Sunday, May 28, 2017

Trump's 'Just Politics' Defense

And see, "Resources for Trump Watchers"

What's the relationship between the Alt-Right, Russia, and Trump? When historians look back on the Trump Phenomenon decades from now, with its damage to American democracy and government, and democratic movements around the world, the answer to that question may well be seen as far more significant than the answer to "who on the Trump Team talked to whom in the Russian government, when, and about what?".
How could you believe me when I said I love you
When you know I've been a liar all my life
I've had that reputation since I was a youth
You must have been insane to think I'd tell you the truth
How could you believe me when I said we'd marry
When you know I'd rather hang than have a wife
I know I said I'd make you mine
But who would know that you would go for that old line
How could you believe me when I said I love you
When you know I've been a liar
Nothing but a liar, all my doggone cheatin' life
-- Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane, "How Could You Believe Me (When I Told You That I Loved You When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life)" [said to be one of the longest popular song titles ever]

It was put to music and dance by Fred Astaire and Jane Powell in the movie, "Royal Wedding" (1951):

(1) Russian Interference

(2) Collusion

(3) Russian Business

(4) The Alt-Right International

(5) Trump's Defense

It's neither that I feel sorry for Donald Trump, nor that I'm thinking of supporting him for reelection in 2020 -- if he makes it that far. But as the revelations continue to flow it's intriguing to think about what defenses he might have to wherever the evidence finally leads his investigators.

Let's walk through this together.

(1) Russian interference. By now there seems to be general agreement that Russians, probably with Vladimir Putin's personal participation or orders, intended to, and succeeded in, interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, with the intentiion of preventing the election of Hillary Clinton and aiding the election of Donald Trump. It also seems to be widely believed (though there is no way of proving) that (a) there was no direct interference by Russians with voting machines or vote counting, or that (b) this interference was the factor in swinging enough votes to Trump to produce his Electoral College victory.

However serious these charges may be, however criminal those Russians' actions may have been, however much the U.S. must escalate its anti-cyberwar defenses for future elections, taken alone they do not support charges that Trump, or members of his team, did anything wrong.

(2) Collusion. Certainly, the most serious possible charge is that Trump, or members of his campaign staff, with or without Trump's knowledge and/or participation, "colluded" with the Russians and their efforts.

"Collusion" is variously defined as "a secret understanding between two or more persons to gain something illegally," "a secret agreement, especially for fraudulent or treacherous purposes; conspiracy."

There seems to be an increasing quantity of circumstantial evidence to support an inference of "collusion." There were a disproportionate number of contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials (compared with their contacts with other nations' officials). So the opportunity would have been there. Even if all those contacts were totally innocent, efforts by those involved, and then the Trump Administration, to deny or otherwise cover up or falsify the full extent of their existence raises additional suspicions. Philip Bump, "The Web of Relatilonships Between Team Trump and Russia," The Washington Post, March 3, 2017 (involving possibly Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Jeff Sessions, Roger Stone, and others yet unknown).

And it doesn't help that Trump's son-in-law and all-portfolios presidential adviser, Jared Kushner, offered collusion to Russia's U.S. Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak. But (a) this was a proposal for a secret, general-purpose communications back-channel between the Trump Team and the Kremlin (using Russian communications channels) that could not be tracked by the U.S. government, not so far as I know, collusion with regard to electing Trump, and (b) it was rejected by the stunned Russian Ambassador. Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, "Trump Returns to Crisis Over Kushner as White House Tries to Contain It," New York Times, May 28, 2017, p. A1; and Maggie Haberman, Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo, "Kushner Is Said to Have Discussed a Secret Channel to Talk to Russia," New York Times, May 27, 2017, p. A1.

The reaction of former CIA and NSA Director, Michael Hayden? “What manner of ignorance, chaos, hubris, suspicion, contempt, would you have to have to think that doing this with the Russian ambassador was a good or appropriate idea? . . . This is off the map. I know of no other experience like this in our history, certainly within my life experience.” Adam Kelsey, Riley Beggin and John Santucci, "Kushner Asked Russian Ambassador for Back Channel on Syria and Other Policy Matters," ABC News, May 27, 2017.

Certainly there is no proof that there was not collusion. But as we all know, proving a negative is difficult, and so the burden of proof (often "proof beyond a reasonable doubt") falls upon those alleging wrongdoing, not those who are charged.

Of course, there was Trump's "suggestion" during the campaign: "'Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,' Mr. Trump said . . . in an apparent reference to Mrs. Clinton's deleted emails. 'I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.'" Ashley Parker and David E. Sanger, "Donald Trump Calls on Russia to Find Hillary Clinton's Missing Emails," New York Times, July 28, 2016, p. A1. But that, alone, doesn't prove an "understanding" or "secret agreement" -- and could be trivialized by Trump as nothing more than an unsuccessful attempt at humor.

Based only on statements by public officials and media revelations (I no longer have top secret clearance or access to more) my guesses at this time, and that's all they can be, are that (a) while there had been what could fairly be called "collusion" in promoting the election of Trump, (b) at the end of the day investigators will not have enough evidence to prove it.

(3) Russian business. There is significant evidence of Trump's numerous efforts, and success, in financial transactions with Russians. Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman and Michael Birnbaum, "Inside Trump's Financial Ties to Russia and His Unusual Flattery of Vladimir Putin," The Washington Post, June 17, 2016 ("Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world. . . . 'Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,' Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, . . .. 'We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.'").

"[Donald Trump purchased the Palm Beach, Florida] house . . . 'Maison de l'Amitie,' or the House of Friendship . . . in 2004 . . . paying $41 million . . .. He intended to flip it for a quick -- and huge -- profit. . . . The property sat on the market for about two years . . . . It wasn’t at all clear who might pay Trump three times his buying price . . . amid a looming recession. In the summer of 2008, Trump found a solution . . . one of the world’s hundred richest men . . . Russian billionaire named Dmitry Rybolovlev. . . . Rybolovlev had made his fortune in the wild west of 1990s post-Soviet Russia. . . . He would pay Trump $95 million for Maison L’Amitie . . . the most expensive U.S. residential property sale ever." Michael Crowley, "Trump and the Oligarch," Politico, July 28, 2016.

4.The Alt-Right International. Any label we put on an individual (e.g., "athlete," "Catholic," "Republican"), including ourselves, is a futile effort. We are each a complex array of characteristics -- and those characteristics are always changing. To categorize people with a single label communicates both too much, and far too little, about the person labeled. And if you can't do it for a single individual, you certainly can't do it for a group.

So it is with Trump voters -- or Trump himself -- indeed, "members" of almost any social-political movement.

Nonetheless, the role of the Alt-Right in the 2016 presidential election, and Trump's identification with many of its goals, has been a proportionately under-reported part of Trump's Russian connections.
Trump is a hero to the Alt-Right. Through a series of semi-organized campaigns, Alt-Right activists applied [a] slur to every major Republican primary candidate except Trump, who regularly rails against “political correctness,” Muslims, immigrants, Mexicans, Chinese and others. They have also worked hard to affix the Alt Right brand to Trump through the use of hashtags and memes.
"Alternative Right," Southern Poverty Law Center

Few of us know much about the Alt-Right: 54% know nothing at all, and 28% know only "a little." John Gramlich, "Most Americans Haven't Heard of the 'Alt-Right,'" FacTank, Pew Research Center, December 12, 2016. Here's some more description from the Southern Poverty Law Center:
"[The Alt-Right] is a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that 'white identity' is under attack by multicultural forces [trying] to undermine white people and 'their' civilization . . . that favors experimentation with the ideas of the French New Right; libertarian thought . . . [and] anarcho-capitalism, which advocates individual sovereignty and open markets in place of an organized state . . .. [T]he movement in 2015 and 2016 concentrated on opposing immigration and the resettlement of Syrian refugees in America. . . . [It] is . . . a version of an ideology popular in Europe that emphasizes cultural and racial homogeneity within different countries. . . . [T]he movements on both continents are similar in accusing older conservatives for selling out their countries to foreigners. . . . While some Alt-Right leaders are unquestionably anti-Semitic, others [see] Jews simply as white people. . . . Social media have been instrumental to the growth of the Alt-Right['s] legions of anonymous Twitter users . . .."
So, what's the relationship between the Alt-Right, Russia, and Trump? When historians look back on the Trump Phenomenon decades from now, with its damage to American democracy and government, and democratic movements around the world, the answer to that question may well be seen as far more significant than the answer to "who on the Trump Team talked to whom in the Russian government, when, and about what?".

A major factor in Trump's connection to the Alt-Right is the fact that his former Campaign CEO, and then White Houise Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, was a prominent promoter of the Alt-Right and Chair of Breitbart News. "Bannon once described Breitbart News in an interview with the Investigative Fund as the 'platform for the alt-right' . . .. It's a brand of far-right conservatism that generally embraces and promotes white nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny." Jessica Roy, "What is the Alt-Right? A Refresher Course on Steve Bannon's Fringe Brand of Conservatism," Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2016.

Here more excerpts from just a couple of the relevant articles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has emerged as a hero of several prominent alt-right figures, raising new questions about the Kremlin's influence on the far-right, white nationalist movement that has asserted itself as a new force in American politics.

[T]he extent to which the alt-right has found a natural ally in Russia's current zeitgeist — which perceives the US as a globalist, imperialist power working on behalf of liberal elites — is hard to overstate.

Self-described white nationalist Matthew Heimbach, . . . a member of the alt-right, has praised Putin's Russia as "the axis for nationalists."

“I really believe that Russia is the leader of the free world right now. . . . Putin is supporting nationalists around the world and building an anti-globalist alliance, while promoting traditional values and self-determination. . . . This isn’t just a European or a right-wing movement," he said. "We're trying to position ourselves to be a part of this worldwide movement of globalism versus nationalism. It's a new age." . . .

[A]lt-right leader Richard Spencer . . . has argued that the US should dispense with its globalist policies by pulling out of NATO, resetting its relationship with Russia, and courting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad . . .. [H]e has called [Russia] the “sole white power in the world," . . ..
Natasha Bertrand, "'A Model for Civilization': Putin's Russia Has Emerged as 'a Beacon for Nationalists' and the American Alt-Right," Business Insider, December 10, 2016

"In boosting Trump and funding fringe parties in Europe, Russia has helped construct a new kind of 'comintern' —and it's even more effective than the Cold War version." Mike Lofgren, "Trump, Putin, and the Alt-Right International," The Atlantic, October 31, 2016. (If you are unfamiliar with "comintern," it is short for the Communist International (or "Third International"), an international communist organization that advocated world communism (1919-1943).)

The Atlantic article also comments:
We are now witnessing a curious phenomenon: The resurgent far-right parties in numerous Western countries, which harp incessantly on the sovereignty, independence, and world-historical uniqueness of whichever country they happen to live in, have self-organized into a transnational alt-right “comintern” that appears to be more effective than the leftist comintern of the Soviet era. No doubt this development was inevitable in the age of digital communication, but it has undeniably received a boost from the Kremlin. It also bears emphasis not only that Russia is attempting to influence politics in Western nations, but that this influence comes prepackaged with a specific ideological content.
5. Trump's Defense. This is probably one of those "not all Trump supporters are affiliated with the Alt-Right, but all (or nearly all) voters who lean Alt-Right were probably Trump voters."

Just a guess, but there were probably large percentages of both Clinton and Trump voters who had never heard of the Alt-Right, or were at least unaware of its orientation and significance -- including Trump's ties to the movement.

If The Alt-Right International is, in fact, as pro-Russian, pro-authoritarian, anti-government, anti-democracy a threat to nations' democratic and human rights movements as I believe it to be, what could possibly be Trump's defense to his complicity in its rise?

Ironically, his best defense could be his well-documented propensity to lie.
"Donald Trump is in a different category. The sheer frequency, spontaneity and seeming irrelevance of his lies have no precedent. . . . Trump seems to lie for the pure joy of it. A whopping 70 percent of Trump’s statements that PolitiFact checked during the campaign were false, . . . 4 percent were completely true, and 11 percent mostly true. . . . 26 percent of [Hillary Clinton's] statements were deemed false." Maria Konnikova, "Trump's Lies vs. Your Brain," Politico Magazine, January/February 2017.

And for a catalog of examples see, Alan Yuhas, "How Does Donald Trump Lie? A Fact Checker's Final Guide," The Guardian, November 07, 2016 (a catalog of examples)
As this blog post begins, "How could you believe me . . . when you know I've been a liar all my life?" Having shown a gymnast's ability to leap from one side of an argument to the other, he may be able to pull it off with this "just politics" defense.

"Hey, folks, I was only kidding. You know how it is about politics," he might say. "I don't believe in that Alt-Right stuff. Steve Bannon told me it could help us rack up more votes, bring some folks to the polls who would not otherwise have voted. Turned out he was right."

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