To Be Perfectly Honest

Josh Marshall, whose Talking Points Memo has been the go-to place for sensible political analysis for years, has been discussing the way that dominance politics “informs virtually everything about Donald Trump campaign” – the macho stuff that has eliminated Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and a few others – but now he’s decided to think through the implications abroad:

Trump’s brand of dominance politics is built on “a series of symbols and actions that mark the dominating from the dominated.” His attitude toward other countries seems quite similar. In the Trump foreign policy worldview, we, the United States, are the unmanned losers that guys like Trump stomp and humiliate. We’ve become a nation of Jebs in need of a Trump to lead us. We need a Trump-type president to move back to dominating rather than being dominated. To imagine that this leads to a judicious, even-keeled foreign policy is the height of delusion.

Consider Trump’s infamous and ridiculous US-Mexico border wall that Mexico is going to pay for. This is such a nonsensical proposition on so many fronts that few look at it seriously. But here’s the thing: Mexico paying for the wall isn’t a matter of cost-saving or fairness or equity; it’s a symbol of humiliation… It’s akin to a punitive war indemnity, only we haven’t had a war.

No good will come of this:

Weak countries can revel in their victimization and beat the domestic political drum to demand respect from other states. Often this captures the reality of their international position. In any case the costs to the international system are limited because they are weak powers. There’s not much they can do other than provide a psychic balm for their powerlessness. It is an altogether different matter, as we’ve seen on many occasions through history, when countries that are in fact extremely powerful, dominant powers fall under the spell of fantasies of their own weakness and victimization.

That’s bad news when those countries are actually powerful:

They can do great harm, often in the end to themselves. We’re already hearing Trump talk about pulling out of NATO, withdrawing military support from countries like Saudi Arabia or Japan and Korea. Whether or not you agree with them, there are strong, considered arguments why the US should stop underwriting so much of the defense of regional allies in places like East Asia and adopt a more collaborative defense strategy. But this isn’t what Trump is talking about. This a conversation and getting back at countries who’ve ‘humiliated’ us, ‘laughed’ at us.

He has of course also taken to casually discussing using nuclear weapons in what amount to urban warfare situations.

Of course, we might speculate that Trump in power would be very different from Trump getting power. Perhaps he would focus on new ‘deals’ with other great powers, based on mutual interests, but more safely guarding US interests. But everything we’ve seen from Trump says the opposite. As I noted in that crazy weekend two weeks ago where the canceled event in Chicago was followed by the protester rushing the stage in Dayton, whatever his intentions, Trump seems unable or uninterested in pivoting toward conciliation when his political interests clearly point in that direction. The draw of aggression seems too strong and instinctive. Everything we’ve seen tells us that Trump will be the same person on the world stage as he’s been on the campaign trail.

That may be just who he is. There’s an item at Buzzfeed about what Trump said about Rosie O’Donnell’s clinical depression. He repeatedly said he understood why she was depressed, which was because she’s so ugly:

“She announced last week that she suffers from depression. They called me for a comment, and rather than saying ‘I have no comment’ or ‘isn’t that too bad oh, that’s so bad,’ I said, ‘I think I can cure here depression’ – most of you heard this. ‘If she stopped looking in the mirror, I think she’d stop being so depressed.'”

He continued, “And they said, ‘It’s a horrible statement, it’s a horrible statement.’ What’s so horrible about it? She attacks me. She said I had terrible hair. You know, it’s amazing. She calls me comb-over, she calls me – but we’re not allowed to attack.”

Trump then said that when O’Donnell was asked about his remark, she said, “I have no comment, I have no comment about him.”

“Get even,” Trump said to the cheering crowd. “When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades. I really mean it. I really mean it. You’ve got to hit people hard and it’s not so much for that person, it’s that other people watch.”

Heather Parton sees the pattern:

He has made it clear that when China is “taking advantage” in trade deals it’s because they don’t respect America. He thinks the various countries in the Middle East are “laughing at us.” His response to Vicente Fox for saying he won’t pay for the wall is “that wall just got 10 feet higher.” …  Now imagine the day some foreigner makes fun of President Trump.

The man is a bit volatile, and now the former director of a pro-Donald Trump super-PAC has officially defected from Team Trump with an essay on xoJane about how she lost faith in her candidate. That would be Stephanie Cegielski, a strategist and communications specialist, who says she was brought in to run the Make America Great Again super-PAC last summer but, finally, came to realize what some sort of knew from the beginning, that Trump is wholly unprepared to be president and he actually knew that. This was a campaign and candidate that began with the idea of hitting double digits in support, but later began to believe its own hype. Here’s a bit of what she has to say:

Even Trump’s most trusted advisors didn’t expect him to fare this well … the goal was to get The Donald to poll in double digits and come in second in delegate count. That was it. The Trump camp would have been satisfied to see him polling at 12% and taking second place to a candidate who might hold 50%. His candidacy was a protest candidacy … And I am now taking full responsibility for helping create this monster – and reaching out directly to those voters who, like me, wanted Trump to be the real deal …

I don’t think even Trump thought he would get this far. And I don’t even know that he wanted to, which is perhaps the scariest prospect of all. He certainly was never prepared or equipped to go all the way to the White House, but his ego has now taken over the driver’s seat, and nothing else matters. The Donald does not fail. The Donald does not have any weakness. The Donald is his own biggest enemy.

What was once Trump’s desire to rank second place to send a message to America and to increase his power as a businessman has nightmarishly morphed into a charade that is poised to do irreparable damage to this country if we do not stop this campaign in its tracks … He doesn’t want the White House. He just wants to be able to say that he could have run the White House. He’s achieved that already and then some. If there is any question, take it from someone who was recruited to help the candidate succeed, and initially very much wanted him to do so. The hard truth is: Trump only cares about Trump.

Trump campaign spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, issued this response to Cegielski:

This person was never employed by the Trump campaign. Evidently she worked for a Super PAC which Mr. Trump disavowed and requested the closure of via the FEC. She knows nothing about Mr. Trump or the campaign and her disingenuous and factually inaccurate statements in no way resemble any shred of truth. This is yet another desperate person looking for their fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump is running for President because he is the only one who will Make America Great Again.

Make of that what you will, but the defector has said this:

He certainly was never prepared or equipped to go all the way to the White House, but his ego has now taken over the driver’s seat, and nothing else matters. The Donald does not fail. The Donald does not have any weakness. The Donald is his own biggest enemy.

A devastating terrorist attack in Pakistan targeting Christians occurred on Easter Sunday, and Trump’s response was to tweet, “Another radical Islamic attack, this time in Pakistan, targeting Christian women & children. At least 67 dead, 400 injured. I alone can solve.”

Ignoring the fact that at the time Trump tweeted this (time-stamped 4:37 p.m.) the latest news reports had already placed the number differently at 70 dead, 300 injured, take a moment to appreciate the ridiculous, cartoonish, almost childish arrogance of saying that he alone can solve. Does Trump think that he is making a cameo on WrestleMania (yes, one of his actual credits)?

This is not how foreign policy works. For anyone. Ever.

Superhero powers where “I alone can solve” problems are not real. They do not exist for Batman, for Superman, for WrestleMania and definitely not for Donald Trump.

What was once Trump’s desire to rank second place to send a message to America and to increase his power as a businessman has nightmarishly morphed into a charade that is poised to do irreparable damage to this country if we do not stop this campaign in its tracks.

I’ll say it again: Trump never intended to be the candidate. But his pride is too out of control to stop him now.

And Josh Marshall sees trouble coming:

What seems very likely to be the Clinton v Trump general election match-up will be a gendered electoral Armageddon – an unreconstructed, unabashed and angry male chauvinist against a women of great power and accomplishment who can more than hold her own against him. It will be ugly. But I think it will be Trump’s undoing. Remember, Clinton’s already beating Trump in all the head to head match ups (as is Sanders). So he doesn’t need much undoing. But I think he’ll get it.

But there’s another element of the equation. Just imagine some higher octane version of what we’re already seeing right now – but with a difference. Now every time there’s some new outburst, every Republican candidate from dog catcher to Senator gets asked to denounce or endorse every time. Every time.

It’s hard to be chained to a car like that you can’t control or predict.

We’ve seen … what, dozens of these over the last eight months? The future ones won’t be the same. But at no point in the last year has a woman been Trump’s principal competitor. This will bring out the worst in him. So whatever we’ve seen to date, odds are, what’s coming will be more toxic still.

It’s hard to imagine how toxic this will be, although Trump has already sneered at her for enabling her horny husband who was doing the dirty with that sweet young innocent fourteen-year-old female White House intern, or close enough. She didn’t leave him. She must have approved. Expect more of that, although, as Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley points out, Hillary Clinton does have real liabilities:

The Washington Post has published a long story about when and how Hillary Clinton used her private email account during her tenure as Secretary of State, a subject that has been dogging her presidential campaign for more than a year. There’s not much breaking news in the piece besides a somewhat vague section on State Department officials not being aware that Clinton used a private server and the revelation that the FBI has 147(!) agents investigating whether Clinton or her staffers were involved in any illegal security breaches. But it’s still useful as a comprehensive timeline of just how many times Clinton ignored security and transparency concerns in order to exclusively use her private server.

That’s the bad news:

State Department security specialists, at least initially, had no idea Clinton was using a personal server. Clinton was sworn in as Secretary of State on Jan. 21, 2009. She conducted State Department business via her private email account, run through a server in her New York home, for the duration of her term. According to the Post, State Department security and technology officials were told at a high-level early meeting that Clinton wanted to conduct official business on a BlackBerry. They also knew that she didn’t use a government-issued BlackBerry and was thus using a personal device and some sort of personal email account. But it apparently did not occur to any of these officials that Clinton’s email hosting might literally be coming from a server in her basement. “Those officials took no steps to protect the server against intruders and spies, because they apparently were not told about it,” the Post writes. (The Post does not say when, if ever, these security officials found out any further details about the server. And on that front, not to excuse Clinton, but couldn’t the State Department’s top security people have just asked the Secretary of State about her email server?)

Her private server didn’t get basic encryption protection until she’d been Secretary of State for more than two months. The private Clinton server did not “receive a ‘digital certificate’ that protected communication over the Internet through encryption” until March 29, 2009, the Post notes. Her server was thus operated for two months “without the standard encryption generally used on the Internet to protect communication.” Considering that we’re talking about the Secretary of State here, failing to implement standard Web encryption for two months is a major oversight.

Clinton was specifically warned that using a personal BlackBerry was not ideal from a security standpoint. This one is pretty straightforward…

This does look bad:

State Department employees were warned, in an official memo sent under Clinton’s name, not to do exactly what she was doing. A memo issued under Clinton’s name June 28, 2011, instructed State Department staffers to “avoid conducting official Department business from your personal email accounts” for security purposes.

She was supposed to archive her emails for public-transparency purposes before the end of her term but didn’t. A government rule called for all email records to be compiled “at the end of the Secretary’s tenure or sooner if necessary.” Clinton didn’t submit her email archives until 10 months after her term ended – and then only after the State Department had to issue a request for her to do so.

But there is good news:

There’s still no smoking gun. There’s direct evidence that Clinton was irresponsible about the security of her correspondence and there’s circumstantial evidence that she used personal email because she wanted to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act. But there’s no evidence that she knowingly sent or received classified information that was classified at the time it was sent or that she ever explicitly acknowledged that she was circumventing FOIA on purpose.

That’s not a long list of good news items! But it’s an important one: It means that there’s no reason to prosecute Clinton and it means there’s no simple, damning item that Clinton’s political opponents can circulate to suggest that she put national security at risk or knowingly tried to evade the law.

The status quo for months has been that a majority of voters believe Clinton “did something wrong” in using the private account – and yet she’s still won most Democratic primary delegates and is doing well in general-election polls. So far, 147 FBI agents haven’t done anything to change that math.

Kevin Drum wonders if that matters:

As we all know, millennials don’t care much for Hillary Clinton. That’s okay. I’m on the other side of that particular fence, but there’s plenty of room for honest differences about her views and whether they’re right for the country – differences that I don’t think are fundamentally rooted in age.

But there’s one issue where I suspect that age really does trip up millennials: the widespread belief that Hillary isn’t trustworthy. It’s easy to understand why they might think this. After all, Hillary has been surrounded by a miasma of scandal for decades – and even if you vaguely know that a lot of the allegations against her weren’t fair, well, where there’s smoke there’s fire. So if you’re familiar with the buzzwords—Whitewater, Travelgate, Vince Foster, the Rose law firm, Troopergate, Ken Starr, Benghazi, Emailgate – but not much else, it’s only human to figure that maybe there really is something fishy in Hillary’s past.

But many of us who lived through this stuff have exactly the opposite view. Not only do we know there’s almost literally nothing to any of these “scandals,” we also know exactly how they were deliberately and cynically manufactured at every step along the way. We were there, watching it happen in real time. So not only do we believe Hillary is basically honest, but the buzzwords actively piss us off. Every time we hear a young progressive kinda sorta suggest that Hillary can’t be trusted, we want to strangle someone. It’s the ultimate proof of how the right wing’s big lie about the Clintons has successfully poisoned not just the electorate in general, but even the progressive movement itself.

Ah, but Drum has found some support:

Jill Abramson has followed Bill and Hillary Clinton for more than two decades, first in the Washington bureau of the Wall Street Journal, then at the New York Times, where she eventually became Washington bureau chief (and even later, executive editor). Her perch gave her an unrivaled view into Hillary’s actions.

And Abramson now offers this:

It’s impossible to miss the “Hillary for Prison” signs at Trump rallies. At one of the Democratic debates, the moderator asked Hillary Clinton whether she would drop out of the race if she were indicted over her private email server. “Oh for goodness – that is not going to happen,” she said. “I’m not even going to answer that question.”

Based on what I know about the emails, the idea of her being indicted or going to prison is nonsensical. Nonetheless, the belief that Clinton is dishonest and untrustworthy is pervasive. A recent New York Times-CBS poll found that 40% of Democrats say she cannot be trusted.

For decades she’s been portrayed as a Lady Macbeth involved in nefarious plots, branded as “a congenital liar” and accused of covering up her husband’s misconduct, from Arkansas to Monica Lewinsky. Some of this is sexist caricature. Some is stoked by the “Hillary is a liar” videos that flood Facebook feeds. Some of it she brings on herself by insisting on a perimeter or “zone of privacy” that she protects too fiercely. It’s a natural impulse, given the level of scrutiny she’s attracted, more than any male politician I can think of.

But forget it:

I would be “dead rich”, to adapt an infamous Clinton phrase, if I could bill for all the hours I’ve spent covering just about every “scandal” that has enveloped the Clintons. As an editor I’ve launched investigations into her business dealings, her fundraising, her foundation and her marriage. As a reporter my stories stretch back to Whitewater. I’m not a favorite in Hillaryland. That makes what I want to say next surprising.

Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy.

There never was much there:

Many investigative articles about Clinton end up “raising serious questions” about “potential” conflicts of interest or lapses in her judgment. Of course, she should be held accountable. It was bad judgment, as she has said, to use a private email server. It was colossally stupid to take those hefty speaking fees, but not corrupt. There are no instances I know of where Clinton was doing the bidding of a donor or benefactor…

I can see why so many voters believe Clinton is hiding something because her instinct is to withhold… Clinton distrusts the press more than any politician I have covered. In her view, journalists breach the perimeter and echo scurrilous claims about her circulated by unreliable rightwing foes.

Drum:

As Abramson suggests, there are times when Hillary is her own worst enemy. The decades of attacks have made her insular and distrustful, and this often produces a lawyerly demeanor that makes her sound guilty even when she isn’t. As a result, the belief in Hillary’s slipperiness is now such conventional wisdom that it’s almost impossible to dislodge. … But the truth is that regardless of how she sometimes sounds, her record is pretty clear: Hillary Clinton really is fundamentally honest and trustworthy. Don’t let the conservative noise machine persuade you otherwise.

Now, ask the question. Is Donald Trump fundamentally honest and trustworthy? That is the question at the moment, and it seems that will be the question in November. Perhaps no one trusts Hillary Clinton, but she seems far more honest and trustworthy than the accidental but almost certain Republican nominee, faking his way through all this.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to To Be Perfectly Honest

  1. 1banjo says:

    You have to go to the Cirque du Soleil to see contortions the equal of the ones Hillary’s claque must do in defending that deeply dishonest and untrustworthy woman.

  2. Rick says:

    Here’s Stephanie Cegielski, writing in xojane.com about being hired for Donald Trump’s SuperPAC, “Make America Great Again”:

    Almost a year ago, recruited for my public relations and public policy expertise, I sat in Trump Tower being told that the goal was to get The Donald to poll in double digits and come in second in delegate count.

    Her article, an interesting appeal from a disillusioned former employee, asks fellow Trump supporters to stop supporting him, and tells of the original intention of the PAC to just help raise his awareness, apparently mostly to give him bragging rights — “Hey! I ran for president,” he could tell the world, “and I did really well!” — that ended up exceeding everyone’s expectations, including probably those of Trump himself.

    But hidden within that story is another, that of Trump and his campaign giving the appearance of illegally coordinating with a SuperPAC he has denied knowing anything about, even though it appears Stephanie, the Trump defector who worked for the PAC, reports having that PAC meeting in Trump Tower.

    The Washington Post broke the original story last October:

    This summer [2015], Trump appeared at at least two events for the Make America Great Again PAC, which took his campaign slogan as its name and received financing from his daughter’s mother-in-law.

    That mother-in-law’s name is Seryl Kushner, and one of those two events was at her house! Maybe she forgot to tell him who was throwing the party?

    In fact, her contribution to the PAC was $100,000. After a number of embarrassing news stories last year, Trump asked the PAC to close itself down, and totally coincidentally, it did! — with much of the money having been sent back to donors by the end of the year, including $1-million from Las Vegas investor Phillip Ruffin. Still, the forms the PAC filed with the Federal Election Commission at that time don’t show whether she ever got her 100-k back.

    Mind you, up to the time candidate Trump somehow persuaded this PAC he didn’t know about to shut itself down, he had been bragging that he was the only candidate without such a PAC, and according to the Post article, so had his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who’s memory was dodgy about knowing anyone over there:

    Mike Ciletti, a Colorado-based operative who told Politico in August that he is a consultant for the super PAC, was at the Trump campaign offices repeatedly in May and June, according to two people familiar with the visits. …

    In one of several interviews with The Post, Lewandowski first denied knowing Ciletti or anyone connected to the super PAC. “I don’t know him,” Lewandowski said.

    Two days later, when confronted with the campaign’s payments to Ciletti’s firm, Lewandowski acknowledged he was familiar with Ciletti.

    “I know a lot of people,” he said. “I know of Mike Ciletti.”

    After being pressed for more details, he hung up.

    The Post article mentions that, before he announced his candidacy, Trump was deeply involved in setting up the PAC, and according to NPR:

    Donald Trump filed in 2012 to trademark the phrase Make America Great Again for use with a political action committee. He first used it this past May – an essential step in the application process – and the Patent and Trademark Office registered it in July.

    So Donald Trump holds the trademark for the name under which the PAC operates? It’s amazing that the PAC has been able to use that name without coordinating with the guy that owns the trademark.

    (By the way, the PAC may have stopped operating — although Ballotpedia.com has been reporting that “no official termination reports have been filed with the FEC”, and its website is still up at https://www.makeamericagreatagainpac.com/, with a phone number (908-583-4379) and email address (info@makeamericagreatagainpac.com) and a street address (208 E 51st Street, Suite 157 New York, NY 10022) — which, I think, is probably a private mailbox in a UPS store, located just off 3rd Avenue in Manhattan.)

    Yes, I know, this is no big scandal. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone found suspicious coordination between other presidential campaigns and “their” PACS (except, I think, Bernie’s, since I don’t think he has one).

    But nor is there much consequence for breaking this law, even if a whistleblower were able to make the case, since the FEC — which the American Constitution Society has called “An Agency Flawed by Design”, has pretty much been non-functional lately. In short, the FEC is deadlocked with 3 Democrats and 3 Republicans, and in these partisan times, that pretty much says it all.

    Still, while Donald Trump keeps wondering out loud — as he is wont to do over lots of things — about whether Hillary will get indicted for probably imaginary email shenanigans, it might not take too much work to dig up some actual campaign violations against him.

    And when that day comes, of course, his favorable poll numbers will undoubtedly hit the roof.

    Rick

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