Good Friday Morning! Will the government shut down or not? That’s the big question facing Congress at the end of the week and no one knows the answer to it. As of Thursday evening, there are competing stories. One the one hand, Democrats are bewilderingly claiming responsibility for the shutdown, saying they engineered enough votes against any spending measure, forcing a shutdown. On the other hand, leaks say Trump is negotiating with the House Freedom Caucus to prevent a shutdown. Both could be true, both could be false, or a combo. No one knows.
If a shutdown does occur, Democrats have set themselves up to take the blame. Before the report that Democrats were openly blocking any spending measure, I thought Republicans would receive responsibility. But the GOP can thank their lucky stars there are dumber politicians wanting the blame. As a Politico story noted: Shutdowns are for losers.
Shutdowns are a losing proposition for either party. It likely won’t hurt or help either party in the 2018 midterms, the last shutdown didn’t, but it will create short-term turmoil. And with no clear plan in place, I can’t provide anything other than the above analysis. That’s why this week I’m focusing on the “shithole” debate Trump forced on us, something I purposely ignored last week. I follow that up with a look at how the 25th Amendment argument is officially dead. Finally, I go through the real legal history behind “The Post,” a new movie starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. Links follow.
New this week at the Conservative Institute
After the fake ballistic missile alarm in Hawaii, it made me think why the alert was so believable for people. We face real threats in the world that we haven’t adequately addressed. The concept of a nuclear war is foreign to the current generation, even though we’re not far removed from the Cold War generation.
Debating Shitholes: Society spins its wheels to nowhere
The story about Trump calling certain countries “shitholes” was published while I was writing the newsletter last week. I debated about adding it to the mix but ultimately decided against it. I didn’t expect the story to take over all news media for a solid week. Even with that, I think my initial gut instinct was right: it’s a non-story because it tells us nothing new about Trump that wasn’t already true before last week.
What Trump said was unequivocally wrong, in every way imaginable. And it’s important to point that fact out and speak truth to power. Most Americans viewed those comments as racist, and I can’t think of any defense Trump-supporters can come up with that deflects that criticism. But again, it’s not like Trump’s comments reveal anything new we didn’t already know about him. I agree with Kevin D. Williamson in a piece he wrote in 2016, after the primaries:
Americans and Republicans, remember: You asked for this. Given the choice between a dozen solid conservatives and one Clinton-supporting con artist and game-show host, you chose the con artist. You chose him freely. Nobody made you do it.
This is who Trump is. This is who he has always been. He lacked the character to hold public office before running for President and he lacks it in the office. His comments don’t affect the commonly held viewpoint that he’s either racially insensitive, a jackass to other races, or just a racist (or all the above). It’s not like these comments reveal some new depth to his character, he’s said far worse in the past (See Judge Curiel).
The most common retort I get to the above points: Trump is authentic, he speaks his mind and upsets the politically correct culture.
No. He’s not authentic. He’s not speaking his mind. He’s not upsetting the politically correct order; he’s entrenching it.
He’s a reality TV star saying what he thinks people want to hear. It’s a reality TV show’s version of the truth, everything is made up for maximum conflict and showmanship. It’s like the time the White House sent Vice President Pence to an NFL game knowing players would kneel at the game, and Pence walked out. It was all a big charade. It’s the same in this instance, a charade for the cameras. Erick Erickson over at the Resurgent/Maven learned that the White House was gauging the base’s reaction:
…I personally spoke with someone the President called overnight Thursday. The purpose of the call was to gauge the reaction of the base on the comment. I am told the President expected it to play well, which is probably why the White House’s allies doubled down overnight to affirm that what the President said was true and everybody knows it is true. This would also explain why a story that came out during business hours at the White House and would obviously be the biggest story of the day, leading all the news networks’ coverage for that evening, saw no significant White House reaction, including no denial.
It’s like a WWE wrestler giving an absurd speech to get audience applause. The White House didn’t walk back the comments and deny them until they started getting negative press (the next day on Fox & Friends). Trump-supporters have literally taken every position on this: he said it, it’s authentic, it’s realism, he didn’t say it, he didn’t say it that way, and it’s old news.
This isn’t an authentic President. It’s an actor on a reality show. The problem is that the people and country are real. These actions aren’t leadership. But, again, we already knew this was Trump’s modus operandi. Nothing has changed since he entered the Presidential race.
And we already knew he’ll make a worse comment than shithole in the future. That debate will be useless too because this is who America chose to elect.
The 25th Amendment Option Officially Dies
Over at the Conservative Institute, I wrote Donald Trump would not be removed by the 25th Amendment. I focused on the legal and historical background of the amendment to make my point. I did not expect Donald Trump to drive the nail in the coffin for me by getting a cognitive test from a doctor, which he passed with a perfect score.
Perfect test results immediately killed the “President is mentally ill and can be removed by the 25th Amendment” argument. It was never going to happen anyway, and it’s even less likely to happen now. If Trump faces impeachment, it’ll come through the Russia collusion investigation.
It does, however, highlight how unhinged parts of the left have become regarding Trump. The first reaction I saw after the test results was a known leftist conspiracy nut claiming a perfect score meant Trump was mentally competent for a trial. And if that’s the far fringe of idiocy, the more mainstream lunacy centers around a new trutherism.
For instance, CNN’s panelist doctor Sanjay Gupta now insists in absolute terms Trump has heart disease. “Girthers” is the new term for leftists doubting the official numbers for Trump’s height and weight. Washington Post opinion columns and MSNBC cast doubt on the doctor. In essence, specific parts of the left are refusing to let go of Trump health stories. It’s no different than Hilary’s bad health crowd.
The Washington Free Beacon put together a brutal video showing how differently journalists treat conspiracies surrounding Trump and Hilary’s health; it’s must watch. Short version: Hilary’s health conspiracies were beyond the pale, but we should take the Trump conspiracies seriously. For an in-depth academic study on media bias, see Tim Groseclose’s fantastic book: “Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind.”
They can believe whatever they want. The 25th Amendment argument to remove Trump is officially dead. If Trump faces a real health scare where he’s incapacitated, then we can talk. Until then, it’s a fantasy to believe the 25th Amendment will remove Trump.
The Post: Questionable history regarding a true story
When I first saw there was a movie about the Washington Post during the Richard Nixon era, I naturally assumed it was about the Watergate scandal. Watergate was the Post’s big story break of that period and directly led to the resignation of President Nixon. I was more than a little surprised to learn that the movie was instead about the release of the Pentagon Papers.
The reason I was surprised is that the original story got broken by the New York Times, not the Washington Post. The Supreme Court consolidated all the litigation surrounding the leaks under the New York Times case which was already pending. The Post, along with many newspapers, joined the New York Times. The Post did receive some leaks after the Times began reporting, but the NYT was the center of the story.
In other words, before we even start on the story, The Post focuses on the wrong paper. I suppose this is fine if they’re just focusing on a different organization in that story, but I suspect even more will get missed. The Pentagon Papers case is one of the premier cases in Constitutional Law classes in law schools, so I thought I’d lay out the law and history.
The Pentagon Papers were named “United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense.” They were an encyclopedia of information, initially ordered at the request of then Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. The purpose was to provide historians with a clear resource on why the United States entered the Vietnam War complete with official documentation. The papers were not completed until Nixon’s inauguration. The Pentagon Papers were highly classified and most people in government didn’t know they existed.
When Daniel Ellsberg first leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, there was an open debate between the Times’s general counsel and the law firm they had hired on whether it was legally permissible to publish classified material. At the time, it was widely believed the President had broad executive authority to prevent the publication of classified material that would cause “grave and irreparable harm” to the United States. That was a legal standard previously set in 1951.
This standard is critical because it was the real issue at stake for the Nixon administration, not the substance of the leaks. The Pentagon Papers laid out the case that both Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson lied to Congress and the public on why we entered the Vietnam War. Politically, the papers helped Nixon. The real issue was maintaining the power of executive privilege.
At the advice of Henry Kissinger, Nixon chose to oppose the leaks in order to protect the power of executive privilege, which could be used to prevent future leaks. The leaks revealed much about US foreign policy, and Kissinger feared future leaks could hamper the United States. Nixon’s legal team believed they needed to protect the privilege, so they didn’t set a precedence that leaking classified materials went unpunished.
Ironically, it was the Watergate Scandal that revealed where Nixon’s administration went wrong: they illegally tried to discredit Daniel Ellsberg after he leaked the documents. Whether or not the Times and Post could publish the papers was a legitimate legal question. Breaking the law to discredit Ellsberg is where Nixon went bad.
The Supreme Court decided 6-3 in the New York Times’s favor, and the decision still gets debated to this day: when does the First Amendment end and the Presidency’s need to protect the United States begin? It’s not a bright line. In this case, the Court decided there was no immediate harm in publishing the documents that overrode First Amendment interests.
I don’t expect the movie to bring out this level of nuance.
One fun fact, future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist was the Assistant US Attorney in charge of litigating the Washington Post’s case for the government.
Best links of the web
In ancient Israel, kings were never prophets and prophets were never kings. But in Ebenezer Church, there once was a King who was a prophet. – Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, Speech at Martin Luther King Jr.’s Church
How Sex Trumped Race – Ross Douthat, The New York Times
The Claims Against Aziz Ansari Reveal the Defects of Modern Sexual Morality – David French, National Review
Donald Trump and the American Id – Kevin D. Williamson, from the August 10, 2015 issue of National Review
Shutdowns Are For Losers: Just ask Newt Gingrich and Ted Cruz. – Bill Scher, Politico
Is Diversity a Strength, and Should Strength Be a Core Value? – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
‘Vision, Chutzpah and Some Testosterone’ – The New York Times Editorial Board, turning its pages over to Trump supporters via letters to the editor
Fusion GPS: Kremlin ‘Purged’ Suspected Spies After Trump Dossier Release – Betsy Woodruff and Julia Arciga, The Daily Beast
Six Chinese Ships Covertly Aided North Korea. The U.S. Was Watching: Intelligence gathered by American officials provides what they say is detailed evidence of sanctions violations – Michael R. Gordon and Chun Han Wong, The Wall Street Journal
State Department Hiding ‘Game Changer’ Report on Myth of Palestinian Refugees: Classified report could bust myth that millions of refugees need UNRWA – Adam Kredo, The Washington Free Beacon
How the U.S. Ended Up Enthralled by Unions: Even labor-friendly Paris uses fewer workers than New York City, and for a fraction of the cost. American public unions pervert the process. – Megan McArdle, Bloomberg View
There Are 633 Key Administration Positions. Trump Hasn’t Appointed Nominees for 252 of Them. – Fred Lucas, The Daily Signal
Satire piece of the week
PITTSBURGH—Renewing her intention to cut back a little and only log onto the social network a few times a week at most, area woman Kathy Ward reportedly celebrated her fourth anniversary Tuesday of weaning herself off Facebook. “I realized that I just waste so much time on Facebook every single day, so from now on I’m going to really start limiting myself,” the 31-year-old told reporters, restating a declaration she first made in early 2011 and has reiterated roughly every two weeks since. “If I can hold myself to only checking it on the weekends for a while, then eventually I can get down to one session a week, and at that point it’ll be easy to just quit altogether. I don’t even know who half my friends are anyway.” At press time, Ward was on Facebook.
Thanks for reading!