Banter M Issue 54

In this issue of Banter M:

The Summer of the Trump Bro -  "We've only begun to witness the Summer of the Trump Bro," writes Bob Cesca. "And the worst has yet to come."

The Presidential Money Making Machine - The news that Donald Trump may be planning to launch his own TV network post presidential campaign is, as Chez Pazienza argues, the "standard conservative entertainment grift taken to its logical conclusion". Was Trump ever serious about becoming president, or is this one giant publicity stunt?

'Radical Islam' is a Scapegoat - While radical Islam is no doubt a serious problem, it pales in comparison to the astonishing number of gun deaths in America argues Ben Cohen.  Are Americans and their politicians finally changing their minds? 

The Summer of the Trump Bro

by Bob Cesca

You've probably already watched the video of the tattooed Trump Bro, Zackary Fisher, who screeched racist gibberish at a Latina protester in Phoenix this week. I'll mention one quote, and it ought to suffice for the purposes of underscoring just how deranged some of Trump's supporters happen to be. Fisher, among other things, screamed, "Go fucking cook my burrito, bitch! I love Trump! I love Trump! I love my country!" 

As if the reaction to the first African-American president hadn't thawed poorly educated conservative racists from their pre-1960s cryochambers, along comes Donald Trump to provide official cover for their loud-mouthed bigotry and nonsensical rage. And we still have just over four months to go before Election Day when, hopefully, Trump will be thoroughly humiliated by the first woman to become chief executive.

In other words, we've only begun to witness the Summer of the Trump Bro. And the worst has yet to come.

Throughout the primary process, emotions ran high on both sides of the nominating process. Obviously. While Republicans struggled to find ways to undermine Trump's unorthodox Twitter trolling and insult-comedy, the Democrats hurled some of the most blindingly disgusting mud between the Bernie and Hillary camps, forgetting that both candidates have nearly equal records of progressivism in the U.S. Senate. I honestly thought the mania of the general election could never match the mutually assured destruction of the primaries. If early indications are accurate, I was extraordinarily wrong in assuming so.

The Trump disciples, at least at this stage, have far surpassed the degree of crazy-eyed, cult-like fealty of any political faction at the presidential level so far. The above-mentioned Trump Bro is only a minor illustration of what I mean. Look no further than the violent outbursts at Trump's rallies, not to mention the zeal of surrogates like Alex Jones and Ted Nugent.

In the last few days alone, I've been confronted by two Trump supporters who happened to be closely connected to my personal life. One supporter is very close to me, while the other is a relative of someone who was once a major influence in my life. In both cases, I was blindsided by similarly inchoate outbursts over what I've written about Trump so far, especially recently after I shifted focus to cover the clown-haired GOP nominee.

Bear in mind that I don't proselytize to friends and family. Even when I'm directly asked for my opinion by a Republican who's close to me, I stow the snark and generally attempt to be somewhat deferential. I try to imagine, What would Obama do? If only they approached me with the same deference. After all, I'm paid to write and talk about politics, so it's not something I need to do as a party trick, or to change minds among my personal circle of friends. But, of course, there's Facebook and Twitter where those same people can easily follow every article I file, and every podcast I stream. Additionally, because I'm a professional, I think some people I know think they can stump me, so they turn it into a game. It never feels like a game, though.

So, apparently, the fact that my work is publicly displayed is enough to precipitate harsh excoriations from two people I know with obvious Trump loyalties. Out of nowhere, and in writing, no less, they took their shots. Worse, both sets of missives emerged from what should've been pleasant conversations that had almost nothing to do with politics. 

One of the two sucker-punches emerged over something I wrote -- an article that highly praised the relative of the Trump supporter who verbally eviscerated me. Why? Because praise from a writer (me) who also happens to have harshly criticized Trump and the GOP was, as it turns out, an insult of massive proportions -- so massive that the reaction was personally mortifying and heartbreaking to me; especially after realizing that my memory of the person I wrote about would be forever besmirched by the incomprehensibly negative reaction of his relative.

On a different level, it spoke to the nature of what I do for a living. It highlighted the reality that my name will be permanently glued to everything I've written, and that people I know can easily search for and find those writings (and podcasts). Writing about politics with a polemical edge and using my own name in the by-line carries with it great risks. 

Primarily, I can count on never being hireable outside the universe of political opinion journalism. Never. Not as long as there's Google, and, to a lesser extent, Facebook and Twitter -- not to mention publications where the story archives aren't readily accessible by me. (Not that I'd scrub my articles, but I couldn't even if I wanted to.) Needless to say, unlike many other occupations, my circle of close friends and family can see what I do every day. And, too often, they have a tendency to take my criticisms of Trump or the GOP or [fill in the blank] quite personally. Did I mention it was heartbreaking? Yeah, well, it very much was. (Lesson: Be careful who you publicly admire.)

But this is what I do. In order to be good at this, I have to write things that will piss off a lot of people. It's my style -- a reflection on who I am, and my audience has come to expect certain things from me. I never fully realized until this week that people I know likely believe I'm calling them stupid. In front of thousands of other people.

Contrarily, nothing I write is directed at people I know personally. Ever. Perhaps a "present company excluded" caveat is in order. Maybe just as a reminder. Who knows. Or perhaps they should internalize the fact that my work is my work, nor do I have any inclination to exploit my platforms to torment my friends.

Likewise, it goes without saying that I have no intention of moderating what I do. Much to the contrary. I expect that relatives or friends grasp the basics: I have a job. I'm paid to write and say inflammatory things about politics. And it's nothing personal.

I was blindsided anyway because of a reality show diva with a small penis who doesn't give a flying rip about you or anyone but himself. And if you know me offline, that doesn't mean I think you're stupid for supporting him. Being wrong is different from being stupid. Nor does it mean that I'll apologize for something I've written because you, friend, decided that I'm hurling insults specifically at you. 

This is all to say that I'm not the only one. The Trump Bros are lining up in formation, and they're highly motivated to attack, especially after eight years of Fox News brainwashing. You will probably confront a similar crisis. And soon. Someone close to you who happens to support Trump will lash out at you -- and it'll be out of the blue, without warning or, I hate to say, without logic. You will probably face a Trump Bro like Zackary Fisher. The difference is that it'll be someone you know and respect. 

And it will hurt.

Next: The Presidential Money Making Machine - by Chez Pazienza

The Presidential Money Making Machine

by Chez Pazienza

Donald Trump is broke. Well, it remains to be seen whether Donald Trump is actually personally broke -- although for years rumors have swirled that his self-proclaimed billionaire status was just another one of his self-aggrandizing lies -- but it's certain that his presidential campaign is broke. The big, shocking story from the Trump camp this week -- one of many, really, but certainly the biggest -- involves its most recent financial disclosures to the FEC, which are required by law. The new documentation shows not only that Trump's campaign is worth a hilariously paltry $1.3 million, compared to Hillary Clinton's massive war-chest of $42 million, but that around 20% of its expenditures have basically done nothing more than funnel money back into Trump-owned companies, including some that really look like bullshit LLCs that might have been created for the sole purpose of turning Trump's run for president into a way to make him a little quick cash. All told, Trump has spent something like $6 million on Trump-owned products and services. He gave $400,000 to his Mar-a-Lago residence; he bought "Trump Water"; he bought "Trump Wine." You get the idea.

As The Daily Beast reports, not only is this kind of thing sketchy, it could also very well be illegal. “Presidential campaigns generally try to separate themselves from their businesses. What he is doing is unprecedented,” says Larry Noble of the Campaign Legal Center. “Using all of your companies to provide services to your campaign—whether it’s illegal or not, that’s questionable… if he’s doing this to enrich himself, it is illegal.” Noble explains, "If he’s overpaying for that, he’s helping subsidize the company. If he’s underpaying for that, the company is subsidizing him... that’s why most campaigns stay away from doing this.” But Donald Trump, in case you haven't figured it out yet, isn't running most campaigns. For months now there have been whispers that Trump's presidential run was nothing more than a scam and that he wouldn't even wait out the entire process before dropping out. Those whispers, though, have now become shouts as his entire campaign seems to be imploding right before our eyes. He's fired his campaign manager. He's said completely insane things on the trail, then gone back and lied about saying those very things. He's tanking in the polls. He's facing a potential revolt from the Republicans, who are terrified what this ongoing calamity will mean for them in November. His camp is in utter chaos.

But there's another reason so many are figuring Trump's run for the White House is a precursor to a future that has nothing to do with actual governance. As Vanity Fair pointed out in a column last week, it's been leaked that Trump may be planning to launch his own TV network post-campaign. "According to several people briefed on the discussions, the presumptive Republican nominee is examining the opportunity presented by the 'audience' currently supporting him. He has also discussed the possibility of launching a 'mini-media conglomerate' outside of his existing TV-production business," the article says. "Trump's rationale... is that, 'win or lose, we are onto something here. We've triggered a base of the population that hasn't had a voice in a long time.'" In other words, Trump wants to create his own Trump-themed Fox News that will make money for him, as opposed to the Trump-themed Fox News already in existence that makes money for Rupert Murdoch. The story goes on to point out that Trump has indeed expressed indignation over all that free money he's generating for TV networks that could be going straight into his own pockets. 

Why does this matter? Because there's nothing at all remarkable about this kind of plan for a big conservative icon, given that what Trump is talking about here would be nothing more than the standard conservative entertainment grift taken to its logical conclusion. In fact, Trump himself is the living embodiment of that grift. He's the perfect con man running the perfect con on the party that's become nothing but an engine for self-enrichment by those wise to the scheme. For years now, so many of those who've dipped their toes into the pool of conservative politics seem to have done so with the long-term goal of spinning it into a gold for themselves. The most impressive of these grifters is, of course, Sarah Palin. She's the standard-bearer for transforming GOP politics into a giant personal ATM. She did it by following what's now a time-tested pattern: speak a non-stop stream of stupid, folksy provocations designed to rile up the "Real 'Muricans," the white, resentful Christians who can't stop publicly mourning the loss of "their" country; purposely insert oneself into any culture war skirmish that will turn one into a hero to that very same crowd, à la photographing oneself proudly buying Chick-fil-A after that company publicly frowns on gays; jump on any chance for the free publicity of political advancement, but only ride that sucker far enough to receive the PR without ever having the responsibility of actually governing. Voilaprofit!

There now exists a conservative entertainment complex that's like nothing America has ever seen. A nexus of Fox News, talk radio, reality TV, and provocative conservative book sales that's an end point for any political player who can work the system correctly. Why work when you can make money just for being who you are? That's what Palin did and what guys like Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson have done, with Carson in particular being the most egregious example after Trump of someone who seemed to run for the White House specifically to build up a post-campaign life in the spotlight. But nobody can beat Trump in this regard because nobody has gotten as far as he has and, more importantly, nobody is the purest embodiment of the kind of savvy con artist destined to create a personal empire based around little more than the love of the far-right rubes he so successfully plays night after night. Donald Trump, a guy who's spent his entire life ensconced in lavish penthouses constructed specifically to remove him as far from the rabble as possible, is a hero to these idiots now. And there's no way he isn't going to parlay that into a money-making enterprise. He's too lazy to actually be president and he knows it. There's no way he wants that kind of hard work. He just likes the oodles of warm encomia the angry crowds he riles up bukkake him with again and again. Trump's someone who enjoys being Donald Trump -- nothing more.

It's no great surprise that a grifter of Trump's immense talents glommed onto the biggest and best money-making scheme in the country right now. Compared to Trump, Palin's a rank amateur -- and if she could do it to even a small amount of success, a budding demagogue with the Trump name and popularity on the right could make a fortune. Or so Trump thinks. The problem, of course, might be that very issue -- that Trump is Trump. His entire persona is based on constantly being a winner. Can he still be the Great and Powerful Trump in the eyes of his zombies if he gets his ass kicked -- and by a woman? Because that's absolutely what's coming if he doesn't figure out a way to bow out while saving face. The thing is, you can be pretty sure that's what's going through his mind 24/7 these days. Trump has better, more personally enriching things to do than bleed money for months in a futile quest for the White House -- a job he doesn't want because, well, where's the money in that?   

Next: 'Radical Islam' is a Scapegoat  - by Ben Cohen

Rep. Louie Gohmert screams at Brad Sherman (D)

Rep. Louie Gohmert screams at Brad Sherman (D)

'Radical Islam' is a Scapegoat 

by Ben Cohen

In what can only be described as the surprise of the century, over 50 House and Senate Democrats finally found their courage and led an astonishing protest of Republican obstructionism and intransigence on gun control measures proposed in the wake of the Orlando massacre. 

The astonishing protest potentially marks a turning point in the long fight to pass sensible gun control measure as the political classes have rarely if ever taken such dramatic steps to make their point. 

Unsurprisingly, Republicans have behaved like the obstinate bullies they are and have tried to censor the protest as best they can. Their tactics included speaker Paul Ryan shutting down C-SPAN cameras filming the protest after going on CNN to call the sit-in a “dilatory publicity stunt,” and most obnoxiously, Rep. Louie Gohmert literally screaming over Democrats speaking to the floor. 

As California Democrat Brad Sherman was delivering his speech advocating gun control measures, the Texan representative stormed onto the floor screaming, “Radical Islam killed these people!” pointing at posters featuring photos of the victims of the Orlando shooting.

“We are talking about radical Islam! Radical Islam killed these people!” he continued. 

The spectacle was appallingly childish, yet he is being viewed as a hero in the eyes of conservatives and given fawning interviews by Fox News. 

"This was a little scary," Gohmert told Fox disingenuously. "The Democrats had taken over all 8 microphones at the point of the footage you showed...They had overtaken the chamber, and this is unprecedented...They weren't just standing up for rights, they were taking away rights."

Taking away rights. 

Just think about that for a second -- 49 people were murdered with an assault rifle, and those attempting to do something about it are being labeled by the Republican Party as trying to take away people's rights. 

The notion that radical Islam was responsible for the deaths of those partying at Pulse nightclub in Orlando is not completely wrong -- Omar Mateen told the authorities he pledged allegiance to ISIL, and was as far as we know a practicing Muslim. But it is a relatively small piece of the puzzle given it seems Mateen was also gay and may have wanted revenge against Latino men because "he felt used by them". 

Furthermore, the majority of mass shootings are committed by young white men, with extremely low numbers committed by Muslims. In fact, the risk of an American being killed by any act of terrorism in a given year is around one in 3.5 million -- and the chances are that the act of terrorism won’t be committed by a Muslim. 

America may have a radical Islam problem, but it also has a radical white male problem, a radical Christianity problem and a serious mental health crisis. These all pale in comparison to the threat of easily accessible firearms, given it allows those infected with religious extremism or mental illness to kill literally dozens of people with a single spray of bullets. To ignore the reality of just how lethal firearms are to human life in America is to ignore the actual facts.  No other industrialized nation kills its own citizens at the same rate as Americans do, and no other nation allows its citizens such easy access to automatic weapons. These two facts are synonymous with one another -- more guns equals more deaths, and no amount of screaming and shouting can contradict it. 

To imply 'radical Islam' is the major threat to US citizens is simply false. Guns are the major threat to US citizens, and far from protecting Americans' rights, the 2nd Amendment is a hardcoded directive to eliminate them. Because what rights do you have if you are dead?  

But to Louie Gohmert and other Republicans, those with funny sounding names and darker skin are an easy target when it comes to deflecting blame for the horrifying number of gun deaths in America. 

Inadvertently, Louie Gohmert perfectly illustrated the state of Republican politics in a single moment of unbridled rage. It was aimless, factless and stupid -- a summary of the GOP's deeply dysfunctional culture that Americans are increasingly turned off by. Screaming, "Radical Islam killed these people!” at the top of one's voice doesn't make it so, yet this is a major tactic used by one of the major political parties in America.

Thankfully, we are witnessing the end of this political party as a serious political force thanks to its enormously self destructive tendencies -- but it is not going down without a fight. Louie Gohmert and other Republicans understand this well, and in a last-ditched bid to remain relevant are using fear and anger to divide Americans in a time of deep uncertainty. This is a familiar strategy used by all conmen, but it ultimately fails as the truth prevails. 

The Democrats are actually courageously fighting for something worthwhile, and even if the legislation isn't perfect, it sets a precedent that action can be taken against the greatest threat of our time. Given the long, sordid history of the NRA and the Republican Party's scheme to dismantle all gun ownership regulation and allow the most dangerously ill Americans to buy lethal weapons, it is a breath of fresh air and a sign that change may finally be coming.