No Symbolic Victories Now

Some protests don’t work. On October 21, 1967, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam announced that antiwar protesters would march past the Lincoln Memorial, across the Memorial Bridge all the way to the front steps of the Pentagon, and then they would use their massive psychic energy to levitate it – and they didn’t levitate it. The Pentagon is very heavy. It just sat there.

Of course it did. That was the whole point. The National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam was making a “statement” of sorts, a statement about the oppressive weight of the military-industrial complex. Their protest demonstrated that. They got what they wanted. All the wire services ran that iconic photograph of that protester placing a carnation into the barrel of a rifle held by a soldier of the 503rd Military Police Battalion. That’s what they wanted. That protester was George Edgerly Harris III, an eighteen-year-old actor from New York who moved to San Francisco in 1967 and performed under the stage name of Hibiscus and co-founded The Cockettes, a “flamboyant, psychedelic gay-themed drag troupe” and who died in the early eighties during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic – or that was Joel “Super-Joel” Tornabene, a leader of the Youth International Party who lived in Berkeley, who died in Mexico in 1993 – but it didn’t matter. No one knew who that was. That could be anyone. That could be everyone.

That was a victory. The Pentagon just sat there. The photograph went everywhere. So the protest did work. But the war raged on for years after that. Symbolic victories are kind of crappy. At least the photographer, Bernie Boston, was nominated for the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for that one shot. Some good came of that. And then the sixties ran out. The music died. The antiwar left had learned its lesson. Symbolic victories really are kind of crappy – and Richard Nixon was the new president.

Everyone learned that lesson. That was then. This is now – and the National Rifle Association may be as heavy as the Pentagon, but here will be no more symbolic victories:

President Trump leaned forward and listened intently for nearly an hour Wednesday afternoon as students, parents and teachers begged him to do something, anything, to prevent a mass shooting from happening at another school.

The group offered a wide variety of suggestions – bolster school security, drill students on what to do during a shooting and raise the age at which someone can buy an assault rifle – but in the end, the president remained focused on the solution he often proposes after a mass shooting: increasing the number of people with guns so they can quickly stop shooters with lethal force.

The answer to gun violence is more guns. The National Rifle Association is as heavy as the Pentagon. That’s what they always say, so that is what the president said:

“If the coach had a firearm in his locker, when he ran at this guy – that coach was very brave, saved a lot of lives, I suspect – but if he had a firearm, he wouldn’t have had to run,” Trump said, referring to Aaron Feis, an assistant football coach and security guard who was one of 17 people killed by a gunman last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida. “He would have shot, and that would have been the end of it.”

Trump has quite an imagination. The coach has a firearm in his locker. The deranged young man storms into the classroom blasting away with what amounts to a machine gun, mowing down student after student. The coach then leaps to his locker, whips out his handgun, and then takes out the shooter with a single shot – and it’s all over – problem solved. The coach would never make to his locker. If he had his gun strapped to his side at all times, the shooter would take him out first. Donald Trump, and the NRA folks, hadn’t thought this through.

But at least Trump is trying:

The 70-minute listening session with students, parents and teachers at the White House was a remarkable event with participants’ raw emotions often on display – at one point, a student openly sobbed after he spoke, his head down as he wiped away tears and those around him rubbed his back.

By hosting the event, Trump signaled he wants to take ownership of addressing the vexing problem of gun violence at American schools. As one parent after another, one student after another, publicly pleaded with Trump to find a solution, the pressure mounted on the president to show that he can move Washington to act on an issue it has failed to confront despite the frequency of mass shootings in recent years.

“We’re going to do something about this horrible situation that’s going on,” Trump said. “And we’re going to all figure it out together.”

That’s unlikely:

It will be a difficult promise to fulfill with Trump’s Republican Party long opposed to making it more difficult to buy a gun and Democrats and gun-control advocates calling anything short of limiting access to firearms a failure. It will require him to use the bipartisan dealmaking skills he promised to bring to his presidency but has yet to show.

The event at the White House, held a week after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz allegedly opened fire at his former high school, was part of the administration’s effort to show it is determined to listen and then act.

It was Trump who was seeking a symbolic victory, even if it personally pained him:

Vice President Pence urged participants to be open, candid and vulnerable – an unusual request on behalf of a president who has tried to minimize his exposure to people who don’t agree with him.

Trump sat quietly for most of the event, often nodding his head as if in agreement. He held notes that told him to ask the participants about their experiences and what the White House could do, along with a reminder to say, “I hear you.”

An enterprising AP photographer got a clear shot of Trump’s “Empathy for Dummies” cheat sheet. That photograph will go everywhere, and there was this:

Missing from the listening session were the teenage survivors of last week’s mass shooting who have become outspoken leaders of a movement focused on banning assault rifles such as the one allegedly used by the gunman. Those students were in Florida on Wednesday to lobby state lawmakers in Tallahassee and participate in a town hall event hosted by CNN in South Florida.

David Hogg, a survivor of the shooting who has passionately argued for stricter gun control measures, declined an invitation extended by the White House, according to his mother.

Everyone really does know that symbolic victories are kind of crappy, but it was good to stick it to Trump:

Carson Abt, a Parkland student, said all public schools need to regularly do drills to prepare for a potential mass shooting. Cary Gruber, who texted with his son during the Parkland shooting, said he doesn’t understand why teenagers who are too young to buy a beer can purchase an assault rifle.

“In Israel, you have to be 27 years old to have a gun,” said Gruber, whose son survived the shooting. “You’re only allowed one. They tax the guns. You have to go through significant training. We got to do something about this. We cannot have our children die. This is just heartbreaking. Please.”

Samuel Zeif, the student who sobbed after speaking, said he doesn’t understand why teenagers like him can “go in a store and buy a weapon of war, an AR.”

Trump looked a bit depressed, as he should have been:

On Wednesday, an NRA spokeswoman said the group would oppose putting age restrictions on firearms, saying that it would punish “law-abiding citizens for the evil acts of criminals.”

Trump was trapped:

Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky read aloud messages for the president from the parents of two high school students killed last week. One of the fathers, an airline pilot, said he supports the Second Amendment but not ownership of assault rifles. Another parent urged the president to “publicly acknowledge the role of guns” in these shootings.

Andrew Pollack, whose daughter was killed last week, said that it made him angry to visit the Education Department on Wednesday and see armed security guards everywhere, even in the elevator. He said this is not a gun issue and is instead a matter of better securing and guarding schools.

“Fix it,” said Pollack, who was wearing a red “Trump 2020” t-shirt as he searched for his daughter last week. “It should have been one school shooting, and we should have fixed it. And I’m pissed, because my daughter, I’m not going to see again. She’s not here. She’s not here. She’s at – in North Lauderdale, at whatever it is – King David Cemetery. That’s where I go to see my kid now.”

And he’s a Trump supporter. Damn. But Trump had to say something:

He reflected on how many mental hospitals and institutions have been shut down over the years, adding that the alleged shooter in Parkland was “a sick guy, and he should have been nabbed a number of times.” He mentioned how first responders often cannot get to schools quickly enough when a shooting begins, and he endorsed the idea of arming teachers and other school employees. He said that gun-free zones like those at schools attract maniacs who want to harm others – a reversal from the campaign when he said that he didn’t “want guns brought into the school classroom.”

He was towing the NRA line. Gun-free schools are magnets for maniacs. They become free-fire zones. That wasn’t his position before, but it is now, and he was called out on that:

A parent who lost a child at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Mark Barden, said his wife is a teacher and does not want her job to include using “lethal force to take a life.”

“Nobody wants to see a shootout in a school,” he said, as some in the room applauded.

That applause was deadly, and Little Marco fared no better:

There appeared to be little room for nuance at a town hall televised by CNN Wednesday evening that brought survivors, lawmakers and a gun lobbyist together for the first time since the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Little room for discussing whether a ban on ‘bump stock’ devices – which allow semiautomatic guns to fire faster – could have prevented a 19-year-old from entering the school last week and killing 17 people and wounding dozens more with an AR-15 rifle. Little room for questioning whether raising the minimum age to purchase that gun could have stopped him.

When Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) brought up a concept that would allow police to temporarily seize a gun-owner’s weapons, Stoneman Douglas student Ryan Deitsch told him, “That feels like the first step of a 5k run.”

No one wanted a symbolic victory like that:

Judging by their applause and boos, what the heartbroken parents and classmates of the victims wanted was a commitment to more-immediate action. They wanted a clear directive that guarantees children won’t ever fear being murdered in their school’s halls.

Rubio was trapped too:

Many asked Rubio – who has recently become the face of lawmakers’ inaction on stricter gun regulations – questions they felt should have clear-cut answers seven days after one of the nation’s worst school shootings.

“Look at me and tell me guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids in the school this week,” Fred Guttenberg, who lost his 14-year-old daughter Jaime in the shooting, asked Rubio. She had been running down the hallway when she was shot in the back, Guttenberg said.

“Were guns the factor in the hunting of our kids?” Guttenberg asked.

“Of course they were,” Rubio responded. But he said a “better answer” than banning assault weapons is to “make sure that dangerous criminals, people that are deranged cannot buy any gun of any kind.”

His better answer was this:

Rubio said he would support a law that makes it illegal for 18-year-olds to purchase rifles, as well as the banning of bump stocks and expanded background checks. He said he pushed for a $50-million-a-year threat-assessment fund so states could identify people who could potentially commit mass shootings, and stop them.

Rubio also said he’s reconsidered his position on magazine-clip size limits, saying that they might not help prevent a shooting but could lower the number of lives lost in one.

But when asked by Stoneman Douglas student Cameron Kasky if he would stop accepting donations from the National Rifle Association, Rubio answered indirectly. The NRA has spent more than $3 million on Rubio’s behalf through its political arm, and has given Rubio an A-plus rating from the organization…

“I will always accept the help of anyone who agrees with my agenda,” Rubio said.

Presumably he’d take money from the KKK and Nazis. He didn’t say that but he was moving into dangerous territory, along with suddenly reversing his previous NRA-approved positions on this and that, and then the NRA got trapped:

Emma González, a Stoneman Douglas student activist who is among many who’ve captured the nation’s attention since the shooting, was in an AP Government class about an hour before the shooting. At Wednesday’s town hall, she confronted NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch.

“I want you to know that we will support your children in a way that you will not,” she told Loesch, before asking her if the NRA believes it should be more difficult for people to obtain semiautomatic weapons.

Before responding, Loesch commended González for being so outspoken about gun control.

“I was a very politically active teenager and I’m on this stage as a result of that,” she said. “Think of how far you all could go as a result of voicing your beliefs.”

Someone in the crowd then shouted, “If they live to do it.”

This was not going well:

Loesch said that the NRA does not support people “who are crazy, who are a danger to themselves, who are a danger to others, getting their hands on a firearm.” She criticized “flawed” background check systems, though the NRA on its website states that it opposes expanding those systems.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel interrupted her: “You just told this group of people you’re standing up for them. You’re not standing up for them until you say, ‘I want less weapons.'”

The sheriff should have said “fewer” weapons of course, but grammar wasn’t the issue here. Dead kids were the issue. And these folks didn’t want to use their massive psychic energy to levitate the National Rifle Association. That’s a sixties thing. They wanted it gone.

The nonsense came from the other side:

David Hogg, 17, went from Florida high school student to mass shooting survivor to telegenic advocate for gun-control laws in a few days. And just as quickly, online conspiracy theorists began spinning viral lies attacking the teenager’s credibility.

By Wednesday – a week after a gunman wielding a semiautomatic rifle killed 17 people at Hogg’s Parkland, Fla., school – online media sites including YouTube swelled with false allegations that Hogg was secretly a “crisis actor” playing the part of a grieving student in local and national television news reports.

Hogg was not the only one targeted by an online campaign that flared up on anonymous forums such as 4Chan and Reddit before it reached conservative websites, Twitter, Facebook and Google’s video platform. Collectively the posts questioned the honesty and credibility of the grieving students as they spoke out against gun violence and in some cases publicly challenged President Trump, the National Rifle Association and lawmakers opposed to gun control.

And there was this:

The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. was among the many people who “liked” a tweet criticizing Hogg. On YouTube, a video featuring one conspiracy theory reached the top of the service’s “Trending” clips list and was viewed more than 200,000 times before the company admitted that its filtering of news had not functioned as intended and it blocked the video. A search for Hogg’s name on YouTube on Wednesday turned up eight conspiracy videos and only two legitimate news reports in a top-10 listing before YouTube intervened.

That’s one way to fight back and Paul Waldman understands that:

There are two critical reasons the right is having this reaction, one more obvious than the other. The plainer reason is that as people who were personally touched by gun violence and as young people – old enough to be informed and articulate but still children – the students make extremely sympathetic advocates, garnering attention and a respectful hearing for their views. The less obvious reason is that because of that status, the students take away the most critical tool conservatives use to win political arguments: the personal vilification of those who disagree with them.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying liberals don’t often vilify their opponents, too. But that technique lies at the absolute core of the right’s rhetoric, and you can tell by how conservatives react when it gets taken away from them…

On the more extreme side, you have the social media trolls, the conspiracy theorists, the more repugnant media figures, who are offering insane claims that the students are paid agents of dark forces, and can therefore be ignored. On the more allegedly mainstream side, you have radio and television hosts who are saying that the students are naive and foolish, and should not by virtue of their victimhood be granted any special status – and can therefore be ignored.

Waldman sees that happening here:

Former congressman and CNN commentator Jack Kingston tweeted that students planning a nationwide rally were being used by “left wing gun control activists” in the “wake of a horrible tragedy,” and bizarrely linked this to George Soros and Antifa. When asked about it on the air, he said, “Do we really think 17-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?” again mentioning Soros, the supposed puppet-master of a thousand right-wing conspiracy theories.

NRA board member and frequent Fox News guest Ted Nugent used Facebook to promote the theory that the students are actors who are being coached and fed lines by someone or other.

Donald Trump Jr. liked two tweets from far-right websites attacking one of the outspoken students.

“Should the media be promoting opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases?” asked former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly on his website. “The answer is no, the media should not be doing that.”

“Sick of the Parkland Puppets yet?” asked National Review film critic Armond White. “Why their ubiquitous presence on TV news shows? Who’s their publicist?”

“There’s been some unfortunate media handling of these traumatized children,” said Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway. “They’ve used them as ways to enact what they always like to do, which is a gun control agenda.”

Fox News host Tucker Carlson said that gun-control advocates and the media “are using these kids in a kind of moral blackmail, where you are not allowed to disagree or you are attacking the child.”

Waldman says that all comes down to this:

What worries the right is not that they won’t be allowed to disagree with the Parkland students, but that they’ll be restricted to disagreeing with them on substance, and not be able to give the kind of full-throated personal attack they’re used to.

The idea of the paid actor criticism, like the charge that the students must be using PR agents to book their interviews, is that if you can find some reason that their words aren’t a pure expression of their feelings without any strategic intent behind it, then their testimony is no longer valid and need not be addressed substantively – so either they’re just emotional and naive and therefore need not be listened to, or they’re too savvy and strategic and therefore need not be listened to.

But that’s a trap too:

No one is going to criticize Tucker Carlson or anyone else for disagreeing with the students, for saying “Here’s why the ban on AR-15s they’re proposing is a bad idea.” It’s only personal attacks on the students, which we so often accept as just how politics gets done, that come off sounding so despicable – which is exactly why the right wishes that the Parkland students would just go away.

They’re not going away, and they’ve learned the lesson of sixties. No one is going to stick a flower in the barrel of some NRA member’s gun, even if that would make another great photo. This war would only rage on. Symbolic victories are crappy. They want a real victory. They may get one.

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On Being Oblivious to Humiliation

Anyone can grow up to be president, even Donald Trump. He had never held political office before. His grasp of how our government (or any government) works is a few steps below rudimentary. He had no experience in foreign policy, other than with the intricacies of resort and hotel development in far-off lands, and with the issues involved in staging a beauty pageant in Moscow – and he had no military experience, other than high school at that military academy for troubled rich kids prone to bullying. He wasn’t presidential. He was a reality television star, but he was also a billionaire, a master dealmaker who always got his way, humiliating anyone who got in his way. He won. He always won – and now America would always win. No nation would ever humiliate America ever again, even if none really had. He said they had, and starting with Mexico, we’d humiliate them all – and starting with Little Marco and Lyin’ Ted, and moving on to Crooked Hillary, he humiliated anyone who disagreed with him about anything at all. His tweets destroyed them. He was a winner. We’d all be winners, again, finally. He’d make America great again – and America made him president.

That settled matters. Anyone can grow up to be president, even a black man whose middle name is Hussein. One day someone who seems to be Jewish will be president. Why not? One day it may be an atheist – one who lets the religious folks do what they want, within the law, but just doesn’t see much point in all that God stuff, because the job has nothing to do with that. He’d have the Constitution on his side. One day it may be an openly gay man or woman. Who cares? Can they do the job? That matter may be settled too. One day it might even be a woman – probably not, but that’s possible.

Parents, tell the kid that he (or she) really could grow up to be president. Point to Donald Trump, but point out that there are things to avoid. No one wants to grow up to be the president’s press secretary, facing the cameras each day, trying to explain what the president really meant to say. That’s a job at the center of things, in the spotlight, but that’s an awful job. That ruined Sean Spicer. He had to go out and tell the press that the crowd at Trump’s inauguration was the biggest in history. The photos lied. He had to pretend to be very angry that anyone would question that, and he looked like a fool, and it got worse, and then Saturday Night Live mocked him, week after week, with a clever woman playing him as an unhinged scold. He was gone soon enough. Sarah Huckabee Sanders took his place. She’s the one now trying to explain what the president really meant to say. She’s better at it, perhaps because she hides any hint of what she really thinks, and perhaps because no one wants to pick on a woman, but she may not last. No one can remain forever oblivious to their own humiliation.

That’s the job. That’s always been the job. The Washington Post’s Michael Rosenwald looks back at that:

In late August 1973, as the Watergate scandal ate away at President Richard Nixon’s psyche and presidency, CBS News correspondent Dan Rather filed an astonishing report on the evening news.

“What you are about to see,” Rather said, “is a rare glimpse in public of presidential irritation.”

And there it was on tape: The president of the United States grabbing press secretary Ron Ziegler by the shoulders and shoving him away.

Those of us who are very old do remember that:

Ziegler, by now, was a familiar and reviled figure, the man who called the Watergate scandal a simple “third-rate burglary.” Nixon, by now, was facing a special prosecutor. For the first time in months, Nixon ventured out of Washington to give a speech – to a veterans group in New Orleans…

“Even by Nixon’s usual standards,” wrote historian David Greenberg, “his behavior in New Orleans was bizarre.”

Nixon was walking toward the convention hall, toward his first friendly audience in months.

“He wanted nothing in his way, in front or in back, before he got at the crowd inside,” the Washington Post’s magazine later reported in a profile of Ziegler. “But breathing on him from behind was Ziegler and the clump of TV cameras, mics and newsmen that inevitably followed.”

Nixon’s famous temper was activated.

He stuck his finger in Ziegler’s chest, turned him around, and then shoved him in the back hard with both hands, saying “I don’t want any press with me and you take care of it.”

You take care of it. That’s the job, but then it got weird:

Rather saw it with his own eyes. His cameraman got it on tape – but when Rather rushed to ask a president’s aide about the incident, he was told nothing happened. Rather seethed, recounting the conversation with the aide in New York magazine a year later:

“Why did the president push Ron Ziegler?”

“He didn’t push him.”

“I’m telling you, we’ve got film of him pushing him.”

“Well, it just didn’t happen.”

Rather viewed the tape. He called White House officials and told them he was literally watching the president of the United of States shove his press secretary. Rather was informed that he misinterpreted what his camera recorded.

He ended his segment that evening saying, “The president’s aides deny he is nervous or testy anything.”

What? Everyone saw what they saw, but Ziegler understood:

“Afterward, on the plane going home, he came up to me and put his hand on my shoulder, in front of the whole staff, and apologized,” Ziegler told The Post in 1981.

There had been, he said, some sort of assassination threat.

“And more Watergate stuff was starting to come out,” he added.

Nixon didn’t want to hurt him.

“It was not a shove of anger,” Ziegler says. “It was a shove of frustration.”

There may not be any difference between the two, and everyone knew it:

For Nixon, the event fueled concern about his mental health, both from his staff and the reporters covering his collapse.

In Rolling Stone, Hunter S. Thompson wrote: “Another good bet in Washington – running at odds between 2 and 3 to 1, these days – is that Nixon will crack both physically and mentally under all this pressure. This is not so wild a vision as it might sound – not even in the context of my own known taste for fantasy and savage bias in politics.”

The pressure, Thompson wrote, must be crippling.

“I have to admit that I feel a touch of irrational sympathy for the old bastard,” he wrote.

Everyone else felt a touch of irrational sympathy for Ron Ziegler. He was no more than a flunky, but he didn’t deserve that humiliation. Still, a good press secretary must be oblivious to humiliation. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is working on that:

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tried to finesse a weekend tweet from President Donald Trump blaming the FBI’s Russia investigation for missing a tip about the Florida shooting, saying the agency should not focus on a “hoax in terms of investigating the Trump campaign.”

“Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!” Trump tweeted.

Sanders, speaking to reporters Tuesday in her first briefing since the shooting, said the President wasn’t saying “necessarily” that the Russia investigation was responsible for the FBI missing the signs on the Florida shooter.

What he really meant was this:

“I think he was speaking not necessarily that is the cause. I think we all have to be aware that the cause of this was a deranged individual that made a decision to take the lives of seventeen other people,” Sanders said. “That is the responsibility of the shooter, certainly not the responsibility of anybody else.”

She added: “I think he is making the point that we would like our FBI agencies to not be focused on something that is clearly a hoax in terms of investigating the Trump campaign.”

What? She was saying that Trump was blaming the FBI for just what he said – but not really – but she was saying that he had a point. She has a thankless job, and then things got worse:

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused a Fox News reporter of “taking [her] words out of context” Tuesday as the reporter questioned her about President Trump’s response to last week’s deadly shooting at a Florida high school.

Fox News’ John Roberts asked Sanders if Trump “has any ideas, any ideas at all, on how to address” the issue of mass shootings, or if Trump was “starting from scratch.”

Fox News was now making trouble, which must have been unnerving, but she did the best she could:

“I can tell you that the president supports not having the use of bump stocks and that we expect further action on that in the coming days,” Sanders said. “I can tell you that the president doesn’t support the use of those accessories.”

“And on the broader problem of deranged individuals getting ahold of weapons and killing people indiscriminately, does he have any ideas on how to deal with this?” Roberts asked.

Sanders replied that was “part of the conversations we’re going to have here.”

That didn’t help:

Roberts interjected, asking if Trump was “starting from scratch” on new proposals. “If he has to listen to a bunch people, if he doesn’t have ideas of his own, that would suggest he doesn’t have any ideas,” the Fox News reporter said.

“That’s not what I said. You’re taking my words out of context,” Sanders responded.

“Well, could you explain?” Roberts asked.

“Well, I was trying to before you interrupted me,” Sanders replied, before going on to note the Trump is “very focused on mental illness” and working with federal agencies to “determine the best path forward.”

She seemed to be making Roberts’ point for him. Trump had shoved her out there. You take care of it, but at least there was this:

Shortly after the briefing, Trump announced he had directed the Department of Justice to propose regulations that would ban bump stocks, devices that allow semi-automatic guns to be modified to shoot hundreds of rounds per minute.

Trump directed the Department of Justice to do what the Congress had already told them to do, weeks ago, that they were doing already. At the next press briefing she’ll have to explain that. The humiliation never ends.

CNN’s Dan Merica takes it from there:

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, seeking to blunt criticism that the Trump administration has not punished Russia over its 2016 election meddling, cryptically hinted Tuesday that an unpublicized action had already been taken.

President Donald Trump “has done a number of things to put pressure on Russia and be tough on Russia,” Sanders said at the Tuesday briefing. “Last week there was an incident that will be reported in the coming days.”

No one is holding their breath for that, and there was this:

She added: “He has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined.”

Her defense comes days after special counsel Robert Mueller released a detailed indictment against 13 Russian nationals for allegedly interfering in the 2016 US election.

Trump has been far tougher on Russia than Obama ever was? Merica doesn’t think so:

Obama confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in China in 2016, something Trump has yet to forcefully do in meetings with the Russian leader. Trump and Putin discussed election interference in Hamburg, Germany, in July 2017. Trump later said he thought the Russian leader was earnest when he denied any election meddling.

“He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump said in November from Da Nang, Vietnam.

During his last two years in office, Obama imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and entities for election meddling, kicked out 35 Russian diplomats and closed two Kremlin compounds in the United States.

Trump has yet to impose sanctions overwhelmingly passed by Congress last year and missed deadlines to identify which Russian individuals and entities would be on the sanctions list. Last month, the Trump administration decided against implementing the sanctions against Russia and instead published a list of already prominent Russian oligarchs.

Sarah Sanders is confusing Trump with his cabinet:

“It’s important we just continue to say to Russia, ‘Look, you think we don’t see what you’re doing. We do see it, and you need to stop. If you don’t, you’re going to just continue to invite consequences for yourself,'” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview with Fox News earlier this month.

National security adviser H. R. McMaster also said this month – in response to the Mueller indictment – that Russia’s election meddling is “‘now really incontrovertible.”

Even Sanders on Tuesday said: “It’s very clear that Russia meddled in the election. It’s also very clear that it didn’t have an impact on the election, and it’s also very clear that the Trump campaign didn’t collude with the Russians in any way for this process to take place.”

At the same time, though, Sanders defended Trump’s decision not to impose sanctions earlier this year.

“There’s a process that has to take place, and we’re going through that process,” Sanders said. “That law also says that the countries have to violate something in order for those sanctions to go in place, and that hasn’t necessarily happened.”

Robert Mueller released a detailed indictment against Russian nationals. There were lots of things that had been violated, specifically criminal things, and Philip Bump adds this:

“Let’s not forget that this happened under the Obama administration.”

The interference did indeed take place during the administration of Barack Obama, but there are some significant asterisks that should be applied there.

First, the Obama administration took the highly unusual step of offering a public warning a month before Election Day about Russia’s attempt to compromise the election. That statement was released on Oct. 7 – the same day as the “Access Hollywood” tape and the start of WikiLeaks releasing emails stolen from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

In addition, as The Washington Post reported in December 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) opposed challenging the Russians publicly out of apparent concern it would influence the election. (Last month former vice president Joe Biden confirmed this reporting.) After the election, the Obama administration unveiled a slew of new sanctions against Russia. (Flynn’s guilty plea to Mueller stemmed from his lying to the FBI about a discussion he’d had with Russia’s ambassador about those sanctions.)

Sarah Sanders was defending bullshit, but Hunter S. Thompson did admit that he felt a touch of irrational sympathy for that old bastard, Nixon. The pressure must have been crippling. That Watergate stuff must have been humiliating, but Trump isn’t Nixon, yet. Robert Mueller may be closing in on him, but he hasn’t dropped the hammer, yet – if he ever will. Donald Trump faces other terrible pressures. Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker argue that the terrible pressure is self-generated, and it’s all about Barack Obama:

To hear President Trump tell it, he is tougher than former president Barack Obama. He is smarter than Obama – more shrewd, more effective, more respected. The 45th president is, by his own accounting, superlative to the 44th in almost every way.

In private and in public, while devising policies and while crafting messages, Trump frequently draws flattering comparisons with his predecessor – and he does not let the truth intrude, as was the case Tuesday.

That’s what he shoved Sarah Huckabee Sanders out there to say, and it is an obsession:

On Russia and a host of other issues, aides and advisers say, Trump’s near-compulsion with measuring himself against Obama reflects an innate need to be judged superior to his peers and to have a singular opponent to target.

“For the president, it’s all about performance, and when you look at performances, it’s about comparison to other players, other competitors,” said Christopher Ruddy, a Trump friend and chief executive of Newsmax. “Who’s the guy everybody’s going to compare him to? His predecessor. He just gets that intuitively, as a business guy and a bottom-line guy.”

Everyone knows this:

Trump has used Obama as a foil since stepping onto the political scene in 2011, when the New York developer-reality television star became the public face of birtherism by advancing a racially tinged falsehood about Obama’s birthplace. Trump’s birther crusade helped fuel his own presidential rise as he surfed the populist wave that distrusted Obama.

The strategy also puts him back into campaign mode, a place where the self-described “counterpuncher” is most comfortable, echoing lines of attack that moved his most fervent supporters to cheers.

“If you watch Trump, he understands that there are two ways to be really tall, and one is to have your opponent be really short,” said Newt Gingrich, former House speaker and a Trump ally. “He spends a fair amount of his time shrinking his opponents.”

“He sees Obama as still one of the people around whom the other side organizes,” Gingrich said. “I don’t think he sees him as a former president. He sees him as a powerful symbol of the left-wing opposition to Trump.”

Trump seizes upon every piece of economic data that he can find to try to portray his presidency as more financially enriching for voters, even though the U.S. economy has been growing for more than nine years and many experts – and voters – credit Obama for playing a role in that trend.

That won’t do, so on Russia, Donald Trump attacks:

Trump’s reaction has been to attack intelligence officials for their conclusions, to fire the FBI director and to block Washington’s efforts to punish Moscow. After Russian President Vladimir Putin denied that his country had tried to influence the campaign, Trump initially said he took him at his word.

Then there are some of Trump’s previous proclamations, including that he has better “chemistry” with Putin than Obama, and that he hopes he and Putin forge a mutually beneficial partnership.

That would be an argument for better living through chemistry – whatever that is in this case – but there’s more to it:

On issues of national security and foreign affairs in general, Trump has a consistent theme: He is stronger and more resolute than Obama, and therefore Americans are safer. He has boasted that the nation’s borders are more secure than under Obama, that the U.S. strategy with North Korea is more effective and that the reach of Islamic State terrorists is diminished.

“We’ve done more against ISIS in nine months than the previous administration has done during its whole administration – by far, by far,” Trump said last October at a gathering of conservative activists.

On some level, Trump’s disdain for Obama is visceral, said Roger Stone, a longtime Trump confidant and former political adviser. “He sees himself as being strong, decisive and bold, and he sees Obama as being weak and vacillating and tentative,” Stone said.

And that leads to a bit of absurdity:

Even on more trivial matters, Trump draws unflattering comparisons between himself and his predecessor. Indeed, foreign leaders have become so attuned to Trump’s desire to best Obama that they have literally rolled out red carpets – and planned elaborate state visits – to try to curry favor with his administration.

During a trip to Asia last fall, leaders in Japan, South Korea, China and Vietnam all feted and pampered Trump. Chinese President Xi Jinping treated him to an opulent welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of People in Beijing, which included cannon fire and a military honor guard. Trump later boasted about his reception at a private meeting of House Republicans, saying only emperors had received the lavish treatment he’d received, according to one person familiar with his comments.

As a candidate, Trump attacked Obama for arriving in China and descending from Air Force One on metal steps that folded down from the belly of the aircraft, rather than from a grander staircase at the upper level of the plane and onto a red carpet.

“Terrible!” Trump tweeted, summarizing the incident.

And there’s this:

Upon becoming president, Trump started to show off the trappings of his job, taking visitors into the Roosevelt Room and the Cabinet Room. He quickly alighted upon a favorite last stop, ushering guests into the Oval Office.

“Obama never used the Oval, but Trump is different,” the president would say, referring to himself in the third person as he often does, according to people who have witnessed the tours.

As his guests marveled at the space, Trump would press them, asking if Obama had ever shown them the West Wing’s inner sanctum.

When he was invariably told no, Trump appeared to beam with pride.

That’s embarrassing. Sarah Huckabee Sanders isn’t the only one oblivious to humiliation. And yes, now anyone can grow up to be president. That’s the problem.

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A Duty-Dance with Death

In 1945, the Allies’ Valentine’s Day gift to the German people was the firebombing of Dresden – four massive bombing raids between 13 and 15 February that destroyed that lovely old city. Dresden had no military value. Dresden had no strategic value. We wiped it out anyway. The firestorm may have killed thirty thousand civilians – but no one really knows – and Kurt Vonnegut was there. After his mother’s suicide he had enlisted. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He was captured by the Germans. They sent him off to work in a slaughterhouse in Dresden. He was there. He survived the firestorm by taking refuge in a meat locker three stories underground – “It was cool there, with cadavers hanging all around. When we came up the city was gone. They burnt the whole damn town down.” Vonnegut and other American prisoners were then put to work excavating bodies from the rubble. He called that a “terribly elaborate Easter-egg hunt.”

That was a formative experience. That led to his 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death – a nonlinear postmodern science fiction morality tale. In it, Billy Pilgrim, a blandly passive pacifist of sorts, becomes “unstuck in time” – he starts out in that slaughterhouse in Dresden, and ends there, but in between he’s captured by an alien space ship and taken to a planet light-years from Earth called Tralfamadore. The Tralfamadorians see in four dimensions, simultaneously observing all points in the space-time continuum. They have a fatalistic worldview. Death means nothing. When a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past. People die, but “so it goes” – which everyone was saying after they read that book.

Some people still say that when everything goes wrong. Kurt Vonnegut spent his last years sitting quietly on a bench in a park not far from the UN in Manhattan – where he lived – probably wondering why his daughter had once married Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera – but so it goes.

He knew the limits of trying to controls things – “During the Vietnam War, every respectable artist in this country was against the war. It was like a laser beam. We were all aimed in the same direction. The power of this weapon turns out to be that of a custard pie dropped from a stepladder six feet high.”

Every respectable artist in the country wasn’t going to end that war. The Children’s Crusade at the time – all the young people in the streets – wasn’t going to end that war. The Children’s Crusade in his book’s title was ironic. No Children’s Crusade was going to make a damned bit of difference. So it goes.

But times change – on this Valentine’s Day no one bombed Dresden, but a troubled young man with an AK-47 burst into a Florida high school and opened fire. Seventeen died. That was pretty horrible, but Republicans in Congress said something like “so it goes.” They always do. They offered their “thoughts and prayers” – but this wasn’t a gun problem, or it was too early to talk about guns. They wanted more facts. Perhaps they were waiting for a higher body count from all the school shootings – some higher threshold that would show the “facts” of this problem. No one knew what they were waiting for. The president said a few things about mental health issues – but he wasn’t going to talk about guns either. They were waiting for this to pass, for something else to be the big story of the day. The nation would soon say “so it goes” and move on. That’s what always happens.

They didn’t expect a Children’s Crusade, but they got one:

Dozens of teenage students lay down on the pavement in front of the White House on Monday to demand presidential action on gun control after 17 people were killed in a school shooting in Florida.

Parent and educators joined the gathering, where protesters held their arms crossed at their chests. Two activists covered themselves with an American flag while another held a sign asking: “Am I next?”

“It’s really important to express our anger and the importance of finally trying to make a change and having gun control in America,” said Ella Fesler, a 16-year-old high school student from Alexandria, Virginia.

She added: “Every day when I say ‘bye’ to my parents, I do acknowledge the fact that I could never see my parents again.”

Meanwhile the White House said Donald Trump was supporting an effort to improve background checks on gun buyers.

That wasn’t much:

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said Trump had been in talks with the Republican senator John Cornyn and the Democratic senator Chris Murphy about a bill that aimed to strengthen how state and federal governments report crimes that could ban people from buying a firearm.

“The president spoke to Senator Cornyn on Friday about the bipartisan bill he and Senator Murphy introduced to improve federal compliance with criminal background check legislation,” Sanders said. “While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system.”

The bipartisan Cornyn-Murphy bill, announced last November after the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs in Cornyn’s home state of Texas, falls well short of what many activists want, but offers Congress a chance to say it is not doing nothing.

It seeks to ensure that federal and state authorities accurately report relevant information, including criminal history, to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

That will improve internal information-flow in the government. That solves little, but Trump is who he is:

The US president has been criticized for his tepid response to the shooting and his past vigorous backing of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Trump has a history of shifting his positions in response to events or advice. Before he entered the political fray in earnest, he expressed support for a ban on assault weapons and “a slightly longer waiting period” to purchase a gun. But during his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump ran as an unabashedly pro-gun candidate, warning the NRA: “The only way to save our second amendment is to vote for a person that you all know named Donald Trump.”

Trump has since overturned a Barack Obama-era regulation restricting certain people from buying guns. Critics said this made it easier for people with mental illness to access to weapons, increasing the threat to themselves or others.

After last year’s massacre in Las Vegas, the president said he was potentially open to banning bump stocks, an accessory used to more rapidly fire rounds, but there has been no notable action by the White House since.

That won’t do:

One week ago they were high schoolers like anywhere in the country, studying for their end-of-year exams, preparing for baseball practice, for drama club, and the myriad other activities that typical teenagers like to embrace.

But as another week begins in Parkland, Florida, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school are adjusting to life in a different and unexpected role. They find themselves the flag bearers of a powerful new push for gun control laws, and are determined to be the generation that finally breaks the cycle.

It was not a position that any of these young people envisioned for themselves until last Wednesday, when Nikolas Cruz, an expelled former classmate, returned to the campus with an AR-15 assault rifle and ended the lives of 14 of their friends, and three adult teachers.

In the words of Cameron Kasky, an 11th-grader and one of the founders of the rapidly-growing #neveragain movement: “It was 17 shots right to the heart of this community.”

This Duty-Dance with Death is about duty:

Amid the candlelit vigils, church services and the first funerals of the victims, Kasky and his friends quickly found their voice. Stoneman Douglas students angrily denounced inaction by politicians in Washington at an emotional gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday.

By lunchtime on Sunday they had announced plans for a March 24th March for Our Lives rally in Washington DC and cities nationwide. And by mid-afternoon they had achieved what appeared to be a significant first victory, a concession by President Trump, who did not speak publicly about the shooting for 20 hours, to meet with high school students and teachers on Wednesday for what the White House described as “a listening session”.

Vonnegut was wrong about what can be done about awful things:

The students insist they can sense a tidal wave of momentum behind them, largely fueled by social media using the #neveragain and #marchforourlives hashtags, which has left politicians floundering.

“They are hiding behind their own little castles of NRA money and they have no idea what to do,” said Kasky, 17, who spoke to the Guardian with several fellow students at a park close to Stoneman Douglas high school on Sunday.

“I can smell the fear from Rubio, [Florida governor Rick] Scott and Trump right now, and they are not ready to take us on. I understand that because we’re strong, and I wouldn’t want to either.

“But you’re either with us, or you’re against us. We’re making a badge of shame for anyone accepting money from the NRA. It’s not red versus blue, Republican versus Democrat, it’s us versus those who are trying to kill us and don’t care about our lives. We’re the kids, you’re the adults, and you’re acting like the kids.”

Someone has to be the adult here:

His friend Alex Wind, who has helped organize a trip to Tallahassee on Tuesday for 100 Stoneman Douglas students to meet state legislators, said the memory of his friends was the group’s driving force.

“There’s grieving obviously, but we’re breathing and coping through our voices, not through our tears,” he said. “Now is the time for action, for power and strength.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican, Democrat, green party, libertarian… if you receive money from the NRA we will not vote for you, that’s how things will go down. It’s absurd to receive $30 million from the NRA and not do anything about gun control. Action needs to be taken, whether that action is voting them out of office or whether it’s them embracing the movement. “We can talk about Russia and everything else in the news, but this right now is the biggest issue in our country. Fourteen children and three adults lost their lives. How many more need to die?”

And there’s this:

According to Alfonso Calderon, a 16-year-old junior, the Parkland shooting could be the catalyst for change because of who the victims and survivors were. “This time it’s going to be different because for once, instead of grieving, we got straight to the point,” he said. “A student was already talking to Fox News about how gun laws need to be changed directly after the shooting.”

Something is up:

On Sunday, they fanned out across the morning talk shows to rip into the Trump administration and politicians including Florida senator Marco Rubio for accepting money from the National Rifle Association.

And there’s more:

Trump has suggested the FBI wasn’t able to prevent the shooting because it was spending too much time on the Russia investigation. He also blamed the Democratic Party for not passing gun-control legislation when it controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House.

“That’s disgusting,” one student said in response to Trump’s comments. “You’re supposed to bring this nation together, not divide us. How dare you. Children are dying, and their blood is on your hands because of that.”

Shortly after the president’s comments, Aly Sheehy, a senior at the high school, hit back at Trump.

She tweeted: “17 of my classmates are gone. That’s 17 futures, 17 children, and 17 friends stolen. But you’re right. It always has to be about you. How silly of me to forget.”

And this:

Morgan Williams, another student, tweeted: “Oh my god. 17 OF MY CLASSMATES AND FRIENDS ARE GONE AND YOU HAVE THE AUDACITY TO MAKE THIS ABOUT RUSSIA???!! HAVE A DAMN HEART. You can keep all of your fake and meaningless ‘thoughts and prayers.'”

Sarah Lerner, a teacher at the high school, also weighed in.

“There IS collusion, you clown,” Lerner tweeted. “Get your head out of your ass & do something about what happened AT MY SCHOOL. This is the REAL NEWS. You came to Florida & didn’t talk to me, my students or my coworkers. You had a photo op & played golf. YOU are a disgrace to MY country.”

This is not going to pass:

The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, refuse to be props for Trump’s agenda.

On Monday, survivors of last week’s deadly shooting Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg told CNN’s “New Day” they will not be attending Trump’s “listening session” this week.

“I believe we’ve been invited, but neither of us is going,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez, who made national news for her barn burner of a speech at a gun control rally this weekend, said they have a prior town hall meeting with Jake Tapper.

And that was some speech:

“If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy, and how it should never have happened, and maintain telling us that nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association.”

Gonzalez then called attention to the $30 million spent by the NRA in support of Trump in the 2016 presidential election, and how that translates onto each life lost to gun violence.

“That comes out to being $5800. Is that how much these people are worth to you, Trump?” She asked.

“To every politician who has taken donations from the NRA: Shame on you!”

And now it’s this:

“If they accept this blood money, they are against the children. They are against the people who are dying,” she said. “There’s no other way to put it at this point. You’re either funding the killers, or you’re standing with the children – the children who have no money. We don’t have jobs. So we can’t pay for your campaign. We would hope that you have the decent morality to support us at this point.”

“If you can’t get elected without taking money from child murderers,” added Hogg, “why are you running?”

Something is changing, and Josh Marshall offers this:

The public campaign against drunken driving is the operative case in point about the transvaluation of values, driven by and undergirded by changed laws but not equal to them, which is the only way forward for true change.

Numerous laws changed and that changed the equation for drunken driving. But the true change came from a radically different understanding of the social acceptability of the behavior itself. It is now seen as shameful, awful, and selfish.

That may be what these kids are up to:

The gun problem requires laws, restrictions, reshaping the framework of legal and civil liability to bend the curve away from the current culture of massacre. But what makes all those things impossible, for now, is the political decision that nothing is more important than the completely untrammeled right to have any gun with any amount of ammunition anytime anywhere.

Do you really need an AR-15? For some people, it’s just fun to fire off an AR-15. I begrudge no one that fun. You’re at the range. It’s just cool. I get it. But maybe, because it’s also the weapon of choice for virtually every school massacre, to have that fun you need to do a background check not just for institutionalization or felony records but something a bit more thorough, to know you’re not someone with all the markers of a mass shooter. Or maybe you can have it and fire it as often as you want but you need to leave it in a locker at the range. These changes would be a bit of a pain for enthusiasts. But changing mores about drunken driving also made social drinking a bit more difficult. You have to think through how you’re getting home if you’re going to go out and have more than a couple drinks. Does your spouse or partner not drink? Do you have a designated driver? We’ve decided this pain is more than worth it. The ability to drink in any way or to any extent at any time is not an absolute value.

That might apply here:

The specific reforms are beside the point for these purposes. The point is the need for and public agreement to some balancing, some inconveniences and impediments to total freedom to do anything with guns up to the doorstep of a felony or a massacre. Until we do this, not only do we not have any of even the most basic reforms which could begin to make it a little harder to commit massacres, we also collectively send a signal as a society. Guns are not only potentially fatal as tools. They are all powerful totems. They are untouchable. They reduce adults who promise to spare no exertion to protect the country from various public or domestic threats to be reduced to the gibberish and nonsense of “thoughts and prayers.” Nothing is a deeper testament to the cultural power and invincibility of the gun in our society. And it is that power which is at the heart of the massacre spectacle – the desire and all-consuming need and drive to destroy lives including your own indiscriminately in a final burst of total power. Our collective impotence not only sharpens that weapon, that symbol for the perpetrators of the actual massacres…

Until we recognize that the collective message of the power and singular importance of guns is at the heart of the gun massacre scourge, we’ll never be rid of it.

The kids want to change that. They might change that. Perhaps they’re already changing that – but something else might be going on here. Go back to the late sixties, not to Kurt Vonnegut but to Marshall McLuhan. The medium is the message. Donald Trump is the Twitter President. His tweets, often full of nonsense, had a raw immediacy and thus an absolute authenticity. Those tweets made him seem to be the only “real” candidate out there, for better or worse. He blew everyone away. But he may have met his match. These kids, excoriating him, and all the other NRA Republicans, are the Twitter Generation. They can do the same thing, and do it better. Their raw immediacy and thus their absolute authenticity trump his. They’re using his one unique weapon against him, and winning. That’s this Children’s Crusade, this Duty-Dance with Death – and these kids don’t read Vonnegut. So it goes? No. it doesn’t.

Posted in Gun Control, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Current Tweet Theory

Sunday mornings are problematic. Some folks go to church. Others nurse a hangover – black coffee and the New York Times crossword puzzle helps. Kris Kristofferson – the country music singer-songwriter and actor – knows this. And he’s no dummy. He earned a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University where he studied at Merton College – English literature, specializing in William Blake – and then he joined the Army. He became a helicopter pilot. He completed Ranger School. In 1965 he was given an assignment to teach English literature at West Point, but he turned that down and headed for Nashville, and the rest is history. He wrote Me and Bobby McGee for Janis Joplin – “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” – and he wrote a big hit for Johnny Cash – Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down – which sums things up:

Well I woke up Sunday morning / With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt / And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad / So I had one more for dessert… On a Sunday morning sidewalk / I’m wishing Lord that I was stoned / ’cause there’s something in a Sunday / that makes a body feel alone…

Sunday mornings can be grim. Sunday mornings are getting worse. Much of America probably wishes it was stoned. Much of America probably feels alone. It’s the president. It was a Sunday morning that opened with this:

President Trump lashed out with fresh anger about the intensifying Russia probe over the weekend, accusing Democrats of enabling a foreign adversary to interfere in the 2016 election and attacking the FBI as well as his own national security adviser.

In a defiant and error-laden tweetstorm that was remarkable even by his own combative standards, Trump stewed aloud about the latest indictments brought by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III against Russians for their elaborate campaign to denigrate the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and push voters toward Trump.

The president seized on Mueller’s evidence of the expansive scope of the Russian influence efforts to claim that the indictments exonerated him and proved there was “no collusion.” But the special counsel’s investigation of possible complicity between Russia and the Trump campaign is continuing, as is the examination of whether Trump has sought to obstruct justice.

He was at it again:

In a string of 10 Twitter messages – which began after 11 p.m. Saturday and ended around noon Sunday, and which included profanity and misspellings – Trump opened a window into his state of mind, even as Trump’s representatives at a global security conference in Germany advised jittery allies to generally ignore the president’s tweets.

That was unpleasant:

“There is a lot more support for continuing our past policies than it might appear from some of the statements,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) told an audience on Sunday that was made up mostly of Europe’s foreign policy elite. “The unanimity comes from those folks who are actually operationalizing policy.”

“The values are the same, the relationships are the same,” said Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio). “What you do see is this administration willing to put pressure upon the systems.”

The question of who they should believe – the president or his advisers – has befuddled European officials. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel confessed Saturday that he didn’t know where to look to understand America.

“Is it deeds? Is it words? Is it tweets?” he asked.

He said he was not sure whether he could recognize the United States.

Many were feeling that way:

Trump’s latest attacks built on remarks last week in which he misrepresented the evidence revealed by Mueller. He tweeted falsely, “I never said Russia did not meddle in the election.” He blamed President Barack Obama’s administration for doing “nothing” to stop the intrusion. Trump rebuked national security adviser H.R. McMaster for publicly saying the evidence of Russian interference was “incontrovertible.”

And he held the FBI responsible for last week’s devastating shooting at a Parkland Florida high school that left 17 dead. Trump tweeted that the bureau was committing so many resources to the Russia probe that it missed “all of the many signals” about the shooter.

No one was sure that they could recognize the United States:

One topic Trump avoided in his missives was punishment of Russia. The president did not spell out how his administration might seek to retaliate against the Russians or how it may try to protect the U.S. electoral system from continued attacks, which the nation’s intelligence chiefs warned last week should be expected.

“What is it we’re going to do about the threat posed by the Russians?” James R. Clapper Jr., who was director of national intelligence during the 2016 election, said on CNN. “He never talks about that. It’s all about himself.”

It always is:

Trump blamed the various domestic investigations into Russia’s intrusions – as opposed to the interference itself – for sowing discord in America.

The president tweeted Sunday, “If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!”

They are laughing their asses off in Moscow, but not for the reason he thinks:

Trump sent the messages from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., where he was ensconced for two days. He spent much of the time watching cable news, venting to friends about the Russia investigation and complaining that it has been driving so much press coverage, according to people who have spoken to him. The president also surveyed Mar-a-Lago Club members about whether he ought to champion gun control measures in the wake of last week’s school massacre in nearby Parkland, telling them that he was closely monitoring the media appearances by some of the surviving students, according to people who spoke with him there.

He doesn’t know what to do:

Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist based in Florida and a Trump critic, said the president’s tweets read to him like “a cry for help.”

“He must be feeling a lot of different pressures building on him right now – personal and political and legal,” Wilson said. “He must feel like he has to sweep all the pieces off the chess board and try to restart. But these problems can’t be papered over by tweets.”

He was floundering:

After visiting victims of the Parkland shooting and first responders at an area hospital on Friday evening, Trump did not leave Mar-a-Lago until Sunday evening, skipping his usual rounds of golf at his nearby course in what aides described as a decision to show respect for the 17 people killed in the school massacre.

Instead, Trump spent his time watching television, talking with friends and tweeting, aides said, breaking up that routine Sunday for a meeting with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). On Saturday night, Trump dined with talk-show host Geraldo Rivera and the president’s two adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric. First lady Melania Trump, also in Florida for the weekend, did not join her husband in the dining room, according to two attendees.

It seems she’s still pissed off about his affairs with porn stars, and that left him alone, and dangerous:

The president then retired to his private quarters and sent two controversial tweets before midnight. The first blamed the FBI for the shooting. He wrote after 11 p.m. Saturday, “Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!”

Trump’s tweet seemed to echo the opening statement delivered at 9 p.m. on Fox News Channel by Jeanine Pirro, whose show the president watches regularly. She said the killings in Florida were “at the hands of the FBI” and “could have been prevented had they bothered to lift a finger.” Pirro went on to describe the bureau as “stained and politicized by Mr. Holier-than-Thou Jim Comey, but the seeds were sowed by former FBI director Bob Mueller.”

Fox News was the problem here, and everyone’s Sunday morning problem:

Trump’s comment linking the school massacre with the Russia probe drew a wave of criticism, including from some of the teenagers who survived the shooting. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) said on CNN Sunday that it was “an absurd statement.” Sally Q. Yates, the acting attorney general whom Trump fired last year after she raised concerns about then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, tweeted that it was “shameful.” And former New Jersey governor Chris Christie (R), a Trump ally, said on ABC News, “The president should be staying out of law enforcement business.”

That’s one way to ruin a Sunday morning and there was more:

Trump sparked more controversy with his reaction to McMaster’s speech at the Munich security conference, where the national security adviser said evidence of Russian interference was now “incontrovertible.”

The president tweeted, “General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!”

That covered just about every conspiracy theory out there, but this man is who he is:

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal debates, said Trump was frustrated by McMaster’s speech because he thinks conceding that the Russians interfered in the election takes away from the validity of his victory. This official said Trump is uninterested in evaluating the merits of the Russia case – and speculated that even if he was convinced that the Russians did interfere, he would be loath to state so publicly.

“Never give in,” this official said, “and don’t surprise him.”

In Trump’s view, this official said, McMaster did both.

General McMaster is in the doghouse now, and there was this:

One target of Trump’s wrath was Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who frequently appears on cable news programs to discuss his panel’s Russia investigation…

Trump jabbed at Schiff in another tweet 21 minutes later and added: “The Democrats – lead by their fearless leader Crooked Hillary Clinton – lost the 2016 election, but wasn’t I a great candidate?”

That calls for another beer at breakfast, or several, and that calls for a bit of scorn:

Appearing on MSNBC’s AM Joy, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence Frank Figliuzzi harshly criticized Donald Trump for attacking the FBI over the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, in an attempt to deflect attention away from Friday’s bombshell indictments of 13 Russians accused of meddling in the election that put Trump in the White House.

During a panel discussion, Figliuzzi was asked about a Sunday morning tweet from the president which implied that the FBI “missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter” because “they are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.”

“Frank, I’ll go to your reaction to the President of the United States blaming the FBI, in essence, for the massacre at Parkland,” host Joy Reid prompted.

The former FBI official appeared furious at the suggestion.

“Joy, let’s distill down what that late night tweet really says after some cheeseburger induced coma after 11:00 PM last night,” Figliuzzi explained. “The president puts this squarely on FBI. Here’s what he’s telling parents of America, ‘Hey, our gun violence problem would go away if the FBI would just leave me alone.’ That is what he’s saying.”

There is something in a Sunday morning that really does makes a body feel alone, and the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty captures that:

Imagine how history would have judged Franklin D. Roosevelt in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, if he had taken to the radio airwaves to declare that Tokyo was “laughing their asses off” – or if George W. Bush had stood in the rubble of the World Trade Center with a bullhorn and launched a name-calling tirade against the Democrats.

There was no loss of life or destruction of a city in the Russian actions described in a sweeping indictment secured by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. But it was an act of war nonetheless, a sneak attack using 21st-century methods.

These are the moments that test a country – and a president. They call for bringing people together in a sense of national purpose against a common adversary. Once again, Trump has failed that test.

Tumulty seems to think that leaves us all feeling alone:

His self-absorption is such that he cannot see beyond his own fixation, which is that all of this has no meaning beyond the legitimacy of his own election. Moscow must indeed be laughing.

That was Sunday morning comin’ down, hard, but Thomas Friedman has an explanation for this:

President Trump is either totally compromised by the Russians or is a towering fool, or both, but either way he has shown himself unwilling or unable to defend America against a Russian campaign to divide and undermine our democracy.

That is, either Trump’s real estate empire has taken large amounts of money from shady oligarchs linked to the Kremlin – so much that they literally own him – or rumors are true that he engaged in sexual misbehavior while he was in Moscow running the Miss Universe contest, which Russian intelligence has on tape and he doesn’t want released – or Trump actually believes Russian President Vladimir Putin when he says he is innocent of intervening in our elections — over the explicit findings of Trump’s own CIA, NSA and FBI chiefs.

Those are the choices here:

Trump is either hiding something so threatening to himself, or he’s criminally incompetent to be commander in chief. It is impossible yet to say which explanation for his behavior is true, but it seems highly likely that one of these scenarios explains Trump’s refusal to respond to Russia’s direct attack on our system – a quiescence that is simply unprecedented for any U.S. president in history. Russia is not our friend. It has acted in a hostile manner. And Trump keeps ignoring it all.

Friedman cites the obvious:

Up to now, Trump has been flouting the norms of the presidency. Now Trump’s behavior amounts to a refusal to carry out his oath of office – to protect and defend the Constitution.

That’s not the case here:

America needs a president who will lead our nation’s defense against this attack on the integrity of our electoral democracy. What would that look like? He would educate the public on the scale of the problem; he would bring together all the stakeholders – state and local election authorities, the federal government, both parties and all the owners of social networks that the Russians used to carry out their interference – to mount an effective defense; and he would bring together our intelligence and military experts to mount an effective offense against Putin – the best defense of all.

And that raises questions:

Donald, if you are so innocent why do you go to such extraordinary lengths to try to shut Mueller down? And if you are really the president – not still head of the Trump Organization, who moonlights as president, which is how you so often behave – why don’t you actually lead – lead not only a proper cyber-defense of our elections, but also an offense against Putin.

Putin used cyberwarfare to poison American politics, to spread fake news, to help elect a chaos candidate, all in order to weaken our democracy. We should be using our cyber-capabilities to spread the truth about Putin – just how much money he has stolen, just how many lies he has spread, just how many rivals he has jailed or made disappear – all to weaken his autocracy. That is what a real president would be doing right now.

So here’s the Friedman theory:

My guess is what Trump is hiding has to do with money. It’s something about his financial ties to business elites tied to the Kremlin. They may own a big stake in him. Who can forget that quote from his son Donald Trump, Jr. from back in 2008: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets.” They may own our president…

That must not be tolerated. This is code red. The biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy today is in the Oval Office.

That’s one theory, but David Frum has another:

The Russian attack in 2016 worked, yielding dividends beyond Vladimir Putin’s wildest hopes. The Russians hoped to cast a shadow over the Clinton presidency. Instead, they outright elected their preferred candidate. Americans once thought it was a big deal that Alger Hiss rose to serve as acting temporary secretary general of the United Nations. This time, a Russian-backed individual was installed in the Oval Office.

From that position of power, Trump has systematically attempted to shut down investigations of the foreign-espionage operation that operated on his behalf. He fired the director of the FBI to shut it down. His White House coordinated with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to misdirect the investigation. He mobilized the speaker of the House to thwart bipartisan investigations under broadly respected leadership. He has inspired, supported, and joined a national propaganda campaign against the Mueller investigation.

And all the while, Trump has done nothing – literally nothing – to harden the nation’s voting systems against follow-on Russian operations.

Something is terribly wrong here:

It’s worth thinking about what a patriotic president would have done in Trump’s situation. He would be leading the investigation himself. He would be scouring his own campaign – doing everything in his power to reassure the country that whatever the Russians may or may not have done, his government owed Putin nothing. He would have imposed penalties on Russia for their outrageous acts – rather than protecting Russia from penalties voted by Congress. Above all, he would be leading the demand for changes to election laws and practices, including holding Facebook to account for its negligence.

At every turn, Trump has failed to do what a patriotic president would do – failed to put the national interest first. He has left the 2018 elections as vulnerable as the 2016 elections to Russian intervention on his behalf.

The president’s malignant narcissism surely explains much of this passivity. He cannot endure the thought that he owes the presidency to anything other than his own magnificence. “But wasn’t I a great candidate?” he tweeted plaintively at 7:43 am on Sunday morning.

But malignant narcissism doesn’t explain everything so Frum offers a second Trump Tweet Theory:

Authoritarian nationalist parties across the western world have outright cooperated with the Russians. Russian money has helped to finance the National Front in France, and the election and re-election of the president of the Czech Republic. In Germany, Russia first created a hoax refugee-rape case – then widely publicized it – in an effort to boost its preferred extremist party in that country’s 2017 election, the Alternative for Germany. Russia supported pro-AfD comment in media favored by Germany’s surprisingly substantial Russian-speaking communities.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo predicted to the BBC at the beginning of 2018 that Russia “will be back” to help its preferred candidates in November 2018.

Given that, this is possible:

To what extent does President Trump – to what extent do congressional Republicans – look to Russian interference to help their party in the 2018 cycle?

Most observers predict a grim year for the GOP in 2018. But the economy is strong, and selective tax cuts are strategically redistributing money from blue-state professionals to red-state parents. The Republican national committee commands a huge financial advantage over its Democratic counterpart. A little extra help could make a big difference to Republican hopes – and to Trump’s political survival.

Nothing has been done in the past 15 months to prevent that help from flowing. You have to wonder whether the president does not privately welcome that help, as he publicly welcomed help from WikiLeaks in the summer of 2016.

Frum connects the dots:

Trump’s own tweets reveal that among the things he most fears is the prospect of Representative Adam Schiff gaining the gavel of the House Intelligence Committee from the clownish present chairman, Devin Nunes. How far would Trump go to stop a dreaded political opponent, inside the law and outside? How far has Donald Trump gone in the past?

Trump continues to insist that he and his campaign team did not collude with Russia in the 2016 election. We know that they were ready and eager to collude – that’s on the public record. (“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”) The public does not yet know whether the collusion actually occurred, and if so, in what form and to what extent. But in front of our very eyes we can observe that they are leaving the door open to Russian intervention on their behalf in the next election.

You might call it collusion in advance…

All the signs point to that. That is a bit dire. Friedman argues that Trump has been captured by the Russians. He’ll do nothing, refusing to carry out his oath of office, out of fear of what might be revealed about his finances or other personal matters, or because he actually believes Vladimir Putin, not any of his own intelligence agencies, or our allies, or recent and not so recent history of what Putin has done everywhere. It’s blackmail or stunning naiveté. That’s the Friedman Trump Tweet Theory. Frum argues that there might be a plan here. Republicans have seen what happened. They finally have a Republican president, more or less. They’ve decided the Russians might be pretty damned useful. The midterms are coming. They need all the help they can get. They’ll stand with Trump. They’ll let things slide.

Everyone else woke to just another Sunday morning comin’ down, hard, like in that Kris Kristofferson song. Trump was tweeting again. There was no way to hold your head that didn’t hurt.

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The Hammer Drops

President Trump has ordered up a big military parade in Washington – tanks and missiles in the streets and giant bombers in the sky, and troops marching, lots of troops, and the Pentagon is humoring him. They’re slow-walking the planning. They’ve told him this will cost thirty million dollars, and someone leaked that to the press. Republicans have rolled their eyes. Democrats have said look, this isn’t North Korea. Constitution Avenue isn’t Red Square either. Trump has said no, think Paris – Bastille Day. What? He wants to be French? But there will be a parade – sooner or later – because he’s a fragile man desperately in need of praise – and things haven’t been going his way.

That big military parade in Washington became more likely this week. This was a bad week. The two wife-beaters on his senior staff are gone, but that didn’t help matters. Why did they get security clearances? They didn’t. They were working without them. Forty percent of his staff is working with provisional interim clearances. There are unanswered questions about them, even after a year on the job. Over one hundred of his senior staff may be security risks – and Trump knew this all along, or his chief-of-staff and the White House attorney knew this all along. This is a serious national security issue. This also makes Trump look indifferent to matters of national security, or dangerously incompetent. That won’t go away, and there was that school shooting in Texas – seventeen dead – but Donald Trump wouldn’t say this had anything to do with the easy availability of the deadliest of military-style weapons. Teenagers can buy those – but he framed this as no more than a mental health issue. Now the surviving kids are screaming at him – do something about the guns or just shut up. They also seem to see the NRA as a terrorist organization that has paid Republicans in Congress to cover for them. Things are going badly – and another porn star – actually a Playboy model – tells of her affair with Donald Trump just after his wife had just given birth to their son. This time the National Inquirer has paid her to keep quiet, not Trump’s personal attorney. The National Inquirer is run by Trump’s good friend David Pecker. That is his name. It was a bad week.

Friday couldn’t come soon enough, and then the hammer dropped:

The Justice Department charged 13 Russians and three companies on Friday in a sprawling indictment that unveiled a sophisticated network designed to subvert the 2016 election and to support the Trump campaign. It stretched from an office in St. Petersburg, Russia, into the social feeds of Americans and ultimately reached the streets of election battleground states.

The Russians stole the identities of American citizens, posed as political activists and used the flash points of immigration, religion and race to manipulate a campaign in which those issues were already particularly divisive, prosecutors said.

So the whole thing wasn’t a hoax cooked up by the Democrats, the sore losers, but there was some good news:

Some of the Russians were also in contact with “unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign,” according to court papers. Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel leading the investigation, made no accusation that President Trump or his associates were knowingly part of the conspiracy.

Trump can now claim his staff was filled with unwitting individuals who were too easily duped, but that’s not a useful thing to claim:

“The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy,” Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the inquiry, said in a brief news conference. “We must not allow them to succeed.”

The 37-page indictment – handed up by a federal grand jury in Washington – amounted to a detailed rebuttal of Mr. Trump, who has sowed doubts that Russia interfered in the election and dismissed questions about its meddling as “fake news.”

And there was this:

The Justice Department said Mr. Mueller’s work was not complete. The indictment does not address the hacking of Democratic email systems or whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct the FBI investigation into Russian interference. Mr. Mueller is negotiating with the president’s lawyers over the terms of a possible interview.

This isn’t over, and so far this was bad news, or it was good news, or it wasn’t:

The Russian operation began four years ago, well before Mr. Trump entered the presidential race, a fact that he quickly seized on in his defense. “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President,” he wrote on Twitter. “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”

But Mr. Trump’s statement ignored the government’s conclusion that, by 2016, the Russians were “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump” and disparaging Hillary Clinton, his opponent. Working out of the office in St. Petersburg, the Russians described waging “information warfare against the United States of America,” according to court documents.

Mr. Mueller has gathered extensive evidence of contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign: Mr. Trump’s eldest son met with a Russian lawyer in hopes of receiving political dirt on Mrs. Clinton; one adviser has admitted being tipped off in advance to Russian hacking of Democratic emails; another was in contact with a Twitter account used by Russian hackers; a federal judge found probable cause that a third adviser was an unlawful Russian agent. And the Trump campaign repeatedly and falsely denied any contacts with Russia.

Trump’s tweet was premature, because this was one hell of an operation:

Whether any of that violated federal law is the weightiest question facing Mr. Mueller, and Friday’s indictment did not answer it. But it painted a picture of a Russian operation that was multipronged, well financed and relentless…

Russian operatives traveled across the United States to gather intelligence and foment political discord. They worked with an unidentified American who advised them to focus their efforts on what they viewed as “purple” election battleground states, including Colorado, Virginia and Florida, the indictment said.

In August 2016, prosecutors said, Russians posed as Americans and coordinated with Trump campaign staff to organize rallies in Florida.

Trump’s naïve campaign staff got played – that’s the charitable interpretation – but one point was that Putin is not the great guy that Trump keeps saying he is:

The indictment does not explicitly say the Russian government sponsored the effort, but American intelligence officials have publicly said that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia directed and oversaw it. The indictment notes that two of the Russian firms involved hold Russian government contracts.

“This is clearly a message document,” Robert S. Litt, the former general counsel to the director of national intelligence, said of the indictment. “Mueller wants to end the debate over whether there was Russian interference in the election.”

Mueller did that, and the details were stunning:

Russian computer specialists, divided into day teams and night teams, created hundreds of social media accounts that eventually attracted hundreds of thousands of online followers. They posed as Christian activists, anti-immigration groups and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. One account posed as the Tennessee Republican Party and generated hundreds of thousands of followers, prosecutors said.

And there was this:

In summer 2016 as Mrs. Clinton appeared headed for a decisive general election victory, Russian operatives promoted allegations of Democratic voter fraud. That echoed Mr. Trump’s own message that he was the victim of a rigged political system.

After the election, the Russians kept up their efforts to foment dissent. In November, they staged two rallies in New York on the same day. One had the theme, “Show your support for President-Elect Trump.” The other was called, “Trump is NOT my President.”

Putin was having a fine time, and Bloomberg News reports this:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his prosecutors haven’t concluded their investigation into whether President Donald Trump or any of his associates helped Russia interfere in the 2016 election, according to a person with knowledge of the probe.

Friday’s indictment of a St. Petersburg-based “troll farm” and 13 Russian nationals should be seen as a limited slice of a comprehensive investigation, the person said. Mueller’s work is expected to continue for months and also includes examining potential obstruction of justice by Trump, said the person, who requested anonymity to discuss an investigation that is largely confidential…

It’s still possible that Mueller will indict Americans for knowingly helping Russia, the person said.

By contrast, Trump and those around him portrayed the Russia investigation as if it were all but closed. “I am happy for the country. Bob and his team did a very good job on this,” Trump lawyer John Dowd said, although he declined to say if the action clears the president.

That won’t do:

Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat who’s the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, said the announcement Friday should “lay to rest” assertions the investigation was a hoax and preempt efforts to remove officials involved in investigating Trump.

“At this point, any step President Trump may take to interfere with the Special Counsel’s investigation — including removing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, or threatening to remove Special Counsel Mueller directly – will have to be seen as a direct attempt to aid the Russian government in attacking American democracy,” Nadler said in a statement.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Mueller’s inquiry must be allowed to follow the facts “unhindered by the White House or Republicans in Congress.”

Mueller sprang a trap on Trump. Trump can’t fire anyone now, and Jonathan Chait adds this:

One of President Trump’s favorite methods to defend his innocence in the Russia investigation is to claim that any piece of evidence that does not explicitly assert his guilt is in fact evidence of his innocence. Trump has been applying this method to the intelligence community’s assessment of Russian election interference. The report steered clear of the unanswerable question of whether Russian intervention moved enough votes to hand Trump the Electoral College, because neither intelligence analysts nor anybody can measure just how many votes were changed by developments on the campaign. Trump has repeatedly lied that the report made a positive case that Russian interference made no difference. It is exactly like saying Trump was cleared by the Warren Commission because the Warren Commission report makes no conclusion about Trump and Russia.

This has gotten absurd:

Trump’s defense is simply to pretend it is an investigation of his campaign and he’s somehow been cleared… Literally nothing like this is found in the indictment. It does not say there’s no collusion. It simply addresses an aspect of Russian activity that may not have entailed collusion. And if you expected the president to make an argument more sophisticated than this extremely simplistic and obviously false denial, which treats an indictment of something other than collusion as proof there is no collusion, then you probably haven’t been paying attention.

On the other hand, there was this:

The indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian companies for allegedly interfering in the 2016 presidential election shows that former President Obama’s administration “lost sight of Russia,” according to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel…

McDaniel noted that Obama famously mocked Mitt Romney during a 2012 presidential debate on foreign policy after Romney said Russia is the greatest geopolitical threat to the United States.

That was the discussion on Fox News. This was Obama’s fault. Trump has always said that Russia is our deadliest foe and Putin in a totally evil man. Don’t you remember? Fox News is a strange place.

Jennifer Rubin tries to set things straight:

There is no “hoax,” and Trump’s insistence that the Russia investigation is about nothing only reinforces the perception that his ego won’t allow him to concede that he received Russian help and/or that he’s been trying to disable the Russia investigation, precisely because he did not want this plot of interference to come out.

That’s a good enough summary, and she adds this:

Mueller and his team are moving with remarkable speed, wrapping up witnesses and substantiating a conspiracy to influence the election. There is much more to this than “just” evidence of obstruction. There is an embarrassing scheme to fix our election by a hostile foreign power that certainly could have been the motive for Trump’s effort to thwart the Russia investigation. Mueller has multiple cooperating witnesses: Michael Flynn, Richard Pinedo (the indicted American), George Papadopoulos and soon, we are told, Rick Gates. Trump and his legal team should be exceptionally worried about what else Mueller has.

Now add this:

The president’s failure to take action to protect the U.S. election system and prevent another assault on our democracy – a real and ongoing concern voiced by the unanimous testimony of his top intelligence officials – appears to be a gross dereliction of Trump’s duties and an abrogation of his oath.

The Russian plan was specifically aimed at helping Trump.

Now add this:

While Rosenstein said there was no evidence that the actions in the indictment affected the election outcome, such an assertion, he surely must know, is not a provable fact and is legally immaterial. No one can prove how many people were affected by what the Russians put out.

A plan of this magnitude involving so many people and so much money could not have feasibly been conducted without the knowledge or assistance of the Kremlin.

And forget that stupid memo:

Carter Page is largely irrelevant to the larger plot to undermine the U.S. election system. Republicans’ efforts, led by the clownish Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), to assist and enable Trump now look foolish or worse. What has been implicit is now explicit: They are doing the Russians’ work for them.

Rubin sees this as a really bad end to an awful week:

The indictments and plea raise a slew of questions: How did Mueller get the information? Did any Trump official have any connection to the Russians? How did the Russians determine what hashtags to use and what themes to push? If we are now in pursuit of social media players, are the hackers who broke into the DNC and John Podesta’s emails in sight? Rosenstein described help afforded to the Russians by “unwitting” figures linked to the Trump campaign. However, as one Russia guru points out to me, “On the ‘unwitting’ Trump campaign officials, we know there was a hell of a lot of ‘witting.’ That is effectively what the June 9 meeting [at Trump Tower] and [outreach to Russians from] Papadopoulos show.”

Once more, we are reminded how little we know about what Mueller has already found. If he has this much evidence just on the quadrant of a Russian troll farm, what else is out there?

Matthew Nussbaum at Politico takes it from there:

The indictment, brought by special counsel Robert Mueller, only compounds fears in the White House that Trump will attack the FBI in the wake of a school shooting in Florida that left 17 dead, and revelations that the bureau mishandled a tip about the alleged shooter it received in January. Senior staffers are actively urging Trump to avoid attacking the FBI, one administration official said.

But for Trump, famously furious about the notion that a foreign adversary aided his political rise, the detailed revelation that Russia poured resources toward securing his win could prove one instigation too far. He has frequently railed against the Russia investigation, dismissing it as a “witch hunt” and “fake news.” And he has bristled at the notion that Russian interference assisted his upset win over Hillary Clinton, calling the notion a “phony Democrat excuse for losing.”

“He has always been concerned about the legitimacy of his election,” said Rick Tyler, a former communications director for Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential bid. “This is criminal activity that these indictments point to that helped Donald Trump get elected. … My guess is he will try to delegitimize it and dismiss it.”

“What needs to happen is someone senior around Trump needs to explain the distinction between Russian meddling and Russian collusion,” said one White House official, voicing fear that Trump will leverage his frequent denials of collusion into a broader effort to dismiss Mueller’s findings that Russia actively interfered in the election…

But Trump has demonstrated a difficulty in the past with accepting any information that raises doubt about his election victory, which he frequently brags about. He still, for example, stands by a claim that Clinton’s popular-vote victory was the result of widespread voter fraud, despite no evidence to support the assertion.

He is a fragile man desperately in need of praise, who lashes out when he doesn’t get it, and he lost the Golden Boy on his side too:

“We have known that Russians meddled in the election, but these indictments detail the extent of the subterfuge,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement. “These Russians engaged in a sinister and systematic attack on our political system. It was a conspiracy to subvert the process, and take aim at democracy itself. Today’s announcement underscores why we need to follow the facts and work to protect the integrity of future elections.”

Paul Ryan probably won’t be invited to the big military parade, but then things got worse:

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly announced Friday that beginning next week the White House will no longer allow some employees with interim security clearances access to top-secret information – a move that could threaten the standing of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law.

Kushner, a senior adviser to the president, has been able to see some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets even as his background investigation has dragged on for more than a year.

That may end:

White House officials have privately discussed concerns that Kushner’s clearance faces obstacles, according to people familiar with internal conversations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private talks. Among the potential problems: repeated amendments that he had to make to a form detailing his contacts with foreign officials. Two U.S. officials said they do not expect Kushner to receive a permanent security clearance in the near future.

He may never receive a permanent security clearance, and that’s trouble:

It is not clear how Kushner could perform his job without a high-level security clearance. He holds a broad range of responsibilities, from overseeing peace efforts in the Middle East to improving the efficiency of the federal government. And he is the administration’s interlocutor with key allies, including China and Saudi Arabia, where he has developed a personal relationship with the young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Someone else may have to take care of all that, because this will end:

Kushner has been present at meetings with the president where classified information was discussed and has access to the President’s Daily Brief, a digest of intelligence updates based on information from spies, satellites, and surveillance technology, according to people with knowledge of his access.

And apart from staff on the National Security Council, he issues more requests for information to the intelligence community than any White House employee, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.

General Kelly probably won’t be invited to the big military parade either. It’ll just be Trump, and the tanks and missiles in the streets and giant bombers in the sky, and troops marching, lots of troops, unless Trump invites Vladimir Putin – but Mueller dropped the hammer. Vladimir Putin was looking for the one candidate who could do the most harm to America. Putin chose Trump. No military parade can change that fact.

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Staying In Your Lane

Everyone has a story. Everyone changes lanes. By 1981 it was time for a change – the first marriage had ended and teaching English at the prep school in Rochester, in the quiet upper left hand corner of New York, had lost its charm, or at least seemed to stretch out endlessly into the future in a sad Mister Chips sort of way. Life had become a matter of plowing through Hamlet and Great Expectations once again, and reading pretty much the same student essays, making the same comments, and then assigning a grade, which would be shrugged off or disputed in anger or tears – while real life went on elsewhere. That wouldn’t do. The real world was elsewhere.

So it was off to California, to a place at the beach and a job in aerospace – which in the eighties seemed real enough. There was the little red convertible and heading off to work each day in a suit and tie, with a briefcase, of all things, and conferences in Vegas or Newport Beach, with PowerPoint presentations and talk about systems and return-on-investment and such things. This had to be real life – after all, it paid more than three times as much, and no one really cared what Ophelia’s big problem might be. The talk was about competitive compensation practices and management training strategies and succession planning and all sorts of organizational development issues, and information systems to manage all that. That was support stuff, but in the next building they designed and assembled military satellites, and in the next building over, fire-control radar systems for fighter jets, and down the street it was guidance systems for our ICBMs in the submarines. All this was very real in a way Dickens wasn’t. One can change lanes.

The irony was that changing lanes wasn’t that easy in California. It was those Botts’ dots – those little round non-reflective raised pavement markers used to mark lanes on all the highways. Those provided tactile and auditory feedback if you drifted out of your lane – you’d hear a sudden rumble and the steering wheel would shake. Those were named after Elbert Dysart Botts, a California Department of Transportation engineer, but that’s trivia. Those dots kept you on the straight and narrow, in the land where there were no snowplows to scrape them off the road, because it never snows. In September 1966, the California State Legislature mandated that Botts’ dots be used for lane markings for all state highways – except in the few odd high places where it did snow. In 2017, the California Department of Transportation announced that it would stop using Botts’ dots – to make roadways more compatible with self-driving cars – but they had been useful. Late at night they could sober you up. Pay attention!

Pay attention to the automatically-generated sudden rumble. Stay in your lane. The Russians understand this, as Maya Kosoff explains:

Four months after representatives for Facebook, Twitter, and Google were hauled before Congress to explain how their platforms were overrun by Russian bots, trolls, and other agents of Moscow’s sprawling dezinformatsiya campaign, it appears Silicon Valley is still struggling to get the problem under control. In the immediate aftermath of a horrific mass shooting at a Florida high school on Wednesday, an army of fake accounts began pumping out disinformation on Twitter using the #ParklandShooting hashtag, Wired reports, amplifying hyper-partisan rhetoric, co-opting messaging from far-right extremists and the NRA and generally sowing fresh chaos in an already chaotic breaking-news environment.

The Russians are making sure everyone stays in their own angry lane – with bots, electronic Butt’s dots – and Wired has the details:

In the wake of Wednesday’s Parkland, Florida school shooting, which resulted in 17 deaths, troll and bot-tracking sites reported an immediate uptick in related tweets from political propaganda bots and Russia-linked Twitter accounts. Hamilton 68, a website created by Alliance for Securing Democracy, tracks Twitter activity from accounts it has identified as linked to Russian influence campaigns. As of morning, shooting-related terms dominated the site’s trending hashtags and topics, including Parkland, guncontrolnow, Florida, guncontrol, and Nikolas Cruz, the name of the alleged shooter. Popular trending topics among the bot network include shooter, NRA, shooting, Nikolas, Florida, and teacher.

On RoBhat Labs’ Botcheck.me, a website created by two Berkeley students to track 1500 political propaganda bots, all of the top two-word phrases used in the last 24 hours – excluding President Trump’s name – are related to the tragedy: School shooting, gun control, high school, Florida school. The top hashtags from the last 24 hours include Parkland, guncontrol, and guncontrolnow.

Kosoff adds this:

These troll and bot armies seem to follow a specific strategy for injecting hashtags, memes, and conspiracies into the mainstream. In cases like the Parkland shooting, human-controlled bots tend to hijack hashtags to push partisan pro-gun messaging. At the same time, bot creators will come up with their own hashtags, use bots to promote them, and then wait for real Twitter users to adopt them. “Because of the politicized nature of them, they are perfect fodder to take an extreme position and start spreading memes that have a very distinct political position on gun control,” Bret Schafer, a research analyst with the Alliance for Securing Democracy, told Wired. More dangerously, the feedback loop between fake and real accounts makes it difficult to stamp out disinformation campaigns, even if fake accounts can be identified and deleted.

As Twitter has grown, that problem has become increasingly unmanageable. Former executives I’ve spoken with at the company are emphatic about illustrating just how difficult a task it is to monitor the hundreds of millions of tweets sent on Twitter every day.

Elbert Dysart Botts would be proud, because once again an automatically-generated sudden rumble keeps everyone in their own lane, and Kosoff notes this:

There’s a certain genius to the way these bot networks have infiltrated the Twitter platform. In the early days of the 2016 election interference campaign, Russian actors did not appear to take sides in political debates on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks. Instead, accounts associated with Russia sometimes took both sides of any given debate. In one particularly remarkable example, Russian trolls organized two sides of a protest in Texas and encouraged attendees to confront each other in the streets. These campaigns may not be effective at changing hearts and minds, but they’re plenty effective at inflaming debates, sowing distrust, and spreading conspiracies that undermine our ability to talk to each other.

That assumes that Americans still have any sort of ability to talk to each other. The nation is now totally polarized. There is no middle and the far ends do no more than sneer and ridicule each other. There are thousands of analyses of that – and the Russians are making sure that will not change. There’s that sudden rumble. Everyone will stay in their lane.

Donald Trump will stay in his lane:

President Trump on Thursday called the suspect in the mass school shooting in Parkland, Fla., “mentally disturbed” and vowed to help local jurisdictions tackle mental health issues, but he made no mention of stricter gun-control laws.

In a televised address at the White House, Trump focused his response on the need for the nation to offer more support for young people who feel isolated a day after Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student who had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, was accused of the rampage that killed 17 people at his former school.

“I want you to know you are never alone and never will be,” Trump said during his six-minute address in the Diplomatic Room. He urged young people to turn for help to “a teacher, a family member, a local police officer or a faith leader.”

“Answer hate with love,” he said. “Answer cruelty with kindness.”

What? Forget hitting back ten times harder? Who was this man and what had he done with the real Donald Trump? This was odd, but he was staying in his lane:

Trump pledged his administration would help “tackle the difficult issue of mental health” and said the issue of improving safety in schools would be the top priority during a meeting later this month with governors and state attorneys general. Yet Trump made no mention of gun-control laws in the aftermath of the third-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

The Trump White House has not pushed for any new gun laws.

He made no mention of gun control, but he had to say something, and this was something, even if it was nonsense:

A year ago, Trump signed legislation that revoked an Obama-era regulation that aimed to make it more difficult for some people with mental illness to buy guns.

Oops. And there was this:

Aside from a presidential proclamation lowering flags to half mast, neither he nor anyone else at the White House said anything more about the shooting after his remarks, even after the leader of a white nationalist group in Florida said the shooter had trained with its members, or after CBS News verified an Instagram account belonging to the shooter in which he set a profile picture of himself wearing a red Make America Great Again hat.

That will come up again and again, even if Trump is not responsible for some idiot taking things too far – unless he is responsible. To the despair of the Republican Party he had said that many “fine people” had marched with the white nationalists in Charlottesville. He still says that. That sounds like approval. Approval isn’t responsibility for mass murder, but it comes close.

But he has his lane, and Obama had his, and the Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe and Jenna Johnson discuss how that has shaped things:

As he heads to Florida this weekend, President Trump is following in the footsteps of former president Barack Obama, a man he disparages and a leader whose time in office in many ways came to be defined by mass shootings.

Obama bequeathed on his successor an almost ritualistic response to gun tragedies, beginning with the 2011 attack on then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and ending with the 2016 Dallas attack that left five officers dead. There were 15 speeches from the White House, countless prayers for the fallen and more than a dozen visits to the crime scenes.

All the while, Obama traveled a path from empathy and promises of action to anger and, ultimately, defeat. “I am not naive,” Obama said in Dallas. “I have seen how inadequate my own words have been.”

That’s one lane, and this is the other:

Trump, beginning the second year of his presidency with his third major mass shooting, has a different problem. His challenges when it comes to connecting with a grieving public are often both personal and political.

While Obama simply ran out of things to say about the nation’s unending string of gun tragedies, Trump – who often strains to express empathy – has struggled to find much to say about them at all.

In a statement from the White House on Thursday morning about the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., Trump promised to work with state and local leaders to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health.”

But his remarks, which lasted about six minutes, were so generic that they could have applied to any catastrophe.

“To every parent, teacher and child who is hurting so badly, we are here for you, whatever you need, whatever we can do to ease your pain,” he said, reading from a script in a practiced monotone in the Diplomatic Room of the White House. “We are all joined together as one American family, and your suffering is our burden also.”

He was reading from a script in a practiced monotone and gritting his teeth. He seemed angry. He had to do an Obama thing and he isn’t Obama:

The comments mirrored what he said in September after the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana.

“When one American suffers – and I say this quite a bit, especially lately, when you see what’s going on – we all suffer,” Trump said in the storm’s aftermath. “We’re one American family brought together in times of tragedy by the unbreakable bonds of love and loyalty that we have for one another.”

This seems odd from a man who takes pride in demeaning rivals with insulting nicknames and everyone knows it:

Trump’s most genuine emotion, the one that attracted legions of followers to his presidential campaign is his anger, aides say… Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, said in a recent interview. “Anger and fear is what gets people to the polls.”

But anger has seemed off-limits for Trump when it comes to the root causes of mass shootings and the unwillingness to act in Washington. Polls suggest widespread support for gun-control legislation, but Trump has remained loyal to supporters who believed that Obama was trying to take away their guns. Instead, he has repeatedly pointed to mental illness as the cause of mass killings, including the one in Florida, though his administration has moved to cut spending on such care.

Everyone stays in their lane, and Jaffe and Johnson argue that everyone knows that too:

For presidents, the hours and days after mass shootings can be clarifying, exposing both their strengths and weaknesses as leaders. Some of Obama’s most memorable, moving and eloquent moments came in the wake of such tragedies.

“We can’t tolerate this anymore,” Obama said at an evening prayer vigil after the killings of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. “These tragedies must end.”

Following the slaughter of nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., Obama led an arena full of mourners in “Amazing Grace.”

But he was never able to mobilize Congress or the country to action — despite the vast public support for gun-control legislation.

“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said in 2016, with tears rolling down his face, as he recalled the Newtown massacre while surrounded by victims of mass shootings at the White House.

That’s not Trump:

On the campaign trail, Trump had a unique ability to connect with voters, presenting himself as someone who understood their problems and was fighting for them. Those connections have been tougher for him to forge as president – especially on issues such as gun control where he is out of step with most of the country.

Rather than offer policy solutions, Trump has stuck with general expressions of sadness following mass shootings.

On Thursday, he promised to visit Parkland to “meet with families and local officials and to continue coordinating the federal response.”

Maybe he’ll throw rolls of paper towels like he did in Puerto Rico., but don’t expect him to change lanes:

Trump followed a nearly identical routine in early October after the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, which left more than 50 dead at an outdoor country music festival in Las Vegas. After that tragedy, there were calls for Congress to outlaw “bump stocks,” a device used by the shooter in Las Vegas to turn an assault rifle into a rapidly firing machine gun. But Trump chose not to take a position on the issue.

“The president’s a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at the time. “That hasn’t changed.”

One month later, after a gunman opened fire in a rural Texas church, killing 26, Trump issued a brief statement urging Americans to “pull together… join hands… lock arms… stand strong.” Trump, who was visiting Asia at the time of the tragedy, sent his vice president to the scene.

The big question for Trump is whether he will pay a political price for inaction in the wake of gun tragedies. Obama’s experience suggests that he will not.

That may be what this was about:

Trump seems well aware of Obama’s history and has shown almost no interest in pushing new policies on guns and mental health.

In the first hours after Wednesday’s school shooting, White House officials were scrambling to get more information and figure out how to respond.

Longer term, the president seemed to be making a different calculation. In his remarks, he spoke of the need for Americans “to work together to create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life, that creates deep and meaningful human connections, and that turns classmates and colleagues into friends and neighbors.”

By not setting concrete goals, Trump seemed to be betting that he can avoid a legislative failure like Obama’s.

Eventually, he seemed to be wagering, Americans will move on to other issues. Eventually, they will forget.

Then he can get back to being himself, but there was this:

In the familiar aftermath of America’s latest mass shooting, something new stood out: This time, the kids who survived the rampage on Wednesday were demanding to know why the adults who run the country had not done more to prevent it.

The comments came in an outpouring that began Wednesday and had not stopped by Thursday night. On Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook, they remembered peers and teachers and struggled with the emotion of the moment. Many students were interviewed on national TV, some for much of the day.

The pleas for action from Parkland struck a sharp contrast with the almost nonexistent debate on Capitol Hill over preventing gun violence. Calls to ban the semi­automatic weapon used by the shooter were considered a non-starter in a Republican-controlled Congress where lawmakers are heavily influenced by the National Rifle Association.

No one expected anything else, but the adults who run the country were looking a bit foolish:

Students in Parkland called leaders’ lack of action inexcusable, pointing specifically to the age of the alleged shooter, Nikolas Cruz, 19.

“How are we allowed to buy guns at the age of 18 or 19? That’s something we shouldn’t be able to do,” Lyliah Skinner, who survived the shooting, told CNN.

Guillermo Bogan, who is home-schooled but has friends at Douglas High, said the alleged shooter’s age shows the selfishness of the gun industry.

“Some people will just do anything for a dollar,” Bogan said at a midday vigil for the victims. “There should be a background check – are you mentally ill or are you not mentally ill? And clearly he was mentally ill.”

No one was staying in their lane and it got worse:

Some students had harsh words for President Trump, who committed to tackling “the difficult issue of mental health” in an address to the nation that did not mention further gun restrictions.

Speaking to CNN, Douglas High student Isabella Gomez singled out Trump’s remark that students needing help should “turn to a teacher, a family member.”

“What could our teachers do in that situation, rather than save themselves, just as we were?” Gomez said. “I feel like he really needs to take into consideration all this gun control.”

And the response was lame:

Asked Thursday afternoon whether Trump had heard the pleas of the student survivors and their parents, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said that the president’s “heart is heavy.” He said Trump would convene a discussion on school safety, though he provided few specifics.

But perhaps all those Russian bots had done their job:

At the vigil in Parkland, not all students were confident that policymakers can solve the problem.

“This stuff happens and we don’t know why,” said Mia Veliz, a senior at Calvary Christian Academy in nearby Fort Lauderdale. “There is nothing we can do to stop it.”

That’s the spirit. Those odd Russian bots inflame debates, sow distrust, and spread conspiracies that undermine our ability to talk to each other, and they were wildly successful. There is no middle and the far ends do no more than sneer and ridicule each other, and nothing gets done, and everyone knows that, and some are satisfied with that. There’s that sudden rumble, just like with those Botts’ dots. Everyone stays in their lane. Dots and bots work wonders.

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The Usual Interruption

Valentine’s Day this year wasn’t all that sweet at the White House. Donald and Melania Trump weren’t holding hands and smiling. Donald Trump didn’t send her roses, as far as anyone could tell. Melania Trump had refused to go the World Economic Forum in Davos with her husband. She wasn’t going to be his trophy wife, the stunning Slovenian Sphinx. She visited the Washington Holocaust museum instead, alone, and then headed off to Florida, to do that Greta Garbo thing – she wanted to be alone – and on Valentine’s Day the story of her husband’s affair with the porn star, just after she had given birth to their son, was in the news again. Maybe that never happened, and if it did it was more than a decade ago, but her husband’s personal attorney had just admitted that just before the election he had paid off the porn star to be quiet – with his own money. The porn star then said that since Trump’s personal attorney had admitted that, she was now free to tell all – and she would. Melania Trump had a bad Valentine’s Day.

Donald Trump had a worse one. The wife-beater scandal wouldn’t go away, even if the wife-beater, Rob Porter, had. The White House had said no one had known about his issues. No one had told them about that – but the day before, Christopher Wray – the guy Trump appointed to head the FBI after he had fired that pesky James Comey – had blown that up. Wray testified to Congress – in open session – that the FBI had told the White House about Porter, last year, in March, and had sent over the completed  file in June. Porter beat his wives, and wanted to keep it quiet, so Porter could be blackmailed. Porter shouldn’t be given a security clearance of any kind, and he certainly shouldn’t be the one guy who received and consolidated all the top secret stuff sent to the president every day. Wray said the FBI had answered all follow-up questions from the White House. Porter was trouble, but Wray was trouble. No one knew? That wasn’t going to fly. The White House spent Valentine’s Day trying to figure out what they were going to say about all this. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary, would have to say something to the reporters. Her daily press briefing was pushed back one hour, then another hour, then another hour, and then another – and then it was cancelled. There’s Washington-talk for that. They put a lid on it.

That was a good idea:

A senior official on the National Economic Council says he resigned on Tuesday after being informed that he would not receive a permanent security clearance, as the White House faces increasing scrutiny over the number of high-ranking officials allowed to work on interim clearances.

George David Banks, who had served since February 2017 as special assistant to the president for international energy and environmental policy, told POLITICO that he was informed by the White House counsel’s office Tuesday that his application for a permanent clearance would not be granted over his past marijuana use.

Like an estimated three dozen others in the White House, Banks had been working on an interim security clearance while the administration determined the status of his full clearance.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment… Speechwriter David Sorensen, who worked at the Council on Environmental Quality, stepped down on Friday over domestic abuse allegations.

That’s three, and late in the day there was this:

Nearly a year into President Donald Trump’s administration, senior-level staffers – including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and Rob Porter – remained on interim clearances even as other senior advisers were granted full security access, according to information obtained by CNN from a US government official.

Having interim clearance can hamper a staffer’s ability to perform essential functions of the job, a former administration official said. It requires those with full permanent clearances to remain vigilant about what information is shared with those still operating on an interim basis.

There were more than 100 staffers in the Executive Office of the President who were operating on interim clearances more than a year after Trump was elected, according to the information…

Some officials who started on January 20, 2017, and were without permanent clearances by November include a special assistant to the president for national security affairs and the National Security Council’s senior director for international cybersecurity…

Some others had been approved for permanent access to top secret information but were still working off interim access to Sensitive Compartmented Information. That included Don McGahn, the White House counsel, and Sarah Sanders, the press secretary.

That’s more than three, and then there was this:

House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) told CNN on Wednesday that his committee has launched an investigation into former White House aide Rob Porter following abuse allegations by his ex-wives.

Gowdy confirmed the news in a letter to White House chief of staff John Kelly later Wednesday, stating there is an investigation into “the extent to which any security clearance issued to Porter comported” with “the policies and processes by which interim security clearances are investigated and adjudicated within the Executive Branch.”

Gowdy wrote that his committee “seeks to better understand the criteria and the scope of an investigation for determining whether to issue an interim security clearance generally; who adjudicated his clearance; and what derogatory information was subsequently made available to the White House on Porter, when, and to whom.”

Trey Gowdy is a Republican. It may be that Republicans no long fear those Trump Tweets of Death, with the sneering nicknames for guys like Gowdy. Gowdy doesn’t care, and of course the day before, the nation’s top intelligence chiefs testified that Russia is continuing efforts to disrupt our political system and is targeting the 2018 midterm elections. The Russians are coming. The Russians are coming again. That’s what they told Congress, in open session. That’s not what Trump says. Trump says all of that is a hoax. He won the election fair and square. Nothing happened, but the nation’s top intelligence chiefs, almost all appointed by Donald Trump, turned on him. Reporters will ask Sarah Huckabee Sanders about that. There’s no way to keep a lid on all of this.

This was a bad Valentine’s Day at the White House, but then the White House caught a lucky break. Like clockwork, there was another school shooting:

A heavily armed 19-year-old who had been expelled from a South Florida high school opened fire on campus shortly before classes let out Wednesday, killing 17 people while terrified students barricaded themselves inside classrooms, police said.

The violence unfolded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, a school of more than 3,000 students in a tony suburb northwest of Fort Lauderdale where houses sit on broad lots.

The Broward County sheriff identified the suspect as Nikolas Cruz, who had recently attended the school but had been kicked out for “disciplinary reasons.” He was captured after a manhunt that transfixed the region and forced a nearby school into a lockdown, said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. Students recalled terror and confusion in the aftermath of the shooting.

“It’s a horrific, horrific day,” said Israel, whose own triplets graduated from the well-regarded high school. “It’s catastrophic. There really are no words.” The victims included several students and adults, authorities said.

That’ll change the subject. Everything political disappeared from every news feed. Cable news covered nothing else, but there were no words because it all sounded so familiar:

The gunman started firing before even entering the school, leaving a trail of carnage across the sprawling campus, Israel said. A dozen of the dead were found inside the school, and three were found outside. Two others succumbed to their injuries at a hospital. A football coach was among those killed, the sheriff said Wednesday night. Twelve of the victims had been identified by late Wednesday, Israel said…

“It is a day you pray every day you don’t have to see,” said Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, reflecting on one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings. The shooter came to the school armed with weaponry that evoked a battlefield, not a school located down the street from an equestrian park. He carried “countless magazines” and an AR-15 rifle, Israel said.

These things happen and there were the usual ignored warning signs:

Authorities who were beginning to analyze his motives had unearthed social media postings that “are very, very disturbing,” Israel said.

An Instagram account that appeared to belong to the suspect showed several photos of guns. One appeared to show a gun’s holographic laser sight pointed at a neighborhood street. A second showed at least six rifles and handguns laid out on a bed with the caption “arsenal.” Other pictures showed a box of large-caliber rounds with the caption “cost me $30.” One of the most disturbing appeared to show a dead frog’s bloodied corpse.

And so it goes:

This is at least the third school shooting this year, and one of the deadliest on record. Beginning with Columbine 19 years ago, more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus, according to a Washington Post analysis of online archives, state and federal enrollment figures, and news stories. That doesn’t count dozens of suicides, accidents and after-school assaults that have also exposed children to gunfire.

And there was this:

President Trump said he had been briefed on the shooting and tweeted, “My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.”

He said nothing else. This was pro forma. He had other things on his mind, and the Daily Beast covers the usual:

The teens who knew Cruz at the school were stunned. They described Cruz as an awkward “outcast” – someone who had trouble fitting in at Douglas High. But they never saw a mass murderer in the making.

“I knew him to be passive aggressive but not violent. He was rude to people. He had an act up like he was tough. He never got into, like, physical fights with anyone, but he did get into verbal arguments,” 17-year-old Ocean Parodie told The Daily Beast. “I just thought he dropped out of school, I didn’t think he would do anything. He always kept a low profile.”

“He was definitely not accepted at our school socially. People saw him as someone who was different than the normal people at our school,” Parodie added.

It was the same old story, with a minor twist:

Cruz always had his hair short and had a penchant for wearing patriotic shirts that “seemed really extreme, like hating on” Islam, Parodie said. The suspected gunman would also deride Muslims as “terrorists and bombers.”

“I’ve seen him wear a Trump hat,” the student said.

Trump was right, then, to say next to nothing, but the connection to him is tenuous:

Parodie’s 15-year-old sister, Milan, had a similar impression of Cruz.

“I could tell he tried to be social at times but there was something off about him,” she said. “I never really saw him with many people. Girls thought he was creepy and weird. He was pretty pale with red hair. I didn’t talk to him that much, but from what I could tell he wasn’t a nice kid. He wore a lot of black and was always alone.”

That makes him more like Steve Bannon, but the kids knew something was wrong:

“Honestly, a lot of people were saying that it was gonna be him,” one student told [local television station] WJXT of Cruz. “Actually, a lot of kids joked… saying that he was gonna be the one to shoot up the school, but it turns out, you know, everyone predicted it, that’s crazy.”

The student added: “He was in the third floor. He knows the school layout, he knows where everyone would be… he’s been in the fire drills. He’s prepared for this stuff.”

Another student told WFOR-TV that Cruz “always had guns on him.”

They knew, and there’s the socioeconomic angle:

Helen Pasciolla, a former neighbor of Cruz, told the New York Times that he had told her his family had been forced to sell their house in the upscale neighborhood because of money problems. She also told the paper both Cruz and his brother were adopted and their adoptive father had died.

Their mother, Lynda Cruz, would call the police to try to help deal with the boys’ behavioral problems, Pasciolla told the Times.

“I think she wanted to scare them a little bit,” she said. “Nikolas has behavioral problems, I think, but I never thought he would be violent.”

No one ever thinks that. Everyone knows that. This was the usual interruption in the usual flow of political news, and Richard Wolffe knows the drill:

This is no time to talk politics, we’re told by gun-loving conservatives.

This is a time for prayers, we’re told by Donald Trump.

“There really are no words,” we’re told by the local sheriff.

So it’s okay, everyone. We can get back to the latest blather about tax cuts for corporations or billions for a border wall. Those are the things that politics, and presidents, and words, can handle.

But if we can’t talk about saving the lives of our children, if our politics can’t keep our schools safe, if we can’t talk about the mass murder of innocence, then what on earth are we talking about? What’s the point of any politician if they can’t do this one simple thing: protect our youngest citizens?

Wolffe seems to be arguing that politics is about the people – the polis (the city or the body of citizens in Greek) – the people – the root word of policy too. That comes into play here:

If this was the eighth terrorist attack of 2018, don’t you think every member of Congress – not just Democrats – would bleat on about taking urgent action? If ISIS-inspired gunmen had just mowed down 17 high school students in their classrooms, how long would it take before our president spoke in front of the nation’s TV cameras?

Instead, we’ll have to settle for a tweet. Because when we need leadership the most, there’s no point in raising your hopes with the man who watches Fox News all day inside the White House.

Instead, we get this:

There have been many attempts to tackle assault weapons like the AR-15. When Senator Diane Feinstein, the California Democrat, tried to do that in 2013 – one month after the Sandy Hook school massacre – there were 60 “no” votes that killed the effort, including those of 15 Democrats.

Among those no votes was one Marco Rubio, the Florida senator, who told Fox News on Wednesday that now wasn’t the time to talk about gun control. “I think you can always have that debate,” he said. “But if you’re gonna have that debate about this particular incident you should know the facts of that incident before you run out and prescribe some law that you claim could have prevented it.”

Wolffe smells bullshit:

Senator Rubio: Save yourself the trouble. You don’t need to know the facts because the last time you heard the facts, you voted against regulating the very gun that massacred all those schoolchildren at Sandy Hook. It’s so funny how you need to be 100% sure about the impact of gun control laws when you are prepared to throw any amount of legislation and spending at the far less deadly terrorist threat to the United States.

Rubio can get away with this nonsense now, even more than he could in 2013. There were 20 children killed at Sandy Hook and America was shocked to its core. There were 17 children killed in Parkland, and by next week we’ll all just pretend it was the cost of doing business.

And then there’s Donald Trump:

It’s at times like these that a normal president would step up to reassure the country of its values and take action to protect its citizens. But we don’t have one of those right now. This is the leader who took a whole week to say he was “totally opposed to domestic violence” after his staff secretary quit, amid accusations from his ex-wives of just that. Trump’s supposed condemnation came after he heaped praise on the guy for his job in the White House, wished him the best in his career, and suggested that he deserved “due process” against all these allegations.

That won’t do:

Donald Trump doesn’t do moral values and he doesn’t do justice. That’s the cost of doing business with a man who wanted the death penalty for five teenagers known as the Central Park Five, and claimed they were guilty even after they were exonerated by DNA evidence.

Enough is enough is enough. If you care about our children, do something to protect them. If you want a politician who talks about our greatest threats, vote for someone who isn’t terrified of the National Rifle Association.

That’s not who America voted for, maybe, depending on how you count. This will go on, and the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board offers this:

When does an epidemic stop being an epidemic and become just a basic part of regular life? It’s been 19 years since the nation was horrified by the carnage at Columbine in suburban Denver. It’s been just over five years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Quick: What was the most recent mass shooting incident (at least four wounded) at a school before the one on Wednesday? Here’s the sick part: There have been so many school shootings that it takes a bit of work to answer what should be an easy question.

Already the folks who support gun control are fuming about the ready availability of firearms in our society. Already the pro-gun folks are pooh-poohing those who think guns are integral to shooting deaths. “Guns don’t kill people, people do,” they like to say. The accurate phrasing should be, “Guns don’t kill people. People with guns do.”

But somehow that became okay:

As a society we tend to become particularly shocked – at least for a few minutes – when someone shoots down children and young adults while they’re attending classes in what should be a positive, nurturing and safe environment. But even if we’re shocked, we tolerate it. Our outrage is more Pavlovian than visceral. We listen to the bleatings of the gun enthusiasts that, well, if those teachers had guns, then this wouldn’t have been as bad.

Been as bad? Think about that. If a pistol-strapping chemistry teacher had grabbed her .45 and unloaded on today’s gunman after he killed, what, one student? Three? Five? That would be good news?

We are a violent, disjointed, gun-embracing culture. “But wait!” you might say. “Not me! I hate guns! We need more gun control!” As true as that might be, that’s not the belief of the body politic. Because if it was, we wouldn’t be sitting in front of our television sets wondering what the final death tally will be. Feeling our heartstrings tugged by images of bereft parents. Feeling an impotent rage.

This is what America is today: bloody. The Florida shooting too shall pass…

The Florida shooting shouldn’t pass, but it will. That’s America’s problem, but curiously, that’s Donald Trump’s problem too. His presidency is disintegrating. He caught a lucky break. For one day, the worst day for him, so far, everyone was talking about something else, as they should have been. That won’t last. The best he can hope for is more school shootings, but that’s okay. He’ll get them.

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