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Let's talk about authoritarianism

"It Can't Happen Here" is on Amazon's best seller list. The ACLU is raising record amounts of $$. Charles Koch is warning of "tremendous danger." Citizens are at airports protesting a travel ban. Political scientists are raising alarms. Meanwhile, administration officials are attacking the press and lower-level government staffers are erasing basic facts from federal web sites.

Something is going on.

Liberal panic? Or something more? Partly it's
fear of an authoritarian drift in America -- a fear that President Trump is causing an erosion of American democratic norms. This edition of the newsletter explores these concerns in depth. I'm not presuming anything -- I see many differences between what's happening in this country and what has happened elsewhere -- but I want to assess why smarter people than I are using the A word.

Kellyanne Conway wants media heads to roll

Email from a newsroom leader on Sunday afternoon: "This is authoritarianism." The veteran journalist was forwarding along Kellyanne Conway's comments on "Fox News Sunday." Conway has been complaining for months that news outlets haven't sacked journalists and commentators who underestimated and criticized Trump. Sunday was her starkest statement yet.

Via The Hill: 
"Who's cleaning house? Which one is going to be the first network to get rid of these people, who said things that just were not true?" She went on: "People should feel embarrassed. Not one network person has been let go. Not one silly political analyst and pundit who talked smack all day long about Donald Trump has been let go."

Turkish journalist: "I have seen this movie before"

"Whenever I look what President Trump and his team are doing here in the U.S., I'm like, 'Wait a second. I have seen this movie before.' It's all familiar to us," Turkish journalist Mahir Zeynalov told me on Sunday's "Reliable Sources."

"And I'm not talking about a country like Iran or China, where autocrats are crushing or strangulating the media. I'm talking about Turkey, a country that was somehow democratic a decade ago, with a somewhat independent media, and now turning into a state where there's at least one journalist being put behind bars since last summer, on average, every day. And if there's anyone who is saying that this cannot happen here in the United States, they are significantly underestimating how leaders, including in democratic countries, can undermine media freedom, and, with that, democracy."

Hold on, I said, we're not seeing journalists getting locked up here. "Well, obviously, we have very strong institutional mechanisms here," Zeynalov said. "We have very strong and independent judiciary here in the United States. But -- we had that in Turkey too. This is how it starts..."

ACLU's record breaking weekend

This weekend the ACLU -- which says it's battling the "authoritarian designs of the Trump administration" -- raised an astonishing amount of money while fighting the Trump admin in court. At deadline time Sunday night, a spokesman emailed, "We did one last run of numbers for the weekend's online giving: 356,306 donations. $24,164,691. Wow."

The civil liberties group normally raises about $4 million online per YEAR...

Charles Koch's warning

I mentioned conservative billionaire Charles Koch up above. Koch held a semi-annual conference this weekend, and The AP's Steve Peoples was there: Charles Koch "did not mention Trump by name Sunday as he warned that the nation is facing a moment of 'tremendous danger.' He said the nation could 'go the authoritarian route ... or we can move toward a free and open society. So this is our opportunity.'"

 -- Per National Review's Jim Geraghty, who was also there, libertarian author and AEI scholar Charles Murray said at the conference, "We see an environment that is fertile for authoritarianism in the United States now.”

"It will get worse"

Bush admin official and longtime Trump critic Eliot Cohen's new essay for The Atlantic is a must-read. While he doesn't use the A word, he says Trump's behavior "will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him."

"It will probably end in calamity—substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have," Cohen writes. "It will not be surprising in the slightest if his term ends not in four or in eight years, but sooner, with impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment. The sooner Americans get used to these likelihoods, the better." He also predicts "more efforts at personal retribution" against journalists... 

Who's saying it

 -- Van Jones at the #WomensMarch last weekend: “We have a president who seems to be an authoritarian..."

 -- NYU historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat in this op-ed: "Trump is following the authoritarian playbook..."

 -- Margaret Sullivan in her latest column: "The stakes are high" right now. "When trust weakens in core institutions, authoritarian government can get a foothold..."

 -- Seth Meyers on his late-night show: "Trump's hostility toward the press is the kind of thing you usually see in authoritarian regime..."

A view from Europe

Christopher Dickey in Paris on MSNBC Sunday morning: "Well, not to put too fine a point on it, I think people here generally, and especially people in European governments, think Trump has lost his mind and that the United States government is rapidly moving out of any kind of control, any kind of stability that's been known in the past. I think people are really genuinely worried. The people who are really enthusiastic about this are, for instance, the hard liners in Iran; the leaders of the so-called Islamic State; they think this is just great because they see America as an idea being undermined hugely by Trump's policies and they also see the basic chaos in the way the country is running as he tries to act like an autocrat in what has traditionally been a genuine democracy. I think that's the general reaction."


Matthew MacWilliams, the founder of a political comms firm, wrote this for Politico Mag almost exactly one year ago: "I've found a single statistically significant variable predicts whether a voter supports Trump—and it's not race, income or education levels: It’s authoritarianism. That’s right, Trump’s electoral strength—and his staying power—have been buoyed, above all, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations..."
Now let's go out to Hollywood...

The SAG Awards get political

Lisa France reports: From "Scandal" star Kerry Washington explaining that actors are activists to Ashton Kutcher declaring "I am a citizen of the world," Hollywood did not shy away from what was on the mind of many in attendance -- President Trump's travel ban. Kutcher greeted "everyone in airports that belong in my America... Sarah Paulson encouraged donations to the ACLU... and Julia Louis-Dreyfus said "Because I love this country I am horrified by its blemishes. The immigrant ban is a blemish and un-American." Read more from Lisa here...

 -- Plus: Here's the complete winners list...

The new normal at award shows

Brian Lowry emails: To those who might be inclined to tell artists to shut up and sing or act, Sunday night offered a concerted rejoinder, subjecting President Trump to rebukes that ranged from mockery to more sober indictments to stirring statements about unity and how recent government actions are antithetical to American values.

Whatever you think about the politics expressed at the SAG Awards, it was clearly about something, with people passionately voicing objections to Trump administration policies. And for now on the show-business awards circuit, that looks like the new normal... 

Iranian filmmaker unable to attend the Oscars

"I regret to announce via this statement that I have decided to not attend the Academy Awards Ceremony alongside my fellow members of the cinematic community," Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director of "The Salesman," said Sunday. His film is up for the best foreign language film award. Farhadi wanted to be at the Oscars next month, but the travel ban has blocked him... Read his full statement here... For background, here's my story...
Trump and the travel ban
When's the last time you saw swarms of protesters at airports? This unusual visual, the "spectacle," helped to make this weekend's anti-travel ban protests even more newsworthy. CNN and MSNBC added hours of special live coverage. Did our cable news-watching president see any of it? Did he hear the protesters outside the White House on Sunday? Maybe we'll find out on Monday...

Trump aide calls it "small"

On Sunday night Trump aide Stephen Miller told Fox's Jeanine Pirro that the protests are a "small reaction from a small number of people that is outside the amount of coverage that it's getting." The pictures tell a bigger story...

Covering both opponents AND supporters

TV bookers had a hard time booking GOP congressmen to talk about the Trump administration's moves. I said on "Reliable Sources" that the public's views about admitting refugees and foreign nationals are probably more evenly split than the news coverage suggested. For one thing, opponents of the travel ban are much more vocal right now than supporters. But a recent Quinnipiac poll showed 48% approval for "suspending" immigration. On the show, Reuters editor in chief Stephen Adler said it's "newsworthy to see how it affected individuals, but it's also newsworthy to see how it played outside of media elites, outside of the big cities. And I think that's one of the places where sometimes media falls short."

To that point...

Here's how the travel ban is playing in conservative media circles

"In the conservative media that has been most supportive of Trump... the executive orders have been received as tough and necessary, and a source of irritation for all of the right people," WashPost's Dave Weigel writes. He notes that some of the coverage on Fox News has been about alleged "media overreach..."

 -- ICYMI: A great story in the NYT about how "ultraconservative" sites promote misleading stories about Muslim refugees...

Bannon's power

Amid a weekend of headlines like "How Steve Bannon Took Charge Of The Trump Administration," I had a chance to interview Joel Pollak, a senior editor-at-large at Bannon's former site Breitbart News. Breitbart, an outsider web site, is now suddenly on the inside of the White House. I thought the conversation was fascinating... You can watch the whole thing here... 

 -- Related: Monday's NYT says Bannon "oversaw the writing" of the travel ban order... Bannon "saw barring refugees as vital to shoring up Mr. Trump’s political base," and was "determined to make it happen..."


Faulty information, faulty conclusions

What I asked on Sunday's show: Where is Trump getting his ideas about dangerous immigrants? The way I see it, this all comes back to media consumption and Trump's sources of info -- what he's hearing, what he's reading, who he's talking with. A few days after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, while on the campaign trail, Trump called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S. until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on." For months afterward, he told an untrue story about "many, many people" knowing about the attackers' plans ahead of time. He said they saw "bombs on the floor" of the apartment. There is no evidence to support this claim, which originated in second-hand info from local TV. Trump essentially received faulty information and reached faulty conclusions, and then he told the story over and over again, stoking fear about Muslims.

Over the weekend, according to CNN's Athena Jones, the White House justified the ban by citing the San Bernardino attack, even though, quoting Jones here, "neither of the attackers in the shooting would have been affected by the new ban..."

"Facts and Myths About Refugees" deleted 

On the show, I urged viewers to log on to and look for the page titled "Facts and Myths About Refugees" so they'd see that the page is gone. This State Department fact sheet -- detailing intensive security checks for refugees -- was deleted a few days ago.

Every new administration revises web sites, but the disappearance of a page like this underscores why so many people are concerned about a Trump administration "clamp down on communications" (that's what the WSJ called it).

 -- BTW: After the show, I learned that the Democrats on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs have preserved the State Dept fact-sheet here...

"It Can't Happen Here" joins "1984" atop Amazon's chart 

The Sinclair Lewis novel "It Can't Happen Here," about a gradual fascist takeover of the U.S., joined George Orwell's "1984" on Amazon's best seller list over the weekend. It's been at #4 since midday Saturday...

Lower down on the book seller's list are the dystopian classics "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood, "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley, "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury, and "Animal Farm," also by Orwell. Trump's "The Art of the Deal" is also on the list... Details here...

Sunday's top tweets...

Sarah Frier: "Every journalist, no matter the beat, covers politics now" ... Gideon Resnick: "All the voter fraud bs trump stuff feels like it happened years ago" ... Laura Ingraham hopes Trump "skips" the W.H. Correspondents Dinner ... Newsbusters says "Trump seems to be proving again that our 'mainstream' media gets hysterical in the defense of Muslims. Not for persecuted Christians" ... Oliver Darcy: "The lines between journalism/activism are really blurring — and we are only entering week 2 of Trump presidency" ... Sarah Palin: "Media is SEVERELY UNHINGED today" ... Jason Abbruzzese: "Blaming the media starting to feel like the only thing left in the playbook"
Media week ahead calendar
Tuesday after the bell: Apple announces earnings...
Thursday, noon ET: The "Reliable Sources" livecast, with guest Matt Taibbi, on
Thursday evening: HBO holds a "Girls" final season premiere party...
Sunday: The Super Bowl! Including a Bill O'Reilly interview with POTUS...
Trump and the media

"An aspiring media mogul..."

Derek Thompson's op-ed in the NYT Sunday Review is a must read: He says "Trump is not just a president who is unusually obsessed with media. He is an aspiring media mogul who happens to be president." Thought-provoking piece...

And speaking of the NYT...

Trump slams the paper again. Why?

On Saturday morning Trump called the NYT "fake news" and said the paper's subscriber #'s are "dwindling." The paper responded by saying that subscriber #'s are at "at all-time highs."

On Sunday morning he weighed in again, saying "somebody with aptitude and conviction should buy the FAKE NEWS and failing @nytimes and either run it correctly or let it fold with dignity!"

What triggered Sunday's tweet? Maybe it was David Barstow's piece on Page One about the "torrent of bogus claims that gushed" from President Trump on week one... 

Taking him literally

NBC's Ali Vitali tweets about the travel ban: "Exec orders like this match pretty closely with what Trump advocated on trail. Which is why reporters took him literally then -- and still should..."

"Neutrality" versus "fairness"

A stand-out part of Sunday's "Reliable Sources:" Lydia Polgreen, the EIC of HuffPost, said this travel ban story is about something "fundamental to our identity as Americans."

I had asked whether it's possible for journalists to achieve "neutrality" while covering it. Her answer: "How can someone be neutral or dispassionate" when "you have colleagues whose family members escaped the Holocaust or escaped oppression in Eastern Europe during the Cold War? I think it's a little bit unreasonable to think that journalists are not going to have skin in the game." She seemed to agree with "On the Media" co-host Brooke Gladstone, who said "I don't know that neutrality, any more than objectivity, is possible. But fairness, of course, is always possible. And bringing a wide variety of views is also possible..."

Michael Flynn's son deletes his Twitter account after saying it is a "Muslim ban"

On Saturday, Jake Tapper noted on Twitter that Michael Flynn Jr., "son and former top aide of National Security Adviser @GenFlynn," is calling the exec order a "Muslim ban, despite GOP insistence it isn't a Muslim ban..." The junior Flynn repeatedly used the #MuslimBan hashtag.

One day later, an update: Flynn "apparently deleted his Twitter account on Sunday," per TPM's Esme Cribb...
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