America’s Uncivil War

It was disturbing—as well as embarrassing—to see Tampa nationally highlighted, as it were, as a media demonizing, Qanon-friendly venue for that vintage Donald Trump rally. No, it wasn’t a casting call for a “Deliverance” sequel. It wasn’t that nuanced. And it makes a back-in-the-day George Wallace rally seem relatively civil with its states’-rights code words and dog whistles that were meant to arouse an anti-elite movement well shy of a media-targeting lynch mob.

All presidents have had issues with those in a position to publicly criticize them. Of course, they did. It comes with the territory of being elected, being accountable, being political, being fallible and being part of a constitutional democracy with an iconic free speech amendment. If you can’t take the political heat, get the hell out of this sometimes-combative democracy’s kitchen.

But no president, including Richard Nixon of “enemies list” infamy, has ever made violence-embracing assaults on the mainstream media a top presidential priority. With good reason. Viciously attacking a free press is more than unpresidential. It’s un-American and unpatriotic.

What this vocabulary-challenged president does is not tongue and cheek pushback. It’s not even expediently partisan rhetoric normally heard in a primary. No, this is self-serving, inflammatory, down-right scary abuse of the world’s preeminent bully pulpit.

Media scapegoating and targeting is not just a strategic White House distraction. It’s also unconscionably unfair to put CNN’s Jim Acosta in the presidential cross hairs. At some point, frankly and tragically, we could be talking about the late Jim Acosta who was seen–up close and personal–by too many Trump channelers as “the enemy of the people.” The Capital Gazette murders can’t be seen as purely coincidental in this parlous-press environment. Trump controls the echo chamber from hell.

Would that it were pure bluster when Trump bragged that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone” and “wouldn’t lose voters.” He’s the Rev. Jim Jones in the Oval Office.

As if Trump’s performance in Tampa wasn’t revolting enough, Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubled down the next day by not publicly disassociating herself and the White House from “enemy of the people” slander. She flat-out would not–and she was asked directly to do just that by Acosta.  But she did fire back with bullet points about unfair media treatment of the White House. But no backing down on “enemy of the people” rhetoric that most of us once thought had been consigned to the dustbin of history with the rest of Josef Stalin’s authoritarian rhetoric.

There are no quick fixes or easy answers here—beyond an electoral awakening in 2018 and 2020. The threat to the media constitutes an existential crisis. The right response is to continue to do our jobs. As TV journalist Christiane Amanpour told writers at the recent Television Critics Association, “By continuing to put the truth out, that’s how we fight back.”

And may the truth set us free. All of us.

Trumpster Diving

  • Rudy Ghoul-iani says President Trump’s tweets are merely opinions.  Hardly official—and hardly an order. For example, Trump said Attorney General Jeff Sessions “SHOULD stop this rigged witch hunt.” He didn’t say: MUST. You have to wonder what former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson thinks of Trump’s Twittered “opinions.” He was fired by tweet.
  • Maybe a major media boycott of Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ dismissive, insulting sham press briefings and Trump’s “Triumph of the Will” pep rallies would be better than, in effect, enabling this inciteful, “enemy of the people” theme.
  • Will Trump interview with Robert Mueller? Why would a savvy attorney, with his client’s best interest uppermost in mind, allow such a perjury time bomb? Because the client in question is the pathologically narcissistic Donald Trump, and he is his own ultimate adviser.
  • When the White House rolled out the intelligence chiefs to address foreign media tampering and domestic anxiety, it was cause for concern—and more anxiety. Not just because America remains vulnerable, but because there’s still an obvious disconnect between top intelligence officials and Trump, who remains largely disengaged and creates his own Russian reality. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, for example, still doesn’t seem like an Administration insider. That’s unconscionable. In fact, he still seems uninformed about the details of the Trump-Putin one-on-one and incapable of a deep-diving assessment of the dangers we face. That’s beyond disturbing.
  • It seems as if Trump tweets are getting nastier when it comes to the media and the Mueller investigation. One conclusion is that even this unhinged president senses a day of reckoning fast approaching. So, he ups the rhetorical ante to undermine the credibility of the results, knowing full well that his fawning fan base–a sizable, but still minority part of the electorate–remains all in.
  • So, the Russian Foreign Ministry has announced—on Facebook—that it has named Steven Seagal special representative to improve relations between the U.S. and Russia. Isn’t that part of Ambassador Jon Huntsman’s job? But, then, Huntsman never played a hitman in the movies.
  • Need I.D. to buy groceries? Only in a billionaire-populist, reality-show performer universe.
  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders: Tokyo Rose, only not nearly as personable.

Best Defense

Amid all efforts to combat interference in our democracy, there remains a constant—amid all the technological manipulation—that is far more fundamental. The best defense is an electorate that is involved, informed and motivated. The bar isn’t that high. If you’re not outsourcing your ideology, your values and your vote, and you’re not channeling a cult figure for validity, you’re doing your part.

Political Pivots

  • Gwen (“and the men”) Graham has an obvious demographic advantage. And it seems like Jeff Greene and Phil Levine might split a certain primary vote. Here’s some Graham advice for maintaining that presumptive, front-runner status: Prioritize what you will do for Florida. Let your surrogates underscore your gender and motherhood, how you are pragmatically Democratic and how you have a win over a Republican on your resume. And then don’t campaign with Bill Clinton.
  • So, Bernie Sanders has endorsed Andrew Gillum for governor. We get that. What we hope we don’t get is disappointed, Gillum voters becoming no-shows in the general if their Sanders-backed candidate doesn’t make it out of the primary. There’s precedent, as we well know, from 2016.
  • Interesting that one of the two minority “No” votes on the Clearwater City Council’s (3-2) vote to move ahead with a strong-mayor initiative was cast by the incumbent, less-than-strong mayor, George Cretekos.

Media Matters

  • As we’ve seen, Facebook has had a tumultuous year over fake news and misinformation on its platform. As we’ve also seen, it’s now much more active in policing that platform. It recently banned 32 accounts and pages for allegedly being involved in “unauthentic” and “coordinated” behavior. So, so long, “Aztlan Warriors, “Resisters” and more. Passive approval is no longer a given.

Sure, backlash over democratic meddling is a driver, but so also is this: Facebook stock recently took a massive hit.

In short, Facebook is now doing the right thing–whatever the motivation.

  • “Hamilton.” OK, so you haven’t seen it yet, and you’re already too late for the Straz option next year. But there could be a major consolation prize: You may still be able to see “Hamilton”–the way audiences saw it on Broadway–at a movie theater. Studios are currently bidding for the rights to show a recording of “Hamilton” made in 2016—with its original cast.
  • Say it ain’t so, Newseum. Up until recently, it had been selling “You are very fake news” T-shirts on its website. Surely, you can be dedicated to the importance of a free press and the First Amendment, and you can manifest an ironic sense of humor without further fueling the fires of media assaults that are both demeaning and dangerous. Surely.

Foreign Fodder

  • We recently learned that a Taliban surge resulted in the routing of the Islamic State in Northern Afghanistan. On balance, that is good, but rooting for the Taliban is still weird. Sort of like picking a favorite when the Red Sox and Yankees are playing.
  • Re: Denmark’s public “burqa ban,” where religious diversity and tolerance meets 21st century security concerns. Surely, Allah would understand.

Sports Shorts

  • Here’s an interesting—and ironic—perspective on the Rays unorthodox pitching “The Rays willingness to throw traditional baseball methodology out the window has made them one of the most compelling teams to watch.” That was Tyler Lauletta, speaking for the Business Insider. Obviously, he wasn’t speaking for the Rays hometown fans, who don’t find the Rays break with traditional starting pitching compelling enough to watch in person.
  • The other night on “ESPN Classics” I saw the 1990 Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas fight. Tyson was still a 42-1 favorite and still got knocked out. Later, while channel-surfing, I came across something on ESPN that was more reflective of our times: UFC—or Ultimate Fighting Championship. It’s an American mixed martial arts organization based in Las Vegas. It has 12 divisions and minimal rules. About as many, seemingly, as a bar room brawl. Being confined to a cage seemed appropriate. It also made old school boxing–including Mike Tyson’s pummeling by Buster Mathis–look downright civilized and like an actual “sport.”