Roaming Charges: the Return of Assassination Politics

After Trump stumbled his way through a torpid speech on the economy in Detroit earlier this week I thought it was safe to finally turn off the TV. The wild man had been tamed and domesticated by his handlers. His Twitter account had been blocked and his Android locked away in Paul Manafort’s vault, along with the contact sheets from a few of Melania’s raciest photoshoots and her first green card.

Alas, it was not to be. My brief cable detox was interrupted when Trump went rogue again, upping the ante with a Henry II moment.

Henry was the Trump of his time, a tempestuous, bombastic and brutal English monarch who demanded absolute loyalty from his subjects, friends and family. When his former whoring partner, Thomas Becket, who Henry had elevated to Archbishop of Canterbury, defied Henry’s secular authority, the King, in the words of the French playwright Jean Anouilh, whispered to his courtiers, “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?”

A few weeks later, on December 29, 1170, the body of Becket lay slain on the floor of Canterbury Cathedral, murdered by four of Henry’s goons. Henry, of course, feigned remorse, saying the assassins had taken him out of context.

So it was that Trump, speaking in Wilmington, North Carolina, archly soliloquized: “Hillary wants to abolish — essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know. But I tell you what, that will be a horrible day.” He said this with a rather unambiguous shrug of his shoulders and a devilish wink. Trump being Trump.

Of course, Hillary being Hillary had already said something even creepier during the waning days of the 2008 campaign against Barack Obama. By March the primary campaign seemed to be over. Obama had all but secured the nomination, yet Clinton continued to contest each primary, winning many of them, weakening Obama and deepening fissions in the party. During an interview with Richard Stengel, managing editor of TIME magazine, Hillary was asked why she was staying in the race. “I think people have short memories. Primary contests used to last a lot longer,” Hillary said. “We all remember the great tragedy of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June in L.A.”

I find the iciness of Hillary’s pronouncement much more ominous than Trump’s ad lib. Trump was obviously joking, tastelessly as usual. Hillary obviously wasn’t.

Of course, you never know what is going to set someone off. The recently released John Hinkley, Jr. was fueled by an all-consuming obsession with Jodi Foster to go gunning at Ronald Reagan and his entourage in 1981.

More to the point, here’s a story that Alexander Cockburn used to tell about his friend Andrew Kopkind, the great radical journalist.  In the spring of 1968 a Palestinian Christian named Sirhan Sirhan, never a particularly political person, read a piece by Kopkind describing Robert Kennedy’s courtship of American Jewish voters and donors. Kennedy had disparaged his opponent Eugene McCarthy for being too indulgent toward the aspirations of the Palestinians. Kopkind also reported that Kennedy had pledged to push through the sale of US F-4 Phantom jets to the Israeli Defense Forces.  After reading Kopkind’s piece, Sirhan inscribed “RFK must die!” in his diary. On the night of June 5th, Sirhan took his Iver-Cadet 22 calibre pistol to the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles and shot Kennedy three times as the senator was talking to a dishwasher. Sirhan later told David Frost: “My only connection with Robert Kennedy was his sole support of Israel and his deliberate attempt to send those 50 bombers to Israel to obviously do harm to the Palestinians.”

Sanders Buys His Dream House

On Tuesday afternoon, my friend Michael Colby, the fearless environmental activist in Vermont, sent me news that Bernie Sanders had just purchased a new waterfront house on in North Hero, Vermont. I linked to the story on my Facebook page, quipping that Bernie had cashed in on the Revolution that he had betrayed, citing as evidence the purchase of a third house for the Sanders family, a lakefront summer dacha for $600,000. This ignited a firestorm on Zuckerburg’s internet playpen. People noted that Bernie and Jane lived a penurious existence, surviving on coupons and the kindness of strangers, and the house was just a cramped four-bedroom fishing shack on a cold icy lake with hardly any heat–a place so forsaken even the Iroquois of old wouldn’t camp there–which they were only able to afford because Jane sold her dead parents’ house. I said there might be more to the story, like the fact that Bernie had signed a book deal (ala the Clintons) where he would tell the story of his Glorious Revolution (which ended up with him dumping his foot soldiers into the vaults of the very machine they were warring against.) And guess what? I was right. Coming in November to a bookstore near you….Our Revolution by Thomas Dunne Books.

The love for Bernie is truly blind. It’s also touching. I’ve never seen Leftists defend the purchase of $600,000 lakefront summer homes with such tenacity!

Speaking of books, I just finished scribbling an introduction to a little collection of our reporting on the Sanders Revolution. (St. Bernard and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution, available soon from CounterPunch Books). I wrote that: the important thing to understand about the Bernie supporters is that few of them are part of the underclass. They aren’t the losers and outsiders in American society. They aren’t the homeless or the street urchins. Bernie was not our political Dickens. He preached a socialism for the Middle Class. The Sandernistas are largely young adults who have enough status in the culture to have a credit score and to have accumulated towering mounds of debt.

Perhaps that’s one reason the Sandernistas are so sensitive to the plight of Bernie and Jane being able to handle paying off three big mortgages in their dotage….

Arguing rationally with some of the most devoted Sandernista deader-enders is like debating the merits of the Theory of Punctuated Equilibrium with a docent at the Creation Museum. All of this is yet more proof for Alexander Cockburn’s old adage that “when prophecy fails, it only draws many of the adherents even closer to the prophet.” If Bernie Sanders asked his followers to join him for a weekend retreat on Lake Champlain and then demanded that they put on black sweat suits (with $27 stuffed in their pockets) and Nikes and drink a mixture of apple juice, phenobaritol and Vodka, I’m pretty about 38 percent of them would follow him all the way down. (See the Heaven’s Gate Cult).

One of Sanders’ most ardent defenders Jon Nelson, unleashed my favorite non sequitur of the week, asking indignantly about the Green Party (I think): “What does making artisanal tofu and selling it at farmer’s markets have to do with revolution?”

Jon, is there an Artisanal Tofu Revolutionary Cadre that I’ve somehow missed? If they stick to their principles and don’t surrender to the Twice-Cooked Pork Coalition, then I’m all for them….

By the way, the median cost of homes sold in North Hero, Vermont so far this year is $189,000.

Khizr Khan and the Big Tent

In his latest interview with Chris Hayes, Khizr Khan reveals that he was close friends with Lee Atwater, the racist GOP strategist. It looks like all of the old Reaganites are now snugly inside of Hillary’s Big Tent. For those of you too young to recall Atwater’s demonic brand of politics. He’s the guy who taught the Republicans how to court the vote of white supremacists without “appearing” racists themselves. (Hayes, of course, being “All In With Her,” didn’t pause to ask Khan about the nature of his relationship to the architect of Reagan’s “Southern Strategy.”)

Here is Atwater unfiltered, bragging to Alexander Lamis, a political scientist at Case Western Reserve University. At the time, Atwater was working in the Reagan White House:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

Lamis taped the interview. You can listen to the racist rant of Khan’s pal, the man who constructed the Big Tent theory of politics here.

Out Damned Emails!

A new cache of emails has emerged courtesy of the Clintons’ old nemesis Judicial Watch, showing how quickly Clinton Foundation flacks circled the State Department seeking favors and contracts for their noxious clients, none more malign than Gilbert Chagoury, the Lebanese-Nigerian developer and big Clinton donor who was seeking access to Jeffrey Feltman, the former ambassador to Lebanon. These malign emails showing how access was auctioned off at Foggy Bottom were largely submerge by the wall-to-wall coverage of Trump’s self-inflicted wounds.

Remember when Bernie gallantly leapt to Hill’s defense and declared in the very first debate that the American people (did he poll you?) don’t care about “those damned emails”? That was the moment the “Revolution” died…

Speaking of assassination, Julian Assange had better take cover. One of Hillary’s longtime advisors, Bob Beckle, has called for Assange to be killed before he leaks more embarrassing documents. “There’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a bitch,” Beckle fumed live on FoxNews.

Not a Sheepdog, After All

Fulfilling his pledge to Hillary, Bernie Sanders took to the pages of the Los Angeles Times to plead with his followers to get behind Clinton as the one person who could “unite the country” against Trump.

In the wake of this pathetic capitulation to the Queen of Chaos, our Australian Shepard, Boomer, drafted an Open Letter on behalf of all sheepdogs renouncing any association with Bernie Sanders. One of the signatories (a Blue Healer from Brentwood) swore, however, that she saw Sander’s head popping out of Paris Hilton’s handbag…

A friend lamented the fact that all of the fun and spirit had gone out of the election campaign since Sanders was “neutralized.” Was Bernie neutralized? I thought that Bernie neutralized himself. And it was hard to watch. Like an x-rated episode of Nip/Tuck.

Pence’s Global Fence

Mike Pence is sounding more militant than Trump these days. He’s also sounding like he means it. In an interview with Wisconsin talk radio host Charlie Sykes, Pence suggested that Trump’s plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States might not have been a muscular enough policy to protect the homeland.

“I think what you heard in the convention speech from Donald Trump, what we’ve talked about out on the stump, is that we would temporarily suspend from countries, or territories if you will — the caliphate of ISIS obviously expands beyond one country,” Pence said. “But to say that individuals that come from regions or countries that have been compromised by terrorism would, that we would suspend that immigration, I think that’s appropriate until we develop a new vetting system.”

So other suspect religious sects should be cautious. Among those likely to be turned away at the border by a Trump/Pence administration: Zoroastrians, Hare Krishnas, Buddhists (self-immolating, sub-sect), Sikhs, Catholics (Workers, Div.,) Wiccans, Quakers, and, of course, the greatest threat of all, the Unitarian Universalists….

The African Plant

A recent NBC news poll shows that 72 percent of registered Republicans still aren’t sure whether Barack Obama was born in the United States. It wasn’t clear from the poll data how many Republicans consider Hawai’i part of the US. Let’s cut them a break and assume that most of them recognize the legitimacy of the Islands of Aloha.

I’m a little sympathetic to their theory. In fact, I’m “all in” for a US President who was secretly born on the African continent. But don’t you think the Kenyans could have come up with a better plant than Obama?

Sign Patrol

Last night Boomer the Aussie and I walked by the Clackamas County, Oregon Republican Headquarters on our evening constitutional. There wasn’t a single Trump sign or sticker in any window. There is, however, one Trump yard sign on our block, which has been repeatedly pelted with tomatoes and eggs, perhaps by the Ukrainians in the neighborhood unamused by Trump’s views on Crimea. The man, who claims to be a former Air Force pilot who bombed villages in Vietnam, keeps it upright, battered but still standing, sort of like Trump Tower after scarred but still standing after the assault by that climber from Great Falls.

Smog Alert

Bruce Levine is one of the country’s most acclaimed psychotherapists. A few years ago, I was honored to blurb his great book, Get Up, Stand Up. In his new essay for CounterPunch, Levine, who has a deep understanding of both Jung and Freud, pierces through the smog of psychological mystification being pumped out by the Lesser Evil Voting claque. Required reading to calm the nerves of recent defectors from the Democratic Party .

Myths We Create in Order to Sleep at Night

This week we also published a terrific piece by John LaForge, which demolishes once and for one of America’s most cherished lies: that the US simply had to drop two nuclear bombs on Japanese cities to end the war and save hundreds of thousands of US and Japanese lies. Even Curtis “Mad Bomber” LeMay knew this was bullshit. So did Ike, who sent word to Truman that he thought the plan was insane. You can see why the myth took root. What nation that sees itself a force of goodness and virtue and humanity could live with itself after incinerating two cities and unleashing nuclear terror upon the world?

To the Tumbrils!

The Obama administration continues to recklessly ramp up its Cold War-era rhetoric against Russia. This week Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James, told FoxNews that Russia is America’s most dangerous adversary.  “Russia is,” James warned, “an existential threat to the United States.”

Apologies to my hero Jean-Paul Sartre (and the Mekons, see below), but it’s far past time to toss the word “existential” into the tumbril toward the Guillotine. It has lost all meaning…Knit on, Madame DeFarge.

Spooks in the Grindhouse

It seems like I’ve known Nicholas Schou forever, though we just pressed flesh for the first time last year in the LBC. His ground-breaking reporting on the Contra-Cocaine network in southern California was crucial source material for a book that Cockburn and I wrote called Whiteout. Nick’s own book on Gary Webb is excellent and it was turned into a fine movie, Kill the Messenger. Now Nick has published a new book, Spooked, a terrific and timely history of how the CIA manipulates the media and Hollywood (both useful idiots of the Agency). And, speaking of the devil, here Nick is telling us all about it in the latest installment of CounterPunch Radio with the indefatigable Eric Draitser.

Restored Trash

Multiple Maniacs and Mondo Trasho are my favorite movie directed by the great John Waters. Multiple Maniacs has just been re-released in a glorious new print from Criterion Films. No American actors ever surpassed the magnificent performances of Mink Stole and Divine. These films weren’t “camp”, they were a dark, vicious hysterical form of satire, all the more immediate for being shot in 16 millimeter. “Multiple Maniacs” contains one of the wildest scenes in American cinema, a scene worthy of Buñuel,  involving Divine and a Lobster. If you watch Waters’ early films and The Wire you’ll have a pretty good feel for what it was like to live in Baltimore, one of the America’s weirdest cities, in the 70s and 80s. I almost miss it every now and then…

The Last Band That Matters

The Mekons have been one of the seminal bands of my life, never static, always forging new ground, keeping just ahead of the times, like the great existentialist rockers & artists they are. I’m really proud to have gotten to know Sally Timms and Jon Langford over the years, both of whom have contributed to CounterPunch. It should, thus, come as no surprise to any connoisseurs of their music that they would finally release a project called Existentialism, which is both a book and a CD, each playing off of the other. Does the Beat proceed the Word or the Word the Beat? (Only Sartre or Lu Edmonds would know for sure.) The book is enlivened by a Joycean ramble by my pal Martin Billheimer. The project has only one potential flaw: my own bewildering contribution. But that shouldn’t discourage you from picking up a copy from Bloodshot Records when the CD/Book is released on, save that date, One September. (Or pre-order here.)

We Few, We Happy Few, We Happy Militants

“Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable.” —Michel Foucault

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Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3