Fear–The Demagogue’s Friend

When people are afraid, they do unfortunate things.

As recent paper from the Brookings Institution points out, fear is a demagogue’s best friend. That’s why so many of Donald Trump’s actions in just the first few weeks of his disastrous presidency have been so dangerous.

President Trump’s Executive Order severely restricting visa-holders and refugees’ freedom to enter the United States is not only immoral and un-American—it’s also likely to fail on its own terms and lead to an increase in terrorist attacks against Americans. Yet if terrorism does increase, support for Trump and for harsh and self-defeating policies are likely to grow.

Although I doubt Trump is capable of that level of strategic planning, Actual-President Bannon clearly is.

The paper was written before several courts interrupted enforcement of the Order. As a number of observers have noted, should there be a terrorist attack during that interruption–or after the Order is finally invalidated, as I expect it will be–Trump has already telegraphed his intention to blame the courts and “so-called” judges.

The article reiterates many of the well-known criticisms of the Executive Order–the fact that zero terrorists have come from the countries subject to the ban, and –coincidentally, I’m sure (cough)–the countries that have produced terrorists and whose citizens weren’t banned happen to be countries where Trump has business interests; and the fact that refugee screening is exceptionally thorough, even draconian.

Refugees get the most scrutiny and Syrian refugees get the most scrutiny of all. So the vetting procedures are working. Refugees from other countries affected by the ban—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen—have been involved in few plots since 9/11.

In different ways, all these countries have a terrorism problem, but that’s not the same as saying that the people visiting America are terrorists. Indeed, residents of these countries know first-hand the evils of terrorism and loath the groups accordingly. Some of the fiercest anti-Communists came from Cubans fleeing Castro or Russians fleeing Stalin: should we be surprised that Muslims who experience evil firsthand have a visceral loathing of it too? If you don’t believe me, go to an Iranian-American neighborhood in Los Angeles and praise the Iran’s ayatollahs and see what happens.

As the article also points out, saying a country has a terrorism problem is  not the same as saying that the people visiting America from that country are terrorists. Quite the contrary: people who have experienced the evils of terrorism are the people most likely to hate and oppose them.

Some of the fiercest anti-Communists came from Cubans fleeing Castro or Russians fleeing Stalin: should we be surprised that Muslims who experience evil firsthand have a visceral loathing of it too? If you don’t believe me, go to an Iranian-American neighborhood in Los Angeles and praise the Iran’s ayatollahs and see what happens.

And there’s those pesky little things…I think they call them “facts”–that suggest most terrorist attacks in the U.S. come from home-grown, white right-wing extremists.

So we have alienated the allies around the world on whom we depend for intelligence information, we have sent a message to moderate Muslims that we make no distinction between the millions of peace-loving adherents of that religion and the radical fringe, and we have dramatically increased the likelihood of a terrorist attack that can only help Donald Trump.

The horrible reality, however, is that a terrorist attack, especially one at home, is likely to “prove” that Trump is right. Terrorists’ successes are always a bit random, but at least some low-level attacks would be likely regardless of who was president. Trump, however, ran a campaign of fear and dishonesty about the terrorism threat and the attitudes of U.S. Muslims (for example, the false claim that thousands of New Jersey Muslims cheered the 9/11 attacks). Polls show fears of terrorism were at near-record levels before the election despite the small number of attacks and deaths in the U.S. since 9/11, and this fear increased support for Trump’s candidacy.

Once an attack happens, Trump will probably tweet that he called for vigilance and tough measures only to be opposed by bleeding heart liberals, the failing New York Times, and Muslim-lovers naïve to the true danger. The fact that his policies made the attacks more likely will be lost in the uproar.

Nothing will please President Bannon more.


  1. Rational fear is a good thing. Irrational fear is not, and the far right has fermented irrational fear in this country for years via talk radio, extremist organizations, and the Republican Party. What is heartbreaking is that 30 to 40 percent of the population has apparently given themselves over to irrational thinking which is the foundation for irrational fear.

  2. MSNBC talking heads report that recent demonstrations against the new administration involve more people than Tea Party demonstrations against Obama in 2009. So what? Those anti-democratic forces had decades of experience in organizing. Today’s demonstrators have less than a decade of experience. The deck is stacked against the portion of ‘we the people’, supposedly the majority, who oppose the present administration, funded by too many billionaires. We do live in interesting times. Are the present-day demonstrators up to the task of returning to a decent society?

  3. Rachel Maddow interviewed the Washington state judge who headed the initial legal action to stop Trump’s ban on the immigrants and reported that Executive Order has been rescinded (is that the correct word) by Trump & Co. It is now officially dead and stinking; not legal language but applicable to the current situation. He has promised/threatened to rewrite and submit this hostile, dangerous, anti-Muslim, action in the near future.

    I have a two-part question which may be beside the point or pointing to another of his bigoted beliefs (his claim of being anti-anti-Semitic). I slept through the “press conference” yesterday and awoke to the actual “chaos” of newscasters, attorneys and politicians on both sides of the aisle trying to understand or uphold the nonsense. Seeing brief glimpses from the “press conference”, I noticed a tall ornate, gold or brass item standing behind Trump to his left. Was that an ornate candelabra or a menorah? Whatever it was; why was it there?

    How do we disprove Trump’s claims blaming “bleeding-heart liberals” and the media for past home-grown terrorist attacks and for those in the future? Trump’s “call for vigilance” in format of the ban to allow vetted immigrants to enter the country distracted from the problem of actual illegal immigrant criminals who continue to remain free.

    He further distracted the public attention with his claim that the ICE “roundups” are simply him fulfilling his campaign promise to rid the country of that danger from within. ICE reported the order to begin the “roundup” did NOT come from the White House. The Mayor of Los Angeles disputed the “fact” that criminals were those who were picked up when he reported a few caught in their “roundup” had no drivers license but the primary crime of those caught is their undocumented immigrant status.

    We are faced with having a two-faced presidency at this time; Trump/Bannon with Pence on the sidelines being prepared to take over the White House. Will Bannon allow the Pence takeover to happen?

  4. I think it’s sad but true. Judging from the running comments I read during YouTube’s presentation of yesterday’s “press conference”, there are many staunch defenders of Trump who are convinced that he can do NO wrong. Their “beliefs” are strongly correlated to their chosen news outlet and their willingness to accept news at face value. Apparently FOX News, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, et al are like heroin to some. They start acting like addicts too.

  5. A personal observation about the immigration ban: In my near east side neighborhood there is a large population of Hispanic immigrants. Until this past fall there were two abandoned houses on my block that we all hoped would be fixed up by someone. Hispanics apparently bought them and work started on cleaning and repairing. But since the immigration ban work has stopped and we have not seen the Hispanics. In fact, I now see fewer Hispanics anywhere in the neighborhood. Anyone else noticing this kind of things?

  6. Theresa; I haven’t been out and around my neighborhood to check the Hispanic homes here. Did anyone see any public notice about all undocumented immigrants fired by CVS? I have personal knowledge that this happened last Saturday.

    Did the “Day Without Immigrants” rallies across the country result in any arrests or “roundups”? I worried it was a ploy by ICE or Trump. Have personal “concerns” regarding participation in rallies, marches and protests turned to fear? We are moving closer and closer to Nazi Germany day-by-day; living in fear of our own government and fear of using our freedom of speech and religion. The freedom of the press is threatened repeatedly by Trump but I saw a post on Facebook that Fox News is reporting his lies and distortions regarding the media. Is that progress or a right-wing tactic to increase Fox News viewing audience?

    “Polls show fears of terrorism were at near-record levels before the election despite the small number of attacks and deaths in the U.S. since 9/11, and this fear increased support for Trump’s candidacy.”

    The above copied and pasted quote from Sheila’s blog states the same fear used by Nazis that caused the “good Germans” to turn a blind eye to what happened to their family, friends and neighbors and turned their full support to Adolph Hitler.

  7. The recent I.C.E. roundups are a result of another of 45’s Executive Orders. 45 says he’s getting rid of “bad hombres”. Those “bad hombres” include a mother, brought to this country as a 14 year old, who was guilty of wanting to go to work, another woman who filed a police report alleging domestic violence, who may have been turned in by her attacker, and many others who have been hard working members of our society. A report this morning states that only 74% of the new raids are targeting felons.

    In his press conference, 45 said he was doing what he promised. He’s right about that. It’s a good thing much of what he promised is unconstitutional. The scary part is those things that are not. God help us.

  8. Drumpf appears to have changed the terrorist formula so no white wingnut kristian can be charged as a terrorist. Only brown skinned people.

  9. Knowingly or unknowingly, Trump has set the stage for increased acts of terror in this country with his executive order that keeps Muslims out of the country, an order thankfully overturned by the court system for the moment, but one which has already done damage in the minds of those who are susceptible to becoming terrorists who already live in this country. One suspects a Bannon-Miller plot with his signature on this (probably) unconstitutional order after reading Bannon’s essay on destruction of the present order to be essential so that his “New World” order can take over not just this country but the world.

    Trump, of course, will sign off on any order if those proposing it tell him he is a good guy and brilliant given the narcissistic haze he inhabits and since he doesn’t read what he is signing anyway (witness his statement after putting Bannon on the National Security Council that he didn’t know that he had done that), an act he could reverse by removing Bannon from the Council but won’t because he is loath to admit that he ever makes mistakes.

    Yesterday’s press conference showed us a man still in campaign mode, perhaps because it is now time to govern and he doesn’t know how to do it. He mentioned the name Clinton eleven times. He continued his assault on the media. He blamed leakers rather than the content of what was being leaked as the culprits. He defended Flynn after firing him. I think it is time in view of all these disconnects from reality that we quit trying to fit them into some logical pattern in our world and recognize that he lives in another world where what he is saying makes perfect sense given his narcissistic impairment.

    I think it is not too early to take a hard look at the 25th Amendment to remove this disturbed man from office, or perhaps simultaneously to file a bipartisan bill of impeachment in the House calling for his removal from office on several grounds. It is important to remove him from office for other good reasons than those cited in any such move to impeach, chief of which would be the removal of fascist and neo-Nazi advisers who currently surround the throne. Too early? When if ever is it too early to save our democracy?

  10. It’s nice to notice that several of your participants watched yesterday’s press conference presided over by Fake President Donald Trump. The press is inclined to believe one of Trump’s claims … that the White House is being run like a well-oiled machine. The machine is Eli Whitney’s cotton gin. Very impressive.

  11. JoAnn:
    The somewhat small “Day Without Immigrants” protest gathering in downtown Tucson in front of the Federal Building resulted in the Tucson Police using pepper spray on and arresting a “few” demonstrators yesterday afternoon. The 3 local Tucson T.V. evening news shows all covered it with reporters and cameras on the scene.

    What was maddening was that none of the T.V. — so called — reporters were able to coherently explain what led to the arrests. They related that the protest had been peaceful, but when the protestors started to march across the street some form of “chaos broke out.” Then the police started using pepper spray and making some arrests.

    But just exactly what this “chaos” amounted to, and whether it was instigated by the protestors or by a police response to their marching across the street didn’t seem to be of any interest to or concern of the reporters. They just seemed to be happy to have some local excitement to show on T.V. (I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on the T.V. news here. Tucson is a very small T.V. market. Most of the street reporters are very young, and for many it’s obviously their first actual T.V. news job. Many don’t seem to be able to put a coherent sentence together no matter what they’re reporting on. If they’re any good, they don’t stay in Tucson very long.}

    Somewhat surprised it happened here. The TPD has a fairly good history when it comes to treating illegal immigrants fairly. TPD resisted, to the extent it could, enforcing the worst aspects of Arizona’s infamous anti-immigrant laws, and the current Police Chief has publicly stated that he would prefer not to have the TPD dragged into Trump’s immigration round-ups. Have to see whether the local “newspaper” has any better reporting. Unlikely since they have few reporters left.

  12. One of the things that’s ingrained in my soul by science and engineering is the flow of cause and effect and the importance of following that backwards to root cause. Where the problem begins. In a democracy that should lead to the electorate which in the case of these times has done a terribly stupid thing.

    However my sense is the there’s even a more fundamental failure that caused the electorate to regress and devolve and that is the GOP.

    There have over a few decades moved themselves into a political sweet spot at the expense of their ability to govern by appealing to the lowest common denominator. They are masterful manipulators of Murdoch media.

    Who’s at that epicentre? Steve Bannon.

    Trump may well be a puppet rather than a naked king. The GOP happened to be in the political sweet spot when it was first conquered by Trump on his way to the whole country.

    Quietly pulling the media strings that empowered the GOP and Trump was Bannon. The lowest common denominator.

    Conspiracy theory? Possibly. But also possibly not.

  13. Mayday! Mayday! A piece on the internet says that Trump is considering an 11-page proposal to call out the national guard to arrest illegals for deportation! Apparently ICE and local law authorities are not up to the task, so he may be going to call out the storm troopers. Storm troopers today and the gestapo for us regular folks tomorrow. Gotta have law and order, you know. If we let him pull this one, who can know what else is in store for us? Martial law?

  14. Gerald,

    “Mayday! Mayday! A piece on the internet says that Trump is considering an 11-page proposal to call out the national guard to arrest illegals for deportation!”

    Response to your distress call from an ex-participant: “Captain Stinson,” as a naval veteran of W.W. II, you should have known better to venture into neo-Fascist controlled waters without the advantage of SONAR. Now, you’re sinking with all hands aboard.

  15. The local news station just reported that DT was considering an order calling out 100,000 National Guard troops to “assist” with the immigration roundup he promised. Are there people in charge of the National Guard who have consciences and who understand that what he is doing is in complete disregard of the oath both he and they take:
    ““I, ________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and of the State of ______ against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to them; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the Governor of ______ and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to law and regulations. So help me God.”
    The assumption of that oath is that the President and Governor have taken that same oath to support and defend the Constitutions of the state and nation.
    Could governors preempt the callout by doing one of their own?

  16. Gerald,

    “Marv-Noted, though I was not a captain.”

    I believe you would make a great captain [if you had the advantage of sonar[. There were few captains in W.W. II in their teens or early 20’s as you must have been.

    You need a new ship with advanced sonar.

  17. Gerald and JD; this is Trump’s second threat to use military action to go against American citizens and unprotected immigrants…legal and illegal. He doesn’t care which category they fit in or IF they fit in either. His threat to send federal troops to Chicago to resolve their crime rate was the beginning of his threats of “boots on the ground” in our own country. His question regarding “can we just nuke ’em?” didn’t work, so he “walked back” the issue using his “alternative facts” to threaten us. His pissing contest could be connected to those Russian “golden showers” which were quickly hidden from the public but show his low class mental level. He is pushing to force violence in our streets; forgetting that the Republican’s over-protection of the 2nd Amendment supporters have armed residents better than local police and the National Guard. He could get more than he bargained for with his threats; people are getting fed up and may not wait for him to “shoot first and take names later”.

  18. Marv – I also note that you did not respond to my suggestion that you drop the ex from the ex-participant in your earlier note. How ’bout it? I have an honorable discharge from the Coast Guard dated in 1945. Like Trump, I was a draft dodger but via a different route. He dodged the draft for educational purposes and bad feet; I dodged it by volunteering at age 17 since I couldn’t be drafted until I was 18. I begged, threatened and cajoled my parents to “sign the papers, and they finally did. I told them I wanted to go kill Hitler but was instead sent to the South Pacific with my target half a globe away. I found that “coast” includes other coasts, like New Guinea, the Admiralties, the Palaus and others, but as you suggest, I was not a captain. I was what we called a “deck ape,” charged with watching for submarines and planes and steering the ship while at sea, and painting it in port when off sea watch. I am scheduled to be 90 in less than a month, the father of four, a WASP, a lifelong liberal and a widower. My wife was a university professor who had the brains in the family while I hold degrees in economics and political science and law. With this thumbnail sketch, you (and my fellow commentors) know something more than you did about this old blogger, but where we have been is not nearly so important as where we are headed with our democracy hanging by a thread.

  19. Gerald,

    It’s best that I keep the “ex.” I can’t afford any longer to participate. I also have a military background. Wars are not fought by consensus. They are usually fought and won by the side with the best intelligence ability.

  20. “Let us be vigilant but not afraid.” President Barack Obama, Farewell address, 2017

  21. He also said, “Don’t boo, vote.”

    That will also be good advice in 2020; Trump begins his reelection for president campaign tomorrow. And we thought it couldn’t get any crazier.

    AP and others reported Trump threatened to deploy the National Guard to perform “roundup” because ICE appears unable to do this. Sean Spicer reported that Trump did not make that statement. Could he have been following Kellyanne’s advice, “Don’t pay attention to what President Trump says, see what is in his heart.”?

  22. Games are being played on you, folks. To discredit the media couldn’t the Trump “leak” a false story about calling up the national guard. Media writes story and calls White House for a comment. They refuse to give one. Media runs story anyway. White House then claims it is all lies made up by media. White House looks like victim.

    I doubt we will see Trump run again in 2020. It will be Pence if the powers behind the scene have their way.

  23. In response to the rumors about Bannon/Trump calling out State National Guard units to enforce Federal immigration laws, I did a little quick research into a President’s power and authority to “federalize” National Guard troops to enforce civil laws in the States without the authorization of Congress or the consent of the Governors of the States from which the Guard troops have been federalized and are deployed in to enforce civil law.

    In very truncated form and over-simplified, there are a number of exceptions, which have been rarely used, to the Posse Comitatus Act, which makes it illegal for Federal troops, including “Federalized” National Guard units, to enforce civil law. Also the Insurrection Act permits the use of Federal troops to enforce civil laws in response to insurrections and other “civil disturbances.”

    Under the Insurrection Act, there are two sections in particular, 332 & 333, that give a President sole authority, without the consent of State Governors or the action of Congress, to use Federal Troops, including the National Guard, “to suppress in a State any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination or conspiracy” under some circumstances. Historically, this power has been considered to be only appropriately used “to ensure citizens are provided with the protections of the Federal Constitution or statutory law when the ‘constituted authorities of that State are unable” to enforce State and/or Federal law.” (Quotes are from a law review article by Michael Greenberger a U of Maryland law professor).

    (Professor Greenberger also points out there are provisions in the Homeland Security Act and a 2007 Amendment to the Insurrection Act also provide authority in some circumstances for the use of Federal Troops to enforce civil laws).

    These exceptions have been used by prior Presidents such as Eisenhower, Johnson, and Bush to “Federalize” National Guard troops to quell rioting, or civil upheaval in specific States.

    IMO, enforcing “Federal” immigration laws wouldn’t come within the purview of protecting citizens’ Federal Constitutional rights, or that the States’ law enforcement entities are unable to enforce State and/or Federal law. Immigration law is particularly a matter for the Federal government, not State or local authorities, to enforce. If the State and local authorities can’t enforce the Federal immigration laws, it’s because they aren’t suppose to. The Feds are. But of course, that’s only my opinion.

    The bottom line is the Bannon/Trump Presidency could order National Guard troops “federalized” to help round up and deport illegal immigrants. Hopefully the Courts would rule that such an order was outside the exceptions to the Posse Comitatus Act and the Insurrection Act and therefore illegal. If the courts do rule it is illegal, we will see if Bannon/Trump will stand down and obey the courts. Wouldn’t want to bet too much on that.

  24. I’m thinking of a name of another person of historical record that used troops to round up immigrants for deportation. That name eludes me. It is Hi t-something. Help me out.

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