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Kelly Denton-Borhaug, Living on a Planet of Lies

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Ripley’s Believe It or Not has nothing on our moment and it hardly matters where you start! Take, for instance, our last president’s complaint about the U.S. military, according to a new book, The Divider: Trump in the White House, by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser. While in office, he was, it seems, embittered that “his” generals weren’t as loyal as Adolf Hitler’s had been. And not just them either.  As he said to his chief of staff John Kelly (“preceding the question with an obscenity”), “Why can’t you be like the German generals?” Why indeed?

For the president who, according to the Washington Post, made 30,573 false or misleading claims while in the White House, reality has always been a branch of fiction. Whether you’re talking about elections (fraudulent!) or an unprecedented FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago estate (“They even broke into my safe!”), you can count on one thing: he’ll invariably stretch fact to the edge of fiction, if not far beyond. After all, our world turns out to be eternally up for grabs, a story ready to be made up on the spot.

And he’s anything but alone. From Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene to Arizona Senate nominee Blake Masters to Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, these days the Trumpublican party couldn’t be a wilder compendium of ever more bizarre and violent fiction. In fact (if you’ll excuse the use of that phrase), we increasingly live in a world where fiction is the new fact. And all too many people, not just Alex Jones, have long been glorying in that reality. (Remember as well that if you reject any of those fictions, as Liz Cheney has, you better have enough money to hire some full-time security for yourself.)

And don’t just blame Donald Trump either! As Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank pointed out recently, he didn’t create our present world. He was just “a brilliant opportunist; he saw the direction the Republican Party was taking and the appetites it was stoking. The onetime pro-choice advocate of universal health care reinvented himself to give Republicans what they wanted.”

In this context, let TomDispatch regular Kelly Denton-Borhaug, author of And Then Your Soul is Gone: Moral Injury and U.S. War-Culture, explore how lies and disinformation triumphed in our all-American world and what to make of it. Tom

Is Moral Clarity Possible in Donald Trump’s America?

On Truth-telling, Confession and First-Class Lies

Recent episodes of purposeful and accidental truth-telling brought to my mind the latest verbal lapse by George W. Bush, the president who hustled this country into war in Afghanistan and Iraq after the 9/11 attacks. He clearly hadn't planned to make a public confession about his own warmongering in Iraq when he gave a speech in Texas this spring. Still, asked to decry Russian president Vladimir Putin's unjustified invasion of Ukraine, Bush inadvertently and all too truthfully placed his own presidential war-making in exactly the same boat. The words spilled out of his mouth as he described "the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified invasion of Iraq -- I mean of Ukraine."

Initially, he seemed shocked that he had blurted that out and tried to back off his slip by shrugging and muttering, "Iraq, too," as if it were a joke. Some in his audience even laughed. But his initial attempt to sideline his comment only deepened the hole he was in. Then he tried another ploy. He suggested that his slip could be forgiven or excused because of his age, 75, and that his invasion and the destruction of Iraq could now be forgiven because of his cognitive decline. All in all, it was a first-class mess. 

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Andrea Mazzarino, Where Have All the Soldiers Gone?

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I still remember my parents singing the World War I-era song:

“You’re in the Army now,
You’re not behind a plough,
You’ll never get rich,
You son of a bitch,
You’re in the Army now.”

My father volunteered for what was then the Army Air Corps right after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As is still true, it wasn’t seen as a particularly lucrative or upwardly mobile way of getting ahead, even if it was a patriotic act at the time.  These days, however, there’s an exception to that rule about never getting rich in the Army: become a general and the next thing you know — powie! — you’ve retired onto the board of Raytheon or some other giant weapons maker and upped your cash value immeasurably. In other words, you’ve become part of the remarkably lucrative revolving door between the U.S. military and the industrial part of the military-industrial complex and you’re on easy street.

Still, in the twenty-first century, for most troops sent to fight in pointless, losing wars abroad and possibly struggling afterwards with PTSD at home, the military hasn’t exactly been a winner, as TomDispatch regular and co-founder of the invaluable Costs of War Project Andrea Mazzarino suggests today.

Behind the plough? Maybe not in 2022. But “in the Army now”?  Well, not that either, which couldn’t be more curious — a subject Mazzarino explores — in a military that Congress never stops over-funding in a mind-boggling fashion. Tom

A Military Rich in Dollars, Poor in People

And the Frayed Social Safety Net That Goes With It

The American military is now having trouble recruiting enough soldiers. According to the New York Times, its ranks are short thousands of entry-level troops and it's on track to face the worst recruitment crisis since the Vietnam War ended, not long after the draft was eliminated.

Mind you, it’s not that the military doesn't have the resources for recruitment drives. Nearly every political figure in Washington, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, invariably agrees on endlessly adding to the Pentagon’s already staggering budget. In fact, it’s nearly the only thing they seem capable of agreeing on. After all, Congress has already taken nearly a year to pass a social-spending package roughly half the size of this year’s defense budget, even though that bill would mitigate the costs of health care for so many Americans and invest in clean energy for years to come. (Forget about more money for early childhood education.)

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Tomgram: Engelhardt, Is the Never-Ending Story Ending?

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[Note to TomDispatch Readers: On returning from a week off, let me express a bit of pride when it comes to the accolade a TomDispatch writer recently received.  My old friend Jane Braxton Little, who began writing for this site last year on climate change (up close and personal), received a prestigious award from the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ), in part for her work at TD.  You can see the SEJ announcement here and the two TD articles that helped her here and here.

And while I’m at it, let me confess to the one thing I’ve felt guilty about at TomDispatch in these years.  So many of you have supported my work here — through individual contributions or by signing up at our donation page to give repeatedly (monthly, quarterly, or yearly) — and I never thank you individually.  I see each of your names whenever a donation arrives and I’m always amazed and moved, particularly when I note that they come from every corner of this country.  I have the urge to tell each of you just how appreciative I am, but I also know that it would be one thing too many for me in a TomDispatch life that’s filled to the brim.  At least, I do hope you’ll take this collective thank you as a substitute (however poor) for the emails I wish I had written to each of you.  Thank you so much for helping keep this site going.  And of course, any of you who haven’t yet contributed but have the urge — believe me, the funding is always needed! — just visit our donation page and do your damnedest!  And again, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Tom]

The Decline and Fall of Everything (Including Me)

What Goes Up Must… Well, You Know…

I find nothing strange in Joe Biden, at 79 (going on 80), being the oldest president in our history and possibly planning to run again in 2024. After all, who wouldn't want to end up in the record books? Were he to be nominated and then beat the also-aging Donald Trump, or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, or even Fox News's eternally popular Tucker Carlson, he would occupy the White House until he was 86.

Honestly, wouldn't that be perfect in its own way? I mean, what could better fit an America in decline than a president in decline, the more radically so the better?

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