Erase the Past

A week is an age in the Age of Trump. One damned thing after another happens every day, or every hour. And no one can remember what happened a week ago. Last week “Chuck and Nancy” sat down with President Trump and all three of them agreed on a two trillion dollar infrastructure plan to rebuild roads and bridges and dams and ports and airports and all the rest, everywhere. Things had been falling apart for too long. This place was beginning to look like a third-world country. Bridges were falling down. And this isn’t Albania. So fix it all. It was a Kumbaya Moment – and then it was over. There was no plan. There was an announcement that there was a plan to have a plan. Someone would figure it out, later, where to find a spare two trillion dollars hanging around. Someone would prioritize the work to be done, later. But this was, at the time, a big deal. Cooperation in Washington! The world had changed.

And then it was over. Other things came up. No one mentioned it again. The world hadn’t changed. Dirt roads are fine.

But some things shouldn’t disappear. In July, 2018, Steve Benen was noting this:

About a month ago, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) complained that too much of today’s Republican Party has found itself in “a cult-like situation as it relates to a president.” Soon after, Donald Trump Jr. appeared on Fox News and was surprisingly reluctant to reject the criticism.

“You know what,” the president’s adult son said, “if it’s a cult, it’s because they like what my father is doing.”

That was a bit scary – think of Jim Jones and the Kool-Aid in Guyana – but Benen found what followed even scarier:

One of the problems with cults is that its leader tells its followers to ignore external sources of information – because in order for the scheme to work, the leaders must be seen as the sole authority for truth.

All of this came to mind watching Donald Trump Sr. in Kansas City yesterday, where the president addressed this year’s national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Officially, this was an official White House event, but practically, it wasn’t long before Trump turned the gathering into another partisan campaign rally, which included this unscripted declaration – “Just remember: What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

In his novel 1984, George Orwell wrote, “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

Seven decades later, the dynamic Orwell described seems eerily familiar. Americans may see and read about current events, but their president is asking us not to trust our lying eyes. Instead, to understand “what’s happening,” we must instead turn to Donald Trump and those who deliver the kinds of messages he approves of.

There was outrage on the left and shrugs on the right, and about a week of deep and meaningful discussion of the deep matters here – the nature of the truth and how one determines the truth and how political considerations can mess everything up – but then it was over. All that was left of any of it was what Benen noted at the time:

The White House hasn’t exactly been subtle about its vision: Don’t trust news organizations. Don’t trust the courts. Don’t trust pollsters. Don’t trust U.S. intelligence agencies. Don’t trust unemployment numbers. Don’t even trust election results.

The list, however, keeps growing. The FBI is suspect. So is the Justice Department. So are climate scientists. So are medical professionals who aren’t comfortable with regressive GOP healthcare plans.

The authority for truth will tell us what’s true. Others are not to be trusted…

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), the chairman of the House Science Committee, advised Americans last year “to get your news directly from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.”

Other than that, read your Bible? But it was over. The nation moved on. The president said those words, don’t believe what you hear or read or see. Believe him. Believe only him. Yeah, well, whatever. This guy says lots of wild stuff. He likes to be outrageous. There was no need to take him seriously here. Move on.

Moving on was a mistake. He was serious. What you see isn’t what you see. That’s the new administration motto:

In the first court hearing over President Trump’s border wall funding plan, administration lawyers on Friday vigorously pressed their controversial argument that Congress did not in fact deny him the money when lawmakers excluded it from the appropriations bill they enacted in February.

To bar spending, Deputy Assistant Attorney General James M. Burnham told a federal judge here, Congress would have had to explicitly say that “no money shall be obligated” in any form to construct a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border. Having failed to do that, Burnham argued, the administration is free to tap funds never intended for border security.

So, Congress did not deny any funds. They just didn’t appropriate any funds. They didn’t say do NOT do this. So they must be fine with this. Got it?

Someone didn’t get it:

“That just cannot be right,” responded Douglas Letter, general counsel for the House of Representatives, which participated as amicus in the case brought by nearly two dozen states and the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group. They are challenging Trump’s national emergency declaration to redirect taxpayer money for the wall. The House has filed a separate suit in Washington, D.C. “No money may be spent unless Congress actually appropriates it,” he said.

Letter likened the situation to that of an underage teenager who requires his mother’s signature to join the Army – but she wants him to go to college instead. “He says, ‘Mom, you can just sign this form?’ And mom walks out of the room” instead of signing it.

“Nobody can say that’s not a denial,” Letter said. This is exactly what Congress did when it balked at Trump’s request for more than $4 billion for the border wall beyond the $1.375 billion it did appropriate, he added.

Oh yes they can:

Friday’s hearing in the Northern District of California, before Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr., came on a motion by two sets of challengers – the coalition of states led by California and the Sierra Club – seeking a preliminary injunction to halt all contracts and construction while Gilliam considers the cases’ merits.

The plaintiffs allege that Trump’s actions violated the constitutional requirement that no money may be spent without an appropriation from Congress, and breached restrictions in the laws that the administration is attempting to use to transfer money that had been set aside mostly for military projects and programs .

The counterargument was that although there’s a constitutional requirement that no money may be spent without an appropriation from Congress, Congress didn’t say “no” – not directly – so they must have meant “yes” – indirectly. Everyone thought they didn’t fund building the wall. But they didn’t “not” fund the wall. That’s the Trump position. What happened didn’t happen.

That’s the new rule. Aaron Rupar notes this:

President Donald Trump wants you to believe that he had no way of knowing about former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s shady dealings with Russia before he made him his first national security adviser…

On Friday, Trump tweeted his lament that nobody warned him about Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general who was dismissed from his job as director of national intelligence by then-President Barack Obama in 2014. After his dismissal, Flynn wasted little time cozying up to the Kremlin, and then spent 2016 as one of Trump’s key campaign surrogates.

“It now seems the General Flynn was under investigation long before was common knowledge,” Trump tweeted. “It would have been impossible for me to know this but, if that was the case, and with me being one of two people who would become president, why was I not told so that I could make a change?”

He was told:

News reports indicate otherwise. CNN, citing former Obama administration officials, reported on May 17, 2017, that during a White House meeting days after Trump’s election, Obama told him that “given the importance of the [national security adviser] job, the president through there were better people for it, and that Flynn wasn’t up for the job.” But Trump proceeded with hiring Flynn anyway.

Former New Jersey governor and longtime Trump confidant Chris Christie has also said he directly advised Trump against hiring Flynn.

“If I were president-elect of the United States, I wouldn’t let General Flynn into the White House, let alone give him a job,” Christie said in 2017.

Yeah, well, Christie headed Trump’s transition team until Trump fired him. Christie, when he was a federal prosecutor, sent Jared Kushner’s father to jail for a few years. Christie’s warning, and anything he said, was ignored. Jared sent him packing. But he and Obama had told Trump that Flynn was poison, which he was:

Flynn soon illustrated why Obama and Christie had concerns about him. During the presidential transition period, he had phone calls with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in which he advised Kislyak not to respond to new sanctions the Obama administration placed on Russia for interfering (on Trump’s behalf) in the just-completed presidential election. Not only did Flynn undercut Obama’s foreign policy, but he then lied about it, telling FBI investigators during an interview conducted days after Trump’s inauguration that he and Kislyak did not in fact discuss sanctions.

That was a bad idea:

Flynn’s lying to the FBI prompted officials to warn Trump once again about Flynn. On January 26, 2017, then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates personally informed the White House that Flynn lied to the FBI about his calls with Kislyak, and therefore was at risk of being blackmailed by Russia. But instead of immediately taking action against Flynn, the Trump administration fired Yates three days later, after she refused to implement Trump’s executive order barring people from a number of Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States.

Flynn was finally fired on February 13, after it emerged that he had also misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his phone calls with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition period. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December 2017, agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller, and is still awaiting sentencing.

But that May, Trump was saying all of this was Obama’s fault – “General Flynn was given the highest security clearance by the Obama Administration – but the Fake News seldom likes talking about that!”

The Obama Administration figured out Flynn and stripped him of his security clearances and fired him. Obama told Trump about that. And Flynn had been in the news all along:

US intelligence officials had serious concerns about Michael Flynn’s appointment as the White House national security adviser because of his history of contacts with Moscow and his encounter with a woman who had trusted access to Russian spy agency records, the Guardian has learned.

US and British intelligence officers discussed Flynn’s “worrisome” behaviour well before his appointment last year by Donald Trump, multiple sources have said.

They raised concerns about Flynn’s ties to Russia and his perceived obsession with Iran. They were also anxious about his capacity for “linear thought” and some actions that were regarded as highly unusual for a three-star general.

The word had been out there. The guy could no longer think straight. A little vetting might have helped. Have someone on staff read a newspaper or two. Don’t erase the past. That’s dangerous.

But that’s’ the order of the day, as Eugene Scott reports here:

The Supreme Court decision 65 years ago ruling that segregating schools by race was unconstitutional is widely viewed as settled to many Americans. But there is concern among some in the legal community that that might not exactly be the case.

More than two dozen of President Trump’s judicial nominees have declined to answer whether Brown v. Board of Education was properly decided, and legal experts said that that could have real implications on education and race in the United States.

This is also a matter of erasing the past:

The most recent example came when Wendy Vitter, who was confirmed Thursday as a federal district judge in Louisiana, declined to clearly affirm the decision. She said:

“I don’t mean to be coy, but I think I get into a difficult, difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions – which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with. If I start commenting on, ‘I agree with this case,’ or ‘don’t agree with this case,’ I think we get into a slippery slope.”

She would rather not be pinned down on whether she thinks desegregating the nation’s public schools had been a bad idea, because she would not want to say THAT – so she’s saying nothing. And that’s saying something:

Responses like Vitter’s are why the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights released a letter this week urging U.S. senators to oppose all judicial nominees (Vitter included) who refuse to state clearly that the landmark Supreme Court ruling was correctly decided. For them, the Brown decision is about much more than education.

Kristine Lucius, the organization’s executive vice president for policy and governmental affairs, and a graduate of Georgetown Law who has worked on legal issues in Congress for more than a decade, told The Fix:

“Brown v. Board was about so much more than ending legal segregation in schools. It overturned laws that created a racial caste system to oppress and dehumanize African Americans. It opened the doors to allow for African Americans to integrate into all facets of American life. Judges who are unwilling to clearly affirm that Brown vs Board was correctly decided are putting all of this at stake: sending a dangerous signal to all Americans that Brown could someday be overturned and that our nation could return to the disgraceful days of racial segregation. All judicial nominees must endorse this essential principle of racial equality.”

Scott then states the obvious:

Casting doubt on this landmark ruling is like an earthquake under equal protection jurisprudence. Brown embodies the legal foundation on which all other desegregation decisions were based, and the principle on which our federal civil rights laws were premised.

Trump has nominated at least twenty-five judges who won’t say Brown, from 1954, was a good idea. Maybe the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a bad idea, and so was the Voting Rights Act of 1965 too. That’s not what most people have come to think, after all the years and all the people who died for such things. But what you’ve seen and what you’ve read was not what was happening. Remember that.

Those few words Trump spoke last summer were more than just a curious little news story, soon forgotten, because so much else was going on. He was talking about erasing the past. So here’s an idea. Forget nothing.

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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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1 Response to Erase the Past

  1. Peter Bernhard says:

    Per your last point: read Justice Breyer’s dissent in Franchise Tax Board v Hyatt last Monday, May 13, 2019, criticizing the Thomas-Alito-Roberts-Gorsuch-Kavanaugh reversal of the Supreme Court’s 40-year-old precedent on a less-than-sexy sovereign immunity issue. Many commentators take this as a not-so-subtle warning from Justice Breyer that long-standing precedents are now in danger just because the current Court majority disagrees with those precedents. Beware: Roe v Wade, Miranda, Brown. Where does it end??? Reversing Marburg v Madison???

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