String him up !!!

Prologue

If you’ve watched at least a few of those good old Hollywood western movies, you’ll recall that when a lynch mob gathered, they were angry. Well, we’ve got a group with a “rope” in Washington, DC. But, they aren’t mad; they’re scared. That’s because they see Special Prosecutor (SP) Bob Mueller slowly closing in on Trump, his presidency, and conservatives’ dream of turning the USA into an oligarchy controlled by their handful of mega-rich donors like the Kochs, Princes, Mercers and Coors. In this context, damaging  the SP can be achieved either by:   (1) shutting down his investigation; or (2) discrediting it so that in the end, its results will be rejected by the public as untrustworthy.

Conservatives’ strategy

Basically, it comes down to going back through recent history and building a case that Mueller and his team are corrupt and too biased to render any sort of valid judgment on 45 and his presidency.

The history:  2016

You have to go back to 2016 and the FBI’s investigation of HRC’s use of her private server and the e-mails that came to and exited from that device. Republicans, especially those in Congress, were convinced that the then-Secretary of State had broken the law. An investigation did ensue, evidence was collected and analyzed for illegality. A report of  the results was drafted by then FBI Director James Comey with the tentative conclusion that while HRC had behaved badly, she had not behaved illegally. Comey submitted the document  to his team for comment, amendments and ultimately agreement or disagreement with his conclusion?

Enter a team member named Peter Strzok. As part of the aforementioned team vetting process, he pointed out to Comey that the conclusion that HRC was innocent was not consistent with a description of her behavior as involving “gross negligence” which does involve a violation of the law. Either that wording had to be removed or the Director had to change his “not guilty” decision to guilty. Comey, satisfied that HRC was innocent, dropped the critical language and replaced it with “careless” and other pejorative descriptors of Clinton’s behavior. The report, thus amended was then unanimously approved by Comey’s team.

The FBI Director delivered his report to the House Government Oversight Committee on September 28, 2016. His declaration of HRC’s innocence sent shock waves through Congressional Republicans and conservatives in general, so thoroughly had they convinced themselves that she was guilty. This was not something they were going to let go of, though they had no recourse but to accept Comey’s judgment.

History:  2017

As Mueller’s investigation began to pick up steam with two guilty pleas and two indictments, Trump’s defenders in and out of Congress started to piece together bits of history that would eventually be woven into a narrative aimed at achieving either of the two goals cited above.

Referring back to 2016, and still chafing over HRC’s exoneration by Comey, conservatives reasoned that since that decision was tainted, then Comey was corrupt. And since he and Mueller was both close friends and associates, then the latter must be corrupt as well. To help that leap in logic along, conservatives resurrected Peter Strzok who was introduced earlier and had been functioning as part of Mueller’s team.

Agent Strzok had to be corrupt and biased because, after all, he was the guy who pointed to the need for the word change in Comey’s report. Any doubt among 45’s defenders that Strzok was compromised left them when it was discovered that he and a female associate had been exchanging text messages in which they were highly critical of Trump. Their language was incendiary and reflected a clear bias. Learning of these totally inappropriate back-and-forths, Mueller promptly canned Strzok last summer. Not good enough for Trumpists who were now saying that Mueller’s investigation either had to be shut down, or subject to a probe by a new special prosecutor.

Where are we now?

Earlier today, The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), convened to interrogate Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as to where he stood on ending the Mueller investigation or, alternatively,  putting it under a microscope.

Chairman Goodlatte began by essentially confronting Rosenstein with the aforementioned narrative aimed at compromising Mueller one way or another. It came close to being a “guilty until proven” innocent opening statement (1). Rosenstein, unruffled and deliberate made it clear that the work of any SP cannot be terminated based on dark suspicions and conjecture. In the same vein, he asserted that SPs get appointed when there is sufficient evidence to make that justified. At that juncture, Representative Gerald Nadler (D-NY) asked the Deputy AG if anything like that presently existed. He received an unequivocal “no” in reply.

As matters now stand, here is what 45’s supporters must prove:  (1) That Mueller knew of Styrzok’s bias but put him on the team anyway; (2) Strzok brought his bias to bear in his work as a SP team member with the result that (3) the guilty pleas and indictments secured by Mueller were obtained by corrupted means with the result that four innocent people none the less found themselves in legal jeopardy.

What to expect

The odds are very much against conservatives being able to marshal the sort of evidence needed to meet any one of the three criteria cited immediately above. As they try, expect them to pound mercilessly on their narrative which is now reverberating throughout the conservative media echo chamber. If nothing else, this could eventually provide “cover” for House Republicans to vote down any forthcoming bills of impeachment, and/or Trump’s firing of Mueller.

The crisis we are already in is likely to get worse. In the event that it does, we will be witness to how Congressional Republicans behave:  Will it be party over country or the other way around?

___________________________

1. Pounding away on a treadmill this AM, your blogger got to witness this hearing.

 

Advertisements

Inside Mueller’s head

Ok, ok, we can’t get in there; not really. All we can do is take his behavioral record and draw inferences from that which is to say, speculate. So, how has this man behaved in the past in his role as a special prosecutor? He has been highly successful because he is strategic, a long-term planner, thorough, methodical and patient.

Strategic

Mueller’s MO is to work from the periphery in towards the middle. Or, if you prefer, from the bottom up towards the top. So, he went after Manafort and Gates, and secured indictments in both cases. Next, he cut a deal with Flynn who is now sharing what he knows about possible collusion between Trump and Russia that possibly involved a conspiracy which is against the law.

Long-term planner

Mueller knows that he has to build a solid case against whomever is guilty and that is going to take time. Every bit of information provided by Flynn is going to be paired up with other bits of information that Mueller and his team have already collected. Do they mesh, fit together, and add to an emerging picture of conspiracy and hence, illegality?

Thorough

The Special Prosecutor is known for not leaving a single stone unturned. If there is fraud, money laundering, or election-theft that has taken place, he will get to the bottom of all of it. That has been his “calling card” in every case he has prosecuted.

Methodical

In the past, Mueller has not been one to make inferential leaps from point “A” to point “D”, filling in the gap between the two with suppositions. No, he is an “A” to “B” to “C” kind of guy. When he lands on “D”, there will be every reason to trust that he is exactly where the evidence has led him, with no room for debate or second-guessing.

Patient

If almost goes without saying that you have to be patient in order to be strategic, a long-term planner, thorough and methodical. Mueller will not be rushed; not by political considerations like the 2018 election or anything else. He will be done when he is satisfied that there is nothing else left to be discovered that will add materially to what he will report to Congress and/or the American people.

End notes

There is reason to believe that both the progress that Mueller is making and the pace at which he is working are both grinding on Trump and quite possibly triggering his Twitter outbursts and lashing out. That’s not the behavior of a person who is convinced of his own innocence. Just as telling is the venom that conservatives are spewing at Mueller as they try to discredit his character and investigation. You can expect these attacks to increase in their frequency and vitriol as this probe gets closer and closer to 45’s innermost circle and imperils his presidency. The saga of Watergate played out in exactly the same way until Nixon was forced from office.

Will history repeat itself? It’s going to be at least many months before we find out.

 

 

Today’s “two-fer”

So much is happening that is comment-worthy that it’s hard to settle on just one topic. So, let’s hit on two and give each a “once-over-lightly”, making some key points in the process.

The GOP “Tax Reform” bill

As noted in a previous blog, there is no real “reform” in what congressional Repub’s are crafting and the “devil” of that is in the proverbial details. It is true that there are “goodies” that will allow middle class Americans to keep more of their hard-earned money. But, there are also about a dozen provisions that take away deductions that would allow them to keep even more. In effect, what the GOP giveth with one hand, it taketh away with the other.

And then there is this which came to yours truly from a fellow traveler on the left (1):  We are being told that cuts in corporate taxes will prompt those entities to both increase hiring and wages. Think about that premise for a minute. What that really amounts to is the federal government (the public sector) indirectly meddling in the workings of the private sector (business). There was a time when such an intervention, even if indirect, would have been a violation of conservative orthodoxy.; i.e. free markets are to be left alone to do their “thing”, whatever that might be. Not now.

Next, there is the practical matter of whether those tax cuts will have their intended impact on hiring and wages. When Trump economic advisor Garry Cohn asked an assembled group of CEOs if they would follow through in that regard, just three out of about 20 raised their hands.

Lastly, there is this:  What Repub’s are peddling as “tax reform” is really just another iteration of trickle-down economic policy that was tried under both presidents Reagan and GW Bush.  We were promised that the losses of revenue created by big tax cuts would pay for themselves by triggering robust economic growth. History shows that simply didn’t happen. Both men ran deficits throughout their two terms and left office having added to the national debt, something they had railed against when campaigning for (re-)election.

Trump’s state of mental health

The contentious back-and-forth between 45 and Kim Jon Un in North Korea has brought us closer to a nuclear showdown than we have ever been before and that includes our Cold War confrontations with Russia.  What was saving then was that we had sane heads of state who saw the danger in mutually assured destruction. We are in a very different place now!

Both Trump and Un are widely recognized as unstable, erratic men with poor impulse control. There are signs that 45 is getting worse! His combative, insulting tweets, other public statements and escapes from reality into fantasy are becoming more frequent and have become the “stuff” of daily news reports. There are notable people in the public sphere who are urging Trump cabinet members to use the 25th Amendment to remove him from office before he breaks and does something cataclysmic.

The impact of those calls on Trump emotional well-being has been accentuated by the increasing proximity of Special Prosecutor Mueller’s investigation to the president and some members of his inner circle, including his son (Don, Jr.) and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. It is no wild speculation to posit that as 45’s administration becomes obviously scandal-ridden and actually threaten his presidency, he will really go off the rails and lash out in ways that could have devastating consequences.

End notes

The familiar sign-off “Stay tuned”, just doesn’t fit the circumstances we are in. Yesterday on MSBNC’s “Meet the Press” show, three knowledgeable panelists were asked “Are we as a nation in crisis mode; yes or no?” Without hesitation, all participants responded in the affirmative. That does give one pause! Impeachment, exercise of the 25th Amendment and/or the 2018 election can’t come too soon.

______________________________

  1. With thanks to “Shekinah”.

A sobering “read”: “The Nationalist’s Delusion”

The article cited above was just published in the November issue of The Atlantic Magazine. It contains a biting, thoughtful, insightful, historically accurate, empirical analysis of Trump’s campaign, his presidency, the people who vote for him and remain his most committed supporters, as well as a take-down of HRC. In all these respects, it is even-handed.

The article runs to 33 pages and every one of them contains valuable information that is crucial to arriving at an understanding of  the mindset of the people who voted for Trump and who remain unalterably in his camp. How have they come to embrace an overtly racist man whose entire 10 months in office have been devoted in one way or another to promoting a White America while taking us back to some of the darkest days in our country’s history when “liberty and justice for all” rang hollow?

The answer to the foregoing question is to be found in the delusion that allows one to step up for this racist president even as one adamantly denies that such a choice unavoidably makes you a racist yourself. Read and discover.

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archives/2017/11/the-nationalist’s-delusion

If this link does not take you directly to the article itself, a Google search using the title of the article will get the job done.

 

Then and Now: Perspectives

The “Then” of tax reform

The last time tax reform was undertaken was back during the Reagan presidency in 1986. The bill that eventually passed had both Republican and Democrat co-sponsors and was crafted by a bipartisan group of members of both houses of Congress. Separate bills from each of the two chambers went to conference where their differences were reconciled. The result passed the House by a vote of 292-136, and the Senate by a vote of 74-23. The bill became law on October 22, 1986.

What that bill  involved is less important than how it came into being; i.e. with bipartisan involvement from the get-go, and with solid bipartisan votes. The entire enterprise took over a year of negotiations, compromises, and finally agreement.

The “Now” of tax reform

What we are now witnessing stands in stark contrast to the foregoing:  Both House and Senate Republicans have completely closed out any input from Democrats. The House version was jammed through by a thin margin of just seven spare votes, and in a matter of weeks at that. It has been structured in such a way that it could be passed with a bare minimum of 217 votes. The Senate’s version will require just 51. That strategy was adopted so that not a single vote by a Democrat could derail this blatantly partisan undertaking.

With the House version passed, we now await what Senate Republicans are able to develop and pass. Then, as before, the separate versions will go to conference where they have to be reconciled. Once that final version emerges, we will have a better idea of what 2017 Republican tax reform looks like; who it benefits and who (if anyone) it hurts.

The “Then” of impeachment

The Watergate scandal, which led to President Nixon’s resignation, actually began on June 17, 1972 with the arrest of a small group of individuals who got caught in a burglary attempt at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Over two years later, on August 9, 1974, Nixon stepped down. In actuality, moving Nixon to resign was a fairly easy and straightforward process, advanced by the testimony of White House Counsel, John Dean, and the infamous tapes of Nixon plotting to abuse the power of his high office obstruct justice.

The “Now” of impeachment

As relatively simple as it was to make the case against Nixon in over two years, we should expect that the brief against Trump, such as it is now and may eventually become, is going to take longer; perhaps much longer. That is because the case against 45 is alleged to involve conspiring with Russian agents to effect our 2016 election, obstruction of justice, abuse of power, money laundering, perjury, and violation of the Logan Act (1).

If Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is anything, it is thorough. He will get to the bottom of each one of those potential crimes and level charges when they are warranted. This is all going to take time and public impatience notwithstanding, this critically important matter must be handled in that painstaking way. Wait patiently for real events as they unfold and don’t get caught up in speculations about what may be about to happen.

The “Then” of sexual harassment

When did all this men taking advantage of women get started? Truth be told, you can find the roots of it in our Holy Bible; both Old and New Testaments. The fact is, the “Good Book” is rife with verses (2) promoting the dogma that women  (especially wives) must be subservient to men (their husbands).

The idea that women were the “weaker” of the two sexes was undoubtedly reinforced by men’s brawn and ability carry on under physically demanding conditions that existed at the time (e.g. felling trees with an axe, breaking a horse, rolling/lifting big logs and stones, etc.). This very mindset found expression in the US Constitution wherein women were relegated to second class citizen status and denied the right to vote for 133 years (3).

Given this longstanding cultural context, men found themselves in a position where they had the potential to take advantage of women. Men who held some degree of influence or power over women in their midst found it even easier.

The “Now” of sexual harassment

For men, the “rules” haven’t changed all that much; i.e. if you have influence and/or power over women you encounter, you have the opportunity to use one or both to impose yourself on the woman who is at hand. What has changed and will continue to change, are the “rules” that now direct women’s behavior when they are the subject of harassment. Bearing up in silence is no longer the women’s norm. It is in the process of being replaced by speaking up and speaking out, forcefully if need be. That has brought us to an inflection point in our national conversation about the need to get beyond the history cited above (the “Then”) and the creation of a new culture built on mutual respect, the limits of gender-based power, and what will not be tolerated, especially in individuals who hold or are seeking public office.

This latter point deserves further comment. Both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump were elected in spite of their well-publicized histories of predatory sexual behavior. Down in Alabama, Roy Moore is running for a seat in the US Senate even as he deals with charges of his past unwanted sexual advances brought out by women who were under ages at the time.

This brief history begs the question:  “If we are to continue to tolerate this, are we then by default, establishing that as the new normal?”

____________________________

  1. Briefly, the Logan Act makes it illegal for an unauthorized US citizen to negotiate foreign policy with some external entity.
  2.  See Genesis 3:16; Colossians 3:18 and/or Ephesians 5:21-23.
  3.  A US Constitutional Amendment gave women the right to vote on August 18, 1920.

 

 

Trump’s love affairs

Relax; nothing salacious ahead. This is not going to be about Trump’s bachelor days when he was a swinging man about town in New York. Nor, is there any intent on rehashing his cheating on first wife Ivana, or on his second wife, Marla. No; this is about candidate and then president Donald J. Trump’s love affairs with some of the worst people in the world, with Russia’s Vladimir Putin at the top of the list.

If, during the past two years, you’ve been even marginally in touch with the news, you are aware that candidate and president DJT, just can’t bring himself to utter an unkind word about the likes of Philippine President Duterte, North Korea’s Kim Jon Un, and Syria’s Bashir Al Assad. These guys are not just despots. They are the worst kind of tyrant who ruthlessly crush dissent and murder anyone who even hints at questioning their authority.

But beyond these scoundrels, and because of the ongoing investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, special attention will be focused here on the “bromance” between Trump as candidate and president, and Putin.

It would be highly instructive if a news organization collected and spliced end-to-end, all of the generous comments about Vlady that have fallen from Trump’s lips as he campaigned for our presidency and after he won it. Putin is “a strong leader” (never mind that he is a murderous thug) is just one example of a litany of bon mots that Trump has bestowed upon Russia’s leader. The latest of bouquets involved 45 taking Putin’s word when the latter asserted that he and Russia had not meddled in our last election, contrary to the firm conclusion of all 17 of our Intelligence agencies.

This pattern of behavior (and it surely is a pattern) has been excused by Trump apologists as their man being “crazy like a fox” and “playing” the opposition. In sharp contrast, there are the opinions of some notable mental health professionals (1) who consider Trump’s pattern as “crazy as in crazy”; and a specific kind of crazy at that, a topic we turn to next.

It is striking that Trump has such a fondness for authoritarian figures; he admires them, extols their dominance, skipping over their ruling with an iron fist and ability to murder their own countrymen without remorse. It is hard to escape the very real possibility that these monsters are his role models, not Lincoln or current day Republican icon, Ronald Reagan.

If 45 seeks to run the US as an authoritarian president, what has he done toward that end? Simply put, for the past year, he has chipped away at the foundations of our nation; the very pillars that have sustained us for going on 250 years:  He denigrated Federal Judge Curiel and the district courts that set aside his Muslim travel ban. He viciously attacks the free press as hopelessly biased and purveyors of “fake news”, and lambasts members of his own party when they fail to help him fulfill one or another campaign promise. Not bad enough? Look at what he is doing to key government agencies like the EPA and Energy wherein he has installed as department heads, men like Scott Pruitt and Rick Perry who are intent on sabotaging the very organizations they have been appointed to head. Both are climate change deniers and shills for “big Oil” who have scant interest in the quality of the air that we breathe and the water we drink.

In the last analysis, Trump’s “Make America great again” should more properly be re-written to read “Make America different”. How “different”? Look to the countries whose leaders 45 can’t manage a bad word about.

________________________________

  1. Twenty-seven mental health experts have lent their expertise to filling the pages of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. Bandy X. Lee; St. Martin’s Press, 2017. This book is available in hard cover and Kindle.

 

 

Why?

Just two days ago (11-5-17) A group of NBC News reporters filed a story titled “Mueller Has Enough Evidence to Bring Charges in Flynn Investigation”. While an attention-grabber in its’ own right, this announcement was not accompanied by the charges themselves, or followed up two days later by a filing of them. This begs the question “Why? What is Mueller waiting for?” In what follows, we’ll examine three possible explanations for this apparent delay.

Paperwork

Even someone with Mueller’s authority can’t just walk into court and file charges. The filing must be preceded by the submission of all sorts of documentation, including its’ evidentiary basis. So, it is possible that Mueller is simply dotting all his “i’s”, crossing all his “t’s” and getting his “ducks” in order.

Timing for maximum effect

Perhaps Mueller is holding back so as to coordinate his filing with some other related event that will arise out of his ongoing investigation; e.g. the near-completion of the building of a case against Flynn’s son so that both could be charged together.

“Enough” may not mean “all”

When the NBC team broke the story that Mueller had “enough” evidence to bring charges, they may have spoken only on the basis of an incomplete set of facts. This raises the possibility that the Flynn investigation remains open, and that when Mueller does file, it will be with more than enough evidence to do so. Put another way, the Special Prosecutor may be going for overkill and thus, the maximum of significant jail time in order to get Flynn to “flip”. Remember, months ago, it was Flynn’s lawyer who sought immunity for his client, saying that the ex-Trump Cabinet member “has a story to tell”.

End note

There is no question that each one of these three scenarios is speculative. But, the bet here is that one of them will prove to be true. Pick your favorite and let’s see what materializes.

 

Known and yet to be discovered

In the Trump/Russia investigation, there are some things that we now know with near or complete certainty. It’s a  short list so let’s run these facts down.

Russian interference

There is now no question that Russian “actors” made a concerted effort to meddle in our election, Trump’s denials notwithstanding. This gambit was so widespread and organized that it can properly be viewed as a cyber-attack on us by a foreign nation. These efforts included ad buys and postings that showed up with alarming frequency in popular social interactive platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

The impact of Russian interference

All one has to do is look at the numbers of “likes” on Facebook, and re-tweets on Twitter that were collected by the Russian-sponsored ad buys and posts. At the least, these numbers indicate that social media users were paying attention. Even more telling is the fact that Russian ads announcing anti-Clinton rallies motivated people to attend as they did. What we will never know is how many votes were impacted by these meddling activities. Did they change or solidify votes? That question will never be answered.

Collusion

All denials to the contrary, it has been established that multiple people in Trump’s orbit colluded with various individuals in and outside the Russian government. That said, this is where a caveat is desperately needed:  There is no law against colluding with another party since all that means is that two or more parties met for some reason. Simply put, the word “collusion” denotes nothing benign or negative (1). What matters is what transpires between the parties that colluded. It could be something very innocent, even positive, like the negotiating of a peace treaty. Or, it could be something nefarious like A and B cooking up a scheme to launder money, evade taxes, or illegally distort the outcome of an election. In these latter examples, collusion becomes conspiracy which is most assuredly against the law. All this said, we now know as matters of fact, that Manafort, Papadopolous, Kushner, Trump, Jr., Page and Sessions all colluded with one or another Russian.

Yet to be discovered

Did the collusion cited immediately above cross the line into conspiracy? That is precisely what Special Prosecutor Mueller is investigating, among other potential crimes. Also to be discovered is whether or not any illegal and/or conspiratorial behavior involved 45’s inner circle and even reached all the way into the Oval Office and tainted his presidency to the point where impeachment becomes a realistic possibility? To date, Mueller’s findings do not take us to that level (2), but it would be foolish to deny that is where he and we are headed. Will we end up there? Place your bets !!

End note

The intent here has been to produce an objective, fact-based accounting of what we can accept as fact and what remains to be learned. Too many people have already rushed to judgment; one side claiming that this investigation is a “witch hunt” and that there is no “there”, there. The other side has already convicted Trump. These polemics should be avoided in the interest of a patient, sober search for the truth. When we arrive there, let the chips fall where they may.

_________________________

  1. Because of the highly charged emotional atmosphere surrounding the Mueller investigation, the word “collusion” has too often been misrepresented as signifying conspiracy. Given what is now known, that is unjustified.
  2. The indictments of Manafort and his associate Gates, indicate that these two men engaged in conspiratorial behavior. But we have yet to see evidence that their alleged illegality touched Trump and/or the 2016 election.

Bon Appetite: A not-so whimsical spoof

Hopa and welcome to Chez George. I am your maitre d, George Papadopolous and have your table ready. Our gourmand chef Robispierre Mueller has prepared a sumptuous repaste that is sure to caress your palate. Regarde vous:

Appetizer:  Pate’ d foie Manafort..

Soup:  Gates bisque

Salad:  A reduction of mixed leafy vegetables ala Flynn served with Single Island dressing (Hawaii – make only America great again).

Entree’:  Roast suck(l)ing pig to be presented with foot in its mouth.

Dessert:  Pure vanilla, topped with assorted mixed nuts, including Carter Page, Sam Clovis, Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner.

Beverage:  White Russian

Enjoy !!!

_____________________________

If this blog has left you scratching your head in puzzlement, you are way behind by about six news cycles.

 

 

 

Book Review: “Fantasyland”

Andersen, Kurt; Fantasyland:  How America Went Haywire:  A 500-year History. Random House; 2017 (1).

A book can be entertaining, interesting, insightful, provocative and even disturbing. This book is all of the foregoing. The title itself is an attention-grabber:  note that in Andersen’s view, it’s “America” that has gone “haywire”; not just conservatives or progressives. And what’s this business about  “500-year history” when our country is 230-years old? The answer is that the author has gone back another 270 years into European history to find the roots of what has brought us to our present state of “haywiredness”; i.e. a state of being increasingly consumed by the fantastical, the unreal, the unprovable, and the fact-free.

In assessing European history (see above), the author is careful to stick to the record without embellishment. His thesis is that the narrow, repressive, constricted thinking and speaking that characterized much of Europe during the period in question, gave way to our Founding Fathers’ deep commitment to freedom of expression, and to give it stature and primacy as our First Amendment. All well and good. But, as Andersen points out, freedom of expression is perhaps the sharpest of double-edged swords; it allows for not only the rational, evidence-based and verifiable, but the irrational, fact-free and unprovable. The framers of the Bill of Rights (2) believed that a sensible and informed public would come around to rejecting the latter so they made sure that no law could be enacted to stifle it.

Has that actually happened? In tracing our 230-year history, Anderson shows that the license provided by the First Amendment has found expression in virtually every part of our culture:  public policy, science, psychology, religion, economics, the media, and increasingly, social discourse through the advent of platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

As the author notes, there have been periods when the irrational, fact-free and unprovable gained some traction only to be shunted aside by disproof, rationality, and evidence-based counter-arguments. This has happened over and over again just as the Framers believed would occur.

But, for Andersen, this salutary state of affairs has steadily given way to the embrace by too many of our citizens of the fantastical, unreal and fact-free. It is this trend that has put “America” in “haywire” mode (see definition above). In making this case, the author spares no one; both political parties, conservatives, progressives, and everyone and everything else gets examined and earmarked for their share of accountability. That said, Anderson draws heavily on objective sociological research findings to document how the irrational with little/no basis in reality has taken hold among less well-educated people  who harbor longstanding resentments against government and the press, making them susceptible to investing in conspiracy theories that cannot be subjected to disproof, and public policies that have a documented history of failure. Alarmingly, social scientists have shown that these folks cannot be dislodged from their baseless beliefs because they view any attempts to dissuade them as conspiratorial and invalid, evidence to the contrary be damned.

The foregoing gives you a very general sense of the thrust of “Fantasyland”, but barely scratches the surface of the depth and breadth of Andersen’s scholarship and the scope of the case for “Haywired” that he makes. His book has been well-received and collected over 100, 4- and 5-star ratings. You can count this review among them.

_________________________

  1. Available in Kindle version or hard-copy.
  2. James Madison, principally with an assist from Thomas Jefferson.