A Healthy Skepticism

Before anyone gets too excited about this

President Trump, signaling a potential major shift in policy ahead of his first address to Congress, told television news anchors on Tuesday that he is open to a broad immigration overhaul that would grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants who have not committed serious crimes.

“The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides,” the president told the TV anchors at the White House, according to people present during the discussion.

…recall how Trump claimed he was “softening” his immigration stance in August 2016. The administration’s modus operandi is generating chaos and confusion with often contradictory claims. The president’s assertion re: his immigration policy is about as believable as his concern about the country’s rising tide of antisemitic crimes

Scary, alarming, disheartening, unprecedented. Those are just a few of the adjectives used to describe the recent widespread spate of bomb threats that have targeted Jewish community centers and schools in 33 states in the United States and two provinces in Canada. The threats have reached such a crescendo that President Donald Trump will use his speech to Congress on Tuesday night to address the issue, an administration official told CNN.


President Trump appeared to suggest Tuesday that the wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers across the U.S. could be coming from within the Jewish community itself, according to a Pennsylvania state lawmaker present for the comments.

(Year Zero/Day Forty)

One tends to imagine life in an autocratic regime as dominated by fear and oppression: armed men in the street, total surveillance, chanted slogans, and whispered secrets. It is probably a version of that picture that has been flitting lately through the nightmares of American liberals fretting about the damage a potential autocrat might do to an open society. But residents of a hybrid regime such as Russia’s — that is, an autocratic one that retains the façade of a democracy — know the Orwellian notion is needlessly romantic. Russian life, I soon found out, was marked less by fear than by cynicism: the all-pervasive idea that no institution is to be trusted, because no institution is bigger than the avarice of the person in charge. This cynicism, coupled with endless conspiracy theories about everything, was at its core defensive (it’s hard to be disappointed if you expect the worst). But it amounted to defeatism. And, interestingly, the higher up the food chain you moved, the more you encountered it. Now that Russia has begun to export this Weltanschauung around the world, in the form of nationalist populism embodied here by Donald Trump, I am increasingly tempted to look at my years there for pointers on what to expect in America.

There was, however, one thing from which no creature comfort could shield you: the general breakdown of trust. Wealth may or may not trickle down, but normalized corruption certainly does. Each day of the three years I spent in Russia nibbled away at my archetypal Brooklyn do-gooder instincts. First, of course, I stopped recycling. Waste-sorting bins occasionally appear here and there in Moscow — but, naturally, no one trusts them (“It’s a PR stunt to create a green image for the Moscow government,” declared Greenpeace Russia in response to the latest campaign), and carefully sorted recyclables are generally assumed to end up in the same landfill as toxic waste. So why try? After years of unsuccessful attempts to sign freelance contracts as an American citizen (which would mean a huge tax liability for my Russian clients), I began accepting cash. I also began handing it out — to traffic cops.

That was the genius of the system. It didn’t need a giant security apparatus. It needed only you, the citizen, to be implicated just enough to have something to lose but not desperate enough that you’d be tempted to lose it. In 2011, reform-minded Russians faced this dilemma head-on, realized no one was ready to actually storm the Kremlin or even protect the opposition leader from unlawful arrest, and backed down — and were legislatively and legally beaten into submission. That process continues to this day, aided by Russia’s ever-shrinking civic life. Now people may get arrested for single-man pickets where, five years ago, 100,000-person marches were fine. The new restrictive laws — such as the “gay propaganda” one, or the notorious Article 282 that reinterprets hate speech as anything anyone can take offense at — are shoddily written and full of holes on purpose; their true message is that anyone can be found guilty at any time. This moves justice fully into the realm of ponyatiya and obliterates all need for mass repression: One or two show trials, such as the Pussy Riot ordeal and the fabricated cases against the protesters of May 6, 2012, ensured that everyone else got the message.

That message? Again, it wasn’t to operate in totalitarian fear. More like: Sit quietly, enjoy your new bike lanes, or face a carefully randomized punishment. Living in Moscow meant a constant background calculation as to how much this or that transgression against the ponyatiya would cost you, whether it would be worth it or not. Probably not jail. Just your career. Your name on a “stop list.” Maybe. No one has seen these lists. But how much would you be willing to bet that they don’t exist?

–Michael Idov, Lessons From Putin’s Russia for Living in Trump’s America

Are You Ready For Travel Ban 2.0?

After a vigorous public reaction and 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the “Muslim Ban” executive order, the Associated Press is reporting the Trump administration has regrouped. A new travel ban will be issued on Wednesday.

Trump initially planned to sign the new order last week, but spokesman Sean Spicer said the president was holding off “to make sure that when we execute this, it’s done in a manner that’s flawless.”

Translation: this time there were a lot more lawyers at their meetings. How the new order will differ from the old remains to be seen, but if I had to venture a guess I’d say “just enough that it has a better chance of winning the court cases that are sure to come.”

It may just be a coincidence that Trump apparatchiks have spent the last few weeks hammering home the risible notion that spontaneous uprisings of protesters are actually professional provocateurs, making fortunes on the Soros payroll. A more likely explanation is, as has been the case with the media, Trumpland functionaries have been testing how far they can delegitimize the opposition before their next big move.

That’s the story I’m sticking with until George sends me a check.

On Making Yourself Heard

At Rise of the Lizard People, we encourage people to make their voices heard as the state of the world degrades past all semblance of order.

There are a number of ways to do this. For some, the best expression of their discontent is giving serious consideration to joining the Democratic Party apparatus or running for political office. For example, Emily’s List reports a surge in potential female candidates wanting to infiltrate all levels of government since the inauguration. For others, their energies are best spent appealing to the people they know who are still on the fence about what’s going down. Yet others take to the streets to march for the causes they believe in or even set up/join their local Antifa.

These are all valid responses to the situation. The success of any movement depends on a diversity of tactics, and it’s heartening to see folks with left-leaning views engaging with their political system in a way that goes far beyond showing up at the ballot box every two to four years.

Our shadowy cabal finds writing polemics to be a grand way to sway opinions — or, failing that, to make sense of the utter absurdity of the situation. A good act of writing can help sharpen and refine ideas, as well as establishing connections with like-minded individuals.

Have you ever considered traveling down the latter path and writing about current events? It’s easier than you think. Setting up a WordPress or Tumblr account takes all of five minutes. And if you don’t know what to start with, we’ve prepared a generic reaction template to help you get the ball rolling:

Well, Trump’s gone and done it again. With no regard for human rights, he [nuked the moon/signed America over to Vladimir Putin/summoned an eldritch being into this plane on live television, then removed his human skin suit].

We should all be outraged. The only thing to do now is [apologize to the surviving moon men/learn Russian/cover our ears in hope that the eldritch being’s wails won’t drive us to madness or servitude].

Modify the template as needed. See how easy it can be?

If you’re already a skilled writer, why not Zoidberg? ROTLP is open to working with new collaborators. Who knows what might happen if you send us a brief message at riseofthelizardpeople [at] protonmail [dot] com? Please include information about yourself and the topics that interest you the most (examples: antisemitism, law, borscht recipes). And no, we’re not kidding about the borscht.

(Year Zero/Day Thirty-Nine)

The Counterresistance

Concerning the just-concluded Conservative Political Action Conference, a plurality of reportage went to CPAC’s dis-invitation of Milo Yiannopoulos (and his subsequent career meltdown), the expulsion of Richard Spencer from the Gaylord, Bannon/Preibus’ awkward touch moment and the miraculous physical manifestation of Dear Leader among the worshipful masses.

Which is fine. Most — other than the implicitly homophobic reactions some commentators applied to Steve and Reince’s clear gut-level discomfort with each other — are worth discussion. Yiannopoulos’ situation in particular evinces the power antifascist organizing can have in blowing up the platforms of odious human beings.

But it seems few gave much heed to another development – the National Rifle Association’s professed willingness to be Trump’s squadristi.

NRA wants you — yes, you — to know they fight back. The resistance to Trump has not gone unnoticed, and they are Trump’s Army, the self-declared counterresistance.

Would it surprise you to learn the much admired (by us) Ruth Ben-Ghiat predicted as much a few day ago?

It shouldn’t. Nothing is surprising any more.