A dispatch from the most depraved conference of all
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 the conservative conference, I was writing a story over a beer at the National Press Club.
On the television was White House Spokesperson Sean Spicer, who said the regime would likely start enforcing federal anti-pot laws in states that had voted for recreational marijuana. Nevermind that he had just invoked “state’s rights” as a rationale for refusing to protect trans students. Nevermind that world-class bigot 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, Fuck, they want to have even more mass incarceration.
This will, as always, disproportionately affect African Americans and Latinas, 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.
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 it makes you question your own ethical decisions, often in a 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 fucking 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.
Anyway … I was sitting in the back with the press—one of Trump’s main targets because we are still able to question him, even if he refuses to answer. It is clear: they think we sow discord. The crowd, of course, loved the attacks.
“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 added, “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 offered some hints.
“No one loves the First Amendment more than me,” he said. The crowd laughed. It was not intended to be taken seriously, just like when he said he wanted to protect the environment. He wasn’t booed for that one, presumably because he didn’t mean it.
As with both Bolsheviks and Nazis, a speech means one thing to members of a movement, and something else to those outside of it.
Trump spoke about protecting the flag more than once. He must be laying groundwork to come back to the idea he tweeted in December, threatening to imprison and strip citizenship from anyone who burns one.
The horror never seemed to end. As I was tweeting about Trump’s speech, I saw a story about 17 states passing laws that would impede protest movements. An hour or so later, NRA goon 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.”
Also, there’s a belief on the right that protesters are paid $1,500 a week. I’ve covered a lot of protests—trust me, the protesters are not paid. But most CPACtivists seem well-heeled, so maybe that’s where they get the idea.
LaPierre additionally spoke about the “media’s deliberate lies aimed at destroying our freedom.” This shit is a constant fucking refrain here. Bannon calling us “the opposition party.” As if cracking down on the press isn’t the first step to cracking down on all opposition.
Specifically, Trump railed against anonymous sources, saying that journalists 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.
As an encore, the POTUS gave the nod to Fox and Breitbart (without mentioning them), stressing that he didn’t hate the whole press, but instead only the “dishonest media,” or “fake news.” Hours later, as I was still writing this, the White House banned the New York Times, CNN, and Politico from a scheduled briefing, while allowing conservative outlets to attend. The AP and Time boycotted the briefing in protest.
These are stoned observations gathered inside of CPAC. But they are honest, and I am proud to be part of the opposition party.
Read all of Baynard’s columns about Trump at democracyincrisis.com.