Chaos reigns: A Cold War déjà-vu crisis, and a press corps too dumb to understand it

With the world facing disaster in Eastern Europe, Republicans rally around fascism — and the media is stupefied

By Brian Karem


Published February 10, 2022 9:28AM (EST)

Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin, and the crowds gathered outside the U.S. Capitol for the "Stop the Steal" rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin, and the crowds gathered outside the U.S. Capitol for the "Stop the Steal" rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.

If you're sensing a bit of déjà vu, just remember David Byrne's 1980s classic and realize that what you think may be "Once in a Lifetime" is actually the same as it ever was.

It appears, at least in Eastern Europe, that the world is reliving a Cold War scenario; a rerun, or at the very least a reboot.

Russia's unsympathetic autocrat, Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer who likes to ride horses shirtless for reasons that defy explanation  — unless he wants to be in a Randy Rainbow parody — may or may not be threatening to invade Ukraine (depending on who you choose to believe). This ratcheting-up of tensions in Europe is fast approaching those experienced during the Cuban Missile crisis — at least among many living in Europe and some politicians in the U.S. who are aware of what the threat portends.

RELATED: In the rapidly worsening Ukraine fiasco, the U.S. is reaping exactly what it sowed

The Republican Party, however, with the exception of Russia-hater Mitch McConnell, is probably ready to call it something else: Legitimate political discourse.

In censuring Republican Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for participating in the House inquiry into an actual attempt to overthrow our government, the former party of Abraham Lincoln, on the eve of his 213th birthday, has proven that its leading lights are not his political descendants, nor those of Teddy Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower. Twisting the ideals and goals of those who fought to preserve the Union, trust-busted or led American troops in Europe during World War II, the current iteration of the GOP is ready to destroy it all for the sake of racism, religion and authoritarianism — all while claiming to support democracy. 

This happy group of warriors is convinced Joe Biden is responsible for a pandemic they think doesn't exist, while Donald Trump is responsible for vaccines they won't take and don't need. They are racists, delusional tyrants who wish to rule by fiat and want a nation of Christian subjugation dedicated to the violent overthrow of "the government of the people." They are dedicated to lunacy and oblivious of history and science. Many of them happily embrace conspiracies that suspiciously sound like they were spawned by tainted hallucinogens.

I witnessed the Jan. 6 insurrection. I know people who, because they were reporters, got sucker-punched by those people the RNC defends. I saw a crowd beating police officers. I saw the Confederate flag paraded through the halls of our Capitol. Cops got doused with bear spray. Pipe bombs were found planted in the area. Someone defecated in the Capitol and spread it through the halls. The insurrectionists stole government property. They built a scaffold and threatened to hang the vice president. 

RELATED: At last the Republican Party comes clean: It stands for terrorism and Trump

And those who insult the legacy of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Eisenhower by calling themselves Republicans began their censure of Cheney and Kinzinger last week with these words:

WHEREAS, Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger are participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse ...

Lincoln, a Kentucky-born country boy, gave his last full measure of life defending the Union and trying to bind the wounds that tore us apart. The current blathering idiots who claim to be members of his political party and bathe themselves in red are ignorant of what the original Republicans stood for and are eagerly stoking the fires to tear the country asunder.

McConnell, the Senate Republicans' leader, proved on Tuesday that he has at least one foot in reality. "It was a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election from one administration to the next. That's what it was," he said regarding the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

He also called into question "singling out members of our party who may have different views from the majority. That's not the job of the RNC," he added.

That's critical in understanding the stance of today's Republican Party. It consists of a solid bloc, a minority of intransigent, predominantly white and mostly older voters who will allow almost no variety of opinions. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa told us Tuesday that he likes to think of the Republican Party as a "big tent," but that tent is only big enough to house those who think alike. The strength in that is the ability to guide the party through rough waters with an ease that can't be done with a big tent of moderates, conservatives and progressives, such as the Democratic Party. Never underestimate the ability of a large number of stupid people working in unison — to paraphrase someone wiser than myself. That's the Republican Party.

It is interesting to see a "Once in a Lifetime" crack in the solidarity of the repugnant Republicans — especially on an issue as important as the insurrection. Perhaps McConnell is trying to bring people like Joe Walsh and George Conway, who've broken ranks with the party, back into the fold. Maybe he'll be successful. It would take a lot more to make that happen, at least according to those who've lost faith in the party of Lincoln. 

It is increasingly apparent that many of us in the press don't get this. We don't understand the historic perspective of the times we live in. We don't get the sense of déjà vu others feel. On Monday, with 57 reporters in the White House briefing room, a young reporter asked press secretary Jen Psaki about troop commitments in Europe:

Question: The secretary-general of NATO has recently talked about the possibility of a more permanent military presence in Europe in response to Russia. Where does the Biden administration stand on that issue? 
Psaki:  We've had a permanent military presence in Europe. 

Yeah. We have. At least since the end of World War II. But some reporters apparently don't understand our position in the world, the déjà vu of our problems in Europe or the real problems inside our country. 

So while the country is facing a chorus of "same as it ever was," the press today is younger, less informed and far more ignorant of events than in previous years. As a result — and here's one thing that isn't the same as it ever was — the president is treating the press corps like a high school study hall of reprobates who are failing history. There's no déjà vu there. This is an invention of the Biden administration in response to an extremely young and often ignorant press corps. Some of the reporters are so green they smile when administration staffers call us "friends," never realizing how condescending that is.

As a result, the rest of us are less likely to see the news for what it is — and for what it isn't. Domestically, the Republican Party, or the "MAGA party," as Trump is now calling it, is a cancer threatening to destroy what remains of the nation that led the world to the moon, invented the computer chip, pioneered free speech and was founded on the idea that a democratic majority rules.

Donald Trump considered seizing voting machines, said he would pardon the convicted Jan. 6 rioters, and tried, in his uniquely cowardly fashion, to overturn the 2020 election.

In response, the Republican National Committee officially sanctioned the only two Republican House members willing to participate in the investigation of that insurrection.

There is no reasoning with the unreasonable, and as violence is indeed the last refuge of the incompetent (thank you, Isaac Asimov), the question remains: What can we do about this?

Internationally, the Biden administration faces a scenario straight out of the Cold War: Trying to deal with a Russian autocrat who desperately wants to gather Ukraine back into the Russian fold. It is no secret Putin would love to rebuild the Soviet (or even the czarist) empire, and recapturing Ukraine would be a big step in that process. 

RELATED: Yes, Putin's a tyrant — that doesn't mean his Ukraine demands are unreasonable

Putin has reached out to China as an ally against NATO and the United States. The U.S. is relying on Germany, Britain, Europe and the rest of the world to assist with economic sanctions that would choke Russia should Putin decide to move forward with an invasion.

This is serious, dangerous territory — and though it seems like déjà vu all over again, there is no guarantee that we will get the same results we did when we faced similar crises during the Cold War. 

On the world stage, the dynamics are not necessarily the same. Biden hosted the new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, at the White House this week, trying to keep him on board with severe sanctions against Russia — including shutting down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline — if Putin actually invades Ukraine. Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron tried a diplomatic shuttle between Moscow and Kyiv, trying to get Putin to back down. It remains to be seen if any of this worked.

The concern worldwide is that an escalation in Ukraine could quickly get out of hand, leading to "legitimate political discourse" that could threaten the existence of all life on the planet.

But for some Republicans, that would apparently be just fine.

They're too blind to see or handle any serious issues involving the country at large. They are more concerned about their party, their jobs and their influence over those who give them money to realize the danger they put us all in with their treasonous behavior.

And since Donald Trump entered the political arena, it has been the "same as it ever was."

Read more from Brian Karem on the conundrums of the Biden White House:

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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Commentary Donald Trump Jan. 6 Joe Biden Media Republicans Russia Ukraine Vladimir Putin