Tag Archives: Putin

The Sound of Fear, Starring the Trump Family Deniers

The latest revelation about the collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is about a meeting attended by the campaign manager Manafort, Trump Son No. 1, Donald Jr., and Trump-in-Law Jared Kushner. I won’t waste your time with the details which were first reported by the New York Times, a newspaper of global fame to which the Trump family has been notably hostile. Maybe not a good move on their part.

I want instead to focus on the narrative that the Trump Family, and its enablers like Kellyanne Conway, have tried to spin in response to the now-admitted meeting whose stated-in-advance purpose was to secure dirt on Hillary Clinton that was sourced in the Russian government. That narrative has a familiar ring as it seems to follow almost exactly the concept of “alternative pleading” that law students learn about in courses on trial practice.

The idea of alternative pleading is that since, in the early stages of a lawsuit, you don’t know for sure how things are going to play out, you, as the defendant accused of some wrongdoing are entitled by rules of court to plead alternative defenses, including defenses that are inconsistent with each other. The evidence will then show what it shows and some defenses will fail while others may succeed. To some extent it resembles the old saw about throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks.

To illustrate, suppose a lawsuit is filed against D claiming D’s conduct was the proximate cause of injury to plaintiff P resulting in damages of X amount, which P therefore is entitled to recover from D. D’s typical first step is to move to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. That is, in simple English, even if everything alleged by P is true, there was nothing wrong with D’s conduct and thus the suit should be dismissed. A “fake suit” in current Trumpian parlance.

Kellyanne Conway, among others, has made this precise argument: even if Junior was seeking dirt on Clinton, this is politics and there was nothing wrong with seeking such dirt that might help the Trump campaign. But this argument ignores the fact that the source of the information was the Russian government, which suggests conspiracy with a foreign power to affect the outcome of an American election. Most rational people consider that seriously wrong, possibly criminally wrong.

So, what next? Faced with the revelations about Junior’s meeting, to which he has confessed publicly via the Family’s chosen medium, Twitter, the Trump Family Deniers change the tune, moving toward classical alternative pleading. First, the story was “there was no such meeting,” Then, if there was a meeting, I didn’t attend it. But if I did attend a meeting, it was a waste of time because we didn’t learn anything with which to smear Clinton so I left the meeting empty-handed. So, even if I did attend the meeting with the intention to do harm to Clinton, no harm to Clinton arose from my conduct, so everything is okeydokey. No harm, no foul. Finally, even if there were some harm, we were just amateurs at politics so we can and should be forgiven our sins and let bygones be ….

In a lawsuit, this sort of stairway to the basement approach is perfectly acceptable practice and the Trump Family Deniers’ playbook appears to follow it quite closely. The problem, of course, is that this is not a lawsuit, not yet anyway.

Instead, it is the early-to-middle stage of investigation into one of the greatest scandals in the history of American politics. One of the singular features of the scandal is that, from the very outset, during the campaign itself, Trump made no secret of his desire for assistance from Russia among others and no secret of his desire to buddy-up with Vladimir Putin (who will be featured in my next blog post). At the same time. Trump repeatedly denied there was any connection between him and Putin or between his campaign and anyone connected with the Russian government. His fame as liar-in-chief, thoroughly documented by many observers, led many to suspect that the denials were false.

Slowly but surely, more revelations of contacts between the Russians and the Trump campaign have emerged.  All the while Trump and his enablers, including Attorney General Sessions as well as several family members and key campaign players, have denied there is anything there. Their stories have changed over time, of course, as new revelations undermine the previous denials. This is starkly shown by the latest stories about Junior and Kushner meeting with a promised source of incriminating evidence on Clinton.

Even if it is true that the Russian lawyer with whom Junior/Kushner/Manafort met did not actually have any useful information and was really trying to influence Trump on the issue of adopting Russian children or to blunt the move to increase U.S. sanctions on Russia, the fact remains, and at this point appears to be undeniable and undenied, that the purpose of the gathering, from Junior’s point of view, was to seek Russian help in the battle with Clinton. And, of course, he wants everyone to believe that the President knew nothing of the meeting.

So craven are the enablers of the Trump Family Deniers that Ed Rogers, in an op-ed in the Washington Post this morning, http://wapo.st/2uaPmNy, singing the familiar tune “hysteria among the media,” argues that,

No senior campaign official, much less a family member of the candidate, should take such a meeting. Having the meeting was a rookie, amateur mistake. Between human curiosity and a campaign professional’s duty to get the dirt when you can, Trump Jr. likely felt that the person had to be heard. However, the meeting should have been handed off to a lackey. Said lackey would have then reported the scoop — or lack thereof — and awaited further instruction. [emphasis added]

What can one say after that? A fair reading of it, I suggest, is (1) perfect execution of “we were just amateurs at politics” defense, and (2) in a play right out of the Godfather, never send anyone from the family to do the dirty work and leave fingerprints; send in one of the stooge soldiers who can be sacrificed if necessary to protect the family, (3) seeking dirt from dirty sources like the Russian government is just good political fun, so what’s the problem?

This “win at any cost” mentality may be part of what led Trump to confess to Lester Holt in the now famous interview that he was going to fire FBI Director Comey because of Comey’s pursuit of the Trump-Russia connection regardless of what the leadership of the Department of Justice recommended. Trump and his very very rich family are accustomed to getting their way without arguments and if you do argue, you’re fired.

Maybe I’m being naïve about politics but I continue to struggle with understanding how the Republican Party can continue to support this president, given that he has no real connection to conservative political values that have driven the Republican Party historically and is making a complete hash of the office of the President. He has accomplished nothing of positive significance since taking office six months ago while destroying international relationships that have sustained world peace for decades. More about this in the next post.

Trump and Putin – Two Peas

Commentators continue to marvel and puzzle over Not-My-President Trump’s apparent adulation of Vladimir Putin and, in turn, the adulation of Trump by the Rust Belt workers and families who have historically been the Democratic base. I have a theory of my own based on my and others’ observations of Trump’s behavior during the campaigns and since taking office.

Recall Jimmy Connors, the great tennis champion of the 1970s and 1980s who was known for his fierce competitive drive. When asked for an explanation of his ferocity in what had been a gentlemanly game, he said “I hate to lose more than I love to win.”

Trump sold his political base on much the same idea. With him as President, he claimed, the Rust Belt workers, who were either unemployed (and possibly unemployable) or were hanging onto tenuous positions in dying industries like coal mining and raw steel production and who felt, rightly, that they had “lost” something, would “win” again. No more losing!

Generally, behavioral economists tell us, loss-aversion is a stronger force on people’s thinking than is the opportunity to gain an equivalent value. Like Jimmy Connors, people really hate to lose especially employment that, in the American ethos, is so central to people’s sense of self-esteem. That was the psychology that Trump played to in the campaign with his “jobs, jobs, jobs” and “Make America Great Again” themes. He called the Rust Belt voters the “forgotten people” and assured them they were “forgotten no longer.”

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton was announcing multi-part complex plans to solve the dis-employment problem while promising to put coal companies and their employees out of business and condemning Trump’s supporters as “deplorables.” In essence, Trump’s simple message, while phrased in terms of “so much winning,” was actually “When I am president, you will no longer be losers.” By touching the “loser nerve,” Trump was able to capture the deep loyalty of his fan base that is seemingly impervious to repeated proofs that he has lied or made demonstrably false statements.

Now consider Putin. Many knowledgeable people in the Western world would describe Putin as dishonest, corrupt, despotic, a murderer and generally an immoral and evil person. To that description, Putin would likely have one answer: “Am I winning?”

Putin’s answer would be ‘yes,’ though the price of his “winning” is being paid in impoverishment of much of the Russian population along with suppression of opposition speech, among other horrors. To which Putin would respond again, with a smirk, “Am I winning?” That is the only relevant metric for him. His political goal, to the extent one exists beyond ill-gotten accrual of personal wealth, and the likely source of such support as he enjoys among some Russians is the restoration of the Russia of days gone by – a global superpower equal to or even dominant over the United States and the “West.” Not too far in concept from Trump’s “Make America Great Again” theme. Putin uses different techniques than Trump to advance his agenda, but in fundamental ways the goals are very similar. The crucial point is that losing and winning are not equivalents. “Avoiding loss” carries more psychological heft than “winning.”

That perception is, I believe, the true meaning behind the question he reportedly kept asking as the ObamaCare “repeal and replace” legislation unraveled: “Is the Ryan legislation a good bill?” He really meant “am I going to lose with this bill?”  When it became clear that losing was almost certain to happen, he abandoned the effort before the losing could become choate in a House floor vote.

Trump hates to lose and ending the healthcare fight was a way to avoid losing, even if in reality he did not achieve his goal and by any objective standard would be seen as having lost with resulting damage to his self-image as an infallible deal-maker. When he was widely portrayed in the media as having lost the ObamaCare replacement fight, he immediately reversed course and said that the battle was not over and that negotiations were on-going, an assertion now shown by recent reports to be true. http://wapo.st/2nYE37S.

Given Trump’s history and lifestyle, it is hard to imagine he ever really got to know people like those who are now his most ardent supporters. It is highly unlikely that he is capable of genuine empathy regarding their situation. But Trump doesn’t have to genuinely care about those people in order to “win” with them. He showed during the health care battle that he was prepared to deprive millions of them of health care coverage in order to avoid losing the fight to repeal ObamaCare. And, by recent accounts of what is being discussed among Republicans as a “compromise” approach, the “essential benefits” and “pre-existing conditions” coverages that he promised to keep are now expendable. One solution reportedly being considered is to amend the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) so that the states can individually decide which essential benefits to retain. In the states the influence of the giant corporations and the big-money SuperPACS is even greater than at the federal level, so the principal benefits of the ACA will likely be diluted or eliminated.

On the other hand, we are now witnessing an apparent backlash against Trump’s agenda at multiple Town Hall meetings of Republican legislators. Republicans are facing the wrath of their constituents who are finally beginning to recognize the threat of the Republican agenda to their welfare. The reality that Trump lied to them appears to be sinking in, as his popularity in polls has fallen to 35 percent.

It is, on the other hand, often reported that many of his infatuants still appear to forgive him every sin, no matter what he does or says. These folks are impacted by a real conundrum. Trump promised to lift them up from their “loser” status. He is failing to deliver on those promises, but his base really hates to return to being losers. Losing is the worst thing and they have nowhere else to turn that offers the same comfort. So they reject the idea that their chosen champion has played them. They refuse to accept a self-image of being losers and … chumps.

Putin, of course, doesn’t have to worry about whether his constituents approve of his policies. His dictatorial control over the state machinery of compulsion assures that he cannot be displaced or even seriously challenged. Putin hates to lose too and no doubt understands what might happen to him if he were displaced, given that Russia is not wedded to the peaceful transfer of power. He would readily crush any opposition with any and all means at his disposal.

Trump doesn’t have the same tools at this disposal as Putin, so he is forced to negotiate when he would prefer to dictate. That Trump admires Putin so much is one of the most disturbing aspects of his status as President of the United States. One wonders whether Trump would attempt to use the instruments of state compulsion to get his way if he believed he was otherwise completely blocked and that he was losing his hold on the infatuants who continue to believe he can do no wrong. He is showing signs of that in his deportation policy and in the latest announcement that the Department of Justice consent decrees on law enforcement practices in some major cities may have gone too far in compelling the use of non-violent policing practices.

Ultimately, Trump’s affection for Putin may be his undoing. The investigation of the Russia connections, and possible collusion, involved in the presidential campaign is on-going and almost every day some new revelation emerges that strengthens both the concern about possible collusion to influence the election and the concern about Trump’s efforts to sabotage the investigations. To the more suspicious mind, there is a major cover-up underway whose unmasking would likely bring about the premature end of the Trump presidency.

Assuming that does not occur, the 2018 electoral season is afoot and it’s time to prepare to act where it matters most. The challenge for the Democrats is to relearn the language that in the past had earned them the voting loyalty of the working-class American. It is not enough to offer complicated ten-point plans to these citizens. They have experienced loss, are suffering deeply as a result, both economically and psychologically. If Democrats are to be successful in regaining their prominence with this voting group, they have to change how and what they are communicating. Trump still knows how to talk their language and the Democrats need to catch up.

And they need to do it fast.

One President at a Time

I recall that some years ago, during the Bush-to-Obama transition period, then President-Elect Obama was asked a question about some foreign policy issue that had emerged and responded with, as I recall it, “In this country we have one president at a time.” Thus, he declined the invitation to step publicly on the out-going-but-still-in-charge, administration of President Bush.

Contrast that with the conduct of President-Elect Trump and his crowd of Know Nothings. The issue du jour is the question whether the Russians, perhaps at the personal direction of Vladimir Putin, interfered with the presidential election through electronic hacking. Having expressly urged the Russians to do this during the campaign, Trump is hard-pressed to stand up to the Russians now. But there is another option. He could remain silent. He could defer, for now, to the sitting president of the country by keeping his mouth shut in public about this question that goes to the heart of the nation’s ability to conduct its democratic politics.

Instead, Trump suggests, via Twitter, that the Obama White House was fine with the Russian hacking as long as it thought Clinton would win the election. Then he has his attack dog, Kelly Ann Conway, publicly question the loyalty and integrity of the sitting president in this oh-so-classless statement: “If you want to shut this down and you actually love the country enough to have the peaceful transition in our great democracy between the Obama administration and the Trump administration, there are a couple people in pretty prominent positions — one is named Obama, one is named Hillary Clinton, since his people are trying to fight over her election still, they could shut this down.” In other words, Conway is, in essence, communicating that “we won the election and we don’t care what evidence exists of foreign interference; you, Mr. President, are so disloyal to the country that you put political gain ahead of the national interest in a smooth transition, the only thing that matters right now.” If there is any lack of love for country here, that stone must lay at Trump’s own feet for placing the interests of Vladimir Putin and his anti-democratic politics ahead of the interests of the United States.

Trump’s willful ignorance of foreign affairs is so profound that he may not even realize how damaging this type of public conflict can be. It gives aid and comfort to our enemies by dramatizing in public the conflicts within our own government. If he read a few books and actually tried to learn something before shooting off his mouth, it would do the country a great service.

The hallmarks of autocracy are showing in much of what Trump has said and done since the election. He has personally attacked American corporations and personally attacked individuals who voiced disagreement with his policies.  His transition team has demanded the names of government employees involved in climate change research (later retracted in the face of public outrage), and launched broad-based and factually-deficient attacks on the U.S. intelligence community (in the face of FBI concurrence in the CIA’s analysis of the Russian cyber-attacks) and made clear that anyone who opposes him risks being publicly excoriated by the President himself. This is one of the principal techniques that autocrats use to silence criticism and dissent, the hallmarks of free speech and the means by which a democracy tests and improves its ideas.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, Secretary Clinton’s supporters were told “it’s time to suck it up, accept the outcome and get behind the new administration. Support the success of the new leader, for the benefit of the country, they were told. Every day, and every new revelation, makes it that much harder to follow that advice. The Republican politicians who eviscerated Trump during the Republican primaries and the general election have largely lined up at Trump Tower to seek forgiveness, redemption and of course, jobs in the administration. Their dissent has been interesting to watch but so short-lived as to lack any moral foundation.

The evidence is mounting that Mr. Trump only understands how to run a company where he is the sole owner and the only voice that matters. The United States government is so much more complex, so vast in reach and faces such different and more difficult challenges that his experience as the “boss” on reality TV (whatever that is) and building a real estate empire is utterly and completely irrelevant. He has said he is too smart to need regular briefings from our intelligence experts, that he pretty much knows what he needs to know, getting most of his information from postings on the Internet. He had denied the legitimacy of the scientific consensus on climate change, endorsed the possibility of using torture and taken other positions in overt conflict with American values. He has reportedly “walked back” some of those positions since the election, but why should we believe anything a remorseless liar says? Apparently, Trump’s mother did not teach him the lesson of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

The Rust Belt voters who turned to Trump after hearing his rhetoric about returning old-style jobs to the area are going to be bitterly disappointed when they discover the harsh truth that such jobs are not competitive and simply cannot be restored to their central place in our manufacturing plants of yesteryear. A thoughtful piece in the Washington Post just today explains that there are many more jobs available in the Midwest than there are qualified people to fill them:

“Although some companies and state programs will cover tuition bills, some workers, particularly those who have held the same job for decades, are hesitant to take them up on the offer, even if unemployment is imminent and the wages are competitive.”

As manufacturing evolves, skilled labor hard to find,” Washington Post, Dec. 16, 2016, at A14.

The problem of dis-employment due to technological advances that produce more with less human input is a major economic challenge for all advanced countries. The solution, like the solution to climate change, will not be found through promises of a return to the “old ways.” That is the stuff of fantasy, a cruel one at that, because it plays on the deepest anxieties of a lot of good people caught up in forces of change they don’t, and in many cases simply don’t want to, understand. Living a lie does not make it any truer.

Obama, with generosity of which he alone among political leaders seem still capable, continues to say that Trump and his “team” are still largely in campaign mode and have not yet come to grips with the realities of governance. That is how he appears to explain Ms. Conway’s remarks. He appears to believe genuinely that these assurances will indeed have a calming influence. We are a little over a month away from the inauguration when all the powerful instruments of government will be at the disposal of the Commander-in-Chief.

Those who still believe in democracy, who still believe that policy should be driven by facts rather than whatever people prefer to believe, who believe in science, who believe that a cornerstone of our freedom is the freedom to speak, write and perform without fear of chastisement, or worse, by the government … they must never yield in their active opposition to the degradation of American values. They must speak out and act up, remembering that the whole world is watching.