Can Donald Trump Survive the Loretta Lynch Standard?

lynch-clinton-meeting
Oops.

Rebecca:

Remember last year? Before the election? Remember the time then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton had a friendly chat on an airport tarmac? Do you remember what happened then?

This happened:

Lynch said she and Clinton talked only of grandchildren, golf, and their respective travels, but the fact that the two spoke privately at all was enough to rekindle concerns about a possible conflict of interest. Republicans have long called into question the ability of a Democratic-led Department of Justice to conduct an independent investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, based inside her Chappaqua, New York, home, during her tenure as secretary of state.

David Axelrod, a former top aide to President Barack Obama, tweeted that he took Lynch and the former president “at their word” that the Justice Department’s probe into Hillary Clinton’s email server did not come up, “but foolish to create such optics.”

And then this happened:

The government watchdog group Judicial Watch has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking all records its has on the June 27, 2016 meeting between President Bill Clinton and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch in her airplane, a meeting that occurred while the FBI was investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, a potential national security crime.

“The infamous tarmac meeting between President Clinton and AG Lynch is a vivid example of why many Americans believe the Obama administration’s criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton was rigged,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a statement released today. “Now it will be up to Attorney General Sessions at the Trump Justice Department to finally shed some light on this subversion of justice.”

And then this happened:

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, conceding that her airport meeting with former President Bill Clinton this week had cast a shadow over the federal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s personal email account, said Friday that she would accept whatever recommendations career prosecutors and the F.B.I. director made about whether to bring charges in the case.

It fell to Comey, then, to make the final decision about prosecuting Hillary Clinton. And his decision to explain the decision not to prosecute set off a chain of events that reverberates to this very day.

Now: Republicans are saying that if President Trump asked Jim Comey to take it easy on Donald Trump, that it was a joke.

But: If the mere act of two people meeting was enough to raise doubts about the fairness of justice being applied in a case, why would you as president ever raise the topic of a criminal case with the FBI director, let alone make a “joke” that would be so easily understood as maybe-not-a-joke?*

*(I have an 8-year-old boy. He tries telling me he was “joking” when he makes an out-of-line comment, too. We don’t buy it coming from him, either.)

Bill Clinton’s crossing of the line probably helped cost his wife the presidency. Republicans demanded that standards be applied. OK. Fine. Good. The question is, can Republicans live with same standards of conduct being applied to Donald Trump?

Probably not. But they’re going to have to.

—Joel

Worse than Impeachable

Joel:

Look at this: You, David Brooks, Rod Dreher (who we both struggle with),and I agree: Trump’s effort at witness intimidation, tweeted at James Comey, is a line that Congress cannot ignore, paling only in comparison to his reckless neediness on display when he gave away security secrets to Russia.

Both events this week indicate not merely a thuggish approach to the office of the presidency but also prove the impossibility of ever conducting politics in good faith with Donald Trump. Trump, always a projector, accused Obama of surveilling him, but Trump’s tweet seems to suggest that he think it’s perfectly acceptable to surreptitiously record others, and former associates have said that this is, in fact, business as usual for Trump. His carelessness with sensitive information reveals that that he has no respect for vulnerable allies. That Trump doesn’t think this is a problem isn’t a surprise: he’s never loved freedom, civil liberties, the Constitution, the law, or even just the norms of political life. He has never demonstrated true respect for others or care for them. He lacks enough knowledge of history to understand how this abuse of power echoes Watergate or how it endangers lives. That Congressional Republicans are not acting swiftly is what is more telling (and repulsive). Never believe Republicans when they tell you that the party believes in the rule of law.

What I found most interesting about your posts questioning Trump’s fitness for office, though, was that you said that you were now open to impeachment talk. I appreciate your caution, though I’ve not shared it. (I think Trump’s violations of the emoluments clause were already clear enough to warrant action.) It reminded me of a recent post by historian John Fea, who writes the blog The Way of Improvement Leads Home. A member of the faculty at Messiah College, Fea warns us against claiming that every president in our era is the worst president in history. History is long, of course, and how we rank people depends on our own position. Andrew Jackson was terrible for Native Americans, Andrew Johnson for African Americans, George W. Bush for the people of Iraq. Any president in the nuclear age is potentially more dangerous than any who had power before the invention of such weapons, so an even-tempered Barack Obama has more potential for harm than the feisty Teddy Roosevelt or the lazy Warren G. Harding.  In short, how we rank a president depends on a lot of criteria, including some that change frequently. (Obama looks pretty good right now to a lot of people, but if history shows that his commitment to neoliberal economic policies led to the despair that pushed voters toward Trump, how we he be ranked then?)

Years ago, I purchased a set of  presidential playing cards at the Smithsonian. I wondered at the conversations that the designers must have had as they picked who to assign which card to. Kennedy was the king of hearts and Nixon the ace of spades, which were pretty easy, I imagine, to assign, but how to rank those whose legacies are both impressive and awful–Jefferson’s radical belief in democracy as measured against the fact that he bought and sold human beings? FDR’s leadership during World War II and his invention of the welfare state (making him a savior or a devil, depending on your view) during a time when he was also interning American citizens in prison camps? LBJ’s effort to eradicate American poverty and insure that older Americans could live in dignity while also bombing Viet Nam?

If no US president (sorry Carter fans!) has a record free of the deliberate killing of innocents, does this mean that the job itself cannot be carried out without unnecessary violence. (The answer for many of my Mennonite friends is yes, which is why they can’t in good conscience vote.) And if that is the case, should we ever honor any president? Can you imagine, on a personal level, excusing the violent actions that our presidents have undertaken because of a person’s good behavior? (“Sure, Tom enslaved his own children, but he was a product of his times. We can’t really expect anything else.” “Maybe William took us into a war that killed 200,000 Filipino civilians, but he did it because he wanted to build a naval superpower and there was just no other way to get that done.” “Okay, I’ll admit that Bill accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Serbia, but his heart was in the right place!”)

Ellen

Above, talk show host Ellen Degeneres shares a sideways hug with former president George W. Bush, who has been able to rehabilitate his legacy, despite foreign policies that have killed more than a million people. He’s just like your grandpa, if your grandpa killed 5% of the Iraqi population. 

Any praise we give any president is tainted by survivor’s bias. Those of us who live because a past president did not enslave, annihilate, or degrade our ancestors have a duty to remember those who were killed: the more than 300,000 enslaved Africans brought to America as part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the more than 70,000 Japanese killed in a single day when Truman dropped the atomic bomb, the 20% of the civilian population decimated (No, that word is wrong–it means 1/10 of the population. Truman’s leadership killed twice as many. We have no word for that kind of horror.) in North Korea when he waged war there, the more than 100 civilians killed by drone strikes under Obama.  It’s easy to claim that Trump is the worst if we ignore the 1 million Iraqis dead under George W. Bush.

Is Trump a thug? For sure, but we knew that when we elected him. Is he guilty of crimes against humanity? Maybe not yet, but if he’s anything like most of our presidents, he will be.

 

 

Is Donald Trump a Bad Person?

Ellen
I mean, even George W. Bush had redemptive qualities. Trump? Can’t think of one.

Rebecca:

I consider myself a liberal, but I don’t like to flatter myself that conservatives are necessarily bad people. Pro-lifers really do think that abortion equals murder, and other conservatives really do think government-run healthcare is the second coming of Stalin. I don’t agree with them — and certainly, there are folks among them whose motivations are suspect — but I remind myself, constantly: Just because these folks don’t see the world as I see it doesn’t make them bad people. Sometimes, I might even be wrong.

With that as a preface, let me suggest this: Donald Trump seems like he’s a really bad person. Indeed, as much or more than his policies, it’s the reason to not want him in the White House. Republicans were right in the 1990s! Character really does matter!

I don’t have to recount his multiple transgressions, against African Americans and other minorities, against women, against truth, against good taste, against decency, against his family. We all know them.

Listen: I’m not sure if a good person can become  president. It requires ego of seemingly sinful proportions to even run for the office. It’s stunning how few outright horrible people enter the office. Jimmy Carter might’ve been the last really good person in office.

But Bill Clinton — let’s face it, he wasn’t a good person, but he was tremendous at faking it. Barack Obama seemed pretty decent. George W. Bush was probably a nice enough guy as long as he wasn’t in over his head making life-or-death decisions of international import. Reagan’s … Reagan. Even Nixon and LBJ were “complicated.”

Trump just seems like a bad guy, who only knows how to do things in bad ways: Through threats and by force and with lawsuits aimed at snuffing out the truth. I’ve never heard an unexpected “Donald Trump is more human than I expected” story. He started out a snot-nosed brat and stayed that way.

All of which is to mention: It keeps getting worse.

I know a few smart people who supported Trump, knowing all this about him. The rank-and-file Trump supporters don’t bother me as much as the “smart kids” who knew better and then jumped aboard anyway.

Anyway. I don’t like to flatter myself that my political rivals are bad people — or worse than I am. Donald Trump, however, is the exception. He’s just no good.

— Joel

Approval Junkie Would Kill Us All to Get His Fix

Joel:

So, we’e a little more than 100 days into the misery of a Trump presidency (and what I hope is at least 90% of the way done with it), and I can honestly say that it’s gone better than I expected. So far, Trump’s ego has killed just one Navy SEAL and an American child in his botched raid in Yemen back in January. And think of all the places we haven’t yet had a war with! We’re somehow NOT exchanging nukes with with North Korea or China, which I consider a win.  Sure, Trump is pointlessly escalating the largely pointless war in Afghanistan (Did you think that was over? Wrong!), but if fighting there could keep him distracted from starting a new war, maybe we can call it “harm reduction” rather than “waste of human life.” Sorry to the US soldiers about to lose life and limb for that, but it seems like reality TV just isn’t enough to occupy our fine leader these days, so someone’s gotta do it.

In light of Trump’s cavalier attitude about sharing top-secret information with a Russian that our experts say is a spy, some conservatives are coming around to the idea that Trump maybe just maybe doesn’t have the temperament for a job as a bingo caller, much less to be president, though others are still willing to defend a president who is “unschooled” (as if ignorance of how the office of the presidency works is something we should just tolerate in the honest-to-God-I-still-can’t-believe-it POTUS). I suspect that if they didn’t mind his bringing the nuclear football to lunch and showing up in selfies, they won’t mind him revealing sensitive information about vulnerable allies in the fight against ISIS (which was, I think, supposed to be solved in February, right?).

All of this is predictable. After all, senior intelligence officials warned about it during the campaign.

As a Christian, I like turnaround stories–the scales dropping from Paul’s eyes and his conversion from the chief persecutor of Christians to the architect of the early church. Those who anticipated such a dramatic change between Candidate and President Trump were looking for an equally large miracle, and they were foolish. At 70 years old, Trump’s character was pretty well-formed (or, rather, ill-formed); changing it would be difficult even if Trump himself wanted to, and he doesn’t–and why should he? It, along with inherited millions, got him this far.

Trump’s character is familiar to any of us who have had extended contact with those with fragile egos (by which I mean sense of self, not arrogance). Apparently, 60 million of us didn’t learn this simple playground lesson: the vacuum inside a bully can never be filled from the outside.

Trump’s decision to compromise the safety of allies who provided us with information about ISIS was not even a decision–it was a way for him to get the approval he needs like you and I need oxygen, and he doesn’t hesitate to suck up flattery like we suck in air. Trump, when facing a man his own fragile masculinity recognized as savvier than him,  did the only think a fragile ego can do: he begged for approval. Oh, he can’t ask “Do you like me? Am I the best? Do you respect and fear me?” So instead he brags about his intel–he has “the best intel.” (Of course you do, you rube. You have all the power of the presidency. No one is impressed that you have intel.) Like so many other fragile men, he needs flattery and is willing to trade anything for it. He gave away important, dangerous information, jeopardizing our relationships with our allies, in exchange for the chance to brag about it. He isn’t “the best”; he is the neediest.

Trump’s embarrassing dependency on other’s approval threatens us all. We need to recognize it as a permanent condition, not a temporary lack of judgment. 

That kind of emptiness can never be filled. In exchange for others telling him he is a big and powerful man, Trump would give away every secret, endanger every member of the US military, alienate every ally, stuff the nuclear football in Kim Jong-un’s Christmas stocking, hand Xi Jinping the keys to Fort Knox, and appoint Vladimir Putin as the new Secretary of State. And he would still not be satisfied  because a person without a core, without an identity apart from the admiration of others (which is easy to get when you are rich, even though those who claim to love you–perhaps your wives–despise you), can never have that need met. It’s bottomless.

Which means this will not stop until Congress makes it stop.

Which means, really, it’s up to us.

Breaking: Trump Will Nominate a Gay Man as Vatican Ambassador

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Callista Gingrich speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. / Gage Skidmore

Rebecca:

Ok, that headline is false. I’m just messing with you.

Here is what’s going on.

President Trump will name Callista Gingrich, the wife of campaign surrogate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as his ambassador to the Vatican — an unlikely pick who will now be charged with reconciling the commander-in-chief’s rough populism with the Holy See’s focus on social justice.

The 51-year-old third wife of Gingrich is currently the head of Gingrich Productions, a multimedia company for which she produced a number of documentaries, including one about Pope John Paul II.

Callista and Newt had a six-year affair while he was married to his second wife.

Now: I understand the Catholic Church pretty much frowns on divorce and remarriage. And the Catholic Church is also famously against being actively gay, and gay marriage is right out.

So it’s fun to think about a president — any president — nominating an openly gay man to represent America in Vatican City. I just don’t see it happening.

Why the difference, do you think?

Me? I’m not one to tell a whole religion what rules to have. But I’m never surprised when it’s conservatives who turn out to be “Cafeteria Catholics,” picking and choosing which doctrines really matter. It is, however, worth occasionally pointing out.

—Joel

Donald Trump Is an Insecure Braggart. He May Be Endangering the Nation Because of It.

Donald_Trump_official_portrait.jpgRebecca:

You’ve heard by now that Donald Trump revealed classified information … to Russian officials … in the Oval Office?

Here’s how it reportedly went down:

In his meeting with Lavrov, Trump seemed to be boasting about his inside knowledge of the looming threat. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” Trump said, according to an official with knowledge of the exchange.

For Pete’s sake.

Let’s acknowledge the story’s just broken, and that further facts may reshape this scoop. What follows remains the case regardless.

It’s been apparent since before he took office — really, since the 1980s, at least — that Trump is a narcissistic, insecure braggart whose personality traits would’ve made him a Darwin Award winner long ago, were it not for the fortune his daddy bequeathed to him.

Before the election, I wrote that Trump’s temperament — maybe more than any of his loathsome policy positions — would be his downfall:

Understand: Probably all politicians (and writers) are narcissistic to an embarrassing degree. The smart ones put that self-regard to the service of a broader agenda, one that benefits the people that they represent.

The, uh, less smart politicians have a two-year-old’s sense of object permanence, unable to see past the irritation in front of them to take the long view. And that leads to trouble.

With Trump, we know. We know exactly what we’re getting and … we know exactly how that story ends.

Nothing that’s happened since the election has altered that assessment, or the prospect of the likely end. We’ve crossed the line. The man cannot be trusted with the office. Even if it means we get a near-full term of President Mike Pence (ugh!) it’s time to to begin pushing for his removal.

—Joel

Everything wrong with American Evangelicalism in “the Best Commencement Speech Liberty University has ever had”

Joel,

Did you listen to Donald Trump’s commencement address at Liberty University, the dominionist university started by Jerry Falwell and now headed by Jerry, Jr?

As usual for Trump, it included ample bragging about his surprising electoral win in November and another crass reference about how vital their support was for his campaign (“And I want to thank you, because boy did you come out and vote, those of you that are old enough, in other words your parents. Boy oh boy, you voted, you voted.”). The speech has the usual vacuous references to the graduates’ futures, a quotation misunderstanding Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” and some lousy theology (“Jerry, I know your dad is looking down on you right now, and he is proud, he is very proud,”) that frankly should have offended the premillennialists, but, really, evangelical Christians have no standards at all any more, so it’s not surprising that they are unbothered by this detail. For Trump, it was almost coherent.

Falwell and Trump

Above, two lying, talentless conmen who have benefitted from nepotism: Donald Trump and  Jerry Falwell, Jr., who has called Trump evangelicals’ “dream president.” They stand in front of a framed cover from Playboy. Jerry Falwell, Sr., campaigned against the placement of pornographic magazines in convenience stores and sued Hustler in a case that went to the Supreme Court. “Jerry, I know your dad is looking down on you right now, and he is proud, he is very proud.”

One passage, though, strikes me as as almost prophetic:

“A small group of failed voices who think they know everything and understand everyone want to tell everybody else how to live and what to do and how to think, but you aren’t going to let other people tell you what you believe, especially when you know that you are right.”

Here, Trump is talking about Washington, DC–a “small group of failed voices” (you know, the ones elected by the people), but, “boy oh boy” could he be describing evangelical Christians. American evangelicalism has failed to turn its adherents into Christians, and those who claim that their evangelical Christianity prompts their conservative politics… well, they are failing too. They can’t persuade the majority of Americans to vote like them, and they can’t staff a Supreme Court who will ignore the Constitution in favor of their dominionist views. But they’ll keep at it because the know that they are right. Sigh.

More repulsive, though, were Jerry Falwell, Jr’s words praising Trump for dropping the largest non-nuclear bomb in the US military’s arsenal in Afghanistan. Falwell sees this as a defense of Christians in the region, who are persecuted by ISIS. Neither Falwell nor I can speak to the theology of Christians who are facing genocide at the hands of ISIS. What I can say is that, whether the US bombs ISIS or not, Christians, even those at Liberty University, should not rejoice in the death of those who would persecute them.