Daily Intelligencer (blog)

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.

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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.

____________________

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.

What They Voted For: Screaming, Flaming Handbasket

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen answers questions during a press briefing at the White House, in Washington, D.C., 18 June 2018. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo)

This is one of those that doesn’t so much go downhill from there, but, rather, is a screaming, flaming handbasket in medias res:

On Monday, new reporting continued to reveal the realities of the Trump administration policy of forcibly separating children from their adult guardians who cross the border without U.S. citizenship. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly are both on record endorsing the practice as a means of deterring undocumented immigrants from entering the country.

Yet the president and members of his staff have repeatedly and falsely blamed Congress—in particular congressional Democrats—for the nearly-2,000 children who have reportedly been taken into federal custody in just the last six weeks.

(Nuzzi)

The flashback, then:

When top members of Donald Trump’s team add the word “period” to their most outlandish claims, it’s a safe bet they know they’re lying. The day after the president’s inauguration, for example, then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer angrily told reporters, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration—period.”

(Benen)

Something about ominous setups goes here; unfortunately, all we find is a sick punch line:

Nielsen, in a speech to the National Sheriffs’ Association in New Orleans, said the children are provided food, medical attention, education and anything else they might need.

“We have to do our job. We will not apologize for doing our job,” she said. “This administration has a simple message—If you cross the border illegally, we will prosecute you.”

Nielsen spoke hours after taking to Twitter to vehemently deny that her department’s border policy dictates separation of children from their parents.

“We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period,” Nielsen tweeted late Sunday.

(Bacon)

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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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A Note Aside: Something About Perspective

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Composite: President Donald Trump photo by Reuters, 2017; Puti-Toots protest image.

This is called a digression, and it is not hard to guess its provenance. The other name for this exercise is, writing yourself into a hole. Still, the brazen stupidity of the Trump administration is mystifying unless we reconcile ourselves to some aspect of the irrelevance of norms insofar as we are dealing with a phenomenon akin to the nexus of gaslight and sincerely held belief and overlooking some aspect of perspective that would otherwise explain why the grace of subtlety, or even the tired comfort of basic competence come to seem anathema in #DimensionTrump.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempts to demonstrate the difference between government and the Republican health care agenda during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., 7 March 2017. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)Note aside: It is hard to figure what to do with an inchoate question having to do with the idea of new and old guards, or, such as it is, institutional traditionalism and institutional insurgency. Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has already spent time with the Mueller investigation; while his reputation as a low-skill bullshit artist was well-established during his time as RNC flak, he still bore some connection to an older way of doing things in the Republican Party. That is, with the jig up, it appears he told the Special Counsel’s Office what they wanted to know, and might well end up with no greater culpability than his reputation already earns him. It is hard to imagine how Sarah Huckabee Sanders would answer the Mueller investigation, but appearances, as such, are what drive the amorphous question about generational differences among conservatives. Where the old guard parses carefully and others might seethe at the appearance of will, there is a newer phenomenon by which people simply give voice to their violations as if it has never occurred to them that such behavior is problematic.

White House Senior Advisor Kellyanne Conway speaks to Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, 22 January 2017. (Detail of frame from NBC News)Remember the proposition of alternative facts; it is one thing to wonder if we are laughing at absurdity or genuine malady. This is #DimensionTrump; the President will hang his comms shop to boast of obstructing justice; Donald Jr. hands over emails that appear to convict him. With Hope Hicks on the record, apparently, that part of her job was to lie for the White House, and one former Press Secretary having already spoken with and given documents to the Mueller investigation, it starts to feel impossible that Sarah Huckabee Sanders would avoid the Special Counsel’s Office, and we might wonder what happens if she works to evade under question. One need not be Sam Nunberg to suggest the White House Press Secretary “does Trump’s dirty business”, or that, Huckabee Sanders is “terrible”, at her job.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)Perhaps it is a difference of cognizance. Some will rail against criticism or even criminal charges because they must, despite their culpability. There are those, however, who will never understand why their culpability is culpability. If we recall a time not so long ago during which conservatives fixated on the proposition of “sincerely held beliefs” entitling exemption to obligations under law—e.g., discrimination in bakeries, hospitals, &c.—then we might propose, in the moment, to witness what we might otherwise hope is the crest of that wave: Can we imagine Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempting to hold out under scrutiny from the Mueller investigation, according to sincerely held beliefs in alternative facts?

At some point, someone in the #trumpswindle is going to throw down explicitly that, certainly, they said this and did this other thing but it’s not illegal because they say so.

At what point does it occur to these people that, yes, they really can get in trouble for what they are doing? How many will recognize the danger before Mueller calls them in? How many will never understand why this is happening to them?

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Image note: Top — Composite of President Donald Trump (Photo: Reuters) and Puti-Toots (Credit: Unknown).  Right — Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters); White House Senior Advisor Kellyanne Conway (Image: NBC News); White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

Nuzzi, Olivia. “Sam Nunberg on Mueller, His Media Spree, and His Message for Trump”. New York. 6 March 2018.

Jim and the Buried Lede (Mattis Matters for America)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with retired United States Marine Corps general James Mattis after their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, 19 November 2016, in Bedminster Township, N.J. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

It seems worth noting that we are actually through a particular looking glass:

One tense moment came last May as officials grew increasingly concerned about aggressive Iranian behavior.

For weeks, Mattis had been resisting requests from the White House to provide military options for Iran. Now Trump made clear that he wanted the Pentagon to deliver a range of plans that included striking Iranian ballistic missile factories or hitting Iranian speedboats that routinely harassed U.S. Navy vessels.

“Why can’t we sink them?” Trump would sometimes ask about the boats.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster and his staff laid out the president’s request for Mattis in a conference call, but the defense secretary refused, according to several U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. At that point, McMaster took Mattis off speakerphone, cleared his staff from the room and continued the conversation.

“It was clear that the call was not going well,” one official said. In the weeks that followed, the options never arrived.

(Jaffe and Ryan)

Something about buried ledes might go here, but, to be explicit: We are nine months into the period during which the National Security Advisor, a retired Marine Corps general, keeps the peace by refusing or ignoring the president.

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A Note on Impetus

#SomethingTerrific | #WhatTheyVotedFor

A portion of the U.S. Capitol dome. (Detail of photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images, 2013)

There is always this:

Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican freshman from Louisiana, said yesterday that he likes the idea of turning health care over to the states—the core rationale behind the pending Graham-Cassidy proposal—but he’s not entirely comfortable with the direction some blue states might take.

“If you give California and New York a big chunk of money, they’re gonna set up a single-payer system,” the GOP senator said. “And I wanna prevent that.”

It’s curious. Republicans only seem to like turning over authority to states and local governments when they’re confident states and local governments will govern in a conservative way.

(Benen)

Perhaps a bit more directly:

Perhaps the oddest thing about the last-ditch Republican plan to repeal Obamacare is that it is being sold not as a repeal of Obamacare—which is popular—but instead as a rebuke to a law that does not yet exist. “If you want a single-payer health-care system, this is your worst nightmare,” Lindsey Graham has boasted of his plan. “Hell no to Berniecare.” Graham’s weird promise that his plan “ends single-payer health care” has somehow taken hold, to the point where Republicans appear to believe it would foreclose even public debate on left-wing alternatives. The bill “stops us from having conversation in the future about Medicare for all,” claims Senator Tim Scott.

(Chait)

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Asymetrically Expected

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of frame from Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor, episode 6, "An Aroma Sweet, a Heart Bitter...".

Steve Benen brings both setup and punch line, which is what it is, and he is certainly fine talent―

Republican voters opposed bombing the Assad regime in Syria, until Donald Trump took office, at which point they changed their mind. GOP voters thought the American economy was awful, until a Republican became president, at which point they suddenly reversed course.

And Gallup reported late last week that Republican voters had deeply negative attitudes about the current U.S. tax system, right before they changed their minds in early 2017.

―but come on, Republicans are making it too easy. Or perhaps this is part of their faustian bargain, that such simplicity, daring to be stranger than fiction in a distinctive context akin to denigrating parody and pantomime, is the price of their desires. To say this is how Republicans or conservatives behave—to predict or expect such simplistic behavior—merely for the basis of political affiliation ought to be some manner of offensive stereotype.

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Something Going On (Asymetrically Intriguing)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laughs before speaking to supporters at the Human Rights Campaign Breakfast in Washington, October 3, 2015. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

This is the thing: While it is easy enough to get lost in the spectacular noise and bluster, the breathtaking incoherence and disbelief, something does seem to have happened. Jonathan Chait dove in last month, noting, “The most important substantive problem facing political journalists of this era is asymmetrical polarization”. And to a certain degree, Chait is vital, here, because of something else he wrote, all of several days before:

I had not taken seriously the possibility that Donald Trump could win the presidency until I saw Matt Lauer host an hour-long interview with the two major-party candidates. Lauer’s performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking. The shock, for me, was the realization that most Americans inhabit a very different news environment than professional journalists. I not only consume a lot of news, since it’s my job, I also tend to focus on elite print-news sources. Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer. And the reality transmitted to them from Lauer matches the reality of the polls, which is a world in which Clinton and Trump are equivalently flawed.

Nor need one be any manner of confessed media elitist; outside the circles where people perpetually complain about the media, news consumers are more than a little puzzled―indeed, some or maybe even many are alarmed―about what they are witnessing.

Part of the problem, of course, is asymmetrical polarization; Chait considered the question―

Political journalism evolved during an era of loose parties, both of which hugged the center, and now faces an era in which one of those parties has veered sharply away from the center. Today’s Republican Party now resides within its own empirical alternative universe, almost entirely sealed off from any source of data, expertise, or information that might throw its ideological prior values into question. Donald Trump’s candidacy is the ne plus ultra of this trend, an outlier horrifying even to a great many conservatives who have been largely comfortable with their party’s direction until now. How can the news media appropriately cover Trump and his clearly flawed opponent without creating an indecipherable din of equivalent-sounding criticism, where one candidate’s evasive use of a private email server looms larger than the other’s promise to commit war crimes?

Liz Spayd, the New York Times’ new public editor, dismisses the problem out of hand in a column that is a logical train wreck. Spayd specifically addresses a column by Paul Krugman that lambastes two news investigations into the Clinton Foundation, one of which appeared in the Times. Both reports dug deep and found nothing improper, but instead of either walking away from the dry holes or writing an exculpatory story, dressed them up with innuendo. These stories supply a prime example of the larger critique often grouped under the heading of “false equivalence”―journalists treating dissimilar situations as similar, in an attempt to balance out their conclusions. Spayd dismisses false equivalence as liberal whining, without in any way engaging with its analysis.

―in the wake of a New York Times dispute between public editor Liz Spayd and columnist Paul Krugman.

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The Marco Rubio Show (Gaffe Rig)

Marco Rubio: A New American Century

There are so many places to go and bizarre spectacles to see, but for the moment these paragraphs from Steve Benen ought to be devastating:

Rubio, a member of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, is basing much of his campaign on his alleged expertise on international affairs. The far-right Floridian would love nothing more than to be seen as the candidate who has a “deep understanding” of “the threats that the world is facing.”

But Rubio has run into Trump-like problems of his own. Just last week, in a big speech on foreign policy, the GOP senator told an embarrassing whopper about military preparedness, touching on an issue Rubio should have understood far better.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., arrives for the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)In June, Rubio was asked about his approach towards Iraq. Told that his policy sounds like nation-building, the senator responded, “Well, it’s not nation-building. We are assisting them in building their nation.”

Just this year, Rubio has flubbed the details of Iran’s Green Revolution. His criticisms on the Obama administration’s approach towards Israel were quickly discredited as nonsense. His statements of nuclear diplomacy were practically gibberish.

In the spring, Rubio had a memorable confrontation with Secretary of State John Kerry, which was a debacle – the senator stumbled badly on several key details, and Kerry made him look pretty foolish.

Soon after, Rhonda Swan, a Florida-based journalist, wrote that the Republican senator “should be embarrassed.” Swan added, “By his own standard that the next president have a ‘clear view of what’s happening in the world’ and a ‘practical plan for how to engage America in global affairs,’ Rubio fails the test.”

What’s more, as readers may recall, when Rubio has tried to articulate a substantive vision, he’s relied a little too heavily on shallow, bumper-sticker-style sloganeering, rather than actual policy measures. Rubio declared “our strategy” on national security should mirror Liam Neeson’s catchphrase in the film “Taken”: “We will look for you, we will find you and we will kill you.”

Soon after, the candidate’s team unveiled the “Rubio Doctrine”, described by Charles Pierce as “three banalities strung together in such a way as to sound profound and to say nothing.”

And yet the narrative leads with Donald Trump.

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