We are in a moral crisis, and there is only one solution

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The deadly attack in Charlottesville at the hands of a white supremacist, courtesy http://abcnews.go.com/US/violent-clashes-car-ramming-charlottesville/story?id=49187074

I haven’t been writing much lately because, well, there just isn’t much to say. By that I mean there is actually too much to say, and it is emotionally overwhelming. The events of the last week and a half have had me so morose, misanthropic, and ashamed for my country that frankly there just isn’t much to write about that hasn’t already been written about elsewhere.

All in one week, we have a President who threatened nuclear war with one country, threatened military action with another country, both presumably (and hopefully) with no plan on actually backing these threats up. Which is rich for a President who made a career out of criticising Obama for his “red line” comments on Syria.

Then things somehow got even uglier. The violence that left several dead and dozens injured in Charlottesville Friday and Saturday have shown that this country is in the middle of a deep, widespread moral crisis. White supremacism and white nationalism (which, because they’re not much different, I will here on out refer to simply as white supremacism), while they have always existed in this country, are now out and proud again.

Let’s be clear here – this movement is only out and proud because they have a leader in Trump. Trump has given these people and their toxic ideology legitimacy, which has emboldened them to come out from the online message boards where they have hidden for the last several decades to fester their hatred, and bring it out into the open for all the world to see. Trump is wholly responsible for the madness we are seeing now – and by refusing to refute them in his remarks on the subject, instead calling out “both sides” for violence (as if the small minority of leftists causing violence is somehow equal to the terrorism of white supremacists that has left one dead and 19 injured) – he has entrenched his position. By refusing to denounce these people and their ideology, by staying silent on white supremacy, Trump has said all he needs to say. And trust me, this has not gone unnoticed by white supremacists. Just take a look at this post from the Daily Stormer, a website dedicated to hatred, in response to Trump’s address Saturday:

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Trump, and Trump alone, can take the wind out of the sails of white supremacy by strongly denouncing it. And if he can’t do that, he should resign because his mere presence gives fuel to the flames of their hatred. Since he will do neither, there is only one option to proceed – he must be removed from office. While this alone gives more legitimacy to his impeachment, I am hesitant to go down that path because it is a very political path, and a democratically elected leader should only be removed from office in the most extreme and dire circumstances. The circumstances should be so severe that the President has lost his democratic legitimacy, such that a vast majority of the country (80% or more) has stopped supporting him, and we simply are not there yet.

This leaves only one option for now, and that is a very boring and obvious one – defeat him, and the leaders and representatives who have his support, in elections. In 2018, the left can deal Trump a crushing blow by wiping out Republican majorities at the state level and Congress. We can turn Trump into a lame duck (if he isn’t already), at least as far as lawmaking is concerned, by coming out hard to the polls next year. And the state level may be even more important than the federal level. As our voting rights are now called into question more than ever, the most powerful ones who can stand up to voter suppression are those in power at the state level.

Then in 2020, Trump must be defeated by a candidate that the left can unite around. If the left cannot come together now, all is lost – the damage that has already been done will be expanded, cemented, and ripple outward for decades. Now is more important than ever to unite, and this is a message intended for both liberals and progressives.

policy must now take a back seat to taking power out of the hands of a man who is eager to court hatred and white supremacism for his own political gain

I am a liberal, in most senses of the word. I believe in free markets, in the power of capitalism to lift billions out of poverty, in individual liberty. I also believe in improving quality of life wherever capitalism has failed, but more than anything I believe in the rights of individuals to their own personal liberty, for the power to make their own direction in life free from state interference. That said, I am ready to unite around any candidate that can inspire the left, because the time to squash white supremacism, hatred, and political violence was yesterday. It was 2016. We are already too late to this, but it is better late than never to put it to bed. Given the current climate, I understand this probably means getting behind a candidate who I do not wholly agree with on policy, but policy must now take a back seat to taking power out of the hands of a man who is eager to court hatred and white supremacism for his own political gain.

I understand that candidate must be somebody who has a strong background of public service, of principled dedication to issues like a $15 minimum wage, and other policies which I find potentially ineffective. But this is not the time for purity politics, whether that’s on the left or the center. I am ready to get behind anybody who has the biggest tent to inspire and unite the left, and you should be too, because we cannot let the legitimacy of this hatred and violence go on for one day longer.

EDIT, 12:44 PM: Trump is finally denouncing white supremacists, the KKK, and Nazis as hate groups. Too little, too late. He has allowed this to go on too long, and benefited from it politically for too long. I am glad he has finally said something, but Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, and the like are still holding positions of power in this country. They must be removed immediately, and he must continue to strongly and vocally rebuke white supremacism, if he wants any shot at legitimacy.

The fundamental misunderstanding at the heart of this administration

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Jeff Sessions swearing in as Attorney General, courtesy wikimedia.org

Recent tweets and speeches he’s given have the President throwing Jeff Sessions under the bus – the reasons given for his unhappiness are fairly nebulous. It is reported that he is looking for ways to get a new Attorney General, but this may alienate the wrong people – people Trump not only needs to be a successful president, but continue to be president at all if things get ugly enough for him.

Let’s be clear here – Trump wants Sessions gone because, due to Sessions’ recusal, Sessions cannot fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the Trump campaign and its ties to Russia. If Trump was truly unhappy with the recusal itself, or with Sessions’ unwillingness to investigate Hillary Clinton, he would have voiced this months ago.

There are a number of different ways he could do this. He could outright fire Sessions, Sessions could resign under pressure, or he could move Sessions to a new department. The first two would anger the conservative base and likely cross a red line for the GOP, who almost unanimously respect Sessions as a principled conservative. The third option, while it would anger the GOP less than the others, would still create problems for Trump.

This is coming up now because Trump wants to end the Russia investigation, and he can’t. Sessions recused himself from the investigation, as he said he would in his testimony to the Senate. The next person in charge of the special counsel is the Deputy AG, Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in the first place and would refuse to fire him. Therefore Trump has his hands tied – his only option for firing Mueller would be appointing a new Attorney General.

But this is also a ridiculous idea. Since the Attorney General is a position that would need Senate approval, the Senate would demand absolute independence of any new nominee from the Russia investigation as a condition of confirmation. GOP Senators have already drawn a line in the sand with this. This is especially true since Trump is now distancing his administration from the GOP, maybe even “declaring war” on the Republican Congress, who are increasingly seeing no reason to do Trump’s bidding. It is also reminiscent of Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” where he fired acting Attorneys General down the line until somebody agreed to fire the special counsel. It was later used to justify his impeachment on grounds of obstruction of justice. The world would also see it as an admission of guilt – why burn through all the political capital you don’t have to end an investigation if you are innocent?

The Senate, while they might not move to impeach Trump due to GOP control, might instead use this action to justify hiring their own special prosecutor if Trump finds a way to fire Mueller – possibly hiring Mueller right back.


So what’s the deal? Why go through all this?

A large part of Trump’s appeal was that he was the master negotiator – he “alone” can do what no other politician can do. And a large part of the criticism of Trump was that he has no government experience. Wouldn’t a master negotiator see the bind he has already created for himself, the fact that he has already burned what little political capital he has, and leave well enough alone? Or is there some fundamental misunderstanding here – one that explains all of Trump’s actions so far in his short presidency?

I believe Trump thinks of himself as the boss of the American government. I believe that, lacking even a rudimentary understanding of civics, this is how Trump makes sense of our very complicated federal government. He thinks he is the boss – that the Attorney General is his own personal attorney, that the Justice Department is his personal police force, that the Joint Chiefs are his personal generals, and probably even that the president is the “boss” of Congress. This is why, when any of these individuals act with any sense of independence, he is angered. This is also why Trump thought Obama was weak and ineffective – he didn’t understand that the president doesn’t just tell others in the government what to do.

The man literally doesn’t understand that the president has to work to build political capital by working with others on an equal footing, finding compromises and joint solutions. He thinks the reason we have problems in America aren’t because solutions are complicated, but because other presidents weren’t bossy enough. He thinks, by acting with independence, others in government are “disobeying” him.

This is also why Trump will get weaker and less effective as time goes on. Those people will get thrown under the bus, fired, replaced by people actually willing to take the job, and he will have the same problem all over again. Or in the case of Congress, he will alienate them while simultaneously empowering them to stand up to him as only Congress can.

This time, with Jeff Sessions, Trump will step on a landmine if he tries to replace him with an AG willing to fire Mueller. It will set off a chain reaction that will end with, at the absolute least, a lame duck administration. The founders of our Constitution designed our government this way for a reason – to stop a president exactly like Trump from getting away with crimes and abuses of power. And it’s these same abuses of power that Trump sees as the actual role of the President, confusing checks on the power of the Executive Branch as weakness among his staff and cabinet. Fortunately for us, the Constitution provides guidance on handling such abuses, and Trump will be in for a rude awakening if he doesn’t come to terms to this fact quickly.

If the plan was to undermine Comey’s credibility, it already failed

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James Comey appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, courtesy dailywire.com

Today, Comey gave an unwavering, consistent, believable account of his interactions with the president and why it gave him pause. All of his stories and accounts line up with what we already know, none of it contradicts, and the intelligence community has his memos to back them up.

Trump’s plan (or at least, the RNC’s plan) was to undermine Comey’s credibility today to save face. To label him a showboat, question his motives, and try to give the American people a reason to doubt his testimony. However, Trump and the people defending him couldn’t help but push that they feel “vindicated” by his account of telling Trump he was not under FBI investigation.

Trump’s outside lawyer, Mark Kasowitz, today released a statement in defense of Trump’s actions. The point of the statement was to try to remove Trump from the appearance of wrongdoing, and he does this by using much of Comey’s testimony as evidence. He cites Comey’s own account of what took place, the exact quotes and wording Comey used, and that Comey told the president he was not under investigation personally, in order to try to paint a narrative. However, Kasowitz claims Comey, while telling the truth (even down to the exact wording) on the rest of his testimony, was lying about the part where Trump asked him to end the Flynn investigation.

The problem with all of this is if you’re using Comey’s testimony to defend yourself, even down to the exact wording he used, then you are inherently reaffirming his credibility. You are telling the American people that Comey had consistently told the truth throughout the entirety of his testimony.  Oh, except for that one thing – probably the only thing that, if true, means that Trump is guilty of a crime. That’s the one and only thing that we are supposed to believe was a lie.

So who are we to believe? A man who has shown professionalism, integrity, nonpartisanship (even when we all thought his treatment of Clinton was partisan), consistency, and reliability – whose story has only been corroborated by the people attacking him? Or a president who consistently lies and contradicts himself, sometimes in the same sentence?

Try to imagine how this would hold up in court, let alone the court of public opinion.

Is Trump playing chess while his critics play checkers?

Rachel Maddow, courtesy slate.com

There is a narrative that President Trump is a buffoon. That he’s unqualified, an egomaniac, a narcissist, doesn’t know what he’s doing, etc. Every time there is controversy, it seems to play right into this common narrative – Trump is causing chaos with executive orders because he has never held public office before and is screwing up, Trump is going to hurt his supporters by supporting the American Health Care Act because he doesn’t know the difference between medicare and medicaid, etc.

I’m here to provide a different narrative. This narrative, to me, survives Occam’s Razor, because it is a much simpler explanation than, say, “an unqualified narcissist stumbled backwards practically on accident into the most powerful office in the world because Americans are racists.” My narrative is that Donald Trump and his team are far more intelligent than they let on, and they play into this “buffoon” narrative to serve their own ends. Some said during the campaign that Donald Trump was playing chess when everybody else – the media, the other candidates, the voters – were playing checkers, and I believe this to be, at least in some parts, true.

Take for example Tuesday’s “bombshell” 2005 tax return release, drummed up by Rachel Maddow and MSNBC on Twitter as “we have Trump tax returns” which quickly turned social media into a frenzy, only to disappoint because the tax returns had nothing even a little bit nefarious in them. One idea, hinted at even by Maddow on her show, was that these returns were leaked on purpose by the Trump team to put the story to bed – the story that he won’t release his tax returns because it will show a link to Russia and the Kremlin. This is quickly cast aside because, even if that were true, people believe that it would have been a stupid move by the Trump team anyways because it put his non-release of tax returns back into the spotlight. But maybe this wasn’t meant as a nuclear bomb that was going to put the story to bed once and for all, because obviously, it wasn’t going to do that.

Perhaps it was meant as one more chip away, in a sequence of a hundred little chips, at the legitimacy of the press and the media?

Think about it. People aren’t talking about the content of Trump’s tax returns right now – I mean, there was nothing in the two pages Maddow released that made him look bad at all. What people are talking about right now is how Maddow drummed up this frenzy over nothing. It makes her, and MSNBC, and to some extent the entire media, look like rabid dogs frothing over anything they can possibly spin to make Trump look bad. I am not blaming Maddow for covering this (aside from her tweet that hinted that they had more than they did), as a journalist she has an ethical duty to cover this story. But this plays perfectly into the idea that Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, Donald Trump, and his entire camp have been pushing – that the media cannot be trusted.

Even I read news now with a doubtful eye. It is always in the back of my mind that the media wants to spin anything it can into something negative about Trump, so I have to second guess any news that comes out. I know how to fact check, but a lot of people don’t. A lot of people don’t even realize fact checking is important, or even a thing. And those are the people that this attack on the legitimacy of the media is meant to confuse.

Doing damage to the legitimacy of the press serves the purpose of making all the negative news surrounding Trump sound like hysterical weather coverage – a lot of panic and hysteria drummed up over a minor storm that ends up being nothing, because that’s what sells. It causes people to “turn off” to all of the negative news, thus making it less politically risky to implement an extreme agenda.

There are many other examples of these little chips away at the legitimacy of the media. The White House provides competing narratives, “alternative facts” as we have so lovingly taken to calling them, that are meant to make people debate about what is and is not fact, rather than the facts themselves. Donald Trump called CNN “fake news” for covering the Russian intel dossier claiming the Kremlin might be blackmailing him. Even the memo that was leaked claiming that Trump wanted to create a militarized deportation force of 100,000 could have been meant as a distraction, something leaked on purpose that could easily be dismissed as “fake news.” Trump has done this over and over from the very beginning because there is a lot of negative news surrounding him that would have crippled any other candidate, yet he always survives. And now his administration might be doing it too, on a much larger scale and over much bigger and more dangerous issues.

Obviously a theory is only a conspiracy unless there is substantial, objective, and verifiable evidence to back it up. I realize all I have here are a lot of breadcrumbs with no bread. So I’m not asking you to swallow without question that the Trump camp is waging a war of Orwellian doublespeak on the minds of the American people. What I am asking you to think about is the idea that Trump is not causing chaos because he’s a buffoon, that he didn’t fall backwards into the Presidency on accident. Perhaps the Trump administration is causing chaos, and chipping away at the legitimacy of their critics one piece at a time, because it makes their extreme agenda more palatable and politically feasible. I’m asking you to think about the idea that perhaps Trump is smarter than he lets on, and that underestimating him in this way is going to fail time and time again.