The Morning Jolt

White House

Collusion Out (For Now), Tillerson Out (For Good)

President Trump with Secretary of State Tillerson (at left) in May 2017. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)

It’s Election Day in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district! Get out and vote if you live there. Of course, if you live there, you probably just want the endless campaign ads inundating the airwaves to stop.

Our unpredictable president strikes again, firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this morning. The move itself had been rumored since at least November, but apparently as of four hours ago, Tillerson was operating normally at the State Department. (Word is Trump asked Tillerson to step down on Friday.) CIA director Mike Pompeo will take over at State, and Gina Haspel, who became deputy director of the agency last month, will become the first woman director of the CIA.

House Intelligence Committee Republicans: ‘No Evidence of Collusion’

Before the morning’s Trump-administration cabinet shuffle, the new report from the House Intelligence Committee looked like it would be driving the news of the day:

A 150-page draft report that Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), who oversees the committee’s Russia probe, announced on Monday. It will probably be weeks before the document is made public.

“We’ve found no evidence of collusion,” Conaway told reporters Monday. He noted that the worst the panel uncovered was “perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment at taking meetings” — such as a June 2016 gathering at Trump Tower in New York City between members of the Trump campaign and a ­Russian lawyer. Conaway said that meeting “shouldn’t have happened, no doubt about that.”

You’re going to hear a lot of objections from Democrats, screaming that the House Intelligence Committee majority’s final report on Russia in the 2016 election is a whitewash for concluding that there was “no collusion” between the two. What I’d love to see is their evidence that there was collusion, and not merely bad judgment or foolish meetings.

A lot of Democrats insist that the email exchange between Rob Goldstone, a publicist with Russian business experience, and Donald Trump Jr. is ipso facto evidence of collusion.

Goldstone wrote:

The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin.

And Trump Jr. wrote:

Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?

If there was collusion, let’s get the who, what, when, where, and why. Have we seen any evidence that Trump knew about these contacts? What exactly did the Russians give to the Trump campaign? Were the DNC and Podesta e-mails what would “incriminate Hillary”? They don’t involve “her dealings with Russia” and proved to be pretty weak tea — embarrassing for the DNC and the Hillary campaign, but hardly proof of crimes. Who on the Trump campaign knew? Who authorized it? What did the Trump campaign promise in exchange? Who made the promise?

This weekend, Saturday Night Live featured a parody of The Bachelor with special counsel Robert Mueller telling a disappointed woman, “I’m just trying to be honest with you and tell you that I can’t commit to collusion right now.”

If the Republicans’ report is so wildly-off-base, Mueller will have the last laugh, indicting lots of Trump-campaign staffers for colluding with a foreign government, right?

(Does anyone else find it a little weird that Saturday Night Live regularly denounces Trump as horrible, racist, cruel, ignorant, gross and just about the worst human being imaginable. . . and yet they invited him to host the program in November 2015? If you really find him morally comparable to David Duke, why are you inviting him onto your program to be funny and charm your audience?)

‘I Now Have to Spend More Time Talking Someone into Believing They Control Their Own Destiny than I Used To’

Politico profiles Dave Ramsey, the third-most-popular radio show host in America, specializing in financial advice and avoiding debt — and finds a really astute assessment of the state of Americans’ mood, and what ails us:

That worries Ramsey — not because of Trump per se, but because of what it says about the Americans counting on his help. “This idea that I’m going to get elected — senator or congressman or president or governor — and jobs are going to increase, and you’re going to get a job, your life is going to be fixed if you elect me, is by and large patently untrue. It’s a lie. It’s the oldest lie in politics,” Ramsey says. “This idea that a President Obama or a President Trump can take credit for jobs being created is laughable. If I’m a person who watches too much news, I start to think these guys are going to fix my life for me — and when they don’t, I feel stuck.” . . .

Thinking back to conversations with voters during the “revolutionary” elections of 2008 and 2016, Ramsey believes the victories of Obama and Trump were driven by similar if ideologically distinct strands of economic insecurity. The commonality was a belief among the candidates’ bases — one Ramsey confronted daily on air — that new political leaders would change their lives. “The last two presidents were both elected on it. And neither one of them can deliver it, because they don’t have the capability,” he says. “The office does not have that much power.”

Today, Ramsey sees more Americans predisposed to economic dependence — and believes politicians are to blame. “I now have to spend more time talking someone into believing they control their own destiny than I used to,” he says. “I don’t know if I blame that all on ‘hope and change’ from Obama, or ‘Make America Great Again.’ They’re both hope slogans. Different ideologies, different politics, but both hope slogans: I’m going to deliver something for you that you can’t do for yourself.” . . .

From the discussions he has every day, Ramsey says, the once-bitten-twice-shy mentality is creating a whole new set of problems. For one, people reluctant to invest have missed out on a long run of stock market success. And it has created a kind of resentment gap. “The S&P went up 19.4 percent last year. But a lot of people did not have money in their 401(k) mutual funds because they lost everything in 2008,” he says, putting air quotes around what he calls an emotionally exaggerated sentiment. “If you have no money in the market, the market could triple, and it doesn’t affect you. It just makes that rich guy over there who I’m mad at that much richer.”

You’ll have to pardon me, when someone starts telling people that politicians cannot fix their lives for them, and that they need to take action to help themselves, I react with more enthusiastic ‘yes!’-es than Meg Ryan in the diner scene in When Harry Met Sally.

Many people find the perception of helplessness deeply reassuring. They did all they could and whatever went wrong isn’t their fault. Everyone in life experiences adversity, and we can’t control that. All we can control is how we respond to it.

Life is full of stories of people enduring unspeakable tragedies and injustices and finding ways to overcome them, reaching higher, elevating themselves, and creating amazing lives by refusing to quit — and those people don’t have any inherent magic. Every human being is capable of doing something amazing with their lives.

(It’s really fascinating to see how simply expressing this perspective out loud sets some people off.)

Hey, Remember That Campaign Contending the Public Shouldn’t See Certain Viewpoints?

I find it really fascinating that major media institutions such as The New Yorker and the New York Times wrote what I’m sure they would contend are accurate, full portraits of NRA-TV and didn’t mention Cam Edwards at all. He’s merely the host of their longest-running program, and if he’s not their most popular host, than he’s got to be up near the top. (Ahem — oh yes, and he’s my best friend.)

Mainstream media reporters who actually interact with him find him “calm, steady and methodical.” Cam has had plenty of gun-control advocates on his show over the years, and he treats them respectfully and politely, while firmly laying out where he thinks they’re wrong and defending the Constitution as it is written. He and I periodically joke about how little material he provides for the poor Media Matters intern who has to watch him every day, looking for something to hype into an outrage-generating controversy. (Media Matters is reduced to denouncing him for declaring, on February 15, one day after the Florida shooting, “the policy debates, or the sloganeering, the bumper-sticker politics, there will obviously be time for that. Is it appropriate now? I don’t think so.” How dare he!)

Cam is not easy to portray as a kook, although plenty have tried. Those who criticize him tend to make a lot of assumptions about some sort of privileged life he’s led, which is pretty darn far from the truth, for anyone willing to listen.

Cam doesn’t smash television screens. The Gallagher-esque smashing-stuff promotional videos on NRA-TV aren’t my cup of tea. But a lot of things on television aren’t my cup of tea, and I don’t lead campaigns to deny other viewers that option.

I suppose if the New York Times and New Yorker correspondents of the world had focused on Cam at all, it would have required them to adjust their perception of gun owners, NRA members, and Second Amendment advocates. The vast majority defy the stereotype of hot-tempered, table-pounding, wide-eyed paranoid preppers and survivalists. (Having said that, Cam lives on a farm, and he’ll have plenty of “bacon seeds” if the you-know-what hits the fan.)

I mention all this because . . . remember last month when there were these advocacy campaigns demanding Roku, Google, and Apple drop NRA-TV? Those cries came . . . and went. The companies withstood the storm, at least for now.

ADDENDA: Hillary Clinton, explaining the election to an audience in India:

But what the map doesn’t show you is that I won the places that represent two-thirds of America’s gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward . . . And his whole campaign — “Make America Great Again” — was looking backward. You know, you didn’t like black people getting rights; you don’t like women, you know, getting jobs; you don’t want to, you know, see that Indian-American succeeding more than you are — you know, whatever your problem is, I’m gonna solve it.

Right, right, all of those Indian-American-hating voters in Louisiana and South Carolina who voted for Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley.

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