Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sunday Reading

This Is A Test — Elaina Plott in The Atlantic on gauging the GOP response to this weekend’s Nazi rallies.

This weekend, an untold number of white nationalists and their sympathizers will gather in Washington, D.C., to rally against, in their words, the “civil-rights abuses” they endured in Charlottesville, Virginia, exactly one year ago. The “Unite the Right” gathering will take place in Lafayette Park, just across from the White House. It will mark the anniversary of not only the group’s march through Charlottesville, tiki torches ablaze, but also the horrors that resulted from it, including the murder of 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

It also potentially marks a paradigmatic shift for the Republican Party. President Donald Trump responded in the dark aftermath of last year’s march not by emphatically denouncing the bigotry that sparked it, but by reminding Americans of the “very fine people on both sides.” Chief of Staff John Kelly may have hung his head as Trump delivered those remarks, but, like most officials in this administration, he never spoke out against them.

It is this fact and its consequences that bear considering throughout the demonstrations this weekend: whether, in today’s GOP, racism has been relegated to gaffe-like status—a political pitfall to navigate against, rather than a moral failing to wholly condemn.

I happened to be with an administration official this time last year, interviewing him for a story unrelated to Charlottesville. But the violent march naturally crept into our discussion, as both of our phones trilled with news of Trump’s press conference. I remember the official sighing deeply, shaking his head as he scanned the reports. Yet I’d learn moments later that this was not in opposition to the president’s comments themselves; rather, it was anxiety about how to contain the fallout. “Great, yet another distraction,” the official said. “The media will never let this one go.”

It was as though Trump had mistakenly defined his proposed corporate tax rate—not equivocated on the actions of white nationalists.

Republican leaders were careful to denounce the demonstrations in no uncertain terms. But they were also careful to avoid any mention of Trump, or avoid criticizing him directly. “We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive,” House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted. “This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.” Echoed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy: “Saturday’s violence and tragic loss of life was a direct consequence of the hateful rhetoric & action from white supremacists demonstrating.”

“We have to unequivocally say that the KKK and the white supremacists were wrong,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel told ABC’s David Muir at the time. She tried to spin Trump’s words: “The president was saying that people brought violence from both sides.”

My conversation with the administration official, and the response from GOP leaders, brought Trump’s immunity from reproach into sharp relief. There’s been a lot of talk about “red lines” in the last two years, which is to say musings about what, if anything, could cause the GOP to turn on Trump. This weekend’s Unite the Right rally offers occasion to consider many things, about where this country is and where it is going. But crucially, it offers a potent reminder of Trump’s seeming infallibility in all corners of his party.

Depending on Trump’s reaction to the rally this weekend, should he have one at all, Republican leaders may have a chance to rewrite the script. At the very least, perhaps they will take issue with the group’s namesake, and make clear that white supremacy does not, in fact, fit into their definition of “the Right.” Or perhaps they will stay silent, and take comfort in the fact that, in the Trump era, political consequences seem to only last for so long.

What Really Happened — Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) has the straight poop on the meeting at Trump Tower.

Everybody wants to know what was said in that Trump Tower meeting with the Russians in June 2016. Well, other than the people in the room, I, Steven Yablonsky, alone know exactly what was said because I worked as a janitor in the building and was hiding in the closet recording all of it on my phone. As it happens, I was fired yesterday for not putting up the “wet floor” sign in the lobby, and a few people took a tumble, including Tiffany, so now I can finally reveal all.

Transcription:

Through a crack in the closet door, four Russians enter. They are Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akhmetshin, Irakly Kaveladze and Anatoli Samochornov. Already present are Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Rob Goldstone. They all say hello and introductions are made.

Rinat: Where shall we sit?

Don Jr.: Anywhere you’d like.

Rinat: You want big chair?

Don Jr.: You can have the big chair.

Rinat: Ah, I feel a little funny.

Natalia: Take big chair. Don Jr. say O.K.

Rinat: (sits) I like this. It sinks in. Might fall asleep.

Irakly: (pointing) Look at nice spread.

Jared: Help yourself to anything on the table.

Irakly: Is that tuna fish or chicken salad? Very hard to tell difference.

Rob: And they taste the same. That I don’t get.

(They all mutter in agreement. Why is that? One’s chicken, one’s fish.)

Manafort: O.K., shall we begin?

Natalia: We have very good dirt, as you say, on Clinton. You win election with this.

Manafort: Hold it, hold it. Wait a second. First off, that would be illegal. That would be conspiring with an enemy to commit election fraud.

Rinat: I thought that was what meeting about.

Natalia: Me too.

Don Jr.: What? Who told you that?

Rinat: What did you think it was about?

Don Jr.: I thought it was about adoption!

Rinat: Adoption?!

Manafort: Yes, adoption. We want you to rescind the ban. It’s taking a tremendous toll.

The Russians: (in unison) Ohh … well, this is big misunderstanding …

Jared: I’ll say.

Don Jr.: Can I have a word with my colleagues?

(The four Americans huddle up right in front of the closet door.)

Don Jr.: I think we should call the F.B.I.

Goldstone: Right now?

Don Jr.: Right now!

Jared: No, that’s crazy.

Don Jr.: We’re breaking the law, Jared!

Jared: No, we’re not. … What’s that word that starts with a “c”?

Goldstone: Constitution?

Manafort: Coffers?

Don Jr.: Conspiracy?

Jared: No … collusion! That’s legal! Is that a beauty? We’re not calling the F.B.I.!

Don Jr.: O.K., but my dad still might get in a lot of trouble for this.

Goldstone: I’m getting an Arnold Palmer.

Don Jr.: I don’t think there’s any lemonade.

Goldstone: Seriously?

(They return to their seats.)

Manafort: Sorry about the misunderstanding, but you see, there are thousands of families in America who are suffering because they’re unable to have children of their own. One of my dearest friends has no children. It’s been heartbreaking to watch them trying to adopt and come up empty.

Don Jr.: Do you have kids, Anatoli?

Anatoli: Yes, two beautiful daughters. The government take them for gymnastics.

Don Jr.: So you know how empty life is without them. I know relations between our great countries have been frayed. But that shouldn’t be what this is about. This should be about hardworking families who want to experience the joys of parenthood. Can’t you put yourself in their shoes? Can’t you … (begins to break down)

Manafort: Does anyone have a tissue?

Anatoli: Natalia, you have tissue in purse?

Natalia: Here, yes, of course. Don’t cry, Don Jr. Don’t cry.

Don Jr.: (bawling) Thank you. … I wanted to adopt a child from Cambodia, but Vanessa said no. It broke us up. … I’m sorry.

Natalia: I see how much this means to you. I will call President Putin to discuss. I am on your side.

Rinat: Me too.

Don Jr.: Thank you. This means the world to me. And you know who will be really happy about this? Dad. In fact, this whole meeting was his idea.

Natalia: Nice.

Rinat: And you’re sure you don’t want our information on Clinton? Election in bag.

Manafort: Oh, God, no. Please don’t bring that up again. You see, Rinat, this is America. We’re a democracy. Our elections are sacred. And when it comes right down to it, I’d rather lose than win by cheating.

Natalia: Understood. Our apologies. We will be in touch.

(They say their goodbyes and head out. As the door closes …)

Don Jr: I still think we should call the F.B.I.

Doonesbury — Show some backbone.

Speak!