This Dead Man Walking

The man won’t go away, but it just became harder for him to stay:

Facebook announced Friday a two-year ban of former President Donald Trump from its platforms, including Instagram, until at least January 2023.

Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, said that Trump’s actions on its social media networks “constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols.”

The decision came after Facebook’s quasi-independent Oversight Board said last month that the social media giant was justified in removing Trump’s access from its platforms the day after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Facebook was then directed to review the suspension.

They did. The two-year extension of Trump’s suspension was their decision. But this was about more than Trump:

Clegg’s announcement featured a graphic that detailed “heightened penalties for public figures during times of civil unrest and ongoing violence.” Depending on the severity of the content violation, these figures could be banned anywhere from one month to two years and “violations after initial restrictions are subject to heightened penalties, up to and including permanent removal.”

Public figures anywhere, who call for violence, will just have to find another platform. Facebook has its rules. Trump broke them:

Clegg tied the ban to Trump’s role in the riot at the Capitol, when a mob of his supporters stormed the building in an attempt to interrupt the counting of the electoral votes that solidified Joe Biden’s presidential victory.

In short, he was dangerous and was locked out, for now, and for as long as he is still dangerous:

“In establishing the two-year sanction for severe violations, we considered the need for it to be long enough to allow a safe period of time after the acts of incitement, to be significant enough to be a deterrent to Mr. Trump and others from committing such severe violations in future, and to be proportionate to the gravity of the violation itself,” Clegg said.

At the end of the two-year period, Facebook will discuss with experts whether the risk to public safety has receded, said Clegg, who added that there would be a “a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will be triggered if Mr. Trump commits further violations in future” including permanent removal.

And then Trump said what everyone expected:

The former president called the ban “an insult” in a statement Friday. “They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this censoring and silencing, and ultimately, we will win. Our Country can’t take this abuse anymore!” he said in a statement.

And an exhausted nation shrugged. He hadn’t been censored. He hasn’t been silenced. One service-provider told him to find some other service-provider. They didn’t need his money. They didn’t want his money. He was more trouble that he was worth. But nothing will change here:

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that while it is up to Facebook to make that decision, she doubts much will change in Trump’s behavior over the next two years.

“We learned a lot from President Trump, the former president, over the last couple of years about his behavior and how he uses these platforms,” said Psaki. “It feels pretty unlikely that the zebra’s going to change his stripes over the next 2 years.”

He’ll find another platform and he’ll still be a jerk, and Eugene Robinson adds this:

Trump’s offense was to post his praise of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists while they were still violently storming the Capitol. His day-in-day-out pattern of outrageous lies, ridiculous claims and tendentious misinformation was not the issue, Clegg said. But egging on rioters as they brutalized police officers and threatened to lynch then-Vice President Mike Pence was serious enough to warrant the most serious of a new set of “heightened penalties for public figures” – suspensions ranging from one month to two years – that Facebook outlined on Friday.

“We can only react to the posts that we saw on that day and associated with those events at the Capitol,” Clegg said.

But that was enough. They want no part of this nonsense. But nothing is that simple:

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his top executives first tried to hand the problem to the company’s blue-ribbon Oversight Board of outside eminences, but last month the board handed it back. The board noted in its report that Facebook had refused to provide information about how its algorithms might have amplified false stolen-election claims that fueled the Capitol riot.

Clegg said a separate outside panel – this one made up of academics – is analyzing that data and will make a report. At some point. Nobody quite knows when.

That may be the bigger issue. Facebook has 2.8 billion regular users and Instagram has about 1 billion. The platforms’ algorithms can promote content, increasing the likelihood that it will go viral, or “demote” it and slow its spread. Trump-generated and Trump-inspired disinformation has often spread like wildfire on Facebook and Instagram, despite the company’s attempts at fact-checking. Did any significant organizing efforts for Jan. 6 take place on Facebook? I’d like to know the answer as soon as possible. Zuckerberg and his company seem in no great hurry.

They may not want to discover that their business model is the problem here, not Trump:

Other important politicians around the world have been uneasy about Trump’s suspension, Clegg said. Even some who can’t stand Trump are concerned that an important line of communication to their constituents can be severed if their words are seen to violate Facebook’s policies.

The central fact of Facebook’s hybrid nature remains unresolved. It is a platform, on which users create and disseminate the content. But it sets rules and it removes content – or bans users – that violate those rules. Which is more like a publisher behaves. The company has recently been running television ads begging Congress to set some rules within which social media can operate.

They really don’t want to make these decisions, but there may be no one else to who can:

Perhaps you can imagine this Congress formulating a comprehensive scheme of Internet regulation within the next couple of years, but I can’t. And meanwhile, Trump stews at Mar-a-Lago, reportedly telling his sycophants and hangers-on that he will somehow be “reinstated” as president in August. He won’t be able to post this nonsense on Facebook or Instagram, fortunately. But why would anyone think he will be any less unmoored from reality two years from now?

This may be the time someone should do something about that. Someone is. Reuters’ Pete Schroeder was the first to report this:

JPMorgan Chase & Co will resume making political donations to U.S. lawmakers but will not give to Republican members of Congress who voted to overturn President Joe Biden’s election victory, according to an internal memo on Friday seen by Reuters.

The country’s largest lender was among many corporations that paused political giving following the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riots when supporters of former president Donald Trump tried to stop Congress from certifying the election.

Just hours later, 147 Republicans, the vast majority of them in the House of Representatives, voted to overturn the Electoral College results which Trump falsely claimed were tainted by fraud.

Following a review, JPMorgan will this month resume giving through its Political Action Committee (PAC) but will continue its freeze on donations to a “handful” of the 147 lawmakers whom it had previously supported, the bank said.

Here, in short, chaos and the threat of a Trump government in exile staging a coup in order to return to power, is bad for business. So is a government of total jerks:

The pause will last through the 2021-2022 election cycle, which includes November’s midterm elections, after which JPMorgan will review whether to resume contributions to the lawmakers concerned on an individual basis, it said.

“This was a unique and historic moment when we believe the country needed our elected officials to put aside strongly held differences and demonstrate unity,” the bank wrote of the Jan. 6 vote to certify Biden’s win.

Could we have that, just that, for once? But wait. There’s this too:

As part of its revamped spending strategy, the bank will also expand donations beyond lawmakers who oversee financial matters to those active on issues the bank considers “moral and economic imperatives for our country,” such as addressing the racial wealth gap, education and criminal justice reform.

Those who want to fix something in the sorry world will now get a bit of a boost from JPMorgan Chase. Trump can fume and scream on the sidelines. Republicans can protest. It doesn’t matter:

While JPMorgan did not name lawmakers in its memo, the bank’s new policy risks alienating Republicans with sway over banking policy, some of whom are already angered by its active stance on issues like climate change and racial equity.

Yeah. well, so what? Like a prisoner waiting in his lonely cell for his execution, always delayed over all the years, Donald Trump too is a dead man walking. And now the problem is trying to find a way to remind him that he is actually quite dead. CNN covers that effort:

A cadre of aides and advisers working to tame Donald Trump’s obsession with the 2020 election, including his fixation with debunked voter fraud theories and ballot audits, are realizing the task at hand is much tougher than they thought.

Over the past few weeks, Trump has faced pleas from inside his orbit to move the ball forward as Republicans approach the 2022 midterm elections, when the party hopes to regain control of both congressional chambers, and brace for his high-profile return to the campaign trail. Several former advisers and allies still close to the 45th President said he is under mounting pressure to concentrate on promoting GOP policy priorities and defining his successor, rather than re-litigating his failed reelection campaign.

But the former President has brushed those voices aside, choosing instead to listen to a crowd of characters both on television and in his wider circle who have encouraged him to keep his focus on the 2020 election.

At least they tell him he’s not dead, but he’s not living in the present either;

Trump’s preoccupation with the election is expected to take center stage on Saturday, when he kicks off his first post-presidential summer with an address to the North Carolina Republican Party. The speech, a preview of the campaign-style rallies he plans to start hosting next month, will signal to what degree he intends to ignore advice from those imploring him to redirect his message toward the future. Because it will be his first public appearance in three months, sources close to the former President said the tack he decides to take will be critical in setting the course going forward – not only for him, but for all Republicans on the ballot in 2022.

Sources familiar with Trump’s thinking describe him as bored by the issues his advisers wish he would focus on — from threats to America’s energy infrastructure to increased inflation and other economic concerns. He is so obsessed with his unsuccessful quest for reelection, one ex-Trump official said, that he has been moving himself toward irrelevance.

“It’s like a slow leak of a balloon that is now laying on the floor,” is how the ex-Trump official described it.

Laying what on the floor? That would be “lying on the floor” of course. Use the intransitive verb. There is no direct object here. But never mind. There had been previous reporting:

Lately, Trump’s obsession with 2020 has also led him to indulge unhinged and false notions about being “reinstated” as commander-in-chief, according to three people familiar with these conversations, one of whom said he has been constantly watching the conspiracy-laden TV channel One America News and intensely following an ongoing Republican-demanded audit of votes in Arizona’s Maricopa County.

Trump has claimed the Arizona audit could lead to similar investigations in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia that would ultimately prove he won the 2020 election, one person close to Trump said.

And that’s what makes him dangerous:

Should Trump use his Saturday appearance to deliver a public tirade about 2020, he could hobble GOP efforts to develop a compelling message for the midterm cycle.

To prevent that from happening, he has received advice from several corners of his orbit to deliver a forward-looking speech featuring fresh lines of attack against President Joe Biden and bold references to GOP policy priorities. Some Trump allies hope his remarks will serve as a blueprint for Republican candidates seeking to court his supporters on their own between now and next November, while others find the prospect of him focusing on anything but 2020 laughable.

Laughter might work, but maybe not:

One ally trying to guide Trump in his messaging is Sen. Lindsey Graham, according to a source familiar with their conversations. While the South Carolina Republican has been realistic about Trump’s fixation on 2020 – recognizing that it’s a fool’s errand to get him to steer totally clear of that topic – he has encouraged Trump to deliver a speech that is “two-thirds forward-looking, one-third grievance,” the source said.

“Any good consultant will tell him to look ahead, not back and that would be good advice,” said David Kochel, a Republican strategist for multiple presidential campaigns. “But one of Trump’s superpowers is knowing exactly what his audience wants. They want the hits, and the #1 hit on the charts right now is ‘Stop the Steal.’ There’s no way he can give a speech without playing that tune.”

And he will play the golden oldie:

More likely than not, Trump’s remarks will resemble the address he delivered to the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. In that speech, Trump thrilled the crowd of grassroots activists by castigating what he called a “very sick and corrupt electoral process” and teased a 2024 White House run by saying he may even decide to beat Democrats “for a third time.” As is the case with his speech this weekend, his CPAC address was drafted by the same speechwriting crew Trump worked with inside the West Wing: Stephen Miller, Vincent Haley and Ross Worthington.

But they’re also dead now, right? Don’t believe that either:

While some allies have floated Trump’s Saturday appearance as the ideal launchpad for an updated stump speech, the internal push to get him to ditch his intense preoccupation with election fraud goes well beyond his visit to North Carolina.

The behind-the-scenes effort, which has included Lindsey Graham, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Fox News host Sean Hannity, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and other outside advisers, has shifted into full gear amid mounting fears that Trump is alienating certain voters and forcing Republican candidates to adopt the wrong foil in a critical election cycle.

‘That fear is legitimate,

“The conspiracy theories and election fraud rhetoric are helpful for keeping a certain audience engaged but they do virtually nothing to move other voters – especially those who care about pocketbook issues – into our column,” said one person close to Trump.

“At some point, the election integrity stuff just becomes dull,” this person added. “We’re six months out and I think we’re starting to see that happen. He can keep running through the greatest hits but he needs to weave in some new material too.”

That’s unlikely:

The overwhelming expectation that Trump will instead veer off script on Saturday has many Republicans, including some in his inner circle, questioning whether his reemergence onto the political scene at this point is a good idea.

In the weeks following his North Carolina appearance, Trump has plans to resume his signature rallies in Ohio, Alabama, and Florida, according to a senior adviser. This very public re-entry into electoral politics has already left Republicans grappling with how the former President fits into the party’s future — including whether his fixation on 2020 is stymying GOP efforts to regain power in next year’s midterms and beyond.

“President Trump’s insane conspiracy theories about the election cost Republicans the two Georgia Senate runoffs and with them, our seat at the table in Washington,” said Michael Steel, a former aide to House speaker John Boehner and Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign. “If you actually care about conservative public policy – stopping tax hikes and massive government spending, securing the border, supporting the police – you have to focus on the future, not the past.”

Nope, not now:

On several occasions since Trump left office, Republicans have become so distracted by the former President’s demands for loyalty that they have missed valuable opportunities to launch effective broadsides against congressional Democrats and Biden, whose approval rating continues to hover above 50 percent. Most recently, House Republicans spent three weeks orchestrating the ouster and replacement of Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who has flatly rejected Trump’s election lies, in the midst of a dismal jobs report for the Biden administration, swelling inflation and the migrant crisis at the US-Mexico border.

Some of Trump’s aides have thus been left to wonder if now is the right time to deploy him as a surrogate for the GOP, having already witnessed the disruptive impact his election fraud obsession has had on the party’s ability to craft a succinct message for 2022. They question whether the time he spends publicly griping will do more harm to the Republican Party’s prospects of regaining control of the House and Senate next fall.

Okay, shut him up for now. But of course that can’t be done:

Republican leaders hoping for a reliable messenger are ignoring Trump’s nature, said Republican strategist Liam Donovan.

“He cares about the party and its fortunes to the extent it furthers his interests, but as a private citizen circa 2022 he has vanishingly little skin in the game,” said Donovan. “Nobody should be surprised that he is more focused on nursing 2020 grudges than helping Republicans win next fall.”

Jonathan Chait agrees with that:

The main thing to grasp about the Trump advisers is that their concern about his election lies has absolutely no moral component whatsoever. Their sole concern is that, by emphasizing his message that the election was stolen, Trump will inadvertently discourage the Republican base from showing up in the midterm elections…

The problem is not that Trump is introducing a fatal poison into the political atmosphere by convincing his party he rightfully won the election, setting in motion a process of retaliatory escalation that democracy scholars fear will prove fatal for American democracy. The problem is that the message simply doesn’t attract the right voters…

Banana-republic plots have their time and place, but it’s not cutting the ice with moderately conservative suburban voters age 60 and under, so a more effective message needs to be found. “At some point, the election-integrity stuff just becomes dull,” an adviser says. “We’re six months out and I think we’re starting to see that happen. He can keep running through the greatest hits but he needs to weave in some new material too.”

As a solution, the advisers are attempting to steer Trump toward more conventional Republican talking points, which they have branded as “fresh” and exciting,” in contrast to the putative staleness of Trump’s ongoing campaign to subvert the republic.

Forget that:

While CNN’s reporting doesn’t question their judgments, you can see how Trump has a point here. Talking about last month’s pipeline hack, which caused gasoline shortages in a handful of states for a few days, and slightly above-trend inflation seems, to me, less exciting than the prospect that Cyber Ninjas will uncover a massive election-fraud conspiracy and reinstall Trump as president this summer. But since Trump’s advisers can’t persuade him that his planned coup stands no chance of success, and also have no moral objection to the issue, they’re stuck trying to make the case that election-conspiracy talk is just too boring.

And that leaves this:

The sheer comic futility of the effort is almost poignant. Graham can’t get Trump to stop accidentally discouraging the party’s voters by obsessively undermining democracy. But maybe he can do just a little less of the coup stuff? What about two-thirds gas prices, one-third coup? Is that fair?

No? Oh well. They tried.

 And now they have a dead man walking, Their leader. It has come to that.


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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