After Miller’s Mega-Lies, time to rev back up the Reality Based Community

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Stephen Miller, a snot-nosed kid with a bad attitude, advertised as White House senior policy adviser, delivered himself of some stern jeremiads on Sunday on Meet the Press, along with many Big Lies of which Josef Goebbels would be jealous.

It is dreary to see a Republican White House once again fall into the clutches of grandiose fantasists and drooling conspiracy theorists. We saw this with Karl Rove and Irv “Scooter” Libby in the Bush years. The arrogance, the big globe-straddling ambitions, the spit in the face of average people, and above all the Big Lie. What is it about today’s Republican Party that drives it into the arms of high-end hucksters and confidence men? Maybe it’s the cognitive dissonance of being a servant to the .01% but pretending to want to help average folks.

After denouncing the third branch of government, given powers of legislative review by the Constitution, Miller said:

“our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

We have seen these unimaginative scenarios so many times. The media as the enemy (you can’t outdo tricky Dick Nixon on that one). The whole world having to be impressed. Have you *met* any French people? Believe me, Stephen, they aren’t impressed. They can’t get past those ears, and wonder what happened to your hair. And we haven’t even gotten to your boss. And, then, sigh, the unquestioned power of the president. What’s the matter, “unitary executive” too hard for you to say?

Then there were Miller’s Giga-lies about undocumented people voting in the millions. Or maybe they are tera-lies. A lot of bytes go into a lie that huuuje.

But it is banal and ennui-inducing by now. We’ve been there, done that. We had to form a whole new internet group the last time, the “Reality-Based Community.” I guess it is time to dust back off that comment section from 2004.

The key quote that kicked off the Community appeared in an article by Ron Suskind on October 17, 2004 in the New York Times entitled, “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush.” It is said that the Bush administration official who delivered himself of this famous quote was stragegist Karl Rove, who connived at a Permanent Republican Majority and urged a war on Iraq as a way to make sure George W. Bush got to be a two-term president (the longer in office, the more money to be made). So this is what is attributed to him:

““We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Rove did not mean to admit that he is detached from reality, any more than Kellyanne Conway intended to admit that she maintains a whole warehouse of alternative facts. Rove meant to say that George W. Bush had a big ol’ reality-creation machine on the back of his flatbed truck, and when you ran it, why it tinkered with dimensional space and made things turn out right for rich old cranky white men.

As for being an empire, no. The days of empire are over with. The “natives” or “wily oriental gentleman” as the Victorians called them all seem to have C4 plastic explosives now, if not, as with Pakistan and India and China, hundreds of nuclear warheads. Sticky wicket, old man, wot? Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf in Iraq, an elderly Iranian gentleman, pushed you and George around like the paper tigers you were, and he even did it nonviolently. Other impudent imperial subjects regularly blew up the poor 18-year-olds you sent over there to do God knows what. Since you were so big on turning Iraq into a shining beacon on the hill, I hear they need a good electoral consultant in Falluja these days, and maybe you’d be so kind as to volunteer?

In other words, that reality creation machine on W’s flatbed truck was on the blink. So it got Rove and Bush into an Iraq War that is still going on and will cost us $6 trillion and which even other Republicans won’t stand behind. It deregulated the hell out of Wall Street and so sent the big investment banks right to Gehenna, along with millions of mortgages, leaving average people so impoverished that a lot of them are still drinking themselves to death or hanging themselves in the closet over it. And then your attempt to punish Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame for questioning your phony cover story of Iraqi nuclear weapons (“WMD”) got your aide Scooter Libby in big doodoo. Very judicious doodoo. And your climate denialism will drown your great grandchildren, or give them heat stroke. See if you can please re-set that particular reality you created with 5-6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year from our one country.

So yes, Karl, I get to study what you wrought to the universe, and the resets and the twists and turns. I even wrote a whole book, Engaging the Muslim World, about what you got wrong in one part of the globe. There are lots of such books to be written. We writers will write them for a long time. But alas reality is a harsh mistress and doesn’t like to be fucked with. Guess what happens to people who try to create an alternate reality?

I don’t even understand the ambition. Reality is all we have to hold on to. We shouldn’t want to mess with it. But it is just as well, since even “empires” can’t. Especially when the whole idea of empire is past its expiration date and smells like a pile of two-week-old corpses.

And I see your whippersnapper of a protegé, Mr. Miller, out before the cameras just like you were 13 years ago, strutting like a meerkat that caught a cobra by the tail, and lying his bony ass off. Brings a tear to my eye. Not nostalgia. It’s just, I know how this movie ends.


Related video:

ABC: “Stephen Miller on Immigration Order Next Steps: ‘All Options Are on The Table'”

25 Responses

  1. No matter what one thinks about the policies of the new administration, it is not clear why so many members of this administration are so angry, arrogant and obnoxious. It really seems that they live in a parallel universe and believe that they are not subject to the same rules as everyone else. This is dangerous.

    • That’s pretty much the standard characteristics of those White men who have spent their lives believing that they are the only beings of any value and shouldn’t have to share power with anyone different. We’re pretty used to them in America. And sometimes they win and cost America another half-century or more of social progress.

  2. Perhaps inadvertently you mentioned the “.01%”, which is a point often missed. Those that these guys serve, in fact, are even more rare.

  3. As I watched his propaganda performance I began to wonder when I had experienced something similar before. That soon came to me: the candidacy of Governor Wallace [1]. What happened with Wallace was that he knew in advance what the press would ask him because the press always asked him the same questions. Miller may not have been interviewed often but from studying the questions that were asked other Trump spokespersons he knew what was coming. Like Wallace he gave the same answers every time.
    This all makes me wonder what the so-called “talking heads” have staffs for. The staffs ought to come up with at least one question which Miller has never faced.
    [1] I do not suggest that Miller is a racist because I do not know.

  4. Thanks, Juan, for watching this and giving me the run-down. I’ve had it with listening to the administration liars on the various talk and “news” shows, we just skip over them hoping for something better later on. I’ve had it with Kelleyanne, Sean and now this guy.

    I have better things to do in the few years remaining to me than listen to liars.

  5. I thought you were being too harsh on Miller until I saw the video you included. He is so obviously an authoritarian personality he might as well be wearing a sign. His statements on alleged voter fraud are especially egregious. The sad thing is that millions of Americans actually fall for this stuff. If nothing else, the fact that fake news got shared more on social media in the last week of the campaign than real news should be disturbing to all concerned Americans. The big lie works with a major segment of our population.

  6. Juan, please collect all your posts on Trump and publish in a book.

    Also, we need to pass some laws on age requirements for senior advisors. What’s up with these adolescents, Stephen Miller (yes, he makes a typical snot nosed kid with a big attitude), Jared Kushner, Ivanka, etc. effecting lives of billions of people. If someone is a “senior” advisor, he or she should be at 45 or above or they need Congress to pass an exemption saying that the person is a genius.

  7. Bannon, Miller, Conway. An incredible group. Every White House probably has someone over the to[p on something, but there has never been anything like this group. They obviously are out there because they are saying what Trump wants heard. Pence is a total right wing ideologue, but in the traditional Republican sense and that makes him the sanest voice in the room for a change. It is scary to think that these people make up these facts to suit their purposes. What is even more scary is the thought that they may actually believe them.

  8. I have been wondering for how long this country can be run on egregious lies and still remain governable without the wheels coming completely off. We may soon see. Honestly, you can’t run on the dishonest claim that trickle-down economics works in conjunction with massive deregulation – do people not remember ’08?

    Nor can you run on the lie that global warming is a hoax – we will be crushed by other countries when it comes to green energy. Nor can you run the country on the lie of vouchers for medical care or social security; younger voters will find this out when – even more than now – they can no longer afford a house or car or simple weekend away because of the economic burden of taking care of elderly parents. Nor can you run the country on the lie of racism and terror and without immigration, unless you want to limit the talent pool in just about every profession. Nor can you falsely govern it based on the disrespect of science and the university system unless you just don’t give a damn about research in everything from cancer to the computer chip – and again, our competitiveness in all of the potential associated fields. Nor can you run it on the lie that women are inferior to men – a criminal waste of half the talent of a given country.

    Nor can you run it on the lie of fear. There comes a point at which we will end up seriously backward, seriously behind our rivals. The only thing that will be left is the shreds and patches of a country, in which service workers peep about the huge legs of billionaires to find themselves dishonorable graves. But this has been a long time coming – lies or political dynamics that lead us into unnecessary wars, legislative capture by Wall Street, a supine media, individuals befuddled by stupid cultural issues to the point where they vote against their own interest, we know all this. The question is at what point will this no longer hold? Will there be a breaking point?

  9. It seems to me that Trump, Bannon, Miller et. al. have adopted a singularly outrageously ambitious and legally improper approach to governing: using every means to challenge the other branches of government.

    That is, we know that the American judiciary system and Congress take time to investigate as well as place checks and boundaries on the Executive Branch. And even with a legal win against Team Trump, who is going to ensure the laws are enforced? Hundreds of people with Green cards were still forced to spend long hours in airports or were still forced to leave the U.S. even after by a temporary stay was issued against Trump’s Executive Order by a judges.

    It’s worth comparing Trump with Nixon. Sadly, however, most Americans, including scholars, have completely misunderstood Nixon’s Watergate crisis. Nixon’s “enemies list” essentially targeted other elites, that is, people who could fight back. And they did. That is the reason why Nixon’s lies and behavior caused a constitutional crisis that was only resolved by Nixon’s resignation. But in Nixon’s paid interview with British talk show host David Frost, he unabashedly admitted that “When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal,” a claim for the unmitigated and absolute power of the Presidency.

    So, Bannon, in his attempts to surpass Karl Rove, has initiated a multifrontal attack on all of the federal agencies (e.g. hiring people who are either incompetent or who plan to dismantle the fundamental objectives of the agencies they head); and by empowering police forces who will be less likely to alter the use of aggressive tactics against minorities and anyone considered Arab or Muslim (they aren’t known for understanding the distinction between Arabic speakers and Muslims). This will occur through the further militarization of police forces and by eradicating community-police force initiatives.

    What will elevate these policy shifts and funding increases to a coordinated policy is Jeff Sessions, our newly (and shamefully) confirmed Attorney General who will allow the Justice Department (including the FBI) to engage in activities aimed to prevent peaceful demonstrations and will aggressively target human right groups and civil society organizations who believe in democratic action, these new enemies who have the audacity to engage in direct action and civil disobedience because they believe in the Bill of Rights and Constitutional protections.

    But laws are hypothetical injunctions and offer notional protections. Enforcing even minor laws does not occur with great frequency; and if the objective is to create Executive Orders and redirect government agencies to abandon their foundational principles, these actions will overwhelm the Judiciary branch.

    Furthermore, such actions will create massive chaos within Congress as elected officials scramble to deal with a population determined to make their voices heard and force Congress to response to demands that have the weight of established law to support them (even if the dominant Republican party tries to allow Trump to prevail despite countervailing forces determined to consistently challenge Trump and thereby reduce his popularity even more.

    It seems clear to me that Trump is on the offensive and our mainstream news media have not yet found a way to stymie the massive amount of lies and the overwhelming penchant of Trump’s senior staff to create misdirection.

    Already, people with permanent residency (Green card holders) and with visas allowing them to remain in the U.S. for study, work, holidays, etc., feel worried. Ethnic minorities will find it much harder to legally vote when they are harassed (as was the case in many areas with high numbers of minorities during the Nov. 2016 Presidential election).

    Many people, including the venerable “Democracy Now” program suggested that Trump didn’t seem to understand that Frederick Douglas was no longer alive. But I think Trump deliberately sought to undermine Douglas by suggesting “he’s getting more and more recognition” as a means of suggesting Douglas doesn’t really need to be recognized or isn’t all that important. link to

    Trump’s team might in fact demolish much of our functioning federal agencies and his contradictory domestic policies (such as the much derided Muslim ban as Trump advisor Rudi Guiliani defended with a hint of cynical pride on Fox News when Trump and his team repeatedly denied without any shame or sense of regret other than being overruled by judges who weren’t convinced by the government’s expressed rationale). link to

    But Trump’s team will flounder on foreign policy. Regrettably, the power of the U.S. State Dept. has been secondary to the misnamed Dept. of Defense (misnamed because most of what Pentagon employees and especially top officials dedicate their efforts towards is weapons procurement and weapons transfer/sales as well as maintaining at least 900 military bases in over 100 countries — and not worrying about protecting the United States and its overseas territories as would be the case with say, the Ministers of Defense for nearly every other country in the world except the UK.

    So, Trump’s foreign policy is already heading towards a nasty collision caused by direct conflicts of interests among our allies in the Middle East (Israel, Iraq, Egypt, the Gulf States and Turkey) while concurrently attempting to forge relations with Russia, a country now politically aligned with Syria, Iran and China.

    And if North Korea is such a worry, then China is essential for preventing further recklessness by their leader; yet Trump’s team seems to be far more openly hostile to China, a situation which could easily lead to serious military conflict in the South China Sea.

    So, yes, the Trump team gives the appearance of all bluster but I think the top aids, especially Bannon, have launched a full-scale assault on what we will are beginning to now learn are very fragile American institutions; and with a judiciary system that will be reticent in attempting to reign in the Executive Branch.

    It’s possible that things could become so chaotic, that Republicans could begin to withdraw support for Trump and make him an offer he can’t refuse; thereby, allowing Pence to become POTUS. But that scenario does not suggest a more promising alternative given that Pence makes Dick Cheney seem moderate and George W. Bush appear enlightened compared with Trump.

    So, given what we have now seen and endured, we will need to develop more strategically robust ways of responding to the assaults on our basic freedoms and our deracinated liberal democracy whose demise began under Nixon (possibly even LBJ despite the “Great Society” programs); and has only accelerated under the Democratic answer to Reagan’s Conservative movement: the neo-liberal order. That is why for me, this developing dystopia doesn’t inspire much confidence.

    Still, the fanatical arrogance of Trump and Bannon is their main weakness along with a a pathological desperation for public appreciation (actually, continuous public embrace). That should inspire us to become more creative in how we respond to these troubling times.

  10. Summary of Stevie’s interview: “Bow to your new overlords! There is 1 president, the huge one, and only his words are the True Constitution.”

  11. When I gave some more thoughts to presidential power and National Security the following struck me.
    In that context the authority to declare war must rank next to if not above the authority to determine which foreigners are allowed or not allowed to enter the country.
    The constitution does not give a single US citizen, the president in this case, the unfettered authority to start a war in the name of the entire nation and for very good reasons.
    Given that fact no president should have the unfettered power to deny foreigners entry. Trump’s presidential order on US entry should have been submitted to Congress for “advise and consent”. This is not December 7, 1941.

  12. Actually, what Rove meant was something that an Athenian general told the victims of the massacre he was about to commit during the Pelopponnesian Wars:

    “The strong do what they will. The weak do what they must.”

    Rove horribly misjudged who was strong enough to actually do what they will.

    • That was not an Athenian general. That was the opinion of the Athenian polis writ large. The Melian dialogue, which you cite, is not the only instructive piece for us in Thucydides’ magisterial work. Look also at the debate between Kleon and Diodotus in book three over the fate of the Mytilenians – to kill them all or not to kill them all?

      Alas, the last three millennia have seen democracies make willfully horrible decisions. I am less than pleased to see us upholding the tradition, despite the lights of modern science and the cultivation of talented dedicated people on a large scale. After a while Shit, just Shit!

  13. Pride goes before a fall, and this administration seems to be heading for a big one. It is amazing that those working for this lying President are so desperate for a good job, that they are all willing to lose all credibility and integrity, standing before the world and lying themselves to support Trumps whoppers.

  14. I do enjoy it when the Prof gets mad!
    Your review of Mr. Miller’s performance makes me glad I have no time to watch sunday tv.

  15. It ain’t them – snot-nosed or worse!
    It is We The People who buy their shyte.
    The People choose violence over dialogue.
    The People will be entertained to Death.

  16. I have been contemplating Brooks and others who accuse people like Prof. Cole of being “elites” as opposed to the “real Americans” (whoever that is). Your comments about Miller’s youth seem to me to smack of such elitism. His age and looks should be off the page, and more attention paid just to his (abhorrent) messages. Do you want to start a war between generations? I, for one, greet young resisters I have met in the past month with deep joy. They may not have seen it all yet, but they see with their hearts. Miller is not such a person, but we put the resistance at risk when we make discriminatory comments about his youth. Prof. Cole, this is the first time you have disappointed me (in over a decade). So I hope you hear and take the criticism to heart, and continue with your magnificent work!

    • We need to tease out the difference between young people – esp. men – who can be callow and think they know it all (hey, I was one once!), and people who have NO humility. It’s not Miller’s youth for me, it is his utter lack of humility, of acknowledging the possibility that he does not know everything, and may be wrong. That has happened to all of us (i.e. being wrong) at one time or another.

      The distasteful thing about most of the Orange Menace’s administration – the OM itself, Bannon, Conway, Spicer, Miller, etc. – have never (metaphorically and literally speaking) been beaten up over their smug, arrogant behaviors. Beware the person who knows no humility.

      I don’t want to put words into Prof. Cole’s post that he didn’t mean, but many of us are disgusted at the utter lack of humility on the part of this administration – as was, btw, the case with W.’s as well. No humility – none.

  17. Why are you not booked on MSM or cable news shows?
    I don’t think I’ve ever seen you on any.
    If you should be, please let us know asap.
    What you write needs to be heard by the masses, if possible…

  18. Interesting to compare Marbury vs. Madison (1803 case, decent summary on Wikipedia) with the claims trumpeting Presidential power that come from Miller and the ever-changing White House cast of characters.

    Quotation from Justice Marshall on the case:
    “The Government of the United States has been emphatically termed a government of laws, and not of men. It will certainly cease to deserve this high appellation if the laws furnish no remedy for the violation of a vested legal right.”

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