Donald Trump: Sexual Predator

Preface.  This is a book review of “All the President’s Women: Donald Trump and the making of a Predator”.  Trump is clearly as much a sexual predator as Jeffrey Epstein (who he hung out with for a long time) and Harvey Weinstein.  I was so disgusted and angry I only got half way through the book.  How could any woman, or man for that matter, vote for such a bullying, brutal, nasty man?  Below are some excerpts.

Related: Video Trump–is the president a Sex Pest? BBC

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Levine, B. 2019. All the President’s Women: Donald Trump and the making of a Predator. Hachette Books.

“You know, it doesn’t really matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.” —DONALD TRUMP, 1991, ESQUIRE INTERVIEW

By June 2019, news organizations had documented as many as 24 women who have accused Donald Trump of varying degrees of inappropriate behavior, including sexual harassment or sexual assault. Our investigation found at least 67 separate accusations of inappropriate behavior, including 26 instances of unwanted sexual contact.

Making unwanted physical advances became a Trump trademark, according to many women, and one that has continued to define him. The accounts span nearly four decades and bear a striking resemblance to one another. Reading them in the aggregate, patterns emerge. Forcible kissing. Groping. Genital grabbing. Barging in on sleeping women. And, all too often, an utter indifference to women’s volition or boundaries.

The behavior he has admitted to—grabbing women by the “pussy”—and many of the credible accusations he denies, were they to be proven in a court of law, would qualify as crimes, some of them serious ones.

After considering all the evidence, one cannot but conclude that Donald Trump is, and has been for some time, a full-blown sexual predator.


At the beginning of Trump’s club life he was out every night meeting women. “You had drugs, women, and booze all over the fuckin’ place,” Michael Gross quoted Trump as saying in his book My Generation: Fifty Years of Sex, Drugs, Rock, Revolution, Glamour, Greed, Valor, Faith, and Silicon Chips. Having sex became his “second business.

“The other girls were obviously afraid of him, like they knew he meant it and it wasn’t a joke,” she said. Given the nature of the modeling business, where bikini and lingerie shoots and quick changes at fashion shows are the norm, models are used to being seen when they are wearing very little. For models to be upset about being seen in their underwear, something has to be seriously amiss,

Carr said she and her model friends would see him out in Manhattan all the time in those days. “He was nearly always there, especially any party at Studio 54 or the Plaza, he was there. And he always had his sights set on very young women,” she said. The soirees that Trump attended during that era were guaranteed to have two elements, according to Carr: young models and cocaine—lots of it. “It generally wasn’t done in the open, but it was rampant.

According to interviews conducted for this book with dozens of people in the modeling world who are familiar with his behavior, Trump had a reputation for never missing an opportunity to meet models. “Trump would be at every model party.  Many said that he was a model hound. He was always chasing models.… He was a predator. Absolutely. And he could be intimidating.

One night in the mid- to late-1990s Webber was out at Life, a trendy club on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village where modeling agencies often held parties. Trump was there, and Webber noticed that a young girl couldn’t get away from him. Webber didn’t know the girl personally, but had seen her at a casting. He believes she could have been as young as 14, he said, and was probably not older than 16. “Our faces met across the room and she mouthed ‘Help’ at me,” he said. “Trump had her pinned against a wall—not physically pinned, but he had surrounded her with his bigness, if you like. He had one hand on the wall to one side and she was against the wall.” Webber moved in to aid her. “I went there and I stepped right in between them with my back to him and grabbed her and said, ‘Oh, there you are, I’ve been looking for you everywhere.’ And I dragged her off into the next room, and she was like, ‘Thank you, thank you.’

Trump seemed none too pleased by the interruption. Later, when Webber was leaving the club, the bouncers, whom he knew, told him that Trump had given them money to beat him up.

Trump was a known type. “I would compare him to the spectrum of model fuckers,” Michael Gross, the author of the bestselling book Model, told us. “The spectrum of model fuckers runs from guy with no money to wealthy guys. And they’re collectors of baubles, they’re trophy hunters.… To some extent, they can be described as predators because they’re not actually going out and looking for a woman; they’re going out collecting, using, and discarding models.” These model-idolizing men may or may not end up sleeping with the women they pursue, but that’s not what it’s really about for many of them. The models are status symbols. “A lot of these guys, they don’t actually have sex with the girls. They just want to be with them to impress other men,” Gross said.

 “With some of the girls he pursued, it was an attention-getting thing. You know, ‘Look at me. Look at the young girl I have on my arm.’ I mean, everyone knew he was married, but it didn’t matter to him.

Trump would sometimes call a friend at one of the agencies and ask him to send specific girls to see his doctor so he could make sure they didn’t have any STDs, sources inside the modeling industry told us.

 “We all have the clear impression that Donald was having sex with these girls, but it was more about the boast—my building is taller, my car is longer, my apartment is older, and my women are prettier and have bigger tits,” Gross told us.

“He was gropey.… he had his hands in the most inappropriate places, always,” Carr said. “When he went in to kiss someone, the hand always went to either the hip or the butt. He was also really good when he did pictures or when he’d side-hug someone. He’d always get his hand on the boob. Every time.” Stories about Trump and his hands circulated within the modeling community. At one modeling event, Trump allegedly went down a line of women feeling their bodies to guess their dress size. Backstage at a lingerie show, he is said to have moved his hands all over a model’s breasts under the guise of inspecting the bra’s fabric.

“I saw this several times: When he met a girl, he’d immediately move in to kiss her, not shake her hand or say ‘Hello, how are you?’ He’d immediately put his mouth on her,” Carr said. “I saw him many times go straight to the mouth, to kiss them on the mouth,

Among modeling insiders, Trump had a reputation at the time for preferring the younger girls. “If you’re over twenty-one you don’t have to worry,” Carr said she was told.

Panagrosso said it’s often difficult for models to stand up for themselves. “It’s psychological manipulation because these men will put these women up against each other,” she said. “It’s like they are the prize to be won and these women will do everything to be selected by the men.” The imbalance of power skews the dynamic. “The women are usually intimidated, and in their minds—Trump and Weinstein—they believe they have the permissions to do what they want,” she said. “The women are afraid to say no.… When you have a predator, a guy with so much power… women caved in.

Pilling eventually excused herself to go to the restroom, where yet another girl was talking about the developer. “She said he grabbed her ass and kept going for her and was all hands.

“It was kind of like a feeding frenzy and the girls were there as consumables,” a fashion industry insider told BBC’s Panorama for the documentary “Trump: Is the President a Sex Pest?

The point of the parties was to “get laid,” he said. “We do know that [Trump] was having sex with [the models] because the next day or days after we’d hear about it,” the insider said. “He’d brag about it to his friends that he scored, maybe one or two girls at a time, which is what he loved to do.

While the BBC documentary on Trump and women found no conclusive evidence that Trump had sex with underage girls, it reported that Trump attended small social gatherings with models who were not yet adults.

The girls were asked to walk one by one down a staircase and dance in front of Trump and Casablancas, who were seated in chairs at the bottom. “It was a very small area and I could see them laughing and making fun of the girls,” most of whom were 15 and 16 years old, she said in an interview for this book. “You know, these men were older than my father at the time, looking girls up and down and objectifying them. It was just kind of gross. I don’t think doing that had anything to do with being a professional model.

Dressing rooms weren’t the only places where Trump barged in on women. In the early 1990s, a world-famous supermodel had flown to New York to attend a fashion event and was staying in a suite at the Plaza hotel. She was seeing another industry insider and they had gone back to her room. The two were in bed together when they heard the door open, according to the man, who gave an interview for this book requesting anonymity because both he and the supermodel still work in the industry and fear retribution. Thinking it was housekeeping, the pair sat up in bed and hollered that they didn’t need anything. A few seconds later, the door to the bedroom opened. “It’s Donald standing there,” the man said in his interview. Trump had let himself in. The supermodel and her companion were stunned. “I said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’” the man said. “We’re naked, so she pulled up the covers and we’re freaked out. I couldn’t believe it. He looks in the room and he took a good look at both of us and he slammed the door really hard, like in anger.

Trump sometimes hunted as part of a pack.  He walked into a big room where there were about 50 models.

Braden and her friends found the party odd. There was no DJ, no food, and no bartender

And then down this large staircase, in front of all of us, there was Donald Trump and behind him there were three actors, forties, maybe fifties. I don’t want to name them because they’re all still around.” The actors were famous, she said. “They came down the stairs and spread out like sharks among the girls,

Ask enough and somebody will say yes,” she said. “We were just pieces of meat.

The foreign women “ were more desperate than us because they were younger and they were controlled by the agents, who controlled their visas, who controlled their money. They had nothing to go back to,

Braden said that the younger models were likely easier quarry for Trump because they didn’t know his reputation. Among the older girls, “he was just known as a pig, to be honest. No one ever liked him who I had ever met. Everyone just took advantage of him and the money he was willing to spend to be there.

When Braden heard about the Access Hollywood tape in 2016, she laughed in recognition. “I’m shocked there’s not hundreds [of tapes],” she said. Trump’s behavior was widely known about, but his power rendered people fearful to talk about it. “They’d have to be hundreds of victims,” Braden said. “Everybody knows. I have lots of connections about him, everybody is terrified of him, have had their lives ruined, or are afraid they’ll be sued by him.

And some women, Braden said, just don’t want to dredge up the painful memories of being the victim of a predatory man. There’s another reason more women don’t come forward, however, another open secret of the modeling industry. Many of the women took money to have sex with the men.

Trump’s social circle in the early 1990s included Jeffrey Epstein, a registered sex offender who allegedly ran a sex ring of underage girls. He pleaded guilty in 2008 to soliciting a minor and in July 2019 was charged with two federal counts of sex trafficking before being found dead in his prison cell in an apparent suicide in August. Trump was friends with him and once said of Epstein: “Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.

 “All these men were out trying to lure [models], get with them. It was a predatory world in a predatory market where young girls were preyed upon by these rich men,” Braden said. “Trump, these types of men, are predators, exploiters. They are essentially traffickers. They’re essentially passing girls among each other. We were used as bargaining chips, for sure.

According to a lawsuit, which was later dropped, Trump, too, had a penchant for young girls. On April 26, 2016, a woman using the alias “Katie Johnson” filed a civil lawsuit in California against Trump alleging that he raped her in 1994 at a party in Epstein’s Manhattan home when she was 13. She wasn’t represented by a lawyer and the suit was dismissed because of technical filing errors, but a similar complaint was filed in a federal court in New York on June 20, 2016, this time by a lawyer. It was later withdrawn, but was refiled that September with additional details before being withdrawn again in November. Shortly before the case was withdrawn, Johnson had canceled a scheduled press conference. Her lawyers said she had received death threats and was too afraid to appear.

I understood that both Mr. Trump and Mr. Epstein knew I was 13 years old,” the legal complaint alleged. “Defendant Trump had sexual contact with me at four different parties in the summer of 1994. On the fourth and final sexual encounter with Defendant Trump, Defendant Trump tied me to a bed, exposed himself to me and then proceeded to forcibly rape me. During the course of this savage sexual attack, I loudly pleaded with Defendant Trump to stop but he did not. Defendant Trump responded to my pleas by violently striking me in the face with his open hand and screaming that he would do whatever he wanted.” The suit also said that Trump threatened to hurt the girl and her family if she ever told anyone

Johnson’s suit contained allegations against Epstein as well, including that he raped Johnson both vaginally and anally while hitting her in the head with a closed fist because he was angry that Trump had taken her virginity instead of him.

Eventually Trump found an easier way to surround himself with models than chasing them at bars and parties: He started his own modeling agency. Some of the Trump girls didn’t have work visas, Pilling said, and many of the foreign girls were too young to be working legally in the United States.

In 1996, Trump purchased the Miss Universe Organization, which also operates the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants.

“I made the bikinis smaller and the heels higher,” he told David Letterman in 2010. Despite those viewer-baiting changes, Trump didn’t leave the outcome to chance. On more than one occasion he intervened to get the final candidates he favored.

With Miss Universe he had a bigger and flashier pageant that he could call his own. Once he took it over, he was hands-on. From the very beginning, Trump exercised what he saw as the owner’s prerogative. “I’ll go backstage before a show, and everyone’s getting dressed and ready and everything else,” Trump told Howard Stern during a radio broadcast in 2005. “No men are anywhere, and I’m allowed to go in because I’m the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it.… ‘Is everyone okay?’ You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. ‘Is everybody okay?’ And you see these incredible-looking women, and so I sort of get away with things like that.

The pageant contestants were not professional models who were used to being seen in their underwear, and Trump’s appearance created a stir.

Samantha Holvey told CNN that when she was 20 and competing in the 2006 Miss USA pageant, Trump made pointed visual inspections of all the contestants. “He would step in front of each girl and look you over from head to toe like we were just meat, we were just sexual objects, that we were not people,” she said. “You know when a gross guy at the bar is checking you out? It’s that feeling.” Being ogled by Trump made Holvey feel “the dirtiest I felt in my entire life.

She and her fellow contestants were also invited to private parties filled with “old, rich, drunk guys ogling all over us.

The 2013 Miss Washington USA, Cassandra Searles, felt degraded by her involvement in the pageant. In a 2016 post on Facebook, she called Trump a misogynist and said that he treated her and her fellow Miss USA contestants “like cattle,” lining them up “so he could get a closer look at his property.” She later added a comment to her post saying, “He probably doesn’t want me telling the story about that time he continually grabbed my ass and invited me to his hotel room.” Paromita Mitra, Miss Mississippi USA in 2013, added her own comment. “I literally have nightmares about that process,” she wrote.

Trump was also said to eliminate women “who had snubbed his advances.

Did Trump actually have sex with contestants? He bantered about it with Howard Stern in 2005, and suggested that sleeping with the girls might be his “obligation.

Back in the late 1970s, Jessica Leeds was one of the few women who flew alone for business. She had taken her seat in economy on a Braniff Airways flight from Dallas to New York when a flight attendant approached the 38-year-old newsprint saleswoman and asked if she would like to be upgraded to first class. Leeds didn’t need a second invitation, and followed the airline employee to the front of the plane. She slipped into a brown leather seat next to Donald Trump. What allegedly happened next is now well known: After introducing themselves, the two ate their dinners in silence. When the meal service was over, Trump raised the armrest between them and “suddenly turned on me and started groping me and kissing me,” Leeds, now in her seventies, told us during an interview in her apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. “He hadn’t said anything.

When he started putting his hand up my skirt that I just ripped myself out of the seat, stood up, grabbed my purse, and went stomping to the back of the airplane,” where she remained for the rest of the flight. After landing, “I stayed there and waited for the entire plane to clear because I didn’t want to take the chance of running into him,” she said.

In terms of timing, Jessica Leeds’s accusation, dating back to the late 1970s was an outlier.

The first cluster of Trump’s alleged gropings dates to the early 1990s, around the time his marriage to Ivana collapsed.

Anderson, an aspiring model in her early twenties, was perched on a velvet couch in the club when a man sitting next to her slid his hand up her skirt and touched her vagina through her underwear. Shocked, she jumped up and turned to see Donald Trump, she told the Washington Post. She and her friends were “very grossed out and weirded out,” she said. “It wasn’t a sexual come-on. I don’t know why he did it. It was like just to prove that he could do it and nothing would happen. There was zero conversation. We didn’t even really look at each other. It was very random, very nonchalant on his part.

The three had dinner together at the Plaza hotel; Trump was dating Marla Maples at the time, but didn’t bring her along. During dinner, Trump repeatedly put his hands up Harth’s skirt, trying to touch “her intimate private parts,” she alleged in her lawsuit. “You know, there’s going to be a problem,” he told Houraney that night. “I’m very attracted to your girlfriend.” The couple returned to Florida, but Trump continued to call Harth, telling her he wanted to sleep with her.

While giving Harth a tour of the estate that evening, he allegedly pinned her against the wall of his daughter Ivanka’s bedroom.  She was stunned when Trump started kissing and groping her, “touching her intimately,” according to the court filing. “It was a shock,” Harth said in 2016. “I pushed him off me. And I was, I said to him, ‘What are you doing? Why are you doing this?’” Trump was twice her weight, and she was worried he would rape her. She was so fearful that she began vomiting profusely as a defense mechanism. She felt “degraded and humiliated as a female,” the lawsuit said.

Harth thinks Trump couldn’t believe she was resisting him. “Donald gets what he wants,” she said in a 2016 interview. “I believe, in his mind, he was—this was a come-on for him, some kind of romantic overture. Whereas for me, it was unwanted and aggressive, very sexually aggressive.

 “He constantly called me and said: ‘I love you, baby, I’m going to be the best lover you ever had. What are you doing with that loser, you need to be with me, you need to step it up to the big leagues,’” Harth said. His apparent desire for her didn’t stop him from asking her to provide him with “access” to a 17-year-old beauty contestant from Czechoslovakia, the lawsuit alleges. The lawsuit also says that Trump called some of the “Calendar Girls” over a period of several years, offering career advancement in exchange for sexual favors. Harth’s lawsuit said he harassed her for six years.

Entrepreneur Lisa Boyne accepted an invitation from her pal Sonja Morgan (now of Real Housewives of New York fame) in 1996 and found herself at dinner with Trump.  “He was a douche bag,” she told us. “He took all the air out of the limo. He wouldn’t let anyone talk.

Boyne, Morgan, and a handful of models were sandwiched between the two men. Trump started asking Boyne which of the models she thought he should sleep with.  Who do you think the hottest girl is?’ ‘Rate all these women I’m dating.’

If the women wanted to get out of the booth, the men made them walk across the table. Trump “stuck his head right under the women’s skirts” and commented on whether or not they were wearing underwear and on their genitalia, Boyne told the Huffington Post. “It was the most offensive scene I’ve ever been a part of. I wanted to get the heck out of there.” Boyne says she left before the appetizers arrived.

Cathy Heller was at Mar-a-Lago with her husband, her three kids, and stood up, planning to shake Trump’s hand. “He took my hand, grabbed me, and went for the lips,” she said. Heller turned her head when she realized what was happening, so his kiss landed on the side of her mouth. Trump was angry that she had twisted away, and walked off.

In 2003, Melinda “Mindy” McGillivray was working as an assistant for a photographer friend of hers at a Ray Charles concert at Mar-a-Lago and was backstage with a small group that included Trump and Melania. “The next thing you know I feel a grab,” she told Megyn Kelly on NBC’s Today show. “I stand there, I’m stunned. I’m speechless. I don’t even know what to do or say in that moment.” She elaborated to the BBC: “It was like someone was trying to feel whether a fruit was ripe at the store.” It made her feel “violated, entirely violated,” she said. “To see someone who resembled my father grab me like that was just deplorable.” The encounter left her feeling overlooked and unimportant. “He didn’t even acknowledge me,” McGillivray, who was twenty-three at the time, told Kelly. “It made me feel very small, inferior.

Trump told Stoynoff there was a “tremendous” room in the mansion he wanted to show her. “We walked into that room alone, and Trump shut the door behind us,” Stoynoff recounted in a 2016 article in People. “I turned around, and within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat.” Trump was big and fast, Stoynoff said. She says she was saved by a butler who came into the room to tell Donald that Melania was on her way down to resume the interview. “I was still in shock and remained speechless as we both followed him to an outdoor patio overlooking the grounds,” Stoynoff wrote. “In those few minutes alone with Trump, my self-esteem crashed to zero. How could the actions of one man make me feel so utterly violated?

Trump seemed oblivious to the emotional damage he had wrought. “You know we’re going to have an affair, don’t you?” he said to Stoynoff while settling on a love seat and waiting for Melania to join him. “Have you ever been to Peter Luger’s for steaks? I’ll take you. We’re going to have an affair, I’m telling you.” Melania returned and Trump went back to playing the devoted husband.

In the hotel suite, he immediately started kissing her with an open mouth, she contends. Zervos walked away from Trump and sat in a chair and tried to strike up a conversation. He asked her to come sit next to him, and when she did he grabbed her shoulder, started kissing her aggressively, and put his hand on her breast, she said at the press conference. She got up, and he tried to pull her into the bedroom, saying, “Let’s lay down and watch some telly telly,” Zervos recounted. He put her in an embrace and she tried to push him away, saying, “Come on, man, get real.” He mimicked Zervos’s words back to her while “thrusting his genitals” at her, she said. When Trump denied her allegations and called her a “liar,” she filed a defamation lawsuit against him, which, as of June 2019, his lawyers continued to fight.

Karen Johnson, who alleged that Trump groped her and grabbed her by the genitals at the New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago, hesitated to tell anyone about her experience. “I feared that because I had been a dancer many years before they would say to me, ‘Well, you must have asked for it,’” she told us. “What he did was very traumatizing to me,” Johnson added. “And it still is. You know, I didn’t ask for that. I was literally just walking through a room… no matter what my past is I don’t deserve to be treated that way.” Despite her fears about not being believed, she is clear that she didn’t bring the assault on herself. “This is about a monster, an immature child running around who has no respect for anybody but himself and his giant ego,” she said.

When Maples attended the 1987 boxing match between Mike Tyson and Tyrell Biggs at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, she did so accompanied by her ex-boyfriend Tom Fitzsimmons, a former New York policeman who worked as Trump’s bodyguard for a while and regularly served as cover for their relationship. Trump also enlisted Alan Lapidus, the architect on the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, as a beard, as well as others in his employ. Lapidus recalled having dinner with Marla one evening and then driving off with her in a limousine. After traveling a few blocks, the car pulled up next to an identical one, in which sat Trump. Marla switched cars and Lapidus went home to his wife. “Donald used a lot of us that way,” Jack O’Donnell, former president and chief operating officer of Trump Plaza, said in an interview for The Trump Dynasty documentary on the A&E network.

In her deposition, Ivana said that in 1989, after seeing the results of Ivana’s visit to the plastic surgeon in Los Angeles, Trump decided to visit the same doctor for scalp reduction surgery, a procedure in which a doctor slices out a hairless section of scalp and sews together the remaining skin to cover bald spots. Between the headaches from his newly tightened scalp and the aching suture itself, the surgery left Trump in agonizing pain, according to Ivana’s account in the court deposition. He turned his rage on Ivana. “Your fucking doctor has ruined me,” the documents say Trump shouted at her. He grabbed her and began tearing clumps of her signature platinum locks out of her head. He then ripped her clothes off, unzipped his pants, and forced himself inside her for the first time in more than a year. “According to versions she repeats to some of her closest confidants, ‘he raped me,’” Hurt wrote.

Barbara Res, a former Trump Organization executive, told the Washington Post. “After that I don’t think he was considered a serious businessman… when he broke up with Ivana and did the Playboy and all that. I think that was the beginning of the end of him being a serious businessman… and he moved into being a cartoon.” The transformation took place on a personal level as well. Trump became more sexist, more openly objectifying, Res said. She recounted a meeting they had with a potential architect for a project the company was undertaking in California. Out of the blue, “[Trump] says, ‘I hear that the women of Marina del Rey…’ And he starts talking about women’s bodies. And that was just, it was a shock to me and a shock to the architect. We were just, ‘What is he saying?’” Res said she saw an ugly side of Trump emerge. “He used to be deferential to women,” she wrote in the Guardian.

As Trump became more famous, his behavior toward women worsened. 

Trump is said to have impregnated several women and facilitated the terminations

 “There are women who have had abortions paid for by Donald Trump. I don’t have the medical records to prove that, but they’ve told girlfriends about it,” said former Pulitzer Prize–winning Philadelphia Inquirer reporter David Cay Johnston. “It’s one of many things that’s sort of common knowledge about Donald.” Johnston said he never published the names of the women who received abortions because he was unable to obtain both their permission and their medical records. Johnston said, however, that he knows the identities of the “brand-name” women, whom he says would be familiar figures to the public.

Trump was no more faithful to Marla after taking his vows than he had been before. He continued to harass Jill Harth and the women from her Calendar Girls beauty contest, according to her lawsuit, and before Tiffany’s second birthday he had had an affair with New Zealand model Kylie Bax. And he reportedly continued his old modelizing habits. Author Laurence Leamer wrote in his book Mar-a-Lago that staff said there were often models traveling with Trump on his plane.

Marla got a reckoning of her own. In May 1997 Trump dialed the New York Post and gave them an exclusive story. Marla learned about it the next day, when she opened the door of her apartment and saw the headline: “Donald is Divorcing Marla,” according to an account by the late Trump biographer Robert Slater. The announcement was well timed—for Trump. Had they stayed married longer, he would have had to pay her more in the divorce, according to their prenup.

“Marla’s a good girl, and I had a good marriage with her, but it’s just that I get fuckin’ bored,

“He came in to The Apprentice believing his own hype. He has a problem with that,” Katherine Walker, the show producer for the first five seasons of The Apprentice, told us. “That’s his Achilles’ heel. Once it’s not about him, he can’t function. Trump Organization, Trump Tower, Trump, Trump, Trump. That’s a huge weird psyche thing.

Trump’s objectification of women permeated the set, both in the boardroom and behind the scenes. Summer Zervos, a contestant in season five, accused him of sexual misconduct and filed a defamation lawsuit against him in 2017.

Proximity to the women didn’t deter Trump from discussing their desirability. “We were in the boardroom one time figuring out who to blame for the task, and he just stopped in the middle and pointed to someone and said, ‘You’d fuck her, wouldn’t you? I’d fuck her. C’mon, wouldn’t you?’” a former crew member told the Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because of a nondisclosure agreement. “Everyone is trying to make him stop talking, and the woman is shrinking in her seat.

Pinkett and five other former contestants on the show were so disturbed when Trump announced his candidacy for president that they spoke out against him publicly. “Because our allegiance to our country supersedes our relationship with Donald, we see today as an act of patriotism and not disloyalty,” Pinkett said in a press conference, representing the group. “We believe the American people have a right to be as informed as they can be in this election regarding Donald’s qualifications as the Republican Party’s front-runner and leading candidate to become president. Today we denounce Donald’s campaign of sexism, xenophobia, racism, violence, and hate as a unified team.

There is no doubt that Melania knew exactly what she was getting into when she married Trump. “He was known as a ladies’ man,” she told Barbara Walters in an interview the couple did during the campaign. Trump had cheated publicly on his previous two wives and made his disregard of fidelity clear in his 2000 book, The America We Deserve.

Melania seems to have been willing to accept that. Despite the occasional squall, the Donald-Melania pairing was much less stormy than his time with Marla had been. That’s largely down to Melania’s unflappable disposition. Friends describe her as serene, and Trump’s older children referred to her as “the Portrait” because she spoke so little.  

Trump has also shown a willingness to pay for sex. Drake and McDougal may be the only women who have publicly said that he offered them money, but stories about him doing so have been making the rounds for decades. “Donald has a magic number and I’ve heard it from more than one girl,” Evans said. “Jessica Drake dropped the ten-thousand-dollar number. Other girls that I’ve talked to, that’s the amount of money that he’s offered. Those aren’t going rates for porn girls. Normally if a porn star is an escort, she’s getting like a thousand dollars for an hour. So for someone like him to out of the ballpark offer like ten grand, he knows in a likelihood they’re not going to say no.

The stories about Trump and porn stars date back decades. “It goes back to the eighties,” Evans said. “In my world, Donald Trump is someone who has been talked about prior to being president. There’s friends I’ve worked with who have told me this directly.… I heard it for years.” Evans said she knows of at least three porn stars who claimed they were paid to have sex with Trump—two of whom she said told her directly.

John Tino didn’t just hear about Trump having sex with porn stars—he alleges he saw it firsthand. Between 1981 and 1983 Tino worked in a private brothel in Times Square above a theater that showed porn movies and had live sex shows. The private club—which he said was known as the “VIP Room”—was on the second floor. There was a private entrance around the side so clients could drive right up, enter, and go up the stairs without being seen. Like much of the porn and sex industries in that era, which were controlled by the mafia, Tino’s club was allegedly run by a crime family captain who was killed in a mob hit a few years later.  In each room was a hidden camera.

$1,500 an hour, though it could go higher), to escort the clients to their bedrooms, and then to go sit in a locked room and watch the clients on monitors to make sure none of the girls was being roughed up.

Every night when the VIP Room shut down, Tino would collect the tapes and put them in a bag or a box. The following morning he would go downtown to his boss’s office and deliver the tapes to him. The secret club was frequented by a few celebrities, and a client they called “the real estate guy,” Tino said, referring to Trump.

On January 21, 2017, the day after Donald J. Trump was inaugurated the 45th president of the United States of America, hundreds of thousands of women wearing pink cat-eared “pussy hats” flooded the streets of Washington, D.C. They did so to champion a panoply of issues, but mainly to rally against the elevation to the presidency of a man who had advocated, on tape, sexual assault. The women in Washington were joined by millions of women in other U.S. cities and around the world. In D.C. alone, the gathering represented the largest single-day march in U.S. history. The hats, an allusion to Trump’s now-infamous boast on the so-called Access Hollywood tape that he could “grab ’em by the pussy,

He didn’t always succeed in wowing his dates, though. He took artist Lucy Klebanow out to dinner one night in the early 1970s. He picked her up in a white Cadillac convertible and drove her to the famous Peter Luger’s steakhouse in Brooklyn. When the check came at the cash-only establishment, he didn’t have enough to pay for dinner. So she did. He said he’d pay her back, but never did.

The making of Donald Trump, Sexual Predator

Trump’s father was remote, emotionally abusive, and ruled the household with a metaphorical iron fist and a literal wooden spoon, which he employed for paddlings when deemed necessary. “He was a tough, hard-driving guy who didn’t traffic in emotions except perhaps anger.

That reliance on physical dominance rubbed off on Donald, who exhibited a violent streak from an early age, throwing rocks at the baby next door, pulling the pigtails of the girls in his class, throwing cake at birthday parties, and beating up kids in the neighborhood.

As an adult, such belligerence became a point of pride for Trump. “Even in elementary school, I was a very assertive, aggressive kid. In the second grade I actually gave a teacher a black eye—I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music and I almost got expelled,” Trump boasted, likely falsely, in The Art of the Deal.  His self-image, his self-definition, was built around the idea that he was one tough son of a bitch.

He may have been right. It was Fred who drilled into his son’s head the vainglorious mantra “you are a killer, you are a king,” and Fred who drove all his sons to be ruthless and combative.  In 1990 he told Donald:  “You can have a thousand mistresses if you want, but you can’t have just one. And whatever you do, you never, ever let yourself get caught.” 

Trump’s tried-and-tested MO of never surrender, always hit back, and then claim victory comes straight out of the Cohn playbook as well. “You don’t admit to wrongdoing. You go full blaze on the offensive and you go after whatever person or whatever government agency is accusing you of something,” Marcus said in describing Cohn’s worldview. “Ultimately, in Roy’s world, you could settle, but you always had to make it look like you won. That was really important to Roy and is important to Trump. You have to declare yourself the winner.

Trumps military school

White recalled a Saturday night dance, to which he took a date from the local area with whom he had been fixed up. “The girl showed up; she was not from the higher echelons, more like middle class. She had on a beautiful dress, but it was handmade,” White told us. “To me, that was very sweet, like she had worked very hard on it.” Trump, though, noticed the difference between her and the fashion plates he regularly brought to campus. Once the cadets were back in the barracks, he began mocking White’s date. “He called her a ‘dog’ and asked me how I could go with her. His derisive mockery of her just would not stop—and this was in public. He said it to ten different people and he made a huge issue out of it,” White said. “This was just a sweet sixteen- or seventeen-year-old girl. Donald made a point of mocking that poor girl, calling her a ‘dog’ over and over again. Then he would do a dog bark—‘woof woof woof!’

McIntosh, a fellow classmate told Frontline. “I think that the things that we talked about at that time in 1964 really are very close to kind of the way he talks now about women and minorities and people of different religions.… When I hear him speak, I hear these echoes of the barracks life that we had and that we grew out of. Our whole idea of what sex was and the proper way to deal with women came from Playboy.

Trump’s understanding of women doesn’t seem to have evolved much since then.

Not having seen Trump since they graduated from high school, White approached him and said hello. Trump made a bit of small talk with him, then used White as a pawn in his gambit. “He grabbed one of the women by the shoulders, turned her in my direction, forcibly pushed her face next to mine, and said, ‘Would you rather go home with me or with him?’’’ White said. “I just walked out.

First wife Ivana

Trump was still unaware that modeling was not Ivana’s primary skill. When they hit the slopes the next day, he skied carefully, and she flew past him. “I disappeared,” Ivana told an interviewer. “Donald was so angry, he took off his skis, his ski boots, and walked up to the restaurant.… He went foot bare up to the restaurant and said, ‘I’m not going to do this shit for anybody, including Ivana.’ He could not take it that I could do something better than he did.” Already, Trump was showing his need to always have the upper hand,

Ivana and Fred—whom she later described as “a really brutal father”—had butted heads early on, when she joined the Trump family for a meal. “We went to Tavern on the Green for the brunch one Sunday and Trump’s father ordered a steak,” Ivana said. “So all the, you know, the sisters and brothers, they ordered a steak. And I said, ‘Waiter, can I have a filet of sole?’ And Fred looked up at the waitress and, ‘No, she’s going to have a steak.’ I look up at the waiter, I said, ‘No, Ivana is going to have a filet of sole’—because if I would let him just [roll] right over me, it would be all my life and I would not allow it.

Trump, the man who had described his subservient mother as the ideal woman, grew to abhor the tough business side of his wife and came to see putting her to work as a mistake. “I think that was the single greatest cause of what happened to my marriage with Ivana,” he said in a 1994 interview with Nancy Collins for Primetime Live. He hated coming home and hearing her shouting on the phone at someone at the casino who had upset her. “A softness disappeared… she became an executive, not a wife,” he said. What he really wanted was someone to cater to his needs. “I don’t want to sound too much like a chauvinist, but when I come home and dinner’s not ready, I go through the roof,” he said.

Early in their marriage, he reportedly told friends, “I would never buy Ivana any decent jewels or pictures. Why give her negotiable assets?” And on Oprah in 1988: “There’s not a lot of disagreement because, ultimately, Ivana does exactly as I tell her to do.

Nor did Trump spare Ivana the weaponized comments about her appearance. She was showing too much cleavage, her breasts were too small, her dress was ugly, she was too skinny: he had a litany of complaints. When she tried to fix the flaws he saw in her with a trip to Steven Hoefflin, Michael Jackson’s plastic surgeon in Santa Monica, he reportedly complained that he couldn’t stand to touch her “plastic breasts.

“Donald began calling Ivana and screaming all the time: ‘You don’t know what you are doing!’” one of Ivana’s assistants told longtime Trump chronicler Marie Brenner in Vanity Fair.

In the end, Ivana’s success was her downfall. She had become too famous. She was growing dangerously close to overshadowing Trump. “He put her there, but he couldn’t stand it,” Oscar de la Renta executive Boaz Mazor said in New York. “The student surpassed her master.

“I create stars,” Trump told Collins. “I love creating stars, and to a certain extent I’ve done that with Ivana.… Unfortunately, after they’re a star, the fun is over for me. It’s like a creation process.

He used his newfound fame to gain access to the kind of women he liked: young models. Some were so young that you could hardly call them women at all. Ivana was friendly with several designers and was a regular at fashion shows both in New York and in Europe, eventually hosting many fashion events at the Plaza hotel. Trump would often attend shows with her. NaKina Carr was working in New York for Oscar de la Renta and was backstage in the models’ dressing room at one of his fashion shows when she heard Trump’s name mentioned for the first time. She was getting ready when all of a sudden she heard someone shout, “Put your robes on, here he comes!

Carr asked another girl what was wrong, and the girl pointed to a man across the room. “She said, ‘He’s the money man. He can do whatever he wants.… unless you’re a gold digger, you avoid him at all costs.’” Trump walked in like he owned the place, according to Carr’s account, with a pregnant Ivana trailing behind him. “He threw his arms wide open and said, ‘Okay now ladies, drop ’em,’” Carr said. “The one thing I’ll always remember is the dejected look on Ivana’s face in the dressing room. I thought, how horrible, that he would treat her in this way.

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Book review of “The Power Worshippers. Inside the dangerous rise of religious nationalism”

Preface.  One of the many items I found of interest in this book “The Power Worshippers” was that it wasn’t until 1979, six years after Roe v Wade, that conservative activists seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a way to deny President Jimmy Carter because he was threatening to tax religious segregated (racist) schools.  

I clearly can’t summarize or quote all 275 pages of the book and left out a lot of the interesting chapters on how Christian nationalists are destroying the school system with the DeVos, Prince, and other family funding, vouchers and charter schools, getting extremist judges on the court, trying to get their hands on disaster and school funds, affiliation with Russia and Putin, and taking over schools and other public buildings for cheap rent rather than spend money on their own church and heating bills, furniture, and upkeep – which is a subsidy from all of us taxpayers since churches are tax-exempt.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Stewart, K. 2020. The Power Worshippers. Inside the dangerous rise of religious nationalism. Bloomsbury publishing.

Getting out the vote and increasing power

  • There are Bible study groups in the Senate and House of Representatives. Congressman Jeff Denham of California claims that 10% of the members of the U.S. Senate attend.
  • there are also weekly White House Bible study gatherings, some in the West Wing, include as many as 11 to 15 cabinet secretaries. Alex Azar and Tom Price from the Department of Health and Human Services; Mike Pompeo, now the secretary of state; NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine; former attorney general Jeff Sessions; former secretary of labor Alexander Acosta; Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson; former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt; Energy Secretary Rick Perry; and other senior officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, counted as participating members.
  • Bible study groups are now or will be soon in all 50 state capitols, and thousands of local city and county government offices, and there are plans to start Bible study groups in foreign capitals throughout Western and Eastern Europe.
  • Awake 88 has a tool called the Church Voter Lookup, which essentially marries a church database with a voter database. “You’ll then receive a report that tells you what percentage of your congregation is registered to vote and what percentage actually voted in the last election!
  • Pastors also give lists of their congregation at conventions and to Republican political operatives who see which members aren’t registered to vote.  The church organizes a committee to call and visit members to register them with pamphlets of who to vote for.
  • The Family Research Council forms groups to get out the vote armed with 180-page manuals
  • POTUS Shield, a prayer initiative of “Warriors, Worshippers and Watchmen” supports the Trump presidency. “Points of discussion” on the POTUS Shield website include, “The Church & Kingdom Trump & Resistance Changing the Laws—The Supreme & Federal Court System, Abortion, Turning back Globalization, Israel & Jerusalem Space Force, and dominance.
  • The Christian Coalition worked from the grassroots up and trained pro-family candidates for public office to reshape Republican politics
  • Project Blitz is an ongoing nationwide assault on state legislatures in all 50 states to flood them with coordinated, simultaneous bills hoping they’ll become law to advance religious values of banning abortion and limiting what medical professionals are allowed to say to women about their options, getting the motto “In God We Trust” into public buildings, teaching the bible in public schools, limited government, deregulation, legalize discrimination against LGBTQ and anyone else Christians dislike without risking their tax exempt status, get rid of sex education, free birth control.
  • A database with well over 200 million U.S. voters (nearly all of them) from Cambridge Analytica, the mailing lists of thousands of churches, Ted Cruz and other Republican politicians, with details on 89% of them about whether they were interested in hunting, fishing, NASCAR, go to church, oppose abortion, and so on.  These interests are scored, and any adult not registered to vote is visited or called by Christian right-wing volunteers and paid employees of Koch and other organizations, and voter or not, receives emails, voter guides, and phone calls.  All of this exempt from taxes and public scrutiny, funded with hundreds of millions, if not billions of extremist dollars and church donations.


The drive to end public education as we know it is just part of a political movement that seeks to transform the defining institutions of democracy in America. This movement pretends to represent the past and stand for old traditions. But in reality it is a creature of present circumstances and is organized around a vision for the future that most Americans would find abhorrent.

Anyone who cares about what is happening in American politics today needs to know about this movement and its people. Their issues—the overwhelming preoccupation with sexual order, the determination to unite the nation around a single religious identity, the conviction that they are fighting for salvation against forces of darkness—have come to define the effort that has transformed the political landscape and shaken the foundations upon which lay our democratic norms and institutions. This is the movement responsible for the election of the 45th president of the United States, and it now determines the future of the Republican Party. It is the change that we have been watching—some with joy, others in disbelief, others in denial. And it isn’t going away anytime soon.

Most Americans continue to see it as a cultural movement centered on a set of social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, preoccupied with symbolic conflicts over monuments and prayers. But the religious right has become more focused and powerful even as it is arguably less representative. It is not a social or cultural movement. It is a political movement, and its ultimate goal is power. It does not seek to add another voice to America’s pluralistic democracy but to replace our foundational democratic principles and institutions with a state grounded on a particular version of Christianity, answering to what some adherents call a “biblical worldview” that also happens to serve the interests of its plutocratic funders and allied political leaders.

The movement is unlikely to realize its most extreme visions, but it has already succeeded in degrading our politics and dividing the nation with religious animus. This is not a “culture war.” It is a political war over the future of democracy.

Political movements are by their nature complex creatures, and this one is more complex than most. It is not organized around any single, central institution. It consists rather of a dense ecosystem of nonprofit, for-profit, religious, and nonreligious media and legal advocacy groups, some relatively permanent, others fleeting. Its leadership cadre includes a number of personally interconnected activists and politicians who often jump from one organization to the next. It derives much of its power and direction from an informal club of funders, a number of them belonging to extended hyper-wealthy families.

Christian nationalism is not a religious creed but a political ideology. It promotes the myth that the American republic was founded as a Christian nation. It asserts that legitimate government rests not on the consent of the governed but on adherence to the doctrines of a specific religious, ethnic, and cultural heritage. It demands that our laws be based not on the reasoned deliberation of our democratic institutions but on particular, idiosyncratic interpretations of the Bible. Its defining fear is that the nation has strayed from the truths that once made it great. Christian nationalism looks backward on a fictionalized history of America’s allegedly Christian founding. It looks forward to a future in which its versions of the Christian religion and its adherents, along with their political allies, enjoy positions of exceptional privilege and power in government and in law.

Christian nationalism is also a device for mobilizing (and often manipulating) large segments of the population and concentrating power in the hands of a new elite. It does not merely reflect the religious identity it pretends to defend but actively works to construct and promote new varieties of religion for the sake of accumulating power. It actively generates or exploits cultural conflict in order to improve its grip on its target population.

This is not a book about “evangelicals.” The movement I am describing includes many people who identify as evangelical, but it excludes many evangelicals, too, and it includes conservative representatives of other varieties of Protestant and non-Protestant religion.  Republicans depend on the 27% of the electorate who are evangelicals and 11% of conservative Catholics who comprise 56% of Republican votes, without which the Republican party would go away.

This movement is a form of nationalism because it purports to derive its legitimacy from its claim to represent a specific identity unique to and representative of the American nation.

A great many people who identify as Christians oppose the movement, and quite a few even question whether it is authentically Christian in the first place.

Perhaps the most salient impediment to our understanding of the movement is the notion that Christian nationalism is a “conservative” ideology. The correct word is “radical.” A genuinely conservative movement would seek to preserve institutions of value that have been crafted over centuries of American history. It would prize the integrity of electoral politics, the legitimacy of the judiciary, the importance of public education, and the values of tolerance and mutual respect that have sustained our pluralistic society even as others have been torn apart by sectarian conflict. Christian nationalism pretends to work toward the revival of “traditional values” yet its values contradict the long-established principles and norms of our democracy. It has no interest in securing the legitimacy of the Supreme Court; it will happily steal seats and pack the Court as long as it gets the rulings it wants. It cheers along voter suppression and gerrymandering schemes that allow Republicans to maintain disproportionate legislative control. It collaborates with international leaders who seek to undermine the United States’ traditional alliances and the postwar world order built up over the past seven decades.

The widespread misunderstanding of Christian nationalism stems in large part from the failure to distinguish between the leaders of the movement and its followers. The foot soldiers of the movement—the many millions of churchgoers who dutifully cast their votes for the movement’s favored politicians, who populate its marches and flood its coffers with small-dollar donations—are the root source of its political strength. But they are not the source of its ideas.

They come with a longing for certainty in an uncertain world. Against a backdrop of escalating economic inequality, deindustrialization, rapid technological change, and climate instability, many people, on all points of the economic spectrum, feel that the world has entered a state of disorder. The movement gives them confidence, an identity, and the feeling that their position in the world is safe.

Yet the price of certainty is often the surrendering of one’s political will to those who claim to offer refuge from the tempest of modern life. The leaders of the movement have demonstrated real savvy in satisfying some of the emotional concerns of their followers, but they have little intention of giving them a voice in where the movement is going.

It is a means through which a small number of people—quite a few of them residing in the Washington, D.C., area—harness the passions, resentments, and insecurities of a large and diverse population in their own quest for power. The leaders of the movement have quite consciously reframed the Christian religion itself to suit their political objectives and then promoted this new reactionary religion as widely as possible, thus turning citizens into congregants and congregants into voters.

From the perspective of the movement’s leadership, vast numbers of America’s conservative churches have been converted into the loyal cells of a shadow political party. Here, too, there is a widespread misunderstanding of the way Christian nationalism works. Its greatest asset is its national infrastructure, and that infrastructure consists not only of organizations uniting and coordinating its leadership, and a burgeoning far-right media, but also in large part the nation’s conservative houses of worship. The churches may be fragmented in a variety of denominations and theologies, but Christian nationalist leaders have had considerable success in uniting them around their political vision and mobilizing them to get out the vote for their chosen candidates. Movement leaders understand very well that this access to conservative Christians through their churches is a key source of their power, and for this reason they are committed to overturning regulatory, legal, or constitutional restrictions on the political activity of churches.

A related source of misunderstanding is the comforting yet unfounded presumption that America’s two-party system has survived intact the rise of the religious right as a political force. The conventional wisdom holds that the differences between America’s two parties, now as before, amount to differences over questions of domestic and foreign policy, and that politics is just the art of give-and-take between the two collections of interests and perspectives they represent. Yet the fundamental difference today is that one party is now beholden to a movement that does not appear to have much respect for representative democracy.

Today it makes more sense to regard the Republican party as a host vehicle for a radical movement that denies that the other party has any legitimate claim to political power.  Few Republican politicians can achieve influence without effectively acting as agents for Christian nationalism, and almost no Democratic leaders can realistically cede enough ground to earn the movement’s support.

Many critics of the Republican party today trace its present corruption to the influence of big money. This explanation is true enough yet incomplete. In the age of Trump, the party’s resolute rejection of the democratic and constitutional norms that it once at least pretended to champion would not have been possible without the prior success of Christian nationalism in training millions of supporters to embrace identity-based, authoritarian rule over pluralistic, democratic processes. The roots of the present crisis in the American political party system lie at the juncture of money and religion.

The movement has come to depend critically on the wealth of a growing subset of America’s plutocratic class. Without the DeVos/Prince clan, the Bradley Foundation, Howard Ahmanson Jr., the foundations of the late Richard Scaife, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Lynn and Foster Friess Family Foundation, the Maclellan Foundation, Dan and Farris Wilks, the Green family, and a number of other major funders I will discuss in this book—to say nothing of the donor-advised funds such as the National Christian Foundation, which channel hundreds of millions of dollars in annual donations anonymously, and the massive flow of right-wing dark money targeting the courts—the movement would not be what it is today.

At the same time, the movement has developed a large-scale apparatus for raising funds from millions of small donors.  In fact,  much of its daily activity can be understood as part of an effort to milk its base of supporters.

Just as important as the pursuit of private money to Christian nationalism is the effort to secure public sources of funding. The movement has learned to siphon public money through subsidies, tax deductions, grants, and other schemes.  Christian nationalists have put particular emphasis on the intersection of money and education. The Christian right has been hostile to public education at least since Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority called for an end to public schools in 1979. This hostility has its roots in a combination of racial animus and fears of secularism,

Christian nationalists now see in school vouchers—and even charter programs—a potentially vast source of public funding. Furthermore, by planting churches in public school buildings for nominal fees rather than purchasing and funding their own buildings or renting private facilities at market rates, they are exploiting the public schools on a widespread scale to subsidize their religion.

Christian nationalists have displayed a high degree of sophistication and technological capability.

Since churches are subsidized with public money through tax deductions and other tax advantages, one could say that the United States now has a publicly subsidized political party that promotes an agenda of religious nationalism.

Americans have come to take for granted that it is part of the natural order of things. We have become so used to the identification of “values voters” with the Republican Party that we no longer remember a time when neither party had a monopoly on God. We have heard the single-issue, pro-life or -death refrain so many times that we no longer remember a time when America’s houses of worship, including conservative ones, tended to approach a vast range of issues that affect our society with the humility and appreciation of their complexity that is their due.

We have been exposed to so much extreme rhetoric—and so many apocalyptic visions for world domination—that we no longer remember the time when such ideas and those who espoused them were nowhere near the center of political power. Yet there was such a time, and it wasn’t so long ago.

In the Trump administration, activists who in an earlier time would have been identified as extremists lead prayer and “Bible study” sessions with officials at the highest levels of the executive and legislative branches, in federal and state governments. At the same time they work with some of America’s wealthiest individuals and families, many of whom fund the careers of the same politicians, to bring forth policies that are favorable to plutocratic fortunes and advance their political vision.

According to the conventional wisdom, the movement is simply an effort to preserve so-called traditional values and, perhaps more critically, to restore a sense of pride and privilege to a part of the American population that feels that its status is slipping. But a closer look at the substance of that political religion, in the context of the movement’s involvement with political elites, tells a very different story. Most of the political vision of Christian nationalism is decided in the inside game. After all, the Bible can be used to promote any number of political positions. Many would argue that it generally favors helping the poor, for example. But the Bible of Christian nationalism answers to the requirements of the individuals who fund the movement and grant it power at the highest levels of government.

I do not for a moment imagine that Christian nationalists represent all Christians. I leave it for theologians to decide whether their views are consistent with Christian teachings. I am not interested in judging other people’s religious beliefs. But I think we all have a stake in understanding their political actions.

In The Power Worshippers I will introduce you to the movement’s power players and the foot soldiers. I will tell their stories, in their words, though my real subject is the political vision that ties them together. I will take you to gatherings in Northern California, where agri-business men team up with pastors who have direct access to the Trump White House; to North Carolina, where Christian nationalist leaders recruit clergy to their partisan activism; to Arizona, where charter school operators with sectarian agendas are indoctrinating schoolchildren on the taxpayer’s dime; and to Verona, Italy, where American representatives of what they call a “global conservative movement” gather with international far-right leaders to declare war on global liberalism. We will revisit the strategy meetings of the late 1970s in which it was decreed, several years after Roe v. Wade, that abortion would be packaged and sold as the unifying issue of the movement. We’ll go back further in time to historical antecedents of Christian nationalism in some of the most fraught chapters of America’s theological past—most importantly, the chapter in which the theological ancestors of today’s religious authoritarians wielded the Bible in support of slavery and segregation.

We will sit in on gatherings organized by national activists to motivate pastors to get out the vote for Republican candidates.

Convention asks pastors to get their members out to vote

Chris’s church is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention as well as a partner with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which takes a philosophically and theologically moderate stance on issues including women’s ordination. Chris is avowedly a Bible believer, yet his reading of Scripture is miles away from the interpretations of the fellow believers with whom we are about to gather. As we set off across the verdant farmland close to the South Carolina border, he reminds me that care for the poor and downtrodden lie at the very heart of the faith, no matter what others seem to say. “It’s just hard for me to imagine how you can read the Bible and not see themes of social justice throughout,” he says squarely.

Then he gets to the point of the gathering. “Christians need to vote,” he says. “The members of your congregations need to vote. As pastors, you need to—I’m not going to say ‘challenge them’; you need to tell them to vote.” Although Perkins never says the word “Republican,” there isn’t the slightest doubt about which way he expects pastors to tell their congregants to vote. One party is determined to end abortion, he suggests, and supporting it is a matter of eternal salvation. “We are a divided nation, and someone’s values will dominate,” he warns, leaving little doubt that in his view “the rulers of the darkness” and “the spiritual host of wickedness” are to be found on the Democratic Party’s side of the aisle.

Family Research Council (FRC) efforts

An FRC video encourages pastors to form “Culture Impact Teams across the country.” These “CITs” are, alongside the Pastors Briefings, central tools in the FRC’s campaign to turn out the vote. The idea is for pastors to create within their churches teams of congregants that will “advance Kingdom values in the public arena.” Pastors are instructed to figure out which members of their congregation are politically active, well-connected with other members, and motivated to persuade them to vote according to “biblical values,” and then draft them as team leaders “to accomplish the Culture Impact Team’s mission of defending and advancing faith, family, and freedom. Other team members will encourage “grassroots participation” and “involvement in pregnancy support centers, school board meetings, civil government gatherings,” and the like.

An unstated motivation behind the creation of the elaborate architecture of Culture Impact Teams (CIT) is to skirt legal prohibitions on the direct endorsement of candidates by church organizations. Current IRS guidelines require that pastors refrain from campaigning for candidates through their office—that is, from the pulpit. But nothing stops congregants from undertaking their own church-based political activism if it’s all about culture.

In order to guide the CITs in their actual mission—to turn out the vote for Republican and hyper-conservative candidates—the FRC supplies dense, information-packed manuals. At Unionville, I spot a stack of such manuals, some 180 pages of material in a three-ring binder.

Along with its crew of firebrand speakers, the Values Buses cross the country delivering hundreds of thousands of “voter guides.” The voter guides are one of the essential tools of the movement. A voter guide created by the North Carolina Family Policy Council has been placed at every seat, and piles of them are dispersed throughout the fellowship hall, including a table in the middle of the room that holds thousands of them in neat stacks, ready to be loaded into the trunks of pastors’ cars. “Take as many voter guides as you can, as you believe you can use effectively, giving one to every member of your church and then beyond,” says John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council.

Voter guides escape IRS limitations on campaigning for candidates on the theory that they offer voters a nonpartisan assessment of where the candidates stand on key issues. However, every voter guide I come across here has a pretty unambiguous message. The candidates from one party are in favor of “life.” Candidates from the other party apparently favor death. One party’s candidates support “religious freedom.” The other party’s candidates presumably endorse religious tyranny.

Scripture, it says, opposes public assistance to the poor as a matter of principle—unless the money passes through church coffers. God has challenged believers “to help the poor and widows and orphans,” but He expects governments to step aside. The Bible also votes against environmentalism, which is a “litany of the Green Dragon” and “one of the greatest threats to society and the church today,

According to the CIT manual, the Bible also opposes gun regulations, favors privatization of schools, and tells us that same-sex relationships are an abomination. It emphatically does not want women to have access to comprehensive, 21st century reproductive medical care. The CIT manual directs readers to additional sources. I recognize one of them, Ken Ham, an author and activist known for promoting the claim that the earth is six thousand years old.

The FRC’s manuals twist and spin a few Bible passages to prove that God opposes gun regulations, the Affordable Care Act, tax increases, public assistance (unless it passes through church coffers), climate science, and pretty much every other position associated with the Republican Party’s opponents.

The Johnson Amendment

In a curt nod to the letter of the law, the pastors are advised to talk privately with speaker Fitzgerald if they are worried about what they are legally permitted to do. “I’m telling you, you can talk about issues all day long as a pastor, you can tell people who you’re going to vote for,” she assures them. But, she cautioned, “you must not publish that information in a church newsletter or state it from the pulpit.

From her tone of voice, I can tell that Fitzgerald’s talk is haunted by the Johnson Amendment, the federal law that bars houses of worship, charitable nonprofits, and private foundations from endorsing and financially supporting political parties and candidates. Passed in 1954 at the urging of then senator Lyndon B. Johnson, the amendment was intended to prevent public money from passing through churches via tax deductions into the hands of politicians. In theory, according to the Johnson Amendment, religious organizations that engage in activities to directly sway elections could lose their tax-exempt status. It has been a favorite target of Christian nationalists, who regularly decry it as an infringement of their religious freedom.

As one of his first acts in office, President Trump vowed to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment. At the Values Voter Summit in 2018, Vice President Mike Pence boasted that the Johnson Amendment “will no longer be enforced under this administration.” But he vowed to repeal it anyway.

The point of talking up the nonexistent horror of the Johnson Amendment, in fact, is to feed the sense of persecution that is so central to Christian nationalism today. This is why Trump’s and Pence’s promises to neutralize the Johnson Amendment and to “stand up” for “religious freedom” play well to conservative Christian audiences. The narrative that government is stomping all over the rights of Christians and their churches may have little basis in fact, but it is one of the most powerful messages the movement has to drive voters to the polls.

At the Museum of the Bible, VP Mike Pence showed up to say he vowed to fight until we fully repeal the Johnson Amendment”.

North Carolina

There are three congressional districts in North Carolina in play, all currently held by Republicans, she says. One of them happens to be right here in Unionville. The Republican Party candidate in one of those districts, Mark Harris, a pastor who served as president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, is right here with us.

Earlier in the election season Harris drew national attention for sermons in which he argued that God’s straightforward message for women is that they should “submit” to their husbands and that the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.  From the stage, he urges pastors to get their congregations registered to vote. He promises to deliver a “church video” in time for Sunday. In this briefing, there is no easy place to draw the line between preacher and politician, just as there is no space between church and political party.

North Carolina is one of the states most affected by the self-inflicted reduction of Medicaid funding. Its public-school system has been deflated by the expansion of fiscally unaccountable charter networks, many of which are run by big GOP donors

The faction of Republicans that are in control is so radical that, in 2013, 14 North Carolina legislators put forward a bill, known as the Rowan County Defense of Religion Act, that declared that states are free to make laws they choose regarding religion. The U.S. Constitution’s church-state separation provision, they claimed, only applied to the federal government. Think of it as a new nullification provision, only aimed directly at the First Amendment. The bill would have allowed, say, public schools to insist that principals prove they had been “born again.” It could have mandated that candidates for public office prove weekly church attendance and that all public meetings begin with prayers that infidels will come to know the Lord.

In 2013, even in North Carolina, this bill was never going to pass, and it was promptly referred to the Committee for Rules, Calendar, and Operations, which is where wacky bills are sent to die. But passing the bill wasn’t the point of the exercise. The sponsors put it forward because they believed—rightly—that this kind of posturing is just the way to gain popularity among the right-wing evangelical base and win power in North Carolina.


In his 2008 book Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the World, Wagner explains that God has commanded true Christians to gain control of the “seven molders” or “mountains” of culture and influence, or seven areas of civilization, including government, business, education, the media, the arts and entertainment, family, and religion. “Apostles,” he says, have a “responsibility for taking dominion” over “whatever molder of culture or subdivision God has placed them in,” which he casts as “taking dominion back from Satan.” Although Wagner is not a household name outside of Christian nationalist circles, his work is broadly influential within it.   “If we can secure the judiciary, from the Supreme Court on down, we can build a firewall for our children and grandchildren that they just might scale the seven mountains of influence.

Rushdoony’s “theonomy,” or idea of a social and political order rooted in “biblical law,” has “insinuated itself in many circles. Rushdoony remains an unacknowledged leader of the Dominion and theonomist movement, a sage whose ideas continue to speak long after he has been silenced.

The Bible, says Rushdoony, commands Christians to exercise absolute dominion over the earth and all of its inhabitants. Women are destined by God to be subordinate to men; men are destined to be ruled by a spiritual aristocracy of right-thinking, orthodox Christian clerics; and the federal government is an agent of evil. Public education, in Rushdoony’s reading of the Bible, is a threat to civilization, for it “basically trains women to be men,” and represents “primitivism,” “chaos,” and “a vast ‘integration into the void.’

Some of his extreme positions, such as the idea that homosexuals, blasphemers, adulterers, incorrigible teenagers, and practitioners of “witchcraft” are all worthy of the death penalty, have been loudly repudiated by many conservative religious leaders.

The Christian homeschooling movement, which has played a role in indoctrinating fresh generations in a “biblical” worldview, is explicitly indebted to Rushdoony’s work. The Quiverfull movement, which encourages ultraconservative Christian couples to produce as many children as possible, was in large part inspired by Rushdoony.

Rushdoony did not agitate for the literal enslavement of Black Americans in his time. But as with his fellow travelers in the dominionist movement, his fascination with proslavery theology was no passing fancy. The idea that the United States is a Redeemer Nation, chosen by God; that it is tasked with becoming an orthodox Christian republic in which women are subordinate to men, education is in the hands of conservative Christians, and no one pays taxes to support Black people; that at some point in the past the nation deviated horribly from its mission and fell under the control of atheist, communist, and/or liberal elites—the stuff of proslavery theology was the life of Rushdoony’s political thought. And it remained a cornerstone of Christian nationalism. “Some people are by nature slaves and will always be so and the law requires that a slave recognize his position and accept it with grace.

William Boykin

Boykin is a living legend at events, an old warrior with an affable manner best known as the commander of the raid depicted in Black Hawk Down. Boykin seems willing to say out loud things that usually don’t come out until the bottle is nearly empty. But to view Boykin’s influence as marginal would be to underestimate the role he has played in nurturing Christian nationalist networks in the military and among “disaster relief” NGOs working abroad.  Boykin pivots from adultery to communism, which he seems to think remains the greatest threat to our nation today.

I glance over at General Boykin’s table, and it occurs to me that if the dominionist agenda calls for military action, he is a designated hitter. Once atop those seven mountains, the plan is to convert the world to Christianity and prepare for the second coming of Jesus. Which could involve an apocalyptic end for the earth, rapture for the faithful, and eternal torment for everyone else. That, it would seem, is the intended final destination of the Values Bus.

Hypermasculinity, if not always drawing from the same sources, is a leitmotif of conservative Christianity in America. The Family Research Council’s Jerry Boykin said Jesus “was a man’s man, but we feminized him in the church,”  adding, “I believe that sword he’ll be carrying when he comes back is an AR-15.

Reverend Jerry Falwell disdained androgynous, gentle representations of Jesus, insisting that his savior was hypermasculine. “Christ wasn’t effeminate,” Falwell asserted. “The man who lived on this earth was a man with muscles … Christ was a he-man!” 

Extremist Christian values

Corporal punishment. In a Capitol Ministries Bible study guide titled “God’s Word on Spanking,” one of his study guides aimed at political leaders, quotes Proverbs 23:13–14: “Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul. When rebellion is present, to speak without spanking is woefully inadequate.

Environmentalism is a “false religion” and certain initiatives to protect animal species and preserve natural resources miss the clear proclamation of God in Genesis. This position must have been encouraging to EPA head Scott Pruitt, who told the Christian Broadcasting Network that it was “wonderful” to be able to attend and participate in CapMin’s cabinet Bible study. In May 2018, reflecting on his first year in office, Pruitt celebrated the rollback of 22 environmental regulations under his watch.

Many sermons and writings leave an indisputable record of commitment to the doctrine that female subordination and “wifely submission” are ordained by God and cemented in Scripture. Women should rank yourself under husbands.  Your task is at home. A woman’s task, a woman’s work, a woman’s employment, a woman’s calling is to be at home, because working outside removes a woman from under her husband and puts her under other men to whom she is forced to submit.

Women, he has maintained, should not be allowed to teach—or be placed in positions of leadership over—men in church.

Government policy should incentivize population growth: Psalm 127:5: Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. The same passage is a favorite among conservative Christians who eschew birth control in their pursuit of very large families.

God believes in deregulation. Leaders must incentivize individuals and industries (which includes unencumbering them from the unnecessary burdens of government regulations).

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. This is justified because the economy of Rome at the time of Peter’s writing was one of slave and master. The principle however, of submitting to one’s boss carries over to today (Peter 2:18-21).  This is all music to the ears of agribusiness leaders. Major issues confront managers of agricultural concerns these days, among them government policy with respect to labor, foreign trade, water access, subsidies and other regulation. It is not surprising that industry leaders may look to a certain kind of religion for answers.

Policies that favor low regulation and minimal workers’ rights exacerbate existing wealth inequalities. But this is a feature of the system, not a bug.  It creates concentrations of wealth whose beneficiaries are determined to manipulate the political process to hold on to and enhance their privileges. On the other hand, it generates a sense of instability and anxiety among broad sectors of the wider public, which is then ripe for conversion to a religion that promises authority and order

Social welfare programs have no basis in Scripture. The responsibility to meet the needs of the poor lies first with the husband in a marriage, secondly with the family (if the husband is absent) and thirdly with the church. Nowhere does God command the institutions of government or commerce to fully support those with genuine needs.

Of course, these “Christian” ideas result in taxpayers who have to pick up the tab to provide workers’ medical care, food stamps, and other social services.

Many right-wing leaders believe that the Social Gospel movement, which infiltrated and captured many mainline Protestant denominational seminaries and their pulpits is an aberrant theology. 

The Bible requires nations to be kept separate through borders and boundaries and God frowns on illegal immigrants. 

Getting their hands on government money to turn public schools into religious schools. The purpose of the club was to convince children as young as five that they would burn for an eternity if they failed to conform to a strict interpretation of the Christian faith. The club’s organizers were offered free and better space in the evangelical church next door to our school, but they refused it; they insisted on holding the club in the public school because they knew the kids would think the message was coming from the school.

As I researched the group behind these kindergarten missionaries, I saw that they were part of a national network of clubs. I soon discovered that this network was itself just one of many initiatives to insert reactionary religion into public schools across the country. Then I realized that these initiatives were the fruit of a nationally coordinated effort not merely to convert other people’s children in the classroom but to undermine public education altogether. Belatedly, I understood that the conflict they provoked in our local community—I was hardly the only parent who found their presence in the public-school alarming—was not an unintended consequence of their activity. It was of a piece with their plan to destroy confidence in our system of education and make way for a system of religious education more to their liking.

Limited government. The more limited a government, the less corrupt it is. And the more limited the government, the more you will have individual freedom and personal responsibility. And given those things, along with hard work and talent, you can accomplish your life’s goals.

[Note: some of these ideas are ascribed in the book to particular people, but since these are common ideology in most extreme religions, I stripped the attribution out]

Destroying public education and replacing it with Christian schools. The purpose of the club was to convince children as young as five that they would burn for an eternity if they failed to conform to a strict interpretation of the Christian faith. The club’s organizers were offered free and better space in the evangelical church next door to our school, but they refused it; they insisted on holding the club in the public school because they knew the kids would think the message was coming from the school.

As I researched the group behind these kindergarten missionaries, I saw that they were part of a national network of clubs. I soon discovered that this network was itself just one of many initiatives to insert reactionary religion into public schools across the country. Then I realized that these initiatives were the fruit of a nationally coordinated effort not merely to convert other people’s children in the classroom but to undermine public education altogether. Belatedly, I understood that the conflict they provoked in our local community—I was hardly the only parent who found their presence in the public-school alarming—was not an unintended consequence of their activity. It was of a piece with their plan to destroy confidence in our system of education and make way for a system of religious education more to their liking.

Why right-wing extremist Christians like Trump

The institution of the state is an avenger of wrath and its God-given responsibility is to moralize a fallen world through the use of force. President Trump excels in these biblical criteria for leadership.

Trump, of course, is the man who by all accounts has the least claim of any public figure in recent memory to those virtues that are commonly identified as “Christian.” But that is, perhaps, precisely why leaders embrace him. While many Americans still believe that the Christian right is primarily concerned with “values,” leaders of the movement know it’s really about power. Trump’s supposedly anti-Christian attributes are in fact part of the attraction. Today’s Christian nationalists talk a good game about respecting the Constitution and America’s founders, but at bottom they prefer autocrats to democrats. Trump believes in the rule of force, not the rule of law. He is not there to uphold values but to impose the will of the tribe. He is a leader perfectly suited to the cause.

“It is God that raises up a king,” Trump evangelical advisor Paula White declared in a TV interview about her longstanding relationship with the president. After Trump won, Franklin Graham, son of the late Billy Graham and one of Trump’s most trusted evangelical advisors, declared, “God’s hand intervened.” In 2019 he announced a “special day of prayer for the President, Donald J. Trump”; the initiative was cosigned by more than 250 pastors and faith leaders.

Noting Trump’s propensity for vulgarity and name-calling, Christian TV personality Mary Colbert declared defiantly, “My Jesus was a name-caller. So get over the name-calling!” Addressing her viewers, she said, “You have to line up with what God wants.

The Trump family, too, appears to have gotten in on the act of modeling monarchical behavior. Like royal families of yore, they make little distinction between the public purse and their private interest. The Trump sons travel the world conducting Trump Organization business on the taxpayer’s dime, while son-in-law Jared Kushner has bought and sold as much as $147 million of real estate and other assets since joining the White House. Meanwhile, foreign political leaders and representatives pay for expensive rooms and hold lavish events at the Trump International Hotel. In a democracy answering to the rule of law, such corrupt and nepotistic practices would register as major scandals. In a monarchy, or pseudo-monarchy, however, they are merely business as usual.

Donald Trump at last appears on a giant television screen live via satellite from the White House Rose Garden. The crowd greets the supersize image with enthusiasm, and it is clear that many believe that God, acting through the pro-life movement, put Trump in the White House.

For Republican politicians, abortion demagoguery is the path to power in America. Donald Trump clearly grasped that fact. Most of the people here, like most of the people catching snippets of the event on the evening news, take for granted that it is the way things have always been. Except that it isn’t.

The movement settled on abortion as its litmus test sometime after that decision for reasons that had more to do with politics than embryos. It then set about changing the religion of many people in the country in order to serve its new political ambitions. From the beginning, the “abortion issue” has never been just about abortion. It has also been about dividing and uniting to mobilize votes for the sake of amassing political power.

Christian nationalists and their allies continue to stand behind the most corrupt, divisive, and chaotic president in history because they believe that he can supply, via the courts, the abortion ban that they see as a necessary prelude to making America a righteous nation again.

Religion manifesting in government

The dividends in policy have already begun to show. In 2018, Capitol Ministries Bible study group member Jeff Sessions issued guidelines for the Justice Department giving religious individuals and groups “protections to express their beliefs” when they come into conflict with government regulations

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has also attended CapMin Bible study, also seems to be allowing his personal religious beliefs to influence American policy. Pompeo held a State Department telephone conference restricted to reporters from “faith-based media only.” No transcript was provided, and the list of invitees was not disclosed.

The Movement’s beginning

In the 1970s right-wing religious and political leaders got together. Some of the more vocal members of the group included Southern Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell; conservative activists Ed McAteer and Paul Weyrich; Nixon appointee Howard Phillips; attorney Alan P. Dye; and Robert J. Billings, an educator and organizer who would later serve as Ronald Reagan’s liaison to the Christian right. This was an angry group of men.

They were angry at the establishment conservatives, the Rockefeller Republicans, for siding with the liberals and taking down their hero, Barry Goldwater; they were angry about the rising tide of feminism, which they saw as a menace to the social order; and about the civil rights movement and the danger it posed to segregation, especially in education.

Weyrich came to be known as the “evil genius” of the movement—or sometimes “the Lenin of social conservatism”—and Viguerie, who is considered the pioneer of political direct mail, came to be known as its “funding father.” From the beginning, the New Right sought radical change. They would establish themselves “first as the opposition, then the alternative, finally the government,” according to Conservative Caucus chair Howard Phillips. “We will not try to reform the existing institutions. We only intend to weaken them and eventually destroy them. We will maintain a constant barrage of criticism against the Left. We will attack the very legitimacy of the Left. We will not give them a moment’s rest … We will use guerrilla tactics to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant regime.

“I don’t want everybody to vote,” Weyrich said at a gathering in the fall of 1980. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

At the core of the concerns of the New Right was the perception that American capitalism was under dire threat from mortal enemies—some of them internal, some external, most of them communist.

Schlafly also gave voice to another motivating concern of the emerging right-wing consensus: the specter of feminism. Schlafly rose to prominence in her campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment. The feminist movement, she asserted, “is the most destructive element in our society.

Just as reformers around the turn of the century had deployed the Social Gospel on behalf of progressive causes, Martin Luther King Jr. has used his pulpit to mobilize change. If the right could access the religious vote, Weyrich reasoned, power would be in its grasp. Together with Phillips, he devoted “countless hours cultivating electronic ministers like Jerry Falwell, Jim [James] Robison, and Pat Robertson, urging them to get involved in conservative politics.

How abortion became an issue

In the late 1970s, following a string of court cases, the IRS began to threaten the tax-exempt status of religious groups running race-segregated schools.

It would be hard to overestimate the degree of outrage that the threat of losing their tax-advantaged status on account of their segregationism provoked. As far as leaders like Bob Jones Sr. were concerned, they had a God-given right not just to separate the races but also to receive federal money for the purpose. Emerging leaders of the New Right were prepared to defend them. They began to meet regularly, to discuss politics, and to look for ways to make their voices heard in Washington.

Building a new movement around the burning issue of defending the tax advantages of racist schools wasn’t going to be a viable strategy on the national stage. “Stop the tax on segregation” just wasn’t going to inspire the kind of broad-based conservative counterrevolution that Weyrich envisioned. They needed an issue with a more acceptable appeal.

What message would bring the movement together? The men of Lynchburg considered a variety of unifying issues and themes. School prayer worked for some, but it tended to alienate the Catholics, who remembered all too well that, for many years, public schools had allowed only for Protestant prayers and Bible readings while excluding Catholic readings and practices. Bashing communists was fine, but even the Rockefeller Republicans could do that. Taking on “women’s liberation” was attractive, but the Equal Rights Amendment was already going down in flames. At last they landed upon the one surprising word that would supply the key to the political puzzle of the age: “abortion.

As the historian and author Randall Balmer writes, “It wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools.

More than a decade later, Weyrich recalled the moment well. At a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by a religious right organization called the Ethics and Public Policy Center (to which Balmer had been invited to attend), Weyrich reminded his fellow culture warriors of the facts: “Let us remember, he said animatedly, that the Religious Right did not come together in response to the Roe decision. No, Weyrich insisted, what got us going was the attempt on the part of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policies.

Abortion henceforth would be the key to unlocking power for the conservative movement.

But before it could be used to control the future, it was necessary first to change the past. The flock would have to learn to forget that for decades abortion was just one among many moral concerns, and it played little role in dividing the faithful from the damned.

When abortion was criminalized across most of the United States in the late 19th century, the sentiments of the Catholic Church had little to do with it. Two groups in particular spearheaded the antiabortion cause. The first was Protestant nativists who feared an onslaught of immigrant and Catholic babies and saw a ban on abortion as a way of producing the more “desirable” kind of babies. Leaders of the eugenics movement, too, were initially hostile to both abortion and birth control, fearing they would suppress the birth rates of wealthy, “better” women. According to historian Leslie J. Reagan, professor of history at the University of Illinois, “White male patriotism demanded that maternity be enforced among white Protestant women.

Storer, who sought to reverse widespread acceptance of early abortion. Storer also railed against the education of girls, asserting that “To stimulate a girl’s brain to the utmost, during the access of puberty, is a positive loss to the State.” In a widely distributed tract, he lamented that “abortions are infinitely more frequent among Protestant women than among Catholic women and wondered whether America’s western and southern territories would be “filled with our own children or by those of aliens?

By the middle of the twentieth century, abortion was both mostly illegal and yet widely practiced in the United States. Somewhere between 200,000 and 1.2 million procedures took place every year (estimates vary), with a large number occurring in unsafe circumstances.

In 1965 deaths from illegal abortion still accounted for 17% of all deaths attributed to childbirth and pregnancy.

Feminists in the second wave saw the criminalization of abortion as an intrusion on women’s right to bodily autonomy and private decision-making regarding health and family. Many religious leaders agreed with them, and came together to form the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, which assisted women in obtaining abortions from licensed medical professionals. The effort to reform laws criminalizing abortion was also driven by public health–minded doctors, who pointed out that the risk of injury and death from illegal abortion “disproportionately harmed poor women and women of color, who could not afford to pay the ‘right’ doctor or travel to a jurisdiction where abortion was legal,

The abortion battles of the middle decades of the twentieth century did not divide the religious against the secular, nor did they divide one party from the other. On the contrary, as Daniel K. Williams, professor of history at the University of West Georgia, points out: “The early political battles over abortion in state legislatures pitted Catholic antiabortion lobbyists against Protestant proponents of abortion law liberalization, with most Republican legislators siding with the Protestants.

As Williams goes on to note, “many Republicans supported the liberalization of state abortion laws, believing that abortion law reform accorded well with the party’s tradition of support for birth control, middle-class morality, and Protestant values.” Billy Graham echoed widely shared Protestant sentiments when he said in 1968, “In general, I would disagree with [the Catholic stance],” adding, “I believe in planned parenthood.” Indeed, the most liberal abortion law in the country was signed in 1967 by California’s Republican governor, Ronald Reagan.

The 1971 convention of the Southern Baptists endorsed a resolution calling for the legalization of abortion to preserve the “emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother” as well as in cases of rape, incest, and “deformity.

As for abortion, it mattered, too, as one part of the alleged attack on family values and the dignity of women’s traditional role within it. “Since women must bear the physical consequences of the sex act, men must be required to bear the other consequences and pay in other ways,” Schlafly said. Laws and customs, she added, “decree that a man must carry his share by physical protection and financial support of his children and of the woman who bears his children, and also by a code of behavior which benefits and protects both the woman and the children.”

The first lady, Betty Ford, hailed it as a “great, great decision.” Conservative senator Barry Goldwater—Paul Weyrich’s beau ideal of the modern statesman—also initially hailed its passage. “I think abortion should be legalized because whether it is legal or not, women are going to have it done,” he wrote in a draft of a letter to a constituent in 1973.

Public opinion polls at the time showed that a greater percentage of Republican voters were pro-choice than their Democratic counterparts.

The closing of the Republican mind took more than a decade. A pro-choice movement persisted in the Republican Party all the way up through the early 1990s. Yet it grew increasingly isolated and forlorn. At the Republican National Convention in 1996, the influence of Christian conservatives had become so strong that pro-choice Republicans Weld and Wilson were “bumped from prime speaking roles.

In order to achieve political unity around abortion, the leaders of the emerging Christian nationalist movement understood, it was also necessary to change the deep frame of American religion.

The movement appeared to understand was that the greatest danger to the antiabortion party might come from liberal Christian thinkers. The Bible and 2,000 years of Christian apologetics, after all, has provided ample material to those who argue that abortion rights are compatible with Christian belief and practice. It was therefore necessary to purge theology of any position inconsistent with the idea that all the moral and religious attributes of human life are invested in the zygote at the moment of fertilization. This in turn meant making “life begins at conception” something close to a foundational doctrine

Evangelists attack Mainstream Religion

In their 2007 book, Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right Is Hijacking Mainstream Religion, Sheldon Culver and John Dorhauer assert the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) used “covert methods” to wage a shadow war on mainline churches such as the United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Church of Christ. “In alliance with fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, the IRD uses trained activists, skillfully developed propaganda and clandestine tactics to infiltrate and hijack—or ‘steeplejack’—mainline churches in order to force out ‘liberal leadership’ and replace it with those who share their conservative world view,” according to Culver and Dorhauer. Through the use of same-sex marriage as a wedge issue, congregations are persuaded to separate from their denomination, the authors say, and when possible to seize control of the church-owned real estate and take it out of the denomination, too.

In her foreword to their book, the author and journalist Michelle Goldberg, whose 2006 book Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism foretold the political crisis of the present moment, echoed the alarm. “It’s hard to tell this story without sounding like a conspiracy theorist—it is, after all, a tale of power-seeking reactionaries enacting a plan to infiltrate and undermine established institutions,” she pointed out. “Yet Culver and Dorhauer have carefully marshaled evidence linking fights in individual congregations to larger organizations like the Institute on Religion and Democracy.” Just as planned, Goldberg notes, “right-wing groups have formed parallel organizations inside mainline congregations all over the country, often attempting coups against more liberal church leadership.” The outcome of these struggles, she says, “will determine whether America’s historic Protestant churches remain firm voices for social justice or become mere adjuncts of the political right.

In conversation with me, the historian Diana Butler Bass, whose books include Standing Against the Whirlwind: Evangelical Episcopalians in Ninetheenth-Century America, describes concurrent efforts to bring the Episcopalian church, too, under more conservative leadership. “On the national level, there were people who were troubled by what they saw as a turn away from orthodoxy,” she says. “They abandoned the traditional policy structure of elected representatives and adopted a strategy of succession in order to have as many dioceses as possible secede and form the ‘true’ Episcopal church, and thus leave the old Episcopal church, with gay people and women leaders, in the dust.” These conflicts, Bass notes, “function as predictors, or canaries in the coal mine, about larger political movements.

Christian Coalition & Church United: a vehicle intended for the control of the Republican Party.

By working from the grassroots up and training pro-family candidates for public office, the group set out to reshape Republican politics. Communicating the message to voters in innovative ways, such as papering church parking lots with voter guides and penning lurid fund-raising appeals warning of “a feminist agenda … that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians,” they had an outsized influence in primaries and elections.

By the election of 2016, the creation of a new American religion of “life” and its merger with a single political party was plain for all to see. Every presidential candidate for the Republican nomination took a stand against abortion and disagreed only on whether rape, incest, and life-of-the-mother exceptions should be allowed.

A number of the more farsighted leaders are therefore making a conscious effort to include and empower conservative Christians of color. At the very least, they are doing what they can to collect their votes.  But this won’t change quickly. Many of the southern white evangelical groups that remain entrenched in the national leadership of the religious right hail from a tradition that long maintained the separation of the races is central to the Bible’s plan.

A substantial number of Church United gatherings are conducted in the Spanish language, and the organization has spawned at least one affiliate, Alianza de Pastores Unidos de San Diego, whose members minister to largely Spanish-speaking audiences.

The testosterone rhetoric favored by the Christian Right reflected a renewed forcefulness in cultural and political engagement as well as anxieties about gender, sexuality, and family structure that preoccupy religious nationalists around the world.  Today, many conservative evangelical networks promote the idea of “male headship” at church and in the home as part of “God’s created design”—even as more women than men fill their pews.

Church United members meet with elected officials to discuss issues of local and statewide concern and attend gatherings at the state and national capitols. They also offer support to the growing numbers of Christian nationalists holding public office. “Briefings” draw representatives of church and state together, so that “members of Congress, the California Legislature, and county and city elected officials speak to the pastors about their faith and how they implement a biblical worldview in policy.

California may look to the world like a blue state. But one in five adults are evangelical Christian, and the state has more megachurches than any other.

“For the evangelical church right now, membership is no longer based on color,” Onishi notes. “It is also not really based in religion anymore, either. Your litmus test for religious belonging comes via your political beliefs. 

At a church in San Diego, Craig Huey, a business man shouts to the Spanish crowd (with an interpreter translation). “Muslims vote 84% but only 40% of Christians did in California. As a result, we see our Christian rights going away. As the audience groans, he runs through a litany of frothy complaints: “Recently they tried to stop homeschooling. They tried to ban the Bible. They just almost passed a bill in California that would have put out of business Christian colleges, like Azusa, Biola, because the people in Sacramento, like many of those in Congress and the Senate and in Washington, D.C., have an ideology that discriminates against Christians and want to take away our rights.” To judge from the sighs in the crowd, it appears that these preposterous allegations are accepted here as mostly true.

California churches do not pay for abortions. But this sham narrative has become a popular talking point for the California Family Council and is perhaps too valuable in activating the base to set aside just because it’s not true.

“Listen, parents, pastors, leaders, there’s no opt out of sex education. Your child must go through this curriculum.” This, too, is a bending of the truth.  Inflammatory handouts are given to the audience.

Laura Dudnick, a representative from the San Francisco Unified School District, she tells me that none of the graphics or materials on the Christian handout are used in any district public school in the manner implied by organizers of this event. 

Not true. There is no single course on offer. Rather, there are multiple courses and curriculum materials in use in various districts. Parents are legally allowed to opt out of lessons about comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention in their entirety—and many of them do. What they may not opt out of is assemblies on bullying and harassment or social studies classes that discuss the contributions of LGBT people in history.  

Activists trying to break the link between Latinos and the Democratic Party try to undermine unions and other progressive sources with questions like: “Is it because you think that when Democrats offer you free stuff, it means they really care about you?

Meetings with congressmen are often arranged with assistance from the Christian legal firm Advocates for Faith & Freedom, which also acts as a sponsor of the tours. “Most of the politicians were extremely encouraged by their visit from the pastors,” according to a report from one such gathering. “God definitely had His hand in the connection made between the pastors and their elected officials!

Early American history

Southern Presbyterians resolved at a conference: “We hesitate not to affirm that it is the peculiar mission of the Southern Church to conserve the institution of slavery, and to make it a blessing both to master and slave.

The period around the American Revolution was, by most accounts, a low point for fundamentalism and a high one for freedom of thought and what was considered heresy. In a letter to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse dated June 26, 1822, Thomas Jefferson famously predicted that all Americans would shortly convert to Unitarianism, and Thomas Paine went even further, suggesting that they would abandon all traditional religions in favor of a pure deism, or religion of nature and reason.

In the decades following the Revolution, an evangelical surge rolled across the landscape, sweeping aside the Unitarians and other liberal religionists and installing hardline Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist sects that, while often popular in their rhetoric and methods, promoted literalism and absolute submission to authority in their doctrines.

The new generation of leaders promoted a theological vision that emphasized the divine origins of the existing order, which invariably involved domination and subordination, always of men over women, and frequently of white people over Black people, too.

Religious abolitionists tended to be a distinctly disempowered minority in their own denominations.

“Southern clergymen,” according to the author and historian Mitchell Snay, “emphatically countered that slavery was sanctioned in the Bible.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the proslavery theology was its fusion of religion with a racialized form of nationalism. Indeed, Christian nationalism came of age in the American slave republic. In the eyes of proslavery theologians, the United States was the “Redeemer Nation”—a “nation which God’s own hand hath planted, and on which He has, therefore, peculiar and special claims,

When the United States was divided by Civil War, God’s hand unmistakably settled on the Confederate States of America, which was understood to be waging a holy war on behalf of Christian civilization against the impious Union.

The “Social Gospel,” as Rushdoony understood it, is the mistaken belief that Christianity would have us use the power of government to reform society along lines that conform with Jesus’s teachings about loving thy neighbor.

How Corporate America created Republican Jesus

To combat the horrors of the New Deal, Fifield proposed to energize the nation’s Protestant pastors. In 1935 he cofounded and led the Mobilization for Spiritual Ideals, also known as Spiritual Mobilization. His ambition was to broadcast from pulpits and radio stations a simple message: business has a friend in Jesus, and government is the enemy of God and man. He had a theology to back it up, but it was uncomplicated. The welfare state violated several of the Ten Commandments, but especially the Eighth. When New Dealers used the power of government to restrain business and take from the rich to give to the poor, he argued, this was a clear violation of God’s word: Thou shalt not steal.

In Fifield’s mind, the Social Gospel was just another word for communism, and it had to be stopped. Fifield understood that in a world that had just witnessed catastrophic economic collapse where government had indeed proved vital in rescuing workers, his views would not command immediate support. How would he make this unpopular doctrine appealing?

The secret sauce was money. With a talent for whispering into the ears of plutocrats, Fifield secured major funding for his activities from the moguls of the Sun Oil Company, Chrysler, and General Motors, among others to reach out to evangelical preachers with a theology that lionized business, demonized labor unions, public education, affordable health care, redistributive programs like Medicare and SSN, and anything that required government to work on behalf of the people.  

Christian Nationalism

The most obvious paradox of Christian nationalism is that it preaches love but practices intolerance and even hate. They love and care for their children, volunteer and then seek to punish those who are different that don’t conform to their ideas of righteousness, especially anyone championing social justice.  They would like to have religious or theocratic government rather than a democracy, to be achieved by taking over the court system and the rest of government and turning it over to Bible believers.

Falwell epitomizes the mix of love and hate. He regularly spewed toxins, as when he blamed the abortionists, feminists, gays, and lesbians for the September 11 attacks.

Christian nationalists are heavily involved in Texas and other states textbooks, and work hard to promote a Bible Curriculum in public schools.  They get jobs at military base newspapers and slant the news there as well.

Bible translations

“Some people revere the King James version like they were the precise words of, say, Paul, written in English rather than Greek,” he says, “as opposed to a translation that has been updated as we make advances in the field of translation and scholarship. I think it’s about familiarity and fear. People memorized those specific words when they were children, and now, if those words change, the fear is everything else might be up for grabs.” The greatest terrors of translation, in Chris’s view, have to do with sex. New words could mean a new gender order. “In Romans there’s a woman named Junia, whom Paul said was outstanding among the apostles,” he explains. “Many early writers believed that she was indeed a woman. At some point, though, there was this thought that ‘apostle’ wasn’t a role women should have, and you see a masculine form of the name, ‘Junias,’ start to appear. Some translations highlight this tension in the footnotes, but others don’t mention it. She just became a man.

Oh no!  Organic girl produce is owned by hard right Capitol Ministries. Boycott! 

When a Whole Foods shopper reaches for a package of Organicgirl premium salad mix, she might be under the illusion that its contents were brought to market by a yoga mama with rainbow flags on her hydroponic greenhouse. But to anyone sitting at the table here in Tulare, these kings of the organics business are very much on board with the hard-right religion and even harder-right politics of Capitol Ministries.

Abortion view of a closet, more liberal Baptist preacher (some are reasonable)

“Do we not owe people more than simply reducing ‘pro-life’ to one issue?  I mean, no one wants babies to die. No one is ‘pro-abortion.’ That is a false dichotomy. Do we not owe more to people than to force them into one box or another? As much as abortion is a pro-life issue, so is affordable health care, access to contraceptives, and real, comprehensive sex education. Minimum wage. Fighting poverty. These should all be part of the ‘pro-life’ conversation.” Chris falls into silence for a few minutes, then speaks again. “And shouldn’t we show compassion to people regardless of how they identify? They, too, are made in God’s image. We find in Scripture the imperative to love our neighbors and care for the least of these. That is by far one of the clearest messages we receive

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Republicans way ahead of Democrats on voter data

Preface.  This is a book review and Kindle notes of Nelson’s “Shadow Network:  Media, money and the secret hub of the Radical Right”. It tells the sad history of how Republicans got Trump elected and took over the House, and Senate and Supreme court as well. I don’t cover some of the most interesting parts of what happened in this book review such as how on earth the evangelists went from reviling Trump to voting for him since it would take too many pages to tell, but it’s a good story, buy the book. 

Basically the willingness of fundamentalists, evangelists, and conservative Catholics to vote for Trump was due to being able to reshape the judiciary, roll back abortion rights, gay marriage, gun laws, environmental regulations; abolish federal agencies, assail IRS restrictions on churches’ right to operate as tax-free political platforms, allow gerrymandering and redistricting, and remove the system of checks and balances designed by the founders to guard against extremism. They were keen to slash food stamps, the department of education, department of Agriculture, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Health & Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, Center for Disease Control, State Department, and Environmental Protection Agency in exchange for a few crumbs of tax refunds, and the $2 trillion tax cut that mainly went to the top 1% was designed to cause higher deficits making it easier to cut the social safety net programs.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Nelson, A. 2019. Shadow Network: Media, money and the secret hub of the Radical Right. Bloomsbury publishing.

Republican data mining

In 2009 the Koch brothers gave $2.5 million to the Themis Trust voter database using a company called i360, which networked the Koch organizations, Council for National Policy, and dozens of affiliated organizations. The target audiences were concentrated in sparsely populated states between the coasts where their votes could tip the Senate Republican.  It was known that people were more likely to respond to digital prompts to act or vote when combined with sustained interactions with members of their social circles.  The i360 data tracked voters’ marital status, interest in weight loss, cholesterol levels, preference for internet ads and outdoor ads, hearing difficulty, home equity, household income, and a category called “Bible” so that canvassers would have an excellent idea of who would answer and offered them a tailored script. 

The digital strategy was integrated into its messaging through extremist radio and TV stations, with no equivalent at all on the Democratic side.

In 2012 the group United in Purpose (UIP) obtained leaked data on 191 million registered voters including names, contact information, and voting records.  Then another online breach produced 18 million individuals with data including religious views, hobbies of hunting, a “bible lifestyle” and more.  This data was made available to church pastors who wanted to know what percent of their congregation was registered to vote. Those that weren’t were called on by other members who asked them to register and reminded them to show up at the polls. 

The UP app assigned points for sympathies from homeschooling to an affinity for NASCAR.  Any score over 600 indicated a religious, conservative person.  These people were then run against the voter registration database, and non-voters especially singled out to target.  Five million unregistered conservative voters of the 25 million known conservatives were found this way, and UIP and partners went door to door to register them. Two-thirds of them lived in the south and Midwest, with a median age of around 60 and mainly white.  Nearly 90% attend a Protestant church and have a biblical view (versus just 1% of the rest of the U.S.) and 90% are married.

In 2015 Ted Cruz developed a sophisticated political app with a database from voter files, the NRA, consumer sources, and Cambridge Analytics full of thousands of data points about each person.  When approached by phone or door-to-door canvassers, the message was crafted depending on each person. If they were in the NRA and neurotic then a pitch emphasizing the menace of home invaders and a firearm was used, or if they held more traditional values then given heart-warming messages about hunting as treasured family time.  When users downloaded it, the app asked for access to the phone’s entire directory of contacts. Those who were already Cruz supporters were then asked to reach out to contacts on this list, since they were likely potential supporters.  By February of 2016, 300,000 potential supporters were matched with already active supporters.  This data was supplemented with political surveys about themselves, their acquaintances, and data culled from their activities on the phone.  The app was gamified and awarded points for actions such as sharing contacts and making phone calls that led to badges ranging from “bald Eagle” to “U.S. Constitution” and rewards of bumper stickers, t-shirts, and tickets to opening-night screens of Star Wars. 

Meanwhile the RNC and Koch operations had made huge advances in data collection to add to their i360 database that they sold to Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, the NRA, and others.  At this point a pool of 38 million born-again Christians who hadn’t voted in the previous two presidential elections were identified, despite 26 million of whom were already registered to vote.  These targeted voters received almost 1 billion digital contacts via social media, emails and more.  Conservative radio and TV stations got 99% of fundamentalist conservatives to believe that the mainstream media reporting on the election was unfair and biased.

On top of that, the NRA had launched a project called Trigger the Vote based on their secret database of gun owners assembled from state and local lists of gun permits and purchasing lists from gun shows and magazines.  They tracked tens of millions of gun owners, most of them without their knowledge.  Many of the non-voters within the NRA weren’t evangelists or cared about same-sex marriage, so the NRA database offered yet another avenue to getting out the Republican vote.

Both the NRA and i360 databases were augmented with Cambridge Analytica data.

In contrast, the MiniVAN app democratic volunteers in Texas, New York and California used had voting history, address, phone number, sometimes party registration, and the last time they voted.  New information was noted on paper forms passed on to be digitally recorded.  Lower-level candidates couldn’t afford to use this app.  Other apps didn’t coordinate, such as Voter Circle, Tuesday Company, Team, Polis and Hootsuite. None could compete with Republican apps, and didn’t have access to Cambridge Analytica data.  Nor did Democrats have a vast network of churches, radio, and TV stations to reach voters like the Republicans.

This culminated in a state-of-the-art app using a database of over 250 million 18+ adults, including the 190 million who registered to vote.  The app was augmented and by grassroots organizers from the NRA, Tea Party, tens of thousands of fundamentalist pastors, right-wing radio and TV stations, and social media.

Three days before the Iowa caucuses, the Ted Cruz app asked users to send out 230, 000 invitations, and share get-out-the-vote messages on Facebook and Twitter. In the final 24 hours the app served out over 850,000 requests to the 11,000 supporters online.  The Family Research Council also had an app that they urged their users to support Ted Cruz.  Since evangelicals made up two-thirds of the Iowa Republican caucuses, Cruz won.

Republicans also learned a vital lesson Democrats apparently had missed: the most effective way to reach a voter was through a printed—not online—guide, delivered by hand, preferably by a member of the community.  Over 112,000 churches, a third of all the churches and other groups distributed more than six million voter guides in 12 swing states to get out the vote.  This resulted in a record-breaking vote in Republican primaries from 1.4 million new voters registered since 2012.

Trump used a very simple app called the uCampaign based on the British Brexit Vote Leave app. The fundamentalists, NRA, and Americans for Prosperity also used uCampaign to get out the vote.  Like the Cruz app, user’s phone directories were mined.  After a download, the app sent pre-scripted messages to the contact list, which is very powerful, family, coworkers, and friends got the texts.  It could match the address books to voter data file and send specific messages to those in other swing states. Over 150,000 Trump supporters downloaded the app and messages were sent to three million contacts.

And there are too many more Republican apps to list for state and local campaigns.   

Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign was making all kinds of mistakes (see “Shattered” Inside Hillary Clinton’s doomed campaign for details).  A critical mistake was to not emphasize the votes of the undecideds and understand why they felt undecided, and all the registered voters who stayed home, while Trump got more voters to turn out.

Council for National Policy (CNP).

Nelson writes: “Through my research, I discovered the rapidly evolving ties connecting the manpower and media of the Christian right with the finances of Western plutocrats and the strategy of right-wing Republican political operatives. Many of their connections were made through a secretive organization called the Council for National Policy, which, as one member has said, brings together the “donors and the doers.” The CNP was founded in 1981 by a small group of archconservatives who realized that the tides of history had turned against them. They represented an American past dominated by white Protestant male property owners. They dreamed of restoring a 19th century patriarchy that limited the civil rights of women, minorities, immigrants, and workers, with no income tax to vex the rich or social safety net to aid the poor.

Now they faced a future in which minorities, women, gays, and atheists were gaining in number, rights, and political influence. If the country abided by a clear-cut democratic process, these constituencies, leaning Democratic, would consolidate their power based on majority rule. So the CNP decided to change the rules. This task would require developing a long-range strategy to target critical districts and activate previously unengaged voting blocs. But, as author David Daley has pointed out, the conservatives faced a deadline: once Democratic-leaning youth and minorities reached a decisive majority—which could be as early as 2031—there might be no turning back. The CNP spent decades building a framework to advance its agenda. One pillar has been its ability to master the basic rules of media and write new ones.

The CNP set its sights on the Republican Party, conducting a decades-long crusade to promote right-wing extremists and drive moderates out of office.”

Groups run by CNP members and their favored candidates benefit from a subsidized, turnkey digital package. Their coordinated apps collaborate across platforms and weave seemingly independent groups into tightly networked operations. These measures played a significant role in the 2016 surprise and continue to affect the electoral landscape today. The CNP’s preferred Republican candidate that year was Senator Ted Cruz, but when Donald Trump won the nomination, the movement turned on a dime, delivering its national network of media and manpower to carry his message, in return for his promise to advance its policy objectives. The impact of this network was borne out again in key races in the 2018 midterm elections, and can be anticipated for 2020.

Digital tools are unlikely to be effective if they are not rooted in social relationships. The movement has benefited from the gradual decline of mainline Protestant denominations and the rapid growth of the evangelical population over the past half century. Pastors have been wooed, pressured, and sometimes bullied to adopt increasingly political stands.

Family Research Council (FRC)

Many pastors continued to be uncomfortable with preaching politics from the pulpit, and the Family Research Council offered them a menu of arguments and workarounds. One video, narrated by Tony Perkins, listed religious figures who challenged authority, including Moses, Elijah, and John the Baptist, demanding, “Were these men of God throughout history being too political?” FRC voter guides scrupulously avoided endorsing candidates in a literal fashion; they simply rated candidates according to their criteria, which led to an inescapable conclusion in favor of Republicans.

The FRC also produced compelling antiabortion videos to show in the church. They even offered a menu of ready-made sermons, including PowerPoint presentations written by Perkins and his partners for download and delivery from the pulpit.

The Family Research Council sponsored regional briefings with names like “Keep God in Texas.” In 2003 Watchmen on the Wall hosted its first national conference, which became an annual event. Pastors and their wives enjoyed a heavily subsidized three-day junket in Washington at the swanky Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. There they received FRC policy briefings, training sessions, and a “Spiritual Heritage Tour” of the U.S. Capitol. Then they were dispatched to Capitol Hill to carry the FRC message to their congressmen, whose office addresses were helpfully listed in the conference program. The materials also included painstaking guidelines for the legal boundaries for church politicking, and tips for setting up a “Culture Impact Team” in the home church. The orientation materials included a budget—suggesting that pastors should contribute 1% of their church’s undesignated receipts to the Family Research Council.

The pastors’ training sessions instructed them in methods not only for getting their congregants to the polls but also for extending their influence to family and friends and recruiting their followers to run for political office. Any churchgoer who was misguided enough to support a Democrat was pounded with messaging on the twin virtues of “sanctity of life” (antiabortion) and “sanctity of marriage” (anti-same-sex marriage). The FRC website added a downloadable “Election Prayer Guide” asking worshippers to “pray that America’s Christians will all register to vote” and cast their votes based on candidates’ “biblical values,” in order to elect “godly men and women as leaders who fear the Lord and honor Him.

The iVoter guides (  from of the FRC & of the

Southern Baptists) defined the issues, and their wording influenced the reactions. At the top of their list they placed appointing conservative [or “originalist”] judges and banning same-sex marriage. Environmental issues were not worthy of mention.

But by making pastors and churches their vehicles of distribution, the iVoter guides gave their recommendations the imprimatur of spiritual leaders—perhaps even an air of divine authority.

The FRC website had a national pastors network that grew from a base of 1,800 pastors to 75,000. Many were located in critical swing states, including Wisconsin (with 891 members), Michigan (1,778), Pennsylvania (2,464), and Florida (7,372). In a tight race, a cohort of pastors who influenced as few as fifty votes apiece could swing an election.

Extremist Radio & TV network

I found that as local and regional newspapers collapsed over the early 2000s, media owned by CNP members rushed to fill the vacuum. They developed a sophisticated strategy, starting with local radio, an old-fashioned but powerful medium that had been written off too soon by the CNP’s opposition.

Three key players dominate this landscape: Salem Media Group, Bott Radio Network, and the American Family Radio networks. Over the years they have connected their holdings to a cohort of pastors, politicians, and tycoons, creating an armada of radio stations and news outlets loyal to the CNP’s political agenda, and selling millions of Americans on its harsh combination of plutocracy and theocracy.

American Family Radio preaches the dangers of modern science and “moral decay”: “The complete absence of transitional fossils disprove evolution,” it tells listeners, and reports that “God agrees … that homosexuality should be against the law.” Because these stations’ audiences have lost or abandoned professional news outlets—and because their interests had been ignored by major national media—they are more vulnerable than ever. Over time, the media empire has expanded its reach into Fox News operations and grown to include fundamentalist television broadcasting, digital platforms, book publishing, and feature-film production. The “wallpaper effect” of wraparound media can have a powerful impact. Abraham Hamilton III, host of American Family Radio’s Hamilton Corner, described the October 1, 2017, mass shooting in Las Vegas as “Satan’s work,” immune to legislation. The Democrats, he complained, were “exploiting” the victims by calling for hearings on gun control. This charge was repeated, often in the same language, by other CNP-affiliated political and media figures across platforms, including the Daily Signal, the Hillsdale Collegian, and Fox News’ Todd Starnes Show.8 The cumulative effect is the creation of a parallel universe of information.

Of Nebraska’s 220 radio stations, at least 50 are religious, and many belong to members of the CNP. By comparison, the state has only eleven NPR stations. Crossing the Great Plains, a driver can go for miles without a public radio signal, but he’ll never be far from fundamentalist broadcasting—or messaging inspired by the CNP. Media played a critical role in the CNP agenda. It was well and good for Weyrich, Viguerie, and Blackwell to recruit millions of evangelical voters. But they needed a way to reach them that complemented their pastors’ sermons, not encroached on them.

Salem found a new way to monetize religion. Other radio outlets depended on advertising for 95% of their revenue, subject to the state of the economy. Less than half of Salem’s revenue came from traditional advertising; most of it came from selling blocks of time to scores of religious organizations that solicited contributions from the listenership. Over time, the definition of “religious” customers evolved to encompass partisan organizations tied to the Council for National Policy.

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA, pronounced “D-shay”), was promoted by Senator Orrin Hatch. Hatch and his family had extensive involvement in the nutritional supplements industry, which is based in Hatch’s home state of Utah. DSHEA prevented the FDA from regulating harmful or fraudulent supplements before they hit the market. The Los Angeles Times concluded, “The harvest [of DSHEA] has been a public health disaster.” It also created an advertising revenue stream for online and broadcast outlets of various persuasions. American Family Radio run ads for vitamins and medical and dietary supplements, many of them directed at the elderly.

In 2005 journalist Adam Piore published a detailed history of Salem’s strategy called “A Higher Frequency” in Mother Jones magazine. Piore reported that between 1998 and 2004, Atsinger, Epperson, and their company offered $423,000 in federal campaign contributions, 96 percent of it to Republicans. This rendered them the sixth largest donor in the industry.30 In 2000 Atsinger, Epperson, and a colleague donated $780,000 toward a California state ballot initiative to oppose gay marriage.

Evangelicals tended to distrust psychology, but Fundamentalist psycologist, James Dobson, who hosted a radio program called Focus on the Family, embraced the field as his calling.  Like many right-wing spokesmen, he embraced corporal punishment to discipline children using a switch or a paddle to deliver spanking of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely.” Dobson took similarly harsh stands against homosexuality, abortion, and pornography, clinging to positions that were increasingly discredited by the medical establishment. He claimed that “no credible scientific research has substantiated the claim that homosexuality is genetic or innate.” Instead, he held that it was usually the result of “a home where the mother is dominating, overprotective, and possessive while the father rejects or ridicules the child.” Dobson was no fan of feminism. “A good part of my professional life,” he noted, “has been devoted to trying to straighten out some of the feminist distortions about marriage and parenting and to address the relationships between men and our women in our society.

Dorothy Patterson—wife of the Conservative Resurgence leader Paige Patterson—told audiences that “A wife was created from the beginning to be a helper to her husband,” she told his listeners. “That functional role … is one of subjection, it is one of submission.

Radio offered an obvious advantage for the fundamentalist strategists. Over the postwar period, the American landscape was covered by an interstate highway system. Americans commuted in their cars, ate in their cars, courted in their cars—often with the radio on. Epperson and Atsinger systematically expanded the Salem network across the country, station by station.

But the Christian Science Monitor noted that while Pat Robertson’s broadcasts didn’t endorse specific candidates, they could (and did) “insinuate” endorsements on the air. Fundamentalist media was becoming a political force. The Monitor reported that Christian broadcasters ran around 1,300 radio stations in the United States (one out of every seven); a third of commercial publishing was evangelical, and that the outcome of the election “may ultimately depend on the impact of the so-called ‘electronic church,’ the far-reaching Christian broadcast networks.” Viguerie predicted that born-again evangelicals could become “the strongest force in American politics in the next few years.

The advent of cable television—combined with the demise of the Fairness Doctrine—represented a bonanza for the radical right. Many critics have focused on Fox News, launched in 1996, but the fundamentalist broadcasters benefited far earlier. Cable allowed them to both target and grow their audiences on a national level. The traditional networks employed huge teams of professional reporters, gatekeeping editors who checked facts, and vice presidents to enforce standards and practices, but the newly liberated cable broadcasters were unencumbered. Not only did they find ways to “insinuate” their endorsements of candidates, skirting the Johnson Amendment, they also launched an attack on professional news outlets.

“Pat Robertson’s longstanding talk show ‘The 700 Club’ … and others began to address what was happening in the news from a biblical perspective. They claimed they were providing viewers with ‘real’ explanations that media and liberal politicians covered up. These shows also reinforced conservative talking points as objective facts.

Fundamentalist broadcasting, Bivens added, “authorizes a particular, often conspiratorial way of viewing the world.

The architects of the radical right studied the art of the “soft coup d’etat”—not just to take over the Republican Party but to weaken various public institutions that challenged their “biblical values.” These included public schools that taught evolution, universities that advanced climate science, and businesses that supported equal rights for the LGBT community. They also disapproved of the professional news media, which seemed to bear every trait they spurned: urban, liberal, and more secular by the minute. They resolved to break its hold on the nation’s psyche.

Print and broadcast journalism continued to grow in influence and revenue. Newspaper penetration peaked between roughly 1970 and 1990, when the ratio of circulation to American households approached one to one. Network news, launched in the 1940s, reached an apex around the same time, and the evening news expanded from fifteen minutes to half an hour in the early 1960s. By 1980, 75% of American households were tuned to network news programs over the dinner hour. But this news ecosystem, as some journalism professors called it, was already in trouble. Newspapers were advertising-rich, producing returns of 10 to 20%, outstripping most investments in the manufacturing sector.

But family-owned newspapers paid a price for their success; when the patriarchs died, their descendants faced inheritance taxes of up to 70%, prompting many to cash out by selling their papers to corporations. Family owners were answerable to their communities and their peers, but corporations responded to shareholders who were more interested in quarterly earnings than Pulitzer Prizes. By the early 2000s, the new news business was implementing massive cost-saving measures: firing thousands of reporters, slashing circulations in underserved communities with commercially unattractive demographics, and refusing to invest in the vital new technologies that were transforming the culture. The new corporate owners squeezed every last penny from their newspapers, in many cases using their revenues to float their debt.

The result was devastating. Local voices were silenced, local populations abandoned. Newspaper ownership was increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. By 1990 just 14 companies controlled half of the 1,600 daily papers, and the concentration of ownership would increase.

Newspapers were losing ground to television, but network news divisions were also troubled. Over the late twentieth century networks were acquired by increasingly diversified corporations. CBS’s Viacom, NBC’s General Electric, and ABC’s Disney saw no need to subsidize news divisions, directing them to turn a profit like other divisions. Television news reporting slid into softer stories, shorter soundbites, and more reporting tied to entertainment and human interest. Over the next few decades, the management closed both international and domestic bureaus and laid off legions of reporters. Cable and public broadcasting filled some of the information gaps, but cable channels tended to emphasize opinion, debate, and sensationalism over traditional reporting and cultivated like-minded niche audiences. Public television was worthy but chronically underfunded.

The rest of the country’s newspaper culture suffered a colony collapse. One of the most significant casualties was statehouse reporting, the traditional purview of midsize newspapers in Middle America. Pew Research reported that between 2003 and 2014, the number of full-time statehouse reporters dropped 35%. The press corps in many statehouses dwindled, allowing state lawmakers to go about rewriting laws with less scrutiny.

All of this must have been music to the ears of the Council for National Policy.

Wildmon’s American Family Radio network, for example, produced segments with titles like “Infanticide Adopted by Democrats” and “Homosexuality is the Dividing Line between Light and Darkness.” One considered the question of how Christians should respond to a Muslim call to prayer, and answered, “They should take the call to prayer as a call to arms, to go to war in the Spirit against the demon-god Allah and the spiritual deception of Islam.

The Salem Radio Network was especially aggressive in acquiring new stations. Atsinger and Epperson developed a successful strategy of purchasing leveraged stations in urban markets. But they ran into an obstacle with the Federal Communications Commission, which prohibited a broadcaster from owning too many stations in one market. Epperson and Atsinger—by now members of the CNP board of governors— joined other broadcasters to lobby against the regulations; Salem contributed $74,000 to key legislators. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was written by industry lobbyists, promoted by Newt Gingrich, and signed into law by Bill Clinton. It eased the ownership regulations, to the benefit of Salem and other large companies. Salem went on an acquisition binge and created a system of station “clusters” to cut costs.

Salem’s “Christian journalism” was a new genre, unhampered by professional practices of multi-sourced reporting, fact-checking, and corrections.  This was not news about Christianity, it was current events filtered through a highly partisan fundamentalist lens.

“Christian radio” had become the third-most-popular format in the United States, following country music and talk.

Eventually the Salem, Bott, and American Family Radio empires extended to at least 46 states. (As of January 2019, they owned stations in every state except Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Alaska.) Their programming, including political content produced by CNP members, was utilized by other radio networks, including the Christian Satellite Network and Family Life Radio.

ABC, NBC, and CBS began to dump their radio stations, especially in small and midsize markets, and their news programs disappeared. The Great American News Desert grew drier by the year.

In 2008 revenues of the Associated Press fell 65%. It was a cooperative financed by member newspapers, broadcasters, and other outlets to support reporting including breaking news, investigative journalism, and foreign news beyond the resources of individual resources.  Local news across the nation was gathered.  After their decline, national news tilted to the coasts, and Fox, Sinclair, fundamentalist and other right-wing radio and TV took over local audiences.

National Public Radio (NPR)

National Public Radio, founded in 1970, did much to fill in the gap. Serving more than a thousand public radio stations, NPR offered traditional journalism and newscasts that presented multiple perspectives on public issues. Listeners could turn to NPR for detailed, thoughtful interviews with leaders from the leading political parties. Nonetheless, many conservatives in Middle America distrusted NPR as a smugly liberal voice with little interest in their issues, a maddening focus on identity politics, and a propensity for promoting the Democrats’ agenda. NPR tilted urban and coastal for obvious reasons. Its stations, its listeners—and its listener contributions—were concentrated in urban areas, suburbs, and college towns. NPR’s weekly listenership would reach 28.5 million by 2017—but that was still less than 10% of the national population.

Public broadcasting was founded with federal support, but the ongoing assault by Republican administrations whittled that funding down to almost nothing over the years. NPR responded by basing its budgets on listener contributions. But that meant that urban NPR stations—especially major stations in New York, Washington, and San Francisco—had outsize budgets and programming capacity. Stations in conservative, rural areas—the news deserts that needed them most—got by on a fraction of the funding, with part-time employees and spotty local coverage. Many public radio stations are low-budget operations based on college campuses that broadcast from translator stations whose signals vanish a few miles out of town. Those who can’t afford to pay for all of the syndicated news and information programs often substitute light musical offerings.

Oklahoma, for example, has six NPR stations, mostly in cities and college towns, while Bott and American Family Radio have a combined twenty stations blanketing the state. And radio matters: it remains an important part of daily life for millions of Americans, whether in the home, the workplace, or the car.


CNP strategists showed an astute grasp of electoral politics, finding hidden pockets of evangelical voters and identifying the issues that could drive them to the polls. They displayed a special talent for pinpointing the districts and swing states that could win them critical victories. The intricate mechanics of the Electoral College and redistricting presented a narrow window to circumvent the popular vote, and they seized the opportunity. The CNP and its allies spent years building party machines at a state level. The Republican control of statehouses supported their gerrymandering efforts, and powerful donors helped them tackle labor unions in Wisconsin, Michigan, and other former Democratic strongholds.

The National Rifle Association, a former gentlemen’s marksmanship club has been weaponized for political purpose.

The movement has also appropriated a vocabulary that it redeploys with Orwellian flair. “Family” is a code word for homophobic, and “defense of marriage” means prohibition of same-sex unions. “Fairness” and “justice” mean lowering taxes for the wealthy and corporations. “Values” means conservative evangelical ideology. “Right to work” means depriving unions of the benefits of collective bargaining. The movement’s brand of “religious freedom” often disparages other beliefs, and would allow fundamentalist churches to support political campaigns while retaining their tax-exempt status. And in the lexicon of Betsy DeVos, crown princess of the movement, “educational reform” means redirecting public school funding to religious schools, charter schools, and homeschooling. All of these euphemisms promote policies that victimize low-income and minority populations.

The figures who would create the Council for National Policy had a fierce allegiance to the white Protestant culture of the past, and presumed it would prevail forever. But the shifting electorate challenged that notion. As the power of the federal government expanded, its courts and agencies reflected national trends and imposed change on regions that had long lived as semiautonomous enclaves. In the late 1960s these tensions came to a head in a bedrock of American Protestantism: the Southern Baptist Convention. This conflict was an essential prologue to the story of the Council for National Policy. It was a key proving ground for some of the council’s founders; it would shape the group’s core and inform its tactics over the next half century.

The counterculture called the 1960s the “Age of Aquarius,” but Southern fundamentalists feared the decade as the eve of the apocalypse. They were rattled by the disturbing images the network news broadcasts brought into their living rooms. The year of reckoning was 1967. Southern society was based on segregation, but in June the Supreme Court struck down all state laws banning interracial marriage, and that October the court installed its first African American justice. Southerners were steeped in military tradition, but that month they watched almost 100,000 protesters march on the Pentagon. The South was still the land of church socials and sock hops, but that year Hair opened off Broadway, celebrating LSD and nudity onstage. Even the Bible was under scrutiny, as a new generation of theologians reviewed the scientific record and suggested that the Good Book was a profound work of literature, not a chronicle of historical fact. The conservative wing of the Southern Baptist Convention was profoundly shaken.

Southern Baptists were heavily concentrated in the states of the former Confederacy. As of 1980 there were more than 2.6 million Southern Baptists in Texas, almost a sixth of the state’s population. Southern Baptists represented over a quarter of all Alabamans, but they were scarce in New England. There were affiliated churches in 41 states as of 2019, but the denomination remains a predominantly southern institution.

One of its tenets was the believers’ right to conduct certain religious practices in the public square. For generations Southern Baptists and other Christians had taken it for granted that public institutions should double as religious venues. Public school days and sports events began with Christian devotions. High school football teams joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to pray for victory in the locker room, and county employees installed Christmas crèches on the courthouse lawn. These practices went unquestioned, and for generations few religious minorities or public atheists were around to object. For many communities in Middle America, Protestantism was the organizing principle for society, its various denominations serving as silent markers for tribes, class, and ethnicity. Churches were where housewives displayed their finery and teenagers courted under the watchful eyes of adults. Congregations served as nonstate social agencies, helping the needy and lending a hand to members in trouble. As long as communities were uniformly Christian and the nation’s values were shaped by their ethos, these phenomena were an accepted way of life.

But as America changed, the courts changed with it. They began to respond to the growing population of atheists and adherents of minority religions, who argued that state institutions should not be used to promote one religion over other beliefs. In 1962 the Supreme Court ended public school prayer. The following year it ended devotional Bible study in public schools. The fundamentalists were outraged.

Southerners resented the federal courts’ intrusion into their local affairs. In the same way antebellum Southern Baptists refused to be governed by their northern counterparts, Southerners rejected the imposition of national norms on their society.

Questioning the literal truth of the Bible could open the door to teaching evolution, environmentalism, and cultural relativism.

Some of the early political tactics included reserving blocks of rooms in conference hotels to enfranchise sympathizers, building communication networks, enlisting the media in disinformation campaigns, and spying on enemies, stratagems some saw as “going for the jugular.” Similar tactics would be deployed against moderate Republican congressmen in the years to come.

Social issues were key to organizing the Southern Baptist messengers, but the fundamentalist leaders were equally determined to expand their role in the public sphere. At the core of their political mission was the demand for “religious freedom” to enhance their political influence, using the church as a tax-exempt power base.

Their next step was to extend this strategy from church to state, a plan rooted in the concept of theocracy: the belief that government should be conducted through divine guidance, by officials who are chosen by God. The fundamentalists believed that this concept was written into the country’s founding principles, but this was not true:  The Founding Fathers … stipulated that no religious test would be allowed for federal office holders. The First Amendment proclaimed: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Weyrich cofounded three institutions that became crucial building blocks of the radical right (and, eventually, of the Council for National Policy). One was the Heritage Foundation, intended as a counterweight to Brookings and other liberal think tanks, with major funding from beer scion Joseph Coors and Mellon heir Richard Scaife. Weyrich became its first president. Weyrich also cofounded the Republican Study Committee (RSC) to counter the Democratic Study Group, founded in 1959. The RSC would advance the interests of the conservative wing of the Republican Party in Congress, to the detriment of party moderates. Finally, Weyrich founded an influential Republican lunch club on Capitol Hill, with the help of two youngsters named George Will and Trent Lott. The Weyrich Lunch would become a Washington institution

Weyrich cofounded the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, as a way for the Republican minority to gain the upper hand. Republican state legislators and their spouses were invited to junkets at luxury hotels and resorts, organized and financed by hundreds of lobbyists and corporations. There the lawmakers studied “model” legislation, drafted by the corporations they purported to regulate. The bills were often introduced in states with favorable conditions, such as West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. There they were validated in state courts, then leveraged to other states, bringing the advantage of a legal precedent. Extractive industries, Big Pharma, tobacco companies, and others flocked to ALEC conferences, paid their dues, and emerged with their reward. (It would take the Democrats four decades to launch the State Innovation Exchange as a tactical response.)

Weyrich and his allies knew that the Democrats enjoyed a mounting demographic advantage. The coming generations of voters, newly enfranchised minorities, and energized women all leaned Democratic. Much of the national news media also skewed liberal, especially in the era of Watergate and the Vietnam War.

The New South offered Republicans the potential for a new well of untapped voters, and Weyrich embarked on a search for the partners who could turn his dreams of a conservative coalition into a reality. The resurgent Southern Baptists were a logical starting point.

At a mass rally held by the Moral Majority Weyrich suggested to Mr. Reagan that because it was a bipartisan [event] it would be in his best interest, since we could not and would not endorse him as a body, if his opening comment were “I know this is nonpartisan so you can’t endorse me. But I want you to know—I endorse you and what you’re doing.” Reagan delivered his lines to perfection, and the masses leaped to their feet. The throng included men who would guide the movement for decades to come. Mike Huckabee, Robison’s assistant, was in charge of logistics. Meeting Reagan for the first time showed the 24-year-old Arkansan how religion and media could be channeled into political power. “No one had ever given so much attention to, or paid respect for the evangelicals,” Huckabee told the Washington Times. “It was magic, and [the evangelicals were] a major force in Reagan winning.

“I don’t want everybody to vote,” Weyrich told his audience. “Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting populace goes down. In other words, suppressing opposition voters was as critical as engaging supporters.

Carter had infuriated the fundamentalists by supporting the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion rights, as well as allowing the IRS to conduct its ongoing audits of segregated institutions. The fundamentalists might do better cutting a deal with a questionable Reagan, they reasoned, than relying on a righteous Carter.

The pastors asked Paul Weyrich how they could leverage the rally into a political movement, given their limitations. Weyrich understood their concerns. “You don’t think your congregations will tolerate your involvement in public policy,” he told them. “Amen—that’s right,” they answered. Many churchgoers believed the church should attend to spiritual life, and render politics “unto Caesar.” There was a lot at stake: evangelism had become big business, and millions of dollars hung in the balance

The group commissioned Tarrance to conduct a poll asking their congregations first whether they would support their pastors’ active involvement in politics, and second, whether they would help pay for it—without cutting back on their usual tithing. The result was affirmative on both counts.

Bill Moyers, a journalist and former Southern Baptist pastor, reported, “In Dallas, the religious right and the political right formally wed … By the mid-1980s, Southern Baptist annual conventions began to look like precinct meetings of the Republican Party.

The harvest of votes was potentially massive. Falwell had noted that only 55% of evangelicals were registered to vote, compared to the national average of 72%. His movement set up tables in church lobbies and parking lots with the mantra, “Number one, get people saved. Number two, get them baptized. Number three, get them registered to vote.”

Surveys show that from 1980 to 1984, the percentage of Southern Baptist clergymen who described themselves as Republican rose from 29 to 66%, while those identifying as Democrats fell from 41 to 25%. Many of their congregants followed.

There was a basic philosophical difference, Pressler wrote, between fundamentalists and their political adversaries; the fundamentalists “believe in the sinfulness of each person … the consistent liberal, on the other hand, believes in the basic goodness of human beings.

The leaders of the Conservative Resurgence refined their other policy priorities. They wanted to impose severe legal restraints on the right to abortion wherever possible, limiting it to cases in which the life of the mother was at stake. This reversed the more liberal position the Southern Baptists had adopted in 1971. They also sought to eliminate IRS restrictions on using their churches to pursue their political agenda while maintaining their tax-exempt status. All of these goals could be blocked by court rulings and federal regulations, so they focused on the mechanics of government: limiting the power of the federal government, strengthening state government, and installing sympathetic judges to the federal courts.

Gazing out at the Dallas rally, Weyrich beheld an army of Southern Baptists who could serve as foot soldiers and an electoral base to fulfill his political agenda. But the Southern Baptists—13.7 million of the U.S. population of 226 million—couldn’t do it alone. The previous year Weyrich told Jerry Falwell of his vision of tens of millions of evangelicals, fundamentalists, Catholics, Mormons, and certain mainline Protestants, who put aside their religious divisions to form a massive voting bloc.

By 1980 Weyrich’s complex machine was under construction, with the Heritage Foundation to program policy, the Republican Study Committee to wrangle congressional votes, ALEC to draft state-level legislation, and the Moral Majority to mobilize the masses. Now the movement needed money. For this Weyrich looked to the business sector. He had already recruited Joseph Coors and Richard Scaife to back the Heritage Foundation,

The nation’s vast business community brimmed with magnates who chafed at corporate taxes, oil barons who resented environmental regulations, and entrepreneurs who wanted to pursue risky ventures without pesky investigations. These individuals sought to curtail the power of the federal government and reassign it to more easily managed statehouses. Weyrich’s political machine was an investment that promised massive returns

 In the 1800s, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that American organizations performed functions that were the purviews of the aristocracy, the church, and the state in European societies. He asked, “But what political power would ever be in a state to suffice for the innumerable multitude of small undertakings that American citizens execute every day with the aid of an association?

Paul Weyrich’s new movement needed associations too. If the Texas fundamentalists and their Washington allies were going to make national inroads, they had to appeal to non-fundamentalists in other regions of the country, based on a new network of seemingly secular organizations.

The creation of effective coalitions, he stated, “takes two things: It takes things to get real bad very quickly, and there has to be some political machinery there to take advantage of that opportunity.” The New Deal was the perfect example. Over the 1930s things got “real bad very quickly,” and FDR’s crack team of advisors assembled the political machinery to consolidate the Democrats’ advantage

The Democratic Party continued to promote a national civil rights agenda—and the southerners continued to resist.  In the eyes of the fundamentalists, things got “real bad very quickly.” Tensions mounted, and civil rights protesters marched across southern cities, met by fire hoses and police dogs.

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, the most extensive civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, barring discrimination in schools and the workplace. This energized the backlash in the South, spurring the Christian academy movement and driving a wedge through the Democrats’ Solid South.

Viguerie prepared to take on the Republican establishment. His list not only anchored an impressive fund-raising operation, it also offered a way to bypass the national news media. “We couldn’t get our candidates on the evening news or our issues talked about,” he stated. Direct mail allowed him to expand the influence of candidates who were otherwise written off.

They decided that the winner of an election is “determined by the number and the effectiveness of the activists and leaders on the respective side.” Third, they declared that “the number and effectiveness of the activists and leaders … is determined by the political technology used by that side.

Phyllis Schlafly, a constitutional lawyer from St. Louis, used her legal training to restrict the rights of working women. A veteran of the John Birch Society and the Goldwater campaign, Schlafly organized a successful national movement to derail the Equal Rights Amendment in 1977. She sowed panic among her followers by warning, misleadingly, that the ERA would cost widows their Social Security benefits and deprive divorced mothers of custody of their children.

“When [Phyllis Schlafly] and I were involved in politics back in the fifties and sixties, the conservative movement rested on a two-legged stool,” he recalled. “The two-legged stool was national defense, which really meant anticommunism, and economic issues. We’d win 40, 45, sometimes 47% of the vote. Very seldom would we ever get 51%.” But under the leadership of Schlafly, Weyrich, and Falwell, “conservatives began to reach out and bring into the conservative movement social issues.

Blackwell was ever attentive to lessons from the left: “How you design a piece of political literature, how you raise funds, how you organize a precinct, how you attract a crowd to a political event, how you communicate to a mass audience online—those techniques can work for anybody,” he wrote. In the process, the Leadership Institute imbued generations of right-wing candidates and their campaign managers with a common ideology, vocabulary, and method.

Blackwell, Weyrich, and Viguerie were ready to consolidate their gains. On May 19, 1981, Viguerie gathered more than 50 conservatives at his handsome brick home in McLean, Virginia, to found the Council for National Policy.

The Johnson Amendment to the tax code became a plague to the fundamentalist movement. It limited tax-exempt status to groups whose activity “does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” The Revenue Code further ruled that groups could engage in voter education so long as it was “conducted in a non-partisan manner”—but not if it favored one candidate over another. This wording applied to churches as well. Critics noted that Lyndon Johnson slipped his amendment into the bill without debate

Daily life in the United States has been dramatically shaped by the existence of 501(c)(3) status. It has been the hidden state subsidy for art museums and opera companies, whose donors can write off their contributions. It has allowed churches to amass vast real estate holdings and universities to build up huge endowments and fund critical research. The Council on Foreign Relations justified its 501(c)(3) status by serving as a leading think tank on foreign policy. As an educational institution, it offered a portfolio of publications, starting with its journal, Foreign Affairs, as well as numerous online resources and academic partnerships. Its membership was a matter of public record. Most of its frequent meetings were closed, but others were open to the press. The Council on Foreign Relations became a routine stop for every presidential candidate from a major party. The members’ politics ranged from arch-conservative to extremely liberal, making it a venue for spirited debate.

Soon after the Council for National Policy was founded in 1981, its leaders applied to the Internal Revenue Service for 501(c)(3) status, arguing their group’s similarity to the Council on Foreign Relations. They pointed to Foreign Affairs, claiming that they would produce similar educational materials, and the IRS granted their request. The CNP’s 501(c)(3) status benefited the network’s financial strategy. But unlike the Council on Foreign Relations, the CNP and its partners did not promote bipartisan discussion or open-ended policy debates. They functioned to promote the right wing of the Republican Party, skirting the IRS restrictions against partisan campaigning with the airiest of pretenses.

White evangelicals had voted in equal numbers for Carter and Ford in 1976, but they voted two to one for Reagan, and the Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time in 26 years.

The fundamentalists had expected Reagan to show his gratitude by moving full steam ahead on their social issues, ending abortion and quashing IRS challenges to their tax-exempt status. Instead, the White House emphasized economic policy and put the fundamentalists’ issues on the back burner.

In Reagan’s second term, his administration handed the fundamentalists a gift that would galvanize their media and leverage it into an even more powerful political tool: its ruling on the Fairness Doctrine. The doctrine had been in effect since 1949, and required any radio or television broadcaster seeking a license to devote a certain amount of airtime to controversial matters of public interest and to offer opposing views on critical issues. The doctrine also dealt with two other contingencies. If a station aired personal attacks on an individual involved in public issues, it was obliged to notify the party in question and offer a chance to respond. If a station endorsed a candidate, it had to provide other qualified candidates the opportunity to respond over its airwaves.

In August 1987 the four FCC commissioners—all Reagan or Nixon appointees—abolished the doctrine unanimously. Critics argued that the Fairness Doctrine had stopped making sense when cable television burst upon the scene with the birth of CNN in 1980. Television and radio transmissions were no longer captive to “scarce frequencies.” Cable channels (which were not covered by the Fairness Doctrine) proliferated, representing diverse points of view.

These rallying cries to tribalism and paranoia, echoing across the South and the West, would cleave a rift in Americans’ political perceptions that persists to this day.

Right-wing anti-environmentalism to increase corporate profits

While the movement’s public platform preached a return to Judeo-Christian values and regressive social policies, the underlying economic issues were equally critical. Many of these concerned environmental regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency had been founded in 1970 under the Nixon administration, in reaction to a run of national emergencies.

In Texas and Oklahoma, runoff from abandoned oil wells had been quietly poisoning farmland and drinking water for decades. In 1969 DuPont opened a chloroprene plant among the petrochemical facilities on an 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in Louisiana that would be dubbed the Chemical Corridor. A 2014 assessment by the EPA found that the five census tracts around the plant had the nation’s highest cancer risk in the country. But the extractive industries treated the Clean Air Act (1963), the Clean Water Act (1972), and the EPA (1970) as existential threats. It didn’t take an oracle to see that environmental regulations would take a bite out of oil, coal, and mining profits.

Opportunists swarmed the countryside, piercing the earth and throwing up shards of shale and toxic brine. When I was a teenager, oil companies operated rigs on the very grounds of the Oklahoma state capitol. There was little talk of preserving the environment; indeed, theology was right on hand to justify the pillage. Nature existed to be conquered and exhausted. The Dominionists cited Genesis 1:26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” The oil industry of Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana was a natural habitat for Dominionist theology.

Confederate roots ran deep in the oil belt. After the war Confederate veterans poured into the underpopulated regions of Texas and Oklahoma, seeking a fresh start and imprinting the states with their politics and their culture. There was also an economic legacy. On a Facebook group called Sons of Confederate Veterans Oklahoma Division, a member offered his perspective on the roots of the conflict: “Y’all are partly right, but it was mostly about the Federal government’s overreach in the south, extra taxes and tariffs put on them. Sort of what’s been happening with all the socialist were voting for office today. You will not recognize it, you have been conditioned to accept it thru over 50 years of public school. Live free while you can.

The DeVos & Prince families’ influence

Richard DeVos was a long-standing member of the Council for National Policy, and the ruling patriarch of an economic and political dynasty. The DeVos and Prince families—united through the marriage of Richard’s son and Betsy Prince—built two vast fortunes through a range of unusual business practices. They have used their massive wealth to erode the state’s power and impose their rigid theology on society. The CNP was central to their mission, and they have served as a cornerstone for it.

In the 19th century the Dutch government decided to liberalize the laws concerning the state Dutch Reformed Church. A small group of conservative farmers resisted and immigrated to America, cleaving to their old ways through the Reformed Church in America. The “Seceders” represented only 2% of the Dutch population, but they made up almost 50% of the Dutch immigrants to America before 1850. In 1858 a third of the Dutch immigrants in Michigan decided that their American church had succumbed to “moral decay” and theological liberalism, and founded the Christian Reformed Church. They blamed the Enlightenment for “idoliz[ing] human reason at the expense of Bible-based faith” and set out to contest the government’s role in public education and labor relations. Education should be the purview of the family and the church, not the government, they argued, and trade unions and collective bargaining undermined divine authority.

Amway products had their fans, but some consumers complained they were overpriced, and disaffected dropouts called their sales force a “cult.” Nonetheless, Amway martialed a vast network of indoctrinated distributors and customers that could be mobilized for political as well as commercial purposes

The dynasty spent a king’s ransom on political operations. As fundamentalists they invested in campaigns against gay marriage and abortion rights. As businesspeople, they resented the federal government, especially its power to regulate business practices and carry out consumer protections. As donors, they contributed massive amounts to political campaigns, candidates, and organizations that advanced their agenda.

Betsy DeVos served as the family’s minister of public education—or rather, against public education. She had worked her way up the Republican Party ladder, primarily as a fund-raiser, to become a member of the Republican National Committee. On her home turf, she labored tirelessly to promote charter schools and school vouchers as ways to divert tax dollars from public schools to private religious schools.  Though the Detroit public schools—troubled as they were—produced better test scores.


The Rust Belt states were some of the last holdouts from organized labor’s glory days. U.S. union membership peaked in 1954, when nearly 35% of all U.S. wage and salary workers were unionized. By 2014, union membership had fallen to just over 11%. There were many reasons for this decline, among them automation and manufacturers’ decisions to move factories overseas—as well as decades of Republican assaults on unions’ bargaining power.

Labor unions had been instrumental in achieving major reforms: abolishing child labor, advancing occupational safety, raising the standard of living. But they were not immune from corruption, and in some areas they inspired resentment by fostering a two-tier labor market that favored friends and family of members, and winning benefits denied to the self-employed and other workers.

Unions have been closely allied to the Democratic Party, and Republicans have responded by promoting so-called right-to-work legislation on a state level. These laws weaken unions by permitting workers to benefit from a union’s collective bargaining process without paying union dues. Workers have less incentive to join the union, and unions lose the funds and manpower they need to participate in the political arena.

Right-to-work laws reduce Democratic Presidential vote shares by 3.5 percentage points.

Although union membership in the private sector continued to decline, public sector unions grew rapidly, especially at the local level. In 2009 their membership overtook that of private sector unions for the first time. Police, firefighters, and teachers’ unions remained a potent political force. Betsy DeVos had already declared war on the teachers’ unions. The New Deal coalition was already weakened by decades of the Democrats’ dissension and neglect. The coup de grace required only money, media, and strategy. These the CNP had in ample supply.


In 1871 journalist William Conant Church came back from the front alarmed by the Union soldiers’ poor marksmanship; the records showed that a thousand rounds were fired for every Confederate hit. Church and his friend General George Wingate decided that the country needed an organization to improve the marksmanship of future soldiers. They launched it in New York City’s fire department headquarters at 155 Mercer Street (now a Dolce & Gabbana boutique), and named it the National Rifle Association. For its first century the NRA concentrated on hosting target practice at shooting ranges and promoting gun safety. These were useful lessons. The West was young, and settlers relied on guns to hunt game and kill the predators raiding their poultry and livestock.

Rifles and shotguns were standard items in the farmers’ toolkit, and lessons in firearm safety counted as a vital public service. The NRA worked closely with the National Guard and supported U.S. military training efforts in World War II. After the war, the NRA returned to educating hunters on safety and conservation measures.

But things changed. As the country urbanized, the rate of violent crime rose, more than doubling between 1960 and 1970. Congress responded by passing the Gun Control Act of 1968, which limited the sale of weapons to felons and minors, barred mail-order purchases, and required new firearms to bear a traceable serial number. The NRA’s vice president wrote in American Rifleman that while he saw parts of the bill as “unduly restrictive, the measure as a whole appears to be one that the sportsmen of America can live with.”6 The NRA and the nation were still on the same page.

On May 21, 1977, at the NRA’s annual meeting, there was dissension in the ranks, and it erupted, an event that came to be known as the Cincinnati Revolt.  Harlon Carter took over and used his position to pioneer a new style of lobbying. He orchestrated national opposition to a 1975 bill that sought to restrict the purchase of handgun ammunition under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, generating more than 300,000 letters from gun owners to congressmen, some of which included petitions bearing thousands of signatures. The letters supporting the limits, in contrast, numbered 400.

Carter’s campaign was successful, and the limits on handgun ammunition were defeated. Congressmen took heed of the NRA’s new muscle; the NRA-ILA built out its mailing lists and began to deploy them on state and local campaigns as well as national ones.

Under their leadership, NRA membership mushroomed from 980,000 in 1977 to 1,900,000 in 1981. Their assets grew in step with the membership, since fees and contributions provided the lion’s share of the organization’s revenues. The NRA was exempt from federal income tax as a 501(c)(4) organization, defined as one operating “exclusively for the promotion of social welfare … the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.

One watershed was the battle over California’s Proposition 15 in 1982. This measure called for limiting handgun ownership through a number of measures, including a registration process and a ban on mail-order purchases.

The NRA swung into action, with a budget of over $5 million. It martialed an estimated 30,000 volunteers to distribute flyers and make phone calls, and convinced some 250,000 Californians to register to vote, just to oppose the proposition. The NRA crushed the measure by a two-to-one vote.

The Democrats had been counting on votes from African Africans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics, but their turnout was lower than expected, while the NRA constituency’s turnout was higher. Tom Bradley, the popular African American Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, lost his bid to become governor by less than 100,000 votes—a fraction of the NRA’s hidden pool of 250,000 new voters.

Inspired by the high turnout of NRA members the new model became: identify an invisible, disengaged group of potential voters. Find a hot-button issue to activate them. Keep them riled up with targeted media and direct mail. Facilitate their interactions in gathering places they frequent, to reinforce their commitment with groupthink. Follow up with onsite voter registration and transportation to the polls on Election Day. This tactic would be adopted by various CNP partners and reinforced with digital tools, to serve as a model for elections to come.

In 1991 the NRA elected Wayne LaPierre to the leadership position of executive vice president. LaPierre, a professional lobbyist, brought a new emphasis on advertising and marketing to the job. Membership, which was claimed to be 2.5 million when LaPierre came into office, rose to 3.4 million by 1994.

LaPierre faced his first major test shortly after. With Bill Clinton’s election in 1992, the anti-gun lobby moved swiftly to introduce the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, named after James Brady, the White House press secretary who was gravely wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. The bill was signed into law in 1993, the first such legislation passed since 1968.

In 1994 the NRA drew up a list of 24 congressional supporters of the Brady Bill and went to work. On election night, 19 of the 24 went down in defeat, and the Republicans won control of the House for the first time in 40 years. Clinton blamed the NRA.

Challenging presidential candidate Al Gore’s calls for gun control after the Columbine massacre, Heston appeared at a 2000 rally, hoisting a rifle and shouting, “From my cold, dead hands!

Demographically, gun owners tended to be older white males in rural areas of the South, Midwest, and West, and were more than twice as likely to be Republicans as Democrats. Furthermore, white evangelicals were more likely than other religious groups to own a gun and to support the NRA. The opportunities for networking were obvious.

The primaries in Iowa, a fundamentalist-heavy state, offered a major opportunity, Silk reported: “The technique of the Robertson campaign was to make caucus attendance a church activity. Tables would be set up for congregants to sign on to caucus for Robertson, and when the day came they showed up en masse. Indeed, the strategy worked so well that it propelled Robertson to a second-place finish ahead not only of Kemp but also of Bush himself.

George W. Bush courts the evangelists

Bush’s Episcopalian background was a disadvantage, but he was coached on the art of fundamentalist fudging.  He learned the language of the conversion experience, at least well enough to sow division. “Methodically,” Silk added, “[Bush’s] people had taken Bush to call on leading Southern pastors, whom the transplanted Yankee convinced that yes, he too was a Christian who had been born again.  He was instructed Bush to “signal early, signal often” to the evangelical community. He noted that the national media was hostile to the fundamentalists, so relations were best established early in the campaign before the coverage intensified. He was given memos on fundamentalists on a state-by-state basis, naming the influential preachers, describing their doctrines, and rating their popularity. The strategy worked.

The evangelicals’ union equivalents in the Republican Party were gathering steam, at the same time the Democrats’ actual labor unions were going off the rails. Between 1980 and 1990, U.S. union membership dropped by almost a third, to only 16% of the workforce. Over the same period, the number of Americans identifying as “evangelical” and “born again” rose to about a third of the population

Once in office, Bush, like Reagan before him, appointed moderates to key positions and focused on economic and foreign policy. “We won three landslide presidential elections in the 1980s, but … we were still burdened by the dead wood of the business-as-usual Republican Party,” fumed the CNP’s master marketer.  So they began to look outside the Republican establishment for new leaders and for a new vehicle to translate their anger and outrage into political action.

In 1996 the bipartisan Federal Election Commission filed a lawsuit against the Christian Coalition, charging the organization—whose membership had grown to 1.7 million—with acting illegally to advance Republican candidates, including CNP members Senator Jesse Helms and Oliver North. As a 501(c)(4) organization, the Christian Coalition was required to be nonpartisan, but the FEC found that over the 1990, 1992, and 1994 elections it had used voter guides, mailings, and telephone banks to campaign for conservative Republicans. The contributions that paid for these efforts should have been reported as campaign contributions.

The New York Times reported, “That same year, the suit said, the coalition coordinated with the National Republican Senatorial Committee to produce and distribute 5 million to 10 million voter guides to help Republican Senate candidates in seven states.” The coalition also worked in “coordination, cooperation and/or consultation” with the 1992 Bush campaign. Its activities included spending funds to identify and transport voters to the polls, and to produce and distribute 28 million voter guides. Oliver North’s unsuccessful 1994 bid for the Senate benefited from 1.7 million voter guides.

Their ensemble of single-issue organizations harmonized like a well-tuned choir. The CNP leadership set the agenda, the donors channeled the funding, the operatives coordinated the messaging, and the media partners broadcast it unquestioningly. Every element of the operation worked toward getting out specific votes in support of hand-picked candidates. They were relentless in helping their friends and punishing their enemies. There was little interest in engaging Democrats in constructive debate or reaching across the aisle. Theirs was a Manichean vision of good versus evil. They were the elect, chosen by God to set the nation on His path. Democrats were demonized.

A 1993 poll showed that only 12% of the voters and 22% of evangelicals considered abortion to be a key issue. Reed was particularly interested in broadening the movement’s appeal to conservative Catholics. The situation called for new tactics. If the electorate wasn’t sufficiently worried about their issues, the issues would need to be refined, reframed, and sold to their voters.

The party ranks still included moderates such as Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter and New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, both of whom had taken pro-choice positions.

In 1995 James Dobson threatened to bolt both the CNP and the Republican Party on the grounds of insubordination on both fronts. He arrived in Washington with a small entourage, including Ralph Reed and Betsy DeVos, to lecture Republican presidential hopeful Phil Gramm. They sternly informed Gramm that he needed to run on a “morality” platform, but Gramm balked at the idea. The following year, candidate Bob Dole proved equally uncooperative on the question of appointing antichoice judges to the Supreme Court. Dole committed a further offense by suggesting he would make a place in his cabinet for Colin Powell, a moderate Republican with a pro-choice stance.

Dobson and company made it clear that they would rather see the Republicans lose than win with a maverick, and punished Dole by withdrawing their support. In November Dole went down in defeat to Bill Clinton’s bid for a second term. One factor was the evangelical turnout, which dropped 6% from 1992 to 1996.

In February 1998, Dobson returned to the CNP fold with an appearance at its Phoenix meeting.

“Does the Republican Party want our votes—no strings attached—to court us every two years, then to say, ‘Don’t call me. I’ll call you?’ ” he demanded. “If I go, I’ll take as many people with me as possible.” His audience understood that Dobson’s weekly radio audience numbered 28 million—when the combined audience for all three network news broadcasts had dropped to 32 million viewers.

The following month Dobson delivered his ultimatum to 25 House Republicans in the Capitol basement, threatening to pull his support from the party unless it backed his agenda. He detailed his demands in a letter to Rep. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. The list included defunding Planned Parenthood, eliminating “so-called safe-sex and condom distribution programs,” and cutting off support for the National Endowment for the Arts. It added supporting school choice and “a ban on partial-birth abortion, the defense of traditional marriage, and opposition to any legislation that would add ‘sexual orientation’ to any civil rights law, educational program, or any congressional appropriation.” The CNP would adhere to this menu with astonishing consistency over the next two decades.

The bullying tactics worked. “Keeping Dobson and other Christian-right leaders happy has become the central preoccupation of Republican lawmakers,” CNN reported. “In the House, the legislative agenda is crammed with ‘pro-family’ votes aimed at Dobson’s constituency. But people had to vote; without them, the movement was stalled.

The “Program” amounted to a virtual declaration of war on American culture and governance—shocking in its ruthlessness and antidemocratic spirit. Our movement will be entirely destructive, and entirely constructive. We will not try to reform the existing institutions. We only intend to weaken them, and eventually destroy them. We will endeavor to knock our opponents off-balance and unsettle them at every opportunity … We will use guerrilla tactics to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant regime. We will take advantage of every available opportunity to spread the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with the existing state of affairs … Most of all, it will contribute to a vague sense of uneasiness and dissatisfaction with existing society. We need this if we hope to start picking people off and bringing them over to our side. We need to break down before we can build up. We must first clear away the flotsam of a decayed culture.

The new movement advocated “intimidating people and institutions” such as Hollywood celebrities and university administrators: “We must be feared, so they will think twice opening their mouths. They must understand that there is some sort of cost in taking a ‘controversial’ stand.

The movement would stoke the flames of alienation: “It is a basic fact that an us-versus-them, insider-versus-outsider mentality is a very strong motivation in human life.” The movement would transform the political culture by laying siege to the popular culture through dedicated organizations. These new associations would watch movies together and “feel part of the group as we watch it.” They would engage in charitable activities, partly to create a positive public image and “partly to create an alternative to government solutions.” The groups “should provide everything that a person could want in terms of social interaction,” other than the office and the church, although some churches would be affiliates. It would include sports leagues to recruit people who were otherwise uninterested.

The essay echoed authoritarian philosophies, emphasizing groupthink to the detriment of independent inquiry and open debate. “The movement should imitate the communist distinction between party members and fellow travelers,” it continued. “There is no medium more conducive to propagandistic purposes than the moving image, and our movement must learn to make use of this medium.” Effective television and movie propaganda would require creative talent and considerable capital, “but these hurdles must be overcome sooner or later.

The evidence suggested that they were losing ground on abortion and gay rights, but there were promising signs that they could make same-sex marriage their next hot-button issue.

Your constituency is the voters, especially the coalition which elected you. You can’t count on the news media to communicate your message to your constituency. You must develop ways to communicate with your coalition which avoid the filters of the media. Focus on your base. Write to them. Meet with them. Honor them. Show yourself to be proud of them. Support their activities. Show up at their events. Help other politicians and activists who share their priorities.

The Council for National Policy’s demographics problem continued. The bedrock of its support, the older white Protestant population, was aging. Younger, more racially diverse voters skewed liberal, especially on social issues, and the causes that mobilized fundamentalist voters didn’t play as well with the new generations. Young women who had come of age with abortion rights weren’t ready to surrender them—especially to a movement that maintained that life began with conception. Millennials had grown up around openly gay friends and relatives, and the sky hadn’t fallen—even when they enlisted, married, or had children.

The manifesto specified that none of these efforts would bear fruit if they didn’t address a vital demographic: “We will accomplish the goal of retaking our country only when large numbers of young people are educated outside of the indoctrinating environment of many public and private schools, universities, and of course, the popular culture. At this point in their lives, many of their ideas are still in the formative stage, the more so the younger they are … College students must be a key audience for our movement, since they are free of excessive time commitments and they find themselves in an environment that (theoretically) encourages activism and exposure to new ideas.

The movement, it argued, needed to establish “alternative fraternities” as well as study groups and book clubs that could “build each other up in every possible way: in terms of public speaking skills, debating skills, physical skills, intellect, manners, aesthetic sense.  But the CNP’s most visible efforts were focused not on fraternities and book clubs but on cultivating entire colleges.

The CNP’s partner media platforms were as networked as its organizations. Hillsdale College enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Daily Caller, founded in 2010 by Tucker Carlson and CNP member Neil Patel, and seeded with $3 million from former CNP president Foster Friess. Described as the radical right’s answer to the Huffington Post, the Daily Caller claims more than 20 million unique readers a month on its home page, and millions more on its partner sites and social media. (As of 2019 its Facebook page has more than five million followers.) The Daily Caller creates and distributes its content through the Daily Caller News Foundation, or DCNF—another tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization. The foundation shares content with over 250 publishers, and its website states that its content “is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience.

Falwell was an eager entrepreneur. In 1971 he founded a small Baptist college in Virginia as a subsidiary of his multimillion-dollar televangelism business. But his revenues stumbled in the 1980s with the fallout from the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart sex scandals, and his college suffered too. Rebranded as Liberty University in 1985, the school made a partial recovery, but it still labored under heavy debt. Liberty started to explore the economic potential of an online curriculum, propelled by the vision of Falwell’s son, Jerry Jr., a bearded version of his father. There were limits to that vision. One was a series of scandals involving a number of for-profit schools with online curricula, which were issuing worthless diplomas while skimming vast amounts of federal scholarship funds. (Liberty is officially “non-profit.”) In 1992 Congress responded by passing the 50% rule, requiring colleges to hold at least half of their courses on a physical campus to qualify for federal support. But in 2006 the Republican Congress quietly passed legislation removing those consumer protections, stealthily inserting eight lines into a vast budget bill.

This benefited a massive number of commercial educational institutions, including many fundamentalist colleges. Liberty University’s fortune was made; it quickly expanded to become the second-largest online college in the United States. As of 2015, its on-campus student body numbered around 15,500, while its online enrollment approached 95,000. The school, like many similar institutions, makes a special effort to recruit military veterans, who have access to additional government funding. By 2016 the university was pulling in more than $1 billion a year, most of it courtesy of U.S. taxpayers, and clearing a net income of $215 million; Falwell Jr.’s salary was set at almost $1 million a year. The university has dismissed faculty concerns and student complaints about the quality of online instruction.

The Council for National Policy has rich hunting grounds in America’s evangelical colleges, which number over a hundred.

The Leadership Institute plays an essential role in TPUSA’s “Professor Watchlist,” a site that publishes photos and denunciations of professors. The accused’s offenses range from joking about Republicans to documenting gender bias in economics textbooks. (Politico recorded 226 “watch-listed” professors at 156 schools in 2018.) The site encouraged students to inform on their professors through the Leadership Institute’s Campus Reform project. Campus Reform works alongside TPUSA to equip and train conservative student activists across the country, through twelve regional field coordinators.

Another Turning Point USA initiative, the Campus Victory Project, consists of a plan to “commandeer the top office of Student Body President at each of the most recognizable and influential American Universities.” In 2017 the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer published the content of a brochure from the project, which outlined the stages of its campaign. “Once in control of student governments,” Mayer wrote, “Turning Point expects its allied campus leaders to follow a set political agenda. Among its planks are the defunding of progressive organizations on campus, the implementation of ‘free speech’ policies eliminating barriers to hate speech, and the blocking of all campus ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions’ movements. Turning Point’s agenda also calls for the student leaders it empowers to use student resources to host speakers and forums promoting ‘American Exceptionalism and Free Market ideals on campus.’

Charles and David Koch were unlikely allies for the fundamentalist right. Religion has played little part in their rhetoric; they preach the free market gospel. Fundamentalists should have been dismayed at the way the Kochs extended their free-wheeling notions to the private sphere. David Koch advocated civil liberties that the fundamentalists bitterly opposed, including same-sex marriage and abortion rights. Outlining his philosophy in a 2014 interview, he explained, “I’m basically a libertarian. And I’m a conservative on economic matters and I’m a social liberal.

David decided to take things a step farther, with an attempt to disrupt the bipartisan status quo. In 1980 he ran as the Libertarian Party’s candidate for vice president, on a platform that can only be described as bizarre. It called for the elimination of all restrictions on immigration and the abolition of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the repeal of all gun laws, opposition to all taxation, the abolition of the FBI and the CIA, and the repeal of Social Security. It added that no one, no matter how psychotic, should be involuntarily committed to an institution for care. The platform also called for the legalization of homosexuality, prostitution, abortion, and all forms of drug use.

The two brothers reluctantly turned back to the GOP. Like Richard Viguerie and Morton Blackwell, they were dismayed by centrist Republicans. Nixon had founded the Environmental Protection Agency, and moderate Republicans were willing to reach across the aisle to collaborate and compromise with Democrats on taxes and entitlement programs. But Reagan’s “Southern strategy” showed new potential to widen the country’s political divide, and Texas was a key component. It was no coincidence that Reagan’s alliance with the South was launched in Dallas.

Soros began his philanthropic career in 1979, and eventually he assigned more than $32 billion of his fortune to his philanthropic network, the Open Society Foundations (leaving him with over $8 billion). Unlike the Kochs, Soros launched his philanthropy with an international emphasis, and only added U.S. domestic projects after the end of the Cold War.

Three-quarters of the Democracy Alliance partners were coastal, concentrated in three areas: the Boston–New York–Washington corridor, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles. In contrast, almost two-thirds of the Koch Seminar participants lived in the South and the Midwest. In electoral terms, this meant that the Democratic donors’ focused on zones that weighed heavily in the popular vote, while the Koch seminar donors were more likely to inhabit critical swing states that tilted the Electoral College, and sparsely populated states with disproportionate influence in the Senate. Both networks featured a preponderance of donors from the fields of finance, insurance, and real estate. But the Koch seminars were weighted toward the extractive industries and manufacturing, while the Democrats skewed toward the information industries, the legal profession, and entertainment.

The Koch network could, as the Skocpol study states, “nimbly form and revise overall strategies, while [the Democracy Alliance’s] rules have promoted scattering of resources and undercut possibilities for advancing any coherent strategy.

Logically, Democrats should have enjoyed a competitive advantage, given that wealthy liberals are more prevalent in the United States than wealthy conservatives. Nonetheless, their network proved less effective. The Koch seminars “have fueled a tightly integrated political machine” that moved national and state-level Republicans toward the ultra-free-market right. The Democracy Alliance, on the other hand, achieved “more limited results by channeling resources to large numbers of mostly nationally focused and professionally managed liberal advocacy and constituency groups.” These differences would have a dramatic impact on the battle royal to come.

Other American Christians agonized over the conflicts generated by the gaps between the world’s political realities and the ideals of their faith. What was a Christian position on the torture practiced by the U.S. government in the post-9/11 period in pursuit of combating terrorism? How could the biblical commandment “Thou shalt not kill” be reconciled with capital punishment and the epidemic of gun violence? What would a humane refugee policy look like in a world beset by millions of suffering refugees? These matters were absent from the prayer menu for Watchmen on the Wall and the program for the Values Voter Summit. Children’s welfare was only mentioned from conception until birth. The Family Research Council held that fundamentalist Christians “are victims of religious discrimination … From the Senate chamber to a corner bakery, Christians with natural or biblical views of marriage and sexuality have a bullseye on their backs.” Their sense of victimization left little compassion for anyone else.

The Council for National Policy was still racing against time. As of the early 2000s, evangelical Christians remained the largest religious group in the United States, with about a quarter of the population, but their numbers were starting to drop. The Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, peaked in 2006 at sixteen million members, then went into a precipitous decline. At the same time, the percentage of atheists and unaffiliated Americans rose sharply; it was only a matter of time before the “unchurched” overtook the Southern Baptists.

The premise was that while elected officials may not like all nominees equally, they could agree on common standards of professionalism and impartiality. The ABA review began in 1953 at the request of Republican president Dwight Eisenhower, and every president from Eisenhower to Barack Obama participated in the process except George W. Bush. Conservatives claimed that the ABA ratings had a liberal bias, but the ratings did not adhere to party loyalty: for example, none of George H. W. Bush’s nominees received the ABA’s lowest rating, while four of Bill Clinton’s did.

Sekulow’s enterprises served him well. In 2017 the Guardian obtained tax documents revealing that Sekulow and his family had reaped more than $60 million since 2000 from the ACLJ and an affiliated charity, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism. Much of the money was extracted as donations from retirees on fixed incomes, susceptible to a finely tuned telemarketer script: “We wanted to make sure you were aware of the efforts to undermine our traditional Christian values” effected by Barack Obama, and so on. The bounty bought Sekulow a private jet, extensive properties, and his own law firm operating for the benefit of the fundamentalists.

He also became a CNP media star. His radio show Jay Sekulow Live! has been carried by more than 1,050 stations, including Salem Communications and the Bott network. Sekulow is telegenic, with expensive suits, a perpetual tan, and an authoritative baritone. He appears as a frequent guest on Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, and his weekly program is carried on the fundamentalist Trinity Broadcasting Network, Daystar, and Sky Angel. Fox News and the three networks made him a regular commentator.

Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell took strong objection to her nomination. McConnell, a graduate of Morton Blackwell’s Leadership Institute, turned to the National Rifle Association, run by CNP member Wayne LaPierre. He requested that the group publicly oppose Sotomayor and “score” the vote to activate its members. “The NRA had never scored a vote on a judicial nomination,” wrote Greenhouse. “Judge Sotomayor had no record on gun issues. But the organization obliged Senator McConnell and announced that it would score the Sotomayor vote. Republicans melted away. Only seven voted for confirmation. The scenario was repeated the following year for the nomination of Elena Kagan, who had no track record on gun cases because she had never been a judge.” The NRA took similar actions against other nominees, with mounting success. In 2016 the NRA pulled out all the stops to derail the confirmation of Obama nominee Merrick Garland to the seat left vacant by Scalia’s death, issuing an “instant and evidence-free denunciation,” Greenhouse wrote. The NRA mobilized its supporters to lobby Congress against Garland.

According to Adam Piore in Mother Jones, in 2005 Frank Wright, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, reported that one hundred million Americans tuned in to Christian stations at least once a month. This was four times the weekly audience of National Public Radio at the time.

Salem’s programming was now available to a third of the U.S. population, and its online publications had an audience of three million. Its news division website described it as “the only Christian-focused news organization with fully-equipped broadcast facilities at the U.S. House, Senate, and White House manned by full-time correspondents,” with news “specifically created for Christian-formatted radio stations.” This meant “news” based on “biblical values”—not fact-based, multi-sourced professional practice.

Citizens for community values, affiliated with the FRC and similar organizations registered nearly 55,000 new voters by hiring a firm to call every home in the state to identify 850,000 Bush supporters, and then call each of them the day before the election, encouraging them to vote. This organization placed nearly three million inserts into church bulletins the Sunday before the election.  Bush won Ohio by 118,457 votes—with 50.8% of the vote. Switching fewer than 60,000 votes [in Ohio] would have given the national election to John Kerry.

Ralph Reed undertook the organization of evangelical activists on a national basis, collecting thousands of fundamentalist church directories across the country and submitting them to the Bush-Cheney campaign (over the objections of many pastors). Their listings were fed into phone banks and registration drives.  The campaign sent the names of unregistered evangelicals back to their local volunteers, who would contact them and encourage them to register. A Bush campaign director estimated that this campaign yielded new voters “in the range of millions.

in the six years leading up to the 2004 elections, Salem Communications and its executives contributed $423,000 to federal candidates, 96% of it to Republicans, making it the sixth-largest donor in the industry.

“Evangelicals had constituted the same portion of the electorate as in 2000, about 25%, but had turned out in higher numbers than in any presidential election for which statistics are available. White evangelicals supplied two of every five Bush votes.

According to journalist Max Blumenthal, the members of the CNP were the “hidden hand” behind McCain’s choice of running mate, having withheld their support—and their fundamentalist base—until he accepted their candidate, fundamentalist Sarah Palin, over his first choice of moderate Joe Lieberman, a decision he later regretted.

Obama’s victory challenged the fundamentalists’ electoral strategy, and they were obliged to assess their weaknesses. Once again, they had to regroup.

In 1983 Weyrich had founded a weekly, by-invitation-only lunch near Capitol Hill. The lunches served as interim meetings for CNP activists to discuss their efforts to lobby for their causes and to purge moderate congressional Republicans, with the lobbying arms of the Family Research Council and the American Family Association as important sponsors.

The grand old man of the CNP spent his twilight years traveling to Moscow, building new alliances between his conservative constituency and the ruling class of the New Russia.

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Book review of “Siege: Trump Under fire”

Preface.  Wolff’s book continues the mordant humor of Fire & Fury.  His books are the best, by far, of the dozens I’ve read about the Trump Administration.  There will never be any books as insightful because Wolff was given unprecedented access. And so much fun to read too.

It amazes me that Fire & Fury didn’t force Trump out of office, since it clearly shows that he is too incompetent, unfocused, corrupt, and crazy to be President. The Mueller report or Ukraine impeachment trial the public knows the most about don’t begin to hint at all the corruption and stupidity of what’s going on in this administration.

And has there ever been a more dislikable person than Trump in history or any book or movie?  Narcissistic with endless angry tantrums, just like the giant toddler float that shows up at protests. Stupid. Lazy. Only cares about himself. Mean to everyone. Nasty misogyny and filthy locker room talk degrading women.  Absolutely no sense of humor. None. Hated by all, even by Republicans, who spinelessly do nothing about it.  You will be appalled, I guarantee it, even though this book doesn’t delve into the evil undoing of regulations protecting our health, wealth, and futures, or the dismantling of government to dismay us about how the executive is being run, or rather not run. Though that’s partly, as the book makes clear, because no one wants to work for such a nasty man or have their career tainted by him.

This book conveys the absolute chaos, bizarre thinking, and exaggerated sense of power Trump and other key players have, such as Bannon imagining himself President in 2020 with Hannity as VP after Trump tires of the whole thing.

And then there is the endless turnover of staff as they grow tired of being humiliated and yelled at every day. Historians will be gobsmacked in the future by how such a loony bin could be at the center of the most powerful and wealthy nation that has ever existed.   

Michael Lewis saw disaster coming in his book “The Fifth Risk” about how Trump wasn’t staffing key departments, making all of us more vulnerable to risks and disasters. He even listed a pandemic as one of the potential problems.  Well, here we are, if people voted for Trump for the reality TV entertainment value, I sure hope they regret it now that it is endangering their life.

What follows are some of my kindle notes from the first half of the book. Obviously, you’d be better off buying the book; perhaps my notes will convince you to do so.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Wolff, Michael.  2019. Siege. Trump Under fire. Henry Holt.

To have worked anywhere near him is to be confronted with the most extreme and disorienting behavior possible. That is hardly an overstatement. Not only is Trump not like other presidents, he is not like anyone most of us have ever known.  In general, I have found that the closer people are to him, the more alarmed they have found themselves at various points about his mental state.

“I have never met anyone crazier than Donald Trump” is the wording of one staff member who has spent almost countless hours with the president. Something like this has been expressed to me by a dozen others with firsthand experience.

‘Where’s my Roy Cohn and Bobby Kennedy?’

Trump harbored a myth about the ideal lawyer that had almost nothing to do with the practice of law. He invariably cited Roy Cohn, his old New York friend, attorney, and tough-guy mentor, and Robert Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s brother.  With enough juice and muscle, the legal system could always be gamed.

This was the constant Trump theme: beating the system. “I’m the guy who gets away with it,” he had often bragged to friends in New York.

At the same time, he did not want to know details. He merely wanted his lawyers to assure him that he was winning. “We’re killing it, right? That’s what I want to know. That’s all I want to know. If we’re not killing it, you screwed up,” he shouted one afternoon at members of his ad hoc legal staff.

From the start, it had become a particular challenge to find top lawyers to take on what, in the past, had always been one of the most vaunted of legal assignments: representing the president of the United States. More than a dozen major firms had turned down his business. In the end, Trump was left with a ragtag group of solo practitioners without the heft and resources of big firms.  

Every lawyer’s first piece of advice to his or her client was blunt and unequivocal: talk to no one, lest it become necessary to testify about what you said [which became clear to Bannon as his ]… legal costs at the end of the year came to $2 million. Before long, a constant preoccupation of senior staffers in the Trump White House was to know as little as possible. It was a wrong-side-up world: where being “in the room” was traditionally the most sought-after status, now you wanted to stay out of meetings. You wanted to avoid being a witness to conversations; you wanted to avoid being witnessed being a witness to conversations, at least if you were smart. Certainly, nobody was your friend.

One of the many odd aspects of Trump’s presidency was that he did not see being president, either the responsibilities or the exposure, as being all that different from his pre-presidential life. He had endured almost countless investigations in his long career. He had been involved in various kinds of litigation for the better part of forty-five years. He was a fighter who, with brazenness and aggression, got out of fixes that would have ruined a weaker, less wily player. That was his essential business strategy: what doesn’t kill me strengthens me. Though he was wounded again and again, he never bled out.

“It’s playing the game,” he explained in one of his frequent monologues about his own superiority and everyone else’s stupidity. “I’m good at the game. Maybe I’m the best. Really, I could be the best. I think I am the best. I’m very good. Very cool. Most people are afraid that the worst might happen. But it doesn’t, unless you’re stupid. And I’m not stupid.

Tantrum Toddler Narcissitic Stupid inept Trump

“When you speak to him, open with positive feedback,” counseled Hicks, understanding Trump’s need for constant affirmation and his almost complete inability to talk about anything but himself.

Trump did not want his administration to be staffed by professionals; he wanted it to be staffed by people who attended and catered to him.

As a family insider, Kushner, in a game of court politics so vicious that, in another time, it might have yielded murder plots, had appeared to triumph over his early White House rivals. But Trump invariably soured on the people who worked for him, just as they soured on him, not least because he nearly always came to believe that his staff was profiting at his expense. He was convinced that everyone was greedy, and that sooner or later they would try to take what was more rightfully his. Increasingly, it seemed that Kushner, too, might be just another staff member trying to take advantage of Donald Trump.

Kushner, with superhuman patience and resolve, waited for his opportunity. The trick among Trump whisperers was how to focus Trump’s attention, since Trump could never be counted on to participate in anything like a normal conversation with reasonable back-and-forth. Sports and women were reliable subjects; both would immediately engage him. Disloyalty also got Trump’s attention. So did conspiracies. And money—always money. 

Trump didn’t want a chief of staff who would focus him. Trump, it was clear, didn’t want a chief of staff who would tell him anything. Trump did not want a White House that ran by any method other than to satisfy his desires. Someone happened to mention that John F. Kennedy didn’t have a chief of staff, and now Trump regularly repeated this presidential factoid.

Trump’s bubble was smaller and increasingly less penetrable: he was left, at night, in bed, eating his favorite candy bars—Three Musketeers—and talking to a slavish and reassuring Sean Hannity.

Trump could only be part of an organization that attended to him with unalloyed devotion; he could not really imagine another type. He insisted that the White House operate more like the Trump Organization, an enterprise dedicated to his satisfaction and committed to following and covering for his peripatetic and impulsive interests. Trump’s management practices were entirely self-centered, not task-oriented or organizationally based. An outward focus, or focus of any sort, was not his concern or his method.

It often seemed as though Trump, remote from the technical operations of governing, glued to the television and obsessed by its moment-by-moment challenges and insults, did not really intersect with his own White House.

Many around Trump were surprised to record an unexpected character note: he wasn’t paranoid. He was self-pitying and melodramatic, but not on guard. Negativity and betrayal always startled him. Narcissism, really, is the opposite of paranoia: Trump thought people were and should be protecting him.

Why couldn’t he get what he wanted? The problem was the White House itself. Its many personalities and power centers demanded a savvy and politesse and diplomacy and adroitness—indeed, a willingness to work with others—that, counter to everything in Trump’s life, he was not now going to summon.

The only show that had ever worked for Donald Trump was a one-man show. With only a tight circle of intimates, few people would learn much about what he felt, what he believed, or what, if anything, he might want to truly express. While some found him cryptic in a way that could be construed as wise or brilliant, others often suspected he merely had nothing to say.

Every day was a minefield. Trump constantly thought out loud. He perhaps had no solely private thoughts, and certainly no editing mechanism when he invariably expressed what was on his mind. Everyone was therefore potentially included in a wide conspiracy. Everybody was privy to the details of a cover-up.

Trump the Grifter

At the same time, many, and perhaps all, were privately convinced that a deep dive—or, for that matter, even a cursory inspection—of Trump’s financial past would yield a trove of overt offenses, and likely a pattern of career corruption.  Books and newspaper stories about Trump’s 45 years in business were full of his shady dealings, and his arrival in the White House only helped to highlight them and surface even juicier ones. Real estate was the world’s favorite money-laundering currency, and Trump’s B-level real estate business—relentlessly marketed by Trump as triple A—was quite explicitly designed to appeal to money launderers

Kushner understood that Trump was surrounded by a set of mortal arrows, any of which might kill him: the case for obstruction; the case for collusion; any close look at his long, dubious financial history; the always-lurking issues with women; the prospects of a midterm rout and the impeachment threat if the midterm elections went against them; the fickleness of the Republicans, who might at any time turn on him; and the senior staffers who had been pushed out of the administration (Kushner had urged the ouster of many of them), any of whom might testify against him.

The Southern District was looking to treat the Trump Organization as a Mob-like enterprise; its lawyers would use the RICO laws against it and go after the president as if he were a drug lord or Mob don. Kushner pointed out that corporations had no Fifth Amendment privilege, and that you couldn’t pardon a corporation. As well, assets used in or derived from the commission of a crime could be seized by the government. In other words, of the more than five hundred companies and separate entities in which Donald Trump had been an officer, up until he became president, many might be subject to forfeiture. One potential casualty of a successful forfeiture action was the president’s signature piece of real estate: the government could seize Trump Tower.

Trump certainly ran his business as though it were a criminal enterprise. In the Trump Organization the truth needed to be contained in a tight circle—that was the secret sauce. Trump measured loyalty, that significant currency of his business and walk-on-the-wild-side lifestyle, by who was so dependent on him, and as clearly exposed as he was, that they would of course lie for him. The model here was mobster life. Trump not only knew mobsters, and did business with them, he romanticized them. Mobsters had more fun. He would not conform to behavior that respectability demanded; he would go out of his way not to be respectable. Trump was the Dapper Don; it was a joke he embraced. His New York, his era of nightlife and prizefights—with Roy Cohn, the gold standard of Mob lawyers, by his side—was a Mob heyday. Hence the special nature of his inner circle at the Trump Organization. They were all truly his: his executive assistant (holding the title of senior vice president), Rhona Graff; his accountant, Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg; his lawyers, Michael Cohen and Marc Kasowitz; his security man, Keith Schiller; his bodyguard, Matt Calamari, eventually elevated to Trump Organization COO; his children. Later, in the White House, Hope Hicks would join this trusted circle, as would Corey Lewandowski. This was extreme codependence. You became an extension of DJT, a part of the strange organism that, daily, demonstrated an uncanny ability to survive every threat.

A frequent Trump riff was about whom he could pardon. His list included both contemporary and historical figures. Aides were urged to offer ideas about who could be added to the list.

He wanted to know just how absolute “absolute” really was. His lawyers went out of their way to assure him that his power was, indeed, truly absolute, thus reassuring him that he had ultimate control of his own fate: in a pinch, he could even pardon himself.

“It really is a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Trump proudly marveled to one frequent caller. “I am told there is nothing anyone can do if I pardon someone. I’m totally protected.


“Almost everything he does is about trying to avoid humiliation,” said Bannon.

Whatever current feeling Bannon might have for Trump—his mood ranged from exasperation to fury to disgust to incredulity—he continued to believe that nobody in American politics could match Trump’s midway-style showmanship. Yes, Donald Trump had restored showmanship to American politics—he had taken the wonk out of politics. In sum, he knew his audience. At the same time, he couldn’t walk a straight line. Every step forward was threatened by his next lurch. Like many great actors, his innate self-destructiveness was always in conflict with his keen survival instincts.

Bannon understood what moved Trump. Details did not. Facts did not. But a sense that something valuable might be taken from him immediately brought him up on his hind legs. If you confronted him with losing, he would turn on a dime. Indeed, turning on a dime was his only play. “It’s not that he needs to win the week, or day, or even the hour,” reflected Bannon. “He needs to win the second. After that, he drifts.

You had to constantly remind Trump which side he was on. As Bannon organized a howling protest from the president’s base, he took stock of the Trump reality: “There simply is not going to be a Wall, ever, if he doesn’t have to pay a political price for there not being a Wall.” If the Wall was not under way by the midterm elections in November, it would show Trump to be false and, worse, weak. The Wall needed to be real. The absence of the Wall in the spending bill was just what it seemed to be: Trump out to lunch. Trump’s most effective message, the forward front of the Trump narrative—maximal aggression toward illegal immigrants—had been muted. And this had happened without him knowing it.

Bannon believed he represented the workingman against the corporate-governmental-technocratic machine whose constituency was the college-educated.

China was the Russia of 1962—but smarter, more tenacious, and more threatening. American hedge funders, in their secret support of China against the interests of the American middle class, were the new fifth column.

The Wall and so much else that was part of Bannon’s populist revolution—the details of which he had once listed on whiteboards in his White House office, expecting to check each one off—were entirely captive to Trump’s inattention and wild mood swings. Trump, Bannon had long ago learned, “doesn’t give a fuck about the agenda—he doesn’t know what the agenda is.

For Bannon there were two sides in American politics—not so much right and left, but right brain and left brain. The left brain was represented by the legal system, which was empirical, evidentiary, and methodical; given the chance, it would inevitably and correctly convict Donald Trump. The right side was represented by politics, and therefore by voters who were emotional, volatile, febrile, and always eager to throw the dice. “Get the deplorables fired up”—he slapped his hands in thunderclap effect—“and we’ll save our man.

Bannon understood that only Trump could save the day, or at least that Trump believed only he could save the day. No other scenario was possible. He would rather lose, would rather even go to jail, than have to share victory with someone else. He was psychologically incapable of not being the focus of all attention.

Bannon spent a good part of every day talking to reporters. On some days, perhaps most days, his blind-quote voice—hidden behind a familiar attribution such as “this account is drawn from interviews with current and former officials”—crowded out most other voices on the subject of whatever new crisis was engulfing the Trump administration. These quotes functioned as something like a stage whisper that Trump could pretend he didn’t hear. Trump, in fact, was always desperately seeking Bannon’s advice, though only if there was the slightest pretext for believing that it came from some place other than Bannon. Indeed, Trump was quite willing to hear Bannon say something in this or that interview and then claim he had thought of it himself.

Trump’s stupidity, said Bannon, could sometimes be made into a virtue. Here was Bannon’s idea: the president should make a retroactive claim of executive privilege. I didn’t know. Nobody told me. I was ill-advised. It was hard not to see Bannon’s satisfaction in a prostrate Trump admitting to his own lack of guile and artfulness. Bannon understood that this claim of retroactive executive privilege would have no chance of success—nor should it. But the sheer audacity of it could buy them four or five months of legal delay. Delay was their friend, possibly their only friend. They could work this claim of retroactive executive privilege, no matter how loopy, all the way to the Supreme Court. For this plan to work, the president would have to get rid of his inept lawyers. Oh, and he would also have to fire Rod Rosenstein.

Privately, or not so privately, Bannon believed that Trump, if he made it through his first term, would have had quite enough of the presidency by 2020. “Dude, look at him,” said Bannon, who didn’t look all that good himself. In the event that Trump did not run in 2020, Bannon—ever revivified by the daily lurches, catastrophes, and lost opportunities of the Trump presidency—saw himself as the presidential candidate for the populist-nationalist movement and its radical immigration platform. He saw Sean Hannity as his running mate.

A contemptuous Hannity, with grandiose ambitions of his own, insisted that this scenario was ludicrous. He would top the ticket, with Bannon, “if he’s lucky,” taking the second spot.

Bannon had his own reasons for not wanting Trump to have a meltdown in Europe. In recent months Bannon had vastly expanded the reach of his populist ambitions, promoting Trump as the new standard-bearer for right-wing Europe. If Brussels was the symbol, though a none-too-vibrant one, of a united globalist Europe, Trump was the symbol of a cohesive new right-wing Europe. That, anyway, was Bannon’s message, or snake oil. What he had done for Trump he could do for the ever-lagging right-wing parties of Europe. So Trump “losing his shit” on a European visit might not be the best thing for Bannon’s business.

Now, with the NATO trip looming, Bannon needed Trump to look the part of the American strongman, and not behave like a baby having a temper tantrum. That might spook Bannon’s European clients.

NATO, Trump kept repeating to various people accompanying him, “bores the shit out of me.” Indeed, NATO was a vast, complicated bureaucratic construct, a meticulous and uneven balance of interests. Trump’s urge to disrupt it might be as much about his resistance to small-bore details—white papers, data backgrounders, endless coalition politics—as about policy and operational matters. He needed to tilt the conversation from small to large. The small, the calibrated, the item-by-item approach infuriated him. He even saw it as a power play against him, suspecting that people knew he could not absorb details.

The other aspect of NATO summits he found irritating was that they were group meetings. He was almost invariably enthusiastic about one-on-one world leader meetings—no matter the subject, no matter the leader—and agitated about collective gatherings. He worried about being ganged up on; he suspected that plots had been laid to trick him.

His stated goal at the summit was to persuade NATO member states to raise their financial contribution. This was a longtime conservative gripe: alliances and foreign aid did little except ensure that the United States got cheated. 

The Wall

The White House had originally asked for $25 billion for the Wall, although high-end estimates of the Wall’s ultimate cost came in at $70 billion. Even then, the $1.6 billion in the appropriations bill was not so much for the Wall as for better security measures

Republicans like Ryan—with the backing of Republican donors such as Paul Singer and Charles Koch—who were eager to walk back, by whatever increment possible, Trump’s hard-line immigration policies and rhetoric. Ryan and others had devised a simple method for accomplishing this kind of objective: you agreed with him and then ignored him. There was happy talk, which Trump bathed in, followed by practical steps, which bored him.

Here were the twin realities. The Wall was the most concrete manifestation of Trumpian policy, attitude, belief, and personality. At the same time, the Wall forced every Republican politician to come to terms with his or her own common sense, fiscal prudence, and political flexibility.

The night of the twenty-second, the Fox News lineup—Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity—hammered the message: betrayal (on not funding the Wall). All three Fox pundits delivered a set of electric shocks, each rising in current. Trump had sold out the movement. Or, worse, Trump had been outsmarted and outwitted. Trump, on the phone, roared in pain and fury. He was the victim. He had no one in his corner. He could trust no one. The congressional leadership: against him. The White House itself: against him. Betrayal? Almost everyone in the White House had betrayed him.

The next morning it got worse. Pete Hegseth, the most obsequious of the Fox Trump lovers, seemed, on Fox & Friends, nearly brought to tears by Trump’s treachery. Then, almost simultaneously with Hegseth’s wailing, Trump abruptly—confoundingly—shifted position and tweeted that he was considering vetoing the appropriations bill. The same bill that, 24 hours before, he had embraced.

That Friday morning, he came down from the residence into the Oval Office in a full-on rage so violent that, for a moment, his hair came undone. To the shock of the people with him, there stood an almost entirely bald Donald Trump. The president’s sudden change of heart sent the entire Republican Party into a panic. If Trump carried out his threat not to sign the bill, he would bring on what they most feared: a shutdown. And he might well blame the shutdown on his own party.

Mitch McConnell rushed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis into action to tell the president that American soldiers would not be paid the next day if he didn’t sign the bill. Once again he caved and agreed to sign the bill. But he vowed that next time there would be billions upon billions for the Wall or there really would be a shutdown. Really. Really.

As with all issues, the details bored him. Hence, he became extremely susceptible to the last person who sold him on a different mix of details. Over and over, Hannity would reiterate and reinforce the policy’s zero-tolerance theme. This was rendered, of course, as effusive praise for Trump. Only he had the guts to stop the endless flow of immigrants. Trump, galvanized, was suddenly demanding a new executive order that would fund the Wall

Mean Trump and staff abandoning the madhouse

McGahn’s background was largely as a federal election lawyer. Mostly he was on the more-money, less-transparency side—he was against, rather than for, aggressive enforcement of election laws. White House counsel Don McGahn. He was a constant target for his boss’s belittling, mocking, falsetto-voice mimicry, and, as well, sweeping disparagements of his purpose and usefulness.

The more Pence bowed, the more Trump tried to figure out his angle. “Why does he look at me like that?” Trump asked about the way Pence seemed to stare at him near beatifically. “He’s a religious nut,” Trump concluded. “He was a sitting governor and was going to lose when we gave him the job. So I guess he’s got a good reason to love me. But they say he was the stupidest man in Congress.

Early in the administration, an article in Rolling Stone had quoted Pence referring to his wife as “Mother.” The moniker stuck. Since then, Mrs. Pence has been known throughout the West Wing as Mother, and not with affection. She was seen as the power behind the vice-presidential throne—the canny, indefatigable, iron-willed strategist who propped up her hapless husband. “She really gives me the creeps,” said Trump, who avoided Mrs. Pence.

The story of the past 15 months had not been about a president strengthening his White House team, but about the attrition of the relatively weak team that Trump had been rushed into accepting. Almost the entire top tier of White House management had been washed out in little more than a year. Flynn, Priebus, Bannon, Cohn, Hicks, McMaster—all of these and so many others, gone. In some sense he had no chief of staff, no communications department, no National Security Council, no political operation, no congressional liaison office, and only a sputtering office of the White House counsel.

Those who remained or joined up seemed to better understand the rules: they worked for Donald Trump, not for the president of the United States. If you wanted to survive, you could not see this as an institutional relationship; instead, you needed to accept that you were serving at the pleasure of a wholly idiosyncratic boss who personalized everything. Mike Pompeo was so far succeeding because he seemed to have put down a big wager that his future lay in being subservient to Trump. Indeed, it was his guess that stoicism and holding his tongue might someday make him president. Meanwhile, Larry Kudlow, replacing Gary Cohn on the National Economic Council, and John Bolton, replacing H. R. McMaster, were perfect substitutes because they both desperately needed the job—Kudlow had lost his show on CNBC and Bolton had long been consigned to the foreign policy wilderness with little hope of escape.

These replacements aside, more than a year into the Trump administration, many White House jobs remained unfilled. The risks of legal costs were too high, the pain of working for Donald Trump too great, and the stain on one’s career too evident.

The Conways’ public disagreement was, some acquaintances and colleagues believed, itself a lie, one in which the couple conspired to distance themselves from Trump’s lies. “They are of one mind about Trump,” said a friend of the couple’s. “They hate him.” The husband would take a moral stand, protecting his own reputation and law firm partnership, while the wife, who privately professed to be aghast at Trump, continued to defend her client.

Trump the Liar

Lying willfully, adamantly, without distress or regret, and with absolute disregard of consequences can be a bulwark if not a fail-safe defense. It turns out that somebody always believes you. Fooling some of the people all of the time defined Trump’s hard-core base.

Neither evidence nor logic would force the president into an admission. He would hold like the toughest barnacle to his lies. On the part of many in the White House, there was a constant fear, if not assumption, that some piece of irrefutable evidence would eventually surface and cause severe, perhaps fatal, damage. What if, for instance, someone actually produced a copy of the pee tape? Not to worry, said those who knew him best: even in such a predicament, Trump would not only deny it but convince a good part of the electorate to embrace his denial. It would be his word against a fake video.

One could argue that Trump’s métier—indeed, his primary business strategy—was lying. Trump Tower, Trump Shuttle, Trump Soho, Trump University, the Trump Casinos, Mar-a-Lago—all these enterprises were followed by a trail of claims and litigation that told a consistent story of borderline and often outright fraud. Broke in the 1990s, he somehow returned a few years later to billionaire status—hell, a billionaire ten times over!—at least in his telling. He was a con man,

Very little about him was real, and yet he managed to be at least halfway believed by enough people so that he could continue the con. This was where he really shone: he always stayed in character. When a person who is the target of multiple investigations remains outwardly untroubled, the effect is quite extraordinary. Such apparent coolness under fire fully exploits, to an almost unimaginable degree, the concept of innocent until proven guilty.

Michael Cohen

A successful career at the Trump Organization depended on getting Trump’s attention and favor. Cohen, like Trump, played at being a mobster to the point of becoming one. The coarser, grosser, and blunter you could be, the better; such behavior affirmed your standing with the boss. Trump’s oft-used injunction—“Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”—was taken as both license and direction to do whatever it took to advance the Trump cause.

Melania & Family

Over time, a political wife develops habits and rationalizations and personal armor to deal with the loss of privacy and self, as well as the sometimes alarming public face of the man she has married; Melania had none of these defenses. To the extent that the Trumps had lived a don’t-ask-don’t-tell life—helped by the considerable distance between them allowed by their ample real estate, including at least one house near his golf club in the New York suburbs that Trump kept carefully hidden from his wife—this now became impossible. Whatever polite arrangement they had had prior to the campaign had certainly come crashing down in October with the grab-them-by-the-pussy tape. There was not only this terrible public coarseness, but the ensuing public testimony of multiple women claiming abuse at Trump’s hands.

Trump seemed entirely incapable of acknowledging that he even had a personal life, much less that it necessitated any kind of emotional allowance or understanding. Indeed, his personal life merely demanded the same kind of “fixing” as his business life. When Marla Maples became pregnant in the early 1990s, before their marriage, he debated with one friend how he could avoid both the marriage and the baby. The scenarios included pushing Maples down the stairs to cause a miscarriage.

Melania’s singular focus was her son. Together, mother and son occupied a bubble inside the Trump bubble. She assiduously protected Barron from his father’s remoteness. Ever cold-shouldered by Trump’s adult children, Melania and Barron were the non-Trump family inside the Trump family.

Melania sometimes spoke Slovenian with Barron, particularly when her parents were around—and they were frequently around—infuriating Trump and causing him to bolt from any room they were in. But the private living quarters in the White House were much smaller than their home in Trump Tower, making it more difficult for Trump and his wife to escape each other.

Even beyond their separate bedrooms in the White House—they were the first presidential couple since JFK and Jackie to room apart—much of Melania’s time was spent in a house in Maryland where she had installed her parents and established what was effectively a separate life for herself. This was the arrangement. For Trump, it was workable; for Melania, quite a bit less so. Maryland was fine—she had become quite involved with Barron’s school there, St. Andrews Episcopal School in Potomac—but what duties she had in the White House became more and more onerous as Trump’s relationship with his son became increasingly difficult

Barron, who turned twelve in March 2018, had become more distant toward his father. This might not be unusual behavior for a boy his age, but Trump responded with hostility. This took the form of ignoring his son when they had to be together; Trump also went out of his way to avoid any situation where he might have to encounter him. When he did appear with his son in public, he would talk about him in the third person—seldom to him, but casually about him.

2018 Mid-term Election

But in this scenario, a thirty- to sixty-seat loss would be, with a little critical interpretation, a gift to Trump—at least assuming the Republicans held the Senate. Just as he had run against Washington in 2016, now he would be able to do so again in 2020. Trump was at his best with an enemy: he needed the Democrats as his rabid and hysterical opposition. And enemies did not get any better than Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. Picking on Pelosi gave Trump energy. Ridiculing her gave him a special pleasure—and it was a plus that she was a woman. Impeachment? Bring it on. Since he had a fail-safe in the Senate, it would all be for show—his show.

Fighting Congress would be a noble cause, Kushner felt; he also felt, all in all, that it was better now to keep Trump out of the confused midterm fray. This was part of the standard business-as-usual math: if you have an unpopular president—and Trump’s numbers were about as low as any president’s had ever been at this point before the midterms—you don’t send him out to stump in iffy races.

And then there was Trump’s own view: he found it very hard to feel in any way concerned about other people’s political problems. The idea of party, of the president ultimately being a soldier in a larger effort, would never mean anything to him. Even the idea of giving a speech about someone else—praising someone else—was a large pill for him.

Mitch McConnell was not only telling people that the House was lost. He was turning it to his advantage, using the doomed House as the selling point to raise money for the Senate. He was sure the Senate Republican majority would be held—twenty-six Democratic seats were up, versus nine Republican seats. Further, he believed the Republicans might pick up two or even three seats.

McConnell’s contempt for Trump was boundless. He was not just the stupidest president McConnell had ever dealt with, he was the stupidest person McConnell had ever met in politics—and that was saying something. He and his wife, Elaine Chao, the secretary of transportation, regularly mocked and mimicked Trump, a set piece they would perform for friends.

As for the sensible thought that the White House comms staff should get behind a political theme that would unite the White House and the party in a common fight toward November, forget it. Beyond the comms talent and leadership shortage—and the ongoing turf war among Sanders, Conway, and Mercedes Schlapp—the comms staff’s job was not to be outward-looking; their mission was to look inward and please Trump by defending him in a way that met with his approval. This, of course, was impossible: they never pleased him.

You couldn’t miss the sense of codependence here. Trump’s key supporters worked for him because nobody else would have them. For Bannon, bitter about many things, but now, at 64, having the time of his life, electing Trump was the ultimate fuck you. Part of his mission was to elect Trump precisely to shock and outrage all of the people who so passionately didn’t want him elected.


Kushner’s personal wealth depended on a shaky business whose precarious financial foundation rested on less-than-creditworthy loans. These were the kinds of loans secured through personal relationships and, not unusually, the trading of favors and influence. Often, they were obtained from countries with lax regulatory rules.

Outside of Western democracies, much of the world’s foreign policy was transactional in nature. Personal enrichment and an individual’s hold on power were ruling concerns in all but the most stable states and regions. This had become more pronounced as private fortunes vied with governments or collaborated with them. The oligarch-billionaire world—from Russia to China, from South Asia to the Gulf states—ran its own diplomatic missions. People who had the money to bribe, who fundamentally believed that anyone could be bribed, and who had outsize influence on the legal structures that might otherwise restrict bribery, had become major foreign policy players in key parts of the world.

For decades, the United States had reliably frustrated transactional and freelance diplomatic efforts. The American government was too big, its institutions too entrenched, its bureaucracy too powerful, its foreign policy establishment too influential. The international world of fixers and operators, often referred to euphemistically as “investors” and “representatives,” had to toil long and hard to be heard in Washington.

Almost immediately after his father-in-law’s election, Kushner became the sought-after point man for any foreign government inclined to deal with a family rather than an array of institutions. Instead of depending on a vast and frequently unresponsive bureaucracy to arbitrate and process your concerns, you could go directly to Kushner, and Kushner could go to the president-elect. Once Trump was inaugurated, you had, through Kushner, an all but direct line to the president.

Side deals, personal introductions, quid pro quos, agents and subagents—all these quickly spawned a parallel diplomatic force, a legion of people representing themselves as having a direct relationship with the president. Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer, opened for business and began collecting money from dubious characters and regimes. Chris Ruddy, who ran a conservative news site that marketed vitamin supplements and was a Palm Beach confidant of the president’s, suddenly, in May 2018, had a $90 million investment offer from Qatar. David Pecker, the president’s friend who ran the supermarket tabloid the National Enquirer, walked a high-placed Saudi intermediary into the White House and was suddenly talking to the Saudis about backing his quixotic, if not screwball, effort to acquire Time magazine.

But the most efficient point of contact was Trump’s son-in-law. Russian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern diplomatic strategy centered on Kushner.

In a side deal that was unprecedented in modern diplomatic history, intermediaries from Saudi Arabia’s deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), approached Kushner during the transition period before the Trump administration entered the White House. The key issue for the House of Saud was financial—specifically, declining oil prices and an ever growing and more demanding royal family supported by oil output. The thirty-one-year-old deputy Crown Prince’s solution was economic diversification. This would be funded by taking the Saudi-owned oil company Aramco public, at an anticipated $2 trillion valuation. But first the plan would have to surmount a not inconsiderable obstacle: JASTA, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which was expressly written to make it possible for 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia. If Aramco were listed on a foreign exchange, it would be particularly vulnerable to anyone taking advantage of the opening provided by JASTA; in fact, Aramco’s liability would be virtually unlimited. Hence, who would invest? Not to worry: Kushner was on the case. If MBS would help Jared with a menu of items, including pressuring the Palestinians, Jared would help MBS. Indeed, MBS, to the consternation of the State Department—who backed his cousin the Crown Prince Muhammed bin Nayef (MBN)—would be one of the first state visitors to the White House. Three months later, without any White House objections, MBS ousted his cousin and became Crown Prince, the presumptive heir to the throne and the effective day-to-day Saudi leader. It was the Trump administration’s first coup.

Kushner found himself, or had positioned himself, as one of the essential players in one of the world’s largest pools of unregulated free cash flow.

In the White House, Kushner and Bannon represented the opposite polls of liberal globalism and right-wing nationalism. Bannon, for one, believed that Kushner showed the true and deeply self-interested face of liberal globalism. The Kushner family’s desperate need for cash was turning U.S. foreign policy into an investment banking scheme dedicated to the refinancing of the Kushner family debt. Government service regularly greased the wheels for future private careers and wealth, but Kushner, in Bannon’s view, was taking this to astounding new levels of self-dealing.

Kushner’s analysis was the same as nearly everyone’s who spent a significant amount of time around the president. He was childlike—a hyperactive child at that. There was no clear reason for why something caught his interest, nor was there any way to predict his reaction or modulate his response to it. He had no ability to distinguish the important from the less important. There seemed to be no such thing as objective reality.

The key to managing his father-in-law—as everyone in Trump’s family, in the Trump Organization, on The Apprentice, and now in the White House understood—was distraction. The more, for instance, Kushner could persuade Trump to get involved in foreign policy, the less he would obsess about his own more immediate political and legal issues.

In early 2018, as Kushner refined his strategy for shifting Trump’s focus from his present troubles, his thinking reflected advice he had received from Kissinger, who had served as Nixon’s national security advisor and secretary of state. Nixon had been distracted from his legal problems by foreign policy excursions, and, Kissinger noted, this had distracted the media, too. Over lunch at Bedminster shortly after the New Year, Kushner told his father-in-law that he should completely rethink his approach to North Korea. Kushner sketched out the favorable consequences: not only would he change the world opinion of his presidency; he could rub the noses of so many Trump haters in his accomplishment. Taking on one of the world’s most volatile situations and reversing it was a PR no-brainer. It would be like Nixon going to China, Kushner told the president, a major historical development. One for the history books—a favorite Trump phrase and standard. Kushner assured his father-in-law that he could declare victory in his campaign against North Korea and proclaim peace. Kushner had been told—or at least this is what he told his father-in-law—that not only was Kim ready to deal, he personally admired Trump. Flattery was flowing through the backdoor channels. Over the course of that lunch—hamburgers were served—Trump’s yearlong campaign to confront, demonize, and provoke North Korea, a personal enterprise supported by no one in the White House, was entirely put aside.

News of the proposed summit with Kim broke in early March. Trump’s foreign policy team—Tillerson, Mattis, McMaster, even the wholeheartedly loyal Pompeo—was relieved that the president was no longer issuing reckless threats, but confused and appalled that, in place of his taunts, he seemed ready to give away the store. With no revision of policy, no change in anything other than mood music, Trump had agreed to a radical alteration in the country’s posture toward North Korea.

The fear that Trump might go to war—that in a temper tantrum or a fit of megalomania, he would release the awesome power of the U.S. military—was misplaced.

The issue was not that he might act precipitously and recklessly because he didn’t understand the consequences of doing so. The issue was that he could not comprehend the actual choices that needed to be made in order to act; indeed, he could not even stay in the room long enough to decide on a course of action. For Trump, the fog of war would waylay him before the first command could be given.

In the weeks before the grand trip to Singapore, worries about the difficulty of briefing the president became both a critical concern and a topic of high comedy. There was almost no particular—not geographic, not economic, not military, not historical—that he seemed to grasp. Could he even identify the Korean peninsula on a map?

in defiance of the most basic North and South Korean norms and assumptions—or, perhaps, just to fuck with the foreign policy people and, especially, Mattis, who increasingly irked him—Trump suddenly began talking about withdrawing U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula. That is, for perhaps nothing in return, he might give China and North Korea what they most wanted: the transformative change that would remove the United States from the region’s power equation. Shortstopping this disaster quickly became the central goal of the foreign policy team. A successful summit would be one that did not permit China and North Korea to achieve total victory.


Hannity was now one of the richest men in television news. In 2017, Roger Ailes, his former boss and the man who had plucked him from a $40,000-a-year television job, estimated Hannity’s net worth at $300 million to $400 million. From his earliest days as a big earner at the network, Hannity had invested in rental properties across the country. “He may own every shitty piece of real estate in America,” said Ailes, fondly. Bannon, never one to miss the obvious joke, wondered, “How many illegals live in Hannity’s rentals?

After Ailes’s ouster, the leadership at Fox was seized by the Murdoch family, which was ever consumed by its daily squabble about whether the father or one of his two sons had actual control. Rupert himself, after sixty-five years as the most aggressive and successful newspaperman on the planet, still had scant interest in television news; his sons, Lachlan and James, were political moderates and liberal society wannabes, and they were regularly embarrassed by Fox. The entire family, however, appreciated the cash windfall from the network—hence they were stuck, at least for the moment, with the Fox programming point of view.

Fox’s billion-dollar prime-time schedule was left to Hannity, the weaker player behind O’Reilly and Kelly; Tucker Carlson, a second-string replacement anchor; and, after a botched attempt at a panel show, Laura Ingraham, a conservative radio host who had never had a television success.

Fox was no longer the brand; Trump was the brand. And the Trump-brand narrative was television genius. The establishment cadres—the elites, the media, the deep state, the great liberal conspiracy—were trying to bring Donald Trump down. At Fox, this was a big-ratings message: he had to be defended. And his most Trumpian instincts, especially those involving immigration, had to be supported, lest he waver from them.

Two of Bannon’s acolytes in the White House, Stephen Miller and Julie Hahn, the Trump anti-immigration brain trust, often lobbied Trump through Hannity. Indeed, Hahn’s job was now divided between policy and comms, where she was the direct contact with Hannity—not only giving Hannity the White House position, but giving him the Bannon-Miller-Hahn position, which Hannity would recycle back to Trump.

Hannity and the president spoke as often as six or seven times a day. The calls sometimes lasted more than thirty minutes. John Kelly, astounded that there were days when the president spent as many as three hours talking to Hannity, had tried to limit these calls. But Hannity was a calming influence on Trump: he was both a distraction and a willing audience for Trump’s endless complaints about almost everybody. Furthermore, Hannity supplied Trump with an ongoing report on TV ratings, one of the few things that could reliably hold Trump’s interest. As always, Trump was keenly responsive to whatever words and actions might get him better ratings.

“I calm him down,” explained Hannity, with solemn modesty, to a group of Fox people about his conversations with the president. Bannon had a different view. “Hannity’s theories are crazier than even Trump’s,” he said, “so Trump becomes the voice of reason.

A return in Trump’s tweets to the Wall would often be Hannity’s doing. This was old-fashioned politics, of course, a politician behaving in a way that would please his constituents. But this other angle—a television host directing the president to do whatever might most compel a television audience—took the game a big step further.

Hannity, the ultimate let-Trump-be-Trump-er, believed that it was his job, in television as well as in politics, to draw out Trump’s performance—to encourage Trump to be his most Trumpian. Much of their conversations were about how this or that Trump utterance or tweet, or public dis or snarl, had played on television. Trump, rarely studious about anything, was a patient student of what played well.

Hannity was happy to support Trump’s contempt for his own team. The comms department should have stood between Hannity and the president; instead, Hannity stood between the president and his comms team. Hannity was joined in this by Bannon, who saw himself functioning as shadow communications director (in addition to shadow everything else). Both men hugely enjoyed the abuse the comms team was forced to take from Trump. If Trump abused the press, he abused his own press team even more, issuing constant critiques on demeanor, dress, hair, and the passion of their defense of him.

For Hannity, the Wall was literal, just as he believed it was for the rest of the Trump base. The Wall needed to be made of cement—“no virtual shit,” Hannity would say. It needed to be the physical manifestation of Make American Great Again. The mantra was simple: if there was no Wall, there was no Trump. Stopping immigration was the Trump story. Immigration was the passion. You could not be too tough on immigration. And the tougher you were, the better chance you’d have of winning in November.

Trump had helped turn the final years of the 87-year-old Murdoch, a towering figure in conservative politics, into a sour time, with Murdoch having to kowtow to Trump, whom he considered to be a charlatan and a fool, and with his sons blaming him for his unwitting part in Trump’s rise.

Volatility was the enemy of power. Murdoch regarded Trump and Hannity as performers—clowns, both of them. Hannity was useful to him; Trump, before his election, was little more than fodder for Murdoch’s New York Post. Powerful men are often amused by the lesser attainments of lesser men who wish for power. For both Murdoch and Ailes, Trump and Hannity had been a shared bit of incredulity, a measure of how far you could go on lots of ambition and little brain power.

“I can’t get the asshole off the phone,” said Murdoch to an associate after Trump entered the White House, holding out the phone as the president’s voice rambled into the air. Meanwhile, as a function of both his easy access to Trump and the rising ratings at Fox, Murdoch, now theoretically running the network himself, allowed his prime-time anchors to devote themselves to Trump. This move was bitterly opposed by his son James, who was revolted by both Trump and the prime-time lineup. James, drinking at a heavy rate, became increasingly confrontational with his father. (“His son is a drunk,” Trump would say, rarely missing an opportunity to point this out.) James’s wife, Kathryn, was particularly vocal about how much she detested Fox News, and, indeed, much of the Murdoch company’s politics. Father and son had screaming fights over Hannity and Trump.

Seeing no way to manage his own family’s discord—Murdoch was by this time barely speaking to James, who had long been the designated heir—he began, six months into the Trump presidency, to plan for the sale of his company. His agreement with Disney, announced in December 2017, included most of the assets of the company, except for Fox News, which Disney did not want, and the Fox Network and local television stations, which would have caused issues with regulators.

James would leave the company, and the remaining assets would be run by Murdoch’s older son, Lachlan, until they, too, could be sold. But there would be few corporate buyers for Fox and, the Murdochs believed, perhaps no buyers if Sean Hannity remained a vital part of the deal. Hannity’s conspiracy mongering was not just absurd but intolerable: with his open political advocacy for Trump, he regularly flirted with FCC violations. And in the likely event that Trump fell, Hannity’s value, and the network’s value, would fall, too.

For all of Hannity’s flattery, for all of his zealous commitment to the president, Trump, in almost equal proportion, had become disdainful of him. This was partly standard practice. Sooner or later, Trump felt contempt for anyone who showed him too much devotion. “Hating himself, he of course comes to hate anyone who seems to love him,” analyzed Bannon.

He demanded sycophancy from the people around him and then shamed them for their weakness.

And then there was money. Trump invariably despised anyone who came to profit off of him without sharing the financial benefit with him. For Trump, Hannity’s high ratings were really his own; hence, he was being cheated.

Virtually everybody, including most of the Trumpiest figures in Trumpworld, thought Hannity was a figure of rare daftness and incoherence. Even Trump would shout at his television, “No follow, Sean, no follow.

Bannon, too, though fond of Hannity and of his plane, was consistently amazed by the bizarre direction of Hannity’s monologues, which echoed some of the most extreme online conspiracy forums. “Dude, dude, don’t go bonkers on me,” Bannon would mutter as he watched an evening broadcast.

The Apprentice reality TV show

One person who became a part of this organism a dozen years before Trump became president was Erik Whitestone, a young sound engineer in New York City. Whitestone worked for Mark Burnett, the TV producer who in 2004 launched The Apprentice, the reality show that presented the virtually bankrupt Trump as a supremely successful businessman—and made him world famous. In the first week of production, Whitestone was assigned the job of putting the microphone up Trump’s shirt. Given the physical proximity this task required—you had to reach under the jacket and shirt—everyone else on the production team had resisted it. Trump, with his size, height, and glowering demeanor, was not only off-putting; for no clear reason, he would unzip his pants and pull them down partway, exposing tighty-whities. “It was like sticking your head in the lion’s mouth,” said Whitestone, who found himself stuck with the job.

Not long after the show’s production got under way, Whitestone, now on permanent Trump-mic duty, took a day off and someone else, an African American sound technician, was given the assignment. Trump flipped out. A frantic Burnett found Whitestone at home. Trump had barricaded himself in the bathroom. “Donald won’t go on until you get here,” said Burnett. “So get here immediately!

After that, every single morning of the shooting season, for the next fourteen years, Whitestone would show up at Trump’s apartment.   Trump would offer Whitestone gifts of things that he had gotten for free, such as products from the Art of Shaving, a kitschy men’s line. Trump turned everyone into a family member, at the same time offering a running commentary on his family’s flaws. “He kept saying how much he wished he’d never given Don Jr. his name and wished he could take it back,” recalled Whitestone.

Whitestone became what everyone around Trump had to become—long-suffering—because Trump was always ready to explode with anger. “It’s not your fault,” said Whitestone. “It’s just your turn, was how we put it.” “How’s the weather?” was the code for the boss’s mood.

Trump was a simple machine. Whitestone understood his singular interests—sports and girls—and learned they could be used as reliable distractions.

‘Hey,’ I’d say, ‘at six o’clock.’” Girls were the constant. “‘Erik, go get her, and bring her up.’ And so, me: ‘Mr. Trump wants to know if you want to come up and see the boardroom.’ He’d hug them and grope them and send them on their way.  There was always one or another of Trump’s assistants in the car with him. “All his executive assistants were superhot. ‘Come with us,’ he’d order one of them on the way out to the limo. He and she sitting next to each other as he tries to grope her, with her blocking him like she’s done it a hundred times before.

“We’re flying to Chicago, and the Trump plane wasn’t working so we had to use another little plane and I had to sit facing him—knees almost touching—and he’s all pissed off because his plane’s broken down. I pull out a book to avoid eye contact. It was the book DisneyWar. But he can’t be ignored. He needs to talk. ‘What book is that … What’s it about … Am I in it? Read it to me.’ I tell him it’s got Mark Burnett pitching The Apprentice. ‘How does it make me look?’

You had to adapt yourself to an idiosyncratic and quite alarming creature, Whitestone observed. “He can’t walk down steps … can’t walk down hills. [He’s got] mental blocks … [He] can’t handle numbers … they have no meaning to him.” His transparency was as appalling as it was mesmerizing. “Once, we were with a bunch of people and Don Jr. suggested that Trump had been to two Yankees games in a row where they had lost, so maybe his father was bad luck. And he went ape-shit. ‘Why the fuck would you say that in front of these people? These fucking people are going to go out into the world and tell everyone, “Trump is bad luck.”’ Don Jr. was practically crying. ‘Dad, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Dad.’ “And at the hospital, when his grandchild was born, Don Jr.’s kid, [Trump said], ‘Why the fuck do I have to go see this kid? Don Jr. has too many fucking kids.’

The Apprentice were regularly exposed, was captured on thousands of hours of outtakes. Those fabled tapes still exist, but they are now controlled by Burnett and MGM.

Whitestone remembered certain moments with particular clarity. “Someone said ‘cunt’ and someone else said, ‘You can’t say “cunt” on TV,’ and Donald said, ‘Why can’t you say “cunt”?’ and said ‘Cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt. There, I’ve said it on TV. Now you can say it.’” And: “‘You’re very pretty, stand up, walk over here, turn around.’ [There was] constant dialogue about who has better tits and then bitter fights with producers about not using this. ‘Why can’t we?’ he’d say. ‘This is great. This is great television.’

Speaking about Trump more generally, Whitestone said: “A twelve-year-old in a man’s body, all he does is takedowns of people based on their physical appearance—short, fat, bald, whatever it is. There weren’t producers who could say, Don’t say that … We would just send him through the doors and hit Record … It’s like being in the backseat of a car being driven by a really drunk driver … holy shit. He was as incoherent then … no more, no less … as he is now, repeating thoughts and weird phrases … His weird sniffing thing (‘I have hay fever’) … [He was] always eating Oscar Mayer baloney … [Once he] pulled a slice of baloney out and shoved it in my mouth…” Michael Cohen stepped into the Trump circle in 2006. Cohen was an upper-middle-class, son-of-a-surgeon Long Island Jewish kid. Impressed by an uncle who owned a Mob-connected Brooklyn restaurant, a popular Mob hangout, Cohen recast himself as a would-be tough. He married a girl from Ukraine whose family had immigrated to Brooklyn, then got a degree from Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School (the nation’s lowest-ranked law school, according to the legal website Above the Law), became a lawyer, and amassed a fleet of taxis. His wife’s father helped introduce Cohen to Trump, and for Cohen, Trump stood out: he was a dazzling model of fast-and-loose business practices and lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous glamour. A successful career at the Trump Organization depended on getting Trump’s attention and favor. Cohen, like Trump, played at being a mobster to the point of becoming one. The coarser, grosser, and blunter you could be, the better; such behavior


Formerly an attorney for a nonprofit affiliated with the Koch brothers, McGahn was known as a hyperpartisan: One of McGahn’s jobs was to navigate what was possibly the most complicated relationship in modern government: he was the effective point person between the White House and the Department of Justice. Part of his portfolio, then, was to endure the president’s constant rage and bewilderment about why the DOJ was personally hounding him, and his incomprehension that he could do nothing about it. “It’s my Justice Department,” Trump would tell McGahn, often repeating this more than dubious declaration in his signature triad.


Giuliani’s loyalty, together with his willingness to defy credulity and logic in the defense of Trump, incurred a debt that inclined Trump to give Giuliani a senior position in the new administration. During the transition, this inclination became an acute problem for everyone around the president-elect. Rudy was, in almost everyone’s estimation—including, sometimes, Trump’s—off. “Dementia,” declared Bannon. “Plus he drinks too much,” said Trump, who more than once during the campaign had told Giuliani to his face that he was “losing it.” This sense of Giuliani’s offness was curiously ironic, since it bore an almost eerie similarity to Trump’s own hysteria, grandiosity, and tendency to say almost anything that came into his head.

On May 2, after drinks at a midtown restaurant, Rudy Giuliani went on Hannity for one of the most peculiar television appearances in modern politics, combining, in an 18-minute interview, the nonsensical and incoherent. Here was a bar-stool lawyer delivering the president’s legal strategy. “I know James Comey. I know the president. Sorry, Jim, you’re a liar—a disgraceful liar,” said Giuliani to Hannity. “It would have been good for God if God had kept you out of being head of the FBI.” He rambled on: “Look at what’s going on with North Korea. I told the president, you’re going to get the Nobel Peace Prize.” And: “I believe, I believe that Attorney General Sessions, my good friend, and Rosenstein, who I don’t know, I believe they should come in the interest of justice, end this investigation.” And: “I’m not going to have my client, my president, my friend, and a president that’s achieved more in a year and a half against all odds than anyone had a right to expect—I’m not going to let him be treated worse than Bill Clinton, who definitely was a liar under oath … I mean, he’s being treated much worse than Hillary Clinton … I’m not going to let him be treated worse than Hillary Clinton.” And: “I’m sorry, Hillary, I know you’re very disappointed you didn’t win, but you’re a criminal.” Bannon was horrified by Giuliani’s performance. “Dude, you can’t do this,” Bannon told Hannity afterward. “You can’t let him out there like that.” “I’m not the babysitter,” Hannity replied.

Jackson—physician to the president in the Obama administration and now in the Trump White House—was the go-to doctor for the president, cabinet members, and senior staff, supervising the White House’s on-site medical unit. Jackson was a popular get-along figure, not least because he was casual about prescribing medication. He kept the president stocked with Provigil, an upper, which Trump’s New York doctor had long prescribed for him. For others, Jackson was regarded as a particularly easy Ambien touch.

Mueller investigation

The Trumpers swept up by Mueller were all declared wannabe and marginal players. The president had never met them, could not remember them, or had a limited acquaintance with them. “I know Mr. Manafort—I haven’t spoken to him in a long time, but I know him,” declared a dismissive Trump, pulling a line from the “who dat?” page of his playbook.

The difficulty in proving a conspiracy is proving intent. Many of the president’s inner circle believed that Trump, and the Trump Organization, and by extension the Trump campaign, operated in such a diffuse, haphazard, gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight manner that intent would be very difficult to establish. What’s more, the Trump hangers-on were so demonstrably subpar players that stupidity could well be a reasonable defense against intent.

Many in the Trump circle agreed with their boss: they believed that whatever idiotic moves had been made by idiotic Trump hands, the Russia investigation was too abstruse and nickel-and-dime to ultimately stick.

Nobody could quite be certain of the number of times McGahn had had to threaten, with greater or lesser intention, to quit if Trump made good on his threat to fire the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, or the special counsel. Curiously, one defense against the charge that the president had tried to fire Mueller in June 2017 in an effort to end the special counsel’s investigation—as the New York Times claimed in a January 2018 scoop—was the fact that Trump was almost constantly trying to fire Mueller or other DOJ figures, doing so often multiple times a day.

In a kind of curious and profound role reversal, many conservatives, in the past reflexively supportive of law enforcement, had become suspicious, if not paranoid, about government oversight and policing. As the Mueller investigation progressed, the conviction that the deep state existed and that it was out to get Trump had become embedded in right-wing culture; this conviction had been adopted, albeit begrudgingly, even by many standard-issue Republicans. It had become one of Fox News star Sean Hannity’s main talking points, both on television and in private phone calls. “Sean’s in crank land,” observed Bannon, “but these are good bedtime stories for the president.

Likewise, many liberals, in the past antagonistic to the FBI, prosecutors, and the intelligence community, were now counting on government investigators to pursue Trump and his family relentlessly and, by so doing, protect democracy from ruin.

Trump might often come to the brink of firing Mueller, but he kept stepping back from it, too. This was not so much restraint as a cat-and-mouse game: threatening to fire him and then not firing him was Trump’s legal strategy. You were intimidated or you intimidated was Trump’s legal theory. Several rounds of imminent Mueller-to-be-fired stories came from Trump’s own direct leaks. “You’ve got to mess with them,” he explained.

Mueller’s keen suspicion of personality became his personality. He was a prosecutor in the old sense of representing the bureaucracy; he operated by the book and never promoted his own independence, a kind of anti-Giuliani. He had no press aptitude or interest and found it nearly incomprehensible and morally troubling that anyone did.

It is difficult to imagine a greater opposite to Robert Mueller than Donald Trump. Possibly no two men of the same age and general milieu could be more different in outlook, temperament, personal behavior, and moral understanding.

In spring 2018, the exotic “deep state” theory, long embraced by the president, finally came together in some half-cogent form. The Democrats believed that Trump had conspired with the Russians to fix the election. Well, the Trumpers believed that the Obama administration had conspired with the intelligence community to make it seem as if Trump and his people had conspired with the Russians to fix the election.  It was not Trump and the Russians who had successfully stolen the election; it was Obama and his cohorts who had tried and failed to steal it.

The significance of Michael Flynn to the Mueller investigation was that he was, despite his mere 25 days in office, a player—this in a world where Trump permitted no one, other than himself, to be a genuine player. There might not have been anyone whom Trump had so bonded with during the campaign. Indeed, Flynn was, in the earliest days of the transition, one of the soon-to-be Trump White House’s first official hires. But now Flynn looked more and more like a smoking gun. At the direct behest of either Trump or Kushner—or, as likely, both—Flynn had reached out to the Russian ambassador during the transition and negotiated a separate peace around the Obama administration sanctions, or so the Mueller team seemed to indicate in its proposed obstruction indictment of Trump. An abiding historical regret for many Democrats was that Nixon had managed to get away with promising North Vietnamese negotiators working on a peace treaty in Paris that they would get a better deal if they waited for his administration to arrive in office. Here Trump and Flynn seemed to be up to similar dirty tricks. What’s more, Trump’s apparent attempt to obstruct justice began with Flynn. Trying to deflect the FBI’s investigation of Flynn had sent Trump down the path to firing Comey, which was the spark that lit the Mueller investigation.

Still, a pardon of Flynn—and for that matter anyone else whose own legal peril might induce him or her to testify against the president—would be a clear instance of the president using his authority to remove himself from the reach of the law. Such a pardon would, in the key phrase of Schick v. Reed, “offend the Constitution.” Put simply, the president’s absolute pardon power was up against that other constitutional guarantee: no one was above the law.

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Book Review “conservatives without Conscience” by John Dean


This is a book review of “Conservatives without Conscience” by John Dean.

It is the best book I’ve read in explaining the history of conservatism and leaders like Newt Gingrich on the increasing authoritarianism of Republicans, It also explains why authoritarian Republicans, who tend to have been selected and voted in by evangelicals, have no morals and act against the nation’s best interests.  And why they don’t criticize Trump’s racist, sexist, war mongering tweets.

Republicans are not all like that. There are plenty of decent, honorable, moral Republicans, but this explains how the authoritarian faction has gained so much power. Historically, there were at least 9 types of Republicans who disagreed about a lot of stuff. But they were united over their hatred of Communism.  Now they are united in kowtowing to evangelicals and fundamentalists who tend to be racist (when the KKK returned in the 1920s, most of them were evangelicals as revealed in “The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition“. Back then too their goal was gaining political power and they threw their weight behind racist candidates).

Right-wing evangelicals, fundamentalists, and pentecostals ARE the Republican party and the majority of their voters. Despite there being far more moderates, liberals, and mainstream church Republicans, they have an out-sized influence on elections because they are foot soldiers who turn out in great numbers long before the election to get their candidates in office, and at the voting booth.  Dean considers them to be conservatives without conscience, some would say sociopaths, and the root problem of America’s potential loss of democracy and becoming a fascist state.

John W. Dean was a former attorney on the White House Counsel for President Nixon from 1970 to 1973, but left politics after that. But when G. Gordon Liddy wrote a book in 1991 accusing him of being the mastermind of Watergate, he became so alarmed about the danger of the right-wing fascism and end of Democracy that he became on expert on authoritarianism to try to understand what they were thinking. This book is based on a great deal of scientific research on authoritarianism the past 40 years. It may sound politically partisan, but it isn’t.

Take the authoritarian quiz — does this sound like anyone you know?

  • Here are traits typically found in social dominators and right-wing authoritarian leaders based on extensive testing. To fall within this definition, you must have these traits: Dominating, oppose equality, wants personal power, amoral. Other traits that most, but not all leaders have are: typically men, intimidating and bullying, faintly hedonistic, vengeful, pitiless, exploitive, manipulative, dishonest, cheats to win, highly prejudiced, mean-spirited, militant, nationalistic, tells others what they want to hear, takes advantage of “suckers”, specializes in creating false images to sell self.
  • Right-wing authoritarian followers have these traits: submissive to authority, aggressive on behalf of authority, and conventional. They are likely to have the following traits: highly religious, moderate to little education, trust untrustworthy authorities, prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals, women, and followers of religions other than their own), mean-spirited, narrow-minded, intolerant, bullying, zealous, dogmatic, uncritical of chosen authority, hypocritical, inconsistent and contradictory, prone to panic easily, highly self-righteous, moralistic, strict disciplinarian, severely punitive, demands loyalty and returns it, little self-awareness, usually politically and economically conservative/Republican.

Social conservatives, whose core members are Christian conservatives, comprise the largest and most cohesive faction of conservatism and typical right-wing authoritarian followers.

They cannot be stopped because their behavior is simply a function of the way they are and how they think, their dispositions, and the way they deal with the world.

And why does nothing seem to change their follower’s minds? The followers of authoritarian leaders crave submission to a powerful authority as a means of alleviating their fears of ambiguity, uncertainty, and complexity. The exaggerated hostility of leaders and talk-show hosts also satisfies a psychological need for antagonism toward the “out group,” reinforces the self-esteem of the conservative base, and increases solidarity within the ranks.

Dean is also an expert on the history of conservatism and its ideas.  He lists eight kinds of conservatives and they have different values and goals.

Given the very different beliefs of the various conservative factions, how have conservatives succeeded in coalescing as a political force? The simple answer is through the power of negative thinking, and the ability to find common enemies. The adherents of early conservatism agreed that communism was the enemy, a fact that united them for decades—and hid their differences. Today’s conservatives—especially social conservatives, as opposed to intellectuals and the more thoughtful politicians—define themselves by what they oppose, which is anything and everything they perceive to be liberal. That category includes everyone from Democrats to anyone with whom they disagree, and can, therefore, automatically be labeled a liberal.

The root of the problem of authoritarian leaders and erosion of democracy are Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists, who are somewhere between a quarter and a third of the electorate and 58% of all Republicans.  They are the foot soldiers of authoritarian leaders and turn out in great numbers at the polls. Their influence is felt at every level of government.

Without the support of Christian conservatives Republicans cannot even get nominated to local, state, and national offices, because they have become the filter through which all Republicans must pass today.  Christian conservatives have a virtual lock on state and local Republican politics, and have totally outmaneuvered their opposition. “In American politics,” wrote Joel Rogers of the University of Wisconsin, “who controls the states controls the nation. The right understands this, and for a generation has waged an unrelenting war to take over state government in America. It has succeeded, in large part because it hasn’t faced any serious progressive counter effort.

Their ultimate goal is to pack federal courts with judges who will do God’s work and stop the right of women to have abortions, stop the teaching of safe sex and evolution in schools, encourage home schooling, ban contraceptives, halt stem cell research with human embryos, ban gay marriage, eliminate the separation of church and state, control the sexual content of cable and network TV, radio, and the internet.

And you can’t get rid of them, their children will become authoritarian too: Authoritarian parents transfer their beliefs to children through religious instruction. Christian conservatives tend to come from strict religious backgrounds, and often prevent their children from being exposed to broader and different views by sending them to schools with like-thinking children, or by home schooling them. This, in turn, results in an authoritarian outlook that remains strong during adolescence—the period when authoritarian personalities are formed and then taken into adult life.

To me this is a Twilight Zone show. Evangelicals are not letting the next generation know anything about anything but the Church and the Bible and racism and hatred of liberals. My god, this is the only time in history when 80 to 90% of people didn’t do back-breaking farming all day and have the luxury of learning about the Universe. To deny your children the wonder and amazement of all that’s around us should be criminal.

This is a long preface because no one reads long posts.  I was going to break it up into several posts. But hey, this is a 20 page summary of a 209 page book. If you find it at all interesting, buy the book, I had to leave a lot of good stuff out.

Related: Azarian, B. 2019. Scientists establish a link between religious fundamentalism and brain damage. Salon.

study published in the journal Neuropsychologia has shown that religious fundamentalism is, in part, the result of a functional impairment in a brain region known as the prefrontal cortex. The findings suggest that damage to particular areas of the prefrontal cortex indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by diminishing cognitive flexibility and openness—a psychology term that describes a personality trait which involves dimensions like curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness.

These findings are important because they suggest that impaired functioning in the prefrontal cortex—whether from brain trauma, a psychological disorder, a drug or alcohol addiction, or simply a particular genetic profile—can make an individual susceptible to religious fundamentalism. And perhaps in other cases, extreme religious indoctrination harms the development or proper functioning of the prefrontal regions in a way that hinders cognitive flexibility and openness.

The authors emphasize that cognitive flexibility and openness aren’t the only things that make brains vulnerable to religious fundamentalism. In fact, their analyses showed that these factors only accounted for a fifth of the variation in fundamentalism scores.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report

John W. Dean. 2006. Conservatives without conscience. Penguin Books.

My finding, simply stated, is the growing presence of conservative authoritarianism. Conservatism has noticeably regressed to its earliest authoritarian roots. Authoritarianism is not well understood and seldom discussed in the context of American government and politics, yet it now constitutes the prevailing thinking and behavior among conservatives. Regrettably, empirical studies reveal, however, that authoritarians are frequently enemies of freedom, antidemocratic, anti-equality, highly prejudiced, mean-spirited, power hungry, Machiavellian, and amoral.

They are also often conservatives without conscience who are capable of plunging this nation into disasters the likes of which we have never known.

I was familiar with the personality type from my years in the Nixon White House. We had plenty of authoritarians in the Nixon administration, from the president on down. In fact, authoritarian thinking was the principal force behind almost everything that went wrong with Nixon’s presidency.

Dean kept a low profile after Watergate and was not involved in politics.  So he was quite surprised and dismayed when Wallace of 60 minutes called Dean in 1991, he found out that St. Martin’s Press was about to publish a book titled “Silent Coup” by Colodny and Gettlin, saying that Dean was the real mastermind of the Watergate break-ins, and ordered these break-ins because he was seeking sexual dirt on the Democrats, which he’d learned about from wife Maureen.  Dean replied, “that makes no sense at all. It’s pure bullshit. How could I have ordered the Watergate break-ins and kept it secret for the last 20 years?”  Wallace said that the book claimed I arranged the break-ins through my secret relationship with former White House consultant E. Howard Hunt—Hunt, who along with Gordon Liddy, had been convicted two decades earlier of plotting the Watergate break-ins.

60 minutes did not cover this story, but it wouldn’t die, because St. Martin’s had a lot of money tied up in it, and was determined to make it a best seller. Their plan was to sell the book to Nixon apologists and right-wingers, giving them a new history of Nixon’s downfall in which Bob Woodward, Al Haig, and I were the villains.

Who better to peddle this tale than uber-conservative Gordon Liddy, who had been a behind-the-scenes collaborator with Colodny in developing, sourcing, and writing Silent Coup? Without Liddy’s support St. Martin’s might well have abandoned the project.

Liddy’s involvement in this baseless attack did not surprise me. He had once planned to kill both Howard Hunt and me, he had said in his book “Will: The autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy”, but his orders to do so had never come—although he did not say who he expected would send them. He wanted to kill Howard Hunt because he had become an informer and when Hunt agreed to testify he became “a betrayer of his friends, and to me there is nothing lower on earth. . . . Hunt deserved to die.” About me, Liddy wrote that the “difference between Hunt and Dean is the difference between a POW who breaks under torture and aids the enemy, and Judas Iscariot.” The subtext of Liddy’s statement is that the U.S. government had become his enemy and that Richard Nixon had become something of a Christ figure for him. Attacking Howard Hunt and me was consistent with both his conservative politics and his personality. He sought to resurrect Nixon for conservatives and blame others for his destroyed presidency.

My former colleague Chuck Colson’s appearance on national television to endorse Silent Coup truly surprised me. Chuck and I had crossed swords at the Nixon White House only once, and even then we had not communicated directly. I had had virtually nothing to do with his office, or its nefarious activities, except for the time Chuck had wanted to firebomb and burglarize the Brookings Institution, convinced that this Washington think tank had copies of documents the president wanted. When I learned of his insane plan I flew to California (where the president and senior staff were staying at the Western White House) to plead my case to John Ehrlichman, a titular superior to both Chuck and me. By pointing out, with some outrage, that if anyone died it would involve a capital crime that might be traced back to the White House, I was able to shut down Colson’s scheme. As a result, over the next several months I was told nothing about Colson’s shenanigans, such as his financing the infamous burglary by Liddy and Hunt of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office after Ellsberg released the so-called Pentagon Papers, which was a precursor to the later Watergate break-ins.

Why, of all people, would Chuck Colson promote Silent Coup’s conspicuously phony account of Watergate? Where was his conscience? How could he call himself a Christian?

The promotion campaign to sell the book to conservatives worked, thanks to Liddy’s nationwide tour, in which he appeared on countless right-wing talk-radio shows. By July 7, 1991, Silent Coup had peaked at number three on the New York Times best-seller list.

Liddy tried to get Dean to sue him to gain publicity.  Eventually he would get his lawsuit, but on our terms.  We didn’t bring the lawsuit until we’d done 8 months of collecting evidence.  For eight years our lawsuit made its way through the federal courts, and St. Martin’s tried every possible ploy to prevent its going to trial.

While St. Martin’s and the other defendants were spending over $14 million of insurance company money trying to make us go away, it eventually became clear to them that we were prepared to go whatever distance necessary to make fools of them all, and that we had the evidence to do it. By the fall of 1998 we had also accomplished our underlying goal of gathering the information necessary to show that Silent Coup was bogus history. Ultimately, it seems, they had hoped to win the lawsuit by simply outspending us, but when that strategy failed, they made a generous settlement to Dean, and thelitigation ended.

Despite most of the news media’s fitting dismissal of Silent Coup’s baseless claims, the protracted litigation provided time for the book to gather a following, including an almost cultlike collection of high-profile right-wingers.

The lawsuit made me realize that during the years I had been focused on business the Republican Party and conservatism had undergone drastic changes. The Republican Party had shifted to the extreme right, resulting in longtime hard-right conservatives like Liddy and Colson, who had once been at the fringe, finding themselves in vogue.

These right-wing extremists were not good losers. So when they lost the White House in 1992 they began what would be an unrelenting and extended series of attacks on the Clinton presidency. It was clear to me that the First Lady was correct in her contention that there was a vast right-wing conspiracy attempting to destroy the Clintons, for I still had a number of knowledgeable conservative contacts.

I learned  that Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and majority leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) were both exerting enormous control over the GOP. Some Republicans told me that Gingrich was betting his Speaker’s seat on the impeachment drive’s adding additional Republican members to the House. DeLay, it was clear, had influence because the rank-and-file House Republicans feared his wrath, and he was determined to impeach Clinton. Several Republicans told me that this was payback to the Democrats for what had been done to Nixon.

Washington Post public opinion poll showed that 62% of Republicans disapproved of impeaching the president. Knowledgeable Republicans passing through the MSNBC green room privately explained that House Republicans would pursue the impeachment anyway, on behalf of the 31% who wanted Clinton removed.

The motive of the GOP leaders was simply to please the party’s “base composed primarily of Christian conservatives, in particular evangelicals.

What was even more stunning was that the election results did not stop these hard-core conservative Republicans from continuing to push for Bill Clinton’s impeachment and, at the same time, issue increasingly stern demands for party loyalty. As someone who had previously spent over 20 years in Washington observing Congress up close, I found this new level of party discipline remarkable. I understood that DeLay scared them, but so badly that they would vote against their consciences?

So-called conservatives who controlled the House of Representatives had pushed the process for political spite and cheapened an extremely important constitutional check by using impeachment solely to attack a president of whom they did not approve. Their behavior was certainly more threatening to the democratic process than anything the president had done.

I asked Senator Goldwater why they behaved this way.  He replied that “It’s these so-called social or cultural conservatives. And I don’t know what in hell possesses them. I’d like to find out.

I asked the senator for his thoughts on Christian conservatives like Colson, and their increasing presence in Republican politics, and he minced no words. “Goddamn it, John,” he began, with a combination of anger, frustration, and sorrow, “the Republicans are selling their soul to win elections.” He saw trouble coming. “Mark my word,” he said, “if and when these preachers get control of the party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. The government won’t work without it. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” He had absolutely no doubt that these people had made Washington more divisive than it had ever been, and he was concerned that their divisiveness was spreading throughout the country.

My conversations with Senator Goldwater evolved into a plan to write a book together about so-called social conservatives. We would attempt to understand their strident and intolerant politics by talking with people like Chuck Colson, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell. We would learn more about their thinking, and try to determine whether they appreciated what they were doing to conservatism and to Republican politics. We would title our book Conservatives Without Conscience. The serious deterioration and disintegration of conservative principles under Bush and Cheney, in all branches of the federal government, with the striking shift toward a very un-American-type of authoritarianism, compelled me to complete the project I had begun with Senator Goldwater.

Nearly every question Senator Goldwater and I had discussed about the religious right has been answered in other works—all but one. That remaining question is rather basic: Why do those in the religious right act as they do? Are they motivated by religion or conservatism? Stated a little differently, is this what happens when Christians become politically active? Or do their actions simply reflect one type of person who is drawn to conservatism?


The authoritarian leader’s use of misleading information to gain control is a consistently successful technique for them.

Many conservatives, particularly those who are clearly authoritarians, are not aware of their illogical, contradictory, and hypocritical thinking. If made cognizant of it, they rationalize it away, neglect to care, or attack those who reveal their human weaknesses.

Conservatives without conscience do not have horns and tails; if they did they would be easier to identify. Many of them can be quite pleasant, but at heart they are tough, cold-blooded, ruthless authoritarians. They are limited in their ability to see the world from any point of view other than their own, and they are narrow in their outlook.

I believe that one can reasonably conclude that how they think, their policies, and their style of governing are based to an alarming extent on their own authoritarian personalities, which tolerate no dissent, use dissembling as their standard modus operandi, and have pushed their governing authority beyond the law and the Constitution.

“Authoritarian governments are identified by ready government access to information about the activities of citizens and by extensive limitations on the ability of citizens to obtain information about the government. In contrast, democratic governments are marked by significant restrictions on the ability of government to acquire information about its citizens and by ready access by citizens to information about the activities of government.” I did not use that quote when writing about Bush and Cheney’s insistence on secrecy because I did not then really understand the true nature of authoritarianism, yet I was struck time and again by the authoritarian nature of the Bush/Cheney administration.

Now I realize that Bush and Cheney have given authoritarianism a new legitimacy in Washington, and it is taking us where we should not want to go.

Conservatism is not inherently moralistic, negative, arrogant, condescending, and self-righteous. Nor is it authoritarian. Yet all of these are adjectives that best describe the political outlook of contemporary conservatism. I make these observations not as an outsider, but as a conservative who is deeply troubled by what has become of a treasured philosophy. Conservatism has been co-opted by authoritarians, a most dangerous type of political animal. How do people—particularly those who have never put their life on the line for their country—engage in, or condone, attacks on Senator John McCain’s life-defining experiences as a Vietnam POW or question Senator Max Cleland’s courage in building a new life after his loss of three limbs in Vietnam? What causes them to dispute Senator John Kerry’s valor during voluntary combat duty in Vietnam or to contest Representative Jack Murtha’s war record in Vietnam? Do they believe that by belittling the competence of White House counsel Harriet Miers, by forcing her to withdraw as a nominee for the Supreme Court, they are engaged in legitimate political debate? Why do they remain silent, or even defend, a president who has shamed the nation forever by endorsing an unprecedented and unnecessary use of torture?

They cannot be stopped because their behavior is simply a function of the way they are and how they think, their dispositions, and the way they deal with the world.

It is very hard to define conservatism.  Here are a few definitions.

  • Conservative scholar Russell Kirk said “the essence of social conservatism is preservation of the ancient moral traditions of humanity.” He also liked to quote Abraham Lincoln’s rhetorical question about conservatism: “Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?
  • Michael Okeshott wrote “conservatism is not so much an ideology as it is a disposition to enjoy the fruits of the past and to distrust novelty.
  • Senator Goldwater defined conservatism as the belief that “the solutions to the problems of today can be found in the proven values of the past.

Types of conservatives:

  • Austriocons: Paleoconservatives (paleos) who are followers of the “Austrian” school of economics such as free-trade libertarians who honor Ludwig von Mises.
  • Buchanocons: Paleos who have rebelled against free trade and the unaccountable global bureaucracies that they believe it is producing. Their political leader is Patrick Buchanan.
  • Neocons: Intellectuals who drifted from the far left to the center to the right, carrying their flagship magazine, Commentary, with them. They are mostly Jewish, and mostly New York based. Neocons tend to be militant internationalists. They publish their own inside-the-Beltway weekly, The Weekly Standard.
  • Radiocons: talk-radio conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, Gordon Liddy, Mike Reagan, Blanquita Cullum, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, and other popularizers of the political and cultural right and their enormous middle America audiences.
  • Sociocons: Often lumped with the religious right, these social conservatives advance secular arguments for curbing abortion, divorce, illegitimacy, rights of homosexuals, and drugs. Its leading lights are the Family Research Council, the Institute for American Values, and columnist Cal Thomas.
  • Theocons: Conservatives who actually favor a more or less theocratic application of biblical law.
  • Republicons: Young people who learned their conservative theory back in college and since have given themselves over to activism, either as Republican campaign strategists or as policy advocates. Newt Gingrich is their hero, and Grover Norquist (of the Americans for Tax Reform) is their leader.
  • Catocons: Hard-core libertarians who recognize that even if your goal is to dismantle government, you have to play the Washington policy-wonk game to change things. Their leading think tank is the Cato Institute.

Given the very different beliefs of the various conservative factions, which have only grown more complex with time, how have conservatives succeeded in coalescing as a political force? The simple answer is through the power of negative thinking, and specifically, the ability to find common enemies. The adherents of early conservatism—economic conservatives, traditional conservatives, and libertarians—agreed that communism was the enemy, a fact that united them for decades—and hid their differences. Today’s conservatives—especially social conservatives, as opposed to intellectuals and the more thoughtful politicians—define themselves by what they oppose, which is anything and everything they perceive to be liberal. That category includes everyone from Democrats to anyone with whom they disagree, and can, therefore, automatically be labeled a liberal.

The followers of authoritarian leaders crave submission to a powerful authority as a means of alleviating their fears of ambiguity, uncertainty, and complexity.

Sidney Blumenthal, when he was a staff writer at the Washington Post, concluded that “conservatism requires liberalism for its meaning, for without the enemy of liberalism to serve as nemesis and model, conservative politics would lack its organizing principle.” Blumenthal’s observation, made two decades ago, is even more valid today. Leading conservative web sites, including well-funded think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the right-leaning libertarian Cato Institute, spend a lot of time and money criticizing or complaining with varying degrees of contempt about all matters perceived to be “liberal.” Important conservative opinion journals, like the National Review and Human Events, see the world as bipolar: conservative versus liberal.

Right-wing talk radio could not survive without its endless bloviating about the horrors of liberalism. Trashing liberals is nothing short of a cottage industry for conservative authors. Conservatives attack liberals, or those they label or perceive as liberal, for several reasons. It is, of course, a handy means to rally the troops, for the conservative base enjoys it when their leaders and prominent voices attack those who do not share their views. It is also a means to raise money; fund-raising letters and drives regularly recount the horrors of liberalism. Many conservatives, however, are simply entertained by reading conservative authors or hearing conservative talk-show hosts rant about liberals. The exaggerated hostility also satisfies a psychological need for antagonism toward the “out group,” reinforces the self-esteem of the conservative base, and increases solidarity within the ranks.

Conservatives also find cohesion in their efforts to pack the federal judiciary with judges who will work at recovering the original understanding of the Constitution—one that recognized the scope of federal power over matters truly national, such as national security.

Not surprisingly, the very conservatives who love to hurl invective against the ranks of their enemies prove to have the thinnest of skins when the same is done to them. Many of the examples are familiar: Ann Coulter, who can trash perceived liberals on national television but has been known to walk offstage when booed,

Rush Limbaugh, who also makes his living saying unkind things about those with whom he disagrees, thought it unfair, as did his followers, when his addiction to OxyContin was reported, along with the dubious means he serviced his habit, despite his own attacks on others who use drugs.

Conservative columnist George Will wrote in 2005 that the “president’s authorization of domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency [that] contravened a statute’s clear language” was a striking indication that conservatives had forgotten their roots. “For more than 500 years since the rise of nation-states and parliaments, a preoccupation of Western political thought has been the problem of defining and confining executive power.” He invoked history as a reminder to other conservatives willing to listen. “Modern American conservatism grew in reaction against the New Deal’s creation of the regulatory state and the enlargement of the executive branch power that such a state entails. The intellectual vigor of conservatism was quickened by reaction against the Great Society and

Here’s is Dean’s account of the history of conservatism: No factor did more to stimulate the growth of modern conservatism than the election of Franklin Roosevelt. He is the man conservatives most dislike, for he embodies the big-government ideology they most fear. Modern conservatism was cobbled together and contrived by a small group of intellectuals in the late 1940s and early 1950s, brought into elective politics in the 1950s, joined with Southern politicians in the 1960s, and began flirting with evangelical Christians in the 1970s. Conservatism’s many factions were consolidated under Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party in the 1980s. Less than satisfied with their lot under Reagan, however, evangelical Christians increased their religiously motivated political zealotry in the late 1980s, throughout the 1990s, and into the new century.

Republicans are trying to rewrite history.

For example, take their interpretation of the American Revolution. Revolution is the antithesis of conservatism, the French revolution a cataclysmic upheaval, whereas the American revolution was a

“limited war for independence” fought by colonialists to obtain the traditional rights of their forefathers. They stress that the “American Revolution was a moderate and prudent affair—hardly a revolution at all.

But that’s not what historians say! The war for independence was America’s longest war (lasting eight years) and its deadliest until the Civil War. To call it a “moderate” or “limited” war borders on the absurd. McCullough wrote in 1776 “The war was a longer, far more arduous and far more painful struggle than later generations would understand or sufficiently appreciate.”

Conservatives are also trying to reinterpret the U.S. Constitution. Madison, the father of the Constitution, clearly saw his work as the opposite of conservatism. Far from venerating the principles of the past, or feeling bound by custom, our nation’s founders relied on reason, which is anathema for many of today’s conservatives.

Why so many conservatives are hostile and mean-spirited, and why they embrace false history, are not found in any traditional conservative philosophy. I am not referring here to their practice of defaming perceived enemies, or to the corruption that has infected the K Street to Congress corridor. Rather, I have in mind more consequential activities, like taking America to war in Iraq on false pretenses, and the blatant law breaking by countless executive branch departments and agencies that, directed by the president or with his approval, torture our perceived enemies or spy on millions of Americans to look for terrorists. These activities have been acquiesced to by the Republican-controlled Congress, and by millions of conservatives who are tolerating, if not encouraging, this behavior.

Evangelical Christian conservatives speak of their belief in a “culture of life,” a concept drawn from the teaching of the Catholic Church that underlies the evangelicals’ opposition to abortion. But for the Catholic Church, the culture of life also means opposition to the death penalty, which evangelical Christian conservatives fully support and strongly encourage. They are untroubled by the inconsistency of their beliefs, and when this is pointed out they explain it away.

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited prayer in public schools, Christian conservatives have been up in arms, with the most vocal being Christians who believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God.

Scholarly studies of conservatives

Jost (2003) found that people become or remain political conservatives because they have a “heightened psychological need to manage uncertainty and threat.” The psychological factors associated with political include fear, intolerance of ambiguity, need for certainty or structure in life, overreaction to threats, and a disposition to dominate others.  These characteristics typically cannot be ascribed to liberals. This study used data from 44 years of studies investigating conservatism using 8 different techniques and 22,000 participants.

Right-wing talk-radio hosts, conservative columnists, and conservative bloggers dismissed Jost’s study, though few if any of them had actually read it. After being hammered by conservatives for several months, Jost responded with a Washington Post op-ed piece, noting that their critics were not familiar with the actual contents of their study and that they had not implied that conservatism was “abnormal, pathological or the result of mental illness.” Nor had they claimed that conservatives themselves were insane, sick, or strange.

Block (2005) confirmed these findings. It is an unprecedented survey of nursery school children, commenced in 1969, that revealed the personalities of three- and four-year-olds to be indicative of their future political orientation. Little girls who are indecisive, inhibited, shy, neat, compliant, distressed by life’s ambiguity, and fearful will likely become conservative women. Little boys who are unadventurous, uncomfortable with uncertainty, conformist, moralistic, and regularly telling others how to run their lives will become conservatives as adults.

Milgram (1969) believes that obedience is the psychological mechanism that links individual action to political purposes, the dispositional cement that binds men to systems of authority. Without it many organizations simply would not work; with it, they could also run amuck.

Hannah Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963) on Nazi Eichmann described him as an uninspired bureaucrat who simply sat at his desk and did his job, a compliant cog who had set aside his conscience.  Evil is banal and committed by the average person, not madmen.

Feldman (2003) did extensive research, and overwhelming evidence showed “that authoritarianism is consistently associated with right-wing but not left-wing ideology.” There are few, if any left-wing authoritarians.  In the US, people who score highly in my authoritarianism test tend to favor right-wing political parties and have “conservative” economic philosophies and religious sentiments. To put it in a nutshell: Authoritarianism was conceptualized to involve submission to established authorities, who could be anyone. But it turns out that people who have “conservative” leanings tend to be more authoritarian than anyone else.

Bob Altemeyer has written many books about authoritarians, and has a test he administers to find them for further interviews. Authoritarians, especially social and Christian conservatives, would agree or strongly agree with the following statements on the test:

  • Our country desperately needs a mighty leader who will do what has to be done to destroy the radical new ways and sinfulness that are ruining us.
  • The only way our country can get through the crisis ahead is to get back to our traditional values, put some tough leaders in power, and silence the troublemakers who are spreading bad ideas.
  • “Old-fashioned ways” and “old-fashioned values” are the best guide for the way to live.
  • God’s laws about abortion, pornography, and marriage must be strictly followed before it is too late, and those who break them must be strongly punished.
  • Once our government leaders give us the “go-ahead,” it will be the duty of every patriotic citizen to help stomp out the rot that is poisoning our country from within.

Altemeyer characterizes right-wing authoritarians as “especially submissive to established authority”; as showing “general aggressiveness” toward others when such behavior “is perceived to be sanctioned” by established authorities; and as highly compliant with “social conventions” endorsed by society and established authorities.  These people accept almost without question the statements and actions of established authorities, and they comply with such instructions without further ado.

Some other characteristics of high-scoring right-wing authoritarians

  1. They are intolerant of criticism of their authorities, because they believe the authority is unassailably correct.
  2. Authoritarian aggression is “a predisposition to cause harm to” others when such behavior is believed to be sanctioned by an authority. This harm can be physical, psychological, financial, and social, or “some other negative state which people would usually avoid. Their aggression is fueled by fear and encouraged by remarkable self-righteousness, which frees aggressive impulses.
  3. They are inclined to control the behavior of others, particularly children and criminals through punishment.
  4. They accept and follow the traditional norms of society. In religious matters they tend to be fundamentalist. Because authorities have already determined what is right and wrong, they reject moral relativism.
  5. They embrace the ideal of the traditional family, with the woman serving as child rearer and subservient wife. They are “straight and narrow” in their dress and behavior, and believe themselves the country’s true patriots.
  6. They travel in tight circles of likeminded people.
  7. Their thinking is more likely based on what authorities have told them rather than on their own critical judgment, which results in their beliefs being filled with inconsistencies.
  8. They harbor numerous double standards and hypocrisies.
  9. They are hostile toward so many minorities they seem to be equal-opportunity bigots, yet they are generally unaware of their prejudices.
  10. They see the world as a dangerous place, with society teetering on the brink of self-destruction from evil and violence, and when their fear conflates with their self-righteousness, they appoint themselves guardians of public morality, or God’s Designated Hitters.
  11. They think of themselves as far more moral and upstanding than others—a self-deception aided by their religiosity (many are “born again”) and their ability to “evaporate guilt” (such as by going to confession).
  12. They have never been troubled by the execution of a prisoner, and there has never been a war in which the United States engaged that they did not support.
  13. If they work inside the Beltway, you can recognize them by the American flag pins on their suit lapels or dresses, and you can be relatively certain they are carrying a copy of the U.S. Constitution in their pocket or pocketbook.
  14. Authoritarian followers formed the rock core of the millions who marched to the polls in November 2004, often at the instruction of their church, and reelected George Bush and Donald Trump.

A person with an authoritarian leader personality has a worldview that is similar to but different from a right-wing authoritarian follower. Authoritarian leaders see the world as a competitive jungle in which the fittest survive; authoritarian followers see the world as dangerous and threatening. They’re nearly all men. Testing shows that they believe equality is “a sucker word in which only fools believe.” They  see themselves as realists, maintaining that “complete equality is probably impossible; that natural forces inevitably govern the worth of individuals; and that people should have to earn their place in society.

Their typical arguments against greater equality are a cover for much baser, selfish motivations. They are prepared to “proceed with relatively little moral restraint,” for they agree with statements like “There really is no such thing as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’; it all boils down to what you can get away with,” and “basically, people are objects to be quietly and coolly manipulated for your own benefit.

Other social scientists have similarly found that high-scoring social authoritarians are “potentially ruthless in their pursuit or maintenance of their desires” and they do not believe that their “actions should never cause harm to others.” And they believe “that the end does justify the means.” Today it is recognized that such authoritarians are attracted to “status-inequality-enforcing occupations,” like prosecuting attorney or a job in law enforcement, and that they are over-represented in positions of political power.

Empirical data bears out such qualities as “relatively power hungry, domineering, mean, Machiavellian and amoral, and holding ‘conservative’ economic and political outlooks.

Authoritarians with a social dominance orientation seize opportunities and enjoy having power over others.  They possess “extra-extra unfair” natures, and they can be ranked as the most racially prejudiced of all groups. It seems that two authoritarian streams converge in them to produce a river of hostility, particularly regarding rights for homosexuals and women. They tend to be Christian fundamentalists, but don’t attend church out of any sense of religious commitment. They may think of themselves as being religious and they go to church more than most people do, but they believe in lying, cheating, and manipulating much more than the rest of the congregation does.  They agree with statements like “The best reason for belonging to a church is to project a good image and have contact with some of the important people in your community.”

In a series of games on researcher had them play, they engaged in nuclear blackmail, made themselves wealthy by dubious means, provoked a worldwide crisis by destroying the ozone layer, allowed 1.9 billion people to die of starvation and disease, and sent the poor regions of the world down the tubes.

If they controlled school prayer, or anti-homosexual, or anti-immigration, or anti-feminist, or anti-abortion, or anti-gun-control movement—not to mention a military force, they could pose a serious threat. This is not only because of their ideology and nature, but because they lead people who are uninclined to think for themselves—submissive, gullible right-wing authoritarian followers, who are brimming with self-righteousness and zeal, and are gladly give dictatorship a chance.  Their traits are similar to those of Hitler and others most likely to mobilize and lead extremist right-wing movements in the United States.

They freely admit on tests that measure moral issues of right and wrong behavior that such matters are irrelevant to them, and that a really good skill to develop is the ability to look someone straight in the face and lie convincingly.

“Whether the issue is divorce, materialism, sexual promiscuity, racism, physical abuse in marriage, or neglect of a biblical world view,” wrote evangelical theologian Ronald J. Sider in The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, “the polling data point to widespread, blatant disobedience of clear biblical moral demands on the part of people who allegedly are evangelical, born-again Christians. The statistics are devastating.

They employ a number of psychological tricks and defenses that enable them to act fairly beastly, and yet think they are “the good people.” To begin with, they have relatively little self-understanding: They do not realize they are more prejudiced and hostile than most people. In fact, they do not realize any of the many undesirable things that research has discovered about them. They also have very compartmentalized minds, and “they can just pull off a Scarlett O’Hara (’I’m not going to think about it!’) whenever they want. If they do something wrong, they shed their guilt easily by turning to God for forgiveness, and feel completely forgiven afterwards.  Many who are ‘born-again’ believe that if you confess your sins and accept Jesus as your personal savior you will go to heaven—no matter what else you do afterwards.

So why are right-wingers often malicious, mean-spirited, and disrespectful of even the basic codes of civility?  Researchers believe that it is for the pure pleasure of it.

It is difficult for most right-wingers to talk about any subject about which they felt strongly without attacking others.

The factor that makes right-wingers faster than most people to attack, and keeps them living in an “attack mode,” is their remarkable self-righteousness. They are so sure they are not only right, but holy and pure, that they are bursting with indignation and a desire to smite down their enemies.

Here are traits typically found in social dominators and right-wing authoritarian leaders based on extensive testing. To fall within this definition, you must have these traits: Dominating, oppose equality, wants personal power, amoral. Other traits that most, but not all leaders have are: typically men, intimidating and bullying, faintly hedonistic, vengeful, pitiless, exploitive, manipulative, dishonest, cheats to win, highly prejudiced, mean-spirited, militant, nationalistic, tells others what they want to hear, takes advantage of “suckers”, specializes in creating false images to sell self.

Right-wing authoritarian followers have these traits: submissive to authority, aggressive on behalf of authority, and conventional.  They are likely to have the following traits: highly religious, moderate to little education, trust untrustworthy authorities, prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals, women, and followers of religions other than their own), mean-spirited, narrow-minded, intolerant, bullying, zealous, dogmatic, uncritical of chosen authority, hypocritical, inconsistent and contradictory, prone to panic easily, highly self-righteous, moralistic, strict disciplinarian, severely punitive, demands loyalty and returns it, little self-awareness, usually politically and economically conservative/Republican.

Social conservatives, whose core members are Christian conservatives, comprise the largest and most cohesive faction of conservatism and typical right-wing authoritarian followers.


Gold, a former Georgetown University professor, described neoconservative foreign policy wonks as “a new aristocracy of aggression that combines 19th-century Prussian pigheadedness with a most un-Prussian inability to read a man or a ledger book, and a near total lack of military—let alone combat—experience. What distinguishes neoconservatives from other conservatives is their desire for militarily imposed nation building. They believe the United States should “use its unrivaled power—forcefully if necessary—to promote its values around the world.

Libby worked with Cheney when he was Secretary of Defense under Bush I, and while at the Defense Department he assisted his former Yale professor Paul Wolfowitz in drafting a defense policy guidance paper calling for unilaterally preemptive wars and the invasion of Iraq—a decade before the 9/11 terror attacks.

Neoconservatism’s authoritarian strategies and its militarism have taken us into a preemptive war in Iraq, have encouraged us to wage war in Iran and North Korea as well, and have been the foundation for a foreign policy that has made America loathed all over the world. Thus, when the Bush/Cheney presidency adopted neoconservative policies and made them their own, they also became the policies subscribed to by their unquestioning authoritarian followers, especially Christian conservatives.

A few descriptions of conservative history that led to what is happening today

Former FBI directors Hoover’s legacy is and insidious, for it was he with his fanaticism who planted the seeds from which contemporary social and cultural conservatism has grown. Hoover’s focus on the American family and Christianity attracted an earlier generation of adamant anticommunists, who have become today’s zealous social conservatives.

In the fall of 1969, the war was escalated, and Agnew became the first high-profile conservative to go after the mainstream news media. For a half hour the vice president tore into the unaccountable power of the unelected news people, who decided what 40 to 50 million Americans would learn of the day’s events. Agnew’s avowed aim was “dividing the American people,” which he called “positive polarization.

With miraculous managerial skills, Schlafly assembled and trained women in key remaining states to block ratification of the ERA. In a standard authoritarian ploy, she relied on fear, claiming that the ERA would deny women the right to support by their husbands, that it would eliminate privacy rights and result in unisex public toilets, that it would mean that women would be drafted into the military and sent into combat, and that it would fully protect abortion rights and homosexual marriages. None of this was true,

Weyrich is a master of the art of direct-mail fund-raising and is best known as the “funding father” of modern conservatism. He believed conservatives needed a Washington-based think tank comparable to the once liberal (now moderate) Brookings Institution, so along with a colleague from Capitol Hill, Edwin Feuler, Weyrich established the Heritage Foundation in 1973. Weyrich’s also helped organize the religious right. In a profile that recognized his authoritarian influence, the Washington Times noted that Weyrich “helped bring [conservatism] structure, discipline and, gradually, dominance” over the Republican Party. His most significant influence on conservatism was the role he played in bringing fundamentalist Protestants and conservative Catholics into the political arena.

These organizations have become the marketing arms of contemporary conservatism, providing various factions an imprimatur of scholarship, and none more than social conservatives. Much of their “thinking” supports their particular “authority,” and in this sense they are efficient authoritarian tools. They devote significant resources, and intellectual firepower, to demolishing policies and programs on the liberal agenda.

By 1978 increasingly politically active evangelicals had grown disenchanted with Jimmy Carter, whom they had helped put in office. They did not like his progressive Democrat policies, in general, but, in particular, they were offended by a proposal by the Internal Revenue Service to deny tax-deductible status to all private schools, including private Christian ones.

“God, we have got to get this man out of the White House and get someone in here who will be aggressive about bringing back traditional moral values.” That is exactly what conservative Christians did. They worked like bees—literally millions of them devoted themselves to this task—and by 1981 they had significantly helped to put Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office.

Today evangelicals comprise the core of the religious right, and white Protestant evangelicals, depending on the poll, range from a quarter to a third of the electorate. A Zogby poll reported that conservative Christians account for an astounding 58% of all Republicans. In 2000, 68% of white Protestant evangelicals voted for Bush and Cheney. In 2004 that statistic rose to 78%. But it is not at the presidential level that conservative Christians have their greatest impact. “The religious right’s power lies in the lower parts of the Republican machinery, in precinct meetings and the like,” the Economist reported.

The root of the problem of authoritarian leaders and erosion of democracy are Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists, who are somewhere between a quarter and a third of the electorate and 58% of all Republicans.  They are the foot soldiers of authoritarian leaders and turn out in great numbers at the polls. Their influence is felt at every level of government.

Without the support of Christian conservatives Republicans cannot even get nominated to local, state, and national offices, because they have become the filter through which all Republicans must pass today.  Christian conservatives have a virtual lock on state and local Republican politics, and have totally outmaneuvered their opposition. “In American politics,” wrote Joel Rogers of the University of Wisconsin, “who controls the states controls the nation. The right understands this, and for a generation has waged an unrelenting war to take over state government in America. It has succeeded, in large part because it hasn’t faced any serious progressive counter effort.

Roe v. Wade was the tipping point. After Roe, self-appointed leaders within the evangelical movement became militant activists. Baptist ministers Jerry Falwell and Timothy LaHaye, and the lay psychologist James Dobson, entered politics with a vengeance during the 1970s and 1980s. They created the new religious right and have made conservative evangelical support so important for the Republican Party since the campaigns of Ronald Reagan. Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential campaign, albeit unsuccessful in even coming close to getting the Republican nomination, further politicized a large segment of the evangelical community,

Religious historian Mark Noll, an evangelical who has written many books on evangelicals, candidly acknowledged their authoritarian nature. Speaking as an evangelical and a historian of evangelicalism, he noted it’s incompatible with the give-and-take of politics because of the rigidity of its beliefs.

Evangelical Christianity is an intolerant religion, unable to say “your religion is fine with you; my religion is fine with me.” Rather “evangelical religion is offensive. It claims forthrightly that there is one, and only one, way to God,” and that is their way. When fund-raising, “they identify an enemy: homosexuals, abortionists, Democrats, or ‘liberals’ in general,” he explained. Then, these enemies are accused, falsely, of being out to “get us” or “impose their morality on the rest of us or destroy the country.” An action plan is offered—“We will oppose the enemies and ensure that they do not take over America”—and a plea for funds follows. The focus is inevitably negative, and often the claims are outrageous.

Cal Thomas, who once served as vice president of communications for Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, noted that evangelist ministers like Pat Robertson “must constantly have enemies, conspiracies, and opponents as well as play the role of righteous victim in order to get people to send in money.” He is troubled by the irony that the Bible calls on Christians to love their enemies, “whether they be homosexuals, abortionists, Democrats, or liberals.”

Former president Jimmy Carter described religious fundamentalists based on his personal observations and experiences. Invariably, “fundamentalist movements are led by authoritarian males who consider themselves to be superior to others and, within religious groups, have an overwhelming commitment to subjugate women and to dominate their fellow believers.” He found that these people believe the past is better than the present; they draw clear distinctions between themselves, as true believers, and others; they are “militant in fighting against any challenges to their beliefs”; and they are “often angry” and sometimes resort “to verbal or even physical abuse against those who interfere with the implementation of their agenda. Carter summarized the characteristics of fundamentalism as “rigidity, domination, and exclusion.

Senator John Danforth of Missouri (who served from 1976 until 1995) wrote an op-ed for the New York Times on how conservative Christians operate and the impact they are having at the national level:

  • Conservative Christians have presented themselves as representing the one authentic Christian perspective on politics . . . when equally devout mainstream Christians come to very different conclusions.
  • Many conservative Christians approach politics with a certainty that they know God’s truth, and that they can advance the kingdom of God through governmental action. So they have developed a political agenda that they believe advances God’s kingdom.
  • In the [past] decade . . . American politics has been characterized by two phenomena: the increased activism of the Christian right, especially in the Republican Party, and the collapse of bipartisan collegiality. [It is not] a stretch to suggest a relationship between the two.
  • Mainstream Christians reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base. Rather they believe it is God’s work to practice humility, to wear tolerance on our sleeves, to reach out to those with whom we disagree, and to overcome the meanness we see in today’s politics.

Religious Authoritarianism

Studies have shown that “acceptance of traditional religious beliefs appear to have more to do with having a personality rich in authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conventionalism, than with the beliefs per se.

Bob Altemeyer offers a convincing explanation for why right-wing authoritarians are characteristically religious. Authoritarian parents transfer their beliefs to children through religious instruction. Christian conservatives tend to emanate from strict religious backgrounds, and often prevent their children from being exposed to broader and different views by sending them to schools with like-thinking children, or by home schooling them. This, in turn, results in an authoritarian outlook that remains strong during adolescence—the period when authoritarian personalities are formed and then taken into adult life.

Christian conservative religious leader Pat Robertson

Christian conservatives’ primary tool in reinforcing authoritarianism is preaching fear, and no one does so more consistently than the head of the Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson. He once issued a fund-raising letter declaring that the “feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians. He has an unequivocal view of a woman’s true role: “The woman should be in submission to the man,” he declared flatly.

Robertson’s desire for personal power has never waned, and with the Christian Coalition claiming millions of members and almost 2,000 state and local branches, he now has a chokehold on the Republican Party. Although Robertson has long supported Israel, he has a history of making anti-Semitic remarks. “In Robertson’s evangelical end-time scenario, Jews are simply pawns who help usher in the second coming of Christ,” Robert Boston wrote. Robertson “believes that a mass conversion of Jews to Christianity will occur before Jesus returns to usher in the end of the world.

Robertson’s anti-Semitism surfaced in his New World Order book and he has never disavowed the book’s contents. It is a bizarre tale of conspiracy, in which Robertson claims there is a secret plot afoot by the Freemasons, the Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Affairs, the Federal Reserve, and unidentified European bankers to create a world government under the United Nations. This new government will be taken over by the Antichrist, resulting in Armageddon, with half the world’s population being eliminated. Joe Queenan in the Wall Street Journal wrote: The New World Order is a predictable compendium of the lunatic fringe’s greatest hits. . . . Mr. Robertson weaves a wild tale of international and extraterrestrial conspiracies, involving everyone from deposed Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza to Alger Hiss to Woodrow Wilson—an unwitting tool of Satan, whose role in the establishment of the Federal Reserve eventually resulted in the nation’s abdication to the most Machiavellian creature of all time: Paul Volcker. . . . It is a bizarre tale of conspiracy, in which Robertson claims there is a secret plot afoot by the Freemasons, the Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Affairs, the Federal Reserve, and unidentified European bankers to create a world government under the United Nations. This new government will be taken over by the Antichrist, resulting in Armageddon, with half the world’s population eliminated. The book made the New York Times best-seller list.

Bitter that he’ll never be president or control a president he exert he still influences elections by having his followers block candidates for Republican nominations at the local, state, and national level, and  no issue is more important than the filtering process for judicial nominations, especially at the federal level.

Packing federal courts with judges who will do God’s work

Their goal is to have judges who will stop the right of women to have abortions, stop the teaching of safe sex and evolution in schools, encourage home schooling, ban contraceptives, halt stem cell research with human embryos, ban gay marriage, eliminate the separation of church and state, control the sexual content of cable and network TV, radio, and the internet.

Because they don’t want to lose the support of evangelicals, or see them withdraw from politics as their parents or grandparents did in the 1920s, Republicans must take this agenda seriously. An unspoken quit pro quo has developed for their support – appoint justices whose views are compatible with Christian conservative goals.  So now, seven of the nine justices on the Supreme court were appointed by Republicans, though John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter are considered liberals.  But there are no  liberals – Ruth Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer are moderates.  Though courts haven’t been this conservative since before the New Deal, lower federal courts are conservative than they’ve ever been. By the end of 2005, 60% of federal appeals courts were appointed by Republicans, and nine of the 13 circuit courts have majorities named by Republican presidents.  All of the federal appellate courts except the Second and Ninth are more conservative than the Supreme court.

Hillary Clinton observed that nobody with a contrary point of view has had a chance to present legislation or make an argument. Authoritarians led by Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay have taken over the House.

Dean describes how Gingrich treated his wife who had helped him run through graduate school. After campaigning hard for her husband he asked for a divorce while she was in the hospital recovering from a second cancer option. He left his family nearly destitute.  [talk about not having a conscience!]  His colleagues have described him as dominating, opposed to equality, desirous of personal power and amoral. He can be a bully, hedonistic, exploitive, manipulative, mean-spirited, and uses religion for political purposes.  Lee Howell, a former press secretary, said “Gingrich has a tendency to chew people up and spit them out, and when he doesn’t need you anymore he throws you away. I don’t think he has many principles except for what’s best for him.  Mary Kahn (a reporter who covered Gingrich): “He uses people and then discards them as useless. He’s like a leech. He really is a man with no conscience. He just doesn’t seem to care who he hurts of why.”  L. H. Carter, once a friend and adviser: “The important thing you have to understand about Newt Gingrich is that he is amoral. There’s only what will work best for Newt Gingrich.”  Although he’s left office, his influence lives on.

Tom DeLay is another asshole and born-again Christian in 1984. He blamed high school shootings on the availability of birth control for teens and the teaching of evolution.

Christians cross the line of the separation of church and state by recommending who to vote for to their parishioners. For instance, Pat Robertson had 33 million voting guides of who to vote for in their districts. [ This is illegal. I think that one way to lessen their influence would be to take their tax-exempt status. ]

There are many reasons why members of congress spend less time than they once did with fellow members of both parties. Now the house held meetings occur far less, and electronic voting has led to spending less time together.  This suits authoritarian Republicans, because knowing one’s colleagues makes it harder to attack them, and conservative authoritarians are constantly on the attack. They are not backslappers but rather backstabbers; they do not serve the public interest, only their own.

The goal of Republicans is to build a permanent majority in America and a one-party rule. But the ultimate targets are not Democrats, but democracy itself.   Here are some of the methods being used now:

  • Extreme centralization. The agenda in the house is controlled by the Speaker and Committee on Rules. Tom DeLay and House Speaker Dennis Hastert practically write the laws themselves. They make drastic revisions to bills approved by the committee, usually late at night, and dub them emergency measures allowing them to be considered in as little 30 minutes, not the 48 hours House rules mandate. Very often members have no idea what they’re voting for.
  • No Amendments. When the GOP took control of the House they promised they’d do better than the Democrats, and that at least 70% of bills would prohibit amendments. Now it is 76%.
  • One party conferences. Democrats have been cut out of conferences. At most members have one day to study bills over 1,000 pages, once unacceptable to both parties.
  • No legislative hearings. Many laws are literally written by the special interests the laws seek to “regulate”.
  • Appropriations Bill Abuses. These have to pass so the government doesn’t run out of money and shut down. Republicans take advantage of this and add an endless number of spending for their pet pork-barrel projects and spending has soared. In 1995 where were only 1,439 earmarked items. At the end of 2005 there were 13,998 costing $27.3 billion.

Today House seats are secure thanks to gerrymandering, but Democrats remain silent because they don’t want to be seen as whiners or raise process issues. In 2004 only 29 of 435 House races were truly competitive. The Economist said that North Korea might be proud of this incumbent re-election rate of 99%.

Republican leaders understand that some moderates can’t vote for every hard-right measure and survive in office. So GOP leadership rotates among the moderates, not forcing all of them to comply with every vote, but using them one at a time when one vote is needed for victory. This is blatantly imperious, completely undemocratic, and conspicuously authoritarian.  Barney Frank has said the House is no longer a deliberative body.


When Republicans took control of congress in 1995, their first move was to seize control of the lobbying sector. They made sure House Republicans were getting their share of campaign dollars from K Street, and told lobbying firms and trade associations that if they wanted access to GOP leaders, they should hire Republicans to lobby.  This was all about getting the big money needed to maintain the Republican majority. It turned K street into loyal soldiers. The deal was they provide the funds to get Republicans re-elected and they’d get legislative favors.

Delay regularly engaged in pay-to-play lawmaking and flagrant abuses of power, such as taking names and making lists of who was being hired to lobby and how much money was being contributed to Republicans.

Republicans, have for all practical purposes, imposed one-party rule. Thomas Mann at the Brokkings Institution said it was the most hard-nosed effort he’d ever seen to use their current majority to enlarge and maintain that majority. Paul Krugman at the New York Times wrote that the Republicans have done this by “patronage, cronyism and corruption.”

Among the most troubling of the authoritarian and radical tactics are the politics of fear, a favorite gambit of Latin American dictators. Think of the modern presidents who have governed our nation: Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton.  In all the numerous crises they confronted—the Great Depression, WWII, Korean war, cold war, Cuban missile crisis, war in Vietnam, Iran’s taking of American hostages, the danger to American students in Grenada, Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, the 1993 terrorist bombings of the World Trade Center, and Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma. None of them resorted to fear or made the use of fear a means of governing or pursuing political goals.  On the contrary, all of them sought to avoid preying on the fears of Americans (note that Nixon isn’t on the list because he used fear in both 1968 and 1972 campaigns, and continued to do so in office).  Bush and Cheney on the other hand, have churned out fear, and the media hasn’t challenged them.  They know that the media will treat their fearmongering as news, because fear sells news; it keeps people reading, watching, and waiting for updates.

Government terrorizes us so much we’re willing to give up the ideals of democracy in exchange for reducing the fear.  Bush and Cheney have weakened the fabric of democracy, discredited the American government as never before in the eyes of the world, and caused people to wonder if terrorists have a legitimate.  Most Republicans are content to allow the Bush White House to engage in fearmongering to get re-elected.

Are we on the way to fascism? Professor Robert O. Paxton observed that “fascism in the future, resulting from an emergency response to an imagined crisis, need not resemble classical fascism perfectly in its outward signs and symbols…An authentically popular American fascism would be pious, anti-black, and anti-Islamic.

A large proportion of the public is slow to react to problems. For example, after the Watergate burglars from the Nixon reelection committee were arrested inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972, polls conducted just after the 1972 elections showed that 62% of voters dismissed the Watergate break-in and investigation as “mostly politics.” Despite the growing and hard evidence of the president’s deep involvement, public opinion was slow to change or turn against Nixon. Americans want to believe in their president and their own congress(wo)men.

In fact, it wasn’t public opinion that forced Nixon from office. Nixon resigned because his attorney had forced the disclosure of evidence so damaging that it seemed certain he would be convicted of high crimes by the Senate.  The reason Nixon did not go to trial was not his loss of support on Capitol Hill, which he might have rebuilt, but because he lost the support of his defenders, mainly on the White House Staff.  And above all, Nixon decided to honor the rule of law and resign.

It’s not clear to me that Bush and Cheney would do the same. Instead, they’d spin the facts as they always have and continue with their agenda. It appears they believe the lesson of Watergate was not to stay within the law, but not to get caught. And if you do get caught, claim that the president can do whatever he thinks necessary in the name of national security.  To protect themselves, they have structured their White House as La Cosa Nostra might have done, and surrounded themselves with men who owe their careers to their bosses. All of the key staff people close to Bush and Cheney have very long relationships with them.  They are protected by staff who will take a bullet for them.  They’re protected as well by loyal supporters (ranks of right-wing authoritarian followers).

What has driven this book is the realization that our government has become largely authoritarian. It is run by an array of authoritarian personalities, leaders who display all those traits I have listed—dominating, opposed to equality, desirous of personal power, amoral, intimidating, and bullying; some are hedonistic, most are vengeful, pitiless, exploitive, manipulative, dishonest, cheaters, prejudiced, mean-spirited, militant, nationalistic, and two-faced.

Because of our system of government, these authoritarians are still confronted with obstacles. But they seek to remove them when they can. They are able to do so because the growth of right-wing conservatism has generated countless millions of authoritarian followers, people who will not question such actions.  Probably 20 to 25% of the adult American population is so right-wing authoritarian, so scared, so self-righteous, so ill-informed, and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds.

The problem is that these authoritarian followers are much more active than the rest of the country. They have the mentality of ‘old-time religion’ on a crusade, and they generously give money, time, and effort to the cause. They proselytize; they lick stamps; they put pressure on loved ones; and they revel in being loyal to a cohesive group of like thinkers. And they are so submissive to their leaders that they will believe and do virtually anything they are told.  They are not going to let up and they are not going to go away.

Research shows there is a solid majority of Americans who are not right-wing authoritarians, countless millions of liberals, moderates, and conservatives with consciences, people who shudder at the prospect of giving away our hard-earned democratic principles, and who cherish our liberties. These are individuals who question their leaders and policies, and that is as it should be. Democracy is not a spectator sport that simply be observed. To the contrary, it is difficult and demanding, and its very survival depends on active participation. Take it for granted, and the authoritarians, who have already taken control, will take American democracy where to freedom-loving person would want it to go.

But time has run out.

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Scientists’ warning to humanity on insect extinctions

Preface. Below are excerpts from Cardoso, P., et al. 2020. Scientists’ warning to humanity on insect extinctions. Biological Conservation.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report



  • We are pushing many ecosystems beyond recovery, resulting in insect extinctions.
  • Causes are habitat loss, pollution, invasives, climate change, and over exploitation.
  • We lose biomass, diversity, unique histories, functions, and interaction networks.
  • Insect declines lead to loss of essential, irreplaceable services to humanity.
  • Action to save insect species is urgent, for both ecosystems and human survival.


Here we build on the manifesto ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, issued by the Alliance of World Scientists. As a group of conservation biologists deeply concerned about the decline of insect populations, we here review what we know about the drivers of insect extinctions, their consequences, and how extinctions can negatively impact humanity.

We are causing insect extinctions by driving habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, use of polluting and harmful substances, the spread of invasive species, global climate change, direct over-exploitation, and co-extinction of species dependent on other species.

With insect extinctions, we lose much more than species. We lose abundance and biomass of insects, diversity across space and time with consequent homogenization, large parts of the tree of life, unique ecological functions and traits, and fundamental parts of extensive networks of biotic interactions. Such losses lead to the decline of key ecosystem services on which humanity depends. From pollination and decomposition, to being resources for new medicines, habitat quality indication and many others, insects provide essential and irreplaceable services.

1. Introduction

Insect extinctions, their drivers, and consequences have received increasing public attention in recent years. Media releases have caught the interest of the general public, and until recently, we were largely unaware that insects could be imperiled to such an extent, and that their loss would have consequences for our own well-being. Fueled by declining numbers from specific regions, concern over the fate of insects has gained traction in the non-scientific realm.

Current estimates suggest that insects may number 5.5 million species, with only one fifth of these named. The number of threatened and extinct insect species is woefully underestimated because of so many species being rare or undescribed. For example, the IUCN Red List only includes ca. 8400 species out of one million described, representing a possible 0.2% of all extant species (IUCN, 2019). However, it is likely that insect extinctions since the industrial era are around 5 to 10%, i.e. 250,000 to 500,000 species, based on estimates of 7% extinctions for land snails (Régnier et al., 2015). In total at least one million species are facing extinction in the coming decades, half of them being insects (IPBES, 2019).

It is not only their vast numbers, but the dependency of ecosystems and humanity on them, that makes the conservation of insect diversity critical for future generations. A major challenge now and in the coming years is to maintain and enhance the beneficial contributions of nature to all people. Insects are irreplaceable components in this challenge, as are other invertebrates and biodiversity in general.

Here we build on the manifesto World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists (1992) and re-issued 25 years later by the Alliance of World Scientists (Ripple et al., 2017). The latter warning was signed by over 15,000 scientists and claims that humans are “pushing Earth’s ecosystems beyond their capacities to support the web of life.” ( As a group of conservation biologists deeply concerned about the decline of insect populations worldwide, we here review what we know about the drivers of insect extinctions, their consequences, and how extinctions can negatively impact humanity. We end with an appeal for urgent action to decrease our knowledge deficits and curb insect extinctions.

2. We are causing insect extinctions

Irrespective of the precise trends and their spatial distribution, human activity is responsible for almost all current insect population declines and extinctions. Yet, in order to act, we first need to identify and quantify the different ways we are acting upon them, recognizing that much is still to be understood, and more often than not, several factors contribute synergistically to decline or extinction (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1

2.1. Habitat loss and fragmentation

Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation are probably the most relevant threats to biodiversity. Globally, 50% of endemic species of plants and vertebrates are restricted to some 36 biodiversity hotspots covering just 2.5% of the Earth’s surface and arguably, these hotspots likely harbor similar percentages of endemic insect species. Recent modelling suggests that agro-economic pressure for land will reduce the currently very restricted natural intact vegetation by a further 50% by 2050 in one third of the world’s hotspots. Processes associated with deforestation, agricultural expansion, and urbanization are the proximate drivers of loss of natural or semi-natural habitats and their insect assemblages across the world. Mining is particularly relevant for subterranean species, which are often spatially restricted. Freshwater habitats additionally suffer from river flow regulation and damming. Increased siltation in rivers and streams from agricultural runoff, as well as flow regulation, degrade habitats of typical stream dwelling insect larvae. There is also a significant loss of pond ecosystems largely due to agricultural land drainage and urban development.

Habitat loss is often accompanied by habitat fragmentation, and both lead to decreasing connectivity (Fischer and Lindenmayer, 2007; Fletcher Jr. et al., 2018). However, depending on the mobility of the insect species and the degree of habitat fragmentation their relative importance varies. Insects with low mobility may survive in isolated populations (e.g., many flightless Orthoptera). In contrast, many species with a higher mobility – such as butterflies – usually form metapopulations (Hanski, 1999). They depend on a network of suitable habitat patches of sufficient size and in spatial proximity (Eichel and Fartmann, 2008; Stuhldreher and Fartmann, 2014). However, in less fragmented landscapes – even among metapopulation species – habitat connectivity usually plays a minor role for patch occupancy. Here habitat quality is the main driver of insect species occurrence (Krämer et al., 2012; Poniatowski et al., 2018; Münsch et al., 2019). In these times of global warming, habitat connectivity becomes increasingly important for all insect survival. This is because insect range shifts in response to climate change are often constrained by insufficient habitat connectivity in fragmented landscapes (Platts et al., 2019), and so lag behind the increase in temperature, even for mobile species (Devictor et al., 2012; Termaat et al., 2019).

2.2. Pollution

Pesticides are key drivers of insect declines due to their intensive use, as well as inappropriate risk assessment regulations (Brühl and Zaller, 2019). Pesticides impact insect populations via direct toxicity and sub-lethal effects (mainly insecticides), and indirectly through habitat alteration (mainly herbicides). Bioaccumulation, due to chronic exposure and biomagnification along food chains, pose significant additional threats for insect populations (Hayes and Hansen, 2017) that can have undetected harmful effects on insect physiology and behaviour (Desneux et al., 2007).

Many fertilizers (including organic and mineral fertilizers) widely used in agriculture, can affect insect populations indirectly, via impacts on the composition or quality of plant resources, on structural habitat properties or causing soil acidification, and through eutrophication (Fox, 2013; Villalobos-Jiménez et al., 2016). Effects of high-levels of fertilizer use can be positive for a few herbivorous insects in agroecosystems (e.g., aphids; Kytö et al., 1996), but have negative effects on most insects (Kurze et al., 2018; Habel et al., 2019a). Also, the use of anthelmintic substances (e.g. Ivermectin) in livestock systems has a negative impact on the abundance and richness of insects associated with dung decomposition (Verdú et al., 2018).

Industrial pollution (including air pollution, chemicals from factories or mining operations, and heavy metals) also causes insect population declines (Zvereva and Kozlov, 2010). Several economically important insect species (such as pollinators or natural enemies of pests) may be threatened by chronic exposure to pollutants (e.g., heavy metals), but community-wide effects are often not well understood. Freshwater invertebrates (including several insect taxa) are disproportionately affected by pollution, with over 41% of species on the IUCN Red List threatened by water pollution (Darwall et al., 2012). Industrial discharge, sewage, and agricultural and urban run-off as well as increased sediment deposition, all reduce freshwater habitat quality (Jones et al., 2012).

Light and noise pollution are becoming increasingly pervasive globally, and gaining a better understanding of these novel impacts is critical. Nocturnal insects are especially vulnerable to changes in natural light/dark cycles. Light pollution interferes with insects that use natural light (from the moon or stars) as orientation cues for navigation and with communication of insects that use bioluminescent signals, such as fireflies. It desynchronizes activities triggered by natural light cycles, such as feeding and egg-laying, and causes temporal mismatches in mutualistic interactions. Noise pollution greatly changes the acoustic landscape and interferes with acoustic communication of insects and their auditory surveillance of the environment, having significant fitness costs. Finally, the effects of electromagnetic pollution on insects and other life-forms, including humans, are still very badly understood and deserve further exploration (Thielens et al., 2018).

2.3. Invasive species

Invasive alien species (IAS) are anthropogenically introduced species to locations outside of their natural geographical range, which have a demonstrable environmental, ecological, or socio-economic effect (Turbelin et al., 2017). Impacts may be direct (e.g., through predation, competition, or disease vectoring) and/or indirect (e.g., through trophic cascades, co-extinction of herbivore or parasitoid hosts). Species introductions may ultimately lead to local loss of native insects, with those exhibiting narrow geographic distributions or specialist feeding habits being most vulnerable (Wagner and Van Driesche, 2010).

Direct competition by non-native species can drive local populations towards extinction. The degree of ecological overlap with the invasive ladybird, Harmonia axyridis Pallas, 1773, was a main predictor for local extinctions of endemic ladybird fauna in Britain (Comont et al., 2014). Invasive ants (e.g. the Argentine ant, Linepithema humile Mayr, 1868) are perhaps the best example of IAS that challenge native insect fauna. Due to their large numbers and generalist predatory behavior, many invasive ant species are primary threats to native insects (see Wagner and Van Driesche, 2010). The invasive amphipod Dikerogammarus villosus (Sowinsky, 1894) kills significantly greater numbers of aquatic invertebrates than native amphipods, reducing invertebrate diversity and displacing native amphipod species (Dick et al., 2002; Rewicz et al., 2014).

The high biomass and dense structure of invasive plants often has a major impact on insect communities (Strayer, 2010). The monotypic nature of invasive plants reduces the quantity and/or quality of food, and leads to declines in essential resources for many insects (Severns and Warren, 2008; Preston et al., 2012; Havel et al., 2015). Additionally, invasive plants can change matrix composition, adversely affecting insect host-parasitoid relationships (Cronin and Haynes, 2004). Invasive plants may also provide eco-evolutionary traps for native insects. Once an invader has outcompeted and displaced native hosts, it may act as a host that results in poor larval development, or increased larval mortality (Sunny et al., 2015), leading to insect population decline.

Invasive pathogens can also lead to native insect extinctions. European strains of the fungal pathogen, Nosema bombi, are thought to have resulted in the widespread collapse of North American bumblebees (Cameron and Sadd, 2020). Furthermore, the introduced bumblebee Bombus terrestris L., 1758 has caused the disappearance of the Patagonian bumblebee, B. dahlbomii Guérin-Méneville, 1835, across much of its native range, either due to direct competition or the introduction of pathogens to which the native species have no defences (Cameron and Sadd, 2020).

2.4. Climate change

Climate change poses threats to insects and the ecosystems they depend on, whether terrestrial (Burrows et al., 2011), freshwater (Woodward et al., 2010) or subterranean (Mammola et al., 2019b). The complexity of global climate change goes far beyond simply global temperature increase (Walther et al., 2002; Ripple et al., 2019). It also leads to a variety of multifaceted ecological responses to environmental changes, including shifts in species distribution ranges (Chen et al., 2011), phenological displacements (Forrest, 2016), novel interactions among previously isolated species (Krosby et al., 2015), extinctions (Dirzo et al., 2014), and other unpredictable cascading effects at different levels of ecosystem organisation (Peñuelas et al., 2013). Changes in species phenology, distributions, reduction in body size, assemblage structure, and desynchronization of species-specific interactions are all linked to climate change (Scheffers et al., 2016). For example, some British butterflies are emerging earlier than previously recorded, and in some cases, before their nectar plants have flowered (Roy and Sparks, 2000). In addition, changes in functional feeding group diversity can be associated with changes in trophic interactions in food webs (Jourdan et al., 2018).

Aquatic insects are disproportionately affected by climate change, due to the synergistic negative effects on freshwater ecosystems overall (Reid et al., 2019), and these insects having limited dispersal capacity, as well as them confronting barriers to their dispersal, particularly at higher elevations (Bush et al., 2013). There is a need for the development and implementation of bioindicators, and dragonflies are emerging as taxonomic champions for aquatic ecosystems (Chovanec et al., 2015; Dutra and De Marco, 2015; Valente-Neto et al., 2016; Vorster et al., 2020). Bush et al. (2013) dubbed dragonflies as ‘climate canaries’, with dragonfly species assemblages being three times more sensitive to climate variables than macroinvertebrate assemblages at family level. While there is evidence that water quality improvements have offset recent climatic debt for stream macroinvertebrates (Vaughan and Gotelli, 2019), this continued mitigation is not likely to reverse or even halt trends in aquatic insect species declines.

2.5. Overexploitation

Though rarely considered, overexploitation may play a role in insect decline for many groups. It primarily threatens free-living insects and includes unsustainable harvesting for use as pets and decoration (as souvenirs and jewels), or as food resources and traditional medicine. Various insects are kept as pets, but they are especially popular in Japan, where there are many illegally traded insects (Actman, 2019). Ants maintained in commercial farms are probably the most common pet insect in USA, but field crickets, praying mantids, antlions, caterpillars, and mealworms are also reported worldwide as household pets (Smithsonian, 2019).

Ornamental insects as preserved decorations are also numerous, particularly regarding Lepidoptera and Coleoptera. Coloured wings and elytra are used in jewellery, embroidery, and pottery (Prasad, 2007; Lokeshwari and Shantibala, 2010). In regions where market demand is high, ornamental insects are frequently imported in large numbers (Kameoka and Kiyono, 2003), which fuels an illegal export industry in areas where high-demand insects occur naturally (Kameoka and Kiyono, 2003; New, 2005). Unsurprisingly, this demand for ornamental insects has driven declines of sought-after species (Tournant et al., 2012; Huang, 2014).

Entomophagy is another driver of overexploitation. A worldwide inventory listed 2111 edible insect species (Jongema, 2017), with number of collected individuals often exceeding regeneration capacity (Cerritos, 2009). Wild populations are threatened because collection practices became less selective and sustainable, due to the dissipation of indigenous knowledge, which often includes the sustainable use of edible insects and their habitat (Kenis et al., 2006). In many subsistence societies, insects provide protein supplements and can constitute nearly a third of total protein intake during periods of meat protein shortage (Dufour, 1987).

The overexploitation of insects as alternative medicine also poses a risk. Demand for the hundreds of insect species that are used in such practices is reportedly threatening insect biodiversity (Feng et al., 2009). The commercial value of products based on medicinal insects comprises about US$100 million per year (Themis, 1997).

2.6. Co-extinction

Specialisation has led to many insects becoming co-dependent, and therefore, vulnerable to co-extinction (Dunn, 2005; Dunn et al., 2009). Among these, numerous insect lineages have diversified with vertebrates, either as parasites, epizoic mutualists, or commensal coprophages. At least 5000 louse (Phthiraptera) species have been described, of which most (~4000) use avian hosts. About 2500 flea species are recognised and >6000 species of dung beetles are named. Numerous insect lineages have also diversified with invertebrate hosts. Insects of the order Strepsiptera (twisted-wing insects) are obligate parasites of other insects, and >600 species have been described, though they are dwarfed by the parasitic wasps, which are estimated to include as many as 350,000 species (Gaston, 1991). Insects co-dependent on plants are also extremely species rich, with gall-inducing insects alone comprising as many as 211,000 species (Espírito-Santo and Fernandes, 2007). Similarly, mycophagous insects are extremely diverse and often co-dependent on a few fungal hosts.

Co-dependent insects are greatly at risk of extinction through their specialised ecologies (Dunn, 2005; Dunn et al., 2009), even though examples of co-extinctions are rare (Colwell et al., 2012). Models suggest that co-extinction events should be far more common (especially among plant-dependent beetles and bird lice) than present records suggest (Koh et al., 2004a). This is either because of co-extinction events are poorly recorded, or due to unrecognised network resilience owing to the ability of co-dependent insects being able to use many more species than previously assumed (Colwell et al., 2012).

In the case of co-dependent insects, trophic cascades can be particularly relevant (Strona and Bradshaw, 2018). Host species are lost due to habitat loss, as has been shown in Lepidoptera-host plant systems (Pearse and Altermatt, 2013). A historical example of indirect effects of invasive species is the co-extinction of Christmas Island flea (Xenopsylla nesiotes Jordan & Rothschild, 1909), resulting from loss of the Christmas Island rat (Rattus macleari Thomas, 1887) due to the introduced black rat (Rattus rattus L., 1758) (Kwak, 2018). There is evidence that decline of mammals due to synergistic causes (climate change, habitat destruction, hunting, etc.) lead to a pervasive co-decline of dung beetles at continental scales (Bogoni et al., 2019). The overexploitation of birds by the pet trade also threatens their dependent insects (Eaton et al., 2015).

3. We lose much more than species

All species, including insects, are valuable as unique combinations of evolutionary events, have innate value, and so require care and conservation. Yet, as George Orwell put it in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”, with invertebrates being largely neglected in conservation efforts worldwide (Cardoso et al., 2011), the so-called “institutional vertebratism” (Leather, 2013). There is no reason why an insect species deserves much less attention than a bird or mammal species. However, the importance of insect population declines and consequent extinctions goes way beyond loss of species and their intrinsic value.

Each species represents individuals, biomass, and functions being lost, and therefore not available for other living beings. Each species contributes a unique piece to a complex living tapestry that changes in space and time. Each species represents an unrepeatable part of the history of life. In turn, each species also interacts with others and their environment in distinctive ways, weaving a complex network that sustains other species, including us (Fig. 1).

3.1. Abundance and biomass

Hallmann et al. (2017) documented a loss of biomass of flying insects of about 75% over 30 years. This negative trend occurred in nature reserves in Germany. These results are a warning and stimulated an intense debate on the insect crisis. Also, in other parts of Germany, declining abundances and biomass for a broader set of arthropods have been recorded (Seibold et al., 2019). Similar trends have been recorded for other parts of Europe. Large declines in abundance have also occurred among UK butterflies and moths, dragonflies (Clausnitzer et al., 2009) and carabid beetles (Brooks et al., 2012) in recent years. Negative trends are not restricted to Europe, but also occur in other parts of the world (Wagner, 2019). A global meta-analysis of insect abundances revealed a 45% decline across two-thirds of the taxa evaluated (Dirzo et al., 2014). Yet, the specific trend and strength of the decline or eventual increase is not universal and changes according to taxon and region (Macgregor et al., 2019).

Declines in insect abundance and biomass always precede species extinctions, as this is a continuous, not binary, process. Although critically dependent on the ecological role of the species, numerical loss in abundance, and by extension, biomass, reflect impairment of ecological function and provisioning of ecosystem services. For example, biomass is a measurement of the amount of energy flowing through trophic levels that insects represent. In turn, reduced abundance and biomass affects ecosystem functionality and resilience, food web structure, and species interactions, such as plant-pollinators, population persistence, and many ecosystem services (Biesmeijer et al., 2006; Losey and Vaughan, 2006).

These studies highlight numerical declines in abundance and biomass at the landscape level, but also inform us that declines are not restricted to rare and endangered species only, but are also present for more abundant species (Habel and Schmitt, 2018; Hallmann et al., 2020). While insect conservation often target charismatic, rare, or threatened species, the temporal and spatial trends of common and widespread species are often overlooked (Gaston, 2011). Numerical declines of common and widespread species impact the functioning of ecosystems more severely. As such, safeguarding ecosystem function may be suffering un-noticed, highlighting the need for insect monitoring and conservation beyond rare and threatened species.

3.2. Differences in space and time

Insects and most arthropods are relatively small organisms that often occupy small microhabitats. As we move horizontally across a seemingly homogenous patch, small features, such as dead wood, rocks, or even a single tree can alter conditions, leading to replacement of species and allowing higher richness to persist within the larger patch. Insects also partition themselves vertically, i.e. in a forest, we find soil, ground active, undergrowth, sub-canopy, and canopy species, all of which contribute to the hyper-diversity found in, for example, tropical rainforests (Stork et al., 2016). This way, insect assemblages tend to be composed of few very common and many rare species (Pachepsky et al., 2001; McGill et al., 2007), leading to high levels of beta-diversity. Such high levels of species turnover can be difficult to monitor, as research tends to describe overall arthropod richness and compositional changes driven by the common species. Given their nature, it is much harder to quantify how rare species are responding to anthropogenic pressures (van Schalkwyk et al., 2019).

Processes that homogenize natural systems decrease beta-diversity by removing rare species from the system. These pressures not only remove native species, but also simplify the system, reducing the diversity of resources and biological interactions. Furthermore, they allow secondary invasions from ecologically dominant alien invasive insects that outcompete or simply feed on the native fauna (Silverman and Brightwell, 2008; Roy et al., 2016; see section on invasive species). The edges of transformed areas, including linear structures such as roads, show large edge effects on beta-diversity. This suggests that the presence of dominant species, either native or alien, reduce niche space by outcompeting and effectively replacing rare species (Swart et al., 2019).

Insects do not just partition themselves across space, but also time. Tropical rainforest cicadas and bush-crickets call during different times of the day and night or at different frequencies to avoid overlap (Schmidt and Balakrishnan, 2015). At the other extreme are the periodic cicadas, which only emerge as adults every 13 or 17 years (prime numbers to avoid frequent overlap). One of the major concerns with global climate change is how warmer temperatures might be interfering with arthropod phenology. For example, a population of the 17-year cicada emerged after just 13 years in 2017 (Sheikh, 2017), which is most likely due to the alteration of host tree cycles (Karban et al., 2000).

3.3. Phylogenetic diversity

Phylogenetic diversity takes the evolutionary relationships between taxa into account and reflects the evolutionary history of each species. Communities with identical taxonomic diversity may differ widely with respect to their evolutionary past, depending on the time of divergence of species from their nearest common ancestor (Webb et al., 2002; Graham and Fine, 2008). Studying the effects of species extinction on the phylogenetic tree of life is therefore imperative and provides a complementary view to the loss of taxon diversity.

Insects constitute a major branch of the tree of life, representing ca. 480 million years of evolution (Misof et al., 2014). Preserving this phylogenetic diversity is crucial to protect the evolutionary trajectories of the most successful taxonomic group on our planet. Understanding the phylogenetic relationships among and within species is crucial to avoid detrimental decisions in conservation management, such as neglecting populations with unique evolutionary histories (e.g., Price et al., 2007), (re-)introducing non-native species or mis-adapted evolutionary lineages (Moritz, 1999), or outbreeding depression in captive breeding projects (Witzenberger and Hochkirch, 2011).

Insects comprise many unique evolutionary lineages with some old relict groups, such as the Zoraptera, Mantophasmatodea, Mecoptera, or Grylloblattodea. Among the latter, the Kosu Rock Crawler (Galloisiana kosuensis Namkung, 1974) is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (Chung et al., 2018). This species is only known from a single cave, whose temperature has risen by >3 °C from increased tourism, reaching 1400 visitors per day. Another example is the Mauritian endemic grasshopper species Pyrgacris relictus Descamps, 1968, which belongs to a distinct family (Pyrgacrididae) with only two species. This species, which only feeds on an endemic palm species is Critically Endangered, and only known from a single locality, imperilled by construction of a golf course (Hugel, 2014). Loss of such distinct evolutionary branches of the tree of life is irreversible and leads to the loss of unique genetic diversity.

3.4. Functional diversity

Functional diversity quantifies the components of biodiversity that influence how an ecosystem operates or functions (Tilman et al., 2001) and reflects the amount of biological functions or traits displayed by species in given communities. Communities with completely different species composition may be characterized by low variation in functional traits, with phylogenetically unrelated species replacing others with similar functional roles (Villéger et al., 2012). The functional diversity and role of insects in maintaining ecological processes are issues of immense interest, and are particularly relevant to landscapes undergoing anthropogenic change and biodiversity loss (Ng et al., 2018). This is because functional diversity provides a direct link between biodiversity and ecosystem processes. Moreover, loss of particular traits can result in changes to key ecological processes promoted by insects, such as pollination (Saunders, 2018) and decomposition (Barton and Evans, 2017).

Threatened species are not a random subset of all the species. Threatened species tend to share biological traits that influence their extinction risk (Chichorro et al., 2019). In general, specialists in either habitat type or feeding regime, very small or very large species, and poor dispersers, are at highest risk. The decline of both habitat and resource specialist species has been documented for bees, beetles, butterflies, dragonflies, and moths (e.g., Kotze and O’Hara, 2003; Koh et al., 2004b; Bartomeus et al., 2013). Species with narrower habitat requirements have less ability to escape from multiple pressures. The resource specialists depend not only on their effective population size, but also on the availability of their resources. When organisms are dependent on only one resource type, co-extinctions might also be more likely to occur.

Demise of both large and the very small species occurs among vertebrates (e.g., Ripple et al., 2017). There are two main reasons explaining the demise of large species: 1) they usually require more resources and therefore exist at lower population densities than smaller species, which in turn increases the risk of local extinction due to unpredictable events; 2) they usually have traits related to slower life cycles and therefore respond slower to environmental change. On the other hand, smaller species often decline in greater proportions than larger ones, due to their lower competitive ability (Powney et al., 2015). However, small insects can be sensitive to fragmentation (Basset et al., 2015) and habitat loss (Jauker et al., 2013) due to poor dispersal ability.

3.5. Ecological networks

Insects are crucial in structuring and maintaining communities, forming intricate networks that can influence species’ coevolution (Guimarães Jr. et al., 2017), coexistence (Bastolla et al., 2009), and community stability (Thébault and Fontaine, 2010; Rohr et al., 2014). Insect extinctions not only reduce species diversity, but also simplify networks, and we may be losing interactions at a higher rate than species (Tylianakis et al., 2008; Valiente-Banuet et al., 2015). The implications of these changes will depend on the role a species plays in the network (Bascompte and Stouffer, 2009; Tylianakis et al., 2010). The more a species shapes a network, the more the architecture will change if it goes extinct. Furthermore, species conferring network structure are most at risk of going extinct (Saavedra et al., 2011). Thus, we should aim to preserve both species and their interactions (Tylianakis et al., 2010).

In mutualistic networks, plants and insects weave nested relations (Bascompte et al., 2003). This leads to specialists interacting with subsets of generalist interaction partners. Nested networks tend to mitigate random extinctions or the loss of specialists (Memmott et al., 2004). In this case, when species are lost, the structure remains. In contrast, the extinction of generalists erodes the nested architecture. In this case, the loss of focal species makes the system more prone to co-extinction cascades (Dunne et al., 2002).

In antagonistic networks, species form intertwined subgroups, where inter-module interactions are rare (Olesen et al., 2007). Connectors and network hubs are important contributors to the modular structure, with beetles, flies, and small bees being the most common connectors (Olesen et al., 2007). Alarmingly, some of these hub species are currently at risk of extinction (Sirois-Delisle and Kerr, 2018). They not only benefit interaction partners, but also give cohesion to the entire community. Their disappearance may result in the fragmentation of networks into isolated modules (Bascompte and Stouffer, 2009; Tylianakis et al., 2010). This endangers communities by making them more susceptible to perturbations (Olesen et al., 2007).

Interactions drive the coevolution of plants and insects (Bronstein et al., 2006). They can result in remarkable trait complementarity, as in the case of pollination or ant protection of plants (Bronstein et al., 2006). Yet, in complex networks, indirect effects steer the evolution of traits (Guimarães Jr. et al., 2017). In species-rich networks, all members influence how traits evolve in the community. This means that extinctions will affect direct partners, and can reduce community-wide trait integration. This could incapacitate entire communities from responding to environmental change.

4. We depend on insects

Insects contribute to the four main types of ecosystem services defined by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2003): i) provisioning services, ii) supporting services, iii) regulating services, and iv) cultural services (Noriega et al., 2018; Table 1). This animal group contributes to the structure, fertility, and spatial dynamics of soil, and they are a crucial element for maintaining biodiversity and food webs (Schowalter et al., 2018). A large number of insects provide medical or industrial products (Ratcliffe et al., 2011), and globally, >2000 insect species are consumed as food. Also, in agroecosystems, insects perform many different functions, such as pollination, nutrient and energy cycling, pest suppression, seed dispersal, and decomposition of organic matter, feces, and carrion (Schowalter et al., 2018). Today, the agricultural sector already actively uses insect antagonists of pests (classical and augmentative biological control) or establishes habitat management practices to promote insects as natural enemies of pests. In this context, as a clear consequence, insect declines can negatively affect the maintenance of food supply and put at risk human well-being.

Table 1. Ecosystem services provided by insects.

Type of serviceAreaProvision
CommercialProvisioning servicesMedicineNew treatments
MonitoringMonitoring of habitat quality
Genetic resourcesNew chemicals
OrnamentsInsect houses and deadstock
BiocontrolBiocontrol agents
ProductionFood and fibre
Non-commercialRegulating servicesClimateClimate regulation
Disease controlBurial of dung or carcasses
ErosionLimiting erosion
Invasion resistanceControlling invasive species
HerbivoryNutrient cycling
Natural hazardsProtection from hazards
PollinationReproduction of flowering plants
Plant dispersalSeed dispersal of plants
Water flowRegulating water movement
Water treatmentPurification by larvae
Supporting servicesNutrient cyclingThrough saprophagy/coprophagy
Oxygen productionThrough interaction with plants
Habitat creationBuilding mounts, nests, and others
Soil formationBreakdown of plants, dung and carcasses
Cultural servicesCultural heritageArts, myths, and stories
EducationConnecting with nature
Knowledge systemsModels for scientific research
RecreationNature tourism
Sense of placeEndemic species
Spiritual valuesViews on nature

(Adapted from Samways, 2019)

All described services translate to monetary value. In an initial approach, Costanza et al. (1997) estimated a global value of ecosystem services at US$33 trillion annually. Later, ecosystem services provided by insects were estimated to have a value of $57 billion per year in the United States alone (Losey and Vaughan, 2006), and insect pollination may have an economic value of $235–577 billion per year worldwide (IPBES, 2016). Additionally, the annual contribution of ecosystem services provided by dung beetles to the cattle industry can reach $380 million in the USA (Losey and Vaughan, 2006) and £367 million in the UK (Beynon et al., 2015).

However, there is little knowledge on the functional roles that insects play in many ecosystems, with their values likely greatly underestimated. Absence of detailed information is related to lack of manipulative controlled experiments for several services (Noriega et al., 2018). Also, the few comprehensive studies available are focused on a few iconic groups or functions, such as bees and pollination (e.g., Brittain et al., 2010), ground beetles and pest control (e.g., Roubinet et al., 2017), dung beetles and decomposition (e.g., Griffiths et al., 2016), or aquatic insects and energy flow (e.g., Macadam and Stockan, 2015). This critical shortfall must be addressed to conserve insect diversity for our own survival.



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Kurt Andersen on Trump & Covid-19 in “Evil Geniuses”

Preface. If you want to know all the economic and political history that got us to the right-wing extremist Trump and Republican party, there’s no more entertaining way to do so than Kurt Anderson’s latest book “Evil Geniuses”.  Better yet, his book “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History” is one of the best books I’ve read.

This book has insights into Trump, health care, and covid-19 I haven’t seen elsewhere, such as how Koch and other billionaires who originated the Tea Party used the same astroturf operations to create a fake movement of angry people who refused to wear masks, which turned into millions of actual people refusing to do so and tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.  Don’t billionaires have enough money? Can’t they just let folks keep safe until a vaccine is found, and help pay for their rent and wages out of their ill-gotten billions obtained by paying low wages in the first place, rather than sharing profits with their workers? What ever happened to noblesse oblige.

I was frustrated that such a great writer and book were marred by a lack of awareness of biophysical economics, ecology, or limits to growth.  Andersen might have written a better book if he’d read “Energy and the Wealth of Nations: understanding the biophysical economy”, “Limits to Growth”, “When trucks stop running: energy and the future of transportation”, “Living within Limits”, or “Extracted: How the quest for mineral wealth is plundering the planet”, and “One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America”.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report

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Kurt Andersen. 2020. Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History. Random House.

It’s too bad your wages haven’t gone up for forty years, goes one common argument from the right and well-to-do concerning the economic condition of the American majority, and that pensions and unions and millions of good jobs disappeared, but, hey, haven’t we let you eat cake? That is, they say, in all seriousness, that income inequality isn’t as bad as it looks because some things, like milk and eggs, are actually less expensive now, and TVs are gigantic and inexpensive, and all the other stuff at the Walmarts and dollar stores is so cheap, thanks to Chinese imports.

And so even if we’re still able to buy low-quality cosmetics and toys and frozen squid cheaply, we’re now definitely paying more than we should for more essential things. As a result of looser, lavishly big-business-friendly government policies, every piece of the U.S. medical-industrial complex became much more concentrated during the 1990s and 2000s—hospitals, health insurance companies, large physicians’ groups—and prices increased as a result of the greater market power. A conservative estimate is that since 1980, government policy changes have caused Americans to spend an extra $130 billion every year for healthcare. For instance, why are prescription drug prices routinely two and three times as expensive in the United States as in other countries? A big reason is that in the 1980s and afterward, Congress and federal antitrust enforcers gave away the store to pharmaceutical companies by letting them control patents longer and set minimum prices.

The obeisance of the rich right and their consiglieri to Trump for the last four years has exposed more nakedly than ever their compact—everything about money, anything for money—and the events of 2020 pushed that along to an even more shameless, grotesque crescendo. In early spring, when COVID-19 had killed only dozens of Americans, Stuart Stevens, a strategist for four of the five previous GOP presidential nominees but now a fierce apostate, wrote that “those of us in the Republican Party built this moment,” because “the failures of the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis can be traced directly to some of the toxic fantasies now dear to the Republican Party….Government is bad. Establishment experts are overrated or just plain wrong. Science is suspect.

He could have also listed Believe in our perfect mythical yesteryear, All hail big business, Short-term profits are everything, Inequality’s not so bad, Universal healthcare is tyranny, Liberty equals selfishness, Co-opt liberals, and Entitled to our own facts as operating principles of the Republican Party and the right. During the first six months of 2020, all those maxims drove the responses (and the non-responsiveness) of the Trump administration and its extended family of propagandists and allies and flying monkeys.

Almost every piece of the crises’ exacerbation by them was inevitable because each one came directly out of the right’s playbook of the last several decades.

Government is bad. A Republican administration uniquely unsuited and unready and really unwilling to deal with such a national crisis? Decades before our latest show-business president defamed his entire executive branch as a subversive Deep State, the cocreator of late Republicanism announced in 1981, a few minutes after becoming our first show-business president, that “in this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem,” then made a shtick out of warning Americans to consider any offers of help from the government “terrifying.

Believe in our perfect mythical yesteryear. The right twisted and exploited nostalgia in the 1970s and ’80s to get its way, selling people on a restoration of old-time America with storybook depictions that omitted all the terrible parts of the past—including the epidemics we had before we built a public health system and before governments required citizens to get government-funded vaccines; the economic panics and collapses we had before government intervened to help unemployed workers; the phony miracle cures that charlatan showmen marketed to us before government put a stop to them.

Entitled to our own facts. That systematic spread of coronavirus misinformation by Trump and the right through the first pandemic winter couldn’t have happened without the creation in the late 1980s (Rush Limbaugh) and ’90s (Fox News) of big-time right-wing mass media. Their continuous erasure of distinctions between fact and opinion has always served the propaganda purposes of the political party most devoted to serving the interests of big business and investors, and during the COVID-19 crises—Reopen now—they attempted to serve those interests directly.

Short-term profits are everything. For years, reckless financial operators dragged healthy enterprises into leveraged buyouts and piled on excessive debt, making billions personally but the companies weak and barely able to survive in normal times. Then when things got bad in 2020, the LBO’d companies (such as J. Crew and Neiman Marcus) started dying off even faster than others: excessive debt turned out to be a main underlying condition comorbid with the economic effects of the pandemic.

Liberty equals selfishness. The right spent decades turning brat into a synonym for ultra-conservative, forging a tantrum-based politics focused on hating sensible rules that reduce unnecessary deaths and sickness—no gun control! no mandatory vaccinations! no universal health insurance! So in the spring of 2020, of course mobs of childish adults were excited to throw self-righteous tantrums on TV about being grounded by the mean grown-ups. While also playing soldier by carrying semiautomatic rifles in public.

Inequality’s not so bad. The glaring new light of the pandemic vividly showed the results of the system we’ve built. The health risks and the economic burdens are borne disproportionately by people near the financial edge, black and brown people, people with low-paying jobs that can’t be done from home. And on the other hand, we see more clearly than ever how the lucky top tenth, the people who own more than 80 percent of all the stocks and other financial wealth, inhabit an alternate economic universe.

Universal healthcare is tyranny. A healthcare system already fractured, unfair, inefficient, confusing, and anxiety-provoking as a result of its capture by a for-profit medical-industrial complex? Check. And a system unique in the world for making its exceptionally expensive care a fringe benefit of (some) particular jobs—at a moment when tens of millions of jobs suddenly disappeared? Check.

Ten days later, in early March, a House subcommittee held a regular hearing on the CDC’s annual budget, which the administration was trying to cut, as it had tried to do every year—large cuts that the Koch organization Americans for Prosperity had recommended because, as it complained in 2018, “CDC funding has already grown significantly over the last fifteen years.” Trump’s CDC director, Robert Redfield, a conservative, testified. A right-wing Republican congressman, who like Redfield is a physician, used his question time to explain why dealing with “these kind of new viruses” requires the government to continue guaranteeing high profits to the pharmaceutical industry. “On the vaccine front,” he said, prospective laws like the bill the House had just passed to let the government negotiate Medicare drug prices downward “will destroy American innovation” in medicine. He instructed Redfield to agree with him that only “the private sector” can properly deal with COVID-19 and “these kinds of public health threats.

But then Redfield shared with the congressman his surprise and disappointment that the two big U.S. medical testing companies had not, on their own, “geared up sooner,” starting in mid-January, to handle mass testing for the coronavirus. “I anticipated that the private sector would have engaged and helped develop it” and “be fully engaged eight weeks ago” to deal properly with this new disease, said the national director of disease control.

“Here were two men wondering aloud,” the journalist Alex Pareene wrote at the time, “why reality had failed to conform to their ideology. How odd that these companies, whose only responsibility is to their shareholders, had failed to make up for the incompetence of this administration.

Monday, March 16, when the shutdown really started, the conservative Hoover Institution published a piece called “Coronavirus Perspective” recommending against any restrictions on the economy because the pandemic just wasn’t going to be a major public health problem. “In the United States, the current 67 deaths should reach about 500” in all, the Stanford think tank article projected, and in a quick follow-up article called “Coronavirus Overreaction,” the same writer completely showed his ideological cards. “Progressives think they can run everyone’s lives through central planning,” he warned, so don’t let them do it to fight the spread of this no-big-deal disease.

The writer was neither a medical professional nor an economist, but a lawyer named Richard Epstein, a blue-chip economic right-winger from the 1970s and ’80s—influential University of Chicago law professor, early Federalist Society VIP, Cato Institute scholar, editor of the Law and Economics movement’s main journal. Right away, “conservatives close to Trump and numerous administration officials [were] circulating” Epstein’s inexpert pronouncements, The Washington Post reported.

Right around then, according to “a Trump confidant who speaks to the president frequently” and spoke to a Financial Times reporter about those conversations, Jared Kushner was telling his father-in-law “that testing too many people, or ordering too many ventilators, would spook the markets and so we just shouldn’t do it….That advice worked far more powerfully on him than what the scientists were saying.

Rush Limbaugh in late March was still telling his 15 million listeners to doubt the Deep State doctors and scientists advising Trump. “We didn’t elect a president to defer to a bunch of health experts that we don’t know,

“And how do we know they’re even health experts? Well, they wear white lab coats and they’ve been on the job for a while and they’re at the CDC and they’re at the NIH….But these are all kinds of things that I’ve been questioning.

During the previous big economic crisis in 2009, the Kochs used their organizations FreedomWorks in Washington, and Americans for Prosperity just across the Potomac, to harness and amplify grassroots anxiety and confusion in the provinces. From those headquarters they’d executive-produced the politically useful shows of performative anger by Tea Party protesters against the Democratic-led federal government. In 2020 the pandemic provided a reboot opportunity—this time for protests against state and local governments, especially those run by Democrats, that weren’t following the maximalist line on instantly reopening business. They mobilized their militias—old Tea Partiers, gun nuts, antivaxxers, random Trumpists—for demonstrations around the country that began on Easter Monday.

“There’s a massive movement on the right now,” Stephen Moore claimed, “growing exponentially. People are at the boiling point. They are protesting against injustice and a loss of liberties.” He insisted, The Washington Post reported, that “the protests have been spontaneous and organized at the local level,” although he admitted that “his group has been offering them advice and legal support.

So why, according to polls, were two-thirds of Americans in favor of the national quasi-quarantine? Because, this presidential adviser and would-be Fed governor said, “the American people are sheep.

The two Koch-created enterprises and Moore were joined by a newer organization also devoted to promoting right-wing economics, the Convention of States, funded by Robert Mercer—hedge fund billionaire, early Breitbart News investor, Trump’s biggest 2016 donor—and overseen by a cofounder of the Tea Party Patriots and (such a long game) a strategist for David Koch’s 1980 Libertarian vice-presidential campaign. In Michigan, the protests were organized and promoted by existing Republican groups, one connected to the right-wing billionaire DeVos family, and in Idaho by a group funded by a new Coors, the son of the counter-Establishment founder Joseph.

The mission of those demonstrations, as The Washington Post reported, was “making opposition to stay-at-home orders—which had been in place in most states for only a couple of weeks or less—appear more widespread than is suggested by polling.” The shorthand Astroturf for these kinds of protests is a misnomer. Rather, they’re more like sod: real grass but more expensive, centrally produced and harvested, then rolled out by professionals on command to look instantly picturesque. It seemed clear, from the social media posts of nominally local groups all over the country, that talking points and specific language were being issued from headquarters.

FreedomWorks’ protest brand Reopen America became the name for local protests all over the country—Reopen Wisconsin, Reopen Oregon, Reopen Nevada, Reopen Delaware, and many more. Their online national protest calendar stipulated that “these are not FreedomWorks events, but…if you’re interested in planning your own event, click here for our planning guide.

The professional right-wingers on K Street provided photo-op protest tradecraft instructions to the provincials—make sure to “include…nurses, healthcare workers, etc. as much as possible,” and to “keep [signs] homemade.

Americans for Prosperity held an online training session for would-be agitators on how to spread memes that they actually called “Best at Going Viral.

Because the president had been unable to hold any of his MAGA rallies for weeks, then months, the demonstrations also served as ad hoc reelection events, keeping the super enthusiasts excited and acting out their love for the president on TV, where he could see it.

At the end of the first week of protests in April, the country was still in the middle of his government’s “30 Days to Slow the Spread,” as the second phase was called, but the president said fuck that—in four minutes one morning, he posted tweets to rev up the cultists in three swingy states: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” and “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!

Testing [people] is somewhat overrated,” he said, and “this is going to go away without a vaccine.” In other words, a reporter asked the president, Americans just had to accept that reopening without enough testing and contact-tracing would cause lots more deaths? Yes. “I call these people warriors, and I’m actually calling now…the nation, warriors. You have to be warriors,” by which he meant, of course, be willing to be killed by COVID-19, fallen soldiers for American capitalism. But apart from that, everything would soon be fantastic.

Posted in Disease, Politics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

A Strong Case for the Anthropocene: no other species has ever consumed so much of earth’s resources so quickly

Produced energy and the pattern of human population growth from 1750. Utilization of these energy sources, together with the energy used by humans from net primary production, is now approaching the entire energy available to the global ecosystem before human intervention [Barnosky, [1]]. Key to colours: dark blue = coal; dark brown = oil; green = natural gas; purple = nuclear; light blue = hydro; orange brown = biomass (e.g. plants, trees). Data source from

Figure 1. Produced energy and the pattern of human population growth from 1750. Utilization of these energy sources, together with the energy used by humans from net primary production, is now approaching the entire energy available to the global ecosystem before human intervention [Barnosky, [1]]. Key to colours: dark blue = coal; dark brown = oil; green = natural gas; purple = nuclear; light blue = hydro; orange brown = biomass (e.g. plants, trees). Data source from Figure 1. Produced energy and the pattern of human population growth from 1750.

Preface. A few key paragraphs from the article below:

Humans are producing and consuming resources at a geologically unprecedented rate – a rate that needs to be maintained to continue the high level and complexity of the current [fossil-fuel based] civilization.  This high consumption has formed a ‘striking new pattern’ in the planet’s global energy flow.

It is without precedent to have a single species appropriating a quarter of the net primary biological production of the planet and to become effectively the top predator both on land and at sea.

Some of the massive effects humans are having on the planet include mining phosphorus and fixing nitrogen to make fertilizer, burning hundreds of millions of years of fossil fuels, and directing this increased productivity that is well beyond natural levels towards animals re-engineered for our consumption.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles,Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Williams, M., et al. March 14, 2016. The Anthropocene: a conspicuous stratigraphical signal of anthropogenic changes in production and consumption across the biosphere. Earth’s Future.

Humans are producing and consuming resources at a geologically unprecedented rate – a rate that needs to be maintained to continue the high level and complexity of the current [fossil-fuel based] civilization.  This high consumption has formed a ‘striking new pattern’ in the planet’s global energy flow.

Humans now consume between 25 and 38% of net primary production of the planet. Human modification and appropriation of NPP, and the production of energy over and above NPP, has been developing over thousands of years, but accelerated markedly from the mid-20th century onward (Figure 1)

Professor Zalasiewicz at the University of Lecister said the last times such huge effects were seen happened 2.5 billion years ago when photosynthesis appeared, and again half a billion years ago when the food web grew more complex.  Although the 5 major extinction events were also huge, “ even measured against these events, human-driven changes to production and consumption are distinctly new.”

Co-author Dr Carys Bennett added: “It is without precedent to have a single species appropriating something like one quarter of the net primary biological production of the planet and to become effectively the top predator both on land and at sea.”

Some of the massive effects humans are having on the planet include mining phosphorus and fixing nitrogen to make fertilizer, burning hundreds of millions of years of fossil fuels, and directing this increased productivity that is well beyond natural levels towards animals re-engineered for our consumption.

According to Professor Zalasiewicz: “This refashioning of the relationship between Earth’s production and consumption is leaving signals in strata now forming, and this helps characterize the Anthropocene as a geological time unit.  It also has wider and more fundamental importance in signaling a new biological stage in this planet’s evolution.”

Dr Colin Waters of the British Geological Survey said: “Modern human society is structured around economic production and consumption and our recent perturbation of the balance between the two, notably since the mid-20th century, will leave a signal that will provide a lasting legacy of our existence on this planet.”

Also see’s March 23, 2016 Human impact forms ‘striking new pattern’ in Earth’s global energy flow.

More excerpts:

The human impact on production and consumption in the biosphere is recognizably different from all previous patterns. Humans appropriate a major component of NPP that is augmented by their use of fossil fuels: the combined energy use now approaches that available to the entire terrestrial biosphere prior to human intervention. In addition, humans are poor at recycling compared to the unmodified biosphere, a clear example being the geologically unprecedented rapid increase of carbon in the atmosphere from the consumption of fossil fuels, and concomitant accumulations of plastics—made from hydrocarbons—at the surface.

The influence of humans on mammal populations during the late Pleistocene represents a global, though diachronous, signal of growing human impact. This potentially had an ecosystem engineering effect, as the climax forests of several areas throughout North America may be the result of the removal of megafauna (mammoths and mastodons) in the late Pleistocene, animals that were effective in forest clearance.

However, a key transition in the human remodeling of production and consumption was the origin of farming, moving primary productivity to annual crop plants and shifting primary consumption to domesticated animals. These innovations, which mark the end of the Epi-Paleolithic and the beginning of the Neolithic culture, include the domestication of cattle (pigs, cows, goats, sheep etc.) and development of agriculture from about 10,000 years ago. Once adopted, agriculture sustained a greater population (and standing biomass) of people, and provided the environment in which human specialist activities unrelated to food production could evolve.

The eventual transfer of labor from agriculture to non-agricultural activities is the central component of industrialization, and has led to even greater appropriation of primary production by humans, and to the use of fossil fuels to augment energy supplies to the global ecosystem, with the concomitant rise of humans and their domesticated animals as the principal component of standing terrestrial large-animal biomass. From the 17th- to mid-20th century technological advances in farming, in their initial stages focused on England, the Low Countries and northern Italy, and then spreading globally, helped facilitate increasing appropriation of primary production. These included: improvements in drainage and restoration systems; the development of the Dutch plough in the early 17th century; the mechanization of farming in the early 18th century; developments in breeding and genetic manipulation, scientifically explained by Gregor Mendel in the mid-19th century; and the use of fertilizers, with the discovery that ammonia could be synthesized by a chemical reaction from nitrogen, first demonstrated by Fritz Haber in 1909, representing perhaps the most significant step. This paved the way for overcoming a major natural limiting force on agricultural production—the rate at which plants fix atmospheric nitrogen into soils—in the early 20th century by the German scientists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, who used Haber’s earlier discovery to develop the Haber-Bosch process. Their process took atmospheric nitrogen to make nitrogen fertilizers [some 90 million tons of nitrogen-based fertilizer now being produced each year. Through enhancing food production, this single innovation is estimated to sustain some 40% of global human population today. The process is energy-intensive, and is directly supported by the consumption of fossil fuels (fossil NPP). The widespread use of fossil energy to make processing of land (e.g., ploughing) quicker and more efficient, to support a greater number of humans and their domesticated animals, to enable rapid national/international transfer of produce, and to enable more efficient harvesting of the sea and sea floor has further amplified the impact of humans on both production and consumption in the biosphere.

During the 20th century (between 1910 and 2005) the Human Appropriation of Net Primary Productivity doubled from 13 to 25% of the NPP of potential vegetation. These changes involved a doubling of reactive nitrogen and phosphorus in the environment, and the use of vast amounts of fossil energy focused on agricultural production. In 2014 humans extracted 225 million tons of fossil phosphates, and this is projected to rise to 258 million tons by 2018. Phosphates are a limited resource, but nevertheless annual human addition to the phosphorus cycle exceeds the amount of available phosphorus from natural recycling. Future projections, dependent on land-use, suggest between 27 and 44% of NPP might be appropriated by humans by 2050. While it is likely a geologically unique situation for a single species to co-opt or consume such a large percentage of NPP, perhaps more significant from a biosphere perspective is the technology and landscape modification that humans have used to achieve this. This leads to a complex relationship whereby the ultimate biophysical limit to the amount of NPP that humans might appropriate is dependent on the interplay of many parameters in the landscape, a relationship that needs to evolve rapidly to provide stability between production and consumption in the Anthropocene biosphere.

Viewed from another perspective, the large-scale integration of humans and technology has led to a new terrestrial “sphere,” the technosphere, a novel Earth system of global extent, which is characterized by a total mass approaching that of the biosphere, significant rate of energy dissipation (17 TW), and high average density of infrastructure links such as roads [circa 0.4 km of roadway per km2 of land area, CIA, 2015] and of links between mobile communication devices [circa 50 such devices per km2 of land area, PR Newswire, 2014] that help connect together most humans and most in-use technological artifacts. An emergent system, the technosphere comprises the world’s humans, cultures, and technological components and systems, and maintains itself quasi-autonomously via feedback loops that deliver goods and services desired by humans (e.g., entertainment), or essential for their survival (e.g., food and water), in return for human participation in its continued function. There are no analogs for the technosphere in the geological history of life on Earth. Therefore, its myriad ramifications are truly unprecedented.

Human Impact Measured Against Geological Events

Throughout geological history the coupling between the production of biomass and the consumption of that biomass in the biosphere has typically maintained stability, with periods such as the Ordovician and Cretaceous showing patterns of fauna and flora that indicate persistent stable ecosystems over long time frames. Intervals where this stability may have been temporarily disrupted include the mass extinction events of the Neoproterozoic Era and Phanerozoic Eon [there being six of these following the definition of Benton, 2012, of which five were within the Phanerozoic Eon], with many small-scale extinctions operating at intervals of perhaps hundreds of thousands of year timescales or less. More fundamental changes to the functioning of the biosphere are associated with: its expansion to cover much of the globe (with increasing primary production) during the evolution of photosynthesis at circa 2.7 billion years ago [Nisbet and Fowler, 2014; see Figure 2] linked to the development of an oxygenated atmosphere during the Great Oxygenation Event beginning circa 2.5 billion years ago [Pufahl and Hiatt, 2012]; the construction of complex trophic structures between primary producers (e.g., marine phytoplankton), primary consumers (e.g., herbivorous zooplankton), and secondary consumers (e.g., tertiary and apex arthropod predators) during the Cambrian Period [Butterfield, 2011; Perrier et al., 2015], which led to animals typically forming the largest standing biomass in marine ecosystems; and the construction of complex terrestrial ecosystems with plants forming the largest standing biomass, with an increasing impact on the carbon-cycle and climate during the mid-Paleozoic [Kansou et al., 2013] and later. Measured against these changing geological-scale patterns, is the human impact on the biosphere significant?

Certain characteristics of current production and consumption in the biosphere appear entirely unique from a geological perspective, not least in being driven by a single species (Homo sapiens) within a time frame that is dramatically accelerated (decades versus millions of years) relative to past events. These changes have been characterized as defining a new biosphere state [Behrensmeyer et al., 1992; Williams et al., 2015]. They include the widespread transportation of animals and plants around the planet (the “neobiota”), the human-directed evolution of biology and ecosystems, the extraction of energy and material resources from deep in the Earth’s crust, and the huge appropriation of production by humans, which will leave a fossil record in, for example, both the physical and chemical signatures of biomineralized materials [bones, shells, reefs, etc., see Kidwell, 2015].

A profound example of these changing patterns is the Green Revolution of the mid-20th century. This translation of technologies that originated from technological breakthroughs in developed countries, which were transported and adapted to the developing world, included the transfer of technology for fertilizers (principally nitrogen-, phosphate- and potassium-based), new crop varieties, insecticides, pesticides, herbicides and irrigation. The Green Revolution spread across the world from the 1950s onward, dovetailing with the Great Economic Acceleration in industrialized nations [Steffen et al., 2007, 2015]. It led to the doubling of appropriation of NPP by humans through the 20th century [Krausmann et al., 2013] and a concomitant rise in the consumption of fossil NPP to support that. This redirection of resources along different biological paths has led to humans and their domesticated animals comprising 175 million tons of carbon (estimates based on dry mass of 45% carbon) at the end of the 20th century, whilst wild terrestrial mammals represent just 5 million tons of carbon [Smil, 2011]; the total standing biomass of large terrestrial vertebrates in itself has been increased by about an order of magnitude over a “natural” baseline level by the tightly controlled and directed hyper-fertilization of terrestrial primary production [Barnosky, 2008].

Analyses suggest that human influence on the Earth’s biota is promulgating a contemporary mass extinction event [Barnosky et al., 2011, 2012, 2014; Kolbert, 2014; Pimm et al., 2014; Ceballos et al., 2015] comparable to the five most significant events of the Phanerozoic Eon. This potential Anthropocene mass extinction event, if it continues to unfold, would thus immediately succeed (stratigraphically) a major perturbation of the nitrogen cycle (from the Haber-Bosch process) that is leaving a geochemical signal in sedimentary deposits worldwide, and it would also be associated with changes in carbon isotope ratios in marine carbonates as a result of the anthropogenic CO2 emitted from the burning of hydrocarbons (a characteristically depleted 13C signature). These signatures would resemble in magnitude, though not in environmental forcing, patterns of chemical change in the physico-chemical stratigraphic record, in part suggesting changes in the make-up of primary producer versus consumer organisms, and which are features of earlier extinction events such as in the latest Proterozoic [reduced acritarch phytoplankton diversity as a result of surface ocean eutrophication, Nagy et al., 2009], or at the Precambrian-Cambrian boundary [perhaps reflecting changes to surface-ocean primary production as a result of acritarch extinction, see Zhu et al., 2006 for a summary].

The human impact is not restricted to the land. The scale of appropriation of marine biological production by a single species (Homo sapiens) is almost certainly unique in Earth history, far exceeding the grazing of mainly coastal waters by, for example, seabirds (and, before them, flying reptiles), or pinnipeds. The rates of domestication of marine plants and animals are rising rapidly [Duarte et al., 2007]. Although fish farming dates back over 2000 years [e.g., McCann, 1979], with early examples in Australia, East Asia and Europe, it was quantitatively trivial, except locally, until 1970. Since that time aquaculture has become a significant component of fish consumption [Naylor et al., 2002], and this is sometimes referred to as the “blue revolution”: in 2012 total world fisheries amounted to 158 million tons, of which 42% was aquaculture [FAO, 2014]. Having removed most top predators from the oceans, including by some estimates 90% of the largest predatory fish stocks [Jackson, 2008], humans are steadily fishing down the food chain [Pauly et al., 1998; WBGU, 2013]—in aggregate, 38% of marine fish have been lost, and the decline in certain baleen whales is up to 90% [McCauley et al., 2015]. At the same time, humans are continually harvesting, via a massive extension of bottom trawling powered by fossil fuels, the majority of the continental shelf, ranging now down onto parts of the continental slope [Puig et al., 2012]. Regions of the ocean undergoing fishery collapses are incapable of providing a full complement of ecosystem services, including those necessary to sustaining ever-growing human coastal populations [Worm et al., 2006].

Thus, it can be argued that the scale of human change to the biosphere with its transformation of terrestrial and marine ecologies, its use of fossil fuels to elevate the energy available to the global ecosystem, its impact on the standing biomass of terrestrial vertebrates, and its displacement of apex predators in both terrestrial and marine foodwebs, is of the magnitude of past major changes in the biosphere as shown in Figure 2.


My comment: Predictably, some of the miracle green revolution plants are evolving into feral weeds that outcompete the specially bred high production varieties. This problem partly springs from hybridizing different varieties with new unexpected and undesirable traits. An unexpected side effect has been a tendency of green revolution crop plants like rice to go feral and become agricultural weeds (Qui, J., et al. 2020. Diverse genetic mechanisms underlie worldwide convergent rice feralization. Genome Biology.)

Posted in ! PEAK EVERYTHING, Climate Change, Human Nature | Tagged , | 11 Comments

EV cars and utility scale energy storage batteries are not likely to materialize

Preface.  Clearly there’s not enough minerals and metals to shift from fossil fuels to electric vehicles and utility scale battery storage, due to peak critical elements, peak platinum group elements, peak precious elements, peak rare earth elements, and peak everything else.

The whole mineral game is over once oil declines, except perhaps for some recycling, since all minerals and metals use oil to mine, crush, smelt, fabricate, and deliver the products made from them. 

Even now, only the top 5% can afford electric vehicles. The third and last article explains why battery prices fell one-time only and are likely to rise again, putting EV out of reach for perhaps all but the 1% some day.

The first article points out how much cobalt, neodymium, lithium, and copper just the United Kingdom alone would need to meet electric car targets for 1050.

The second article, from science magazine, also points out what an immense amount of minerals are needed and some of the ecological destruction in obtaining them (the references contain the grim details of amounts and devastation caused).

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Herrington, R., et al. 2019.  Leading scientists set out resource challenge of meeting net zero emissions in the UK by 2050. Natural History Museum, London.

For just the United Kingdom alone to meet electric car targets for 2050 requires production of twice the global cobalt production, near all of the world’s neodymium, three quarters the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production. Also, the UK grid would need to increase in size by 20% to charge electric cars.  The UK comprises less than 1% of world population (0.87%) so clearly the entire world can’t migrate from gasoline to electric vehicles.

Sovacool, B. K., et al. 2020. Sustainable minerals and metals for a low-carbon future. Science 367: 30-33.

Metals and minerals, including cobalt, copper, lithium, cadmium, and rare earth elements (REEs) will be needed for technologies such as solar photovoltaics, batteries, electric vehicle (EV) motors, wind turbines, fuel cells, and nuclear reactors.

Between 2015 and 2050, the global EV stock needs to jump from 1.2 million light-duty passenger cars to 965 million passenger cars, battery storage capacity needs to climb from 0.5 gigawatt-hour (GWh) to 12,380 GWh, and the amount of installed solar photovoltaic capacity must rise from 223 GW to more than 7100 GW (3). The materials and metals demanded by a low-carbon economy will be immense (un 2019). One recent assessment concluded that expected demand for 14 metals—such as copper, cobalt, nickel, and lithium—central to the manufacturing of renewable energy, EV, fuel cell, and storage technologies will grow substantially in the next few decades (Dominish 2019). Another study projected increases in demand for materials between 2015 and 2060 of 87,000% for EV batteries, 1000% for wind power, and 3000% for solar cells and photovoltaics. Although they are only projections and subject to uncertainty, the World Bank put it concisely that “the clean energy transition will be significantly mineral intensive” (WB 2018).

Many of the minerals and metals needed for low-carbon technologies are considered “critical raw materials” or “technologically critical elements,” terms meant to capture the fact that they are not only of strategic or economic importance but also at higher risk of supply shortage or price volatility (EC 2017).

In addition, mining frequently results in severe environmental impacts and community dislocation. Moreover, metal production itself is energy intensive and difficult to decarbonize. Mining for copper, needed for electric wires and circuits and thin-film solar cells, and mining for lithium, used in batteries, has been criticized in Chile for depleting local groundwater resources across the Atacama Desert, destroying fragile ecosystems, and converting meadows and lagoons into salt flats. The extraction, crushing, refining, and processing of cadmium, a by-product of zinc mining, into compounds for rechargeable nickel cadmium batteries and thin-film photovoltaic modules that use cadmium telluride (CdTe) or cadmium sulfide semiconductors can pose risks such as groundwater or food contamination or worker exposure to hazardous chemicals, especially in the supply chains where elemental cadmium exposures are greatest. REEs, such as neodymium and the less common dysprosium, are needed for magnets in electric generators in wind turbines and motors in EVs, control rods for nuclear reactors, and the fluid catalysts for shale gas fracking. But REE extraction in China has resulted in chemical pollution from ammonium sulfate and ammonium chloride and tailings pollution that now threaten rural groundwater aquifers as well as rivers and streams. Several metals for green technologies are found as “companions” to other ores with differential value and unsustainable supply chains (Nassar 2015).

References (the interesting details that are skimmed over above)

  • Dominish, E. et al. 2019. Responsible minerals sourcing for renewable energy. Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, Sydney.
  • EC. 2017. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee, and the Committee of the Regions on the 2017 list of critical raw materials for the EU. COM/2017/490, European Commission, Brussels.
  • Nassar, N. T., et al. 2015. By-product metals are technologically essential but have problematic supply. Science Advances. Companionality is the degree to which a metal is obtained largely or entirely as a by-product of one or more host metals from geologic ores. The dependence of companion metal availability on the production of the host metals introduces a new facet of supply risk to modern technology. We evaluated companionality for 62 different metals and metalloids, and show that 61% (38 of 62) have companionality greater than 50%. Eighteen of the 38—including such technologically essential elements as germanium, terbium, and dysprosium—are further characterized as having geopolitically concentrated production and extremely low rates of end-of-life recycling. It is this subset of companion metals—vital in current technologies such as electronics, solar energy, medical imaging, energy-efficient lighting, and other state-of-the-art products—that may be at the greatest risk of supply constraints in the coming decades.
  • UN. 2019. Global resources outlook 2019: Natural resources for the future we want. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi
  • WB. 2018. Climate-smart mining: Minerals for climate action. World bank.

Goehring, L. R., Rozencwajg, A.A. 2019. The unintended consequences of high grading. Goehring & Rozencwajg.

We believe what follows will have a significant impact on the potential adoption of both electric vehicles and renewable power generation as we progress through the coming decade. Our research indicates that neither the EV nor renewable power can gain material adoption without further major reductions in battery costs. Yes, battery costs have dropped dramatically over the last decade, but we believe these costs reductions were one time in nature and will be near impossible to repeat. Further cost reductions will be entirely dependent on major advancements in battery technology–which, as of today just don’t exist.

Renewable energy’s major problem is intermittency: the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. As a result, it’s impossible for renewables to provide reliable baseload power at scale without storage. While batteries could provide the necessary buffer to overcome the problem of intermittency, the costs of renewable plus storage remain prohibitive and uncompetitive.

Similarly, the battery pack has become the limiting factor to widespread EV adoption. Analysts estimate that the battery pack on an EV represents one-third of its total cost. Unless the EV reaches cost parity with the combustion engine it will not gain widespread adoption, unless the EV is subsidized or the ICE is outlawed. Materially reducing the cost of the battery is the only way for the EV to become competitive. Many analysts believe that EVs will reach cost parity once lithium-ion batteries can be produced at $100 per kwh. Costs would have to fall further to allow for grid-level storage. Battery proponents argue these thresholds are just around the corner. As recently as 2012, lithium-ion batteries cost more than $750 per kwh. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates these costs have now fallen by an impressive 80% to reach $156 per kwh by 2019. The bulls argue that even if cost improvements slowed by half, $100 per kwh will be achieved within three to five years.  Bloomberg New Energy finance reports that per $/kwh, lithium ion battery costs dropped as follows $707 (2012), $663 (2013), $588 (2018), $381 (2015), $293 (2016), $219 (2017), $180 (2018), $156 (2019).

But where did these numbers come from? The data is hard to find.  Many battery commentators spoke about economies of scale, but few were willing to give details. Battery companies also consider their manufacturing process to be their greatest competitive advantage and, as a result, few give information or breakdowns of their cost structure.

Through our research, we came across an excellent book detailing the inner workings of the battery industry. In Powerhouse, Steve LeVine (my review of this 2015 book is here) explores the challenges in developing lithium-ion batteries. He also describes the ground-breaking work conducted at the Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago. Levine explains how Argonne maintained meticulous cost models for all major lithium-ion battery formulations over time and regularly released these models into the public domain.

Argonne’s models are invaluable in understanding what caused the 80% fall in battery costs over the last seven years. After carefully analyzing the Argonne data, we now believe costs have come down mostly through a series of one-time improvements. Instead of continuing to fall materially (à la Moore’s Law), we believe that most of the drop in lithium-ion costs is now behind us. The first $600 move from $750 to $156 per kwh was relatively easy– the next $56 move from $156 to $100 will be extremely difficult. If we are correct, lithium-ion batteries will not be able to reach the threshold for mass adoption in either EVs or grid-level storage for the foreseeable future. We should point out that many battery experts privately acknowledge that the trajectory of the past decade is not repeatable.

Four main factors explain the fall in battery costs over the past decade: increased plant utilization, increased battery size, chemical prices and battery chemistry improvements. Beginning in 2008, the battery industry built a large amount of lithium-ion manufacturing capacity to meet the expected surge in demand. While the demand projections ultimately proved correct, the timing was initially far too optimistic and by 2010 the average battery plant only operated at 10% utilization. The low level of throughput resulted in substantial operational inefficiencies and artificially high unit costs. Argonne released a version of its model in late 2011 and we used this as a starting point for our analysis. The Argonne model assumes a 100,000 pack per year facility that operates at full capacity. The first thing we did was adjust the model to reflect a plant that only operated at 10% utilization. The result was a cost of $705 per kwh–within 5% of the battery cost reported by the battery industry for 2012.

Using this as a baseline, we adjusted the plant utilization to 100%–the base case used in the Argonne model. Immediately the costs collapsed by 50% from $705 per kwh to $360. These results have profound consequences: nearly 60% of the total cost savings of the past decade came from simply ramping up underutilized facilities. The cost savings is the result of the fixed or semi-fixed costs (such as capital equipment, land and labor) being amortized over a greater quantity of batteries. Battery manufacturing plants today are operating near full utilization. Going forward, additional demand will be met by building new plants and not by increasing utilization. As a result, the largest driver of cost reduction over the last decade is unrepeatable.

The second source of cost reduction is the size of the battery itself. In 2012 the average lithium-ion battery had much less capacity than today. For example, the benchmark battery from the 2011 Argonne model only had capacity of 11 kwh compared with 65 kwh in the most recent edition. In any battery pack there are significant costs that are incurred only once per battery. These costs include module terminals, gas release valves, bus bars, and pack jackets as well various integration costs. By increasing the capacity of the battery five-fold, these one-time costs are spread over more kilowatt hours. In a typical 2012 vintage battery, these costs made up as much as 20% of the total battery cost. As the capacity increased materially, we estimate these costs came down from $80 to $20 per kwh–a reduction of 75%.

we believe these cost reductions will not be repeated going forward. There is clearly a tradeoff between capacity, unit cost, and total cost. For example, a 2019-vintage battery has a capacity of 65 kwh equating to an EV range of 220 miles. Such a battery is estimated to cost $156 per kwh or $10,170 per battery. If you increased the capacity six-fold (similar to the increase between 2012 and today), the resulting battery would have a range of nearly 1,000 miles and a total cost of $50,000. While its cost per kwh would indeed have come down from $156 to $120, we doubt any consumer would be willing to incur these extra costs for such a ridiculously long range. Clearly there is a right-sizing of the battery that dictates capacity and we believe current EVs are close to optimal.

The third driver of cost reduction over the last several years has been chemical prices. A battery’s “chemistry” typically refers to the active material used in the battery’s cathode. For example, Tesla utilizes a so-called LCA battery where the cathode consists of a compound made of lithium, cobalt, nickel, and aluminum. This compound is purchased from a specialty chemical company which charges a price based upon the cost of the underlying materials and the cost of manufacturing. Over the last several years, the compound price has fallen by nearly 50% as manufacturing costs have declined materially. Our models suggest these cost savings have a limit as the raw material cost becomes a larger and larger percent of the total. For example, we estimate raw material costs made up 40% of chemical price in 2011. By 2018 this had flipped and the raw materials made up 60% of the total chemical price. Moreover, as battery demand picks up we believe metal demand risks exceeding supply in cobalt and nickel. This will put upward pressure on the specialty chemical price. Battery insiders admit metal prices could be a problem going forward. In January 2019, Tesla announced a cobalt offtake agreement with Glencore in an effort to secure long-term supply. These cost pressures are unlikely to be offset by lower manufacturing costs, given they now make up less and less of the total. Over all, we estimate chemical prices have lowered battery costs by $40 per kwh between 2011 and 2019.The remaining cost savings have come from improvements to the underlying battery itself and the manufacturing process. After accounting for cost inputs mentioned above, we believe these additional improvements have resulted in $100 in savings or less than 20% of the total.

Our analysis suggests a full 80% of the cost savings of the last several years have come from one-time sources that cannot be repeated. Battery bulls extrapolate the 20% annual cost savings that took prices from $705 to $157 over the last several years. Instead, we believe it is more appropriate to first back out the one-time cost savings in order to isolate the sustainable cost savings going forward. Instead of falling $550, we believe battery prices fell by less than $100 per kwh over the last seven years, after adjusting for plant utilization, pack size, and chemical cost reduction.  One-time reductions of scale ($343), larger battery ($60), chemical prices ($40), and other prices ($106) based on models from the Argonne National Laboratory.

Late last year the Wall Street Journal reported a spat between Tesla and Panasonic regarding their Gigafactory joint venture. The issue revolved around price with Panasonic claiming it could not operate profitably at current levels. The Gigafactory is the largest battery manufacturing facility in the world, operates at near full utilization, and produces very high capacity batteries. This strongly suggests its costs should be among the lowest in the world – and yet they still are not low enough. If our analysis is correct, it will become harder and harder for battery manufacturers to continue to lower costs. Perhaps the Panasonic headlines are just the start.

Posted in Automobiles, Batteries, Battery - Utility Scale, Peak Lithium | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

How much oil left in America? Not much

Preface. If you think we have no worries because we can get arctic oil, think again. We can’t because icebergs mow drilling platforms down in the ocean. On land, massive amounts of expensive new drilling rigs, roads, rail lines, platforms, buildings and other infrastructure need to be built, and maintained every year as permafrost soil bucks and heaves like a bronco trying to shake infrastructure off.

In the first two oil shocks in the 1970s, many intelligent people proposed we should buy oil from other nations to keep ours in the ground for when foreign oil declined. But hell no, Texas, Oklahoma, and other oil states said that we need jobs and CEO/shareholder profits more than national security. Over half of all remaining oil is in the Middle East, which China, Russia, and Europe are much closer to than the U.S.

What saved the U.S. and the world, from conventional peak oil and natural gas decline since 2005 is fracking. But fracking began to decline as early as 2020 according the first report below. The second article is about oil discoveries in the U.S. declining.

This just in: John Hess, CEO of Hess Corporation, told his audience that “key U.S. shale fields are starting to plateau” and will not the next Saudi Arabia. U.S. shale oil production has been a major driver in the growth of world oil supplies. Last year the United States accounted for 98% of global growth in oil production. Since 2008 the number is 73%. so a slowdown or decline in U.S. oil production growth would mean trouble for the whole world. With 81 percent of global oil production now in decline, even a plateau in U.S. production would likely result in a worldwide decline (Kobb 2020).

Peak Fracking in the news:

2020 U.S. Shale Oil Production – All That’s Left Is The Permian And That Won’t Last Forever Either.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Goehring, L. R., et al. 2019. The unintended consequences of high grading. Goehring & Rozencwajg.

…we believe, new underappreciated forces are now at work in the shales. As we progress through 2020, the retrenchment of drilling activity, combined with the inability for drilling productivity to rise because of “high grading” will produce the potential for a significant disappointment in oil production. If rig counts turn much lower or if productivity continues to disappoint, US shale production growth might even start to turn negative as we reach the end of 2020. Most analysts are still very optimistic about US oil growth in 2020. Estimates range from as low as 1.1 mm b/d to as high as 1.7 mm b/d, but we believe these growth estimates are far too aggressive. Several prominent oil industry veterans are calling for growth as low as 400,000 b/d, which could also turn out to be optimistic. Our Oil Markets section will outline our estimates for US shale growth, as well as global oil supply-and-demand balances.

On a longer-term basis, we believe 2019 results are just the beginning. Of the two major shale oil basins, two are showing signs of exhaustion (the Eagle Ford and Bakken). Even the Permian is starting to show its age. Recent comments from Halliburton and Schlumberger reinforce the idea that the shales may be past their prime–something we have been expecting for several quarters. The underlying issues are geological in nature: the industry is running out of high-quality Tier 1 acreage. While there was hope that drilling and completion technologies could overcome these forces, our data suggests this is unlikely.

Philippe Gauthier. May 3, 2019. US Oil Exploration Drops by 95%.

It is well known that oil discoveries are in continuous decline worldwide in spite of ever-increasing investments. What is less known, however, is that spending on oil exploration is fast dropping in the United States. Exploratory drilling has been decreasing year after year and now stands at only five percent of its 1981 peak. In other words, once the currently producing shale oil wells are gone, there won’t be much to take their place.

According to figures derived from US Energy Information Agency (EIA) data by French oil geologist Jean Laherrère, oil exploration has already peaked twice in the United States. The first time was in the mid-1950s, with just over 16,000 wells drilled in a single year. The second major peak dates back to 1981, with 17,573 exploration wells. This number fell to only 847 in 2017.

Another even more revealing phenomenon is the decrease in NFWs. New field wildcats are exploration wells drilled in areas that have never produced oil, as opposed to wells drilled simply to help better delineate already known oil sectors (shown as red and greenlines in the graph). NFWs also declined by 95%, from 9,151 in 1981 to just 450 in 2017. According to Laherrère, this means that the United States have been almost entirely explored for oil and gas since 1859 and that few sites are worth drilling anymore. “There are only a few unexplored areas left offshore”, he notes.

In comparison, the number of operating wells (used to pump oil from previously known fields) was 646,626 in 1985, 597,281 in 2014, and 560,996 in 2017. However, nearly 400,000 of these wells are very old and produce at a marginal rate – fewer than 15 barrels a day and sometimes as little as one. They are described as marginal wells in the graph above.

It should be noted that the number of operating wells – a figure sometimes used to suggest that the oil industry is still running strong – does not account for this sharp decrease in exploration. Once shale oil production starts to decline – and Laherrère expects this to happen within a couple of years – there will remain few reserves to support US production.

The source material for this post is: Jean Laherrère, Updated US primary energy in quad (April 30, 2019)


Kobb, K. 2020. Peak Shale Could Spark An Offshore Drilling Boom.

Posted in How Much Left, Peak Oil | Tagged , | 7 Comments