Simple Steps to Overcoming Trumpery: an Action Guide

trump-protest-sign-love-hate-400x284

This time it’s not mere partisan hyperbole. Fascism really has come to America, to an extent we’ve never seen before. (If you still have any doubt, look at the role of Steve Bannon.) And it’s not going to be pretty, even if you’re white, Christian and middle class. But you needn’t despair. There are steps you can take that will lessen the damage, and get the country on a healthy course again. It’s possible not only to survive Trumpery, but to “overcomb” it.

People who say that we should “give Trump a chance” are really, really missing something. He’s already been given a multitude of chances, and he’s blown them all to smithereens. All throughout the campaign, he was very consistently an absolutely horrible person. Since the election, he has consistently continued to be an absolutely horrible person. And he immediately began making absolutely the most horrible decisions imaginable. How much damage should we allow him to inflict before we speak up?

Following are 20 points of action. These are steps that just about anyone can take, though some require more time and effort than others. Some are general approaches that you can follow all the time.  Others are specific actions that you should do as often as possible. Only the most dedicated full-time activist would be able to pursue all of these actions; it’s fine if you single out one or two to devote your efforts to. The important thing is to act.

We will begin with the most obvious and progress to the less obvious.

1. Protest

This is the most obvious, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. Donald Trump has made it very clear, for his entire life, that he will do absolutely anything he can get away with. We can’t afford to let him forget for one minute that we’re still out here watching his every move. And we must make it as difficult as possible for the media to ignore us. That means that a large crowd of dissenters needs to greet every one of Trump’s public appearances, and respond to every one of his horrendous actions in office.

Bear in mind that if you protest without a permit, you may provoke the displeasure of law enforcement, and may even risk arrest. And it should go without saying that you should be on your best behavior. If there is even one unruly or destructive individual in even the largest group of protesters, it is one hundred percent guaranteed that this person will be singled out as representative of the entire crowd.

Trump supporters are very eager to label dissenters as “whiners”, “crybabies”, “sore losers”, “welfare bums”, etc. etc. Make sure that such labels are absolute bullshit.

2. Bug the hell out of your elected representatives

Yes, it really does work. Even, sometimes,  if the representatives are of the opposition party.  Phoning is more effective than writing, and better still is dropping in at the representative’s local office. In no case will you be able to actually talk to your congressperson or senator, but their staff will pass along your concerns about proposed government moves. Be presentable and be prepared. And let them become well acquainted with you. You can also connect with them at town hall meetings. If nothing else, picket their public appearances with signs conveying a crucial message.

3. Pressure the media

This is perhaps the most crucial step of all, since the media have had, to an ever greater degree, an influence on the public’s beliefs and actions. The media put Donald Trump in the White House in the first place, ignoring his excessive faults and flaws while greatly exaggerating and over-covering false narratives about Hillary Clinton. Since then, he’s been viciously biting the hand that fed him, maneuvering to stifle media scrutiny and dissent. It’s essential that we have their back, and call them out on every single shortcoming.

Monitoring the media can be an enormous task for one person, but you can form teams to divide the responsibility. You can keep track of media missteps via watchdog sites like Media Matters for America, which sometimes even issues action alerts advising you to contact media outlets and urge them to correct their course. Be courteous and precise, letting the media know how they have let the public down, and suggesting an appropriate corrective action. (“Hate mail” is counterproductive.) Specific journalists often list their email addresses to facilitate feedback.

4. Write letters to the editor

Many people read them, and they can have an impact, particularly in newspapers with large circulations like The New York Times or USA Today. Focus on facts rather than opinion; anybody can form an opinion quite easily, but solid facts are often in short supply.

5. Use social media — but use discretion

Facebook, Twitter, etc. are excellent vehicles for keeping people informed and mobilized. Unfortunately, they’re also awash with misinformation and useless prattle. Many users are suffering from political burnout, and may just unfriend you or tune you out if you overdo it. Post only the most relevant and crucial material, and intersperse it with more lighthearted fare, so people don’t come to think of you as a gloomy Jeremiah.

(continued on next page)

The Biggest, Baddest, Brassiest Lies About Barack Obama (and a few Dishonorable Mentions)

Are we going to defend this Constitution that we celebrated tonight, or are we going to watch it be eroded by a Commander-in-Chief who disrespects this Constitution, doesn’t believe in free enterprise, doesn’t believe in life and families.”  — Rep. Steve King (R-IA)

Having declared that the current crop of Republicans is perhaps the most mendacious gaggle of politicians in U.S. history, we ought to back that up with more specifics. Fortunately, that isn’t hard to do. Most of the GOP’s lies and distortions are directed toward President Obama, who is surely the most disrespected and defamed president — if not the most disrespected and defamed person — in history. [This was written before Hillary Clinton overtook him for that distinction in 2016.]

You’ve no doubt heard many of the lies and wacky rumors already. They’re constantly batted about by the batty media, and you surely have friends and relatives who cut and paste them onto Facebook. Every day, all day long. But many of the golliwhoppers also have been incorporated into their act by the Romney-Ryan Revue. Indeed at the first so-called debate, Mitt Romney attained the extraordinary feat of cramming 27 stretchers into 38 minutes. For which he was promptly and universally acclaimed the winner — at least among Americans. That spin didn’t necessarily echo across the pond.  (Current TV’s Jennifer Granholm has an interesting commentary comparing Romney’s lies to Obama’s lies and discussing the common “conservative” strategy of working the refs. On the other hand, you could conclude, as Time did, that Obama’s lies are worse because they’re more accurate. Seriously.)

Virtually all politicians lie and spin, and virtually all politicians are the target of lies and spin. But the falsehoods about the current U.S. president qualify as a whole new life form. A good indicator is the Snopes tally. At last count, after less than 4 years he’s been in office, Snopes has listed 253 Obama rumors, the overwhelming majority of which are false. (The true ones often involve what other people have said and done in regard to Obama rather than what he’s said or done. Snopes verified, for example, the Internet story about a 95-year-old veteran writing Obama a disparaging letter. But that letter just regurgitated some of the misinformation and disinformation about the president, thus reinforcing the observation that he’s being severely and unjustly maligned.) And while I really get tired of having to defend him, it’s virtually impossible to survey contemporary propaganda without defending him.

The lies about Obama are of three basic types. First, there are the loony lies, such as you might hear at a rally of Tea Partiers vowing to “take back” their country from the other 98 percent. Or at a public appearance by Steve King. These include the following:

The Loony Lies

He’s a Muslim.

He’s a socialist.

He’s a Kenyan (and he admitted his birth certificate is a fake).

Death panels.

Socialized medicine.

Government takeover of medicine.

He wants to take away your guns.

He wants to outlaw fishing.

He can’t talk without a teleprompter.

He faked the death of bin Laden.

He’s had all his records sealed.

etc., etc., etc.

These already have been given far more attention than they ever deserved, so we’re not going to bother commenting on them here.

Then there are what we might call the General Myths. These are broader and more subjective, but just as false:

The General Myths

He’s arrogant and self-serving.

He assumes credit for things he didn’t do, and passes blame for things he did do.

He’s fiercely partisan and won’t work with the opposition party.

He’s unduly secretive.

He’s suppressing liberty and constitutional rights.

He’s a slacker who hasn’t accomplished anything.

etc., etc., etc.

It’s certainly possible to discredit claims like these, but to do so conclusively would require a great deal more space than we’d want to devote to it here — particularly since it would entail more an examination of politics than of propaganda. So we’ll give them a pass as well. (But in regard to the myth that his presidency has been a failure, here’s a list of 200 of the president’s accomplishments for starters.)

We’re also going to bypass the spin campaigns around certain events such as the attempts to make corruption-ridden scandals out of Fast and Furious and Solyndra,  — or even, for crying out loud, the terrorist attack in Libya. What we’re focusing on instead are the Brassy Lies: those that are (1) specific, (2) quickly disproved, (3) nonetheless realistic sounding enough that sane and reasonable people might fall for them if they didn’t know better, and (4) particularly audacious because of who is spreading them.  And they deal with matters of some consequence, as opposed to just daffy rumors about the president canceling the National Day of Prayer or giving the First Pooch his own plane. If you’re curious about rumors of that sort, see Snopes.

The Brassy Lies

Lie # 1: “You didn’t build that”.

This one is based on words the president actually uttered, but the GOPers have wrenched them out of context and totally distorted their meaning: from “We’re all in this together” to “You have no control over your own achievements”.  (Compare “Redistribution of Wealth”.) The funny thing is, whenever they trot out an entrepreneurial success story that’s intended to contradict the president’s words, it always does exactly the opposite.

Lie # 2: The “apology” tour.

President Obama is, beyond a doubt, far more diplomatic and humble, and far less jingoistic than his predecessor. But contrary to persistent right-wing claims, he’s never once apologized for America.

Lie # 3: He’s a promise breaker.

It’s becoming standard procedure among the GOP in this Age of Rove to forgo troubling the public so much with actual issues and just frame their Democratic opponents with a one-word or two-word epithet. With Al Gore it was liar (even though they couldn’t produce a single lie he’d actually told). With John Kerry, it was flip-flopper (based on a single instance in which he really didn’t flip-flop, but his words — discussing a stance he’d taken based on fraudulent intel provided by the guy he was running against — were brilliantly edited by Team Rove). Now, they’ve at least graduated to two words — unless you also hyphenate promise-breaker. But they’re still just as disingenuous.

One could make a strong case that in fact this president has had a better than average track record as promise keeper, particularly given the amount of time he’s been in office. But there’s even more to the story.

On the night of his inauguration, when most of the nation was celebrating this momentous milestone, a group of Republicans held a secret meeting to lay out a strategy for thwarting his every move. Bear in mind that this was before he’d done a single thing as chief executive that anyone might object to. Among this group was a certain Wisconsin congressman named Paul Ryan. Another attendee summed up the focus of the meeting this way:

If you act like you’re the minority, you’re going to stay in the minority. We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign.

At a time when the country was sunk in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and bin Laden was still at large, they admitted that their number one priority was making Obama a “one-term president” — even if it meant stalling the economic recovery to make him look bad, keeping workers unemployed so they could pin a high unemployment figure on him.  Their vendetta has reached such South Park playground proportions that they voted down a veterans’ jobs bill the president supported — with the four of them who helped write it actually voting against their own bill!

Obama probably was guilty of being naive when he doled out campaign promises on the assumption that he would obtain at least minimal cooperation from the elephant herd. But given the level of intense and persistent sabotage he encountered instead, his level of achievement has been nothing short of miraculous.

When Tea Partiers parrot the line that he is a promise breaker, they probably just don’t know any better. When Republican politicians do it, they definitely do know better. Because they know damn well that they’re the ones who engineered the logjam. And they did it entirely for political power, using the American public as pawns. (Note: Republicans counter this with a claim that the GOP-controlled House has introduced several jobs bills that have not passed the Democratic-controlled Senate. Which just goes to show they know how to be creative in their terminology. Number one on the list of “jobs bills” is one that would reduce regulation of pesticides.)

Lie # 4. He “gutted” Medicare.

Or robbed it. Or slashed it. Or raided its trust fund. Whatever the verbiage used, the claim is essentially the same: that the president reduced the funding for Medicare benefits by $716 billion. He didn’t. But the Affordable Care Act is estimated to reduce Medicare costs  by that amount — which, far from gutting it, should make it healthier.

This lie deserves a special Brass Balls Award for three reasons: (1) Republicans themselves always claim to represent waste-cutting and fiscal responsibility; (2) Republicans themselves have never been — how shall we put this — particularly supportive of Medicare; and (3) Paul Ryan’s budget called for the same cuts, and it was heavily supported by congressional Republicans.

Lie # 5: He sued to prevent early voting in Ohio by the military.

Quite the opposite. He sued to allow early voting by all Ohio voters, including military personnel. Republicans wanted to restrict this privilege to military only. So to bolster their cause, they concocted this widely believed lie.

Lie # 6:  He’s outspent any president in the past 60 years.

Nope. Thus far, federal spending under Obama has shown the lowest increase of any president since Eisenhower (excluding Ford) in actual dollars. Adjusted for inflation, it’s shown the second lowest, and in fact actually constitutes a decrease.

Lie # 7. He’s amassed an unprecedented national debt.

There are several incarnations of this theme: he’s built up more debt than any other president; he doubled the debt in his first year; and (gotta love this one) he increased the debt more than all previous presidents combined. None of which is in the same galaxy as the truth. When Obama was inaugurated, the total debt stood at 10.6 trillion.  At the end of his first year, it had increased to 12.3 trillion, and it currently stands at about 16 trillion. When all else fails, try grade school arithmetic, folks.

We should also note that there’s a big difference between saying that these increases have occurred on Obama’s watch and saying that he actually caused them. Much of the debt is attributable to the horrendous economy and the two wars he inherited. Furthermore, we should note that the rate of increase has actually slowed.

Lie # 8. He bailed out the banks.

Despite the fact that nearly half of Americans believe otherwise, President Obama did not initiate the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). That would be George W. Bush.

Lie # 9: He’s eliminating welfare work requirements.

The president’s plan overhauls welfare guidelines, largely for the purpose of cutting through red tape, but it certainly does not  eliminate work requirements, nor does it, to use another popular Romney soundbite, “gut welfare reform”. Furthermore, at the time he took office, only 29 percent of welfare recipients were required to work.

Lie # 10:  He’s demonstrated his tyranny with over 900 executive orders, an unprecedented number.

Wrong on two counts. First, 900 is hardly unprecedented.  Theodore Roosevelt issued 1081, Franklin Roosevelt 3522, Harry Truman 907, Calvin Coolidge 1203 and Herbert Hoover 968. Second, President Obama thus far has issued only 138 — which actually gives him the LOWEST total since Chester Arthur!  (At the present rate, there’s a slight chance that after two terms he’ll end up with the second-lowest total.) Moreover, most of the executive orders being attributed to President Obama in those Facebook posts were actually issued by other presidents, often long ago.

Lie # 11:  He’s failed to support Israel.

That’s what Romney and company say. But it ain’t exactly what Israel says.

This is by no means an exhaustive list; it barely scratches the surface. It’s just meant to be a representative sampling. Nobody possibly could keep up with all of the lies. In addition to the falsehoods about Obama himself, there is a substantial body of mythology about nearly everything he’s ever done, including being born. A particularly ripe field for folklore is the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare”. Didja hear that it’s gonna call for 16,500 armed IRS agents to enforce it?

The smears against the president, however, are part of a broader and more disturbing trend; showing disrespect for the man — and by extension for the office he holds and the nation he represents — has become something of a national pastime.  Until he came along, it would have been unthinkable for fellow elected officials to publicly make the kind of statements Steve King made, or to accuse the president of collaborating with the enemy, or destroying America, or to interrupt his speech to call him a liar. Now, such occurrences are routine.

It’s tempting to dismiss it as racism, and no doubt that’s a factor in some cases. But it’s not the whole story. I just wish I could say that there is something, anything about Barack H. Obama in particular that would prompt such irrational and all-consuming hatred; and that once they get rid of this commie/fascist/Muslim/atheist/terrorist/Kenyan who wants to (shudder) make medicine and marriage available to everyone, things will go back to “normal”.

But the truth, I fear, is worse: this is the new normal for right-wing fanatics. This is how they will behave toward any Democrat, from now until Doomsday. Why shouldn’t they? It works. Sure, the president almost certainly will be reelected in spite of the propaganda. But the race apparently will be much closer than it should have been.  Obama Derangement Syndrome has not been contained among the loony fringe; it’s spread to a lot of other people as well. After all, Ron Paul is the one who contributed the colorful touch that those 16,500 phantom IRS agents would be “armed”. And he ain’t exactly a crackpot, is he? Oh. But still.

There are plenty of intelligent and sensible people, including some who voted for Obama in 2008, who swallow the bullshit. According to one Harris poll, 40 % of Americans (and 67% of Republicans) believe that President Obama is a socialist; 38% (61% of Republicans) believe he wants to “take away our guns”; 32% (57 % of Republicans) believe he is a Muslim; 20% (38% of Republicans) believe he is “doing many of the things that Hitler did”; 25% (45% of Republicans) believe he is foreign-born. Those are all a lot more than the Tea Party’s 2%.

With that kind of success, it would be naive to expect that there’ll ever be any turning back.

(Go here for a good debunking of 5 more Obama falsehoods, including those about golf, vacations, taxes and Arlington National Cemetery.)

Fact-Free Politics

Politicians as a rule are not known for being terribly honest and above-board, at least not since Lincoln went theatrical, but this year the Republican Party has made a furious effort to out-Guinness every other dishonest political campaign in history.

Now it hardly surprises anyone when a political campaign attacks the record of the opposition, or even when it indulges in a little spin and distortion to do so.  That’s what political campaigns do. That’s what conventions do. But the best the GOP could come up with this year was an actor debating an empty chair — and losing.  Other than that, their campaign surely will be remembered for its bold, unprecedented, ark-floating deluge level of mendacity.

When it comes to propaganda, Democrats are at kindergarten level, while the GOP has amassed a stack of doctorates. And this season, even by its usual standards,  the elephant parade has shattered the meter and blown the ceiling off.

Tweedledee But Tweedledumber

Many will “defend” the type of dishonesty the GOP has displayed by pointing out that Democrats lie too. Well, sure.  None of us will ever forget “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”. But there’s a big difference between making a friend of fibbing and make a foe of fact.

To hear Republicans tell it, it was a major lie for The First Lady to characterize her husband’s grandmother as a “bank secretary”, as she eventually worked her way up to vice president.  (Whoa! Really broke Pinocchio’s nose on that one, didn’t she?) And then there’s the Democrats’ claim that the Obama administration has created 4.5 million jobs. That figure is indeed a bit misleading, because it’s not a net sum for his entire term. They started the meter after the horrendous economic downturn he inherited had bottomed out. So it does qualify as spin, but it’s by no means an outright lie.

It is an outright lie, however, to say that Obama is a Muslim. Or that he’s Kenyan. Or that he’s a socialist. Or that he “hates America”. Or that he “apologized” for America. Or that he has raised your taxes (unless you’re among the ultra-wealthy). Or that he wants to eliminate the work requirements for welfare. Or that he’s increased the deficit to an exceptional degree. Or that he wants to eliminate early voting for military personnel. Or that he bailed out the banks.  Or that he promised unemployment below 8 percent.

Yet these and many others have been repeated as fact by the GOP contenders and their allies; some of them have even been articulated from the convention podium —  from which Romney even threw a bone to the dopey fact-shunning cult that increasingly makes up the backbone of his party by taking a dig at the president’s expressed concern over global warming.  And in doing so, incidentally, he misquoted the president yet again.

Building Deception

You had an inkling the GOP was going to pile up the elephant manure sky-high when it adopted as the de facto slogan of the convention (if not the entire campaign) a deliberate misinterpretation of a quote from the president.  “You didn’t build that” has become the new “I invented the Internet” (a statement never made by another politician who was also the target of a massive no-holds-barred gotcha operation.)

Well, the president was indeed guilty of using a misplaced antecedent, which conclusively proves that he’s human (and that, contrary to another persistent right-wing myth, he isn’t hooked up intravenously to a teleprompter). But it’s a minor syntactical slip, not a major misstatement of ideology; the meaning is still clear enough to anyone who bothers to read the statement in its entirety.

But Romney’s Rangers aren’t interested in getting his real drift. They want something they can twist as grotesquely as possible and slap him in the face with — and hit the public over the head with — as often as possible.

Nor is the willful misrepresentation of Obama’s intent the only dishonest thing about the “We Built It” meme; the Republicans also tried to portray themselves as Randian superbeings who have achieved stunning success without benefiting from government programs or the efforts of other people in general — never mind that this contradicts Mitt Romney’s own previous comments, almost identical to President Obama’s, on that subject. They did this posturing in a government-owned convention facility built with tax dollars. The convention itself was financed with the aid of $18 million in taxes, and the Republican Party received $50 million in government grants for convention security.

They were meeting in Tampa to nominate a presidential candidate who has amassed a fortune with a helping hand from government subsidies and grants, and a vice presidential candidate whose family for several generations actually was involved in building those roads the president spoke of…under government contract.  The convention also featured a prominent speech from Delaware business owner (and Republican political candidate) Sher Valenzuela, touting the virtues of independent enterprise, free of all government influence, that Obama allegedly loathes and wants to squelch. Not only has Valenzuela accepted some $17 million in government funds, she has urged other small business owners to do likewise.

Meanwhile, in nearby Louisiana, GOP governor Bobby Jindal also joined in the “conservative” mantra of “government evil — give me money”,  complaining because the Obama administration supposedly didn’t deliver enough in government handouts (as these folks like to call them when somebody else gets them) with the onslaught of Hurricane Isaac — even though the administration in fact followed all appropriate protocols, earning praise from the state’s two senators (one a Republican) and corresponding almost exactly to the response George W. Bush gave to Hurricane Gustav — without complaint from Jindal. Obama is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

Lying on Auto Pilot

One of the more egregious and head-scratching comments from the candidates came from V.P. nominee Paul Ryan, speaking at the convention about an automobile factory in Wisconsin:

Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said, ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008.Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.

He’s clearly suggesting that the plant’s closure was due to the president’s failure to deliver on a “promise” he never made, even though the decision to shutter the facility was made before Obama was even elected. (And Ryan has made similar claims about this on at least one previous occasion.) Hey, if  Obama can travel back in time 50 years to plant a phony birth announcement in a Hawaii newspaper, he certainly can rescue an auto plant retroactively.

When he was called on this later, he defended himself by saying:

What I was saying is, the president ought to be held to account for his broken promises. After our plant was shut down, he said he would lead efforts to retool plants like the Janesville Plant. It’s still idle. My point was not to lay blame on a plant shutdown, but this is yet another example of the president’s broken promises.

Oh. So it really wasn’t (then) Senator Obama’s fault, but it’s still an example of his “broken promises”. Got it. But wait a minute. Surely Ryan isn’t suggesting that the prez should offer some kind of government assistance to private industry. Whatever happened to “We built it on our own, by god, without any stinkin’ guvmint”? What Ryan wants you to believe, in other words, is that his statement was actually intended to undermine the leitmotiv of his entire party’s convention. Ryan, by the way, also requested funds for his district made available by the Affordable Care Act (you know, “Obamacare”), which he has vowed to demolish.  Obama is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. And damned if these people even know the difference.

But it isn’t just that Republicans are spinning lies and distortions and hypocrisies in record numbers; they’ve also developed an arrogant rejection of fact, and an utter disdain if not downright loathing for anyone who tries to set the record straight. Responding to one of the Romney camp’s lies, one of his pollsters said “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” And their actions indicate that they very much mean it.

And they have plenty of media defenders who will stand up for their right to ignore facts. A certain perennially flatulent talk show host whose name rhymes with lush, in commenting on the criticism of Ryan’s convention speech, referred to the “bogus fact-checkers”  and “drive-by media”.  Breitbart.com (the man is gone but his brilliant legacy lives on) declared, under the heading “Era of Media Fact Checkers Intimidating Republicans is Over” that “It’s official; the term ‘fact checker’ is now a punchline.” Anyone who challenges GOP whoppers is obviously “shilling for Obama” — never mind that the same fact-checkers critique statements made by Democrats.

Even the more mainstream media (you know, the “drive-by” gang) tends to use weasel words in challenging the falsehoods: “perceived inaccuracies”, “factual shortcuts”, “questionable claims”, “some say”, “according to the fact checkers”, etc.

Welcome to the brave new world envisioned by Republicans where reality is negotiable and facts are disposable. One shudders to contemplate a Romney administration as contemptuous of truth as his campaign has been.