The Week on Planet Trump: Crooked Don Just Keeps on Losing

Monday: Credibility Problem

Of course it is the case that Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans are predisposed to believe the worst about the man. But the fact is that doing so is not obviously wrong or unreasonable. Trump apologists instinctively want to treat Democrats’ exaggeration and hysteria as contemptible scandal-mongering, but their defenses — no hard evidence of collusion with the Putin regime! — sound a lot like “no controlling legal authority.” The question isn’t whether the president is a crook. The question is: What kind of crook is he?

Kevin D. Williamson, The National Review

Tuesday: Choose Your Facts

The Trump-Russia scandal is breaking during a time of informational chaos, when rival versions of reality are fighting for narrative supremacy.

The causes are legion: The advent of right-wing talk radio and Fox News; the influence of social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit; and the mainstreaming of conspiracy sites like InfoWars, which had almost five million visitors in the last month. By allowing partisans to live in their separate informational and misinformational bubbles, and, in some cases, to allow real news to be rendered as false — and false news to be rendered as true — they have all contributed to the calcification of the national divide.

Mainstream journalism, a shiny and ascendant conveyor of truth during Watergate, is in a battered state after decades of economic erosion, its own mistakes and the efforts of partisan wrecking crews to discredit its work, the most recent one led by the president himself.

All of it gives the Trump White House something Nixon never had: a loyal media armada ready to attack inconvenient truths and the credibility of potentially damning witnesses and news reports while trumpeting the presidential counternarrative, at times with counterfactual versions of events.

Jim Rutenberg, The New York Times

Wednesday: Sessions Sticks to his Fiction

Time and time again during the roughly three-hour hearing, Sessions insisted that the original story of the Comey firing had been the true one—that despite everything we now know, including the fact that Trump bragged to Russian officials in the Oval Office that firing Comey had relieved him of “great pressure” stemming from the Russia investigation, it had been Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation that was responsible for his ouster after all.

Hewing closely to the arguments Rosenstein made in his memo, Sessions said on Tuesday that he and his deputy both felt Comey had violated long-standing Justice Department tradition by organizing a press conference last July to announce the end of the Clinton investigation. He also said Comey had overstepped his authority as FBI director when he asserted that “no reasonable prosecutor” would pursue charges against her based on the evidence available. “It was a stunning development … a thunderous thing,” Sessions said, by way of explaining why he “had come to the conclusion that a fresh start was appropriate.”

Leon Neyfakh, Slate

Thursday: GOP’s 2 ndAmendment Insanity

It’s crucial that instead of encouraging the use of firearms against perceived tyrants — my tyrant, after all, might be your hero — and constantly moving the goalposts in the debate, the Republican Party, including Rep. Scalise, return to the values of, at the very least, Ronald Reagan and James Brady, who supported modest regulations against the unrestricted purchase of handguns, assault rifles and the like. By the way, it’s germane to note regarding the moving of goalposts, that many or most Republicans — including the leaders of the NRA — once supported expanded background checks and the augmentation of the mental health database. Apparently, not anymore. Why? Because it makes too much sense, I suppose.

Nevertheless, my thoughts and positive vibes (I don’t pray) go out to the victims of the Alexandria shooting. And without apologies, many of my thoughts and positive vibes include yet another perhaps futile demand for a return to sensible talk when it comes to regulating consumer products that are manufactured, marketed and sold for the sole purpose of harming other living beings, be they animals, ordinary citizens or, once again, elected officials of our federal government. And it’s never too soon.

Bob Cesca, Salon

Friday: Don’t Blame the Left

Incidents like the Virginia and San Francisco shootings inevitably lead to a debate over gun control. Here again the media, politicians, and advocacy groups play their scripted roles. The media quote Republicans and conservatives repeating their claims that tougher gun-control laws wouldn’t have prevented the Virginia shooting, because the shooter could have obtained the gun illegally. And, they add, gun control undermines our liberties.  

To provide “balance,” the media quote Democrats and gun-control advocates, repeating their claims that this specific shooting, and the epidemic of mass shootings, would be dramatically reduced if we restricted the sale of guns and ammunition, including sales across state lines, because shooters often obtain guns in states with lax laws and bring them to states with tough laws.

But like the debate over climate change, the even-handed reporting on gun violence—and the media’s focus on shooters’ psychological conditions and motives—is misleading. There are plenty of deranged people in the world, but in most well-off countries they can’t easily get their hands on a firearm.

Peter Dreier, The American Prospect

Saturday: This is Why He’s Losing

It would be hard to fashion a more exquisite snare for a man like Donald Trump than the modern, institutional presidency. Just five months into his term, he appears trapped by its constraints—and the harder he tries to escape them, the more thoroughly entangled he becomes.

On Thursday morning, President Trump again lashed out at the “bad and conflicted people” investigating him for obstructing justice. “They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story,” he tweeted. But to take Trump’s charge at face value is to read it as an indictment of his own blunders. Trump is claiming that there was no underlying wrongdoing, but his decision to fire his FBI director sparked the appointment of a special counsel who’s now exploring whether it was a criminal act. This, he says, is a purely self-inflicted wound—or, as a senior administration official told The Daily Beast, “The president did this to himself.”

Yoni Appelbaum, The Atlantic

Sunday: 45 Years After Watergate, The Same Mess

President Trump shouldn't be wondering why there is an investigation into the obstruction of justice. Some might say he is obstructing justice right in front of our eyes.

The comparisons to President Clinton's attacks on Kenneth Starr and to Reagan administration officials who criticized Lawrence Walsh miss the fact that both of those prosecutors were independent under the 1978 Ethics Law, which no longer exists.

Now we are back to where we were in the dark days of 1973, and President Trump is flexing his muscle in way that even President Richard Nixon would have been hesitant to do.

The officials responsible for determining if the President and his advisers abided by the law must work every day knowing that their future might be on the chopping block if they carry out their responsibilities.

Julian Zelizer, CNN

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