The economy is humming. We’re not at war (much). So he can’t be that bad, right? Steadfast NeverTrumpers may find it hard to believe, but I’m hearing that argument more and more lately, as people try to come to terms with the possibility of a second Trump term. It’s the “normalization” we’ve been warned about since Donald Trump’s ascension, but in a different form than we might have expected. After all, many of the people telling themselves that things aren’t “that bad” insist they are as offended as ever by the racist tweets and sexist taunts. They’d prefer someone more civil in the Oval Office, of course. But . . . the government, and the world, carry on. He insults our allies, but they remain on our side. He imposes tariffs, but unemployment stays low. He threatens defaults, but the debt ceiling is raised. Maybe, people think, a second term wouldn’t be the end of the world. I’d argue such complacency is not justified. First, because a second term could be a lot more dangerous than the first. There would be more Trump judges on the courts to validate his lawlessness, no Jim Mattis or (God help us) Jeff Sessions in the Cabinet to curb his authoritarian whims, no worries of voter anger to restrain his bellicosity. A second mandate surely would embolden him; at worst, we could find that his jokes about a third term were no joke. But complacency is misplaced also because — and here’s where the normalization comes in — things are that bad, even now. If people discount the damage, it’s due to a combination of fatigue and relief: fatigue, because it’s almost impossible to maintain outrage when the outrages are so incessant; and relief, because we are constantly aware that things could be worse.
To the world, it is not just Trump taking these positions. It is America. The damage will be long-lasting. And his ignorance and cynicism reverberate through some of the biggest stories of our time: the confidence of authoritarian strongmen in China, Russia and beyond; their distortion of technology from a liberating force into a malevolent tool of surveillance and suppression; the destructive warming of the climate, which the United States ignores and abets. None of these is easily reversible. The story is similar, if more familiar, at home. The constant, willful lying; the attacks on the press and on the very idea of truth — these are not harmless. They draw from but also foster a lack of trust that will persist long after his presidency. So does the racism. So do the ugly attacks on immigrants. So do the contempt for science and the refusal to stand up to foreign attacks on our elections. So do the disparaging of public servants and the casual threats to wield the vast powers of the federal government against perceived political enemies. These things used to be not okay. Now they are okay. There will be no easy return. Yes, we’ve avoided recession, the nation is (mostly) at peace, the government will not default. Naturally, we are thankful. But when we need to be thankful for avoiding disaster, we don’t really have so much to be thankful for. Things are that bad. We have a right to expect better.
GOP Reps Abandon a Sinking Ship
The law on this is very clear: The IRS “shall furnish ” the Ways and Means Committee with the requested tax returns. Both Democrats and Republicans have made requests for taxpayer information under 6103(f)(1) of the U.S. tax code in the past. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that Congress is entitled to a presumption that its investigatory activities are legitimate, and, in this case, the legitimacy is self-evident. And yet, the administration has stonewalled Congress, ordering the IRS commissioner not to comply with the plain language of the law and setting up a pending legal clash. I did not pick this fight, but I will not shirk it because it’s about something much bigger than tax forms. This is not an exercise in political retribution: I am not willing to trade the reputation of the Ways and Means Committee for cheap political gains.
The committee is a venerable part of U.S. history, having given the nation Social Security, Medicare, the entire tax code, all of our trade agreements, and numerous programs serving children and families. This committee financed America’s role in both world wars, and its antecedent paid for the Lewis and Clark expedition. I have no intention of squandering my chairmanship of this distinguished panel on petty or malevolent efforts to embarrass the current president. But in this country, we take seriously the Magna Carta’s precept of the rule of law, not the law of rulers. I will fight with everything I have to reassert Congress’s constitutional mandate to serve as an equal branch of government. This country has thrived through the centuries because we have durable political institutions with a robust system of checks and balances. Our political institutions won’t continue to function unless we guard them vigilantly, and my colleagues and I in the House majority are committed to doing so. It is the root of our oath to uphold the law.
President Donald Trump’s latest call-in interview with Sean Hannity illustrated just how mainstream absurd conspiracy theories about Russia have become during Fox News’s primetime lineup. Minutes before the Trump interview began, Hannity, gloating over the fact that former special counsel Robert Mueller refused to engage with conspiracy theories about the Steele dossier during his congressional testimony on Wednesday, set the stage by making his now-familiar case that it was actually Hillary Clinton, not Trump, who colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign. Alluding to a New York Times report from April about how some of the unverified claims in the dossier — such as unsubstantiated ones that Trump cavorted with prostitutes during a 2013 trip to Moscow — could possibly be “Russian disinformation,” Hannity turned Russiagate on its head. “They were trying to screw over Donald Trump and get Hillary elected,” he claimed.
Put briefly, Hannity’s theory is that the Steele dossier — an unverified document prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele (whose work on behalf of Fusion GPS was funded in part by the Clinton campaign) that makes a number of salacious, unproven claims about the Trump campaign’s dealings with people in the sphere of the Kremlin during the 2016 campaign — contains kernels of misinformation that were intentionally fed to Steele by Russians. Per Hannity’s telling, these bits of misinformation were intended to serve as land mines to take out Trump, and were exploited by anti-Trump officials in the FBI and intelligence agencies to pursue an investigation of the Trump campaign that eventually became the Mueller investigation. Hence, Hannity views the Mueller investigation as the result of collusion between Russians and the “deep state.” But there’s a factual inaccuracy at the core of this conspiracy theory. The FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign actually started in July 2016, before the Steele dossier even existed. It was initiated after an Australian diplomat informed the FBI that then-Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos had bragged to him about having inside knowledge that Russia was in possession of Clinton’s hacked emails. This fact has even by acknowledged by former House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA), Trump’s staunchest congressional ally when it comes to the Russia investigation. Yet, as I’ve previously written, Fox News has normalized the lie that the origins of the Russia investigation can be traced back to the Steele dossier through sheer pushback-free repetition.
But even more significant than that particular piece of gaslighting is the glaring hole at the core of Hannity’s conspiracy theory. For if the “deep state” was in fact trying “trying to screw over Donald Trump,” then why did they wait until after the election to get to work? Hannity can’t account for the fact that there were no FBI leaks about the counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign began when it started in July 2016 and Election Day 2016 in November. Had an FBI official working the case alerted the media to its existence, the news could’ve derailed the Trump presidency before it even began. But instead of leaking about the Trump investigation, FBI officials, including then-Director James Comey, repeatedly publicized the investigation of Clinton’s emails in ways that were highly damaging to her campaign. But Fox News in general, and Hannity’s show in particular, aren’t interested in the facts when it comes to Mueller’s investigation. So after Hannity set the table, Trump called in and ranted about the Russia investigation with impunity, going as far as to characterize it as “treason” and “a coup attempt.”
Trump also got in on the gaslighting. Alluding to Russian hackers, he claimed they “had nothing to do with us.” In fact, as the Mueller report details, just hours after Trump publicly encouraged Russian hacks to obtain Clinton’s emails during the last press conference he would give during the 2016 campaign, “GRU officers targeted for the first time Clinton’s personal office.” It might be tempting to downplay the significance of conspiracy theories like the ones Hannity regularly pushes about the Russia investigation. But Trump and his Republican supporters in Congress has made them part of mainstream American politics. Consider, for instance, the line of questioning pursued by House Republicans during the aforementioned Mueller hearing. As I explained on Wednesday, Nunes, who now serves as the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, used his opening statement and questioning time to push basically the same conspiracy theory as Hannity: that “there is collusion in plain sight — collusion between Russia and the Democratic Party.”
During his interview with Hannity on Thursday, Trump praised Nunes as “a star” and suggested Attorney General William Barr is sharing classified documents about the Russia investigation with Nunes as part of an ongoing effort to discredit the investigation as “a scam” and an “illegal takeover” that failed. It’s not just Nunes. As Media Matters wrote, no fewer than 10 House Republicans asked Mueller questions on Wednesday that were steeped in conspiracy theories that have flourished on Fox News about how the Russia investigation was purportedly a product of anti-Trump bias among Obama-era FBI and intelligence community officials. Fox News even pushed conspiracy theories about the Russia investigation during its live coverage of Mueller’s testimony. These theories are far-fetched, to say the least. Americans lived through the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign in 2016, and the ensuing WikiLeaks propaganda campaigns. Even before intelligence community officials publicly said Russia was trying to help Trump, there was little doubt the hacks and strategic publication of purloined emails were intended to do maximum damage to Clinton, and thereby help Trump’s prospects. But Fox News and House Republicans are turning reality on its head in an effort to support the president.
These conspiracy theories could leave casual news consumers feeling gaslit about what really happened in 2016. They also distract attention from what Mueller said on Wednesday about how Russian interference is an ongoing concern. In an ironic twist, media outlets in Russia actually did a more accurate job covering Mueller’s testimony and its fallout than Fox News. While Hannity and other Fox News hosts twisted Mueller’s words to support his pet conspiracy theory, coverage on Russian TV was at least at times more rooted in the facts. Trump’s favorite morning show, Fox & Friends, where host Ainsley Earhardt on Thursday attacked ABC and CBS for accurately reporting what Mueller said, including that Trump could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice after he leaves office.
Dictators Crave & Require the Unwavering Adulation of Compliant Media
Rush is cuckoo like Hannity:
Serve a Holy God, Not a Servant of the Evil One