If Trump is guilty and pardons himself, it opens a door none of us want opened

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Robert Mueller, courtesy pbs.org

New reports are showing that the President has asked aides about his pardon powers – for his family, his allies, even himself, if the special counsel’s investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia incriminates him.

A lot of Trump supporters have been saying they don’t care. If they haven’t outright denied any of the Russia business is true (#FakeNews!), then generally the refrain goes something like “Russia didn’t tell me who to vote for,” or “I don’t care about any of that, I want better jobs and a better economy.”

I can’t blame people for thinking this way. Of all the scandals and controversy we have seen in the news lately, much of it doesn’t affect our daily lives. If Trump colluded with Russia, it doesn’t directly affect my pay, my job security, my healthcare, or my children’s education. As far as these people are concerned, that’s all on TV, happening far away, for those people in suits in DC to argue about.

But a large part of Trump’s appeal was that he wasn’t influenced by anyone. He stood on his own, against the establishment, paying his way through his own campaign. He owed nothing to the millionaire and billionaire business interests of the party (in fact many of them actively worked against him), to the Washington establishment, to the Republican Party itself – it seemed he owed nothing to anyone besides his supporters. It was believed that he would work for nobody besides the little guy – the factory worker, the coal miner, the laborer.

This was their guy – the guy the working class supported to finally turn the neoliberal establishment on its head, as punishment for screwing them over for decades.

Why was this so appealing? Because of sovereignty. The idea was that Trump represented the power of the working class, pooling their voting power to finally fight back against the establishment which has enacted policy after policy that hurt them. The working class was regaining sovereignty over the federal government.

This is also why Russia meddling in our election is so dangerous, and why it does affect our daily lives. And why, if it does happen to come out that Trump was complicit in this collusion, he cannot be allowed to pardon himself. Putin has threatened our sovereignty, and if he is allowed to get away with it, it will open the door for every other major power on the planet to threaten our sovereignty as well.

A Trump supporter who thinks this doesn’t affect them should think about the possibility of Germany, or the European Union, or China supporting Trump’s opponent in 2020 – using state resources to hack Trump’s campaign or worse. This would weaken your support of your candidate, as you would be up against some of the most powerful political forces on Earth, who are out for their own interest – not yours.

It is already bad enough that Russia is seeing no fallout from the Republican majority for their actions. It would be infinitely worse if the president was guilty and pardoned himself, getting off scot free. This would not only open the door for every other power on Earth to meddle in our elections, but it would also give the President the power to break any law he or she wanted. You may feel that the special counsel’s Russia investigation is a witch hunt, but Trump won’t be in power forever. Do you want a Democrat to be able to break any law they want while in office? What if one day a socialist holds the office of the presidency?

What if a future president (that you may not like) defies the Supreme Court and pardons themself? If this seems far fetched and extreme, look at this headline in the Wall Street Journal this week.

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Courtesy Wall Street Journal, https://www.wsj.com/articles/poland-presses-forward-with-plan-to-remake-supreme-court-1500559212

Imagine what our headlines would look like if the President had no checks and balances on their power.

If you voted for Trump, or voted at all, some part of you must believe in your sovereignty. Don’t be complicit in losing it.

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The country is potentially in a very dangerous situation

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Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to President Donald J. Trump, sits in on a meeting with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the Ministry of Defense in Baghdad, Iraq, April 3, 2017. ([Department of Defense] Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro). Accessed via flickr.com.
The story of Jared Kushner’s attempt to open a back channel of communication with the Kremlin is the first glimpse the public has into the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin (which the FBI has been investigating for a year now).

Given that there is a possibility of illegal activity here, let’s explore a few scenarios of how Trump could leave office in the coming years:

  1. He loses a re-election bid
  2. He is impeached and removed from office forcefully
  3. He completes two full terms

In all but situation 3, we may have a problem here. Given that Trump has praised foreign dictators for being “strong leaders” by instituting martial law, killing their own citizens by the thousands, destroying checks and balances with questionable power grabs, and the like – we know that Trump does not believe in democracy. And since he does not believe in democracy, we can’t be sure that he believes in the peaceful transition of power.

Can you foresee a situation where Trump has to leave office against his own will? Will he gracefully step down if he loses his re-election or, especially, if he’s impeached? Or will we have a constitutional crisis on our hands?

Democracy is inherently fragile, and is only as strong as the integrity of those willing to defend it.

Let’s just imagine in our heads a situation where Donald Trump loses his re-election to a Democrat in 2020. Given how 2016 went, we know the campaign is probably going to be a long, ugly, a demoralizing bloodbath between him and whoever runs in opposition. Trump may even label his opponent as a danger to the country, painting a scary and dangerous picture for voters of the ugly possibilities of what may happen to America if we allow this opponent to take office. We may have sweeping breaches of voting rights by 2020, given that the Republican party as a whole has shown little interest in protecting them. Trump may call the results rigged, or illegitimate; he may use everything in his power to throw mud into the gears of what has always been a peaceful transfer of power in this country. And using “everything in his power” – he’s the president of the United States. He has a lot of power.

But this isn’t even the scariest possibility. Let’s say the FBI, or leaks to the press, or any of the other investigations into his campaign uncover something illegal and impeachable. What if Trump calls it all illegitimate, as he’s already done so far? What if Congress strips him of his power and he says “no?” Trump for the most part controls the military and the police. Using that power to hold onto the presidency might sound like a far fetched scenario, but democracy is inherently fragile, and is only as strong as the integrity of those willing to defend it. As I said, we know Trump isn’t interested in defending democracy; from the looks of things he is only willing to defend himself. And remember that this country has gone to civil war in the past.

Those hoping that Trump will be impeached don’t account for the fact that this country will be in crisis if it comes to that. Even if Trump was successfully removed from power against his will, the extreme partisan divisions that exist right now could very well turn into deep trenches. Our people could turn on one another in ways we haven’t yet thought possible – those who support Trump and those who support his impeachment. Even now, more Republican voters trust Putin, possibly more than they trust Democrats. To think we would be able to pick up the pieces, unite as a country, and go back to normal in a situation like this is a long shot. If it came to that, there would be significant harm done to this country’s institutions, one way or another.

Even at this moment, Trump is using a very familiar playbook. Evan McMullin, who ran for president as a conservative independent in 2016, had this to say about it: “Accelerating investigations place the Trump administration in a familiar authoritarian quandary. Remaining in power subjects them to increasingly compromising scrutiny while offering the best protection from its consequences. So they become evermore willing to take extraordinary, illegal steps to hold onto power as a matter of self-preservation. It remains to be seen what form this will take in the case of the Trump administration.”

Let’s hope that if it comes to this, there are enough Americans left to put the country before party loyalty. But at the moment, in our current hyper-partisan political climate, I’m not convinced that’s the case.

The left has a fake news problem

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“Louise Mensch MP, Corby and East Northamptonshire,” courtesy The Climate Coalition (UK), accessed via flickr.com

No, I’m not talking about CNN. I’m talking about conspiracy theorists who have found a following among news-starved liberals impatiently waiting for the FBI probe into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia to end in indictments or impeachment. It’s hard to even call them conspiracy “theorists” because they do not post theories, they post unfalsifiable “intel” from “sources” that claim that Trump, Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, and maybe even hundreds of others have secretly been indicted and that they will be arrested any day now.

The most prominent among these are Louise Mensch and Claude Taylor, who have amassed huge followings on Twitter and with their blog Patribotics. They make unverified and uncorroborated claims about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia by citing anonymous sources, or “insiders” as they claim. They put on the air that their claims have validity by echoing one another, and citing their own blog to back themselves up.

Mensch gained publicity by correctly identifying the existence of FISA warrants into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, and Taylor did as well when he correctly identified the existence of grand juries looking into the same case. In both of these cases, Patribotics beat the mainstream media to the punch and were the first to report them. However, they use the momentum gained by being right once in a while to claim that they are just “ahead of the game” with the rest of their unverified stories – that the media just hasn’t published or caught up with them yet.

Typically in legacy news outlets – those with decades-long reputations to back up their credibility and trustworthiness – a story is only published with anonymous sources once it has been thoroughly vetted and corroborated. Anonymous sources will be corroborated by multiple staff members at say, The Washington Post, who will then publish the story. Typically, multiple other news outlets will also corroborate the story and independently vet the sources, and also publish it in a short period of time. This is how we as an audience know we can trust these sources without knowing who they are.

Take for example the story that broke Wednesday night about Greg Gianforte assaulting the Guardian reporter, Ben Jacobs. There were multiple refutations of the claim that Gianforte “bodyslammed” Ben Jacobs, both from Gianforte’s staff and from other conservative talking heads. However when the story was confirmed by Fox News, whose journalists had witnessed the assault first hand, we as an audience knew the truth. This level of corroboration is what makes the typical criticisms of anonymous sources weak.

This level of corroboration is also what the Patribotics team is missing, and why their stories can’t be trusted. Often times you won’t be able to find their sources and claims anywhere but Patribotics and their individual Twitter accounts. Sometimes they will post stories that are downright false, and once proven false, Mensch and Taylor bend over backwards trying to retroactively prove them true, or even just edit the original post to make it reflect new info. This is intentionally misleading and false, but it gets into strange territory when they attempt to undermine (or even outright harass) anybody who criticizes the weaknesses and veracity of their “reporting.”

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“How to spot fake news,” courtesy http://www.factcheck.org, accessed via commons.wikimedia.org

The stories about the FBI investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign are true. But be careful what you read out there. The internet is an environment where anybody can publish anything, so fake news and outright nonsense are prevalent. Make sure the reports you read are corroborated by more than one legacy news outlet before believing them. And most of all use extra scrutiny when reading reports that you hope to be true.


Edit 5/27/2017, 3:30 PM: Since it is a popular line of defense that Patribotics and their followers use to defend their unverified reporting, I felt the need to address this. Even if it comes out later that what they have reported is true (which has happened a few times), my points about their intentionally misleading reporting still hold. The fact that the Patribotics team is constantly posting “told ya so’s” when any small part of their reports happen to be true, the fact that they are constantly going back and editing old reports to reflect new information (often times even distorting the original false point to make it sound true given new facts), the fact that they are pushing potentially explosive ideas before having all the facts, and the fact that they lash out against critics – these are all intentionally misleading activities, regardless of how true any of it is, and should be red flags. The truth should be able stand on its own merits.

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.