The Trump era has engendered numerous fractures, one might say realignments, in the political order. Long-time ideological allies are now adversaries, and long-time political enemies are now in full-fledged coalitions. These shifts are not temporary or Trump-dependent but enduring, because they are grounded in shared core beliefs about the defining debates shaping our new politics and how to consolidate real power: call it the Lincoln Project Syndrome.
One major reason for this transformation is a fundamental difference in how to understand Trump: is he the primary author of America’s pathologies or merely a symptom of pathologies which long pre-dated him? Relatedly: is removing Trump from power a vital step in returning the U.S. to its previous status as a benevolent and law-abiding republic, or is isolating him as the principal cause of the nation’s woes a cynical propaganda tactic for whitewashing the sins of those who are actually responsible so that they can rebuild their reputations and again assume power? Were Trump’s policies some radical, unprecedented aberration from U.S. political tradition or, stylistic quirks aside, a standard continuation of it?
How one answers those questions — along with whether one believed that the Kremlin had infiltrated the White House and assumed command of the levers of U.S. power through elaborate blackmail schemes or whether one recognized that this was a CIA-fabricated propaganda fraud excavated from crusty Cold War scripts — determined where one fell on many of the most contentious political debates over the last four years (my answer to all of the questions is the latter choice).
That’s why the millions of Americans who, due to fear of Trump, began paying close attention to politics and consuming news products only in 2016 were such easy marks for peddling fear-mongering narratives and revisionism: because they lacked the crucial historical context in which to place Trump and understand his ascension to the presidency.
But there is another critical debate, one that has rarely been conducted explicitly, that is also a key determinant of where one falls in this new alignment: what are the real power centers in the U.S., the ones most responsible for its worst acts and greatest dangers?
There are many places where that answer resides. One can find it right now in the ongoing effort to denounce the Trump White House for attempting to remove troops from Afghanistan, where the U.S. has been fighting and shooting and bombing in a war now about to enter its 20th year. Take a look at who is demanding that those troops remain, and there you will find the real axis of power — all of its component parts — in the United States.
This is not the first time the Trump administration has been condemned after unveiling its plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. In July, pro-war Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee, led by their Lockheed-and-Raytheon-funded Chairman Adam Smith, partnered with Congresswoman Liz Cheney and her pro-war GOP allies to block the use of funds for removing troops (not only from Afghanistan but also Germany), as part of a massive increase in military spending. The oppositional left-right coalition of anti-war Democrats such as Ro Khanna and Tulsi Gabbard and America-First Trump supporters such as Matt Gaetz were no match for the bipartisan pro-war coalition which attempted to block any end to the war.
A crucial weapon which Smith, Cheney and the other anti-withdrawal Committee members wielded was a widely-hyped New York Times scoop published days before the Committee vote, which — in its first paragraph — announced:
American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.
Repeatedly citing this New York Times story, based on the claims of anonymous “intelligence officials,” the bipartisan pro-war wing of the Committee insisted that to leave Afghanistan now would be particularly inappropriate and dangerous in light of this dastardly Russian interference. (Top military officials and the commander in Afghanistan later admitted the bounty program “had not been corroborated by intelligence agencies and that they do not believe any attacks in Afghanistan that resulted in American casualties can be directly tied to it,” but by then, the job was done).
And thus did this union of pro-war Democrats, Cheney-led neocons, the intelligence community and their chosen mainstream media outlets succeed in providing the perfectly crafted tool at the most opportune moment to justify blocking an end to America’s longest war. That is precisely the same coalition that drowned U.S. politics for more than three years in the sustained, monomaniacal disinformation campaign about Putin’s takeover of the U.S.
As Trump again signals that he intends in the lame-duck session to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, this same united coalition is working desperately to block it. First, Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois angrily condemned the withdrawal plan with deranged reasoning: that Generals are against withdrawal (as though we have no civilian control of the military); troops will come home “in body bags” not by staying in Afghanistan but by leaving it; and that withdrawing U.S. forces after a mere nineteen years of fighting will endanger “our national security.”
The new ruling coalition then stepped forward to fortify Duckworth’s demand that troops remain. Obama’s former National Security Advisor Susan Rice — reportedly slated to become Biden’s Secretary of State — pointed to the pronouncement by Brett McGurk, an early ruler of post-invasion Iraq and key advocate of the Bush/Cheney “surge” who now works (of course) for NBC News, denouncing Trump’s withdrawal plan as “diplomatic malpractice” that “erodes trust and confidence in the United States.” Playing the role of Liz Cheney in this debate was GOP Congressman Dan Crenshaw of Texas, who supported Rice and Duckworth by attacking independent Congressman Justin Amash for advocating troop withdrawal.
From there, Bill Kristol — a key neocon ally of McGurk during the Bush/Cheney years who is also now a beloved MSNBC pundit — not only denounced the efforts to withdraw troops from Afghanistan but in general warned of the dangers of Trump’s attempt to remove troops from other parts of the world. As they usually do, Kristol’s pro-imperialism tweets went massively viral due to the large social media following he has amassed from MSNBC appearances and his liberal fan base:
I’m told DOD has been ordered to plan further troop withdrawals, from Somalia, South Korea and Germany. Trump is doing his best to weaken America, our friends, and allies on his way out the door.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) November 17, 2020
Here we see the new coalition of power that has formed during the Trump era: hawkish and corporatist Democrats, united when necessary with pro-war/neocon Republicans, Bush/Cheney operatives, the national security state and large corporate media outlets outside of Fox News.
Democratic national security luminaries have spent the last four years formally uniting with Bush/Cheney neocons to prepare to take power in a new Democratic administration (though it must be remembered that neocons, as this 2014 New York Times Op-Ed by Jacob Heilbrunn explained, saw the writing on the wall long before Trump that the growing anti-war strain in the GOP (as evidenced by the success of Ron Paul’s candidacy) meant that their best hope for a posture of Endless War resided in re-migrating back to what they thought at the time would be the Hillary-run Democratic Party).
The other key components of this coalition are Silicon Valley giants and Wall Street, both of which overwhelmingly donated to the Biden/Harris campaign and the Democratic Party generally. The primary weapon tech companies offer is not just huge sums of money — though that of course is welcomed and useful — but information control: I continue to regard the decision of Twitter and Facebook to block and suppress the ability to disseminate The New York Post story on Hunter Biden’s laptop as one of the most shocking and alarming events of the last four years: political censorship cheered by most of the pro-Biden press.
But that jarring pre-election internet censorship on behalf of this Democratic-led coalition is just the tip of the iceberg of what is to come. And the key players in that internet censorship campaign — the propagandists who will lay the groundwork for it — are the corporate U.S. media outlets who have long been and still are a key part of this ruling coalition.
When Silicon Valley giants began to see the massive potential of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and even earlier when Google assumed dominance of search engines, they had no intention to censor content. Indeed, they wanted to renounce any responsibility to regulate discourse: not because they are noble (though many did have a libertarian belief in the value of a free internet) but because they wanted to assume the far more profitable and less burdensome model of AT&T: we are not a publishing company that decides what can and cannot be heard, but rather just a content-neutral platform for anyone to communicate (if Alex Jones calls Milo Yiannopoulos to plan a rally, nobody expects AT&T to terminate their call or service: that’s the hands-off model Silicon Valley giants envisioned).
These companies began censoring the internet because that responsibility was foisted on them — principally by corporate media outlets that ginned up anger over the content they were allowing on their platforms, and then by Democratic Party politicians who blamed Facebook and Twitter (but not themselves) for their 2016 defeat.
Numerous media outlets — NBC News, CNN, The New York Times — now employ stables of reporters whose primary function seems to be to act as hall monitor tattletales over the internet, flagging whatever person or group think they deserves to be censored from social media and then petulantly whining that Facebook and Twitter are failing in their sacred duties to regulate discourse.
Part of the motive is arrogant self-interest: ever since the emergence of Bush-era blogs, they have despised any ability of uncredentialed serfs to disseminate information outside of their benevolent control. Watch here as Vox writer Dave Roberts announces on a show this week that the public cannot possibly be trusted to communicate freely without “gatekeepers” — meaning people like him and his friends — deciding what can and cannot be heard:
In the world of social media with no gatekeepers, @drvox says “misinformation wins”.
He tells Mehdi why: pic.twitter.com/g7cmsUjNnL
— The Mehdi Hasan Show (@MehdiHasanShow) November 17, 2020
Read the rest of the report here.