Take Them Seriously

Not to go all Marco Rubio on you, but let’s dispel this fiction that Trump supporters don’t know what they’re doing. They know exactly what they’re doing. To support this president, to support this man, you must support, or at least be comfortable with, state sanctioned violence against people of color. Not off-hand political incorrectness, not a person simply free to speak his mind and stand up to liberal bullying, but directed, purposeful, and continuous harm meted out based on race, religion, and national origin. It has been the driving force of Donald Trump’s political life and the only principle he has been unwilling to betray.

The persistent myth that Trump was elected due to some ethereal connection to America’s forgotten man rather than successfully activating racial animus must be buried. Trump said it with his opening words— “they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists”—and he has not relented. This simple fact has been obfuscated by the unpleasantness of the conclusion: “Are you saying that 63 million people are racists?” But that’s the wrong question.
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Adjusting the Coverage

The original sin of the 2016 election, the fundamental rot that allowed a conspiratorial, vulgar ignoramus to ascend to the presidency of the United States of America, was the free-flowing “earned” media pumping life into the primary campaign of Donald J. Trump. A New York Times report from March 2016, nearly three months before he had secured enough delegates to be anointed the presumptive GOP nominee, cited an analysis by MediaQuant that Trump had received nearly $2 billion worth of free media coverage by that point in the campaign. By the end of the 2016 election, Trump successfully rode $4.96 billion in earned media all the way to the White House. Earned media, of course, is the sanitized press euphemism for the irresponsible fascination the press had with the Trump campaign. Donald Trump was substance free, but content filled. And the media took the bait.

Trump’s transition from candidate to president-elect prompted some mild recriminations within the industry. That introspection and Trump’s changing role have prompted some positive changes. The media is far more willing to label Trump’s dissembling as the lies that they are, although perhaps not sufficiently so. The tenor of interviews with administration officials has been admirably tough. And thankfully, cable news networks are no longer just airing whole Trump rallies live, as they frequently did in late 2015 and early 2016.

Yet, Trump has maintained his deft touch for manipulating the media and muddying the waters. In doing so, he has solidified his approval rating and given congressional Republicans an increasingly positive, though still challenging, outlook for November. That’s because for all their hard-hitting Trump journalism, the media has not taken a single step in remedying the most pervasive deficiency in their coverage of a fundamentally dishonest and disorganized politician: It’s not whether you cover a story, but how you cover it and for how long. Continue reading

The Rosenstein Conundrum

Rod Rosenstein

A comedy skit performed during a recent podcast episode of Slate’s Trumpcast pinpointed one of the most disorienting features of the Trump era for those who oppose it. Comedians Steve Waltien, Kate James, and Asher Perlman held a mock meeting of liberals to reevaluate their political and social opinions given the topsy-turvy happenings of our national moment (among their new verdicts: Rex Tillerson good, Kombucha bad). Beyond the laugh-lines, it’s a deeply resonant concept for those moved by the endless contortions and contradictions of our president. It calls to mind the Mother Jones report from last month that liberal feminist women were congregating at Stormy Daniels strip shows. Life can be confusing when your mantra is “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Perhaps no one embodies this push and pull like Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He’s a Trump political appointee. But he’s a career Justice Department lawyer with a reputation for integrity. Yet, he authored a deeply disingenuous memo that served as the pretext for James Comey’s firing. But he appointed a Special Counsel to investigate Russia’s election interference and coordination with the Trump campaign. Yet, he has acquiesced in Trump’s efforts to discredit the Russia investigation by releasing misleading FBI agents’ text messages. But he spoke out defiantly against congressional Republicans attempting to derail that investigation. Yet, he gave in to GOP demands to disclose highly confidential investigation materials. Hey liberals, where do we stand on Rosenstein again?

Now, there’s a greater conundrum at the center of the Rosenstein riddle coming to a head in the coming months. The deputy attorney general appears to be the only Trump-appointee insulating the Special Counsel investigation from the president’s meddlesome hands. Yet, that very supervision is becoming one of the Mueller investigation’s greatest threats. Continue reading

Malign Motivations at the Supreme Court

We are now just weeks away from the end of the Supreme Court term and with it a resolution of Trump v. Hawaii. That’s the case that will determine whether President Trump’s executive order banning travel from five predominately Muslim countries will stand (restrictions on travel from North Korea and Venezuela, also part of the ban, are not part of the case). As we previously discussed, the case’s constitutional claims target Trump’s nearly three-year record of vehemently anti-Muslim rhetoric, but the justices were nearly uniformly hesitant to address the president’s bigotry head-on. Consequently, much of the commentary thus far has speculated that a 5-4 majority will uphold the ban. That prediction seems reasonable, if not entirely safe, given the skeptical, even disinterested line of questioning from Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy regarding “the statements.” Meanwhile, the Court seems poised to dismiss the challengers’ arguments on statutory grounds that the administration discriminated based on nationality and did not actually act to prevent threats detrimental to the United States. Federal immigration law’s broad grant of power and the Court’s traditional deference on matters of national security to the executive seem likely to win the day.

Yet, if the Court upholds the administration’s travel ban, it will have to dispose of the challengers’ constitutional claim that the executive order was motivated by religious discrimination. Perhaps the Court will duck behind the administration’s claim that the challengers lack standing to sustain a constitutional attack. The government has argued that the challengers—U.S. states and their citizens whose family members have been denied entrance to the country due to Executive Proclamation No. 9645—cannot bring constitutional claims on behalf of the affected foreign nationals. That is, the Government contends that Muslims denied entry must bring these claims themselves. While Justice Gorsuch and Chief Justice Roberts appeared intrigued by this jurisdictional attack, they also seemed satisfied by the challengers’ counsel’s response.

If that’s correct, then the Court will have to address the allegation that this travel ban was motivated by religious bigotry head-on. And in doing so, the Court will have to grapple with the string of damning hate that has poured forth from Trump’s mouth and fingers since he announced his campaign for the presidency in June 2015. The initial consensus was that the “gettable” conservative justices—Robert and Kennedy—showed little appetite for parsing the president’s campaign statements and using them to conclude that his order’s roots rest in rank bigotry. While that remains a fair assumption, the conclusion is all the more striking in light of an opinion handed down this week engaging in careful review of public officials’ religious commentary. And it further underscores the flimsy defense of the president floated by another member of the Court’s conservative block at oral argument that unfortunately may prove decisive. Continue reading

This Wolf Comes As A Wolf

A menacing wolf

Have you heard the shocking news? On Saturday, Michelle Wolf, a professional comedian hired to deliver “her truth-to-power style…and self-made, feminist edge” at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, unapologetically labeled a mendacious, misogynistic, and perverted presidential administration as mendacious, misogynistic, and perverted. She told the press to stop booking Kellyanne Conway to lie to them and scolded them for enabling a dangerous executive for the sake of profits and access. She spoke the truth to her targets’ faces instead of hiding behind a self-serving, false appeasement. She dared to acknowledge that the media continues to ignore the poor African-American people of Flint—who remain without drinkable water for going on three years now—with nary a joke to parry the impact. Oh, the humanity!

The backlash was swift and predictable. Continue reading

Check Your Attorney-Client Privilege

“Attorney-client privilege is dead!” recently lamented our president, a man long concerned about the procedural safeguards and civil liberties of marginalized criminal defendants. The responder-in-chief was referring, of course, to the no doubt startling news that his consigliere, fixer, business associate, marital rape defender, poll questioner, cigar smoking exhibitioner, and money launderer Michael Cohen’s files had been seized by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan on a referral from the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Continue reading

No More Confirmations. Period.

It’s not chaos if the dizzying madness is caused by careful design. Yet, the nation’s front pages insist day after day that “chaos” and “turmoil” are “roiling” the White House, as Rex Tillerson is sacked on the can, as Rick Perry potentially moves from one agency he can’t remember to another. The repetition is nauseating, which is a better descriptor for the effects of our president’s childish gamesmanship with executive branch personnel. For there is nothing chaotic or tumultuous about a deliberate plan by an institutional terrorist hell bent on dismantling the citizenry’s trust in its own government. How else could you describe a president so gleeful over the sickening drama he has injected into his own administration’s bloodstream? Rather than replenish a government he has failed to adequately fill, Donald Trump continues to haphazardly hack away.

In doing so, President Trump has undermined the basic functioning of responsible government even beyond his own unprecedented ignorance. We are about to be on our second CIA director, secretary of state, and FBI director in little over a year, to say nothing of the breakneck churn of the president’s own staff. Trump’s impish disregard for the orderly functioning of government has even impeded his own priorities—deportations of undocumented immigrants are far lower than they were during any time under President Obama (though they are more arbitrary and cruel).

Fortunately, the president’s effort at disrupting his own cabinet is one of the few areas over which Congress has strong, constitutional authority to affect. The response must be strong and unmistakable: the U.S. Senate should refuse to confirm—should refuse to even consider—any Trump cabinet-level nominee. Continue reading

Much Wahoo About Something

Trevor Bauer of the Cleveland Indians displays the Chief Wahoo Indians baeball cap.

We are now entering year four of what some might call our national war over political correctness. In 2015, multiple Republican presidential candidates placed curtailing political correctness at the heart of their campaigns. In 2016, one of those candidates engaged his supporters with racially charged, politically incorrect rhetoric and won the presidency. In 2017, that president reignited the conservative version of political correctness, condemning football players, mostly African-American, for boycotting the national anthem in protest of racialized police violence. And we’ve begun 2018 with a debate about immigration from “shithole countries” and the dismissal of hundreds of thousands brought to this country illegally as children as immoral and deportable.

It is into this thicket that Major League Baseball stepped gingerly last week when it reached agreement with the Cleveland Indians to retire Chief Wahoo—the grinning, red-faced caricature of America’s first people that has symbolized Cleveland’s professional baseball club since 1947. The Indians will continue to sell limited issue Wahoo merchandise in northeast Ohio to retain its intellectual property rights and prevent mass marketing of the image by others, but the team will heavily reduce the logo’s circulation and will cease featuring it on its uniforms after next year.

One might imagine that an athletic team’s choice of mascot would not engender controversy or bitterness. That might be the case were it not for the deep-seated emotions caused by issues of race and sports in American culture. The day MLB announced its decision, a poll on Cleveland.com was running about 9 to 1 in favor of retaining Chief Wahoo, before settling a little above three-fourths support over the following week. A change.org petition collected over 15,000 signatures in support of the mascot and against “all the P.C. hype!” Polite opinion and corporate dollars are on the side of change, but the passion is with Chief Wahoo. Continue reading

The New Republican Moment

In his first State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Donald Trump proclaimed a “new American moment.” Unlike the annual address’s typical, forward-thinking framing, that moment, the president told us, is not near, close, or upon us—it is now. According to our ever-circumspect commander-in-chief, the Trump presidency has ushered in a new golden age in just one year. It will apparently not, however, contain any policy prescriptions or legislative initiatives. The speech was long on celebration but almost entirely devoid of new ideas. President Trump appears to have no agenda for his moment other than to bask in it.

Empty thought it may have been, the speech was a fitting capstone for the administration’s first year of restructuring the Republican Party. Trump boasted about a soaring stock market and large corporate tax cuts (populism!) while once again framing the immigration crisis as one of murderous Latino gangs roving suburbia’s sidewalks. Moments before calling for unity, he impliedly chastised black celebrities for not standing for the national anthem. It was a clear marker of where his administration now stands. Trump is a plutocrat happy to hand his less fortunate supporters the figment of control that is white supremacy. Continue reading

Intellectual Shutdown

I’m sure by now you are thoroughly sick of the transparent messaging squabbles involved in the “Schumer shutdown” versus “Trump shutdown” debate that ended earlier this evening. The particulars of how we arrived at this strange moment in American politics are complicated but comprehensible, and they involved a detailed accounting of the parties’ (and the president’s) positions on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy, not a silly hashtag war about who is to blame. Both parties are to blame in a sense, of course. The salient question, however, is whose role in shutting down the government was justified and to what extent. That’s an inquiry that involves both an assessment of the parties’ values and whether their negotiating positions and public statements support them—a full consideration of who is being consistent, who is negotiating in good faith, and whose words are backed up by their actions. But that’s not what we are getting.

For all the talk of how the media has adapted to the Trump era, the shutdown coverage has shown how far we have yet to go. Continue reading