Not far from the White House, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Yayoi Kusama’s blockbuster retrospective show Infinity Mirrors has been attracting insanely large crowds of people who stand in line, eager for the 20-second stretches of disorientation inside Kusama’s infinity rooms.
The rooms use facing mirrors, hanging lights and polka dots to create vistas of infinite regress. As art, it is perhaps underwhelming—an empty spectacle with no real depth. But as I stood in “The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away,” I snapped a picture and realized it was far more compelling on my screen than in life—perfect art for the age of the selfie.
On my phone, I saw myself in a Blade Runner-like world of “attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion” as the lights created towering psychedelic spires surrounded by replicants of myself. It was impossible to tell which one was real—because none of them were. They were all reflections on the screen.
I felt a similar sense of vertigo a few days earlier at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing regarding Russian active measures—or propaganda—intended to use the refracting mirrors of the Internet to disrupt our election.
“What’s hard to distinguish sometimes is: Did the Russians put it out first, or did Trump say it and the Russians amplify it?” said Clint Watts, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, to reporters after his testimony on Trump’s embrace of propaganda conspiracies. “He actually repeats propaganda put out by RT or Russian sources and, vice versa, they parrot him.”
Reflections reflecting reflections again and again so that nothing is true.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Russia’s propaganda strategy was designed and perfected by Vladislav Surkov, who brought postmodern theory to the Kremlin, creating and managing Russian political reality like performance art. When he was sanctioned by the United States for his role in the invasion of eastern Ukraine, which he largely orchestrated, he said he didn’t mind. “The only things that interest me in the U.S. are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.”
In Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia, he writes that “Surkov’s genius has been … to marry authoritarianism and modern art, to use the language of rights and representation to validate tyranny, to recut and paste democratic capitalism until it means the reverse of its original purpose.”
Pomerantsev says that Surkov turned Russian politics into a reality show.
Then, as if in a new kind of arms race, we elected a real reality-show star as president.
I wrote that just before I heard that Trump had ordered missile strikes against a Syrian airbase after pictures of gassed children in that country changed the president’s mind about intervention. He explained the strike to the nation in a statement recorded at his country club.
Our country is making one of the most serious decisions possible, and yet, locked in our mirror rooms of constant conspiracy, we have no way to know what is actually happening. We don’t know whether Trump is trying to show that he is independent of the Kremlin, or whether this is another one of Putin’s ploys as he manipulates Trump. Trump himself has told us not to trust the intelligence community, and no one has any reason to trust Trump.
In “Without Sky,” a pseudonymous short story generally attributed to Surkov and set after the “fifth world war,” he describes the “the first non-linear war,” a war “of all against all.”
“A few provinces would join one side,” he writes. “A few others a different one. One town or generation or gender would join yet another. Then they could switch sides, sometimes mid-battle. Their aims were quite different. Most understood the war to be part of a process. Not necessarily its most important part.”
This sounds precisely like the situation we are getting into—Assad, ISIS, Russia, American-backed rebels, Iran, and now Trump’s Tomahawks. All sides shifting. Regardless of the aims of this attack, the spectacle and confusion are good for Trump and Putin. And bad for the Syrian people who will continue to die. Those who escape will be denied entry into the U.S. as refugees.
“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean,” NBC’s noted fabulist Brian Williams said. “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’”
Surkov couldn’t have scripted it better. It is so disorienting, but it all feels somehow familiar.
I was 18 the night we went into the Gulf War in 1991. Those missile launches were prompted in part by the PR firm Hill and Knowlton, which collaborated with one of the chairs of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus to present fabricated testimony to the caucus about atrocities committed by Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait. But we were all mesmerized by the night-vision green missiles flying through doors.
In 2003, we went back to Iraq on the basis of another massive PR campaign.
Perhaps the best way now to know if something is propaganda is when they say it is not. Marco Rubio—who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee, by the way—went on CNN to praise Trump and call the attack “an important decisive step ... not a message.”
But a step toward what? Do we want to take out Assad? At this moment, nobody knows. But people are lining up behind Trump. He will realize war, the ultimate image enhancer, is good for him.
“Trump became president of the United States (last night),” CNN’s Fareed Zakaria said the next morning.
It’s like we’re all trapped in one of Kusama’s infinity rooms, waiting for the missile to burst through the door. But we don’t know where the door is. We have lost all orientation.
It is snowing in Washington, D.C.—strange in early March after an insanely warm winter, but nothing compared to the cold many of the activists and tribal members gathered here endured in North Dakota while fighting against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Kristen Tuske, a 39-year-old woman from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, stands with several other women in front of the White House, her back to it, fist raised in the air. She has pink hair, sculpted arches for eyebrows and tattoos on the side of her face. She lived at the camp where thousands of “water protectors” gathered to fight the pipeline for seven months.
“The last couple weeks at the camp were sad, and everyone was a little angry,” she said. “A lot of feelings are hurt. ... That was our home, and we got kicked out.”
The last protesters left the camp on Feb. 23.
The struggle started last summer when the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes sued the Army Corps of Engineers to stop the construction of the oil pipeline, claiming it could contaminate their water supply and destroy significant archeological sites. That kicked off months of protests, often pitting camps of indigenous people—and the environmentalists and veterans that had come to fight with them—against an increasingly militarized police presence. President Obama twice ordered construction stopped, but, after taking office, Trump gave the go-ahead to the pipeline, insisting publicly that it must be constructed of American steel (a stance he quietly reversed this month).
The evacuation of the camp may be a defeat for Standing Rock, but, in the eyes of those gathered in front of the White House, it may also signal the beginning of something greater—the possibility of a real environmental movement in America.
“The reason I am here is to represent our future generations and be their voice, part of the resistance in decolonizing our minds,” said JoRee LaFrance, a member of the Crow tribe from Montana. “Protecting our waters should be our No. 1 priority, and that’s why we’re all here is to unite and protect tribal sovereignty and to protect indigenous people and their waters. People need to realize indigenous people are doing this for all people, not just indigenous people. We’re here to protect the water for all people.”
As I talk to people at the rally, I hear that sentiment again and again. It is not just about the water at Standing Rock. It is a symbolic battle, a turning point. Indigenous people are stepping forward to save the planet—and to save us from ourselves.
Little Thunder, an elder from South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation, is standing apart from the crowd in full ceremonial regalia: a feathered headdress, a circular feather shield, and some mirrored sunglasses. He came all the way to Washington to “let people know and let Trump know that this is not just a Standing Rock or a Washington, D.C., or a politics issue. This is for the whole Earth. We’re trying to save the water, because water is life.”
Little Thunder says he is a single father of six children, four of them living at Standing Rock. His voice is high and pinched; he’s almost singing as he speaks.
“Once he let (Standing Rock) go through, they think they can destroy the water, which is life every place else on this Earth, not just Standing Rock,” he says.
David Kenny, a member of the Seneca Nation, is standing with a sign that reads “Water Is Life.”
“It’s not just about Native Americans anymore. It’s about everyone,” he says. “Because if you keep poisoning the water, you’re going to start paying for it, and they’re going to shoot that price up. You’re going to be paying $20 for a bottle of it. It’s not just about the tribes anymore.”
He turns his attention toward the White House and the white man inside it. “Can you stop this pipeline, please?” he asks, his voice soft. “It’s not about business anymore. It’s not just us that’s going to fall—it’s you, too. Everybody is going to die if this continues. The Earth is dying.”
There is no indication that Trump or anyone else in the White House hears this, despite the fact that native nations have spent the last four days with teepees set up on the mall, raising awareness of indigenous and environmental issues. On March 9, the day before the gathering across from the White House, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said he would not agree that climate change caused by human activity is “a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
But as the Native Nations Rise rally went down, thousands more people were calling the EPA to complain about Pruitt’s disavowal of accepted science.
On the very same day as the rally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a study reporting that carbon dioxide levels rose at a “record pace for second straight year.”
“The two-year, 6-ppm surge in the greenhouse gas between 2015 and 2017 is unprecedented in the observatory’s 59-year record,” the report read.
Trump’s budget proposal, released a week after the rally, slashed the EPA by more than 30 percent. NOAA is not included in the final proposal, but a leaked draft showed a 17 percent decrease in funding.
Back at the rally, the snow falls on the demonstrators, as well as the dancers and the speakers on the stage. Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas takes the stage. He is part Shoshone and organized the release of a song recorded by a collection of mostly native artists to bring attention to Native American issues.
It is a strange moment, watching the snow fall as this pop star in a floppy hat sings over a recording of his band’s song “I Gotta Feeling,” and people sway and dance and sing along, making it feel, for a moment, more like spring break than a deadly serious fight for the fate of the world.
Looking over at the White House, I have a feeling that tonight’s probably not gonna be a good night. But if we listen to the water protectors, we may still have some good nights left.
“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
This was Donald Trump talking to Billy Bush about assaulting women more than a decade ago, but it has proven to be the ultimate expression of Trumpism.
When Matt Lauer, a rich celebrity, asked Trump, another rich celebrity, about North Carolina’s discriminatory “bathroom bill,” it became a question of whether Trump “would be fine with (Caitlyn Jenner) using any bathroom she chooses” in Trump Tower.
Jenner, like Trump, is a reality TV star with complicated lines between business and family. Of course, she can pee wherever she wants. But trans people who aren’t stars and who have to go to the bathroom in less-glamorous places than Trump Tower are shit out of luck after the administration declared in late February it would not protect the rights of trans students.
Jenner spoke out against Trump’s reversal on trans issues, telling him to call her. But because she is also a star, her plea misses the point: Trump attacks the most vulnerable.
If Trump wanted to understand how it feels to be denied access to basic services, he could talk to Gavin Grimm, a trans high school student whose lawsuit against his Virginia school district—for forcing him to use a refashioned janitor’s closet instead of the men’s room—was scheduled to reach the Supreme Court later this month. However, on Monday, March 6, the case was sent back to a lower court because of the new guidelines set by Trump’s justice department.
Or when Trump spoke at the ultra-right Conservative Political Action Conference in late February, he could have talked to Jennifer Williams and Jordan Evans, two trans women who stood out in the hallway holding a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and a sign that said, “Proud to be Conservative, Proud to Be Transgender, Proud to be American #sameteam.”
“We spent the last year fighting for transgender rights and being part of a presidential campaign, (and) we didn’t know what we were walking into,” Williams said of the anti-trans fervor once again spiking in the ruling party.
Williams has attended the conference since 2006, when she was working on a film called Fear of a Black Republican. She felt that the conference and the conservative movement was moving toward the libertarianism of Ron Paul and away from the “traditional values” of Mike Huckabee.
Until 2016, she attended the conference presenting as a man, rather than as Jennifer, her authentic self. She says she was received warmly when she reintroduced herself last year; her friends asked if she was still a conservative and when she said she was, they were cool.
But after a brief moment of high hopes, the mood shifted.
First, former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos got a keynote spot on CPAC’s program. Yiannopoulos regularly called trans people “mentally ill” and used a December speech in Milwaukee to mock a trans student.
Like Yiannopoulos, some other openly gay people at CPAC seemed eager to put down trans people in order to cement their own endangered status among the bigots. One conservative lesbian blogger sitting in the press section “explained” to a Breitbart editor how trans women were really just men who like to dress in women’s clothes and masturbate. “Autogynephiles,” she said, talking high and punching down.
“It’s going to be hard for the administration to go after lesbian, gay and bi people, because they have numbers; they have resources; they have money. We don’t necessarily have that,” Williams said. “You’re going after transgender people ... We’re only 0.6 percent of the population.”
Williams was briefly relieved when Yiannopoulos was disinvited from CPAC, but the night before the conference began, the regime rescinded the Obama-era directive offering federal protection for students to use the facilities that correspond with their gender identities rather than their birth certificates. So when Williams and her friend walked in with their signs and their flag, they didn’t know what to expect.
“I was really worried because people were hyped up. We didn’t expect it to be the issue du jour by 8 in the morning, walking into CPAC with 11,000 or 12,000 conservatives of all different stripes from all over the country.”
Although Williams’ access to public facilities is legally protected in Maryland, where the conference took place, she and her friend located single-occupancy restrooms where they knew they would be safe.
“Hopefully nothing bad will happen. I don’t expect it to. This is my tribe, just as LGBTQ is my tribe. People at CPAC don’t start fights,” she said. “But there’s always that one person you have to be careful about.”
She is especially worried for young trans kids. “When I grew up, we had no hope, and you knew that if you were going to be out and proud and live your life authentically, it was just going to be tough,” she said. “These kids have had a great run for several years, making life better and easier so they can live openly. But now if I’m them, everybody knows who I am. What’s going to happen to me now?”
The fear, she says “has to be overwhelming, because at least the federal government had your back. Now they don’t.”
At its best, the federal government protects the minority from the tyranny of the majority. But Trump’s populism says, in essence, “Fuck that shit.”
On the same day Trump press secretary Sean Spicer said that trans protections are “states’ rights issues,” he also said that recreational cannabis would become a federal issue. In this regime, there are no real principles—only power and the repression of anyone vulnerable enough to repress.
Williams has placed whatever hope she has left in the U.S. Supreme Court. “If we lose the Gavin Grimm case, it could be pretty dismal for a long time. I don’t want to say ‘until a Democrat gets elected,’ because I’m a Republican committee person,” she said. “Hopefully our party will be the ones to make freedom happen for everyone.”
That’s the thing about freedom: If it doesn’t happen for everyone, it doesn’t happen for anyone.
Column updated Monday, March 6. Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney's, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other publications.
The far, far right started freaking out when “lock her up”-chanting former Gen. Michael Flynn resigned as national security adviser in the wake of revelations that he discussed loosening sanctions with a Russian ambassador while Obama was still president.
Mike Cernovich, one of those DeploraBallers whom others on the far right sometimes like to call a cuck, started the hysteria almost immediately after the announcement, tweeting: “The coup is on, Flynn resigned. Bannon, Kellyanne, and Miller next on the chopping block.”
A few minutes later, far, far right cop-worshipper John Cardillo also used the C word: “Flynn was the first casualty in Reince and the establishment’s palace coup.” He followed with a direct appeal to Trump: “You have traitors within. Do not let them conspire with the MSM to remove your circle of loyalists.”
Cernovich agreed that Flynn’s resignation was a “HUGE win for fake news.”
These guys are extremists, but they are smart enough to know the only strategy for Trump is to deny reality and all other sources of truth. The corruption, impropriety and legally dubious dealings of the regime seem so widespread that the admission that one thing is wrong could lead quickly to the revelation that everything is wrong.
Breitbart, meanwhile, was doing its best to ignore Flynn’s resignation, proving, perhaps, the old conservative point about the inefficiency of government workers, not tweeting about it at all until 9:30 a.m. the next morning. State news moves slow.
It is premature to rejoice about any of this, because the Trump propaganda machine has been wildly effective at erasing reality so far—and when Trump dumped Paul Manafort because of his Russian ties, the dirt just seemed to disappear. But the questions of, “What did the president know, and when?” may still prove powerful in Washington, D.C.
THE INTELLECTUAL GODFATHER
Senators shuffle by the desk to cast their votes on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education, chattering like kids returning from summer break to find that everything has changed. Somehow, even the victors seem confused. None of them really expected the world to look like this.
Except, maybe, Sen. Jeff Sessions. He is standing toward the front of the Senate chambers, his hands behind his back, at ease. There is a grin on his face. He has just cast what will be his final vote as senator—to confirm DeVos.
Though he is not attorney general yet, he was instrumental in planning the flurry of authoritarian executive orders marking Trump’s first weeks in office, including the now-contested Muslim ban. Sessions wanted to go even harder, hoping for a “shock and awe” approach, overwhelming the opposition with the dramatic pace of change.
In a Washington Post story that called Sessions the “intellectual godfather” of “Trump’s hard-line actions,” the director of a conservative immigration think tank compared the Republican senator to a “guerrilla in the hinterlands preparing for the next hopeless assault on the government” who suddenly learns that “the capital has fallen.”
With his dark suit, white hair and wrinkled white peach of a face, Sessions does not look like he’s spent much time training in the jungle.
He walks slowly to his seat. Sitting down, he bows his head. His eyes seem to be closed, as if praying. He brings the tips of his fingers together, facing upward, on his lap.
A few moments later, he takes out a silver object and holds it gingerly between the first two fingers and thumbs of each hand, almost as if unwrapping foil on a stick of gum. But it doesn’t seem to be gum—it’s impossible to tell what it is from the press gallery above the Senate floor—and he does not unwrap it, he just fingers it, his head bowed.
Then the vote is called. He puts away the silver object. It is 50-50.
As expected, Vice President Mike Pence confirms DeVos with a historic tie-breaking vote. It is a huge blow to anyone who cares about competency, public education or ethics in government. The Democrats spent the last 24 hours complaining about all of these issues, but that doesn’t matter now. They have no control. The whole process demonstrated that the new regime can do as it wishes on the Hill.
Across the room, Sen. Al Franken acts like he is charging someone with a podium, making a clear reference to Melissa McCarthy’s Saturday Night Live skit satirizing Sean Spicer, the president’s press secretary.
Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham sit beside each other talking quietly, as if conspiring or gossiping. McCain says something and sucks his bottom lip. Graham scans the room from left to right.
Sessions gets up and looks around the room again before he heads toward the door.
When he returns to the Senate later that day, Sessions is the nominee under consideration. He sits behind Majority Leader Mitch McConnell while Sen. Elizabeth Warren quotes the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, who called Sessions a “disgrace to the Justice Department” during a 1986 confirmation hearing, when Sessions was denied a federal judgeship because of allegations of racism. Now Warren reads from a letter that Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., sent to the Senate during that same failed confirmation.
“Mr. President, Mr. President,” McConnell interrupts, defending Sessions. “The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama, as warned by the chair. Senator Warren said, ‘Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.’
“I call the senator to order under the provisions of Rule 19,” McConnell says.
The crazy thing about Rule 19, in this context, is that it was created in 1902, after Sen. “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, a notorious white terrorist, beat up a colleague who had defected to the other side of a debate. Tillman founded a group called the Red Shirts, which terrorized African Americans as Reconstruction bled into Jim Crow. He was an early mentor of white supremacist Strom Thurmond, who, as the chair of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, was the guy who both smashed Sessions’ hopes of becoming a federal judge and the guy who kept King’s 1986 letter out of the Senate record. When Warren read the letter, she was correcting Thurmond’s 30-year-old error.
So it is grimly fitting that McConnell, who has learned to manipulate the Senate in order to grab control of the judiciary for his party, cites Rule 19 to defend Jeff Sessions, the old-school law-and-order white supremacist who stuck around long enough to make it mainstream again.
During the exchange (in which McConnell now famously uttered the iconic sentences: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted”), Sessions picks his nose, rubbing it with a handkerchief, making sure he gets it all, blowing again.
Nearly 24 hours later, McConnell uses the last few minutes of debate to offer a cornpone encomium to his departing colleague, calling Sessions a “true Southern gentleman,” like that’s an unquestionably good thing, eliding the difficult history connecting Sessions’ home state and the fight for civil rights.
Later, Pence swears in Sessions, who cites a “dangerous permanent trend” of increasing crime and pledges to end “lawlessness.”
Like Sessions, Trump regularly exaggerates the increase in violent crime. He uses the occasion of Sessions’ swearing in to sign three executive orders that further empower the already vast police state, now overseen by Sessions.
Neither man mentions the epidemic of African Americans shot and killed by police.
“A new era of justice begins, and it begins right now,” Trump says.
Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney's, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other publications.
The teams of President Trump’s temporary appointees who are laying the groundwork for taking over and remaking federal agencies refer to themselves as “beachheads” or “beachhead teams.”
That’s a military term for the point of invasion.
Politico reports there were approximately 520 members of such teams when Trump took the oath of office. In any presidential transition, there will be tensions between career civil servants and political appointees pushing a new president’s agenda—but according to experts on the matter, this administration’s use of the term may exacerbate those relations.
The term was offhandedly used in 2000 by George W. Bush’s incoming press secretary, Ari Fleischer. It was central to the language of Mitt Romney’s 2012 transition plan, which was provided to the Trump team. But its use here seems systematic, making many within various federal agencies feel they are being conquered.
“The language of war being used suggests that cooperation is not the primary philosophy dictating this transition period,” says professor Heath Brown, who studies presidential transitions at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “If the operating philosophy is one of combat rather than cooperation, then we’re in for some trouble with how these agencies are going to function on a day-to-day basis.”
Because the Trump team threw out Chris Christie’s transition plans and “started from scratch on Election Day,” Brown says, there is “a larger level of chaos in the past for an already chaotic process.”
Given the fact that Trump was a reality TV star, it is not surprising that communications is the main focus of these beachhead teams.
“(Trump’s people) want to control message in a lot of different ways, and for that reason, I think they have made that a priority,” Brown says. “The Trump transition team devoted a lot more staff resources to communications than transition teams in the past. … In the past, communications just hasn’t been a first priority.”
In 2009, Obama only had two communications people on his 13-member senior transition staff. In contrast, at least 10 of 23 staffers in Trump’s transition team served some communications function, Brown says.
In the process, they may well be changing what “communications” means—from informing the public, or even spinning the message, to something more like outright propaganda.
I uncovered a 1996 Cornell Daily Sun article about then-CNN analyst Kellyanne Conway that shows she has been thinking about media and manipulation for at least 20 years. The story paraphrases Conway (née Fitzpatrick) speaking to student groups about “manipulative media and political jargon.” In the talk, she also criticized people for “following what is decided by a few elite.”
A section of the article subtitled “Questions of Reality” notes: “In a generation where television and Internet images ‘bombard our senses,’ it is essential, according to Fitzpatrick, to realize that the soundbytes or visuals prepared by the evening news editors do not represent reality.”
Conway, the article reads, “applauded (Bill Clinton’s) ability to use the media to his advantage.”
While this shows that Conway’s obsession with controlling the media narrative is not new, it also underlines how she and her boss are pushing from the standard spin of ’90s-era Washington into the full-blown denial of reality in the age of Trump.
During the Trump campaign, Politifact found that only 4 percent of his claims could be considered entirely truthful. Some, including President Obama, naively thought the power of the presidency would curb, rather than increase, Trump’s tendency to lie. But thus far, truths remain merely occasional, and almost accidental.
On Jan. 21, during the first “unofficial” press conference of the new administration, press secretary Sean Spicer stood in front of reporters and repeatedly lied to the press about things that didn’t matter. It was pointless from any standard political means-ends perspective. (The Baltimore City Paper did a great job putting together the actual numbers.)
Later, in his first “official” press conference, Spicer said, “Sometimes we can disagree with the facts.”
Between Spicer’s two statements, on the Sunday talk shows, Conway baptized Trump-speak with a succinct name: “alternative facts.” She also threatened to “rethink our relationship” with NBC if Meet the Press host Chuck Todd persisted in saying Spicer had lied.
A couple of days later, Trump advisor and Lenin wannabe Stephen Bannon called the press the “opposition party,” which, he said, should “keep its mouth shut.” Almost immediately after this, Trump gave Bannon a spot on the National Security Council.
The attacks on the press, however, are only part of a larger attack on facts themselves—attacks beginning, appropriately, with the communications-obsessed beachheads now inside federal agencies.
Trump ordered the EPA to freeze all of its grants, to take down the climate change section of its website, and to cease all communications with the press.
Then, according to an email obtained by BuzzFeed News, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research division prohibited employees, including scientists, from communicating or sharing information with the public. The USDA later lifted the gag order, saying that it was released “without departmental direction” and was not sent at the request of the Trump administration.
The Trump team also censored the Badlands National Park Twitter feed, deleting tweets mentioning climate change. In response, people claiming to be rangers created a Twitter account for the AltUsNatParkService, which tweeted that it was activated “in a time of war and censorship to ensure fact-based education.”
But information about climate change is not the only thing at risk—data, science, and research are being suppressed. And Trump’s congressional allies are all too happy to play along.
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar introduced bills this week that say “no federal funds may be used to design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.”
This racist bill, which would help maintain the kind of segregation affecting cities like Milwaukee, Baltimore and St. Louis, could still die in committee, but it is of a piece with Trump’s all-out War on Facts. Deprived of access to facts, citizens are incapable of making decisions. This is an essential feature of tyranny.
As an air of war prevails in Washington, using the term “beachhead” may, in fact, be among the small minority of things the Trump team is honest about.
Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney's, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. He is the author of the book Coffin Point: The Strange Cases of Ed McTeer, Witchdoctor Sheriff," about a white sheriff who used hoodoo to govern a largely black county for 37 years. He earned a doctorate in philosophy, focusing on ethics and tyranny and became a reporter in an attempt to live like Socrates. He wrote the libretto for Rhymes With Opera's climate-change opera film Adam's Run."