The Corner

Politics & Policy

Republicans Have Made Their Peace with Trump’s Dishonesty

In response to Down and Up in Paris and London

A quick thought on Andy’s excellent and informative article. About the statement on the 9 June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a gang of Russians led by Putin lackey Natalia Veselnitskaya, Andy writes:

The statement was untrue and ill-considered. Worse, it conflicted with another misleading version of the Trump Tower meeting that the president’s legal team simultaneously provided to a different media outlet, Circa. As the Times report correctly asserts, both versions sought to conceal the true purpose of the Trump Tower meeting, namely: to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton from Russian-government sources.

It is the case, as Andy writes, that “it is not a crime to lie to journalists.” And that to me points to the basic failure of our civic culture in this and many related matters. If we had a healthier civic culture, it would not require a federal investigation with the threat of prosecution to impose sanctions on the president for brazenly lying to the press — and, through them, to the people. In a healthier civic culture, those sanctions would be imposed by the people themselves democratically, and possibly through the parties and other political organs. But we have a civic culture marked by what Julia Azari of Vox pithily describes as “weak parties and strong partisanship,” something close to the opposite of what one would want.

Republicans here find themselves playing the role of Clinton-era Democrats. Democrats knew what Bill Clinton was, and rather than recoil from his dishonesty, they relished his slickness and exulted in his talent for besting his political adversaries. They were correct in insisting that there wasn’t any crime in the Clinton–Lewinsky affair per se (there was a crime in Clinton’s perjury related to it) just as there isn’t any obviously criminal aspect to what President Trump is known to have done so far — in spite of Democrats’ increasingly hilarious attempts to stretch the definition of “obstruction of justice” to cover things such as criticizing federal agencies for official actions. If Trump had oatmeal for breakfast this morning, you can bet that Laurence Tribe has argued that this amounts to obstruction of justice.

The Democrats made their peace with Bill Clinton’s habit of treating his female subordinates as sexual conveniences. The Republicans have made their peace, apparently, with Donald Trump’s habitual and reflexive dishonesty. There isn’t much to be proud of in any of that. But it isn’t a crime to sell one’s soul.


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