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Sunday, January 28, 2018

Alternative Reality

The real political constellation surrounding that bright star Donald Trump is emerging from the mists.  Michael Wolff's book, Fire and Fury, which I have dipped into (focusing on the latter parts), makes it clear that Trump does not have an organized cadre around him in the White House, but rather a relatively unorganized gaggle of individuals and factions, of whom John Kelly, his Chief of Staff, and his daughter and son-in-law Ivanka Trump (who was careful not to discard the family brand!) and Jared Kushner seem to be the most important.  Trump, the books clear, will always be erratic and unpredictable because he can't bear having anyone outshine him, he always wants to respond to attacks,and he loves surprises.  Thus those around him--including his lawyers--will always be struggling to keep up.

Meanwhile, as I have written before, Trump has struck up an alliance the Koch brothers' network, which in turn dominates the Republicans in Congress and particularly in the House.  The fruits of that alliance are the tax cut, the rollback of EPA regulations, and, most recently, the tariff on solar panels, which will make it harder for our growing domestic solar industry to compete with fuels.  The tax cuts have probably brought a good deal of corporate America on board as well, because they will allow corporations to bring so much money back into the United States.  And the economic boom, as long as it lasts, sill significantly strengthen Trump's position in much of the country.

The threat to the Administration, of course, is Robert Mueller's investigation and what it might reveal about Russian influence on the election and on Trump.  And Trump's new allies in Congress are not taking a hands-off attitude towards tose proceedings. Led by Devin Nunes of the House Intelligence Committee--who showed himself to be a Trump lackey in a much-publicized incident last summer--they are standing this investigation on its head.   Increasingly they and their allies in the media--especially Fox News--are arguing that the whole Russia imbroglio is an FBI conspiracy hatched out of hostility to Trump.

Devin Nunes, apparently, has written a four-page memo, still classified, alleging that rogue FBI agents abused the FISA program to put taps on Trump aids during the campaign.  The details of the accusation have not yet emerged, but this may refer to taps on Carter Page, Paul Manafort, or both of them that the Bureau might have undertaken to uncover Russian connections even before those men became involved in the Trump campaign.  Nunes and others are also arguing that pro-Clinton, anti-Trump FBI agents--whose biases, they claim, are revealed in their text messages--fixed the investigation of Clinton's emails to exonerate her and started the investigation of the Trump campaign to discredit him.  I doubt that Nunez or any of the others in Congress or at Fox really know much about the career of Joe McCarthy, but this technique is very reminiscent of his own.  McCarthy tended to make irresponsible accusations of Communist influence, and then dismiss anyone who complained about them as a witting or unwitting dupe of the Communist conspiracy.  Nunez and Trump are trying to turn any evidence of Russian connections to hm or his campaign as evidence of an FBI conspiracy against him.

A new and very important aspect of the story emerged this week.  In 2016, the Dallas Morning News reports, "Donald Trump and the political action committees for Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich and John McCain accepted $7.35 million in contributions from a Ukrainian-born oligarch who is the business partner of two of Russian president Vladimir Putin's favorite oligarchs and a Russian government bank."  In a notorious mid-2016 meeting of Congressional bigwigs that leaked to the public, Republican House whip Kevin McCarthy commented that there were only two people whom he thought Vladimir Putin "owned:" Donald Trump and Representative Dana Rohrabacher.  But with so much at stake for the Russian government in the lifting of American sanctions, an organized effort to buy more influence in the Congress would not be in the least surprising.  Mueller may almost singlehandedly be contenting with a very broad and successful foreign campaign to build up influence in two branches of the government--as well as with those like the Kochs who find themselves allied with Trump for other reasons.

The economy is definitely playing as a winning issue for Trump at this point, and a deal on DACA would fwork powerfully in his favor as well.  Mueller's investigation will however remain a serious threat.  For that reason, Republican cries of an FBI conspiracy will get louder.  This will be a very difficult problem to deal with, since we do not, as we did during Watergate, have any media outlets that a clear majority of the public trusts.  Nor do we have a readily available mechanism to rid ourselves of foreign influence.  It has emerged as a real threat to our democracy.


Bozon said...

Great stuff. Thanks for this post.

American politics is really a kind of special tar baby: the more you get involved in it, the worse you feel, and the worse you look.

"...since we do not, as we did during Watergate, have any media outlets that a clear majority of the public trusts. Nor do we have a readily available mechanism to rid ourselves of foreign influence."

Two points, on this last bit:

1. Whether a clear majority of the public trusts certain media outlets has long shown itself to be irrelevant both to the veracity of what those outlets generally claim as true, and to the welfare of that clear majority reposing such trust.

2. We have never had a readily available mechanism for ridding ourselves of foreign influence, in fact the opposite. I would note that I do not consider such things as the McCarthy Era as a legitimate mechanism to rid ourselves of foreign influence, but rather an aberration in a generally weak, porous, open, and amorphous political system.

All the best

CrocodileChuck said...

"The threat to the Administration, of course, is Robert Mueller's investigation and what it might reveal about Russian influence on the election and on Trump". [SNIP]

The FBI investigation has been in train for nineteen [19] months. Where's the beef?

Ed Boyle said...

People seem to believe alternate versions of affairs. I follow and believe other end. Whoever wins this battle will write the history and that will become accepted dogma. This has always been so. So one withdraws to private sphere in absolute cynicism like an average Italian, knowing corruption is normal and politicians are sick people. We are in a phase where it still matters to us to know truth. This can be dangerous when there is no truth and opinions charading as truth are merely used to promote power grabs of people who could care less about truth or welfare of anyone but their coterie. So we see our slow but certain downfall.