Monday, July 16, 2018

So much like Watergate, and so much worse

"During the past year the wildest accusations have been given banner headlines and ready credence as well." – Richard Nixon, 1972.

"The Fake News is working overtime." – Donald Trump, 2018.

Mr. President, we now have indictments that would link the Russian government -- not the fat person you imagined on a bed somewhere -- to an attack on our election system.

With these indictments come something you don't want us to ponder: even more similarities between the last scandal that removed a president and that which swirls around you right now.

Forty-four years apart: two burglaries of the Democratic National Committee -- one in 1972 with screwdrivers in the dark of night, one in 2016 with hackers in the light of day.

The one in '72 involved Cuban burglars. This one involves Russians.

This scandal involves a whole bunch more than a political theft.

It involves Russians waging a concerted social media war of bogus posts to benefit the man who would claim "fake news" as his own coinage.

It involves Russians attempting to compromise state voting systems.

It involves Russians obtaining, according to the indictment, information on 500,000 voters in Iowa.

It involves Russians hacking "into computers of a company that supplied software used to verify voter registration information" according to Trump's own Justice Department.

Trump has responded as we might expect to this. He headed to Moscow and Vladimir Putin's knee with candy and flowers.

Oh, and the White House pronounced itself cleared of any culpability.

Every time Team Trump does this, be reminded of the 1972 statement by Richard Kleindienst, Richard Nixon's man in the Justice Department, that an "extensive" investigation had cleared the president and his associates of law-breaking.

Actually, the investigation had just begun.

Two years later, Kleindienst would be convicted of misleading Congress and would, like 48 others who broke the law, get a taste of jail time.

Watch Republicans and Trump supporters absolutely frantic to discredit the FBI. Be reminded that the White House went to great extents to corral the FBI investigation into Watergate.

Indeed, the probe into Nixon would have been squelched were it not for Mark Felt, No. 2 at the FBI, who kept the investigation alive despite administration interference. Such a heroic role actually dwarfed Felt's better-known role: serving as Deep Throat to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

The budding Mueller probe began just over one year ago, and it's impossible to know where its investigation will take us. However, with 27 individuals indicted so far, three convicted already, and key figures prepared to cooperate, a "witch hunt" it is not.

Whatever the case, and whatever emanates, this is a far bigger deal than Watergate.

Mueller's first conviction remains the biggest: the guilty plea from former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn for lying about his interactions with the Russian ambassador before Trump assumed office.

On behalf of the administration-to-be, Flynn is alleged to have offered to waive sanctions Russia had earned for, what? For its attempts to influence the 2016 elections.

By the way, Flynn has yet to be sentenced, and that means there's still time for him to cooperate with Mueller regarding what Trump knew and when he knew it.

One of the other people facing criminal indictment, Paul Manafort, was in the Trump Tower meeting when he and others, including Don Jr., met with Russians expecting "dirt" on Hillary Clinton. Then they said it was about adoptions. Then they changed their story.

No, this is far from over, and Trump is far from being cleared. After all, we have this from him on the campaign trail: "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing."

"Forget the myths the media have created about the White House. The truth is these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand." – Deep Throat, 1974.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Trump has made lying his defining feature

"Nice guy; good-looking guy (Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) comes in (and says), 'Donald, we have no trade deficit.' I said, 'Wrong, Justin, you do.' I didn't even know . . . I had no idea. I just said, 'You're wrong.' "

So said our president to a private fund-raiser. Someone with a tape recorder shared it.

What is most serious when it applies to a global leader? Not knowing what one is talking about or knowing what one is talking about and simply lying about it?

Tragically, in the Age of Him, the distinction hardly matters.

In tried-and-true form, what we know to be Trumpism can be summed up over and over by actions based on claims that can't be backed up by facts.

True -- some lies seem benign, even quaint – like Trump's assertions about the size of his inaugural crowd.

Other lies beget really bad public policy. Trump's assertion that 3 million Americans voted illegally (and illegal voters were trucked into New Hampshire) resulted in a commission on voter fraud and the demand that states hand over voter data.

That commission, ultimately disbanded, turned out to be the only fraud.

A claim that Canada has a massive trade surplus with the United States is used to rationalize tariffs on our northern neighbors. In fact, the Department of Commerce's own 2017 statistics show a $2.8 billion trade surplus with Canada.

With a NATO summit approaching, Trump has been doing what he does best, misrepresenting the truth.

In a speech in South Carolina, he got his supporters frothy by saying that the United States is responsible for 90 percent of NATO spending.

If that were the case, a major change in our relationship with your NATO allies would be in order. The fact is, however, that the United States provides 22 percent of the NATO budget.

Maybe 22 percent is too much. Maybe we need to renegotiate. But Trump's hysterical claim is beyond irresponsible and most of us would not accept such a story from our children, spouses or siblings or best friends.

Trump was beyond incorrigible in claiming that the tax cuts he signed would not benefit him. Of course they did – spectacularly. The alternative minimum tax (AMT), which the measure abolished, was one of the few means by which the federal government got anything out of Citizen Trump.

Though we haven't seen recent tax returns (he can't release them, under audit – another lie), we do know that in 2005 Trump paid $35 million via the AMT. CNN reports that he was liable for only $5.6 million without it.

So, why didn't Trump simply level with Americans, say, "I will benefit quite a bit from these changes and it will be good for the economy"? No, he had to lie in the most bald-faced way.

Why? Because our president simply cannot tell the truth. And he is arrogant enough to know that among his supporters, disrespectful untruths do not matter one bit. Because he's lying for the people.

Recently I encountered an individual who said matter-of-factly that he supported Trump because Trump had financed his own campaign, something the campaigning Trump said he could do. It's a claim that the National Rifle Association and its $21 million in donations will find interesting.

Trump, by the way, harvested more from the gun lobby than any presidential candidate in history. Throw in Cambridge Analytica's part-owner Robert Mercer ($25.5 million) and casino king Sheldon Adelson ($20 million). Yep. Self-financed, Bub.

             New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, noting that a vast majority of Republicans have no problem with Trump's abject lack of credibility, calls it "motivated gullibility."

His supporters choose not to acknowledge the lies. After all, truth is immaterial in the Age of Him.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Oh, yes, we are better than this -- really

"A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles." – Emma Lazarus.

"A nice piece of brass." – Donald Trump.

Understand: That first depiction of the Statue of Liberty is for real; the other is only an attempt to track the gerbils churning in one man's mind.

The first words are lesser-known from the poem that included, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free."

They're just words, of course -- and so dismissed by clinically bizarre Trump adviser Stephen Miller at a press conference.

Miller, not even fit to preside over a high school key club, nonetheless lectured the Capitol press that Lazarus' passage was an add-on to the factory model. So disregard.

Whatever his brain trust might think of Lady Liberty, Trump's actions have sapped her of her might, her light – at least until we elect someone else as her steward.

Of late, we've had the horror of children's pleading for their parents from behind chain-link.

Then we had a one-vote majority in the Supreme Court ruling a travel ban spun of pure racism is within Trump's power.

Curious: The ruling five called the policy race-neutral, ignoring such hints as, "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" from Trump on the campaign trail.

However, when the same court ruled that the Colorado Commission on Civil Rights was wrong to rule against a Denver bake-shop owner for refusing to prepare a cake for a gay couple, it cited the language of commission members which showed "clear and impermissible hostility" to people who use their religion to justify said discrimination.

Curious.

OK. Those rulings are behind us, with discrimination the winner.

So, Time magazine asks, have matters like these come to define us as a nation? "The story we tell the world is the story we tell ourselves," writes Karl Vick.

What are the American people saying? The fact is that poll after poll shows most of us do not agree with most of what Trump is doing.

As the president is putting the clamps on immigration, a new poll by the Los Angeles Times finds "support for tighter immigration has steadily declined" to only 25 percent.

When Gallup asked Americans last week if more immigration is a good thing for the country, 75 percent said "yes," the highest number Gallup has recorded since it started asking the question in 2001.

And while polls had shown a "Trump effect" building antipathy toward Muslims in general (what a legacy, Mr. President), 66 percent of Americans polled by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding agreed with the statement that negative statements by politicians about Muslims are "harmful to our country."

It is significant, indeed, that in writing the majority for the court that deemed the travel ban legal, Justice Anthony Kennedy had some words that analysts judged to be a scolding of the president.

Kennedy wrote that Trump's job is to adhere not just to the letter of the law – that equal treatment stuff in the Bill of Rights -- but to also its "meaning and promise."

He wrote, "An anxious world must know that our government remains committed always to the liberties the Constitution seeks to preserve and protect, so that freedom extends outward, and lasts."

Extending outward, like a lamp held out over the ocean's waves.

By the way, the Statue of Liberty isn't made of brass but copper, 62,000 pounds, which if sold as scrap could fetch a pretty penny on the international market.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.