One of the most useful skills a modern person can possess is knowing how to properly assign blame. In my experience, the modern person makes a lot of mistakes. Whether putting diesel in our gasoline cars or electing a sub-literate game show host to the presidency, we are not always not fucking up. Improved competence is impossible, though, so the only solution is to get better at casting blame. The Russians made Donald Trump president. The diesel pump is too close to the regular. See how great that is? This way, we can keep treating other people’s mistakes as unconscionable while continuing to make our own. Today is Friday, and that is absolutely not my fault. Won’t you spread the blame around with me?
You may remember Greg Gianforte from May, when he assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs the night before the special election that made him Montana’s sole representative in the US House. That was awesome. Jacobs had asked him a question about the Congressional Budget Office’s score of the Republican health care plan, which left Gianforte no choice but to throw Jacobs to the ground and punch him. Then the candidate issued a press release saying Jacobs had assaulted him. Then he went into hiding for about 24 hours, until the election was over and he had been declared the winner. Then he apologized.
As part of his apology, Gianforte agreed to sit down with Jacobs for an interview at some future date. In the weeks that followed, he insisted that he took full responsibility for his actions. Through his attorneys, he also fought the booking process tooth and nail. Although he pled guilty to misdemeanor assault, his legal team argued that he should not be fingerprinted or photographed, since he was never arrested. After a judge ordered him to submit to booking anyway, Republican County Attorney Marty Lambert said he would not make Gianforte’s mug shots public until Montana Attorney General Tim Fox—also a Republican—ruled on whether they were confidential. Montana courts have repeatedly ruled that they are not, and Fox has consistently deferred to those opinions. He has yet to answer Lambert’s question, though, and Gianforte’s mug shots remain unavailable to the public, despite requests from multiple news outlets for their release.
Last week, Jacobs issued a statement claiming that Gianforte has refused to sit down with him for the interview he promised. I think all of us in Montana who heard this news thought the same thing: Hasn’t Greg Gianforte suffered enough? He already went through the indignity of having hundreds of millions of dollars, getting elected to Congress, and punching a reporter in the face. Must we now hold him to the words of an apology he clearly did not mean?
People say all sorts of things when they’re framed for a crime that they later turn out to have committed. If we wanted to be dicks about it, we could pretend Rep. Gianforte meant it when he said he was sorry. But in order to believe that, we would have to believe that he lied about what happened, expended untold billable hours fighting the booking process, and reneged on his offer to sit down with Jacobs, all because he’s genuinely sorry. That’s just too farfetched. I call on the people of Montana to end their hypocrisy and stop pretending that Gianforte’s promise was anything but empty words. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!
One problem with contemporary media is that news outlets are always trying to expand their audiences, but they also present the news as though people had been following it every day. Recent coverage of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy that President Obama adopted in 2012, is a prime example. DACA is not a law, exactly. It’s a policy of the executive branch, which is in charge of immigration enforcement. Under DACA, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors can apply for work permits and a two-year, renewable period in which they will not be deported. It basically means that illegal immigrants who were brought here as children won’t get kicked out.
In its coverage of President Trump’s recent statements on the policy, CNN describes DACA as “a program that gave almost 800,000 young undocumented immigrants protections from deportation.” That’s it. The rest of the story is about Trump’s statements on DACA, different people’s reactions to those statements, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s position, et cetera. Readers learning about this issue for the first time know DACA is a “program,” whatever that means. They know it “gave…young undocumented immigrants protections from deportation” They know how many people it affects. But the details an informed citizen might use to evaluate this program are absent. DACA becomes the big, vague idea at the center of a report on what everyone else thinks about it. Readers can gather whether they’re supposed to be for or against it based on party affiliation, but they are given very little sense of what DACA actually is.
One victim of this problem appears to be the president. Yesterday, a few hours after he announced that he had instructed the Department of Justice to end the program, Trump tweeted this:
The phrasing of this tweet makes it sound like he believes DACA has been outlawed. Hopefully he is just using “legalize” as shorthand for “make into a law,” but then the parenthetical implies the Obama administration should have done that. Yet the president is against DACA. He doesn’t want it to be the law, unless his objection is that the president does not have the authority to shape immigration policy through selective enforcement. If that’s the case, it’s a radical departure from Trump’s broader views on the power of the executive branch. One wants to give him the benefit of the doubt, here, but the simplest explanation for this tweet is that he, like the CNN reader, has only a vague sense of what DACA is.
Maybe, though, he is playing more of that three-dimensional chess. It’s possible Trump knows that expelling undocumented immigrants is very important to his base but unpopular with a majority of voters. By calling on Congress to address the issue, he can show his core supporters that he is committed to ending DACA without incurring the blowback of it actually happening. It’s a way to blame the legislative branch for his failure to fulfill his campaign promises, as he did with Obamacare.
There’s an easy way to figure out which of those two scenarios we’re dealing with, and that’s for someone to ask President Trump to explain, in his own words, what DACA is. Presumably, any member of the Washington press corps who did that would be banned from the briefing room for life. It’s hard to ask anyone to prove he has basic knowledge of an issue without insulting him—the president much more so. But the same insularity that makes reporters assume their readers already know the details of DACA might blind them to the possibility that Trump isn’t really sure, either. That would be a story, right there.
The 19th-century novelist Horatio Alger had one vein of narrative skill, and he mined it deeply. Alger specialized in stories about young boys who escaped poverty through hard work and/or good character. His fourth book, Ragged Dick, exemplifies the form. At the outset of the novel, Dick is a 14 year-old bootblack living on the streets. Various middle- and upper-class characters note his refusal to steal, supporting him in small ways until he has occasion to rescue a drowning child. The child’s grateful father gives Dick a suit and a job in his firm. Now a respectable member of middle-class society, Dick changes his name to Richard Hunter, Esq., and lives (mostly) happily through six sequels.
Did you know there is a species of arctic shark that eats polar bears, lives for 400 years, and contains an unusually high concentration of urea? Yes, I am referring to Twitter’s beloved pee shark. The Greenland shark is a real animal that really has been found with polar bear remains in its stomach, and it really does tend to get crustacean parasites that eat its eyes. Whether the parasites attract more prey by glowing and whether the shark really eats polar bears on the hoof—as opposed to dead ones that happen to fall into the ocean—are matters of debate. Further outside the realm of scientific controversy is the Verge’s report that no, the Greenland shark isn’t actually made of pee. Fake news. I think the reason people loved @joffeorama’s Twitter thread is that it captures the almost comical horror of the Greenland shark’s lived experience, not that they believed its body was 100% urine. Today is Friday, and our urge to correct people overthrows all other senses. Won’t you miss the point with me?