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I've written on these pages often about how much I enjoy The Graham Norton Show, a chat show on BBC America. Here's Part One of a video they've posted called "The Craziest Moments" from the show. In fairness, it's not -- as far as I can tell, these are all from the past season. (Perhaps the past two...) The show has had a whole lot better, but these are fun from last year. And yet it's only Part One!
(There may be some commercial breaks within the piece, but you should be able to click through them.)
Yesterday while being interviewed on the White House grounds, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway chose not to answer a question and instead asked the reporter, "What's your ethnicity?"
I understand how reprehensible this is. I understand the outraged reaction it got, But I prefer to take a positive view of it all, and from that viewpoint I think it's really wonderful that at least she didn't ask for him to show her his papers.
The reporter, Andrew Feinberg, who writes for the website BeltwayBreakfast.com, handled the situation pretty well, basically pushing back by continually asking what that had to do with his question. Ms. Conway tried giving some unrelated answer, and then thought that giving her own ethnic background would be a cool thing, but in the end really never answered the question, shocking as that might seem.
Personally, I'd have loved for Mr. Feinberg to have responded to the "What is your ethnicity" question by saying, "Human." Because then Ms. Conway might have been stumped to answer for herself and Trump.
Given all the other news of the day, which was highlighted by the House voting for a condemnation of Trump's racist tweets, the Conway story did get some attention, though not nearly as much as it should have. Because by normal standards, Kellyanne Conway should have been fired before she made it back across the lawn to her office.
The problem, of course, was that in the Trump administration, not only was she not doing anything wrong, it's more like this is policy and the only reason she might be fired is if she didn't ask. No, that's not really much hyperbole. After all, this is the administration which, before it even was elected, put out the proposal to keep a list of all Muslims in the U.S. And only last week came close to ignoring a Supreme Court ruling by pushing to add a question of citizenship on the upcoming U.S. census.
So, while I'm glad that it did get reported on -- and I suspect won't totally fade away, like so many Trump administration indignities that get buried under the next dozen -- it's one that I find particularly reprehensible, not only under any condition, but asked on the White House lawn by an adviser to the president.
(By the way, lest it get even more overlooked, Kellyanne Conway had a second despicable moment yesterday that did, pretty much, slip under the wire. It was a comment in defense of Trump's racist tweet about the four Congresswomen, in which she referred to them as representing the "dark underbelly in the country." Given that all four women are racial minorities, and given that this is the Trump administration, I don't think for a moment that the phrase "dark underbelly" was an off-hand comment, but rather well-planned as a dog whistle to the Trump racist base.)
But if all of this from Kellyanne Condway was going to get overshadowed by anything, I take comfort that it was because Trump got officially condemned for racism by the House. Unanimity by Democrats in the voting, but remarkably four Republicans. Remarkable that they actually got four -- and remarkable that the rest of Republicans in the House thought that racism was okay. But then, at this point we've pretty much figured that out...
Seth Meyers had a very good, not to mention very entertaining "Closer Look" last night on the Trump tweets and the general issue of racism.
Yesterday, the media spent much of the day talking about Trump's racist tweets over the weekend, telling four minority Congresswomen to "go back" to where they "came from." Much of the commentary was to explain with great seriousness that this was Trump strategy to appeal to his base.
Note to the media:
We have grasped by this point that when Trump does something incredibly offensive and generally racist, he is trying to appeal to his base. In fact, we've grasped that when Trump does pretty much anything, he is trying to appear to his base. We have long gotten the point that Trump absolutely, deeply needs positive reinforcement and praise, and so he will try to appeal to those acolytes who will praise him whatever he does. So, it's not really the insightful analysis the media thinks it is when they to explain portentously that Trump is trying to appeal to his base.
It's also worth noting that just because Trump has this strategy to appeal to his base, that does not inherently mean that it is good strategy. Napoleon had a strategy for Waterloo, and it didn't work out well for him. And Napoleon was actually a great general who planned things. Trump had a strategy before the mid-term elections to appeal to his base by raising racist concerns that caravans of brown-skinned immigrants were going to cross the Mexican border into the United States -- and it was a disastrous strategy, which helped Democrats flip the House and have a massive Blue Wave. So, sometimes it's a good idea to explain the downside of a strategy.
And that's another thing to keep in mind when hearing that Trump has done something to appeal to his base. His base -- the acolytes who will believe him not matter what -- is only about 20-25%, which we have consistently seen from polls. To be clear, there's another 15-20% of Republicans who still support Trump. But they aren't "No matter what" supporters, who will stand by Trump even if (as he's said) he shot someone on 5th Avenue. If you are only trying to appeal to your base that's just 20-25%, you are not going to win an election. You have to accept that you have this base (which is why it's your base), and then expand upon it to bring others in. But Trump has spent his entire time in office ONLY trying to appeal to his base -- which is why so many Republicans have left the party, and why he has been the first president ever since the beginning of polling to never get a 50% approval. And this is all the more problematic when he's starting from the point of having lost the popular vote in 2016 by three million people, and only squeaked through in winning the Electoral College by just 70,000 votes in three states. And problematic from the Republican Party having been crushed in the mid-terms. "Just appealing to his base" is profoundly limiting.
But Trump's racist statements appealing to his base have an additional, longer term problem for him, one I didn't hear discussed.
When the general election comes around, and there are presidential debates, I expect that either a moderator will bring up the divisiveness of these tweets, telling four women elected to Congress who are all American citizens (of course) and three of whom were born in the United States to go back to where they're from. And if a moderator doesn't bring it up, I expect the Democratic candidate to bring it up. And we know that Trump doesn't apologize, and will double-down -- or at this point, triple-down. And it will be very ugly, seeing him try to defend his foundational racist statement that four Congresswomen hated America, were communist, hated Israel and should go back to where they're from. And after he finishes his cringing, racist rant, it won't be like tweeting or making a comment to the press, but there will be a Democratic candidate for President standing next to him, ready to shred him for the gut-wrenching racism.
For that matter, every Democratic candidate for the House and Senate (and even for governorships) should ask their opponents in debates whether they, as Republicans, supported their party leader's racist comments about minority women who were elected officials. There are only three ways to answer -- criticize Trump, defend racism or try desperately to tap dance their way out of answering.and diverting the subject. And the Democratic candidate will likely be prepared to say, "I can't help but notice that my Republican opponent did not condemn the blatantly racist statement as racist. And that's what you get from today's Republican Party. Cowardice to defend decency while enabling racism and hatred. And it's what got us separating children from their migrant parents and putting them all in inhumane cages. America is much better than this."
There's also another side issue on this. There is a political axiom that if your opponent is shooting himself, let him continue. Last week, Democrats were having a bit of disunity, some infighting, most notably between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several of the more liberal members of the House, including several of these women. And Trump changed all that. He not only altered the headlines and made it about himself and his racist tweets, but he got Nancy Pelosi defending the Congresswomen and helped unite the party. It was truly awful politics on Trump's part.
So, yes, Trump was trying to appeal to his base. We get it. This is not "good strategy." This is the shovel with which he continues to dig a hole for himself and his complicit party deeper and deeper. And doubling down on a racist lie doesn't make it suddenly true -- it makes it a doubly racist lie. In Germany during the 1930s, they caused this the Big Lie, that if you repeat a lie often enough, some people will believe it as true.
As we have seen, some people do believe the Trump lies and think they are true. These people are known as his base. And trying to appeal to them will drive many Republicans away and horrify much of the rest of the public.
Another wonderful entry from the fine folks at The Dodo about an animal rescue --
I'm a little annoyed that Robert Mueller's testimony in the House has been delayed a week from July 17. But I'm annoyed for a reason different from most. I decided to get the Mueller Report and read it before he testified. So, I barreled though the 688 pages faster than I read most books and got if finished the other day!! Only to find out I had another week to spare...
I'm not going to analyze the Mueller Report in depth, but here are a few observations that leap out.
It's pretty easy to read. Though 688 pages, there is a lot that's redacted, and there are a great many footnotes that you don't need to read. Also, though the portions explaining the laws which governed the "Office's" actions are often a bit convoluted, they're actually fairly interesting and you can skim them to get the gist. As for the rest, it reads like a novel.
Regardless of whether you love Trump and think he can do no wrong, or if you hate him and cringe at the thought of him, it is near-impossible to read the first 90 pages and not easily grasp that the United States was attacked by Russia. They didn't "meddle in the election," Russia attacked the U.S. And it is repeated documented in minute and relentless detail. Whatever your political view, you should be against a foreign adversary attacking the United States. And it transcends shameful that the Republican Party is not outraged by this. They literally are putting us all at risk.
If one doesn't want to read the full report -- and most any of it -- and just want to jump to the very end to see how Mueller summarizes it all, that summary is only a fairly-brief single paragraph. Just five sentences. And if you don't even want to all that -- a whole five sentences -- you just read the very last one sentence. I reads, in full: "Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also doesn't not exonerate him."
So, when Trump keeps saying that the Report exonerates him, it's pretty black-and-white that this is a lie. And it's just as untrue when other Republicans say that the Report exonerates Trump. Because that sentence that ends the Report couldn't be more clear -- and is repeated several times throughout the report.
What's also a lie -- or untrue, if people haven't read the report or summaries and choose to ignore it -- is that the Report also doesn't exonerate Trump from colluding with Russia. Volume One is relentlessly filled with collusion by the Trump campaign. What Mueller explains very clearly is that he did not investigate whether collusion occurred, since "collusion" is not a crime. He only looked into conspiracy -- and he explains in great detail the very narrow definition of what constitutes "conspiracy." The short version is that for there to be criminal conspiracy, two or more parties must have an actual agreement between themselves to take actions and reciprocate. Further, Mueller doesn't say that such an actual agreement doesn't exist, just that the "Office" couldn't establish that it existed -- in part because there was obstruction.
However, he presents extensive detailed evidence of collusion that they came across while investigating Russia's attacks and while looking for a conspiracy agreement. There is a wide range of evidence of people in the Trump campaign, Trump included, who were not only aware of actions that Russia took in attacking the U.S., but often welcomed it and were happy to accept the benefits of that without pushing back or calling in security services. However, since there was no actual agreement about any of this, then that's not legally a "conspiracy." But it is most-definitely collusion.
Somewhat in that regard, Mueller also lets some people off -- like Don Jr. -- for actions that could be seen as conspiring with Russia (as in the Trump Tower meeting), basically because he was too stupid to know that it was illegal to do what he was doing, and "intent" is a critical component of a crime. So, if Don Jr. didn't know he was committing a crime, Mueller didn't pursue charges. There are several other instances like that by others -- where the actions would be criminal, but "intent" could not be proven.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the Report repeatedly explains with great clarity that the Justice Department has a policy that says a sitting-president cannot be charged with a crime while in office, and so there was no need for the investigation to consider against him. Yet it also regularly goes out of its way to point out that there is nothing in the law that says a president can't be charged with crimes after he leaves office.
What's also fascinating is that the final 50 pages of the Report deal with answering claims by the White House legal team challenging the right of the Special Counsel to look into whether or not a president can commit obstruction of justice -- which is the subject of Volume Two. So, for 50 pages, the Mueller Report goes into great legal detail explaining very clearly why every challenge by White House lawyers is incorrect, showing how each instance of obstruction by the president is in fact properly and appropriately covered by the law. For 50 pages. One would think that if the Mueller Team didn't find any obstruction of justice by the president, then they wouldn't feel it remotely necessary to refute claims that the president can't commit obstruction. It would be a moot point. But they not only do refute the claims...they take detailed pains to do for for (again)...50 pages!!!
And then after they've done so, they follow that immediately with a one-paragraph summary, which ends with the sentence -- "Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also doesn't not exonerate him."
Two takeaways -- 1) Russia attacked the United States repeatedly, there was extensive obstruction of justice, and there was also much collusion between the campaign and Russia. And 2) Attorney General William Barr grievously lied about the conclusions of the Mueller Report and that the Report left it to him to make those conclusions.
One final comment.
The Report also makes clear that there are many matters that they did not investigate because they did not fall under the very narrow purview of their mandate of what to investigate (which was solely Russian efforts to impact the election, and any obstruction of justice), so they passed those off to other federal districts. As such, the Mueller Report should not be taken as the sole investigation into crimes by the White House -- let alone high crimes and misdemeanors, of which "collusion" could well be such an issue. Among other abuses.
I don't know how many elected officials in the House and Senate have read the Report -- or at least been given a detailed summary by a member of their legal staff. It should be 100%, this is much too important to ignore. But I get the sense from public comments that far too many elected Republicans have done neither, most likely because they don't want to know. They want to have "plausible deniability" in their defense of Trump. But that is not plausible. And it is indefensible. This is simply much, too much important -- this is not just about Trump, it is about Russia attacking the United States. And all these elected officials of the Republican Party have sworn an oath to preserve, protect and defend the United States of America. And almost all of them are silent and complacent about that.
And this is why, again, this is not about Trump -- we know who he is. This is about the elected officials of the Republican Party who enable and are complicit in it all.
From the archives. This week, the contestant is Mike Miller from New York, NY. I got the hidden song, though only from one passage where it was clear to me. The composer style is in a genre that's always tough for me, and it could have been between four or so. And I took a stab at one. I was wrong, but came pretty close -- I got the right country, period and style, and probably should have gotten it for all my limitations in that area. But alas didn't.
The guest on this week's 3rd & Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America is Tim Doyle, who created the series The Kids Are Alright. His career includes working on the staff for such shows as Last Man Standing, Speechless, The Big Bang Theory, Rules of Engagement, Ellen (the sitcom, not the talk show...) and Roseanne, among many others.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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