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The members of what TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East, calls “the Church of America the Redeemer” are in some disarray these days and in quite an uproar over the new Pope and his aberrant set of cardinals now ensconced in Washington. Perhaps there was no more striking — or shocking — evidence of that than the brief comments that hit the front page of the New York Times last week in an article on a month of “turmoil” in the Trump White House, but never became a headline story nationally. Amid the hurricane of news about the fall of national security adviser of 24 days Michael Flynn, the reported contacts of Trump associates with Russia, and a flurry of leaks to major papers from what are assumedly significant figures in the intelligence community (talk about “feud“!), one thing should have stood out. Here’s the passage from that Times piece: “Gen. Tony Thomas, head of the military’s Special Operations Command, expressed concern about upheaval inside the White House. ‘Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon because we’re a nation at war,’ he said at a military conference on Tuesday. Asked about his comments later, General Thomas said in a brief interview, ‘As a commander, I’m concerned our government be as stable as possible.’”

It may not have looked like much, but it should have stunned the news media and the country. That it didn’t tells us a great deal about how the U.S. has changed since September 11, 2001. Thomas, the head of the crème de la crème, secretive military force (all 70,000 of them) cocooned inside the U.S. military, had just broken the unwritten rules of the American political game in a major way. He fired what amounted to an implicit warning shot across the bow of the Trump administration’s listing ship of state: Mr. President, we are at war and you better get your house in order fast. Really? Direct public criticism of the president from a top commander in a military once renowned for its commitment to staying above the political fray? Consider that something new under the sun and evidence that what might once have been considered a cliché — sooner or later wars always come home — is now an ever more realistic description of just where we’ve ended up 15-plus years after the Bush administration launched the war on terror. Seven days in May? Maybe not, but when the nation’s top special warrior starts worrying in public about whether civilian leaders are up to the task of governing, it’s no ordinary day in February.

It’s true, of course, that in many graphic ways — including the migration of spying devices developed on this country’s distant battlefields to police departments here, drone surveillance flights not in Afghanistan but over this country, and the increasing militarization of our police – our wars in the Greater Middle East have indeed made their way back to “the homeland.” Still, not like this, not directly into the sacrosanct heartland of democracy and of the political elite, into what Bacevich might call the precincts of the American political Vatican, where those like New York Times columnist David Brooks once happily opined about American “greatness.” It seems that we’re now plunged into the political equivalent of war in the nation’s capital, even if in the fog of battle it’s still a little hard to tell just who is who on that battlefield.

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 

If you’re going to surround yourself with generals in the Oval Office, as Donald Trump has done, that means one thing in these years: you’re going to appoint men whose careers were made (or unmade) by what was once known as the Global War on Terror. They will be deeply associated with Washington’s 15 years of disastrous wars and conflicts in the Greater Middle East, which have left that region a set of failed or near-failed states and a hotbed of terror outfits, including various branches of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis, for instance, led troops in the initial post-invasion period in Afghanistan in 2001; in the taking of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, in 2003; in the fierce fighting for the city of Fallujah in 2004; and then, from 2010 to 2013, he was in charge of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), with responsibility for the Greater Middle East. In that post, he cooked up a scheme to take out either an Iranian oil refinery or power plant in the “dead of night,” an act of war meant to pay that country back for supplying mortars to Iraqi insurgents killing American troops. That plan, nixed by the Obama White House, seems to have played a role in his removal from the CENTCOM post five months early.

General John Kelly, head of the Department of Homeland Security, also commanded troops and fought in Iraq. (His son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.) Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn held key intelligence positions in both Afghanistan and Iraq, while his temporary replacement (and now National Security Council chief of staff), General Joseph “Keith” Kellogg, retired and working with private contractor Oracle at the time of the invasion of Iraq, was sent to Baghdad as chief operating officer of the Coalition Provisional Authority that the Bush administration set up to run its ill-fated occupation of that country. He lasted only five months as that body began its “reconstruction of Iraq, after disbanding Saddam’s army and so putting its officers and troops on the unemployment line, which meant at the disposal of the developing insurgency. Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, the new national security adviser, just tapped for the job by Trump, isn’t even retired and held command posts in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the evidence of these last years, such experiences seem to have tied these men to the war against terror in a deep and visceral way, making any major reconsideration of what they had lived through inconceivable. In the new Trump era, clues to this ongoing reality can already be found in two recent events: the first Trump-ordered action in the Greater Middle East, a thoroughly botched Special Operations raid in Yemen, which did not achieve its objective but got large numbers of civilians and one Navy SEAL killed and which, given the last 15 years of U.S. military action in the region, looked painfully familiar; and the request of the present U.S. Afghan commander, General John Nicholson Jr., for “several thousand” more American military advisers, one that it’s hard to imagine he would have made before the Senate Armed Services Committee without the agreement of Defense Secretary Mattis. It’s also a request that was clearly meant as no more than an opening bid in a potentially far larger surge of American forces into Afghanistan. (Where have you heard that before?)

Under the circumstances, it’s good to know that, even if not at the highest ranks of the U.S. military, there are officers who have been able to take in what they experienced up close and personal in Iraq and Afghanistan and make some new — not desperately old — sense of it. U.S. Army Major Danny Sjursen, a former history instructor at West Point and the author of Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge, who writes his inaugural TomDispatch post today, is obviously one of them and I doubt he’s alone in the American armed forces after all these years.

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 

While preparing to walk in New York City — or, as it turned out, given the staggering crowds, to stand in one spot for long periods — in support of the Women’s March (which would set protest records nationally), I had a specific urge. I wanted to carry the flag. I’m talking about the stars and stripes, the one that “o’er the ramparts” flew. Although I could indeed have gotten my hands on a flag, I had no idea how to get a pole for it and I certainly wasn’t going to drape it over my shoulders. In its own way, it was a ridiculous idea, given that, at almost 73, I probably would only have lasted a few spare minutes actually carrying a flag on a pole.

Still, the idea meant something to me for a simple enough reason: this country is mine. I’ve always loved it even when — as in the Vietnam era — I was so angry with it for what it was doing; even when, as in these last 15 years, I disagreed with just about everything its leaders did in the world. In the end, I’m rooted here in ways that go right to the heart of things.

My grandfather was an immigrant. A runaway, he made it to this country in steerage class with only a few cents in his pocket, initially sharing a bed behind a stove with someone who used it when he didn’t. It was a typical story — though, sadly, perhaps far less typical if Donald Trump (in the great tradition of American nativism) has anything to do with it. Though he died when I was quite young, I was deeply proud of him and of what he did and how he got here. My grandmother was the daughter of immigrants. She helped make me who I am. Thanks in part to her, I’ve always felt a deep responsibility for this country — both for what it is and especially for what it isn’t. This website, TomDispatch, is an expression of that. For the last 15 years, it’s focused regularly on “what it isn’t,” a body of work I consider my late-in-life service to this country.

Here’s the thing with that flag. It’s a potent symbol, it’s mine, and I’ll be damned if I’ll give up the most crucial symbols of my country to Donald Trump. So I have my version of patriotism that’s bone deep in me, but I must admit that I’m moved by TomDispatch regular Frida Berrigan’s version of it as well. Her particular embrace of this country makes me want to say to those so much younger than me and in despair: don’t let Donald Trump make you reject what’s basic and best about America. Do that and, despite yourself, you’ll be aiding and abetting the crimes of the Trump regime (which will be plentiful in the years to come).

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, TomDispatch Archives 

In April 2016, with Donald Trump showing remarkable staying power in the presidential campaign, I started thinking about the slogan adorning his product line, the one that he had tried to trademark as early as November 2012 (only days after Mitt Romney lost the presidency), the one that became a crucial punch line at his rallies (along with, of course, the Wall and who would pay for it), and that now is at the heart of his presidency: “Make America Great Again.” I wrote then: “With that ‘again,’ Donald Trump crossed a line in American politics that… represented a kind of psychological taboo for politicians of any stripe, of either party, including presidents and potential candidates for that position.” Until Trump, in this tarnished, already aging “new” century of ours, politicians all had to swear fealty to this country as the greatest, most exceptional, most indispensable nation ever and to its fighting forces as the “finest” in history. If there were mantras for the post-9/11 years, those were them, until Donald Trump chucked them all out the nearest window, making himself (though few noted it) the first declinist candidate in — why not stick with hyperbole since it’s The Donald! — our history.

Now, let me quote myself one more time. In October 2016, as the election campaign ground toward its end, I wrote that “a significant part of the white working class,” feeling backed against some wall, seemed ready to send a “literal loose cannon” into the White House. I suspected that they were willing “to take a chance on the roof collapsing, even if it collapses on them.” And I concluded: “The Donald represents, as a friend of mine likes to say, the suicide bomber in us all. And voting for him, among other things, will be an act of nihilism, a mood that fits well with imperial decline.”

Of course, the candidate who pounded the declinist key all those months has occupied the Oval Office and, three and a half weeks in, it’s already clear enough that the situation has “this can’t end well” written all over it. Of course, as with all great imperial powers, this, too, must end. In a sense, you could even say that the U.S. has been on the decline since it emerged from World War II wealthy beyond compare and untouched in a world largely in rubble. Or you could say that, of the two great superpowers of the Cold War, the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 in what seemed like seconds, while the United States, so much wealthier and more powerful, began edging toward the exit ramp wreathed in a sense of triumphalism and proudly proclaiming itself the “sole superpower” of planet Earth.

Now, it looks like a man has been elevated to the White House who truly is a suicide bomber. The question isn’t whether he’ll explode; it’s just who, what, or how much he’ll take down with him in the process. So call this officially the American age of decline and check out TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, who has been watching the initial moments of the Trump era closely, and offers his own unique perspective on what an “America First” president actually has to offer, geopolitically speaking.

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Donald Trump, TomDispatch Archives 

Consider it an irony or simply a reality of our moment, but these days Donald (“America First”) Trump is looking ever less like an old-fashioned, pre-World War II isolationist. In a mere three-plus weeks in office, he’s managed to mix it up royally with much of the rest of the planet. He threatened to send American troops into Mexico (hey, it was a joke, just lighthearted banter!); he insulted the Prime Minister of Australia by shouting at and hanging up on him (“fatigue was setting in” and anyway maybe he thought it was Austria!); he threatened Iran with everything but the kitchen sink (which he evidently couldn’t find in the new, under-inhabited White House); he insulted Iraq by banning its citizens from visiting the land that had invaded and occupied them and essentially dynamited their country; he insulted German Prime Minister Angela Merkel for her handling of the refugee crisis and may still be playing with the idea of appointing an ambassador to the European Union who would like to see it go the way of the old Soviet Union. He put in place the Muslim ban that wasn’t a ban on immigrants and visitors from seven largely Muslim lands — before an obviously Islam-loving so-called judge in San Francisco (natch!) temporarily banned it. After being played like a fiddle by military officials who told him that President Obama would never have had the guts to order such a raid — great presidential button-pushing, guys! — he green-lighted a disastrous Special Operations mission in Yemen in which the raiders didn’t get their guy (but did get a long available terror video), while one American and up to 30 civilians, including children, died. (The Yemeni government, possibly also angered by being put on Trump’s list of banned countries, has now banned such raids in its country, or not.) And to give Trump total credit, he staunchly defended the honor of the American people, as he had always promised he would. When Bill O’Reilly, in a pre-Super Bowl interview, called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “killer” without offering a single kind, offsetting word of praise for the United States, the president promptly insisted that the Russians had no monopoly on killers in high places, not on an America First planet. He shot back: “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” Exactly, Donald. We kill with the best of them!

According to recent research by the Global Impact Institute (GII), in his first 21 days in office, President Trump only missed messing with 13 of the 190-plus nations on the planet, an oversight he’s undoubtedly planning to rectify in week four. (Okay, okay, the GII only operates inside my brain, but take my word for it, it’s no less accurate for that.) And the president has obviously been saving the best for last, despite a recent molifying gesture. I’m talking, of course, about that ominously rising power, China. No other country offers such a mix-it-up opportunity for global economic chaos, outright war, and future Armageddon. But let TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon, author of The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention, fill in the details on a country that gives Trump the chance to replay a reel of best of John F. Kennedy moments from the Bay of Pigs to the Cuban Missile Crisis — and believe you me, if Donald Trump had been there, Cuba might not have been.

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 

We’re in a strange new world — of fantasists (see Kellyanne Conway’s terrorist “massacre” in Bowling Green, Kentucky), delusionaries (see Sean Spicer’s account of the “Iranians” who attacked an “American” naval vessel), and dreamers (if having a nightmare is your idea of dreaming). Only the other day, for instance, at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Trump said definitively, “We’re taken advantage of by every nation in the world, virtually. It’s not going to happen anymore.” Honestly, you have to wonder what planet the former reality show host has been on these last decades.

And all of this has, in a couple of short weeks, started to change our world. Just ask Kjell Magne Bondevik, the former prime minister of Norway, who was stopped at Dulles International Airport on his way to that same prayer breakfast, held and questioned (even when it was clear that he had indeed been the prime minister of an allied country) because he had traveled to Iran three years earlier. Of course, looked at another way, he had also been the head of one of the many freeloading nations on the planet who, as President Trump now points out, have taken our country for a ride, so he undoubtedly got what he deserved. After all, in 2008, pressured by a “multi-departmental American lobbying effort,” Norway caved and agreed to buy the most expensive, cost-overrun-prone weapons system in history, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, rather than a perfectly reasonable Swedish plane. (If they hadn’t, it might have adversely affected sales to other U.S. allies ready to take us for a ride.) And nine years later, in 2017, despite endless delays and soaring costs, the Norwegians are still buying the planes — 52 in all at an estimated price tag of $40 billion. What a crew of moochers!

Admittedly, it’s been a one-way planet for one hell of a long time, but Donald J. Trump is finally readying himself to reverse that and turn it into… well, possibly a hell on earth. At least, European leaders (Britain’s excepted) seem to think so, as they find themselves packed into more or less the same unfriendly basket of deplorables as Iran. I had a friend years ago who told me that I’d know I was on a different planet when European powers — Charles De Gaulle’s long-gone France aside — started to say no to Washington. We may now officially be on that altered world, one where even Australia, America’s most faithful ally, might start uttering a no or two to a president who considers hanging up on its prime minister good form. (I assume by now that somewhere in the Forbidden City, the Chinese leadership is dancing in the streets, knowing that on Donald Trump’s planet their country is likely to look like the only reasonable imperial power around.)

These days, you may hear a similar chorus of “No’s” coming out of the U.S. government where federal employees are beginning to form support groups and take courses “on workers’ rights and how they can express civil disobedience.” Consider this my way of saying that, in the Trump era, you’re going to have to buy a scorecard to figure out what “team” the various players on this increasingly confused world of ours belong to, creating endless complications for those of us already thinking about how to make it into the post-Trump years. Fortunately, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon, author of American Nuremberg, has been thinking about friendship, alliances, and how to figure out who’s who in a world in which, even with that scorecard, it may be difficult to sort the players and the teams out.

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, TomDispatch Archives 
The 25/8 News Cycle Is Already Rolling, But the Looting of America Hasn’t Really Begun

It started in June 2015 with that Trump Tower escalator ride into the presidential race to the tune of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” (“But there’s a warnin’ sign on the road ahead, there’s a lot of people sayin’ we’d be better off dead, don’t feel like Satan, but I am to them…”) In a sense the rockin’ has never stopped and by now the world, free or not, has been rocked indeed. No one, from Beijing to Mexico City, Baghdad to Berlin, London to Washington could question that.

Who today remembers that, in those initial moments of his campaign, Donald Trump was already focused on the size of his first (partially hired) crowd? (“This is beyond anybody’s expectations. There’s been no crowd like this…”) And he’s been consistently himself ever since — less a strong man than a bizarrely high-strung one. In the process, while becoming president, he emerged as a media phenomenon of a sort we’ve never seen before.

First, it was those billions of dollars in advertising the media forked over gratis during the race for the Republican nomination by focusing on whatever he did, said, or tweeted, day after day, in a way that was new in our world. By the time he hit the campaign trail against Hillary Clinton, he was the ultimate audience magnet and the cameras and reporters were fused to him, so coverage only ballooned, as it did again during the transition months. Now, of course, his presidency is the story of the second — each second of every day — giving us two-plus weeks of coverage the likes of which are historically unique.

Think of it as the 25/8 news cycle. From that distant June to now, though it’s never stopped, somehow we have yet to truly come to grips with it. Never in the history of the media has a single figure — one human being — been able to focus the “news” in this way, making himself the essence of all reporting. He’s only been banished from the headlines and the screen for relatively brief periods, usually when Islamic terrorist groups or domestic “lone wolves” struck, as in San Bernardino, Paris, or Orlando, and, given his campaign, that worked no less well for his purposes than being the center of attention, as it will for his presidency.

The Never-Ending Presidency of Donald Trump (Has Barely Begun)

Nineteen months later, Trump’s personality, statements, tweets, speeches, random thoughts, passing comments, complaints, gripes, and of course, actions are the center of everything. One man’s narcissism gains new meaning when inflated to a societal level. Yes, at certain moments — the assassination of John F. Kennedy, O.J. Simpson’s white Bronco chase, the 9/11 attacks — a single event or personality has overwhelmed everything else and taken the news by storm. But never has one person been able to do this through thick and thicker, through moments of actual news and moments when nothing whatsoever is happening to him.

As an example, consider the New York Times, the newspaper that both Donald Trump’s ascendant adviser Steve Bannon and I have been reading faithfully all these years. At the moment, Trump or people and events related to him monopolize its front page in a way that’s beyond rare. He now regularly sweeps up four or five of its six or so top headlines daily, and a staggering six to ten full, often six-column pages of news coverage inside — and that’s not even counting the editorial and op-ed pages, which these days are a riot of Trumpery.

From early morning till late at night, wherever you look in the American media and undoubtedly globally, the last couple of weeks have been nothing but an avalanche of Trumpified news and features, whether focused on arguments, disputes, and protests over the Muslim ban that the new president and his people insist is not a Muslim ban; or the size of his inaugural crowds; or Sean Spicer’s ill-fitting suit jacket; or the signing of an executive order to begin the process of building that “big, fat, beautiful wall” on our southern border; or the cancelled Mexican presidential visit, and the angry or conciliatory tweets, phone calls, and boycotts that followed, not to speak of the 20% tax on imports proposed by the Trump administration (then half-withdrawn) to get the Mexican president to pay for the wall, which would actually force American consumers to cough up most of the money (making us all Mexicans, it seems); or the unprecedented seating of white nationalist Steve Bannon on the National Security Council (and the unseating of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff); or the firing of the acting director of the Justice Department after she ordered its lawyers not to defend the president’s travel ban; or the brouhaha over the new Supreme Court pick, introduced in an Apprentice-like primetime presidential special; or those confirmation hearing boycotts by Democratic senators; or the threats against Iran or the threat to send U.S. troops into Mexico to take out the “bad hombres down there”… but why go on? You saw it all. (You couldn’t help yourself, could you?) And tell me it hasn’t seemed like at least two months, if not two years worth of spiraling events (and nonevents).

In those never-ending month-like weeks, Donald Trump did the seemingly impossible: he stirred protest on a global scale; sparked animosity, if not enmity, and nationalism from Mexico to Iraq, England to China; briefly united Mexico behind one of the least popular presidents in its history; sparked a spontaneous domestic protest movement of a sort unseen since the Vietnam War half a century ago that shows every sign of growing; insulted the Australian prime minister, alienating America’s closest ally in Asia; and that’s just to begin a list of the new president’s “accomplishments” in essentially no time at all.

So here’s the question of the day: How can we put any of this in context while drowning in the moment? Perhaps one way to start would be by trying to look past the all-enveloping “news” of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Were you to do that, you might, I think, conclude that, despite the sound and the fury of the last two weeks, almost nothing has yet actually happened. I know that’s hard to believe under the circumstances, but the age of Trump — or if you prefer, the damage of Trump — has essentially yet to begin (though tell that to the Iraqis, Iranians, and others caught in mid-air, cuffed on mid-ground, and in some cases sent back into a hell on Earth). Still, crises? The media is already talking about constitutional ones, but believe me, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Conflicts of interest? So far, grim as the news may look, there’s hardly been a hint of what’s sure to come. And crimes against the country? They’ve hardly begun.

It’s true that Trump’s national-security appointments, from the Pentagon and the CIA to the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Council, are largely in place, even if reportedly already in a state of flux as National Security Adviser Michael Flynn seems to be losing his grip on the new president and Steve Bannon, not previously thought about in national security terms, is riding high. Otherwise, few of his cabinet appointments are truly functional yet. That set of billionaires and multimillionaires are either barely confirmed or not yet so. They haven’t even begun to preside over departments filled with staffs that instantly seem to be in chaos, living in fear, or moving into a mood of resistance.

This means that what Bill Moyers has already termed the “demolition derby” of the Trump era hasn’t yet really begun, despite a hiring freeze on the non-national-security-state part of the government. Or put another way, if you think the last two weeks were news, just wait for the wealthiest cabinet in our history to settle in, a true crew of predatory capitalists, including a commerce secretary nicknamed “the king of bankruptcy” for his skills in buying up wrecked companies at staggering profits; a Treasury secretary dubbed the “foreclosure king” of California for evicting thousands of homeowners (including active-duty military families) from distressed properties he and his partners picked up in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown; and the head of the State Department who only recently led ExxonMobil in its global depredations. As a crew, they and their compatriots are primed to either dismantle the agencies they’ll run or shred their missions. That includes likely head of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt, a man long in the pay of big energy, who seems determined to reduce the EPA to a place that protects us from nothing; and a fast-food king who, as the new labor secretary, is against the minimum wage and would love to replace workers with machines. News? You think you know what it is two weeks into this administration? Not a chance.

And don’t forget the White House, now that it’s a family operation — a combination of a real-estate-based global branding outfit (the Trumps) and a real estate empire (son-in-law Jared Kushner). It’s obvious that decisions made in the White House, but also in government offices in foreign capitals, on the streets of foreign cities, and even among jihadists will affect the fortunes of those two families. I’m not exactly the first person to point out that the seven Muslim lands included in Trump’s immigration ban included not one in which he has business dealings. As patriarch, Donald J. will, of course, rule the Oval Office; his son-in-law will be down the hall somewhere, with constant access to him; and his daughter Ivanka is to have an as-yet-unannounced (possibly still undecided) role in her father’s administration. If we lived in the Arab world right now, this would all seem as familiar as apple pie, or perhaps I mean hummus: a family-oriented government ruled by a man with an authoritarian turn of mind around whom are gathered the crème de la crème of the country’s predatory capitalists, many of them with their own severe conflicts of interest.

Thought about a certain way, you could say welcome to Saudi Arabia or Bashar al-Assad’s Syria before the catastrophe, or… well, so many other countries of the less developed and increasingly chaotic world.

A Government of Looters

From health care and tax policy to environmental protections, this will undoubtedly be a government of the looters, by the looters, and for the looters, and a Congress of the same. As of yet, however, we’ve seen only the smallest hints of what is to come.

In such a leave-no-billionaires-behind era, forget the past swamps of Washington (which wasn’t really built on swampland). The government of Donald J. Trump seems slated to produce an American swamp of swamps and, somewhere down the line, will surely give new meaning to the phrase conflict of interest. Yet these processes, too, are barely underway.

From a government of 1% looters, what can you expect but to be looted and to experience crimes of every sort? (Ask the citizens of most Arab lands.) Still, whatever those may turn out to be, in the end they will just be the usual crimes of human history. In them, there will be little new, except perhaps in their extremity in the United States. They will cause pain, of course — as well as gain for the few — but sooner or later such crimes and those who commit them will pass from the scene and in the course of history be largely forgotten.

Of only one future crime will that not be true. As a result, it’s likely to prove the most unforgiveable of them all and those who help in its commission will, without a doubt, be the greatest criminals of all time. Think of them as “terrarists” and their set of acts as, in sum, terracide. If there’s a single figure in the Trump administration who catches the essence of this, it is, of course, former ExxonMobil CEO and present Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. His former company has a grim history not just of exploiting fossil fuels come (literally) hell or high water, but of suppressing information about the harm they’ve done, via greenhouse gas emissions that heat the atmosphere and the Earth’s waters, while funding climate denialism; of, in short, destroying the planet in an eternal search for record profits.

Now, he joins an administration whose president once termed climate change a “Chinese hoax,” and who has, with a striking determination, appointed first to his transition team and then to his government an unparallelled crew of climate change deniers and so-called climate skeptics. They, and largely only they, are taking crucial positions in every department or agency of government in any way connected with fossil fuels or the environment. Among his first acts was to green-light two much-disputed pipelines, one slated to bring the carbon-dirtiest of oil products, Canadian tar sands, from Alberta to the Gulf Coast; the other to encourage the frackers of the Bakken shale oil fields of North Dakota to keep up the good work. In his yearning to return to a 1950s America, President Trump has promised a new age of fossil-fuel exploitation. He’s evidently ready to leave the Paris climate agreement in the trash heap of history and toss aside support for the development of alternative energy systems as well. (In the process — and irony is too weak a word for this — he will potentially cede a monster job-creation machine to the Chinese, the Germans, and others.)

Call it perfect scheduling, but just two days before his inauguration — two days, that is, before the White House website would be scrubbed of all reference to climate change — both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) — each undoubtedly soon to be scrubbed clean by Trump’s climate deniers — announced that, in 2016, the planet’s temperature had broken all heat records for an unprecedented third year in a row. (This means that 16 out of the top 17 hottest years occurred in the twenty-first century.) From 2013 to 2016, according to NASA, the planet warmed by well over a half-degree Fahrenheit, “the largest temperature increase over a three-year period in the NASA record.”

Last year, as the Guardian reported, “North America saw its highest number of storms and floods in over four decades. Globally, we saw over 1.5 times more extreme weather catastrophes in 2016 than the average over the past 30 years. Global sea ice cover plunged to a record low as well.” And that’s just to start a list. This is no longer terribly complicated. It’s not debatable science. It’s our reality and there can be no question that a world of ever more extreme weather events, rising sea levels, lengthening mega-droughts (as well as massive rainfalls), along with heat and more heat, is what the future holds for our children and grandchildren.

Barring stunning advances in alternative energy technologies or other surprises, this again is too obvious to doubt. So those, including our new president and his administration who are focused on suppressing both scientific knowledge about climate change and any attempt to mitigate the phenomenon, and who, like Rex Tillerson’s former colleagues at the big energy companies, prefer to suppress basic information about all of this in the name of fossil fuels and personal enrichment, will be committing the most basic of crimes against humanity.

As a group, they will be taking the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter out of the climate change sweepstakes for years to come and helping ensure that the welcoming planet on which humanity has so long existed will be something so much grimmer in the future. In this moment’s endless flurries of “news” about Donald Trump, this — the most basic news of all — has, of course, been lost in the hubbub. And yet, unlike any other set of actions they could engage in (except perhaps nuclear war), this is truly the definition of forever news. Climate change, after all, operates on a different time scale than we do, being part of planetary history, and so may prove human history’s deal-breaker.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, TomDispatch Archives 

Let’s face it: since 9/11 everything in our American world has been wildly out of proportion. Understandably enough, at the time that attack was experienced as something other than it was. In the heat of the moment, it would be compared to city-destroying or world-ending Hollywood disaster films (“It was like one of them Godzilla movies”), instantly dubbed “the Pearl Harbor of the twenty-first century,” or simply “A New Day of Infamy,” and experienced by many as nothing short of an apocalyptic event inflicted on this country, the equivalent of a nuclear attack — as NBC’s Tom Brokaw said that day, “like a nuclear winter in lower Manhattan,” or as the Topeka Capital-Journal headlined it in a reference to a 1983 TV movie about nuclear Armageddon, “The Day After.” It was, of course, none of this. No imposing imperial challenger had struck the United States without warning, as Japan did on December 7, 1941, in what was essentially a declaration of war. It was anything but the nuclear strike for which the country had been mentally preparing since August 6, 1945 — as, in the years after World War II, American newspapers regularly drew futuristic concentric circles of destruction around American cities and magazines offered visions of our country as a vaporized wasteland. And yet the remains of the World Trade Center were regularly referred to as “Ground Zero,” a term previously reserved for the spot where an atomic explosion had occurred. The 9/11 attacks were, in fact, mounted by the most modest of groups at an estimated cost of only $400,000 to $500,000 and committed by 19 hijackers using our own “weapons” (commercial airliners) against us.

However, the response from a Bush administration eager to strike in the Greater Middle East, especially against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, was to act as if the country had indeed been hit by nuclear weapons and as if we were now at war with a new Nazi Germany or Soviet Union. In the process, Bush officials took that first natural urge to go apocalyptic, to see our country as endangered at an existential level, and ran with it. As a result, from September 12, 2001, on, the confusion, the inability to see things as they actually were, would never end. The Bush administration, of course, promptly launched its own “global war on terror.” (GWOT was the acronym.) Its officials then made that “global” quite real by insisting that they were planning to fight terrorism in a mind-boggling 60 or more countries around the planet.

Fifteen disastrous years later, having engaged in wars, occupations, or conflicts in at least seven countries in the Greater Middle East, having left failed or failing states littered in our path and spurred the spread of terror groups throughout that region and beyond, we now find ourselves in the age of Trump, and if it isn’t obvious to you that everything remains dangerously out of whack, it should be. Consider the set of former military men and associated figures the new president has appointed to run the national security state. As TomDispatch regular and professor of religious studies Ira Chernus points out today, they uniformly believe — shades of GWOT — that our country is in a literal “world war” at this very second, and they seem to believe as well that its fate and the planet’s are at stake, even if none of them can quite decide whom it is we’re actually fighting. This struggle against, well, whomever, is so apocalyptic that, in their opinion, our very “Judeo-Christian” civilization is at stake. (Hence the recent Muslim ban, even if not quite called that.) On all of this, Chernus offers their own grim, whacked-out words as proof.

Who could deny that, by now, many Americans have lost the ability to see the world as it is, put much of anything in perspective, or sort out genuine threats from fantasy constructs? As a result, we’re led by delusional officials overseen, as if in some terrible Hollywood flick about the declining Roman Empire, by a mad, driven leader (who may be quite capable, in a matter of months, of turning the whole world against us). If you don’t believe me, just plunge into Chernus today and into a fantasy war and an apocalyptic fate that supposedly awaits us if we don’t fight to the death against… well…

Perspective, context, proportion? Sorry, we don’t grok you, Earthling

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 

Last Friday, Donald Trump made his first visit to the Pentagon where he spoke of signing an order to begin “a great rebuilding of the armed services of the United States,” something he’s been advocating for quite a while. As TomDispatch regular Bill Hartung indicates today, this will mean a massive surge in federal dollars pouring into the abyss of the Pentagon, which has shown itself quite capable of absorbing such moneys in the past and seems to lack the slightest ability to account for what’s done with them. (The Pentagon has never even managed to pass an audit.) We already know that this will mean more troops, more ships, more planes, and as a draft executive order for the new president put it, “a desire to invest in a host of military capabilities, including Special Operations forces and nuclear weapons.”

These are two areas in which “build up” is already the operative phrase. At approximately 70,000 personnel, the elite Special Operations forces are now an enormous, secretive military — larger than the armies of some sizable countries — cocooned inside the regular armed forces. Special ops types are now dispatched annually to about 70% of the nations on the planet. As for those nuclear forces, under President Obama who won a Nobel Peace Prize in part for his abolitionist sentiments, they were already launched on a trillion dollar, three-decade “modernization” program, involving the creation of new delivery systems and “smart nukes” as well. If each of these forces is now to be expanded even more rapidly and expensively, that’s a genuine upping of the military ante on the planet.

As former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who, with President Ronald Reagan, came remarkably close to negotiating nuclear weapons out of existence, pointed out recently in Time magazine, “it looks as if the world is preparing for war… Today,… the nuclear threat once again seems real. Relations between the great powers have been going from bad to worse for several years now. The advocates for arms build-up and the military-industrial complex are rubbing their hands.”

Indeed, at the dawn of the Trump era, it’s worth remembering that, despite the obvious power of the United States, this is no longer a one-way planet. Take the new “nationalism” of the president (and his close adviser Steve Bannon). As the guiding principle of American foreign policy, nationalism will prove a distinctly two-way street, as is already the case in Mexico where Trump’s wall, his immigration policies, and his tax threats against Mexican products may only stoke Mexican nationalism, uniting an otherwise riven country in a fierce spirit of anti-Americanism.

And don’t expect a staggering American military build-up to be a one-way phenomenon either, especially on the nuclear front. Before he’s done, Donald Trump , who has a yearning for the 1950s, could well put the planet on the kind of military footing that hasn’t been seen since at least the height of the Cold War. He could well spark a potentially out of control three-way arms race that would include China and Russia, while heightening increasingly pugnacious nationalist feelings across the planet. Worse yet, as Hartung points out today, if your money is going to head massively into the military (while civilian spending is slashed), when problems or crises arrive, as they will on such a planet, it’s obvious where you’re most likely to turn. At this point, only two weeks into his presidency, the Earth looks like a distinctly more dangerous place. No wonder the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has just moved its Doomsday Clock 30 seconds “closer to catastrophe” at 2½ minutes to midnight.

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 

What a strange moment. Everything, even the Super Bowl, is being Trumpified and is now divisive. Of course, the Super Bowl is always officially divisive with two rival teams and the fervent fans of each. Still, in a normal year, no matter which two teams are playing, the Super Bowl is also the great unifying event of the televised American year (other than, perhaps, the Academy Awards). More or less everyone watches, while consuming oceans of beer and enough chips and guacamole to fill a mid-sized city. It’s pure ritual all the way to the last minute of the fourth quarter. (As for me, when it comes to sports, I’m a New York hometown chauvinist. I lose interest once my city’s teams fall out of contention and yet — like a zombie — I still engage in a Super Bowl-watching ritual with friends.)

This year, however, as with everything else in this country, it’s going to be a Trumpian spectacle all the way. Like past presidents, The Donald will evidently not attend, but the New England Patriots are his team. (They play the Atlanta Falcons, if you happen to have been locked away in Guantánamo these last weeks.) Quarterback Tom Brady, coach Bill Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft have all backed Trump. Brady even had a red “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker. Trump hailed them at his campaign rallies, and he’s wished them well in Sunday’s game. (“‘In the audience, we have somebody that’s under no pressure whatsoever, because he’s got a great quarterback named Tom Brady, and a great coach named Belichick,’ Trump said [at a donor dinner in Washington], pointing to Kraft. ‘Your friend Tom just called, he feels good. He called to congratulate us… Good luck, you’re going to do great.’”)

And of course he bestowed perhaps the greatest honor of all on Brady, implicitly dissing him recently. No one, after all, can be allowed to stand taller than Donald J. Trump, which means that sooner or later even his allies have to be cut down to size and put in their place by him. Consider that a rule of Donaldland. In this case, during a rambling speech at CIA headquarters the day after his inauguration, he interrupted a riff about media “dishonesty,” itself an interruption of assurances that, despite media attempts to misreport his relations with the Intelligence Community, he was with the CIA “one thousand percent,” to take Brady down a notch in his own inimitable fashion: “So a reporter for Time magazine and I have been on their cover 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine. Like if Tom Brady’s on the cover, it’s like one time because he’s won the Super Bowl or something, right? I’ve been on for 15 times this year. I don’t think that’s a record, Mike [assumedly National Security Adviser Michael Flynn], that can ever be broken. Do you agree with that? What do you think?”

What do you think? Fortunately, in such unnerving times, sportswriter Robert Lipsyte, TomDispatch’s jock culture correspondent, returns after an extended leave to offer us his memories of The Donald (whom he interviewed numerous times back when) and an assessment of how football has, at this curious moment, worked its way deep into the most unsettling parts of the American psyche. So get out those chips and that bowl of guacamole. It’s time to think Super Bowl, but in the context of an American world now being Trumpified.

(Reprinted from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, TomDispatch Archives 
Tom Engelhardt
About Tom Engelhardt

Tom Engelhardt created and runs the Tomdispatch.com website, a project of The Nation Institute where he is a Fellow. He is the author of a highly praised history of American triumphalism in the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, and of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing, as well as a collection of his Tomdispatch interviews, Mission Unaccomplished. Each spring he is a Teaching Fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

Tomdispatch.com is the sideline that ate his life. Before that he worked as an editor at Pacific News Service in the early 1970s, and, these last three decades, as an editor in book publishing. For 15 years, he was Senior Editor at Pantheon Books where he edited and published award-winning works ranging from Art Spiegelman's Maus and John Dower's War Without Mercy to Eduardo Galeano's Memory of Fire trilogy. He is now Consulting Editor at Metropolitan Books, as well as co-founder and co-editor of Metropolitan's The American Empire Project. Many of the authors whose books he has edited and published over the years now write for Tomdispatch.com. He is married to Nancy J. Garrity, a therapist, and has two children, Maggie and Will.

His new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books), has just been published.


Personal Classics
Eight Exceptional(ly Dumb) American Achievements of the Twenty-First Century
How the Security State’s Mania for Secrecy Will Create You
Delusional Thinking in the Age of the Single Superpower