I’ve been seeing considerable outrage over Trump’s reaction to potential election meddling, as addressed in his interview with George Stephanopolous:
In the clip, Trump has no less than three distinct reactions to the notion of direct foreign attempts at intervention: He first makes no differentiation between foreign and domestic efforts at affecting a campaign and insists nobody would inform the FBI for getting dirt and states that the FBI director is wrong for saying they should be informed. That was addressing the events in Trump Tower which were heavily documented. Next he says that a person should hear information and go to the FBI… still not definitively; he includes “maybe” prior to his “you do both”. Then he follows it with a detailed explanation that he’d take the information, assess it, and if he felt it was appropriate he’d contact the FBI.
He then justifies it by saying it’s “oppo research” and that everyone does it and always has.
This is disturbing in multiple ways. He’s admitting that he’d accept foreign attempts to interfere in the election process, further undermining faith in the process. He’s using his judgement as the determining factor in whether authorities should be informed about election meddling, when the simple act is the key to whether it should be reported. He’s using a vague and absolutely invalid defense of “everybody does it”… again undermining faith in the American system of voting.
But is Trump a traitor?
I’m inclined to think so… but then, I would be. He’s not “my guy”.
Many of the people who are currently outraged about Trump’s actions are the same ones who defended – sometimes reluctantly, sometimes vociferously – Obama when he boldly announced that he had a pen and he had a phone, in an obvious challenge to the Constitutional process. He was making the statement only because the Congress was, as they were legally allowed, stymieing his efforts to take certain actions that he felt important.
When he made his threat, many Republicans were incensed. They called it anti-American and a direct attack on the Constitution, and they were correct. His supporters found ways to defend it for the simple reason that Obama was “their guy”. He was enacting policy which the Democrats had wanted, sometimes for decades, and his willingness to bypass the rules was considered a small price to pay. Some warned that rules being ignored would set the stage for a future Republican President to also ignore rules, but that concern was set aside.
Republicans called the statement traitorous. They had a point.
I don’t know if I’d be as sanguine about Trump’s statement if he were, in fact, a traditional conservative. I hope not, but I don’t know. Were he a person who had repeatedly stood up to hostile foreign powers instead of submitting to them, a person who didn’t encourage spending on record levels, a person who didn’t regularly belittle and attack traditional allies, a person who fought for free trade, a person who would put two firm originalists onto the Supreme Court instead of one such and a follow-up lickspittle, a person who consistently spoke about the value of rights instead of curtailing the First Amendment or making slips about seizing guns and worrying about due process later…. if he were a Coolidge or even a Reagan, I might give the comment a bit of a by, telling myself that it was a momentary, inartful slip.
The fact is that this is not such a mistake; this is the latest in a series of entreaties to foreign powers – or, really, any improper organization; I believe it would be equally problematic if any candidate were to gain information from, say, a mob boss – to directly interfere with the election process. If it were a slip, he should be criticized for it. It does not appear to be so, and he should roundly condemned by all.
Trump is believed to be “their guy” by a large quantity of Republicans, however, and for that reason they’re willing to not just give him the benefit of the doubt, but actively craft reasons to excuse his behavior. The fact that Trump has managed to convince people that he represents their interests is perhaps the greatest con job of all; in truth, he is not significantly forwarding the agenda they claimed for most of their lives to firmly desire but rather they are forwarding his. He’s not their guy, they’re his followers.
As long as that remains the case, the Republicans will not even address the notion that Trump might be traitorous, just as Democrats refused to consider the idea that Obama might have indicated an intent to violate his Oath of Office with his “pen and phone” comments, or Bill Clinton became a target for blackmail with his White House dalliances with Monica.
The danger exposed in the interview isn’t simply Trump’s casual relationship with the law, morality, judgement and patriotism. It’s the damage which is possible when reflexive partisanship is allowed to triumph over personal beliefs and our established rules of governance.