Ukraine war is an existential war for us. I think we are walking along the edge in a completely unnecessary war.”
But as a Democrat, I press, wouldn’t Robert F. Kennedy Jr., of the vaunted Democratic Kennedy family, vote for the Democratic nominee? “You’re giving me a hypothetical situation,” he says. “It depends what their positions are on issues.”
The first issue he mentions, Ukraine, is one that aligns him with Trump’s pro-Putin position. “Well, maybe,” he says, pointing out that he’s also critical of Trump’s COVID policies from 2020. “Trump engineered a $16 trillion useless expenditure with the COVID lockdowns,” he says.
Of DeSantis’s idea, Kennedy says, “It’s nice for him to express confidence in me. I’m not going to express umbrage at that.”
In liberal circles, these kinds of answers feed the suspicion that Kennedy, whose super PAC is largely financed by a Trump donor named Timothy Mellon, is a kind of Manchurian candidate set on spoiling Biden’s chances against Trump. Kennedy insists he won’t run as an independent (“Even if I was going to run as a third-party candidate, which I’m not, I would probably take more votes from Trump than I would from Democrats”), but feeling unloved by the press, he has embraced people like Joe Rogan, to whom he can fire off his theories without being fact-checked in real time, and Fox News, where Sean Hannity has given him free rein to espouse what Kennedy calls his “mal-information” (supposedly factually accurate information that Democrats don’t want you to hear).
Then there’s former Fox host Tucker Carlson, with whom Kennedy seems to have a burgeoning bromance. “For years, I was trying to get Fox News to take endocrine disruptors seriously. It’s a toxin that affects sexuality in children. I’ve been fighting them for 40 years. So about a year ago, Tucker Carlson did a show, finally. He did a really detailed show on endocrine disruptors and the whole Democratic left came down against him. What is that about?”
As it happens, Kennedy had taped an interview with Carlson only the night before we meet and came away with fresh questions about the January 6 insurrection, which right-wing media theorizes was sparked by a Capitol rioter named Ray Epps, who they surmise was an FBI agent running a false flag operation to implicate Trump fans (Epps has since sued Fox News for spreading the lie and has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in connection with the January 6 attack).
Given how aggrieved Kennedy seems, I ask whether some of this treatment in the press might not be his communication style—the hyperbolic language, a certain undisciplined (and paranoid) style.
“Like what?” he asks.
Like his claim that the media, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, have been “compromised” by the CIA in a new version of the old 1960s CIA program, Operation Mockingbird.
Nope, he actually believes that.
“I had dinner about three weeks ago with Mike Pompeo,” Kennedy recounts, “and he said to me, ‘When I was at the CIA, I did not do a good job at reforming that agency.’ And he said, ‘I should have and I didn’t.’ And he said, ‘I failed.’ And he said to me, ‘The top echelon of that agency, all of the people who are in the top tier of that agency, are people who do not believe in the Democratic institutions of the United States of America.’”
The strongest proof of corruption at the top levels of the government and media is how Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is being treated by the press. “Even Trump was not treated like this,” he says. “Tucker said it’s the worst treatment that he’s ever seen in his life, of any public figure.”
“And that’s why I initially said I wasn’t interested in talking to you,” he explains, “because I know that it would be very unusual for me to get fair treatment from a mainstream journal.”
He gives me an extended lecture about “what reporters are supposed to do” and how the media “did the opposite. They became propaganda vessels for a certain point of view. And they became manipulators of the public. And that is why you’re seeing the division in this country, because people know when they’re being lied to and when they’re being manipulated.”
For example, he says, the media keeps “censoring” Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
“It’s that the media will not report what I say,” he says. “They call me an anti-vaxxer. I’ve never been an anti-vaxxer on any vaccine. I was trying to get mercury out of fish for 40 years and nobody called me anti-fish. I want safe vaccines. I want good science. I want to have vaccines that are tested against placebos like every other medicine, prior [to] licensure. I think most people would agree with that. I tell it to every reporter like you and you won’t report it.”
For what it’s worth, Kennedy has said as recently as July that “there’s no vaccine that is safe and effective” and called the COVID vaccine “the deadliest vaccine ever made.” His presidential campaign is aligned with his nonprofit, which consistently espouses anti-vaccine opinion. One might argue that Kennedy is not so much censored as simply disbelieved, but censorship also happens to be the genesis and thrust of his campaign for president. “I thought if I ran for president, I’d actually get to talk to Americans instead of having the press be the dishonest intermediary.”
At this, Kennedy turns toward me with his whole body, muscles flexing, and grips the tray table between us. “You’re lying to me,” he says, furious.
In other words, people like me are actually the reason he’s running—so he can get around me, even though he’s right in front of me.
And this is where the interview takes a sour turn.
The day before, I had listened to the sample chapter of his 2021 book, The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health, published by Skyhorse Publishing and his anti-vaccine nonprofit, and read the synopsis on Amazon, and a few reviews, the gist of which is this: Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, along with Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and various “heads of state and leading media and social media institutions,” allegedly formed a “Pharma-Fauci-Gates alliance” that “exercises dominion over global health policy” with the intent of controlling the general populace. The process, Kennedy claims, began in early 2000 when “Fauci shook hands with Bill Gates in the library of Gates’ $147 million Seattle mansion, cementing a partnership that would aim to control an increasingly profitable $60 billion global vaccine enterprise with unlimited growth potential.”
Skeptical, I ask Kennedy about his claim that Fauci was somehow “corrupt” or “nefarious”—my words—and wonder if perhaps he wasn’t overstating Fauci’s motives given that we were, after all, in an unpredictable global pandemic in 2020 that was killing hundreds of thousands of people.
At this, Kennedy turns toward me with his whole body, muscles flexing, and grips the tray table between us.
“You’re lying to me,” he says, furious.
Shocked, I ask what he means. People in nearby seats glance over nervously.
“Because you didn’t read the book,” he says. “Because I don’t do that. I don’t look into [Fauci’s] head the whole book. What I do in that book, I document what happened. Not a single factual error has been found in that book. It’s 2,200 footnotes. Show me something I got wrong.”
He accuses me of not doing my “homework” and expresses regret at doing the interview.
“I thought this was going to be something different,” he says. “You said it was going to be lighthearted.”
It’s worth pausing for a moment to describe what happened in the days following this interview.
Later that night, and over the next three days, Kennedy texts me links to articles about alleged vaccine-related deaths among people 18 to 34 as well as a report, from a site called Slay News, that 92% of COVID deaths in England in 2022 were people who were vaccinated. He also mails me his 2022 book, A Letter to Liberals, also published by Skyhorse Publishing and his anti-vaccine nonprofit, wherein he rails against the modern Democratic Party and the media “cabal” supposedly collaborating in a cover-up of inconvenient truths about the COVID vaccine.
I read the book. In Chapter 1, Kennedy publishes 12 pages of charts that allegedly illustrate how weekly COVID deaths around the world spiked in 2021 after the introduction of “mass vaccination.” Paraguay, Vietnam, Nepal, Ireland—in country after country, COVID deaths appear to go up after vaccinations are introduced, which is supposed to demonstrate that the vaccine had “negative efficacy”—indeed, that vaccinations tended to worsen illness and death. He goes on to claim the US death rate is “consistent” with “global patterns” and that more Americans died of COVID in 2022 than in 2020. “Because this truth has not been reported by corporate media,” he writes, “it’s understandable that you might find it surprising or unbelievable. And, nonetheless, it’s true.”
Kennedy’s analysis is wildly misleading and false. The first of his charts, for Ireland, depicts vaccinations starting in December 2020 and a spike in weekly deaths from COVID in February. According to Ireland’s own public health care data, less than 1% of the Irish population had been vaccinated in February. One might presume, from Kennedy’s supposition, that the rate of weekly COVID deaths would escalate as more people became vaccinated. It’s the opposite: Weekly COVID deaths declined as the percentage of the vaccinated population went up. By August of 2021, the Irish government reported that it had fully vaccinated 80% of the adult population. Weekly COVID death rates never returned anywhere near the February 2021 peak again.
The second chart is for Portugal. Kennedy’s chart shows vaccinations beginning in late December and a spike in weekly COVID deaths in late January 2021. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, 0.67% of the population had received full vaccination at the time. And again, if the vaccine had “negative efficacy,” as Kennedy claims, then the rate of weekly deaths should have gone up as the percent of the vaccinated population increased. It didn’t.
Again and again, Kennedy pulls this sleight of hand: A chart shows a spike in weekly COVID deaths as COVID-19 deaths were peaking globally but when only a fraction of the world’s population had been fully vaccinated. Kennedy also lumps Cambodia into this argument, showing a spike in weekly COVID deaths four months into the vaccination process. Cambodia had one of the highest rates of vaccination in the world (higher than the US) and by November of 2021 the government reopened the country after a period of lockdowns. As of 2023, the country has limited the number of COVID deaths to 3,056 in a population of 16.8 million, according to the World Health Organization.
Kennedy conspicuously does not show a US chart. But as with other countries, the first major spike in weekly COVID deaths in 2021 was in late January, about a month after vaccinations began, and weekly COVID death rates never returned to that peak again. And contrary to Kennedy’s claim, the number of COVID deaths in the US was less in 2022 (244,986) than in 2020 (350,831), according to Centers for Disease Control statistics. Those numbers might have been much better had states like Mississippi and Wyoming, hot beds of anti-vaccine sentiment, managed to get more than 55% of the population fully vaccinated. Instead, those states have had some of the highest per capita rates of COVID-19 mortality in the country. Indeed, data from the CDC shows that unvaccinated people between ages 65 and 79, among the most vulnerable populations, were nine times likelier to die from COVID as vaccinated people.
Kick Kennedy surveys the surrounding property. “Grandma’s over there, and this was Jackie’s house, and now it’s Teddy Jr.’s house, and our house is new, meaning we’ve had it for 20 years.”
I later wonder whether Kennedy had left out the context to hype his claim or whether he himself had been duped by his 350 scientists and medical physicians. Neither seemed particularly promising for a candidate for president of the United States—though, in these Trumpian times, neither did it seem particularly surprising. As his pal Tucker Carlson has illustrated, paranoia and innuendo sell. But if Kennedy can’t get his biggest claim correct in Chapter 1 of the “revised” edition of his book, why should we believe anything he says?
We still have 20 minutes to Nantucket and Kennedy won’t even look at me.
I try to smooth things over by promising to give the Fauci book a closer read. (When I do, later on, I’m convinced of one thing for sure: Kennedy would be terrific at writing thrillers.) I feel bullied by Kennedy, harangued and insulted into becoming a fact-checker for his many speculative and debunked theories. But my job is to keep asking him questions and so I do.
Does he think this focus on censorship is helping his campaign?
“I don’t think it’s hurting me,” he says. “It’s hurting me among the people that I need to become nominated—so that 28%. And they’re the people that watch MSNBC, CNN.”
He means Democrats, who one presumes he’ll need to get to the White House as a Democrat. How does he propose to get through to them? “When polling starts to indicate that I can win and that President Biden can’t,” he ventures, “we’ll see. And then there’s also the possibility”—he stops short of saying what I think he’s about to say—“there’s all kinds of possibilities that could happen.”
He’s waiting for Biden to drop out—or, you know, off. He points to Cory Booker and Gavin Newsom, who he says are running shadow campaigns in case of the same eventuality.
I gently suggest to Kennedy that Donald Trump is the existential threat that animates Democratic voters, not vaccines. When I ask for his view on the Trump indictments, he declines to talk about it but asks rhetorically, “What do you think is a greater threat to the republic, censorship or January 6?”
“I don’t have a way of measuring that,” I reply.
“To me, it’s obvious,” he says. “If the press is condoning censorship by the government or the media, that’s the end of democracy.”
He continues: “You could blow up the Capitol and we’d be okay if we have a First Amendment. Why are we hearing about the Capitol day after day after day after day and nobody’s talking about the First Amendment?”
The conversation once again morphs into a lecture on the failures of the press, about which he is an expert and I, a reporter for Vanity Fair, am implicated.
By now it’s clear that Kennedy sees himself as the lone truth teller in a world of lies and deceit, crusading against a vast conspiracy of interlocking powers involving the Biden and Trump administrations, the tech companies, the pharmaceutical industry, the CIA, the FDA, and the mainstream media, who have coordinated to stifle the truth of a “three-year experiment performed on the American people.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., like his father and uncle before him, was born to slay dragons. “From my youngest days I always had the feeling that we were all involved in some great crusade,” he writes in his memoir, “that the world was a battleground for good and evil…It would be my good fortune if I could play an important or heroic role.”
In a time when both the far left and far right find common ground in a paranoid distrust of power, when faith in institutions is at an all-time low, here stands Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to unite the people in their mutual distrust of everything—if only the damned reporters will report what he’s saying, or report what he means to say, or report what he’s decided to say on any particular day. I think of our mutual friend Peter Kaplan, onetime editor of the New York Observer. Kennedy says Peter would have been “depressed” by the state of the media if he were alive today. Sure—aren’t we all? But he, like many of Kennedy’s oldest and dearest friends, would have been downright heartbroken by the state of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
I see Nantucket on the horizon and breathe a sigh of relief.
And I think of Peter Kaplan’s old query: Did I like Robert F. Kennedy Jr.? No, I did not. He is a humorless bully living in a paranoid fantasy in which reporters like me are cast as corrupt dupes whose only redemption is to follow Robert F. Kennedy Jr. into this miasma of overheated conspiracies. It’s a script that’s beneath Netflix, let alone the Kennedy legacy.
At a loss for words, I note that Kennedy seems very passionate.
“I wouldn’t describe myself that way,” he says.
How would he describe himself?
“Well, I don’t think I’m governed by passion,” he says. “I think I’m governed by evidence.”
A passion for the evidence perhaps?
“Okay,” he says. “I’ll settle for that.”
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to accurately reflect Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s middle name. It is Francis.
Joe Hagan is a special correspondent at Vanity Fair and a cohost of the podcast Inside the Hive. He’s the author of the critically acclaimed Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine (Knopf) and has profiled everybody from Beto O’Rourke and Stephen Colbert to Liz Cheney and Henry Kissinger.
“How you lose your democracy”: Shocking new research shows Americans lack basic civic knowledge
Chauncey DeVega – September 26, 2023
Republicans are systematically eroding the basic civil rights of the American people. As we are seeing in other countries that are experiencing what experts describe as “democratic backsliding,” Republicans are doing this by undermining and corrupting America’s democratic institutions from within. If Republicans get their way, free speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, equal protection under the law, the right to privacy, the right to vote, and other basic freedoms and rights will be severely restricted.
In an example of Orwellian Newspeak, Republicans present themselves as defenders of freedom, when they actually oppose it. More specifically, Republicans believe that freedom is the ability and power of a select group of White Americans (rich, white, “Christian” men) to take away and otherwise deny the rights and liberties of other Americans and people in this country they deem to be less than, second-class, not “real Americans” and the Other, such as Black and brown people, the LGBTQI community, women, non-Christians, and other targeted groups.
Unfortunately, many Americans are unaware of their basic constitutional and other guaranteed rights and liberties – and how the country’s democratic institutions are ideally supposed to function. How can the American people defend and protect their democracy and rights, if they lack such basic knowledge?
Such an outcome is not a coincidence: it is the intentional outcome of how the American right-wing and conservative movements have undermined high-quality public education for decades with the goal of creating a compliant public that lacks the critical thinking skills and knowledge to be engaged citizens. Now new research by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center provides insight into the extent of this crisis. Some of the Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey’s findings include:
[W]hen U.S. adults are asked to name the specific rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, only one right is recalled by most of the respondents: Freedom of speech, which 77% named.
Although two-thirds of Americans (66%) can name all three branches of government, 10% can name two, 7% can name only one, and 17% cannot name any.
In this conversation, he explains how America’s democracy crisis is connected to a lack of basic political knowledge and civic literacy, the role that education can play in equipping Americans to defend their democracy, and why contrary to what many “conservatives” like to believe, America is not a “republic”.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
How you are feeling about the country’s democracy crisis, given your new research that shows a lack of basic civics knowledge among a large portion of the American public?
I am worried, with occasional glimmers of hope. But mostly I worry. Why? Our data show that people lack key civics knowledge, continuing a trend from recent years. A new report from Pew confirms what many suspected: Most Americans are fed up with government and don’t think it’s working. Those two things are deeply related.
To understand why, it’s helpful to take a step back and think about why civics matters, broadly speaking. The main reason is that we want people to understand how they can make their voices heard in our democracy. But you can’t make your voice heard if you don’t understand our system of government. For example, if you don’t know the three branches of government and their roles, then you won’t know why President Biden and Congress are sparring about spending, immigration, green energy, etc. If you don’t know what rights are protected by the First Amendment or what they mean, then you won’t understand why the government can’t censor the New York Times, but Facebook can make you take down a post that violates its community standards policy. If you don’t know which branch has the responsibility of determining whether a law is constitutional, you won’t understand why the Supreme Court and its rulings are so important and influential. In short, without some basic civic knowledge, you can’t even follow the news of the day to be an informed citizen. If you can’t do that, then you cannot know what to expect out of your government. That is not—at all—to say that a lack of knowledge is the root of dysfunction (it is not). But it is to say that they are related.
The concepts of civic literacy and engaged citizenship are not commonly discussed among the news media and general public. Can you explain those two concepts in more detail and why they matter?
What we can measure in a survey is civic literacy, which is your comprehension of basic facts about our system of government. So, for example, we ask if people know the three branches of government, what rights are protected by the 1st Amendment, who is responsible for determining the constitutionality of a law, and so forth. This gets at the pre-requisite knowledge you need to understand government and to participate in our system. But engaged citizenship—having people really how know to function in our governmental system, and make their voices heard—is the deeper goal.
This matters because we do not just want people to vote, we want them to cast an informed vote. This means, at a minimum, that they know where the candidates stand on the issues that matter to them, and they understand the office’s role in our democracy. For example, if you don’t know that the president is responsible for nominating Supreme Court justices who are then confirmed by the Senate, you won’t know to investigate the types of justices that a candidate might nominate. Likewise, if you don’t know the candidate’s positions (or have been misled about them), then you cannot effectively cast your vote on the issues that matters to you.
But even more importantly, we want people to participate in government more broadly. This can be many things: going to a community meeting (such as a school board meeting), volunteering for an election or civic activity (shout out to poll workers, the unsung heroes of democracy!), or working to solve problems in your community. For most of us, local participation is more important than national participation. Few people can meaningfully participate in national politics beyond voting (this is just as true of political scientists as it is of regular folks). But we can all participate locally, and for most of us, that is where we interface with government the most: local governments help pave our roads, police our streets, teach our children in schools, and so forth. What would this knowledge look like?
Take the case of Philadelphia. Here, the information needed to participate could be identifying your councilperson, knowing what they can resolve, and how to contact them. It could be knowing who controls the schools, and what are the roles of the mayor vs. the school board. You could also investigate what should be reported to 311 to get a response from a city agency, and what a registered community organization can help to address. These would differ from place to place, but the core idea is that it would help citizens see how they could uncover how the government can help them solve problems in their lives.
I went to a very good public school system. I remember taking social studies and civics courses. Obviously, given my career path, those courses and teachers had a great influence on me. Are such courses still taught today? What is their content?
Many states—including Pennsylvania—have civics requirements, and that’s helpful for teaching this sort of civic literacy. But it is on all of us, as citizens, to help the next generation learn how to participate more meaningfully in our democracy. Happily, there are so many great resources for those who need to do this. For example, the Civics Renewal Network provides thousands of free, non-partisan, high-quality learning materials about civics that anyone can use. For example, Annenberg Classroom provides 65 high-quality videos about various key Supreme Court decisions, as well as extensive materials about our system of government. While much of this is aimed at teachers, who can use it directly in their classrooms, parents and others could also make use of this material. [In full disclosure, both CRN and AC are part of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, but I would endorse their content even if I did not work there.]
If I could add something to civics education in our current moment, it would be teaching people skills on how to have conversations across lines of difference. This is something that I discuss in my new book, and I show can reduce animosity and improve understanding between the two sides.
What does this look like? There are many ways of doing this, but they tend to share a few things in common. These are conversations centered on genuinely listening to the other person and their point of view, what some scholars call “perspective getting” so you can understand why they believe what they believe. The goal is to understand those with whom you disagree, not to persuade them. This means asking probing questions and keeping an open mind. These are also conversations grounded in what Keith and Danisch call “strong civility,” basically the idea that we treat each other as political equals and respect the other person’s right to take part in the political process.
But this takes practice, and can be intimidating, so it’s something we all need help to do well. Happily, there are a number of groups working to do this, but it is a vital civic skill as well that we all should try to master.
What measures of political knowledge and civic literacy were used in the new research? What do those measures help to reveal (or not) about a person’s relationship to democratic citizenship and its demands and requirements?
Surveys like ours ask about the key ingredients of civic literacy. Do you know what the three branches of government are? Do you understand their roles? Do you know key rights guaranteed by the various key amendments? Do you know what a 5-4 Supreme Court decision means? And so forth. These are some of the benchmark pieces of information people need to know to be informed citizens.
And our survey—like many others—finds that many Americans do not. For example, one-third do not know the three branches of government. While most people know that the First Amendment to the Constitution protects freedom of speech, they don’t know the other rights protected by it (freedom of the press, freedom of religion, right to petition the government, and right to peaceably assembly). And even though most people know that free speech is protected by the First Amendment, they don’t understand what that means: roughly half think (incorrectly) that it requires Facebook to let you say whatever you’d like on its platform.
This sort of lack of basic information is quite troubling, as it highlights that citizens lack that core civic literacy.
Many Americans do not have a basic understanding of politics and government. Yet, we are also in an era of 24/7 news media and the Internet. The high levels of civic ignorance and lack of knowledge among the American people is an indictment of our country’s political culture, political elites and the news media, the educational system, and other key agents of political socialization.
This is why the well-documented decline of local media is so important. If you like politics, there’s never been a better time to be alive. You can read Politico, First Branch Forecast, subscribe to Ezra Klein’s podcast, etc. You can consume politics all day, every day. But if you don’t like politics (and most Americans do not!), it’s never been easier to avoid it, so scholars have found that civic knowledge similarly polarizes based on political interest.
In the days of a robust local media, that was less pronounced: if you subscribed to the local paper to get the sports scores, you also flipped past some national stories, and at least glanced at them. Now, you don’t even get this sort of by-product coverage. This is especially consequential for coverage of sub-national politics. All of the sources I discussed above focus on national politics, covering the minutiae of the debates between McConnell, Schumer, Biden, and so forth. But there is far less attention to state and local issues, and indeed, there are just far fewer reporters covering that today than a generation ago.
Given that the business model of local journalism has collapsed, I don’t have a great solution to this problem, but it is an important one that many scholars are working to solve.
As a function of a deep hostility to real multiracial pluralistic democracy, there is a right-wing talking point that America is actually a “republic” and not a “democracy”. Of course, this is not true. What intervention would you make against that disinformation and propaganda?
As someone who has taught core undergraduate American politics classes at Penn for many years, this is a perennial question that comes up every year. When people ask which is right—are we a republic or a democracy—the correct answer is that we’re both.
For the Founders, “democracy” meant some sort of direct democracy, where the people themselves rule. Functionally, that doesn’t exist anywhere in the modern world, at least not at scale (the closest we get are ballot initiatives and referenda in some states). But we have elements of that spirit animating our government today, most notably when we talk about the “will of the people” and public opinion, which is central to our modern understanding of how our government functions.
But we are also a republic, where it is not just what the people want directly that matters, but how that is filtered through our institutions that shapes outcomes (the Electoral College being perhaps the most striking element of that). I try to emphasize to students that our system has both elements, the key is to harness the best of both without succumbing too much to their weaknesses.
Imagine that you are a doctor of American democracy. What is your diagnosis and prognosis for the patient in this time of crisis? How does your new research (and related work of course) help to inform your conclusion(s)?
Like many others, I fear for our system, and there are real signs of trouble for American democracy. What, then, is to be done? The first, I think, is to put pressure on elites to a bulwark against backsliding. As many scholars—myself included—have shown, backsliding is more the fault of elites than voters (i.e., it is less about voters demanding elites break norms than it is elites breaking norms that voters then rationalize as unimportant). Our job as citizens is to demand better of them. In 2020, despite real threats—including January 6th—the guardrails of democracy held. They need to be strengthened and reinforced to ensure that they can continue to flourish.
At the outset, I said that I occasionally see glimmers of hope. Those glimmers are the people who are working to make our democracy better. They are working to help us better understand one another, build bridges, and make America live up to its founding promises to all Americans, not just some of them. That is hard, difficult work. But it is the work we need at this moment.
Explainer-What does New York fraud ruling mean for Donald Trump’s business empire?
Jack Queen – September 27, 2023
(Reuters) – The fate of Donald Trump’s business empire hangs in the balance after a New York judge stripped control of key properties from the former U.S. president as punishment for his “repeated and persistent fraud” over their valuations.
Here’s a look at the ruling and its implications for Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
WHAT DOES THE RULING SAY?
Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a civil lawsuit against Trump, his adult sons and nearly a dozen business entities in September 2022, alleging they inflated the value of their assets by billions of dollars to secure more favorable loan and insurance terms.
Justice Arthur Engoron of New York state court in Manhattan ruled on Tuesday that Trump and his co-defendants committed fraud and ordered the cancellation of certificates that some of his businesses need to operate in New York. He also said he would appoint independent receivers to manage the dissolution of the canceled certificates.
The order did not provide a timeline for the cancellations. Engoron asked the parties to recommend potential receivers within the next 30 days.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and said the case is part of a political witch hunt.
WHAT DOES THE RULING MEAN FOR TRUMP’S BUSINESS?
The immediate impact of the ruling is unclear as Trump’s holdings comprise a network of roughly 500 entities spanning real estate, licensing and other business ventures.
The ruling covers 10 Trump entities but includes pillars of Trump’s empire, including his commercial property at 40 Wall Street in Manhattan, golf resort in Scotland and Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
Independent receivers could continue to operate the properties as businesses or liquidate them, though Trump would likely be entitled the proceeds of any sale, legal experts say.
Engoron declined to answer whether the assets would be sold or simply managed by an independent receiver when asked by one of Trump’s lawyers during a hearing on Wednesday, saying he would rule on that question later.
WHAT COMES NEXT IN THE CASE?
Trump’s lawyers have said they will appeal the decision, which they described as an “outrageous” attempt to “nationalize one of the most successful corporate empires in the United States and seize control of private property.”
Trump could also seek a stay or pause of the court’s order pending appeal, which would likely be met by a request from James to block any asset transfers while the case plays out.
A trial is scheduled to begin on Monday. Because of Engoron’s fraud ruling, it would largely be limited to how much Trump and his co-defendants must pay in penalties.
James is seeking at least $250 million and has asked the court to permanently bar Trump from serving as an officer or director of any business in New York, and prohibit him from acquiring any real estate or applying for a loan in the state for five years.
James is seeking the same restrictions for Trump’s two adult sons, Donald Jr and Eric.
COULD TRUMP FACE CRIMINAL PENALTIES?
Not in this case, which is civil. But Trump is under indictment in four separate criminal cases.
He has been charged in Florida for his handling of classified documents upon leaving office; in Washington D.C. over his efforts to undo his loss in the 2020 presidential election; in Georgia over his efforts to reverse the election results in that state; and in New York over hush money payments he made to a porn star.
Trump has pleaded not guilty in all four cases.
(Reporting by Jack Queen; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Bill Berkrot)
“The end of Trump’s financial empire”: Legal experts say N.Y. fraud ruling could bring him down
Areeba Shah – September 27, 2023
Donald Trump committed massive fraud in New York for years by repeatedly misrepresenting his wealth by hundreds of millions of dollars while building his real estate empire, a state Supreme Court judge ruled on Tuesday afternoon.
This startling decision came in the civil case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who has argued that Trump, along his sons Donald Jr. and Eric and the entire Trump Organization, had “grossly” inflated the value of more than a dozen assets by hundreds of millions in total, and then used those fake values to defraud banks and insurers in order to obtain more favorable deals and secure loans.
James argued that Trump routinely overstated his net worth to financial institutions by between $812 million to $2.2 billion, depending on the year and the specific applications he filed, and is seeking a penalty of about $250 million in a trial scheduled to begin Oct. 2.
New York Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron, who issued the summary judgment on Tuesday, ordered that some of Trump’s business licenses be rescinded as punishment and ordered that an outside “receiver” must be appointed to supervise the management of those Trump properties. The ultimate outcome could well be the end of Trump’s ability to do business in the state.
Trump and his adult sons are now “barred from doing business in New York forever” under Engoron’s ruling, said Catherine Ross, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University. “And given that New York was the home base of their business, the base of their fortune, of Trump’s reputation, his credibility, his integrity — it’s all been found lacking.” The former president “is not a good businessman,” she added. “He’s a conman.”
Tuesday’s ruling came summary judgment, a decision indicating that there is no need for a jury trial because the evidence is “so strong” for one side, Ross explained, that no reasonable jury could reach a different decision.
Engoron’s ruling amounts to saying “that the New York attorney general presented an ironclad, well-documented case backed up with lots of evidence,” Ross said. In fact, she added, Engoron had already “lambasted Trump’s lawyers for trying to resuscitate defense arguments and positions that he had already expressly rejected and for essentially misleading the court in a number of instances.”
This decision was viewed as a surprise by legal observers and is clearly a major victory for James, who has been investigating claims since March 2019 that Trump and other executives at his companies had manipulated the values of various properties in order to get better deals from banks and insurers. She filed a lawsuit in September 2022.
Though the trial will determine the exact magnitude of the financial penalty inflicted on the Trumps and their business entity, Engoron has already granted one of the biggest punishments James pursued: the cancellation of business certificates that allow some of Trump’s New York properties, including the Trump Organization itself, to operate in the state. That could have major repercussions for the Trump family business.
This decision “signals the end of Trump’s financial empire,” Bennett Gershman, a former New York prosecutor and law professor at Pace University, told Salon.
“The judge declared that Trump and his family are guilty of a massive, staggering fraud in overvaluing his properties,” Gershman said. “The only issue left to be decided is the penalty to be imposed on him.”
The ruling, if it survives the appeals that are sure to follow, would deprive Trump of his ability to exercise control over critical properties in the state, particularly with regard to strategic and financial decisions. This would effectively dismantle a large portion of the former president’s business empire, and could destabilize his financial standing.
“This ruling cripples [Trump’s] ability to engage in business activities anywhere, and completely terminates his ability to do business in New York state,” Gershman said, adding that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg could now decide to reopen “his criminal investigation of Trump for falsely stating the value of his properties.” Bragg had earlier declined to prosecute Trump on those charges.
The former president has “boasted” that his personal net worth in the billions, Gershman added, although many observers have concluded that is unlikely. “The truth is that his net worth is far, far less than that,” Gershman said. “The consequences of this ruling and the upcoming trial, while not making him a pauper, will significantly reduce his net worth.”
According to Engoron’s ruling, Trump, along with his company and key executives, engaged in a pattern of false statements about their financial status in annual statements. This resulted in more favorable loan conditions and reduced insurance expenses, among other tangible benefits, the judge found.
Furthermore, these deceptive tactics violated legal boundaries, Engoron said, despite the arguments by Trump’s lawyers that a disclaimer attached to his financial statements absolved him of liability.
“In defendants’ world: rent regulated apartments are worth the same as unregulated apartments; restricted land is worth the same as unrestricted land; restrictions can evaporate into thin air; a disclaimer by one party casting responsibility on another party exonerates the other party’s lies,” Engoron wrote in his 35-page ruling. “That is a fantasy world, not the real world.”
The judge ordered that Trump and the other defendants provide the names of potential independent receivers “to manage the dissolution of the canceled LLCs,” meaning the various Trump business entities, within 10 days of the ruling.
No member of the Trump family will have control over the properties in question, and according to Ross it is “very likely” that many or most will be sold to compensate for the Trumps’ fraudulent gains, a process similar to the “liquidation” that occurs in bankruptcy proceedings.
One notable finding in Engoron’s decision was that Trump had continuously overvalued Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, inflating its value on one financial statement by as much as 2,300%, The Associated Press reported. Engoron also challenged Trump’s claim about the size of his apartment in Manhattan’s Trump Tower, which the former president on at least one occasion had asserted was 30,000 square feet, nearly three times its actual size. Trump had estimated the apartment’s market value at $327 million, a patently implausible number even in the New York City real estate market.
“A discrepancy of this order of magnitude, by a real estate developer sizing up his own living space of decades, can only be considered fraud,” Engoron wrote.
Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told Salon that while the former president is a “fraudster,” his supporters will continue to claim that “he’s a good businessman,” adding that Trump has “proven time and again that he can survive these sorts of stains on him and his company.”
As far as Trump’s business ventures go, Rahmani said: “He’s done doing business in New York. He’s just done.”
In their own motion for summary judgment, Trump’s legal team had asked the judge to dismiss the case, contending that there was no evidence that the public had been harmed by Trump’s actions. They also argued that many of the allegations in the lawsuit were barred by the statute of limitations.
Engoron noted that he had rejected those arguments earlier in the case, and fined Trump’s five defense lawyers $7,500 each as punishment for “engaging in repetitive, frivolous” arguments.
James’ lawsuit is just one of many legal challenges confronting Trump, who remains the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Over the past six months, the former president has faced four criminal indictments and is also facing a second defamation suit filed by writer E. Jean Carroll, who earlier won a civil verdict against Trump for sexually assaulting her in the 1990s.
“Maybe this will affect the public’s perception of him not only as an obstructer of justice, who undermined national security and sought to unlawfully undo a fair election, but also as a financial cheat,” Gershman said.
Ross added that Trump “seems to be leveraged up to his eyeballs,” facing “enormous debts” and rapidly mounting legal bills. And this decision creates further legal jeopardy for him, she added.
“If he were to consider taking the stand in one of the many pending cases against him, whether criminal or civil,” Ross said, “this finding of fraud could be used by the other side — by the prosecution, or the other party in a civil case — to impeach his testimony. Fraud goes to the essence of whether you tell the truth.”
The Biggest Bombshells in Trump Whistleblower Cassidy Hutchinson’s New White House Memoir
Kyler Alvord – September 26, 2023
In her newly published book, “Enough,” the former White House aide shares disturbing allegations involving several D.C. power players, including Rudy Giuliani, Matt Gaetz and President Trump himself
After laying low for more than a year, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson is returning to the public eye with the release of a new tell-all memoir, Enough, that’s already put some of Donald Trump‘s allies on the defensive.
Hutchinson, who served as a top aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, became an instant public figure last summer when she testified against Trump in a televised hearing before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. Immediately after her explosive testimony, she had to go into hiding for safety reasons, holed up in a Washington, D.C. hotel for several days before temporarily relocating to Atlanta to wait out the backlash.
In her 356-page book, published Tuesday, Hutchinson puts forth several previously unheard claims, walking readers through the ups and downs of her life, including her once-skyrocketing career. Along the way, the 26-year-old shares countless stories about her time before, during and after working in Trump’s White House, offering a brief on all of the major players in the modern Republican Party and the inner-workings of the Trump administration.
Chock-full of details both consequential and just plain juicy, the book covers everything from Trump officials’ favorite candies (Jared Kushner gravitated to peach rings, she writes) to various lawmakers’ personalities (Sen. Ted Cruz lacked a sense of humor and once called her a “tattletale,” she alleges) to the president’s erratic leadership style (examples of which are too vast to summarize).
Hutchinson explains how various high-ranking Republicans reacted to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, and uses a wide range of anecdotes to exemplify her high-profile friendships in Washington, including with now-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
Some of the more damning claims in Hutchinson’s book include an alleged incident of groping by disgraced ex-Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani on the morning of the U.S. Capitol Riot, the “vain” reason Trump didn’t want to be seen wearing a N95 mask during the pandemic, Meadows’ apparent sense of guilt surrounding prominent Republican Herman Cain‘s premature COVID death, and a couple of uncomfortable encounters with firebrand House Freedom Caucus member Matt Gaetz.
Asked whether she fears the attacks that may come as people pore over the details in her memoir, Hutchinson tells PEOPLE that she doesn’t, and that she stands by all of her claims.
“If somebody wants to attack the way that they come off in the book, I’m not going to hold myself responsible for what they may say about the way that they’re framed,” she says. “I’m holding them accountable to their own actions.”
Here, five of Hutchinson’s most memorable allegations scattered throughout the pages of Enough.
Trump refused to wear masks during the pandemic because his bronzer turned the straps visibly orange
According to Hutchinson’s new book, the anti-mask movement that Trump supporters spearheaded during COVID-19 — leading to countless preventable deaths nationwide — stemmed from a makeup mishap involving the president early on in the pandemic.
“The president tried on several N95 masks at the Honeywell plant in Phoenix, Arizona, which manufactured all manner of personal protective equipment (PPE). He was not thrilled that staff urged him to wear a mask, believing it would make him look weak and afraid of the virus,” Hutchinson writes. “He decided on a white mask and strapped it to his face before asking each staffer whether or not he should wear it in front of the press pool.”
Hutchinson says that the president looked to her for input, making a “thumbs-up/thumbs-down” gesture. She shook her head, signaling that he shouldn’t wear it.
“I pointed at the straps of the N95 I was holding,” she recalls. “When he looked at the straps of his mask, he saw that they were covered in bronzer. ‘Why did no one else tell me that,’ he snapped. ‘I’m not wearing this thing.'”
“He wore safety goggles on the tour,” she continues in the book. “The press would criticize him for not wearing a mask, not knowing that the depth of his vanity had caused him to reject masks—and then millions of his fans followed suit.”
Cassidy says Rudy Giuliani groped her on the morning of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot
Buried in Hutchinson’s account of the chaos that ensued on Jan. 6, 2021, is a disturbing allegation that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani groped her — in the presence of a fellow Trump attorney, John Eastman.
In her memoir, Hutchinson recalls frantically looking for Giuliani as the morning’s rally was beginning — she says she was trying to get more information on what Trump and his confidants were planning that day, as well as convince the president’s closest advisers to keep Trump from meeting his supporters at the Capitol. She eventually tracked Giuliani down in a tent near the rally stage, and when Giuliani saw her, she says “the corners of his mouth split into a Cheshire cat smile.”
Waving a stack of documents — which he allegedly told her was evidence that Trump could still win the election — Giuliani approached Hutchinson “like a wolf closing in on its prey,” she writes.
“Rudy wraps one arm around my body, closing the space that was separating us. I feel his stack of documents press into the small of my back,” she writes. “I lower my eyes and watch his free hand reach for the hem of my blazer.”
After complimenting her leather jacket, she alleges, “His hand slips under my blazer, then my skirt. I felt his frozen fingertips trail up my thigh. He tilts his chin up. The whites of his eyes look jaundiced. My eyes dart to John Eastman, who flashes a leering grin.”
Responding to the groping claim, Giuliani’s political adviser, Ted Goodman, told PEOPLE, “It’s fair to ask Cassidy Hutchinson why she is just now coming out with these allegations from two and a half years ago, as part of the marketing campaign for her upcoming book release.”
Eastman’s personal attorney, Charles Burnham, said his client “categorically denies” the allegation that he witnessed Hutchinson get groped, claiming that Eastman didn’t know who she was until her testimony before the Jan. 6 House committee in June 2022. “Dr. Eastman is considering defamation litigation against those responsible for making or publishing these libelous allegations,” he wrote in a statement shared with PEOPLE.
Cassidy says Matt Gaetz made a pass at her at Camp David, and raised red flags among top Republicans prior to his sexual abuse allegations
In Hutchinson’s Jan. 6 testimony, she alleged that Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz was among a handful of Republican lawmakers who sought a pardon from Trump before he left office. In her memoir, though, she shares multiple other stories centered around Gaetz — including a couple of uncomfortable moments she allegedly had with the controversial House Freedom Caucus member, resulting in a confrontation at Camp David at which Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy was present.
According to Hutchinson, she organized a May 2020 retreat at Camp David to which some of Trump’s closest friends in the House GOP were invited, including Gaetz and McCarthy. By the time the House members arrived in the evening, Trump and Meadows had already gone off to their cabins for the night. McCarthy “ordered a few bottles of bourbon and wine” from the bar and invited some of the members over to his cabin to drink, Hutchinson writes. Then around 1 a.m., she alleges, the few who were still hanging around heard a knock at McCarthy’s cabin door.
“I thought it was Camp David’s staff coming to quiet us down—Kevin’s cabin was across from the president’s. But when Kevin opened the door, we discovered Matt Gaetz leaning against the door frame,” she writes in the book. “Matt straightened his posture when Kevin asked him what he wanted, and he explained that he had seen my golf cart parked outside and thought that this was my cabin.”
She continues: “Embarrassed, I got up and asked Matt what he needed. He explained that he was lost and needed me to escort him back to his cabin. I told him to proceed around the circle drive—all the cabins were clearly marked and it was impossible to get lost. He asked me one more time to leave with him. ‘Get a life, Matt,’ Kevin said, then shut the door.”
At various points in the memoir, Hutchinson briefly mentions other strange interactions with Gaetz, like at a bar following Trump’s first impeachment vote, when she writes that Gaetz “chuckled and brushed his thumb across my chin” before allegedly asking her, “Has anyone ever told you that you’re a national treasure?”
In the later days of the administration, when Gaetz began dropping by on occasion to seek a pardon from Trump, Hutchinson writes, “I tried to dismiss Matt’s antics but began wondering why he was pushing so hard for a pardon. I raised the issue with Mark one day after Matt had left and asked if there was anything I should know about. ‘Between you and me,’ Mark said, ‘DOJ may be looking into something about Matt. Best to stay away from him. Can you do that for me?’ I nodded and promised I would.”
It was later reported that Gaetz was the subject of a sex trafficking probe for an alleged sexual relationship with an underage girl, but he was ultimately not indicted by the Justice Department. The House Ethics Committee reportedly reopened its own probe into his conduct in June 2023, the status of which is unknown.
Asked for comment about the alleged encounters with Hutchinson, Gaetz told PEOPLE in a statement: “I don’t remember either of these events and based on Cassidy’s prior false statements, I doubt they occurred.”
The written statement continued: “I did date Cassidy for a few weeks when we were both single years ago. We parted amicably and remained friends thereafter, even during President Trump’s post presidency when she asked me to help her secure housing in South Florida because she was eager to continue working for President Trump. It is sad to see Cassidy dishonestly turn against so many people who cared about her for fame and book sales.”
Hutchinson denied ever dating Gaetz in a Monday night interview on The Rachel Maddow Show, saying that they were friends at times but that he “does not have the best track record for relationships” and that she has “much higher standards in men.”
Mark Meadows privately took some responsibility for former presidential candidate Herman Cain’s COVID-19 death
Hutchinson’s book details the moment she informed Mark Meadows that former presidential candidate Herman Cain died from COVID-19 complications after attending Trump’s first pandemic-era campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She alleges that Meadows felt at least some responsibility for Cain’s death.
“I had slipped into Mark’s office when I got the news, my middle finger and thumb tapping together as I gnawed the inside of my cheek, wrestling with my words. ‘Chief, have you heard about Herman Cain?'” Hutchinson writes, recalling the July 30, 2020, conversation.
By her account, Meadows responded asking if Cain was all right, to which she replied, “No, Mark, he’s dead.” Hutchinson says the blood drained from Meadows’ face, and he began asking her questions: “He was in Tulsa wasn’t he?” (Yes, sir.) “That’s where he caught COVID, right?” (Yes, sir.)
“Mark had briefly turned his attention to the TV. I had assumed that he was wondering if the news had been made public,” she continues in the memoir. “He looked back at me and said flatly, ‘We killed Herman Cain.’ I could hear him swallow. ‘Get me his wife’s number,’ he said sadly.”
Earlier in the book, Hutchinson writes that Trump was getting stir-crazy in the first months of the pandemic, leading to the early campaign rallies: “What little patience the president possessed had been exhausted. He wanted to be out on the campaign trail. ‘We have to start doing rallies again,’ he stressed to anyone within earshot.”
“The consensus among senior staff was that rallies were a bad idea both for reasons of public health and because it wasn’t the time to wade into politics. Clearly indoor rallies were off-limits, for the former reason,” she continues in the book. “‘Antifa is having rallies every day on the streets,’ countered Trump, referring to the Black Lives Matter protests. ‘We are going to plan a big rally, and it’s going to happen as soon as possible.'”
Hutchinson writes that Trump’s adamancy signaled the planning of the June 20, 2020, Tulsa rally that Cain would ultimately attend.
“I had seen [Cain] in the risers behind the stage in Tulsa,” Hutchinson recalls in the book. “He grabbed my wrists and pumped my arms above my head, flashing his enigmatic smile as he cried out, ‘We’re going to win! We’re going to win! Four more years! Four more years!'”
Cassidy says Liz Cheney secretly helped her break free from Trump’s legal team during the Jan. 6 investigation
Initially represented by a Trump-aligned lawyer after getting subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Hutchinson struggled with what she characterized as his alleged instruction to be unforthcoming with the committee’s search for answers — and, eventually, to refuse testifying in subsequent depositions, even if it ran the “small risk” of being held in contempt of Congress.
“I knew in my heart that was a luxury I could not afford,” she writes. “There was only one option — to fulfill my moral and civic obligations.”
Hutchinson says she had already tried finding independent legal representation, meeting numerous lawyers and brainstorming ways to scrape together money — even visiting her estranged father to ask for financial help — but was met with unreasonably high fees at every turn.
“To honor the oath I swore to defend, I had to free myself from Trump World,” she remembers thinking in the book. “All I had to do was figure out a way to free myself without doing anything that would draw their attention and arouse suspicion.”
In an earlier deposition, Hutchinson had tried to slyly feed committee members some helpful answers without appearing insubordinate to the Trump attorney accompanying her, and afterward, committee vice chair Liz Cheney had walked up to her, given her a hug, and whispered, “Thank you.” But she writes that she had more to say, and that she felt her attorney was trying to keep her from saying it.
In a bind, she quietly turned to one of the few people she felt she could trust — Cheney — arranging a phone call to discuss her situation and ask for help finding a new, affordable lawyer so she could come clean about what she saw in Trump’s White House.
The next day, Hutchinson says, Cheney provided her with a list of lawyers to reach out to that she believed would help. “I thanked her and promised that I would figure out a way to do the right thing, regardless of the outcome of the search for new counsel,” she writes. “I could not find the words to tell her that the committee was giving me one of the greatest gifts I could have received: hope.”
Soon, Hutchinson had signed an engagement letter with two lawyers who’d worked in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush. They agreed to represent her pro bono.
Hutchinson writes that she formed a friendship with Cheney after breaking free from Trump’s orbit, saying that when she was exiled after testifying live, she knew that she could always look to the Wyoming congresswoman for support.
“Liz checks on me every day,” she writes of the time that she was in hiding after testifying. “She sends encouraging articles, shares stories about the public support we’ve received since the hearing, and relays messages from prominent figures in the Republican Party, our Republican Party. We talk and laugh, I cry, we laugh some more. Liz is becoming my rock.”
“Liz reminds us that true leadership is grounded in principle, and that change can be achieved through unyielding loyalty to our democratic ideals,” it reads. “May this book serve as a testament to the transformative power of leaders like Liz, who inspire us to be agents of the truth in our republic, and beyond. That we, as individuals, are enough.”