Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Donald Trump, the GOP and The Dog in the Night That Didn't Bark

by Nomad

The Curious Incident

In his short story, "The Adventure of Silver Blaze," Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, literary father of Sherlock Holmes, first utilized one of  the most enduring plot "hinge." 
Holmes and a Scotland Yard detective are discussing a case of a stolen racehorse, Silver Blaze, and the murder of the horse's trainer. 
Gregory: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."
At the core, as Sherlock Holmes explained, it is a question of an unaccountable deviation from normal or expected behavior. The dog didn't bark because the "midnight visitor" was a person it obviously knew very well. As a plot device, the silence of the guard dog has most likely worn out its usefulness.
Yet, on the political stage, the Republican Party has lately been breathing new life into this tired motif. 

Traditionally, the GOP has sold itself as the party on strong national defense. Democrats, they contended throughout the Cold War, were "soft" on a military spending, protecting the nation from the power-hungry and oppressive Soviet Union. The Democratic Party was about appeasement and empty diplomacy along the lines of Neville Chamberlain, so said the Republicans. 

Only through a united front against Russian aggression and the deterrence of the threat of a retaliatory response would shatter the enemy's resolve. And when the Soviet Union finally collapsed, the Reaganites took their bow, as if to say, "There, done."

For decades afterward, we have heard the somewhat idiotic boast that beloved Ronald Reagan- single-handedly- stood up to the Communists. By sheer force of will, by believing in the greatness of individual (and, of course, by God's blessing) overcame the Evil Empire.
It was always a sort of like a Dan Brown book as seen through the eyes of a 5-year-old child but it was one version of history they cherished. We on the Left eventually got tired of disputing it.

The soft-hearted namby-pamby approach- supposedly the one always advocated by Democrats- would never work against a determined and devious opponent.
This canine not only barked but showed its fangs and foamed at the mouth.

Only Silence and Deflection

Suddenly, the Trump administration and the vast majority of Republicans in Congress have turned upside down this long-standing Republican sales pitch. 
Despite the overwhelming evidence and the opinions of intelligence agencies at home and abroad, the president has repeatedly questioned the claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections.
For the last year, Democratic lawmakers have urged Trump to take the necessary steps to prevent Kremlin-directed interference from happening again.
And yet there has been only silence and deflection.

It seems quite unlikely that the President has ordered the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, or the National Security Agency (NSA) to take any steps at all. As far as we can tell, there have been no investigations whatsoever ordered by the commander-in-chief.
In a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, said of the Russian interference:
“Clearly we have not successfully countered in an offensive way.”
To make matters worse, Trump seems to think Russian president Putin- a former KGB officer- can be trusted when he says he would never have interfered with US elections. That vote of confidence in the honesty defies NATO investigations have demonstrated that Putin hasn't hesitated to interfere in the elections of its member states in the past. 

Even more disconcerting, Trump claims to believe Putin never will interfere in 2018 or 2020.

Trump's refusal to cross swords with the Russian president is affecting our the strength of our international alliances. The president has not made any official statement about the assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.
It was left to his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson who said the attack “clearly came from Russia” and would have consequences. Not unexpectedly, Putin's government has denied the allegations.
Things could get ugly very quickly.

Can Prime Minister May count on President Trump's support as she stands up against Putin's gangster tactics? We will have to wait and see. 

Whatever happens, these developments put Trump in yet another ridiculous situation. Tillerson's statement implies that the president has been willing to believe- and still believes- the solemn assurances from a man that his own Secretary of State now accuses of attempted murder.

Update: Trump has just resolved that contradiction by firing Tillerson.

The Ongoing Asymmetrical Assault 

In January, Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee released a report titled “Putin’s Asymmetrical Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security.”
After interviewing European ambassadors in the US and traveled to Europe to talk to government officials, NGOs and media groups about Russian interference in their countries, the report warned that, unless the US acts to counter the threat soon, Moscow will grow only more aggressive. It says.
"Without leadership from the President, any attempt to marshal such a response will be inherently weakened at the outset," "President Trump has been negligent in acknowledging and responding to the threat to US national security posed by ...Putin's meddling."
Cardin himself said in a public statement:
“This threat existed long before President Trump took office, and unless he takes action now, it will continue long after his administration,” Wednesday. “While President Trump stands practically idle, Mr. Putin continues to refine his asymmetric arsenal.”
And what was Trump's response?
He did what he has done throughout his presidency when the subject came up. He just repeated his mantra.
“There is absolutely no collusion... I have nothing to do with Russia. Everybody knows it. That was a Democrat hoax. It was an excuse for losing the election.”
Later that same month, the State Department declared that the president would not be implementing the new round of sanctions that Congress had overwhelmingly voted for six months earlier. The deadline for implementation had arrived and the Trump administration waited until the last minute to make the announcement.
The State Department official declared that further sanctions were unnecessary “because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent.”

Nobody was fooled by that, of course. As the Washington Post pointed out at the time, the legislation was meant as a punishment, not a deterrent. The law says it's about “countering” something, rather than preventing something.

In normal times, this ought to have provoked an immediate response from Congress. It should have set off a Constitutional crisis and the Supreme Court would likely have been required to settle the matter. After all, this was one branch of government- the executive- refusing to abide by the requirements of another branch,- the legislative.  The question would have been an interesting one, too.
Yet, Republican members of Congress refused to defend the case before the courts, refused to take any action at all. The overall effect was to weaken the legislative branch as a whole. 

How the Republicans Have Aided and Abetted 

This negligence of Republican members might have been dismissed as simple cowardice by die-hard conservatives. Yet, that excuse cannot explain other actions and inactions by the GOP.
Republicans in investigative committees have tried in a variety of ways to scuttle their own inquiries into Russian meddling. And, for the American people, it was all incredibly and insultingly obvious. 

For example, Devin Nunes (R-Calif) was allowed to sit on an inquiry despite the fact he had served on the Trump transition team.  How could that have happened except by design? The result of that was perfectly predictable. 
First, there was the midnight run to the White House, where he reportedly examined documents which he then refused to share with other members of his own committee. Instead, he held a solo press conference on the White House lawn. It was all very very surreal.
Did Republicans ask for his removal for this unethical behavior? Not a chance.

In January, Nunes was at it again with a highly misleading memo which underscored the president's opinion that the entire investigation was a politically-motivated hoax, an attack on his presidency by a bunch of sore losers. A later re-examination of the evidence told a different story and suggested that it had all been a clumsy attempt to manipulate public opinion. 

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board has said that Nunes' involvement in the investigation is "threatening the credibility of the probe"
No kidding. That's exactly what Nunes and the White House had hoped for.

Presumably, all this was a misguided attempt to salvage the sinking Trump presidency. If so, it has been an abysmal failure.
More recently there were other signs that should have set heads scratching.

Convenient Ingorance and Inappropriate Judgments 

Earlier this month, New York Magazine pointed out that Mike Conaway  (R-TX ), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, seemed unfamiliar with a key figure in the Russian probe. George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman attended a suspicious 2016 meeting in the Seychelles with representatives of the Trump team, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates.
And Conaway's never heard of him.

Repeat after me: House Intelligence Committee.  

In light of that professed and convenient ignorance, it's not much of a shock that Republicans on the committee concluded their year-long investigation with the self-serving finding. Neither President Donald Trump nor anyone involved in his campaign colluded with Russia.

Conaway- an appropriate name if ever there was one- told reporters:
We’ve found no evidence of collusion... perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment at taking meetings."
He added:
"But only Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn or someone else like that could take this series of inadvertent contacts with each other, or meetings or whatever, and weave that into sort of a fiction page turner, spy thriller."
There was, he said, nothing that amounted to a coordinated and deliberate effort to work with Russians to win the White House. Mueller's report may leave several people on that committee with some 'splaining to do.
Former intelligence agency officials didn't hold back their contempt for the findings. As intelligence analyst Phil Mudd, a former CIA officer and FBI agent, told CNN:

And just this week, Forbes reported that when it comes to the failure to spend the $120 million appropriated to it to investigate Russian interference, the State Department and its secretary, Rex Tillerson, have received most of the blame.

However, that's only half the story. The Republicans are equally guilty of the Trump administration's failure to use these funds. Through a process called "impoundment," Congress could force the president to spend the appropriated funding.
To put it simply: Congress has the authority to disapprove the request and force the appropriation to be used as originally intended. Republicans have chosen not to do anything.

Think about that: forcing this billionaire president to spend money on something other than golfing trips. And the Republicans just couldn't manage it.

An Inescapable Conclusion? 

The Republican party is, some would say, incriminating itself, revealing its tactic complicity with the Russians by reversing its "strong on national defense" policy. Is it really possible that Republicans haven't understood that protecting President Trump might boil down to ignoring a potentially serious threat to national security? 

If they don't agree with that assessment, then, at some point, they ought to have explained to the American people what Vladimir Putin has done to put so much faith in his word, especially when it runs contrary to the accumulated evidence. 
Trust but verify, wasn't that what Reagan said? Where was the verification except for non-politician Trump's gut instinct? Are they seriously trusting that?

The GOP actively and knowingly conspiring with Russia might sound like a stretch. Then again, misplaced priorities alone do not explain why no action has been taken to stop the Russians from greater interference in our political system. Partisan politics alone cannot explain why Republicans have chosen to leave the country vulnerable to a foreign attack.

Like the dog that didn't bark in the night, the Republicans demonstrate their guilt by otherwise inexplicable behavior. And, as the 2018 elections loom before us with no sign of defensive measures being taken, the crimes of the "midnight visitor" have not yet finished. 
This- and only this- can fully explain the silence of the formerly-barking Republican dogs.