History

A Low Barr for President Trump

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks during his confirmation hearing at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., 16 January 2019. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It seems worth reminding of our American time and circumstance. Sometimes disbelief is not answered by asking, “How is this true?” but, rather, by considering environmental conditions within the range of observation; sometimes the question runs, “How is this not untrue?”

Those who marvel at the point of Mr. Barr’s private-sector memo denouncing the Mueller investigation being over four times longer than Attorney General Barr’s summary of an investigation he loathed should simply remember that a public attorney is still an attorney. We might well have our own opinions of turpitude and integrity vis à vis the Attorney General and the President he serves, but within the boundaries of what we might understand about Mr. Barr’s outlook, it is worth considering how the summary he released would fail to equal obstruction, misprision, or other such offense against either the law or his license to practice, and seek its meaning therein.

In the moment, the discourse seems almost as if we all saw the sleight coming, watched it happen right in front of us, yet pretend to believe it, anyway. It’s almost as if the years Americans spent watching and complaining about politicians, lawyers, and PR flaks splitting hairs and manipulating language, we are supposed to look upon this most bizarre circumstance as if such notions have never occurred to our tabula rasa innocence.

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Image note: U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks during his confirmation hearing at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., 16 January 2019. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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What They Voted For: Conservative Fulfillment

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY; left), walks with President-elect Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol for a meeting, 10 November 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

“I had an opportunity to speak with President Trump and he, I would say to all my colleagues, has indicated he’s prepared to sign the bill. He will also be issuing a national emergency declaration at the same time. And I’ve indicated to him I’m going to support the national emergency declaration.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)α

The underlying theme of the #trumpswindle is that despite mutterings here and there among Beltway Republicans, the Trump Administration is hardly a departure from the GOP of recent decades; the sticky sensation of pining nostalgia for the ’80s is no mere coincidence. The Senate Majority Leader is hardly making a radical break with mainstream American conservatism in abdicating to a Republican president verging toward a national emergency against migrants.

Our American atrocity is afoot. Once upon a time, the joke was that we need another Vietnamβ. For Trump voters, apparently what we really need is another atrocity against nonwhites. For all the excuses Republican voters have offered over the years for bargaining with supremacismγ, they just haven’t really gotten much in return. There is the economic wreck and fiscal nightmare inflicted against the country over the course of the last twelve years, and that atop the general failure of their trickle-down myth; the Bush Doctrine has laid their foreign policy ambition to the bone. All these voters ever got for their votes is the traditional supremacism, and having suffered a definitive loss in the Gay Frayδ, have redoubled their efforts to assail the human rights of women. A national emergency in order to establish extraordinary authority to build border wall, at a time when a Republican administration runs internment camps for migrant children, is a happy day for American conservatives. This is #WhatTheyVotedFor.

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α Transcript corrected from linked article, per video source.

β e.g., Bart Simpson, ca. 1996 (#3F16)—

Bart: What the hell is this?
Lisa: It’s one of those campy seventies throw-backs that appeal to Generation X-ers.
Bart: We need another Vietnam, to thin out their ranks a little.

—exploiting a roadworn American trope about youth. It is, however, worth noting that when Congress refused to support President Obama’s request for new authorization against Daa’ish, Democrats saw too much risk and entanglement, while Republicans complained that the administration was not intending a large enough war.

γ Because, after all, those voters are not racist; but it’s just unfair to alienate supremacism like that, and it’s not like anyone is ever really going to let them be in charge. Right?

δ Which, in turn, was always about women, anyway.

Image note: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY; left), walks with President-elect Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol for a meeting, 10 November 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Bolton, Alexander. “Trump to sign border deal, declare national emergency”. The Hill. 14 February 2019.

Nothing New Under the Sun

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 17: U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who is part of a Congressional delegation scheduled for an overseas trip, speaks to members of the media January 17, 2019 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. In a letter to Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), President Donald Trump announced the postponement of the trip to visit U.S. service members in Afghanistan, and a stop in Brussels to meet with NATO officials. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Steve Benen notes—

For what it’s worth, it’s not altogether clear why Trump and his team would find this so upsetting. There’s a limited universe of officials who have the experience, skills, and clearance necessary to work on highly sensitive intelligence matters. The idea of aides having a stint at the National Security Council, before making the transition to the staff at the House Intelligence Committee, isn’t especially odd.United States President Donald Trump reacts to being laughed at during a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, 25 September 2018. (Image credit: FOX News)Indeed, the inverse happens, too. Kashyap Patel, who helped co-author the unintentionally hilarious “Nunes memo,” recently left his staff job on Capitol Hill to join—you guessed it—the National Security Council.So why is it, exactly, that Schiff’s personnel decisions “enraged” the president and some members of his senior staff? Is there concern inside Trump World about what former aides might say about their impressions of the White House’s work?

—and perhaps it seems strange, but, yes, Hot Fuzz, the Wright/Pegg comedy, comes to mind, and that somehow makes perfect sense. (more…)

Not What We Mean When We Say Foreign Service

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

A protester holds a photo of journalist Jamal Khashhoggi, later acknowledged to have been slain by the Saudi government. (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo)

Annieli, at Daily Kos, writes:

Those who wonder why we should care about Khashoggi’s death should ask whether we want an autocratic thug to be directing US foreign policy? Why is America’s president covering up a brutal extra-territorial murder? All this whabboutery serves MBS. Is that what we want?

And this is an important question: All of President Trump’s equivocation and excuses serve foreign interests.Remember that Donald Trump still thinks he is doing business, and this is reflected in conservative language; among Republican excuses for the President’s behavior, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), often seen as a critic of the administration, mewled and rolled over:

A key consideration in the administration’s mind, according to Republican Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), is the belief that the crown prince can salvage Kushner’s stalled peace plan between Israelis and Palestinians. “A lot of the Middle East peace plan is based upon their support. They feel like they have a lot of equity there,” Corker said.

(Dawsey, Hudson, and Gearan)

“Equity” is a curious word. Certes, the Trump family has invested tremendous “political capital”. There are a handful of Congressional Republicans willing to speak against President Trump, and the general criticism runs that tweeting disapproval is pretty much all they do compared to their voting records. And in this moment, Mr. Corker, the retiring U.S. Senator, is lending his voice in aid and comfort to presidential pandering on behalf of foreign interests. The Washington Post goes on to explain:

Trump allies acknowledged that the White House’s equivocations would probably result in growing calls from Congress for a more credible accounting of events from Saudi Arabia, but they doubted it would damage the president politically.

Equity. This is just an investment. And if Sen. Corker, a Republican, wishes to be seen in opposition to President Trump, “equity” is the wrong word. Consider an actual Trump ally, such as evangelical preacher Pat Robertson:

“We’ve got to cool the rhetoric,” Robertson said. “Calls for sanctions and calls for punitive actions against the Saudis is ill-advised … You’ve got a hundred billion dollars worth of arms sales—which is, you know, that’s one of those things—but more than that, we’ve got to have some Arab allies. We have to have it! We cannot alienate a biggest player in the Middle East who is a bulwark against Iran.”When Robertson’s co-host Wendy Griffith argued that we cannot have governments killing critical journalists with impunity, Robertson dismissed those concerns.”We’ve had so many people killed,” he responded. “We’ve had CIA people killed in Lebanon. People have been taken hostage over the years. I know it’s bad, but we’ve had all kinds of stuff, but you don’t blow up an international alliance over one person. I mean, I’m sorry.”

(Mantyla)

(more…)

The Laughingstock

#AmercianPrestige | #WhatTheyVotedFor

United States President Donald Trump reacts to being laughed at during a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, 25 September 2018. (Image credit: CNN)

Some remind there is an audience of one. And it is not unheard of to suggest that the tone is set at the top. These points are not exclusive of one another. Steve Benen, for instance, notes:

... just as odd was Haley’s explanation for diplomats laughing at Donald Trump during his remarks to the General Assembly yesterday.

United States ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in Myanmar at UN Headquarters in New York, 28 August 2018. (Photo by Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images)UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said Wednesday that world leaders who laughed during President Donald Trump’s speech to the United Nations did so because “they loved how honest he is.” […]”They love that he’s honest with them and they’ve never seen anything like it, so there’s respect there,” she said. “I saw that the media was trying to make it something disrespectful. That’s not what it was. They love to be with him.”

Look, I realize people in the president’s orbit feel the need to be sycophantic toward him, if for no other reason than to protect their job security. This is especially true when it comes to officials appearing on “Fox and Friends”—a program Trump has been known to effectively live-tweet.Haley must’ve known that her boss was watching, so she wasn’t in a position to be candid about foreign diplomats’ opinions of the controversial American leader.But that hardly justifies the ambassador’s rhetoric.

There is a certain obvious point to be made; the one and only Dana Milbank headlines the highlight, that President Donald J. Trump “is the laughingstock of the world”. (more…)

The American Discourse (Nazi Symbol)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during the 2016 Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington, DC, December 3, 2015 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

Jonathan Chait observes—

There is no better symbol for the Republican Party elite in the Trump era than Gary Cohn weighing the morality of opposing Nazism against corporate-tax-rate cuts and choosing the latter. But it is also a reminder that Nazism, which several generations of Americans have grown accustomed to thinking of as an exotic symbol of pure, abstract evil, in reality represents a political faction. Trump is not a Nazi. Nor, even, is Steve Bannon. They are, however, Nazi-adjacent, and actual neo-Nazis are excited about Trump, who has emboldened and empowered white nationalists in a way nobody could have fathomed until recently. They are just another part of the party coalition now.

—and it just seems worth noting this is what has become of the American discourse.

The important parallels here are not between Hitler and Trump. While Trump, like Hitler, is racist and authoritarian, his racism is not genocidal, his contempt for democracy is instinctive rather than ideological, and he crucially lacks any plan for massive territorial conquest. What makes the history pertinent, rather, are the eerie similarities in the behavior of the right-wing politicians who facilitated both men’s rise to power.

(more…)

A Moment Significant of Either Something Important or Nothing In Particular

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of 'Lucifer', by Franz von Stuck, 1890.

There is this, from Jacob Hamburger for L.A. Review of Books

What exactly are the ideas that have made people like Weinstein, Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, and Christina Hoff Sommers into what a recent New York Times profile described as intellectual “renegades”? According to the Times writer Bari Weiss, most emphasize the biological differences between men and women, a feeling that free speech is “under siege,” and a fear that “identity politics” is a threat to the United States’s social fabric.

A listener of Harris’s podcast might add to the list a vociferous defense of the validity of genetic explanations for IQ differences between racial groups, a follower of Peterson’s videos might insist on the nefarious influence of “postmodern neo-Marxism” on college campuses, and a fan of Ben Shapiro might contribute a skepticism toward the reality of “transgenderism.”

The movement sees itself as an alliance that defies established political categories in order to defend these ideas against the creeping influence of thought control. This leads us to another important meaning of the term intellectual dark web, the suggestion that its ideas are not only controversial, but particularly innovative in our political moment. If the dark web arouses the anger of certain commentators in the media or the academy, it is for the same reasons that new technologies in the internet age are “disruptive.”

It would take a short memory, however, not to notice that these sorts of polemics over political correctness are anything but novel: they have been around for at least 30 years, ever since a strikingly similar set of media debates centered around college campuses took off in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Toward the end of the Reagan years, political correctness became a favorite bugbear of conservative intellectuals, who believed that college professors had latched onto illiberal or totalitarian notions of equality, and were indoctrinating their students with a subversive view of American society. Today’s “dark web” provocateurs rarely mention these predecessors, who not too long ago occupied a similar place in national media debates. Detail of cartoon by Jen Sorensen, 17 July 2018.But the comparison suggests that the “iconoclastic” ideas of these figures are actually a well-established institution in American discourse: an institution whose home is on the political right.

—and what stands out is that we really ought not be surprised. To the one, the general point is nothing new; to the other, what is the significance of this particular discussion getting this press at this time?

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Image note: Top — Detail of Lucifer, by Franz von Stuck, 1890.  Bottom — Detail of cartoon by Jen Sorensen, via The Nib, 17 July 2018.

Hamburger, Jacob. “The ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ Is Nothing New”. Los Angeles Review of Books. 18 July 2018.

A Note on Civility and Equivocation

#wellduh | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Radical Centrism 101: Detail of cartoon by Matt Lubchansky, via The Nib, 31 May 2017.

In such time as we have to reflect on notions of civility and politic, and observing its coincidence in which we grasp both desperately and often belligerently after comparisons in history, it does occur that sometimes these lines of thought and inquiry merge or intersect or whatever else they might do, and from this nexus arises a question worth considering:

• While rhetoric of conservative backlash often drew puzzlement and even mockery, and centrists, liberals, progressives, and leftists alike have scrambled to remind women, queers, and blacks what happens when we make too much uncivil noise, like winning court cases or wondering who would actually claim a religious right to actively sabotage health care, there is also an iteration of Green Lantern Theory whereby President Obama could reconcile the political factions by simply charming and schmoozing Republicans enough, including that he should never speak common platitudes of empathy because, being a black president, doing so apparently means one is trying to start a race war; and, yes, it seems worth wondering just how much worse the conservative and crossover payback would have been had the nation’s first black president gone on to prosecute war criminals, including the white woman recently minted Director of CIA.

When questions of civility arise, perhaps we ought to consider just how we might answer such demand for civility that torture and white supremacism are not somehow uncivil.

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Image note: Radical Centrism 101 — Detail of cartoon by Matt Lubchansky, via The Nib, 31 May 2017.

Your Tweet of the Day: Good Christians (NYT Softnazi Remix)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

are we all waiting for a N Y Times soft-Nazi interview w/ ICE officers & guards at children's detention centers? just guys next-door looking to make a living. also, good Christians. [Joyce Carol Oates, via Twitter, 18 June 2018]

This is not actually a punch line—

are we all waiting for a N Y Times soft-Nazi interview w/ ICE officers & guards at children’s detention centers? just guys next-door looking to make a living. also, good Christians.

Joyce Carol Oates

—but, yes, there is always the New York Times to play that part.

Rudy’s Bizarre Adventure (Recollection Remix)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Composite image: Donald Trump speaks to the National Rifle Association convention, in Dallas, Texas, 4 May 2018 (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters); Rudy Giuliani speaks at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C., 5 May 2018 (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo); uncredited protest image of Vladimir Putin.

The intersection of #DimensionTrump and coming right out and saying it is itself a futile endeavor; something can easily go here about parallel lines, overlap, and single tracks. Meanwhile, there is a no longer confidential memo from John Dowd to Robert Mueller, in January, and it is worth reconsidering the last several months of presidential simmer and tantrum in light of what we learn. Steve Benen tries, today, explaining one particular aspect:

This was the first time Trump World acknowledged the president’s direct role in dictating the wording of his son’s statement to the New York Times. In fact, the president’s legal team and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders specifically told the public, on multiple occasions, that Trump had nothing to do with crafting that statement. Those denials, we now know, were plainly false.

Over the course of the last year, Trump and his team have already changed their story about the purpose of the meeting—more than once—and these new revelations take the evolving narrative in an even messier direction.

Asked about the contradictions, Rudy Giuliani told ABC News yesterday, “This is the reason you don’t let the president testify. Our recollection keeps changing.”

And there you have it. Something, something, mumble, murmur only goes downhill from there. Or not. Giuliani could stand at the bottom of a giant sinkhole and tout the merits of natural engineering, and for some reason people would try to take him seriously.

Oh. Right.

(more…)