A conversation with author and activist Sarah Kendzior about just how bad things are.
According to Sarah Kendzior, the Mueller report doesn’t even scratch the surface of what’s been happening.
In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Kendzior, the no-holds-barred commentator, calls special counsel Robert Mueller incompetent. She sees the country as being in the grip of an international crime syndicate, engaged in money laundering, fraud, and racketeering, with the express goal of bringing American democracy to its knees.
Kendzior tells Jeff Schechtman of her frustration with what she sees as an absence of moral courage and an unwillingness to acknowledge the magnitude of the country’s problems.
She explains why she thinks impeachment is absolutely necessary and asks, “if Trump isn’t impeachable, who is?” She wants to see O.J. Simpson–style hearings, live on TV, and on a daily basis, to make people aware of the criminality that she sees all around.
In fact, she says, a lot of the corruption started long before Trump, who she doesn’t believe is ever going to leave office willingly.
She says that we have to stop believing that a savior is coming. From her perspective, most politicians seem to be hell-bent on letting America roll over and die.
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|Jeff Schechtman:||Welcome to Radio WhoWhatWhy. I’m Jeff Schechtman.
Sarah Kendzior is a unique and passionate voice, not just speaking truth to power, but trying to extract power from truth, the power to make the country and the world a better place. She’s a writer, a scholar, the co-host of Gaslit Nation podcast, author of the bestseller The View from Flyover Country, and it is my pleasure to welcome Sarah Kendzior back to Radio
|Sarah, thanks so much for joining us.|
|Sarah Kendzior:||Thank you for having me.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||How high are the stakes right now, do you think, with respect to the future of the country, the future of this country as a democratic nation?|
|Sarah Kendzior:||I mean, they’re as high as they can get. It’s been that way for years, and it was seen over the past three years since Trump’s election is basically him and his administration following an autocratic playbook, you know? We have reached the point where the majority of our institutions are compromised. We’ve had purges, we’ve had stacked courts, we have long term repercussions that will linger even if Trump does go in 2020. We’re in very bad shape. Unfortunately we’re not unique. We’re seeing this throughout the world, especially in the West. We see it in England with Brexit. These are interconnected phenomena that makes it all the more dangerous.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||One of the arguments that was made for a long time is that those autocratic impulses were at least checked by the incompetence of the Trump administration. That seems to be less true today.|
|Sarah Kendzior:||Oh god, I mean that argument was incredibly naïve. I think I went on your show right after the election and warned everybody about that, that these are not in fact incompetent people. These are criminals. This is a transnational crime syndicate, and you don’t need to have particular geopolitical acumen, like in the case of Trump, to be a front for that kind of organization. They’re essentially kleptocratic. They’re about money. They’re about money laundering, fraud, racketeering. These are activities that they’re skilled at. They’ve been skilled at them and engaged in them for decades, and the same is true with their mastery of spin. They’re very good at manipulating the media. They’re very good at deceiving people, and they’re very experienced in it. This idea that they’re somehow incompetent, one it’s wrong, but also <one> just doesn’t even understand what their agenda is, which is basically to destroy the government and to bring America as a powerful democracy to its knees.|
|They are purposely destructive. They put in people to lead departments that they want to destroy. The Public Education Secretary doesn’t believe in public education. The Housing Secretary doesn’t believe in housing. That was intentional. That wasn’t some sort of accident, like gee we accidentally picked the worst person for the job. That was the goal. I think people finally do understand this now. I think we’re seeing a new development in it with all of the acting positions which of course makes it much easier for Trump and his inner circle, particularly Kushner and Ivanka, to consolidate power. This is so typical. These are all things I said would happen years ago and others said would happen years ago. We were constantly told, “Oh checks and balances, oh the Constitution,” and you know, laws are only as good as people who will uphold them. What we’ve found is that people aren’t particularly good or particularly courageous at all.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Why has it been so difficult, do you think, for people to understand what the agenda really is, even well-meaning Democrats, as you’ve written about?|
|Sarah Kendzior:||Yeah. It’s frustrating, you know, because it was right in our face and it was also part of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. She was another person who went around warning everyone that this would happen, so she did this on a very big, national platform, like far bigger than what I had, so there’s really no excuse for people not knowing. It’s a matter of them refusing to believe it. I think some of it is falling back on American exceptionalism, believing this can’t happen here, but I think a lot of it is that officials did not react with the urgency that they needed to, to stop criminality from infiltrating executive power. There were a lot of people that thought if Trump is really as bad as I’ve heard, if Manafort is really as dangerous as I’ve heard, if all these infractions we’ve witnessed with our own eyes between Trump and Russia and Trump and various dictators seems to indicate, what they by common sense would indicate, that he’s in cahoots with dictators and autocrats, then that seems really bad and clearly someone will intervene and stop it. The FBI will intervene or Obama and their administration will intervene, or the CIA. There’s this belief that if everything was really at stake, if everything was really threatening to collapse, that people would make a stand and do something about it, and they did not.|
|I’ve been calling it ‘normalcy bias’. That’s, I think, the kind of allure that fell over Americans. It’s intertwined with this belief that a savior is coming, and then later on that kind of mentality became projected onto Mueller. People kept saying, “Mueller will fix it,” and when it was clear that wasn’t going to happen, it’s like, “Oh, Pelosi will do it,” and then she’s like, “Yeah, I’m not gonna bother impeaching.” Now people finally, I think, I guess, seem to understand what’s happening and that no one’s coming to save us, but I have to say I’ve seen this again and again. People kind of wake up. They did after Comey was fired, they did after Charlottesville, they did after Helsinki. They’re doing it now with the Barr memo, and then they go back to this comforting illusion that they’ll just get voted out in 2020 or that things will somehow get resolved on their own. That’s just very unlikely to happen, unfortunately.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||And yet the political climate seems to be on a glide path to 2020 at this point, with word still coming from Congress that impeachment is off the table.|
|Sarah Kendzior:||Yeah, I don’t understand why they’re unwilling to impeach because what we need are hearings. We need hearings where evidence is presented to the public without a media filter. I think people who support Trump have just as much of a right to this information as opponents. This is not a partisan matter. This is a matter of informing Americans, which the media just has not been able to do, either because they’re incompetent, they’re used to working in a democratic system and they don’t understand this is a kleptocratic system. They don’t understand their priorities, but there’s also just so much scandal, there’s so much crime. There’s so many developments that it really is difficult to do this. I think daily hearings Watergate style where the evidence is laid out in the public domain and all these individual incidents, you know which are horrifying in their own right, but it’s really the cumulative effect of them that matters. If people grasped that, then I think they’ll sort of see where we are as a country, and that’s a positive thing. I think there’s power in information. There’s power in truth.|
|I do not know why the democrats would reject what is not only an effective political weapon but is, more importantly, their constitutional duty. It is their job to impeach him. If he is not impeachable, then who is? If he thinks that he can live above the law, that the president is not accountable to the rule of law of the United States, what kind of message is that sending? I hope they change their minds. I never understood our calculation to begin with. There are other Democrats who do want impeachment, who did want impeachment, you know Maxine Waters in particular. I hope that now people see that Pelosi calculations failed. I don’t know whether she thought the Mueller report would come out and somehow the Republicans who are of course implicated in the Russia probe, would magically come to her side. That was never going to happen, but maybe now that she sees this maybe she’ll go back to wanting to do her job, which is serving, protecting, representing the people of the United States, and that’s just unfortunately a job that she hasn’t been doing.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Is there a legitimate political calculation to be made that the public sense of being overwhelmed by all of this and frustrated by so much of it, as you say, could ultimately lead not to impeachment because the Senate is still in Republican control, but to Trump’s reelection in 2020.|
|Sarah Kendzior:||I don’t think it will. I mean, this would never be an ordinary impeachment hearing because of the way Trump operates. He doesn’t respect the US as a democracy, and will never leave office. I’m trying to envision a scenario where he goes and we vote him out. He is not going to want to leave. If they impeach him, he’s not going to want to leave because if he leaves, he will likely be prosecuted for these crimes and lose his money and lose his power, so the presidency functions as a way of being immune from legal consequence. That’s his calculation and as bad a calculation as it is, it’s logical. The point of the impeachment hearings would be the hearings themselves. It would be a presentation of information to the public, under oath, bringing all of these players who have either remained completely silent, like Mueller, or who have been implicated in the probe, these various Republican actors and witnesses to all of these crimes, and just have them talk this through.|
|Honestly, they should do it O.J. style. This should be something that people are keyed into, are watching every day. We kind of saw shades of that during the Comey hearings, during the Cohen hearings. Americans want to know what’s going on, and they really are overwhelmed by the amount of information and the amount of horrific things that have transpired, and I think it’s the obligation of lawmakers and representatives to break that down to the public in a way that they can understand. Will it lead to conviction in the Senate under the GOP? I highly doubt it, and even if it did, as I said, Trump won’t leave, but at least we’ll know what we’re dealing with, and when you know what you’re dealing with, it’s a lot easier to fight it.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||How much of this is clouded by what you talked so much about, the gaslighting that comes from Trump and the blatant lies?|
|Sarah Kendzior:||Yeah, I mean that’s just frustrating phenomenon. That’s how Trump has operated throughout his life as a quote unquote “businessman”, and also as a politician, and we’ve known this from the start. Right after his inauguration he lied about the size of the crowd in a way that was just a lie that flaunts power. We could see photos. We knew that this was a lie, we knew that he was lying. He knew that we knew that he was lying, and he didn’t care because the point was to show that his perception of reality is so powerful it trumps actual reality. So the problem I think at this point is that, you know, we know this play, we know this move. The media still struggles with how to cover this.|
|We saw this with The New York Times when the Barr memo came out and we got this giant headline saying that Mueller exonerates Trump, which is just not what happened. It was reminiscent of their other headline about FBI sees no link between Trump and Russia. People look at headlines and a lot of the headlines just reinforce the lies that Trump tells without debunking them. And I think George Lakoff who studies linguistics had good advice about this, that you debunk the lie straight on, you tell the truth first, then refer to the fact that they lied, then explain why did they lie? What was the political motive? What was the agenda behind the lie? Then you can address it without falling prey to repeating it because repetition is what Trump is very good at. He repeats the same phrases over and over again, so they just kind of rattle around in peoples’ heads subconsciously or not, and I think that that power has been really underestimated by Democrats. I think that they, even years later, don’t seem to understand how to fight it and I think that’s generally true with the media, and I also think quite a bit of the media is on Trump’s side, and that’s an unfortunate thing because that’s not the side of truth.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Where do you think the Mueller investigation went off the rails?|
|Sarah Kendzior:||I think it went off the rails about late 2017. Honestly right after the point where he indicted Manafort, then you saw a lot of weird things happen. You saw Lindsey Graham, who’s one of the last Republican holdouts, you know, one of the people who wanted the Russia probe to start to begin with, along with John McCain, he does this 180 where suddenly he’s Trump’s dearest lackey. You saw a general kind of culture of fear after that. Then you see Mueller making a lot of bad moves, like he’s letting Manafort out without GPS tracking, and of course he has to bring him back. He lets Rick Gates out and says, “Where are you going?” and then of course Rick Gates becomes an assassination target. Some of worst mistakes came later, things like the Flynn sentence. I mean, when that happened, I think that was a year later in December 2018 when Flynn was being sentenced and the judge was like, “This guy is incredibly dangerous. He’s a traitor, he sold out his country.” Flynn of course notably was trying to sell nuclear material. These are very, very serious crimes, and this judge could not believe that Mueller was recommending no jail time, just for as a public safety matter, how can you recommend that this guy just run around. That’s when I began to really completely abandon hope that things were running with integrity on Mueller’s end. That and the Manafort deal. I’m still stuck on that.|
|I still cannot believe that Mueller thought that Paul Manafort was going to cooperate with him, especially when it came on the day that George Papadopoulos gets two weeks for basically a non-cooperation agreement. He pretended to cooperate with Mueller, he didn’t. He impeded the probe, and he walked away with a mere two weeks. Of course, Manafort, who had just been convicted by a jury, a jury and a judge who were threatened at that, sees that and is like, “Yeah, I’m totally going to do that too.” I remember watching this thinking Mueller cannot be this stupid. I have to be reading this wrong. This had to be more complex, but it wasn’t. I was correct of course, Manafort went on to not actually cooperate with Mueller. He went on to also impede the probe, I think to a much greater extent that Papadopoulos did. At the least, Mueller is incompetent, and at this point I don’t understand why he’s not speaking out for the good of the country, just like out of patriotic duty, but he has an obligation to speak out because he’s the voice of authority on this matter. That he’s refusing to, I don’t know if it’s complicity, I don’t know if it’s cowardice. I don’t know what’s behind it, I just know that it’s very destructive and it should stop.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Is there an indication that our institutions have failed to the point where there’s no way to bring some of them back in this year of Trump?|
|Sarah Kendzior:||I think they were already failing. Trump didn’t emerge in a vacuum. All of these institutions had taken a beating from the result of really terrible, long term systemic decisions. The war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the financial crisis, and the lack of consequences for all of these dirty dealings, for all of this white collar crime. You know, we saw incredible corruption. We saw income inequality growing to such an enormous way that normal people lost a lot of their leverage, survival became more of the game, I think, in terms of political life, and people grew frustrated and alienated. In many ways, these institutions need to be really rebuilt in a meaningful way. I think what happened to the Voting Rights Act is a key example, where it was partially repealed in 2013 and people are like, “Oh yeah, we should bring it back to the 2013 level,” and I’m just thinking, no, we need something much stronger than that. We need a new VRA, like one that accounts for all the other ways that election integrity can be compromised. Things like that.|
|So I hope people are thinking big in terms of what we need to do because we basically need to counterbalance decades of corruption that have rotted these institutions from the inside and made them ripe for people like Trump and his cohorts to manipulate them for their own profit and their own benefit.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||And finally, what if anything gives you hope in all of this?|
|Sarah Kendzior:||I don’t really think of this in terms of hope or hopelessness, it’s more the things I like about it, I guess, are that people have not, on the whole, given up. People are engaged, they are paying attention. You can see this quantitatively as you look at the midterm numbers. You look at the engagement with the 2020 election, although I do not think that itself is the solve for the reasons that I just listed about election integrity being compromised, but I think people are not willing to just roll over and let this country die. I think it’s possible that unfortunately, our representatives, many of our politicians, are willing to roll over and let it die, but I don’t think that’s true of the country as a whole. I do like the representatives that continue to fight, people like Maxine Water, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Adam Schiff. I like Elizabeth Warren as a candidate. They’re coming out, they’re identifying the problem, they’re sticking to their guns despite a lot of political pressure. It’s not enough, you know, but it’s something, and I hope that people have the courage to just use common sense and realize what a crisis we are in and just think, “How can I help? How can I help on a local level? How can I help do documentation?” And realize that the truth still has value in this. Don’t submit completely to cynicism, even though things are very rough.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Sarah Kendzior, I thank you so much for spending time with us here on Radio WhoWhatWhy.|
|Sarah Kendzior:||Oh, thank you.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Thank you, and thank you for listening and for joining us here on Radio WhoWhatWhy. I hope you join us next week for another Radio WhoWhatWhy podcast. I’m Jeff Schechtman. If you like this podcast, please feel free to share and help others find it by rating and reviewing it on iTunes. You can also support this podcast and all the work we do by going to whowhatwhy.org/donate.|
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