The Wall Street Journal reports that New York’s attorney general has hired a top public corruption prosecutor to go after Donald Trump:
New York state’s attorney general, to date one of the most vocal antagonists of President Donald Trump, is preparing to escalate his office’s litigation against the president’s administration.
Democrat Eric Schneiderman has hired one of the top public-corruption prosecutors under former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to focus specifically on issues involving the Trump administration. Howard Master, who prosecuted the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s case against longtime New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver , is expected to work on both continuing and new White House-related matters for the attorney general, as well as on high-level public-corruption cases.
The hiring of Mr. Master, whose title will be senior enforcement counsel, signals Mr. Schneiderman’s continued intent to take on the Republican president…
Since Mr. Trump took office, Mr. Schneiderman has been one of a group of Democratic attorneys general who have directed both legal challenges and critical rhetoric toward the president on matters including his executive orders on immigration and refugees, climate change and threats to deport millions of illegal immigrants, among other issues.
Last week, Mr. Schneiderman’s office joined Washington state’s lawsuit against the Trump administration’s revised immigration order. “The Trump administration’s continued intent to discriminate against Muslims is clear,” Mr. Schneiderman said at the time, “and it undermines New York’s families, institutions and economy.”
In addition to challenging White House policies in court, Mr. Schneiderman’s office is expected to explore whether it has any standing to pursue cases that hinge on the Constitution’s emoluments clause, according to people familiar with the matter. That provision prohibits federal officeholders from accepting payments from foreign governments…
State attorneys general have wide berth to challenge the legality of federal policies and laws that impact their states and citizens. In the lawsuit against the revised immigration executive order, for example, the complaint alleges that the policy harms New York’s health-care institutions, its tourism industry and its colleges and universities’ ability to recruit international students.
The New York attorney general also has broad powers in prosecuting financial fraud through the Martin Act, a state law that has more lenient requirements than on the federal level.
In addition, James Comey has verified in Congressional testimony today that the FBI is investigating alleged Russian interference in the election, and whether there was any collusion with the Trump campaign. So far, there has been no evidence released of collusion between Trump and Russia. Comey also stated that there is no evidence to support Trump’s claim that Barack Obama wire tapped Trump Tower.
There is no question that Russia has attempted to influence elections in other countries, just as the United States has. There is also no question that both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have views which are in opposition to liberal democratic ideas. The degree of Trump’s business involvement with Russia is unknown, partially due to Trump refusing to release his tax returns. Claims from Clinton supporters, claims that Russia is responsible for Clinton losing the election are debatable, and there is zero evidence of any conspiracy between Russia and Trump to influence the election. A former acting CIA director, who did support Hillary Clinton, has joined those who say there was no collusion between Russia and Trump. NBC News reports, which has often been quite favorable to Clinton, reports:
Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who endorsed Hillary Clinton and called Donald Trump a dupe of Russia, cast doubt Wednesday night on allegations that members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
Morell, who was in line to become CIA director if Clinton won, said he had seen no evidence that Trump associates cooperated with Russians. He also raised questions about the dossier written by a former British intelligence officer, which alleged a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.
His comments were in sharp contrast to those of many Clinton partisans — such as former communications director Jennifer Palmieri — who have stated publicly they believe the Trump campaign cooperated with Russia’s efforts to interfere in the election against Clinton.
Morell said he had learned that the former officer, Christopher Steele, paid his key Russian sources, and interviewed them through intermediaries.
“On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all,” Morell said at an event sponsored by the Cipher Brief, an intelligence web site.
“There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it.”
While Russian hacking to release DNC email would be objectionable, it should also be kept in mind that there has been no evidence that any of the released information about Clinton and the DNC via Wikileaks was inaccurate. If this information did harm Clinton in the election, this ultimately would indicate that it was a mistake for the DNC to nominate a candidate as flawed as Clinton, or for the DNC to violate their own rules to rig the nomination for her.
Rachel Maddow had Twitter excited yesterday evening when she tweeted: “BREAKING: We’ve got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9pm ET. MSNBC. (Seriously)” I was immediately suspicious as to whether she really had anything. After all, MSNBC pretends to be a news channel. If they really had a major scoop, they would have announced it at the time on whatever show was on. Instead they used this to build excitement for Maddow’s show, and then waited until after the first break to show what they had.
It turned out that she had virtually nothing. All she had was two pages from Trump’ 2005 tax return which showed that he reported an income of $150 million and pain $38 million in federal income taxes. If anything this helps Trump, debunking claims from Hillary Clinton that Trump has “paid nothing in federal taxes.” There was certainly nothing here linking him to Russia. The little information released was so favorable to Trump that some are speculating that Trump was behind the “leak” of these two pages.
We did learn that Trump has taken legal deductions to legally minimize his taxes. Shocking. I do that too (even if not on the level which Trump is able to). He has also supported elimination of the alternate minimum tax. A wealthy Republican wanting to change the tax laws to reduce taxes on the wealthy is hardly a scoop.
Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia remains an open question. There have certainly been some items to raise questions, such as the incidents involving Jeff Sessions and Mike Flynn. It does appear that many who have spoken with the Russian ambassador, including advisers to Clinton as well as Trump, have been Retconned into forgetting the meeting.
Thomas Wood has put together an impressive “Russiagate Timeline.” There is certainly enough smoke to demand an investigation, including a review of Trump’s tax returns. However, despite claims from Clinton supporters, there is zero evidence of the key question of whether there was any coordination between Trump and Russia to influence the election.
The Last Man on Earth returned with an episode which barely involved the regular cast. The, staring Kristen Wiig and Laura Dern. goes back to before the virus killed off virtually everyone. In a news report Mike Pence was referred to as the president. Wiig’s character was shocked that there was no vaccine for the virus, arguing that the president must have a vaccine. That led clips from news reports showing a series of funerals for President Pence, followed by President Paul Ryan, President Rex Tillerson, President Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, and finally President Betsy DeVos:
There was no explanation as to why Donald Trump was not mentioned, with Mike Pence president at the time. This might suggest that Trump was impeached before the virus struck.
The episode progressed to having Kristen Wiig move to a bunker with only her dog for company. She gradually went crazy, including trying to get the dog to say “milk.” She turned out to be the person who sent out the drone shot down by Melissa (January Jones) in a previous episode. Kristen Wiig might be interacting with the regular cast as she left the bunker to search out the people she saw via the drone. Of course they have all moved on from the home where they were spotted by the drone, and we don’t know if she is immune to the virus.
While Donald Trump was not recognized as president on Last Man On Earth, he was portrayed once again by Alec Baldwin on a science fiction themed cold open on Saturday Night Live (video above). The New York Times recapped this and other political skits on the show:
Sure, “Saturday Night Live” has offered ample criticism of President Trump and his young administration. But in its latest episode, the program expressed confidence that he’ll be in office until at least 2018, long enough to see America decimated by an alien invasion force from the planet Zorblatt 9…
A military officer played by the cast member Kenan Thompson told him, “The aliens are killing us, sir. They have the most advanced weaponized technology we’ve ever seen. What should we do?”
The Trump character responded, “Here’s what we’re going to do. We are going to bring coal back, O.K.? We’re going to have so much coal, you’re going to say, ‘Where did all this coal come from? I never knew there could be so much coal.’”
Informed that the aliens had already vaporized the state of California, Mr. Baldwin answered, “So then I won the popular vote?”
As Mr. Trump, he explained that the aliens had already been secretly living in the United States for hundreds of years. “Look, there’s one right there,” he said, indicating Leslie Jones. “And so is the woman next to her, right there,” he said, pointing at Sasheer Zamata.
Asked where he was getting his information, Mr. Baldwin replied, “From a very reputable source, Infowars. It’s a radio show hosted by Alex Jones. You know he’s legit because he’s always taking off his shirt.”
When the aliens at last overrun the base and learn that Mr. Trump is president, one creature (played by Bobby Moynihan) declares, “Really? This is going to be so easy.”
Riverdalehas been renewed for a second season. I wonder if the season finale is already set, or if knowing that there is a second season will affect when we find out who killed Jason Blossom. Screener looks at the major suspects. On the one hand, viewers might be disappointed if there is not some answer in the foreseeable future after following the show. On the other hand, ending the mystery requires them to come up with something new to hook the viewers.
The series is sort of a Twin Peaks light with its murder mystery in a small town. Twin Peaks quickly went down hill after it revealed who killed Laura Palmer, and we found that they didn’t have much more story to tell. (Hopefully they have come up with more story for the upcoming Showtime revival). There certainly is plenty of potential in Riverdale for additional stories, and not everything going on this season is centered around the murder of Jason Blossom. Perhaps it will be more like Veronica Mars in having a different mystery each season.
The CW Network has also renewed The 100 for a fifth season.
We are down to less than a month until the start of series ten of Doctor Who. The Gallifrey Times has an updated episode guide with what is known so far about every episode. The final two episodes feature the original Mondasian Cybermen seen on The Tenth Planet in 1966. New Who created an alternative time line in which the Cybermen were created on earth.
In other Doctor Who news, Radio Times looks at the question of Time Lords aging, or “why did Matt Smith’s Doctor look so young on his ‘farewell tour’ (the 200 years he lives through in series 6), but become an old man while defending the town of Christmas on Trenzalore for 300 years in The Time of the Doctor?” Plus we learned last week that a CIA hacking tool revealed by Wikileaks is called the Weeping Angels.
Broadchurch was of special interest to Doctor Who fans from the start with a cast which includes David Tennant and Arthur Darvill. It became even more significant when show runner Chris Chibnall was picked to replace Steven Moffat. After two episodes of Broadchurch, it is showing promise to surpass the second season and be more like the first. While the murder of the first season still is having an impact, the second season is concentrating on a different crime, a rape. There are already multiple suspects, and more are likely to be added. Beth Lattimer, a key character from the first season, remains a significant part of the story, having become a rape counselor.
It looks like, as usual, the story is as much about the effect on the town as the crime itself, plus the show has already gotten into other topics including the challenges to the small town newspaper. I would suggest that even those who gave up the show in its second season give it another chance. Broadchurch is currently on Mondays on ITV. BBC America will be carrying the show in the future but has not posted a date yet.
Similarly I would recommend that those who gave up on Homeland give the current season a chance, but beware it does start out slow. The payoff the last few episodes makes it worthwhile.
Nerdist looks at the Easter eggs in the Deadpool 2 trailer (video above). This includes posters for Firefly, presumably due to Morena Baccarin being in both Firefly and Deadpool.
A premiere date for season seven of Game of Thrones has been announced. The seven-episode season will start on July 16.
Passengers will never become a classic science fiction movie, despite a cast led by Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. It is best to go into in looking for mindless escape and ignore how creepy the actions of the male lead were. Despite its flaws, the movie was actually enjoyable and even good for some unintentional laughs, such as with the resuscitation scene. Look at it more as a rom-com about the dangers of waking up a woman too soon in order to have sex with her. Or, if you are looking for comedy, you could just watch the blooper reel above (which some are arguing is far better than the actual movie).
The Night Manager was one of the top shows of 2016, but the miniseries completed the events of the John le Carré novel. A second season is being written, but has not yet been picked up. There is no information on what it will be about. It might take other elements from le Carré’s books, especially as some of the characters do appear in other novels. I imagine they could also come up with an original story based on elements and characters from the first miniseries. As I posted previously, the producers of The Night Manager are also working on a miniseries based on The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.
The Americans returned last week and is receiving additional media attention due to Russia being in the news recently. This includes articles in USA Today and Entertainment Weekly. The Americans has consistently been one of the best shows on television since it premiered.
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
Is it legal for a sitting President to be “wire tapping” a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!
I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
This round was preceded by a Tweet accusing the Obama administration of setting up Jeff Sessions, and followed by a Tweet attacking Arnold Schwarzenegger (who recently announced he is leaving Celebrity Apprentice).
While no evidence was cited, it appears Trump is repeating thing being said on right wing talk radio and at Breitbart. Once again, it is hard to take Trump’s attacks on “fake news” seriously when he, and his administration, have become the major source of spreading “alternative news.”
Former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes Tweeted in response to Trump: “No President can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens like you.”
Mr. Trump’s aides declined to clarify whether the president’s explosive allegations were based on briefings from intelligence or law enforcement officials, or on something else, like a news report. A spokesman for Mr. Obama did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The president’s decision to lend the power of his office to such an accusation — without offering any proof — is remarkable, even for a leader who has repeatedly shown himself willing to make assertions that are false or based on rumors.
It would have been difficult for federal agents, working within the law, to obtain a wiretap order to target Mr. Trump’s phone conversations. That would mean the Justice Department had gathered sufficient evidence to persuade a federal judge that there was probable cause to believe that he had committed a serious crime or was an agent of a foreign power, depending on whether it was a criminal or foreign intelligence wiretap.
Politico reports that Trump’s top aides were caught off guard:
Trump’s top aides were caught off guard by the tweets Saturday morning, a senior administration official said. The president is scheduled to spend a quiet day golfing and relaxing at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. After several days without a controversial tweet and a relative message discipline following his speech to Congress Tuesday evening, Trump’s angry Twitter tirade marked a return to form—and a trusted tactic of turning around the exact words being used against him on his opponents.
As with every other bit of news which comes out with regards to Russia and the Trump administration, the news that Jeff Sessions spoke with the Russian ambassador raises more questions. Without knowing what he spoke to him about, it is not possible to determine how much this matters. It might be no big deal if the Russians were just trying to get more information about Donald Trump, but it could be the biggest political scandal in American history if it were to turn out that the Trump campaign was actively working with Russia to attempt to rig the election.
As of now we only have evidence that Russia probably tried to influence the election, with questionable impact considering that the material released by WikiLeaks all appears to be factual. There is no evidence at this time of any conspiracy between Trump and Russia, and this needs to be investigated independent of any partisan concerns.
Having Sessions involved creates two new wrinkles to the case. First, he lied to the Senate about the matter. Secondly, as Attorney General, it is impossible to see how he could be trusted to be involved in this investigation. He has agreed to recuse himself from the investigation, which is the least he could do, but only after having been exposed for lying to the Senate.
Many are calling for more. Arn Pearson, a senior fellow at People For the American Way, wrote in USA Today that Sessions has destroyed his credibility and must go:
Not only is Sessions’ impartiality being questioned, his honesty to Congress and the American people has been thrown into doubt. Sessions must not only recuse himself from future investigations into the Russian influence scandal, which he did on Thursday, he must resign.
Lying under oath and intentionally making a false and misleading statement to Congress are crimes under federal law. In 1999, Sessions voted to convict Bill Clinton of perjury in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, having earlier said that, “I have no doubt perjury qualifies under the Constitution as a high crime.”
Whether or not Sessions did in fact commit perjury is a matter for Congress and the judicial process to decide, but there is certainly sufficient cause for investigation. What is not in doubt is that he seriously misled the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sessions is doing his best to equivocate, saying he did not discuss the elections with Kislyak and met with him as a member of the Armed Services Committee, not the Trump campaign. But that wasn’t Sen. Al Franken’s question. Franken asked about any communications with the Russian government, and Sessions responded with his blanket statement about not having had communications with the Russians.
Sessions’ explanation doesn’t hold much water. The Washington Post reached all 26 members of the 2016 Armed Services Committee including Chairman John McCain, and Sessions was the only one who met with Kislyak that year. And Sessions’ meetings with the Russian ambassador came in the heat of the presidential campaign: first in July — the same month Sessions formally nominated Trump for president at the Republican National Convention and delegates were making pro-Russia changes to their platform; and then again in September — when concerns about Russian hacking dominated the news.
It is hard to imagine how Sessions could think those meetings were not worth mentioning during his confirmation hearing.
Richard Painter agreed in an op-ed in The New York Times. He compared this to when Richard G. Kleindienst was forced to resign as Attorney General in 1972 during the Watergate scandal:
Once again, we see an attorney general trying to explain away misleading testimony in his own confirmation hearing. A spokeswoman for Mr. Sessions says that “there was absolutely nothing misleading” about his answer because he did not communicate with the ambassador in his capacity as a Trump campaign surrogate. His contacts with the Russian ambassador, he claims, were made in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
That may or may not have been the case (individual senators ordinarily do not discuss committee business with ambassadors of other countries, particularly our adversaries). Regardless, Mr. Sessions did not truthfully and completely testify. If he had intended to say that his contacts with the Russians had been in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and not for the Trump campaign, he could have said that. He then would have been open to the very relevant line of questioning about what those contacts were, and why he was unilaterally talking with the ambassador of a country that was a longstanding adversary of the United States…
President Trump has already fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for misleading Vice President Pence about his conversations with the Russians. Misleading the United States Senate in testimony under oath is at least as serious. We do not yet know all the facts, but we know enough to see that Attorney General Sessions has to go as well.
Two days ago I wrote about how James Flynn was on thin ice, and that Andrew Puzder’s confirmation as Labor secretary were in jeopardy. Later that day Flynn was forced to resign, and today Puzder has withdrawn his nomination.
Both the choices of Flynn and Puzder were examples of poor management from Donald Trump and a failure to perform traditional vetting. The Puzder withdrawal is a fairly straightforward story, but Flynn’s resignation has only led to many additional questions which do require further investigation.
Objective people recognize that there was something improper with Flynn lying to both Vice President Pence and the American people, and with the attempted cover-up by the Trump administration. We have no way to know the degree to which Flynn was acting on his own or under the direction of Donald Trump. We do know that Trump waited three weeks after being informed of Flynn’s calls (regardless of what he might have known previously) to take action. We do not know the full story regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence.
We are seeing considerable partisan hypocrisy here, such as in Rand Paul saying it would not make sense to investigate other Republicans. The Republicans who refuse to acknowledge the importance of the Flynn scandal, or question how much leads directly to Trump, sound just like the Democrats who refused to acknowledge the importance of Clinton’s scandals. Partisan politics creates such blindness. This deserves to be investigated regardless of your overall opinion of Trump, and regardless of where you stood in the race between Clinton and Trump.
Of course, while we have strong reasons for further investigations, this does not mean we should buy into every claim made about Trump without evidence. There is no evidence that Trump knew anything until three weeks ago. There is no evidence tying Trump to any attempts to influence the election the results. Claims about Trump’s business dealings with Russians appear to be exaggerated but we should have more information including, but not limited to, his tax returns for further evaluation. We need to get the facts before coming to conclusions.
There has been a lot of anti-Russia hysteria being spread by Clinton and her neocon allies. The Clinton camp has strong reasons of their own to distort the facts, stemming from both their history of hostility towards Russia and their use of Russia as an excuse for their loss. Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate and ran a terrible campaign, regardless of what Russia did. We need to find out exactly what Russia did without jumping to conclusions based upon hysteria being created for political reasons.
Dan Rather, who has considerable experience in White House cover-ups, compared this to Watergate:
Watergate is the biggest political scandal of my lifetime, until maybe now. It was the closest we came to a debilitating Constitutional crisis, until maybe now. On a 10 scale of armageddon for our form of government, I would put Watergate at a 9. This Russia scandal is currently somewhere around a 5 or 6, in my opinion, but it is cascading in intensity seemingly by the hour. And we may look back and see, in the end, that it is at least as big as Watergate. It may become the measure by which all future scandals are judged. It has all the necessary ingredients, and that is chilling.
When we look back at Watergate, we remember the end of the Nixon Presidency. It came with an avalanche, but for most of the time my fellow reporters and I were chasing down the story as it rumbled along with a low-grade intensity. We never were quite sure how much we would find out about what really happened. In the end, the truth emerged into the light, and President Nixon descended into infamy.
This Russia story started out with an avalanche and where we go from here no one really knows. Each piece of news demands new questions. We are still less than a month into the Trump Presidency, and many are asking that question made famous by Tennessee Senator Howard Baker those many years ago: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” New reporting suggests that Mr. Trump knew for weeks. We can all remember the General Michael Flynn’s speech from the Republican National Convention – “Lock her up!” in regards to Hillary Clinton. If Hillary Clinton had done one tenth of what Mr. Flynn had done, she likely would be in jail. And it isn’t just Mr. Flynn, how far does this go?
The White House has no credibility on this issue. Their spigot of lies – can’t we finally all agree to call them lies – long ago lost them any semblance of credibility. I would also extend that to the Republican Congress, who has excused away the Trump Administration’s assertions for far too long.
We need an independent investigation. Damn the lies, full throttle forward on the truth. If a scriptwriter had approached Hollywood with what we are witnessing, he or she would probably have been told it was way too far-fetched for even a summer blockbuster. But this is not fiction. It is real and it is serious. Deadly serious. We deserve answers and those who are complicit in this scandal need to feel the full force of justice.
He is right. This all needs to be settled by finding the facts–not by ideology or partisanship.
Michael Flynn is reportedly “on thin ice” after it came out that he spoke with the Russian ambassador about sanctions before Trump took office, and then liked to Mike Pence about having done so. Getting rid of Flynn would be a huge plus.
Reince Priebus’ job also isn’t very secure, with Kellyanne Conway describing his job as her dream job. In this case, I’d prefer Priebus over Conway.
Andrew Puzder, Trump’s anti-labor pick for Labor Secretary, is in trouble now that four Republicans are talking about voting against his confirmation. Another plus if he is blocked.
One member of the Trump administration who isn’t in trouble but should be is Stephen Miller, who sounded Steve Bannon-level crazy in this exchange on Face the Nation:
DICKERSON: When I talked to Republicans on the Hill, they wonder, what in the White House — what have you all learned from this experience with the executive order?
MILLER: Well, I think that it’s been an important reminder to all Americans that we have a judiciary that has taken far too much power and become, in many cases, a supreme branch of government. One unelected judge in Seattle cannot remake laws for the entire country. I mean this is just crazy, John, the idea that you have a judge in Seattle say that a foreign national living in Libya has an effective right to enter the United States is — is — is beyond anything we’ve ever seen before.
The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.
“No, they are questioned by young little Miller. They will be questioned by the court. It’s called judicial review,” Scarborough said, as his colleagues on set guffawed.
“Alexander Hamilton and James Madison wrote about it in the Federalist Papers,” Scarborough continued. “It was enshrined in Madison’s Constitution. Andrew Jackson — you go into your president’s office, you know that one, and you look on the walls, and there are all these pictures of Andrew Jackson — he talked of the importance of judicial independence.”
“And seriously, the White House has got to stop embarrassing themselves by putting this guy on,” Scarborough said.
Last week, prior to the inauguration of Donald Trump, I had recommended the novel It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis on Facebook. The 1935 novel had a populist demagogue beat FDR and establish a dictatorship, while promising to restore America to greatness and promoting patriotism. Lewis died in 1951 and cannot comment on current events, but I have also read a novel with a similar overall plot from a living author. Philip Roth, who described a similar scenario in The Plot Against America, has provided his views on the election of Donald Trump. From The New Yorker:
In 2004, Philip Roth published “The Plot Against America.” The four main characters of the novel, which takes place between June, 1940, and October, 1942, are a family of American Jews, the Roths, of Newark—Bess, Herman, and their two sons, Philip and Sandy. They are ardent supporters of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but, in Roth’s reimagining, Roosevelt loses his bid for a third term to a surprise Republican candidate—the aviator Charles Lindbergh—whose victory upends not only politics in America but life itself.
The historical Lindbergh was an isolationist who espoused a catchphrase that Donald Trump borrowed for his Presidential campaign, and for his Inaugural Address: “America First.” The fictional Lindbergh, like the actual Trump, expressed admiration for a murderous European dictator, and his election emboldened xenophobes. In Roth’s novel, a foreign power—Nazi Germany—meddles in an American election, leading to a theory that the President is being blackmailed. In real life, U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating Trump’s ties to Vladimir Putin and the possibility that a dossier of secret information—kompromat—gives Russia leverage with his regime.
Roth wrote in the Times Book Review that “The Plot Against America” was not intended as a political roman à clef. Rather, he wanted to dramatize a series of what-ifs that never came to pass in America but were “somebody else’s reality”—i.e., that of the Jews of Europe. “All I do,” he wrote, “is to defatalize the past—if such a word exists—showing how it might have been different and might have happened here.”
Last week, Roth was asked, via e-mail, if it has happened here. He responded, “It is easier to comprehend the election of an imaginary President like Charles Lindbergh than an actual President like Donald Trump. Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero who had displayed tremendous physical courage and aeronautical genius in crossing the Atlantic in 1927. He had character and he had substance and, along with Henry Ford, was, worldwide, the most famous American of his day. Trump is just a con artist. The relevant book about Trump’s American forebear is Herman Melville’s ‘The Confidence-Man,’ the darkly pessimistic, daringly inventive novel—Melville’s last—that could just as well have been called ‘The Art of the Scam.’ ”
American reality, the “American berserk,” Roth has noted, makes it harder to write fiction. Does Donald Trump outstrip the novelist’s imagination?
Roth replied, “It isn’t Trump as a character, a human type—the real-estate type, the callow and callous killer capitalist—that outstrips the imagination. It is Trump as President of the United States.
“I was born in 1933,” he continued, “the year that F.D.R. was inaugurated. He was President until I was twelve years old. I’ve been a Roosevelt Democrat ever since. I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”
…Many passages in “The Plot Against America” echo feelings voiced today by vulnerable Americans—immigrants and minorities as alarmed by Trump’s election as the Jews of Newark are frightened by Lindbergh’s. The book also chronicles their impulse of denial. Lindbergh’s election makes clear to the seven-year-old “Philip Roth” that “the unfolding of the unforeseen was everything. Turned wrong way around, the relentless unforeseen was what we schoolchildren studied as ‘History,’ a harmless history, where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page as inevitable. The terror of the unforeseen is what the science of history hides, turning a disaster into an epic.”
Asked if this warning has come to pass, Roth e-mailed, “My novel wasn’t written as a warning. I was just trying to imagine what it would have been like for a Jewish family like mine, in a Jewish community like Newark, had something even faintly like Nazi anti-Semitism befallen us in 1940, at the end of the most pointedly anti-Semitic decade in world history. I wanted to imagine how we would have fared, which meant I had first to invent an ominous American government that threatened us. As for how Trump threatens us, I would say that, like the anxious and fear-ridden families in my book, what is most terrifying is that he makes any and everything possible, including, of course, the nuclear catastrophe.”
Both It Can’t Happen Here and The Plot Against America are worth reading, but if I had to pick one I preferred the former. (As I read them years apart, it is possible that my opinion could change if I reread them). As It Can’t Happen Here is older, the copyright has expired and ebook versions can be downloaded for free. Goodreads has download links in epub, Mobipocket, and epub versions here.
A large number of Americans are looking at the inauguration of Donald Trump with dread. Beyond ideological differences, there are concerns that Donald Trump does not respect the norms which have maintained our democracy. E.J. Dionne calls this “the most ominous Inauguration Day in modern history.” He wrote, “Trump’s disdain for the democratic disposition we like our presidents to embrace was on display when he dressed down CNN’s Jim Acosta at that news conference last week. Trump’s tone, style and sheer rage (whether real or staged) brought to mind authoritarian leaders who brook no dissent.”
The Associated Press reports on how the presidency is about the change, also discussing Trump failure to respect established norms:
Polls over the past week show that Trump is poised to enter the White House as the least popular president in four decades. Democrats remain staunchly opposed to him, independents have not rallied behind him and even Republicans are less enthusiastic than might be expected, according to the surveys.
In his typical reaction to poll results he doesn’t like, Trump dismissed them as “rigged” in a Tuesday tweet.
It’s exactly that kind of tweet that worries governing experts, lawmakers and other critics, who argue that traditional practices of the presidency protect the health of the American democracy.
“With notable exceptions, we’ve had a political culture in which presidents largely respect a series of unwritten rules that help democracy and the rule of law flourish,” said Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College. “What’s striking about Trump is he flouts norms that have previously been respected by both parties on a daily basis. He calls things into question that have never been questioned before.”
Since winning the election, Trump has attacked Hollywood celebrities, civil rights icons and political rivals alike. He’s moved markets by going after some companies, while praising others.
He’s questioned the legitimacy of American institutions — appearing to trust the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin over the intelligence agencies he’ll soon oversee, engaging in personal fights with journalists as he assails the free press and questioning the results of the election, even though it put him in office.
With this backdrop, many Americans are more interested in the massive demonstrations expected for inauguration day than in seeing Donald Trump inaugurated. David Weigel points out that in the past, such as when George W. Bush was inaugurated, demonstrations were “dominated by the political fringe.” Now they being embraced by both the Democratic Party and the left:
Democrats and the broader left, recuperating from an election few of them thought they could lose, are organizing one of the broadest — and earliest — opposition campaigns ever to greet a new president. It began with protests in the hours after Trump’s victory, but it has become bolder since, marked most dramatically by nearly 70 Democratic members of Congress boycotting the inauguration itself…
This year, in his enhanced role as a messenger for congressional Democrats, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) successfully encouraged 70-odd rallies last weekend in support of the Affordable Care Act, organized on the ground by Democrats and labor groups. Local branches of the Working Families Party, which endorsed Sanders (and de Blasio) in 2016, have organized “Resist Trump Tuesdays,” in which activists have protested inside the offices of Republican legislators or filled the galleries of state legislatures. According to WFP spokesman Joe Dinkin, 450 community planning meetings took place the week before the inauguration.
Donald Trump has made many contradictory statements. While he has given reason to fear he might not respect our political norms, we really do not know yet what he will do. Adam Gopnik warns to be prepared for the worst possible scenario, and offers this advice:
What is to be done? In such a moment of continued emergency, the most important task may be to distinguish as rigorously as possible between new policies and programs that, however awful, are a reflection of the normal oscillation of power, natural in a mature democracy, and those that are not. To borrow from Woody Allen’s distinction between the miserable (something we all are) and the horrible (fortunately suffered by only a few), we must now distinguish resolutely between the sickening and the terrifying. Many programs and policies with which progressive-minded people passionately disagree will be put forward over the next few years. However much or strongly one opposes them, they are, like it or not, the actual agreed-on platform of a dominant national party. On the issue of gun control alone, we’ll get a Supreme Court that won’t reverse the bad decision of Heller, a legislature that will only further diminish sane controls on military weapons in private hands, likely an increase in open-carry laws, and all the murderous rest. All of this will cost kids’ lives and bring much misery.
One may oppose these things—and one should, passionately and permanently—but they are in no sense illegitimate. They are just wrong. They are also reversible by the same laws and rules and norms and judicial and, perhaps most of all, electoral processes that created them. If we want gun control, we need to get more people caring about it and more people in more places voting for it; we cannot complain because people who don’t want gun control don’t give it to us.
Assaults on free speech; the imprisoning of critics and dissidents; attempts, on the Russian model, likely to begin soon, to intimidate critics of the regime with fake charges and conjured-up allegations; the intimidation and intolerance of even mild dissidence (that “Apologize!” tweet directed at members of the “Hamilton” cast who dared to politely petition Mike Pence); not to mention mass deportations or attempts at discrimination by religion—all things that the Trump and his cohorts have openly contemplated or even promised—are not part of the normal oscillations of power and policy. They are unprecedented and, history tells us, likely to be almost impossible to reverse.
So we need to stiffen our spines and broaden our embrace, grasp tightly but reach out far. The conservatives who see Trump for what he is and are shocked by it—and there are many, though not as many as there should be—should be welcomed. We can postpone arguing about the true meaning of the Second Amendment while we band together to fight for the Constitution that precedes it…
The best way to be sure that 2017 is not 1934 is to act as though it were. We must learn and relearn that age’s necessary lessons: that meek submission is the most short-sighted of policies; that waiting for the other, more vulnerable group to protest first will only increase the isolation of us all. We must refuse to think that if we play nice and don’t make trouble, our group won’t be harmed. Calm but consistent opposition shared by a broad front of committed and constitutionally-minded protesters—it’s easy to say, fiendishly hard to do, and necessary to accomplish if we are to save the beautiful music of American democracy.