The context doesn’t matter

It is said that there are times we laugh because we dare not weep. The times right now are shockingly serious, though as serious as all this is, there’s plenty that Trump gives us to laugh at. So here I’m going to share a quote from today’s public appearance by Hair Furor. Trump actually said this, as part of some press-conference answer that he thought would actually help him. Of course, the context doesn’t even matter. This is just for the lulz:

Yesterday somebody asked me a question and I gave an answer, but always in the form of corruption.

 

Unintentional Humor: Codeword Trump

From an article on Raw Story, we get this information about the phone call from Trump to Zelenskyy:

A former Trump administration official has confirmed to Politico that White House did place transcripts into the codeword system.

After Trump made false claims about his conversations with Mexican and Australian leaders in 2017, someone from the White House leaked the official transcripts. After that was when the White House took the unusual step to block anyone from having access to the call transcripts, according to the former Trump official.

“I don’t think the person who leaked those was ever really discovered,” the former official told Politico. “So there was a decision to tighten the restrictions for those who had access to those transcripts.”

According to another former Trump National Security Official cited by Politico, “it would be unusual to put transcripts in the code word system.”

But according to the whistleblower, senior White House officials intervened to “‘lockdown’ all records” to try and get them out of the general access to anyone in the White House. They did so because “of the likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, that they had witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain,” the whistleblower claimed.

… wait for it …

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He learns nothing.

Much has been made of the fact that one of Trump’s defenses (there were many, and not all of them can be advanced simultaneously without obvious and major contradiction, but even so) against Trump’s obvious efforts to get Russia to help his election campaign is that he was simply naive about the law when making pronouncements like, “Russia, if you’re listening…”.

Now, obviously he’s not learned that lesson and his claims of naivety ring hollow given that in the early summer he said that if offered dirt by a foreign nation in the 2020 election, he would still accept it, knowing as he does the illegality and the political consequences of doing so.

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The Transcript Isn’t A Transcript

The White House said it was going to release a transcript of the phone call between Trump and President Zelenskyy of the Ukraine. They’ve now released a document, but the document itself gives us a pretty strong warning that should give us all pause about how this disclosure is being reported:

CAUTION: A Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation (TELCON) is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion. The text in this document records the notes and recollections of Situation Room Duty “Officers and-NSC policy staff assigned t_o listen.and memorialize the conversation in written form as the conversation takes place. A numper of factors can affect ‘the accuracy of the record, including poor telecommunications connections and variations in accent and/or interpretation.

The word “inaudible” is used to indifate portions of a conversation that the notetaker was unable to hear.

Nonetheless, USA Today gives us this:

Trump administration releases transcript of call with Ukraine’s President Zelensky amid impeachment inquiry

CBS News gives us this:

Trump call transcript shows he pressed Ukrainian president to probe Biden — live updates

CNBC’s article is headlined:

Trump authorizes release of transcript of controversial Ukraine call that mentioned Joe Biden

And no less than that vaunted bastion of journalism, the NY Times writes their headline without any ambiguity:

Transcript: Trump’s Call With the Ukrainian President

Forbes, of all sycophantic outlets, is actually the voice of reason and caution here, despite calling the document a “transcript” in the headline:

Trump’s Ukraine Transcript Reportedly Won’t Contain Entire Conversation

What Forbes says is actually a fair summary of the problem

President Trump said he would release the “complete” and “unredacted transcript” of his July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president Wednesday, but multiple reports state that what gets released is unlikely to be word-for-word, per longstanding White House rules.

  • According to Reuters, White House rules on phone calls between the president and a foreign leader would likely mean a transcript would be put together from notes taken by several U.S. officials who listened in.
  • The note-takers are typically National Security Council or Central Intelligence Agency officials.
  • The final official document of a phone call can range from what looks like a word-for-word transcript, a memo or a short summary.
  • And the Washington Post reported that Trump is unlikely to have tape recordings of the phone call. Recordings have not been made since the 70s.

So when you hear that a “transcript” has been released, don’t believe it. Maintain your skepticism. There may very well be no recording back to which we can compare Trump’s document and every single person involved in the preparation of the document we do have answers solely and ultimately to Trump. If in conversations with others who refer to it as a transcript, it might be useful and appropriate, depending on context, to correct the “transcript” language of the person or persons with whom you’re speaking.

And if they doubt you, refer them right back to the official warning on the actual document released:

CAUTION: A Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation (TELCON) is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion.

 

 

 

For Your Enjoyment: How do you solve a problem like The Donald?

Apropos of nothing, I happened to dash this off today:

He’s got a favorite word, it’s “Me!”
His list of values starts with Greed.
He grabs any woman’s ass
Thinks gold leaf equals class
And underneath his toupee
you’ll find half an idea per day
He loves the bible so much he made a golden calf!

He never shows up for briefings
His intellect is surreal
He’s always insulting or grifting
Save when you bring the child his Happy Meal™!

I hate to have to say it
But I very firmly feel
The Donald’s not an asset to the world…

Gorka and Miller still think he’s good,
and looks fine in a starched white hood!

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EnlightenmentLiberal Improved My Thinking and Writing

So just a few days ago I wrote a piece titled, “You are not the hero.” I thought I was pretty clear that the problem was that the author of the NYTimes anonymous op-ed about resisting Trump’s orders was being lionized by many in the media, including FtB-friend Ed Brayton (with whom I normally agree).

Enlightenment Liberal came along and wrote a comment to that post that made me uncomfortable. Where I thought I’d been clear, EL expressed disagreement that I should believe every Trump employee has a duty to resign. While we had a short back-and-forth and realized we were in agreement, I wondered why that wasn’t clear already and re-read my piece. There are many times when I write something long, but that includes definitive statement X, only to be told that I believe or assert Not-X. Since I’m pretty careful with my writing, I expected that probably I had been clear and that EL just misread a long-winded post.

But that’s not what I found. In addition to using a vague word “situation” to sum up a few things about the author and the media’s treatment of the author that really should have been spelled out, there was also something important yet entirely missing. Although I took it for granted that an important part of the context is that it’s actually been the Republicans who fetishize rule of law at the national level (and have done at least since Nixon), I realized on re-reading that I hadn’t included that bit of context anywhere in my original post and others wouldn’t take it for granted.

See, here’s the thing: although I would have been mildly irked with anyone of any party being lionized in this circumstance, the depth of my feeling, the true source of my outrage, was that someone who is clearly a powerful person in the Republican party is clearly going to the media to seek not only absolution but also praise for disobeying the law and the lawful orders of the President whose orders that person – if working in the Executive – is bound to follow.

My contempt for, e.g., the author’s co-optation of the term “resistance” in this particular political moment where resistance means something very different than supporting the caging of children but opposing withdrawal from a bi-lateral trade agreement with South Korea is an integral part of my perspective on the lionization of the op-ed author. Slacktivist author Fred Clark captured well the particular flavors of the editorial that were responsible for my reaction to the media’s lionization of the op-ed author:

All of which means that this op ed reads less like an indictment of the president than the feckless defense of some Vichy functionary desperately trying to save his neck by pretending after the fact that he’d been a subversive saboteur all along. (h/t to Jenora Feuer)

I do think that it would be good if every single person currently on the White House staff along with every single senate-confirmed appointee originally nominated by Trump turned in resignations in a rapidly cascading event that left Trump alone in the White House without even anyone to answer the phones or process paperwork to hire new staff. I think that would be glorious. Yet I also don’t think that everyone who needs a paycheck should be ethically required to quit their jobs.

There’s a clear focus to my opposition to the media treatment of this editorial, and it’s dependent on seeing the contradictions between the power to further policies within the government (which the author maintains and embraces, praising the majority of Trump’s agenda) and the powerlessness of a functionary to a mad king (which the author employs rhetorically to absolve, through the ambiguity of anonymity, every single not-President person working in the Executive Branch), as well as the contradictions between the fetishization of rule-of-law to the extent that the right demonizes people with the entirely legitimate view that the 2nd Amendment does not deny the government the power to prohibit private ownership of weapons unneeded for legitimate private purposes and frequently used dangerously or illegally (even murderously) and the editorial seeking praise specifically for violating the rule of law.

For whatever reason, the importance of these contradictions weren’t clear in my original post. Nor was this: rule of law is a very important value, but it’s not the only value. Keeping your job within Trump’s administration doesn’t make you a demon, but you’re still not a hero. And if you’re deluded enough to think you are or should be the hero of this story, deluded enough to write a NYTimes op-ed about your heroic efforts that names yourself, literally, the Resistance, then you absolutely deserve scorn.

But you – and everyone else – also deserve a more carefully worded post than I originally created.

You Are Not The Hero

While this is an unoriginal thought even though the topic is only 24 hours old, I still need to say it:

Hey, you! Author of that anonymous NYTimes editorial about how Trump is so bad but the Trump administration is so good? Yeah, you. You are not the hero.

PZ has mentioned this and gets it right, but many here remember Ed Brayton, whose writing I greatly respect, and Ed Brayton gets it wildly wrong. He says exactly the opposite:

I suspect that this kind of thing might well topple a lot of other dominoes and set off a reaction where a significant chunk of Republican politicians, advisers and thinkers decide that this is the time to take down the elephant.

And frankly, they would be heroes, and history would treat them as such.

No. When you pull out a gun on a kid playing in a park and then you put the gun back in your holster, you are not a hero. You’re Frank Freuding Garmback. You don’t get to be the hero just because you’re not Timothy Loehmann. You’re probably not a bad person, but you’re not a hero.

But for a Constitution- and Rule of Law-fetishizing author of this Op-ed to be called a hero is worse than lionizing a Frank Garmback: the editorial writer makes no effort to encourage invocation of the 25th. The editorial writer is engaged in apologia for the administration if not the President, and the anonymity, far from being a necessary capitulation to the exigencies of working for Trump, is in fact a tool to absolve every administration official and White House employee of their complicity.

Here’s the truth: the constitution gives two ways to take a madman out of the White House: impeachment and the 25th. If you recognize that governmental legitimacy and authority in the US flows from its constitution, then while you are an employee or appointee of the executive branch, you are duty bound to follow the directives of the President. To respond to dangerous incompetence for the office by subverting the authority of the sitting president rather than openly calling for the impeachment and removal of the president by congress or the invocation of the 25th and removal of the President by the Vice-President and the cabinet, you are shredding the constitution.

This author rejects, quite fully and fundamentally, the authority of the US Constitution, and defends as heroes the people who arrogate to themselves power legitimately given only to someone actually elected to executive office. These are not the actions of a hero. Nor is the use of anonymity to give cover to anyone and everyone who might possibly have written the editorial.

Quit. Invoke the 25th if you have the standing to do so. Openly advocate for the invocation of the 25th and/or the impeachment described in Article II, Section 4 and authorized in Article 1, Sections 2 & 3 (and quite possibly get fired for doing so).

Those are the ethical and effective options of someone who has put themselves in this position by seeking and accepting a job in this administration. The author chooses none of these.

And what is worse, though we don’t know the author’s identity (and, like PZ, I’m not interested in knowing it), it is most likely that anyone in a position to write such an editorial actually worked to put Trump in office. In this case, we’re not looking merely at someone who finds themselves faced with the possibility of losing a job and decides that betraying the constitution is preferable. We’re talking about someone who actively participated in the creation the very catastrophe which they want credit for partially ameliorating.

When you set a fire that burns a house and kills two people, you aren’t a hero because after the fire consumed the staircase you got two people out of a bedroom on the main floor. Yours in the blame for the deaths, not the credit for the rescue.

You are not the hero.

 


ETA: As is so often the case, someone else has written a pithier version of what I perseverate upon. In this case, it’s chrislawson over at PZ’s thread on this topic. Nice work, Chris. Very well done.

Edited: Enlightenment Liberal made me realize that this comes across as saying that one cannot ethically stay and subvert an administration. Rereading the post, I realized that what I was thinking at the time was not as clear in my writing as I would like: If you want to be a hero, you must stand in vocal opposition. There can be many reasons to stay in your job, keep your paycheck, and do your best to limit the harms of a Trump. But these are not the actions of a hero. So I edited the 1st sentence of the paragraph immediately following the paragraph with the Frank Garmback reference.

Originally that sentence began like so:

And the situation with the anonymous editorial writer is worse

The new sentence begins like so:

But for a Constitution- and Rule of Law-fetishizing author of this Op-ed to be called a hero is worse than lionizing a Frank Garmback

The “situation” is now spelled out as lionizing someone who came to power through participation in a rule-of-law and Constitution fetishizing party for publicly seeking praise for their rule-of-law and Constitution-subverting acts.

Hopefully the new sentence will communicate the background facts (about fetishization) that weren’t in the original post at all as well as highlighting (again) that the issue is about being a hero. Continuing to collect your paycheck and doing your best to subvert bad things might be ethically justifiable, depending on what you do and how you do it it might even be ethically praiseworthy to some minimal extent, but it doesn’t make you a hero.

One Theory Is That Trump Colored The US Flag Wrong

When Trump visited an Ohio classroom, the students were coloring in US flags. Trump decided to take part:

Trump’s flag is red, white a blue, but not exactly how you’d expect.

Of course, while many are howling at the error, there is another theory to be considered, one that doesn’t implicate the president’s intelligence

The Russian flag is *also* red, white and blue.

This flag has a blue stripe.

 

Just sayin’.