“Trump's power is based on performative cruelty. That is what his supporters voted for--not for any policy, and not for any other principle than to do the worst thing to people outside the fold at every opportunity. He is loathsome, but he's also keeping his promises.”
– Zachariah Johnson, tweet reply to Josh Marshall
In his retweet of the above Marshall commented, “It’s worth absorbing how deeply true this is.”
I agree. There’s a common genre of Trump article that describes how he’s betraying his campaign promises. But Johnson’s comment makes it clear that there was only one promise that mattered: be cruel to the “others”, the liberals, the elites, the people of color, the foreigners. Do that and it will be enough.
This is what we’re up against.
Meanwhile there are ongoing debates about whether, or how much, Democrats should run against Trump or on issues. It’s worth considering that Trump’s – and Republicans’ – behavior has become so repulsive, their policies and actions so cruel, that behaving decently, being kind, and proposing thoughtful, inclusive and caring solutions are a direct rebuttal to them, while also giving voters a clear and compelling alternative. And yet, sometimes you also have to say, “That’s awful, it’s unAmerican, and you should be ashamed.”
Married to the Mob
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford, dropped a bombshell this past Tuesday: bank records of suspicious deposits into the slush fund Michael Cohen, Trump’s bagman, had set up for hush payments on Trump’s behalf to Daniels and others. Those who had paid in to the account included AT&T, Novartis and others including most notably a company controlled by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, one of the richest men in Russia, which had paid in half a million dollars.
The excuses for the deposits were transparently, even laughably, false. Thus far, no new explanations for the payments that actually make sense have been offered. The press, unfortunately, has largely treated this as a story about lobbying fees paid to Cohen. This explanation is almost certainly wrong. Remember that the fund was set up on Trump’s behalf as a conduit for hush money payments. Remember, too, that Michael Cohen has deep ties to organized crime and that a bagman is someone who “collects or distributes the proceeds of illicit activities”. One thing we know about Trump is that nothing bothers him more than people making money off of him without him getting a cut. One thing we know about Cohen is that he’s pathetically subservient to Trump. And one thing we know about Vekselberg’s shell company is that it’s been suspected in the past of being a conduit for money from the GRU, the Russian successor to the KGB. As with the stories in the week before last about Cohen’s shady past and Trump’s sudden switch to buying properties with cash, the press needs to keep digging. I’d say we’re looking at a criminal enterprise deep into money laundering and that the most recent revelations will be proven to be bribes to Trump. A money trail? This may be it. Stay tuned.
In addition to the Democrats’ concerns about running “against Trump” is the concern of helping Republicans energize their base by claiming that Democrats will try to impeach him. Democrats have taken note and are treading carefully around the issue. But, as Brian Beutler argued this past week, the emerging news may “leave them in an untenable position.” That is, if we have concrete evidence of bribery, treason or other crimes, the Democrats will be forced to call for impeachment irrespective of the political likelihood of success or fail in their oaths of office.
In Other News
- Gina Haspel, Trump’s nominee to head the CIA, refused to answer clear questioning from our Senator Kamala Harris, asking her whether she believed that the previous interrogation techniques – torture – were immoral. Both Harris and Feinstein will reject her, with good reason.
- Scott Pruitt is still heading the EPA with Trump’s support. “Stained by” scandal doesn’t seem to describe Pruitt any longer. It’s more like “sheep-dipped” at this point.
- Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, thereby showing that the U.S. doesn’t keep its commitments and that we could care less about our allies. Oh, and also that Trump will do anything to destroy something that Obama created.
- A date was set for a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. No doubt Kim has taken note of how unreliable Trump is in honoring our commitments and that will play into the negotiations. Trump is already acting as if he’s a hero. We’ll see. It’s far more likely that he’ll get played.
- At the end of the week, Trump turned his attention to saving Chinese jobs at the Chinese phone manufacturer ZTE by removing American sanctions. This despite intelligence community worries that ZTE poses a serious risk to our national security. “Make China Great Again” doesn’t even make a pronounceable acronym, for goodness’ sake.
- Ollie North was chosen as the new president of the NRA, promptly and dangerously saying that student gun-control activists were “civil terrorists.” North, convicted of running guns in the Iran-Contra scandal, has wasted no time with his “we’re the real victims here” gaslighting scheme.
- House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes was locked this week in a battle with the Department of Justice and the intelligence community over access to files that had the potential to reveal the identity of an American intelligence source, placing that source’s life in danger. Nunes apparently doesn’t care; anything that he can do to protect Trump is fair game and let the corpses fall where they may. As Lawfare’s Susan Hennessey wrote, “The intelligence oversight system is based on trust. Without trust it is irretrievably broken… Nunes simply cannot continue to serve in the role and Speaker Ryan is wrong not to remove him…”
Nunes needs to be voted out of office. You can help that effort by supporting out out-of-district work here at Indivisible and with our sister organizations SwingLeft and Sister District. Ways to help include writing postcards, text banking, phone banking and traveling to districts in California that we must turn blue to register voters and to canvass. We must take back the House. If we fail this year, it may well be too late to save our country. Trump is already consolidating power solely into his own hands while the Republicans have rolled over like lap dogs. It’s now or never. Our country needs your help. Join us!
– Tom Benthin
A reminder: a key resource for tracking all the abnormal events from the past week of the Trump presidency is Amy Siskind’s Weekly List: theweeklylist.org .
Before the disaster of the 2016 election we could follow the events that affected our lives by checking the news or seeing occasional posts on Facebook. Since then, with Trump’s erratic, aggressive and autocratic behavior and the Republicans’ unceasing attacks on our government and their efforts to transfer ever more money from working Americans to the rich, it has become much more difficult – and more important – to find our way through the weekly onslaught of news. To get ourselves grounded in the facts and to prepare for the week of action ahead, we provide this weekly summary of critical events to help us cut through the distractions and stay focused and informed as we fight to preserve our democracy.