Tuesday, August 14, 2018

BTRTN: The New Polarization...Trump vs.Trump

F. Scott Fitzgerald observed that the “test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Donald Trump appears to be able to hold infinite versions of reality in his mind. But, then again, F. Scott would probably contend that Trump is no longer functioning in the real world. 

In the past several weeks we have witnessed an entirely new front open in the polarization in American politics. It may represent an even more troubling and destabilizing strain than the epic political polarization underlying the dysfunction in our government, the bifurcation of our news media, and the epic fissure in our cultural identity. It is the polarization of Donald Trump's grasp of reality. Call it bi-polarization syndrome, and it is nothing but trouble.

Consider the events of Thursday, August 2.

In one corner, we witnessed the unending geyser of angry, unrepentant, and ignorant trash talk from the Trump Administration. Pitted in diametric counterpoint, we watched the grim faces of determined men and women in the opposing corner, learned, informed, intensely patriotic, and equally resolute and unyielding in their fervor… also, uh…. from the Trump Administration

In this particular confrontation, the heads of the Trump administration’s intelligence community spoke at the White House in a show of force and unity, once again clearly and adamantly proclaiming that Russia is hell-bent on interfering with the 2018 elections
Just a few short hours later at yet another one of Trump’s “let’s feel good about me” campaign rallies in Pennsylvania, the president said, "In Helsinki, I had a great meeting with Putin. I had a great meeting. We discussed everything. We got along really well. By the way, that's a good thing, not a bad thing. That’s a really good thing. Now we're being hindered by the Russian hoax -- it's a hoax, OK?"

It’s real. It’s a hoax. It’s happening now. It’s fake news. It’s a threat to our democracy. It’s a witch hunt. It’s a bad thing! It’s a good thing! Two extreme positions on the same issue, embraced and ardently advanced on the exact same day by the Trump administration.

In an even more ferocious example of Trump bi-polarization, we are witnessing in real time the splintering of Trump's accounting of the now infamous June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. In a tweet this past Sunday, August 5, Trump launched a direct assault on, uh, Donald Trump, Jr. Take a moment to admire just how few characters it took for the President to blow all the toes off his own foot before proceeding to kneecap his son:

Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics - and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!

In this epic remake of Dumb and Dumber, the elder Trump seems to have essentially conceded that criminal activity with Russia happened, acknowledging that his son consciously and with unambiguous intention engaged in a meeting with Russian operatives to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. As the New York Times has summed up the legal issues: 

"A federal law, Section 30121 of Title 52, makes it a crime for any foreigner to contribute or donate money or some ‘other thing of value’ in connection with an American election, or for any to solicit a foreigner to do so… Courts have held, in other contexts, that a ‘thing of value’ can be something intangible, like information."

"A 'conspiracy' is an agreement by two or more people to commit a crime, an agreement by two or more people to commit a crime — whether or not they end up doing so."

Therefore, President Trump essentially conceded in this tweet that Donald Trump, Jr. took both of these steps. He was one of "two or more people" who "solicited a foreigner" to contribute a "thing of value" to the Trump campaign. Trump Sr. now appears to be hoping that his son escapes prosecution based on the contention that  "it went nowhere."

After hurling his son under the bus, Trump then floored it to escape, insisting on making clear that he knew nothing about the meeting. The essential meaning of the tweet seemed to be this: “any and all criminal activity that may have been committed was committed by my wonderful son, and in my opinion it was not illegal, but just to be super clear, I knew nothing about it. So if it turns out that I am wrong and it was illegal, you can haul away my son, but not me!” 

To many, Donald Trump Jr. comes across as a 30-watt light bulb with hair gel, and the odds that he took this meeting without even mentioning it to his Dad seem more remote than a Cleveland Browns Superbowl. (“Hey, Ivanka – Jared – you, too, Paul! I invited a Russian lawyer who claims to have dirt on Hillary Clinton to a meeting in Trump Tower. It could change the course of the election and U.S. history! No need to mention anything to Dad... can't see how he'd be interested.”)

You gotta admit: that is fifty pounds of stupid neatly packed into a three line tweet. Don’t even try it. It takes years of practice

As if all this were not crazy enough, just last night, Donald Trump spun the wheel of revisionist history one more time on this exact same matter. “Don has received notoriety for a brief meeting, that many politicians would have taken, but most importantly, and to the best of my knowledge, nothing happened after the meeting concluded.” 

Did you hear that? "To the best of my knowledge?"

When somebody says "to the best of my knowledge," you can pretty much assume that their knowledge is not the best. That phrase appears to be a concession that "better knowledge exists," and that the "better knowledge" is sure to come out, and is likely to be incriminating. That huge legally-scripted qualifier should be an enormous red flag to all that there was follow-up to the June 9 meeting, which could mean that information was exchanged. Game, set, match. No wonder Trump is running screaming from his own flesh and blood. 

But hey, Donald Jr. is not the only family member who is on the other end of Trump’s bi-polarization syndrome. Melania is issuing statements saying she can watch whatever fake news she wants and endorsing LeBron James’ “I Promise” school in Akron, openly defying the Big Orange on both counts. And let’s remind ourselves… we never did get a decent explanation for the flak she took for her famous jacket. But I am beginning to think that the “I don’t care” message was on her back for a reason. It was not intended as a comment on the victims of her husband’s immigration policy that she was flying toward. It was meant to be visible to the Fox News cameras she knew would be focused on her back as she boarded Air Force One, to be read to the big asshole back at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Finally, there is the acute polarization in  the brutal confrontation between Donald Trump and himself. Trump is continuously in pitched battle against another guy named President Donald Trump, and unfortunately for, uh, both of them, there’s tons of video recording their antics.

Much of this battle is waged around the topics that are of most acute interest to the Mueller investigation. Last year, the White House issued a press statement insisting that the very same June 9 meeting at Trump Tower was singularly focused on the issue of adoption. When questions were raised about the authorship of the release, the President’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, was all over cable news absolutely insisting that Trump had played absolutely no role in the release, a position that would be rapidly jogged backward a few weeks later by Sarah Sanders, who noted that Trump had offered suggestions, as “any father would do.” But in January, the President’s lawyers whispered sotto voce to Mueller’s investigations that Trump had indeed dictated the memo, no doubt because they became aware that pretty much everyone who was on Air Force One at the time knew what had happened. 

Finally, with Trump’s August 5 tweet de grace, we see in full the no-holds-barred confrontation between Donald Trump and himself. The pretzel of logic from a year of spinning, changing, and getting caught in lies goes something like this:  

I actually did dictate the press release that I did not dictate, the June 9 meeting was not about the adoption issue that I said was the only purpose of the meeting, Donald Junior did meet with Russians about securing the dirt on Hillary that I have said there has never been any collusion about, and, I, Donald Trump, did, or did not, know anything about this meeting. It is all Don Junior’s fault. Go arrest him. And while you are at it, arrest Melania, too. She watches CNN and likes LeBron.

As we wrestle with the implications of the Trump’s acrid, acrimonious break with, hmmm… himself… and his family… and his administration, we begin to see a pattern. Trump has no relationship with his own government officials, no “go to” advisors that he truly listens to, no significant, trusting relationship with his wife or children, and, of course, no relationship with reality. The only human relationships that we are certain Donald Trump has been involved in can only be proven by the existence of cancelled checks for $130,000. The king of the Space Force is tethered to the mother ship by a copper wire internet connection that can only upload 288 characters at a time but cannot download factual information. It is not simply that he is governing in a land of his own imagining, where walls of mirrors allow contradiction, inconsistency, and outright falsehood to not simply co-exist but to thrive. Nor is it that he is merely making up everything as he goes along.

It is that he is doing both very badly.

Yes, we are living in the era of Donald Trump’s imagination versus the world, and guess who has control of the biggest nuclear arsenal?

All of which brings us back, once again, to the most important election in the history of our nation, which is now less than 90 days away. And it is actually hard to put sufficient words to convey the significance that the upcoming mid-term elections hold for the long-term direction of the United States of America.

There is the obvious stuff. If the Democrats retake the House, they will be able to put the brakes on Donald Trump’s legislative initiatives. They will seize control of crucial House Committees. Simply wresting the House Intelligence Committee from the control of Trump toady Devin Nunes would enable Democrats to re-open hearings on Russian meddling and potential Trump campaign collusion, which could put testimony now hidden behind Robert Mueller’s closed doors in the bright glare of public scrutiny. Were the Democrats to seize control of the Senate, Donald Trump’s dream of further conservative domination of the Supreme Court could be throttled until the next Presidential election.  And of course, the threat of impeachment grows becomes more real in a Democratic Congress… though many continue to believe that a conviction in the Senate is extremely unlikely, and the failure to convict would surely have the ironic effect of enabling Trump to claim vindication and  hold the failed impeachment as proof that the entire Mueller investigation was indeed a “witch hunt.”

However, at what is arguably a more important level, the mid-terms will serve as the definitive real-time popular verdict on Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump can try to spin an avalanche of Democratic victories as the fake news conspiring with the deep state to stage a coup, but only the kool-aid drinkers will buy that. It would represent the overwhelming judgment of the electorate that the Presidency of Donald Trump has been a humiliating abomination that has soiled our global standing and rent the fabric of values and ideals that have bound our nation. It would cause the Republicans who live in terror of defying Trump to begin living in terror of being tied to him. The floodgates would open. 

Of course, if Republicans keep the House and Senate, Democrats must swallow hard and accept the bitter reality that liberal ideals and progressive, inclusive policies no longer represent the popular will of the people of the United States of America. That will certainly be the conclusion of Donald Trump, Fox News, and an ever-increasing philosophical bent of the Supreme Court. 

After a century of what must be viewed as steady long-term progress on racial and gender equality, scientific achievement, enlightened global leadership, and an ever-more informed and educated populace, the profound rejection of these principles by the Trump administration can no longer be viewed as a temporary aberration. It can no longer be viewed as merely the “one step back” in a long term oscillation dominated by two forward steps. 

If the Republicans keep the House and Senate, the electorate of the United States of America will have weighed the performance of Donald Trump’s administration and doubled down on its cruelty, deception, amoral manipulation, malfeasance, and potentially criminal activity. That stuff will no longer be “them.” It will be “us.”

And there you sit, in front of your computer, not exactly sure what you can do about.

That’s not entirely your fault. 

The fact is that in our acutely polarized society, many of us are living in relatively comfortable bubbles in the company of generally like-minded people. You can sit in front of your computer in New York City and honestly assess the situation and conclude that a Democrat is going to win in your district whether you lift a finger or not. 

Clearly, however, this is not the election for any caring progressive to decide that there’s nothing they can do. There is an enormous amount you can do. You must do. 

We’ll do what we can do here at BTRTN to keep you informed about the election races, the polls, and what you can do to help. But know this: at this very minute there are dozens of organizations (Indivisible, #knockeverydoor, Planned Parenthood) that are just a google search away, and would put you to work in no time. This time there is no excuse. There is plenty of work for everybody. You can get involved. You must get involved.

In what was truly the perfect ending to this week, Trump decided to respond to yesterday's howitzers from Amarosa Manigault-Newman by tweeting that “she was vicious, but not smart.” He had already known her for twelve years when he hired her at the White House. Is he saying that he had not figured out that she was “vicious but not smart” in the twelve years he knew her? Who knows? Maybe it was intended as a compliment… that “vicious but not smart” are the core traits he looks for when hiring people. Or maybe she became “vicious but not smart” the moment Trump learned that she was packing an iPhone with the recording button on. Is Amarosa a sharp, capable, committed loyalist worthy of a role at the White House, or "wacky," "not smart" Amarosa? And why, all these years later, can't the President tell the difference?

F. Scott, what do you make of it? It’s clear the President can hold a dizzying number of conflicting ideas in his head. 

But first rate intelligence? That means being able to function in the real world.

And the message to all of us who are living in the real world? It's time to start functioning

Volunteer. Now!

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