Making the click-through worthwhile: Hillary Clinton and the Democrats helped pay for the infamous Trump dossier; DNC chairman Tom Perez denounces Senator Jeff Flake, creating a disincentive for anti-Trump Republicans; Flake glides over the fact that Trump is only feeding the American appetite for scapegoats; and a long look at Nighthawks, a painting for our pensive national mood.
Wouldn’t It Be More Accurate to Call It the ‘Hillary Dossier’ Now?
The Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund research that resulted in a now-famous dossier containing allegations about President Trump’s connections to Russia and possible coordination between his campaign and the Kremlin, people familiar with the matter said.
Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, to conduct the research.
After that, Fusion GPS hired dossier author Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with ties to the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community, according to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
People involved in the matter said that they would not disclose the dollar amounts paid to Fusion GPS, but said that the campaign and the DNC shared the cost.
I wonder how many autumn campaign stops in Wisconsin the amount could have financed.
Prior to that agreement, Fusion GPS’s research into Trump was funded by a still unknown Republican client during the GOP primary.
This had been previously reported, but everyone forgot. Back on January 11: “The story began in September 2015, when a wealthy Republican donor who strongly opposed Mr. Trump put up the money to hire a Washington research firm run by former journalists, Fusion GPS, to compile a dossier about the real estate magnate’s past scandals and weaknesses, according to a person familiar with the effort. The identity of the donor is unclear.”
Some people like CNN National Security analyst Michael Weiss contend the identity of Republican whose team got this rolling is “not hard to guess” but he never names which one. I’m trying to grasp which Republican figure the DNC, the Clintons, and Fusion GPS would be willing to conceal. I can hear the angry cries of “Jeb!” but really, why would the DNC take grief to protect him? Ace of Spades reminds us that “since 2013 Fusion GPS has been working with potent Russian interests to undo the Russia-sanctioning 2012 Magnitsky Act and to deride its chief advocate, London-based investor Bill Browder.” Fusion GPS was already working for Russia on one project… is it possible compiling the dossier was a second assignment?
If you were DNC, the Clintons, and Fusion GPS, which ultimate client would be more damaging to reveal, and more worthy of attempting to obscure? Some wealthy Republican donor, or the Russian government?
As Flake Denounces the Trump Era, Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game
Yesterday, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona announced his intention to retire at the end of his term, denouncing “the present coarseness of our national dialogue with the tone set up at the top. We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country. The personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institution, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency.”
A couple of thoughts: A thoroughly dispiriting public discourse and intense political tensions do not define the quality of the entire country. Let’s remember that about a month ago, we watched generous Americans donate more than $37 million in response to J.J. Watt’s appeal, the Cajun Navy come riding to the rescue, and Anheuser-Busch stop canning beer in order to can water and ship it to hurricane victims. Just recently, all six of our former presidents came together to host a relief fundraiser: Presidents Carter, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Gaga.
Wait, I’m sorry, scratch that, five former presidents. Lady Gaga is, obviously, a member of the British nobility.*
A lot of families bicker and fight amongst themselves until there’s a genuine need to unite, and then everyone puts aside differences and pulls together. Put another way, Americans are a big-hearted people with a cold-hearted, nasty political environment.
Yes, something’s gone deeply wrong with our politics, even compared to the nasty partisanship of a few years ago. But rather than see Trump as the master manipulator of the American political system, we should see his election as a reflection of a broad cultural shift that’s been gaining momentum for many years. It’s worth remembering that Hillary Clinton wasn’t just surprised by one blunt-speaking septuagenarian with an outer borough accent blaming out-of-touch elites and a rigged system for the problems of ordinary Americans. There were two, and their messages overlapped a quite a bit.
The dirty little secret of American politics is that the government’s power to improve your life is pretty limited. The best education system won’t help you if you drop out, the best economic policies can’t get you a job if you don’t apply for it or you’re not qualified, and the best health-care policies can only mitigate the damage if you don’t take care of yourself. Your problems will multiply if you succumb to the siren call of addiction.
When people lie on their deathbed and look back on their lives with pride or regret, the political changes during their lifetimes aren’t usually a major factor. Your life is primarily shaped by your decisions, your determination, your judgment, your mistakes, and often how you responded once you realized you had made those mistakes. (And yes, luck.)
The concept of individual responsibility for the quality of one’s own life is a frightening one; we greatly prefer scapegoats. To really come to terms with the idea that our lives are not what we wanted to be because we didn’t work hard enough, didn’t study hard enough, quit too soon, bristled at needed and accurate criticism or chose to ignore it . . . it can be devastating, thinking of all of the time wasted and opportunities missed.
But concept of individual responsibility is also an empowering and liberating one. It means you don’t have to wait for someone else’s permission to improve your life. You can take action, right now, one little step in the right direction. Sometimes we don’t know what we ought to do, but a lot more often, we know what we should be doing . . . we just can’t quite motivate ourselves to do it.
As Kevin Williamson put it in his recent brilliant essay:
Feeding such people the lie that their problems are mainly external in origin – that they are the victims of scheming elites, immigrants, black welfare malingerers, superabundantly fecund Mexicans, capitalism with Chinese characteristics, Walmart, Wall Street, their neighbors — is the political equivalent of selling them heroin. (And I have no doubt that it is mostly done for the same reason.) It is an analgesic that is unhealthy even in small doses and disabling or lethal in large ones. The opposite message – that life is hard and unfair, that what is not necessarily your fault may yet be your problem, that you must act and bear responsibility for your actions – is what conservatism used to offer, before it became a white-minstrel show.
Politics has always had scapegoating, demagoguery and utopian promises. Trump just took a familiar tune and turned the volume up to eleven: “You have 40 days until the election. You have 40 days to make every dream you ever dreamed for your country come true.” “We are going to fulfill every single wish and every single promise.” A lot of smart people in the Acela corridor scoffed when Trump said those sorts of things, forgetting that eight years earlier they cheered the slogan “hope and change” and an Obama fan told reporters that she expected him to pay for her gas and mortgage. (Don’t judge the woman too harshly; by 2014 she was disappointed and an Obama critic.)
Trump may rise or Trump may fall, but so far, there’s little indication that Americans will be all that resistant to the next guy who comes along telling them that the disappointments and problems of their lives are the fault of [insert unpopular group here], and that all that’s needed to bring about a miraculous change is to elect this next guy. In fact, if you’re really worried about the health of American democracy because of Trump, remember he’s got some glaring and often self-defeating flaws. It’s entirely possible Trump will be followed by a demagogue who’s younger, more articulate, and less impulsive and erratic.
*Yes, I am pulling your leg.
DNC Chair Tom Perez Gives the Game Away
Notice Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez’s response to Flake:
Senator Flake voted with Donald Trump 91% of the time. His retirement is symbol of a Republican Party whose leaders allow Donald Trump’s divisive politics to flourish as long as it serves their political interests, and who fail to criticize this dangerous president until it’s too late.
Flake takes the biggest political risk of his life, denouncing a president of his own party, echoing much of the Democratic argument against Trump, and the DNC . . . hits him for not opposing Trump more.
No state has a sufficient political constituency to keep a vehemently anti-Trump Republican in office, at least not yet. That is why the strongest denunciations of Trump will come from Republicans who do not have to (or are unlikely to) face the voters again, like Senators John McCain, Bob Corker and now Flake. A Republican lawmaker who turns against Trump loses a big chunk of his own supporters, and there aren’t enough independents left to make up the gap. Most Democrats will react like Perez, eager to (metaphorically) shoot the guy trying to cross the battlefield to switch to their side. Most Democrats don’t want to be represented by an anti-Trump Republican; they want to be represented by an anti-Trump Democrat.
Perez gives the game away: He wants Republicans to do the right thing, put principle over party, blah blah blah so that once they do, they are much easier to beat in subsequent elections.
Face it, the history of Republicans drifting to the left, both formally and informally, and turning against their party’s leadership is not a tale of heroic iconoclasm and triumphant consciences. Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont switched to the Democrats, giving them control of Congress, because he wanted to save the Northeast Dairy Compact, which artificially inflated milk prices for consumers. In the early Obama years, Arlen Specter and Charlie Crist left the GOP on the principled stand that they didn’t want to lose a primary. Maybe Flake is different, but we’ve been conditioned to see Republicans who turn against the rest of the party to media hosannas as being the opposite of principled.
ADDENDA: Over at Ricochet, Henry Racette takes a moment to appreciate Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.
It’s an enormously influential, cited, debated, analyzed referenced and parodied painting, perhaps the most imitated image in our nation’s art beyond American Gothic. Ridley Scott said it influenced the look of Blade Runner. Many have struggled to find the New York location that must have inspired the painting.
If this was a scene in a film, there wouldn’t be much movement: perhaps the server is reaching down for a glass, or one of the patrons will sip coffee. It’s quiet, perhaps just the hum of a dishwasher or water gurgling in a percolator. It’s late, well past the dinner hour. No one’s on the street, not even any parked cars.
Our James Lileks observes, “If you put the work alongside Hopper’s entire oeuvre, the loneliness compounds and accumulates. There’s an ache in the heart of his work, an unease he accentuated with the use of disparate vanishing points – nothing quite lines up. We don’t see it, but we feel it. What has happened on the other side of the street from the diner? All those empty rooms on the second floor. No one in those apartments drew their shades to keep out the blaring light of the diner, or the sun that would rise in a few hours?”
The diner is brightly lit, and yet everyone still seems to be in shadow; the shoulder of the man with his back to us blurs into the darkness of the night in the far window. No one’s making eye contact. The man and woman appear to be together, but there’s no visible affection there. Everyone seems lost in thought. Perhaps the day left them with something to contemplate, something ominous. As Racette observes, this was painted in 1942, and the country has just entered a war where victory is far from certain. It’s late, but our three customers haven’t gone home and don’t seem sleepy.
Great art can inspire joy, but life is more than joy. Sometimes circumstances leave us pensive, grappling with an amorphous, free-floating anxiety, worried about the future but unsure about how to prepare for a coming challenge. We can gather with others, escape the darkness, sit on a stool, lean forward, the aroma of coffee before us . . . but the simple creature comforts may not shake the sober ruminations.
Finally, some of the parodies fit quite well.