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Listen to this Article: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – The Israel Lobby’s Useful Idiot Chris Hedges

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Narrated by Eunice Wong

Text originally published August 12, 2023

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The Kennedy Promise – by Mr. Fish

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The long nightmare of oppression of Palestinians is not a tangential issue. It is a black and white issue of a settler-colonial state imposing a military occupation, horrific violence and apartheid, backed by billions of U.S. dollars, on the indigenous population of Palestine. It is the all powerful against the all powerless. 

Israel uses its modern weaponry against a captive population that has no army, no navy, no air force, no mechanized military units, no command and control and no heavy artillery, while pretending intermittent acts of wholesale slaughter are wars. The crude rockets fired at Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian resistance organizations — a war crime because they target civilians — are not remotely comparable to the 2,000 pound “bunker-buster” Mark-84 bombs with a “kill radius” of over 32 yards and which “create a supersonic wave of pressure when they explode” that have been dropped by Israel on crowded Palestinian neighborhoods, the thousands of Palestinian killed and wounded and the targeted destruction of basic infrastructure, including electrical grids and water purification plants.

Palestinians in Gaza live in an open air prison that is one of the most densely populated spots on the planet. They are denied passports and travel documents. 

Malnutrition is endemic in the Occupied Territories. “High proportions” of the Palestinian population are “deficient in vitamins A, D, and E, which play key roles in vision, bone health, and immune function,” according to a 2022 World Bank report. The report also notes that over 50 percent of those aged six to 23 in Gaza and over half of its pregnant women are anemic and “more than a quarter of pregnant women and more than a quarter of children aged 6–23 months [in the West Bank are] anemic.”

Eighty-eight percent of Gaza’s children suffer from depression, following 15 years of the Israeli blockade, according to a 2022 report from Save the Children and over 51 percent of children were diagnosed with PTSD following the third major war on Gaza in 2014. Only 4.3 percent of the water in Gaza is considered fit for human consumption. Palestinians in Gaza are crammed into unsanitary and overcrowded hovels. They often lack basic medical care. Unemployment rates are among the highest in the world at 46.6 percent. 

Zionism’s goal, since before Israel’s inception, has been to displace Palestinians from their land and reduce those who remain to a struggle for basic subsistence, as Israeli historian Professor Ilan Pappe, notes:

10 March 1948, a group of eleven men, veteran Zionist leaders together with young military Jewish officers, put the final touches on a plan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. That same evening, military orders were dispatched to units on the ground to prepare for the systematic expulsion of Palestinians from vast areas of the country. The orders came with a detailed description of the methods to be used to forcibly evict the people: large-scale intimidation; laying siege to and bombarding villages and population centers; setting fire to homes, properties, and goods; expelling residents; demolishing homes; and, finally, planting mines in the rubble to prevent the expelled inhabitants from returning. Each unit was issued its own list of villages and neighborhoods to target in keeping with the master plan. Code-named Plan D (Dalet in Hebrew)…

Once the plan was finalized, it took six months to complete the mission. When it was over, more than half of Palestine’s native population, over 750,000 people, had been uprooted, 531 villages had been destroyed, and 11 urban neighborhoods had been emptied of their inhabitants. 

These political and historical facts, which I reported on as an Arabic speaker for seven years, four of them as The Middle East Bureau Chief for The New York Times, are hard to ignore. Even from a distance. 

I watched Israeli soldiers taunt boys in Arabic over the loudspeakers of their armored jeep in the Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza. The boys, about 10 years old, then threw stones at an Israeli vehicle. The soldiers opened fire, killing some, wounding others. In the Israeli lexicon this becomes children caught in crossfire. I was in Gaza when F-16 attack jets dropped 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs on densely packed neighborhoods. I saw the corpses of the victims, including children, lined up in neat rows. This became a surgical strike on a bomb-making factory. I watched Israel demolish homes and apartment blocks to create buffer zones between the Palestinians and Israeli troops. I interviewed destitute families camped in the rubble of their homes. The destruction becomes the demolition of the homes of terrorists. I stood in the bombed remains of schools as well as medical clinics and mosques. I heard Israel claim that errant rockets or mortar fire from the Palestinians caused these and other deaths, or that the attacked spots were being used as arms depots or launching sites. I, along with every other reporter I know who has worked in Gaza, have never seen any evidence that Hamas uses civilians as “human shields.” Ironically, there is evidence of the Israeli military using Palestinians as human shields, which Israel’s High Court deemed illegal in 2005. 

There is a perverted logic to Israel’s use of the Big Lie — Große Lüge. The Big Lie feeds the two reactions Israel seeks to elicit — racism among its supporters and terror among its victims. 

There is a heavy political price to pay for defying Israel, whose overt interference in our political process makes the most tepid protests about Israeli policy a political death wish. The Palestinians are poor, forgotten and alone. And this is why the defiance of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is the central issue facing any politician who claims to speak on behalf of the vulnerable and the marginalized. To stand up to Israel has a political cost few, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., are willing to pay. But if you do stand up, it singles you out as someone who puts principles before expediency, who is willing to fight for the wretched of the earth and, if necessary, sacrifice your political future to retain your integrity. Kennedy fails this crucial test of political and moral courage.

Kennedy, instead, regurgitates every lie, every racist trope, every distortion of history and every demeaning comment about the backwardness of the Palestinian people peddled by the most retrograde and far-right elements of Israeli society. He peddles the myth of what Pappe calls “Fantasy Israel.” This alone discredits him as a progressive candidate. It calls into question his judgment and sincerity. It makes him another Democratic Party hack who dances to the macabre tune the Israeli government plays.

Kennedy has vowed to make “the moral case for Israel,” which is the equivalent of making the moral case for apartheid South Africa. He repeats, almost verbatim, talking points from the Israeli propaganda playbook put together by the Republican pollster and political strategist, Frank Luntz. The 112-page study, marked “not for distribution or publication,” which was leaked to Newsweek, was commissioned by The Israel Project. It was written in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 and January 2009 — when 1,387 Palestinians and nine Israelis were killed. 

The strategy document is the blueprint for how Israeli politicians and lobbyists sell Israel. It exposes the wide gap between what Israeli politicians say and what they know to be the truth. It is tailored to tell the outside world, especially Americans, what they want to hear. The report is required reading for anyone attempting to deal with the Israeli propaganda machine.

The document, for example, suggests telling the outside world that Israel “has a right to defensible borders,” but advises Israelis to refuse to define what the borders should be. It advises Israeli politicians to justify the refusal by Israel to allow 750,000 Palestinians and their descendants, who were expelled from their country during the 1948 war, to return home, although the right of return is guaranteed under international law, by referring to this right as a “demand.” It also recommends arguing that Palestinians are seeking mass migrations to seize land inside Israel. It suggests mentioning the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Iraq, Syria and Egypt, who fled anti-Semitism and violence in the Arab world after the creation of the Jewish state. The document recommends saying these refugees also “left property behind,” in essence justifying the Israeli pogrom by the pogrom Arab states carried out after 1948. It recommends blaming the poverty among Palestinians on “Arab nations” that have not provided “a better life for Palestinians.”

What is most cynical about the report is the tactic of expressing a faux sympathy for the Palestinians, who are blamed for their own oppression. 

“Show Empathy for BOTH sides!” the document reads. “The goal of pro-Israel communications is not simply to make people who already love Israel feel good about that decision. The goal is to win new hearts and minds for Israel without losing the support Israel already has.” It says that this tactic will “disarm” audiences.

I doubt Kennedy has read or heard of Luntz’s report. But he has been spoon-fed its talking points and naively spits them back. Israel only wants peace. Israel does not engage in torture. Israel is not an apartheid state. Israel gives Israeli Arabs political and civic rights they do not have in other parts of the Middle East. Palestinians are not deliberately targeted by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Israel respects civil liberties and gender and marriage rights. Israel has “the best judiciary in the world.”  

Kennedy makes other claims, such as his bizarre statement that the Palestinian Authority pays Palestinians to kill Jews anywhere in the world along with falsifications of elemental Middle Eastern history, which are so absurd I will ignore them. But I list below examples from the volumes of evidence that implode the Luntz-inspired talking points Kennedy repeats on behalf of the Israel lobby, not that any evidence can probably puncture his self-serving attachment to “Fantasy Israel.”

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Apartheid

The 2017 U.N. report: “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” concludes that Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.” Since 1967, Palestinians as a people have lived in what the report refers to as four “domains,” in which the fragments of the Palestinian population are ostensibly treated differently but share in common the racial oppression that results from the apartheid regime. 

Those domains are:

1. Civil law, with special restrictions, governing Palestinians who live as citizens of Israel;

2. Permanent residency law governing Palestinians living in the city of Jerusalem; 

3. Military law governing Palestinians, including those in refugee camps, living since 1967 under conditions of belligerent occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; 

4. Policy to preclude the return of Palestinians, whether refugees or exiles, living outside territory under Israel’s control. 

On 19 July 2018, the Israeli Knesset voted “to approve the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law, constitutionally enshrining Jewish supremacy and the identity of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” the Haifa-based civil liberties group Adalah explained. It is the supreme law in Israel “capable of overriding any ordinary legislation.”

In 2021 Israeli human rights group B’Tselem published its report “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid.” 

The report reads:

In the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the Israeli regime implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group — Jews — over another — Palestinians. A key method in pursuing this goal is engineering space differently for each group.

Jewish citizens live as though the entire area were a single space (excluding the Gaza Strip). The Green Line means next to nothing for them: whether they live west of it, within Israel’s sovereign territory, or east of it, in settlements not formally annexed to Israel, is irrelevant to their rights or status.

Where Palestinians live, on the other hand, is crucial. The Israeli regime has divided the area into several units that it defines and governs differently, according Palestinians different rights in each. This division is relevant to Palestinians only…Israel accords Palestinians a different package of rights in every one of these units — all of which are inferior compared to the rights afforded to Jewish citizens. 

“Since 1948,” the reports continues, “Israel has taken over 90% of land within its sovereign territory and built hundreds of Jewish communities, yet not one for Palestinians (with the exception of several communities built to concentrate the Bedouin population, after dispossessing them of most of their property rights),” the report reads.

“Since 1967, Israel has also enacted this policy in the Occupied Territories, dispossessing Palestinians of more than 2,000 km2 on various pretexts. In violation of international law, it has built over 280 settlements in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) for more than 600,000 Jewish citizens. It has devised a separate planning system for Palestinians, designated primarily to prevent construction and development, and has not established a single new Palestinian community.”

Targeting Civilians

Contrary to Kennedy’s claims that “the policy of the Israeli military is to always only attack military targets,” the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure by the Israeli military, and other branches of the Israeli security apparatus, has been extensively documented by Israeli and international organizations.

The 2010 Goldstone report, which is over 500 pages, investigated Israel’s 22-day air and ground assault on Gaza that took place from Dec. 27, 2008, to Jan. 18, 2009. The United Nations Human Rights Council and the European Parliament endorsed the report. 

The Israeli attack killed 1,434 people, including 960 civilians, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. More than 6,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, leaving behind some $3 billion in destruction in one of the poorest areas on Earth. Three Israeli civilians were killed by rockets fired into Israel during the assault. 

The report’s key findings include that:

• Numerous instances of Israeli lethal attacks on civilians and civilian objects were intentional, including with the aim of spreading terror, that Israeli forces used Palestinian civilians as human shields and that such tactics had no justifiable military objective. 

• Israeli forces engaged in the deliberate killing, torture and other inhuman treatment of civilians and deliberately caused extensive destruction of property, outside any military necessity, carried out wantonly and unlawfully.

• Israel violated its duty to respect the right of Gaza’s population to an adequate standard of living, including access to adequate food, water and housing. 

On 14 June of this year, B’Tselem reported that “Top Israeli officials” are “criminally liable for knowingly” ordering airstrikes which were “expected to harm civilians, including children, in the Gaza Strip.”

Contrary to the myth propagated by Kennedy, reports and investigations, both by the U.N. as well as by rights groups, domestic and international, routinely cover suspected or known violations by Palestinian militants when they investigate alleged war crimes. As B’Tselem noted in the same 2019 report, in total, four Israelis were killed and 123 wounded.

Last month, the U.N.’s expert on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Italian international lawyer and academic Francesca Albanese, presented her report to the U.N. Human Rights Council. It makes for very grim reading.

Deprivation of liberty has been a central element of Israel’s occupation since its inception. Between 1967-2006 Israel has incarcerated over 800,000 Palestinians in the occupied territory. Although spiking during Palestinian uprisings, incarceration has become a quotidian reality. Over 100,000 Palestinians were detained during the First Intifada (1987-1993), 70,000 during the Second Intifada (2000-2006), and over 6,000 during the ‘Unity Intifada’ (2021). Approximately 7,000 Palestinians, including 882 children, were arrested in 2022. Currently, almost 5,000 Palestinians, including 155 children, are detained by Israel, 1,014 of them without charge or trial.

Torture

Around 1,200 complaints “alleging violence in Shin Bet [The Israeli Security Agency] interrogations” were filed between 2001 and 2019, according to the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. 

“Zero indictments have been brought,” the committee reports. “This is yet another illustration of the complete systemic impunity enjoyed by the Shin Bet’s interrogators.” 

Coercive methods include sexual harassment and humiliation, beatings, stress positions imposed for hours and interrogations that lasted as long as 19 hours as well as threats of violence against family members. 

“They said they would kill my wife and children. They said they would cancel my mother’s and sister’s permits for medical treatments,” one survivor said in 2016. “I couldn’t sleep because even when I was in my cell, they would wake me up every 15 minutes… I couldn’t tell the difference between day and night… I still scream in my sleep,” another said in 2017.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, expressed “his utmost concern” after a December 2017 ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court exempting security agents from criminal investigation despite their undisputed use of coercive “pressure techniques” against a Palestinian detainee, Assad Abu Gosh. He called the ruling a “license to torture.”

Abu Gosh “was reportedly subjected to ill-treatment including beatings, being slammed against walls, having his body and fingers bent and tied into painful stress positions and sleep deprivation, as well as threats, verbal abuse, and humiliation. Medical examinations confirm that Mr. Abu Gosh suffers from various neurologic injuries resulting from the torture he suffered.”

Civil Liberties 

In the November 2022 elections in Israel, a far-right theocratic, nationalist and openly racist coalition took power. Itamar Ben-Gvir, from the ultra-nationalist Otzma Yehudit, “Jewish Power,” party, is the Minister of National Security. Otzma Yehudit is populated with former members of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach party, which was banned from running for the Knesset in 1988 for espousing a “Nazi-like ideology” that included advocating the ethnic cleansing of all Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as all Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation. His appointment, along with that of other far-right ideologues, including Bezalel Smotrich, the Minister of Finance, effectively jettisons the old tropes liberal Zionists used to defend Israel — that it is the only democracy in the Middle East, that it seeks a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians in a two-state solution, that extremism and racism have no place in Israeli society and that Israel must impose draconian forms of control on the Palestinians to prevent terrorism. 

The new coalition government is reportedly preparing legislation that would be used to disqualify almost all Palestinian/Arab Knesset members from serving in the Israeli parliament, as well as ban their parties from standing in elections. The recent judicial “reforms” gut the independence and oversight of the Israeli courts. The government has also proposed shutting down Kan, the public broadcasting network, although that has been amended to fixing its “flaws”. Smotrich, who opposes LGBTQ rights and refers to himself as a “fascist homophobe,” said on Tuesday he would freeze all funds to Israel’s Palestinian communities and East Jerusalem.

Israel has promulgated a series of laws to curtail public freedoms, brand all forms of Palestinian resistance as terrorism, and label supporters of Palestinian rights, even if they are Jewish, as anti-Semites. The amendment of one of Israel’s principle apartheid laws, the 2010 “Village Committees Law,” grants neighborhoods with up to 700 households the right to reject people from moving in to “preserve the fabric” of the community. Israel has over 65 laws that are used to discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens of Israel and those in the Occupied Territories.

Israel’s Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law prevents Palestinian citizens of Israel from marrying Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Interreligious marriage in Israel is also prohibited. 

As explained by Jacob N. Simon, who served as the President of the Jewish Legal Society at the Michigan State University College of Law:

The combination of the blood line related requirements to be considered Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinical Court and the restriction of marriage requiring religious ceremonies shows an intent to maintain race purity. At its core, this is no different than the desire for pure blooded Aryans in Nazi Germany or pure blooded whites in the Jim Crow Southern United States. 

Those who support these discriminatory laws and embrace Israeli apartheid are blinded by willful ignorance, racism or cynicism. Their goal is to dehumanize Palestinians, champion an intolerant Jewish chauvinism and entice the naïve and the gullible into justifying the unjustifiable. Kennedy, bereft of a moral compass and a belief system rooted in verifiable fact, has not only failed the Palestinians, he has failed us.  

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May 24, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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On Wednesday, May 22, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who had been the candidate for anti-Trump Republicans, said she will vote for Trump. Haley ran against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination and maintained a steady stream of criticism of him, calling him “unstable,” “unhinged” and “a disaster…for our party.” Since she suspended her campaign in early March, she has continued to poll at around 20% of Republican primary voters. 

There are two ways to look at Haley’s capitulation. It might show that Trump is so strong that he has captured the entire party and is sweeping it before him. In contrast, it might show that Trump is weak, and Haley made this concession to his voters either in hopes of stepping into his place or in a desperate move to cobble the party, whose leaders are keenly aware they are an unpopular minority in the country, together. 

The Republican Party is in the midst of a civil war. The last of the establishment Republican leaders who controlled the party before 2016 are trying to wrest control of it back from Trump’s MAGA Republicans, who have taken control of the key official positions. At the same time, Trump’s MAGA voters, while a key part of the Republican base, have pushed the party so far right they have left the majority of Americans—including Republicans—far behind.

Abortion remains a major political problem for Republicans. Trump appointed the three Supreme Court justices who provided the votes to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized the constitutional right to abortion, and he has boasted repeatedly that he ended Roe. This pleases his white evangelical base but not the majority of the American people.

According to a recent Pew poll, 63% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while only 36% think it should be illegal in most or all cases. But Republicans are continuing to push unpopular antiabortion legislation. On Thursday, Louisiana lawmakers approved a law classifying mifepristone and misoprostol, two drugs commonly used in abortions, as dangerous drugs—a category usually reserved for addictive medications—making it a crime to possess abortion pills without a prescription. 

Louisiana prohibits abortions except to save the life of the mother or in cases in which the fetus has a condition incompatible with life. The law requires doctors to get a special license to prescribe the drugs, one of which is used for routine reproductive care as well as abortions. The state would then keep a record of those prescriptions, effectively a database to monitor women’s pregnancies and the doctors who treat them. Louisiana governor Jeff Landry, a Republican, is expected to sign the measure into law. 

Trump has repeatedly promised to weigh in on the mifepristone question but, likely aware that he cannot please both his base and voters, has not done so. On Tuesday, May 21, though, he stepped into a related problem. Since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturned Roe v. Wade, antiabortion activists have begun to talk about contraception as abortion, with some warning that it is “unbiblical.” But in February, 80% of voters polled said that contraception was “deeply important” to them, including 72% of Republican voters. On Tuesday, Trump said he was open to regulating contraception and that his campaign would issue a policy statement on contraception “very shortly.” He later walked back his earlier comments, saying they had been misinterpreted.

On May 19 the same judge who tried to remove mifepristone from the market by rescinding the FDA approval of it, Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, blocked the Biden administration from implementing a new rule that requires sellers at gun shows and online to get licenses and conduct background checks. The rule closes what’s known as the “gun show loophole.” According to the Penn State McCourtney Institute for Democracy, 86% of Americans want mandatory background checks for all gun purchases. 

Trump himself is a problem for the party. His base is absolutely loyal, but he is a deeply problematic candidate for anyone else. As Susan Glasser outlined in the New Yorker yesterday, in the past week he chickened out of testifying in his ongoing criminal trial for paying hush money to an adult film actress to keep damaging information from voters in 2016 after insisting for weeks that he would. He talked about staying in office for a third term, ran a video promising that the United States will become a “unified Reich” when he wins reelection, and accused President Joe Biden of trying to have him assassinated. He will be 78 in a few weeks and is having trouble speaking.

In addition to his ongoing criminal trial, on Tuesday a filing unsealed in the case of Trump’s retention of classified documents showed that a federal judge, Beryl Howell, believed investigators had “strong evidence” that Trump “intended” to hide those documents from the federal government.

Also revealed were new photographs of Trump’s personal aide Walt Nauta moving document boxes before one of Trump’s lawyers arrived to review what Trump had, along with the information that once Trump realized that the men moving the boxes could be captured on Mar-a-Lago’s security cameras, he allegedly made sure they would avoid the cameras. The new details suggest that prosecutors have more evidence than has been made public. 

This might explain why, as Asawin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley of Rolling Stone reported today, Trump is pressuring Republicans to pass a law shielding presidents from prosecution in state or local courts, moving prosecutions to federal courts where a president could stop them.

Yesterday, Marilyn W. Thompson of ProPublica reported on yet another potentially harmful legal story. There were a number of discrimination and harassment complaints made against the Trump campaign in 2016 and 2020 that Trump tried to keep quiet with nondisclosure agreements. A federal magistrate judge has ordered the Trump campaign to produce a list of the complaints by May 31. Those complaints include the charge that the 2016 campaign paid women less than men and that Trump kissed a woman without her consent. 

Trump’s current behavior is not likely to reassure voters. 

Yesterday he wrote on social media that “Evan Gershkovich, the Reporter from The Wall Street Journal, who is being held by Russia, will be released almost immediately after the Election, but definitely before I assume Office. He will be HOME, SAFE, AND WITH HIS FAMILY. Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, will do that for me, but not for anyone else, and WE WILL BE PAYING NOTHING!”

There is no good interpretation of this post. If Trump does have that sort of leverage with Putin, why? And why not use it immediately? Is he openly signaling to Putin to ignore the Biden administration’s ongoing negotiations for Gershkovich’s release? Trevor Reed, who was arrested in Russia in 2019 when visiting his girlfriend in Moscow, noted: “As a former wrongful detainee in Russia, I would just like to remind everyone that President Trump had the ability to get myself and Paul Whelan out of Russia for years and chose not to. I would be skeptical of any claims about getting Evan Gershkovich back in a day.”  

Reed was freed in 2022 as part of a prisoner swap arranged by the Biden administration. 

Last night, at a rally in New York, Trump accepted the endorsement of alleged gang members, rappers Michael Williams (Sheff G) and Tegan Chambers (Sleepy Hallow). In 2023 the two men were indicted with 30 other people on 140 counts, including murder, attempted murder, illegal possession of firearms, and at least a dozen shootings. Sheff G was released from jail in April after posting a $1.5 million bond. 

Then, Trump’s people claimed that 25,000 people turned out for the rally, but they requested a permit for only 3,500, and only 3,400 tickets were issued. Aerial shots suggest there were 800–1,500 people there. 

MAGA voters don’t care about any of this, apparently, but non-MAGA Republicans and Independents do. And this might be behind Haley’s promise to vote for Trump. The unpopularity of the MAGA faction might allow Haley to step in if Trump crashes and burns, so long as she kowtows to Trump and his base. Or it might be calculated to try to repair the rift in hopes that the party can cobble together some kind of unity by November. As The Shallow State noted on X, Haley’s announcement showed that “Trump is fragile.”

But Haley’s statement that she will vote for Trump does not necessarily mean her voters will follow her. Deputy political director for the Biden campaign Juan Peñalosa met with Haley supporters in a prescheduled zoom call hours after Haley’s announcement. On Thursday afternoon the campaign issued a press release titled: “To Haley Voters: There’s a Home For You on Team Biden-Harris.”

MAGA Republicans know their agenda is unpopular, and they are working to seize power through voter suppression, violence, gerrymandering, and packing the legal system. But there are signs a bipartisan defense of democracy may be gathering strength.  

Notes:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/nikki-haley-says-she-will-vote-for-trump/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/nikki-haley-announcement-2024-race-donald-trump-south-carolina/

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/haley-shes-dropping-feel-kiss-ring-trump/story?id=107370200

https://meidasnews.com/news/trump-accepts-endorsement-from-indicted-gang-members

https://newrepublic.com/post/181931/maga-spin-trump-bronx-rally-size

https://blog.lime.link/visualizing-crowd-sizes/

https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/fact-sheet/public-opinion-on-abortion/

https://www.politico.com/news/2024/05/23/louisiana-abortion-pill-criminal-penalties-00159735

https://time.com/6977434/birth-control-contraception-access-griswold-threat/

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/26/us/politics/republicans-birth-control-ivf.html

https://apnews.com/article/trump-contraception-birth-control-abortion-2024-8f73bb1b3a5864b24157f15eb272a3e6

https://www.vox.com/scotus/2024/3/26/24112540/supreme-court-mifepristone-fda-alliance-hippocratic-medicine-abortion-pills

https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-judge-blocks-biden-backed-rule-expanding-gun-background-checks-2024-05-20/

https://missouriindependent.com/briefs/new-rule-to-close-gun-show-loophole-finalized-by-biden-administration/

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2023/07/25/poll-majority–support-universal-background-checks-gun-licensing-assault-weapons-ban

https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-bidens-washington/there-is-literally-nothing-trump-can-say-that-will-stop-republicans-from-voting-for-him

https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/trump-republicans-pass-law-jail-1235027139/

https://www.politico.com/newsletters/playbook/2024/05/10/maga-mike-vs-speaker-johnson-00157258

https://abcnews.go.com/International/trevor-reed-american-freed-russia-prisoner-swap-hurt/story?id=101641167

https://www.propublica.org/article/trump-campaign-harassment-bullying-lawsuits

https://www.cnn.com/2024/05/21/politics/mar-a-lago-documents-walt-nauta-donald-trump/index.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2024/05/21/trump-florida-classified-documents-motions/

https://www.cnn.com/2024/05/23/politics/nikki-haley-biden-trump/index.html

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Could Trump Turn the Bronx Red? Olivia Reingold

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Former president Donald Trump greets supporters at his rally in the Bronx’s Crotona Park on Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Jabin Botsford via Getty Images)

In an overgrown field in the Bronx, a borough that has not voted red in a presidential election since 1924, Orthodox Jews, fraternity brothers, George Santos, Dominican immigrants, off-duty firefighters, and thousands of others are craning their necks for a view of Donald J. Trump. 

“Thank you, thank you,” Trump mouths to the crowd over the tune of “God Bless the USA.” 

He strides up to the podium, in a breeze that rattles the American flags behind him but is no match for his frozen blond quiff. Thousands of hands spring into the air, pumping rhythmically to chants of “U! S! A!”

“Hello, New York City, and hello to all the incredible tough, strong, hardworking American patriots right here in the Bronx,” roars the former president. “Who would think—who would think?”

Who would think, indeed. Not Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, who for the past five weeks has been trying to pin a felony conviction on Trump involving hush money he allegedly gave to a porn star. Two days earlier, Trump had shuffled out of the courtroom, quiet except for a quick interview where he told reporters, “Remember. . . I’m not allowed to say what I’d really like to say,” referring to the gag order barring him from publicly commenting on the case. 

“Hello, New York City, and hello to all the incredible tough, strong, hardworking American patriots right here in the Bronx,” roared the former president. “Who would think—who would think?” (Jim Watson via Getty Images)

But now, in front of a sea of at least 8,000 in Crotona Park, the prospect of becoming a convicted felon seems far from Trump’s mind. “We are going to turn New York City around, and we are going to turn it around very, very quickly!” he proclaims to cheers from the crowd.

Though New Yorkers are famously Democratic, more of them seem to be warming to Trump’s America First message. Perhaps it’s the rising crime, or the migrants who are increasingly begging in the streets, or the fact that it now takes a family of four at least $318,000 a year to live here. Whatever it is, according to a Siena College poll this month, Joe Biden has lost 20 points in New York City, compared to his 2020 victory when he won 76 percent of the vote in Trump’s hometown. Meanwhile, Trump is up seven points, with Biden’s lead cut to single digits in the 2024 race for president.

One New Yorker who needed no convincing is John Wang, a 44-year-old acupuncturist born in China who became a U.S. citizen in 2011 and has already voted for Trump twice. He says people like him—Trump voters—are the “silent majority.” He brought along his 7-year-old son, who played in the grass with a fake million-dollar bill bearing the face of the billionaire from Queens.

“I’m from communism, I know how bad it is,” says John Wang, a 44-year-old acupuncturist born in China who became a U.S. citizen in 2011. “Now I feel like here is getting like China.” (Photo by Olivia Reingold for The Free Press)

“He was born in Manhattan,” says Wang of his son, who can name every single American president throughout history, in order. “Then we moved to Queens, and by the time I had my third child, we moved to Long Island ’cause you can’t live in the city anymore—it’s too dangerous.”

Wang says he was sick of worrying about getting pushed onto the subway tracks, which is exactly how one New Yorker died in March, allegedly shoved by a perpetrator with a violent past who was out on bail. Wang, who enlisted in the Marine Corps in order to become a citizen, tells me he was drawn to the U.S. because it would allow him to openly practice his Christian faith. Now, he’s troubled by the media, which “tells people Donald Trump is a dictator,” and by the anti-Israel mobs who cover their faces and “don’t know what they’re screaming for.”

“I’m from communism, I know how bad it is,” says Wang, wearing a bright red MAGA hat and work boots stamped with the Stars and Stripes. “Now I feel like here is getting like China.”

Top Democrats thought this wouldn’t happen on their turf. The morning of the rally, Rep. Ritchie Torres, who represents the portion of the South Bronx that includes Crotona Park, told an MSNBC panel that he’s “confident that the people of the Bronx are not going to buy the snake oil he’s selling.” U.S. House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also told a local affiliate that Trump could not “trick” Bronx residents into supporting him. “It is truly an embarrassment to him, and I am looking forward to the response of everyday Bronxites talking about how they feel about him coming to their backyard,” said the congresswoman, whose district is east of the park.

But the people of the Bronx—and New Jersey, and Queens, and Long Island, and upstate New York, many of whom traveled miles to come see the former president whip the crowd into a frenzy—told me otherwise. 

Adam Solis, a 33-year-old who’s half-Dominican and half–Puerto Rican, says AOC does not represent even “one percent” of the values of the Bronx, where he’s lived his entire life. 

“A lot of the morals and the traditions that come out of the Bronx have always been right-leaning and conservative,” he says, his two diamond earrings glistening in the sun. “We all believe in God here in the Bronx, we believe in tradition, we believe in family values, the nuclear family—these are all pillars of our existence.”

Trump supporters in the Bronx chant “U! S! A!” (Spencer Platt via Getty Images)

I hear members of the crowd murmuring in multiple languages—Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew, and possibly Portuguese. “Ay, dios mío,” gasps one middle-aged woman, her enormous false eyelashes peeking from beneath the brim of a MAGA hat. Deeper into the crowd, a twentysomething woman perches on a man’s shoulders as if at a music festival, calling out in ecstasy: “Weeee love yooooou, Trump.” When Trump mentions New York, a redheaded boy cups his hands around his red cheeks to scream, “Yeah Trump, turn it red!”

While most other rallygoers are screaming at the top of their lungs, Samuel Heath-Quashie is less starstruck. Still, come November, the black 19-year-old student at Bergen Community College in New Jersey tells me he plans to cast his first-ever vote for Trump.

“It’s not like I look up to him like he’s my god,” the teen shrugs. “He’s a man—he does things I don’t agree with. But so does Biden, and at the end of the day, I want someone who’s going to help the American people.” 

One day, he says, he hopes to move out of his parents’ home in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, but inflation has tanked those dreams. When I ask him if he’s found any apartments he’d be able to afford, he says, “Yeah—they’re not good. They have mold and they have bugs.” He pauses, grimacing. “And I don’t like mold or bugs.” 

“A lot of the morals and the traditions that come out of the Bronx have always been right-leaning and conservative,” said Adam Solis, 33. (Selcuk Acar via Getty Images)

Across the lawn, I find Mika Kol wandering around, asking if anyone has a lighter she can borrow. She’s wearing micro jeans shorts and a hat bearing the legend “I <3 Jesus,” and I assume she’s a Fashion Institute of Technology student. Close: she tells me she’s an online seller of vintage designer clothes under the alias “trustfundgoth.”

“I voted for Biden last time because I thought it would make my mom happy, and she pays my bills,” shrugs Kol, 25, who tells me she is a Jew of Iraqi heritage born in Texas. 

She said she started having second thoughts during the summer of 2020, when other fashion sellers pressured her to give ten percent of her profits to Black Lives Matter, which she calls “Fraud, Inc.” “All that social pressure made me feel like, you know what, I can’t stand woke people. They’re just holding the left hostage.”

And then she realized: “I could say whatever I want around conservative people, and they’ll just be happy that I’m there.”

When I exit the park, I happen upon dozens of police officers in riot gear. Young men and women—draped in keffiyehs and many in N95 masks—are standing behind them on a giant rock, shaking a sign that says, “Fuck Trump / Fuck Biden / The people of the Bronx / We run this shit.”

Anti-Trump protesters gather outside the rally. “It’s just wasteful energy,” said Youssef Naim, 24, of the demonstrators. “Trump is going to win, for sure.” (Stephanie Keith via Getty Images)

“They don’t give a fuck about you,” the protesters chant at the Trump crowd, clapping between words. 

I ask a young man, standing next to me, dressed all in black, what he thinks of the scene. 

“It’s just wasteful energy,” says the man, who introduced himself as Youssef Naim, 24. He said no matter how loud the protesters chant, “Trump is going to win, for sure.”

“And that’s not me saying that’s because he’s a better person—that’s because of a multitude of things,” says Naim, an art teacher who adds that he’s nonetheless leaning toward voting for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. 

But he has no trouble explaining Trump’s appeal: “A lot of people had this experience that they did better when Trump was in office, paired with Biden shitting himself and having dementia.” 

I ask him if the protesters, who are now marching toward the subway, see what he sees, that the former president could actually become the sitting president once again. 

“Half of them probably don’t. The other half are here because their friends are here, and then a select few just don’t want to admit it.”

Olivia Reingold is a field reporter at The Free Press. Follow her on X @Olivia_Reingold and read her piece “They’re Black Democrats. And They’re Suing Chicago Over Migrants.” 

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What If Raising Awareness Doesn’t Help? Suzy Weiss

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“I was walking up the terminal in Newark airport early in the morning recently when I walked past a gate that had been festooned with mylar balloons spelling out ‘Autism Awareness.’” (Image via X, illustration by The Free Press)

Mark your calendars, because July is Fibroid Awareness Month. Maybe you already celebrated National Fibroid Awareness Week—yes, there is both a month and a week—which starts in mid-April and, little-known fact, overlaps with National Infertility Awareness Week. In April, we’re also meant to have awareness for foot health, stress, irritable bowel syndrome, congenital diaphragmatic hernias, STIs, Parkinson’s, limb loss, and frogs

It’s easy to dismiss these holidays as marketing ploys, or the purview of bloated HR departments in search of new excuses to send emails. But look closely and you’ll notice that the mission of Raising Awareness, along with its cousin, Ending Stigma—we often Raise Awareness to End Stigma—has carved into our popular culture a huge place for itself. 

Still, there are a lot of emails. 

A search of my inbox surfaces calls to raise awareness for mental health (which gets its own month, May), veterans’ experiences, guns, epilepsy, and antisemitism.

To raise awareness for domestic violence, a building in downtown Pittsburgh was lit with purple lights. A bakery I like encouraged me to buy pink macarons for breast cancer awareness. I was walking up the terminal in Newark airport early in the morning recently when I walked past a gate that had been festooned with Mylar balloons spelling out “Autism Awareness.” It was 6 a.m. The gate was empty. Travelers, autistic and not, had presumably shoved off to their destination. 

“Tourette awareness” is something I’ve learned about thanks to Baylen Dupree, a TikToker I follow along with 9 million other people, who posts videos of her involuntary tics. I’m not picking on Dupree: she’s just one voice in a massive chorus of chronic illness sufferers who display their symptoms—this part is often referred to as a “journey”—to the world on social media. The goal—say it with me now—is to raise awareness for their conditions. 

Awareness is a big tent. Under awareness goes anything wacky, intimate, perverse, or otherwise eye-catching that allows you to accrue followers who you can then sell things to. A running influencer who spreads awareness about chronic illness, specifically Epstein-Barr, swears by Better Nature Tempeh. Brittney Mahomes hawks Auvi-Q, an EpiPen approved for toddlers, while raising awareness about food allergies. “Disabled Eliza” uses a duster made by Flash

It’s not a coincidence that the most shocking conditions get the most eyeballs. Perhaps we tell ourselves it’s “consciousness-raising” or “bringing visibility to an issue” or “using our influence,” but let’s be real: it’s voyeurism with a built-in pardon. Being authentic, finding community, and ending stigmas are, on the surface, good things. The internet is for everyone—no one should be judged, much less punished for, things they can’t control, whether it’s a rare blood disorder or a deformity or a disability. People can and do share whatever they want online, but it’s worth noting when authenticity demands intimate details for twisted incentives.

I am not proud to report that I was recently served up a video on Instagram Reels of a cute girl named Hannah. Hannah is an 8-year-old who suffers from a new-ish eating disorder—it was introduced to the DSM in 2013—called AFRID, or avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. She is a clinically picky eater whose “safe foods” include Goldfish crackers and string cheese and whose “fear foods” include guacamole, spaghetti, applesauce, and cucumbers. The video showed Hannah trying mashed potatoes for the first time. She said the bowl of food made her “uneasy” before spooning three incredibly tiny bites into her mouth, which made her gag and nearly cry. 

A YouTube video explaining Hannah’s journey to a diagnosis—which includes her mother sharing her height and weight—is festooned with hashtags including #arfidawareness, #eatingdisorderawareness, #autismawareness, #mentalhealthawareness, and, at the end, simply #awareness. 

I watched a few more short videos—she tried a plum, orange Jell-O—before I stopped myself: Why in the world am I watching a child that I don’t know struggle through eating a honeydew? Why is anyone watching this? 

The comments included notes from cheering teens, nosy moms, judgy nutritionists, and perverted men. There are hundreds of comments. Hannah isn’t a niche internet oddity. She has 1.4 million followers. She went on Good Morning America, where she told the host, “Whenever I try food I think about all the people that I’m helping.” She added, “It motivates me.” But becoming well should be its own reward, something judged by parents and doctors and therapists.

ARFID is not well known, so until the proper research can be done and more resources cultivated, the segment laments, “Hannah is doing what she can: raising awareness.”

Awareness hasn’t always been an excuse to gawk, or an eternally open-ended project. 

Growing up, I remember running 5Ks on Sundays for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. There were pale pink wreaths of balloons and pink bagels and many, many ribbons. There was always a woman flanked by other women on a platform announcing that some massive amount of money had been raised to put toward breast cancer research, resources, and earlier detection. They gave out pamphlets for how to self-screen for lumps. I still do examinations in the shower because of it.

But somewhere along the way, that kind of real-world awareness got surreal. 

Awareness these days doesn’t ask for much. It also doesn’t offer much. It invites you to be on your phone and just let the awareness wash over you. There used to be an ask, usually money, tied to awareness, but lately we’ve let things get loose and let awareness drift away from any end. Finding a cure for autism, diagnoses for which are booming, has become passé. The new drugs to combat obesity weren’t the result of awareness, but discovery. It’s unclear how being aware of endometriosis or limb loss or Tourette is going to help any of those people, or ourselves. We’ve let people run roughshod over our consciousness in the name of awareness. 

It’s worth asking: What are we not raising awareness for? Maybe it’s the influence of Big Pharma on our increasingly sick lives and of Big Tech on our increasingly corrupted ways of dealing with it. 

I hope fibroids and frogs and IBS get proper research funding. I hope Hannah—the little girl searching for more foods to add to her safe list—gets better. But I wonder if she is destined to join the fight for children’s internet privacy, or if one day she’ll be declared cured and allowed to retire the Instagram page and fade away into normalcy, or if she’ll keep on trying to find new safe foods, in front of her followers, forever.

Suzy Weiss is a reporter at The Free Press. Read her piece, “Hurkle-Durkle Is the New Way to Self-Care Ourselves to Death,” and follow her on X @SnoozyWeiss.

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