Hate sells guns

These are testing times for the American gun industry. Sales of Remington Outdoor Co.’s products, which include the Bushmaster XM-15 “modern sporting rifle” Adam Lanza used to massacre 20 kindergartners and 6 teachers at Sandy Hook in 2014, were down 27 per cent in the first quarter year on year.

Smith and Wesson, which trades as American Outdoor Brands, has seen its share price sink by a third since hitting an all-time peak last July. AOB stock took a particularly heavy beating in the three days following Donald Trump’s victory on Tuesday, November 8, falling from $28.45 at the end of election day trading, before the votes were tallied and while Hillary Clinton still looked inevitable, to $21.24 at the close that Friday.

Trump has not been a boon for CEO’s whose stock options rely on fundamentalist readings of Second Amendment.

Wall Street assumes that since neither he nor the Republican majority in Congress will molest the sacred right of Americans to own military-grade firepower, demand in an already glutted market will be flat. Atrocities like Sandy Hook will not send punters running to Walmart to pick up a last assault rifle or three in case politicians are finally shamed into enacting controls. For the time being Washington is entirely unencumbered by shame.

To scare up business, the industry therefore needs a different strategy. As usual, it can rely on its friends at the National Rifle Association, the lobby that seeks to hound from office any public servant foolhardy enough to want to keep Glocks from the hands of mental patients.

The pitch now coming from the NRA, both directly and out of the foaming mouths of surrogates for whom it provides a platform with industry sponsorship, is genuinely alarming, whichever side you’re on.

It’s a call to arms, broadcast over NRATV, the lobby’s streaming media channel, to fight the “organised anarchy” and the “radical leftist agenda” that are being masterminded by “them” and “their ex-president”, Barack Obama, against Trump and true Americans. A figurative call, technically speaking, but literal to those with ears tuned to the Trumpian dog whistle. Time to lay in another Armalite!

“They,” says NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, incandescent with resentment and menace in a recruitment ad flighted in June, “use their media to assassinate real news, they use their schools to teach their children that their president is another Hitler, they use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again.”

Voicing over black and white footage that evokes the chaos of antiwar protest and inner city meltdown that helped elect Richard Nixon in 1968, Loesch tosses red meat to Trump’s “silent majority”.

“And then they use their ex-president to endorse the resistance, all to make them march, make them protest, make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia, to smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorise the law-abiding until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness. And when that happens they’ll use it as an excuse for their outrage. The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth. I’m the National Rifle Association of America, and I’m freedom’s safest place.”

Or consider this exchange between ranting NRATV commentator Grant Stinchfied and Chuck Holton, introduced as “veteran Army Ranger and frontline correspondent”, first aired last week. The “them” in this case is Black Lives Matter, the movement that sprang up in reaction to the endless shooting with impunity of unarmed African-American suspects by mostly white policemen.

Stinchfield: “Our race relations are strained here in America after 8 years of Barack Obama, but nowhere as near as bad as it is in South Africa where white families are being tortured and killed almost every day in racist violence. It is a warning for the United States that you will never hear from the mainstream media in this country….

Holton: “Right…the violence against farmers is being called for by government officials, it’s being celebrated by politicians and the scary thing is, it’s kind of a warning for what could happen in the US if we continue to let this get out of control…”

When the Washington Post suggested the NRA might want to stick to defending the Second Amendment rather than whipping up hate, Stinchfield shot back: “You have done more damage to our country with a keyboard than every member of the NRA combined has ever done with a firearm.”

Will the gunmakers do anything to restrain their lobby from these raw, deeply illiberal appeals to the basest of Trump’s base? Not, I imagine, if the appeals move product. And given the target market, it’s hard to see them damaging sales. Another civil war would be good for business, wouldn’t it?

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End of the beginning?

This week witnessed if not the beginning of the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, then quite possibly, in Winston Churchill’s phrase after the battle of El Alamein, the end of the beginning.

The chain of emails Trump’s elder son, Donald Jr., released on Tuesday after learning the New York Times had a copy, may not by itself be proof that his father’s election campaign colluded with the Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin to smear Hillary Clinton. But they are anything but inconsistent with such a conclusion.

The correspondence, from early June last year, is between Junior and Rob Goldstone. Goldstone is a lunchy former UK tabloid hack turned manager of musical talent. His clients include Russian pop idol Emin Agalarov, son of Aras Agalarov, an Azerbaijani property developer sometimes called “the Donald Trump of Russia”. The Agalarovs provided the Moscow venue for the 2013 final of the Miss Universe contest which Trump then partly owned. The two families, plus Goldstone, are close. There was talk of collaboration on a Trump-branded building in the Russian capital. In March 2016, Aras told the Washington Post he was rooting for Trump to capture the White House.

Under the subject line “Re: Russia – Clinton private and confidential”, Goldstone told Junior on June 3 that “Emin asked me to contact you with something very interesting.” Using an English term, he continued: “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents that would incriminate Hillary…and would be very useful to your father.”

Then the bombshell: “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but it is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump, helped along by Aras and Emin.”

Junior replied enthusiastically, seeming to refer to the coming showdown with Clinton and the need for ammo: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week…”

Goldstone followed up on June 6: “Emin asks that I schedule a meeting with you and the Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow…I believe you are aware of the meeting…I assumed it would be at your office.” “Great,” said Junior, “It will likely be Paul Manafort (campaign boss), my brother in law and me.”

And so, at 4pm on June 9, Junior, Goldstone, Jared Kushner, dad’s chief consigliere, and Manafort, the Washington swamp creature whose clients have included Mobutu Sese Seko, Jonas Savimbi and more recently Putin’s gauleiter in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, sat down at Trump HQ with Natalia Veselnitskaya who had been introduced to them as “the Russian government attorney”.

What transpired at the meeting is as yet unclear. The official line at this point is nothing of substance. We are also asked to believe that Trump himself, though in the building at the time, had not heard of it until a few days ago.

Kushner and Manafort are not talking for the record yet. Junior’s story has evolved with each fresh revelation by the New York Times, culminating for now with the gloss he released with the emails on Tuesday “in order to be totally transparent” and preempt the Times. He agreed to the meeting, he concedes, expecting that “the woman” had “opposition research” — dirt — to share on Clinton. But “she had no information to provide and wanted to talks about adoption policy and the Magnitsky Act”.

That is plausible. Adopted with overwhelming bipartisan support in 2012, the act imposes sanctions on individuals implicated in the 2009 murder of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer and auditor jailed after exposing after a massive tax scam by Russian officials. Putin counterpunched with a ban on US adoptions of Russian children. Veselnitskaya may not be a government lawyer in the strict sense, but she does represent clients targeted by the act and has been leading a high profile campaign for its repeal. It is scarcely credible that Manafort and Kushner would not know who she was.

The Trump mbongi chorus says Junior was duped. Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post editorialised: “We see one truly solid takeaway from the story of the day: Donald Trump Jr. is an idiot.” Manafort and Kushner? The son-in-law “walked out after 10 minutes while Manafort did work on his phone”.

Here’s my working hypothesis. The Agalarovs were Putin’s cut outs. Veselnitskaya didn’t come with dirt. She came with a proposition: dirt for a promise from Trump to lift any and all sanctions if elected. Trump, way behind in the polls at that point and a man demonstrably devoid of principle, said sure. Whereupon the dirt, in the form of of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, began arriving at strategic intervals along with a torrents of disinformation spread via social media.

If special counsel Robert Mueller can stand that up, Trump will be impeached.