I’ve been glued to the cable news programs each evening for the past two weeks. I am confident that we are going to learn one of two fact-based lessons; either that President Donald J. Trump and/or his close associates and staff were in collusion with Russian officials and oligarchs to undermine the integrity of our elections; or, that the press is carrying out a coordinated vendetta to undermine the President of the United States. I find it hard to discern a middle ground. I am casting my bets on the press.
Press freedom is much more powerful than Presidential lying. If that is not true, our democracy is a fake and our country is doomed to be run by a “great leader” not unlike Putin; or worse. A future assassination of a journalist is a scary possibility. They have already been verbally abused and physically roughed up. Journalists apparently make “great leaders” uncomfortable when they do their jobs well. The president as candidate made plenty of scary, if morally and ethically empty, comments about the uses of physical force against protesters at his campaign events. He frequently vilifies journalists. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, which is another way of saying that he will continue to make simple minded, ill-considered, irresponsible remarks.
Admittedly my sources are considered to be liberal outlets; CNN and MSNBC. Their sources are heavily dependent on reporting from the New York Times and Washington Post as well as The Guardian and Politico; hardly considered conservative even though they all employ reporters, writers and columnists with outstanding conservative credentials such as David Brooks of the Times and George Will of the Post. I have not balanced my intake of news by turning to FOX News. I have tuned into C-SPAN, which has a strong conservative representation among Think Tanks such as the CATO Institute and Heritage Foundation as well as featuring many authors published by Regnery Press.
Congress will come to embrace a robust investigation. US House Speaker Paul Ryan has now provided statements supportive of former FBI Director James Comey by disavowing the remarks of DJT (aka tRump) that Comey was a “nut job.” Ryan expressed pretty grave doubts about Trump before he clinched the Republican nomination. Those doubts have probably never been fully resolved and may have been exacerbated by the continuing stream of gaffs by Trump and his spokespersons. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been very quiet about the gaffs but with conspicuously little in the way of defense. McConnell, unlike Ryan, is a lawyer and will be bound by some rules of procedure and evidence. We should hope he will also realize a place for patriotism over party and a commitment to the truth as his own path toward a respectable place in history. McConnell, Ryan, and we must add Vice-President Mike Pence, will be rewarded by historians if they are able to demonstrate a judicious combination of caution, control, and courage.
Republicans in the House of Representatives, but also some in the Senate, will find it very hard to take a stand against Trump. That, according to presidential security advisor Richard A. Clarke, is because any house member who bucks the President will be “primaried” in 2018. Incumbent Senators are generally less vulnerable to primary challenges because of the enormous election war chests they accumulate over the early years of their six-year terms in office. Nevertheless misalignment with their state party organizations and/or the Senate leadership will render them vulnerable to internal challenge that could dissipate the wor chest and leave thin pickings for a challenge in the general election.
This time-of-Trump is as historical as it is hysterical. Somewhere in the confusing details that spill out nightly, there is scarry craziness, irresponsibility, intemperance, and deep incompetence. I am not particularly enamored with the talking head pundits overall but there are bright lights between the ears as well as in the studios. CNN and MSNBC support some very knowledgeable, independent and critically thinking people like Rachel Maddow, PhD, and Lawrence O’Donnell, a Harvard grad with years of experience on congressional staffs. Experience of that sort runs thick across CNN, MSNBC and PBS where budgets support a bevy of excellent consulting pundits. Of course, a few pundits are recent authors of books that are seeking promotion, or are acting a conduits for think tanks. It pays to pay attention to know who among the pundits is labeled a Republican or Democratic “Political Analyst.” These are the often the spin doctors.
Wednesday night was a doozy. Glen Gianforte, a Republican, was completing a run for a house seat at a special election in Montana. Gianforte flipped when asked to respond to the just released report on the new Healthcare bill by the Congressional Budget Office. He body slammed a reporter, Ben Jacobs, from The Guardian. Then Gianforte claimed that the reporter had aggressively attacked him. Jacobs apparently pushed his microphone close to Gianforte’s face. This spin within an hour was contradicted by testimony from a FOX News camera crew member. However none of this made any difference for Thursday’s election. Nearly ⅔ of expected votes in the election were already cast as absentee ballots. The bright side is that this early voting suggests a way to reduce the impact of 11th hour attacks by one candidate against another. Other late releases of nefarious election interference such as negative ads by irresponsible PACs or fake news reports by foreign governments such as Russia also need similar procedural protections. A waitress in Montana interviewed by a reporter covering the campaign said when told of the antics of Gianforte “sounds like my kind of politician.” The dark side is that Gianforte won the seat. Friday he apologized to Jacobs and said “this is not who I am.” Really? Whew!
This stuff just keeps cascading. Republican Attorney General Jeff Sessions has now been revealed to have had an additional two unreported contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the Presidential campaign of 2016. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov together with Sergey Kislyak met with President Trump where the President disclosed classified information that had been obtained from Israeli intelligence. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was apparently a little too close to Kislyak and a Moscow banker for the FBI to ignore.
Attorney Jill Wine-Banks was a prosecutor in the Watergate investigations. She has made a strong case based on publicly available information that Trump has criminal liability for the firing of James Comey, which she believes constituted an attempt to interfere with the investigation; a potential charge of obstruction of justice. Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) seemed pretty sharp when appearing on MSNBC with Brian Williams, but deftly ducked questions about the impact of these revelations on his meetings with voters from his state.
George Will, a Princeton PhD, hit the nail on the head: Trump does not know what it means to know something. Trump, Will said, is now delivering on what he promised as a candidate. Will took grave exception to Trump’s campaign rhetorical excesses. It is, Will said. Time to take a deep breath and let the Constitution work. This is the nuclear option. Will sees no reason to withdraw confidence in the machinery of democratic, constitutional government. The special investigation headed by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, a man of widely acknowledged integrity, will proceed under competent leadership. Too many investigations, Will has warned, involving multiple committees of the House and Senate may interfere with each other. Will said he did not know what Wine-Banks meant by her assertion that a case for obstruction of justice has been made. Will added: There is a lot left to be known. That will be a lot of work.
But the craziness continues. Ben Carson said that poverty is a “state of mind.” Brilliant. Maybe he will fix it with a simple bit of creative neurosurgery. He also wants to change the name of the Department of Housing and Urban Development to Housing and Community Development. Not bad. Maybe something Congress may agree on. We’ll see. Stay glued!