Sunday, February 16, 2020

February's Sunday Corner With Lee Liberman: Revisit GET ME ROGER STONE (GMRS) and Other Deadly Serious Issues

This post is written by our 
monthly correspondent Lee Liberman

This particular Machiavellian life has been halted for now — Roger Stone has been out of gas by order of the court. On 11/15/19 he was convicted in the US District Court for the District of Columbia of all of 7 counts against him including lying to Congress and witness tampering. He faces jail time without a pardon; and the president, lacking the sympathy gene, enjoys watching his acolytes twist in the wind. Feb 20th is Stone’s sentencing date after postponements. Trump has just weighed in. In the overnight hours of 2/10-11, he tweeted: “horrible”, “miscarriage of justice” at career prosecutors’ recommendation of 7-9 years of prison. In an unprecedented blurring of boundaries, Attorney General William Barr hinted that the term should be less than half that. Four career prosecutors swiftly quit in protest, one left the Justice Department entirely. Legal watchers call it a “break glass in case of fire” moment because of the fouling of Constitutional checks and balances; they assert that U.S. Justice is “on life support.”

But we go back to the beginning with a revisit to Netflix’s 2017 documentary on the brazen Roger Stone. The film bookends the rise of Donald Trump and his election, abetted by Stone, a premier dirty trickster and decades-long vamp of anarchy politics. Directed by Daniel DiMauro, Dylan Bank, and Morgan Pehme, Get Me Roger Stone relives the grisly path to Trump (plus Nixon, Bush I and II) whom Stone also aided. But GMRS does not help us think about what to do next.

Stone is the peacock of his breed of political action figure -- a body-building dandy. He describes himself as a jockey on the make for a champion horse who identified Trump in the late 1980's as prime horseflesh -- "one who has the size, the courage, and the balls" to achieve the presidency. Stone prodded Trump to run for years. Although a consultant to many races, Trump horseflesh has been what Stone loved best.

Reporters Jeffrey Toobin and Jane Mayer and conservatives Tucker Carlson and Paul Manafort (an acolyte now twisting in jail) help narrate Stone's story. But Stone does his own peacocking on film and in his political career. Trump didn't suffer him for long during the 2016 campaign, no doubt piqued by Stone’s preening on Trump turf.

Among his early deeds, Stone identified the 'Reagan Democrat' and created the superpac to circumvent individual contribution limits. He sabotaged the Reform Party, after a 3-way race (Bush, Perot, Clinton) elected Clinton. Reformers have not run an effective third party challenge to the two parties since Perot, thanks to Roger Stone. He also orchestrated the human bull-dozing of the Florida recount vote in 2000, the surprise, forceful faction aiding GW Bush's win over Al Gore. He ruined Dan Rather's career in 2004 by forging documents that discredited Rather's investigation of GW Bush's military record. Eliot Spitzer's demise is another trophy. In fact Stone has engineered perhaps the most sustained regime of dirty tricks in recent history, not to mention being a magnate for scandal on his own (below). He's a best-selling author of many book-screeds against opponents. When Hillary Clinton spoke of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" for its enduring attacks on Bill and herself — it was Roger Stone on the beat.

A signature of this era of Republican politics is professionalizing the use of the lie. Lying is now a tool in the toolbox for producing a wanted result. Stone describes his discovery of this in grade school: one man's dirty trick is another man's civic action. The Biblical commandment forbidding the bearing of false witness, or lying, a precept agreed to by the community at-large, has had no relevance in the working life of Roger Stone -- truth-telling is for losers.

The liars' brigade has had other prominent practitioners. Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy's sidekick, was a fixture in Stone and Trump's orbit before Cohn's death. Lee Atwater led George HW Bush's successful defeat of Michael Dukakis with racist advertising about Willie Horton, a black felon, who benefited from weekend furloughs from prison at Dukakis’s later great cost; and Karl Rove, Roger Ailes, and Steve Bannon fit the bill. (Below, once partners, from l, Paul Manafort, now in jail, Stone, and Lee Atwater, who repented for misdeeds on his deathbed.)

The 'trickster' thrives on pounding nails into accepted norms for the attention it gets. Agent provocateur Milo Yiannopolis threw out red meat defending pedophilia, then curled his face into a smirk at return fire. Ann Coulter courts outrage. Perhaps this breed of contrarian hit paydirt from childhood by being bratty and the behavior not being shut down. (Mary Trump, with half smile, described little boy Donald’s strategy for corralling all the blocks: he glued his blocks to his little brother’s pile.)

But domestic political warfare is evolving, taking cues from Russians and other foreigners. A new star, 6’8” viking raider Brad Parscale (below), now heads Trump’s campaign. Parscale is described by McKay Coppins in a must read ‘Atlantic’ piece HERE.

Parscale is not a Stone-style provocateur but a digital master. He and his minions are perfecting the jamming of social media and drowning of truth: “censorship through noise” — normalizing Russian-style election interference.  Coppins describes in lurid detail coordinated bot attacks, fake news sites aimed to discredit trusted local media, micro-targeting, and anonymous mass-texting in which truth is hard to discern for all the jammed signals and confusion. Coppins quotes Breitbart’s Matthew Boyle: journalistic integrity is dead: the tool of the day is ‘weaponized information’. The Trump campaign will spend $1 billion — “the most extensive disinformation campaign in U.S. history.” Its rigor suggests that Democratic railing against ‘big money’ is passé and self-defeating. As MSNBC’s Chris Matthews has asserted, we now need a candidate who is just going to bring us home.

Evolution appears to produce lethal numbers of sociopaths and provocateurs. It isn't as though discrediting McCarthy yesterday or the fall of Trump tomorrow will have stopped evil-doing for good — only for now. Why are dark opponents always with us? Could it be that the only way for humans to stay fit, as in survival of the fittest, is having mountains to climb, opposition to thwart?

Roger Stone says we live in the age of Stone. A reflection of the liar's bad judgment is that Stone's favorite horseflesh governs with indifference to both allies and the public welfare, and Stone, himself, is convicted of crimes. But for now Trump commands the field until we mobilize our own digital army.

Democrats raged ineffectively until Trump stepped over the line into the Ukraine bruhaha, triggering House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and even a few Republicans.. While the genteel Grand Old Party has become the party of dirty tricks — a virtual 'slash and burn cult‘(Owen Gleiberman, Variety), the Democrats have been too disbelieving to develop an effective counter-strategy. Michael Dukakis and John Kerry failed to knock back incoming fire. Kerry allowed the Swift-boat attacks on his exemplary military career to soften his support. Hillary Clinton's campaign needed rapid, repetitive, memorable memes to counter lies. In contrast, both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had war rooms at the ready to lob return fire at untruth. (So far Mark Zuckerberg is unconvinced that as Facebook publisher, he has a civic duty to censor political speech that lies). Democrats have not yet fully embraced digital options, hoping that plain truth satisfies. It should, but it doesn’t. Only Mike Bloomberg shows that he gets it with his new ads, which he can afford to focus-group, road-test. (See one at the end of this post.)

Psychologist John Watson (1878-1958), founder of the objective science of behavior, emphasized the importance of repetition: “The more frequent a stimulus and response occur in association with each other, the stronger the habit will become.” An old rule of advertising says that it takes as many as 16 exposures for a piece of information to sink into the subconscious.

Republicans use behavior modification principles in advertising. Trump is a master — he repeats information over and over and over threatening our institutions — the press, the congress, the judiciary, the armed services (he has an enemies list to warm Joseph McCarthy’s cold dead heart). But repeating information over and over to convince others is not in itself a bad thing — the science of human behavior shows that behavior is changed through repetition — it is how learning occurs from infancy to death. Repetition must be used by Democrats for goodTake the 'RAPE' T-shirt below on Stone.

Let’s say we use single words/phrases on Trump posters: LIAR; FATTY; MALIGNANT NARCISSIST; PUTIN’s PUPPY; DEMOCRACY KILLER. Run them over and over until they seep into muscle memory with multiple exposures. And direct some version of Trump’s own words back at him: “evil and corrupt”,”leaker and liar”,”vicious and mean” “Trump can’t take it”… that he begins to hear everything out of his mouth back in his own ears. (Blue blood former MA governor, Bill Weld, the only Republican left in the race against Trump says: “If they go low, we’ll go lower”.)

Tom Steyer, San Francisco billionaire, prepared the ground with his repetitious pro-impeach campaign; he softened resistance, predisposing public favor to House impeachment. One wishes he and/or other deep-pocketed patriots would now drop dimes on targeted, behavioral ad campaigns that will sour and shame Republican base voters on their beloved. 

Get Me Roger Stone is worth watching for its description of the problem. Stopping the handwringing and taking steps to unseat a president is progressing, in part. The Constitution provides a structural framework that may need to be invoked again, but not until the public has been prepared first with direct, repetitive advertising to dissuade Trumpdom from its slavish, self-defeating adoration. Otherwise the Republican party’s own repetitive advertising and digital misdeeds may push him over the finish line again. Watch this.

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