From Attorney General Jeff Sessions to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, many of Trump’s key administration members are far-right-wing figures who are seeking to dismantle the very agencies that they have been picked to head. For more on this right-wing revolution, we speak with longtime activist and journalist Allan Nairn.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Our guest for the hour is investigative journalist Allan Nairn. I wanted to play for you, Allan, just a few clips, excerpts of not Fox, but of MSNBC and CNN introducing their guests.
JOY–ANN REID: Joining me now, MSNBC contributor Malcolm Nance and former CIA analyst Fred Fleitz.
ERIN BURNETT: The former CIA counterterrorism official Phil Mudd.
ANA CABRERA: I’m joined by former CIA undercover operative Lindsay Moran.
HALLIE JACKSON: Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the CIA and Department of Defense and an MSNBC national security analyst.
AMY GOODMAN: So there you have just a couple people, some of the hosts, introducing their commentators on not Fox, but CNN and MSNBC—FBI, CIA, military, increasingly populating the pundit classes on the airwaves.
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah, many liberals are relying on authoritarian institutions to save them from the authoritarian, authoritarian institutions like the CIA, FBI, Pentagon. If you come from one of those places, you have a better chance of getting on, say, MSNBC than you do if you’re an activist.
AMY GOODMAN: So what about what’s happening today in the media? What about the coverage that we’re seeing and what’s happening? You talk about a rightist revolution taking place. The main thrust of CNN and MSNBC, a number of liberals—this is not Fox, which was talking a lot about how much President Trump has accomplished—in the six-month mark that we just passed, they were saying something like that he’s tweeted 900-something times, passed no laws and only got one Supreme Court justice, that basically no laws—nothing has happened. He’s a do-nothing, speak-everything president. You feel very differently about this.
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah. First, they have a radical agenda to roll back, essentially, all social progress.
AMY GOODMAN: The Trump administration.
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, the Trump administration and also the very radical Republican Party, which now controls both houses of Congress and 34 governorships and state legislatures. And they’ve already done a lot. I mean, Trump has an executive order demanding that two regulations, on things like health, safety, labor rights, air pollution, water pollution—everything you can imagine—get revoked for every new one that’s put in. They’re allowing institutions like Sinclair Broadcasting, which had an actual financial deal, exchange, with the Trump campaign, a radical right-wing outfit, to expand their TV station holdings nationwide to twice the level that would usually be allowed under the regulatory regime.
There’s many steps that are being taken that are not going to be rolled back, even if there is a change in administration. Even if you got, you know, a left-wing president, once Sinclair takes over ownership of those stations, they’re not going to—there’s no piece of paper they can sign to roll that back. Many of these actions they’re taking have—are either very difficult to reverse or they are irreversible, like death. You know, the various estimates about the repeal of Obamacare perhaps causing 28,000 deaths, 43,000 deaths, that’s not even to mention the amount of deaths that are occurring, the tens of thousands that are occurring, because of our failure, day by day, to implement a full coverage, as under single payer. You know, these consequences are irreversible. And they’re not—they haven’t achieved nearly as much as they could, because of Trump’s craziness. But they are moving.
And they are seeking to take advantage of the fact that the U.S. system is much less democratic than many people realize. There are a series of levers that can be used to overcome democracy, ranging from the Electoral College to a Senate system where a minority of voters have a vast—a large majority of senators, to congressional and state legislative-level gerrymandering, to the possibility of voter suppression, to the House and Senate rules which allow you to block a bill even if it has big support from a majority of the senators or House members. The only way to overcome these structural obstacles is through a mass wave of democratic participation, a grassroots surge. And that’s why they’re so interested in voter suppression, because they want to block that. They want to shrink the pool of voters to be dominated by their supporters.
AMY GOODMAN: So, if the media were covering these issues—let’s talk about what the media is covering. If you turn on MSNBC or you turn on CNN and you go away for an hour or two and you come back, you might think that you had put it on hold and that you just—they were just completing a sentence. And it’s invariably about Russia. Talk about the coverage.
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah, for many months, you’ve seen like an 80/20 ratio of coverage, Russia/other matters. And I think the fact that the press has done that and that many liberals have let these two commercial outfits, CNN and MSNBC, largely dominate, set their political agenda, that’s one reason why Trump’s approval rating is as high as it is, you know, in the mid to high thirties.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re saying it’s high because of their Russia coverage, their contention that—
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah, I think if the ratio were reversed and you were giving 20 percent coverage to Russia, 80 percent to the actual substantive acts of Trump and the Republican Congress and the Republican governors, I think Trump’s rating would be down in the twenties, because the fact—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, now it’s only at 33 percent.
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah, because the facts are so outrageous. But because of the structural levers that the right has—now has control over on every front, because of the structural advantages, I—my own personal guess is if the Trump-Clinton election were rerun today, if the congressional elections were held today, I think Trump would squeak out another win. I think the Republicans would lose seats but narrowly retain control of Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: A lot of people must be shocked when you say this.
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: On the hand, when you look at the special elections that have taken place—
ALLAN NAIRN: Look at the predictions before the general election, you know. And Trump, during the general election campaign, Trump’s approval ratings were often lower than they are right now. But it shouldn’t even be close. If the press were hammering away at the substance of what this rightist revolution is doing, they would be wiped out electorally.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the fact that they’re saying a foreign power intervened in this election to Trump’s advantage?
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, the basic allegation is that Russia used U.S.-style election meddling against the U.S. Because that’s half of the mission of the CIA since the CIA was created, to intervene in foreign elections and foreign governments. There was one academic study that cited 81 cases of such intervention just between the end of World War II and the year 2000. Personally, my guess is, yeah, Russia probably did do an intervention like that. But even if the charges are true, even if Russia was the source of the WikiLeaks material and they sent in all the false news through bots, that would have—you could say that that tipped the election, because in such a close Electoral College election, any one of a dozen factors can be said to tip the election. But it would be impossible to make a legitimate case that such Russia intervention had more impact than, say, voter suppression, where, if you look at the voter suppression impact in the swing states that swung it to Trump, those numbers vastly, like in Wisconsin, for example, vastly outweigh Trump’s winning margin. So, if instead of that 80 percent of coverage being on Russia, had it been on, say, voter suppression, Kobach and the state—Republican state legislators, who have introduced a hundred voter suppression bills across the country, they wouldn’t be able to get away with it. They’d be—they’d be back on their heels.
AMY GOODMAN: We just have two minutes, and I want to go way back in time. I want to ask you about Attorney General Jeff Sessions. During an October 2015 radio interview with Steve Bannon, when he was a radio talk show host, then-Senator Jeff Sessions praised the Immigration Act of 1924, whose chief author in the House once declared it was intended to end indiscriminate acceptance of all races.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: In seven years, we’ll have the highest percentage of Americans non-native-born since the founding of the republic. And some people think, well, we’ve always had these numbers, but it’s not so. This is very unusual. It’s a radical change. And, in fact, when the numbers reached about this high in 1924, the president and Congress changed the policy, and it slowed down immigration significantly. And we then assimilated through the 1965 and created, really, the solid middle class of America, with assimilated immigrants. And it was good for America. And then we passed this law that went far beyond what anybody realized in 1965, and we’re on a path now to surge far past what the situation was in 1924.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Jeff Sessions speaking to Steve Bannon on his radio show in 2015, now attorney general really cracking down on voter rights and immigrants in this country.
ALLAN NAIRN: Right. The Trump immigration policy, as announced by Miller the other day, is inspired by the Immigration Act of 1924 and the white—the old White Australia policy. The 1924 act grew out the U.S. eugenics movement, which was pushed by the top academics at U.S. universities, and it claimed to be based on merit. They were using standardized test results to argue, at that time, in 1924, that Nordics and Aryans were intellectually superior, and the U.S.. had to exclude what they called the inferior races, who at that time they defined as Italians, Eastern Europeans, Africans, Asians and Jews. This led to the passage of the 1924 Immigration Act. And also the eugenics movement inspired things like forced sterilization laws. When the Nazis did their Nuremberg racial laws, they specifically cited these U.S. measures as a large part of their inspiration. I wrote—
AMY GOODMAN: The immigration law of 1924.
ALLAN NAIRN: And the eugenics—the broader eugenics movement. I did a chapter on this in the report I did years ago for Nader on the Educational Testing Service.
AMY GOODMAN: Called The Reign of ETS: The Corporation That…
ALLAN NAIRN: That Makes Up Minds, yeah. And that’s what Sessions and Miller and Trump are proposing again. But the key is, as Miller was talking about the other day, he was saying, “Oh, this will be immigration based on merit.” That’s exactly what they were saying in 1924, because the basic claim is Aryan whites have more merit.
AMY GOODMAN: And Steve Miller—
ALLAN NAIRN: Bogus then, bogus now.
AMY GOODMAN: Now Steve Miller is being considered—Stephen Miller—to be the communications chief.
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah, well, he does communicate their message, in a sense.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Our guest for the hour is the longtime investigative journalist Allan Nairn. Allan, you were talking about a rightist revolution that is taking place right now. While President Trump speaks from his vacation home, his golf resort in Bedminster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is flying to Guam, making a surprise trip there. He said this was a very good week for the U.S. and the international community. As the tension with North Korea escalates, there’s actually no U.S. ambassador to South Korea, there’s no secretary of Asian Pacific affairs, there’s no secretary of East Asian affairs. Can you talk about the significance of this?
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, Trump says—and he’s said it repeatedly—that the world is exploiting the U.S., rather than the other way around. And maybe he believes that. If he believes that, then it makes sense to dismantle the instruments, the institutions that connect the U.S. to the rest of the world, the instruments of U.S. power and U.S. exploitation, like the State Department. And he is dismantling the State Department to a significant extent. It’s remarkable. He’s looking to slash their budget by more than a third.
This comes from several places: one, that view of Trump; two, the fact that he is leading, in government, a coalition of various extreme-rightist factions—the Koch brothers types, the Chamber of Commerce types, the racists, the neofascists, all sorts of different groups. One of them is a group that’s ideologically descended from the old John Birch Society, which has always viewed the U.N. and the State Department as inherently evil. And they have managed to, in a sense, get control of State Department policy.
And that push dovetails with the efforts of the right-wing deficit hawks who want to slash the U.S. budget overall. Now, they face—the Republicans face a deep problem in Congress, because, on the one hand, they want to slash spending, but, on the other hand, they want to massively expand the Pentagon budget. The solution, up to now—started during the Reagan years—has been to cut domestic discretionary spending and try to slash Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but that’s becoming much more difficult now because of the grassroots activism, which is—which is fighting that. So, the State Department becomes a natural target, and they’re gutting it.
And this is one of the things that drives the establishment crazy, because the State Department is an instrument of U.S. power, and Trump is in the process of tearing it up. There’s actually—there’s a very relevant quote from Edward Gibbon, the historian, in his book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and he’s talking about the empire in the second century. And he says, “They endeavored to convince mankind that their motive was not the temptation of conquest but was actuated by the love of order and justice.” You could say the exact same thing about the U.S. today, what the U.S. today says to the world. But Trump comes along and says, “Oh, yeah, it is about conquest. We want to take Iraq’s oil. We want to take Afghanistan’s minerals.” And, you know, that really damages U.S. power, because it upsets people. They talk about the polls, which show a decline in world opinion of the U.S. That’s actually world opinion getting more realistic vis-à-vis the U.S. The basic Trump doctrine in international affairs is more violence, less hypocrisy; less talk about democracy, human rights, more straight-up violence. And the world is seeing this. And it makes—it has the long-term effect of potentially making the U.S. less of a player.
AMY GOODMAN: Specifically, what does it mean not to have ambassadors in the world? And interestingly, the role of Rex Tillerson, who sometimes looks like he’s the restraining force on President Trump, this former CEO of the largest private oil corporation in the world, ExxonMobil, though he, too—what are his intentions for the State Department?
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, it’s kind of remarkable, because he has embraced the White House project of dismantling his own agency, the State Department. Now, there are others, like Pruitt at EPA, who 14 times had filed suit against the EPA and has always been saying publicly he wants to kill it. That’s his mission in life. And now Trump gave him the opportunity to go inside and kill it. Tillerson doesn’t come from that kind of background. Tillerson, in a sense, had his own private government, when he was running ExxonMobil. But now he’s embraced the idea of undermining his own agency. But at the same time, he seems to recognize the aspects of Trump’s rhetoric that make it harder for the U.S. to hold its power internationally.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, is there anything that says—there’s a good deal of discussion saying, you know, what many people thought were laws were actually just norms that Trump is violating. That there should be embassies, is there anything to say, in every country? I mean, maybe the next step would be you don’t have ambassadors in different places. You know, you just have U.S. corporations acting as U.S. ambassadors in different places. They set their own rules.