Sunday, December 08, 2019

Flawsuits and bad whines and fake Xmas wars: a few Sunday leftovers

It's a lazy Sunday, and since I don't feel like cooking up a substantial post from scratch today, I'm serving a plate of reheated leftovers, in the form of updates on previous posts.

Tony Baloney banks on luck o'the Irish to stifle BuzzFeed News and Twitter
Earlier this year, on
May 29 and June 22 to be exact, I wrote a couple of posts about BuzzFeed News' ongoing series covering accusations against selfish-help icon Tony Robbins. Robbins had been accused by numerous parties of emotional, physical, and in some cases sexual abuse and misconduct. He had repeatedly denied the allegations and had threatened to sue BuzzFeed if they didn't retract their stories and/or quit writing about him.

As I noted in an update to my June 22 post, but am bumping it up here as well (along with some additional content), BuzzFeed published yet another installment in its Tony Robbins series on November 22, 2019 --
that's Part 6, for those who are keeping track. This latest story covered Robbins' alleged sexual abuse of a minor female at a summer camp in Southern Cali way back in 1985, when Tony was 25, but already rich and famous.

Following the publication of that piece, Tony, who denies those allegations as well, had apparently had enough.
He has now decided to SLAPP Buzzfeed with a defamation flawsuit, and is currently threatening to sue Twitter too in the bargain, apparently for allowing people to tweet about the Buzzfeed series. But he's not suing in the United States; rather, he's suing in Ireland, with his lawyer rationalizing that Dublin is Twitter's European headquarters.

Here's
a Scribd link to the complaint.

The Irish Times reported that Robbins is being represented by a Belfast-based libel lawyer named Paul Tweed, who denies the claim that Robbins, like other public figures who have filed unsuccessful defamation suits in the United States, is engaging in "libel tourism." Tweed also countered BuzzFeed's accusation that Robbins was abusing the Irish courts, since BuzzFeed's headquarters and primary audience are in the US. He noted that the BuzzFeed journalists who wrote the articles are based in the UK. But BuzzFeed spoksman Matt Mittenthal responded to that by pointing out that Ireland is "a sovereign nation that hasn't been part of the UK for nearly 100 years. This is a bizarre and flimsy attempt to justify a transparent legal manoeuvre."

And Mike Masnick,
writing on the TechDirt site on December 4, cut to the chase:
Of course, the real reason to sue in Ireland is because either lawsuit would be laughed out of court in the US. The bar to prove defamation against a public figure like Robbins would make it nearly impossible for Robbins to win a defamation lawsuit here, unless he could somehow prove that Buzzfeed made up the reporting, which seems highly unlikely. And, of course, Section 230 of the CDA would protect Twitter. Even in Europe, it seems unlikely that Twitter could be held liable for how other people tweeted, just because Mr. Robbins is "aggrieved" about how this story spread.
Meanwhile, BuzzFeed continues to stand by their reporting.

Whinemaker Trump Junior gets triggered again
In late November
I posted a lengthy snarkalysis about the reactions to Donald Trump Jr.'s first book, Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us, which had been released earlier that month. The book quickly soared to the top of some prestigious bestseller lists, but lots of folks were crying foul in the wake of revelations that numerous republican/conservative orgs, including the Republican National Committee (RNC) made bulk purchases.

One point I made in my post was that even though sales of DJTJ's magnum dopus were indeed artificially boosted by those mass purchases, the book most likely would have done pretty well on its own, thanks to the cult of Trumpism. I also pointed out that although it's a given that the Trump family are scammers, bulk purchasing isn't illegal and in fact is commonly done, by scammers and non-scammers alike.

But I also made the point, as I have before, that right-wingers and conservatives seem to be more easily "triggered" (and hate-filled) than the lefties and liberals whom they're continually accusing of being hyper-sensitive snowflakes. Junior himself filled the pages of Triggered with his own whining about how awfully he and his family have been treated. As if to reinforce that particular point, on November 30
DJTJ uncorked another bottle of red whine on Twitter when he groused that airport bookstores operated by Hudson News bookstores are refusing to sell Triggered. He griped that he'd been in seven different airports that week and hadn't seen it. "Why not have the #1 book?" he tweeted. "Usual BS I suppose?"

The tweet, with its strong implication of a nefarious liberal conspiracy to squelch the book,
inspired his minions to flood Hudson News' social media accounts, berating them for their alleged participation in the conspiracy. But Junior's lament also inspired a flood of snarky rejoinders from those who are, to put it mildly, not supporters. One Twitter user responded to Trump's complaint by saying that he thought the books were fully stocked in the fiction section; another one, using the handle @MuellerSheWrote, noted that "there are boxes and boxes of them at the RNC."

Apparently Triggered is for sale on Hudson Booksellers' website, but regarding its brick-and-mortar stores, Hudson didn't respond to request from Newsweek for comment about Junior's tweet.

I wonder if Junior also thinks it's part of the "usual BS"/triggered-lib conspiracy that his book
was pretty quickly bumped from its number-one spot on the New York Times bestseller list by a scathing tome about his daddy, A Warning, By Anonymous

Phony holiday wars continue
Just the other day I was nattering about the phony "war on Christmas," which this year was joined, thanks to #NotMyPresident Donald John Trump, by the phony "war on Thanksgiving." With my usual gift for stating the painfully obvious, I predicted that despite Trump's declaration that the Xmas "war" had been won, the conservanoids weren't about to relinquish that phony construct entirely.

And along comes
right-wing nutcake/culture-wars veteran/Trump ally/career hypocrite Newt Gingrich to prove me right. He and another top Trumpanzee, former Acting Attorney (and scammer) General Matthew Whitaker, have come right out and stated that those demonic Democrats, with all of that impeachment nonsense, are ruining Christmas. #Impeachment is the new #HappyHolidays, I guess.

Newt went on Fox News to cry his crocodile tears about the degradation of the holiday by the impeachment, which in typical Trumpian form he described as "a modern-day lynch mob." But as many others have pointed out, including Charlie Nash on Mediaite,
Newt himself participated in the ruination of Christmas back on December 19, 1998 when he was Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the House voted to impeach President Bill Clinton.

Jack Holmes,
writing in Esquire, also made note of Gingrich's hypocrisy, adding:
...what tale of shameless grandstanding would be complete without a contribution from Matthew Whitaker, the former Big Dick Toilet Salesman whom the president once saw fit to make the Acting Attorney General of the United States?
That's right, folks: turn off that Bing Crosby. Shut down the Mariah Carey. Nix the "Wonderful Christmastime"—which, contrary to blasphemous reports in this very magazine, is good. It's going to be all impeachment, all the time. Give your Dad a congressional gavel in a box. (Or a T-shirt from War on Christmas x Impeachment.) Of course, what Whitaker's really saying is that people may be forced to discuss the president's assault on the American Constitution at some point this holiday season, which simply will not do. Then again, this is the same guy who jumped on Fox News in October to declare that "abuse of power is not a crime." It is, however, the most essential reason to impeach a president. Merry Christmas.
Merry Christmas indeed. And a Happy Impeachment.

That's it for now; more soon.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Udder inanity: Devin Nunes, bogus-bovine battler, files yet another defamation flawsuit

Back in March of this year, the Interwebz were all a-Twitter about a defamation flawsuit filed by Congressclown Devin Nunes (R-California), who is currently the rank republican member... I mean the ranking republican member of various committees and subcommittees of the US House of Representatives, and who in more recent weeks has taken his comedy stylings to the public impeachment hearings against #NotMyPresident Donald John Trump.

The Nunes litigation that had, and still has, the Internet bellowing with laughter is Devin's suit against a fake cow on Twitter, as well as against various other fake parties. Actually they're satirical Twitter accounts that make fun of our little diva Dev. His feelings have been terribly hurt by the derision. I was one of countless hordes of folks who snarked about this when the story was new-ish --
here's that Whirled link for you -- and I'm back with another round because of a couple of recent developments.

The first development is really just
a humorous addendum to the ongoing phony-cow saga. Since the lawsuit was initiated in March, Nunes has been laboring to get Twitter to give up the goods on the anon Twitter users who run the fake-cow account and another satirical account by "Devin Nunes' Mom." In October, Nunes' attorney issued a subpoena demanding records from former Democratic National Committee employee Adam Parkhomenko, who presumably had been corresponding with the puckish anons. Parkhomenko's attorney responded with a filing to quash the subpoena, arguing that the Twitter accounts are clearly satirical and do not constitute defamation, and that the courts have a responsibility to protect anonymous communications, in the interests of protecting free speech. On November 26, the Sacramento Bee reported:
“No reasonable person would believe that Devin Nunes’ cow actually has a Twitter account, or that the hyperbole, satire and cow-related jokes it posts are serious facts,” reads the filing in Virginia’s Henrico County Circuit Court. “It is self-evident that cows are domesticated livestock animals and do not have the intelligence, language, or opposable digits needed to operate a Twitter account. Defendant ‘Devin Nunes’ Mom’ likewise posts satirical patronizing, nagging, mothering comments which ostensibly treat Mr. Nunes as a misbehaving child.”
For extended (and well-deserved) mockery, check out this Damage Report video.

If you can't access the embedded vid, here's the direct YouTube link.
 
The second development that inspired me to return to the old blogging board on behalf of our delicate Devin is the announcement a couple of days ago of yet another defamation flawsuit he's filed. This one is about more serious matters. True to recent threats he'd made, Nunes is suing CNN for $435 million over a report that an associate of Trump's personal ghoul Rudy Giuliani claimed Nunes had met with a former Ukrainian official late last year in Vienna, in order to help dig up some dirt on former VP Joe Biden. Since Trump et al.'s shenanigans re Ukraine are at the center of the impeachment hearings, it's understandable that Devin would be a little upset.

Indeed, employing his customary histrionics, Nunes disputed the story and called the CNN report "demonstrably false and scandalous" and a "hit piece," despite the fact that other parties in question stated their willingness to testify under oath that the story is true. Nunes added that CNN is the mother of fake news and is eroding the fabric of America.

What's interesting is that this suit, along with Nunes' threats to sue other media outlets reporting on Nunes and Ukraine, may actually undermine Trump's impeachment defense -- at least according to
a November 26 opinion piece written for USA Today by none other than Jonathan Turley, who had his own starring comedic role in the second phase of public impeachment hearings that began December 4.

One can only hope that Turley is right. In fact, I'm willing to exercise some rare-for-me optimism and predict that the efforts of both Nunes and Turley will strengthen the case for impeachment. At least I'm willing to entertain that possibility, or let it entertain me.


* * * * *
It's abundantly clear by now that when he isn't busy with his overwrought performances in public hearings, and his other attempts to embed himself even more deeply into Trump's aperture, Devin Nunes is udderly consumed with suing people and animals, both real and imaginary. This past October, the LA Times ran a piece by columnist Robin Abcarian, summarizing the frivolous and vexatious litigation in which Nunes had been involved up until that time. Besides the fake-cow litigation, Nunes also sued an organic peach farmer and various reporters. Abcarian wrote:
To help get a sense of the injury caused by an organic peach farmer, reporters and a fake cow, Nunes’ lawsuits first lay out what a fantastic guy Nunes is:

“Nunes’ career as a U.S. Congressman is distinguished by his honor, dedication and service to his constituents and his country, his honesty, integrity, ethics, reputation for truthfulness and veracity.”

This is a helpful corrective, I guess, because most people think of Nunes as the Trump lackey who
sneaked into the White House in the middle of the night last year to receive information that he turned around and claimed to be presenting to Trump for the first time the next day. Instead of really trying to figure out how Russia had mucked about in the 2016 election, Nunes was helping Trump make a case against American spy agencies.
As I mentioned in my own post last March, Nunes was a co-sponsor of the "Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act," along with dozens of other republicans.

But this current Ukrainian sideshow must really be rattling him. As Scott Shackford, writing for the Libertarian publication Reason, noted,
Nunes is getting a taste of his own medicine. After all, he once attacked those who wanted to restrain the NSA's snooping, but now the shoe is on the other cloven hoof.
Now this surveillance apparatus that Nunes has long supported has happily provided his political opponents with information that could destroy his career. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (which Nunes used to chair, and where he is now the ranking minority member) just published its impeachment report. It shows calls between Nunes and Rudy Giuliani in 2016, as Giuliani was making the media rounds arguing that Ukrainian officials colluded to help Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. This information will most certainly be used to argue that Nunes is not just a defender of Trump but also an active participant in Giuliani's Ukrainian push.
I wish that all of this stuff were simply silly, like the threats and occasional legal actions of another litigious Whirled snarget, fake doctor/cancer quack/conspiranoid/fascist Leonard Coldwell. But there's a graver import, as the Fresno Bee editorial board explained today in a piece noting that Devin Nunes and his blind allegiance to Trump constitute the real danger to the republic.
As the ranking Republican on the powerful House Intelligence Committee, Nunes holds one of the top posts in Congress. Nunes should have disclosed to his committee colleagues that he had those phone calls last spring. One expert on government ethics took it a step further and said Nunes should have recused himself from the impeachment hearings, rather than acting as No. 1 Trump defender.

To advance the cause of getting at the truth, Nunes should come clean on the phone calls and tell the House what was discussed. He should also provide travel records to debunk the charge that he met in Vienna last December with the Ukrainian to get information that might hurt Biden; Nunes says he was in Libya and Malta.

Short of that, his actions continue to reduce him to being a mere partisan — the label with which he loves to tarnish his Democrat colleagues...
Yeah, what the Bee said. And by the way, their parent company, McClatchy, has also been sued by Nunes. But if his goal is to chill free speech... well, as the Bee pointed out in a November 27 editorial, it's not working (so far, anyway). The fake cow keeps on mooing, and the online jeers are only growing louder.

PS added on 8 December 2019: A member of the Daily Kos community, Sher Watts Spooner, posted a piece on why Diva Nunes may regret SLAPPing his critics. It's a good, concise summary of Nunes' litigious lunacy. Read it.

Friday, November 29, 2019

The phony war on T-Day is over, the fake war on Xmas begins

The annual late November gratitude day/food orgy that we in the US call Thanksgiving is officially over, and the Christmas/winter holiday season has begun. This Thanksgiving was marked by, among other things, #NotMyPresident Donald J. Trump's declaration, at one of his fascist emotional support pep rallies in Sunrise, Florida on November 26, that there's a radical leftist plot to decimate T-Day by changing its name. And thus did the world learn of a new phony war to join the infamous phony war on Christmas: the war on Thanksgiving.

It's all just part of a larger pattern, of course. As Emily Stewart wrote in the Vox piece I linked to above:

The president has leaned into culture wars often throughout his tenure, aware that it’s a way to rally his base and sow division. Declaring out of the blue that there’s a movement on the left to change the name of Thanksgiving is another example of that. But the episode also highlights the president’s dismissiveness of issues with some real cultural and social weight. While Thanksgiving’s name isn’t particularly controversial, its history is.

But Trump seemed to be making it all about the name. He told the Florida crowd that "some people" don't want to use the term "Thanksgiving," adding, "And that was also true with Christmas. But now everybody's using Christmas again. Remember I said that?" A November 26 piece on
The Hill site cited Trump's long-standing "war on Christmas" narrative, noting that back in 2015 he said, "I'm a good Christian. If I become president, we're going to be saying 'Merry Christmas' at every store."

Though Trump has since declared victory in the war on Christmas, he told the Florida rally attendees, "Now we're going to have to do a little work on Thanksgiving. People have different ideas. Why it shouldn't be called Thanksgiving. But everybody in this room, I know, loves the name Thanksgiving. And we're not changing.”

Naturally, this declaration gave rise to a spate of jeering memes and tweets, but this didn't seem to faze Trump or his followers at all.

Elsewhere on the culture-war battlefield, Donald Trump Jr. boldly marched forward with his own plan to enhance the sacred holiday of Thanksgiving. As you may know, he recently released his first book,
Triggered, about which I wrote a very long post last week (and have added several updates since then). Flush with the early success of that magnum dopus, he used his Instagram page to announce a holiday giveaway: he invited the deplorables to "trigger a liberal" by bringing up politics around the T-Day table. Whoever shared the best photo or vid of the resulting conflict would win a signed copy of Triggered and a MAGA hat. What a deal!

Maybe I'm just too easily triggered myself, but in general I don't think it's funny to encourage people to create disharmony among loved ones, shoot videos of the results, and upload them for the world's amusement. For instance, I am not amused by Jimmy Kimmel's annual Halloween stunt in which he invites parents to tell their kids that the parents ate all of the child's Halloween candy, and then record the almost inevitable tantrum and upload the vid. I think it's pretty crass.

But I also think that Kimmel's stunt pales in comparison to DJTJ's "contest." There's surely enough family stress during the holidaze as it is -- always has been, given the way holiday expectations can amplify existing family dysfunctions. As many folks have learned from first-hand experience, the problem has only become worse in the era of Trump. While Daddy Trump and the GOP are busy blaming the Democrats and liberals for the deep divisiveness in the US, and while the elder Trump has also been bloviating about a spurious war on Thanksgiving, Junior's stunt constitutes more of a "war" on the holiday than anything that the left is allegedly doing. And far from being an attempt to heal divisions, it's only deepening the gap.

But if the responses of that Florida crowd to Junior's daddy are any indication, these finer points are likely to be lost on devoted Trumpians, who will embrace the phony T-Day war as eagerly as they have the Xmas war.


I wish these bogus battles were just comic relief, on the level of the absurd stuff I used to write about so much in Whirled Musings' younger days, like dolphin worship and hollow-earth theories and imaginary naked blondes in Russian forests and phony mystical poets and multidimensional Stick People and magickal water and so forth. In historical context, however, the phony holiday wars may have a more disturbing significance.
 
In
a November 27 piece, Washington Post columnist Max Boot suggested that as silly as the Trumped-up narrative about a "war on Thanksgiving" is, there's also something sinister about it, given the decades-long history of (conservative) complaints about the so-called "war on Christmas." Notorious racist/anti-Semite Henry Ford groused about the secularization of Christmas back in the early 1920s, blaming the Jews for the phenomenon. In the height of the McCarthy era of the 1950s, the far-right John Birch Society claimed that the Commies and the UN were engaged in an operation to take Christ out of Christmas. And infamous conservative mouthpiece Bill O'Reilly claimed in 2004 that Christmas was "under siege" by "secular progressives" who were trying to force gay marriage, partial-birth abortion, legalized drugs, and a host of other "progressive visions" on America. From there, wrote Boot...
It did not take long for Trump — Fox News’s most faithful and credulous viewer — to join the “War on Christmas” as a full-throated combatant. By doing so, he gets to portray himself as a champion of white Christian America against insidious “Others” who, his followers fear, will destroy the country they know and love.
And this year Trump decided to do the same thing for Thanksgiving. It was, I suppose, inevitable. Even though T-Day is a secular rather than a religious holiday, and it's one that happens to be observed by millions people of all faiths in the United States (other countries have their own Thanksgiving holidays too at various times of the year), the last Thursday in November is a natural focal point for the ongoing culture wars that conservatives in the US insist on fighting. Given America's changing demographics, it's only natural to examine historical events -- including that fabled first Thanksgiving -- through lenses other than those of the white European Christians who once constituted the majority of the US populace. Many of these folks are understandably triggered by such "revisionist" histories. Indeed, as Max Boot wrote in the wrap-up to his WaPo piece:
Trump’s white evangelical followers — the core of his base — are terrified that they are fast losing power in a country they once dominated. Hence their fanatical support for Trump as “the chosen one” and their disparagement of his critics as “demonic.” A skilled demagogue, Trump unerringly taps into their anxiety with his risible claims about a war on Christmas and now a war on Thanksgiving.
Even so, as Emily Stewart wrote in the Vox article I linked to at the beginning of this post (here's that link again), it's not unreasonable to invite people to look at Thanksgiving through the eyes of folks for whom the holiday may have meanings that aren't in sync with the traditional happy-feast scenario. To many Native Americans, for instance, the holiday serves as a reminder of the atrocities indigenous peoples suffered when Europeans landed in the "New World." Add to that the fact that the story about the Pilgrims and the Native Americans is not an accurate one, and there's a sound basis for a counter-holiday, the National Day of Mourning, which has been observed for nearly half a century in Plymouth, Massachusetts by indigenous people and their allies. But that's hardly some contemporary liberal plot to destroy Thanksgiving. It's not even an initiative to change the name of Thanksgiving. It's just an alternative and arguably more inclusive holiday.

In addition, some environmental groups are promoting awareness of
the environmental impact of Thanksgiving, including the enormous quantities of food consumed (and wasted), as well as the impact of travel. As painfully PC as these considerations may be to the climate/environmental science denial camp, though, they still don't qualify as a war against T-Day.

Disappointing as it may be to the pearl-clutching culture warriors, there is no actual war against any of our cherished holidays, other than the wars that are playing out in the heads of cynical political opportunists and the frightened, gullible people whom they are stringing along like so many gaudy Christmas lights. Besides, technically Trump didn't really "win" the phony Xmas war anyway. People are still saying, "Happy Holidays," as in fact, they've been saying (and singing) for decades.

May you have joyful holidays, no matter how many of them you do or don't celebrate. I'll be back in December, which is just around the corner. And you won't see any war on Christmas on this Whirled: to the contrary I intend to deck these (recently refurbished) halls with an ever-changing festive background to celebrate the season.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Triggered: Traitor Tot touts his own Trump-branded whine

As you're no doubt aware, among his numerous other enterprises #NotMyPresident Donald J. Trump, aka #Dolt45, sells Trump-branded wines, which his Number 2 (in more ways than one) son Eric was hawking recently during the impeachment hearings. But more than his wines, Trump is known for his whines. In 2015, just as his presidential campaign was picking up steam, he proudly embraced his whiny ways when "New Day" host Chris Cuomo asked him to respond to a National Review article by Rich Lowry, which began:
Donald Trump is given to superlatives, so let’s do him the honor of pronouncing him the most fabulous whiner in all of American politics.

By Trump’s own account, he’s the baddest, smartest thing going, except if you ask him a challenging question, in which case he kicks and screams and demands to know how anyone could treat him so unfairly.
Unfazed, Trump told Cuomo, "I think [Lowry is] probably right. I am the most fabulous whiner. I do whine because I want to win. And I'm not happy if I'm not winning. And I am a whiner. And I'm a whiner and I keep whining and whining until I win," he said. "And I'm going to win for the country and I'm going to make our country great again."

Well, here we are in 2019, in the midst of an
impeachment process that may or may not be entering the next phase, and Trump is still whining, and whining, and whining. He may be "winning," but every time he "wins," the country loses a little more of its soul.

And now comes the next-generation Trump whinemaker: Number 1 son Donald J. Trump Jr., aka DJTJ (as late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel likes to call him), aka Traitor Tot.* Earlier this month Junior's first book, Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us was published by Center Street, a conservative imprint of the Hachette Book Group. In light of the fact that the book is given over as much to Junior's whining about how tough he has had it as it is to grousing about how the left is oppressing the right, Triggered might more accurately be titled, Poor Little Rich Boy.

Whines notwithstanding, Don the Younger apparently couldn't be more thrilled,
tweeting excitedly about the book's rise to number 1 on the prestigious New York Times Best Seller list for print hardcover "nonfiction." (This despite the fact that Junior and Daddy both have repeatedly excoriated the NYTimes for being "failing" and "fake news.")

But there's a but (and also a butt, but that goes without saying). The "but" is that Daddy's chums at the Republican National Committee have so far made a nearly $100,000 bulk purchase of the book.
From Vice.com today:
Don Jr.’s opus — Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Usshot up to No. 1 on the hardcover nonfiction charts right when it dropped last week. But observers noted that Jr.’s title was the only one on the list accompanied by a symbol indicating sales boosted by a bulk purchase. The Trumps, and their compadres at the RNC, pushed back at the idea that the Trump son had a leg up.

“We
haven’t made a large bulk purchase, but are ordering copies to keep up with demand,” said Mike Reed, an RNC spokesman, after the group sent an email fundraising off the book, according to the New York Times. “Each book is sold to an individual who supports the Republican Party.”

But it’s clear the RNC did exactly what they said they didn’t do — that is, they made a whopping bulk purchase. A Federal Election Commission disclosure revealed the RNC spent $94,800 on pre-order copies of
Triggered, purchased from Books-A-Million as “donor mementos.”
And from The Washington Post:
The purchase, disclosed in a recent Federal Election Commission filing, could explain the caveat that accompanied the bestseller listing for “Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us” — and prompted speculation about what propelled Trump Jr.’s book to the coveted spot. A small dagger next to the book’s blurb in the ranking indicates “institutional, special interest, group or bulk purchases,” which the Times says are factored into rankings at editors’ discretion....
The RNC is reportedly making money hand over fist with this magnum dopus. Also from WaPo:
“Triggered” attacks Democrats and Trump critics and bills itself as “the book that leftist elites don’t want you to read.” The RNC has offered signed copies of Trump Jr.’s book to those who donate more than $50; spokesman Michael Joyce told BuzzFeed News that the RNC has “netted $500,000 for the party fundraising off the book.”
The fundraising campaign was helped along by fake-personal messages from Junior himself.

UPDATE: According to a November 28, 2019 article in the New York Times, the Republican National Committee is far from the only Republican/conservative org to have bulk-purchased Triggered. Included among at least nine other bulk purchasing entities are the conservative student group Turning Point USA; conservative activist group Citizens United; the National Republican Senatorial Committee; and various state G.O.P. orgs. While the NYT article acknowledges, as others have (and as I do below) that bulk purchases for fund-raising purposes are neither illegal nor uncommon, there is a difference with Triggered:
But the breadth of the Republican establishment’s effort behind Mr. Trump is striking for a noncandidate whose most significant claim to fame remains his parentage, and who has sought to deflect criticism of his recent attacks on impeachment witnesses by asserting that he is merely a “private citizen.” And it underscores the unusual cross-pollination between the Trump family’s political ambitions, its business ventures and the party President Trump now leads.
A few potholes on the road to stardom
Don't imagine for a moment that it's been all easy for the proud author. Shortly after Triggered was released, pranksters sneaked into a New York City Barnes and Noble bookstore, replaced its dust jacket with a parody cover bearing a new title, Daddy, Please Love Me, and moved the display to the "Young Adult" (ages 12 and up) section of the store.

And a few days later,
DJTJ got booed out of one of his own book-launch events not by the "easily triggered" libs and lefties, but by his own supporters, a group of angry white nationalists who were apparently ticked off that he wasn't taking questions. Barely 20 minutes into an event that had been scheduled to last two hours, Junior and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, left the stage. So it was actually right-wing haters who had effectively silenced Junior, while, as The Guardian piece linked to in the first sentence of this paragraph notes:
...if Trump Jr was expecting a small army of “triggered” leftwingers to clamour for his silence, he did not get it. No more than 35 protesters showed up and, despite making a lot of noise with drums and whistles and shouts of “Trump-Pence Out Now!”, resisted taunts and insults from provocateurs in Make America Great Again hats from across a line of metal barriers.
Then there was the (well-deserved) blowback that Junior got for an anecdote in his new book in which he described driving past Arlington National Cemetery the day before Daddy's inauguration. He wrote that the "gravity of the moment" filled him with a "deep sense of the importance of the presidency and a love of our country." Had he stopped there it would have been no big deal. But being his father's son, he felt compelled to pivot back to his own family's "suffering."
“In that moment, I also thought of all the attacks we’d already suffered as a family, and about all the sacrifices we’d have to make to help my father succeed—voluntarily giving up a huge chunk of our business and all international deals to avoid the appearance that we were ‘profiting off of the office,'” he wrote, later adding, “it was a big sacrifice, costing us millions and millions of dollars annually. Of course, we didn’t get any credit whatsoever from the mainstream media, which now does not surprise me at all.”
When that bit was publicized, there was a loud collective "Give me a break!" from veterans and non-veterans alike. Granted, Junior's story may not be quite as insulting to service members past and present as Daddy's claim, in an interview years ago, that his own promiscuous rutting years, when he constantly dodged the STD bullet, were his "personal Vietnam." (Of course that was intended to be a joke, but it's a sick one, particularly since Trump Sr., aka Cadet Bone Spurs, was infamously also a draft dodger.) And certainly the Arlington/Trump family sacrifice tale is not on the scale of atrocity as Daddy's recent pardoning of service members accused of, and in some cases convicted of, war crimes.

Frankly, I doubt that either the Junior or Senior DJT is particularly bothered by blowback on any of the military matters just described, and the Trumpanzees are clearly not bothered by any of it either, but for folks who still have a moral compass, all of this actually matters.

Notwithstanding Trumpian complacency and pride, though, Triggered has not had a completely easy time of it. Months before the book was even published,
it was a popular subject for jeering memes.

Then there's the fact that the reviews in the media have not been especially kind. For instance, there's this from a November 16, 2019 Slate.com piece by Slate senior writer Ashley Feinberg:
While Jr.’s entry on the list is marked with an icon indicating bulk purchases, at least a few people have purchased the book of their own volition and with genuine interest. Technically, one of those people was me. Ever since the 2016 campaign, I’ve been fascinated by Don Jr., a fully grown father of five with the sensibility of a not-particularly-bright 13-year-old, and his visible public effort to prove himself as his father’s son...

...Fortunately, for Don Jr.’s readers, there is indeed plenty of arguing on behalf of his father in the nearly 300-page denunciation of his family’s enemies. There’s also the sort of awkward writing and clunky metaphors endemic to campaign trail books of all stripes (even if Jr.’s not technically personally running for anything—yet). This particular cash grab, though, transcends the ordinary campaign-publishing vanity project. It’s the work of an author so nakedly self-conscious—or so in need of self-soothing—he constantly breaks off his message to assure the reader he’s proud, confident, and doing fine...

...Actual Don Jr. fans likely won’t be too bothered by [inconsistencies and distortions in the book]. Coherence and attention to detail are not features of any Donald Trump brand experience, whether junior or senior. Still, you can’t make an entire book solely out of father-defending. So what exactly is Don Jr.’s book about?

After reading the book twice, I’m still not entirely sure...
Feinberg then goes on to list what she thinks may be the core messages in Junior's tome, all of which center not around issues vital to America but instead around those that are central to Don Jr.: (1) He's not really angry; (2) His dad loves him; (3) He's the real victim; (4) He has a girlfriend; and (5) He's one of the real reasons that Daddy won. DJTJ seems pretty taken with his own rising stardom, overall, though he appears to be trying as hard to convince himself of his greatness as he is trying to convince his readers. But as for the general veneer of boastful arrogance and the propensity for two-bit, cliched insults to perceived enemies, the orange doesn't fall far from the diseased tree.

Putting it all in perspective 
In light of the widely reported news about the contrived boost of Triggered to bestseller status, I would be remiss were I not to mention a couple of points. This isn't an attempt to let Trump the Younger or Trump the Elder off the hook -- as you may be able to discern just from the way I frame point number 1, below. But it is some necessary perspective.

1. Bulk-purchasing and other, shadier ways of
gaming the bestseller lists are common in Scamworld (and beyond).
Look, most of us can see that
Trump and sons (and son-in-law and daughter) are scammers. I get that it was the Republican National Committee [and other Republican/conservative organizations] that made the bulk purchases and not a Trump per se, but since the Republican party has for all practical purposes degenerated into the Trump Party, it's still all in the scamily.

And going back slightly further in American political history: according to
an August 2016 piece on the Daily Beast site (which was updated in April 2017), Donald Trump Sr. himself used more than $55,000.00 in campaign donations to buy thousands of copies of his own book, Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, at retail cost from Barnes & Noble. The Daily Beast article elaborated:
Executives, celebrities, and politicians have long purchased copies of their books in bulk; many publishers even get high-profile authors to agree to buy a certain number of copies before a contract for the book is even signed. But Trump’s arrangement appears to be very different. Ben Bruton, who has worked in publishing public relations for 25 years, called the way in which the books were bought “suspicious.”
Suspicious as in possibly violating federal campaign laws, that is. It's maybe not quite the same thing as paying $130,000 to buy a porn star's silence, but still possibly a bit naughty.

But the Trumps and the Republican groups that enable them certainly didn't invent the bulk-purchase strategy. When I shared an article on my Facebook feed the other day about the RNC purchase of Junior's Triggered, a Facebook friend of mine remarked, in the context of noting how common bulk purchasing is, that imprisoned serial scammer Kevin Trudeau bulk-purchased his own books back in the day to sell them on his TV infomercials. This may not be quite the same thing, though, since Trudeau's books -- at least his first two Natural Cures books -- were self-published, and he did actually sell millions of copies over the years via his infomercials, landing him spots at various times on the bestseller lists of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the New York Times.

Another point is that Trudeau's books and other info-products were almost always vehicles either for forced-continuity schemes or for upselling (e.g., his 14-CD set Your Wish Is Your Command, which was promoted via infomercials and online, was a very aggressive upsell for his massive scam, the Global Information Network, or GIN). Having said all of that, it's always appropriate, in a general turds-of-a-feather sense, to bring up
career con artist Kevin Trudeau in the context of just about anything related to the Trump scampire.

But the larger point is that artificially pumping up sales figures, and making a book seem of more import than it really is, are things that are done pretty regularly, not only by Trumps and anyone else whom you'd normally think of as a scammer, but by "regular" folks (and their publishers and/or publicists) as well. In fact, as a September 2017 Vox article expressed it, the world of bestseller lists is convoluted at best. This has been the case for many, many years. In a sense, the game of book promotion and selling has long been rigged.

For instance, it was pretty widely known for years in the publishing industry, if not among consumers, that major publishers paid big bucks for premium display space in the major chain bookstores, as
this 1996 piece from the New York Times shows. At the moment I can't seem to find information on the extent to which this might still be the case; the role of brick-and-mortar book stores has changed drastically over the past couple of decades, and there's been a big shakeup in the publishing industry overall with the explosion of electronic media. But I hope my point is clear.

And to cite another example that brings us back to the topic of bestseller lists, people have been finding ways to game Amazon's bestseller lists, and for that matter their review system as well, in various ways ever since Amazon came on the scene. Professional scammers as well as amateur authors eagerly promoting their first book have often fallen to temptation, and a range of parties from publicists to publishers have also taken advantage of the system over the years.

I wrote about the problem way back in March 2007 (though unfortunately the specific SHAMblog post link is no longer valid), but folks were complaining about those issues with Amazon years before this blog was born. Just as people are constantly trying to find ways to game the search engines, those who are selling books or other info-products -- whether they're individual authors and their cronies, or big publishers -- are going to try to find as many ways as possible to make it at least appear that their products are bestsellers. As is true in the business world in general, many folks will use any tricks they can get away with, no matter how ethically questionable. Maybe that's just one of the less admirable aspects of human nature.

I remember that when Triggered was first announced, months ahead of its publication, I casually predicted on a Facebook thread that there would be bulk purchases. But it didn't take any great gift of prognostication to figure that one out.


Understand this: I'm not claiming that efforts to manipulate or exaggerate sales figures are ethical, no matter how many "regular folks" do it, and no matter how institutionalized the subterfuge may be. But this is hardly the worst offense committed by a Trump, and those anti-Trumpers who see some kind of Russian plot behind it all are nearly as silly as the pro-Trumpers for whom the Trumps can do absolutely no wrong.
 
Besides, bulk purchases do not account for all of the sales of Triggered. Which brings us to the next point...

2. Triggered very likely would have been a bestseller anyway, even without the bulk purchase(s).

After all, Trumpism is now for all practical purposes a cult with a large, and fanatically devoted, membership. The Son has been granted an enormous platform in which to bask in the reflected light of The Father. Of course people are going to buy his book, even if they don't read it, just because it was excreted from a Trump.

As I write this on November 22, 2019, Triggered is #16 on
Amazon's Books bestseller list (right ahead of the latest anti-Trump work, A Warning by Anonymous). [Subsequently, as I mention below, A Warning overtook Triggered. ~ CC, 11-30-19.] It's also #1 in several sub-categories, including Censorship & Politics (directly ahead of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which was originally published in the mid-1980s and which is, interestingly enough, a work of fiction that describes a frightening theocratic dystopia much like Trump's cronies are trying to create today). Triggered is also #1 in Political Commentary & Opinion; and Political Conservatism & Liberalism.

And what do actual Amazon purchasers (and, presumably, readers) think? Well, for what it's worth, at the moment Triggered boasts a 95% five-star review status on Amazon, though I should note that the top-rated positive review, voted "helpful" by more than 2,800 folks so far, is an an all-caps mockery.
DisneyDenizen HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER 5.0 out of 5 stars
THIS IS THE BEST BOOK EVER WRITTEN November 6, 2019 Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
THIS IS THE GREATEST BOOK EVER WRITTEN, ALSO THE LONGEST, BY THE BEST SON IN THE WORLD, AND BY THE BEST I MEAN HE IS THE SMARTEST, EASILY THE SMARTEST SON THERE HAS EVER BEEN, AND THE BEST LOOKING AND THE BEST WRITER, WE HIRED THE BEST WRITER, I MEAN HE IS THE SMARTEST GOOD LOOKING BEST WRITER, WELL, YOU KNOW, EXCEPT FOR HIS FATHER, OBVIOUSLY HIS FATHER IS SMARTER, AND HAS REALLY BIG HANDS, AND WE'VE BEEN GROOMING HIM BECAUSE OF COURSE THE DYNASTY MUST GO ON BECAUSE THERE WOULDN'T BE MUCH POINT IN HAVING A DYNASTY, OR A NAME REALLY, IF IT DIDN'T GO ON, BUT GROOMING NOT IN THE WAY YOU WOULD THINK – HAVE YOU SEEN THAT BEARD OF HIS, WE MAKE SURE THAT STAYS REALLY CLOSELY CROPPED, IT'S ELEGANT ISN'T IT? THAT BEARD? ANYWAY, WHERE WAS I? OH RIGHT BUY THIS BOOK IT'S THE BEST.
There's a lot of (apparently) sincere praise too, of course, but the mocking one is by far the most popular.

I'll acknowledge the possibility that manipulation of book reviews could still be going on at Amazon, as it was years ago: that perhaps the publisher or some others with vested interests have been able to persuade Amazon to remove most of the negative reviews, and/or that there have been other efforts to flood the page with praise for Triggered. Honestly, I have no idea.
(There is definitely some serious gaming going on with some of Amazon's third-party sellers, though; see this November 20, 2019 piece from BuzzFeed, for example. And if you're still not convinced to take online reviews with a grain of salt, this November 28 article in the New York Times references not only Amazon but also other online retailers, and the ease with which their reviews can be manipulated. Caveat emptor!)
 
But since Amazon has reportedly taken steps in recent years to clean up their book review system, I'll take at face value the ratio of positive to negative reviews for this title until and unless I receive evidence to the contrary, keeping in mind that most of the positive reviewers seem to like the book chiefly because it reinforces their Trumpism and hatred of "liberals," rather than because of any deeper merits.
 

UPDATE: According to the November 28 New York Times piece I linked to above (here's that link again), Triggered had dropped to Number 2 among nonfiction books on the November 27 NYT bestseller list. Taking over the Number 1 spot was another Hachette Book Group release, A Warning, by Anonymous -- you know, that infamous book that depicts Junior's daddy as being totally unfit for office.
 
Among the few critical comments for Triggered on Amazon is this bit of constructive criticism:

XXX 2.0 out of 5 stars
This is simply not well written, regardless of whether you agree with it November 7, 2019 Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Whether you agree politically with the content of this book or not, it is impossible to look past the fact that it is very poorly written. It reads more like a rushed draft than a finished work, and it would have benefited from the input of an editor at any time during its production
[
or maybe a ghostwriter, like Daddy has always used. ~CC]. I will give it two stars instead of one as it does appear to be an honest attempt at writing by the author, but the author needs to understand in future attempts that even a mediocre book needs more effort and consideration than simply putting a lot of words in order.

... By the time a reader gets to the end of this book, they will have much more of an idea of who the author believes he is - and how the author feels about his father - than they will have any sort of new insight on its purported subjects.

Should the author write any more books, my suggestion would be to put more effort into their production and the depth of their content. This book as it stands attempts to rely on witty insults and attempts at humor to bridge the content together, but that content has no depth, provides no new or fresh insight, and is not presented in an organized manner. If readers want superficial content used as a vehicle to move cheap insults, they can get content of that quality for free just by reading the comments on any news article posted to Facebook. There is no real value gained by paying money to get that same caliber content out of this book.
Good recommendations, XXX, and I say this as someone who hasn't read Junior's entire book, but has read enough of the available excerpts to agree with the criticisms. But more than likely it doesn't matter, since ridiculously sub-par writing doesn't appear to be keeping the Trumpstruck masses from happily glugging down Junior's whine just like they do Daddy's. The more they drink, the drunker they get. And no doubt scads of them will stumble, tipsy on Trumpism, to the voting booths in November of next year. It's up to us sober folk to counter those votes with our own.


Related on this Whirled:
Related off-Whirled:
  • 16 April 2019: The Far Right Doesn't Want to Beat the Left; It Wants to Exterminate It
    Yes, this is an opinion piece and yes, it's from
    Pacific Standard, which has been rated by the Media Bias Fact Check site as having a left-centered bias, but -- and this is crucial -- the site was given a high rating for factual reporting. (Many conservatives will dismiss Pacific Standard because of its emphasis on social justice, which is a derisive term in some circles, but as far as I'm concerned, that's a plus.)
  • "Oh, poor boy, so sorry for himself..." A song to celebrate Don Jr.'s first official contribution to the Trump whinery.


* I should note that I am not accusing DJTJ of actual treason. Generally speaking I think that this accusation is far too widely used by both the right and the left, libs and cons, Dems and repubs. Seriously. But I rather like the alliteration of "Traitor Tot," and as you may know I'm a sucker for alliteration, which is one reason I named myself Cosmic Connie years ago. In any case, while DJTJ is probably no more traitor than I am cosmic, he's still a putz.

NOTE: This post has been amended several times since first published on November 22. Among other things I've added more information regarding the manipulation of Amazon reviews and other ways of gaming sales and promotion of books and other products; I've fleshed out several other points throughout the post; and have, with no insult whatsoever intended to a much-loved singer whose life was tragically cut short in 1974, embedded one of my favorite Nick Drake songs.
~ CC

Monday, November 18, 2019

The newest Trump card: just another grift, or another step down the road to fascism?



 As impeachment proceedings continue, #NotMyPresident aka #Dolt45 Donald J. Trump continues to go on the defensive and the offensive (mostly offensive). One of his latest gimmicks, launched earlier this month, is, in the view of some, both defensive and offensive. It's a personalized "Impeachment Defense Membership Card," which can be yours -- with your own name on it and everything! -- for the low, low price of only $35.

From Reuters, November 13, 2019:

The contrast between the president and the Democratic field is a sign that Trump is betting the Democratic-led congressional impeachment inquiry, which entered a new phase on Wednesday with public hearings, could help him win the November 2020 election. Public opinion polls show support for impeachment is concentrated among Democrats. [Duh]

Last Friday alone, the president sent out more than 400 Facebook ads asking for donations that would be rewarded with a personalized “Impeachment Defense Membership Card.”
Chauncey DeVega, a politics staff writer at Salon.com, sounded the alarm about the card in a November 14 essay. The teaser blurb declared that while Trump's "Impeachment Defense" team is a joke, Trump's true goal -- the dismantling of American democracy -- is no joke at all.

DeVega begins his essay by making note of some of Trump's smaller scams...

For example, Donald Trump continues to run contests where in exchange for an online donation he promises supporters that they can “win” an exclusive meal with him. Apparently, no one has ever received this prize.
Then he mentions the larger scams, such as Trump University and the Trump Foundation, two scams that ended up costing Trump many millions of dollars in settlements and punitive fines.

But one of Trump's most lucrative and ongoing cons, DeVega adds, is the "issuing of membership cards in exchange for campaign donations from his cult-like followers." In addition to the Facebook ads, the Impeachment Defense Membership Cards were announced in a dramatic campaign email sent the same week:

Friend,

Did you see the President’s email?

He’s calling on his fiercest, most loyal defenders to come together and stand firm against these nasty WITCH HUNTS from the Left and the Lamestream media.

As one of his strongest supporters, he was disappointed to see you hadn’t already activated your status as a Charter Member and ordered your
Official Impeachment Defense Membership card.

We haven’t shipped out the first round of membership cards yet because we wanted to give you ONE MORE CHANCE to become a CHARTER MEMBER and to get on the FIRST list that we send President Trump.

We are in the fight of our lives right now, and the President is counting on YOU to be there with him on the front lines of this nasty impeachment battle.

Remember, your card will be PERSONALIZED with your information on it so that you can proudly display it and show America that you stand with President Trump against the baseless Impeachment Scam!

The deadline to become a Charter Member is 11:59 PM TONIGHT, so you need to act NOW!

Please contribute $35 TODAY to get your Official Impeachment Defense Membership Card which will be PERSONALIZED with your name and Defense Member ID number.
DeVega continues:
Is this a grift? Absolutely. But it is also something much worse and far more dangerous. Trump is a lawless president who imagines himself to be a king or emperor who is above the law. In TrumpWorld, he is the state and nation. He is the law...

...Donald Trump’s “Official Impeachment Defense Membership Cards” are a loyalty oath, sworn by those who stand with Donald Trump against the rule of law, democracy, and the U.S. Constitution. By implication, Trump’s membership cards signify membership in a quasi-secret organization that deems itself superior to outsiders.
There's a lot more to the essay than that, and I think it's worth a read.

Unpresidential gimmick is not unprecedented
As DeVega insinuated in the piece cited above, this is not the first time that the Trump campaign has offered exclusive "membership cards" to people gullible enough to send him money. It's been done before.

Many of you may remember the Trump Gold Card, issued during the 2016 presidential campaign. Here's Ian Lang, writing in
an August 17, 2016 post on the askmen.com site:
When you think of Donald Trump, one word comes to mind: Deal. He opposes trade deals. He's gonna make deals. He wrote The Art of the Deal. But lest you think those are the extent of Trump's deal prowess, think again — he's also keen to offer fabulous deals to his friends and supporters.

Thanks to the Trump campaign text messages I signed up for that have never ceased to be a source of unintentional comedy, I
was recently notified that for the low, low price of $49 (a discount of over 75%!!), I could become a gold-card-carrying official member of Trump's campaign.
That link in the second paragraph of the snippet above no longer works. Fortunately Lang preserved the basic info for posterity, not only posting a screen grab from the Trump promo page, but also quoting the text in full:
Please know that not just anyone is eligible for Executive Membership. It’s a power, duty, and responsibility reserved only for those supporters who have displayed a steadfast commitment to our movement.

They will be the reason we WIN. And I want YOU to join them.

Contribute 
$200 $49 to become an Executive Member of the Donald J. Trump for President campaign.
Lang mulled the meaning of it all.
It's not clear what perks... come with being an Executive Member of Trump's campaign, nor are the restrictions for membership beyond "having $49" and knowing a bargain when you see one.
What is clear, however, is that the Trump campaign shamelessly used a ploy well-loved by hucksters everywhere: the fake discount, which arbitrarily listed a struck-through "regular price," followed by a "discount price." There was also the blatant appeal to a (profoundly misguided) sense of elitism and exclusivity, i.e., an attempt to convince potential donors that they were Very Special People. (Imprisoned serial scammer Kevin Trudeau, to cite just one example, took this popular scammer strategy to new lows a few years back with his massive Global Information Network (GIN) scheme, which he promoted as an exclusive club offering seekrit knowledge previously available only to the world's elite.) But that should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following Donald Trump's own Scamworld career, which has been documented by numerous journalists in recent years, but was first seriously lambasted by my pal Jason "Salty Droid" Jones.

Even the Trump U playbook drew on Scamworld traditions,
as I mentioned in a May 2016 Whirled post. The surprise would have been if Trump and his minions had run his political campaign in a non-scammy way.

One of the marks who fell for the Gold Card scheme ahead of the 2016 election was fake doctor/cancer quack/conspiracy fan/neo-Nazi/hopelessly devoted Trumpanzee
Leonard Coldwell. I made a brief graphic reference to Lenny's Gold Card purchase in an October 2016 post, but if you want more substantial proof than a composite photo-illustration created by someone who is clearly neither a Trump nor a Coldwell fan (which of course is putting it mildly), Lenny provided the proof himself. He boasted about his acquisition of this exclusive gem, and shared a picture of it, in a brief blog post on August 19, 2016, evidence of which you'll quickly see if you Google "dr. leonard coldwell gold trump card." Alas, if you follow the actual link, you will be met with the disappointing message:

No Results Found

The page you requested could not be found. Try refining your search, or use the navigation above to locate the post.
But Google Image results still display the card with LoonyC's name on it.

If you know anything about exclusive and elite people, however, you know that they are never satisfied and are always in search of something better. That's what makes them so elite, unlike all the rest of us loser sheeple. Accordingly, the Trump campaign came up with an even eliter and more exclusive card than the Gold Card in October 2016, as the campaign was coming down to the wire: the Limited Edition Trump Black Card. (And Trump has been lamely trying to play the black card ever since. But I digress.)

The Trump Black Card was more than likely a play on the American Express black card, the Centurion Card, for which, at the time the AdAge article linked to above was posted in October 2016, one had to pay a $7,500 initiation fee and a $2,500 annual fee. But an exclusively elite Trump supporter could obtain a Trump Black Card for a one-time donation of only $35.00 or more. The "more" part was definitely encouraged, and donors were also given the option to make it a monthly donation. The ad copy centered, not surprisingly, around attacks on Trump's opponent in the 2016 race.

Mr. Trump also uses indelicate language to suggest that the card signifies membership in a group that will menace Hillary Clinton: "You'll be on a team that will be sending a message to Crooked Hillary to watch out, that we're coming for her," Mr. Trump continues.
What the Black Card was at its core, though, was an indication of desperation as the campaign ran low on funds. On November 1, 2016, a week before the disastrous election that paved the way to the living-nightmare "reality" show in which we're now participating, the Vice.com site posted a piece by Harmon Leon, looking at Trump's increasingly unhinged fundraising emails. It traces the arc of Trump's campaign messages, from essentially optimistic and rah-rah to "apocalyptic."

Early in the campaign, as you may recall, Trump continually boasted about his wealth and the fact that since he was a gazillionaire, he was self-funding his campaign and couldn't be bought by special-interest groups and donors. Those of us who'd been paying attention knew he was full of it even then, but as the months went by, the money ran low, and the begging began. Harmon Leon wrote:

By the end of June [2016]... the press was reporting that the Trump campaign was dangerously low on cash. All of a sudden, the Trump of the emails went from being a man on an amazing journey to being a man on an amazing journey who wanted you to pay for it...

...Soon, the whole self-funding thing was forgotten. Trump is first and foremost a salesman, and soon his fundraising efforts—the MOST SUCCESSFUL fundraising in HISTORY, he reminded me—had baroque bells and whistles attached. In early August, I was being asked to become an Executive Member of his campaign with a Trump campaign Gold Card, which could be mine for a one-time induction fee of $100. Trump didn't really specify what perks you'd get with a Trump Gold Card—but I assume the card would confirm I hated ISIS and Hillary Clinton...
By August, Leon noted, Gold Cards were cheaper; you could now get one for only $35, down from $100.00. And, I might add, down from even the $49 price that was supposedly a discount from the original $200 price. I'm a little confused about what the "original" price was really supposed to be, but I guess it doesn't really matter, since more than likely those prices were made-up numbers anyway. I'm pretty sure that Loony Coldwell got his Gold Card at a fake discount, since it was fake-discounted in August, and that's when he posted about it.

Leon continued, noting that the Gold Card was replaced by the Black Card in October.

(...Trump didn't explain what the difference was between the Trump Gold Card and the Trump Black Card—but he implied that the Trump Black Card was of a higher status than the Trump Gold Card, which would make me really angry if I already invested in a goddamn Trump Gold Card...)

Oh, and I was also offered the chance to win a coffee with Ivanka Trump at Trump Tower, or lunch with Eric Trump. This is the sort of literal selling of access that is OK to do, I guess...
There's more, and I urge you to read the entire piece. In hindsight, though, and despite the implication at the end of Leon's article that Trump would lose the election, the unhinged fundraising campaigns did help push him to victory.

My point is that there's a definite precedent for the Impeachment Defense Membership Card gimmick. This is not the first time Trump supporters have been offered an "exclusive" card in exchange for forking over some of their hard-earned bucks.


So what's different now? Isn't this just another routine Trump grift?
Those are reasonable questions, as is the question of how the Impeachment Defense Card, as silly as it might be, differs from any campaign merch -- like a MAGA hat, a T-shirt, or, for that matter,
Elizabeth Warren's Billionaire Tears coffee mug.

As much of a fan as I am of Chauncey DeVega's writing, I think he sometimes errs a bit on the side of drama, to the point of alarmism. Even so, I think that, given the entire context of Trumpism, he's right to be a bit alarmed by this latest "membership card" scheme. I was pretty disturbed about it myself, which is why I'm writing this post.

Back in April of this year, when the Trump campaign was apparently reviving the Black Card, rebranding it as the Official 2019 Trump Executive Membership Card, DeVega wrote another alarm post for Salon.com,
"Echoes of history: Trump's 'movement' now has a uniform and membership cards." Granted, the "uniform" to which he alluded is at best an unofficial one: MAGA caps and the infamous tan khaki pants worn by so many of the "white supremacist hooligans in Charlottesville and elsewhere." DeVega said then, as he's saying now about the most recent Trump card, that these cards function "both as a loyalty oath and marker of belonging."

As per usual, the Trump campaign had promoted those "new" Executive Membership Cards with an email blast vilifying the liberals, the "witch hunt," and so forth, and employing the usual inflammatory language. DeVega put it in context:

When viewed in isolation Trump's messaging is dangerous enough: these are clear threats to America's democratic norms, an encouragement to political violence against liberals, nonwhites, LGBT people and other "enemies," and reinforcing a cult of personality led by a man who has contempt for American democracy and the Constitution, is clearly a pathological liar and is likely a malignant narcissist who is unmoored from reality.

When viewed in total, however, this fundraising email is something far worse. Trump is promising an authoritarian "national renewal" to his white supporters through a fake populism that nurtures feelings of grievance and victimhood -- feelings that can only be remedied through loyalty to the Great Leader and Dear Father...
And DeVega emphasized that this focus on "movement" above party was used by the Nazis and the Third Reich "to mobilize their base and its destructive energies."

This is not a mere foray into
Godwin's law territory. (For that matter, even Mike Godwin himself said that not every Nazi comparison breaks his famous rule. His declaration was a response to the 2017 Charlottesville awfulness. And even before that, back in 2015, he didn't categorically dismiss the Trump/Hitler comparisons. Not that Trump was particularly bothered, at least in 2015, to those Hitler analogies .)

In any case, DeVega, whose April essay I also urge you to read, is far from the only person who has compared Trump and America under GOP leadership with Hitler and Nazi Germany. In October 2018,
Christopher Browning, a respected historian specializing in the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, penned an essay for The New York Review of Books, noting "several troubling similarities and and one important but equally troubling difference" between then and now. Trump isn't the only culpable one in Browning's essay; Browning describes Mitch McConnell as "the gravedigger of American democracy." Browning is clearly worried about the legacy of Trumpism.
No matter how and when the Trump presidency ends, the specter of illiberalism will continue to haunt American politics. A highly politicized judiciary will remain, in which close Supreme Court decisions will be viewed by many as of dubious legitimacy, and future judicial appointments will be fiercely contested. The racial division, cultural conflict, and political polarization Trump has encouraged and intensified will be difficult to heal. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and uncontrolled campaign spending will continue to result in elections skewed in an unrepresentative and undemocratic direction. Growing income disparity will be extremely difficult to halt, much less reverse.
It's another essay that's well worth reading.

For those who defend Trump by saying that his fascist/authoritarian talk is "just rhetoric"... well, words can and do hurt, as Jonathan Chait pointed out in
a June 2019 essay in New York's Intelligencer section. Chait concludes his short piece with a swipe at right-wing double standards.
What is interesting is the way conservatives have used the largely rhetorical nature of Trump’s fascistic politics a defense. Trump can call the media “enemies of the people” all day long, and we should shrug because it’s just words. Fascist rhetoric is meaningless, but anti-fascist rhetoric is an outrageous slander. What reasonable case is there to hold the president of the United States to the lowest standard of any public official?
While left-leaning hyper-partisans often tend to err on the side of histrionics when it comes to anything involving Trump, and while I think that's a mistake, I also think that it's an even graver mistake to err on the side of accepting all of the disruption and destruction as "the new normal." Granted, politics has become ever more about tribalism in the past couple of decades, and more and more folks are donning partisan blinders and refusing to take them off. Trump didn't start that. But he has undoubtedly amplified and accelerated the process. Some insist that even political tribalism may have its limits, and that there still might be hope if people are willing to emerge from their social media echo chambers. Maybe so, but the problem is pretty complex, and is intertwined with cultural and religious as well as economic issues. That's a bit beyond the scope of this blog, or at least beyond the scope of a single post. 

As things stand now, I think that Chauncey DeVega and others who are sounding alarms are nailing it. Donald Trump's latest "membership cards" awarded to his "impeachment defense Army" may be just another gimmick, a Trumpian grift modeled on so many other Scamworld schemes. That's actually bad enough, or at least it's bad if you don't care for scams. But there's a larger and more disturbing context as well, and it goes far beyond the endless hawking of political merch, which is common enough these days and mostly harmless -- although, I should add, there's a valid case to be made that those infamous Trump MAGA caps aren't just campaign swag but are also symbols of hate and divisiveness. I hope I never reach the point where I accept the train wreck that is Trumpism as "normal."

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