Tag: US Politics

Out Like Flynn

“The problem with political jokes is that they get elected.”
– Henry Cate

This latest news story requires its own post, otherwise the Weekend Links update will be unreadably long. The still-breaking story about Gen. Flynn’s leaving the administration after an unprecedented 24 days is ongoing but at the moment…it’s a mess. It’s a bonkers, ridiculous, upsetting mess.

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Getting the timeline right still isn’t easy. By my count thus far…Kellyanne Conway has said Gen. Flynn resigned, but Press Secretary Spicer then said President Trump asked for his resignation. Spicer said Gen. Flynn was an internal issue for weeks, but President Trump last week told reporters he knew nothing of the DOJ’s or any report to the White House that the general was a potentially serious liability. Conway speaking yesterday for the WH says that the problem is that Gen. Flynn lied to VP Pence, but just two days ago said that the President had complete trust in the general, and Spicer again is now claiming that the WH knew about this issue (with the exception of the VP, apparently, who found out he was either deceived or misinformed following the story breaking). At the last press briefing, Spicer seemed to claim that no team member had contact with Russia during the campaign, which news sources seem to be contradicting this morning.

But in summary, as far as I can make out, the fundamental options seem to be that either the then-President-elect directed Gen. Flynn to have a conversation with the Russian ambassador discussing the possibility of easing sanctions when the new administration came to power, or Gen. Flynn did this on his own volition. Either option is against the law. We’re only talking orders of magnitude at this point.

At the last press briefing, Spicer seemed to claim that no team member had contact with Russia during the campaign, which news sources seem to be contradicting this morning. CNN is now reporting that aides for the first candidate then President-elect have been in routine communication with Russian officials for months. While not wholly unprecedented during a transition period between governments, the frequency of communications seems to have raised enough red flags to have the intelligence community alert both the sitting and in-coming presidents to the fact.

In summary again, either candidate/President-elect Trump knew both that these communications were happening–and that it was illegal or at the very least wildly inappropriate–and allowed them to continue, or he knew that it was happening but didn’t understand that it was illegal/inappropriate. Our options here are malice or incompetence.

Elected officials in general and Republicans in particular, if you think you can wait this latest scandal out, you are wrong. If after eight years of obstructing and scrutinizing an administration’s actions out of “principle,” you are suddenly unwilling to do the same now in the face of blatant incompetence and dangerous allegations of foreign collusion, you are lost as a political group. If you believe it’s more important to maintain party and partisan power than have a functioning, trustworthy, and respected government, you are unfit for office.

Congressional leadership seems to be (finally, cautiously) starting to critique the White House, but overall the response thus far from the president’s own party has been craven. Some of my own representatives have been among the worst offenders–looking at you, Rep. Chaffetz–and no one seems to be willing to be the first to stand up and say, “In the face of this many allegations, this many procedural missteps in executive action, and this level of dysfunction, I demand investigations.”

I have said it before, I will say it again. I am not cheering for President Trump to fail; I did not and do not want the stability of my government undermined. But I did not vote for him because I believed that he was a fundamentally unsafe character with unsound plans and unformed opinions/goals, based on unconstitutional principles, who would put unqualified or unvetted people into power alongside him, to chaotic effect. It’s taken less than a month for him to prove me right.

This is the result.

Public Life, Publicity, and a Prediction

“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
― Mark Twain

I wished President Obama well when he was inaugurated, I liked and supported a majority of his policies, and I have tremendous respect for the respect in turn that he seemed to have for his office in terms of his temperament and behavior. I believe he would have been justified many times in his presidency in lashing out in anger against the blatant disrespect and obstructionism thrown in his face, and I admire him for choosing not to do so. I understand that he was keen to avoid negative racial stereotypes (such as being an “angry black man”) but even in that, I admire his understanding that what the president does sets a precedence. He seemed very keen to always be in control of his self presentation as an aspect of his office.

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image via Wikipedia

If nothing else, I believe a lesson learned for all the citizenry from this political cycle is that a number of expectations Americans have for their political leaders are not necessarily enshrined in law, but rather in precedent and convention. For example, it is correct that the president is not required by law to divest his business interests, but I think it’s fair to say that it’s expected that a man or woman in that position would. That’s what precedent and convention say s/he should do. For all we whine and complain about politicians, there are some age old notions and assumptions that we as a culture cling to about how people in public life ought to behave. It’s the difference between being a public person and being a celebrity and why sex scandals can bring down the one and jumpstart a Kardashian style family empire in the other. I happen to like the distinction because I believe fundamentally that entertainment and politics should be different and want my leaders to follow a degree of convention that I do not expect from celebrities and entertainers.

Of course, that is not the world we are living in. Information and entertainment have become dangerously entwined. But what I find amazing about this in the current moment is that one of the architects of this media landscape…is Donald Trump himself. He was an early reality TV star, a genre that purposefully blurs the line between fact and fiction. He parlayed brand into entertainment, entertainment to media prominence, prominence to the illusion of being a reputable commentator, commentator to candidate, and now elected office.

President Trump is a celebrity first and foremost. This is what has allowed him to survive scandals and kerfuffles that would have brought down a traditional politician in his same shoes. Several supporters hold this up as a virtue, that he cannot be unmade by violations of convention that would taint a more conventional candidate, but I see fundamental danger in it. Celebrities are expected to get ratings, get people talking about them, and get rich off their brand. Elected officials are expected to govern. I don’t trust that he’s made this distinction in his own mind between being media famous and being politically powerful.

My personal prediction is that President Trump will not last a full term of office. I think that impeachment due to his numerous existing and potential future conflicts of interest is very likely. I also think that it’s very likely that the constraints of the office and government bureaucracy (slow by design) may prove frustrating to an obviously impatient man and he may simply quit. His prominence rose out of his own propagation of false news, something that I believe very likely to be turned against him during his term of office–something he has already (ironically, in my opinion) started complaining of. In short, I think his inability to accept the conventions of behavior and action that American’s have historically expected of their leaders may undo him. I think that people may have been willing to accept a media personality on the trail, but will expect a more conventional leader in office…and I don’t think he has it in him. It’s not what’s made him “successful,” and his behavior thus far doesn’t lead me to believe he will make the transition.

Of course, I may be proven wrong and he will turn out great, or at the very least his government will keep a rein on him. I’d actually love to proven wrong and that a man who thus far has seemed uniquely temperamentally unfit, professionally unqualified, and borderline hilariously thin skinned will do a good job. I’ll be the first to put up my hand and declare, “Yep, I got this one way off!” But I doubt it.

Lend me your thoughts or predictions, kittens.