Donald Trump’s media empire may actually be happening

Published: Salon (October 17, 2016)

Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner reportedly approached a major media investor about setting up a Trump television network after the presidential election.

Over the past couple of months, Kushner, who is married to Ivanka Trump, has met with Aryeh Bourkoff, the CEO of a boutique investment bank known as LionTree, theFinancial Times reported Monday. Vanity Fair reported in June that Trump’s inner circle heard the Republican nominee mulling the idea of capitalizing on the “audience” that has grown around his campaign. Hiring former Breitbart News head as his campaign CEO Steve Bannon could, in the long run, be a first step in making a media company, especially if you consider that Trump’s other big-name advisor is former Fox CEO Roger Ailes.

The basic concept is that Trump’s media company would cater to the alt-right and other conservatives dissatisfied with more conventional right-wing media. Kushner already owns a pro-Trump newspaper, The New York Observer, in which Kushner haspublicly defended Trump in the past. Kushner has emerged as an influential adviser for the embattled Trump, and was responsible for the campaign’s attempt to seat the women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct in the Trump family box at the last presidential debate.

Colorado teen kills self as sign of Nazi allegiance: “I have crippling depression but I shall cure it by killing Jews”

Published: Salon (October 17, 2016)

The suicide of a Colorado teenager has been linked to a Nazi-themed Facebook group that the young man apparently led.

The teenager apparently believed that killing himself would “show his allegiance to the Nazi Party and the killing of Jewish people,” according to local law enforcement officials. The theory stems from a message he wrote shortly before his death, proclaiming, “I have crippling depression but I shall cure it by killing Jews.”f

The Facebook group itself was called “4th Reich’s Official Group Chat” and engaged indiscussions ranging from plans for “executing n***ers” to poems like “You can hang Jews on trees, shoot them right in the knees. Gas as many as you please.”

Republican Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been heavily criticized forinspiring an increase in the number of hate groups throughout the country. Ideologically, Trump seems to draw heavily from an offshoot of modern conservatism, the alt-right, whose adherents believe that their “white identity” is under attack from the forces of political correctness — something that Trump often attacks.

Trump’s candidacy has also had an observable impact on America’s youth, with an increase in racial or religious bullying as well as normalizing racist ideas that were formerly considered unacceptable.

Two responses to tragedy: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton respond to North Carolina firebombing

Published: Salon (October 17, 2016)

Democrats raised more than $13,000 in less than four hours to help rebuild the headquarters of the local Republican Party chapter in Hillsborough, North Carolina, which was firebombed on Sunday night in what is being investigated as a possible terrorist incident.

As news of the firebombing spread, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton condemned the attack on Twitter and expressed support for its victims.

The attack on the Orange County HQ @NCGOP office is horrific and unacceptable. Very grateful that everyone is safe.

The North Carolina Republican Party sent out an official response thanking her for her thoughts and prayers.

The attack on the Orange County HQ @NCGOP office is horrific and unacceptable. Very grateful that everyone is safe.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, on the other hand, referred to the perpetrators as “animals” and suggested that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party had been somehow linked to the vandalism.

Animals representing Hillary Clinton and Dems in North Carolina just firebombed our office in Orange County because we are winning @NCGOP

The North Carolina Republican Party didn’t respond to Trump’s incendiary tweet, although it thanked him after he sent out a more subdued follow-up.

ALL SAFE IN ORANGE COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA. With you all the way, will never forget. Now we have to win. Proud of you all!@NCGOP

Thank you Mr. @realDonaldTrump. We will not be silenced nor suppressed by this evil act. We will pray for those who seek to harm us.

Trump’s comment has been heavily criticized by many individuals in the press, with Jeff Stein of Vox characterizing it as part and parcel of the Republican candidate’s “increasing conspiratorial claims that a cabal of ‘global elites’ is rigging the election.”

Armed Donald Trump supporters caught menacing Democratic campaign office

Published: Salon (October 14, 2016)

Donald Trump supporters have talked about violence if the Republican candidate loses to Hillary Clinton next month. And now, some of them are starting to put their money where their mouths are.

A pro-Donald Trump protester has attracted attention for standing alone outside a Virginia Democratic campaign office with his gun.

On Thursday, Daniel Parks stood outside a Palmyra campaign office for congressional candidate Jane Dittmar. Witnesses described him as staring directly into the office all day and turning sideways to expose his gun he was legally carrying. He was eventually joined by another protester, who was also armed.

The story is part of a larger trend of implied violence being used by Trump supporters. On Friday, Ed Mazza of The Huffington Post discussed how “members of the press are often the target of jeering by unruly crowds that are egged on by the candidate himself.” On Tuesday, a woman named Rhonda warned Mike Pence that she was “ready for a revolution” if Clinton wins instead of Trump, particularly since she can’t imagine “crooked” Hillary winning without cheating. Similarly, back in September Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (who supports Trump) rhetorically asked “Whose blood will be shed?” if Clinton wins and Trump supporters are forced “ to redeem something, to reclaim something, that we through our apathy and our indifference have given away.”

All of these comments echo an observation made by Trump adviser Roger Stone back in August, when he predicted that Clinton would “fix” the election and warned that Trump was going to “put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath.” Indeed, Trump has called for violence so often in his campaign that Mashable was able to compile a list of nine incidents dating back to March. There have also been a number of violent incidents, with the most recent occurring last month when a woman punched an anti-Trump protester while the candidate skewered Clinton for referring to his backers as “deplorables.”

Trump has recently asked poll watchers to watch “certain areas” as he’s convinced his supporters that he’ll only lose if there’s widespread fraud.

Here are all the defenses Donald Trump’s surrogates have used to explain his sexual assault claims

Published: Salon (October 13, 2016)

As more and more sexual assault allegations pile up against him, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s political team is in full damage control mode. Their approaches have been diverse, but the aim is clear: deflect attention from Trump’s allegedly sordid history.

We can start with some recent tweets by Trump himself:

The phony story in the failing @nytimes is a TOTAL FABRICATION. Written by same people as last discredited story on women. WATCH!

Why didn’t the writer of the twelve year old article in People Magazine mention the “incident” in her story. Because it did not happen!

Trump has had lots of support from his surrogates and other friends:

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, Thursday: After saying he was “skeptical about the timing” of the claims made against Trump and even referring to them as an “October surprise,” Scarborough elaborated, “I’m talking about the timing of all of this dropping. Talk about an October surprise. There have been 1,000 triggering events that would’ve made sense. If I had been sexually harassed by this man, the Megyn Kelly story would’ve given me and opportunity.”

Later he also said: “There have been 1,000 reports of this already. I’m just asking why all the sudden this stuff is dropping in October. Perhaps it’s all innocent. Perhaps there’s no oppo drop. Perhaps it’s not coordinated.”

Katrina Pierson, Wednesday: Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson appeared on CNN to question a claim by Jessica Leeds that Trump had lifted an armrest on a flightso he could grope her. Because the alleged incident would have occurred in the early ’80s, Pierson insisted that Trump couldn’t have moved up the armrest as Leeds claimed.

“Back then you had planes — what, a DC-9, a DC-10, an MD-80, a 707, and maybe an L-1011,” she argued. “But she said specifically that this was to New York. This is important, so we can X out the DC-10 and the L-1011. Guess what? First-class seats have fixed armrests. So what I can tell you about her story, if she was groped on a plane, it wasn’t by Donald Trump and it certainly wasn’t in first class.”

Ben Carson, Tuesday: The former Republican presidential candidate has taken perhaps the most conspiratorial line in defending Trump. “There’s an atmosphere that’s been created by The New York Times and others that says, Look, if you’re willing to come out and say something, we’ll give you fame; we’ll give you whatever you need,” Carson told the assembled hosts of “Fox and Friends,” before adding, “What a bunch of crap.”

Rep. Blake Farenthold, Tuesday: During an appearance on MSNBC, Rep. Farentholddismissed Trump’s comments as “locker room talk” and added “until he does something so bad to make him worse than Hillary [Clinton], I’m still in.”

He later apologized for what some perceived as his cavalier attitude toward rape, saying, “During an interview on MSNBC with Chris Hayes tonight, I was thrown off by the anchor’s use of a hypothetical question. I do not and have not ever condoned rape or violence against women. That is not the kind of man I believe Donald Trump to be.”

Kellyanne Conway, Sunday: Trump’s campaign manager has defended the Republican nominee by using the same tactic he employed repeatedly during the second debate — namely, drawing attention to the infidelity and rape allegations made against former president Bill Clinton.

“We never want to talk to the women shamed and blamed by Hillary Clinton because they had sexual contact with her husband,” Conway proclaimed to CNN host Brianna Keilar, arguing that the media has been biased by focusing so much on Trump without doing the same thing for the Clintons.

Rudy Giuliani, Sunday: “Talk and action are two different things,” insisted the former New York City mayor on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He also claimed that Trump had provided “a full and complete apology” for his remarks.

The alpha dog that wouldn’t hunt: How Trump’s ludicrous “alpha male” act is destroying him

Published: Salon (October 2, 2016)

When Salon’s Brendan Gauthier recently wrote about the alt-right’s reaction to Donald Trump’s humiliating performance in the first presidential debate, he included the following quote from a 4chan user defending the Republican nominee’s alleged stiffing of contractors:

“As an alpha [Trump] has no problem with asserting his will. You beta cucks wouldnt [sic] understand because when the waiter brings you the wrong order you are too busy shoe gazing at your cell phones to dispute in front of your step-sons mom [sic].”

This definitely isn’t the first time that “alpha male” rhetoric has been used to describe Trump by his radical right-wing supporters. Indeed, it’s pretty obvious from Trump’shyper-masculine rhetoric that he views himself as an alpha-male figure — or, at the very least, that he wants to convince others this is the case. That’s why we need to remind ourselves that alpha malehood isn’t just a myth; it’s an Achilles’ heel that has been far more of a weakness than a strength for Trump and his supporters, and will inevitably doom their mutual quest for power.

It’s helpful to start by recognizing that the scientific literature that popularized the term “alpha male” is outdated. “The concept of the alpha wolf is well ingrained in the popular wolf literature at least partly because of my book ‘The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species,’” explains L. David Mech, one of the scientists whose aforementioned text helped bring the alpha-male concept into conventional use. After pointing out that the last 40 years have revolutionized scientific understanding of wolf social hierarchies, he goes on to write that “one of the outdated pieces of information is the concept of the alpha wolf. ‘Alpha’ implies competing with others and becoming top dog by winning a contest or battle. However, most wolves who lead packs achieved their position simply by mating and producing pups, which then became their pack.”

Of course, even if the lupine origins of the alpha-male trope weren’t obsolete, the notion that the term can even apply to human social structures is inherently absurd. As many scientists have noted, human beings generally inhabit a number of social circles rather than simply one, and each of these subgroups contain complex and varied hierarchies (assuming that they’re hierarchical at all instead of egalitarian). Individuals who may be the top dog in one circle could be quiet and unassuming in another, or even the so-called “beta male.” Just as important, the traits commonly associated with alpha malehood — violence, self-absorption, controlling behavior — have not been found to correlate strongly with professional and sexual success. In fact, researchers have found that assertiveness, confidence and pro-social behaviors (like sensitivity and the capacity to learn from one’s mistakes) are most likely to yield results for people of both genders who wish to lead accomplished lives.

This explains why Trump’s overblown machismo, though lapped up by his alt-right fanboys and many of his other supporters, has been met with controversy instead of widespread applause. When Trump talks about the size of his manhood or describes an opponent as a “pussy” or says another opponent (female) is too ugly to be president, he may be delighting his base while alienating at least as many others. These behaviors may seem dominant to those who subscribe to the alpha-male mentality, but to the rest of the world they come across as not just boorish but also transparently insecure. Because we live in a society that believes in civility, the instinct is to condemn a candidate who demeans his adversaries and brags about himself with playground taunts and boasts. Similarly, because we value intelligence and discipline in our leaders (or at any rate many of us do), Trump’s habit ofchronically interrupting and being rude toward Hillary Clinton during last week’s presidential debate came across as uncouth rather than manly.

These observations can also be extended to the hyper-masculine rhetoric used by Trump’s supporters themselves. Take the 4channer that Gauthier quoted, the one who insulted Trump’s critics by calling them “beta cucks.” The term “cuck” is very telling here, as it harkens back to one of the alt-right’s trendiest slurs, “cuckservative.”A cuckservative, in their lexicon, is a conservative who betrays his race and gender by supporting gender equality and condemning racial bigotry, in effect allowing his white masculinity to be cuckolded by women and minorities through subservience to progressive ideals. By contrast, the right-wingers who brandish terms like “cuckservative” have rallied behind Trump because, to quote the prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer: “a) he is a tougher, superior man than ‘conservatives’ (which isn’t saying much), and b) he seems to grasp the demographic displacement of European-Americans on a visceral level.”

Precisely the same qualities that have made Trump so alluring to the right-wing fringe, however, are also likely to prove fatal to his quest for power. Sure, it helped him emerge as the victor in a Republican presidential primary whose electorate was hopelessly fragmented between more than a dozen candidates. Nevertheless, Trump has done serious damage to his reputation as the result of his behavior during this campaign, and it’s unlikely that future presidential candidates will look at his record-high unfavorable ratings and wish to emulate the methods that put him in this spot. Likewise, although Trump has done well in polls against Clinton when the latter’s own scandals are front-page news, Monday night’s debate demonstrated that his “alpha male” traits fail him when he’s forced to compete one-on-one with Clinton’s more polished and professional manner.

Ordinary Americans may not be well-versed in the science that discredits alpha malehood, and may not consciously recognize that Trump turns them off because he is appealing to it. That doesn’t mean they can’t discern the deeper implications in his behavior. While I’m not optimistic enough to believe the naked racism and sexism peddled by the Trump campaign will die with his political defeat, it’s hard to imagine how the cartoonish attempts by Trump and the alt-right to impersonate alpha men can possibly survive the ordeal of this election. Like the titular character from “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” their inflated male identity depends on an understanding of human behavior that is scientifically inaccurate — and on an approach to the art of politicking that, even under the freakish conditions of this election season, simply doesn’t work.

Why we need trolls: Even offensive clowns like Milo Yiannopoulos can be good for the left

Published: Salon (September 22, 2016)

Breitbart columnist Milo Yiannopoulos is perhaps the most famous troll in the world right now, in large part because he was banned from Twitter last month and because the head of Breitbart News is now the CEO of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. This, of course, makes it all the more disappointing that Yiannopoulos repeatedly flaked on me when I tried to interview him for this article. (He did, however, participate in a video shoot for Salon and Out magazine featuring my colleague Amanda Marcotte, which produced memorable results you can watch below.)

If we’d had a chance to talk, I would have told Yiannopoulos that I believe 2016 has proved to be the Year of the Troll and asked him how he views his role in this unique moment of American and world history. Indeed, assuming that the term “troll” is defined as someone who deliberately uses inflammatory and offensive language to create controversy (which will be the working definition used for this article), I’d even go so far as to say that trolls are healthy for politics in general and the political left in particular, albeit unintentionally so and often at a real cost to innocent people.

First, though, a primer on the type of political troll we’ve encountered this election season. Although there have been trolls for as long as the Internet itself has existed, 2016 has been something of a heyday for a very specific use of trolling to make political statements. “Trolling has become a byword for everything the left disagrees with, particularly if it’s boisterous, mischievous and provocative,” Yiannopoulosexplained in a column titled “Trolls Will Save the World” in August.

“Even straightforward political disagreement, not intended to provoke,” he wrote, “is sometimes described as ‘trolling’ by leftists who can’t tell the difference between someone who doesn’t believe as they do and an ‘abuser’ or ‘harasser.’ A real troll, of course, does aim to provoke. They do aim to cause mild rage. They aim to prank, to goad, to wind people up. Their opinions are designed to be outrageous.”

If this sounds like an apt description of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, that isn’t a coincidence. Like Trump, online trolls seem to generate attention and support less by having a coherent ideology than by repeatedly flouting the taboos of polite political discourse. In early-21st century America, that quite often means beingbrazenly racist or sexist, whether that entails embracing white supremacist ideology or simply working in concert with the unashamed bigots.

For Trump’s presidential campaign, this has mainly taken the form ofcomments that have been widely regarded as offensive to Mexicans, Muslims and women. For online trolls, it has involved everything from harassing women who work in the video-game industry to targeting the actresses who starred in “Ghostbusters” with explicitly racist and sexist language. Either way, the collectively anti-feminist, anti-PC and anti-antiracist ideals that bind these trolls together (in practice if not in overt philosophy) have been branded with the term “alt-right,” which is relatively useful as far as nomenclature goes.

 ***

Make no mistake about it: Alt-right trolling is a highly toxic trend. As of 2014, nearly three-quarters of internet users had either witnessed or directly experienced online harassment, with women being the most likely to experience it in its most severe forms. I’ve personally been subjected to quite a bit of anti-Semitic trolling whenever I write articles critical of Trump for his alt-right sensibilities.

While many of us who are targeted by these trolls are able to laugh them off or simply ignore them, others find it more difficult to do so. Indeed, when the trolling stops being simply mean and evolves into outright harassment, the targets shouldn’t have to learn to simply let it go.

At the same time, these alt-right trolls perform two valuable services for the left.

First, they force us to examine our own weaknesses when it comes to respecting the basic rights and freedoms of those who disagree with us. Yiannopoulos demonstrated this when he embarked on a speaking tour of college campuses last year, one that led to frequent incidents when he was shouted down, de-platformedand even physically bullied by progressive students who opposed his views.

Because some campus leftists support suppressing opinions they personally dislike, the actions of these protesters perfectly illustrate the point any professional provocateur wants to make: Their enemies’ lack of respect for dissenting opinions is precisely the reason why they need to be exposed to them. Not only can this serve to shake progressives out of the intellectual complacency that comes from hearing only amenable views; it also presents us with an important test regarding our willingness to behave honorably toward those whose opinions offend us. Whenever we try to silence them, we fail that test; whenever we respond by encouraging debate and reasoned argument, we rise to the challenge.

Just as important, trolls reinforce why we have established certain boundaries in the first place. Take the reports that Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric has caused an increase of bigoted bullying among children. While this doesn’t mean that Trump should be censored, it illustrates why the claims that he’s simply “telling it like it is” ring so hollow.

Adults may be able to delude themselves into thinking that accusing Mexico of sending rapists into this country or supporting an outright ban on Muslim immigration aren’t inherently hateful actions. Children see right through that baloney and reflect in a more pure form the prejudices being promoted all around them. While Trump, Yiannopoulos and individuals like them may denounce criticisms of their language as “politically correct,” it’s impossible to touch the raw nerves of racism and sexism without eventually causing real-world harm. It is valuable to have people out there who remind us of that.

Trust me, I’m not writing any of this out of affection or respect for Yiannopoulos. His flakiness about being interviewed — both our scheduled phone calls were arranged days in advance and then cancelled by his representative less than an hour before they were supposed to happen — was at best unprofessional and at worst deliberately insulting. That said, even as the left justifiably opposes the right-wing values he espouses, we ought to acknowledge that the act of trolling for which he has become notorious is not without its social function. In an ideal world there would be no prejudice and bullying at all. Barring that, we’re better off having provocateurs who regularly challenge us to live up to our principles.

Mike Pence, a heartbeat away from the presidency? Now that’s frightening

Published: Salon (September 22, 2016)

Why isn’t Mike Pence a major issue in this campaign?

In any other election, Pence would be to a Republican presidential nominee what Sarah Palin was to John McCain back in 2008 — that is, an extreme right-winger whose presence on the ticket is widely regarded as a liability. Of course, this is the year in which the GOP tapped Donald Trump to be its standard-bearer, and when the main attraction is that prone to controversy, it makes sense that anyone running with him will wind up being more or less ignored by the media.

Considering that Donald Trump is as dangerously close as ever to winning the presidency, though, we need to pay close attention to his running mate, particularly since Pence has said he’d like to model his vice presidency after Dick Cheney, one of the most “consequential” No. 2’s in history. Needless to say, if Trump becomes president, Pence’s opinions will matter … and those views are, upon closer inspection, chilling.

While it’s easy to point to Pence’s extreme positions on a wide range of issues — from climate change and evolution (where he is anti-science) to trade policy (where he’s a staunch free trader, putting him at odds with Trump) — Pence has defined his political career by his hatreds.

Most conspicuous among these is his animus toward the LGBTQ community. This was most recently made evident by his support for and signing of the notoriousIndiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act — a bill that, under the guise of protecting religious liberty, established loopholes that allow businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians. But Pence’s LGBTQ bigotry goes much deeper than that. Back when he was a Hoosier congressman, Pence opposed funding legislation to combat AIDS on the grounds that the money could be better spent trying to “cure” homosexuality. As governor, before the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, Pence signed a law making it a felony for gay couples even to applyfor a marriage license. All this, of course, occurred on top of Pence’s predictable anti-gay positions on matters like hate-crime legislation or repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Pence’s record on race is hardly better. Back when he ran for Congress in 1990, Pence used a fear-mongering campaign ad that criticized American dependence on foreign oil by grotesquely caricaturing Arabs; six years later, he defended Pat Buchanan on his radio show as someone who should not be considered outside the mainstream of the Republican Party. (In case you’ve forgotten, Buchanan sympathizes with fascism so openly that Donald Trump himself once called him out on it.) Pence’s race-baiting was not limited to the ’90s. Check out his suppression of minority voters in Indiana or his recent refusal to denounce neo-Nazi leader David Duke as deplorable. Pence may claim that Martin Luther King Jr. is his personal hero, but his actions would seem to contradict those words.

Finally, there is Pence’s attitude toward women. If his career-long commitment to defunding Planned Parenthood isn’t enough to convince you that he has a problem, how about his 1997 editorialproclamation that working mothers stunt the emotional growth of their children, or his 1999 article denouncing the Disney film “Mulan” as “liberal propaganda”?

There’s also Pence’s (thankfully unsuccessful) effortto allow federal funds for a post-rape abortion only if the rape was “forcible,” or his support of an Indiana law mandating investigations of women to see if they caused their own miscarriages, and requiring women to bury or cremate miscarried fetuses. Perhaps most tellingly, even though Pence used his radio show to express outrage at a female Air Force pilot for cheating on her husband, he didn’t bring up Bill Clinton’s marital infidelities until his listeners prompted him. Even if you believe someone can be anti-abortion without being anti-woman, it’s difficult defend Pence’s stances on issues like these without crossing the threshold into misogyny.

Again, these positions are not mere blips in Pence’s background. They are the foundation of his political career, from the campaign messages he’s used to win votes to the policies he’s supported once in office. As such, they offer a reliable indicator of the attitudes Pence would bring with him if the fates conspire to make him president. As the running mate of a man plagued by scandal who would be the oldest incoming president in our history, it isn’t much of a stretch to imagine impeachment or mortality elevating Pence to the highest office in the land.

That’s why we have a responsibility to draw attention to Pence’s record and his evident prejudices, just as we’ve done with Trump’s long history of sexist and racistremarks. By not holding Trump’s feet to the fire for choosing a running mate with Pence’s extreme positions, we normalize those stances instead of shuffling them to the margins of political discourse where they belong. Even worse, instead of allowing the American people to make an informed choice about such a controversial figure, we have created an environment in which polls suggest that nearly half the publicdoesn’t know enough about the man to form a first impression.

Of course it’s possible that Trump would win this election even if Pence’s views were as widely understood as Sarah Palin’s were in 2008. That said, it’s difficult to believe that Pence’s background wouldn’t at least become a major factor. It’s clear that whenever he’s been entrusted with power, Mike Pence strive to turn back the tide of progress made over the last few decades in terms of social justice for racial minorities, women and the LGBTQ community. He may not be as flamboyant as Trump, but he is just as dangerous, and most mainstream journalists covering this election have simply looked the other way. We have less than seven weeks to correct this.