Making the click-through worthwhile: For once, Trump’s heated, hyperbolic rhetoric feels appropriate; a long look at a Democratic congressman who’s called moderate but is nothing of the sort; and the Robert Mueller investigation hits one year . . . and why it’s, at least so far, mostly just confirming what we already expected.
Who’s an Animal?
SHERIFF MIMS: Thank you. There could be an MS-13 member I know about — if they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about it.
THE PRESIDENT: We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy. The dumbest laws — as I said before, the dumbest laws on immigration in the world. So we’re going to take care of it, Margaret. We’ll get it done.
I’d prefer if the president spoke more precisely and clearly, but it seems pretty clear to me that the president is referring to MS-13 gang members as animals. That, of course, is not what the media reported.
The New York Times: “Trump lashed out at undocumented immigrants during a White House meeting, calling those trying to breach the country’s borders ‘animals’”
HuffPost: “Trump Refers To Immigrants As ‘Animals.’ Again.”
Vox: “Trump on deported immigrants: ‘They’re not people. They’re animals.’”
Come on, Washington Post. We expect you to shed a clarifying light on controversies such as these, not obscure them further with inaccurate headlines. Haven’t you guys ever heard that democracy dies in darkness?
You could argue, as John Harwood of the Wall Street Journal does, that even MS-13 members are human beings, and that there’s reason to be worried when an American leader — or a leader anywhere, really — starts arguing that a certain group of people aren’t really human beings. (You know, such as “partially born,” the disabled, or the terminally ill, right?)
But let’s have no illusions about MS-13. Their motto is “Kill, Rape, Control.” They’re heavily involved in sex trafficking and forcing underage girls into prostitution. They don’t merely kill those who cross them; they do so in particularly gruesome ways to intimidate others, such as stabbing a teenager 153 times in a public park. They leave bodies of victims near elementary schools.
If there’s any group of human beings that you can label “animals,” and deserve the absolute minimum rebuke for dehumanizing rhetoric . . . it’s MS-13 members. (I might throw terrorists, the Iranian Mullahs, Russia’s FSB, North Korean thugs, and the Taliban in there, too. If not literal animals, those who make the deliberate infliction of pain and suffering upon others their life’s work don’t get to play the “hey, we’re all just flawed human beings, right?” card later on.) They’re human, but the worst of humanity. And the standard objections to “eliminationist rhetoric” don’t seem as applicable when we’re talking about a group that we would genuinely like to eliminate — if not fatally, then through incarceration.
Donald Trump says a lot of crude, obnoxious, inappropriate, incendiary, and disgusting things, but this . . . really isn’t one of them.
Adam Schiff, the Immoderate
If you already haven’t read my long look at Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, do so now. Perhaps what’s most astounding about the seemingly-always-on-television rising Democratic star is how he’s created a reputation for being a moderate without ever really being moderate in his positions at all. From the piece:
For a long time, the nation’s political reporters had a uniform opinion about Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. The New Yorker wrote that until the election of Trump, Schiff “was known in Washington as a milquetoast moderate.” The New York Times described him as “more labradoodle than Doberman.” McClatchy News Service said Schiff had “worked for years to avoid” the label of partisan. The Washington Post called him a “mild-mannered centrist.”
I know some people quibble with how the American Conservative Union defines a “conservative” vote, but there’s not much argument that when you score less than 5 out 100 over the course of your career, you’re not just liberal, you’re pretty darn liberal. Nancy Pelosi has a lifetime rating of 2.5; Maxine Waters has a 4.26. You have to look hard to find Schiff criticizing the Obama administration, at least when it could have meant something; once Obama had been out of office for six months, then Schiff started criticizing how he and his team had handled Russia, North Korea, and cybersecurity. One of the reasons the Right is so wary about Democrats’ enthusiasm for impeachment of Trump, despite Trump’s manifest flaws, is because they remember how casually Democrats talked about impeaching the last Republican president. In 2008, Schiff voted for a resolution from Dennis Kucinich arguing that it was time to consider impeaching George W. Bush for abuses of power.
Whether you love Adam Schiff or hate him, you should see him accurately. After finishing this piece, I began to wonder how many political journalists apply the label “moderate” based upon a lawmaker’s persona and speaking style, instead of his views and voting record.
Happy Anniversary, Robert Mueller
It’s the first anniversary of the launch of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 election. What have we learned in the past year?
Look, campaign foreign-policy adviser George Papadopoulos is the kind of big-talking, poorly informed, not-willing-to-do-the-research fool who was willing to believe that a young Russian woman was “Putin’s niece” even though the Russian dictator had no siblings who lived to adulthood. You wonder what he would be willing to trade away for a pile of “magic beans.”
Paul Manafort? Some of us were warning about him being a walking sleaze with shady foreign connections from the get-go.
Jared Kushner? Look, the world of presidential campaigns and international diplomacy are a long way from doing Manhattan real-estate deals, pal. Anytime an American suggests “using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications,” he’s essentially volunteering to wear a sign that says, “I’m either dumb, naïve, or up to no good.”
When told about “the crown prosecutor of Russia” having “documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” Donald Trump Jr. did not respond, “This is probably the sort of thing we should refer to the FBI.” He instead replied, “If it’s what you say I love it.” The son of the president clearly had no moral qualms about accepting help from the Russian government.
I have a hard time believing that Michael Flynn genuinely “forgot” to disclose that did a half-million dollars’ worth of work for a foreign company.
Even by the standards of longtime Trump aides, Sam Nunberg may have serious mental-health issues. Carter Page is a little weird — okay, more than a little weird — with a serious belief that we can get along well with Putin’s Russia, and zero instincts for self-preservation. Roger Stone — well, we always knew what Roger Stone was.
What we’ve learned is what many of us suspected at the time: In 2016, Donald Trump was surrounded by the absolute bottom of the barrel of GOP advisers and campaign strategists, family members completely alien to the way a presidential campaign operated (and the laws governing that), grifters, opportunists, hangers-on, and enough unsavory characters to create an all-human version of the bar scene from Star Wars. (And that was before Steve Bannon showed up!) A lot of people who never would have gotten through the door of a “normal” presidential campaign got into Trumpland and saw the candidate, whether he won or not, as a ticket to a big payday down the road.
That’s not good. But that’s also not yet evidence of a criminal conspiracy on the part of Russia and the Trump campaign, and certainly not yet evidence that Russia’s actions altered the outcome of the election. There is a palpable belief among a significant chunk of Hillary Clinton supporters that the 2016 election represents an unacceptable cosmic injustice that can only be rectified by 1) some sort of ruling that Trump “cheated” and that the result is somehow illegitimate and 2) impeachment of Trump, and preferably along with him Pence and as many Republicans as it takes until there is a Democratic president. (At this moment, the next 17 people after Trump in the line of succession are registered Republicans, except for James Mattis and Kirstjen Nielsen. However, if Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, the next speaker, whether it’s Nancy Pelosi or some other Democrat, would become president if both Trump and Pence were impeached concurrently.)
ADDENDA: In light of the Laurel–Yanny auditory test, tomorrow’s Jolt may feature a look at lot of strange Internet phenomena.