The Apex Of Political Criticism

The time has come to talk about Paul Ryan’s penis. Not because we want to, but because Steve Bannon does.

Bannon reportedly called House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) “a limp-dick motherfucker who was born in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation,” referring to the think tank whose fiscal conservative policies the representative espouses.

Obviously Ryan is a lab experiment gone wrong, but what does his tumescence have to do with anything? Why can’t Paul Ryan be a degenerate creep who sees Ayn Rand’s face when he closes his eyes and still be able to maintain erections?

(Year Zero/Day One Hundred and Eighty)

Steve Bannons In Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Whiskey Bottles

Yes, we should be concerned about the administration’s push to get the travel ban before the Supreme Court, the Obamacare repeal bill the Senate is clandestinely constructing, incipient fascism, attempts to privatize the public organs of government… we haven’t forgotten any of it.

But we’re concerned for our pal Spicey. He’s been having a rough go of things. Do you think a press secretary who loves what he’s doing hides in the bushes or forbids cameras from his briefings? Dude wants out of the job like yesterday. That’s why he’s actively looking for his own replacement.

Exhibit A for how toxic his work environment is:

Asked why the briefings are now routinely held off-camera, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said in a text message “Sean got fatter,” and did not respond to a follow-up.

In case you’ve forgotten, this is alcohol-sodden visage of Steve Bannon.

He was just joshing, some will say. But we all know Steve is incapable of being nice to a perceived social inferior, even if they’re white. Nothing gets him off more than bullying people who can’t defend themselves. Sad middlemen like Sean Spicer included.

There’s a saying you’ve never heard before because I just made it up: Steve Bannons in glass houses shouldn’t throw whiskey bottles.

(Year Zero/Day One Hundred and Fifty-Three)

How Stevie Got His Groove Back

Steve Bannon was rumored to be on the chopping block a month ago, which is to say, a distant 12 Trump years in the past. Since then, the widening investigation into TrumpWorld’s collusion with Russia appears to have neutralized his foe Arch-Cuck Kushner, allowing him to… to… well, I guess the Paris Climate Accord is a big deal to Bannon.

Steve Bannon and Scott Pruitt have sought to outsmart the administration’s pro-Paris group of advisers, including Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who were hoping the president could be swayed by a global swell of support for the deal from major corporations, U.S. allies, Al Gore and even the pope. … If he withdraws, Paris’ foes will have Pruitt and Bannon to thank.

By all appearances, America will indeed withdraw from the accord this afternoon. Bannon can breathe a sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge his job is secure for at least the next 5 years… er, 11 days.

(Year Zero/Day One Hundred and Thirty-Three)

The Gathering Storm, The “White Bloc”, And More

China wants the United States and North Korea to cut the crap.

In comments carried by China’s official Xinhua news agency, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said “storm clouds” were gathering … “The United States and South Korea and North Korea are engaging in tit for tat, with swords drawn and bows bent,” Wang said at a news conference after a meeting with visiting French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Xinhua reported. “We urge all parties to refrain from inflammatory or threatening statements or deeds to prevent irreversible damage to the situation on the Korean Peninsula.”

If they allow war to break out on the peninsula, they must bear the historical responsibility and “pay the corresponding price,” Wang warned. In the event of war, “multiple parties will lose, and no one will win,” he said.

Richard Spencer is calling for like-minded racists to organize to fight the black bloc and other antifascist movements. He wants to call it the white bloc.

Obama-era student loan protections have been thrown out the window by DeVos’ Education Department.

His desire to sit at the popular table has turned Stephen Miller into Steve Bannon’s Brutus.

The NYPD reports that general crime is at an all-time low… but incidents of hate crimes are spiking.

If you haven’t read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, this particular moment in history is a good time to start.

Butler seemed to be on the minds of many on November 8, 2016, as many watched in horror as conservative forces swept through the US electorate, taking the presidency and maintaining control of the House and Senate, with at least one Supreme Court appointment to follow. President-elect Donald Trump’s slogan, borrowed from Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign, mirrored that of ultra-conservative presidential hopeful Christopher Charles Morpeth Donner in Parable of the Sower: “Make America Great Again.” There are other similarities. Donner dismantles the “‘wasteful, pointless, unnecessary’ moon and Mars programs,” and abolishes “‘overly restrictive’ minimum-wage, environmental, and worker protection laws.” He gives increasing power to big business, permitting gross labour-rights violations as long as workers are provided “training and adequate room and board.”

Before you start reading Butler, however, you need to set up a VPN. It will take about 10 minutes.

Hate in the Age of Trump: a photo essay by Johnny Milano.

Unless thousands of incarcerated individuals are conspiring to keep their stories straight without being in direct contact with each other, ICE prisons are turning detainees into slaves. A federal judge recently allowed a lawsuit filed in 2014 to reach class action status.

What about whataboutism?

Praising the president for state violence is not a cycle we want to encourage.

Obamacare hasn’t been repealed, but it was just modified to the detriment of everyday people.

And now for some-things completely different:

Cassette tapes are making a comeback for some reason.

Vice on the ongoing influence of Darlene Conner.

It’s day eighty-five of year zero in Trump’s America…

What’s Goin’ On?

In the detritus-strewn battlefield of public debate, parsing truth from fiction isn’t always an easy task. ThePiedSpicer, Whiteside and Zzyzx attempt to wrap their minds around the Deep State (as best as anyone without a security clearance can), Steve Bannon’s standing in the Trump administration and our relationship with Putin following America’s increased military involvement in Syria.

ThePiedSpicer: Picking up from our last conversation, how do you define the Deep State?

Whiteside: It really depends on the state’s elevation compared to sea level.

Fuck… wait… I blew it… come back to me.

Zzyzx: I touched upon this before, so if we’re going to start by diving into the topic of the Deep State it seems the natural place to start. It’s not a monolith, but a collection of shadowy state intelligence apparatuses that have been built up over time. They have their own agendas, as happens with any government bureaucracy. The difference here is these bureaucracies have extraordinary powers to spy on both foreign and domestic individuals, and they have a license to kill. The amount of control the executive branch actually has over them under normal circumstances is up for debate. Documents declassified 20, 30, 40, 50 years show that agencies are capable of taking rogue actions without approval, and in other cases bottlenecking the flow of information that the president gets.

As far as the new status quo is concerned, there are extremes in the discussion. Some are making the Deep State out to be The Shadow Government that runs everything – at the other extreme, you have pundits telling us the Deep State doesn’t exist. In Steve Bannon’s depiction of the DS, it’s elements of the Intelligence Community the administration is warring with, not the whole hog. That’s about the closest I’ll get to agreeing with Bannon, as I think it’s a gross oversimplification to characterize anti-Trump factions as pro-Obama remnants. More likely, there are people who think they’re standing up for a democratic society, even if some of what their agencies do has been explicitly anti-democratic long before Trump was in the picture. If even a majority of the IC opposes Trump, it’s hard to say how stridently they do, because again, they’re shadowy.

That said, deep states do exist. Most modern industrial countries have some combination of deep states, secret police and/or shadow leadership. We have some element of oligarchical rule in America, for example, with a narrow band of monied interests controlling the parameters of what is politically possible. There are historical deep states, like the Young Turks in the Ottoman Empire, more recent examples like Turkey’s deep state’s failed coup against Erdogan… wait, the way I’m framing this makes it seem like Turkey is deep state central. It’s worldwide and pervasive. Why should America be exceptional?

In The Concealment of the State (2013), Jason Royce Lindsey posited that America’s Deep State doesn’t need to be a vast conspiracy to rule everything from behind the scenes, but they have amassed a great deal of power through their secrecy. No sunlight, much power. Now we’re seeing a part of that power expressed in the open.

Whiteside: I can’t beat that eloquent and factual look at the Deep State, so I’ll go a different route.

I think the actual “Deep State” label is more of an act of laziness than a structured, governed entity. You should never bet against a person’s desire to maintain the status quo. I think more than anything the threat of shutting down or defunding departments and costing bureaucrats their jobs is driving this wide-scale revolt against doing things as usual.

I hate to defend The Don again but every administration stuffs the cabinet with their guys. I don’t think that Obama’s guys and Bush’s guys and Clinton’s guys and so on did it for the experience, you know? I’m sure every administration has enough dirt to sink it, but this one showed up in D.C. talking about kicking everyone out. If I was a lifetime government employee I would definitely think “fuck that guy”. So this bogey man, the monolithic DEEP STATE could just be a bunch of pissed off cubicle rats.

Zzyzx: There’s something to that. Some objections to Trump are facile and whatever you feel about the president or the office of presidency, there are established precedents, some of which Trump isn’t painting so far out of the lines on. There’s still plenty of reasons to object to Trump and his either fascist or para-fascist transformation of the government – and by extension – parts of our society. Like, hasn’t anyone heard that cliche about a broken clock being right twice a day?

I don’t know what happens if elements of the Deep State win their crypto-war, but I don’t think it’s good. At best, it’s a Pyrrhic victory. Trump resigns, we get Pence. Pence gets dragged down the drain, we get Paul Ryan. And if either or both get taken out, the tattered remains of whatever is left of the old system are thrown in the trash.

Whiteside: I also think when we are talking about the Deep State we should keep in mind the kind of oscillation of the hive mind between “the Trump admin is fully of incompetent morons” and “there’s a shadowy conspiracy of Trump administration officials collaborating with Putin’s regime”. The left, middle and even some of the right want to have it both ways. Especially in light of the recent loss Trump took on the ACA. There’s a lot of hyperbole out there in Internet in comments and blogs, especially from the left. And it’s tough to admit, but they won. They obviously can’t be complete fuck-ups. They have to have some bit of guile to perpetrate a conspiracy of the size that is shaping up right now in the news.

Zzyzx: Trump may not be especially sensitive to the views of others (an argument could be made that he’s clinically narcissistic) but he is educated. He graduated from Wharton – he may have not been a bright academic star in the vein of Obama, but so what? He’s especially adept at utilizing mass communication to connect with his movement. He’s lazy, temperamental, and in some ways short-sighted, yet it’s a gross oversimplification to brand him as stupid. He’s also surrounded himself with people who more or less know what they’re doing, even if they also happen to be close-minded and corrupt. The narrative does no good to anyone who actually wants to understand what’s happening here.

We’re also at a juncture where the president is likely using one part of the intelligence community against another part. Barton Gellman raises an interesting question: Is the Trump White House spying on the FBI?

What’s to stop him from doing that to any other agency? What’s to prevent a deeper divide among the IC? It’s impossible for me to say, but it’s clear not-stupid Trump and associates won’t take this sitting down. And the more that emerges about the web of connections to a certain world superpower, the further he might push a campaign to neutralize “The Deep State”, the parts of the IC that want his blood.

ThePiedSpicer: Steve Bannon has been at the center of focus for a large portion of Donald Trump’s presidency. Some have referred to him as a tactical genius in his implementation of mass media and willingness to attack when attacked. He’s even been credited with setting policy, drafting executive orders and in effect running the country. My question is, given his recent removal from the National Security Council, just where does Mr. Bannon sit these days in terms of influence and power? Does this latest move prove or refute the claims that he was essentially the power behind the throne?

Zzyzx: I don’t think it disproves that he’s a power behind the throne. Since most politically aware Americans reacted with justified alarm at Bannon’s influence in January, the narrative has complicated somewhat as pretty boy Jared Kushner has carved out some prime real estate for himself in the administration. This has been cutting into Bannon’s ability to focus the president towards his areas of concern, and boy, has he been feeling it. It came to a head recently when reports emerged a frustrated Bannon had talked shit about Kushner behind his back (in Bannonland, calling someone a “cuck” and a “globalist” are sophisticated insults). Trump had enough at that point and insisted the two try to hash it out, which they at least are pretending to do. Based on recent events some are ready to write off the whiskey-bloated racist’s influence; I’m not. People rise and fall and rise again around Trump so fast it induces motion sickness. And unlike others in the administration, if he spurns Bannon, he risks further alienating a prime mouthpiece of his movement.

Whiteside: There’s definitely a large number of people with less than ideal goals influencing what may be our most easily swayed president ever elected. There’s strong evidence that DeVos’s confirmation is tied to both political donations and the influence her brother Erik Prince has on the West Wing. It’s not a stretch to think that at any given moment Trump is being pulled from different directions by Bannon, Kushner and Prince. The question is where do their interests overlap?

ThePiedSpicer: This sounds much more like Bannon’s actually losing clout rather than smoke and mirrors. You could argue for both but the former seems to have far more available evidence.

Zzyzx: We’ll have to wait to see if it pans out, but Trump saying “I am my own advisor” is certainly meant to distance the president from a controversial figure. It wouldn’t be the first time an authoritarian has dropped a vitriolic figure once they’ve outlived their usefulness.

Speaking of powers that may or may not be behind the throne, are we seeing the last of Russia’s influence wear off with Tillerson’s visit to Moscow and strong language on Assad? Or have we entered the teenage rebellion phase of the relationship, with Trump angrily pushing back against Putin with something akin to “Screw you, man. You can’t tell me the best way to be an autocrat.”

Whiteside: We are seeing a lot of different ideas on why Trump bombed Syria from it being a diversion tactic to “Ivanka told him to”. The one thing that’s certain though is that Putin knew well in advance of our operation. I don’t think the honeymoon is over.

ThePiedSpicer: Then what do you make of this?

Zzyzx: If there’s one reliable thing in this administration, it’s Trump’s unreliability. And if one relies of the thesis that Trump is a nationalist (I do), nationalists don’t always get along with other countries very well.

I’m not sure this permanently severs their ties with Russia but it does make the situation rather more complicated, unless this is an elaborate behind-the-scenes gambit.

Whiteside: I think notifying Putin of the attack before hand really erodes the White House’s credibility on this story. I certainly don’t buy the idea that Trump was defending Syrians. I don’t think Trump has the moral fiber to be outraged by human rights.

It’s not hard to believe that Russia knew Assad had sarin or planned to use it, but I find it difficult to believe the White House is feeling any kind of outrage. Trump has no problem allowing the poisoning of Americans, and has not shown any emotion towards the plight of people of color before. It’s disingenuous now at best.

Zzyzx: Trump didn’t seem too bothered when his botched Yemen raid killed ten children. Is extinguishing the lives of innocents only evil when other people do it?

I think it’s possible that Trump is using this as a way to create perceived distance from Putin… but I’m not sure.

ThePiedSpicer: I think it’s more likely the Sarin came from Russia. I tend to believe inspectors got it right when they said the gas was removed in 2013. Which then leads to a question, who’s they get it from? Maybe the nation whose military they share a base with?

On the other hand,

Although some U.S. officials have strongly hinted they suspect Russia, which has a presence at Shayrat, may have known something about the planned attack, none have conclusively linked Moscow to the incident itself.

“Mattis suggested the United States did not have firm evidence that Russia had foreknowledge or was complicit in the chemical attack.”It was very clear that the Assad regime planned it, orchestrated it and executed it and beyond that we can’t say right now.

We know what I just told you, we don’t know anything beyond that,” Mattis said, when asked whether Russia had a role.”

Tom Wright, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, just remarked on Tillerson’s press conference in Russia. Wright says it confirms the heated rhetoric was “all for show. Moscow was never going to give up opportunity of close relationship with Trump.”

And Trump is easily confused by some things…

Zzyzx: Trump’s confusion brings us back to where we started:

Still, the uncertainty and its effect on Trump provides a window into how the inexperienced commander in chief copes with major decisions. Aides and friends say the lack of clarity seemed to worry Trump, who is impatient and has sometimes expressed distrust of the intelligence community, while he faced his first military test.

This is a real-world effect of picking a fight with the Deep State: Trump isn’t sure who he can trust when it comes to the information he’s getting. He’s shown increasing signs of paranoia; I shudder to think how this continues to manifest itself militarily.

We leave you on that cheery note. All hail the lizards.

ThePiedSpicer and Whiteside: All hail!

(Year Zero/Day Eighty-Three)