Monday, July 1, 2019

Authoritarian motives and methods are in full display by Trump and his campaign.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: What’s unforgivable is [Trump’s] ignorance of, and hostility to, the principles that make America great. - Max Boot.

The motives

If Trump understands the function of a free press in a democracy, then this little tidbit suggests that he does not value it. Deadline.com (and other sources) reports that President Donald Trump To CNN: “None Of Your Business” On What He’ll Tell Putin.

Heading to Marine One on Wednesday, Trump was asked by CNN’s Sarah Westwood whether he will ask Putin “not to meddle in the 2020 election” when they meet.

Trump’s answer: “I’ll have a very good conversation with him. What I say to him is none of your business.”

Over the weekend, a Meet The Press interview raised essentially the same question. President Trump told host Chuck Todd that “I may” confront Putin on election interference.

And that’s not the most egregious of the Trumpian transgressions. Max boot, writing in the Washington Post, says that Trump just proved he doesn’t even know the meaning of America.

Oh, the cruel irony. President Trump is planning to turn the Fourth of July celebrations into his own “Salute to America.” And yet, while attending the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Trump made clear that he has no idea what America is all about.

Speaking of the free press …

Trump and Putin bonded over their shared antipathy to “fake news” — meaning accurate if embarrassing reporting. “You don’t have this problem in Russia,” Trump complained, “but we have it.” Of course they don’t have “this problem” in Russia, because they have no freedom of the press. Trump seems jealous that Putin can censor the press and kill journalists. The First Amendment — what a nuisance!

[DOTARD alert!]

Asked about his embrace of dictators, Trump told reporters, “I get along with a lot of people.” Not true. He doesn’t get along with America’s democratic allies. Before flying to Osaka, Trump complained that “Europe treats us worse than China” and even claimed that “European nations were set up to take advantage of the United States.” (How prescient of the Europeans to create their nations to take advantage of another country that did not yet exist.) In a telling comment, Trump said, “You have a woman in Europe, I won’t mention her name … she hates the United States perhaps worse than any person I’ve ever met.” He was apparently referring to Margrethe Vestager, the European Union antitrust chief. So he thinks Vestager is more anti-American than his pal Putin, who has actually attacked America.

Boot has more instances but you get the point I hope: Trump just does not believe in America. And he acts on those beliefs. Which brings us to what to expect from the 2020 campaign.

The methods

One of the things proved conclusively by the Mueller investigation is that the Russians spread disinformation throughout social media in an attempt to elect Trump in 2016. The latest thing in the 2020 race is that Trump’s campaign is doing that out in the open and bragging about it. Trump Consultant Is Trolling Democrats With Biden Site That Isn’t Biden’s reports the NY Times. The short of it: “Armed with bogus websites that mock leading candidates, a Trump campaign worker is exploiting tensions on the left with Russian-style disinformation. His targets have included former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Kamala Harris.”

AUSTIN, Tex. — For much of the last three months, the most popular Joseph R. Biden Jr. website has been a slick little piece of disinformation that is designed to look like the former vice president’s official campaign page, yet is most definitely not pro-Biden.

From top to bottom, the website, JoeBiden.info, breezily mocks the candidate in terms that would warm the heart of any Bernie Sanders supporter: There are GIFs of Mr. Biden touching women and girls, and blurbs about his less-than-liberal policy positions, including his opposition to court-ordered busing in the 1970s and his support for the Iraq war. Pull quotes highlight some of his more famous verbal gaffes, like his description of his future boss, Barack Obama, as “articulate and bright and clean.” The introductory text declares, “Uncle Joe is back and ready to take a hands-on approach to America’s problems!”

All the site says about its creator is buried in the fine print at the bottom of the page. The site, it says, is a political parody built and paid for “BY AN American citizen FOR American citizens,” and not the work of any campaign or political action committee.

There is indeed an American behind the website — that much is unambiguously true. But he is very much a political player, and a Republican one at that. His name is Patrick Mauldin, and he makes videos and other digital content for President Trump’s re-election campaign. Together with his brother Ryan, Mr. Mauldin also runs Vici Media Group, a Republican political consulting firm in Austin whose website opens with the line “We Kick” followed by the image of a donkey — the Democratic Party symbol often known by another, three-letter, name.

… in anonymously trying to exploit the fissures within the Democratic ranks — fissures that ran through this past week’s debates — Mr. Mauldin’s website hews far closer to the disinformation spread by Russian trolls in 2016 than typical political messaging. With nothing to indicate its creator’s motives or employer, the website offers a preview of what election experts and national security officials say Americans can expect to be bombarded with for the next year and a half: anonymous and hard-to-trace digital messaging spread by sophisticated political operatives whose aim is to sow discord through deceit. Trolling, that is, as a political strategy.

Mr. Mauldin, who has not been previously identified as the creator of the website, said he had built and paid for it on his own, and not for the Trump campaign. But the campaign knows about the websites, raising the prospect that the president’s re-election effort condoned what is, in essence, a disinformation operation run by one of its own.

In a testimonial on Vici’s website, Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s 2016 digital director and now his campaign manager, called Mr. Mauldin “an indispensable part of our digital operation” in the president’s first campaign.

People with ties to the re-election campaign, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because of nondisclosure agreements, said that Mr. Mauldin was brought back on retainer for the 2020 race.

So there it is. The 2020 Trump campaign is financing a Russian-style disinformation campaign. That Trump is OK with that suggests that he values authoritarian governments over democratic ones, and is willing to employ authoritarian methods to bring down our democracy.

The Mueller report might not have found collusion, but there is a collision looming between Donald J. Trump and the United States of America.

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