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MIAMI — In Washington, the belly of the beast, trusted old contacts were upbeat. Cherry trees blossomed; blast barriers were gone. Unarmed tourists thronged the Capitol where vengeance-obsessed Republican buffoons revealed themselves as unfit for reelection.

Then I flew down to South Florida, the beast’s lower colon. Marta had lived here for eight years. I asked her about Ron DeSantis’s diatribes against immigrants and Democratic initiatives to help struggling families like hers. She was oddly reticent.

I suspected she was wary about talking politics with a stranger, a troubling thought in a nation that champions free speech. But English is optional in southern Florida, and I tried again in Spanish. That sparked a rapid-fire 40-minute soliloquy.

“I love DeSantis almost as much as Donald Trump,” she said. “My family is devoutly Catholic, and they share my values. I don’t want school to turn my daughter into a homosexual. We Latinos believe in God and freedom.” Ay Dios mío.

If decent but credulous people like Marta cannot see that the Republicans’ Golden Calf and other bovine buttheads are playing them for fools, the stench of cow flop in America could be permanent after elections only 18 months away.

Analysis based on ethnicity or geography misleads. Marta is not “we Latinos.” Cubans and many South Americans lean right. Out west, Mexicans and Central Americans are mostly Democrat. People of all sorts are blinkered by echo-chamber sources and riveted to issues that affect them directly.

Climate calamities leave families homeless. China eats their lunch and gets hungry an hour later. Russia rattles nukes at them. Destitute “aliens” they refuse to help besiege borders. Their revered Holy Land risks bursting into flame. Still, they don’t look up.

Now in Paris, looking back with a global perspective, my notes and a stack of insiders’ books on what has gone wrong add up to an urgent warning: Democrats have to curb extreme positions to attract Trump-weary conservatives and independents.

Joe Biden has drawbacks yet towers over any alternative in either party. His age is a plus; leading the free world is no job for amateurs. He needs a congressional majority and states’ support. After 2024, better-informed voters can make America sane again.

American democracy depends on opposing parties that find common ground. Elected officials, hired hands, swear to put national interests above their own. Judges are meant to rise above politics. But look around – in Washington, Florida and everywhere else.

Trump’s hardcore is immutable. A recent Twitter post asked for one good reason not to elect him. George Conway gave it a shot: “He’s an ignorant and incompetent narcissistic psychopath?” Yet he has been that for decades, and his base dismisses his highest crimes as Democratic inventions.

DeSantis, his closest contender, is an incompetent narcissist but not a psychopath. His cynical shapeshifting makes him more dangerous. Peggy Noonan, who knows what the presidency demands, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he gives her the sense “that he might unplug your life support to re-charge his cellphone.”

Trump’s popularity will likely dwindle as prosecutors pursue three cases far more damaging than the Stormy Daniels affair. But justice moves slowly. He could be back in the White House before he is behind bars.

The “Grand Old Party” that ended slavery and reunified the country has evolved into a dysfunctional Trumplican dynasty. If you like horror films, imagine one possibility if it controls all three branches and skews voting rights: President Donald F. Trump, Jr.

A House majority torments Hunter Biden after Trump’s sons blatantly amassed fortunes abroad. When David Cay Johnston published “It’s Even Worse Than You Think” in 2018 I asked him why he barely mentioned Don Jr. and Eric. Because, he said, they’re not president.

By then, the brothers already smacked of Uday and Qusay Hussein, less violent yet still inept, spoiled sons of a man who would be king. After Trump was indicted on 34 felony charges in New York, Junior’s sputtered reaction was full-on lunacy.

“Let’s be clear, folks, this is like communist-level shit,” he said, “This is stuff that would make Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot—it would make them blush. It’s so flagrant, it’s so crazed…It’s 100 percent based on politics.”

Those three tyrants’ killings approach 90 million, including executions, forced famine and the rest. Few reporters were there to count. Trump faces no scrutiny for hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 deaths because of his willful mishandling of the pandemic.

After the indictments, he scurried back to Mar-a-Lago for a pity-party speech that likely set a world record for glaring lies per minute. Biden, he said, has done enough damage so far to outweigh combined achievements of the five greatest U.S. presidents.

While Trump aired grievances to a small crowd, Melania was upstairs, perhaps calling a divorce lawyer. Jared Kushner was AWOL after signing a multibillion-dollar deal with Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi prince who had Jamal Khashoggi dissolved in acid. Ivanka wants no part of her father’s 2024 campaign.

Trump cited his “perfect” call to Volodymyr Zelensky for which he was impeached. That, he said, was yet another baseless witch hunt by conniving Democrats. “Russia, Russia, Russia. Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine,” he said. All fake news.

Robert Mueller’s investigation, court convictions and a stack of well-researched books outline exactly how Russia meddled in the election. Trump snubbed NATO allies as he toadied up to Vladimir Putin, which encouraged him to expect a swift capture of Kyiv.

Yale’s Timothy Snyder, an unmatched expert on Ukraine’s place in Russian history, just returned from another trip to the region and released a 45-minute podcast that put genocidal war crimes against civilians into stark perspective.

Mass death at Mariupol is on a proportional scale with Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, Snyder said. Half of Ukraine’s population was uprooted. Tens of thousands of children were taken across the border to be indoctrinated as Russians. And Ukraine bleeds out in a trench-warfare stalemate.

When it suited DeSantis, he supported Kevin McCarthy’s crazies who said aid to Ukraine could be better spent at home. Then he flipflopped when that played badly. He is essentially clueless about a world in tumult he might be called upon to confront.

In sum, DeSantis is a false prophet with terrifying blind ambition, despotic tendencies, hypocrisy and nativist rhetoric.

He says that his Covid policy of few restrictions and open schools showed he is a champion of personal freedoms. As a result of it, the coronavirus spread into more cautious states, prolonging a pandemic that mutated into new strains.

Despite a Harvard law degree, he seems not to have read the Constitution. He savages school curricula and bans books. He retaliates when private businesses — Disney, for one — that cross him. He rails against anything that smacks of “woke” culture.

DeSantis does not define woke, but Ryan Newman, his general counsel, did in December: “A view that there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”

While opposing Trump, he dances pirouettes around the ex-president in hopes of winning over his base. He slammed the New York indictments, saying Alvin Bragg “weaponized the law for political purposes.”

John Oliver devoted a frightening, if often funny, “Last Week Tonight” to DeSantis (link attached below). He showed school library shelves empty because of an order requiring censors to vet books available to students. Any citizen can object to titles. One retired woman with no kids cited 21 books, which she admitted she had not read.

An anti-riot law, later blocked by a judge who called it unconstitutional, would have allowed prison sentences for public protests. There was much more, but Oliver summed it up neatly: “The freest state in America is only free to the extent that everyone behaves exactly the way that DeSantis says.”

This week, the New York Times reported the latest outrage, a bill expected to sail through the Republican legislature. Although Florida sees far fewer migrants than other border states, it is the harshest in America. Among other measures, it calls for felony charges “for sheltering, hiring and transporting undocumented immigrants.”

DeSantis’s press people mock honest reporters, at times freezing them out to favor those sympathetic to him. Echoing Trump’s earlier threats, he pushes for looser libel laws that would allow public figures to sue journalists for criticizing them.

Oliver showed a clip of the governor browbeating a polite young reporter who tried to ask a crucial question at a news conference. I’ve covered a lot of press briefings with authoritarians around the world and can’t recall any as crude or cruel. Except maybe a few of Trump’s.

The DeSantis approach, Oliver says, “is to yell until the other person stops talking.”

A 1964 Supreme Court ruling upheld First Amendment protection for the press. But if Republicans win the presidency with a faithless congressional majority and packed conservative courts, essential checks and balances vanish — with inevitable impact on the failsafe Fourth Estate.

Republicans already benefit from Trump’s “enemy of the people” jihad against credible reporting. Prostituted “news” purveyors his supporters have spawned make truth hard to pin down. Meantime, societal changes now offer a media version of McDonald’s “have-it-your-way” menu.

“Legacy” news organizations cut back as profit-minded owners lose advertising and readers to online competitors with inexperienced staffs. The New York Times and Washington Post, among others, hit hard with investigations, along with daily reporting. But they sometimes veer into advocacy, endangering their vital apolitical status.

Watch this space for global stories that are misunderstood, or missed entirely, leaving Americans with no common grasp of what looms beyond their borders. Readers tend to focus on the immediate, overlooking why things happen and what the future portends.

When Trump was hauled into court, reporters kept repeating that his criminal indictment was unprecedented. No surprise. He made himself “unpresidented,” running the country like a mob boss, ignoring laws, the Constitution and, for good measure, most of the Ten Commandments.

The good news is that all this seems to be sinking in. A lot of people have had enough crazy and want their country back. In Washington, I walked from Union Station to the Capitol and the Supreme Court, down the Mall, then up Pennsylvania Avenue. Police vans stayed tactfully in the background.

Music played in Lafayette Park, and visitors from just about everywhere walked up to the parallel iron uprights around the White House front lawn to snap selfies. Before leaving, I talked to a Secret Service guy watching from a distance.

I mentioned that it was good to see the old barriers and guard posts gone. “We have a higher fence now,” he replied. And, I said, you have a new president. He tried hard to keep his regulation straight face noncommittal. I think I detected a smile.

Yet then there was “Marta” in Miami. Reporters pressed for time often resort to gathering “vox pop,” aiming a microphone or a notebook at a random face and using whatever quotes they collect to pepper their story. It shouldn’t be that way.

Dozens of interviews add up to suggest a prevailing mood, which guides a reporter to ask more specific questions of selected groups. When someone is quoted to illustrate the bigger story, full names and ages – although no longer street addresses — are de rigueur.

These days, I sometimes mask people I quote the way we do in authoritarian countries or war zones. That should be needless in America, but today you never know. In Marta’s case, I was torn between sympathy and outrage.

Good parents want the best for their kids and most work hard to help them get it. But often that does not include attention to what poses the most danger. They take deceitful candidates at their word and get “news” from what likeminded people tell them.

The Dominion lawsuit had just produced testimony and emails revealing how badly Tucker Carlson and other Fox News filth purposely twisted reality to the point of demanding that a factchecker be fired. Truth cut into their investment accounts.

Nearing the airport, Marta recalled a TV channel she sometimes watched. “Have you heard of Fox News?” she asked. I told her I had through gritted teeth. After some silence, I thanked her for the ride, tapped in a tip and headed for the plane.

Global Insights contributing editor Mort Rosenblum is a renowned American journalist, editor and author currently based in France and Tucson, Arizona. He has travelled and reported the world more years than he can remember. His regular column, The MortReport, is available online and by email. Also see Mort’s most recent book: Saving the World from Trump.

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Mort Rosenblum

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