Yesterday, President Trump divulged classified US intelligence during a meeting with Russian diplomats Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Lavrov. According to the Washington Post, the disclosure pertained to a plot by ISIS to smuggle bombs onto planes in laptops. Of less concern than the material itself is the possibility that its divulgence could compromise intelligence sources and methods, since “a Middle Eastern ally that closely guards its own secrets provided the information.” There’s also the aspect of this situation where Trump actually does on purpose exactly what he attacked Hillary Clinton for potentially doing by accident with her emails. So this is the scandal that finally undoes the Trump administration, right? Right? [crickets][racist crickets]
President Trump took to Twitter this morning to condemn the leaks that have embarrassed his administration for the last month. After The New York Times reported that his campaign aides had repeated contact with Russian intelligence agents last year, citing “four current and former American officials,” the president tweeted that “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!” Compare this to the less real scandal of accepting the help of a hostile foreign power to become president, which is only mildly un-American. But Trump raises a valid question. When is it a betrayal of the United States to leak classified information to the public, either directly or indirectly through the press, and when is it a service?
Those of you who picked “three weeks” in your office pool on the first resignation of the Trump administration are about to get free cupcakes. Retired general Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor last night, approximately seven hours after Kellyanne Conway told MSNBC that he enjoyed the “full confidence” of the White House. Why Flynn retired is unclear. His original mistake was to discuss sanctions in a phone conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States back in December, when he was not yet a federal official. That conversation itself is not the problem; the problem, ostensibly, is that he lied to Mike Pence about it. But the administration has known he lied about it for more than a month. Here’s Conway admitting that while simultaneously claiming that this lie was the straw that broke the camel’s back:
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) February 14, 2017
It seems like the real problem is that people are finding out about the lie. But Conway has issued two contradictory statements on this issue in the last 24 hours—three if you consider the resignation a statement, since she was almost certainly involved. Between her, Stephen Miller, and the
shadowy blotchy Steve Bannon, this administration is turning out to be a real field laboratory for students of lying.
Like many people, I would like to believe that Russia made Donald Trump president of the United States. That would solve a lot of problems for me—for example, the problem of reconciling tomorrow’s inauguration with my faith in American democracy and the people who operate it. That took kind of a hit in November. As a person who would not like to see Trump and his ilk win again and again, believing Russians hacked the election would also relieve me of my concern that Democrats could not beat the worst presidential candidate in American history.
But that phrase—“Russia hacked the election”—is simplistic and dumb. There is no evidence that Russia or its agents did anything to interfere with ballots or their counting. No election-related computer systems were compromised. Russians “hacked the election” by releasing to the public emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta. Surely, Russia favored Trump, because it could have done the same thing to him but didn’t. But the fact remains that Russia “hacked the election” only in the sense that it gave voters accurate information about Clinton they didn’t already know.
The actual election—the part where Trump becomes president by winning the electoral college—happened at the will of the American people in accordance with our constitution. It’s completely terrifying and sad that it happened that way—more terrifying and sad, probably, than if the Russians changed the vote count. But we should confront this state of affairs in our politics, so we can cure it. Blaming the Russians and declaring Trump illegitimate only denies that we are sick.
It is for this reason I must humbly disagree with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who told Meet the Press he will not attend the inauguration because he does not consider Trump a legitimate president. Lewis is a damn hero, and he can do whatever he wants. But I think it’s a mistake to pretend that Trump did not ascend to the presidency within our existing system, according to the will of the American people constitutionally expressed. Russia didn’t do this. We did. I think we should reckon with that, and the narrative that Russian interference renders the result of this election illegitimate lets us off the hook. You can read all about it in this week’s column in the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!
If you want to know how the Democratic Party is both not wrong and not likely to win an election ever again, consider this sentence from a recent letter to the Missoula Independent:
Blaming the Democratic Party for the election of Donald Trump excuses the real culprit: the uninformed electorate.
If you programmed a computer to identify Yogi Berra aperçus, this one might fool it. It’s not my fault I lost; they were the ones who didn’t vote for me. Anyway, Beth Taylor Wilson of Missoula is right: on every issue, Hillary compared to Trump as sense compares to nonsense, and the Democratic Party put up a progressive platform this year. They were also the only major party not to nominate a walking personality disorder. And yet they lost. They lost even though the admittedly uninformed electorate did its job and picked Clinton, by a margin of three million votes.
My question for the B.T. Wilsons of the world: How is it the voters’ fault that Hillary lost the electoral college? Perhaps some share of the blame lies with the professionals who spent nearly one billion dollars in donations to get her into office. Like you, I assumed the Democratic Party attracted the canniest politicians in America. Then I read this Politico story about how they campaigned in Michigan. Here’s a morsel:
The only metric that people involved in the operations say they ever heard headquarters interested in was how many volunteer shifts had been signed up — though the volunteers were never given the now-standard handheld devices to input the responses they got in the field, and Brooklyn mandated that they not worry about data entry. Existing packets with notes from the volunteers, including highlighting how much Trump inclination there was among some of the white male union members the Clinton campaign was sure would be with her, were tossed in the garbage.
I don’t want to be a negative Nancy Pelosi, but this is the second time Clinton has blown a sure thing. Sure, it’s mostly Russia’s fault. But sometimes I wonder whether Democrats are overestimating how many people are still with them. They might even be taking some of their constituents for granted. That’s easy to do when the Republican Party has gone berserk and nominated a Batman villain for president. Only an idiot would vote for that, obviously. It was so obvious that here we are, now, a nation of idiots without even a smart lady to lead us.
“The voters were too dumb to pick Clinton” might be true. It sure looks that way from a certain perspective. But if that is your perspective, “it’s the voters’ fault” is a poisonous idea. If you believe electing Trump was a mistake, as I do, then you have to consider how the Democratic Party allowed that to happen given the electorate we have. Democracy means the customer is always right.