The Pirate Skiff Comes Ashore
Dear Reader (especially those of you who stayed with me in the wilderness lo, these last five months),
This is the last G-File [pause for dramatic effect]…of this era of professional limbo I’ve been in. By this time next week, this “news”letter will be a product of [Name Redacted]. Before I continue, let me just say thank you to the tens of thousands of you who signed up for this thing when I left National Review to start this endeavor with Steve Hayes and Toby Stock (Toby’s the suit, so it’s okay if you haven’t heard of him).
They’re both super guys, but they’re Midwesterners, and I find some of that stuff rubbing off on me. For example, prior to spending so much time with Hayes, I don’t think I used “super” as an adjective—outside of conversations about comic books or physics or quoting Fargo (“you’re a super lady”)—more than a couple times a year since I was a kid. Now I find myself using it to describe good meals, smart people, nice days, etc. There are other signs as well. I feel more shame about cursing, and I feel a strange, salmon-like urge to find a good Kroger when shopping for food. They’re super, don’t you know? And so is ranch dressing, which I’ve discovered is good on everything.
The Audacity of Ope
Speaking of Midwestern stuff, I’ve always had a soft spot for Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson. A Tea Party guy back before the grifters and scammers got into it like so many ants in the Jell-O salad at a Wauwatosa fish fry, he came to Washington to bring the commonsense Midwestern values of a churchgoing businessman to Washington. He sincerely believed we need to live within our means, defend the Constitution and—apparently—hector and cajole the Chinese Communist Party to target the president’s domestic political opponents.
That was an ope moment for me.
Some Turds Will Never Sparkle
So let’s just say it: What Trump did yesterday was, simply, indefensible. It is indefensible from any angle and any distance. As Steve Hayes might say at a Racine’s Best Kringle Contest, “Where to begin?”
China doesn’t have due process, the rule of law, or human rights as we understand them. People are executed, put in prison, put in camps, and put in prison camps for political infractions or simply practicing the wrong faith. It would be outrageous if Trump publicly called for the United Kingdom or Holland to investigate one of his political opponents without going through proper channels, but at least those countries have legal systems where we can have some faith in the justice of the outcome. But China? China!?
Moreover, the United States and China are in the middle of intense trade negotiations, and the president cavalierly throws out the fact that there’s something else he wants from the Chinese. He doesn’t have to say quid pro quo. The whole context is shot through with quid-pro-quo-y-ness (quid-pro-quosity?).
It is particularly gobsmacking in the context of the relentless push from the MAGA nationalists who’ve been determined to make China our new existential foe for the 21st century. This conflicts with their core mission of perpetual turd-polishing. So, the new nationalists cry: “The Chinese are evil!” “The Chinese are our enemy!” “The Chinese are a corrupt technocratic kakocracy!” But also: “Thank you president Trump for asking the Chinese to get the truth about Joe Biden!”
This is not nationalism. This is Trumpism, where the needs of the nation and the state are subsumed into the president’s personal desires. Nationalists don’t wear T-shirts that read “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat” and they don’t exhort foreign tyrants to do their dirty work against domestic political opponents.
I wonder if when you get your America First membership card, buried deep in the user agreement is the language that specifies *Except when the President’s political foes can best be taken out by the ChiComs.*
It’s also politically indefensible. First of all, all of the people who tried valiantly—and unpersuasively—to defend Trump’s “Russia, if you’re listening” line as merely a joke are left standing three feet off a cliff like Wile E. Coyote before he starts to plummet. He certainly wasn’t joking yesterday. He wasn’t joking when he told George Stephanopoulos that he saw no problem taking foreign opposition research. He wasn’t joking when he asked for that “favor” from Zelensky.
But let’s say you just don’t care about any of the high-minded stuff or the hypocrisy. You just want Trump to keep “winning.” But will his agenda—whatever that is—be advanced? Infrastructure week, long the “Free Beer Tomorrow” of American politics, is now the political equivalent pie in the sky. Does this expand Trump’s coalition? Does it make it more or less likely he’s impeached?
“Aha! Right!” you might respond. That’s his genius. He’s making the Democrats impeach him and the constant whining and moral outrage against impeachment is a ruse. After all, if you’ve been watching, reading, or listening to the usual suspects, impeachment will be good for Trump and the GOP and a “disaster” for the Democrats.
“Trolling” has evolved—or, rather, devolved—as an internet term over the last few years. But not long ago, there was a common phrase called “concern-trolling.” It means to pretend to be very worried about the well-being of your political opponents. It was once a staple of the Washington Post op-ed page. “I want two vibrant and healthy parties,” some liberal columnist might write, “and that’s why I am worried that the GOP’s pro-life position will cripple it in the long run.”
These days, it is amazing how many of my friends on the right are suddenly very, very, concerned about what the Democrats are doing to themselves. It’s almost like they’re reassuring the audience that this storyline will end well.
That doesn’t mean they’re wrong. This could blow up in the Democrats’ faces. But most of right-wing media these days seems really eager to talk about pretty much anything other than what Trump has said or done.
The Whistleblower Doesn’t Matter Anymore
And there’s perhaps no one they want to talk about more than the Whistleblower, except for Adam Schiff, who, let the record show, is a dishonest and partisan hack whose only impressive quality is his ability to mask his hackery in the dulcet and somber tones of concern-trollery.
I keep seeing clips of right-wingers from shows I don’t watch ranting about the Whistleblower as if the case against Trump still hinges on that person’s motivations and credibility.
The really unhinged folks call him or her a deep state operative, spy, saboteur, etc. The calmer folks say the Whistleblower is a “leaker.” All of these terms are wrong, if the facts as reported are true (admittedly a potentially big if). Even if she/he approached Schiff’s staff to ask for guidance, that doesn’t make him/her a liar—it does make Schiff a liar, but we knew that.
At some point, we need to hear directly from the whistleblower. But the inconvenient fact is that most of the allegations in the report have already been corroborated. Trump says, “This is an exact word-for-word transcript of the conversation, taken by very talented stenographers.” His insistence on this point would make me suspect it’s not an exact transcript—even if it didn’t say in the document that this “is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion.”
But if you take Trump at his word, that it is a verbatim transcript, then the need to confront the whistleblower—never mind roll out the electric chair for the traitor—unravels considerably.
The transcript supports three out of four of the whistleblowers allegations: Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Biden, Trump asked for Zelensky’s help to investigate the fantastical—and Putin helpful—tale of the missing server in Ukraine, and Trump wanted Zelensky to work with Giuliani, as the whistleblower alleged. And this leaves out all of the things Rudy Giuliani, Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump have confessed to by now.
The reason they want the whistleblower exposed is pretty obvious: Trump and his defenders are weakest when they have to defend Trump’s behavior or some principle (see my column today). They are most effective when they can destroy someone else. That’s what Trump enjoys and that’s what more and more of his fans enjoy too. The cruelty is the sauce.