It’s Not About You, Jeff Sessions

by Cinzia Croce

As soon as Attorney General Jeff Sessions concluded his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, supporters of President Donald Trump took to social media celebrating what they deemed an “evisceration” of the Democrats on the panel. They did the same after the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey, which they, and Trump himself, viewed as total vindication of the president. If the hearings were about seeking the truth about any potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, then indeed both days would be victories for the president. But after months of hearings and many hours of testimony, it should be clear to all that the hearings are not about pursuing the truth. The hearings — and special counsel Robert  Mueller — are about miring the Trump administration in endless investigations in the hope that some grounds for impeachment materialize or, at the very least, prevent Trump from implementing his agenda. Let me make this very clear to Trump supporters: as long as the hearings and the special counsel keep going, every day will be a bad day for President Trump and a great day for his political opponents in both parties.

For many Trump supporters, watching Jeff Sessions forcefully defend his honor increased their admiration for the man. For me, it had the opposite effect. By the time he finished his testimony, my admiration had turned into an intense dislike. I did not see a selfless public servant defending his good name. Instead, what I saw was a self-centered individual with a grandiose opinion of himself more interested in protecting his reputation  than serving the administration he joined. Sessions requested an open session before the committee. He wanted to make sure that the entire world would be able to see him deny that he ever colluded with Russia to defeat Hillary Clinton. Did anyone expect him to say otherwise? What exactly did Sessions’ appearance before the Senate achieve other than giving him a high-profile platform to declare that he was offended? So exemplary is Sessions that he decided to recuse himself from the Russia investigation rather than risk his prestige. So exemplary that he testified that he had full confidence in Mueller at a time when the special counsel’s team is being filled with Democratic donors and Clinton loyalists. No: it was all about protecting Sessions’ standing among his colleagues — and if that meant overshadowing the president’s trip to Wisconsin to promote his workforce reforms, well… Continue reading

The Trump Train Enters Rocky Terrain

by Cinzia Croce

The Trump Train charged out of the station in January with vigor and determination — and for about three weeks, it was barreling down the tracks at an impressive pace. Between a flurry of executive orders and a Supreme Court nomination applauded by all factions of the Republican Party, Trump delighted both his supporters and those who had been very skeptical of him during the campaign.

And then the train began to slow down.

The first victory Trump’s opponents scored was halting his temporary travel ban. It was a setback in terms of implementing his agenda but, politically speaking, Trump came out in a very strong position. He delivered on his promise to halt immigration from countries that are havens for Islamists, his opponents were shown to put the interests of foreign nationals above the security concerns of Americans, and if — God forbid — another terrorist attack were to take place, Trump could credibly claim that he tried to protect Americans but the Democrats and their simpatico judges stopped him. Continue reading

‘Alternative Facts’ and the Media Crisis of Legitimacy

by Alex Knepper

President Donald Trump and his legion of lackeys rolled the dice on the theory that left and right now live in totally different realities: that we no longer agree on what constitutes a legitimate source of information, that motives and intentions now count for more than diligence in ‘getting the facts right,’ and that a forceful Republican candidate can bypass the mainstream media altogether as long as he steadfastly refuses to cater to their standards. To a large extent, this is true, and is one of the major truths Trump accurately perceived that caught Washington by surprise. Rather than seeing polarization as a problem to be overcome, Trump sees it it as an opportunity to be embraced. There have been occasions in which Trump has been shown a tape of him saying something, after which he denies having said it. But rather than abandoning him over such a blatant act of charlatanism, his supporters love it: he is their liar, engaged in combat against the other liars — and his lies drive those other liars up the wall. He lies for them, and against Obama, the Clintons, and progressives — and that perceived loyalty means more than any factual account: motive trumps all.

Not surprisingly, a campaign based on this attitude became a magnet for grifters, media-whores, trolls, has-beens, and malcontents — an army of the alienated: everyone from Sarah Palin to Martin Shkreli to Milo Yiannopoulos — excuse me: MILO — to Richard Spencer to 4chan to Alex Jones eagerly hopped on the Trump Train, perceiving that this opportunity to help usher in a world where everyone has their own — liar-for-hire Kellyanne Conway’s words, not mine — ‘alternative facts‘ — would be a boon to them. An environment like this is something of a free-for-all, and every niche figure can be included and validated in it. There is no umpire, no referee — every man and woman can be their own final arbiter of what counts as true.

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The Perks of Being a Carnival Barker

by Cinzia Croce

There was only one time I seriously considered dropping my support for Donald Trump: when he selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate. My reaction was very visceral, and was mostly due to Pence’s reputation as a hardcore social conservative. Trump had managed to marginalize social issues during the Republican primary –- something that I thought I would never live to see. For the first time in a long time, the GOP primary debates were not dominated by questions about the age of the earth, the definition of marriage, or abortion. I was on cloud nine, and Pence threatened to bring me back to earth. As soon as Trump confirmed him as his vice presidential pick, I could see the Democrats salivating at a fresh opportunity to revive the War on Women, raise the prospect of the LGBT community being stripped of their newly acquired civil rights, and distract from Trump’s powerful economic message. My heart sank. I was also not impressed with Pence’s performance during the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act controversy, where he somehow managed to anger all sides of the debate, and often came across as unsure, looking like a deer in the headlights as he dealt with a hostile press. I feared that Trump had made a fatal mistake on the scale of John McCain’s mistake in choosing Sarah Palin as his vice president — I even went as far as labeling Pence as the male Sarah Palin.

carnival

I am thrilled to have been proven wrong. As I predicted, the Democrats did try to turn Pence into politically radioactive material. Within a day of Trump’s announcement, the Democrat-designated mudslingers and their media helpmates began their familiar attacks, which were very effective in the past. But this time they gained no traction. Unlike in the case of John McCain, who threw Palin to the wolves and stepped away, Trump helped to blunt the attacks against Pence by drawing attention to himself, allowing his running mate to fly under the radar. After the GOP convention, Pence barely received any coverage, and was free to focus on his key task of bringing home recalcitrant Republicans. Whether inviting Russia to produce Hillary’s infamous emails or getting into an extended spat with Khizr Khan, Trump never ran out of new shiny objects to keep all eyes on him, leaving the Democrats talking to themselves about Pence. Continue reading

Let the Age of Pragmatism Begin

by Cinzia Croce

The first round of Senate confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s nominees is now in the history books, and it is clear that the incoming president intends to make good on his promise to change Washington. Rex Tillerson and Generals James Mattis and Robert Kelly walked away having established themselves as strong, accomplished, serious men with records of success in their individual endeavors.  Even Dr. Ben Carson — who seemed an admittedly odd choice to head HUD — reassured, pledging to bringing a fresh look to programs whose structure has not been examined in decades, despite, in many cases, having failed to meet the expectations of activists.

There was one consistent theme throughout the testimonies: pragmatism over ideology. After decades of ideological warfare paralyzing Washington, the Trump Administration promises to reassess where we are as a country and chart a new, sustainable course both at home and abroad instead of pursuing ideological purity or utopia.

During the campaign, Trump’s opponents warned that his ego was very fragile, making him susceptible to flattery. If elected, we were warned, he would surround himself with lackeys — “yes men” who would indulge his impulsive, reckless, childish behavior, putting the country — no — the entire world at risk. The hearings effectively debunked the caricature. No one can call General Mattis a lackey or fear that he would not stand up to Trump. The same is true of General Kelly, and Tillerson.

Yet instead of being reassured that Trump is not filling the Cabinet with flunkies, his opponents have switched tactics: they point to areas where the nominees diverge from the president-elect and wring their hands about the divisions and tension or whether it will lead to chaos. There will be no honeymoon, it seems: every decision Trump makes will be cast in a negative light. If his nominees had gone before the Senate and agreed with Trump’s views to the letter — especially with respect to Russia — his opponents would have issued dire warnings that the Kremlin is about to take over our government. Continue reading

Memo to Trump Opponents for the Next Four Years

by Alex Knepper

As the dawn of the Trump era tiptoes ever-closer, many Democrats and skeptical Republicans have still not figured out what makes the president-elect ‘tick.’ It is fair to say that we have never known so little about the motives and core beliefs of an incoming president. Nonetheless, we know enough about him to cut through the noise and sketch an outline of what the opposition must note as it prepares for battle. If Trump’s opponents want to effectively combat him, we will need to re-learn a lot of what we thought we already knew:

1. Remember: Trump Is Not an Ideologue, and He Has No Master Plan

Many vain attempts have been made to make sense of Trump by gathering the president-elect’s various statements and attempting to discern a systemized ideology from them. But Trump has no ideology: he is more like former Chinese autocrat Deng Xiaoping, who declared that ‘it does not matter what color a cat is, as long as it catches mice’ — which is not to say that there are not discernible patterns in Trump’s thought, but rather that they are informed more by ‘gut,’ instinct, or prejudice than by a coherent system of abstract principles.

This is a major part of his appeal. He boldly declared earlier in the year that, while he is a conservative, ‘it’s called the Republican Party, not the Conservative Party.’ He does not attempt to justify his beliefs by appealing to time-honored principles: he defines what is politically good by its immediate practical effect — which is always hand-in-hand with increasing his power — and if existing theories conflict with Trump getting his way, then Trump insists on a new theory, rather than on accommodating his desires to pre-existing principles.

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Reporters’ Russia Remorse Rings Hollow

by Alex Knepper

Although I am glad to finally see the topic receive the acknowledgement it deserved two months ago, I must confess that I find media hyperventilating over the not-news that Russia meddled in our presidential election to be a bit perplexing. Little new information has come to light: it was clear in the fall that Putin was working to disrupt our electoral process — to weaken a likely President Clinton, and to exploit the crisis of faith in our institutions. Both candidates thought the specter of Russian interference was important enough to at least mention — although — alas — predictably, one of them thought it was actually a wonderful thing that Putin’s lackeys could be willing to hack into the private communications of Clinton associates. So it is no great shock that Russia is likely behind the WikiLeaks e-mail leaks.

Russia APEC
It is clear that some would like to take advantage of these non-revelations to promote the belief that Trump’s victory was somehow illegitimate. In my mind there is little doubt that Clinton received a raw deal during the general election, with the e-mail leaks being among the most unfair obstacles she faced.  But our Constitution stipulates when elections are held and how they are conducted, and Trump won — fair and square. Nobody — not the FBI or CIA, not the president, not the press, not the people — can guarantee that the timing of events and fortune will always be simply fair to the nominees. Clinton is embarrassing herself by endorsing the imprudent and unprecedented idea of delivering intelligence briefings to presidential electors regarding Russia in advance of the official presidential vote. Her frustration is palpable. But if the so-called mainstream press is feeling a bit of remorse, they should blame themselves twice for every time they blame Putin: if reporters had treated the WikiLeaks saga as intolerable criminal foreign meddling in the first place rather than as an opportunity to engage in scurrilous gossip about the woman they thought would be the next president, we might not be having the kind of conversation we are having right now.