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Trump’s conduct is inexplicable, unless he’s in Putin’s pocket

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Jennifer Rubin, a conservative Republican, writes in the Washington Post:

Bloomberg reports:

U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is the latest top official to sound the alarm that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, but there’s no sign that Donald Trump is listening yet.

The president’s silence has some experts worried that Trump and his administration aren’t taking the threat from Russia to this year’s elections, with Republican control of Congress at stake, seriously enough. . . . The lack of top White House leadership means companies like Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc., as well as lower-level officials in the administration and state governments, are on the front lines of trying to ensure that Russia has a harder time interfering in the November 2018 midterm elections.

Even when they are approached by state officials for help, Trump administration officials seems uninterested in acting. The president surely is. There has been no reported directive from him, no interagency plan to get on top of the issue.

The lack of concern — the refusal to defend our country — is not going unnoticed among Democrats. The Democratic National Committee blasted out an email today, which read, in part:

In the four days since we learned chilling details about the full scale of Russia’s attack on our democracy, Donald Trump has issued a stream of unhinged and dishonest tweets attacking everyone and everything from Oprah [Winfrey] to Pennsylvania’s redistricting map. What he hasn’t done is condemn the Kremlin’s attack on our democracy or vow to defend our elections against future attacks. … This is a president who has taken [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s side over his own intelligence agencies, consistently puts his own interests ahead of U.S. national security and is all but inviting Russia to attack us again by refusing to implement sanctions designed to deter future assaults on our elections. It’s hard to imagine that Russia could have gotten a better return on its substantial investment in Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Republicans should be worried about the developing impression that President Trump does not care to defend the country, or worse, knows that the Kremlin would weigh in on his side as it did last time — and is happy to take the help. (That’s, after all, what the Trump campaign did in meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer in hopes of getting “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and what Trump did in hyping the emails hacked by WikiLeaks, a Russian helpmate.) Republicans now face the prospect, fairly or not, that their party will be seen as a Russian asset.

What is even more remarkable than Trump’s unwillingness to put America first is Congress’s failure to do anything, either. Where are the hearings? Where is the legislation to pay for paper voting-system backups if states request it? Charitably one can say that the GOP majorities in the House and Senate suffer from sloth and lack of leadership. The more disturbing theory is that they won’t move to protect our election system out of fear of enraging Trump.

If Republicans won’t do anything, Democrats should. Governors and secretaries of state should write an open letter to the president and GOP Senate and House leadership demanding assistance in fortifying their election systems.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have already put forward a package aimed at election security. Last week, House Democrats put out a request for “over $1 billion in grants to upgrade and secure the country’s voting infrastructure. The request came in the form of a 56-page report and  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2018 at 12:10 pm

Don’t blame ‘Washington.’ Blame the GOP.

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Catherine Rampell writes in the Washington Post:

Dysfunctional Washington refuses to work out its differences to solve problems that matter to Americans.

So say pundits and policy activists, perhaps hoping that diffuse criticism, rather than finger-pointing, will yield a government willing to govern.

But the problem isn’t “Washington.” It isn’t “Congress,” either. The problem is elected officials from a single political party: the GOP.

Republicans in the White House and Congress are the ones standing in the way of helping “dreamers.” They are not merely obstructing gun reform but also rolling back existing gun-control measures.

You’d never know it from the usual “blame Washington” rhetoric, but there are lots of common-sense policy changes, on supposedly unsolvable issues, that large majorities of voters from both parties support.

These include protecting dreamers, the young undocumented immigrants brought here as children. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, 81 percent of Americans, including 68 percent of Republicans, said dreamers should be allowed to stay and eventually apply for citizenship. Other polls have had similar results.

And yet, dreamers are scheduled to start losing their protected status in two weeks.

Who set this in motion? President Trump, a Republican.

And who has blocked a legislative fix? Republican lawmakers. Call it caving or call it compromise, but Democrats have repeatedly ceded ground on their immigration principles — including by agreeing to fund a border wall.

The Senate held three votes last week to help dreamers. All three failed.

The first was on a “clean” proposal that offered dreamers citizenship. Nearly all Democrats voted for it; all but four Republicans voted against it.

There was also a bipartisan “compromise” plan. It included a path to citizenship for dreamers, funding for border security and a prohibition on dreamers sponsoring parents for legal status. That also failed, with nearly all Democrats voting for it and nearly all Republicans against.

Finally there was a plan to protect dreamers in exchange for gutting the legal immigration system, an idea that until recently resided only among the far-right fringe. Only this bill did a majority of Republicans support, even though they knew it was DOA thanks both to Democratic opposition and to defections within their own party.

On guns, too, Congress has been portrayed as generically dysfunctional, always at reasonable-people-can-disagree loggerheads. But here, too, there is widespread agreement among voters — from both parties — on modest gun-control measures.

Nine in 10 Republicans support background checks for all gun buyers. The same share supports preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns.

Majorities of Republican voters also support banning gun modifications that can make semiautomatic guns more like automatic ones; barring gun purchases by people on terrorist no-fly lists; banning assault-style weapons; and creating a federal database to track gun sales.

Again, that’s what Republican voters want. Those preferences have been ill-served by NRA-funded Republican politicians, however.

Republican lawmakers killed universal background-check bills considered after Sandy Hook and San Bernardino. They voted againstreinstating the assault weapons ban five years ago, and not a single Republican is co-sponsoring the same proposal now in the Senate. Last year, Republicans voted to roll back an Obama-era rule that would have made it harder for people with mental illness to buy a gun.

And the Republican House has already passed the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would force states that prefer stricter gun-control measures to cede their ability to enforce them, states’ rights be damned. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2018 at 8:55 pm

The Empty Rituals of an American Massacre

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James Fallows has a powerful column in the Atlantic:

The financial and political power of the National Rifle Association leaves many politicians terrified of crossing it. And because of its ideological and propaganda power, a segment of Americans now equates any proposed limit on gun use or ownership as a catastrophic step toward the extinction of individual liberties and the dawn of a confiscatory, totalitarian state.

Americans recognize that public-safety controls on use of a car—licensing laws, speed limits, insurance requirements, DUI penalties—don’t threaten the “right to drive.” They recognize that restrictions on some prescription drugs don’t threaten their right to buy aspirin, nor do limits on what they can carry onto a plane threaten their right to travel or fly. But the NRA and its allies have succeeded in making gun control an absolute issue. If you believe in the Second Amendment, then whatever the potential control—on gun-show sales, on bulk purchases of ammunition, on waiting times for background checks—it must be fought as a step not so much onto a slippery slope as over a cliff and into the abyss.

Thus even a restriction that seemed common sense a generation ago—for instance, banning a weapon like the AR-15 that was explicitly designed for use by troops in combat, and was never meant to be in civilian hands—now is anathema. A weapon meant for soldiers or perhaps SWAT teams has now been sold by the millions to civilians in the United States, who use it mainly for “personal protection” and “hunting,” but also in most mass killings. “I think the shift you’re seeing now is the military-style weapon is here to stay because it’s appealing to a whole new generation,” Steve Denny, owner of a gun shop in North Carolina, told John Boyle of the Asheville, North Carolina, Citizen Times back in 2014. “You can see it in the industry,” Denny said, according to Boyle. “The industry had to change from military-style weapons being something that they sold sometimes to them being something that is at the forefront of all their advertising—the tactical use of a firearm.”

There are things that can be done to reduce the frequency of gun massacres. We know that because in every other developed country on Earth they have been done, and have made a difference. Australia, Scotland, Norway, Canada, Germany, Finland—these and other countries have had occasional horrific mass shootings. These countries have just as high a proportion of mentally ill people as the United States does, just as many with pent-up grievances. But only America has an endless series of gun killings.

As Margot Sanger-Katz and Quoctrung Bui pointed out in The New York Timesafter one of the U.S. massacres last fall, there’s substantial overlap between the moderate gun-control measures that international experts think would be reduce killings, and those that have majority or near-unanimous support in opinion polls of Americans. But we know that in the terrain of modern American politics, such measures have no place. We’ll be talking about something else in a week or two.


We know something else as well, which is the sequence of political and press response that will unfold after this latest schoolyard gun massacre in Florida. The sequence is the one I described nearly six years ago, after what was then an attention-getting massacre—the one in a theater in Aurora, Colorado, which with “merely” 12 fatalities is no longer in America’s top 10. It’s the sequence I discussed in a video last fall, after what is for now still the highest-casualty gun killing, in Las Vegas. The sequence is:

  • As news of the killing comes in, cable channels give it wall-to-wall coverage.
  • The NRA ducks its head down and goes dark for hours or days, in its Twitterand other social-media outlets.
  • Politicians who have done everything possible to oppose changes in gun laws, and who often are major recipients of NRA contributions, offer “thoughts and prayers” to the victims, say they are “deeply saddened,” praise the heroes of law enforcement and of medical treatment who have tried to limit the damage, and lament the mental-health or cultural problems that have expressed themselves via an AR-15.
    “Thoughts and prayers” are of course admirable. But after an airline crash, politicians don’t stop with “thoughts and prayers” for the victims; they want to get to the bottom of the cause. After a fatal fire, after a botched response to a hurricane, after a food-poisoning or product-safety failure or a nursing-home abuse scandal, “thoughts and prayers” are the beginning of the public response but not the end. After a shooting they are both.
  • These same politicians say that the aftermath of a shooting is “not the right time” to “politicize” the tragedy by talking about gun laws or asking why only in America do massacres happen week after week after week.
    The right time to discuss these policies is “never.”
  • The news moves on; everyone forgets except the families and communities that are forever changed.
  • The next shooting comes, “thoughts and prayers” are offered, and the cycle resumes.
    If this summary sounds too cynical, think back to what has happened since a gunman killed or wounded more than 900 people in Las Vegas less than five months ago.

In this familiar sequence, the role of one man deserves study, as emblematic of the age as a whole. That person is of course Mitch McConnell, 75-year-old senator from Kentucky, leader of Republicans in the Senate for the past decade.

A history of our era will show Mitch McConnell as both the most effective purely partisan figure of the time—LBJ in the Senate, Sam Rayburn in the House, their records will pale—and a person uniquely destructive of trans-partisan governing norms. How has he changed norms? For the full picture I refer you to a wonderful short 2014 book about McConnell by Alec MacGillis, called The Cynic (well reviewed in The New York Review of Books by Robert Kaiser), and a prescient 2011 profile in The Atlantic by Joshua Green, called “Strict Obstructionist.”

Of course since those accounts, McConnell changed national and political history with his unprecedented refusal to consider Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, and by blocking the Obama administration’s efforts to issue a bipartisan warning about Russian election interference during the summer of 2016. Both moves enhanced the chances of Donald Trump’s election: the Garland stonewall in giving conservatives a clear-cut reason to vote for a man whose policies and personality might otherwise leave them queasy, and the Russian-interference stonewall in making that issue seem a fringe concern. Although no one suggests that this is the reason for McConnell’s actions, it’s a matter of historical record that his wife, Elaine Chao, who had been secretary of labor for George W. Bush, was named to another cabinet position, as secretary of transportation, by the victorious Donald Trump.

McConnell’s effect on gun legislation is representative of the politics of this issue and of McConnell’s instincts and influence overall. The crucial moment came after Obama’s reelection victory over Mitt Romney, in 2012.

Five weeks after the election, on December 14, a disturbed 20-year-old with an AR-15 went to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and shot dead 20 little six- and seven-year-old children, plus six staff members.

At the time, it seemed unimaginable. At the time, it seemed that this atrocity might be the one that finally changed the public mind and thus public policy about dealing with guns. At the time, it seemed that pictures of these children and their families might have an effect like that of horrific images from the Vietnam era, for instance 9-year-old Kim Phuc running in terror, naked, after a napalm attack.

Associates of Barack Obama say that he considered the day he got the Sandy Hook news the worst day of his presidency. And two months later, in the first State of the Union address of his second term, he made the case for gun legislation with a passion and intensity quite rare in these big, formal speeches.

The ending of his speech was built around the phrase and concept that people devastated by gun violence deserved at least the respect of a formal up-or-down congressional vote on gun-control laws. He saidwith a cadence I noted at the time and will illustrate with italic emphases: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2018 at 11:41 am

Trumpism for Thee, but Not for Me

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David Leonhardt writes in the NY Times:

There are a lot of problems with living near an offshore oil rig. The smell can be nasty. The rigs produce something known as tarballs — little globs of petroleum that wash up on land. Even modest oil spills, which happen pretty frequently, can disrupt life. A major spill can devastate a community.

No wonder, then, that people living along both the East and West Coasts objected when the Trump administration announced a big expansion of drilling last month. But only one area has managed to win a promised exemption to the drilling: Florida.

Why? Well, Florida’s governor is Rick Scott, a Republican whom President Trump is trying to persuade to run for the Senate this year. If Scott does run, he doesn’t want to be forced to defend an unpopular new drilling plan.

So Trump’s larger agenda will move ahead, with a special exception to that very same agenda for the president’s closest allies. It’s Trumpism-for-thee-but-not-for-me, and it is becoming a pattern.

Here’s how it works: First, the Trump administration, often with congressional Republicans, enacts a policy that harms a large number of Americans. Then local or state allies of the administration raise objections. Ultimately, the administration and Congress create a carve-out that protects a small number of favored constituents while leaving most of the damaging policy in place.

It is splendidly hypocritical, of course: If Trump’s agenda is as wonderful as he says, his loyal supporters should surely get to benefit from it as well. But I think it also contains an important lesson for anyone trying to stop Trump’s agenda: Keep calling attention to the substance of that agenda, because it is deeply unpopular — and even Trump’s allies know it’s unpopular.

The pattern first appeared during the attempts to repeal Obamacare last year. The repeal bills would have sharply cut federal spending on health insurance. Yet not every part of the country would have experienced a cut. Most blue states would have suffered large reductions (Trumpism for thee…), while many red states would actually have received more federal subsidies (…but not for me).

Then came the tax law passed in December. Not only does it shift billions of federal dollars from blue states to red, it does so partly through duplicity.

The clearest example is a new tax on colleges with an endowment of at least $500,000 per full-time student. It was aimed at bastions of liberalism, like Harvard, M.I.T., Stanford and Amherst. But members of Congress eventually realized that the endowment tax would also apply to Berea College, a small institution in Kentucky with a nice-sized endowment.

Kentucky, as you are probably aware, is the home state of Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. So McConnell “insisted” (his word) that last week’s budget deal create a carve-out to spare Berea from the tax.

I want to emphasize that Berea is an extremely impressive place. It enrolls only lower-income students, most of them from Appalachia, and doesn’t charge tuition. But the idea that congressional Republicans are just trying to protect low-income students — their rationalization for the carve-out — is ridiculous.

For one thing, those same members of Congress have repeatedly taken steps to make college more expensive for both low- and middle-income families. So have state-level Republicans, which helps explain why nationwide per-student funding for higher education has dropped 16 percent since 2008. Trump and House leaders both recently proposed further cuts.

For another thing, Berea, admirable as it is, happens to be tiny. It graduated about 315 lower-income students last year. By comparison, N.Y.U. graduated more than 1,000 lower-income students. Arizona State — located in the state suffering from the deepest college funding cuts — graduated 7,500 such students. McConnell hasn’t done any “insisting” on their behalf.

All of this hypocrisy is certainly maddening. But as the old saying goes: Don’t get mad, get even. The Trumpism-for-thee phenomenon helps point the way to fighting back against Trumpism.

In other countries, the most effective way to stop recent demagogues has been to treat them as normal politicians who are failing to deliver on their promises, as Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago has noted. Don’t focus mostly on the outrages, the insults and the scandals. Most voters have become inured to them. Focus instead on the demagogue’s policies and job performance. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2018 at 2:56 pm

The GOP has been corrupted by Trump

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Juan Williams writes in The Hill:

Wow, what happened to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)?

In the last year, Ryan has squandered his stellar reputation as a smart, conservative visionary. By excusing President Trump’s bad behavior, he has made it clear his only priorities are that Trump put conservatives on the Supreme Court and sign tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit the rich and corporations.

Similarly, what happened to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)?

The man who once called out the president for turning the White House into an “adult day care center” vowed never to vote for a tax cut bill that added “one penny” to the deficit.

Corker voted against an early draft of the tax cut law. But he then jumped on board when a provision was inserted into the law that would greatly increase his personal wealth through tax treatment of his commercial real estate holdings. Corker denied any impropriety.

The fact remains that Corker switched his vote and voted for a bill that added billions of pennies to the deficit while feathering his own nest. He could have shown real courage and voted ‘No.’ He did not.

And what happened to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)?

McConnell once took pride in defying Trump by having his Republican majority pass a law last year to punish Russia by imposing sanctions on countries buying military equipment from that nation. The penalties were intended to penalize Russia for interfering in the 2016 election and stop its ongoing meddling in American politics.

But McConnell had little to say when the Trump administration said in late January that it would not impose Congress’s sanctions.

Ryan, Corker and McConnell are leading GOP lights who have ceded their party’s moral center in service to protecting Trump.

Until Trump came along, the party stood for cutting federal spending. It was the pro-immigration party. And after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Republicans backed the secret surveillance provisions of the Patriot Act to protect against spies and terrorists.

Now it is a different party.

Currently, congressional Republicans make excuses for refusing to put checks and balances on the excesses of Trump’s executive branch.

Today’s GOP offers political cover for a man with no history in the party as he denigrates, degrades, and destroys vital American institutions, including law enforcement, the free press and the GOP.

Ryan is the biggest disappointment.

Even if you disagree with him, Ryan has a history of standing up for what he thinks is right.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, a fearless Ryan said Trump, then the leading candidate for the GOP nomination, was wrong to attack an Indiana judge because the judge had Mexican ancestry. Ryan pulled no punches in calling out Trump for making “the textbook definition of a racist statement.”

Now Ryan is looking the other way on far more damaging Trump behavior.

He ignored pleadings from the Justice Department and the FBI to stop the release of a classified memo — written by Republicans — that purportedly showed wrongdoing by law enforcement in obtaining a warrant to conduct surveillance of a known friend to Russian intelligence, the Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Ryan said the memo had nothing to do with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign. It was about misconduct by some agents, he said.

But once it was out, Trump tweeted that the memo “totally vindicates” him, even though it said nothing about collusion or obstruction of justice, the focus of Mueller’s work.

When Ryan was asked about this, he mumbled and walked away from reporters.

He had no explanation for allowing his credibility to be used by Trump. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2018 at 10:56 am

Boycott the Republican Party

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Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes make a strong case in their Atlantic article:

A few days after the Democratic electoral sweep this past November in Virginia, New Jersey, and elsewhere, The Washington Post asked a random Virginia man to explain his vote. The man, a marketing executive named Toren Beasley, replied that his calculus was simply to refuse to calculate. “It could have been Dr. Seuss or the Berenstain Bears on the ballot and I would have voted for them if they were a Democrat,” he said. “I might do more analyses in other years. But in this case, no. No one else gets any consideration because what’s going on with the Republicans—I’m talking about Trump and his cast of characters—is stupid, stupid, stupid. I can’t say stupid enough times.”

Count us in, Mr. Beasley. We’re with you, though we tend to go with dangerous rather than stupid. And no one could be more surprised that we’re saying this than we are.

We have both spent our professional careers strenuously avoiding partisanship in our writing and thinking. We have both done work that is, in different ways, ideologically eclectic, and that has—over a long period of time—cast us as not merely nonpartisans but antipartisans. Temperamentally, we agree with the late Christopher Hitchens: Partisanship makes you stupid. We are the kind of voters who political scientists say barely exist—true independents who scour candidates’ records in order to base our votes on individual merit, not party brand.

This, then, is the article we thought we would never write: a frank statement that a certain form of partisanship is now a moral necessity. The Republican Party, as an institution, has become a danger to the rule of law and the integrity of our democracy. The problem is not just Donald Trump; it’s the larger political apparatus that made a conscious decision to enable him. In a two-party system, nonpartisanship works only if both parties are consistent democratic actors. If one of them is not predictably so, the space for nonpartisans evaporates. We’re thus driven to believe that the best hope of defending the country from Trump’s Republican enablers, and of saving the Republican Party from itself, is to do as Toren Beasley did: vote mindlessly and mechanically against Republicans at every opportunity, until the party either rights itself or implodes (very preferably the former).

Of course, lots of people vote a straight ticket. Some do so because they are partisan. Others do so because of a particular policy position: Many pro-lifers, for example, will not vote for Democrats, even pro-life Democrats, because they see the Democratic Party as institutionally committed to the slaughter of babies.

We’re proposing something different. We’re suggesting that in today’s situation, people should vote a straight Democratic ticket even if they are not partisan, and despite their policy views. They should vote against Republicans in a spirit that is, if you will, prepartisan and prepolitical. Their attitude should be: The rule of law is a threshold value in American politics, and a party that endangers this value disqualifies itself, period. In other words, under certain peculiar and deeply regrettable circumstances, sophisticated, independent-minded voters need to act as if they were dumb-ass partisans.For us, this represents a counsel of desperation. So allow us to step back and explain what drove us to what we call oppositional partisanship.

To avoid misunderstanding, here are some things we are not saying. First, although we worry about extremism in the GOP, that is not a reason to boycott the party. We agree with political analysts who say that the Republicans veered off-center earlier and more sharply than the Democrats—but recently the Democrats have made up for lost time by moving rapidly leftward. In any case, under normal circumstances our response to radicalization within a party would be to support sane people within that party.

Nor is our oppositional partisanship motivated by the belief that Republican policies are wrongheaded. Republicans are a variegated bunch, and we agree with many traditional GOP positions. One of us has spent the past several years arguing that counterterrorism authorities should be granted robust powers, defending detentions at Guantánamo Bay, and supporting the confirmations of any number of conservative judges and justices whose nominations enraged liberals. The other is a Burkean conservative with libertarian tendencies and a long history of activism against left-wing intolerance. And even if we did consistently reject Republican policy positions, that would not be sufficient basis to boycott the entire party—just to oppose the bad ideas advanced by it.

One more nonreason for our stance: that we are horrified by the president. To be sure, we are horrified by much that Trump has said and done. But many members of his party are likewise horrified. Republicans such as Senators John McCain and Bob Corker and Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse, as well as former Governors Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, have spoken out and conducted themselves with integrity. Abandoning an entire party means abandoning many brave and honorable people. We would not do that based simply on rot at the top.

So why have we come to regard the GOP as an institutional danger? . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2018 at 10:31 am

When Two Tribes Go to War

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Andrew Sullivan writes in New York magazine:

The problem with tribalism is that it knows no real limiting principle.

It triggers a deep and visceral response: a defense of the tribe before all other considerations. That means, in its modern manifestation, that the tribe comes before the country as a whole, before any neutral institutions that get in its way, before reason and empiricism, and before the rule of law. It means loyalty to the tribe — and its current chief — is enforced relentlessly. And this, it seems to me, is the underlying reason why the investigation into Russian interference in the last election is now under such attack and in such trouble. In a tribalized society, there can be no legitimacy for an independent inquiry, indifferent to tribal politics. In this fray, no one is allowed to be above it.

On the face of it, of course, no one even faintly patriotic should object to investigating how a foreign power tried to manipulate American democracy, as our intelligence agencies have reported. And yet one party is quite obviously doing all it can to undermine such a project — even when it is led by a Republican of previously unimpeachable integrity, Robert Mueller. Tribalism does not spare the FBI; it cannot tolerate an independent Department of Justice; it sees even a Republican like Mueller as suspect; and it sees members of another tribe as incapable of performing their jobs without bias.

The release of the Nunes memo is just the latest, deeply dangerous manifestation of this. Congressman Nunes saw his task, from the get-go, not as investigating the underlying issue as a congressman concerned with the integrity of elections, but as finding a way to protect his tribal chieftain, Donald Trump, from suspicions that his own campaign might have invited such intervention, or that he might have obstructed justice to stymie Mueller’s inquiry. The entire concept of digging fairly into the facts to discover exactly what relationship, if any, the Trump campaign had with agents of the Russian government is close to meaningless to Nunes. So is any cooperation with Democrats or waiting until the full investigation is finished. More to the point, all this is meaningless to the Republican base as well. Their tribal chief has said there was no Russian interference and no collusion, and that’s all they need to know.

And since they already know the truth, the only point of such an investigation must be an Establishment attack on their own tribe, right? Before too long, even Jeff Sessions was regarded as a traitor, by recusing himself from intervention in the matter. Ditto Rod Rosenstein, another Republican pressured to give Trump personal, and not institutional, loyalty at the DOJ. Mueller himself, of course, is now described by his fellow Republicans as an agent of the deep state, mired in liberal sabotage. James Comey was summarily fired, and even Trump’s handpicked FBI chief, Christopher Wray, is now suspect, because he believes the Nunes memo is deeply misleading and may even compromise national security. The FBI had to be intending to frame Trump, after all, when it surveilled Carter Page’s troubling contacts with Moscow. What other reason could there be? And the media’s reporting of any of these developments is, of course, “fake news” born out of a conspiracy so vast that, well, take it away, Newt: “The elite media group has survived by being in collusion with the senior bureaucracy, the city of Washington, the senior reporters, the senior bureaucrats, the senior lobbyists, they all hang out together, they all talk to each other, they all compare notes.”

Note the C-word. If Trump is accused of collusion, the gambit is to accuse the FBI, the media, and the DOJ of some sort of “collusion” as well. If Trump is exposed as evading the rule of law, so now must the Justice Department and the FBI be seen as undermining it. The logic here is pure Roy Cohn. Bret Stephens made a devastating and completely unanswerable point this week about how differently the GOP would react if these attempts to evade or obstruct justice had been made by a President Hillary Clinton — but to the tribal mind, none of that matters. And the tactics Cohn once deployed are now all around us: throw back the exact same charges you’re facing against those investigating you. Invent a conspiracy theory to rival a collusion theory. Throw sand in everyone’s eyes. Get your allegations out first, in as inflammatory and scandalous a way as possible. Ransack people’s private lives and communications to more effectively demonize them.

Dominate the news cycles. Do anything to muddy the conflict and to sow suspicion. Lie, if you have to. Exercise not the slightest concern for the stability of the system as a whole — because tribe comes first. Trump, to make things worse, sees no distinction between the tactics he deployed as a private citizen in lawsuits for decades and the tactics he is deploying as president, because he has no conception of a presidency committed first of all to the long-term maintenance of the system rather than the short-term pursuit of personal interest. He simply cannot see the value of institutions that might endure through time, under both parties, as a way to preserve objective fact-finding and the neutral enforcement of justice. All he sees is his own immediate interest, as filtered through his malignant narcissism. Some thought this might change when he became president and realized the gravity of the office. We know now how delusional that idea was.

Many commentators, of course, see all these various gambits at obstructing justice as endangering Trump, as Mueller closes in. Some believe that the public reaction to this overreach will be punishing, especially if serious wrongdoing emerges, and that impeachment could follow. I’m afraid I don’t see this. In fact, I see tribalism deepening and the constitutional crisis intensifying. It’s quite clear now that . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 February 2018 at 12:39 pm

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