| by Chris Rampolla |
Donald Trump’s brand of populism carries with it a deeply ingrained aversion to unpleasant information; the President will sound the war cry FAKE NEWS across social media as a casual attempt to definitively dismiss negative press and criticism. The banner is then picked up by pro-Trump public personalities who rabidly reinforce the narrative of the “liberal conspiracy” that they maintain is designed to impede the newest iteration of Manifest Destiny: the perplexingly nebulous MAGA.
To Trump’s credit, this has been his only steadfastly consistent rhetoric, and it is among one of his most effective tools of intellectual evasion. It allows him, or anyone who uses those terms sincerely, to avoid processing any information with the potential to upset their delicate worldview. For the most ardent Trump supporters, you get the sense that they’d serve their own beating heart to the President and with their last breath ask if he’d like a toothpick.
This blind support doesn’t stop at the President, however; any and all members of Trump’s administration are, by association with the God-Emperor, granted seemingly unlimited leeway in backtracking on previous statements or even in potentially committing criminal activities. Donald Trump Jr. very recently admitted to meeting (along with Kushner and Manafort) with a Russian attorney during his father’s campaign, who he was told was an agent of the Russian state. The expressly stated purpose of the meeting was to obtain potentially compromising information concerning collusion between Hillary Clinton’s campaign and Russia. The e-mails concerning the meeting were even published by Donald Jr. himself to get in front of a New York Times story.
Here's my statement and the full email chain pic.twitter.com/x050r5n5LQ
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017
Here is page 4 (which did not post due to space constraints). pic.twitter.com/z1Xi4nr2gq
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017
What is most remarkable about this event is that it is the first solid, indisputable evidence of contact between senior Trump campaign personnel and a Russian national directly regarding an attempt to influence a Federal Election, and the evidence, admissions, and omissions (notably Kushner’s omission of this meeting on his SF-86 form, a felony) are very nearly an one-to-one checklist of how best to violate 11 CFR 110.20, the Federal Regulation governing the solicitation of contributions of value by a foreign national in connection with a US election.
Trump Jr. changed his position on the nature of the meeting — four times at present count — and later claimed that he had kept the meeting from his father. But as any reasonable person would conclude, Trump Jr.’s word isn’t worth much anymore. In my opinion, it’s only a matter of time before we find out that Donald Trump was, in fact, aware of the meeting. John McCain (who can still be astute in between his bursts of delirium) said “This [scandal] is a centipede. I guarantee you there will be more shoes to drop, I can just guarantee it.”
Even at this nascent point in the scandal, the meeting with the three Trump Campaign representatives seems likely to be an overt Russian effort to either share intel about Hillary Clinton and/or generate kompromat on the Trump campaign itself by using Donald Jr.’s enthusiasm to push senior campaign members onto awkward legal ground. Whatever the case, the meeting has been met with resounding condemnation from all over the political spectrum. Mostly.
In amazing feats of mental acrobatics, many Trump supporters are flatly denying that anything about the meeting, or the response of the Trump administration, is illegal, wrong, strange, concerning, or suspicious. I’ve selected a few of my favorite deflections so far (concerning the current scandal), which I’d like to share as an illustration of the level of denial that any fact-based argument will be subjected to. I’d also like to offer my predictions for how the administration will handle future revelations about this meeting — namely that Donald Trump himself was aware of the meeting and communications.
I don’t expect that any amount of evidence will ever sway some supporters, so I use these examples instead to point out inherent dangers of tribalism to a free, open, and reasonable Democratic society. This kind of tribalism is by no means limited to the alt-right, but since Trumpism is in vogue and their President is in power, I think it is a necessary endeavor. The worst part: there are legitimate arguments to consider in defense of Donald Jr.’s actions, but these nuanced arguments always fail to generate the same kind of viral support as the arguments that brush off claims of malfeasance without a second thought.
Hillary Clinton: “But Her Emails”
Any time I have been critical of President Trump in a public forum, at least one Trump supporter will counter my point by mentioning Hillary Clinton. I could set my watch by it.
Are you talking about putting classified docs on a private server?
— Alt Right Advice (@alt_advice) July 11, 2017
I hate seeing quality people like Donald Trump, Jr. dragged through the mud – but each minute democrats spend on #Russia only hurts them.
— Stefan Molyneux (@StefanMolyneux) July 11, 2017
What is perhaps most frustrating about this is that I am not a Hillary Clinton supporter and I have no vested interest in defending any of her actions. In fact, I have been openly critical of her blasé handling of State Department emails, her hawkish stance on Syria, and her bull-headed relationship with the DNC. The partisan undercurrents of this country are so unbelievably strong that it is now assumed, erroneously, that any criticism of Donald Trump indicates a firm personal affiliation to Hillary Clinton.
There is, in fact, evidence that Manafort’s resignation was due in part, to information revealed by a DNC consultant working with Ukrainian nationals, which it’s possible may have also violated Federal Election Regulations. But there are some key differences, including the fact that no senior members of the DNC or the Clinton Campaign appear to be involved. Overall, the takeaway is this: if you are willing to let Donald Trump’s administration, because of an arbitrary ostensible political affiliation, get away with crimes or unethical actions, then you are allowing corruption in an incumbent Presidency to continue unchecked. How this is acceptable, by any standard, eludes me.
What I find supremely odd is how little exposure the Ukrainian story received, especially from a Trump campaign that was brutally direct with accusations about Democratic corruption. It almost seems as if they themselves were guilty of violations of Federal Election Regulations and didn’t want to draw any attention to that fact.
Freedom of Speech
Of all of the amendments that are most often erroneously invoked, generally, I would maintain that the First Amendment is a prime example. It is a right almost continually misunderstood (colloquially) in the widest variety of contexts.
There are two sides of the coin. On one hand, there is the interpretation of the amendment which is readily clear: the amendment itself protects individuals from any impediment the government might erect to stop someone from speaking their mind. There are, of course, limitations to this right e.g. the classic example of shouting of “FIRE!” in a theater, as there are with ALL rights afforded to individuals under the Constitution.
The second interpretation of the 1A is that the amendment also protects the rights of individuals to freely receive information. This, in my eyes, is a derivative interpretation of the above, but is equally valid and necessary.
There is an interesting discussion about this issue in the Washington Post which utilizes the second interpretation to interpret Donald Trump’s behavior under the CFR guidelines. Volokh makes several tenuous but thoughtful conclusions, a few of which are : (a) the statute may be too broad in its impact on the 1A and therefore facially unconstitutional (b) solicitation – the key part of the CFR election regulations – might be a necessary condition for uncovering foreign malfeasance and (c) it is indirectly suggested that restrictions on solicitation may restrict eligible voters’ 1A rights in that they are unable to receive all information necessary about a candidate to make a maximally wise decision.
I write this to illustrate that these legal issues are uncertain. Of course I believe that discussions about the constitutionality of the law are, at present, premature; a facially unconstitutional law is still a law and Trump Jr. not only clearly violated that law (in my estimation) but then LIED about the meeting itself multiple times — an indication that, even by his estimation, his actions were questionable. Few of us are going to be arguing this in front of the SCOTUS any time soon, so legal debate aside I am dumbstruck at how little heed is paid to the blindingly obvious deceit of Donald Trump Jr.
Below you can see another instance of exactly this: a partisan battle cry, a blanket application of the 1A with not a pause to consider practical limitations of the amendment itself, absolutely no consideration of Federal law or regulation, and a jab at Democrats, suggesting that they “hate the Constitution.” There is no acknowledgement of what did actually happen, but instead casual counterfactuals are touted as axiomatic.
my understanding of the 1st amendment,anyone can talk to anyone,I know dems hate the constitution
— Terry (@terry_vestal) July 12, 2017
The WADDABOUT Defense
The laziest and most common defense of the Trump admin is a pure “WHAT ABOUT X” deflection. It occurs quite frequently on social media: Donald Trump Jr. and his father are both quick to fill their twitter feeds with anything other than issues plaguing their campaign. Their many allies on social media are quick to aid them in their attempts at deflection, which is a lazy and transparent attempt to leverage the existing partisanship of the country and avoid focus on ethical and legal issues. For how critical their platform has been of “social justice” they certainly seem to be place a lot of stock in what “liberal” celebrities are up to.
These are, perhaps, the most insidious examples of dishonesty and disingenuous politics. Unfortunately, they are also the most effective at diverting attention from the true issues surrounding the present administration.
— Chris Arrrrr (@MySolubleFish) July 13, 2017
— Mike Cernovich 🇺🇸 (@Cernovich) July 12, 2017
— LIZ COVFEFE MAGA (@LizCrokin) July 13, 2017
Jack wants an abusive man who dresses like a pirate fired but not the leader of our country who bragged about sexually assaulting women. https://t.co/uURcKEkjiC
— Chris Arrrrr (@MySolubleFish) June 24, 2017
A Future State: 1984 Daycare
In whatever odd reality we inhabit, the MINITRU has taken on the flavor of a pandering after-school program.
This is a prime example of how the Trump administration chooses to spin damaging revelations about their personnel.
For once, the FAKE NEWS battlecry will fail utterly; Donald Trump Jr. has confirmed his meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign, and truth, as we all know, can only come from the President or one of his associates.
The Trump administration has already made efforts to shrug off suggestions of wrongdoing: yes, they’ll say, it happened — but nothing was WRONG with what we did.
And, as reliably as a sunrise, ardent Trump supporters will hard-reset and adopt the new logic they’re presented with. To suggest to them that anything to the contrary ever happened will be met with total derision.
To the skeptical Trump supporters, if any, who’ve read this far, I’d ask how you can possibly respect an administration that treats you like children. Regardless of what you think about Hillary Clinton, regardless of what you think about the election, and regardless of what you think about Donald Jr., can you continue to justify to yourselves loyalty to an administration that has a proven record of showing you a total lack of intellectual respect? Do you seriously wish to continue to associate yourselves with public personalities who are blatantly dishonest and deceptive about current events as ever more troubling accusations surface?
If your answer is no, and I hope it is, then our future might not be as bleak as I fear.
Chris Rampolla is a philosopher by training and half-sardonic by birth. He enjoys writing about nearly everything and has the terrible habit of either drinking too much or not nearly enough. You can read more of his work at www.jumpingtoconfusions.com or follow him on Twitter @mysolublefish