A disturbing political climate
07/02/18 Filed in: Political System
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Politics is about power, there’s a lot at stake, and people often get emotional about the outcomes. If public passions spiral out of control, and there have been signs of this happening, don’t hope for rational debate of substantive problems (e.g., fixing the government’s healthcare programs or balancing the budget).
Shock and disappointment of many Americans about the outcome of the 2016 presidential election has been smoldering ever since, with extreme rhetoric and even violence periodically erupting around the country. Initial strategies to contest the electoral results failed, and the new president was duly inaugurated. But the “resistance” continued, and it clearly amounted to more than differences of opinion about policy issues. Trump won, get over it, 2/20/17.
Is a constitutional crisis brewing? Opinions vary, but clearly the political climate has grown toxic and there is no turnaround in sight. Here is our take on what’s been happening, who is to blame, and the path forward.
Several months later, following the president’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, a special prosecutor was appointed to continue an investigation of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and suspected involvement of the Trump campaign and/or administration.
The justification for this investigation seemed unclear and its scope virtually unlimited. Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel was dubious given that he had been a long-time friend and former boss of Mr. Comey and the man who appointed him (Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein) had recently opined that Comey deserved to be fired. And even if the Mueller probe turned up nothing, it would cast a pall over the Trump presidency for a protracted period. Dueling views: crucial investigation versus “witch hunt,” 7/17/17.
The president was entitled to fire Comey, and a surmise that his motive was to cover-up misconduct by the Trump campaign seems speculative. Given that a full-fledged special investigation could be expected to run for months if not years, with no limit on the costs chargeable to taxpayers, shouldn’t a more substantial basis for the proceeding have been established before authorizing it?
No matter, the predominant view was that the die had been cast, Mr. Mueller was a “straight shooter,” and he and his team of prosecutors should be allowed to do their work and resolve all doubts about the issues that had been raised. Witness, for example, the designation of Mr. Mueller (‘66) as number two – number one was Jeff Bezos (‘86), founder of Amazon.com, Inc. – on a list of the 25 most influential living alumni of Princeton University.
The results were determined by a discussion panel (primarily faculty members) in October 2017, and the stated rationale for Mueller’s selection was that his investigation “could expose the biggest political scandal since Watergate.” Our most influential alumni: 25 Princetonians who are shaking up the world, Mark Bernstein, Princeton Alumni Weekly, 1/10/18.
As time goes by, however, public confidence in the special counsel investigation seems to be waning. And no wonder, as (1) the Mueller team has yet to file any relevant charges re Trump campaign/administration collusion with the Russians, obstruction of justice, etc., and (2) a considerable amount of evidence has surfaced of possible misconduct by high ranking officials in the Obama administration. Voters split on Mueller probe, Brett Samuels, thehill.com, 6/7/18.
• [An] NBC News-Wall Street Journal showed that 53 percent of voters have at least “some” confidence that Mueller is conducting a fair investigation. In comparison, 40 percent of respondents have little or no confidence in Mueller’s impartiality.
•Thirty-seven percent of voters said they believe that the [Trump] campaign colluded, based on what they’ve seen, read or heard. Meanwhile, 34 percent say they do not believe the campaign worked with Russia, while 28 percent of people said they don’t know enough to have an opinion.
There continues to be a notable shortage of rational debate about solving problems, such as for example dealing with a renewed influx of illegal immigrants, and extreme political rhetoric and activity seems to be on the rise again. Perhaps it’s time for an update of our 2/20/17 and 7/17/17 entries, which will take the form of responding to several questions.
A. WHO IS TO BLAME, (1) THE PRESIDENT ET AL. WITH THEIR IRRESPONSIBLE RHETORIC AND SLAPDASH POLICIES, OR (2) DIEHARD OPPONENTS WHO ARE MORE INTERESTED IN PRESERVING THEIR OWN POWER THAN LOOKING OUT FOR THE AMERICAN PUBLIC?
SAFE has never served as an apologist for the president, either before his election or since. His rhetoric is often overstated, and we haven’t hesitated to question his policies when we didn’t agree with them. See, e.g., Think twice about “America first” trade policy, 5/1/17.
On the other hand, we give the president credit for being willing to question existing policies and propose changes that he deems desirable instead of attempting to perpetuate the status quo. Some examples: a major tax cut – rollback of regulations – renouncing the Paris climate pact – serious proposals to clamp down on illegal immigration.
The president’s bombastic rhetoric and tendency to “rock the boat” have unquestionably fueled reactions from political opponents. Here’s a telling description from a recent column. Did an ancient Greek [Heraclitus] anticipate Trump? Lance Morrow, Wall Street Journal, 6/22/18.
[In an age of momentous choice and change], Mr. Trump—one of history’s plungers—shoots the rapids. If he is inclined to make up facts, it is because, in his mind, the new facts (or new falsehoods—who cares?) are indispensable to what he considers his real work, which is the creation of new realities: the deal and its fruition. Lies become facts when they come in handy. The secret of good lying, and effective negotiations, is to believe your own lie at the time you tell it.
For their part, the president’s opponents seem more interested in blocking his efforts than making positive contributions. If they have a compelling vision for upcoming political campaigns – other than blasting Trump – we must have missed the memo. Hey, Democrats! What’s the big idea? Dana Milbank, Washington Post, 5/15/18.
Mr. Milbank refers to a “cacophony of agenda items I heard over several hours [at a forum of potential Democratic candidates for the presidency in 2020]: higher minimum wage, huge infrastructure spending, more broadband access, two years of free college, free public universities, universal pre-K, universal health care, fair housing, police reforms, national paid leave, equal pay for equal work, clean air, clean water, climate action, LGBT rights, cracking down on predatory lenders, tax incentives for poor areas, a federal job guarantee, election protections, as well as criminal-justice, campaign finance and immigration reforms, and higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations, gun control and more.”
The current minority party seems a lot less interested in getting things done in the here and now. For all the outrage that has been expressed about separating illegal immigrants and their children, for example, Democrats showed no interest in proposed legislative solutions to the problem. Senate Democrats reject GOP legislation to stop family separations, Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner, 6/19/18.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz, both Republicans of Texas, have proposed legislation that would allow children to remain at detention centers with their parents and would speed up adjudication with the help of additional immigration judges. *** “We hope to reach out to the Democrats to see if we can get a result,” [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell said. “Which means making a law and not get into some sparring match back and forth that leads to no conclusion.” But Senate Democratic leaders say they won’t go along with the approach.
In sum, there’s plenty of blame to go around.
B. ARE CLAIMS ABOUT DOJ/FBI MISCONDUCT WELL FOUNDED OR DO THEY SIMPLY REPRESENT AN EFFORT TO DISCREDIT THE MUELLER INVESTIGATION?
Several congressional investigations are underway re Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and related subjects, and the principal source of information – unsurprisingly – is the administrative agencies who were calling the shots when the FBI investigation of this subject was launched in mid-2016.
The agencies were hardly forthcoming in providing the information requested, and congressional impatience mounted with each delay. Mueller probe, SAFE newsletter, Winter 2017.
Congressional document requests were being stonewalled until recently, and key officials (with the exception of James Comey) weren’t being made available to testify. It almost seemed as though DOJ/FBI officials considered their agencies exempt from congressional inquiries. The situation only changed under threat of contempt of Congress charges by the House.
Even now, many of the subpoenaed documents have not been provided and several of the interviews – such as a 7-hour interview (behind closed doors) of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe – were uninformative. Thus, after investigating the Trump-Russia matter since summer 2016, “the second-highest ranking official in the bureau will not say whether anything in the document, beyond its repetition of information already in the press, has been found to be true.”
The DOJ/FBI stonewalling gave rise to suspicions that the officials calling the shots, e.g., Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, were trying to avoid release of information that might be embarrassing for their agencies. What do Republicans suspect really happened in the FBI Trump-Russia investigation, Byron York, Washington Examiner, 6/18/18.
The bottom line is that some Republicans are wondering whether in the above instances, and perhaps others, someone actively tried to frame, or entrap, or set up, Trump figures. And those Republicans wonder whether the FBI knew about it or played some sort of role in it. In short, there is suspicion that the FBI might have abused its tremendous powers in a highly politicized investigation undertaken in the middle of a presidential campaign.
The plot thickened as the result of an internal DOJ investigation of the handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while she was heading the State Department. The huge Justice Department IG report is out. What comes next? Philip Ewing, npr.com, 6/15/18.
The Justice Department's internal watchdog agency unveiled a doorstop-sized report Thursday that provides an inflection point — but no closure — in the never-ending war over the 2016 presidential campaign and its aftermath. The nearly 600-page opus by Inspector General Michael Horowitz offers political ammunition for both Republicans and Democrats and resolves a few key questions about what happened behind the scenes during some critical moments of the last presidential election year. But it also confirmed that this saga has no end in sight.
Ensuing testimony on Capitol Hill – first by Horowitz and then by Deputy AG Rosenstein & FBI Director Christopher Wray – proved quite dramatic.
•Rep. Jim Jordan blasted Mr. Rosenstein for hiding information, which the latter hotly denied. Rod Rosenstein denies withholding Russia documents in tense exchange with Jim Jordan, Jeff Mordock, Washington Times, 6/28/18.
•Rep. Trey Gowdy informed Mr. Rosenstein, who is administratively responsible for the Mueller probe, that said probe had reached its expiration date. If Mueller had evidence of misconduct by the president or his subordinates, make it public. Otherwise, the investigation should be ended. “Finish it the hell up!” Gowdy tells Rosenstein, Cristina Laila, thegatewaypundit.com, video (0:49), 6/28/18.
Our conclusion: It’s unclear what information is being held back or why, but the claims of making maximum efforts to comply with congressional requests simply will not wash. And as a key piece of the puzzle seems to be documents pertaining to the launching of the Russian meddling/collusion investigation that Robert Mueller later took over, the legitimacy of that investigation is inevitably called into question. If it’s necessary to start holding DOJ officials in contempt or impeaching them to get at the truth, Congress should proceed accordingly.
C. IS THERE A SECOND CIVIL WAR IN AMERICA’S FUTURE?
A firestorm about separating illegal immigrants from their children, and more broadly about whether US immigration laws should be enforced at all, has been building for the last several weeks. So far the behavior has been mostly non-violent, albeit in some cases despicable, but that may not continue to hold true. Is violence next? Some Democrats encourage aggressive public confrontation against Trump aides, Dave Boyer & Valerie Richardson, Washington Times, 6/24/18. For example:
•White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sander was asked to leave a restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, simply because she works for the president.
•Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen was pressured into leaving a Washington, DC restaurant, and protestors with loudspeakers swarmed the neighborhood where her house is located.
There have also been mass protests, such as one by some 600 people (predominantly females) calling for the abolition of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Arrests were made because the demonstration took place inside the Hart Senate Office Building. Dem congresswoman [Rep. Pramila Jayapal] among anti-Trump protestors arrested, Alex Pappas, foxnews.com, 6/28/18.
Last weekend, there were numerous “families belong together” demonstrations around the country – presumably along the same general lines as the Senate office event - including in Delaware and Portland, Oregon. And whether there was any connection or not, a leftist backlash against a subsequent Patriot Prayer rally in Portland created a situation that turned distinctly ugly. Portland police revoke permit, declare riot as protestors clash downtown, Edgar Campuzano, oregonlive.com, 6/30/18. Isn’t “civil war” an overstatement? Perhaps, but there are instances of violent behavior that can be linked to controversies about immigration law enforcement – including crimes committed by MS-13 gang members and a protest camp set up to block access to an ICE office in Portland. A new civil war is already upon us, Charles Hurt, Washington Times, 6/27/18.
Many Americans are apparently not convinced that their safety is assured. Poll: 59% fear violence from Trump haters, 31% predict civil war, Paul Bedard, Washington Examiner, 6/27/18.
Our advice would be to take these incidents seriously because the best time to deal with a problem is before it gets big.
D. WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?
The first order of business is to maintain or restore order so that conservative comments in the national political conversation won’t be drowned out. Bear in mind our previously expressed conclusion, however, that both sides have resorted to overheated rhetoric and sharp practices.
Mediating the bruised feelings could prove next to impossible, so our suggestion would be to change the subject. We don’t care why you liberals and conservatives don’t like each other, what we’re interested in is your proposed solutions to the nation’s key issues and the rationale therefor.
National security – securing the border – balancing the budget – eliminating regulatory red tape – education – healthcare – retirement security – personal liberty. We’re listening, start talking!
#Good rational argument. – SAFE member (DE)
#The FBI is as crooked to the core as when Hoover was director for 48 years. There is NO evidence Trump colluded or did anything else. This is the sleaZe of politics. – SAFE director
#I am emotionally triggered by Trump. I do not share his values. He consistently lies and uses words intentionally to raise emotions and not calm them. – Attorney
Comment: As discussed in the blog entry, the president is by nature a disruptor, and any complaints about his policies are fair game. But some people on the left are carrying the idea of automatic, by any means necessary resistance too far. Note how Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz – a passionate liberal – reports being attacked in some quarters for publicly opining that the tactics being used by anti-Trampers have gone way over the line. Washington Examiner, 7/5/18.
#It's already been proven that Russia interfered in the election. Sad but true. I wish the president wasn't the worst communicator and divisive person in the world today. What a disgrace to mankind! – Retired finance manager
Comment: No question about Russian interference in the 2016 (and earlier) elections, but it happened on the previous administration’s watch and National Security Director Susan Rice reportedly gave a “stand down” order which suggests that the election interference wasn’t viewed as all that big a deal. Daily Caller, 3/9/18. So far, no evidence that the Trump campaign was complicit in this activity.