Wednesday

Donald Trump Has Been a Racist All His Life — And He Isn’t Going to Change After Charlottesville

By Mehdi Hasan

“Racism is evil,” declared Donald Trump on Monday, “and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

OK, “declared” may be too strong a word for what we heard from the president. “Stated” is perhaps a better descriptor. “Read out” might be the most accurate of all. Trump made these “additional remarks” with great reluctance and only after two days of intense criticism from both the media and senior Republicans over his original remarks blaming “many sides” for the neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. The words were not his own: they were scripted by aides and delivered with the assistance of a teleprompter. The president reserved his personal, off-the-cuff ire on Monday for the black CEO of Merck, not for the white fascists of Virginia.

Much of the frenzied media coverage of what CNN dubbed “48 hours of turmoil for the Trump White House” has overlooked one rather crucial point: Trump doesn’t like being forced to denounce racism for the very simple reason that he himself is, and always has been, a racist.
Consider the first time the president’s name appeared on the front page of the New York Times, more than 40 years ago. “Major Landlord Accused of Antiblack Bias in City,” read the headline of the A1 piece on Oct. 16, 1973, which pointed out how Richard Nixon’s Department of Justice had sued the Trump family’s real estate company in federal court over alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act.

“The government contended that Trump Management had refused to rent or negotiate rentals ‘because of race and color,’” the Times revealed. “It also charged that the company had required different rental terms and conditions because of race and that it had misrepresented to blacks that apartments were not available.” (Trump later settled with the government without accepting responsibility.)

Over the next four decades, Trump burnished his reputation as a bigot: he was accused of ordering “all the black [employees] off the floor” of his Atlantic City casinos during his visits; claimed “laziness is a trait in blacks” and “not anything they can control”; requested Jews “in yarmulkes” replace his black accountants; told Bryan Gumbel that “a well-educated black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white in terms of the job market”; demanded the death penalty for a group of black and Latino teenagers accused of raping a jogger in Central Park (and, despite their later exoneration with the use of DNA evidence, has continued to insist they are guilty); suggested a Native American tribe “don’t look like Indians to me”; mocked Chinese and Japanese trade negotiators by doing an impression of them in broken English; described undocumented Mexican immigrants as “rapists”; compared Syrian refugees to “snakes”; defended two supporters who assaulted a homeless Latino man as “very passionate” people “who love this country”; pledged to ban a quarter of humanity from entering the United States; proposed a database to track American Muslims that he himself refused to distinguish from the Nazi registration of German Jews; implied Jewish donors “want to control” politicians and are all sly negotiators; heaped praise on the “amazing reputation” of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has blamed America’s problems on a “Jewish mafia”; referred to a black supporter at a campaign rally as “my African-American”; suggested the grieving Muslim mother of a slain U.S. army officer “maybe … wasn’t allowed” to speak in public about her son; accused an American-born Hispanic judge of being “a Mexican”; retweeted anti-Semitic and anti-black memes, white supremacists, and even a quote from Benito Mussolini; kept a book of Hitler’s collected speeches next to his bed; declined to condemn both David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan; and spent five years leading a “birther” movement that was bent on smearing and delegitimizing the first black president of the United States, who Trump also accused of being the founder of ISIS.

Oh and remember: we knew all of this before he was elected president of the United States of America. He was elected in spite of all this (yet another reminder that “not all Trump supporters are racist, but all of them decided that racism isn’t a deal-breaker”).

Some had hoped that Trump would be moderated by office; there was much talk of a presidential pivot. It was all utter nonsense and wishful thinking from lazy commentators who have found it difficult to cover, and call out, a president who regularly traffics in racially charged rhetoric while surrounding himself with an array of race-baiting advisers.

 Since entering the Oval Office, Trump has appointed Steve Bannon — former executive chairman of Breitbart News, which has stories tagged ‘Black Crime’ — as his White House chief strategist, and Jeff Sessions — who was once accused of calling a black official in Alabama a “nigger” — as his attorney general; he has claimed, without a shred of evidence, that millions of immigrants “voted illegally” for Hillary Clinton; and, perhaps most shocking of all, he has publicly and repeatedly belittled Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has claimed Native American heritage, as “Pocahontas.”

This is Racism 101 from a sitting U.S. president. And it is the stark and undeniable truth, and key context, that is missing from much of the coverage of the political fallout from Charlottesville. Journalists, opinion formers, members of Congress, and members of the public continue to treat Trump as they would any previous president — they expect their head of government to come out and condemn racism with passion, vigor, speed, and sincerity. But what do you do if the president is himself a long-standing purveyor of racism and xenophobia? What then? Do you still demand he condemn and castigate what is essentially his base? Do you continue to feign shock and outrage over his lack of shock and outrage?

Yes, the U.S. has had plenty of presidents in recent decades who have dog-whistled to racists and bigots, and even incited hate against minorities — think Nixon’s Southern Strategy, Reagan and his “welfare queens,” George H.W. Bush and the Willie Horton ad, and the Clintons and their “super-predators” — but there has never been a modern president so personally steeped in racist prejudices, so unashamed to make bigoted remarks in public and with such a long and well-documented record of racial discrimination.

So can we stop playing this game where journalists demand Trump condemns people he agrees with and Trump then pretends to condemn them in the mildest of terms? I hate to say this, but it is worth paying attention to the leader of the Virginia KKK, who told a reporter in August 2016: “The reason a lot of Klan members like Donald Trump is because a lot of what he believes, we believe in.”

So can we stop pretending that Trump isn’t Trump? That the presidency has changed him, or will change him? It hasn’t and it won’t. There will be no reset; no reboot; no pivot. This president may now be going through the motions of (belatedly) denouncing racism, with his scripted statements and vacuous tweets. But here’s the thing: why would you expect a lifelong racist to want to condemn or crack down on other racists? Why assume a person whose entire life and career has been defined by racially motivated prejudice and racial discrimination, by hostility toward immigrants, foreigners, and minorities, would suddenly be concerned by the rise of prejudice and discrimination on his watch? It is pure fantasy for politicians and pundits to suppose that Trump will ever think or behave as anything other than the bigot he has always been — and, in more recent years, as an apologist for other bigots, too.

We would do well to heed the words of those who have spent decades studying this bizarre president. “Donald is a 70-year-old man,” Trump biographer David Cay Johnston reminded me in the run-up to his inauguration in January. “I’m 67. I’m not going to change and neither is Donald.”

Tuesday

Trump has been making ominous threats his whole life




How did we get here? Why does it appear that we’re on the brink of a war in Asia, one that could involve nuclear weapons? North Korea has had nuclear-weapons capacity for at least 10 years. Have its recent advances been so dramatic and significant to force the United States to wage a preventive war? No. The crisis we now find ourselves in has been exaggerated and mishandled by the Trump administration to a degree that is deeply worrying and dangerous.

From the start, the White House has wanted to look tough on North Korea. In the early months of President Trump’s administration, before there could possibly have been a serious policy review, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that the era of strategic patience with North Korea was over. Last week, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that North Korea’s potential to hit the United States with nuclear weapons was an “intolerable” threat. Not North Korea’s use of weapons, mind you; just the potential.

Trump, of course, went furthest, saying Tuesday that if North Korea did not cease its threats, it would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” When pressed on Thursday, Trump doubled down, saying, “If anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.” In other words, Trump has made clear that the United States would respond to North Korean threats with a massive military strike, possibly involving nuclear weapons.

Is this credible? No. The United States is not going to launch a preventive nuclear war in Asia. Trump’s comments have undoubtedly rattled Washington’s closest allies in the region, Japan and South Korea. Empty threats and loose rhetoric only cheapen American prestige and power, boxing in the administration.

So why do it? Because it’s Trump’s basic mode of action. For his entire life, Trump has made grandiose promises and ominous threats — and rarely delivered on any. When he was in business, Reuters found, he frequently threatened to sue news organizations for libel, but the last time he followed through was 33 years ago, in 1984. Trump says that he never settles cases out of court. In fact, he has settled at least 100 times, according to USA Today.

In his political life, he has followed the same strategy of bluster. In 2011, he said that he had investigators who “cannot believe what they’re finding” about President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, and that he would at some point “be revealing some interesting things.” He had nothing. During the campaign, he vowed that he would label China a currency manipulator, move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, make Mexico pay for a border wall and initiate an investigation into Hillary Clinton. So far, nada. After being elected, he signaled to China that he might recognize Taiwan. Within weeks of taking office, he folded. He implied that he had tapes of his conversations with then-FBI Director James B. Comey. Of course, he had none.

Even now, as he deals with a nuclear crisis, Trump has made claims that could be easily shown to be false. He tweeted that his first presidential order was to “modernize” the United States’ nuclear arsenal. In fact, he simply followed a congressional mandate to authorize a review of the arsenal, which hasn’t been completed yet. Does he think the North Koreans don’t know this?

When the United States watched as Stalin’s Soviet Union developed nuclear weapons, it was careful in its rhetoric. When it saw a far more threatening leader, Mao Zedong, pursuing nuclear weapons, it was even more cautious. Mao insisted that he had no fear of a nuclear war because China would still have more than enough survivors to defeat Western imperialists. And yet, successive U.S. administrations kept their cool.

The world is already living with a nuclear North Korea. If that reality cannot be reversed through negotiations and diplomacy, the task will be to develop a robust system of deterrence, the kind that kept the peace with Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China. Bluster from the president can increase the dangers of miscalculation or cause a dangerous downward spiral of brinkmanship.

“I think Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days,” Tillerson said on Wednesday. This was an unusual, perhaps even unprecedented statement. The secretary of state seems to have been telling Americans — and the world — to ignore the rhetoric, not of the North Korean dictator, but of his own boss, the president of the United States. It is probably what Trump’s associates have done for him all his life. They know that the guiding mantra for him has been not the art of the deal, but the art of the bluff.

Thursday

The Democrats should rethink their immigration absolutism




In 1992, the Democratic Party faced a challenge on the issue of abortion. Pennsylvania’s governor, Robert Casey, a Democrat dedicated to the working class, asked to speak at the national convention in New York City. He wanted to propose a pro-life plank for the party platform, mostly as a way of affirming his Catholic beliefs. 

He fully understood that the motion would be voted down, but the Democratic Party refused to permit him even to air his views, so great was his heresy. “That sent a strong signal to working-class Catholic and evangelical voters that if they did not fall into line on this one issue they were no longer welcome in the party,” writes Mark Lilla in “The Once and Future Liberal,” his brief but brilliant book that comes out later this month.

I wonder if today the Democrats are making the same mistake on immigration. To be clear, I think the bill that the Republicans rolled out this week is bad public policy and mean-spirited symbolism. But that’s beside the point. Lilla acknowledges that he is a pro-choice absolutist on abortion, but he argues that a national party must build a big tent that accommodates people who dissent from the main party line on a few issues.

In Lilla’s view, there is a larger crisis within American liberalism. When he visited the online home page of the Republican National Committee, he found a statement of broad principles that guide the party, starting with the Constitution and ending with immigration. On the Democrats’ website, by contrast, he noticed a set of links to “People,” and when he clicked on them he got to pages specifically designed to appeal to one group or another — women, Hispanics, Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans. Alluding to Lebanon’s system of power-sharing among religious and ethnic groups, Lilla writes, “You might think that, by some mistake, you have landed on the website of the Lebanese government — not that of a party with a vision for America’s future.” (The Democratic National Committee’s home page now features the party’s platform more prominently.)

There have been two different agendas for American liberalism, according to Lilla. The first was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s — a collective, national effort to help all Americans participate in the country’s economic and political life. Its symbol was two hands shaking, an affirmation of the binding strength of national unity. The more recent liberal project has been centered on identity, affirming not unity but difference, nurturing and celebrating not national identities but sub-national ones. “A recurring image of identity liberalism is that of a prism,” Lilla notes, “refracting a single beam of light into its constituent colors, producing a rainbow. This says it all.”

Immigration is the perfect issue on which Democrats could demonstrate that they care about national unity and identity — and that they understand the voters for whom this is a core concern. Look at the Democracy Fund’s voter study done in the wake of the 2016 election. If you compare two groups of voters — those who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016, and those who voted for Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016 — the single biggest divergence on policy is immigration. In other words, there are many Americans who are otherwise sympathetic to Democratic ideas but on a few key issues — principally immigration — think the party is out of touch.

And they are right. Consider the facts. Legal immigration in the United States has expanded dramatically over the last five decades. In 1970, 4.7 percent of the U.S. population was foreign-born. Today, it’s 13.4 percent. That’s a large shift, and it’s natural that it has caused some anxiety.

The anxiety is about more than jobs. In his 2004 book “Who Are We?,” Harvard University scholar Samuel Huntington pointed out that the scale, speed and concentration of Mexican migration into America after 1965 were without precedent in the country’s history and could provoke a backlash.

He asserted that America had more than just a founding ideology; it had a culture that had shaped it powerfully. “Would America be the America it is today if in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it had been settled not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish, or Portuguese Catholics?” Huntington asked. “The answer is no. It would not be America; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil.” He advocated some modest limits on immigration and, more important, a greater emphasis on assimilation.

Democrats should find a middle path on immigration. They can battle President Trump’s drastic solutions but still speak in the language of national unity and identity. The country’s motto, after all, is “out of many, one” — not the other way around.

Tuesday

Many Politicians Lie. But Trump Has Elevated the Art of Fabrication.



WASHINGTON — Whit Ayres, a Republican political consultant here, likes to tell his clients that there are “three keys to credibility.”

“One, never defend the indefensible,” he says. “Two, never deny the undeniable. And No. 3 is: Never lie.”

Would that politicians took his advice.

Fabrications have long been a part of American politics. Politicians lie to puff themselves up, to burnish their résumés and to cover up misdeeds, including sexual affairs. (See: Bill Clinton.) Sometimes they cite false information for what they believe are justifiable policy reasons. (See: Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam.)

But President Trump, historians and consultants in both political parties agree, appears to have taken what the writer Hannah Arendt once called “the conflict between truth and politics” to an entirely new level.

From his days peddling the false notion that former President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, to his inflated claims about how many people attended his inaugural, to his description just last week of receiving two phone calls — one from the president of Mexico and another from the head of the Boy Scouts — that never happened, Mr. Trump is trafficking in hyperbole, distortion and fabrication on practically a daily basis.

In part, this represents yet another way that Mr. Trump is operating on his own terms, but it also reflects a broader decline in standards of truth for political discourse. A look at politicians over the past half-century makes it clear that lying in office did not begin with Donald J. Trump

Still, the scope of Mr. Trump’s falsehoods raises questions about whether the brakes on straying from the truth and the consequences for politicians’ being caught saying things that just are not true have diminished over time.

One of the first modern presidents to wrestle publicly with a lie was Dwight D. Eisenhower in May 1960, when an American U-2 spy plane was shot down while in Soviet airspace.

The Eisenhower administration lied to the public about the plane and its mission, claiming it was a weather aircraft. But when the Soviets announced that the pilot had been captured alive, Eisenhower reluctantly acknowledged that the plane had been on an intelligence mission — an admission that shook him badly, the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said.

“He just felt that his credibility was such an important part of his person and character, and to have that undermined by having to tell a lie was one of the deepest regrets of his presidency,” Ms. Goodwin said.

In the short run, Eisenhower was hurt; a summit meeting with the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev collapsed in acrimony. But the public eventually forgave him, Ms. Goodwin said, because he owned up to his mistake.

In 1974, at the height of the Watergate scandal, President Richard M. Nixon was accused of lying, obstructing justice and misusing the Internal Revenue Service, among other agencies, and resigned rather than face impeachment. Voters, accustomed to being able to trust politicians, were disgusted. In 1976, Jimmy Carter won the presidency after telling the public, “I’ll never lie to you.”

President Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction in trying to cover up his affair with an intern, Monica Lewinsky, during legal proceedings. Chris Lehane, a former Clinton adviser, said Mr. Clinton’s second-term agenda suffered during his impeachment, yet paradoxically his favorability ratings remained high — in part, Mr. Lehane said, because “the public distinguished between Clinton the private person and the public person.”

But sometimes it’s easier to tell what’s false than what’s a lie. President George W. Bush faced accusations that he and members of his administration took America to war in Iraq based on false intelligence about whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Bush and his team emphasized and in some cases exaggerated elements of the intelligence that bolstered the case while disregarding dissenting information, leading critics to accuse them of lying. Among those who said Mr. Bush had lied was Mr. Trump.

Over the past two decades, institutional changes in American politics have made it easier for politicians to lie. The proliferation of television political talk shows and the rise of the internet have created a fragmented media environment. With no widely acknowledged media gatekeeper, politicians have an easier time distorting the truth.

And in an era of hyper-partisanship, where politicians often are trying to court voters at the extreme ends of the political spectrum, politicians often lie with impunity. Even the use of the word “lie” in politics has changed.

“There was a time not long ago when you could not use the word ‘lie’ in a campaign,” said Anita Dunn, once a communications director to Mr. Obama. “It was thought to be too harsh, and it would backfire. So you had to say they hadn’t been honest, or they didn’t tell the truth, or the facts show something else, and even that was seen as hot rhetoric.”

With the rise of fact-checking websites, politicians are held accountable for their words. In 2013, the website PolitiFact declared that Mr. Obama had uttered the “lie of the year” when he told Americans that if they liked their health care plan they could keep it. (Mr. Trump won “lie of the year” in 2015.)

“I thought it was unfair at the time, and I still think it’s unfair,” Ms. Dunn said, referring to Mr. Obama. Mr. Obama later apologized to people who were forced off their plans “despite assurances from me.”

On the theory that politicians who get caught in lies put their reputations at risk, Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth College (and contributor to The New York Times’s Upshot) and some colleagues tried to study the effects of Mr. Trump’s misstatements during last year’s presidential campaign.

In a controlled experiment, researchers showed a group of voters a misleading claim by Mr. Trump, while another group saw that claim accompanied by “corrective information” that directly contradicted what Mr. Trump had said. The group that viewed the corrections believed the new information, but seeing it did not change how they viewed Mr. Trump.

“We know politicians are risk averse. They try to minimize negative coverage, and that negative coverage could damage their image over time,” Mr. Nyhan said. “But the reputational consequences of making false claims aren’t strong enough. They’re not sufficiently strong to dissuade people from misleading the public.”

Of course, lying to court voters is one thing, and lying to federal prosecutors quite another. When Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, was accused of a long list of federal corruption counts related to claims that he tried to sell Mr. Obama’s seat in the United States Senate, he was asked quite directly about lying.

While Mr. Blagojevich was testifying under oath, a prosecutor pressed him on whether he made a habit, as a politician, of lying to the public. They sparred over whether Mr. Blagojevich had fed a misleading story to a local newspaper.

“That was a lie,” the prosecutor, Reid Schar, was quoted as saying.
Mr. Blagojevich refused to fess up. “That was a misdirection play in politics,” he answered.
He was sentenced to a 14-year prison term in 2011.

Joel Sawyer, a Republican strategist in South Carolina, said there were two ways for a politician to deal with deceit.

“One is to never acknowledge it, which seems to have been employed pretty successfully by our current president,” Mr. Sawyer said. “The second is to rip the Band-Aid off and say: ‘I screwed up; here’s why. Give me another chance, and I won’t disappoint you again.’”

Mr. Sawyer worked for a politician — Mark Sanford, then the governor of South Carolina — who took the latter approach. On a June weekend in 2009, Mr. Sanford slipped out of the South Carolina capitol and flew to Buenos Aires to be with his lover, but told his staff that he had gone hiking on the Appalachian Trail. His aides, including Mr. Sawyer, unknowingly passed the lie on to reporters.

Mr. Sanford later apologized profusely. Voters eventually rewarded him; today he serves in Congress.

Many of Mr. Trump’s lies — like the time he boasted that he had made the “all-time record in the history of Time Magazine” for being on its cover so often — are somewhat trivial, and “basically about him polishing his ego,” said John Weaver, a prominent Republican strategist.
That mystifies Bob Ney, a Republican former congressman who spent time in prison for accepting illegal gifts from a lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, and lying to federal investigators about it. “It really baffles me why he has to feel compelled to exaggerate to exonerate himself,” Mr. Ney said.

But other presidential lies, like Mr. Trump’s false claim that millions of undocumented immigrants had cast ballots for his opponent in the 2016 election, are far more substantive, and pose a threat, scholars say, that his administration will build policies around them.

The glaring difference between Mr. Trump and his predecessors is the sheer magnitude of falsehoods and exaggerations; PolitiFact rates just 20 percent of the statements it reviewed as true, and a total of 69 percent either mostly false, false or “Pants on Fire.” That leaves scholars like Ms. Goodwin to wonder whether Mr. Trump, in elevating the art of political fabrication, has forever changed what Americans are willing to tolerate from their leaders.

“What’s different today and what’s scarier today is these lies are pointed out, and there’s evidence that they’re wrong,” she said. “And yet because of the attacks on the media, there are a percentage of people in the country who are willing to say, ‘Maybe he is telling the truth.’”

Saturday

"Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor": Trump Admin Attacks Emma Lazarus's Iconic Poem on Statue of Liberty



Transcript
AMY GOODMAN: Opposition is growing to the Trump administration’s new plan to radically overhaul U.S. immigration law and slash the number of immigrants allowed into the United States by half. The RAISE Act, or Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment, would create a so-called merit-based immigration system that would favor applicants who speak English, have advanced degrees or can demonstrate job skills.
Since President Trump and Republican senators introduced the proposal on Wednesday, many commentators have noted the proposed policy would have likely blocked Trump’s own grandfather, Friedrich Drumpf, from immigrating to the United States, had it been in place in 1885. At the time of his arrival, Drumpf did not speak English, and his immigration record says he had no identifiable skill—or "calling," as they called it. The great-grandparents of senior policy adviser Stephen Miller would have also likely been refused entry under the proposed plan, since they spoke only Yiddish. Kellyanne Conway’s great-grandfather, too, would have likely been barred for speaking only Italian.
Well, on Wednesday, CNN’s Jim Acosta, who is the son of immigrants, pressed senior policy adviser Stephen Miller over President Trump’s push to admit English-speaking, only, immigrants in a back-and-forth that lasted for several minutes. This is an excerpt.
STEPHEN MILLER: I mean, you really don’t know that.
JIM ACOSTA: My father was a Cuban immigrant. He came to this country in 1962, right before the Cuban missile crisis, and obtained a green card. Yes, people who immigrate to this country can eventually—
STEPHEN MILLER: OK. So, Jim—
JIM ACOSTA: People who immigrate to this country through—
STEPHEN MILLER: So, Jim, as a factual question, Jim—
JIM ACOSTA: —not through Ellis Island, as your family may have—
STEPHEN MILLER: Jim, as a factual—Jim, as a factual question—
JIM ACOSTA: —but in other ways, do obtain a green card at some point. They do it through a lot of hard work. And, yes, they may learn English as a second language later on in life. But this whole—
STEPHEN MILLER: So, but, Jim—
JIM ACOSTA: This whole notion that, well, they could learn—you know, they have to learn English before they get to the United States, are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?
STEPHEN MILLER: Jim, actually, I have to honestly say I am shocked at your statement that you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English, as, actually, it reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree, that in your mind—no, this is an amazing—this is an amazing moment. This is an amazing moment. That you think only people from Great Britain or Australia would speak English is so insulting to millions of hard-working immigrants who do speak English from all over the world.
JIM ACOSTA: My father came to this country not speaking any English.
STEPHEN MILLER: Jim, have you honestly—Jim, have you honestly never met an immigrant from another country who speaks English, outside of Great Britain and Australia? Is that your personal experience?
JIM ACOSTA: Sir, of course there are people who come to this country from other parts of the world.
STEPHEN MILLER: But that’s not what you said! And it shows—it shows your cosmopolitan bias. And I just want to say—
JIM ACOSTA: It just sounds like you’re trying to engineer—
STEPHEN MILLER: And I just want to say—
JIM ACOSTA: —the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country through this policy.
STEPHEN MILLER: Jim, that is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant and foolish things you’ve ever said. And for you, that’s still a really—the notion that you think that this is a racist bill is so wrong and so insulting.
JIM ACOSTA: I didn’t say it was a racist bill.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Trump’s senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, some might say accosting CNN’s Jim Acosta on Wednesday over President Trump’s push to admit only English-speaking immigrants. Well, Acosta also asked Stephen Miller about the iconic poem "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus that’s inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, which reads: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
JIM ACOSTA: What you’re proposing, or what the president is proposing here, does not sound like it’s in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration. The Statue of Liberty says, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." It doesn’t say anything about speaking English or being able to be a computer programmer. Aren’t you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country, if you’re telling them you have to speak English? Can’t people learn how to speak English when they get here?
STEPHEN MILLER: Well, first of all, right now, it’s a requirement that to be naturalized, you have to speak English. So the notion that speaking English wouldn’t be a part of our immigration systems would be actually very ahistorical. Secondly, I don’t want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty enlightening the world. It’s a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you’re referring to was added later. It’s not actually a part of the original Statue of Liberty.
AMY GOODMAN: But who was the poet Emma Lazarus? Why did she write the poem "The New Colossus"? And how did it end up being one of the most iconic verses about the United States?

For more, we’re joined by Esther Schor, author of the biography, Emma Lazarus, professor of English and acting chair of the Humanities Council at Princeton University. She’s joining us from London.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Schor.

ESTHER SCHOR: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: So, first, respond to what the senior Miller—what the senior adviser to President Trump, Stephen Miller, said about this poem.

ESTHER SCHOR: Well, you know, I was appalled to hear it, but not surprised, Amy. You know, I follow Emma Lazarus’s poetry and its use in the public sphere quite closely, and I get Google alerts every time "huddled masses" is mentioned in the press. So, I know that what Miller was doing was taking a page from the alt-right playbook, where this poem is dismissed, it’s been called graffiti, and it’s been said that the poem is simply a distraction, that’s not what the statue ever meant. And it goes—it degenerates from there, this rhetoric. Emma Lazarus has been called the Jewess who’s trying to destroy the U.S., etc. So, you know, it wasn’t shocking to me.

I think what happened was—you hear Miller’s, you know, his tone becoming more shrill. When he dismissed the poem, the press room suddenly was full of people with rolling eyes and shaking heads, and it really, I think, put Miller off his game. You could see that he intuited that the nation watching this briefing would be doing much the same thing, as I was.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Emma Lazarus, the poet who wrote this, has long been a target of white nationalists. Trump supporter and former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, writes about Emma Lazarus in his 2003 book Jewish Supremacism. In a chapter titled "The Jewish Led Alien Invasion," David Duke quotes lines from Lazarus’s "New Colossus"
and writes, quote, "As I looked into the American fight over immigration laws during the last 100 years, the driving force behind opening America’s borders became evident: It was organized Jewry, personified by the poet Emma Lazarus whose lines I quoted to begin the chapter," unquote. Well, in January, white nationalist Richard Spencer tweeted, "It’s offensive that such a beautiful, inspiring statue was ever associated with ugliness, weakness, and deformity." So, Professor Schor, talk about this, this poem, and Emma Lazarus herself, the poet, as a target of white nationalists.

ESTHER SCHOR: Well, I’m happy to do that, and it means going into a whole thing about history, obviously.

So, on one point, Miller was factually correct: The poem was not part of the original design or installation or dedication of the statue. But, in fact, the poem predates the advent of the statue on America’s shores. Emma Lazarus wrote it in 1883 to raise money for the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty.

Now, just to back up a bit, the statue was the brainchild of a liberal French statesman, historian, named Édouard de Laboulaye. And Laboulaye, his idea was to celebrate the return of France to Enlightenment values with the fall of the Second Empire and the rise of the Third Republic in 1870. So, he had the idea of, to commission the statue, it would be dedicated to Franco-American friendship, but it would really be designed to place the American emancipation of slaves in the context of the French Enlightenment and to do some good PR for the French people.

The Americans saw the statute as a very French thing. I mean, they were not at all identified with it. They didn’t reach into their pockets and give to the pedestal fund. Hence, an auction was set up, to auction artworks and documents written for this occasion, for this purpose.
Now, Lazarus had been very active on behalf of Jewish refugees from Russia, who were fleeing persecution, fleeing to pogroms and coming to the United States in great numbers, in 1881, ’82.
And so she was known for her work with the immigrants. She herself was not an immigrant. She was a fourth- or fifth-generation American, the daughter of a Sephardic Jewish family, a very wealthy family in New York. She had no need to roll up her sleeves and work for these immigrants, but that is exactly what she did. She advocated for them in the press. She taught them English. She tried to get them jobs and job training. And she was, in general, one of their fiercest advocates. Most of her advocacy was to the Jewish community at that point. And I have to say that her efforts were met with some disappointment. But it was very typical of Lazarus not to back up, but to forge ahead.
And what she did, in writing this sonnet, was to take her plea for the support of immigrants to the nation. And what she did in the sonnet is quite astonishing. I mean, she completely recast the meaning of the statue, which, by the way, she never saw, she hadn’t seen at this time—it was lying in a warehouse in Paris. So it was really a kind of prophetic intuition, a prophetic envisioning, of this statue as America’s announcement to the world that it was renouncing imperialism, that it was renouncing tyranny and that it was going to accept those who had been cast out, who had been "refused." That’s the word, "refuse," really, is from the French refusé, people who had been refused by their own native shores. So that’s the genesis of the poem.

And it was taken notice of at the time, briefly, when there was a reception for the sculptor Bartholdi in New York. There was a long speech, of course, about Franco-American friendship, but the speech began by saying, "Here is a statue that will welcome the stranger to these shores." However, Lazarus became ill. The poem was published to a very small reading audience in Art Amateur magazine. And the poem faded from sight, such that when the statue was dedicated by Grover Cleveland in 1886, it was not recited, it was not printed in the press. And when Lazarus died a year later, tragically, at the age of 38, only one of her eulogists even mentioned the poem at that time.

So, it wasn’t until 1903—and this is what Miller was referring to. You know, obviously, he’s gone to Wikipedia and read the National Park Service website. You know, he’s up on his information here. But in 1903, a private donation was made by a friend of Lazarus as a tribute to her 15 years after her death. And the poem still didn’t catch on until the 1930s, when it was embraced by pro-immigrationists, a man named Louis Adamic, Slovenian immigrant. And he saw in this poem a most eloquent statement for his cause. And he quoted it. His co-workers quoted it. They introduced it in schools. Children began to memorize it. It was set to music, etc.
And since the 1930s, the poem and the statue have really been inextricably linked—through many vicissitudes and many debates about immigration reform, I might add, which has certainly not been static since the 1930s.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Esther—

ESTHER SCHOR: So, I think—yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, your conclusion.

ESTHER SCHOR: Well, you know, when Miller says, "Because the poem wasn’t planted on the statue when it was dedicated, it has nothing to do with the statue," I think, is just a very blinkered and false statement.

AMY GOODMAN: Especially because it’s now been on the Statue of Liberty, at the base, for over 120 years—rather, 114 years.

ESTHER SCHOR: Yes, and—yes, exactly. And people, you know, aging immigrants, when they’ve written their memoirs, have reported that they sailed past it and read the words of the sonnet emblazoned on the outside of the statue. It was never on the outside of the statue. So, this is a memory that comes from this deep sense that the American public has that this sonnet is linked to the statue.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much, Esther Schor, for joining us, professor of English and acting chair of Humanities Council at Princeton University. She wrote the biography, Emma Lazarus.

Monday

Say hello to a post-America world




In London last week, I met a Nigerian man who succinctly expressed the reaction of much of the world to the United States these days. “Your country has gone crazy,” he said, with a mixture of outrage and amusement. “I’m from Africa. I know crazy, but I didn’t ever think I would see this in America.” 

A sadder sentiment came from a young Irish woman I met in Dublin who went to Columbia University, founded a social enterprise and has lived in New York for nine years. “I’ve come to recognize that, as a European, I have very different values than America these days,” she said. “I realized that I have to come back to Europe, somewhere in Europe, to live and raise a family.”

The world has gone through bouts of anti-Americanism before. But this one feels very different. First, there is the sheer shock at what is going on, the bizarre candidacy of Donald Trump, which has been followed by an utterly chaotic presidency. The chaos is at such a fever pitch that one stalwart Republican, Karl Rove, described the president this week as “vindictive, impulsive and shortsighted” and his public shaming of Attorney General Jeff Sessions as “unfair, unjustified, unseemly and stupid.” Kenneth Starr, the onetime grand inquisitor of President Bill Clinton, went further, calling Trump’s recent treatment of Sessions “one of the most outrageous — and profoundly misguided — courses of presidential conduct I have witnessed in five decades in and around the nation’s capital.” 

But there is another aspect to the decline in America’s reputation. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey of 37 countries, people around the world increasingly believe that they can make do without America. Trump’s presidency is making the United States something worse than just feared or derided. It is becoming irrelevant.

The most fascinating finding of the Pew survey was not that Trump is deeply unpopular (22 percent have confidence in him, compared with 64 percent who had confidence in Barack Obama at the end of his presidency). That was to be expected — but there are now alternatives. On the question of confidence in various leaders to do the right thing regarding world affairs, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin got slightly higher marks than Trump. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel got almost twice as much support as Trump. (Even in the United States, more respondents expressed confidence in Merkel than in Trump.) This says a lot about Trump, but it says as much about Merkel’s reputation and how far Germany has come since 1945.

Trump has managed to do something that Putin could not. He has unified Europe. As the continent faces the challenges of Trump, Brexit and populism, a funny thing has happened. Support for Europe among its residents has risen, and plans for deeper European integration are underway. If the Trump administration proceeds as it has promised and initiates protectionist measures against Europe, the continent’s resolve will only strengthen. Under the combined leadership of Merkel and new French President Emmanuel Macron, Europe will adopt a more activist global agenda. Its economy has rebounded and is now growing as fast as that of the United States. 

To America’s north, Canada’s foreign minister recently spoke out, in a friendly and measured way, noting that the United States has clearly signaled that it is no longer willing to bear the burdens of global leadership, leaving it to countries such as Canada to stand up for a rules-based international system, free trade and human rights. To America’s south, Mexico has abandoned any plans for cooperation with the Trump administration. Trump’s approval rating in Mexico is 5 percent, his lowest of all the countries Pew surveyed.

China’s leadership began taking advantage of Trump’s rhetoric and foreign policy right from the start, announcing that it was happy to play the role of chief promoter of trade and investment around the world, cutting deals with countries from Latin America to Africa to Central Asia. According to the Pew survey, seven of 10 European countries now believe that China is the world’s leading economic power, not the United States. 

The most dismaying of Pew’s findings is that the drop in regard for America goes well beyond Trump. Sixty-four percent of the people surveyed expressed a favorable view of the United States at the end of the Obama presidency. That has fallen to 49 percent now. Even when U.S. foreign policy was unpopular, people around the world still believed in America — the place, the idea. This is less true today.

In 2008, I wrote a book about the emerging “Post-American World,” which, I noted at the start, was not about the decline of America but rather the rise of the rest. Amid the parochialism, ineptitude and sheer disarray of the Trump presidency, the post-American world is coming to fruition much faster than I ever expected.

Friday

Anthony Scaramucci Called Me to Unload About White House Leakers, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon

He started by threatening to fire the entire White House communications staff. It escalated from there.

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n Wednesday night, I received a phone call from Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director. He wasn’t happy. Earlier in the night, I’d tweeted, citing a “senior White House official,” that Scaramucci was having dinner at the White House with President Trump, the First Lady, Sean Hannity, and the former Fox News executive Bill Shine. It was an interesting group, and raised some questions. Was Trump getting strategic advice from Hannity? Was he considering hiring Shine? But Scaramucci had his own question—for me.
“Who leaked that to you?” he asked. I said I couldn’t give him that information. He responded by threatening to fire the entire White House communications staff. “What I’m going to do is, I will eliminate everyone in the comms team and we’ll start over,” he said. I laughed, not sure if he really believed that such a threat would convince a journalist to reveal a source. He continued to press me and complain about the staff he’s inherited in his new job. “I ask these guys not to leak anything and they can’t help themselves,” he said. “You’re an American citizen, this is a major catastrophe for the American country. So I’m asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it.”

In Scaramucci’s view, the fact that word of the dinner had reached a reporter was evidence that his rivals in the West Wing, particularly Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, were plotting against him. While they have publicly maintained that there is no bad blood between them, Scaramucci and Priebus have been feuding for months. After the election, Trump asked Scaramucci to join his Administration, and Scaramucci sold his company, SkyBridge Capital, in anticipation of taking on a senior role. But Priebus didn’t want him in the White House, and successfully blocked him for being appointed to a job until last week, when Trump offered him the communications job over Priebus’s vehement objections. In response to Scaramucci’s appointment, Sean Spicer, an ally of Priebus’s, resigned his position as press secretary. And in an additional slight to Priebus, the White House’s official announcement of Scaramucci’s hiring noted that he would report directly to the President, rather than to the chief of staff.

Scaramucci’s first public appearance as communications director was a slick and conciliatory performance at the lectern in the White House briefing room last Friday. He suggested it was time for the White House to turn a page. But since then, he has become obsessed with leaks and threatened to fire staffers if he discovers that they have given unauthorized information to reporters. Michael Short, a White House press aide considered close to Priebus, resigned on Tuesday after Scaramucci publicly spoke about firing him. Meanwhile, several damaging stories about Scaramucci have appeared in the press, and he blamed Priebus for most of them
. Now, he wanted to know whom I had been talking to about his dinner with the President. 

Scaramucci, who initiated the call, did not ask for the conversation to be off the record or on background.

“Is it an assistant to the President?” he asked. I again told him I couldn’t say. “O.K., I’m going to fire every one of them, and then you haven’t protected anybody, so the entire place will be fired over the next two weeks.”

I asked him why it was so important for the dinner to be kept a secret. Surely, I said, it would become public at some point. “I’ve asked people not to leak things for a period of time and give me a honeymoon period,” he said. “They won’t do it.” He was getting more and more worked up, and he eventually convinced himself that Priebus was my source.

“They’ll all be fired by me,” he said. “I fired one guy the other day. I have three to four people I’ll fire tomorrow. I’ll get to the person who leaked that to you. Reince Priebus—if you want to leak something—he’ll be asked to resign very shortly.” The issue, he said, was that he believed Priebus had been worried about the dinner because he hadn’t been invited. “Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” Scaramucci said. He channelled Priebus as he spoke: “ 
‘Oh, Bill Shine is coming in. Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the way I cock-blocked Scaramucci for six months.’ ” (Priebus did not respond to a request for comment.)

Scaramucci was particularly incensed by a Politico report about his financial-disclosure form, which he viewed as an illegal act of retaliation by Priebus. The reporter said Thursday morning that the document was publicly available and she had obtained it from the Export-Import Bank. Scaramucci didn’t know this at the time, and he insisted to me that Priebus had leaked the document, and that the act was “a felony.”

“I’ve called the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice,” he told me.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“The swamp will not defeat him,” he said, breaking into the third person. “They’re trying to resist me, but it’s not going to work. I’ve done nothing wrong on my financial disclosures, so they’re going to have to go fuck themselves.”

Scaramucci also told me that, unlike other senior officials, he had no interest in media attention. “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock,” he said, speaking of Trump’s chief strategist. “I’m not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the President. I’m here to serve the country.” (Bannon declined to comment.)

He reiterated that Priebus would resign soon, and he noted that he told Trump that he expected Priebus to launch a campaign against him. “He didn’t get the hint that I was reporting directly to the President,” he said. “And I said to the President here are the four or five things that he will do to me.” His list of allegations included leaking the Hannity dinner and the details from his financial-disclosure form.

I got the sense that Scaramucci’s campaign against leakers flows from his intense loyalty to Trump. Unlike other Trump advisers, I’ve never heard him say a bad word about the President. “What I want to do is I want to fucking kill all the leakers and I want to get the President’s agenda on track so we can succeed for the American people,” he told me.

He cryptically suggested that he had more information about White House aides. “O.K., the Mooch showed up a week ago,” he said. “This is going to get cleaned up very shortly, O.K.? Because I nailed these guys. I’ve got digital fingerprints on everything they’ve done through the F.B.I. and the fucking Department of Justice.”

“What?” I interjected.

“Well, the felony, they’re gonna get prosecuted, probably, for the felony.” He added, “The lie detector starts—” but then he changed the subject and returned to what he thought was the illegal leak of his financial-disclosure forms. I asked if the President knew all of this.
“Well, he doesn’t know the extent of all that, he knows about some of that, but he’ll know about the rest of it first thing tomorrow morning when I see him.”

Scaramucci said he had to get going. “Yeah, let me go, though, because I’ve gotta start tweeting some shit to make this guy crazy.”

Minutes later, he tweeted, “In light of the leak of my financial info which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept #swamp @Reince45.” With the addition of Priebus’s Twitter handle, he was making public what he had just told me: that he believed Priebus was leaking information about him. The tweet quickly went viral.

Scaramucci seemed to have second thoughts. Within two hours he deleted the original tweet and posted a new one denying that he was targeting the chief of staff. “Wrong!” he said, adding a screenshot of an Axios article that said, “Scaramucci appears to want Priebus investigated by FBI.” Scaramucci continued, “Tweet was public notice to leakers that all Sr Adm officials are helping to end illegal leaks. @Reince45.”

A few hours later, I appeared on CNN to discuss the overnight drama. As I was talking about Scaramucci, he called into the show himself and referenced our conversation. He changed his story about Priebus. Instead of saying that he was trying to expose Priebus as a leaker, he said that the reason he mentioned Priebus in his deleted tweet was because he wanted to work together with Priebus to discover the leakers.

“He’s the chief of staff, he’s responsible for understanding and uncovering and helping me do that inside the White House, which is why I put that tweet out last night,” Scaramucci said, after noting that he had talked to me Wednesday night. He then made an argument that journalists were assuming that he was accusing Priebus because they know Priebus leaks to the press.

“When I put out a tweet, and I put Reince’s name in the tweet,” he said, “they’re all making the assumption that it’s him because journalists know who the leakers are. So, if Reince wants to explain that he’s not a leaker, let him do that.”

Scaramucci then made a plea to viewers. “Let me tell you something about myself,” he said. “I am a straight shooter.”

Monday

The Advice Trap

Financial Advisers Want to Rip Off Small Investors. Trump Wants to Help Them Do It.

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One of the most important investor protections in decades took effect on June 9. The new rule, issued by the Department of Labor, sets in motion a seemingly commonsense requirement that those who advise on retirement investments must put their clients’ interests ahead of their own. Yet it marks a revolution in retirement security, the result of an epic seven-year battle between consumer advocates and the financial industry that sunk millions of dollars into white shoe lobbying firms, industry-sponsored studies, congressional campaign contributions, and major lawsuits in an effort to block the rule.

“Investment advisers shouldn’t be able to steer retirees, workers, small businesses, and others into investments that benefit the advisers at the expense of their clients,” Assistant Labor Secretary Phyllis Borzi, who developed the rule, said in 2011. “The consumer’s retirement security must come first.”

The rule, finalized in April 2016, was scheduled to take effect a year later in order to give firms time to comply. It only survived till now thanks to a veto by President Obama of legislation that would have permanently blocked its implementation; Rep. Paul Ryan, who led the charge in Congress, had tarred the rule as “Obamacare for financial planning.”

Since the rule was already final when President Trump took office, it was invulnerable to his day one directive freezing all pending rule making. Nevertheless, within two weeks Trump signed a memo directing the DOL to review the rule and potentially rescind it. In March, before Trump’s labor secretary had even been confirmed, the Department of Labor issued a proposed rule delaying implementation for 60 days — bringing us to June 9 of this year.

In April, Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined consumer groups and the AFL-CIO to unveil a “Retirement Ripoff Counter,” a digital projection tallying the costs to retirement savers of delaying implementation of the rule — which they calculated at $46 million a day.

And in late May, Alexander Acosta, Trump’s newly minted labor secretary, announced in the pages of the Wall Street Journal that the administration had exhausted every “principled legal basis” for further delaying the rule. And so it was that key portions of the fiduciary rule finally went into effect last month.

Whether the rule will survive the Trump administration’s deregulatory campaign is an open question.

Like the dozen or so others gathered for the chicken noodle casserole at Johnny’s CharHouse that cold day in January 2007, Stephen Wingate, then 59, had received an invitation in the mail to learn more about financial planning for retirees. “I was interested in trying to get my affairs in order because I was getting closer to retirement,” said Wingate, who’d begun putting away money in 1986 when he was a supervisor at Ideal Industries, a local company that manufactures wire connectors, hand tools, and other equipment. “I’d been saving 10 percent of my income right along.”

He liked what he heard from Jack W. Teboda that evening in Sycamore, Illinois. A handout described Teboda as an adviser who employed conservative strategies and chose investments “that are best suited for my clients.” His two-page bio ended on a personal note. His wife of 30 years had been his high school sweetheart, and they attended the Harvest Bible Chapel in nearby Elgin. “Our relationship with God is the most important aspect of our lives,” it read.

But it was Teboda’s seemingly prudent investment strategy that attracted Wingate most. “What he basically promised was safety,” he said. “He said he could offer us financial peace of mind.”

Sitting beside his wife in Teboda’s office later that month, Wingate moved his entire retirement account of $282,000 from IRAs that had been invested in plain-vanilla Vanguard and Janus mutual funds into two risky, real-estate investment trusts, known as REITs, that invested in and operated commercial properties.

The funds that Wingate liquidated had annual fees of less than one-half of 1 percent. Andrew Stoltmann, the Chicago lawyer who will represent Wingate in an upcoming arbitration against Teboda and the broker-dealer he is registered with, said that the REITs that replaced them, which were highly illiquid and not publicly traded, offered Teboda a 7 percent commission off the top, immediately zapping more than $20,000 from Wingate’s savings.

As he signed the stack of documents, Wingate says he asked about a disclosure that said he could lose some or all of his money, but Teboda was reassuring. “He said, ‘Don’t pay attention to that because they all say that,’” said Wingate. In one of the documents that Wingate signed, Teboda had written that one reason the REITs had been chosen was to “minimize risk.”

It didn’t turn out that way.

Wingate was thunderstruck three years later by news that the private market value of one of the REITs, Behringer Harvard REIT I, had dropped from $10 to $4.25 a share.
He fired off an email to Teboda. “How do I recommend your company to others when I am totally disappointed with what you have done with my account?” he wrote on June 28, 2010. “These are my life savings in your hands.”

Teboda said to hang tight, but Behringer Harvard didn’t rebound. Last year, after consulting with a new adviser, Wingate sold both REITs at a loss of $147,000, half the original value of his retirement account. Like other securities linked to real estate, Wingate’s REITs lost value during the collapse of real estate prices during the financial crisis. But even under the best of circumstances, these products were too risky for anyone approaching retirement. A Vanguard stock index fund, by contrast, had almost completely recovered its pre-crash value by the end of 2010.

Wingate’s personal financial crisis was part of a larger public one. According to a 2015 White House report, Americans lose $17 billion a year from their retirement accounts as the result of advice compromised by conflicts of interest. And such advice has always been perfectly legal for financial advisers who were not specifically charged by regulators to put their clients’ interests ahead of their own, a level of care known as a “fiduciary duty.” Many retirement advisers skated by under a lower standard that investment need only be “suitable.”

The Dodd-Frank reforms passed in 2010 tackled some of the blatant investment risks to average Americans. In addition to measures designed to rein in too-big-to-fail banks, the law sought to protect consumers by mandating the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, putting new restrictions on the packagers of asset-backed securities, and directing the Securities and Exchange Commission to study whether stockbrokers should be held to a “fiduciary” standard. But it did not target the excessive fees that cut into the returns of the nation’s retirement savers.

The same year that Dodd-Frank was signed into law, the Department of Labor, which has jurisdiction over retirement accounts, unveiled its own draft fiduciary rule. While the SEC dragged its heels, the DOL doggedly pushed its proposal through the federal rule-making process.

Experts say that advice like Teboda’s would have been a violation under the DOL’s new rule. “I don’t see how non-traded REITs as they are currently structured and sold would ever comply with the new DOL rule,” said Micah Hauptmann, financial services counsel at the Consumer Federation of America. Craig McCann, a former economist at the Securities and Exchange Commission who has studied the poor performance and conflicts related to non-traded REITs, said in a 2014 blog post that “No investors should buy these illiquid, high-commissioned, poorly diversified non-traded REITs and no un-conflicted broker would recommend them.”

In July 2009, an outspoken former House staffer and public health professor was taking her seat at a daily staff meeting on the fifth floor of DOL headquarters in Washington, D.C. Phyllis Borzi, who had just been sworn in as assistant secretary, charged with running the Employee Benefits Security Administration, had asked her nine office directors to come prepared with a list of their top priorities, the issues they would want on the agency’s agenda if they had her job.

As Borzi listened, most of the directors singled out the same concern: Retirement accounts were hemorrhaging money because of high fees and inappropriate investments, but the agency had limited legal tools to hold the offenders accountable.
The law at the time typically put the fiduciary onus on sponsors of retirement plans, often small employers struggling to set up 401(k)s for their workers. Many of those sponsors, Borzi’s team suggested, were making bad decisions based on the advice of financial experts, resulting in avoidable losses for participants.

“So the employer in many cases was as much a victim of the broker as the employees were,” she said. “They’d paid money to a broker and followed their advice.”

Many of these advisers were free from any fiduciary obligation to their clients thanks to loopholes in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. That law, known as ERISA, only covered advisers who were giving advice on a regular basis and who had a “mutual understanding” with their client that their advice would serve as the driving force behind investment decisions. One-time consultants advising on which mutual funds to offer in a 401(k) did not have to act as fiduciaries. When their faulty advice blew up, Borzi said, advisers could simply tell her investigators, “‘Yeah, I gave advice, but how could I know they would rely on it?’”

For years, those loopholes hadn’t mattered much, as Americans had relied on employer pensions that provided a steady stream of income in retirement. But by 2013, after decades of corporate cost-cutting, pensions constituted only 35 percent of retirement assets; more than half were in so-called defined contribution plans such as and IRAs and 401(k)s.

Just as investors faced the new challenge of managing their own retirement money, the financial industry was adding complex products like REITs to retirement offerings.

Savers like Wingate, trying to sort through the dizzying options, turned to brokers and advisers for help. “I knew I needed a very knowledgeable person handling our retirement money,” Wingate said. “I wasn’t qualified to do that.”

Brokers had an irresistible opportunity to steer naïve clients to opaque products that offered the biggest commissions, said Sarasota investment adviser Raul Elizalde. They were also legally permitted to choose funds whose annual fees were higher than equivalent investments. “The model of the financial industry under the suitability rule is to take it little by little – and many times,” he said.

Perhaps most perilous for the burgeoning ranks of small investors was a shift in the industry’s marketing strategy: Stockbrokers, once understood as salespeople, began to call themselves “advisers,” a title that had been used previously only by so-called registered investment advisers who were required to operate as fiduciaries.

In a rule published in 2005, the Securities and Exchange Commission conceded that investors were confused about the titles that advisers were using and the obligations they were under. Six out of 10 investors had come to the wrongheaded conclusion that brokers had a fiduciary responsibility, the SEC said, citing research by a brokerage firm. The confusion, the SEC said, raised “difficult questions.”

That year the SEC ordered up focus groups of investors. In a typical response, one Baltimore participant said that he regularly received invitations to free dinners from financial people but was clueless as to what their titles meant. “I don’t know if they’re a financial consultant, financial adviser or financial planners,” he said. “How would I even know the difference?”

Despite the conclusions of its own research, the SEC chose to do nothing about the misleading titles. “We are concerned that any list of proscribed names we develop could lead to the development of new ones with similar connotations,” it wrote at the time.

By October 2010, just after Dodd-Frank was signed into law, Borzi and her team had designed a proposed fiduciary rule that would shut down ERISA’s loopholes and introduce a new definition of fiduciary advice. But her first stab at a rule was met by ferocious attacks in comment letters and public statements from the securities industry, afraid it would undermine its commission business, and the insurance industry, concerned the rule would make it harder to sell lucrative annuity products. In the year following the release of the proposed rule, not a single consumer group registered to lobby in support of the rule. But the Chamber of Commerce; industry lobby groups including the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) and the Financial Services Roundtable; major firms that offer mutual funds and annuities such as Fidelity Investments and Prudential Financial; and major financial firms including JPMorgan Chase, Charles Schwab, and Blackrock sent lobbyists to quash various aspects of it — altogether 37 organizations that cumulatively spent more than $61 million on lobbying that included the fiduciary issue during that period.

“They have more money than God,” Borzi said. “For every 15 or 20 meetings we had with opponents, we would have one conference call or meeting with supporters, and that’s probably overstating the number of supporter meetings.”

By September 2011, the DOL had withdrawn the rule, and she and her staff had regrouped to work on a new version. “We have said all along,” Borzi said in a press release, “that we will take the time to get this right.”

Dodd-Frank had required the SEC to study a possible fiduciary standard, too. As part of that process, the SEC solicited public comment and held sit-down meetings with industry and consumer groups. Of the 111 meetings the SEC held between August 2010 and October 2012, only 31 were with groups promoting stronger fiduciary requirements.

The SEC’s 80 meetings with industry included 15 with SIFMA, which represents security firms and banks; eight with the Financial Services Institute, which represents brokers; and 14 with insurance companies and trade groups. After producing a study that recommended establishing a fiduciary standard, the SEC’s efforts stalled. “They had been ‘studying’ the issue for years but never took the next step and actually proposed something,” said the Consumer Federation’s Hauptman.

In the years that followed, Borzi said, as she oversaw the development of a new rule, the disproportionate influence of the financial industry was constantly an issue. As the DOL moved toward a final rule in 2016, the number of organizations registered to lobby against it multiplied. Throughout, consumer advocates, who universally support the rule, have been outflanked.

Of the 98 organizations that declared they lobbied the Senate on the fiduciary rule in 2016, only 11 were unambiguously in favor of the rule. Members of the financial industry prefaced many of their public comments with vague endorsements of a best-interest standard, but these letters typically went on to complain about portions of the rule that didn’t serve their interests.

Those lobbying in favor, including the AARP, the American Association of Justice, which represents trial attorneys, and the AFL-CIO, spent a total of $23.9 million on lobbying during the quarters when they were active on the rule.

By comparison, those who lobbied against the rule, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, SIFMA, the Financial Services Roundtable, the American Bankers Association, the Investment Company Institute, Nationwide, Allstate, and Americans for Prosperity, collectively spent $187.3 million in the quarters when they were registered to lobby on the rule. (The filings don’t break down how much was spent lobbying on the fiduciary rule in particular.)

Along with its big spending on lobbyists, the financial industry has also splashed its largesse directly to lawmakers. In a study released in March based on public filings, Americans for Financial Reform found that the financial sector was by far the biggest business category contributing to federal candidates for office and their leadership PACs during the 2015-16 election cycle, spending $1.1 billion.

Among the top 20 contributors? The American Bankers Association, SIFMA, Wells Fargo, New York Life Insurance, and the Investment Company Institute, the trade group for the mutual fund industry — all of which have filed comment letters opposed to the DOL’s rule.

The brokerage industry argues that since the new rule discourages use of the commission-based accounts that are common among small investors, it will effectively cut off average retirement savers from access to investment advice. The insurance industry claims that the rule will impede access to products, including annuities, which provide investors with guaranteed income.

The stakes, apparently, are high. The consulting firm A.T. Kearney calculated last year that it will cost the financial industry as much as $20 billion in lost revenue by 2020 to comply with the rule, in part because it will dramatically reduce the fees the industry collects from investors.

While hearings about the rule were in progress in August 2015, a coalition of insurance companies called Americans to Protect Family Security aired a classic scare-tactic television ad that featured a couple heading home in the car after dropping their daughter off at college.

When the wife says that government bureaucrats want to “make it really hard” to get advice from “Ann,” their financial adviser, her husband is indignant. “We’re gonna call our senators,” he says with resolve.

In another ad that month, this one sponsored by the conservative group American Action Network, an investor who can’t get through to a human at his brokerage firm hears the doorbell ring only to discover a drone hovering at his front door. Hanging from the drone is a sign that reads “NOTICE: NO PERSONAL SERVICE FOR YOUR IRA.” The group, founded by Fred Malek, a former assistant to Presidents Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush, spent $5.6 million during the 2016 federal elections, according to OpenSecrets.

More recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a slick 20-page report featuring cartoon graphics depicting “Jane,” an investor with a small account, whose broker “Steve” was dumping her because the oppressive new rule would make it uneconomical to advise her. “Sadly,” the caption reads, “Steve’s company no longer allows him to serve accounts less than $25K.” Chamber spokesperson Stacy Day declined to comment, but referred me to an article in which a Chamber executive said small investors will be “dumped from their plans” or subject to high fees “that may not be the right option for them.”

The research behind these claims is sometimes thin. The Investment Company Institute, the mutual fund trade group, filed a comment letter to the DOL this year in opposition to the rule, claiming that it had “informally surveyed” its mutual fund members and discovered that 31 out of 32 funds had either received “orphaned” accounts from brokerage firms or gotten notice about accounts that would be orphaned by the firms that previously held them. An ICI spokesperson said in an email that this would be harmful to investors because they would lose access to financial advice and the convenience of having a single financial institution hold all their funds in one place.

“A lot of the pushback is a little bit too hysterical,” said Charles Rotblut, vice president at the Chicago-based American Association of Individual Investors, a nonprofit that educates investors on how to manage their money. “These are accounts that the investor has likely forgotten about. The loss of access to financial advice is a weak argument because the investor probably wasn’t using the advice anyway.”

As for the risk of modest investors losing access to a brokers’ advice? “I’m not so sure at the end of the day that that’s bad for the investor,” Rotblut said. “In fact, quite the opposite – some of these so-called advisers are just glorified salespeople who’ve passed a regulatory exam.” He recommends that investors consult with an hourly financial adviser instead.

The Chamber of Commerce report, issued in May, outlined “new information” about a wave of class-action litigation expected in response to a provision of the rule that allows investors to bring class-action lawsuits for systemic abuses. The Chamber cited a February report by Morningstar, Inc. in claiming that the wealth management industry would pay between $70 million and $150 million annually in new legal costs. The Chamber never mentioned that the same Morningstar report said the risk of litigation could serve as an incentive for firms “to create and adhere to prudent policies and procedures that protect retirement investors’ best interests.”

Michael Wong, the Morningstar senior equity analyst who authored the report, said in an interview that his estimates could actually be too high. “If no investors are harmed, there is no basis for class lawsuits and class settlements,” he said. “Through many lenses, it looks like the benefits outweigh the costs of this rule.”

The Chamber report also referred to a post by Meghan Milloy, director of financial services policy at the conservative American Action Forum, in which she suggests that most consumer claims are baseless. Citing Milloy, the report said that consumers filed nearly 4,000 arbitration cases last year with FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, alleging wrongdoing by brokers, but that only 158 — about 4 percent — of those cases were decided in favor of the consumer.

But Milloy’s denominator was off by a factor of 10. Only 389 cases were decided by arbitrators in 2016, meaning that those 158 customer wins represented 41 percent of the cases decided by arbitrators. The reference to the 158 customer wins appeared on a FINRA chart which clearly shows that customers had won 41 percent of the cases they brought, out of 389 cases decided, not Milloy’s “nearly 4,000.”

In a telephone interview, Milloy initially said that the FINRA arbitration statistics were evidence of the prevalence of “baseless claims” by investors. When I pointed out her substantial error, she responded that it was “still less than a majority” of cases decided in favor of consumers. She has not corrected her original post, which on June 29 was cited in a letter to the SEC from lobbyist Kent A. Mason of the Washington, D.C., law firm Davis & Harman on behalf of an unnamed “group of firm clients.” Mason told the agency that its role protecting IRA investors would be “reduced dramatically” under the rule.

To boost its claim that the fiduciary rule will hurt average Americans, the Chamber features on its website small business owners who express deep concern over the new standard. The government watchdog group Public Citizen got in touch with some of those businesspeople, only to learn that several had little knowledge of the rule.
One business owner, Richard Schneider of Ellisville, Missouri, was quoted on the Chamber’s website saying that the rule would mean more paperwork and hurt his employees. “The Labor Department should just fix this rule already,” he said. When contacted by Public Citizen to hear more about his views, though, Schneider said he didn’t follow the rule closely.

Another person featured on the Chamber’s site, Jim Dower, runs a nonprofit in Chicago. The Chamber quoted him as saying that the “DOL may have the right intention … but I’m worried they’ll still get it wrong in the end.” When Public Citizen emailed him about his comment, Dower responded, “Who do I call to get this down?” The Chamber has since removed him from its site.

In a March 16 letter to the DOL on behalf of unnamed clients, lobbyist Mason slammed the agency for taking “the stunning position that selling is advising.” Yet a study earlier this year by the Consumer Federation of America demonstrates that is precisely the message that the financial industry has been delivering to the public.

Even as securities firms assailed the fiduciary rule in the lead-up to its June 9 effective date, they continued to deliver marketing messages suggesting they already were serving clients at the elevated standard. On their websites, firms large and small pledge to variations on the themes of “clients first” and advice given “with our clients’ best interests in mind,” despite allowing brokers to pitch high-commission products or illiquid investments, like the non-traded REITs sold to Wingate, that are ill advised for all but the wealthiest investors.

In a study of 81 non-traded REITs published in 2015, McCann, the former SEC economist, found that REIT investors over the past 25 years would have earned as much or more by investing in U.S. Treasury securities. More than half their underperformance, he found, resulted from the upfront fees charged to investors, which largely went to brokers.

“The entire industry is built around practices that would be a crystal clear violation of a fiduciary duty,” said Wingate’s lawyer, Stoltmann. “There is no faster way to clean up the securities industry than imposing a mandatory fiduciary rule.”

Opponents of the DOL rule suggest that improved disclosure would solve many of the problems the rule was designed to fix. But Anthony Pratkanis, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has studied the characteristics of financial fraud victims, said that’s nonsense: “Consumers and investors do not read disclosures. Period.” Multiple studies have shown that even the people who do read them don’t understand them, he said.

A 2012 report from the SEC found that investors often don’t even understand the information they get from brokers about their trades: Only 53 percent of respondents in an online survey of 1,200 investors could correctly identify a trade confirmation as having been for a stock purchase.

Nevertheless, President Trump’s new secretary of labor, Alexander Acosta, has publicly opposed the rule based on an argument that the government should trust in investors’ “ability to decide what’s best for them.”

White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, one of Trump’s closest advisers, has gone further. “We think it is a bad rule,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “This is like putting only healthy food on the menu, because unhealthy food tastes good but you still shouldn’t eat it because you might die younger.”

After five more years, four more days of public hearings, thousands of comment letters, and hundreds of meetings, mostly with industry representatives, the DOL finally published its new rule on April 8, 2016. It took the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and eight other business organizations less than two months to file suit against the agency, saying it had exceeded its authority.

In February, a Dallas federal judge ripped apart their arguments in an 81-page opinion denying summary judgment. To a complaint that the DOL had violated the freedom of speech of insurance agents and brokers, Chief Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn of the Northern District of Texas said, “At worst, the only speech the rules even arguably regulate is misleading advice.” The Chamber and the other litigants have appealed.
Just days before that ruling, on February 3, President Trump signed his memo in the Oval Office directing the DOL to review the rule. He then handed his pen to Rep. Ann Wagner, the Republican from Missouri, standing just to his right, and suggested she say a few words. Wagner isn’t the top recipient of Wall Street money in Congress, but support from the sector looms large for her, and she has returned the favor, sponsoring bills to rein in the power of the DOL and the SEC. According to the online publication Investment News, in a 2015 speech to insurance professionals, Wagner said that if efforts to kill the rule fail, “By God we’ll just defund them.”

In a draft bill in early July, Wagner proposed that the rule be eliminated and replaced with a new standard of conduct that would require investment recommendations to “be in the retail customer’s best interest.” But Wagner’s bill lacks the protections of the DOL rule and fails to adequately address the “complex web of toxic financial incentives” that lead to bad advice, according to a July 11 letter to members of the House Financial Services subcommittee from the Consumer Federation of America.

In the 2015-16 election cycle, insurance companies, securities firms, and commercial banks were the top three industries backing Wagner’s campaign, donating more than $549,000. The two firms that gave the most were Jones Financial Companies, a brokerage firm, and the insurance company Northwestern Mutual. Both wrote to the DOL to oppose the rule. Over the last two election cycles, the financial industry contributed more than $1.1 million to her campaigns.

There in the Oval Office, she referred to the executive order as “my baby,” claiming that the edict would help “low- and middle-income investors and retirees.” It was, she said, a “big moment” for Americans who invest and save. A Wagner spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Three months later, in a May 22 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Acosta said that the DOL should examine ways to revise the rule and open up yet another comment period. Acosta’s arguments, said Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America, were “straight from the talking points of industry.” A DOL spokesperson declined to comment.

Acosta’s op-ed appeared just weeks before the House Financial Services Committee passed the Financial CHOICE Act, an omnibus bill designed to roll back many of the Dodd-Frank reforms. The bill would repeal the DOL’s fiduciary rule and block the DOL from promulgating a new one until at least 60 days after the SEC issues a final fiduciary rule of its own.

On June 1, shortly before the CHOICE Act passed the full House, the SEC suddenly woke up from its slumber. Trump’s new SEC chairman, Jay Clayton, released a request for public comment about the standards of conduct expected of investment advisers and brokers, asking for feedback about possible investor confusion over “the type of professional or firm that is providing them with investment advice.”

“The timing of the request is troubling,” said Stephen W. Hall, legal director at Better Markets, a nonprofit that promotes financial reform. “It appeared after years and years of SEC inaction, but just as the DOL rule came under fresh scrutiny by the new administration.”

In his request for comment letters, Clayton noted that Acosta wanted the two agencies to work together to analyze the standards of conduct for brokers and investment advisers.

Ben Edwards, associate professor of law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said that a new fiduciary rule from the SEC could give Acosta the legal ammunition he needs to scrap the DOL’s rule. “An SEC rule would materially change the regulatory environment,” he said, because it could provide “a basis to question the need” for a DOL rule. That would be a win for the insurance industry in particular, Edwards said, because the SEC’s authority “does not ordinarily extend to insurance products.”
Judith Burns, an SEC spokesperson, declined to comment.

Lisa Donner, executive director at the consumer advocacy group Americans for Financial Reform, worries that the DOL rule, just weeks after taking effect, is already “in danger of being undone.” On June 29, the undoing began, with a request for comment from the DOL asking whether the remaining aspects of the rule, which as of January 2018 would require legally enforceable contracts between clients and any brokers who receive commissions, should be further delayed.

Wingate, now retired, said the catastrophic loss to his retirement account has been “really rough” on his wife, who at 69 continues to work as a nurse to compensate for the lost savings. To make ends meet, they sold the family vacation condo in Florida earlier this year. “It was a real strain on our marriage,” Wingate said.

On Saturday mornings at 7 a.m., Wingate’s former adviser, Teboda, has a radio show on Chicago’s AM 560. On a recent Saturday, Wingate said he listened in frustration as he heard the adviser describe himself as a fiduciary who had clients’ best interests at heart. “My wife said, ‘I can’t take it anymore, so please turn it off.’” On Teboda’s June 17 show, he similarly referred to his “fiduciary firm” several times, noting that he worked in clients’ “best interest.”

Wingate and his lawyer, Andrew Stoltmann, say they will face off in November against Teboda and the broker-dealer he was formerly registered with, ProEquities, at a FINRA arbitration hearing. ProEquities spokesperson Eva T. Robertson and Teboda declined to comment, but ProEquities said in its answer to Wingate’s complaint that he is a sophisticated investor who was able to “talk intelligently” with Teboda.

While they await their day in Finra’s closed-door court, the battle over the kind of advice Teboda got will go on. “It’s a profoundly broken system,” said Donner of Americans for Financial Reform. “If there wasn’t so much money at stake for people making money off the broken system, it would not have taken seven years to get this rule done.”

This article was produced in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.