Some Dare Call it Conspiracy

President Donald Trump and his many apologists have come up with an interesting defense of his role in the Ukrainian matter that seems to be hurtling toward his impeachment. Their argument is that Trump has been a perfect president in every way, and anyone who implies otherwise is a godless and America-hating traitor in a “deep state” conspiracy against democracy itself.
The latest congressional witness to be so refuted is Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who rose the ranks to a seat on the National Security Council, and thus sat it on the now-famous phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that has led to the current impeachment brouhaha. Vindman not only confirmed the White House’s own rough transcript of the call, which clearly shows Trump asking for the “favor” of investigations into his past and potential future Democratic opens in exchange for military and economic aid, he also made clear that he thought it was an egregious abuse of presidential power that compromised America’s national security.
So of course he’s a traitor. Vindman earned a Purple Heart in the Iraq War and was previously so well regarded by the military and foreign policy institutions that he was made a Lieutenant Colonel and put on the NSC by the Trump administration, but that’s just the perfect cover for a “deep state” conspirator. He was born in Ukraine and didn’t move to America until he was three years old, and although his fluency in both Ukrainian and Russian helped his rise through the military intelligence ranks it sure looks suspicious now, as Vindman stands accused of a greater loyalty to Ukraine than the United States and its perfect president. Brian Kilmeade of “Fox & Friends” accused Vindman of being “simpatico” with Ukraine, Fox opinion show host Laura Ingraham found it odd that Ukrainian officials often sought Vindman’s counsel, a guest on her show said it was “almost like espionage” to have Vindman sitting on a presidential phone call as an NSC member, and Trump “tweeted” that he didn’t even know the guy’s name. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told the press that “It is always appropriate to question the credibility of a witness, that’s part of why one has due process.”
Before this the same sort of allegations had been made against Ambassador William Taylor, a West Point graduate and decorated Vietnam War veteran who had interrupted a remarkable rise to the foreign service ranks to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq, and was coaxed out of retirement to return to the Ukrainian embassy by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He also testified to congress that Trump was pursuing American foreign policy to his political advantage at the expense of America’s national security, though, so what more proof does one need of his treason. Before that it was former Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who testified that she was forced out of the job despite an impeccable record because she wasn’t going along with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s covert efforts to get illegal campaign hep from the Ukrainian government. Well before that it was special counsel Robert Mueller, another Purple Heart-winning war hero with a long and previously unquestioned record of outstanding public service.
After a while a weary public will begin to wonder if each and everyone of the people who express an opinion that Trump less than perfect in every way are godless and America-hating traiTrtors, despite such previously impeccable histories, and in Vindman’s case most congressional Republicans are already declining to hurl any stones. Such notable Republicans as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Rick Scott of South Carolina and James Lankford of Oklahoma and John Cornyn of Texas have outright dismissed any questions about Vindman’s character, and seem ready to risk Trump’s wrath and taunting “tweets” by arguing at the inevitable impeachment trial that he’s less than perfect but not to an impeachable extent.
That’s Trump’s best defense, at this point, but his gnawing insecurity and grandiose narcissism will prevent him from making the argument. He’ll continue to insist that he’s perfect in every way, that any Democrat who disagrees is a “deep state” conspirator and that any Republican who harbors any doubts is “human scum,” even if he did once appoint them to high positions in his administration. One would be hard-pressed to note a single moment in Trump’s life where he did anything for any reason other self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement, whereas his most prominent critics include numerous people whose lives are full of selfless moments, but the argument has worked before and he’ll bet that it can work again.
It might work well enough for Trump to survive an impeachment trial, but will be a hard argument to make in a general election. Trump still has solid support in a lot of small states that add up to much of what’s needed for another electoral college majority, but when you several all the big states into account a slight majority of the country wants to see him out of office right now, and it will be hard for Trump to disperse his dwindling base across enough of the swing states. Last time around he won narrow victories in four rust belt states to win the electoral college, but next time around he probably won’t be able to claim that the manufacturing jobs he promised to bring back have arrived.
By election day everyone who’s not at the Trump rallies in their red “MAGA” ball caps will have figured out that Trump is not perfect in every way, that not all of his critics are godless America-haters and human scum, and if the damned Democrats don’t go too far crazy left the die-hard Trump believers will be too far outnumbered to prevail on an electoral map. If the economy continues to slow at its recent rate, it might not matter what kind of godless and America-hating socialist kooks the damned Democrats might nominate.

— Bud Norman

A Who-Wrote-It Mystery

The most popular parlor game in political circles lately is speculating about the identify of the senior administration  official who penned an op-ed in The New York Times that was scathingly critical of President Donald Trump.
The piece cited Trump’s “amorality,” described him as uninformed and impulsive, claimed that several high-ranking officials routinely hide documents and do other things to prevent the president from endangering national security, and generally confirmed the reporting in a soon-to-be-released Bob Woodward book that the White House is “crazy town.” Trump is reportedly furious about it and eager to find and the fire the author, and during a recent rally he described he called the author an “anenimonous” coward who should be tried for treason. By now even Trump isn’t claiming that The New York Times just made it up, and naturally everyone else is also wondering who the senior White House official might be.
There was some speculation that he’s Vice President Mike Pence, because the relatively rarely used word “lodestar” is in the piece and Pence frequently uses the term, and chief of staff John Kelly has been suspected because some of his favorite phrases also appear, but both possibilities strike us a quite remote. More likely is that the author was shrewd enough to add these details as a diversion, and subject both men to Trump’s inevitable questions.
Pretty much everyone at a senior level in the administration is still a suspect, but most of the attention seems to be focused on national security advisor Dan Coats and part-time “senior adviser” and full-time presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The case against Coats strikes us especially strong, for several reasons. Coats found out about Trump’s decision to invite Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to the White House while being interviewed on national television, and was clearly both surprised and displeased, and the op-ed stresses the danger of Trump’s tendency to make impulsive decisions without consulting any of the experts he’s hired. The piece also defends some of the more traditionally Republican aspects of Trump’s domestic policy, and back when Coats was in the House of Representatives and then the Senate he very much a traditional Republican. He’s now nearing retirement age, too, and at this point might well care more about what the country thinks of his party than what his party thinks of him.
Kushner seems a less likely suspect, but we’d love to believe it just as much the next Never Trumper, and there are reasons to do so. Both Kushner and First Daughter Ivanka Trump Kushner were social-climbing Manhattanites and fashionable Democrats when they took their “senior advisor” positions in the White House, and both promised their appalled friends that they were only there to be a moderating influence on Trump’s more populist impulses. Kushner and his wife and pretty all of his in-laws have their own expensive legal troubles, too, and it was widely speculated even before the op-ed that both Kushners would be heading back to New York at any moment, and whenever they eventually do we’re sure they’ll want to reassure the fashionably Democratic socialites of Gotham that they did their part for the resistance.
Whoever it was wrote the op-ed shouldn’t expect a hero’s welcome anywhere, however, as almost everyone thinks the author has been cowardly. According to Trump and his die-hard fans the “aneniminous” writer should forthwith face a traitor’s fate on that gallows, while Trump’s critics on both the left and right would have preferred a principled resignation and an on-the-record account to corroborate all the recent reliable reporting on the “crazy town” inside the White House. We’re more inclined to the latter view, and find the former downright scary, but we’ll judge not lest we be judged, as we’re not sure what we’d do if we found ourselves in the writer’s unusual situation.
If it turns out to be Coats we’ll take stock of his long congressional career as a traditional Republican and distinguished diplomat from the old school, and assume his cowardly efforts had the best intentions and might of done some good. If it turns out to be Kushner, we’ll go right ahead and and indulge in some sinful schadenfreude, and let him find his apologists somewhere in New York City’s high society.
In any case, even Trump seems to agree that there is indeed at least one high-rankking senior official in the White House who worries about the president’s moral and intellectual and temperamental qualifications for the office. According to that soon–to-be-released book by a veteran reporter with a far better truth-telling record than Trump there are several other senior officials in the White House with the same qualms, which pretty much accords with a book by a less reputable author and then one of Trump’s former reality show co-stars, and based on what we’re seeing of Trump’s televised and “tweeted” statements we don’t doubt that at least a few senior White House officials are similarly alarmed.
We’d like to think so, at least, and we hate to speculate how this might all turn out.

— Bud Norman

Our Ambivalent Endorsement of Gina Haspel

In the extremely unlikely case we found ourselves a United States Senator we’d be inclined to vote to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee for director of the Central Intelligence, Gina Haspel, but we’d do so with some ambivalence. Some of the arguments made for and against Haspel seem reasonable enough, but the rest of the arguments we’re hearing, both pro and con, strike us as downright dumb.
The fact that Haspel would be the agency’s first female director is entirely irrelevant, as far as our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities are concerned, so we were disappointed but not at all surprised that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders “tweeted” that any opposition to a nominee with such career credentials as Haspel must be motivated by sexism. Way back in the ’16 presidential former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had the far more relevant career credentials for the job of president, despite the many reasons that awful woman was clearly unfit for the job, and even such Trump-averse Republicans as ourselves scoffed at the notion that anyone should ever vote for a candidate based on his or her sex. We still reject that silly claim, and Trump’s White House press secretary — of all people — playing the gender card strikes us as sillier yet.
The Democrats’ opposition to Haspel’s nomination has been led by up-and-coming and potential presidential contender California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose feminist credentials are by far more unassailable than Sanders’, and are based on on an arguable complaint that Haspel’s otherwise exemplary career in the CIA included a stint at overseeing an overseas outpost where where she oversaw an operation that included harsh interrogations of captured suspected terrorists. Haspel admits giving the green to light to “waterboarding” and other undeniably harsh interrogation techniques that Democrats then and now regard as torture. Although she testified has testified before congress that we will eschew such methods in the future, Haspel has also has refused to condemn their use in the past, so the Democrats’ opposition to her nomination doesn’t seem at all hypocritical even if she is a woman potentially empowered to be the first woman director of the CIA.
On the the other hand, we’re not at all convinced that Haspel was overly harsh in the interrogations she oversaw. They happened shortly after Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks killed more than 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, after all, and didn’t involve anything that American troops weren’t trained to endure as they went off to fight various wars in response to that aggression. We’re the queasy sorts who are unable to watch a Quentin Tarantino movie, but even after all these years we’d still countenance getting medieval on some suspected terrorists in those extraordinarily rare “ticking time bomb” situations that only seem to occur in the movies, and we acknowledge it’s a complicated question Haspel faced during an otherwise exemplary career.
On yet another hand, neither are we comfortable with Trump’s and his reconfigured Republican party’s newfound enthusiasm for torture.
During the campaign Trump slanderously excoriated Republican President George W. Bush for lying his way into mercenary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also blamed his processors for being weak-kneed against Islamist terrorism. He vowed that he would he would go way beyond mere “waterboarding” with suspected terrorists, not just in a rare “ticking time bomb” situation but on a regular basis, kill all the families of any suspected terrorists, summarily shoot any suspected terrorists with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, and fire anyone who defied to his orders to commit such internationally-regognnized war crimes. He also derided all his Republican primary opponents who disagreed as “pussies,” and somehow that vulgar argument wound up winning the Republican nomination and eventually the presidency.
Among the few Republicans opposing Haspel’s nomination in Arizona Sen. John McCain, who suffered five years of undeniable torture in a North Vietnamese prison camp during the Vietnam war, three of them voluntarily after he selflessly refused an early release because of his family’s clout rather than desert his comrades and hand the enemy a propaganda victory, which gives us respectful pause about Haspel’s nomination. During the last campaign the draft-dodging Trump said that McCain was only a hero “because he got caught, and I hate to tell you but I like a guy who didn’t get caught,” and although we’re still proud to vote cast our vote despite our many complaints about ¬†Republican nominee McCain way back in ’12 we are also proud that we didn’t vote for either Trump or that awful Clinton woman back in ’16.
All the Trump apologists on the talk radio shows are damning McCain as as traitor to the country, and administration officials are joking about how the brain cancer-striken Senator and war Hero and former Republican presidential standard-bearer will soon be dead anyway. At that this point in ’18 we’d probably vote for Haspel’s confirmations if we were somehow Senators, but we’d feel ambivalent about her ambivalence in answer those questions the damned Democrats are asking about what she’d do if Trump kept his campaign promises and ordered her to commit a war crime without a “ticking time bomb” rationale.

— Bud Norman