Journalism

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)

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)

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What They Voted For (No, Really)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of 'Corpus Hypercubus', by Salvador Dali, 1954.

A couple points come to mind:

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)An evangelist pastor criticized religious leaders who are “trading their moral core” by supporting the Trump administration solely due to their stance on abortion.

Doug Pagitt, a Minneapolis-based pastor and executive director of Vote Common Good, wrote in USA Today Sunday that white Evangelicals are blindly support Trump and the GOP-led Congress.

(Gstalter)

First, the question of evangelicals cleaning up their own houses, as such, is fraught and grim.

And for a bonus, there is the mystery of what happened in the last copy edits of the first two paragraphs of the the article.

Image notes: Top — Detail of Corpus Hypercubus, by Salvador Dali, 1954.  Right — 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)

Gstalter, Morgan. “Pastor tears into Evangelicals for supporting Trump due to abortion stance.” The Hill. 21 October 2018.

One of Those Moments (… cum Farce)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testifies to the House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., 13 December 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

To the one, something goes here about unnamed sources; it’s a long question, by now. To the other, though—

For all the morning’s madness, there may have been an underlying logic. Over the weekend, as Brett Kavanaugh’s prospects appeared increasingly imperiled, Trump faced two tactical options, both of them fraught. One was to cut Kavanaugh loose. But he was also looking for ways to dramatically shift the news cycle away from his embattled Supreme Court nominee. According to a source briefed on Trump’s thinking, Trump decided that firing Rosenstein would knock Kavanaugh out of the news, potentially saving his nomination and Republicans’ chances for keeping the Senate. “The strategy was to try and do something really big,” the source said. The leak about Rosenstein’s resignation could have been the result, and it certainly had the desired effect of driving Kavanaugh out of the news for a few hours.

(Sherman)

President Donald Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, in Washington, D.C., 24 May 2018. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)—this is the Trump administration: What insanity will we be expected to believe, tomorrow? The question is how well a bit like this ages; certes, it makes a powerful headline, but the instinct to disbelieve seems largely reasonable.

And, again, to the other, this is the Trump administration. The idea of a T&A comedy presidency ought to be a really stupid joke. Something, something, Trump administration, right. This really is what they voted for, and no, it’s been more of a tragedy cum farce than any sort of comedy. It really isn’t funny.

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Image notes: Top — Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testifies to the House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., 13 December 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)  Right — President Donald Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, in Washington, D.C., 24 May 2018. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

Sherman, Gabe. “‘The Strategy Was to Try and Do Something Really Big’: Trump Wanted to Nuke Rosenstein to Save Kavanaugh’s Bacon”. Vanity Fair. 24 September 2018.

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.

The Silence of Cowardice

#AmericanAtrocity | #WhatTheyVotedFor

For the fourth straight day there was no WH briefing. No officials to explain how the admin plans to return the separated kids to their parents. This is how the briefing room looks.. a few reporters waiting for answers that aren't coming yet. #whereistheplan #whereispresssec [Jim Acosta (@Acosta), via Twitter, 22 June 2018.]

This spectacle is precisely what it looks like. Jim “The Animal”α Acosta tweeted, Friday

For the fourth straight day there was no WH briefing. No officials to explain how the admin plans to return the separated kids to their parents. This is how the briefing room looks.. a few reporters waiting for answers that aren’t coming yet. #whereistheplan #whereispresssec

Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)—and that is the Show. Regardless of whether Sarah Huckabee Sanders is able to cope with her job or, after all this, notβ, the Trump administration has skipped out on the daily briefing since, and every little bauble of temptation, we look at, each pretense of a shiny new thing we give our attention, is not the American atrocity playing out before our eyes.

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α See Gstalter, whose ironic headline for The Hill, “Fox News’ Jesse Watters: Reporters who act like ‘a wild animal’ should lose press passes”, ought to make some sort of point.

β See, Nuzzi, “CNN reported that Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn’t want to do the briefing alone, and was waiting for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to arrive and enter the room with her”. Nor should anyone pass over the point that the Nielsen briefing on Monday was the last before the press room silence Acosta records.

Image note: Top — Tweet by Jim Acosta (@acosta), 22 June 2018.  Right — White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

@Acosta. “For the fourth straight day there was no WH briefing. No officials to explain how the admin plans to return the separated kids to their parents. This is how the briefing room looks.. a few reporters waiting for answers that aren’t coming yet. #whereistheplan #whereispresssec”. Twitter. 22 June 2018.

Gstalter, Morgan. “Fox News’ Jesse Watters: Reporters who act like ‘a wild animal’ should lose press passes”. The Hill. 14 June 2018.

Nuzzi, Olivia. “Inside the Disastrous White House Briefing on Trump’s Child-Separation Policy”. New York. 19 June 2018.

Somewhere in the Range ‘Twixt Apt and Emblematic

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un inspects the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People's Army at an undisclosed location, 14 August 2017, in image released by Korean Central News Agency. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

“Well, this about sums it up: when you’re blinded so much by partisan tribalism that you like a totalitarian dictator who executes people with flamethrowers for his viewing pleasure more than *gasp* a Democrat.”

Brian Klaas

This is the bouncing ball: Columnist Brian Klaas tweeting Axios coverage of an Ipsos/Daily Beast poll. Regarding that last:

A coin for a planned US-North Korea summit, later canceled, displayed in Washington, D.C., 21 May 2018. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)The poll of roughly 1,000 adults aged 18 and over was conducted June 14-15, shortly after President Trump’s historic summit with the North Korea dictator. According to the results, 19 percent of Republicans indicated they had a favorable view of Kim with 68 percent saying they had an unfavorable view (12 percent of voters overall had a favorable view of Kim, compared to 75 percent who viewed him unfavorably). That compared slightly better than the perception of Pelosi, who had a 17 percent favorable, 72 percent unfavorable rating among self-identified Republicans.

Pelosi, nevertheless, was only the second-most disliked figure on Capitol Hill. Her overall 29 percent favorable, 47 percent unfavorable rating was slightly better than the numbers for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). McConnell had an overall favorability rating of 20 percent with 43 percent viewing him unfavorable. (Self-identified Democrats, for what it’s worth, had a significantly more favorable opinion of McConnell than of Kim Jong Un.)

(Resnick)

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Image notes: Top — North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un inspects the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army, 14 August 2017, in image released by Korean Central News Agency. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)  Right — A coin for a planned US-North Korea summit, later canceled, displayed in Washington, D.C., 21 May 2018. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

@brianklaas. “Well, this about sums it up: when you’re blinded so much by partisan tribalism that you like a totalitarian dictator who executes people with flamethrowers for his viewing pleasure more than *gasp* a Democrat.” Twitter. 19 June 2018.

Ipsos. “American Public Does Not See Celebrity Candidates as the Answer”. 18 June 2018.

Resnick, Gideon. “Kim Jong Un More Popular Than Pelosi Among Republicans: Exclusive Poll Results”. The Daily Beast. 18 June 2018.

Sykes, Michael. “Poll: Republicans favor Kim Jong-un more than Nancy Pelosi”. Axios. 18 June 2018.

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.

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