Clinton Emails, Planned Parenthood: How Press Keeps Enabling GOP’s Orchestrated Distractions

Source: AlterNet

Author:Eric Boehlert

Emphasis Mine

Within the span of just twelve hours this week, multiple Republican-sponsored political pursuits partially unraveled in plain sight.

The long-running investigations were the Benghazi select committee and the related probe into Hillary Clinton’s private emails, and Republicans’ crusade targeting Planned Parenthood. Journalists would be wise to take note of the pattern of plain deception and ask themselves if they want to keep sponsoring these planned distractions.

The first to crumble was the right-wing smear campaign against Planned Parenthood, which was launched this summer and sponsored by Fox News and the Republican Party. Creating a whirlwind of controversy and endless media attention, the undercover sting operation by anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress was even elevated by some to be pressing enough to shut down the federal government.

Tuesday’s Congressional hearing about defunding Planned Parenthood was to be the centerpiece of the right wing’s orchestrated attack campaign. The problem was that in recent weeks we’ve learned the gotcha videos at the center of the campaign were deceptively edited. And so far six statewide investigations have found no wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood. That meant the Congressional production was likely destined for failure.

“The entire hearing was premised on a series of mischaracterizations,” reported The New Yorker. Republicans were left with little but bouts of bullying in an effort to intimidate Planned Parenthood chief Cecile Richards as she testified.

It didn’t work. So after ten weeks, the sustained attack against Planned Parenthood produced no tangible evidence of wrongdoing and no serious damage to the organization. (Of course, despite their failures so far, Republicans are now reportedly considering creating “a special panel to investigate Planned Parenthood.”)

Then just hours after the hearing completed, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who’s now in line to become the next Republican Speaker of the House, brazenly bragged on Sean Hannity’s Fox program about how the Benghazi select committee was responsible for damaging Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. To which Hannity responded, “That’s something good, I give you credit for that.”

With one brief Fox appearance, McCarthy laid bare the facts about both the never-ending Benghazi investigation and the related, still-churning email witch hunt: They’re both built on politics, plain and simple. The Republicans created a Benghazi select committee in order to try to take out the Democratic frontrunner for president. Period. That’s the story.

Sadly, the busted Planned Parenthood, Benghazi and email diversions simply represent the latest creations from the GOP distraction model. Conservatives have been using it, on and off, for two decades — and the model works best when the Beltway press plays along. It works best if the Beltway press pretends virtually every other Republican-produced scandal pursuit hasn’t been a bust.

Many of the same Republicans who have spearheaded the dishonest Planned Parenthood probe are the same ones leading the charge on Benghazi and the email story. And the press continues to breathlessly quote them as they try to hype these supposed scandals.

So yes, much of the press has been culpable in the latest Republican distractions since day one. In fact, the press has been playing the same lapdog role for well over twenty years when it comes to endlessly hyping and even marketing orchestrated Republican distractions. These self-contained circus productions that suggest all kinds of Democratic wrongdoing are long on conspiracy theories but short on facts, and leave pundits and reporters breathlessly chronicling the possible downside for Democrats.

One reason these Groundhog Day scenes keeping play out, again and again and again, is due to the fact too many journalists are absolutely wed to the very simple definition of what constitutes news: What are conservatives angry about?

Given that kind of carte blanche to create news cycles, Republicans and conservatives in the media have taken full advantage and have settled into a predictable pattern: Manufacture distractions designed to make life miserable for Democratic leaders; force Democrats to use up energy and resources to swat down endless unproven allegations, and spawn waves of media “gotcha” hysteria fueled by disingenuous leaks.

But here’s the thing: it’s exhausting. It’s disheartening. And it’s a colossal waste of time and energy. But this is how the right wing plays politics in America and the D.C. press has shown an unbridled enthusiasm to want to play along; to want to abandon common sense in order to chase GOP-designated shiny objects for weeks, months or sometimes years on end. And then do it all over again when the current distraction disintegrates.

The pattern began in earnest during the 1990s when Republicans became obsessed with personally pursuing the Clintons. Remember the dubious Clinton pardon distraction, the parting gifts distraction, and of course Ken Starr’s $80 million Inspector Javert routine.

Charles Pierce at Esquire recently detailed that decade’s signature string of orchestrated GOP obfuscations:

To use a more relevant, example, TravelGate was a distraction. FileGate was a distraction. The disgusting use of Vince Foster’s suicide was a distraction. Castle Grande was a distraction. The cattle futures were a distraction. The billing records were a distraction. Webster Hubbell’s billing practices were a distraction. Hell, the entire Whitewater part of the Whitewater affair was basically a distraction, as was the pursuit of Bill Clinton’s extracurricular love life. Kathleen Willey was a distraction. The monkeywrenching of a settlement in the Paula Jones case was to make sure that the distraction that was that case survived. All of these were distractions created to make it difficult for a Democratic president to govern, and the reason I know that is because the people creating distractions were not shy about admitting what they were all about to each other.

Over time, the vast majority of those endless Clinton allegations were proven to be hollow. Yet aided by some regrettable journalism, the relentless scandal culture took hold and managed to damage to the Clinton administration. Indeed, the whole point of the GOP’s Clinton distraction model was to create the infrastructure to hound the Democrats.

With President Obama’s inauguration, the old model was unpacked, but this time with Fox News playing a much more aggressive role. The results have been an endless parade of diversions and hoaxes designed, in various shapes and sizes, to hamstring a Democratic administration and, more recently, to damage the leading Democratic candidate for 2016.

Here’s just a handful of manufactured distractions:


*Benghazi stand down order


*Clinton Cash

*Department of Education official Kevin Jennings

*Economist Jonathan Gruber’s Obamacare comment

*Food stamps

*Gibson Guitar raid

*New Black Panthers

*Shirley Sherrod

*Voter fraud

As Media Matters can attest, virtually none of the often-hysterical allegations attached to those distractions were ever proven to be true. Instead, the pursuits imploded under their own weight. Yet too often, these supposed scandals broke out of the Fox News bubble and became mainstream “news.”

So when’s the press going to get the message and stop enabling these charades?

Eric Boehlert is a senior fellow at Media Matters for America and the author of “Lapdogs: How The Press Rolled Over for Bush.” He can be reached


Krugman: GOP Presidential Candidates Tax-Cut Plans Are “Top-Down Class Warfare”

Source: AlterNet

Author:Stephan Rosenfeld

Emphasis Mine

In Washington, Republicans have been threatening to shut down the government over spending they don’t like and the federal debt. But on the 2016 campaign trail, the leading GOP presidential candidates are hawking tax cuts for the wealthy, which would blow up the federal debt.

“You might think there was a defensible economic case for the obsession with cutting taxes on the rich,” writes Paul Krugman in his latest New York Times column. “That is, you might think that if you’d spent the past 20 years in a cave (or a conservative think tank. Otherwise, you’d be aware that tax-cut enthusiasts have a remarkable track record: They’ve been wrong about everything, year after year.”

What’s going on behind the tax cut obsession, Krugman explains, is a mix of voodoo economics, caveman-like ignorance of what tax cuts and tax hikes have wrought, and above all a desire to do anything that will make rich people richer.

Krugman points out that candidates Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are all making absurd claims about what their tax cut plans would do for domestic economic growth. Bush has said that his plan would double it. Trump, not to be outdone, says his cuts would triple it.

“The interesting question is why every Republican candidate feels compelled to go down this path,” Krugman asks, then reciting what happened to the economy in the past 20 years every time federal taxes were raised  or cut.

Under the tax increases (Bill Clinton in 1993, George W. Bush’s tax cuts expiring in 2013, Calfornia under Gov. Jerry Brown) the economy grew. Under the tax cuts (By George W. Bush and more recently by Kansas Republicans), the economy faltered. Those are the facts, Krugman said, despite propaganda from “self-proclaimed economic experts claiming to find overall evidence that low tax rates spur economic growth, but such experts invariably turn out to be on the payroll of right-wing pressure groups (and have an interesting habit of getting their numbers wrong).”

According to the Gallup poll, only 13 percent of Americans believe that taxes on the rich are too high, while 61 percent believe they pay too little, he notes. So what is going on here, besides a hefty mix of bad economics and historical amnesia?

“It’s a straighforward and quite stark: Republicans support big tax cuts for the wealthy because that’s what wealthy donors want,” Krugman writes. “No doubt that most of those donors have managed to convince themselves that what’s good for them is good for America. But at root it’s about rich people supporting politicians who will make them richer. Everthing else is rationalization.”

Krugman has no doubt that as the 2016 campaign unfolds, the top GOP candidates will continue to beat this deceptive drum and “an army of hired guns will be mobilized to obscure this stark truth.”

But there is a bottom line beyond all the political spin and economic mirages, he said. “Never forget that what it’s really about is top-down class warfare. That may sound simplistic, but it’s the way the world works.”


Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).


New Texas Study Busts NRA Myths: Concealed Carry Doesn’t Reduce Crime, Guns Increase Crime



Emphasis Mine

It is legal in every state in the US to carry a concealed handgun. Up until this week, it was a commonly accepted myth that carrying a hidden gun was less harmful than carrying a visible firearm, and that the incidence of crime fell when there was no weapon in sight. A new study by Texas A&M University has just exposed the fallacy of this assertion. It turns out that -shocker- carrying a concealed weapon does not decrease crime rate. What does increase the crime rate? Having a gun in the first place. There is no safe way to carry a gun; whether it’s concealed or not makes absolutely no difference. These new results just add more evidence to the already extensive demand for tougher restrictions on gun control.

The logic that concealed guns directly relates to a decreased level of shootings has been the false basis of much legalized gun legislation. “A dramatic spike in the number of Americans with permits to carry concealed weapons coincides with an equally stark drop in violent crime,” Fox News wrote last year, citing a study by the Crime Prevention Research Center. It’s time to throw this logic out the window. Research by Texas A&M University dispels the previous data with a county by county analysis in over 500 counties, of the effect of concealed weapons. Their study proves whether a gun is visible or not has no connection with crime. The Crime Prevention Research Center based their findings on before and after concealed-carry legislation, and hence did not get a full picture.

The idea that concealed handguns lead to less crime is at the center of much firearms legislation, but the science behind that conclusion has been murky,” Texas A&M health sciences professor Charles D. Phillips said in a university release. “This research suggests that the rate at which CHLs (concealed handgun licenses) are issued and crime rates are independent of one another — crime does not drive CHLs; CHLs do not drive crime,” the study states. “What we found when we drilled down to the county level was that the changes in the number of concealed handgun permits in a county had no relationship to either an increase or decrease in the county crime rate,” commented Phillips.

Instead of relying solely on the visibility of a gun as a predictor or indicator of violence, Phillips’ study delves into real drivers such as the economy or policing tactics. By disproving the idea that concealed hand guns create an atmosphere of increased public welfare, gun legislation is going to have to be reevaluated.  “These results have some implications for the current policy debates concerning concealed handguns. The logic of relaxing requirements for concealed carry for the purposes of public safety implies that such legislation should reduce crime rates,” Phillips and his team concluded in their findings.

Americans own more than 300 million firearms. That means there is almost one gun per person. When you contextualize these figures, it is easy to see why the shooting at Roseburg happened so easily; and why a mass shooting is no longer a rare occurrence. Our society is oversaturated with guns. Up until this week, our legislatures used a surface level study to argue that carrying a weapon is okay, so long as that weapon is not in plain sight. Now that counter-research has rendered this thinking irrelevant, hopefully systemic reasons for violence will be targeted, and the government can finally step in and do away with gun ownership.

See: :

Explaining the Republican Crazy Talk: You Don’t Need the Truth to Win in the GOP Primaries

Source: AlterNet

Author:Marth Kaplan

Emphasis Mine

Did you make it through Sunday’s lunar eclipse OK?

When the moon turned blood red, I bet you didn’t shake spears at it or beat your dogs to make them bark, as the Incas did to scare away the jaguar that had swallowed the moon. I also bet you didn’t shoot off cannons or bang your pots and drums, as the Chinese did to frighten the dragon that had swallowed the moon. I’m pretty sure you didn’t offer your utensils, rice and weapons to the demon Dhanko, as India’s Munda tribesmen do, to bail the moon out of debtor’s prison, where Dhanko threw it for failing to repay his loan.  And it’s dollars to donuts you didn’t believe that the eclipse announced the end of the world, or buy Pastor John Hagee’s best-selling Four Blood Moons, let alone the Four Blood Moons Companion Study Guide and Journal (Includes Full-Color Foldout Timeline, $11.69 on Amazon).

The reason you didn’t swallow any of those stories is that you know the truth about a lunar eclipse: It happens because the earth comes between the sun and the moon. If truth can protect us from jaguars, dragons, demons and preachers, why can’t it protect us from presidential candidates whose cock-and-bull stories rank right up there with the Incas’ and the Mundas’?

Consider Carly Fiorina. She effortlessly reels off the benchmarks of her success as chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, including doubling revenues. But HP’s revenues rose largely because of her disastrous acquisition of Compaq. What counts isn’t revenues, but net earnings, which dropped from $3.1 billion to $2.4 billion. What also counts is the stock price, which lost half of its value over the same period, while the stock price of its competitors, despite the dot-com bust, fell at half that rate (IBM), stayed flat (Dell) or rose (printer-maker Lexmark went up 30 percent).

How will voters decide whether Fiorina is fit for the presidency? It could hinge on if they decide she’s telling the truth about her HP tenure—or about a Planned Parenthood video she said she saw but which no one can produce, or about her Horatio Alger-like rise from secretary to CEO, a claim that the Washington Post’s fact-checker called “bogus.”

Facts turn out not to matter much in American politics. It’s as if the Dhanko myth were to have the same standing as an astronomer’s explanation of a lunar eclipse. Journalists can fact check Fiorina all they want, and political rivals can ding her from dawn to dusk. The public’s trust goes not to the best truth-teller but to the best storyteller. As Brad Whitworth, an 18-year HP veteran and former senior communications and marketing manager, told the Post, “Carly has never let facts get in the way of her being able to tell a story.” We don’t want a commander-in-chief. We want a narrator-in-chief.

(N.B.:See George Lakoff)

In the post-Reagan era, the grand narrative of the Republican Party is unfettered capitalism. Government is the villain. Business is the hero. In this epic there is no place for the misery caused by the deregulated financial sector, or for people who falter through no fault of their own. Tax cuts for the captains of capitalism and spending cuts for public goods like education and infrastructure have made the United States one of the most unequal countries in the world, but that fact gets no narrative traction. No matter how much money the fossil fuel industry spends on a sham counter-narrative that denies climate change, no matter how many thousands of percentage points some hedge fund bro jacks up the price of a life-saving drug, no matter how cravenly General Motors covered up defective and sometimes deadly ignition switches in 2 million vehicles, the story remains the same: Overreach by government regulators is the root of all evil.  

That’s the story Mitt Romney told. If he hadn’t been caught on video writing off 47 percent of the country as freeloading rabble addicted to government handouts, he might have become president. Instead, the Obama counter-narrative gained power. Its heroes are people of modest means who are still paying for the moral hazard of the billionaire class.  This is also the story that Bernie Sanders is telling to huge and enthusiastic crowds. Perhaps because of that, Hillary Clinton has been telling it, too, though her effectiveness as its messenger may be compromised by her dependence on Wall Street money.

This counter-narrative has the facts going for it. Practically every Paul Krugman column is a trove of economic evidence for it. But evidence doesn’t win elections. Is that any way to run a democracy? Jefferson said that the success of our system depends on an educated citizenry. The goal of education is critical thinking, but in one of the most critical decisions we make—the presidential vote—we defer to our inner cave-dweller, spellbound by the saga unfolding around the fire. Why do we accept the primacy of stories over facts?

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains that two systems govern our brains. One of them—System 1, the fast one—is emotional, comes from the gut and is ingenious at turning anything that happens into a pattern, a story. Slow-thinking System 2 is logical, resides in the prefrontal cortex, is wary of facile narratives. Fiorina’s HP fable is catnip to System 1.  Fact-checking is the job of System 2, and by the time it turns up for work, the race is over.

Couple that with the way a pluralistic democracy handles differences. In a secular, multicultural society, truth is just someone’s, or some group’s, point of view. Everything is relative. Under the surface, everything is political. Facts are just opinions backed by the power to enforce them. Objectivity is just oppression dressed up as science. You’ve got your fact-checkers; I’ve got mine.

You can spin Fiorina’s HP record one way, or you can spin it another. Was she a good CEO or a nightmare? It depends on whose tribe you ask, how many members it has and what story they tell—in other words, an election, not an analysis. But imagine putting the meaning of Sunday’s blood moon to a plebiscite. In some parts of the country, judging by the number of books he’s sold, Pastor Hagee’s apocalyptic account might win, beating the scientific explanation (and the odd write-in for a jaguar, dragon or demon).

Voting would of course be an absurd way to pick the truth from a barrel of balderdash. On the other hand, it bears a discomfiting resemblance to the way we pick presidents.    

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at

A Psychologist Puts Trump and the GOP on the Couch


Author:Michael Bader

Emphasis Mine

Rather than simply reacting with self-righteous contempt for the current crop of GOP presidential candidates, liberals like myself should try to also understand their appeal, however much we might believe it’s not strong enough to put any of them in the White House. The pre-scripted kabuki dances on display in their debates have made them easy targets for disdain, so easy that it’s a bit like playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey with your eyes open. Trump is an obviously racist bloviator, the creepiest and most blatantly disturbed of the bunch, for sure, but the lot of them come across as empty suits projecting poll-driven personas that their handlers believe will resonate with their base of angry and/or older white men. Moments of “authenticity” (e.g., they love their parents, spouses and children—imagine that!) are, themselves, always wooden, overly-crafted and ginned up with phony emotion and reported breathlessly by a media itself unable to stand on its own two feet and tell truth from fiction when it comes from these conservative wind-up dolls.

The Democrats will stage manage their personalities and manipulate their messages, too. Sanders is by far the most authentic, but he had to pivot in order to re-emphasize his record on race and women’s rights. Hillary will try to “present” herself as a human being (she’s a grandmother, after all), and the other guys—whoever they are—will do something similar when they can.

All of this is politics as usual, dutifully but cynically covered by a press corps that has surrendered even the pretense of critical thinking, instead sucking up to what they see as the basest cravings of their readers and viewers for the political version of reality television.

But while all politicians pander and throw authenticity under the bus of political expediency, the current plague of high-visibility GOP candidates project two especially pathological themes that they’ve decided will resonate with the feelings of millions of voters: paranoia and grandiosity.

As a liberal and a psychologist, I think it’s important to understand the nature and meaning of this resonance. The fears and insecurities that paranoia and grandiosity seek to diminish are feelings that a liberal agenda should be better able to address. Undecided voters can be drawn to the left or the right, and the more we understand the appeal of the American Right, the better able we might be to counter it with a more progressive and healthy message and platform. But we will never know if that’s possible or how to do it if we don’t understand the psychological dynamics behind the appeal of right-wing paranoia and grandiosity.

Let’s start with grandiosity, a term familiar to psychologists in our work with patients who need to inflate their self-esteem and self-assessments in order to ward off feelings of inferiority or helplessness. But just as individuals identify with, say, a sports team, so too do individuals identify with their nation—e.g., Team America. In our case, the political or collective version of personal grandiosity is what is known as “American Exceptionalism,” namely the tapestry of stories about the specialness of the United States when it comes to personal freedom, economic opportunity and growth, and military superiority. These stories have gained mythic proportions. They’re all captured by one unquestioned assumption: We are the greatest country in the history of the world. Period. This is a core part of the relentless drumbeat we hear from the conservative echo chamber.

But this braggadocio—what former Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright called “The Arrogance of Power”—requires that the ideal of American “greatness” be cleansed of any blemishes, just as a grandiose or narcissistic patient has to deny his or her human frailty and fallibility. This is where paranoia comes in handy. It’s easier to believe you are exceptional if you are comparing yourself with others and if you are proving your remarkable strength against naysayers or challengers. It helps, in other words, to have an enemy who is threatening your greatness.

Thus, the rhetoric of the current crop of Republican politicians, including, especially, the GOP clowns running for president, combines grandiosity and paranoia. Our nation’s greatness isn’t threatened by simple human fallibility but by Obama, Muslims, immigrants, Democrats, Planned Parenthood and Big Government. The second Republican presidential debate was laced with echoes of these beliefs, sometimes baldly stated, other times expressed as Obama-bashing. According to Carly Fiorina, “The United States of America is back in the leadership business.” Trump coughed up this hairball:  “We’ll make our country rich again, and we’ll have a great life all together.”

In other words, we’re in danger of losing our place in the front of the line, and only a Republican president has enough sinew and muscular confidence in American greatness to make sure that doesn’t happen. Grandiosity and paranoia—we’re the greatest, but we have to vigilantly remind ourselves and everyone else of that fact because we’re also threatened. A great “us” has to be continually reinforced by invoking threats from a demeaned “them.”

The current frontrunners for a “them” that threatens our perfect national collective are immigrants and radical Islamic extremists. Like the Red scares of the 1950s, our current xenophobia is based on the same paranoid view of ourselves and the world. The first thing Ted Cruz would apparently do as president is to “shred Obama’s catastrophic Iran deal.” Trump is the poster child for paranoia with his dumb “we’ll build a wall but put in a beautiful gate” through which we’ll ostensibly let in only beautiful people, and keep out the “bad dudes.” And, of course, his racist demagoguery reached a peak recently when he appeared to welcome a statement from a man in the audience who asserted: “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. You know, our President is one. You know he’s not even an American.”

What does psychology tell us about the origins of paranoia and grandiosity? It tells us that pathological attitudes and states of mind are best understood as attempts, however irrational they may seem, to feel safe and secure.

All of us seek safety and security.

Paranoia, for example, simply reflects an attempt to locate a frightening or painful thought outside the self, to get rid of threatening feelings, project them onto others, and then turn an internal struggle with bad feelings into an external struggle with bad people. For example, if I’m suffering from feelings of weakness or worthlessness, the belief, however false, that someone else is causing me to feel this way can temporarily help restore my sense of innocence and self-respect. There’s nothing wrong with me that getting rid of you won’t cure. In fact, in this paranoid version of reality, I’m a good or even great guy defending himself against an external danger. What emerges in the therapist’s consulting room is that paranoia solves an internal problem by making it an external one, even at the price of denying reality.

For example, Donald Trump is actually a balding misogynist, but he doesn’t have to feel like one if he wears a toupee (allegedly made from the hair of the critically-endangered Brown Spider Monkey) and tells himself and others that Megyn Kelly was menstruating and had it out for him.

In this sense, Trump shows us what happens when the personal becomes political. Like the United States itself, he is great and good, not declining and mean. Paranoia works pretty well when you’re feeling off your game.

Grandiosity works similarly as a defense against painful internal states. Thus, the grandiosity inherent in the axiomatic assertion that “we are the greatest nation in the history of the world” uses stories and images of American perfection, greatness and omnipotence to counteract narratives that we might be a nation in decline, or reeking on the inside from toxic inequality and a callous indifference to the welfare of the unfortunate. Combine grandiosity and paranoia and you have the current Republican talking points.

When individual psychopathology becomes a collective filter for understanding the political world, we see—as we do in the rhetoric and vision of today’s GOP—a pathological set of values guaranteed to lead to pathological policies. If I were to try to list the essential psychological dynamics underlying grandiosity and paranoia in the patients I see, and you were to simply replace the personal pronoun “I” with “America” or “the American people” and “you” and “them” with one of the scapegoats demonized by the GOP (e.g., people with darker skins, the wrong religion or different sexual orientation), the symmetry between crazy individuals and crazy politics becomes clearer. Again, to oversimplify:

“I’m not small; I’m big.” (American is not small; it’s/we’re big, etc.)

“I’m not bad; I’m the essence of goodness.”

“I’m not hurting others; I’m always helping them.”

“I’m not failing or losing; I’m a successful winner.”

“The problem isn’t in me; it’s in you.”

“If I could get rid of you; I’d be great and perfect and happy again.”

You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to see that the adolescent tough-guy primping we see on the GOP presidential debate stages is the political manifestation of commonplace psychological mechanisms regularly seen in individuals, namely, desperate attempts to defend against dangerous and painful feelings and fears. And just as in therapy, the important challenge is to understand those feelings and fears, because when a Donald Trump wants to build a wall to protect America, he is subliminally playing to a wish in his supporters to protect themselves. But, again, the question is: protect themselves from what? What is being denied or defended against?

The answer is that the threats that grandiose and paranoid attitudes defend against involve feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, loneliness and self-hatred—all of which are arguably greater now than ever in our culture. American exceptionalism and xenophobia offer symbolic antidotes in the political world to the more personal distress of millions of Americans today. Trump and the other airheads on the GOP stage today offer a distorted vision of the world that, like the Donald’s orange wig, helps to cover up genuine feelings of vulnerability and impotence.

For many people, the Great Recession of 2008 dashed the American Dream to which they had come to aspire or which they believed they were actually living. Millions of people lost their homes, their IRAs and other savings that were allocated for retirement and for their children’s education. These losses—the result of financial shenanigans far, far away—were accompanied by great feelings of helplessness that caused stress levels to go through the ceiling. Mortgages went underwater and people took on second or third jobs, reinforcing a sense of insecurity along with feelings of helplessness and depression. And while being overwhelmed and powerless to stop the feeling of losing ground, people saw hedge fund managers and bankers getting bailed out. Because we think we live in a meritocracy in which rewards are distributed according to ability, people blamed themselves for not being able to make ends meet, or hold on to their jobs, or for losing money in the stock market, or for having tapped into their home equity too much. I heard these self-criticisms and doubts in my consulting room every day—feelings of helplessness, pessimism, isolation and self-blame.

In 1990, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that 50% of Americans thought their children would be better off in 20 years. In 2015, a full 76% of Americans expressed skepticism that their children’s lives would be better off than their own. Even though millions of Americans were in the same boat, feelings of isolation and self-blame became more prevalent and debilitating. The ethic of individualism in our culture invariably leads people to blame themselves for their “lot” in life, even if that lot was caused by forces beyond their control. So, as the quality of life has deteriorated, the amount of depression and self-blaming has increased.

Further, as researchers such as John Cacioppo and Robert Putnam have documented, the breakdown of community organizations and bonds has resulted in increased social isolation, especially among the elderly (an important part of the Republican base, of course). In 2009, a study by Kodak revealed that most Americans felt that “we have fewer meaningful relationships than we had five years ago.” This trend has only worsened.

So we have a social landscape in which people feel increasingly pessimistic, helpless, isolated and self-blaming—feelings perfectly addressed by GOP platitudes intended to reassure us that we’re really great, all-powerful, and that it’s someone else’s fault if we’re not.

Ultimately, the appeal to an imaginary but reassuring sense of community undergirds all of these platitudes about American greatness, strength and antipathy toward the “other.” The latent message is: there is an “us” here, a great “us” full of power and noble intentions, an “us” to which everyone can belong as long as we keep “them” away or subjugated in ways that render them non-threatening (bombing them, building walls, deportation, etc.). Who doesn’t want to belong? To be part of an “us?”

The myths of American greatness serve this purpose perfectly. What is a better tonic to the pain of isolation and helplessness brought on by our market-driven and pathological ethos of individualism than to belong to Dream Team America, the greatest and most powerful nation that ever existed in the history of the world?

That the GOP has been instrumental in creating the conditions that it then seeks to heal with its so-called “muscular” foreign and military policy and jingoistic attacks on immigrants is an inconvenient truth that isn’t mentioned, but has been thoroughly described and discussed by progressive political analysts and sociologists. The Right helped create the problems that their racist warmongering and so-called patriotism aim to remedy. Psychology can’t fix these problems, but it can hopefully help us understand the mindset behind a system in which victims support their victimizers.

Michael Bader is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in San Francisco who has written extensively on issues found at the intersection of psychology, culture, and progressive politics. His recent book, More Than Bread and Butter: A Psychologist Speaks to Progressives About What People Really Need in Order to Win an Change the World is available on and on his


The GOP still has nothing to show for its anti-Planned Parenthood campaign


Author:Dana Milbank

Emphasis Mine

At this point Republicans may wish to consider aborting to protect the health of the party.

They have been going after Planned Parenthood over the past few months like so many Captain Ahabs. They threatened to shut down the government to defund the group. Their insistence on a Planned Parenthood showdown drove House Speaker John Boehner to resign. They’re about to appoint a special committee to investigate Planned Parenthood. The party’s presidential candidates have made Planned Parenthood a central part of the campaign, and House Republicans are manufacturing new legislative vehicles to cut off the group.

And what do they have to show for it?

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds that Americans have a more favorable view of Planned Parenthood than of any other entity tested, including the Republican Party and presidential candidates. The group’s favorable/unfavorable impression, 47 percent to 31 percent, is actually up slightly from July. What’s more, 61 percent oppose eliminating federal funding of Planned Parenthood. Even among the 35 percent who support defunding, only9 percent favor shutting down the government to do it.

Yet House Republicans pressed ahead with their quest Tuesday, hauling Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee for more than five hours of hectoring and finger-wagging about, among other things, her salary and the group’s travel expenses.

The hearing came about because of videos released in July purporting to show that Planned Parenthood was harvesting body parts from aborted fetuses for profit. In their memo announcing the hearing, committee Republicans proclaimed that the “disturbing content” of the recently released videos “raises questions about [Planned Parenthood’s] use of taxpayer funding.” But the videos turned out to be doctored, and committee Republicans declined Democrats’ requests to have the video maker, David Daleiden, appear before the panel. The committee didn’t get the full unedited videos, Chairman Jason Chaffetz (Utah) said, because of California court proceedings.

Two hours into the hearing, Chaffetz made the startling confession that “without the videos, we can’t have a good discussion about them.”

But we can shut down the federal government over them?

Dispensing with the videos, members of the panel got down to the larger purpose of the hearing: harassing Richards and her group.

Chaffetz flashed a chart on the screens showing that since 2010, the number of abortions at Planned Parenthood has surpassed the number of its “cancer screenings and prevention services.”

But no such shift occurred. The fine print on the chart showed that the number of abortions (327,000 in 2013) never came close to reaching the number of cancer screenings (935,573 in 2013) at any point.

The bogus graph didn’t seem to matter to Chaffetz, who drew the witness’s attention to the crossing lines showing abortions overtaking screenings.

Richards said the chart “absolutely does not reflect what’s happening.”

“I pulled those numbers directly out of your corporate reports,” the chairman said.

In fact, the chart said the source was the antiabortion group Americans United for Life — which Richards pointed out to Chaffetz.

“Then we will get to the bottom of the truth of that,” the chairman said.

The truth? Planned Parenthood gets money for women’s birth control, STD screenings and the like, not abortions — which Richards calmly reminded her inquisitors. She left it to Democratic lawmakers to proclaim their (exaggerated) outrage. “The misogyny!” wailed Rep. Gerald Connolly (Va.).

Republicans tried to inoculate themselves against the inevitable “war on women” charges. Chaffetz admitted three Republican women to participate in the hearing (there is only one GOP woman on the panel) and he started his own remarks by emotionally invoking his wife’s work with breast-cancer patients. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) thought it helpful to say that “I’m wearing a pink tie in solidarity with women’s health issues.” The majority dodged an awkward moment when Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), a pro-life lawmaker who, according to court records,encouraged his wife and mistress to have abortions, yielded his time to a colleague.

That colleague, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), told Richards “you’re profiting off death.” Likewise, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) proclaimed himself a “champion for the unborn,” while Walberg said “we’ve been brought into a frenzy and a concern about what happens to our babies,” and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) asked what happens if “a child survives an abortion attempt.”

This would appear to justify Richards’s contention that the controversy “isn’t about Planned Parenthood. It’s about allowing women in this country . . . to make other decisions about their pregnancies.”

As if to confirm Richards’s suspicion, 28 minutes after the hearing ended, lawmakers went to the House floor to vote on legislation restricting abortion — for the 14th time this year.


Conservative Economists Agree Trump’s Tax Plan Would Cost $12 Trillion, Bankrupt America

Author:Jessie Rappaport

Emphasis Mine

Although Donald Trump’s experience in government is non-existent, the Republican front-runner prides himself on his alleged business savvy. But a report from the Tax Foundation shows that Trump’s newly-unveiled tax plan would increase the national debt by more than $10 trillion over the next decade, by lowering taxes for the super-rich.

Trump revealed his plans for tax reform on Monday. The plans include massive tax cuts, which he claims will be off-set by closing loopholes for wealthy corporations. But those who have analyzed the plan have found that the numbers just don’t add up. An analyst from the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan think tank, said of the proposal:

“The much lower top marginal rate of 25 percent will mean a large cut for the top, even with the limitation on itemized deductions… Trump is claiming a tax increase on wealthy individuals, but I do not believe this will be the case.”

According to NBC News, the new report shows that Trump’s economic “vision” would in fact end up costing the country $12 trillion in total. In addition to increasing the debt by over $10 trillion from individual tax reform, Trump’s corporate tax cuts would add $1.54 trillion, and eliminating the estate tax would mean another $238 billion.

Given Trump’s dubious financial history, the depressing reality of his tax plan should come as no surprise. Trump’s businesses have filed for bankruptcy four times, making Trump the “top filer” of bankruptcy in recent decades. Trump has proudly stated his abuse of bankruptcy laws as showing good business sense, but while it may be a good strategy for lining the pockets of rich CEOs, it’s no way to run a country.

Despite threatening to drive the country into bankruptcy, just like his business ventures, Trump is living up to the Republican tradition of increasing the national debt with tax cuts for the wealthy. The Tax Foundation has shown that Trump’s competitors’ tax proposals would also drive the country further into debt. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul all offer plans that would cost $3 trillion or more. In a recent interview, Bush was dumbstruck when asked to explain the projected deficit increase.

Trump has claimed his tax plan would be a “rocket ship” for the economy, but real economic analysis shows that it would only blow up on the launchpad. This once again proves that the image that Trump tries to project does not correspond to reality. It’s important to keep these facts in mind as the Republicans attempt to strike fear into the public about the cost of expanding necessary social programs such as education and healthcare. The fact is, the Republicans want to reduce such programs, but their plans leave us more and more in debt, while reducing taxes for the super-rich. Trump’s plan would increase their incomes by 21.6%, while leaving millions of Americans to wallow in poverty. It looks like Trump has finally picked up a few ideas from the Republican establishment he fights against so hard.