The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

He’s In Like Flynn… For Now

He’s In Like Flynn… For Now.

I look at the wording in this report and wonder… how many national-security advisers have “expectations“ to be fired one month into the job?

Michael Flynn has no plans to resign and no expectations that he will be fired, a senior administration official told CNN Sunday.

“The knives are out,” the official added, acknowledging that Flynn’s future in the White House is hardly a sure thing. “There’s a lot of unhappiness about this.”

Here’s what the entire controversy surrounding National Security Advisor Michael Flynn comes down to: When he says something, do the other people in the Trump administration, particularly the president and Vice President Pence, trust him? If the answer is “yes,” he can weather just about any political storm. If the answer is “no,” then he’s already on his way out, he just doesn’t know it yet.

Pence said in a Jan. 15 appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Flynn’s conversations with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were “strictly coincidental” and had nothing to do with the Obama administration’s decision to punish Russia for meddling in the November election, which U.S. intelligence agencies agree was intended to help boost Trump’s prospects. “They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia,” Pence told CBS.

An administration official told POLITICO that Pence’s remarks came after a conversation with Flynn and were guided by that conversation — leaving open the possibility that Flynn misled the Vice President just as he repeatedly denied the allegations to the Washington Post before acknowledging the topic may have been discussed.

Privately, Pence aides expressed frustration at their boss being placed in such a position.

Even if Pence was not aware that sanctions were discussed between Flynn and the Russian ambassador when he made his comments, the episode could leave him with diminished standing, concerning those around him. For the national security adviser to mislead the Vice President on such a sensitive issue with impunity would seem to send a signal about Pence’s standing in the West Wing, a Pence adviser said.

If the national-security adviser tells the Vice President “X,” and the actual truth is “not X,” then the pair just aren’t going to be able to work together.

Because of the reports of this initial lie, Flynn will find himself with exceptionally few true allies in the weeks ahead, because everyone else in the administration will be afraid Flynn might do it again, and deliberately or inadvertently send them out to defend another lie. If he could lie to the vice president, he obviously would be willing to lie to anyone under Pence. And the unanswerable question: Would Flynn be willing to lie to the president?

In any other administration, lying to the vice president and sending him out to tell a lie on your behalf would be an automatic firing offense. (Recall Bill Clinton sending out a bunch of his cabinet members to assure the public he didn’t have an affair with Monica Lewinsky.)

With Trump, the rules are very different. The million-dollar question is, does Trump still trust Flynn?

No, Those Aren’t Swastikas On Your Sidewalk.

The best line in the otherwise deeply-disappointing Star Wars: The Phantom Menace: “Your focus determines your reality.”

This is the “secret” to a lot of self-help books, including The Secret. (Whoops, spoiler alert.) It isn’t magic or the Force, it’s mostly psychology: Whatever you look for, you tend to find. If you walk around believing that the world is out to get you, you will find circumstances and examples to fit that belief. If you walk around thinking life is full of opportunities, you will perceive more of life’s circumstances as potential opportunities.

And if you walk around believing that the United States is on the verge of a violent takeover by neo-Nazis, you will see things that you interpret as evidence of an imminent violent takeover by neo-Nazis all around you.

Comedienne Sarah Silverman, on Twitter yesterday:

As many Twitter users pointed out, it’s not a botched swastika; it’s a pretty standard utility line marker. Now that you’ve had it pointed out to you, you may start noticing them on the sidewalk in your community, too.

Silverman later wrote that her misinterpretation reflected the unbearable amount of anti-Semitic hateful messages she gets on social media. Presuming that’s the case, that’s awful; no one deserves to be treated like that.

But her instinctive reaction does give a sense of the troubling place that her mind is right now, and she doesn’t seem to be alone.

We’ve entered an era where one significant chunk of the American people – the passionate Left – have concluded that the driving force behind those who disagree is pure evil. Some might argue that this has always been the case, and that there are plenty on the Right who perceive liberal Americans as pure evil. What I think we’re seeing now is an increasingly widespread eagerness to interpret innocuous symbols, events, comments, etc. as further evidence of a malevolent conspiracy. Think back to the ThinkProgress editor who wrote about his post-election fear of his plumber:

Ned Resnikoff, a “senior editor” at the liberal website ThinkProgress, wrote on Facebook that he’d called a plumber to fix a clogged drain. The plumber showed up, did the job and left, but Resnikoff was left shaken, though with a functioning drain. Wrote Resnikoff, “He was a perfectly nice guy and a consummate professional. But he was also a middle-aged white man with a Southern accent who seemed unperturbed by this week’s news.”

This created fear: “While I had him in the apartment, I couldn’t stop thinking about whether he had voted for Trump, whether he knew my last name is Jewish, and how that knowledge might change the interaction we were having inside my own home.”

When it was all over, Resnikoff reported that he was “rattled” at the thought that a Trump supporter might have been in his home. “I couldn’t shake the sense of potential danger.”

Folks on the Left are now arguing whether it’s okay to sucker-punch a Nazi in the face. Come on, now. Laws against assault and battery are there to protect all of us, even those with grotesque or abominable views. Outside of war or self-defense, the only Americans who should be punching Nazis are archeology professors on sabbatical. Once one murderous ideology justifies a sucker-punch without legal consequence, how do we rule out the other ones?

A little while back, Tim Kreider wrote in The Week, “A vote cast for Trump is kind of like a murder; there may be context to consider — a disadvantaged background, extenuating circumstances, understandable motives — but the choice itself is binary and final, irrevocable.” For most of human history, murder was perceived to be the ultimate crime, one of the few that even our compassionate society believed warranted the death penalty. Now we’re comparing the ultimate crime to a vote.

Over the weekend I saw some further social media discussion of the notion that “being apolitical is a privilege.” It’s not merely those who disagree who are being cast in the role of enemies, but even those who fail to care as much.

The easiest way to ensure that there is a violent conflict between Americans of differing political ideologies is to adopt attitudes like these. Blur the line between the genuinely hateful, dangerous groups and run-of-the-mill political disagreements. See anyone who disagrees or who could potentially disagree as a potential personal threat. Conclude that there is nothing redeeming or appealing about someone who disagrees with your politics. Ensure that the portrait of them in your mind is dehumanizing, with nothing worthy of respect. Contend that unprovoked violence against them, like punching them in the face without warning, is a justified response to how they offend you. Finally, adopt an attitude that anyone who is not explicitly with you is against you, just another part of the problem, and in need of reeducation.

We don’t have to go down this path. But to avert this, enough of us have to want to steer onto another one.

I Didn’t Mean That Up-Or-Down, I Meant This Up-Or-Down!

Remember those nine Senate Democrats who argued that a Supreme Court nominee should get “an up-or-down vote”? One of them is now trying to backtrack and insist she meant all along that the nominees only deserve an up-or-down vote on cloture… which they will vote “no” upon, meaning the nominee would not get an up-or-down vote on confirmation.

Last week, Shaheen said, “Everybody I’ve talked to agrees he should get a hearing and an up-or-down vote.”

As the ninth Democrat committed to bringing Gorsuch’s nomination to a vote, Shaheen would have guaranteed that Democrats would not be able to sustain a filibuster. White House press secretary

Sean Spicer welcomed her decision and hopes more Democrats would join her.

So Shaheen flip-flopped. She tweeted to Spicer that she only meant a cloture vote.

That’s just not true. An “up-or-down vote” in the Senate means a vote to confirm the nominee, not a procedural vote to close debate. Shaheen knows better. She just hopes the rest of us don’t.

Yeah, good luck selling that message, senator.

ADDENDA: Today I will be appearing on CNN International’s State of America with Kate Bolduan, which is now apparently available on iTunes!

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