Freedom Is Ours, We Just Have to Keep Fighting For It

One of the most common refrains when a democracy collapses into an autocracy is that no one could have seen it coming.

The motivation behind this myth is the absolution of the powerful. After all, what cannot be predicted cannot be prevented, and therefore the failure of officials to safeguard our freedoms should be forgiven. This is the story we hear as Donald Trump approaches a possible second term and the U.S. plunges into unprecedented turmoil.

The premise, of course, is a lie.

Freedom is about what it means to be human, and to be recognized and treated by others as such.

What “No one saw it coming” tells you is who the powerful consider to be “no one.” “No one” are the multitude of marginalized Americans who warned in 2016 that their rights had always been on the line and would be even more so now. “No one” are the people who knew that a future American autocracy was possible because their ancestors had been subject to past ones: slavery, Jim Crow, internment camps, and other forms of legal subjugation that were destroyed only through decades of defiant demands for their eradication.

Freedom was always a moving target. So are Americans under Donald Trump.

Trump is not the cause of the American crisis, but its culmination. The fragility of rights that members of marginalized groups have always experienced has been widened to encompass the country as a whole. In the 21st century, political, economic and technological freedom were all radically curtailed. Americans signed away their rights unwittingly and unwillingly – through the Patriot Act, which expanded government surveillance in the wake of 9/11, through social media companies turned surveillance monopolies, through the deference to corporations that is a survival mechanism in an economy structured on precarity.

The loss of legal rights over the past 20 years – voting rights chief among them – has been accompanied by a culture of fear that is as effective in derailing democracy as any decree. What does it mean to have freedom of speech when your words are data-mined and shot back at you as targeted propaganda? What is freedom of assembly when your every movement is recorded and reproduced online, when human lives are reduced to hashtags?

There are few worse feelings than being watched but never seen.

Trump exemplifies this era of exploitation. The reality TV president sees citizens not as human beings, but as disposable background players in a show starring himself. The U.S. media — an industry both exclusionary and desperate after decades of financial turmoil — has long proven an easy mark for the Trump team. Complex catastrophes are no match for the easy media lure of personality politics. The framework of spectacle to which Americans have always been drawn — soap operas and pro wrestling, talk shows and tabloids – is Trump’s native vernacular. To some degree, this was always our national political language, but there is a soullessness today that feels new. Whatever entertaining quality politics once possessed is gone, replaced by a culture of profound dehumanization that endangers the American experiment.

What Does Freedom Mean?
Protesters demonstrate in Freedom Plaza against family detentions and to demand the end of criminalizing efforts of asylum seekers on June 28, 2018.

WIN MCNAMEEGETTY IMAGES

Freedom is never just about rights or laws. Freedom is about what it means to be human, and to be recognized and treated by others as such.

That yearning — to simply be and have that be enough, to not have to prove your innate worth time and time again to a dubious arbiter — is at the heart of every struggle for human rights.

At a time when the world seems to be closing in on us, whether through apocalyptic change disasters, like the wildfires in Australia, or surveillance apps that monitor our every move, the dehumanizing quality of the Trump era — like separating migrant families and housing them in unsanitary border camps — is particularly gutting. With dehumanization comes disposability — a cheapening of the cherished, a commodification of every casualty.

There is a litany of horrifying images from the Trump era, but the worst may be a grinning Donald and Melania Trump holding a baby orphaned in the El Paso mass shooting like it was a trophy, giving the world a thumbs up after the baby’s parents were gunned down. What future does that child face? What present, so devoid of empathy and teeming with violence, made that moment possible?

Along with “No one could have seen it coming” lies also the idea that “The Founders never predicted this” in the archive of excuses for democracy’s demise. But the Founders absolutely predicted this — if not the legal architecture, then the moral forfeiture, which they often framed in terms of suicide.

“Remember, democracy never lasts long,” John Adams wrote in 1814. “It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

In 1838, Abraham Lincoln expressed similar thoughts on what would ultimately destroy America: “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher.”

Each warned that America was its own worst enemy. Many also believe we are our own best hope.

We are the wild cards we are waiting for.

The problems Americans face are so innumerable that they overwhelm. As a nation, we are indeed weary. Still, there are concrete actions people can take to slow the entrenchment of autocracy: voting, protesting, and creating or supporting independent organizations that combat corporate or state control are a few suggestions. But all of this requires maintaining presence of mind in a political environment designed to annihilate it. The greatest threat of the Trump era is the loss of what makes us human – our empathy, our individuality, our imagination.

The antithesis to freedom isn’t subjugation but surrender.

Oppressive governments can control what they take from you, but not your willingness to fight for it. They can never fully know you, and the unpredictability of human nature means no outcome is an inevitability, even in an aspiring autocracy. We are the wild cards we are waiting for.

Freedom of thought is a freedom that can never truly be taken, but you must guard it nonetheless. In an era of rampant dehumanization, it is more important than ever not to surrender in advance.


Sarah Kendzior is a writer, scholar, and author of the best-selling book, The View From Flyover Country, and the upcoming book Hiding in Plain Sight. Kendzior is also the host of Gaslit Nation, a weekly podcast which covers corruption in the Trump administration and the rise of authoritarianism around the world. Follow her on Twitter @SarahKendzior.

Source: Freedom Is Ours, We Just Have to Keep Fighting For It

Former CIA profiler Jerrold Post on Donald Trump’s “dangerous charisma” | Salon.com

It is obvious even to the untrained eye that Donald Trump is mentally, emotionally and psychologically unwell. Trump has shown himself to be detached from empirical reality, vengeful, a compulsive liar and a probable sexual predator. He lacks empathy, care or concern for others, and possesses utter contempt for the rule of law, the Constitution and other restrictions on his behavior. In total — as leading mental health professionals have repeatedly warned — Trump’s behavior appears to be sociopathic.

For those and many other reasons, Trump merits impeachment and removal from office. But this state of emergency is also an opportunity for hostile foreign countries (especially Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer) — as well as America’s “friends” — to advance their own interests over those of the United States by manipulating a psychologically vulnerable president.

From OUR COMMON GROUND Voice, Chauncey DeVega

Source: Former CIA profiler Jerrold Post on Donald Trump’s “dangerous charisma” | Salon.com

The Inside Story of Christopher Steele’s Trump Dossier | The New Yorker

In a new book, the founders of the firm that compiled it defend their work.

For nearly three years, President Trump has spun an alternate reality in which he was not helped and tainted by Russia during the 2016 Presidential campaign but, rather, his political opponents and his accusers were. During a rambling fifty-three-minute live phone interview with “Fox & Friends” on Friday, Trump insisted again that the plot to block his election and bring him down once he was installed in the White House was “perhaps the biggest scandal in the history of our country.”

On Tuesday, two of the President’s most prolific accusers plan to disrupt the narrative by telling their own story. Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, the co-founders of the Washington-based private-investigative firm Fusion GPS, which has mined deep veins of muck on Trump for years, at the behest of his various political enemies, will try to throw the book at Trump with the publication of “Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump.”

Fusion was the firm that hired the former British spy Christopher Steele to research Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign. After nearly three years without a word from Steele, while the so-called pee tape and his other sensational findings sparked furious controversy, the former M.I.6 spy speaks directly and on the record about his own part for the first time in the book, an advance copy of which was given to The New Yorker.

Whether Simpson and Fritsch’s score-settling, tell-all account will change any minds remains to be seen, but they present a mountain of evidence that Trump’s dealings with corrupt foreign players—particularly those from the former Soviet Union—are both real and go back decades. Steele’s dossier has been debated, denounced, derided, and occasionally defended almost since the moment it was first published, in January, 2017, by BuzzFeed News, against Steele’s wishes. Although Carl Bernstein helped to break the news of its existence on CNN, his friend and Watergate-reporting partner Bob Woodward dismissed it almost instantly as “garbage.” During impeachment-hearing testimony last week, the former White House national-security adviser Fiona Hill, one of America’s foremost experts on Russia and a professional acquaintance of Steele’s, described the dossier as “a rabbit hole” and suggested that Steele may have been “played.” But the authors defend Steele’s work, and their own, arguing that it has proved “strikingly right.”

As the authors tell it, they became obsessed with Trump almost accidentally. Their involvement in his campaign began as a business proposition. In the past, they had worked mostly for corporate clients, but in 2012 they had also done some political-opposition research on the Republican Presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. (They declined to disclose their client.) So, in 2015, as Trump gained momentum, but before he clinched the nomination, Simpson and Fritsch again decided to look for political work. After firing off a quick e-mail to a big conservative donor they knew who disliked Trump, they were hired. They don’t identify that donor but note, helpfully, that he arranged for them to contract their opposition-research assignment through the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative Web site known to be funded by Paul Singer, a New York hedge-fund magnate. Once Trump secured the nomination, however, the G.O.P. donor fled.

At that point, Fusion switched clients and political parties, pitching its services to Marc Elias, the lawyer for the D.N.C. and Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign. Clinton’s identity, too, was kept hidden, in this case behind the screen of Elias’s law firm, Perkins Coie. In the beginning, Clinton’s identity was also hidden from Steele, who knew only that Fusion was hiring him in the late spring of 2016, as a contractor, to investigate the tangled web of Trump’s ties to Russia for an unknown patron. Contrary to the conspiracy theories that the right later spread, Simpson and Fritsch write that they never met or spoke with Clinton. “As far as Fusion knew, Clinton herself had no idea who they were. To this day, no one in the company has ever met or spoken to her,” the book reads. As I reported, although Steele went to the F.B.I. with his findings out of a sense of duty and, by the late summer of 2016, knew that the F.B.I. was seriously investigating Trump’s Russian ties, the communication channels were so siloed that the Clinton campaign was unaware of these facts. Far from conspiring in a plot, the Clinton team had no hard evidence that the F.B.I. was investigating its opponent, even as its own opposition researcher was feeding dirt to the F.B.I. As one top Clinton campaign official told me when I wrote about Steele, “If I’d known the F.B.I. was investigating Trump, I would have been shouting it from the rooftops!”

Source: The Inside Story of Christopher Steele’s Trump Dossier | The New Yorker

Trump’s Conspiracy Against Democracy – The Atlantic

” . . . Trump saw an opportunity to strong-arm a weaker country into helping him win reelection, he abused his presidential authority to coerce it into doing so, and then he and his advisers sought to hide what they had done in order to maximize the public impact of the conspiracy. This plot, spearheaded by Giuliani, had already drawn credulous coverage from sympathetic reporters, and would likely have succeeded had the anonymous whistle-blower not registered a complaint exposing the scheme on September 9, which forced the Trump administration to release the aid to Ukraine on September 11.

A president who was genuinely opposed to U.S. entanglement in Ukraine, concerned about corruption, or involved in an internal struggle with bureaucrats over the ideal policy toward Ukraine would not have released the aid, because those concerns would have remained unaddressed. A president defying the bipartisan war lobby, seeking to prevent U.S. aid from being misused, or seeking to develop a better Ukraine policy would have had no reason to be concerned by the complaint. But the aid was released because a corrupt scheme to defraud the American people had been exposed, and so withholding it served no further purpose.

Trump’s defenders, having previously insisted that there was no “quid pro quo” involved in the president’s effort to extort Ukraine using taxpayer dollars, are slowly shifting to insisting, as much of the president’s base already believed, that Trump did nothing wrong. This is of a piece with the general anti-democracy trend in the Republican Party, which justly fears that the majority of the country no longer supports its agenda, and that extreme measures must be taken to shield its grip on power from democratic accountability.

The Republican Party has responded to the increasing diversity of the electorate with an accelerating intolerance for ethnic and religious minorities, and with elaborate schemes to disenfranchise rival constituencies and rig election rules to its advantage. Crucial to this effort is its conviction that the Republican electorate is the only one that can confer legitimacy on elected officials, and that the party’s political opponents are no longer wrong but fundamentally illegitimate, faithless usurpers with no right to determine the direction of the country. This has manifested in the quasi-religious dogma that Trump represents the will of Real America, and therefore defiance of his will is itself a form of treason . . .”

REad the Full Article at the Source: Trump’s Conspiracy Against Democracy – The Atlantic

Donald Trump Is All Alone in the White House – The Atlantic

“You’ve got to get him out of the White House!” they said to their colleague, a person close to the White House told me. Don’t announce it or make a big deal of it. Just go.It didn’t work. A homebody by nature, Trump said no.

The fate of a presidency can hinge on just such interventions from staff. Any president can lose sight of what he needs to weather a crisis or stay mentally and physically fit for the most demanding job imaginable; that’s when he needs a staff attentive to his larger interests.

Past presidents relied on aides to ease pressures and tell them hard truths—all of which help deter poor decisions. Trump doesn’t seem to have any of that, and as the stressors of impeachment grow, so does the prospect of more erratic behavior and self-sabotage.

A person close to Trump told me that the president feels isolated and has complained that he has no one in whom he can confide. “These heavy issues are weighing on him. He has nobody around him. There’s nobody,” this person said.Trump at one point had adults in the room: confidants and pedigreed generals and accomplished corporate executives. Their numbers have dwindled as his term winds on and he depends more on his own judgment. The dinner getaway was a valiant, if futile, idea hatched by staffers who wanted to introduce more normalcy into his life. But the senior aide who pitched it is gone, as is much of Trump’s original team.

Surrounding Trump instead is a mismatched set of advisers whose focus seems to be their own survival and ambition in a West Wing that has resembled a fast-spinning turnstile. They’ve seen that standing up to Trump is often a path to getting fired. All of which points to a predicament of Trump’s own making: He’s lost or chased away many of the advisers best suited to help him at the perilous moment he most needs their guidance.

Source: Donald Trump Is All Alone in the White House – The Atlantic

As New York Prosecutors Close In, Trump Flees to Florida | DCReport.org

“Making Florida his residence will not save Trump from any tax civil lawsuits, criminal charges or from paying past taxes he owes in New York. So long as Trump has substantial income from New York he will have to file a non-resident state tax form. He likely will also have to file in Connecticut, New Jersey, Illinois and California, among other states where he has businesses.That’s what makes his Oct. 31 tweets so intriguing. Making Florida his primary residence will have minor effects on lowering whatever taxes Trump may owe, so why bring it up?”

Source: As New York Prosecutors Close In, Trump Flees to Florida | DCReport.org

Russian Secret Weapon Against U.S. 2020 Election Revealed In New Cyberwarfare Report

The new research was conducted by Check Point in conjunction with Intezer—a specialist in Genetic Malware Analysis. It was led by Itay Cohen and Omri Ben Bassat, and has taken a deep dive to get “a broader perspective” of Russia’s threat ecosystem. “The fog behind these complicated operations made us realize that while we know a lot about single actors,” the team explains, “we are short of seeing a whole ecosystem.”

And the answer, Check Point concluded, was to analyse all the known data on threat actors, attacks and malware to mine for patterns and draw out all the connections. “This research is the first and the most comprehensive of its kind—thousands of samples were gathered, classified and analyzed in order to map connections between different cyber espionage organizations of a superpower country.”

The team expected to find deep seated linkages, connections between groups working into different Russia agencies—FSO, SVR, FSB, GRU. After all, one can reasonably expect all of the various threat groups sponsored by the Russian state to be on the same side, peddling broadly the same agenda.But that isn’t what they found. And the results from the research actually carry far more terrifying implications for Russia’s capacity to attack the U.S. and its allies on a wide range of fronts than the team expected. It transpires that Russia’s secret weapon is an organisational structure which has taken years to build and makes detection and interception as difficult as possible.“

The results of the research was surprising,” Cohen explains as we talk through the research. “We expected to see some knowledge, some libraries of code shared between the different organizations inside the Russian ecosystem. But we did not. We found clusters of groups sharing code with each other, but no evidence of code sharing between different clusters.”

And while such findings could be politics and inter-agency competition, the Check Point team have concluded that it’s more likely to have an operational security motive. “Sharing code is risky—if a security researcher finds one malware family, if it has code shared with different organizations, the security vendor can take down another organisation.”

Source: Russian Secret Weapon Against U.S. 2020 Election Revealed In New Cyberwarfare Report