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Friday, February 24, 2017

Democracy in Crisis: Stoned Reflections on a Day at CPAC

Posted by on Fri, Feb 24, 2017 at 3:17 PM

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I am stoned at CPAC.

I am in hell.

Here’s how it happened:

Shortly after Steve Bannon laid out his vision of nationalism and the deconstruction of government on the first day of CPAC, I was writing a story over a beer at the National Press Club.

On the television was Sean Spicer, who said the regime would likely start enforcing federal anti-pot laws in states that had voted for recreational marijuana. Never mind that he had just invoked “states’ rights” as a rationale for refusing to protect trans students. Never mind, that world-class racist Jeff Sessions would be the one to enforce this. Or the fact that we all need medical marijuana to deal with the insanity of having an incipient authoritarian in the Oval Office. But Spicer cited the opioid crisis to justify a crackdown.

At about the same time, Sessions reversed another Obama administration policy, announcing in a memo that the federal government would actually not cut back on private prisons because, he thinks, our “prison needs” will require them. Private prison stocks soared. But the rest of us thought, “they want to have more mass incarceration.” This will, as always, disproportionately affect African Americans and Latinos, while increasing actual crime.

“Trump seems insistent on throwing the marijuana market back into the hands of criminals, wiping out tax-paying jobs and eliminating billions of dollars in taxes,” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, wrote over email.

But I had my own response. I ate a cannabis cough drop while we were in Washington, D.C., where recreational weed is legal, as long as you neither buy nor sell it, to get ready for Trump’s speech.

I wanted to personally protest this disastrous decision, but I also wanted to make sure I feel the real horror of CPAC. The best thing about weed is that it makes you question your own ethical decisions, often in devastating fashion. The result was as horrifying as you might imagine. I tried to tweet some funny shit, but it was not funny. There is nothing funny about it. It is going to be a nightmare. At best, we are ruined by their incompetence; at worst, they actually succeed.

I am a white male, and I am horrified by what is happening here. I can’t imagine how it must feel for women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community to know that this is our new reality. I am sorry.

I was sitting in the back as press, which was one of Trump’s main targets, because we are still able to question him, even if he refuses to answer. It is clear here: they think we sow discord.

The crowd, of course, loved it when the president attacked us.

“A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people and they are, the enemy of the people," Trump said.

The press, he said, “doesn't represent the people, it never will represent the people, and we are going to do something about it."

He didn’t say what they planned to do, but he gave some hints.

During Trump’s speech, he said, “No one loves the first amendment more than me.” The crowd laughed. It was not intended to be taken seriously, just as, when he said he wanted to protect the environment, he was not booed because that, too, was not a serious statement.

As with both Bolsheviks and Nazis, a speech means one thing to members of a movement and something else to those outside of it.

He talked about protecting the flag more than once. I’d guess he’s laying the groundwork to come back to the idea he tweeted in December, threatening to imprison and strip citizenship from anyone who burns a flag.

As I was tweeting about Trump’s speech, I saw a story on the eighteen states introducing laws to curb protests since Trump’s election.

An hour or so later, Wayne LaPierre said that “violence in the name of politics” is the definition of terrorism. “And those who incite it and engage in it need to be prosecuted and punished, period.” He was speaking specifically of protests on the left.

There’s a thing on the right that protesters are paid $1,500 a week. I’ve covered a lot of protests. The protesters are not paid. Hell, I don’t even make $1,500 a week as a reporter. But most of these CPACtivists seem pretty well-heeled, so maybe that's where they get the idea. But LaPierre's call for prosecution seemed to extend to “the leftist media," which, he said, "is responsible for blowing the winds of violence as well.”

He spoke of the “media’s deliberate lies aimed at destroying our freedom.” That’s a constant refrain here. And cracking down on the press is only the first step to cracking down on all opposition.

Trump railed against anonymous sources—notice how he is always citing “a friend,” a “very reliable source,” or “everyone” himself—saying we shouldn’t be able to use them. I don’t like anonymous sources either, but with proper vetting, they are essential. Remember Watergate? Pretty good reason to want to stop anonymous sources if you are a secretive and paranoid president.

For that matter, I don’t like most cable news. The “anchors” are assholes because, like Trump, they are essentially reality TV stars.

But it’s not cable that Trump hates. He seems obsessed with it. He gave the nod to Fox News and Breitbart, without mentioning them, stressing that he didn’t hate the entire press, only the “dishonest media” or “fake news.” So the stage was set for silencing reports that the president doesn’t like as a way to silence all opposition.

It only took a couple hours. Not long after Trump's speech, as I was writing this, the White House banned The New York Times, CNN, and Politico from a scheduled briefing, while allowing Breitbart, Fox News, and other conservative outlets to attend. The AP and Time boycotted the briefing in protest.

All of this matters not because we are heroes—me least of all—but because, if we do it right, we can afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

The president and his cronies are pretty comfortable about now. We have a lot of work to do.

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