Trump’s retribution plan: Becoming America’s first dictator


Trump’s retribution plan: Becoming America’s first dictator

Chauncey DeVega – September 29, 2023

Donald Trump Sean Rayford/Getty Images
Donald Trump Sean Rayford/Getty Images

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.”

In her new book, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson shares how during the Jan. 6 terrorist attack on the Capitol by his followers, Trump was heard chanting “hang” as Mike Pence was fleeing for his life. Cassidy’s account is but one more example of many showing how the disgraced and mentally unwell ex-president likely has what psychiatrist Dr. Justin Frank suggests is an erotic relationship to violence.

In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Cassidy issued the following warning about her former boss: “I think that Donald Trump is the most grave threat we will face to our democracy in our lifetime, and potentially in American history.”

Confirming Hutchinson’s warnings, in a Sunday post on his Truth Social disinformation platform, Trump again threatened to end freedom of the press and the First Amendment if he returns to power.

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.

Trump is threatening to use the Alien Enemies Act against “drug dealers” and “suspected gang members”. Trump should not be believed: given his past behavior and announced plans to become a dictator he will likely use that law to target his personal and political enemies. As seen in his recent attacks on Gen. Mark Milley, Trump is escalating his fascist threats of violence as part of his plan to become America’s first dictator.

In an interview earlier this month with Hugh Hewitt, Trump summoned the white supremacist conspiracy theory lie that the “Democrats” and “the left” are “importing” black and brown people from “Third World countries” in an attempt to replace “real Americans”, i.e. White “Christians”:

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.

At New York magazine, Eric Levitz engages in this bold truth-telling:

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


Donald Trump’s thrill ride is nearly over — but the media refuses to let go

Brian Karem – September 28, 2023

Donald Trump Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Donald Trump Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

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


Union Workers Who Support Trump Are Delusional Morons

Collin Woodard – September 28, 2023

Donald Trump

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.

3 reasons the 2024 election will be very different from 2020

Yahoo! News

3 reasons the 2024 election will be very different from 2020

Andrew Romano, West Coast Correspondent – September 27, 2023

Two photos show Donald Trump and Joe Biden speaking.
Donald Trump and Joe Biden. (Artie Walker Jr./AP, Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

With every passing poll, it looks more and more likely that the 2024 presidential general election will star the same two protagonists as 2020: President Biden and former President Donald Trump.

In the Republican primary, Trump now leads his nearest rival by 46 percentage points, according to the latest Yahoo News/YouGov survey. On the Democratic side, Biden is ahead by 61.

History says that such leads tend to be insurmountable.

Yet even if America ends up with a Biden-Trump rematch, that doesn’t mean November 2024 will be a rerun of November 2020.

In part that’s because Trump and Biden have changed, with the former now facing four criminal trials and the latter fending off questions about his advanced age.

But it’s also because key electoral dynamics have been changing as well.

The map

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.

But a recent New York Times analysis notes that the GOP’s Electoral College edge might be fading.

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.

Voters pass a sign reading: Voter entrance.
Voters outside a polling site in Warwick, R.I., on Nov. 7, 2022. (David Goldman/AP) (AP)

Recent special-election outcomes in swing states like Wisconsin and New Hampshire reflect this emerging shift. So far in this year’s special elections, Democrats have been performing better than expected by an average of 11 percentage points, according to FiveThirtyEight.

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.

The electorate

The nominees might not be different in 2024, but the electorate certainly will be. According to Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, 1 in 5 eligible voters will now be members of Gen Z, born in the late 1990s or after.

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.

Cornel West points into the air as he speaks into a microphone.
Scholar and activist Cornel West. (Damian Dovarganes/AP) (AP)

Meanwhile, the centrist group known as No Labels is also barreling ahead with a controversial plan to field a third-party “unity” ticket in 2024 — one Republican, one Democrat. Two politicians with ties to the group, former Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican from Maryland, and Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, have already expressed interest in teaming up.

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.

The Judge Who Wants to Drag Us Back to the Victorian Era

The New Republic

The Judge Who Wants to Drag Us Back to the Victorian Era

Melissa Gira Grant – September 27, 2023

From the federal bench in Amarillo, Texas, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk laid another plank last week in the expanding Christian nationalist platform for the United States, in a ruling favoring a public university president who banned a drag show organized by a campus LGBTQ student group. In this court order, the latest twist in a case filed in March by Spectrum WT, a student organization at West Texas A&M University, Kacsmaryk denied the group’s request to restrain the school’s president and his administration from banning drag while their case is still in process. With Kacsmaryk’s order, we are witnessing the strengthening of the Christian right’s preferred legal reality, in which drag performance is not protected speech or expression under the First Amendment—thanks in part to the (literally) Victorian turn Kacsmaryk has made.

The university president’s drag ban comes as recently passed drag bans in several states face their own legal scrutiny. On Tuesday, Texas’s June 2023 drag ban was ruled unconstitutional, following a similar drag ban that was also overturned earlier this year in Tennessee. Other drag bans in Florida and Montana were also temporarily blocked by courts because of the damage the bans could do in their respective states while these cases were being argued. Kacsmaryk refused to follow suit.

In an order that points to his likely eventual ruling in the Spectrum WT case, Kacsmaryk deploys the same arguments as the Christian-right players behind the drag bans: that drag is “sexualized” expression or conduct, thus a danger to children, and thus fair game for their restrictions. Judge Kacsmaryk does not shy from the source of such spurious reasoning in the written order. He cited not only Christopher Rufo, the self-admitted architect of the moral panic that incited drag bans, but also Gays Against Groomers, the pseudo-grassroots group that claims to be “a coalition of gay people” opposed to “gender identity” (and whose rhetoric neatly follows the rest of the Christian right’s anti-trans rhetoric).

But another curious mention caught my eye in Kacsmaryk’s recent ruling: the Comstock Act. In his ruling, Kacsmaryk asserted that this 1873 law banning the dissemination of information related to sexuality (among many other things) is part of what he termed a “Free Speech ecosystem” that he claims went ignored by the students in their case. Whatever he means by “free speech ecosystem” aside, in reaching back to the Comstock Act—a law that has been chipped away at by the courts since its passage, and remains all but discarded in practice—Kacsmaryk claims to have found justification for excluding drag from constitutional protections.

Yet again, it appears that the Christian right’s latest go-to legal strategy is to summon the ghost of Anthony Comstock, the Victorian era’s arch foe of “obscenity.” It is not even the first time Kacsmaryk has referenced Comstock in a ruling siding with the Christian right. In April, in a case to restrict access to mifepristone argued by the Christian-right law group Alliance Defending Freedom, Kacsmaryk claimed that the Comstock Act may apply when it comes to the legal distribution of the drug, given its prohibitions around mailing anything that may cause an abortion (the Justice Department, it should be noted, had preemptively disagreed with this take). In a sense, by deploying Comstock now against both abortion and drag, Kacsmaryk is picking up on something quite true about the Comstock Act: Abortion, contraception, queerness, transness, sex work, sex ed, all of it is what Comstock was originally seeking to outlaw—and that Victorian sensibility is being resurrected from the dead.

But why revive Comstock now? To understand what Kacsmaryk is doing with the Comstock Act in both the drag and abortion cases, one must look to the Christian-right law projects that have both laid the groundwork for Christian nationalist legal theories and paved Kacsmaryk’s way to the federal bench.

Nearly a decade ago, Kacsmaryk joined the Texas-based First Liberty Institute, or FLI, a group that claims to be the largest legal project in the U.S. “focused exclusively on religious liberty.” From 2014 to 2019, Kacsmaryk was employed as an FLI attorney, where he represented clients fighting “the government’s effort to punish business owners and ministry leaders for following their religious beliefs and moral convictions,” as he said in 2017 after an FLI meeting with the Trump administration. As a lawyer working for the Christian right, Kacsmaryk was part of an effort aimed at rolling back contraception coverage in the Affordable Care Act—a provision that made birth control available to millions of people in the U.S. at no extra charge—on purported “religious liberty” grounds. In the movement for queer and trans rights too, according to Kacsmaryk, “religious liberty” is fundamentally at odds with “sexual liberty.” Since leaving FLI in 2019 to assume his place on the federal bench in Amarillo, coming down on the side of religious liberty is an effort Kacsmaryk can sustain with near-perfect continuity. Now with the power to decide from the front of the courtroom, he is able to tee up such cases for the Supreme Court.

After his nomination, FLI celebrated Kacsmaryk’s lifetime appointment as “a major win for religious-freedom practitioners, proving that a principled attorney may zealously advocate for the rights of … faith-based ministries without forfeiting the opportunity to serve on the bench,” and boasted that “Matthew is the first [emphasis its own] confirmed judge who’s gone directly from a religious liberty law firm to the federal judiciary.” Kacsmaryk’s nomination was not  solely thanks to FLI: He also held a leadership position in the Federalist Society, the group that vetted a list of judicial nominees for Trump, curated by its board chair (and “friend” of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Ginni) Leonard Leo. Having a Christian right–friendly judge like Kacsmaryk on a court is a boon to these legal players; having Kacsmaryk on a court in which he hears at least 95 percent of civil cases filed there is only more so.

First Liberty Institute, like the better-known Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF, imagines that in the U.S., Christians are a persecuted minority. This assertion is something both groups would claim is not representative of their philosophy, pointing to their stated, broader defense of “religious freedom”—which in practice is a “freedom” reserved primarily for those Christians who use their faith as a rationale for violating the Constitution and civil rights protections. FLI’s founding president Kelly Shackelford was among the first on the Christian right to identify the post–Obergefell v. Hodges moment as the opening of a “a new war over religious freedom,” as he wrote in 2015. Within five years, he was declaring victory in that war. Shackelford said he was “watching history change on its axis,” marveling that groups like FLI were now suddenly prevailing—“because of what’s happening with the judges”—reflecting on, as Sarah Posner reported, the success their movement had putting millions of dollars into their crusade, using Trump’s power to stack the judiciary with their own. 

Shackelford and FLI have continued to go to bat for the man who won for their side with “their” judges. They’ve even helped to substantiate Trump’s conspiracy theories about a stolen election: Shackelford joined a December 30, 2020, letter from a number of Christian-right groups that advanced Trump’s “fake electors” scheme to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, and asked Senate Republicans to contest legitimate electoral votes, claiming that there was “substantial evidence” of “large numbers of illegal votes” (which there was not). Today, FLI is part of a group preparing the way for Trump’s return, the 2025 Presidential Transition Project, an effort led by the Heritage Foundation. It is a plan for overhauling the government as they see fit, starting from day one; it’s authoritarian in scope and features a “top to bottom overhaul” of the Justice Department, including demands to prosecute anyone providing medication abortion by mail, as well as classifying as “sex offenders” those who distribute what the plan deems “pornography”—which it claims is “manifested today in the omnipresent propagation of transgender ideology and sexualisation of children.” It’s a project already in progress.

Little of this powerful backstory is apparent in the federal courthouse in Amarillo when Judge Kacsmaryk is at work. Likewise, it’s not immediately obvious what the Christian right of today, from its wealthy backers making martinis from glacier ice with Supreme Court justices, to its prayerful warriors engaged in combat outside the Capitol on January 6, has to do with Anthony Comstock. That man died in 1915, leaving behind less a legacy and more a joke in the periodic usage of the term Comstockery to denote censorious impulses. Matthew Kacsmaryk, on the other hand, was only born in 1977, and he will most likely have many more decades on the bench in service to the Christian right.

How much does it cost to buy a federal judge? How much to buy one willing to raise Anthony Comstock from the dead? I sincerely suspect Kacsmaryk might throw that summoning in for free.

Judge Rules That Donald Trump Committed Fraud While Building Real Estate Empire


Judge Rules That Donald Trump Committed Fraud While Building Real Estate Empire

Virginia Chamlee – September 27, 2023

The ruling allows a civil trial against Trump and his adult sons to move forward next week, and orders that some of the former president’s companies be dissolved

James Devaney/GC Images Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower in Manhattan on March 9, 2021
James Devaney/GC Images Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower in Manhattan on March 9, 2021

A New York judge ruled on Tuesday that Donald Trump lied on financial statements about the value of the properties in his real estate portfolio and was therefore able to secure favorable loan terms and lower insurance premiums.

In a 35-page ruling, Judge Arthur Engoron said that Trump and his organization had overvalued several of it’s properties, including the members-only Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.

In court filings, Trump has pegged the property’s worth at between $426.5 million and $612.1 million. But Engoron cited a Palm Beach County assessor who appraised Mar-a-Lago’s market value to be between $18 million and $27.6 million — at least 2,300 percent less than what the former president has claimed.

In the ruling, the judge adds that some of the former president’s defenses — such as arguing that square footage is “subjective” — are “absurd.” The ruling further sanctions Trump’s attorneys $7,500 each for continuing to make legal arguments that had already been rejected in court twice, and requires that some LLCs associated with Trump be dissolved.

Tuesday’s ruling allows a civil trial into the outstanding claims (to be decided by the judge, with no jury) to begin next week.

©Trump Hotels Eric, Donald Jr., Donald, and Ivanka Trump at the ground-breaking ceremony for Trump Hotel Washington, D.C.
©Trump Hotels Eric, Donald Jr., Donald, and Ivanka Trump at the ground-breaking ceremony for Trump Hotel Washington, D.C.

The ruling came as part of a fraud case brought against the former president, his adult sons Eric Trump and  Donald Trump Jr., and their company the Trump Organization, by New York State Attorney General Letitia James.

“Today, a judge ruled in our favor and found that Donald Trump and the Trump Organization engaged in years of financial fraud,” James said in a statement. “We look forward to presenting the rest of our case at trial.”

James has accused the Trumps and their company of fraudulently inflating the former president’s fortune by as much as $2.2 billion since 2011. The lawsuit aims to have Trump banned from doing business in New York and pay $250 million.

Engoron’s ruling alleges that the inflation of Mar-a-Lago’s worth is akin to fraud. From the ruling: “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.”

Related: Donald Trump Has Overstated His Fortune by as Much as $2.2B, Says New York Attorney General in Court Filing

Joe Raedle/Getty Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida
Joe Raedle/Getty Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida

An earlier court filing alleges that “correcting for these and other blatant and obvious deceptive practices engaged in by Defendants reduces Mr. Trump’s net worth by between 17-39% in each year, or between $812 million to $2.2 billion, depending on the year.”

The filing accused Trump of valuing several of his properties “at amounts that significantly exceeded professional appraisals of which his employees were aware and chose to ignore.” In one alleged instance, he valued his leased property on Wall Street at more than twice the amount of the appraised value.

Trump and his sons have both fired back at the recent ruling regarding the worth of Mar-a-Lago, with Eric claiming on Twitter: “Mar-a-Lago is speculated to be worth we’ll [sic] over a billion dollars.”

Trump himself also disputed the ruling, writing an angry missive on his social media site Truth Social in which he accused the judge of being “a Deranged, Trump Hating Judge, who RAILROADED this FAKE CASE through a NYS Court at a speed never seen before, refusing to let it go to the Commercial Division, where it belongs, denying me everything, No Trial, No Jury.”

Related: The Cases Against Trump: What to Know About the Various Investigations Surrounding the 45th U.S. President

Trump added that Mar-a-Lago is “WORTH POSSIBLY 100 TIMES” what Engoron cited in his ruling, adding: “My actual Net Worth is MUCH GREATER than the number shown on the Financial Statements, a BIG SURPRISE to him & the Racist A.G., Letitia James, who campaigned for office on a get Trump Platform.”

Since leaving office in January 2021, Trump’s post-White House prestige has been overshadowed by intensifying investigations on various fronts, including into his political conduct and business affairs.

So far, four of those investigations have led to indictments — the first one making him the only U.S. president to face criminal charges, and the next two further distinguishing him as the only president to face federal charges.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Vanity Fair – Politics

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

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

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.s Mad Mad Mad Mad World

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 York Observer 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.

An aerial view of the Kennedy compound on July 25 2008 in Hyannis Port Massachusetts.

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. 

“4:15? Fuck.” 


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.”

Gathering at the home of their grandfather to wish him a belated happy birthday 17 of the grandchildren of Joseph P....

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.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.s Mad Mad Mad Mad World

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.”

If only. 

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


“How you lose your democracy”: Shocking new research shows Americans lack basic civic knowledge

Chauncey DeVega – September 26, 2023

 Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

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.

I recently spoke with Matthew Levendusky, who is a Professor of Political Science, and the Stephen and Mary Baran Chair in the Institutions of Democracy at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, at the University of Pennsylvania, about this new research. His new book is “Our Common Bonds: Using What Americans Share to Help Bridge the Partisan Divide.”

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.

Trump’s threats to Milley fuel fears he’ll seek vengeance in second term

The Hill

Trump’s threats to Milley fuel fears he’ll seek vengeance in second term

Brad Dress – September 27, 2023

Former President Trump’s violent rhetoric toward Gen. Mark Milley is raising fears he will use a second term in the Oval Office to seek retribution against his enemies.

Trump suggested Friday that Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who is stepping down from his post at the end of the week, deserves the death penalty for allegedly betraying him and committing an act of treason.

The threat came just days after Milley warned that if Trump wins the presidency in 2024, he would enact vengeance against those he felt have done him wrong.

And Milley believes he is at the top of that revenge list.

“He’ll start throwing people in jail, and I’d be on the top of the list,” Milley told The Atlantic in a profile of the four-star general published last week.

Kristy Parker, a legal counsel at Protect Democracy who leads litigation on abuses of power and interference with government functions, said Trump’s comments about Milley are “deeply troubling” for American democracy.

“Even just the threats have an incredibly chilling effect on public actors’ ability to do the jobs we need them to do to have a functional democracy,” she said.

“Trump has shown and talked about weaponizing the Justice Department to retaliate against people who he perceives as his enemies and he did, in fact, do that to people when he was president the first time.”

The Trump-Milley feud has simmered for years, with the two clashing over the military’s role in the 2020 racial justice protests and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

But long after the administration ended, Milley remains at the top of Trump’s mind as books and articles have documented steps the general says he took to protect against Trump’s erratic behavior.

Last week’s death threat stems from reports that at the end of his presidency, Milley reassured Chinese officials there would be no threat to Beijing in the final days of Trump’s administration, according to the 2021 book “Peril” by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

The communication has long infuriated Trump, who took to Truth Social last week to condemn Milley’s years of service as “treasonous” ahead of his retirement from the Joint Chiefs later this week.

“[Milley] was actually dealing with China to give them a heads up on the thinking of the President of the United States,” he posted. “This is an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH!”

Peter Feaver, a civil-military relations scholar who recently published a new book on public confidence in the military, said Trump is so enraged by Milley because of these public accounts portraying the general as a protector against his presidency.

Feaver said Trump’s quest to castigate Milley is also designed to warn other potential critics from speaking out. He said the strategy has damaged the civilian-military relationship and could backfire on Trump and his allies.

“Trump thinks he can just personalize this to Milley,” said Feaver. “But he’s failing to understand how this is going to be corrosive of civil-military relations more generally [because …] if they haven’t done something wrong and you’re punishing them, then you get a perverse civil-military relationship.”

The spat is the second time this year their feud has come into the spotlight. Trump has also lobbed accusations at Milley over Iran, disputing claims that the general moved to ensure he wouldn’t attack the country and arguing Milley was the one who recommended an attack.

But Milley is not the only one in Trump’s crosshairs: Former Attorney General Bill Barr and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper have also drawn his ire.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that Esper, Barr and Milley were all once “praised by Trump” but are “now all regularly attacked by Trump because they had the nerve to put the country ahead of him.”

“What kind of person threatens execution on a third-tier social media site? A sad and disturbed person who has no place being near the White House, let alone living inside it,” said Christie, a Republican presidential candidate challenging Trump.

Esper told CNN that Milley “deserves praise and thanks” and “does not deserve what he is receiving from President Trump right now.”

Referring to the China conflict, Esper said after the 2020 election, he told Chinese officials the U.S. was steady and directed Milley to send a similar message to his Chinese counterpart.

Esper said the way Milley’s main offense was offering “candid, frank advice” did not comport with Trump’s expectations.

“He wants to find ‘yes’ men in his office,” Esper said.

“The president has also said that a second term would be about retribution, right? So, I think these are all legitimate concerns,” he later added.

While experts agree Trump would have no case to prosecute Milley for treason, the death threats alone are already alarming advocacy groups.

Abe Bonowtiz, the founder of Death Penalty Action, an organization working to abolish the death penalty, said, “Trump has an unhealthy addiction for the dictatorial power to execute political rivals.”

“The death penalty is a very serious matter,” he said in a statement, “and it’s being tossed around as a political tool by Republican presidential candidates, which should concern everyone.”

What does New York fraud ruling mean for Donald Trump’s business empire?


Explainer-What does New York fraud ruling mean for Donald Trump’s business empire?

Jack Queen – September 27, 2023

FILE PHOTO: A worker cleans up one of the Trump Tower’s entrance before the arrival of former U.S. President Trump in New York

(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.


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.


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.


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.


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)