`For God’s sake, she’s just a nice Jewish girl from Texas.’ How Hillary Clinton misunderestimated Amy Chozick

(Earl Wilson, New York Times)

Good Monday Austin:

I haven’t been here all that long (5.5 years), but for those of you who were here back at the turn of the century, somewhere between 1998 and 2001, I have a question.

Did you ever go to the Barton Springs Sno-Beach and order a Tigers Blood or Wedding Cake sno-cone and you were served by this pretty young UT student?

6/21/11 Mike Sutter/American-Statesman.

And then, maybe a couple of days later, you were at Tesoro’s on South Congress and you were


buying, say, a natural raffia/glass necklace from Burkina Faso for the price of two sno-cones, and you

thought, there’s something really familiar about the young woman handling your sale and you realized, it’s the same woman who sold you that sno-cone.

Yes? Well, that was Amy Chozick who spent four years in Austin, working at Sno-Beach and Tesoros, getting a dual degree in English and Latin American studies and writing mostly arts and leisure stories for the Daily Texan.

“Those were my people,” Chozick told me in an interview last week.

“I had a hard time fitting in at UT. I wasn’t a sorority girl. I wasn’t a getting-high-by-the-lake girl.”

But, she said, when, her second semester, she found the Daily Texan with its “scummy basement with its ratty couch and moldy newspapers, I kind of found my niche.”

On graduating, her Daily Texan clips in hand, she lit off to New York in search of fame and fortune.

Chozick, now a New York Times reporter, is back in Austin today, her Irish-born husband, Bobby, and their three month-old baby, Cormac, in tow (see, I Put Off Having a Baby to Cover Hillary Clinton’s Campaign—and I Don’t Regret It, Glamour magazine, Apri 2014).

She is back in Texas to see her family in San Antonio (where she grew up and her parents still live) and Austin, and, along the way talk with Evan Smith this afternoon for a taping of his KLRU show, Overheard, about her new book – Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns and One Intact Glass Ceiling – and be interviewed at 7 tonight by Texas Monthly’s Mimi Swartz at BookPeople, where she will also sign copies of her book.

If you can’t read the small print on the cover, Texas memoirist extraordinaire Mary Karr calls it a “breathtaking, page-turning masterpiece.”

I too loved the book.

It is a terrific read and very funny.

As someone who covers politics and wrote some about the 2016 presidential campaign, it also disabused me of the notion that doing so for the upper deck New York Times would somehow lift someone above  the indignities suffered by the more plebeian press in steerage.

Apparently it does not, the slights and injuries are pretty much the same, only the stakes are higher.

“You actually get tortured on a whole other level,” Chozick said.

From Charlotte Alter’s review in the New York Times:

In her funny and insightful memoir, “Chasing Hillary,” the journalist Amy Chozick grapples with this question while also providing a much-needed exploration of Hillary Clinton’s antagonistic relationship with the press. Unlike “Shattered,” by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, which provided an inside look at Clinton’s dysfunctional campaign, or “What Happened,” which was a personal reckoning from the candidate herself, “Chasing Hillary” doesn’t attempt to assess why Clinton lost the election. Instead, it’s a first-person account of Chozick’s failed 10-year quest to see the “real” Hillary, a quixotic mission that is as revealing in defeat as it would have been in victory.

The Impressionist Claude Monet never painted haystacks; he painted the rain, sleet and sunshine between his eyes and the haystacks. In “Chasing Hillary,” Chozick has written neither a raw personal memoir nor a biography of Clinton, but rather an account of all the elements that came between Clinton and the journalists condemned to cover her. Her impressions of Clinton are less about the woman herself and more about the brutally effective apparatus that shielded her from public view.

People who know Clinton often complain that the press, and therefore the public, never gets to see how warm and funny she is in person. “Chasing Hillary” is the best explanation so far of why that is. Chozick describes Clinton’s press shop (which she calls “The Guys”) as an anonymous gang of manipulative, unresponsive and vaguely menacing apparatchiks who alternate between denying her interview requests (47 in total, by her count), bullying her in retaliation for perceived negative coverage (“You’ve got a target on your back,” one of them tells her) and exploiting her insecurities about keeping up with her (often male) colleagues. The campaign quarantined the press on a separate bus and, later, a separate plane, often without even an accompanying flack to answer basic questions. It denied Chozick’s interview requests even for positive stories, like a piece about Clinton’s experience in the early 1970s going undercover to expose school segregation in the South, and refused to confirm the most minor details, like whether Clinton ate a chicken wing or not.

It seems clear from Chozick’s account that Clinton thought of her traveling press corps as more buzzard than human (although she did write Chozick a note when her grandmother died). Bill Clinton also had troubles with the press, but at least he would say hello at events or tell a long-winded story. Even Trump, who spent the campaign railing against the “fake news” media, seemed to intuit that a cordial relationship with reporters was essential to managing his public image. Trump once called Chozick out of the blue to provide a comment for an article, and they ended up chatting about “The Apprentice.” So grateful to be actually speaking to a candidate (in nearly 10 years, Clinton had never called her), Chozick made the mistake of telling him that Clinton hadn’t had a news conference in months. Shortly afterward, the Trump campaign began blasting that Clinton was “hiding” from the press

.In fact, Chozick spoke with Clinton so infrequently that their entire personal relationship can be summed up in a half-dozen interactions that are shockingly banal: the time Clinton said “hi” to her in Iowa, one 14-minute phone interview, the time Clinton accidentally walked in on her in the bathroom. The fact that Chozick interacted so rarely with Clinton over nearly 10 years of covering her for The Wall Street Journal and then The New York Times is perhaps the most damning evidence of Clinton’s self-destructive relationship with the press. “How could we communicate Hillary’s ‘funny, wicked and wacky’ side to voters,” she asks, “if we never saw it for ourselves?”


To her credit, Chozick opens up about her own attitudes toward Clinton more than most political reporters would. Despite the campaign’s skepticism of her, it’s clear that she admired Clinton. She is acutely aware of the sexist double standards Clinton faced (though readers may rightly wonder why this appeared so rarely in her coverage). She’s inspired by the historic nature of the campaign, and hurt by Clinton’s iciness toward her. Chozick recalls that the first time she saw Clinton at a town hall, when she was covering her for The Journal in 2007, she stood up and clapped (a huge faux pas among journalists). For her, Clinton’s loss is both a personal and a professional blow.

Their ambitions were aligned — had Clinton won, Chozick would very likely have been given the historic opportunity to cover the first woman president. But Chozick devotes only a few lines to exploring the broader significance of Clinton’s loss beyond what it means for her own career, despite the global implications of the outcome. She records the facts of her life as they occurred during that period (including personal details about her marriage and her fertility) but rarely grapples with the larger contradictions of being an ambitious woman journalist covering an ambitious woman candidate. And even as she documents a campaign that floundered because it had too much head and not enough heart, Chozick risks falling into the same trap: In trying to outwork her male colleagues and outwit The Guys, Chozick at times seems to lose track of the emotional arc of Clinton’s rise and fall.

“Chasing Hillary” is a portrait of two women with shared hopes and weaknesses, both driven and blinded by an ambition that could be possible only in the 21st century, bound by history but not by love. This book won’t make you know Hillary any better. But it will help you understand why you don’t.

OK. So here we have in Chozick,a reporter who stood and clapped the first time she saw Clinton at a town hall, whose ambition was to have that byline for the ages under the story on the election of the first woman president, who wanted to cover the first woman president, but who, because she did her job in ways that were not always pleasing to Clinton and the circle of men around her, was frozen out in a way that undermined Clinton’s ability to communicate who she was and to be elected president.

Meanwhile, it is Donald Trump who emerges as the candidate with a greater understanding and, yes, even appreciation of the press, the (not-so) failing New York Times (whose bottom line has very much benefited very much included, and it is Trump who displays the more subtle and supple emotional intelligence when it comes to doing what it takes to be elected president of the United States – which he was.

There are countless examples in the book, but I will focus on one.

An excerpt from Chapter 50: Chekhov’s Gun.

Oct. 28, 2016

The day October delivered its final big surprise my colleague Mike Schmidt was visiting from D.C. He sat in the cubicle next to me in the newsroom as we both worked our sources. Twenty minutes after the Clinton campaign announced in a show of confidence that Hillary would hold an early voting rally in Arizona, a state that had gone red in eleven of the last twelve presidential campaigns, but seemed potentially in play, news broke that James Comey sent a letter to Congress stating the FBI found additional emails related to Hillary’s private server. Trump wasted little time in declaring, “This changes everything.”

Schmidt heard the emails had been unearthed during a separate investigation into Anthony Weiner’s sexting with an underage girl. He kept yelling into the phone, “They’ve got Weiner by the balls!” until I finally G-chatted him that he had to stop saying that.

The Times news alert went out that the emails had been found on a computer Huma had used. The Wiener connection was both unbelievable, and yet in some sad way, made perfect sense: Hillary, married to an alleged sexual predator, could lose to Trump, an alleged sexual predator, because of Weiner, an alleged sexual predator.

As I wrote in First Reading at the time:

I mean, if Donald Trump gropes women the way he boasted about, but which he then said he actually didn’t, but then a bunch of women said he most definitely did, that is presumably a lot worse than Weiner’s consensual virtual sex with women (I know nothing about the latest Weiner charges, involving underage girls, but that too, I presume, is virtual.).

In fact, in the vast realm of personality types, Trump and Weiner seem if not on the same page than at least in the same chapter of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Back to Chozick:

I thought back to 2013 when I first heard about the “Carlos Danger” scandal, to the stories I wrote about The Guys hoping to contain Huma’s personal life so that it didn’t spill into Hillary’s political future. They protected Huma as if she were a beloved little sister and a vital appendage of Hillary. Big donors were less sympathetic, imploring Hillary to put Huma in a less visible role. At least one stop donor confronted Huma directly, in 2013, pleading with her, for Hillary’s sake, to step down. “I’m good at what I do and that’s Hillary’s decision,” Huma replied.

Now, in the last act, with eleven days before the election, Huma’s problems exploded in one final, seismic, self-inflicted wound.

It’s like Chekhov’s gun,” I said as we stood around discussing the news.

A colleague who overheard this said, “I didn’t know they knew who Chekhov was in Texas.”

Very Senior Editor came by my desk to ask, “She’s not gonna lose, right?”

I gave my extremely professional assessment of the situation.

“Brooklyn is freaking the fuck out,” I said. “Her trust numbers are already shit.” 

In August, after the Pop Goes the Weiner cover in the New York Post, Trump told us, “I only worry for the country in that Hillary Clinton was careless and negligent in allowing Weiner to have such proximity to highly classified information. Who knows what he learned and who he told. It’s just another case of Hillary Clinton’s bad judgment. It is possible that our country and its security have been compromised by this.”

His statement had seemed so outrageous that Pat Healey and I took a fair amount of outrage from the #I’mWithHer contingent for including it in a front-age story (THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING”: DONALD TRUMP EXULTS AS HILLARY CLINTON’S TEAM SCRAMBLES)

But Trump had been half-right.

The FBI didn’t find any additional classified or incriminating emails on Weiner’s computer, the “bad judgment” line stuck.

Hillary was enroute to Cedar Rapids when the news broke, accompanied by her childhood friend, Betsy Ebeling, a sweet, gray-haired Midwesterner whom the campaign rolled out every time they needed a testament to Hillary’s warmth and down-to-earthiness, and the celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz. Robby Mook had been on board to brief the Travelers (Clinton’s almost entirely female traveling press corps)  about Hillary’s trip to Arizona and how she’d expand the map. Hillary didn’t initially see the news – nor did most of the press – because of the planes shoddy Wi-Fi.

When the Strong Together Express touched down, disbelief, followed by alarm, spread throughout the front cabin. The Travelers bustled onto the tarmac hoping to scream a question: “SECRETARY! WHAT ABOUT THE FBI?” Hillary lingered on board. She had the photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz to finish. She’d later tell friends the development was “just another crisis” in a career full of them.

In the newsroom, we turned up the volume to watch Hillary’s brief press conference that evening. Part of me longed to be there shouting questions myself.

But mostly, I thought of Sara.

I’d spent the past year bringing chocolate babka and challah loaves to Sara Ehrman, the feminist firebrand whom Hillary had lived with after law school when she worked on the Watergate Committee. Forty-two years earlier, in August 1974, Sara drove Hillary, then twenty-six, to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to be with Bill Clinton. Sara tried to talk her out of the move the whole way down. “We’d drive along and I’d say, “Hillary, for God’s sake, he’s just be a country lawyer down there.” And each time, Hillary would answer the same way, telling Sara,”I love him and I want to be with him.”

Sara was ninety-seven but feisty, still dispensing tough love to her most famous protegé, Hillary, and a revolving door of women who came to her sunny Kalorama apartment, bearing gifts and seeking career advice. We’d become close over the many afternoons I’d try to woo her into talking on the record about the two-day, 1,193-mile journey that changed Hillary’s life. For over a year Hillary had turned down my many interview requests to do a piece on their relationship and Sara remained reluctant. After the election, Sara showed me emails for Brown Loafers (one of The Guys around Clinton) instructing her not to talk to me, basically saying that I hated Hillary and couldn’t be trusted to be fair – a warning Hillary had asked him to pass on. But Sara finally agreed to talk to me anyway, writing back to Brown Loafers, “For God’s sake, she’s just a nice Jewish girl from Texas.”


The road trip story – and accompanying video interview with Sara, sitting on the sofa in a sea-foam sweater set that brought out her eyes – was my favorite article that I ever wrote on the beat, maybe in my entire career.  It was published on the Times website hours before news of the Comey letter broke. Hardly anyone read it. The story had been scheduled to run prominently on the next day’s front page but never even made it into print. Several months after the election, I would write Sara’s obituary. Hillary told the story of their road trip at the memorial service.

The Comey news would lead the entire front page – three stories, seven bylines (including mine), a four-column photo of Hillary, Huma standing over her shoulder, arms akimbo. The layout would live in infamy. proof to Hillary and the #StillWithHer crowd that the Times blew the email story out of proportion, the climax of its anti-Clinton vendetta.

Here is the top of the story, by Chozick and Patrick Healey, that day.

 Everything was looking up for Hillary Clinton. She was riding high in the polls, even seeing an improvement on trustworthiness. She was sitting on $153 million in cash. At 12:37 p.m. Friday, her aides announced that she planned to campaign in Arizona, a state that a Democratic presidential candidate has carried only once since 1948.

Twenty minutes later, October delivered its latest big surprise.

The F.B.I. director’s disclosure to Congress that agents would be reviewing a new trove of emails that appeared pertinent to its investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s private email server — an investigation that had been declared closed — set off a frantic and alarmed scramble inside Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and among her Democratic allies, while Republicans raced to seize the advantage.

In the kind of potential turnabout rarely if ever seen at this late stage of a presidential race, Donald J. Trump exulted in his good fortune. “I think it’s the biggest story since Watergate,” he said in a brief interview, adding, “I think this changes everything.”

He promised to batter Mrs. Clinton as a criminal in the race’s final week and a half. And Republican House and Senate candidates gleefully demanded to know whether their Democratic opponents were sticking by Mrs. Clinton.

The good news, dear First Reader, is that, right here, right now, you can read Amy Chozick’s all-time favorite story as it appeared online. If you follow the link, you can also see the terrific video of Sara Ehrman.

What’s more, if the small note at the bottom of the online story is to be believed, A version of this article appears in print on October 28, 2016, on Page P13 of the New York edition, a placement of such relative ignominy that Chozick can be forgiven for not knowing it ever appeared in print, or finding the prospect of seeing what version of her masterpiece made it onto page P13, too unbearable to contemplate.

In any case, here it is.

Oct. 28, 2016

Hillary Rodham gazed out the window of the beat-up ’68 Buick rolling down Interstate 81, and saw spruce trees, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the life she’d left behind.

Ms. Rodham, then a 26-year-old lawyer, had just finished working on the Watergate committee and wanted to be with her boyfriend, Bill Clinton, who was teaching law in Arkansas.

Her landlord, Sara Ehrman, who worried her bright young tenant was throwing away her future, offered to drive her down from Washington, and over the course of two days and 1,193 miles in August 1974, Mrs. Ehrman tried to talk Ms. Rodham out of her plan.

“We’d drive along and I’d say, ‘Hillary, for God’s sake,’ ” Mrs. Ehrman, now 97, recalled. “He’ll just be a country lawyer down there.”

Their journey had some of the ingredients of a classic American road trip — a cheap motel, tchotchke purchases, encounters with drunken strangers and deeply personal conversations. Mrs. Ehrman, a strong-minded career woman who had scrapped her way to becoming a senior congressional aide years before the feminist movement of the 1960s, believed Ms. Rodham could do anything — and could not believe that she was shelving her promising career for an uncertain future at Bill Clinton’s side in Fayetteville, Ark.

But each time Mrs. Ehrman would raise the issue, Ms. Rodham would politely respond: “I love him, and I want to be with him.”

The trip 42 years ago offers a glimpse at a Hillary Clinton the public seldom sees. She was not yet a self-assured lawyer, a powerful political wife or a tenacious presidential candidate, but a young woman, wide-eyed and eager, vulnerable and afraid, at the cusp of a momentous decision that would alter the course of her life.

And Mrs. Ehrman, then 55, had an unusually close-up view of the woman who would become the first female presidential nominee of a major party.

Young Hillary Rodham, Mrs. Ehrman recalled, was an intelligent, unstylish, hard-working woman, if an occasionally sloppy tenant, who had an infectious, throaty laugh and often failed to make her bed in the morning.

The two met in 1972: Mrs. Ehrman was working as co-director of issues and research for George McGovern’s presidential campaign in Texas, and the Democratic National Committee had sent Mrs. Clinton, a law student at the time, to help with voter registration.

“A young girl walked in. She looked like 18 or 19,” Mrs. Ehrman said of the first time she saw Mrs. Clinton at the campaign’s headquarters in San Antonio. “She had brown hair, brown glasses, brown top, brown skirt, brown shoes, brown visage, no makeup.”

‘They shared a cheap dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant in downtown San Antonio and didn’t speak again until 1973 when Mrs. Clinton, then a Yale Law graduate, got a coveted job on the Watergate committee and called Mrs. Ehrman for advice on finding a place to live in Washington.

“I said, ‘The kids are gone, you can stay with me. No cooking,’ ” Mrs. Ehrman recalled during a recent interview at her home in Washington. “So she moved in with all her junk.”

Mrs. Clinton’s room in the four-bedroom house quickly took on the feel of a college dorm room, with piles of clothes (mostly brown), books and even a bicycle strewn about

“She had all her stuff on the floor,” Mrs. Ehrman said. “I just remember she didn’t make her bed.” (Years later, Mrs. Clinton, who declined to be interviewed for this article, argued with Mrs. Ehrman that she did, in fact, make her bed.)

Mrs. Ehrman had a new job representing the Puerto Rican government, and she and Mrs. Clinton worked grueling hours. They would talk only occasionally in the rushed weekday mornings.

“We’d get up, eat yogurt, maybe have coffee, get in my car, I’d drop her at the Watergate,” Mrs. Ehrman said. “She’d come home at 11, 12 o’clock at night, exhausted, eat yogurt, go to bed and do the same thing over again.”

The living arrangement lasted about a year until one day, when Mrs. Clinton told Mrs. Ehrman her plan: “She said, ‘I’m going to go down to Arkansas to be with my boyfriend.’ ”

The word “boyfriend” looming in the air, Mrs. Ehrman reacted instinctively. “It was at that point that I said, very delicately, ‘You don’t want to go there. You could get any job you want,’ ” she recalled.

Then there was the matter of all that stuff.

Mrs. Clinton planned to take the bus to Fayetteville, where Mr. Clinton was teaching law and running for Congress. She was trying to figure out how to ship all of her clothes and books and bicycle. Watching this logistical spectacle unfold, Mrs. Ehrman said: “Get in my car. I’ll drive you down.”

So they piled her belongings into the back of Mrs. Ehrman’s banged-up Buick, nicknamed “Old Rattletrap,” and began the drive, with Mrs. Ehrman determined to change Mrs. Clinton’s mind.

Her chances were slim. Mrs. Clinton had failed the Washington, D.C., bar exam, but passed the Arkansas test, confirming her decision to join Mr. Clinton, she wrote in her 2003 memoir, “Living History.”

They headed for Interstate 81, which parallels the Appalachian Mountains through Virginia and into Tennessee. Mrs. Ehrman remembered the talks the two women had as they drove past poor towns in southwestern Virginia and stopped briefly at the historic Barter Theater in Abingdon, Va., which got its name during the Great Depression, when most theatergoers could not pay the full ticket price.

They stopped in Laurel Bloomery, Tenn., a town known for its fiddler conventions, and bought pottery — smooth ceramic dishes and mugs in earthy tones that both women still have. And in Memphis, they got stuck in a parade of inebriated Shriners who swarmed the streets in their distinctive hats.

The hotels were sold out in Memphis because of the Shriners convention, so they found a cheap motel just across the Mississippi River in Arkansas.

The women came from different backgrounds: Mrs. Ehrman was a secular Jew from Staten Island, Ms. Rodham a Methodist from Park Ridge, Ill.

But they talked, about life and careers and love, usually ending up in the same spot, with Mrs. Ehrman seeing talent and promise in Ms. Rodham, and little of the same in her boyfriend. “Every 25 or 30 miles, I would say, ‘Do you know what you’re doing?’ ” she said. “He may never get a job. He can’t make a living.”

Eager to start her new life, Mrs. Clinton didn’t want to waste time, so the two women pulled in at drive-throughs or stopped at food stands and barbecue joints. “I’m from Staten Island. We didn’t eat ribs,” Mrs. Ehrman said. “We ate pie, a lot of pie — pecan pie.”

Even as she urged her traveling companion to rethink her life plan, Mrs. Ehrman partly understood why the young woman was so smitten with Bill Clinton, having briefly seen him herself on a tarmac in Waco, Tex., in 1972 when Mr. Clinton was also working on the McGovern campaign.

“Standing at the foot of the steps of the plane was this drop-dead gorgeous young man in a white linen suit,” Mrs. Ehrman said.

“He was so beautiful, but young. He looked 21. And I said, ‘Who’s that kid down there at the foot of the steps?’ And somebody said, ‘He’s the state director,’ and I said, ‘Obviously, we’re not going to win Texas with a 21-year-old for a state director,’ ” Mrs. Ehrman said. “He doesn’t like that story, but it’s true.” (Richard M. Nixon defeated Mr. McGovern in Texas by 33 percentage points, and it is unlikely that even the most seasoned state director could have reversed that result.)

After they made their way deeper into Arkansas, bypassing Little Rock and curving through the Ozarks, the women stopped at a ramshackle restaurant for lunch. Mrs. Ehrman was growing more alarmed as she took in the surroundings.

“I said to her, ‘Hillary, you’re never going to get French bread here. You’re never going to get Brie,’ ” she recalled in a final plea, but by then Mrs. Clinton had made up her mind. “She wasn’t even listening to me at that point,” Mrs. Ehrman said.

They arrived in Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas, on one of the rowdiest weekends of the year. The hilltop town, with its canopy of oak trees, had become a swarm of drunken football fans, their faces painted red and their heads covered with hats shaped like the university’s hog mascot. The Razorbacks were playing a major rival at the time, the Longhorns of the University of Texas.

“It was then that I broke down and cried when I thought, ‘She’s going to live here?’ ” Mrs. Ehrman said. “I just cried. I just absolutely cried.”

Mrs. Ehrman took a plane back to Washington and paid someone to drive her Buick home. “I thought, ‘I’m getting out of here tomorrow morning. I don’t belong here,’ ” she said.

She has thought of Mrs. Clinton often after that, she recalled, sighing. “I certainly did think about her and feel, not that I had left her, but that her life had left her.”

When she dropped her off in Arkansas some 42 years ago, Mrs. Ehrman never dreamed that a young Hillary Rodham would be one election away from possibly becoming president herself. But, as the years went by, she came to see the wisdom of her young tenant’s choices.

In 1992, Mrs. Ehrman went back to Arkansas, this time to the governor’s mansion in Little Rock to help with Mr. Clinton’s presidential campaign.

On the day of his inauguration in 1993, Mrs. Ehrman even attended church with the Clintons. “I was sitting there right against the railing and I saw her, head bowed and I said to myself, ‘Jesus, she’s really praying. She’s a believer.’ ”

In 2008, Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Ehrman were reunited in Texas, this time for Mrs. Clinton’s own presidential campaign. And Mrs. Ehrman attended the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July to support Mrs. Clinton.

The passage of time has deepened Mrs. Ehrman’s understanding of the love-struck young lawyer who stared out the Buick window.

“Hillary is a very practical, pragmatic person,” Mrs. Ehrman said. “She wanted to be with him, but she also saw a future for him and herself.”

Now remember, this is the story that Hillary Clinton and her protective circle tried to keep from seeing the light of day, because she and they thought that Chozick would somehow diabolically twist what Ehrman had to say and turn it into a negative story about Clinton.


They really thought that?

And acted on it?

On the other had, as Chozick told me, “Trump would call me out of the blue occasionally. ”

From the chapter in Chozick’s books entitled, The Bed Wetters, a reference to how Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook viewed Washington insiders who were sounding the alarm that maybe the Clinton campaign might not know how to handle Trump.

Matthew Dowd, a former chief strategist to George W. Bush, who is not an independent, told me in late February, “Hillary has built a large tanker ship and she’s about to confront Somali pirates.”

Brooklyn blew it all off. The math was on their side. “It wouldn’t be a general election without some early bed-wetting from Washington insiders,” Robby said.


No caller ID flashed on my phone. I’d left the newsroom and was sitting in Bryant Park to soak up the early summer air and clear my head. It was June, days before Hillary Clinton would win the nomination. People with normal jobs spread picnic blankets and wine and Brie out on the lawn as a trio of flamenco guitarists set up on a temporary stage.


“Amy, it’s Donald Trump.”

Chozick had written a curtain-raiser on a very tough speech Clinton was delivering savaging Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements as, “not even really ideas, just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies.”

I reached to the Trump campaign for comment. I expected a statement from Hope Hicks, Trump’s competent and responsive spokeswoman. Instead, Trump called directly..

In this period, most of my colleagues had stories of standing in line at Starbucks or climbing onto the elliptical when the infamous “NO CALLER ID” Trump call came in. I’d spent months requesting interviews with Hillary. Always the answer from Brooklyn, no matter how positive or substantive the topic, was either stone-cold silence or a hard no. But there I was in Bryant Park picking up my phone to …

“Amy, it’s Donald Trump…”

I dug around in my bag for a pen and pulled out some loose scraps of paper. Trump repeated the phrase “America First” at least six times, attributing this pet phrase to “your very good, very smart colleague David Sanger, excellent guy.” (I agreed) He then laid out his plan to counterattack.

“Bernie Sanders said it and I’m going to use it all over the place, because it’s true,” Trump said. “She is a woman who is ill-suited to be president because she has bad judgment.”

We bantered about The Apprentice a little. (“Can you believe Schwarzenegger thinks he can do it?”) Then I said something I never should have said.

“Thanks very much for calling Mr. Trump. I’ve been covering Hillary since 2007 and she’s never called me.”

“Is that right?” The wheels were turning. “When was the last time she talked to you?” Trump asked.

I thought about it. “I don’t know. I guess it’s probably been five, six months since she had a press conference.”

Silence. The wheels turned some more. 

“You know why?” Trump said. I wanted to say, Yes, Mr. Trump, because she hates us and thinks we have big egos and tiny brains. But I’d already said too much. “She doesn’t have the stamina,” Trump said. He raised his voice. “It takes STAMINA to talk to the press.”

I don’t know if I gave Trump the idea or he’d had it for weeks, but after that he started to tell crowds, “So it’s been two hundred and thirty five days since Crooked Hillary has had a press conference … ” His campaign started to blast out a daily reminder: HILLARY HIDING WATCH: DAY 262 SINCE LAST PRESS CONFERENCE.


L’affaire Fetonte: How an Austin union organizer’s work with CLEAT created a schism in America’s burgeoning socialist movement


Protesters of SB-4 known as the sanctuary cities bill, block the main entrances to the State Insurance Building, May 1, 2017 in Austin, TX. Pictured are, from left, Danny Fetonte, Sophia Donnelly, Ceci Mireles, and Marsha Perkes. JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN.

Good morning Austin:

I did not realize when I moved from D.C. to Austin in December 2012 that I was moving closer to the center of American politics.

But I was.

Just ask Lawrence Wright, who in July wrote an epic New Yorker piece, America’s Future Is Texas: With right-wing zealots taking over the legislature even as the state’s demographics shift leftward, Texas has become the nation’s bellwether.

Or Roger Stone, who has increasingly turned his attention to Austin as the locus of the new pro-Trump media as manifested by Alex Jones and InfoWars.

Or Danny Fetonte, an Austin union and political organizer who more than any single individual was responsible for the vitality of Bernie Sanders’ campaign in Texas in 2016, and who, in ways I would have found hard to imagine, has become the source and subject of a national schism in a democratic socialist movement that has exploded with members and energy in the aftermath of Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic nomination for president as an avowed socialist.

In early August, at a high-spirited national convention of the Democratic Socialists of America in Chicago, Fetonte was elected to the DSA’s National Policy Committee. Barely a month later, on Sept. 8, Fetonte quit not just the NPC but the DSA altogether, after a vitriolic campaign to remove him from the NPC because of his role as a union organizer  and negotiator working with CLEAT – the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, a police union – and his failure to make that association clear in his campaign materials.

I have met Danny Fetonte and his wife, Barbara, a few times since I’ve been here, mostly connected to their role in igniting the Sanders campaign in Austin even before he was a candidate.

Left to right, Chau Ngo, Daniel Fetonte, Barbara Fetonte, Liliana Mendoza-Pierce, at Sholz Garten

In August 2016, I talked with them as part of a First Reading on the disposition of Sanders supporters after the nominating conventions.

There is an argument among some Sanders supporters that they only need to vote for Clinton in swing states. Elsewhere, they have the luxury of voting for someone else, like Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

“That’s a mistake,” said Daniel Fetonte, a retired labor organizer for the steel workers, the communications workers and CLEAT, the police officers’ union in Texas, who with his wife, Barbara, are the godfather and godmother of the Sanders campaign in Austin.

He said Sanders supporters need to back the ticket, “because of the program we fought for at the Democratic Convention. If  we walk away we won’t be fighting for that program. Also, it’s going to be a wave election so while we might not win the state we’ll pull in a whole lot of state representatives and state senators and that will help protect the state employees union, the teachers’ union.”

“To vote for a purer candidate who might be better on some issues is a serious mistake,” Fetonte said. “We have tremendous standing in the Democratic Party and we should work with the coordinated campaign. That means voting for an imperfect candidate for president.”

He thinks most Sanders supporters will vote for Clinton.

“If you want to vote for perfection, go live on a commune.”

Which I suppose would make you a commune-ist, not a socialist.

You will note that Fetonte’s CLEAT association was hardly a secret. He brought it up and I used it as one of the ways of identifying him. I thought it was noteworthy for a couple of reasons.

First, I figured he must be pretty good at what he does or a police union wouldn’t get involved with someone with such an obvious reputation for left-wing politics. Second, I figured it meant that he viewed his mission as moving toward a worker solidarity that included law enforcement officers and, in that, he too was willing to go outside his political comfort zone.

Even though I know him and a couple of the other people involved, what follows is not based on interviews with anyone. Rather it is a recapitulation of just some of the enormous output of on-line statements and commentary that have poured forth in that month’s time.

It is long, and most readers may want to skim through it if they have any interest at all.

But I thought it was worth laying out here at some length because Austin is smack dab in the middle of it, because it offers a remarkable microcosm of the powerful tug toward sectarianism in a growing movement, and because it displays just how social media can accelerate and intensify the ugliest tendencies of that kind of struggle.

There also may be an important national story here with some bearing on the future course of Democratic Party and left politics.

The lesson of l’affaire Fetonte is that Bernie Sanders unleashed a revived socialist movement that will not long tolerate his mainstream political tendencies.

In a variation on the Groucho Marx line that he would not join any club that would him as a member, Sanders has rebooted a socialist movement that will almost inevitably end up giving him the boot as insufficiently serious/radical in his socialism. Indeed, if he survives in good standing with DSA, it will be because he was literally grandfathered in as a beloved figure who out of sentiment and gratitude should be spared the guillotine.

In other words, if Sanders’ candidacy served to mainstream socialist ideas in unexpected ways, the harder-edged radicalism of DSA will, for better or worse, move socialism outside that mainstream in ways that will make it more difficult for future candidates like Sanders to square the circle.

As outwrangle, a commenter on a Reddit message thread on Fetonte, commented when he resigned:

I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. This was the exact kind of internal conflict I was waiting for, because it would be when the DSA shows its true character. Is it is a socialist organization, or a socialist club. Is it a revolutionary party, or the left-wing of the Democratic party? Are they democratic socialists, or just social democrats? I’ve been watching this unfold closely, and when the NPC decided to retain him I was disappointed but not surprised. And yet, the membership defied my expectations and were able to chase him out anyway!

I’ve decided to officially join. The question isn’t resolved and there is still work to be done, but this result has left me optimistic and hopeful about the future of the DSA. Like Fetonte said, this is no longer the organization of Michael Harrington or Bernie Sanders. And that makes me so happy and excited.

Bernie Sanders supporters, at left, Danny Fetonte, Jacob Limon, and at far right, Barbara Fetonte listen to Jim Boynton, center, and Glen Maxey, both Primary Directors at the Texas Democratic Party Headquarters on Friday, December 4, 2015, after turning in collected petition signatures asking for the inclusion of Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on the Texas Democratic primary ballot. Over 12,000 signatures were gathered to get Sanders on the ballot.
Here is how Fetonte presented himself in Chicago.


Democratic Socialism is a goal we have to work at to win.  We have to stand for immigrant rights and against climate change.  We have to work both at the ballot box and with our feet in the streets.  We have to work in the movements of Muslims, Latinos, Blacks, Women, Queer Liberation, Disabled Activism, and Labor Unions.  I was active in High School SNCC and the anti-Vietnam War movement.  In our fight against attacks on immigrant rights in Texas, I was one of five DSA members arrested sitting in at the Governor’s Office.  I worked for 34 years as a union organizer.  I taught organizing at CWA’s week long leadership school for 13 years and have taught 8 DSA organizing schools in Texas.  I taught organizing schools for CWA in Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arizona, Utah, and in nine Texas cities.  The skills and insights I have learned can help build a large broad-based DSA. I was active in building the Bernie Campaign across Texas.  In Texas we put Bernie on the ballot by gathering over 12,000 petition signatures.  37 out of the 75 Bernie delegates to the Democratic National Convention from Texas were DSA members.  We have an active organizing program in Texas, where we sign up members face to face as well as on-line.  In March 2014 we had 17 DSA members in Austin; today we have 704 members in Austin and close to 1,400 members across Texas.

Why I’m Running

I am running to build a broad-based activist organization that works in the streets and at the ballot box to support folks who are standing up for their rights. I am running to bring a deeper understanding to the NPC about the labor movement. I have the most experience in the labor movement of any candidate. I am also running to bring an understanding of the challenges we face in the South having organized throughout the Southeast and Southwest for 37 years. I am running to help understand how working in electoral politics like Bernie Sanders can strengthen our organization.

My Previous Political Work

I have been active in DSA Labor and DSA Disabled organizing. I have actively supported our Chapter’s Queer Coalition and Feminist Action Committee. I have worked with 350.org and the Texas Drought Coalition on the environment. I have worked on Immigrant Rights and was active in standing up for Muslim rights in Texas. I have worked with other groups on Healthcare and our fight for $15/hour. I reached out to many of the groups in the Bernie campaign bringing them into a group we founded Texans for Bernie.

My Vision for DSA

My vision is to do activism education and organizing. I have a strong history in this. You can learn more about my vision by talking to the folks that have endorsed me and shared my vision. The following are the folks from around the country that have endorsed me and shared my vision:

But the #yalldarity didn’t last forever, or even a few days, and on Sept. 8, Fetonte left DSA in disgust.

As Fetonte wrote in resigning:

Over the last three years Austin DSA has outpaced DSA groups across the country. All groups gained members due to Bernie/Trump but Austin DSA outgrew all these groups because we were supportive of fights for social justice in Austin. We asked folks to join and we supported other groups’ progressive actions. We spent a minimum amount of time on our bureaucracy and a maximum number effort on involving folks in activism.

We spent little time grabbing the limelight and a lot of time building the progressive movement as we grew locally and nationally. Other organizations and individual opportunists watched as we grew. Many extremist groups sent folks into DSA to recruit and spread their ideas. They built divisions and spread lies in our ranks. They looked for folks to turn to easy solutions. Real organizing builds organization.

At the national, DSA extremists with less than one year in DSA dominate the leadership. Many of the long-time leaders have been intimidated. The extremists and factionalists have been calling and emailing Austin to pick up supporters for their factions; secretly taping meetings and posting edited versions online. The lack of ethics and simply not knowing right from wrong dominate at the national level and has now crept into Austin.

The opportunists and extremists could not allow democratic socialists to build a movement. Many of these folks do not consider themselves democratic socialists.

I can no longer urge Austin DSA members to stay in DSA and I can no longer ask folks to join DSA. DSA has many good folks, but it is no longer the organization of Eugene Debs, Michael Harrington, or Bernie Sanders.

 Many of the new leadership do not think Bernie is a real socialist. In the last weeks rocks have been overturned and snakes have wiggled out. I urge everyone to take a look at what DSA is becoming nationally and what some want DSA to turn into locally. Each Austin member should decide for themselves how to relate to DSA. I have decided to leave DSA.

— Danny Fetonte

(Note, Fetonte in the foreground of the photo.)

From David Wiegel:

DSA, founded in 1982 to create a political foothold for Marxists, has transformed into an ambitious left-wing force. Membership grew during Sanders’s presidential campaign, and then started surging the day after Donald Trump was elected president in what some DSA members jokingly call the “socialist baby boom.”

The DSA went from 8,000 members in 2015, the year its delegates endorsed Sanders for president, to about 25,000 in 2017, with chapters or branches in 49 states. Its platform calls for a worker-owned economy and the end of traditional capitalism.


The average age of DSA members has since 2015 dropped from 64 to about 30, according to an organizer. A May 2016 Gallup poll, conducted after most of the Democratic primaries, found just that 35 percent of Americans viewed socialism favorably. Among voters under 30, that number rose to 55 percent.

I’m with Itch on this. I can’t take comrade seriously, not since 1939 when Ninotchka came out, and the character, played by Greta Garbo, comes to check on some undependable comrades who have fallen under the spell of Paris.

“The last mass trials were a great success,” reports Ninotchka.”There will be fewer but better Russians.”

Almost as soon as he was elected, Fetonte was engulfed in controversy.

Here from Knock in Los Angeles, is a report from Steve Ducey, one of 34 delegates to the Chicago DSA Convention, about the convention and its aftermath:

But despite all the enthusiasm the convention left us with, the DSA is already faced with it’s first big post convention challenge, one that started brewing before we even checked our bags and that if not handled properly could threaten the newfound vitality of our movement.

On the final day of the convention, the results of our National Political Committee election were announced. There were two competing slates of organizers that had much of DSA’s attention: were you Team Momentum or Team Praxis? EVERYONE wanted to know and DSA-LA alone fielded several calls from both groups ahead of the convention, seeking feedback and hoping for our support. With so much vying for our attention, individual candidates running apart from the ballyhooed slates flew under the radar. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t doing their part to win over delegates for a seat on our national leadership.

One such candidate was Danny Fetonte, co-chair of Austin DSA. His literature was all over the convention floor and I was personally approached by two different people asking me to consider Fetonte for NPC. One in particular spoke highly of his dedication to their chapter, its growth, and that they couldn’t imagine where they would be if not for his leadership. His bonafides looked legit to me: years of union organizing and a recent arrest for protesting the racist Texas Senate Bill 4. With his stated commitment to local autonomy, I pencilled him in as one of my votes for NPC.

I showed my ballot to fellow comrade from LA.

“Don’t vote for him. He’s a cop”.

Turns out, comrade Danny’s claim to have “organized state workers in Texas” left out a crucial bit of information: some of those state workers were police officers during his time organizing with CLEAT.

I quickly changed my ballot.

Nevertheless, Fetonte was elected to one of the 16 seats thanks to an organized vote whipping effort. Many who supported him are furious that his work with police unions was not disclosed prior to the election and there are now numerous calls for Fetonte to step down, including statements from the DSA Veterans Working Group, the brand new Libertarian Socialist Caucus, the Queer Socialists Working Group, Greater Baltimore DSA Executive Committee, DSA Boston’s Police Abolition Working Group, DSA-LA’s steering committee and others.

How Fetonte and our newly elected NPC and Steering Committee handle this situation will be every bit as important as the convention itself. One misstep and all the solidarity we’ve built could be in jeopardy. We’ve worked too hard to build this movement to see it derailed just as it is gaining steam.

A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper cuts the zip-tie off of Ann Glenn (second from right) after she, Danny Fetonte (right), and other protesters were released following their arrest for refusing to leave the lobby of the State Insurance Building where they had staged an all-day sit-in to protest Senate Bill 4 on May 1, 2017. (TAMIR KALIFA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Fetonte fought back.

The Fetontes at the Austin DSA August 2017 meeting at Scholz Garten.

From Medium, here is Fetonte’s Aug. 17 reply: The NPC Steering Committee Shows no Moral Courage:

After being attacked with wide distortions, half-truths, and made up web information, the [Democratic Socialists of America] Steering Committee attacked me. The committee attacked my supposed work history and then they reinforced the lie that I mislead delegates.

The Internet does not know my work history or my views. There was zero deception. All of my work is well known. Labor union members in many of the chapters know everything about me. One local president who claimed they knew nothing about my work with CLEAT had dinner with me and one of my sons. My son remembered the dinner and the extensive conversation we had about CLEAT. People can forget things. But my activities are widely known and the people who know me the best support me the strongest.

 My relations with CLEAT started with me being asked by CWA to negotiate an affiliation agreement for CLEAT to become CWA Local 6911/CLEAT. My assignment with CWA at the time was Area Director for Organizing with District 6. The National Executive Board of CWA asked me to take on as one of my many tasks to be the liaison between the police locals in CWA across the U.S. and the CWA National Executive Board. I was liaison for two years. As the liaison most of my time was spent organizing wireless workers and directing public sector organizing in three states. A law enforcement CWA member was then promoted to be the Director of Public Safety for CWA. I continued to deal with issues that arose with the police sector in my own district.

I helped get anti-union cops removed from a picket line and replaced with pro-union police. I got three young people released from charges in a rough county. I got a Labor Notes activist free from a Mexican jail with the help of CLEAT. I helped a CLEAT local in one city win their contract by getting three other unions to threaten to relocate their conventions. These activities I did while still directing organizing throughout District 6. During this period, I recruited 15 salts to go into a 1,000-person AT&T wireless call center, where we built an underground union organization. After 5 years, the call center became union.

My activities in solving problems never changed my opposition to white supremacy or homophobia. I supported the proposal abolishing prisons and police at the convention. Both systems are thoroughly broken and we have to take a new approach to working out those problems in society. I was well-known as a radical and socialist during all my years as a union organizer.

I was first promoted to national staff of CWA in 1986. I became the Director of the State Workers campaign in Texas. Correctional officers were one of the many groups we as TSEU organized. We had 18 organizers reporting to me on the work with mental health workers, social workers, highway department workers, unemployment workers, as well as correction officers. I took on an issue of AIDS in the prisons, where neo-Nazis were asking for inmates with AIDS to be tattooed with an X on their foreheads. I put together a training by an AIDS counselor for our staff and executive board. The 30 activists who went through the training learned about AIDS, ARC, and HIV and how to deal with it in the workplace. I was accused of organizing trainings on how to become a homosexual. I went to a 300-person meeting in Huntsville Texas organized by neo-Nazis where one was shouting “barbecue fat boy Fetonte.” I left the meeting with 150 correctional officers who stood with our union in opposition to the Nazis.

I retired in 2008 from CWA and volunteered for the Obama campaign. I was known to have contacts in labor and law enforcement and was asked to solve a problem. There was a dispute between the Obama campaign and a large police group that I helped get resolved. It was common knowledge among the labor movement and activists about my background. After the Obama campaign I was asked by a friend — who had just become Executive Director of CLEAT — to help him. I told him I was a socialist and had a long arrest record. He said CLEAT knew about my politics, views, and arrest record but that he needed my help.

I worked directly for CLEAT training law enforcement officers into becoming organizers. One of my assignments was to help an Association that was almost all-white organize people of color, woman, and LGBT officers into the Association and into the leadership of the Association. I helped organize a law enforcement officers for immigrant rights contingent in the Saint Guadalupe march. We marched for six miles through Brownsville Texas. I worked on a collective bargaining campaign for a large EMS group. We did a petition drive and the EMS workers won a good contract. I also worked on a collective bargaining campaign in Cameron County Texas where we got to an election. The voters turned down the Sheriff’s Department having the right to collectively bargain. I worked extensively on this campaign including involving other unions in the Rio Grande Valley on this campaign.

Everything I put out at the convention about myself was true and well known. Of the 41 candidates of the NPC, I was one of the few that actually talked about my own work history. I have asked the present NPC to write up their work history. It is unfortunate that a number of the working groups and even chapters made statements without ever talking to me. I have offered to talk to any chapter to talk about this situation. My initial reaction was not to respond to the vicious attacks which I thought were coming from a few uninformed DSA members. I was then encouraged by both staff and NPC members to continue to encourage my supporters and myself to not engage on social media. The NPC statement was never shared with me prior to its release. I found out about the statement when I was meeting with a local DSA group to answer their concerns.

What is even worse though is that much of what I write is known by the leadership of DSA and they still wrote that outrageous statement. We are in serious trouble if the NPC is led by folks who have so little backbone in standing up for what is right. I have requested a full weekend hearing to examine all aspects of this conflict including activities by some to encourage this Internet hysteria. I hope the politics does not prevent due process. Due process is more than a slogan if we actually stand for it. I am not resigning no matter how vicious the attacks are. I will stand up to any attacks by National DSA to infringe on our Austin’s local autonomy.

Please forward this to as many DSA members as possible, post on social media and encourage them to let their views be known. I will be glad to accept retractions from any group in DSA that regrets their misinformed statements.

— Danny Fetonte


On Aug. 28, the NPC issued a statement on its vote the previous night to censure, but not remove Fetonte from their ranks:

On Sunday evening, the National Political Committee of the Democratic Socialists of America voted to censure Danny Fetonte, a member of the NPC, for uncomradely and misleading behaviour inconsistent with what is expected of a leader of our movement. In addition, the NPC voted against removing Fetonte from the NPC by a vote of 8.5 against his removal to 7.5 votes for his removal (the half vote result from the YDSA co-chairs splitting their one vote). This fell short of the 11 votes needed to remove Fetonte from the NPC.

These decisions follow a robust discussion on the appropriate response to Fetonte’s omittance of important information during the most recent national elections. In reaching this decision, NPC gratefully accepted comments from numerous DSA Chapters and Working Groups and sought an amicable resolution by engaging in mediation with Fetonte, which broke down this weekend.


Many local chapters, working groups, and individuals have written emails and submitted resolutions demanding Fetonte’s removal from the NPC due to his omittance of his past employment history during the recent NPC election. While Fetonte is not, and never has been, a police officer, these members have raised concerns that his prior work as a trainer on union matters for an association which organizes police officers is incompatible with our organization’s commitment to the abolition of prisons and the racist police state, as affirmed by the vote on the consent agenda at convention. Additionally, many members expressed concern over the impact that Fetonte’s membership on the NPC has had on our racial justice organizing work, especially in the aftermath of the horrible events in Charlottesville.

At the same time, other members have expressed concerns that Fetonte’s removal from the NPC would set a terrible precedent for due process and minority rights in a “Big Tent” political organization seeking to build a mass movement. They have additionally cited mitigating factors, such as the several years of Fetonte’s employment by CLEAT, the complicated nature of police union affiliations with large unions, his long history of support for the rights of immigrants and LGBTQI people, and his well demonstrated commitment to principles of equality and anti-racism in keeping with the finest traditions of our movement.

There’s more to read there if you want the whereases.

On Aug. 31, Fetonte issued another response, which reads in part:

The battle for democracy within DSA has been seriously undermined by the last three weeks actions of by the National Political Committee (NPC) in refusing the duly elected Danny Fetonte from being seated and participating in the NPC. The NPC is also the Board of the non-profit that DSA is. Not putting me on the NPC Listserv, excluding me from participating in NPC meetings, calls, and excluding me from steering committee calls which were open to all NPC members except Danny Fetonte were all unauthorized actions.

These actions by the NPC were illegal and unethical. The meeting that was held where I was censured was a good example of not having charges brought, not allowing the person charged to defend himself in any way, and excluding me from the vote.

This is not due process.

Some NPC members have claimed I was excluded due to a past practice of when the NPC talked about an NPC member on a controversial issue they were excluded. There was no precedent, this has never happened, and the NPC uses this argument to attempt to avoid responsibility in excluding a duly elected NPC member and Board member of the non-profit organization.

This is a made-up excuse.

The slander that was encouraged by the NPC itself is inexcusable. It will take a long time for DSA to say it is a democratic organization and to restore its credential as an organization that functions democratically.

If DSA is going to lead a broad-based movement for social and economic justice and build a movement of millions of working people this ignoring of internal democracy will be a serious obstacle to the functioning of DSA.


Internet bravery will not change this country. It will take people talking to Americans of all walks of life. Most Americans have had to deal with the real pain of capitalism affecting all parts of their lives. The reason Bernie Sanders did so well is that he spoke directly to American people who are being abused and crushed under capitalism and the very real transferring of wealth in our society to a very small class of thieves.

Dogmatists within our ranks would get in the way when law enforcement unions stand up for justice and provide resources in that fight for justice. Texas DSA has at least a dozen members who organize or work with law enforcement. DSA in Texas has a past NPC member — who while serving on the NPC — organized police and correctional officers. There is no secretive group within DSA who stands with police when there are abuses. Myself and others oppose the organization of the present criminal justice system, oppose the way corrections and law enforcement is organized in America, and think the whole system has to be changed from top to bottom.

CLEAT has taken actions I do not support. CLEAT has taken two actions in Texas I do support. In Texas in the fight against demolishing labor unions, the AFL-CIO this year gave an award to CLEAT for being a valuable ally to Texas labor unions. It lobbied hard in the Legislature and in House districts against the attempt to eliminate payroll deduction for NEA, AFT, AFSCME, and CWA unions. CLEAT’s local organizations were not being attacked but they chose to fight alongside the rest of labor. Another key issue in Texas this year was our fight against SB4, which is a bill that attacks immigrant rights and puts every citizen in Texas with brown skin in danger. CLEAT as an organization lobbied, testified, and worked hard throughout Texas in representatives’ home districts and at the capital to oppose SB4. Sheriffs from Dallas and Austin stood up against Immigration and Customs Enforcement and almost every major police chief and sheriff testified and worked against this attack on the immigrant community.

The extreme position of avoiding working with any Democrats until we have the ability to elect socialists would say to the disabled rights movement that it is okay for you to be denied real assistance because “we have to be pure” and can only work for “socialist” candidates and we should not try to move moderate legislators and progressive Democrats to work in favor of the rights of the disabled. The position of only working for socialists might work in Berkley and Brooklyn but in most of the country we have to work with Democrats in order to stand up for justice.

What is amazing about DSA is the large number of Internet bullies and Internet “know it alls” we have attracted. The Internet bullies who act tough behind a keyboard but have never been hit by a billy club, never been in a street fight, never fought scabs on a picket line, and never been arrested; know how to threaten a person’s family anonymously but are scared to let their neighbors know they are socialists.

These Internet bullies only know how to fight in a computer game.

The “Internet know it alls” like to make profound statements in perfect English. The “know it alls” have accumulated their knowledge from text books and Internet essays. The “know it alls” have hardly lived, spending their life on campuses and in coffee shops with laptops, iPhones, and tablets.

But, the Internet know-it-alls, as Fetonte would have it, dominated the public discourse about him and what his fate ought to be.

By Emmet Penney writing at Paste:

I flew from Santa Fe to Chicago at the beginning of August. The largest socialist organization in America, the Democratic Socialists of America, was having its bi-annual national convention. My chapter, the Santa Fe DSA, had nominated chapter co-chair Cathy Garcia and me (co-chair of Membership Outreach) as delegates. Our chapter hasn’t even been around an entire year, which is not uncommon. DSA has grown from a 6,000 person organization to a 26,000+ person organization in the last year, and I’m part of the groundswell. This convention was going to be a watershed moment for the organization. On the flight north, I did a lot of staring out the window at the plane wing feeling excited and overwhelmed. I also panicked about how much work I was missing.

I didn’t have time for these fears when I arrived. There was too much to do. I worked registration for the first two days. It was hectic enough to keep my mind occupied. And then there were all the resolutions we were going to vote on that I needed to re-read. And workshops. And informal Gatherings. And voting on the organization’s National Political Committee (NPC), which manages and directs the organization. Platforms for different slates, or groups of candidates running for NPC on the same ideological convictions, had been released during few weeks leading up to the convention. I had to catch up on all of those, too. There’s not a lot of time to prepare for all this if you work full-time like I do.

And then there were individual candidates. Some of whom I’d heard about only on the day of voting. One of those was a man named Danny Fetonte, an Austin, TX organizer with a remarkable background. He’d organized tons of different workers’ unions. His support of LGBT and immigrant rights was impressive. And our Austin friends, with whom Cathy and I sat, couldn’t say enough about him. Many were in the DSA because he’d brought them in—Austin is our mentor chapter. They’ve helped us shape Santa Fe’s chapter into what it is today. Cathy and I were excited to vote for a member of their chapter with solid leadership skills and a great record.

By the time I’d gotten back through the security line at O’Hare, Fetonte had been elected to the NPC. This time, I was flying to Berkeley to do some work for an environmental non-profit. It felt like a whirlwind, but here I was doing everything I wanted to be doing…even if I was broke. And I was proud of everything we’d done at the national convention. What made me happiest was that we’d voted to make prison abolition an explicit part of the DSA’s aims. By a huge margin, too.

But then a strange thing happened.

In Fetonte’s campaign literature, “state workers” featured in the litany of groups he’d organized. I figured this meant teachers, or something. But what it actually meant was CLEAT, or Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas. So: cops. He helped organize a big cop union. To me, cops aren’t members of the working class. They’re the bulldogs of the rich. They’re white supremacy’s first line of domestic defense. Maybe you disagree. Fine. But had I known about Danny’s involvement, I wouldn’t have voted for him. Neither would a lot of other delegates. In response, working groups and chapters wrote official statements calling for his resignation (majority). Some wrote statement defending him (minority). The controversy was big, but containable. We needed to ask him to resign and we needed to develop better and clearer rules around campaigning and disclosure in NPC races. This fire would put itself out. I had faith that Danny would take one for the team: he’d step down and run again next time.

But he wouldn’t step down. As people dogpiled on Austin (most of their membership claims they didn’t know either) with the petty, stupid acrimony the Internet inspires, he laid low. Eventually, he released a statement. In the new mode of stubborn politicians incapable of strategic thinking, Fetonte became a self-own machine. His statement can be be summed up like this, “I did nothing wrong and will be accepting apologies in my office between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Leave a message at the beep.”

Then he chaired the Austin chapter’s meeting about his situation and handpicked friends during the Q & A. One of them just screamed at everyone and called them traitors for not loving Danny enough. Another—his wife—let slip that Danny had indeed named CLEAT in his record when he ran for NPC and lost in 2015 (this is back when the delegate pool was in the low hundreds, if even). Any opposition to Danny at that meeting was suppressed. In an instant, he’d proven himself a petulant, anti-democratic leader who, it seems, willfully withheld information from an electorate of newbies because they hadn’t heard of him.

Just before that infamous meeting, the NPC had tapped a member of Santa Fe’s chapter to help mediate between Danny and the NPC because of our chapter’s relationship with Austin and because of this member’s experience mediating for a major union. Fetonte swatted away the olive branch. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I’ve never seen someone so ardent about fucking himself over.

All the while, more details on CLEAT and Danny’s work with cops kept pouring out. (For the sake of time, I’m going to keep this CLEAT-specific. It’s damning enough on its own, but there’s more out there if you’re curious.) After Charlottesville, and Heather Heyer’s murder by a Nazi motorist, we discovered CLEAT is pushing to make it nearly impossible to prosecute someone for such a crime. CLEAT has also come out against the Sandra Bland Act, named for the woman who was found hanged in a Waller County, TX jail cell three days after she was arrested at a traffic stop, which aims to curb racial profiling. And, while Fetonte was working with CLEAT, a cop raped a handcuffed woman in the back of a cop car. The officer’s CLEAT local blew $1 million to protect him and succeeded. This is disgraceful and disgusting. Could work for such an organization be so hard to completely disavow? For him, yes.

Finally, after some dawdling, the NPC voted to keep him. This isn’t surprising for three reasons: First, the DSA’s origins aren’t as far left as many believe. To be crude, Michael Harrington founded the organization in the 1970s to force the Democrats further left. Look at the Democratic Party. Teddy Roosevelt on horseback in the Spanish-American War is farther to the left than the Democratic Party. And having police collaborators on the NPC wouldn’t be a first for the DSA. Second, this broke more or less on racial lines. White people in America are generally more comfortable with law enforcement, it turns out—even in an allegedly socialist organization. (For the record, a collection of PoC members did release a thoughtful statement in support of the NPC majority’s decision which I encourage everyone invested to read).

And finally, the NPC majority’s rationale is symptomatic of a larger trend in America: institutional strictness vs. democratic common sense. I’m sympathetic to the NPC’s wariness about turning the DSA into another hardline leftist organization with people getting booted for ideological differences every other day. Removing Fetonte from the NPC could be seen as a step in that direction. Especially because none of what he did qualified as “malfeasance,” per our constitution.

But constitutionality and democracy aren’t synonymous.


 Austin, as a chapter, has been compromised. Internally, Danny has created a sectarian, anti-democratic culture within the chapter. Externally, they’re going to have a hard time forming meaningful coalitions. Defend Our Hoodz, an Austin area organization of working class people of color dedicated to saving their neighborhoods from gentrification and racial injustice, released a pointed statement last week. They refuse to work with Austin until they remove Danny from the organization. They don’t trust cops or the people who help them. Who can blame them? The danger is that this spreads. Local activity and solidarity could be hampered nation-wide. We don’t have time for that. We need each other.

And that’s the real problem. The DSA has swollen in size. It is no longer the same organization it was last year. Filling its ranks are younger people with a different experience of America than their older counterparts. We don’t remember the post-war boom or the promise of the American dream. We remember the fallacious brutality of our war in Iraq, Katrina, the 2008 financial crisis, and the crackdown on Occupy. And more importantly for Fetonte and his supporters, we remember Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Garner, and all those who’ve been murdered by cops without redress. And we remember watching cops decked out in military hardware roll down the streets of Ferguson after Michael Brown’s murder.

We’ve never seen the mythic neighborhood cop who works a beat and knows the community.



Here is the  25 Aug 2017 statement from Defend our Hoodz-Defiende El Barrio in Austin: Cop Organizers Don’t Belong in Our Spaces – A Statement on Austin DSA

As many organizers across the US have done, members of Defend Our Hoodz – Defiende El Barrio – Austin have followed the situation that occurred at the National Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) convention, in which Austin DSA co-chair, Danny Fetonte, was elected to the National Political Committee (NPC).

We completely agree with critics, including countless DSA members, who recognize that Fetonte’s role organizing with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), his omission of this organizing in his candidacy, and his inability to denounce it, and in fact justify it, is incompatible with a position that the capitalist police force as we know it should be abolished. Fetonte was a part of CLEAT as recently as 2014. He has stated proudly that he “worked directly for CLEAT training law enforcement officers into becoming organizers.”

Defend Our Hoodz upholds a principle against working with the police or police collaborators in any capacity, and Fetonte’s history and actions inherently means Austin DSA is unwelcome in our organizing. Truthfully though, we likely wouldn’t have formally commented on this issue, but DSA’s other co-chair attended a Defend Our Hoodz meeting in the past month prior to the national convention. While they said they attended our meeting as an individual, we cannot overlook their leadership role and more importantly, their defense of Fetonte’s record and actions in the wake of what has happened.

It’s apparent that Austin DSA has doubled-down on their support and brushed off critics who have called for Fetonte’s removal from the NPC and involvement at the local level. They allowed Fetonte to facilitate the discussion about himself in their most recent meeting, and as an organization, back Fetonte’s pride in his ‘organizing’ work, which involved such things as organizing, “a law enforcement officers for immigrant rights contingent”, an offensive concept when SB4 is turning all police into ICE agents by Sep. 1st.

Many of those excusing Fetonte try to claim that ‘he’s done good work’, while separating him from his pig union work. This is liberalism and opportunism in action. It’s worth noting that an older white man is being praised for supposed progressive organizing while his work with police unions is rationalized or downplayed. More absurdly, Danny and Austin DSA have tried to spin his work with the unions as progressive, rather than disown it entirely. As our group is led by and primarily organizing people of oppressed nations, we consider this a pattern of white chauvinism, especially when he wants credit for things like trying to train officers to not be racist.

For these reasons, Austin DSA leadership will not be welcome at any Defend Our Hoodz meetings or events. We encourage those members who are upset with the local DSA’s actions to to publicly take a stand against the Austin chapter’s support for Danny Fetonte and break from the organization as long as Fetonte is involved, forming another chapter if they choose to do so.

We call on Austin DSA to remove Danny Fetonte from its organization, make clear statements against police apologism, and state clearly that the police are not part of the working-class, but its most violent oppressors. We encourage all of those that seek the abolition of the capitalist police force to organize with groups that truly organize against the police, and not just when it’s convenient or trendy to say so.

– Defend Our Hoodz – Defiende El Barrio – Austin

But then, in a very different vein, there is this Sept. 10 post from a Counternarration, a blog by a democratic socialist living in D.C. (but originally from Detroit), under the headline, Unrepentant Twitter Bullies.

A terrible situation came to a terrible end in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) on Friday.  It’s a long story, which I’ll elaborate on below, but essentially, a social media mob bullied a longtime talented organizer out of DSA, and some seem proud of their tactics.  Observe:


To be clear up front: others who are not Twitter trolls shared their general view and had legitimate points that deserved to be (and were) heard.  But it’s my impression that it was specifically the bullying that led to this outcome.  And this bodes ill for DSA as an organization and therefore for our cause.

For my part, not speaking up loudly enough against these bullies was my contribution to this sad state of affairs.  So it’s time to do so.  My imagined audience includes both non-members (whose outside perspective I would value) and anyone from DSA, whatever their perspective, who stumbles across this.  My policy of parrhesia—frankness—applies as always, though I would remind commenters that eunoia—good will—is also part of that bargain.


The Bernie campaign strongly suggested that there are a lot of passive allies who could become active socialist allies out there, as well as neutral people who could become passive allies.  Jonathan Smucker gives a good visual depiction of this in his excellent book Hegemony How-To (which I reviewed for Democratic Left), and in a post on his website, where I found this graphic and which is worth a read:

Meanwhile, I’ve seen it said on Twitter that “the tankies are having a field day laughing at us!” for electing a “cop” (actually a union organizer, not a cop) to the NPC.  For those not versed in the jargon, tankies are people who, like DSA, are on the far left of the political X-axis (economics), but who, quite unlike DSA, proudly place themselves far to the authoritarian end of the Y-axis (personal liberty).  See also Urban Dictionary.  A big tent does still have edges, and authoritarians have always been expressly outside of DSA’s tent.

So I don’t much care what the tankies think of DSA, and it’s not just because I think they’re sorely misguided in important ways.  (To be fair, they are good on racial justice.  The Communist Party always was.  Credit where credit is due.  I criticize them more for spending their time trying to charge DSA convention delegates twenty-five cents to read their denunciations of DSA.  And for defending North Korea.)  But no, it’s not because of those things that I’m not concerned about their criticisms; it’s because I generally don’t see anything to be gained strategically by heeding them.  I’m more concerned about what people with a budding awareness the cracks in our capitalist system think, because those people are the group we need to bring on board if we want to achieve meaningful social change.  Right now, that means I wonder what they think about this whole situation around Danny Fetonte’s election.

And I can tell you, because several of them have confided in me, that they are scared.

So, I don’t actually know of any police officers in DSA, but I for one would welcome all those Black (and even white!) law enforcement officers who stood up for Colin Kaepernick into DSA in a heartbeat, if they wanted to join us.  I’d love to talk to any police officers who are sincerely trying to do racial justice work inside the police department where they work.  From where they stand, it may look like the most promising path.  Others may not agree that it is, and can even say so to constructive effect, but I’m glad for any officer who’s thinking and trying.  We need all hands on deck to fight police brutality, and we need it now.

And then there are the others who are terrified that the capitalist dirt they have on their professional hands will be discovered and used to make them the subject of the next Twitter-led purge.  They’re asking themselves, will the line be drawn at police union organizers?  (That’s already bigger than just police officers, after all.)  What about lawyers who have taken on cases about which they had mixed feelings?  What about people who work in, say, finance?

Personally, I’d love to welcome finance professionals whose own daily work helps them understand the problems with capitalism—and actually, we have, and our big tent is better for having their experience and knowledge under it.  They help us get those who aren’t yet with us but could be to stop and think.

The list could go on.  Do we really want to throw all these people out, along with the sincere anti-capitalist energy they have to offer?

It seems that Left Twitter does:

Michael Harrington was the chair of DSA from its founding in 1982 until his death in 1989, which is egregiously left out of this Britannica article that otherwise is a great writeup of his life and legacy.  Comrades, it is foolish to try to get rid of people like this.  We’re only 30,000 strong, guys.  That’s nothing.  Getting people in the door to hear what we have to say—that’s still our major challenge.  If you are into expelling people, then I have no faith in your ability to build a meaningful movement.

Unrepentant Twitter bullies don’t have what it takes to build the a meaningfully large movement.  It is okay if we disagree, even vehemently.  That is part of the tradition of this organization, too.  We can dislike—we may even despise—other people in DSA; we are human beings, after all.  We can and should absolutely campaign against concrete actions proposed by other members if we think they are wrongheaded.  But don’t let that get in the way of watering every single seed out there that’s beginning to recognize that capitalism has big problems.  It makes no sense for us to be spending our energy fighting against the alleged “impure” within our ranks—people who are actively doing real work to organize in support of, say, immigrants facing real and urgent threats—when there are so many real enemies out there.

And recognize that others are looking at you on social media, and they are opting out.  If that’s what it takes to be a socialist, then I guess I’m not a socialist, they think.  I guess they’d probably find something wrong with me, too.

DSA has always had a culture that welcomes those people in the door, talks to them, listens to them, and gives them a safe space to think and develop politically.  If we lose that, then we lose our most important asset.

The last word goes to Austin DSA Chair Châu Ngô and the statement she released on Fetonte’s leaving DSA:


This is a chaotic time for our membership not only here in Austin, but around the state and the nation. And as painful as it is, we have to directly confront the reality we find ourselves in and the continuing aftermath of the struggles and controversies of the last month.

Danny Fetonte is an extraordinarily talented organizer and a dear friend to many of us. He has helped Austin DSA grow fifty-fold in three years and played a crucial role in the Bernie campaign in Texas. At the same time he has been at the center of a very painful fight within DSA. We cannot accept harassment and threats nor can we accept bad faith arguments or personal attacks of any kind, including from those members tasked with leadership. Danny’s choice to leave the organization is a shocking and sad end to a long and terrible episode for all of us. Danny’s contribution to the socialist movement and DSA is longstanding and considerable. A far happier conclusion would be Danny’s continued participation in Austin DSA’s many projects including fair housing, hurricane relief and the protection of our black, brown, queer, undocumented and immigrant family. However, we respect his choice. I am confident that he will continue the fight for social and economic justice, albeit outside of Austin DSA. 

The truth is, as terrible as things have been, we will be okay, because we have to be. It’s awful that this has been some members’ introduction to the trials of being part of a socialist movement. The silver lining is that in a red state like Texas, growing strong through adversity is necessary to survive in a state that has historically been hostile to the aims of socialism.

Châu Ngô closing the Bernie Sanders office in Austin last year.

As our movement grows, so does our organization, not just in numbers but in the type of immeasurable strength that can only be felt when you see DSA folks in action, like our Houston siblings busting their butts (still!) because of Hurricane Harvey or our siblings in Charlottesville literally putting their bodies and lives on the line standing up to the Fascists. There is power there in our dogged determination.

Effectively navigating these waters in the coming years will take a lot out of us. But we know that fighting a multi-headed system that continues to rip apart our communities and maintains the genocide and oppression this country was built on is an enormous task. We do not shy away from the fight. The only way forward is together.

We will trip up along the way. We will make mistakes and be forced to reevaluate who we are and why we fight; our tactics may shift, but no matter what we do not stop and we will not stop. No matter the organizations you are in, groups you are with, and coalitions you work with, those change and morph just like the people within and that includes DSA as well. But as long as we have our eyes on the horizon, we will collectively get there no matter what card we may literally be carrying in our pockets. That was a roundabout way of saying our labels don’t define us. And yet those labels can help guide us. What’s important is the work, why we do it and if we are willing to grow.

Think about the things we need to destroy, to reform, to build, to create, to nurture. There is no one silver bullet. No one person will solve all the issues. We love each other and must respect each other as individuals. At the same time, we must be an organization of group solidarity rather than a group of factions coalescing around individuals. An injury to one is an injury to all. We must stick up together, protect those in need, take up the banner when others can’t and give back to those we’ve taken from as well as take back what is ours. That is how we will forge ahead.

We have been forced to engage with one of the most important issues of our time- the racist violence of the police state, and what relationship if any DSA can have with law enforcement unions, as well as non-law enforcement unions that may include police among their membership.

Unfortunately in the last month many members have violated “call in, not out” culture and our own rules against harassment. Social media is often the worst place to have difficult, vital conversations and encourages and even rewards toxic behavior. Confronting the horrors of the police state is deeply necessary, and this requires confronting the connections our members, chapters and affiliated unions have had with it. However, we cannot skip due process and allow that confrontation, and more importantly, adjudication to occur online.

The consolation though is that this incredibly important conversation has been brought into un-ignorable focus, and going forward we can recommit ourselves daily to having it in the spirit of solidarity and good faith. This will be an ongoing fight, because we are made up of so many different folks from different backgrounds and different experiences of the labor movement but it is a conflict that is starting to be resolved. By having this fight, we have learned so much about ourselves and our roles in society. Some of us had forgotten that the ones we needed to worry most about are the victims and potential victims of policing and the system that it is explicitly protecting. We must do better as an organization and we are learning how.

Today, we are 30,000 strong. But our movement is part of a sea change around the country and the world that is far larger than the DSA alone. We do not live in a vacuum. We must be a place of welcome. Our rose is a symbol of the future we want. The worker must have bread, but they must have roses too. We must never settle for mere adequacy but rather fight for a better world for all. That struggle will sometimes be painful, but lately there have been far more thorns than petals. We must not build walls. We must not discard people. We must welcome our siblings with open arms, even when we disagree strongly with one another.

As a big-tent organization, the bonds we have in our communities provide us with the ability to work together while we figure out our values and goals. We pick each other up when we fall and help each other grow as members of DSA and the human race.

Many of us joined because of Bernie Sanders, myself included, and have found a political home that is warm, generous, open, welcoming, forgiving, accepting, questioning and active. I liken DSA to a family and being part of a family is hard sometimes but also fulfilling and needed.

My favorite slogan from 2016 is “Not me. Us.” Bernie and DSA got us started along the path and engaged. Let’s keep going.

Our next meeting is on the 21st at Scholz Garten, 7pm. I really do hope to see you all there. Keep an eye out for more information.

For those who have questions about membership, please contact membership@dsausa.org

Châu Ngô and Jose “Chito” Vela at August DSA meeting at Scholz Garten.

Chaos theory: On the Electoral College, Hamilton Electors and the Donald Trump Show





Good day Austin:

One of my earliest memories was being in the back seat of the family car on Election Day 1960. It was pretty late at night and we had been driving a long time coming back from I know not where. We were listening to the Kennedy-Nixon election turns on the car radio, and the news crackled. The election was close, very close, and the outcome was in doubt. It all depended, the voice on the radio kept saying, on  the electoral college. It would all come down to the electoral college.

I assumed this would work to Kennedy’s benefit, because, even at six, I knew that JFK would have an edge with any college crowd.

I finally got to see the Electoral College in action at the Capitol on Monday, and, it turned out that it was not your typical college crowd. Somehow, because Texas was home to the only going-into-it, you-can-count-on-it faithless Trump elector in Chris Suprun of Dallas, the eyes of the nation were on Texas, and the timing was such that the faithful Texas electors got to put Trump over the 270 mark, securing his victory for president.

It was a moment in history, but it was also the latest episode of the Donald Trump  Show, the one in which, amid the chaos, the star somehow always emerges victorious, thanks, in no small part to his enemies, who don’t even seem to understand that they are on the show, playing their dutiful role.

The next day, on Tuesday, Michael Hirschorn, who developed reality TV shows for VH1 and who in the 2007 Atlantic  wrote The Case for Reality TV: What the snobs don’t understand, was on Ari Melber’s show on MSNBC putting this in context.

Of Trump’s election, Hirschorn said:

Trump was speaking to an audience that really understood reality TV. People like us, well-meaning urbanites, tend not to watch reality TV, don’t really understand that language and it is a very different language from the one we’re used to. It’s a language of conflict, of being an alpha male, about dominance and it doesn’t really seek any resolution, and Trump is really the greatest celebrity reality talent of all time.

On reality television, resolution is undesirable. Hirschorn said, They seek endless conflict because conflict is interest.

Of Trump’s assembling his Cabinet as president-elect:

It literally is “The Bachelor,” down to the candlelit dinner with Mitt Romney  after he which he got kicked off the show at the end of the hour right after the commercial break.

So everyone has kind been of sucked in, including this network, CNN, other networks into really covering this presidency or incipient presidency as a kind of reality television show where everyone wins.  It’s a proven formula that’s great for ratings but it’s terrifying for the country  because it has nothing to do with governance.


And I think the thing I found about reality talent, is that reality talent, really great reality talent either doesn’t know or soon forgets the difference between reality and television and Trump strikes me as someone where we really don’t know if he understands what the joke is or not  and if I came across this guy and i had a chance to put him on the says show, I’d be, “this guy is really awesome, I’m sure he’s a lot of fun at a poker game or  dinner party, but as president he’s kind of terrifying.


I think were almost like rats in a cage feeding off this.


We’re all enabling this guy. We’re also all the saps. On all these reality television shows, the person who breaks down and cries is the loser. For liberals and progressives  who are moaning and upset and  angry, that’s a win (for Trump) in the reality TV production paradigm and giving him that is really what he wants and what people who support Trump want.


When we go into a pitch meeting with a reality star we say, “Go crazy, do some nutty stuff, it really doesn’t matter what you say,” whereas in the news business people are looking at him based on content. It really isn’t about content, it’s about show, it s about  performance, it’s about what Jeb Bush said,  which is kind  of endless chaos.

Chaos was the watchword of the Trump campaign.

Endless roiling scandal and controversy is much to be preferred to the discrete and episodic.

From the Washington Post’s Dan Balz at the Democratic National Convention this summer.

The big story at the Democratic convention for most of Wednesday was not the Democrats — not Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine or even President Obama, the evening’s star speaker. It was Donald Trump, whose loose and provocative talk about the Russians and Clinton’s emails seemed exponentially beyond even his standards for creating turmoil and controversy.

Trump thrives on chaos and above all else demands attention. When the spotlight falls elsewhere, such as on the Democrats this week in Philadelphia, he looks to shift it back in his direction. He is a candidate who uses disruption as a strategic force. Wednesday was a textbook example — whether for good or ill.

Trump veered into controversy at a Wednesday morning news conference in Florida. He suggested that the Russians should hack into Clinton’s private emails if they have not already and then release publicly those that she deleted before turning over the server to the federal government.

No one could remember a serious candidate for president seeming to urge a foreign power to carry out espionage on the United States and at the same time call on that country to intrude on a presidential election and possibly influence the outcome. It is another example of Trump doing and saying the unthinkable and daring the Democrats and his opponents to make it cost him politically.

The controversy came on a day that Democrats were planning to use their prime-time speeches to frame the contrast between the major-party nominees and attempt to paint Trump as wholly unsuited, temperamentally and by lack of knowledge, to serve as president and commander in chief. 

And from the New York Times” James Poniewozik earlier this month:

His cabinet vetting has been as much “The Bachelor” as “The Apprentice,” complete with luxurious backdrops (Trump Tower, Mr. Trump’s club in Bedminster, N.J.), public sniping among associates about the suitors and even a candlelit dinner, at Jean-Georges with the secretary of state hopeful Mitt Romney.


The whole process reflects Mr. Trump’s worldview, which was reality TV before reality TV even existed: to see life, even within a team, as gladiatorial combat. On “The Apprentice,” he relished letting candidates go crabs-in-a-barrel on each other in the boardroom. Now it was Newt Gingrich, an early supporter of Mr. Trump, calling Mr. Romney a potential “disaster” on Fox News.

Mr. Trump and cable news have the same metabolism. Cable news demands a steady stream of excitations and “breaking” updates, a constant instability that keeps you tuning in.

Mr. Trump is glad to supply that, and cable news is glad to respond. This creates a perpetual-motion machine. Mr. Trump sees something in the news; he gets mad; he tweets; that becomes the news; repeat. He’s the Hate-Watcher in Chief.

The last president with a history in entertainment, Ronald Reagan, came from the movies by way of the California governor’s mansion. He knew how to read a script and had already learned to marry politics to smooth stagecraft.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, is all stream of consciousness, improv, roll the cameras and we’ll clean it up in postproduction. It’s unsteadying, disorienting. The national narrative becomes a reel of explosions and contradictions with no thread. Controversies follow one another too fast to remember any of them. Last week seems like a year ago.

This chaos may benefit only the president-elect because when there is no certainty, when there is no logic, there remains only the leader — only Mr. Trump.

The effort to block Trump in the Electoral College was a gift to Trump, enabling him to win yet again while leaving the opposition looking feeble, deluded and out of touch.

They were, in Hirschorn’s paradigm, the moaning, upset, angry, crying losers. They were Trump’s enablers.

And, it was a good story, an ongoing source of controversy and speculation even though it had zero chance of success. And, if it had somehow succeeded, the result would have been the destruction of norms that those worried about Trump ought to be seeking to bolster not weaken, leading almost certainly to a convulsion of violence in the streets, followed by the House of Representatives restoring order with the election of  a strengthened President Trump.

And so, in spite of itself, the whole episode was given a relatively serious airing.’

From the Independent last Friday: Harvard law professor says ’30’ Republican electors ready to block Donald Trump win. If it gets close to the 37 needed ‘there will be a very interesting dynamic’, says Larry Lessig

As many as 30 Republican members of the Electoral College are willing to break their pledge and vote against Donald Trump in order to block him from becoming the US President, according to a Harvard University law professor.

Larry Lessig, who was himself briefly a candidate for the 2016 Democratic nomination, has been offering legal support to electors on their right to “vote their conscience” – that is, to reject the mandate given to them by the winner of the popular vote in their specific state.

Most states bind their electors to the popular vote by state law, but Mr Lessig said there was precedent to say these are federal officials, granted powers by the federal constitution, who should “be able to exercise their independent and nonpartisan judgement about who to vote for.”.



The argument for denying Trump an Electoral College victory was built on what seemed to be two mutually exclusive lines of reasoning.

  1. The Electoral College is an abomination, an anti-democratic relic of the Founding Father’s protection of slavery that ought to give way to the popular vote, the authentic voice of the people.
  2. The Electoral College is a stroke of genius by the Founding Fathers who foresaw the possibility of a bad actor being elected who was so dangerously out-of-bounds that he needed to be stopped by wiser heads.




How cool and righteous to be a Hamilton Elector.

But, the idolization of Hamilton, I think, has a lot less to do with a careful reading of Federalists 68 and a lot more to do with the hit Broadway musical  – the haute cultural cuisine of a cognoscenti that despairs of the bread and circus Trump Show being fed the rabble.

Hamilton is not only a hugely successful production, it is also a cultural touchstone, a signifier of the Obama era.

As described by Rebecca Mead in the New Yorker in February 2015, Hamilton was actually born in a White House performance by its creator Lin-Manuel Miranda in May 2009, when the Obama administration was young.

That evening in May, Miranda and the other performers—among them Esperanza Spalding, the jazz bassist and vocalist, and James Earl Jones—were introduced to the President. Miranda asked him to sign a copy of “Dreams from My Father” that he’d bought at the airport. Onstage, Miranda announced that he was working on a concept album about Hamilton—“someone I think embodies hip-hop,” he said, to general laughter. He did not mention that he had written only one song. After Miranda explained that Hamilton represented “the word’s ability to make a difference,” he launched into complex lyrics that condensed the first twenty years of Hamilton’s life into four minutes. Slight of build, with dark cropped hair and thick stubble, Miranda paced the stage with coiled energy, rapping of “the ten-dollar Founding Father without a father / Got a lot farther by working a lot harder / By being a lot smarter / By being a self-starter.” His performance ignited a rising murmur of delight among the audience, and the Obamas were rapt: Miranda later heard that the President’s first reaction was to remark that Timothy Geithner had to see this.

Ah yes, Timothy Geithner and Alexander Hamilton – two peas in the anti-populist pod.

From Mead:

It does not seem accidental that “Hamilton” was created during the tenure of the first African-American President. The musical presents the birth of the nation in an unfamiliar but necessary light: not solely as the work of élite white men but as the foundational story of all Americans. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington are all played by African-Americans. Miranda also gives prominent roles to women, including Hamilton’s wife, Eliza Schuyler (Phillipa Soo), and sister-in-law, Angelica Schuyler (Renée Elise Goldsberry). When they are joined by a third sister, their zigzagging harmonies sound rather like those of Destiny’s Child. Miranda portrays the Founding Fathers not as exalted statesmen but as orphaned sons, reckless revolutionaries, and sometimes petty rivals, living at a moment of extreme volatility, opportunity, and risk. The achievements and the dangers of America’s current moment—under the Presidency of a fatherless son of an immigrant, born in the country’s island margins—are never far from view.

The election of Trump was an affront to Hamilton, and it was, of course,  the cast of Hamilton who lectured Vice President-Elect Mike Pence when he came to see the show, a scene that Pence, who loved Hamilton, accepted with great equanimity.

But for Trump, it was just another opportunity to wring some juicy conflict into a tweet and  dominate the news.



As for Hamilton, the man and not the musical, here is some of what he had to say in Federalist 68:

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. And this will be thought no inconsiderable recommendation of the Constitution, by those who are able to estimate the share which the executive in every government must necessarily have in its good or ill administration. Though we cannot acquiesce in the political heresy of the poet who says: “For forms of government let fools contest That which is best administered is best,” yet we may safely pronounce, that the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration


The protest outside the Capitol on Monday was hale and hearty with a goodly variety of excellent signs.






I was even reminded of how an errant apostrophe can diabolically turn the meaning of a three-word phrase into its opposite.

As it played out, history was made Monday, but not in the way that the Hamilton Electors had hoped.



From NPR:

Trump secured 304 electoral votes — two fewer than he earned in November, according to the Associated Press, which tracked results from Capitol to Capitol. That was despite a pitched effort by some on the left who wrote letters to Trump electors trying to persuade them to switch their votes or not vote at all and keep Trump short of the 270 needed.

Not only did it not happen, but more electors tried to defect from Hillary Clinton Monday than from Trump, by a count of eight to two. Three Democratic electors in Maine, Minnesota, and Colorado tried to vote for candidates other than Clinton. The electors’ votes, however, were disallowed because of state rules binding them to the statewide popular vote winner.

Four more electors in Washington state defected from Clinton. Three voted for Colin Powell and one for Faith Spotted Eagle, a Native American who gained some notoriety for her protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

And in Hawaii, an elector successfully cast a ballot for Bernie Sanders instead of Clinton.


It was, for Trumpers, a happy ending.

But, in true Trump spriti, not everyone on the winning side was wiling to leave well enough alone.





From the Statesman”Ken Herman:


I’m unclear on which part of the process Abbott found circusy. I was in the Texas House chamber for Monday’s Electoral College proceedings and saw no circus. It dragged on for three hours, but that’s OK. Outside the Capitol, the anti-Trump protests got a little passionate. Nothing wrong with that. No circus there.

Perhaps Abbott sees circus in the efforts of groups to encourage Electoral College members to go rogue. Did some of that go over the top this year? Maybe. But I’d call it more free speech than circus.

Abbott turned his general thoughts about the Electoral College into a personal attack on one elector at 9:46 a.m. Tuesday when he went Trumpian and tweeted this at Suprun: “YOU’RE FIRED!!!”

First of all, governors can’t fire electors. Second of all, Suprun’s job was over by the time Abbott “fired” him. Third of all, doesn’t Abbott have some important governing or Christmas shopping he should be doing instead of spite tweeting?


Maybe it was the fact that his predecessor, former Gov. Rick Perry – unlike the likes of Mitt Romney and Ted Cruz – had secured a spot in the Trump Cabinet after a couple of twirls on Dancing with the Stars,  but Abbott – who is calling for a Convention of the States to rewrite the Constitution – could not seem to resist the impulse to confirm that this really is The Trump Show.

As for binding Texas electors, perhaps a better solution would be for the political parties to do a more serious job of vetting their electors – and making it a position worthy of Hamilton’s faith in them – instead of a political bauble.

Also, if electors can never exercise their free will and best judgment, there is no reason to have them. But, just suppose that Donald Trump on Sunday had declared, “Yes, I am Putin’s pawn and will do his bidding,” it might be nice to have electors who could spare the nation the time, expense and mental anguish of having to wait until he was inaugurated to be impeached.

In the meantime, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who was there for the vote by the Texas electors, struck a different posture, declining to comment on Suprun, or on efforts to legally bind the electors, and saying that the demonstrators outside were evidence of what’s great about America, and God bless them.

As for the Electoral College, Cornyn said, “The winners always seem to like it, and the losers always seem to like it not so much.”

And then there was Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, a potential Trump Supreme Court pick, but the unTrump in his healing and happy use of Twitter, who accompanied his children to the ceremony, in which they played a role.]












The tweets heard ’round the world. Donald Trump and Gregg Phillips reap the whirlwind.

Good Tuesday Austin:

I guess the president-elect does not have a consuming interest in football, so on a lazy, post-Thanksgiving, pre-actually-being-president Sunday afternoon, Donald Trump flexed his twitter finger and tapped out the following:

No biggie, right?

I mean, here he is the duly elected, stunningly, surprisingly big Electoral College winner, and yet he has to suffer through all this blah-blah-blah reporting about how Hillary was building up a sizable, couple of million popular vote margin and now, somebody named Jill Stein, who apparently also ran for president, is mounting an effort to recount the vote in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan – states Trump stole in the best sense of the word right out from right under Clinton’s nose in a brazen daylight robbery that should have left the Democrats too shamed and embarrassed to do anything but avert their eyes when somebody says, “Hey, can we count those votes again?”

But, no, instead of allowing the Big Guy to blow off some steam, the media all got on their collective high horses and demanded that Trump back up his preposterous  claim, and, in their new non-normalization mode, competed with one another to most boldly, bravely, forthrightly label the president-elect’s tweet a lie.

Here is the top of the editorial in the New York Times: Donald Trump’s Lies About the Popular Vote

One big fear in the weeks leading up to the presidential election was that Donald Trump would try to delegitimize the results by claiming rampant voter fraud — a bogus specter he had raised throughout the campaign, particularly as his polling numbers got worse.

In that scenario, of course, Mr. Trump was the loser. No one imagined he would say the election was rigged if he won. And yet here we are.

On Sunday, President-elect Trump unleashed a barrage of tweets complaining about calls for recounts or vote audits in several closely contested states, and culminating in this message: “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

This is a lie, part of Mr. Trump’s pattern, stretching back many years, of disregard for indisputable facts. There is no evidence of illegal voting on even a small scale anywhere in the country, let alone a systematic conspiracy involving “millions.” But this is the message that gets hammered relentlessly by right-wing propaganda sites like InfoWars, which is run by a conspiracy theorist who claims the Sandy Hook school massacre was a hoax — and whose absurdities Mr. Trump has often shouted through his megaphone, which will shortly bear the presidential seal. Mr. Trump added more fuel to the fire with the false claim of “serious voter fraud” in California, Virginia and New Hampshire — all states that went for Hillary Clinton.

Let us pause here to make a few points. First InfoWars is Austin’s own Alex Jones’ very popular site. Go Austin!

And this particular bit of what the Times disparages as right-wing propaganda, is an appropriation, or perhaps misappropriation, by Jones of a couple of tweets from Austinite Gregg Phillips, a former Texas Health and Human Services official and founder, CEO and president of AutoGov. Go Austin!



Phillips is no stranger to controversy.


And here are the tweets that has made him the man of the moment.




The Times editorial linked to Glenn Kessler’s Washington Post fact check on Donald Trump’s bogus claim that millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton

Winning the electoral college is all that counts in the presidential race. But losing the popular vote by such a substantial margin apparently gnaws at Trump. Is there any basis for his claim?

The Facts

The simple answer is no. This is a bogus claim with no documented proof.

Our colleagues at Snopes.com and PundiFact have already examined this claim, back when it was hot in the right-wing blogosphere, not a statement made by a future U.S. president. The whole thing started with a few tweets by Gregg Phillips, a self-described conservative voter fraud specialist, who started making claims even before data on voter history was actually available in most jurisdictions. (It had not even been determined which provisional ballots were valid and would be counted.)


These claims were then picked up by such purveyors of false facts as Infowars.com, a conspiracy-minded website that, among other things, claims that no one actually died in a massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. One article described Phillips as being affiliated with VoterFraud.org but in reality he says he is the founder of VoteStand.com, supposedly an app that detects vote fraud. Phillips also has claimed that Obamacare is the “biggest voter registration fraud scheme in the history of the world” because it provided opportunities for voter registration.

In any case, Phillips made this claim — and then has declined to provide any evidence to back it up, even though reporters have asked.


“He said he has chosen not to release more information because he is still working on analyzing the data and verifying its accuracy,” PundiFact reported. “Phillips would also not say what the data is or where it came from, or what methodology he used.”

It’s certainly rather odd that Phillips would make such a claim before he had verified whether it was true. He did not respond to a query from The Fact Checker after Trump tweeted, although he gleefully celebrated anger at his claim.

The Pinocchio Test

Simply put, there is no evidence that “millions of people” voted illegally in the election.

Now that Trump is on the verge of becoming president, he needs to be more careful about making wild allegations with little basis in fact, especially if the claim emerged from a handful of tweets and conspiracy-minded websites. He will quickly find that such statements will undermine his authority on other matters.

Four Pinocchios

Same story from PolitiFact.

From PolitiFact:

Phillips would not provide any additional information when asked by PolitiFact. He said he has chosen not to release more information because he is still working on analyzing the data and verifying its accuracy. Phillips would also not say what the data is or where it came from, or what methodology he used.

Phillips said he would release the information publicly once he is finally finished.


Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, called Phillips’ claim “fake news.”

“There is no credible evidence I have seen to show large numbers of noncitizens voting in U.S. elections anywhere,” Hasen said. “The idea that 3 million noncitizens could have illegally voted in our elections without being detected is obscenely ludicrous.”

Our ruling

Reports claim 3 million “illegal aliens” cast votes in this year’s election.

The articles point back to tweets from Gregg Phillips, who has worked for the Republican Party and has a voter fraud reporting app. But Phillips will not provide any evidence to support his claim, which happens to be undermined by publicly available information.

If Phillips does release a more detailed report, we will consider that information. But for now, this claim is inaccurate. We rate it False.

The Trump Transition Team, in the meantime, pointed reporters to a 2014 Monkey Cage piece by two academics in the Washington Post, Could non-citizens decide the November election?



Here are the authors and the abstract of their findings.

Jesse Richman is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Old Dominion University, and Director of the ODU Social Science Research Center. David Earnest is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Old Dominion University, and Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Studies in the College of Arts and Letters

In spite of substantial public controversy, very little reliable data exists concerning the frequency with which non-citizen immigrants participate in United States elections. Although such participation is a violation of election laws in most parts of the United States, enforcement depends principally on disclosure of citizenship status at the time of voter registration. This study examines participation rates by non-citizens using a nationally representative sample that includes non-citizen immigrants. We find that some non-citizens participate in U.S. elections, and that this participation has been large enough to change meaningful election outcomes including Electoral College votes, and Congressional elections. Non-citizen votes likely gave Senate Democrats the pivotal 60th vote needed to overcome filibusters in order to pass health care reform and other Obama administration priorities in the 111th Congress.

So non-citizen voting enabled Obama to pass Obamacare. Well, that doesn’t seem particularly trivial.

From the Post story.

Could control of the Senate in 2014 be decided by illegal votes cast by non-citizens? Some argue that incidents of voting by non-citizens are so rare as to be inconsequential, with efforts to block fraud a screen for an agenda to prevent poor and minority voters from exercising the franchise, while others define such incidents as a threat to democracy itself. Both sides depend more heavily on anecdotes than data.

In a forthcoming article in the journal Electoral Studies, we bring real data from big social science survey datasets to bear on the question of whether, to what extent, and for whom non-citizens vote in U.S. elections. Most non-citizens do not register, let alone vote. But enough do that their participation can change the outcome of close races.

Our data comes from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES). Its large number of observations (32,800 in 2008 and 55,400 in 2010) provide sufficient samples of the non-immigrant sub-population, with 339 non-citizen respondents in 2008 and 489 in 2010. For the 2008 CCES, we also attempted to match respondents to voter files so that we could verify whether they actually voted.

How many non-citizens participate in U.S. elections? More than 14 percent of non-citizens in both the 2008 and 2010 samples indicated that they were registered to vote. Furthermore, some of these non-citizens voted. Our best guess, based upon extrapolations from the portion of the sample with a verified vote, is that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent of non-citizens voted in 2010.

Because non-citizens tended to favor Democrats (Obama won more than 80 percent of the votes of non-citizens in the 2008 CCES sample), we find that this participation was large enough to plausibly account for Democratic victories in a few close elections. Non-citizen votes could have given Senate Democrats the pivotal 60th vote needed to overcome filibusters in order to pass health-care reform and other Obama administration priorities in the 111th Congress. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) won election in 2008 with a victory margin of 312 votes. Votes cast by just 0.65 percent of Minnesota non-citizens could account for this margin. It is also possible that non-citizen votes were responsible for Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina. Obama won the state by 14,177 votes, so a turnout by 5.1 percent of North Carolina’s adult non-citizens would have provided this victory margin.

We also find that one of the favorite policies advocated by conservatives to prevent voter fraud appears strikingly ineffective. Nearly three quarters of the non-citizens who indicated they were asked to provide photo identification at the polls claimed to have subsequently voted.

An alternative approach to reducing non-citizen turnout might emphasize public information. Unlike other populations, including naturalized citizens, education is not associated with higher participation among non-citizens. In 2008, non-citizens with less than a college degree were significantly more likely to cast a validated vote, and no non-citizens with a college degree or higher cast a validated vote. This hints at a link between non-citizen voting and lack of awareness about legal barriers.

The Post piece provoked considerable hubbub.

As the paper noted: The post occasioned three rebuttals (here, here, and here) as well as a response from the authors. Subsequently, another peer-reviewed article argued that the findings reported in this post (and affiliated article) were biased and that the authors’ data do not provide evidence of non-citizen voting in U.S. elections.

Here is the abstract of one rebuttal, which, like the original, appeared in the journal, Electoral Studies Volume 40, December 2015, Pages 409–410

The perils of cherry picking low frequency events in large sample surveys

 The advent of large sample surveys, such as the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), has opened the possibility of measuring very low frequency events, characteristics, and behaviors in the population. This paper documents how low-level measurement error for survey questions generally agreed to be highly reliable can lead to large prediction errors in large sample surveys, such as the CCES. The example for this analysis is Richman et al. (2014), which presents a biased estimate of the rate at which non-citizens voted in recent elections. The results, we show, are completely accounted for by very low frequency measurement error; further, the likely percent of non-citizen voters in recent US elections is 0.

Zero? Wow. Really?

And here is the response from Earnest and Richman to the rebuttal of their original piece.

Although our estimates of non-citizen registration and voting are higher than previous estimates, this should not be surprising. To our knowledge, ours is the first study to use survey data to estimate non-citizen voting, while other studies have relied upon incidents of detected vote fraud. Estimates of illegal behavior based upon survey data are frequently higher than estimates based upon detection rates. For example, survey-based estimates indicate that more than six percent of the U.S. population over age 12 uses marijuana on at least a monthly basis — a rate more than 15 times the annual arrest rate.


A final criticism concerns how we communicated our findings rather than the findings themselves. As our colleagues have colorfully suggested, our post “contributed to the circus” rather than made sense of it, and they question whether we intended “to provide fuel to the conspiracy theorists” who suspect widespread voter fraud. Ahlquist and Gehlbach even criticize the title of our post, which was not our proposed title.  (Editor’s note: Most guest post titles are written by whichever of the main Monkey Cage contributors handles the submitted post.) We trust that our colleagues do not mean to suggest that authors should self-censor findings that speak to contentious debates.

Reading the back and forth between Richman and Earnest and their critics, it seemed to me their thesis remained alive and well, thought fiercely contended. But, watching the coverage yesterday, the media generally was treating it as soundly debunked, and I’m not sure why.

Snopes also examined the claim that three million non-citizens voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election. and rated it “unproven.”

Phillips offers no evidence whatsoever to back up the claim that he “verified” more than three million non-citizen votes. Nor does he divulge his data sources or methodology, much less explain how it was possible to “verify” three million fraudulent votes within five days of a national election. In point of fact, Phillips bluntly refuses to share this information with journalists, claiming it will be released “in open form to the American people”:


Phillips, who also founded the technology consulting firm Autogov and served as managing director of Newt Gingrich’s Winning Our Future super PAC during the 2012 presidential campaign, is no stranger to voter fraud controversies. He was quoted in a 30 October 2013 Breitbart article (which described Phillips as a “voter integrity activist”) characterizing Obamacare as “the biggest voter registration fraud scheme in the history of the world.” Per the requirements of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), Obamacare health insurance exchange web sites provide voter registration services to customers. While some observers have complained that the exchanges are inadequate to the task of signing up new voters and have actually failed to register millions of eligible people, according to a 2014 MSNBC report, others, Gregg Phillips among them, argue the opposite — that Obamacare has opened the floodgates for millions to register illegally.


In the absence of supporting data, however, he has really made no case at all. The “three million non-citizens” figure may just as well have been plucked out of thin air.

I talked to Phillips for about an hour yesterday afternoon.

Phillips is a board member of the organization True the Vote, a Houston-based, right of center group devoted to voter integrity.

Clearly, Phillips in his tweets overstated what he could prove right now. But, he said, that doesn’t mean that he is plucking the number out of thin air. He is ball-parking what he expects to find when he does an analysis of True the Vote’s extraordinary 50-state, 180-odd million registered voter database, which it is now updating following the November election.

Phillips also dramatically underestimated the impact his tweets would have.


When did a tweet become news? I’m just like a guy. I’m an ordinary guy. There are  billions of tweets every single day and because somebody picked it up, made something of something I wrote, all of a sudden the president-elect is talking about me? No he’s not referring to me. He’s not referring to our  information. He’s not referring to our analysis. He was referring to a  Washington Post story from 2014 and, the idea all of a sudden a tweet is news – it’s not news, I mean, I didn’t testify in court.

Seriously, is a tweet really news? Isn’t everything on Twitter fake?

In fact, I think that it was Phillips’ tweet that Trump was picking up on and responding to – and that the Presidential Transition Team subsequently cited the Washington Post piece to buttress his claim because that was better than referring reporters to the president-elect’s likely original source – Alex Jones’s InfoWars.



What apparently happened here is that Phillips tweets his heart’s desire, but Alex Jones, without ever having any contact with Phillips, picks it up and maybe dresses it up a little, not mentioning that what he is citing is is just based on a couple of tweets, and, for good measure, attaching some bogus organizational affiliation to Phillips.

Alex Jones has a huge audience and then, as is often the case, the Drudge Report picks up what InfoWars reports, and, then well, it can’t escape Trump’s attention, with or without a helpful  nudge from Roger Stone.


And, Phillips was simply not prepared for the whirlwind that followed Trump’s Sunday afternoon tweet.

People figure I must have the ear of the president. I’m sitting at home with my granddaughter. What?

So Phillips tweets an overstatement of what he was able to prove at this point in time. He did not intend for his tweet to reach a mass audience, let alone the president-elect. But suddenly he was besieged by a media that was now pinning the president’s lies on his disinformation, and demanding that he put up or shut up.


We’ve been working on this project since 2009. we approached the Department of Justice with some of our findings.

I am going to stand by the numbers. The numbers are accurate. I am going to do exactly what I said I’m going to do. I’m going to release all the information  whether it turns out I’m  right or wrong, whatever comes out of our final analysis and all the hard work of going through this stuff. I’m  going to come out and say either I was wrong or I was right. I’m going to come out and do that.

But, what really unnerved Phillips was the Twitter venom directed his way after he was identified as the president-elect’s apparent inspiration.

In the last couple of days I’ve beeen called a Nazi, a Russian, a traitor, an asshole, a racist, all on Twitter. I’m none of the above, none. I’m truly just an ordinary guy.





After talking to Phillips I called Catherine Engelbrecht, the founder of True the Vote, and we spoke for another hour.

Here is how True the Vote describes itself.

True the Vote was established in 2009, after a small group of volunteers worked at our local polls and witnessed firsthand both the need for well-trained election workers and blatant, undeniable acts of election fraud. Since then, we’ve continued to grow – and  now we’re a national organization, providing comprehensive, state-specific programs of education, research, and support for volunteers in all 50 states.  We have empowered fellow citizens, increased public awareness, advocated for continued election improvements and reforms, and spoken out about the misleading messaging of those who insist voter fraud does not exist. It does. 

As you read through the pages of our website, we hope you will gain a better understanding of who we are and what we do. Our purpose is really very simple – to remind voters that they are the safeguards of our representative democracy. Together, we can ensure that our voting process truly does reflect the will of the People. Together, we can True the Vote. 

Engelbrecht said it will be some time into the new year before True the Vote will, as completely as it possibly can, have updated its 50-state database and that Phillips and others will analyze it looking for flaws – dead people on the rolls, duplicate registrations and non-citizen voters, who they will ferret out by triangulating against other databases.
It is, she said, an unprecedented effort.

We’ve been very quiet for a very long time and we have watched the degradation of the data wash across the rolls in waves and it was hard to know when to jump in because it just consistently been getting worse and so we’ve been very thoughtful about what and how that approach would look like.

We are going to take our time.

Engelbrecht said she felt for Phillips since the tweets.

When reporters demanded that she react to his tweets, Engelbrecht, who is not on Twitter, said her initial reply was, “First of all, time out. Really?”

At the end of the day he is on my board, he is my friend, he is a rock-solid individual and I stand by him and I stand by what he said and that’s it.

We put out a statement saying we support president-elect Trump’s comment about the potential that millions of votes were illegally cast.

This isn’t  huge number in the  grand scheme of things, but we have to be grown up about the process of election integrity and the importance of securing it. Third World nations have better processes than we do. We are the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t use voter ID as a standard.

Engelbrecht says that the tweet by Phillips and Trump provoked so much reaction because they “really hit this chord, that we’re all kind of scared, especially coming out of this election cycle, which was admittedly something like we’ve never seen. I think it hits this really deep chord in all of us that we want it to  be a Pixar movie, where everything is OK in the end and you know  we can play rough but in the end we’re Americans and nothing really really bad can really happen because somehow we just kind of have happy endings. But the dirty little secret is there has been fraud all over the place and it’s institutionalized.’

“Do I think it’s true (what Phillips and Trump tweeted)? Absolutely.”

Here is the rest of today’s New York Times editorial:

And why is Mr. Trump so hung up on the popular vote in the first place? After all, he won where it counts — in the Electoral College. And yet, in the three weeks since his victory, Mr. Trump has already admitted at least twice that he would prefer the presidency be determined by the popular vote, and not by 538 electors. It’s clear he feels threatened by Mrs. Clinton’s popular-vote lead — now more than 2.3 million and expected to exceed 2.5 million; as a percentage of the electorate, that is a wider margin than five presidents enjoyed. With support for third-party candidates added in, 54 percent of voters rejected Mr. Trump.

So maybe his touchiness is understandable. Like most people, Mr. Trump senses the fundamental unfairness of awarding the presidency to the loser of the popular vote. In fact, he made that argument himself, back on election night in 2012, calling the Electoral College “a disaster for democracy” when he believed, incorrectly, that President Obama would lose the popular vote and still win re-election. (In recent weeks he’s changed his tune, calling it a “genius” idea.) What Mr. Trump may not know, given his lack of interest in American history, is that the Electoral College was designed specifically to enhance the influence of white voters in Southern states, which were allowed to factor in their large slave populations.

Today the Electoral College continues to give an outsized benefit to smaller and less populous states — a Wyoming resident’s vote weighs 3.6 times more than a Californian’s. So the less populous states will never agree to amend it out of the Constitution. But states may allocate their electoral votes however they choose, and that opens the door to greater equity without changing the Constitution — namely, the National Popular Vote interstate compact. This is an agreement among a group of states to award all their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Eleven states and the District of Columbia have already adopted it, representing 165 electoral votes. The compact would take effect once states representing a majority of electoral votes, currently 270, signed on — ensuring that the national popular-vote winner became president.

We can’t expect Mr. Trump to throw his weight behind this initiative, given his new support for the Electoral College. But if he’s truly worried about the legitimacy of the 2016 election, why doesn’t he call for a recount?

This is a truly fatuous argument. Trump won. Why would he ask for a recount? What is the history of winners demanding recounts? And a recount is a recount, not an examination of the citizenship of every voter, which is the only way his fraud claim could be answered and satisfied.

But let’s just suppose that on Sunday, Hillary Clinton had tweeted, “Would have won Electoral College but for GOP voter suppression in key states.”

And what if it turned out that calculation was based on informed but unprovable estimates by some voting rights activists.

Would the Times Editorial Board have written a scolding editorial, Hillary Clinton’s lies about the electoral college

I don’t think so.



Fake news and ‘useful idiots.’ On Vladimir Putin, Alex Jones and Donald Trump



Good Monday Austin:

Hope you all (or y’all) had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Since our children and the rest of our family are back East and weren’t here for the holiday, my wife and I decided to do an early Jewish Christmas this year – back-to-back movies at the Regal Stadium Gateway 16, and takeout Chinese from Szechuan House on Burnet.

The first movie we saw was Allied. My wife loves Brad Pitt, but, she agreed, it was not so good.

Michael Phillips got it right in his review in the Chicago Tribune: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard team up for gorgeous, empty WWII spy thriller

In the swank but waxy new World War II-era Robert Zemeckis film “Allied,” starring Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard and whatever sunglasses they happen to be wearing at the time, we’re in the land of patently artificial intrigue, as opposed to fakery trying to be, in any sense, real.

But, it made me wonder, amid the recent neo-Nazi revival, what would Richard Spencer think. I mean, when a neo-Nazi goes to a World War II movie, do they root for the Nazis? Do they weep when the Nazis are foiled and cheer when the Americans are killed?

Spencer, you may recall, is the white nationalist who recently inspired some followers to snap into the Nazi salute at a well-covered gathering of supporters in the ballroom at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center near the White House.

From the account in the Washington Post:

Spencer’s voice rose as the speech neared its end.

“For us, as Europeans, it is only normal again when we are great again!” he shouted. “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!”

He raised his glass and, in video caught on camera by the Atlantic, the heart of the alt-right stood and cheered — and a number of them offered their leader the Nazi salute.

And from the stage, Spencer looked at his followers, smiled and applauded.

From the Atlantic:

For most of the day, a parade of speakers discussed their ideology in relatively anodyne terms, putting a presentable face on their agenda. But after dinner, when most journalists had already departed, Spencer rose and delivered a speech to his followers dripping with anti-Semitism, and leaving no doubt as to what he actually seeks. He referred to the mainstream media as “Lügenpresse,” a term he said he was borrowing from “the original German”; the Nazis used the word to attack their critics in the press.

“America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Spencer said. “It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”   

The audience offered cheers, applause, and enthusiastic Nazi salutes.

The night before, Spencer and company had a dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italian in Northwest Washington. From the Washington Post report:

As the dinner neared its end, and with the TV cameras all downstairs, he explained the schedule for the next day’s conference. Then, as Spencer considered how they should mark its finish, he smiled and offered a joke.

“Let’s party like it’s 1933,” he declared, referencing the year Hitler was appointed Germany’s chancellor and the Nazis embarked on the creation of their own ethno-state.

Beneath chandeliers and amid dark, wood-paneled walls, the alt-right erupted in cheers.

Spencer, his expression now serious, waited for them to quiet, then spoke once more.

“Let’s party like it’s 2016!” he shouted, raising his bare arms and pumping them in the air as the room roared even louder.

I’ve been to that Maggiano’s a number of times and never took it to be a fascist front. The last time I was there with my daughter they had a special where for $1 they gave you the meal you had just ordered a second time – you could take it home. It a bit odd, but more socialist than fascist.

Back in February, Jimmy Kimmel presented the Trump campaign as modeled on The Producers.

Like The Producers, the Trump campaign succeeded despite doing everything it could to fail.

However, it goes even beyond that script if it turns out that the American electorate not only fell in love with the political equivalent of Springtime for Hitler, but actually believed, with Trump’s election, it was springtime for Hitler.

But, in fact, I don’t think that was what happened.

Americans may have many things to fear in a Trump administration, but goose-stepping, Sieg Heiling neo-Nazis, is not one of them

People like Spencer, with his overt neo-Nazism, are not a serious threat. They are ridiculous.

I say this with some confidence.

In 2000 and 2002 and 2006 and 2008 I was the only mainstream reporter to cover the biennial white nationalist American Renaissance conferences.

I was covering race and immigration in those years and when I started on that beat in 1991 I believed that the biggest story of my life was America’s dramatic demographic transformation into a nation in which whites would no longer be a majority as an unintended consequence of mass immigration, a policy that while it had elite support from  the multicultural left and big business, didn’t really have broad-based democratic sanction and was especially unpopular with working class people of all races who faced economic competition and loss of their sense of place.

It seemed unlikely that the transformation would come off without a hitch, and it seemed at least possible that at some point white nationalist thought would gain greater public purchase. And, it seemed to me, that Jared Taylor, American Renaissance’s smooth, sophisticated, intellectual leader, was the kind of white nationalist leader who could sell it to a larger audience.

Well, I was wrong about that. I didn’t see Donald Trump coming. Or that Richard Spencer, a Jared Taylor protege, would ride to public consciousness in Trump’s wake.


But, no one at the American Renaissance conferences I went to, which included some people whose neo-Nazi credentials were as well in order as Spencer’s, would have been foolish enough to behave the way that Spencer and company did at Maggiano’s – and in front of the Atlantic’s cameras. 

Indeed, it seemed that Spencer was playing to those cameras in a bid for notoriety, and the rush of press and profiles that has now made him a newborn celebrity in the age of Trump, but at the expense of being anything more than a self-parody.

A native Texan, Spencer will be speaking at Texas A&M on Dec. 6, and while protest may well be the order of the day when he comes to College Station, I can guarantee you, the only thing that would delight Richard Spencer more than a big crowd of supporters would be an even bigger crowd of protesters, the more ferocious, the better.

The second movie my wife and I saw on Thanksgiving was Arrival. I love Amy Adams, and it was pretty good Thought-provoking, even.

From Jia Tolentino in  the New Yorker.

“Arrival,” the new movie from Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario,” “Prisoners”), which Anthony Lane reviewed in last week’s issue of the magazine—and which, this past weekend, earned twenty-four million dollars at the box office, more than people were expecting—is based on “Story of Your Life,” by the literary sci-fi writer Ted Chiang. It stars Amy Adams as a linguist who comes to play an extraordinary role during an alien visitation. The movie is a model of faithful, transformative film adaptation. It’s also an exploration of a humble and brave ontological position that, in the aftershock of the Presidential election, feels as sublime, unfamiliar, and vaguely oracular as the iron-gray spaceships that hover in the film.


Adams plays a self-effacing professor named Louise Banks, who remains calm as the spaceships descend. Viewers, on the other hand, might find their pulses rising, as I did; post-election, the panic resonates.


As the global panic escalates, an Alex Jones type rants about the heptapods on YouTube: the smartest thing we could do, he says, is display force. A war nearly begins when the heptapods state their desire to offer a “weapon,” which Banks frantically tells her superiors could mean something as innocuous as “tool.” In a stupefying final encounter, the heptapods communicate to Banks that they’ve really been trying to pass down a gift. It’s a trade, in the long run: in three thousand years, they’ll need the help of humanity.

The Sunday after the election, I watched this and wept. What a dream—to perceive instinctive purpose in what happens around us, to submit to that teleology, to enact it. What a fantasy, to imagine that we’ll be around to help anyone in three thousand years.

OK. So take that, intertwine it with that bit from the Allied review – we’re in the land of patently artificial intrigue, as opposed to fakery trying to be, in any sense, real – and we arrive at the real subject of today’s First Reading – fake news and the 2016 election.

According to a highly-clicked Thanksgiving Day story by Craig Timberg in the Washington Post, it is not the Nazi we have to fear, but the Russkies.

Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say

The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.

Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia.

Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment, as an insurgent candidate harnessed a wide range of grievances to claim the White House. The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news,” as they have vowed to do after widespread complaints about the problem.

There is no way to know whether the Russian campaign proved decisive in electing Trump, but researchers portray it as part of a broadly effective strategy of sowing distrust in U.S. democracy and its leaders. The tactics included penetrating the computers of election officials in several states and releasing troves of hacked emails that embarrassed Clinton in the final months of her campaign.

I don’t know. Reading that, I was skeptical. Or at any rate when Timberg writes about the origins of a propaganda campaign portraying Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers or to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia, a more obvious culprit leaps to mind.

It’s not Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin in Moscow. Its Alexander Emerick “Alex” Jones right here in Austin, who, I am pretty sure, doesn’t really need Putin’s help in coming up with this stuff or disseminating it to a huge audience.

Back to Timberg’s story.

“They want to essentially erode faith in the U.S. government or U.S. government interests,” said Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute who along with two other researchers has tracked Russian propaganda since 2014. “This was their standard mode during the Cold War. The problem is that this was hard to do before social media.”

 Watts’s report on this work, with colleagues Andrew Weisburd and J.M. Berger, appeared on the national security online magazine War on the Rocks this month under the headline “Trolling for Trump: How Russia Is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy.” Another group, called PropOrNot, a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds, planned to release its own findings Friday showing the startling reach and effectiveness of Russian propaganda campaigns. (Update: The report came out on Saturday).
OK. Click on the report. Here’s how it begins:

So this story depends on a group that prefaces its earth-shaking report with, Thanks to the Generous Sponsorship of Nobody. (Funding? Hah!)


Here’s more from the Post story.

The researchers used Internet analytics tools to trace the origins of particular tweets and mapped the connections among social-media accounts that consistently delivered synchronized messages. Identifying website codes sometimes revealed common ownership. In other cases, exact phrases or sentences were echoed by sites and social-media accounts in rapid succession, signaling membership in connected networks controlled by a single entity.

PropOrNot’s monitoring report, which was provided to The Washington Post in advance of its public release, identifies more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season, with combined audiences of at least 15 million Americans. On Facebook, PropOrNot estimates that stories planted or promoted by the disinformation campaign were viewed more than 213 million times.

Some players in this online echo chamber were knowingly part of the propaganda campaign, the researchers concluded, while others were “useful idiots” — a term born of the Cold War to describe people or institutions that unknowingly assisted Soviet Union propaganda efforts.


The Russian campaign during this election season, researchers from both groups say, worked by harnessing the online world’s fascination with “buzzy” content that is surprising and emotionally potent, and tracks with popular conspiracy theories about how secret forces dictate world events.

Some of these stories originated with RT and Sputnik, state-funded Russian information services that mimic the style and tone of independent news organizations yet sometimes include false and misleading stories in their reports, the researchers say. On other occasions, RT, Sputnik and other Russian sites used social-media accounts to amplify misleading stories already circulating online, causing news algorithms to identify them as “trending” topics that sometimes prompted coverage from mainstream American news organizations.

The speed and coordination of these efforts allowed Russian-backed phony news to outcompete traditional news organizations for audience. Some of the first and most alarming tweets after Clinton fell ill at a Sept. 11 memorial event in New York, for example, came from Russian botnets and trolls, researchers found. (She was treated for pneumonia and returned to the campaign trail a few days later.)

This followed a spate of other misleading stories in August about Clinton’s supposedly troubled health. The Daily Beast debunked a particularly widely read piece in an article that reached 1,700 Facebook accounts and was read online more than 30,000 times. But the PropOrNot researchers found that the version supported by Russian propaganda reached 90,000 Facebook accounts and was read more than 8 million times. The researchers said the true Daily Beast story was like “shouting into a hurricane” of false stories supported by the Russians.

This propaganda machinery also helped push the phony story that an anti-Trump protester was paid thousands of dollars to participate in demonstrations, an allegation initially made by a self-described satirist and later repeated publicly by the Trump campaign. Researchers from both groups traced a variety of other false stories — fake reports of a coup launched at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and stories about how the United States was going to conduct a military attack and blame it on Russia — to Russian propaganda efforts.

The final weeks of the campaign featured a heavy dose of stories about supposed election irregularities, allegations of vote-rigging and the potential for Election Day violence should Clinton win, researchers said.

“The way that this propaganda apparatus supported Trump was equivalent to some massive amount of a media buy,” said the executive director of PropOrNot, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers. “It was like Russia was running a super PAC for Trump’s campaign. . . . It worked.”

Wait. Hold on.

The executive director of PropOrNot, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers…


Maybe I met the executive director on Nov. 19 among the anti-White Lives Matter counter-protesters at the Texas Capitol, many of whom also wore masks to protect themselves from the alt-right’s legions of skilled hackers.

(Dave Creaney)
(Photo by Dave Creaney)


Here’s some more from the PropOrNot FAQ.

11) Who put this together? Who is PropOrNot?

We are an independent team of concerned American citizens with a wide range of backgrounds and expertise, including professional experience in computer science, statistics, public policy, and national security affairs. We are currently volunteering our time and skills to identify propaganda – particularly Russian propaganda – targeting a U.S. audience. We collect public-record information connecting propaganda outlets to each other and their coordinators abroad, analyze what we find, act as a central repository and point of reference for related information, and organize efforts to oppose it.

Some of our members have been aware of Russian influence operations in a professional context for quite some time, but others have become increasingly aware of existing research on the subject in light of recent events in Ukraine, Western Europe, and the Middle East. We formed PropOrNot as an effort to prevent propaganda from distorting U.S. political and policy discussions. We hope to strengthen our cultural immune systems against hostile influence and improve public discourse generally.

We are completely independent, because we not funded by anyone, and we have no formal institutional affiliations. We are nonpartisan, in that our team includes all major political persuasions except the pro-Russian kind. We are anonymous for now, because we are civilian Davids taking on a state-backed adversary Goliath, and we take things like the international Russian intimidation of journalists, “Pizzagate”-style mob harassment, and the assassination of Jo Cox very seriously, but we can in some cases provide background information about ourselves on a confidential basis to professional journalists. We do not publicly describe all of our sources and methods, although we describe most of them, and again, we can in some cases provide much more detail to journalists and other researchers in order to contextualize their reporting.

We are American, and our team has more than 30 members, including Ukrainian-American, Iraqi-American, and quite a few other varieties of folks. We are united in our overall objectives: to identify, help counter, and eventually deter Russian propaganda. Any time an outlet consistently echoes, repeats, or refers its audience to Russian propaganda, we’re going to analyze it and call it out. We work to shine a light on propaganda in order to prevent it from distorting political and policy discussions, to strengthen our cultural immune systems against hostile influence, and to improve public discourse generally.

So, to that end, they have released a list of American websites and media outlets who it identifies as either agents of Russian propaganda or its useful idiots, with this explanation:

Please note that our criteria are behavioral. That means the characteristics of the propaganda outlets we identify are motivation-agnostic. For purposes of this definition it does not matter whether the sites listed here are being knowingly directed and paid by Russian intelligence officers, or whether they even knew they were echoing Russian propaganda at any particular point: If they meet these criteria, they are at the very least acting as bona-fide “useful idiots” of the Russian intelligence services, and are worthy of further scrutiny.

We assess that this overall Russian effort is at least semi-centralized, with multiple Russian projects and influence operations working in parallel to manage the direct and outsourced production of propaganda across a wide range of outlets. It is data-driven, and rewards effective entrepreneurship and innovation with increased funding and other resources. There are varying degrees of involvement in it, and awareness of involvement. Some people involved seem genuinely unaware that they are being used by Russia to produce propaganda, but many others seem to know full well.

Very well, but, it seems to me that before it publishes a story that purports to name the names of those engaging in fake news, the Washington Post, which covered itself with glory for its Trump coverage, should make quite sure it is well sourced and ironclad.

At least Joseph McCarthy wasn’t wearing a Zorro mask when he said on February 9, 1950, in Wheeling, West Virginia, “I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party, and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy of the State Department.”




From Glenn Grenwald and Ben Norton at the Intercept: Washington Post Disgracefully Promotes a McCarthyite Blacklist From a New, Hidden, and Very Shady Group

The Washington Post on Thursday night promoted the claims of a new, shadowy organization that smears dozens of U.S. news sites that are critical of U.S. foreign policy as being “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.” The article by reporter Craig Timberg — headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say” — cites a report by an anonymous website calling itself PropOrNot, which claims that millions of Americans have been deceived this year in a massive Russian “misinformation campaign.”

The group’s list of Russian disinformation outlets includes WikiLeaks and the Drudge Report, as well as Clinton-critical left-wing websites such as Truthout, Black Agenda Report, Truthdig, and Naked Capitalism, as well as libertarian venues such as Antiwar.com and the Ron Paul Institute.

This Post report was one of the most widely circulated political news articles on social media over the last 48 hours, with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of U.S. journalists and pundits with large platforms hailing it as an earth-shattering exposé. It was the most-read piece on the entire Post website on Friday after it was published.

Yet the article is rife with obviously reckless and unproven allegations, and fundamentally shaped by shoddy, slothful journalistic tactics. It was not surprising to learn that, as BuzzFeed’s Sheera Frenkel noted, “a lot of reporters passed on this story.” Its huge flaws are self-evident. But the Post gleefully ran with it and tand then promoted it aggressively, led by its Executive Editor Marty Baron:


Mathew Ingram of Fortune also critiqued the Post story, under the headline, No, Russian Agents Are Not Behind Every Piece of Fake News You See

In effect, both of these groups want to portray anyone who shared a salacious but untrue news story about Hillary Clinton as an agent of an orchestrated Russian intelligence campaign.

Has the rise of fake news played into the hands of those who want to spread disinformation? Sure it has. But connecting hundreds of Twitter accounts into a dark web of Russian-controlled agents, along with any website that sits on some poorly thought-out blacklist, seems like the beginnings of a conspiracy theory, rather than a scientific analysis of the problem.






Here is how PropOrNot reacted to criticism.



As Elmer Fudd.

From the Intercept:

Included on this blacklist of supposed propaganda outlets are prominent independent left-wing news sites such as Truthout, Naked Capitalism, Black Agenda Report, Consortium News, and Truthdig.

Also included are popular libertarian hubs such as Zero Hedge, Antiwar.com, and the Ron Paul Institute, along with the hugely influential right-wing website the Drudge Report and the publishing site WikiLeaks. Far-right, virulently anti-Muslim blogs such as Bare Naked Islam are likewise dubbed Kremlin mouthpieces. Basically, everyone who isn’t comfortably within the centrist Hillary Clinton/Jeb Bush spectrum is guilty. On its Twitter account, the group announced a new “plugin” that automatically alerts the user that a visited website has been designated by the group to be a Russian propaganda outlet.

Also, of course, on the list are Alex Jones’s InfoWars and Prison Planet sites.

But, a week earlier, PropOrNot tweeted a simpler way to spot a Russian dupe

Well that would include Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. And U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. And  state Party Chairman Tom Mechler.  And well, really, virtually every Republican official in Texas.

And it would include the president-elect of the United States.

And here we get to the nub of the fake news dilemma.

The person most spectacularly spreading the word about Hillary Clinton’s ill-health was Donald Trump (and, in fairness, Rudy Giuliani). It was Trump who warned that the election was rigged and was going to be stolen from him. It was Trump whose final ad was all about resisting the conspiratorial global special interests, complete, when those word were spoken, with an image of Soros,

Forget the professional propagators of fake news.

Is Twitter going to suspend President Trump’s Twitter account?

Is Facebook  going to block users from posting unfounded emanations from the president of the United States?




No evidence, huh?

So where did Trump get that idea?


No. Alex Jones.

Three Million Votes in Presidential Election Cast by Illegal Aliens: Trump may have won popular vote



“Report: 3 million votes in presidential election cast by illegal aliens.”

Bloggers on Monday, November 14th, 2016 in an article on InfoWars

Fact-check: Did 3 million undocumented immigrants vote in this year’s election?

Were there 3 million illegal votes from undocumented immigrants in this year’s presidential election? Well, that’s what some websites are saying.

“Report: 3 million votes in presidential election cast by illegal aliens,” reads a headline on InfoWars, a conspiracy website ran by Alex Jones. The article has been shared via Facebook more than 48,000 times when we last looked.

Other websites also have touted this report, including Milo, TheNewAmerican and FreedomDaily.

So is there any truth to it?

Well, we don’t know for absolute certain. But the report is actually a tweet, and the person who authored the tweet won’t explain how he arrived at his figure. If that isn’t reason enough to be skeptical, independent experts and historical analyses suggest it’s highly suspect.

In other words, don’t buy it


Meanwhile PropOrNot has tweeted and  retweeted images of Putin dining with Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security adviser, and Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein, all apparently part of the Russian  conspiracy to elect Trump and defeat Clinton.



Stein, in fact, said during the campaign that Clinton was more dangerous and more likely to lead us into war than Trump.

So why did she quickly raise a lot of money – more than she had raised in her entire campaign – to seek a recount in critical states that Clinton lost?


And why has the Clinton Team now joined Stein’s Wisconsin’s recount effort?




Meanwhile, this from Lee Fang from the the Intercept on Saturday: Some Fake News Publishers Just Happen to Be Donald Trump’s Cronies


Laura Ingraham, a close Trump ally currently under consideration to be Trump’s White House press secretary, owns an online publisher called Ingraham Media Group that runs a number of sites, including LifeZette, a news site that frequently posts articles of dubious veracity. One video produced by LifeZette this summer, ominously titled “Clinton Body Count,” promoted a conspiracy theory that the Clinton family had some role in the plane crash death of John F. Kennedy, Jr., as well as the deaths of various friends and Democrats.

The video, published on Facebook from LifeZette’s verified news account, garnered over 400,000 shares and 14 million views.

Another LifeZette video, picking up false claims from other sites, claimed that voting machines “might be compromised” because a voting machine company called Smartmatic, allegedly providing voting machines “in sixteen states,” was purchased by the liberal billionaire George Soros. Soros never purchased the company, and Smartmatic did not provide voting machines used in the general election.

Where do they come up with this stuff?

Soros Linked Voting Machines To Be Used In Key Battleground States Top globalist doing his best to control upcoming election Infowars Nightly News – October 25, 2016 65 Comments

One LifeZette article misleadingly claimed that the United Nations backed a “secret” Obama administration takeover of local police departments. The article referenced Justice Department orders that a select few police departments address patterns of misconduct, a practice that, in reality, long predates the Obama presidency, is hardly secret, and had no relation to the United Nations

InfoWars shared this report. UN Backs Secret Obama Takeover of Police International org calls for federalization of U.S. law enforcement to be ‘beefed up,’ cover all of America

Another LifeZette article, which went viral in the week prior to the election, falsely claimed that Wikileaks had revealed that a senior Hillary Clinton campaign official had engaged in occult rituals. Ingraham’s site regularly receives links from the Drudge Report and other powerful drivers of Internet traffic.

 Now that’s truly strange. Where did that come from?

Bombshell: Hillary Clinton’s Satanic Network Exposed Learn more about Hillary’s demonic ties Infowars.com November 4, 2016 534


But the boldest idea in this regard comes from Mike Cernovich, an influential pro-Trump social media presence. (See The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz on Trolls for Trump: Meet Mike Cernovich, the meme mastermind of the alt-right.)



From Cenovich:

The White House Press Corps must be disbanded. You cannot allow snakes inside your house. We know what snakes do.

Some will call this an attack on the free press, which is nonsense and shows ignorance of both the Press Corp and the First Amendment.

The White House press corps is the group of journalists or correspondents usually stationed at the White House in Washington, D.C., to cover the President of the United States, White House events, and news briefings. Their offices are located in the West Wing.

The First Amendment does not give hoaxing journalists the right to set up an office inside the Trump House.

Members of the press have every right to write about Trump. Under NY Times v. Sullivan, they even have a constitutional right to lie about him.



Cenovich was on the InfoWars broadcast this weekend with editor Paul Joseph Watson

They agreed that neo-Nazi Richard Spencer was a embarrassment and a joke who the mainstream media was promoting to smear and undermine the alt-right.

And they agreed that, in Cenovich’s words, “We are the media. we don’t need the fake media.”

In fact, Jones has already announced the creation of a Fake News Analysis Center. to fight back as the  discredited “mainstream” media makes desperate attempt to control narrative

And, last week, in what I thought a brilliant stroke, Jones extended backward in time his identity with his hero – suggesting that Trump, like himself, is and has always been a 9/11 Truther, the very matter on which Jones went from cultish Austin gadfly to man of the world and, ultimately, most trusted news source of the president of the United States.


It’s 9/11 2001.  Donald Trump is being interviewed. The Towers have just collapsed. He talks about the fact that I’ve built buildings like this. This building is incredibly sturdy. It’s one of the strongest in the world . It’s basically solid metal. How in the world did they collapse without there being bombs in the airplane or bombs in the building.

Now, why is this so important? Because if Donald Trump had been an insider he would have known there was a stand-down that day and Saudi Arabia was involved in 9/11 with criminal elements of our government. He would have gone along with the official story but he didn’t. He he was there Day ne saying he same thing I was saying on the radio at the same time.









`The Rhetorical Brilliance of Donald Trump, Demagogue for President’

(Trump Coloring Book)


Good Wednesday Austin:

A little less than a year ago, on Dec. 11, 2015,  Jennifer Mercieca, associate professor of communication and director of the Aggie Agora at Texas A&M University, wrote an influential piece for The Conversation entitled, The rhetorical brilliance of Trump the demagogue.

Trump possesses an arrogance and volatility that makes most voters recoil. So how has he maintained a grip on a segment of the Republican base that – at least, for now – seems unshakable?

And how has his support persisted, despite the fact that some have called him a demagogue and a fascist, or that political observers have found parallels between him and polarizing figures like George Wallace, Joseph McCarthy, Father Coughlin – even Hitler?

As a scholar of American political rhetoric, I write about and teach courses on the use and abuse of rhetorical strategy in public discourse. Scrutinizing Trump’s rhetorical skills can partially explain his profound and persistent appeal.

The Greek word “demagogue” (demos = people + agōgos = leader) literally means “a leader of the people.” Today, however, it’s used to describe a leader who capitalizes on popular prejudices, makes false claims and promises, and uses arguments based on emotion rather than reason.

Donald Trump appeals to voters’ fears by depicting a nation in crisis, while positioning himself as the nation’s hero – the only one who can conquer our foes, secure our borders and “Make America Great Again.”

His lack of specificity about how he would accomplish these goals is less relevant than his self-assured, convincing rhetoric. He urges his audiences to “trust him,” promises he is “really smart” and flexes his prophetic muscles (like when he claims to have predicted the 9/11 attacks).

Trump’s self-congratulating rhetoric makes him appear to be the epitome of hubris, which, according to research, is often the least attractive quality of a potential leader. However, Trump is so consistent in his hubris that it appears authentic: his greatness is America’s greatness.

So we can safely call Trump a demagogue. But one fear of having demagogues actually attain real power is that they’ll disregard the law or the Constitution. Hitler, of course, is a worst-case example.

Amazingly, one of Trump’s very arguments is that he won’t be controlled.

On the campaign trail, he’s harnessed his macho businessman persona – crafted through social media and years spent on TV (where he was often the most powerful person in the room) – to make his case for the presidency. It’s a persona that rejects restraints: he speaks of not being constrained by his party, media, other candidates, political correctness, facts – anything, really. In a sense, he’s fashioning himself as an uncontrollable leader.

(Slides are from Mercieca’s power point on her book in progress.)


A few notable things have happened in the last year. Donald Trump won the Republican nomination for president. Mercieca signed a contract with Texas A&M University Press to write a book, The Rhetorical Brilliance of Donald Trump, Demagogue for President, and then, a few weeks ago, Trump, the uncontrollable leader, was elected president of the United States.




“The book is a risk,” Mercieca said yesterday.

“I think it’s a risk for the press,” she said. “It’s a risk for me. I feel very nervous. I thought I was going to be writing this book and he wasn’t going to be president.”

“I had no idea he was going to get elected,” Mercieca said. “I thought that I was writing a book where we would kind of smugly laugh. like, `Oh, ha ha,’ and then he got destroyed by Hillary Clinton, and,`Isn’t it a good thing the demagogue didn’t win.’

I sent an email to the editor the next day (after the election), Wednesday morning, I had to catch a plane to a conference, and said, `Ah, I don’t know. Can I still write this book, you know, can I call the president of the United States a demagogue?’ And she said I could, if that’s what I thought because, academic freedom.”




For nearly seven years, Mercieca had been working on an academic paper about demagoguery, but just the right example had eluded her. Until Trump.

JM: “Just watching him, I kept hear him doing the same things, over and over and over again, using the same strategies,  and so I started to think about why those strategies seemed to work when they wouldn’t normally.”

It seemed that somehow his out-of-bounds style perfectly fit a public mood founded in frustration, polarization and mistrust.

JM: “And I realized it was very smart what he was doing, diabolically smart, but smart.”



Also last December, Mercieca was contacted by the New York Times, which was preparing a piece that would call Trump a demagogue, and catalogue the evidence.

In November Trump had mocked Serge Kovaleski, a New York Times reporter, who had formerly worked for the Washington Post, after Kovaleski contested Trump’s claim that Kovaelski’s reporting confirmed Trump’s debunked claim that crowds of Muslims in New Jersey had publicly celebrated the 9-11 attacks. (see Donald Trump Criticized for Mocking Disabled Reporter The GOP candidate performed an unflattering impression of Serge Kovaleski, who suffers from a congenital joint condition, at a South Carolina rally. from Snopes)

JM: To them (the New York Times reporters) it was debased, it disqualified him from office.

Why attack the reporter in such a malicious/juvenile way?

JM: “He is vindicating himself about the terrible lie of what Muslims do. So it is a way of further alienating the Muslim population, and making fun of the reporter, an ad hominem  attack. He can’t be trusted he’s not a real person. He’s disabled.

“So it’s all of these things rolled into one. The purpose is to distract from the claim that he has misrepresented the truth. So the story shifts. It’s not about him misrepresenting the truth. Instead, it’s about him mocking a disabled person, in the mainstream. But then, in his in group, it’s not even about that. They maybe don’t care about that. It’s Trump is the hero. He’s right. He’s making fun of the guy  who the group is making fun of. He’s not areal person anyway. He’s the enemy. So we just make fun of him.”

It sounds like junior high.

But, Mercieca said, “It’s sophisticated as a strategy.”

“I would love to see his college transcript and see if he took a rhetoric class,” she said.

“It’s too consistent over the course of a year to be accidental.”


The failing New York Times.

JM: It’s associative logic. You wouldn’t want to mention the New York Times without also associating it with something negative about it. Otherwise you’re just do PR for them so it has to be failing New York Times.

Also it’s an ad hominem attack. Instead of dealing with whatever allegations or news reports are in the New York Times you instead distract the audience away from those allegation by attacking the business itself. They  are distraction techniques. Instead of looking at what we’re supposed to look at, look over here.


JM: So, don’t deal with the questions raised by the Hamilton cast, don’t deal with that issue. Instead, they’re overrated.

It’s like magic, sleight of hand. legerdemain.





There were the nicknames.

JM: If you’re trying to introduce your candidate to the American electorate and they don’t know much about Ted Cruz, you have  a certain  story you’re trying to tell, and if your opponent is consistently branding you as Lyin’ Ted,  that has as much chance to stick as your branding attempt. He was smart to do it.

Usually you don’t find a lot of mentioning your opponent by political candidates because it helps them, (the opponent). But, if you do, you’re going to call them Crooked Hillary, you’re going to call them Lyin’ Ted, you’re going to call them Little Marco, Low Energy Jeb.

Why Crooked Hillary?

JM: The through line for the campaign was corruption, leading to `drain the swamp.’ The media is corrupt. Politicians are corrupt. Hillary Clinton was the best example of corruption so she was Crooked Hillary. She represents the full swamp.

Looking back, it all makes so much sense.






From a piece in Fusion in June.

“This is the problem when you have a rich billionaire, a fractured media, a polarized electorate, and a weak party system,” said Jennifer Mercieca, an associate professor of communications at Texas A&M University and a historian of American political rhetoric. “Conditions are ripe for demagoguery.”


“Right now it seems there is no one more powerful than Donald Trump in a position to stop him or call him out and hold him accountable for what he does,” she explained. “No one—not the party, not the media, not the people. I mean, the Pope tried to call him out and it didn’t work. I say that and I’m laughing, but it’s a nervous laugh.”





The path for Trump was cleared, Mercieca said, by “the way that the nation doesn’t share truth or fact, the way that information circulates and rumor circulates without even passably being checked. That allows for an insulated truth community, and if that insulated truth community has its own version of reality that’s separate from a different one, then it’s insulated, there is not way to interact with it.

“And so that allows for someone like Trump, who tells his story over and over again in a way that resonates with them, in a way that  can’t be contradicted from the outside. The fractured media community allows for that.”




JM: The polarized electorate furthers that division. If you have distrust between parties, where they are not sharing values and they also are not sharing facts and truth and media sources. Which is why it was so crucial that he kept going after the media, over and over throughout the summer and the fall, and now, because it re-enforces the idea that, `our truth community is right and your truth community is the problem.’

Also culpable, Mercieca said, was “the weak party system. They tried, at least initially, to control him,” but Trump used his ability to dominate the news cycle every day, and his personal resources, to stay in the rac and, ultimatley, to prevail.

Mercieca it was a perfect match of man and moment.

I think it was only Donald Trump and it was only in this moment. Ted Cruz couldn’t do it this year. Donald Trump couldn’t have done it ten years ago.

Trump was also derided for his reliance on mass rallies, which seemed a quaint throwback to an older style of politics.

JM: It was a way of creating a safe space. You always saw these stories of people saying, “I feel free when I’m at one of these rallies. No political correctness. I can say what I want. This is freedom. This is America.”

It was brilliant.

What is a demagogue?

JM: It translates to leader of the people so there is no reason why a leader of the people has to be a misleader of the people. it’s not a negative thing necessarily. So if  you go back to histories of ancient Greece, one way to think about a demagogue is – and this was George Grote, who wrote a multi-volume history of ancient Greece – his version of a demagogue is that they were what was best about democracy, that they were upholding democracy and democratic values and defending it from the oligarchs who were always trying to overthrow it.

For him the demagogues were heroes. But others, like Plato and Thucydides and Aeschylus and Aristophanes, they didn’t like democracy and in fact some of them were oligarchs and they didn’t like rhetoric, they were philosophers. Our understanding of the term is loaded and it is filtered through those who hated democracy the most – Plato and friends.

The one thing that distinguishes demagogues from other leaders of the people – because we would want someone to emerge from the people to lead them – is being held accountable. A real political  leader would allow  for themselves to be held accountable for their actions. They would promote transparency and accountability, stand for questions from reporters. They would allow themselves to be interrogated and questioned. They wouldn’t have anything to hide.

Whereas a demagogue, even in ancient Athens, would be a person who proposed a policy but then wasn’t in charge of implementing  that policy, so could never be held accountable for it.

Trump’s credo, Mercieca said, was, ““I won’t be accountable,’ which, by the way, is the last thing you’d want in a leader. But that’s what he ran on. He ran on the fact that he was going to be an unaccountable leader and that we should give him the power to make America great again.”

“Anytime anyone tried hold him accountable – the Pope the New York Times, the Republican Party – it didn’t matter. Anytime anyone tried to hold him accountable, he said, “Don’t listen to them. I know how to make America great again. I got great ideas, the best ideas, I’m really smart.'”



JM: With Ronald Reagan it was, “Let’s make America great again.” Let us, let you and I – make America great again. Trump took the `us’ out. With Trump it’s Make America Great Again. “I’m going to be the greatest jobs president God ever created.”

Here are some of Trump’s demagogic rhetorical techniques.




Argument Ad Baculum.

Menace, threats of force, were a feature of Trump’s rhetoric -“when people come after me they go down the tubes” – especially at his mass rallies, which often featured the almost ritualistic expulsion of protesters.

Sometimes, it went beyond that.

From the New York Times in early August.

Repeating his contention that Mrs. Clinton wanted to abolish the right to bear arms, Mr. Trump warned at a rally here that it would be “a horrible day” if Mrs. Clinton were elected and got to appoint a tiebreaking Supreme Court justice.

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Mr. Trump said, as the crowd began to boo. He quickly added: “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”Oblique as it was, Mr. Trump’s remark quickly elicited a wave of condemnation from Democrats, gun control advocates and others, who accused him of suggesting violence against Mrs. Clinton or liberal jurists.

Argument Ad Hominem

Trump is the master of the ad hominem attacks.

From Mercieca’s piece in The Conversation:

When opponents question his ideas or stances, he’ll employ ad hominem attacks – or criticisms of the person, rather than the argument (dismissing his detractors as “dummies,” “weak” or “boring”). Perhaps most famously, he derided Carly Fiorina’s appearance when she started to go up in the polls after the first Republican debate (“Look at that face!” he cried. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”).




Argument Ad Populum:

JM: The crowd is wise. The experts are fools.

From The Conversation.

He often uses ad populum arguments, which are appeals to the wisdom of the crowd (“polls show,” “we’re winning everywhere”).

From First Reading when Trump came to Austin at the end of August.

Good day Austin:

You gotta be flattered.

Ostensibly, Donald Trump came to Austin Tuesday to raise money and hold a rally.

But, it turns out, he really came to Austin to figure out what he really thinks about the thing we thought  he cared most deeply about – the deportation of some 11 or 12 million immigrants without legal status.

“I mean, I don’t know. You tell me,” Trump told a packed house of rabid supporters – and a few ringers – at the Moody Theater for a taping of Sean Hannity’s show on Fox Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s like a poll. There’s thousands of people in this room.”

(And of course, the obligatory self-congratulation: “This place is packed. Does everybody get this kind of a crowd?”)

And so, Trump asked the Moody audience to determine what his policy on deportation should be and, lo and behold, they seemed to agree that their hero should adopt the position previously articulated by the likes of Jeb Bush and John Kasich.

Except, of course, Trump, reality TV star that he is, knew how to manipulate his audience to get the results he wanted.


JM: He treats people as objects when he doesn’t respect them or they criticize him. They are enemy objects. He always uses `that’ instead of `who.’ He treats women as objects. He treats the Khan family as objects.





JM: My favorite example:

From the New York Times piece in December.

“All of ’em are weak, they’re just weak,” Mr. Trump said in New Hampshire on Tuesday of his fellow candidates. “I think they’re weak, generally, you want to know the truth. But I won’t say that, because I don’t want to get myself, I don’t want to have any controversies. So I refuse to say that they’re weak generally, O.K.? Some of them are fine people. But they are weak.”

JM: I like that example because he runs you through the thought process, he actually says out loud the whole  paralipsis. `I’m gonna say it, I’m not gonna say it because I don’t want to get in trouble. Here I am saying it but I’m not actually saying it because I don’t want to get into any controversy.’

American exceptionalism:

JM: He personifies American exceptionalism. He can make America great again. He has the best words. That gives his audience, the in group, this hopeful, ambiguous goal.

(Trump coloring book.)
(Trump coloring book.)

Stepping back to take a more meta look, Mercieca thinks Trump smashes the liberal idyll about he course of American history.

JM: We’ve had this liberal, progressive version of history that  says, you know, the status quo is fine, the Constitution is good, let’s make managerial small changes and we’re going to see progress unfold through history

However, Mercieca said that America was founded on the foreboding that “democracy will always decay, democracy will always turn into tyranny,” and that patriotic citizenship demanded a continuous critique of government, protecting against “the natural corruption of government.”

But, Mercieca said, “the language of critique wanes over the course of the 19th Century,” and the 20th Century turns to the “language of progress.”

“I think we’ve been lulled into this false sense of security from the liberal/progressive notion of the 20th Century that things are always going to get better, they’re not going to get worse and no one election really matter that much because things are going to unfold to a better life for everyone in the long run.”

“We believe that our presidents out to be heroes,” Mercieca said.


Trump has certainly presented himself as the hero.

And, raised expectations.

JM: Trump has give us some pretty specific agenda items that he’s going to make happen. if he doesn’t build a giant, great big beautiful wall in the next couple of months here then I think he’s got this expectation that is unfulfillable. If he doesn’t repeal Obamacare, if he doesn’t bring back American jobs and everybody does not have a great factory job in the next few months, I don’t know how much time people are going to give him.

He set pretty high expectations  that he can do all these things. Maybe people don’t think he can, actually. Maybe people are actually thinking, `We know the Democrats, or Hillary Clinton tried everything else, let’s give this guy a chance.’  Or maybe they take him more literally. `I want to see that wall built and see that new job.'”

He’s been wily and surprised me all the way through. Maybe he’ll find a way to misdirect or redirect our attention.

He must have a game plan.”

And if he doesn’t?

Mercieca said the media are supposed to play the watchdog role that was seen as the responsibility of patriotic citizens at the founding of the Republic

“They want to hold people accountable,” she said. But with Trump, “He’s not going to let that happen.

She recalls this modest pre-eletion proposal in the Federalist:

The GOP Needs To Elect Trump, Then Impeach Him
October 25, 2016 By Jonathan Ashbach

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the only two viable presidential candidates. Both are disastrous. Third-party candidates are a joke, electorally. Supporting them accomplishes nothing beyond weakening the candidate one would otherwise have supported from the two major parties.

The Utah scheme, if successful, would only pull support from Trump, leaving Clinton likely to win an even more impressive margin of victory in the Electoral College. Even on simple policy grounds, most conservatives would be unhappy with the two leading third-party candidates. Conservatives are left with no good options.

Or are we? There is a way out of this mess. It is a desperate plan, but desperate times, desperate measures: Elect-and-Impeach. Elect the ticket. Impeach Trump.

The Republican Party does have an attractive candidate on its ticket. Socially conservative. Economically conservative. Conservative on national defense. Morally and religiously impeccable. The trouble is, that man is the Republican candidate for vice president, Mike Pence.

But if Trump were impeached immediately after he took office, the Republican candidate for vice president would become president in his place. Further, if Republicans take the lead in removing Trump from office, the party might regain some of its lost credibility in parts of the electorate that it is anxious to attract.

Yes, We Can

There is nothing impossible about this strategy. That Republican leaders are strongly at odds with their party’s candidate is no secret. If enough of them are willing to cross the aisle and join forces with their Democratic colleagues, impeachment is a perfectly plausible outcome.

That made Mercieca laugh.

“What makes you think he’s going to stand for being impeached?”

But how would he, how could he, resist it?

JM: I don’t know. I don’t know. He has not allowed anybody to hold him accountable  yet. He has prevented every single institution from holding him accountable.



By the time The Rhetorical Brilliance of Donald Trump, Demagogue for President is published, probably next fall, we will know much more about whether the skills that got Trump to the White House are serving him and the nation well as its occupant.

Here’s a TED talk Mercieca gave in June at Brinn College in Bryan.

Ted Cruz, Rick Perry and Donald Trump’s team of (serially humiliated) rivals

(Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, walks from Trump Tower, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
(Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, walks from Trump Tower, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)


Good Friday Austin:

Donald Trump’s team of rivals?

Not so much. Not so far.

Donald Trump’s serial humiliation of his former rivals, more likely.

And, the genius of this is that Trump is getting huge credit for growth and magnanimity for considering his severest critics as members of his administration, without actually, so far, giving them anything.

This morning it was announced that President-elect Donald Trump has chosen U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and not Ted Cruz of Texas to be his attorney general.



Cornyn’s swift tweeting of the news suggests that our senior senator has a bit of the reporter’s delight in being the first to spread some big news.

Also, that he raced trough the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – in coping with his home state colleague being denied, moving  straight to a sixth stage – giddy delight.

Trump naming Cruz attorney general would have been a bold and daring stroke – and completely crazy. Like giving Cruz a prime speaking role at the Republican National Convention.

Cruz has as clear and consistent philosophy as any man in politics. Trump does not.

There are a panoply of issues that are of central, live-or-die, importance to Cruz – gender identity and bathrooms, same-sex marriage, abortion – that Trump either doesn’t really care about or has a live-and-let-live attitude about – issues that Cruz would, as attorney general, be the point man on for his administration.

Just watch this Cruz ad.

Were Cruz to be Trump’s attorney general, it is only a question of whether it would be a matter of weeks or months before stories would start appearing about Cruz’s fierce and independent Justice Department, and raising provocative questions about who is  calling the shots –  Cruz or Trump – and who is the real power in Washington, and did Trump miscalculate by elevating Cruz to a place where he could potentially challenge him for renomination, all culminating in Trump firing Cruz and saying he never should have trusted Lyin’ Ted.

Instead, Trump gets credit for having even considered Cruz, and gets what he really wanted – the supplication of Ted Cruz, in his comments to the press about how he wants to serve the Trump administration, and in his coming to Trump Tower in a ritual of obeisance.


Sessions is the un-Cruz. He was the first senator and the first Republican officeholder of any real rank to back Trump, an endorsement that was, at the time, a body blow to Cruz who had much coveted Sessions’ backing as the arbiter of right-wing purity on immigration.

And, Sessions simply doesn’t call attention to himself. When he enters a room, people crane their necks to see if anyone more interesting is coming in behind him.

Here is Cruz’s comment on Sessions’ nomination.

Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination as attorney general is great news for all of us who revere the Constitution and the rule of law. I have been honored to work with Sen. Sessions on many of our nation’s most important issues over the last four years. Sen. Sessions has had an extraordinary career in government and law enforcement. He has been an exemplary senator for the state of Alabama, and I am confident that he will be an exceptional United States attorney general.

 Of course, for Texas reporters, this outcome is much to be mourned.

If Cruz had been named attorney general, Gov. Abbott could have sent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to Washington as Cruz’s successor until the 2018 election, where he would have quickly emerged as Trump’s de facto Senate whip (as opposed to Cornyn, the actual Senate whip), and his departure, or imminent departure, in the midst of  the Texas legislative session would have set off a once-in-a-lifetime feeding frenzy that would have been a thing to behold.

In the meantime, Cruz and the other Trump Tower supplicants have to hope that the president-elect doesn’t  have  a hidden-camera taping system.

Trump: “Ted, come sit down next to me. I ordered us taco bowls. I love them. Let’s eat. Smile.”



Now comes Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee, who while he didn’t run against Trump was quite as scathing as Cruz in his denunciation of every aspect of Trump’s personal and political being, and, unlike Cruz, refused to endorse or vote for him.

From ABC News:

President-elect Donald Trump will be meeting this weekend with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, according to sources on Trump’s transition team who also said that the 2012 GOP presidential nominee is under consideration for a top cabinet position within his incoming administration.

Sources told ABC News that Romney is under consideration for secretary of state.

One senior level source directly involved in the transition efforts told ABC News the meeting is also about “mending fences.”

Romney did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

The two have had a remarkably contentious relationship. During the campaign, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate not only withheld an endorsement but delivered an impassioned and personal argument against Trump as the party’s nominee. Romney slammed Trump as a “phony, a fraud” and accused him of “playing the American public for suckers.”

“Think of Donald Trump’s personal qualities, the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third grade theatrics,” Romney said of Trump at the University of Utah in March.

Romney also criticized Trump’s business record and economic policies during his address.

Trump’s assessment of Romney was no kinder.

“Mitt Romney was a failed candidate — should have beaten Barack Obama easily,” Trump told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” on the same day Romney delivered his speech.

“He was a terrible candidate. He choked,” Trump said during a news conference at West Palm Beach, Florida, on March 5.

“If he would have devoted the same energy and time to winning the presidency four years ago, as he is now on trying to destroy our party and the unity of our party, he would have won that election and we wouldn’t have had the problems that we have right now,” Trump argued.

Once Trump was named the president-elect, however, Trump tweeted that Romney had called to congratulate him.

The Trump Transition Team announced this morning that Romney would be meeting Saturday with the president-elect at Trump National Golf Club, Bedminster, in New Jersey, where the transition meetings are being held this weekend.

Trump naming Romney secretary of state would reassure everyone who despises Trump, but it would suggest that Trump’s foreign policy was entirely up in the air, and might require Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign chairman and choice to be his chief strategist, to quit in protest.

On this morning’s Presidential Transition Team conference call, spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump was meeting  with Romney for the same reason he met with Henry Kissinger on Thursday.

It was jut an opportunity to get  to hear some really good ideas and thoughts on the geopolitical situation as it stands now. The conversation with Mitt Romney is just that, an opportunity to hear his ideas and his thoughts. But I think the broader point really gets back to this idea of who Mr. Trump is and the kind of president he is going to be. He wants to be inclusive and ensure that we have the best and brightest and the highest caliber of people providing their input and serving this nation and that’s all it really comes down to.

Right. That’s it.

And, if somehow Romney emerges as Trump’s secretary of state, I believe it will turn out to be some kind of Cyborg Romney and that eventually, the real Mitt Romney, stripped down to his Mormon underwear, with a beard down to his knees, will be found locked in a chamber in Trump Tower.

My advice to Romney when he meets with Trump is to resist at all costs if Trump says, “Hey Mitt. Let’s have some fun. How about come cos play. I’ll be the sovereign and you can be the knight.”









And then there is Rick Perry.

My story yesterday:

Is President-elect Donald Trump considering naming Rick Perry as secretary of energy in his administration?

According to a report Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal, the answer is yes.

But, as the Journal noted, the Energy Department is one of three that Rick Perry, during his first ill-fated run for the White House, wanted to eliminate. And it was Perry’s inability to remember that, that led to the most humiliating moment of his political career, and one of the most famous campaign gaffes in American political history.

It was at a Republican presidential debate in November 2011, that Perry, then a formidable candidate for his party’s nomination, said, “It’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: commerce, education, and the uh … what’s the third one, there? Let’s see. The third one. I can’t … Oops.”

“Call me a cynic,” wrote Susan Wright, at RedState, but to her, the Perry mention for Energy, “looks to be a bit of trolling.”

As unlikely as that might seem, on his opening monologue on Saturday Night Live after Trump’s victory, host Dave Chappelle said, “America’s done it, we’ve actually elected an internet troll as president.”

Perry, in his second presidential campaign, was among Trump’s most vociferous critics, describing Trump in July 2015 as a “cancer on conservatism” and a “barking carnival act” who was “appealing to the worst instincts in the human condition.”

But once Trump triumphed over Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who Perry backed after he got out of the race, the former Texas governor endorsed Trump with unbridled enthusiasm, campaigning for Trump and advertising his willingness to serve in his administration, though he was most often mentioned as a potential secretary of veterans affairs.

On Nov. 9 Perry tweeted, “Just got a call to #makeamericagreatagain Saddle up & ride, bro!!,” and an Instagram image of Perry being handed a pay phone by Marcus Luttrell, the former Navy SEAL, for whom Perry has emerged as a kind of father figure. Perry’s role at the Republican National Convention was to introduce Luttrell, who spoke in favor of Trump.




If Trump is really going to put Rick Perry in his Cabinet, fine.

But, if he is pranking him, that’s just wrong.

Perry would be the most enthusiastic Trumper the next president could want.

He has already proved his allegiance to Trump and the lessons of Trump, appearing on reality TV with great gusto to demonstrate that he understands that being the longest-serving governor of the second-largest state is simply not enough.

Please, President-elect Trump. Stop.




Post-election blues: On deporting liberals and searching for defecting electors





Good Tuesday Austin:

I suspect that if Donald Trump had his druthers, he would have preferred to have won the popular vote and Hillary Clinton the electoral vote rather than the other way around. That way, he could have had the satisfaction of being able to boast that he was ultimately more popular, and carry forward the banner of the aggrieved victim of a “rigged system,” and his enhanced brand, without suffering the burden of actually having to serve as president, which, if you’re not into it, is really, in every respect, a drag.

In any case, Donald Trump is on record, as recently as Sunday night, as preferring the popular vote to the Electoral College as a method for choosing a president.

From Vox:

In an interview with 60 Minutes that aired Sunday, Trump said that he would “rather see” the presidential race’s outcome determined by a simple popular vote.

For background, on election night 2012 — when Mitt Romney had lost in electoral votes but still briefly led Obama in the popular vote total because California hadn’t come in yet — Trump sent a furious series of (later deleted) tweets denouncing the Electoral College and calling for a “revolution.”

Naturally, CBS’s Lesley Stahl asked the president-elect about this during an interview that aired Sunday, now that he’s the beneficiary of our country’s anachronistic system. “You tweeted once that the Electoral College is a disaster for democracy,” she said. “Do you still think it’s rigged?”

Trump dodged at first, saying, “Look, I won with the Electoral College,” and adding that “some of the system” is rigged. But when pressed, he later offered this:

I’m not going to change my mind just because I won. But I would rather see it where you went with simple votes. You know, you get 100 million votes and somebody else gets 90 million votes and you win.

There’s a reason for doing this because it brings all the states into play. Electoral College, and there’s something very good about that. But this is a different system. But I respect it. I do respect the system.


By this morning, Trump tweeted that he was now happily reconciled to the Electoral College.

That said (or tweeted). it is not too late. The Electoral College does not meet until Dec. 19 to actually choose the next president. All that would be required to elect Clinton instead of Trump would be an historic, but perfectly legal and Constitutional, number of so-called faithless electors.

From Fair Vote:

“Faithless Electors” are members of the Electoral College who, for whatever reason, do not vote for their party’s designated candidate.

Since the founding of the Electoral College, there have been 157 faithless electors. 71 of these votes were changed because the original candidate died before the day on which the Electoral College cast its votes. Three of the votes were not cast at all as three electors chose to abstain from casting their electoral vote for any candidate. The other 82 electoral votes were changed on the personal initiative of the elector.

Sometimes electors change their votes in large groups, such as when 23 Virginia electors acted together in 1836. Many times, however, these electors stood alone in their decisions. As of the 2004 election, no elector has changed the outcome of an election by voting against his or her party’s designated candidate.

Despite these 157 faithless votes, and a Supreme Court ruling allowing states to empower political parties to require formal pledges from presidential electors (Ray v. Blair, 343 US 214), 21 states still do not require their members of the Electoral College to vote for their party’s designated candidate.

There are 29 states (plus the District of Columbia) that require faithfulness issue a small variety of rarely enforced punishments for faithless electors, including fines and misdemeanors

Here is a very nice explainer on how the Electoral College works:

Of the 21 states that permit electors to votes their conscience, 15 went for Trump, plenty enough to deny him the presidency if a majority of the electors in those states switched their votes from Trump to Clinton.




Enter Hannah Moskowitz, a 25-year-old prolific author of young adult fiction from Rockville, Maryland, in suburban D.C., who is one of an uncertain number of Clinton supporters who, in the aftermath of last Tuesday’s election, sent emails to Republican electors in those 15 states imploring them not to vote for Donald Trump on December 19.


Here is the email that Moskowitz sent, in this case to Texas elector John Harper of Rockwall County.

Subject: A plea to listen to your country

Dear Mr. Harper,

I know that you probably never dreamed of casting an electoral vote that went against the announced choice of your state. But I also know that you probably never imagined that a candidate as uniquely unfit to be president would have secured the electoral vote. 

You know as well as I do that he didn’t win the popular vote. That more people in this country voted for someone who is arguably the most qualified person to ever run for our highest position of power. Most people want her. And you, as a person who understands politics and knows what’s at stake, have the power and the responsibility to try to stop the man who’s perpetuating the acts of violence that we’re already seeing across the country, three days after he was elected.

I don’t need to tell you about how many voters were turned away in Michigan. I don’t need to tell you how many ballots haven’t yet been counted. 

I don’t need to tell you the horrendous things Trump has said about women, minorities, veterans, immigrants, disabled people, foreigners.

You know. You know what’s right. You know what you need to do.



Hannah Moskowitz

And here is John Harper’s reply.

Yes, I am a Presidential Elector for the State of Texas.

You must not know much about Texas citizens.  Why else would you foolishly suggest that I cast my Electoral College vote for Hillary Clinton, a despicable individual?

I have copied my response to your foolish and unsolicited email to the District Director of the Texas Federation of Republican Women in hopes that she can bring legal action against you and your ilk.

Deplorably yours…

John E. Harper, Ed.D.

Moskowitz told me that Harper was the only elector to reply to her entreaty to dump Trump.

“I wasn’t expecting him to reply, “Oh my God, you changed my mind, I’m going to vote for Hillary,'” said Moskowitz, who wrote the electors more as post-traumatic therapy than with any expectation of success.

“I wanted to be one of voices of thousands of people who were emailing the electors in the hopes we might change somebody’s mind. Did I think we’re going to change anybody’s mind? No. But I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do everything that I could.”

Of Harper,  Moskowitz said, “I was expecting him to not answer me. I was expecting he’d get inundated with emails and then vote for Trump, or maybe there was a snowball’s chance in he’d get inundated with emails and change his mind ,but not because of my email.”

Moskowitz’s effort was more about trying to channel her distress into some kind of activism to work her way out of the current conundrum:”I don’t think we can do anything, but I also think we all owe each other everything we can do to try to do something.”

But, she also expected, “silence or respectful discourse from the electors.

She was taken aback by Harper’s reply with its threat to  bring legal action against you and your ilk, and his signing off deplorably yours. She took that to be an acknowledgement of an alt-right identity. But it could also be simply a defiant, back-at-you embrace of Clinton’s assigning half of Trump supporters to a basket of deplorables, an estimate that she apologized for, saying it was over-broad.











Here was how Alexander Kim of Fort Worth, another Texas elector, responded to an email from someone other than Moskowitz urging him to switch his vote.


And here is a response from South Carolina elector, Bill Conley, to a similar appeal.




I called Harper, a former mayor of Rowlett. After I explained why I was calling, he was no longer on the line. I called back, and left a message, but I have not heard a reply.

In his email to Moskowitz, Harper said he was copying the district director of the Texas Federation of Republican Women, in the hopes that she could bring legal action against Moskowitz.

Another Clintonite who emailed Harper, also received this response from Harper’s wife, Debra, who has been active with the TFRW.


It is worth repeating here that no laws are being broken here.

From Larry P. Arnn, a leading American conservative scholar and the president of Hillsdale College, writing yesterday in the Wall Street Journal. defending the Electoral College as the appropriate method for choosing presidents.

The chosen electors are bound by custom everywhere and by law in many states to support the presidential candidate who won their state’s popular vote. If they fail to vote this way, they will be “faithless electors.” This has happened but rarely in the history of the presidency.

Everything about this process is as the Constitution directs, with the exception of the last bit. Nothing in the founding document requires electors to support the candidate who wins the popular vote in their state. In America’s early years many states did not even conduct popular presidential elections.

Instead electors were picked by state legislatures or by governors. The Framers had the idea that the electors, in choosing a president, would vote their consciences after deep discussion—and sometimes this happened. Often, however, electors were selected because they had declared support for a particular candidate.

As the practice of holding a popular vote spread, it was natural that the electors would follow those results. Still, the Electoral College continues to recognize that Americans vote by state—in the same way that they elect the Senate and the House, and the same way that they voted those many years ago to ratify the Constitution

As for Soros, the billionaire investor and leading funder of Democratic and liberal causes, this from Kenneth P. Vogel in Politico yesterday

George Soros and other rich liberals who spent tens of millions of dollars trying to elect Hillary Clinton are gathering in Washington for a three-day, closed door meeting to retool the big-money left to fight back against Donald Trump.

The conference, which kicked off Sunday night at Washington’s pricey Mandarin Oriental hotel, is sponsored by the influential Democracy Alliance donor club, and will include appearances by leaders of most leading unions and liberal groups, as well as darlings of the left such as House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairman Keith Ellison, according to an agenda and other documents obtained by POLITICO.

Soros also had a cameo in Trump’s final, anti-globalist ad of the campaign.

Mike Joyce, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas,  said he had heard from a number of electors distressed about the incoming from Moskowitz’s ilk.

In the meantime, his boss, Tom Mechler, sent this fundraising appeal out Monday – subject line, Deport a liberal.





This election, there was no shortage of liberal celebrities and politicos proudly announcing their intention to move to Canada if Donald Trump were elected.

Well, Donald Trump is our President-elect, and if Whoopi Goldberg, Lena Dunham, Jon Stewart, Amy Schumer, and Rosie O’Donnell (just to name a few) no longer wish to live within the confines of our American Democracy, let’s help send them packing!

Regardless of whether your party wins or loses an election, we all enjoy the privilege of calling ourselves Americans, who are granted inalienable rights by the democratic institution these liberals are refusing to live under.

This country has more than enough liberal constituents, so to those who want to leave the country, let’s give them the boot and say good riddance!

Thank you and God Bless Texas!

Tom Mechler
Chairman, Republican Party of Texas

I asked Joyce how the Republican Party would deliver the money raised to the deportees and he said that, actually, any money raised would stay in Texas in the state party’s coffers.

Moskowitz said she cast her first presidential vote for Obama.”

“It was fantastic. This year, I was not as excited to vote for Hillary as I was for Obama, but she is a fantastic politician and would have made an incredible president. So the fact that she lost to the least qualified person to ever make it to the general election is a slap in the face.”

She attributed the outcome to, “People who voted against their better interests.”

Moskowitz, who describes herself as “loudly and proudly Jewish,” said the outpouring of anti-Semitic sentiment in  the aftermath of Trump’s election has been unsettling.

It’s what people who don’t like what she is doing fix on, she said.

“They don’t seem to care that I’m queer at all. That seems to be fine with everybody as long as you’re not Jewish.”

She said that the fact that Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, is married to a Jewish man and converted to Judaism, is irrelevant.

“I don’t care if Trump loves Jews. His followers hate Jews and don’t mind saying it.”

“And then he appointed (Stephen) Bannon,” she said of Trump’s naming the former head of Brietbart News and chairman of his campaign as his chief strategist and senior counselor in the White House. Some Jewish groups have said Bannon is no friend of the faith.

But, putting aside the fact that it’s not going to happen, wouldn’t a hypothetically successful effort to deny Trump an Electoral College victory be seen as illegitimate and lead to violence.

“I was one of those people who assumed that Hillary was going to win, so what I was worried about was the violence afterward,” Moskowitz said. “So, if the electors switched to Hillary, I wold be extremely worried about violence, but I think over the four years of the Trump presidency,  there would be more damage.”

Moskowitz struck what has emerged as the fundamental question for those upset and offended by Trump’s election in the week since Election Day: To accept the outcome and move on, or deny its moral legitimacy.

To normalize, nor not to normalize.

“I think what is happening now is something that has not happened before in America. We’ve never had a president like this and we’ve never had a president when we didn’t know what he was going to do. and I think it’s been a very long time since the level of hate that his supporters have been throwing out in the world has been legitimized.”

“I don’t think that anyone could have dreamed that this would be our president after the first black president. I certainly didn’t. Maybe I should have. Maybe I should have predicted that there would be this kind of backlash.”

I asked Moskowitz about the opening of Saturday Night Live this past Saturday in which Kate McKinnon, as Hillary Clinton, played a mournful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, ending with McKinnon talking to the camera, “I’m not giving up and neither should you.”

“Kate McKinnon doing Hallelujah was shattering. That was beautiful,” Moskowitz said. “I have a lot of feelings about that and they are very sad and very positive feelings. I think that was a very good choice for them. I think it tapped into what a lot of us were feeling. And I think it sets SNL apart from a lot of other mainstream media out there telling us to give him a chance. You know Oprah’s out there saying, `I’m going to give him a fresh start.’ And I’m, `No, we’re not going to pretend this is OK. Like John Oliver is telling us, `Don’t pretend this is OK..”

But, I asked, what is John Harper, and all those Americans who voted for Trump, supposed to make of SNL mourning Clinton’s loss like it’s a national tragedy? (Along the same lines, Prairie Home Companion host Chris Thile opened the post-election show with a virtual group hug for his freaked-out listenership.)

“But they got their president,” Moskowitz said, “and all this liberal media they’re complaining about is acquiescing to him.”

“This is not normal and we’ve got to not let this become normal,” she said of Trump.

And, of Harper’s response to her,  Moskowitz said, “People are like, `He’s from Texas, what do you expect?'”

But, she said, lots of Texans voted for Clinton, and “I’m not going to normalize speaking to someone this way. I’m going to continue to expect better from people.”

The most eloquent rejoinder to Moskowitz and the many millions of Americans who feel the way she does, came from President Obama at his press conference Monday.

     Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  You said more than once that you do not believe that Donald Trump would ever be elected President, and that you thought he was unfit for the office.  Now that you’ve spent time with him, sitting down and talking to him for an hour and a half in the Oval Office, do you now think that President-elect Trump is qualified to be President?

     And if I can do a compound question, the other one is you mentioned staffing and tone.  What do you say to those Americans who may not doubt that there will be a peaceful transition but that are concerned about some of the policies and sentiments that were expressed by President-elect Trump himself or his supporters that may seem hostile to minorities and others? Specifically, I’m talking about the announcement that Steve Bannon, who is a proponent of the so-called alt-right movement, what many call the white nationalist movement, is going to have a prominent role in the White House under President Trump as his chief strategist and senior advisor.  What message does that send to the country, to the world?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Athena, without copping out, I think it’s fair to say that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on every appointment that the President-elect starts making if I want to be consistent with the notion that we’re going to try to facilitate a smooth transition.

Look, the people have spoken.  Donald Trump will be the next President, the 45th President of the United States.  And it will be up to him to set up a team that he thinks will serve him well and reflect his policies.  And those who didn’t vote for him have to recognize that that’s how democracy works.  That’s how this system operates.

     When I won, there were a number of people who didn’t like me and didn’t like what I stood for.  And I think that whenever you’ve got an incoming President of the other side, particularly in a bitter election like this, it takes a while for people to reconcile themselves with that new reality.  Hopefully it’s a reminder that elections matter and voting counts.  And so I don’t know how many times we have to relearn this lesson, because we ended up having 43 percent of the country not voting who were eligible to vote.  But it makes a difference.

     So given that President-elect Trump is now trying to balance what he said in the campaign and the commitments he made to his supporters with working with those who disagreed with him, and members of Congress, and reaching out to constituencies that didn’t vote for him, I think it’s important for us to let him make his decisions.  And I think the American people will judge over the course of the next couple of years whether they like what they see, and whether these are the kinds of policies and this is the direction that they want to see the country go in.

     And my role is to make sure that when I hand off this White House that it is in the best possible shape and that I’ve been as helpful as I can to him in going forward and building on the progress that we’ve made.

    And my advice, as I said, to the President-elect when we had our discussions was that campaigning is different from governing.  I think he recognizes that.  I think he’s sincere in wanting to be a successful President and moving this country forward.  And I don’t think any President ever comes in saying to themselves, I want to figure out how to make people angry or alienate half the country.  I think he’s going to try as best he can to make sure that he delivers, not only for the people who voted for him, but for the people at large.  And the good thing is, is that there are going to be elections coming up, so there’s a built-in incentive for him to try to do that.

     But it’s only been six days.  And I think it will be important for him to have the room to staff up, to figure out what his priorities are, to be able to distinguish between what he was campaigning on and what is practical, what he can actually achieve.  There are certain things that make for good sound bites but don’t translate into good policy.  And that’s something that he and his team, I think, will wrestle with, in the same way that every President wrestles with.

     I did say to him, as I’ve said publicly, that because of the nature of the campaigns, and the bitterness and ferocity of the campaigns, that it’s really important to try to send some signals of unity, and to reach out to minority groups or women or others that were concerned about the tenor of the campaign.  And I think that’s something that he will want to do.  But this is all happening real fast.  He’s got commitments to supporters that helped to get him here, and he’s going to have to balance those.  And over the coming weeks and months and years, my hope is, is that those impulses ultimately win out.  But it’s a little too early to start making judgments on that.

     Q    And your view of his qualifications.  Has that changed after meeting with him?

     THE PRESIDENT:  I think that he successfully mobilized a big chunk of the country to vote for him, and he’s going to win — he has won.  He’s going to be the next President.  And regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up.  And those aspects of his positions or predispositions that don’t match up with reality he will find shaken up pretty quick, because reality has a way of asserting itself.

And some of his gifts that obviously allowed him to execute one of the biggest political upsets in history — those are ones that hopefully he will put to good use on behalf of all the American people.

And then, this advice to Democrats.

I believe that we have better ideas.  But I also believe that good ideas don’t matter if people don’t hear them.  And one of the issues that Democrats have to be clear on is that, given population distribution across the country, we have to compete everywhere.  We have to show up everywhere.  We have to work at a grassroots level — something that’s been a running thread in my career.

  I won Iowa not because the demographics dictated that I would win Iowa, it was because I spent 87 days going to every small town and fair and fish fry and VFW hall.  And there were some counties where I might have lost, but maybe I lost by 20 points instead of 50 points.  There are some counties maybe I won that people didn’t expect because people had a chance to see you and listen to you and get a sense of who you stood for and who you were fighting for.

And the challenge for a national party is how do you dig in there and create those kinds of structures so that people have a sense of what it is that you stand for.  And that increasingly is difficult to do just through a national press story.  It’s increasingly difficult to do because of the splintering of the press.

And so I think the discussions that have been taking place about how do you build more grassroots organizing, how do you build up state parties and local parties and school board elections you’re paying attention to, and state rep races and city council races — that all I think will contribute to stronger outcomes in the future.

And I’m optimistic that will happen.  For Democrats who are feeling completely discouraged, I’ve been trying to remind them everybody remembers my Boston speech in 2004; they may not remember me showing up here in 2005 when John Kerry had lost a close election, Tom Daschle, the leader of the Senate, had been beaten in an upset.  Ken Salazar and I were the only two Democrats that won nationally.  Republicans controlled the Senate and the House.  And two years later, Democrats were winning back Congress, and four years later, I was President of the United States.

Things change pretty rapidly.  But they don’t change inevitably.  They change because you work for it.  Nobody said democracy was supposed to be easy.  This is hard.  And in a big country like this, it probably should be hard.



“If the Lord takes me home tomorrow, I’ve been blessed.” Dan Patrick talks about Trump’s victory.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick arrives at a Donald Trump rally at the Travis County Exposition Center Tuesday August 23, 2016. (Jay Janner)
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick arrives at a Donald Trump rally at the Travis County Exposition Center Tuesday August 23, 2016. (Jay Janner)


Good morning Austin.

Moments after Donald Trump finished his victory speech early this morning, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who chaired the Trump campaign in Texas, called.

We talked for 25 minutes.

Here is the exchange.

DP: Maybe I should interview you.

FR:  Yes. I’ll be the proxy for everybody else in America, the mainstream media, every pollster, the entire field of political consulting, what else?

DP: This is the most historic presidential election in the history of this nation and, while I never really doubted he would win, it’s still hard for even me to believe and I always believed.

FR: It didn’t even seem that the Trump campaign earlier in the day thought this would happen.

DP: I think they actually realized today as they looked at the exit polls and their internal polling that this could actually happen. And I’ve spent enough time with Trump now that the Trump you saw tonight in his acceptance speech I believe, is the real Trump and that is someone who, I tell people all the time – you know people say, what’s Trump like? I say he’s soft-spoken, he’s gracious, he’s kind, he loves people, he loves this country , and there was the other Trump who was the campaign Trump , who had to be bigger than life to win the election.

But the person you saw tonight in the acceptance speech is the Trump that I’ve been around all summer and the Trump when you’re on a plane with someone, as I did a few times with him when there’s no one around except just staff and a handful of people. You get to see the real guy, or when you’re standing backstage catching your breath for a moment you see the real guy. When you see him walk through the back entrance of a hotel and going through the kitchen, and stop to shake every hand and take a picture with everyone, including some people who may not be eligible to vote, when you see him work the motorcade line of all the police officers and take pictures and shake every hand.

I told him the last time we were together, several weeks (ago), we were flying from San Antonio to Dallas and it would be the last event that we would do, and at the end of events, he always mobbed for photographs and signatures. so I knew we wouldn’t have a chance to say goodby and I said to him – I kind of lagged behind so I would be the last guy on the plane with him, because I wanted a moment – I said, “Donald, millions of people are praying for you.” And he looked at me and said, “I know it,” and he said it in a way like, I feel it.

I also said to him, “I have an original signature of every president in the history of this country hanging in my office and I believe I am going to be hanging yours up next,” and he just smiled and then we went ahead and did the event.

He’s overwhelmed by the graciousness of the people. By the trust they have in him. I think he is overwhelmed by the moment and I think he’s humbled by this and I think it was clear tonight.

FR: Did you spend time with him outside of Texas.

DP:  No. Just on the four trips to Texas.

I’ve gotten to know Don Jr. very well. He and I communicate two or three times a week. In fact, I had Don do a tele-town hall call on Halloween night and he did it and so I’ve worked very closely with him and I’ve got to know Don Jr. very well.

FR: What do you think happened?

DP: You know the reason said I believed he was going to win – I was on Fox Friday and kind of listed all the states that he won tonight – because he understood the soul of America. He got it and Hillary Clinton was just clueless about where real America really was.

And I realize it was a close election, in terms of popular vote , but there is a grand canyon worth of difference between what she stood for and what he stood for and my faith is restored in America. My faith is restored in the voters who have reclaimed this country for themselves, and we were adrift, wages are stagnant, jobs are scarce, the military has been decimated, terrorists are at our doorstep, borders are open, trade deals have been unfair, education, inner-city parents and children deserved school choice, all these things that I knew in my heart, in my soul, that those message resonated with people, and so that’s why I believed he could win.

What I didn’t know was could they raise the money, could they build the organization in 90 days because remember, he had never raised any money or built an organization until he wrapped up the nomination in late June, so to catch up with the Clinton juggernaut of money and volunteers and paid staff in 90 days was another part of that incredible story.

And I think, I just sent a text to Reince Priebus and I congratulated him because he had to step up and help the campaign in a way that the party wouldn’t normally do because Trump was a different type of campaign, and I think Reince Priebus played a key part because they really put the ground game together nationally for them.

FR: But wasn’t it really about Trump’s direct communication with voters.

DT: Absolutely, I said to a lot of people last week, I really believe, I think I said it publicly as well to many people at different meetings, in speeches, I said, on election night, MSNBC and CNN and the left, the Democrats, are going sit around and say, “what the heck just happened,” because they really are out of touch with mainstream America, and (the Trump campaign) decided to take on the Washington establishment, the media establishment, and they rose up and let me tell you what it was a mighty struggle. You look at all these states – Florida and Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, it took a Herculean effort to overcome the Clinton machine, and the people rose to the occasion because they believe in, as he says, the movement, they believe in the issues and they were looking for hope and he gave it to them.

FR: Trump did better than previous Republicans like Romney, but he didn’t do as well as Romney in Texas. Why not?

DP: I had said all along that I thought he would win Texas by 8 to 12 points, and it looks like the number is going to end up being somewhere between 9 and 10 with the final vote count, so it’s about where I thought, for a couple of reasons.

Maybe 20 percent of the Republican vote, the establishment, more moderate wing of the party, who may have not turned out. When Romney was on the ticket, and McCain, the conservatives turned out for those candidates even thought it wasn’t their first choice, but some of the moderates unfortunately stayed home. So that impacted probably two or three points of the victory that would have gotten him. I think Romney won by 16 and McCain won by 12.

I believe, secondly, the Trump campaign, except for doing a couple of rallies here and fund-raising, they didn’t put a massive effort into here, which they shouldn’t have. They had to focus on other states, so if he had come here and made a big push he would have been in the teens, but I’m very pleased as chair of the campaign in Texas for Trump, I’m very pleased with the outcome.

The Democrats, we’ve seen, again and again, a lot of brash talk in ’14 in Abbott’s and my race. We heard it here, and the brash talk never materialized. We are a crimson red Republican state. We do have battleground areas. It was a tough night down ballot in Houston. Trump did not do as well in Houston and Dallas and in Travis County, but he cleaned up everywhere else, and he will build upon that because he will spending a lot of time in Texas. He will be spending time here.

FR: Why?

DT: First of all, he loves it. It will be a great place for him to come campaign and raise money

Secondly, the border is going be a big part of his presidency so he will be spending time here.

He’s made a lot of great friends here, from the Christian community to the donor community and his son comes here and hunts a lot ,so they have a great affinity for Texas . So I think you will see President Trump here from time to time, but the focus is on the border.

Think about it.

We now have a president in the White House who is a good friend of Texas. I think Texas raised more money for him than any other state and so we also sent out 1000 volunteers on his behalf. Part of my job as chairman was to help organize the Mighty Texas Trump Strike Force. ask force. And I give all credit to the volunteers, Toni Anne Dashiell, Rhonda Lacy, Rick Potter, they were the big drives, so I don’t want to take credit for that. But I promised Trump and Don Jr. about six weeks ago that we’d muster a big army and we sent a thousand people to all of these battleground states. We had people. And so I know they are appreciative of that.

But we now have a good friend in the White House again, a formidable protector of the Second Amendment. He will protect the oil and gas industry and support it. What a refreshing change that is. He will get the federal government off of our backs. Just the amount of time and money and energy we spent it the last eight years having to sue and fight the Obama administration, the Justice Department and the EPA. I think Abbott said he sued Obama 31 times. Paxton probably already sued him a dozen times or more. Just knowing that that’s off of our backs.

FR: But can Texas Republican politicians adapt to not suing the federal government?

DP: Let me tell you something. I was one of the authors of photo voter ID. We are going to take that up and pass it again. What we passed the last time should have passed constitutional muster, but the Obama Justice Department threw it out.

Let me tell you something, knowing that we are going to have a conservative on the Supreme Court and he will appoint conservative judges moving forward, and all of these liberal judges that Obama appointed, if they go too far they will be overturned by a conservative Supreme Court. That means that we with confidence in the Texas Legislature can pass strong conservative legislation that is not going to be thrown out by the courts. That is such freedom because you know, when you put in so much time and so much work – I think photo voter ID, I think we debated on the floor 27 or 28 hours – and it was a good bill, and for that to be thrown out was just wrong.

So that is just a great relief, knowing we will have a partner on health care, that we’re going to get rid of Obamacare, repeal and replace it, whatever they do will be far better than what we have. We don’t have to worry about are we going to get various waivers and help from different agencies in Washington. I mean all the states are going to feel that way.

We picked up two more governors now nationally, so I think it’s 34, check the math , 34 or 35 governors. We have 35 lieutenant governors. The vast majority of states are now Republican, all those states are now actually going to be able to have someone on their side instead of against them.

But there’s no question that Obama put a target on our back and Hillary would have done it more than any other state because we were a thorn in their side. We kept them from controlling the country, because the electoral votes of Texas together with California, would make it impossible for a Republican to win. That’s why they came after Abbot and I in ’14. That’s why they came so hard this time and they’ll come back in ’18. But it’s a totally different world. It’s a good day

FR: Will there be some Texas going to Washington?

DP: It won’t be me. I don’t know that I would asked, but if I were asked I would politely and respectfully turn it down because I love being lieutenant governor and it is the best job in state politics in the country, so I’m not going anywhere.

And I‘ve talked to some people in their transition team already. They are going to need thousands of people, thousands of people, and like other presidential candidates in the past, who knew governors, or knew members of the Legislature or congressmen and senators and lieutenant governors or attorney generals or whoever it would be. He doesn’t have those same relationships with the states, so he’s going to be having to fill –he’s not going to replace everyone on Day One, but basically, you don’t want the Obama appointees, everything from US attorneys to the Cabinet heads to the undersecretaries to the ambassadors. You want to wipe that slate clean. You don’t want the Obama mentality and ideology being pat of your presidency. But that will take him a while, take him a while to find those folks.

I intend to do all I can, I assure you, I’ve already recommended some people, and I will continue to recommend people. We should be well represented in the energy sector. I’m sure they will be .I don’t know that the secretary of energy will be from Texas but we’ll have a seat at the table, which we clearly did not have with Obama. Education, border security , all of these issue. I intend to talk and to see that Texas has a big role in all of that, but I’m staying here. I’m running for lieutenant governor in 2018, that’s what my goal is.

FR: Might Rick Perry have a place in the Trump administration?

DP: I think he could. Hes been out there working hard, in fact we had an event in July in Houston and Gov. Perry and I were on the plane with Trump, and we came to Houston, we were in San Antonio and came to Houston, and (Trump) was kind enough to introduce me and he also introduced Gov. Perry and said, “I’d like to take this guy to Washington with me.” I think those were his words. So we’ll see.

FR: Do you think there is still any bad blood between Sen. Cruz and Trump?

DP: No, no. I think Ted is positioned very well, and I think Trump, I know personally, Trump was appreciative of Ted stepping up in September. It was a big deal and so they’ll work together fine.

I look at someone like Mike McCaul, and I know there’s been some discussion about maybe he’s going to challenge Ted. I think Michael McCaul could well be the next Homeland Security director or attorney general. When you talk about people having a role in the administration. I think McCaul, who has done a great job as chairman of Homeland Security and has the background of working for the former attorney general, you know, I think he could have a role very easily.

I think a lot of Texans could have an opportunity, but I’m staying put. The only reason I wanted to help  – I was honored that he handpicked me to do this job as chair –  I just wanted him to win, I didn’t want anything in return expect wanting him to win, and I feel like we have an ally in the White House and that’s good.

FR: One last question. Your voice sounds a little different. Is this really Dan Patrick.

DP: Yes it is. I’ve had a cold for a while. I think I’m talked out

FR: Do you know when you will next to the president-elect.

DP: I have no idea. He’s going to be busy with so much to do I wouldn’t expect him to call and I’m sure not going to bother him. I assure you, he’s got a lot to do to get ready to be president.

I intend to go to inauguration. I’ll communicate through Don Jr. how I normally do.  I don’t’ presume to contact the president-elect unless its’ something to do with Texas. But we’ll work through, as he builds his staff out, we’ll work with his staff on the needs of Texas. I’ve already sent a note off to the family.  He doesn’t need to call Dan Patrick or anybody. He just needs to get work.

FR: Is it Don Jr. who hunts in Texas.

DP: Yes. Don Jr. has been here quite a bit. They’ve talked about how they’re members of the NRA. Don Jr., from the people I know in Texas who have hunted with him, one of Don Jr’s. very, very best friends, a roommate in college is a Texan, and I’ve been told that Don Jr. is as good a marksman as anyone who’s not a  professional, so he loves to hunt. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on hunting trip in Texas in the near future.

FR: Are you doing anything tomorrow.

DP: We’re just available for the media.

As it comes.

What a great day, I feel very relaxed about the future for my four grandchildren and my children. You know I’m good. If the Lord takes  me home tomorrow, I’ve been blessed. I was really worried about the  future under Hillary, just because of her policies and so I feel like we really have a shot to make America great again.

Trick or treat? If you’re going to early vote in the presidential election, Halloween is the day to do it.



Happy Halloween, Austin:

Intellectually, I know that early voting is a good thing, increasing political participation, something especially to be desired in a state like Texas with such sorry habits in this regard.

But, emotionally, I don’t like it.

I like voting on Election Day and I want everyone else voting on Election Day.

Of course, I am also nostalgic for the long-ago days when everyone got their news from Walter Cronkite, or Huntley/Brinkley, or (the one-man, very distinguished, Fox news of his day) Howard K. Smith, when Sunday night was Ed Sullivan and Bonanza, when we were all on the same page, more or less, about what was unfolding before us.

Back when America was great, which I’d like it to be again.

Oh wait. Strike that. Forget I said that.

But, I do like Election Day as a civic holiday, and, to me, early voting feels as wrong, as much an invitation to chaos, as early trick-or-treating.

Sure, with early trick-or-treating, more kids would get more candy.

But what’s to stop a kid from knocking on your door one day dressed as a goblin and then knocking on your door two days later dressed as a ghoul?

Sure, the Brennan Center or some such will tell you that in-person, trick-or-treat fraud is extremely rare, but I don’t know.

I’ll wait to hear what Gov. Abbott has to say about that.

But, more fundamentally, think about this.

Millions of I-simply-can’t-wait-to-vote Texans, and altogether some 20 million over-eager Americans, have already voted in what is commonly called the most consequential presidential election in our history without having Anthony Weiner on the brain.

And, with Election Day coming as late as it can possibly come this year, there is still time for a November Surprise …  or two.

Before this is over, Donald Trump  may, a la Mission Impossible, remove his improbable mask and reveal that he is actually Ted Cruz, or Marvin Bush, or Evan McMullin, or Vladimir Putin, or some alien being sent to enslave us all, or Roger Clinton.

Yes, of course, Roger Clinton, confirming Alex Jones’ worst fears that his man Trump is actually a Clinton mole.

Trump, of course, a little bit suspiciously, had been predicting this all along.




Here he was talking about Abedin, Weiner and the emails in Norwood, Massachusetts, back at the end of August.

Imagine someone so lacking in impulse control, so reckless in what he tweets.

Certainly, Donald Trump calling Anthony Weiner names, shows a certain lack of self-awareness.



I mean, if Donald Trump gropes women the way he boasted about, but which he then said he actually didn’t, but then a bunch of women said he most definitely did, that is presumably a lot worse than Weiner’s consensual virtual sex with women (I know nothing about the latest Weiner charges, involving underage girls, but that too, I presume, is virtual.).

In fact, in the vast realm of personality types, Trump and Weiner seem if not on the same page than at least in the same chapter of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

From The Mind of Donald Trump by Don P. McAdams in The Atlantic:

The same feeling perplexed Mark Singer in the late 1990s when he was working on a profile of Trump for The New Yorker. Singer wondered what went through his mind when he was not playing the public role of Donald Trump. What are you thinking about, Singer asked him, when you are shaving in front of the mirror in the morning? Trump, Singer writes, appeared baffled. Hoping to uncover the man behind the actor’s mask, Singer tried a different tack:

“O.K., I guess I’m asking, do you consider yourself ideal company?”

“You really want to know what I consider ideal company?,” Trump replied. “A total piece of ass.”

I might have phrased Singer’s question this way: Who are you, Mr. Trump, when you are alone? Singer never got an answer, leaving him to conclude that the real-estate mogul who would become a reality-TV star and, after that, a leading candidate for president of the United States had managed to achieve something remarkable: “an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.”

Here is David Brook’s diagnosis in the New York Times:

Trump continues to display the symptoms of narcissistic alexithymia, the inability to understand or describe the emotions in the self. Unable to know themselves, sufferers are unable to understand, relate or attach to others.

To prove their own existence, they hunger for endless attention from outside. Lacking internal measures of their own worth, they rely on external but insecure criteria like wealth, beauty, fame and others’ submission.

In this way, Trump seems to be denied all the pleasures that go with friendship and cooperation. Women could be sources of love and affection, but in his disordered state he can only hate and demean them. His attempts at intimacy are gruesome parodies, lunging at women as if they were pieces of meat.

Most of us derive a warm satisfaction when we feel our lives are aligned with ultimate values. But Trump lives in an alternative, amoral Howard Stern universe where he cannot enjoy the sweetness that altruism and community service can occasionally bring.

Bullies only experience peace when they are cruel. Their blood pressure drops the moment they beat the kid on the playground.

Imagine you are Trump. You are trying to bluff your way through a debate. You’re running for an office you’re completely unqualified for. You are chasing some glimmer of validation that recedes ever further from view.

Your only rest comes when you are insulting somebody, when you are threatening to throw your opponent in jail, when you are looming over her menacingly like a mafioso thug on the precipice of a hit, when you are bellowing that she has “tremendous hate in her heart” when it is clear to everyone you are only projecting what is in your own.

Trump’s emotional makeup means he can hit only a few notes: fury and aggression. In some ways, his debate performances look like primate dominance displays — filled with chest beating and looming growls. But at least primates have bands to connect with, whereas Trump is so alone, if a tree fell in his emotional forest, it would not make a sound.

It’s all so pathetic.

As for Weiner, here is Mandy Stadtmiller at the end of August in New York Magazine.

Of all the tragic tales in politics, the pathological need for Anthony Weiner to have women look at his erect penis, at a humiliating cost to his wife and family, is one of the strangest, saddest psychological case studies of all time.

This is a man who desperately needs to be looked at, talked about, filmed, discussed, praised, considered, desired, Googled, reviled, and admired. Nothing else matters to him. Not his infant son. Not his wife. Not the fate of the presidential election. Not the potential for a career rebound.

Weiner represents the living embodiment of a beloved social-media insult (“delete your account”), and the new face of the “exhibitionistic narcissist,” a group described as “grandiose, competitive, attention seeking and sexually seductive.”

The hallmarks of exhibitionist narcissism include arrogance, recklessness, and a need to show off, according to the 1998 book The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern: “Practically everything exhibitionistic narcissists do is designed to bolster their self-esteem by demonstrating that they are better, can do more and are above everyone else,” writes author Nina W. Brown. “Acting as if rules, laws and cultural conventions apply to others but not them is another example, particularly when this is consistent behavior.”

With Trump, we all have been able to observe in real-time the very public manifestations of his personality.

With Weiner, we also have, from earlier this year, the superb documentary Weiner.

From Mandy Stadtmiller:

There is a scene in the new Weiner documentary that shows him reacting gleefully to his now-legendarily disastrous 2013 Lawrence O’Donnell segment during his mayoral campaign. Wife Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s top aide and most trusted adviser, is horrified by the shout-fest ensuing. “Why are you laughing?” she asks him. “This is crazy.”

Bruce Handy in Vanity Fair in May asked some psychotherapists to evaluate the Anthony Wiener they saw in Weiner

  • Anna Fels, a psychiatrist and faculty member at Weill Cornell Medical College. Her practice includes couples as well as individual therapy, and she has written about issues of betrayal.
  • Meg Kaplan, a clinical psychologist and faculty member at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. She specializes in sexual disorders.
  • Jeannette Stern, a psychiatric social worker who treats couples and has also worked with addicts.




Jeannette Stern: That he could even watch the O’Donnell interview on playback? For me, that would be the kind of thing where I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed the next day, I’d be so mortified. I’d say, “Take all the televisions out of the apartment so I don’t have to watch it.” And when he wanted Huma to watch it, she was like, “I’m sorry, I can’t.” That’s more of a typical reaction. But his need not only to watch it but also to think he won the encounter, it’s so uncomfortable to watch. But he wasn’t uncomfortable. That suggests some kind of disconnect with reality. Everything is about attention, and it’s almost as if he doesn’t care what kind of attention.


Anna Fels: He seems to be in a kind of strange, impervious bubble. There’s a great quote where he says, “Did my personal relationships suffer because of the superficial and transactional nature of my political relationships, or is it the other way around? Do you go into politics because you’re not connecting on that other level?” Watching this movie I’d say it’s the latter. He doesn’t seem to me like someone who’s been changed or corrupted by the political process, but he’s really clueless about certain aspects of interpersonal communication and empathy.


Meg Kaplan: There’s another quote in the movie where he said, or someone said about him, “The same constitution that made him do it helped him weather it.” I think this is his personality. He’s just persevering and hoping it goes away, but not really taking responsibility or acknowledging how people are feeling about what he’s done.



So, I wonder, is all this renewed attention the worst thing that ever happened to Anthony Weiner, or the absolute very best?

As for the rest of us, we have a week and a day – give or take a Florida recount type situation – before we know whether narcissist Anthony Weiner will have elected narcissist Donald Trump president.

In the meantime, if there is a fitting day to early vote this year it would certainly be today, so maybe I’ll drop by the nearby Fiesta early voting spot, pick up some more candy, and see if the spirit moves me.


Mine is Pablo Hazard.