“You’re not gonna believe this..!”
I was laying under this tree – participating in photosynthesis – being baptized again by the rain, The baby bird were singing me a song, you’re not gonna believe what they said!”
“They said I am one with God.”
Here’s a little something I learned this morning from watching the news with the sound off.
It’s just a theory, but it might help illustrate what the hell is going on.
The press is digging into the infamous Russia meeting – again – the way it digs into everything else – with little soundbites based on what an embattled and intellectually challenged president calls “leaks” as he vows to hunt down the “leakers” and defeat or humiliate them.
But at the heart of a lot of this research and investigative journalism is the same kind of slow, detailed methodical analysis that lawyers use to slowly tighten the snare on a subject or target.
Here’s an example from today’s news cycle – CNN reports on a tagline that Donald Trump Junior said, that his father “may have commented” on his June 8 statement “through Hope Hicks.”
Why is this little soundbite important? It’s of note to the public, at least marginally (and technically it’s news) which is why it’s plastered all over the television screen, and it could potentially be used as one more little tidbit for lawyers to try to catch out Trump or Trump Jr. or whoever in perjury.
However, thinking really hard about both of these adversarial strategies – the public shaming and the legal entrapment, you can see how the prey could wiggle out of both of them, or alternately, how either could spring the trap closed. It’s kind of the Schrödinger’s cat scenario – we just don’t know.
Let’s start with the legal strategy. A good lawyer might, at the end of some months and pages and pages of testimony, be able to hang some kind of perjury charge on Donald Trump Jr. for saying that somebody commented on something. However, I don’t think that lawyer could ever, in many months or hundreds of pages of testimony, ever entrap Trump Jr. for saying that his father “may have” commented through Hope Hicks. That simple three-letter word, “may,” is one of the hedge words that lawyers and copywriters and professional liars know so well – it automatically encapsulates the statement from use as perjury fodder. It’s like when the accused always says “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall.”
So while some soundbites like the one I mentioned could be used to close the trap on someone who is under investigation, that specific comment, again because of that one word, is not useful.
It’s where we come to the second point that we understand that the machines that have always driven our public discourse have inherently changed – the machine is broken – it’s not working the way it should. Its ineffective machine arm keeps flapping back and forth.
The idea with public shaming and the revelation of new details every day is that a presidency or administration is supposed to collapse under the weight of them. In theory it would only take one, or two, or three for public opinion to shift. It would only take several of these shameful episodes for the public to turn against a public figure – and for the lawyers, emboldened by this public sentiment, to come forth and do their job.
But we have one or more of these every day – for a year and a half! – and it just doesn’t do what it used to do. Maybe the flap that holds up the machine arm of shaming and outrage has just broken off somehow during the 2016 election.
Maybe it was a little cheap plastic clasp that was supposed to hold the arm in place, and it had just been tugged on too many times. Maybe there’s a little plastic sliver laying on the ground showing us why the machine just isn’t working.
It’s aggravating. It infuriates us. The press and the legal community spend hours and hours of effort trying to make the machine work the way it always has. People talk about the networks and whether they’re fake and how they could improve and what they could do to make things be like they used to be.
You’ve seen the Rube Goldberg machine – the little ball drops into the groove and slides past the water glass, which tips over and makes the baby cry so his hand flips over a lever and tickles the cat, which drops the ball on the button which triggers whatever action you’re supposed to be initiating.
What do you do when a Rube Goldberg machine is stuck? Do you try to isolate the part that’s not working, the circuit break that’s preventing you from gaining the satisfaction of a job well done? Do you scratch the whole thing and start all over?
Our political physics are in turmoil. Our ideas about ourselves and others are under radically new analysis. (See Childish Gambino “This is America”)! We just can’t understand anymore how our personal lives correspond to the personal lives of the people at the very top of our food chain – those leaders of the free world that we’ve always had some kind of strange consensus about.
This is not an adversarial post. This is an analytical post. This is an idea about how to understand the ideas that are bombarding us every day. If you’ve read this far, please comment and let me know what you think – what’s up with this machine? What is the machine made of? How does it work? And what in God’s green earth can we do to fix it?
John McCain used to be a big deal. There was the idea that he would help guide the legislature on his side of the aisle – now he’s dying of cancer, and it doesn’t seem like he’s getting very much pull in his own party.
There’s been a lot of breaking news on John McCain – from his earlier standout votes on important issues of the past six months, to the more recent flurry of news suggesting that Trump is not welcome at his funeral. That’s a large symbolic gesture – to actually publicly uninvite a sitting president to an event that you really shouldn’t have to plan yourself – but there’s an even bigger indicator this week as news venues report that John McCain does not want Gina Haspel for CIA director.
The Haspel thing has been going back-and-forth for a while – the confirmation hearing was Wednesday, and it went about as you’d expect it to go. A lot of questions, but nothing to indicate that Haspel wouldn’t ultimately received in confirmation.
Of course, you have all of the usual suspects plus a few more arguing that confirmation for Haspel is implicit condoning of the terrible, despicable torture acts that happened during the Iraq war era, with the collaboration of shady lawyers.
Haspel says she wouldn’t do it again – but that’s pretty weak tea for an issue that really involves very explicit and macabre human suffering. A litmus test for the base and their individual values is how each person feels when he or she reads the narrative of these humans being tortured beyond anything we can imagine happening to ourselves.
But the litmus test in the legislature is whether or not Republican leaders and moderates can take a cue from someone who is considered in some ways the lion of today’s legislature – a man who used to be honored for his status as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
Sadly, the referendum on John McCain happened early on in this administration when Republicans and their ilk were forced to choose between a man widely considered a war hero and a draft dodging gasbag of a politician who was mostly known for shady business dealing and really anything other than civic leadership.
The base largely chose Trump over McCain and the fallout has been happening ever since. But this isn’t just a question of whether to let the maverick guide his party. This is a question of either rejecting or tacitly accepting by dog whistle some of the worst acts that can be done to a human being by another. In trying to imagine these black site operators like medieval inquisitors racking their victims day to day, the mind just fails to really build a realistic picture. How do these individuals perform these sadistic acts time after time and how are they not brought to heel by the general values of a democracy that claims to have some measure of empathy for human life? It’s disgusting and degrading to our senses and John McCain is putting an olive branch out to his own party that there is another way- there is a choice.
Unfortunately, none of the media reports suggest that other than Rand Paul, who has cast his lot in the right direction, any other moderates or fence sitters are considering following McCain’s lead.
What this likely means is that we’ll have yet another ‘close result’ that’s a victory for the hard right base and those forces that seek to overcome moderate consensus – those forces that failed to hold to the line of giving John McCain, and basic human empathy, their due.
For center-left voters and others who have traditionally viewed John McCain with suspicion, there’s a different change going on. In an environment where so much of one’s political support is eroding, it’s only natural to take refuge in the kinds of options that John McCain represents. It’s a move toward the center in an effort to build some kind of consensus and some kind of bulwark against the far right …
But then we see that even this move is met with a corresponding evacuation of some of the moderate right’s traditional moral standing. It’s like “ok liberals like John McCain? We don’t like him anymore, then.” Nevermind his military service. They’re throwing him under the bus. Just look at this!!
It’s insidious – and yet it’s right out in the open. Politics has become so nasty, we can’t even manage to uphold our reverence for people like McCain who were supposed to be part of the glue holding the unholy mess in Washington together.
So lots of prior McCain fans aren’t really listening to him anymore. But humanity and the Geneva convention really need a win here. We need to send the right message to the world. So maybe it’s time to listen to John McCain. If you have a moral compass, listen to him because he’s right. Otherwise, listen to him because he was a war hero. John McCain is throwing the moderate right a life line. He’s saying, there is an option, There is a choice.