I was not a huge fan of Hillary Clinton the presidential candidate, and throughout her apparent postmortem attempts to deflect blame about losing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to someone she arguably should’ve handily beaten in Donald Trump—I know she won the popular vote, but this is beside the point, not to mention largely inconsequential given that a straight popular vote does not decide presidential elections (though it probably should)—my reaction has been one of irritated refusal to indulge Clinton in her finger-pointing after the fact. Not that she likely needed it, but Hill-Dawg had a pronounced head start in the form of pledged superdelegates, as well as the unspoken but totally believable and real backing of the DNC in her bid to secure the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Regardless, and ultimately, I feel the onus is on the candidate to own the lion’s share of the blame when losing or graciously accept and show thanks when winning.
This aside, even I recognize that a complete story of the 2016 election can’t be told unless we talk about former FBI director James Comey and his decision to inform Congress of the Bureau’s reopening of an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private E-mail server.
Comey is currently at the forefront of the 24-hour news cycle because he wrote a book and he was interviewed by ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos. His book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, released earlier this week, is less a memoir and more a treatise comprising his views on what constitutes ethical leadership and what makes a good leader, utilizing anecdotal experiences from his career.
As for the interview (you can read the transcript of the exhaustive full interview here), Comey’s insights, even if they aren’t wholly original or surprising, are nonetheless notable for their candor. He thinks Gen. David Petraeus should have been prosecuted more vigorously for lying to the FBI. He views Rod Rosenstein’s pretext for his (Comey’s) firing related to his handling of the Clinton E-mail scandal as untrue and “dishonorable.” He considers—or at least considered at the time of meeting him—Jeff Sessions to be “overmatched” for the role of Attorney General. He disagrees with how Barack Obama insinuated his opinions on Clinton and her E-mails into the investigative mix. He claims to have told John Kelly, then-Homeland Security chief and current White House Chief of Staff, not to resign when called over the phone by Kelly, but offers that he would support a decision to do so now.
Most notably from a headline-grabbing standpoint, his characterization of Donald Trump as someone who is mentally fit to be President, but “morally unfit” for the position, is not the kind of depiction #45 and his cronies want to hear. Comey essentially refers to Trump as a mob boss without all the leg-breaking, and it’s no wonder Trump has responded in quick fashion by labeling Comey an “untruthful slimeball” (Pot, meet Kettle), and the White House has trotted out Sarah Sanders to refer to Comey as a “disgraced partisan hack.”
The lingering question then, is how much we value James Comey’s insights on Trump, particularly his reflections on Trump’s efforts to get him to let investigation into Michael Flynn’s role in the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia go, in light of his questionable decision-making regarding sensitive information involving both the Clinton and Trump presidential campaigns.
For a study in comparisons and contrasts, let’s take a peek at three recent editorials/opinions from USA Today on the subject. USA Today’s editorial board, for one, regards Comey favorably overall, though this largely seems predicated on Comey being rated as more credible than Trump, a distinction that is akin to being labeled as less sleazy than Harvey Weinstein; the former FBI director kind of wins by default on that one. Otherwise, the esteem for the Comey-Trump “blood feud” is like that of a rubbernecker watching a burning car wreck. Just because we can’t look away doesn’t necessarily mean we should be watching.
Imaginably, not everyone writing for USA Today agrees. With the obligatory pro-Trump rebuttal—why do major news outlets feel they need to cater to his base?—Chris Buskirk, editor and publisher of a journal called American Greatness, which very humbly bills itself as “the leading voice of the next generation of American Conservatism,” assailed Comey for penning a book “full of smarmy, self-serving, mendacious claptrap,” and suggested Comey has a vicious anti-Trump agenda and seeks only to “undermine or destroy the duly elected president of the United States.” Much like some Hillary Clinton supporters will never be able to abandon the narrative that she had the presidency taken from her, Donald Trump’s most fervent backers will continue to see him as the most persecuted POTUS in history. Never mind that he’s enjoyed more advantages in life than you or I are likely to, but this is apparently the age of hyperbole and superlatives aided by ignorance of even recent history.
For the sake of a less conservative critique, meanwhile, we have the thoughts of Jill Lawrence, USA Today commentary editor, who gives James Comey no credit for his scathing criticisms of the President, insisting that his decision to make news of the reopening of the Clinton E-mail investigation was not good leadership, thus rendering his views on leadership in her eyes and many others’ suspect, and opining that Comey is once again inserting himself into another presidential race, only with more time in advance of the election. Lawrence’s reservations echo those of other Comey detractors across the political aisle. That Comey’s revelations are ego-driven and made with a flair for the dramatic. That his ends-justify-the-means propensity for public disclosure ignores his culpability in bypassing DOJ policy and the rule of law. That his soon-to-be bestseller could not only galvanize report for GOP candidates, but hinder Robert Mueller’s investigation that has long been—fairly or unfairly—accused of anti-Trump bias.
As far as Lawrence is concerned, all she really cares to hear from James Comey is an apology—not just to Hillary Clinton and those who stumped for votes for her, but to America as a whole—that he helped elect Donald Trump. I’m sure she’s not alone in this yearning. Whether or not this is the ego in Comey talking, a self-confidence he himself copped to at different points during the ABC News interview, though, this seems unlikely anytime soon. When prompted by George Stephanopoulos, Comey said that he would do what he did again without regard to thought of whether someone as potentially dangerous to American politics as Trump might win, and likening #45 to a “forest fire” that’s “going to do tremendous damage,” but will give “healthy things a chance to grow that had no chance before that fire.” Presumably, Comey is talking about the growth of political engagement by the American people, especially young people, but it’s one thing to appreciate a wildfire for its restorative properties and quite another to be the one holding the matchbook.
One wonders by the time we are done dissecting the 2016 presidential election whether we’ll be at or even past the 2020 election. Speaking of Hillary Clinton, recall that she had her own promotional book tour relating to an insider account published but a few months ago. What Happened has had its fair share of praise and scorn since its release from those across the political spectrum. Among the Breitbart crowd, well, you wouldn’t really expect many to review it favorably. An oddly pleasurable consequence of Clinton’s continued prominence is that on FOX News and elsewhere, the mere mention of her name causes commentators to all but froth at the mouth—even though she lost. David Weigel of the Washington Post referred to this effect as her “shadow presidency,” and this seems all too accurate. Heck, if you wanted to, you could probably make a drinking game out of it. Go to the FOX News website. Wait for something about Hillary or Bill to pop up. Drink. Chances are you could get hammered in a short period of time.
Among liberals and even moderates, though, critique has been abundant. Certainly, Bernie Sanders supporters did not take kindly to her characterization and blame of the senator from Vermont that accused him of not being a “true” Democrat and of engaging in character assassination rather than substantive debate about the issues. From their standpoint, this slight was fairly disingenuous considering Sanders a) campaigned for her after suspending his presidential bid (much to the chagrin of the Bernie or Bust crowd, to stress), and b) that she enjoyed such a strong backing from the Democratic Party establishment. Otherwise, observers found fault with Clinton’s apparent defense in her memoir of running as a product of a moneyed political system that voters rejected—narrowly, yes, and in favor of a fake populist in Donald Trump, but even so. For a subset of the American electorate that already saw Hillary Clinton as out of touch, What Happened hasn’t really done much to change this perspective.
Owing to Clinton’s recent polarizing account, one is left to consider what will become of James Comey and his legacy. The level of discourse between Donald Trump and the former FBI director has been characterized by various sources as being remarkably catty given the stature of these two men, and whether this is a product of their egos, a social media-fueled culture of tit-for-tat personal attacks, or both, for those of us among the American public growing weary of pettiness between political figures without substance—will we never tire of hearing about the size of Trump and his hands?—this whole business gives us a reason to tune out.
Certainly, Comey is detested by people on the left and the right, with Republicans attacking him as a liar and leaker of information, and Democrats and other members of the anti-Trump crowd deriding his actions as indefensible. Their effect on the 2016 election notwithstanding, those familiar with DOJ policy were highly critical of the decisions to both disclose that the Bureau doesn’t recommend prosecuting Clinton for her “extremely sloppy” handling of her E-mails while as Secretary of State and to make it known that the investigation was being reopened. For all of Comey’s waxing philosophical on the desire for governmental transparency, in these instances, perhaps such disclosure was unwarranted. After all, the Federal Bureau of Investigation often requires confidentiality as a product of the type of work it does, and if Comey was concerned about a potential backlash from conservative circles if he failed to be more forthcoming about matters involving the Democrats’ presidential hopeful, this fear may likewise have been misplaced or overstated.
Evidently, James Comey sees A Higher Loyalty and his criticisms of the President as necessary given the present political climate, much as Hillary Clinton feels compelled to explain What Happened and to be a leading voice against Trump despite her stated desire not to run again for public office. Just the same, with the likes of Claire McCaskill and others cautioning Clinton about unabashed attacks on #45 and his loyal “deplorables” when midterm elections are fast approaching, it is worth asking how valuable Comey’s dissection of ethical leadership is when his own leadership skills are being brought into question. Comey served this country within the Department of Justice for nearly 25 years. Maybe he would best serve it now by showing more restraint.
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At the rate we’re going in this country, I tend to worry that, by the time we’ve thrown the last shovel of dirt on the events of the 2016 election, we’ll be in 2020, ready to elect a new president. I mean, I hope. Right now, it seems like the challenger to Donald Trump is an amorphous blob of old white people, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris. In essence, it’s one blob against another, and for whatever reason, a good deal of Republican voters support the blob with the bad hair, oversized ties, and predilection for golfing on the taxpayer’s dime. Not helping this trend is the more recent public reemergence of one of the election’s most prominent figures, fresh off a period of mourning filled with sorrowful hikes near her home in Chappaqua: none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton herself. Clinton, at a conference sponsored by Recode, the tech news website founded by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, spoke in an interview about why she lost the election.
As Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus tells it, though, she did so by “not merely relitigating the 2016 election but relitigating it like the relentless trial lawyer she once was.” This is to say that Hillary accepted responsibility for her part in her electoral loss—except that she didn’t really accept responsibility for her part in her loss. Instead, she blamed a myriad number of factors in her downfall, which may have contributed to her defeat, but only up to a certain point, and all told, the list seems more of a tiresome exercise in excuse-making than anything. Among the justifications thrown around by Hillary Clinton and enumerated by Marcus for her column: the failings of the Democratic National Committee; James Comey; the media, for overhyping her anticipated victory and for making a mountain out of her E-mail server molehill; the Russians; and sexism within the electorate and elsewhere, for making such a big stink about her Goldman Sachs speeches “when men got paid for the speeches they made” and for not believing a woman could be President of the United States. She also acknowledged the private E-mail server was a “mistake,” but, you know, one other people made too—cough, Colin Powell, cough—and for not being a perfect candidate—though no one’s perfect, right? Right?
In recounting these various reasons rattled off by Hillary Clinton, Ruth Marcus allows the Democratic Party nominee her “critique”—more so along the lines of Russian interference and Comey’s fateful letter than the complicated and hard-to-prove matter of misogyny—as well as her “venting,” especially after winning the popular vote. Marcus even concedes HRC her Trump-bashing, as Trump’s abnormality is of the sort about which no one should be silent, much less someone of her stature. Still, ultimately, Marcus is critical of the subject of her piece, as the very title of her column—”Hillary Clinton, smash your rearview mirror”—would signify. Citing the poor appetite other recent Democratic Party general election losers Al Gore and John Kerry had for retrospective analyses, Marcus has this commentary to offer:
But enough, already, with the seemingly never-ending, ever-expanding postmortem. Sure, Clinton was responding to questions, but if anyone knows how to duck a line of inquiry, it’s her. Meanwhile, the excuses — really, bringing up the DNC? — make her look smaller. Clinton is always at her best when she perseveres, not when she lashes out. It’s essential to understand what went wrong in 2016 and to call out the bad actors. Clinton is just the wrong messenger.
What Democrats crave most is not wallowing in theories about the defeat; it’s a template for resisting Trump now, and a vision for 2018 and 2020. Clinton’s obsessive summoning of 2016 gives Trump an excuse to change the subject from his missteps. “Crooked Hillary Clinton now blames everybody but herself,” he tweeted after the Recode interview.
And Clinton’s behavior doesn’t help would-be glass ceiling-crackers. Publicly calling out misogyny is probably not the best strategy for combating it, or for encouraging other women to run for office.
Hillary is not the only Democrat to engage in this kind of looking back in hindsight. To a certain extent, party leadership should reflect on where it went wrong in 2016 and where it continues to lose ground heading into 2018 and 2020. That said, there’s a right and a wrong way to do it, and Clinton’s way smacks of pettiness, however legitimate her finger-pointing may be. More importantly, the relentless retrospection is, by its nature, not a path forward for Democratic hopefuls in the next two to four years. By this token, Clinton’s evidently limitless blame game only reinforces the notion that her presidential aspirations were a vanity project, and that a fair deal of her support was incidental, a means to an end to further her political legacy. And going back to the idea of blaming the Democratic National Committee, as her detractors in and around the Democratic Party would be apt to point out, she has the DNC and the machinations of Debbie Wasserman Schultz to thank for making her eventual nomination for POTUS seem like a predestined coronation. Yea, verily, that DWS and her cronies had it in for the Bernie Sanders campaign was one of the worst-kept secrets in American politics next to Ted Cruz strangling a man in the 90s just to watch him die. Come on—you just know that man has seriously contemplated murder at least once in his life. They don’t invoke the name of the Zodiac Killer for nothing with him—just saying.
As a product of a string of losses up and down ballots over the past decade or so, Democrats have gotten into the habit of making excuses for coming up short in race after race, as well as trying to claim moral victories for candidates doing reasonably well in individual contests held in red states—even though the criticism may be well-founded that party leadership is not doing enough to support these candidates, especially when they adopt more progressive platforms (see also James Thompson, Rob Quist). Besides merely failing to truly own up to one’s shortcomings, though, the specter of Hillary Clinton is one that is arguably not only counterproductive for a party in disarray, but detrimental to American politics at large. We already know the kinds of diatribes that those on Donald Trump’s corner of the political right are wont to throw Hillary’s way. Crooked Hillary. Lock her up. Of course, the irony is not lost on the rest of us in consideration of Trump’s manifold ethical, legal, and moral conflicts. This notwithstanding, Clinton’s critics on the left (“Shillary,” anyone?), regardless if—and I’m primarily talking about the average voter here, but hey, who knows—they truly comprehend what they are talking about, commonly refer to HRC as a “neoliberal.” This is not a term of endearment.
Someone who does know what he is talking about, meanwhile, is Noam Chomsky, who continues to be highly regarded in intellectual circles for his views, political and otherwise. In a fairly wide-ranging interview with Christopher Lydon for The Nation, Chomsky makes a central point about the pitfalls of neoliberalism and what we as a nation need to do to truly reclaim our ideal of “democracy,” and in the context of historical threats to our bodily well-being in nuclear war and catastrophic climate change, he outlines the neoliberal tradition as its own threat, in that its persistent influence may only hasten the onset of the other two. Chomsky explains:
So there’s the two existential threats that we’ve created—which might in the case of nuclear war maybe wipe us out; in the case of environmental catastrophe, create a severe impact—and then some.
A third thing happened. Beginning around the ’70s, human intelligence dedicated itself to eliminating, or at least weakening, the main barrier against these threats. It’s called neoliberalism. There was a transition at that time from the period of what some people call “regimented capitalism,” the ’50s and ’60s, the great growth period, egalitarian growth, a lot of advances in social justice and so on[…]. That changed in the ’70s with the onset of the neoliberal era that we’ve been living in since. And if you ask yourself what this era is, its crucial principle is undermining mechanisms of social solidarity and mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy.
It’s not called that. What it’s called is “freedom,” but “freedom” means a subordination to the decisions of concentrated, unaccountable, private power. That’s what it means. The institutions of governance—or other kinds of association that could allow people to participate in decision making—those are systematically weakened. Margaret Thatcher said it rather nicely in her aphorism about “there is no society, only individuals.” She was actually, unconsciously no doubt, paraphrasing Marx, who in his condemnation of the repression in France said, “The repression is turning society into a sack of potatoes, just individuals, an amorphous mass can’t act together.” That was a condemnation. For Thatcher, it’s an ideal—and that’s neoliberalism. We destroy or at least undermine the governing mechanisms by which people at least in principle can participate to the extent that society’s democratic. So weaken them, undermine unions, other forms of association, leave a sack of potatoes and meanwhile transfer decisions to unaccountable private power all in the rhetoric of freedom.
Hmm, make it so average people can’t participate in political decision-making, weaken unions or otherwise fail to safeguard attempts to undermine them, and transfer power to unaccountable, private entities. Yep, this sounds like today’s standard operating procedure in Washington—and before we go pointing our fingers at the “they” across the aisle, understand this is not merely a Republican problem, though the GOP does tend to be the biggest offender herein. Indeed, Democrats have worshiped at the temple of neoliberalism themselves—cordoning off the press and public alike at big-ticket private fundraisers, failing to stand with the working class when Republicans actively work to diminish forms of organized labor, serving special interests and other moneyed influences—and Hillary Clinton was and perhaps still is the example par excellence of the out-of-touch elitist Democrat who tries unconvincingly to appeal to the masses as one of their own. Come to think of it, by the time she had the nomination sewn up, Clinton wasn’t really trying that hard to appear down-to-earth. Or likable. Or trustworthy. She was making speeches about economic inequality while wearing a Giorgio Armani jacket. She was never going to let you know what she said in those Goldman Sachs speeches—#DealWithIt. She knew you probably didn’t believe a damn word about what she said about her E-mail server or Benghazi or the Clinton Foundation, but shit, she had come this far denying any involvement in anything underhanded, so she might as well stick to the script and try to ride out the storm, throwing darts at Donald Trump and calling his supporters “deplorables” and such. Hey, give the devil in Prada her due—it almost worked.
Almost. Instead, an American electorate, much of it deeply resentful about being looked down upon by liberal elites and ready to blame those unlike them, those who they can’t—or won’t—understand, voted Donald Trump into the White House largely based on anger, distrust, and fear. Noam Chomsky recognizes this state of politics today characterized by the rise of nationalism in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and elsewhere, seeing the prevailing trend not only as predictable, but justified. After all, these voters are raging “against socioeconomic policies which have harmed the majority of the population for a generation and have consciously and in principle undermined democratic participation.” As Chomsky concludes, “Why shouldn’t there be anger?” In Europe, as Chomsky outlines, democracy is undermined in a very “direct” way. with the likes of the European Central Bank, the European Commission, the EU’s executive wing, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) calling the shots, handing down decisions with minimal input from the bourgeoisie. The implication herein is that, in the United States, stifling democracy is done more indirectly, but no less insidiously. Among the factors cited in the rise of neoliberalism since its beginnings at the end of the 70s is the massive growth of financial institutions to encompass a larger and larger percentage of the world of corporate profits, all the while becoming disconnected from the “real economy.” Not to mention the likes of Goldman Sachs is well represented in the Trump administration, despite the boast #45 would “drain the swamp” from the jump.
Noam Chomsky goes into even more depth concerning which specific doctrines are to be considered forerunners of the modern neoliberal tradition and, for that matter, the neoconservative movement. I’ll let you seek that out and fill in the gaps as you see fit. The main idea is yet quite apparent, though. From both sides of the political equation, the bargaining and decision-making power of the American public has been nullified—and this is by design. On the conservative side, the rhetoric has been one of vilifying the “godless” left and taking back the country from these “rampaging” sorts. Apparently, it takes a cadre of crusaders to nullify the dangerous advances of a national liberal agenda. We must protect our bathrooms and our businesses from all this LGBT nonsense! On the liberal side, meanwhile, there is an active suppression of the more authentic grassroots forces on this end of the spectrum, and this clash of ideals would appear to be exemplified in the current battle for the soul of the Democratic Party between its more traditionalist wing and its upstart progressive faction.
This, broadly speaking, is why we have the Democratic National Committee essentially admitting it intentionally thwarted Bernie Sanders’ presidential aspirations, or Democratic leadership inserting Tom Perez into the mix for chair of the DNC, a largely ceremonial position, pointedly to proscribe Keith Ellison’s chances. As for Hillary Clinton, her dismissive comments of the recent past and the not-so-recent past are of the ilk that even the staunchest Democratic loyalists would be wont to cringe. Baskets of deplorables. Super predators to be “brought to heel.” The Trans-Pacific Partnership as the “gold standard” in trade deals. The now-infamous “Why aren’t I 50 points ahead?” comment. The knock on Hillary over the years is that her opinions on policy issues have changed markedly from moment to moment, and while she and her supporters would characterize this as an “evolution” of her viewpoints, others less inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt see it as a chameleonic tendency to pivot her position to suit her political needs. Criminal justice reform, gay marriage, Iraq, the Keystone XL pipeline, trade—on these issues and more, Clinton has not only changed her stated position, but for certain topics, has shifted appreciably in a short time. Perhaps at no time was this more glaring than during the 2016 primaries, when her critics saw her ideas “evolve” seemingly in response to concern about Bernie’s prolonged and fervent support from his base, thus marking a stark contrast between the two candidates. For better or worse, Bernie stuck to his guns. Contrasted with the shiftiness of Clinton and the babbling incoherence of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders easily emerged as the most authentic of the candidates running last year. Of course, authenticity goes only so far when you’re fighting an establishment candidate aided by superdelegates, not to mention your own relative obscurity and stances the naysayers deride as “unrealistic” and “socialist.” Universal health care? What, you want everyone to have access to quality health care? What an asshole!
Based on my admiration for Bernie and my 2,500-or-so words up to this point, it might appear that I think Hillary Clinton is a bad person. The truth is, I don’t, if for no other reason than I don’t really know what she believes. The HRC we know today strikes me as someone who is a product of this political system that has justifiably caused so much resentment and unrest among the constituencies of countries all over the world, one that values campaign donations and votes over ideas and real progress. Perhaps I am naïve to think in this way, and should consider Hillary a more-than-willing participant in the political games that pass for discourse and negotiation today. Then again, Clinton is not the only bad actor in this regard. Wait a minute—I sound like Hillary trying to defend herself about her use of a private E-mail server. Have I started thinking like Hillary Clinton? Get it off! GET IT OFF!
Regardless of what I may believe of her, though, the prevailing opinion of the Pantsuit Valkyrie still seems fairly negative, although it is probably helped by the shit-show that is President Trump’s tenure thus far. Hell, Trump’s first 100+ days have been so bad it almost has made liberals like myself pine for the days of George W. Bush. Almost. The creation of vaguely sympathetic figures in Hillary and Dubya and James Comey post-firing notwithstanding, and whether or not she has any political aspirations for 2020 or beyond, the retrospective blame game is not one that benefits the Democratic Party, nor does it reflect kindly on the person throwing stones in a proverbial glass house. Besides, speaking of glass and ceilings and all, while it certainly is neither mine nor any man’s place to tell Hillary Clinton what to do with her political career, if she feels she has anything left to prove, she might be advised to think better of it and consider all that she has achieved. She’s been a First Lady, a U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, was the first female nominee of a major U.S. political party, and won the 2016 popular vote. That’s, ahem, not too shabby. Plus, if endeavors like the Clinton Foundation really are as meritorious as members of her party and the media would make it seem, then she just as well could devote the bulk of her efforts to this cause. And then there’s the occasional six-figure speaking fee. Not that she needs the money, mind you, but I suppose she feels valued because of it.
So yes, in summary, Hillary Clinton was not the worst presidential candidate or perhaps even a bad candidate, but given the Democratic Party’s profound recent struggles, her personal baggage, and an electorate more angry about being marginalized by the nation’s “elites” than someone like me can profess to remember, she is not the kind of dynamic, grassroots-oriented leader the Dems should want. Accordingly, I have but one further piece of advice: please, Hillary, go back into hiding. It might be better for all of us if you do.
When someone blows up a physical embodiment of the year “2016” and encourages people to tell that year to go f**k itself, you know it’s been an abnormally bad one. John Oliver took the opportunity to give 2016 this proper send-off (a report on this event was equally properly filed under the category “F**K 2016” by Aimée Lutkin and Jezebel), and that HBO agreed to afford Oliver the chance to explode something of that magnitude likewise speaks to the horror that was this past 366 days. That’s right—in case you had forgotten, 2016 was a leap year, so all-too-appropriately, we were given one extra day to protract the misery. The Julian and Gregorian calendars can eat a collective dick on that front.
I only started this blog in the middle of June of this year, so I missed the chance to comment on some things that happened earlier in 2016. With over 50 posts under my belt on United States of Joe, however, there’s still enough topics to revisit to make reflecting on the year that was worthwhile. Well, at least as far as I’m concerned. And since, despite my overall belief in fair and democratic principles, this blog is not a democracy but a Joe-ocracy, that’s the agenda for this session. You’re welcome. So, kick back. Get plenty of champagne ready—noting how awful the past year has been, it may take quite a bit of alcohol to get into the spirit. And get ready to count down to 2017. It’s time to give our own send-off to 2016, middle fingers in the air and all.
Well, before we take the plunge into the abjectly negative, let’s go back to the app-based sensation that was Pokémon Go. Since its initial breakthrough success which had critics saying the smartphone game had ushered in a new era of augmented reality and had fundamentally changed the way we look at mobile gaming, downloads and use of the title have understandably cooled. In light of the downward trend, members of the media are now looking at Pokémon Go altogether as a disappointment, especially in light of some updates which failed to impress. You need to walk 3 KM just for one stinking Charmander candy? I’m never going to get that Charizard! NEVER, I SAY!
Now that I’m done being dramatic, not only do I find these charges against the game and its maker Niantic overblown (although, seriously, those Buddy System ratios are pretty shitty), but expectations, buttressed by the app’s initial success, were probably always too high. Though Niantic did its part to make the game palatable to people of all ages and ability levels by making gameplay largely based around throwing Poké Balls and by simplifying battles, the players who are most likely to find the experience rewarding are fans of the original game, who are used to grinding for experience, completing the game as completely as possible, and overall, staying in it for the long haul. It’s not Angry Birds. It’s not Candy Crush Saga. It’s not Fruit freaking Ninja. You have to walk and work for your rewards. You know, when you can’t pay money for some of them. Either way, you still have to walk!
When Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign in July and formally endorsed Hillary Clinton, it admittedly felt like a punch to the gut. For all the mental preparation made, when the moment actually arrived, it still hurt. What made Sanders’ decision and the associated feelings yet worse, though, was the reception his standing behind Clinton received and the accusations that got hurled around in the wake of the announcement. Con-man. Sell-out. Traitor. Looking at Bernie’s endorsement in a purely ideological vacuum, it is easy to assess this move as a betrayal of his principles and what he stands for. In this instance, however, context is everything, and with Donald Trump having sewn up the Republican Party nomination, Sanders saw greater merit in trying to unite Democrats and other prospective voters in an effort to defeat Trump. Ultimately, the orange one shocked the world and scored an electoral victory, but Bernie Sanders did his best to avoid this eventuality. That not enough Americans either came out to vote or otherwise didn’t buy what Hillary was selling is largely on her, not Bernie.
Of course, in the immediate aftermath of the suspension of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the remaining candidates looked to capitalize. Even with the bulk of Sanders supporters presumed to be going over to Hillary Clinton’s camp, Donald Trump himself made an instantaneous pitch to those “feeling the Bern,” trying to tap into their fervent and justifiable anger at the political establishment. Third-party candidates like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, too, though, made a play for these suddenly available votes, rationalizing that there was no better time than now than to tell the two major parties to shove it. In endorsing Clinton, Bernie repeatedly tried to communicate the danger and inadequacies of Trump as a presidential candidate first and foremost, even though he may have largely been preaching to the choir, as younger voters by and large detested “the Donald.” He also, meanwhile, cautioned against a “protest vote” for someone like Johnson, Stein, or even Harambe (and yes, he would’ve loved to follow this election), realizing, as did all these newfound suitors for Bernie backers’ affections, that the votes of his faithful could swing the election by helping to decide key swing states. To reiterate, it didn’t work all that well, but the effort on Sanders’ part was there.
Ultimately, as Bernie Sanders himself will insist, his run for President, while important, was always more concerned with starting a revolution and getting more Americans, especially younger voters and working-class individuals, involved with the political process, even at the local level. Whether the energy behind his campaign and the urge for progressive grass-roots activism is sustainable in the United States is yet to be seen, but either way, there is yet room for optimism that people will want to keep active and informed as a means of exerting greater control over their own destiny. Thus, you may call Bernie any name you want, but I choose to label him an inspiration, and I feel history will bear out this sentiment as well.
As we Bernie Sanders supporters worked our way through the Five Stages of Grief and Loss, eventually, we had to come to accept that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump was going to be our next President. In fact, even the non-Berners were forced to do the same, in all likelihood ensuring many who were on the fence—that is, on whether or not they would vote at all—would choose the latter option and just stay home. In my piece referenced in the title of this section, I mused about the notion that maybe we, as a collective electorate, did not deserve better than these choices that a significant portion of said electorate neither trusted nor cared for much. Ever since 2000, when Ralph Nader was accused of costing Al Gore the election (even though Gore lost that shit on his own, with an admitted probable helping from electoral shenanigans down in Florida), Americans have been highly critical of parties like the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, with the usual refrain being some combination of “they could play spoiler to a legitimate candidate” or “you’re throwing away your vote” if you opt for one of them.
However, to invoke the words of Mr. Nader himself, not only is this attitude politically bigoted, as it negates the will of the individual to make an informed choice in accordance with his or her conscience, but it nullifies our bargaining power with the two major parties. After all, if we blindly vote either Democratic or Republican, beyond losing the election, what motivation does either party have to institute reform that better reflects the needs and wants of the voting public? Especially for members of the working class, both Democrats and Republicans have seemed to take them for granted, which at least partially explains why the Dems lost this election and why Trump and Sanders achieved the levels of popularity they did this election cycle.
In the end, though, despite the increased visibility of Gary Johnson and Jill Stein in the lead-up to the election, most Americans who voted (and there was a good portion of the country who could’ve voted which didn’t) cast their ballots for either Hillary or Donald. As historically unfavorable as these two candidates were, and for all their flaws—Trump as an idiot and professional con-man stoking the flames of fear and hatred, Clinton as an out-of-touch elitist with a penchant for pandering and expensive Giorgio Armani jackets—better than nine-tenths of voters decided they had to pick one of the two, if for no other reason than to block the other candidate they liked even less. Which is pretty shitty, if you ask me. Personally, even with the knowledge that she wouldn’t win, I voted for Jill Stein, as I felt neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton had earned my vote. That relative few other Americans opted out of the two-party paradigm, however, signals to me that we, as a nation, are not ready to demand political change as strongly as we should. It’s either red and blue in these United States, and if you don’t like either color, the present message, unfortunately, is to get the f**k out.
Holy f**k, indeed. In retrospect, I’m not sure why the pollsters were so surprised that Donald Trump scored the “upset” victory, or why we were so easily convinced that Hillary Clinton was such a strong favorite to win the presidency, when their models were consistently wrong or failed to predict the magnitudes of certain results throughout the primary season. At any rate, as must be reiterated for anyone who sees Trump’s win as a mandate, the man who considers himself a master of “The Art of the Deal” won the presidency on the strength of electoral votes, not because he had a resounding victory in the popular vote (in fact, he lost by more than 2 million votes, and it apparently tears him up inside)—and certainly not because he ran a stellar campaign.
So, how did Trump win? Looking at the exit poll data, certain trends do tend to stick out. Regionally, Donald Trump fared much better in the Midwest and the South, and of course, he carried key swing states, notably those in the Rust Belt (e.g. Ohio, Wisconsin). In terms of demographic data, Trump had an easy advantage among male voters and voters 45 and above, not to mention he held an appeal among less educated individuals and the wealthiest earners (a seeming paradox, though as evidenced by how they spend their money, rich people aren’t necessarily all that smart—look at Trump himself!), as well as evangelicals and married people, but perhaps most notable of all, whites voted at almost a 60% clip for Donald Trump, while close to three of four non-whites went for Hillary Clinton. CNN commentator Van Jones referred to this aspect of the results as a “white-lash”, as in “white backlash” after eight years of a black president the Republicans have characterized as a cause of America’s problems and someone with a secret Muslim agenda, and it’s hard to argue otherwise, really. When the former head of the Ku Klux Klan is cheering you on and citing you as an inspiration, you know white supremacist beliefs, racism and xenophobia helped you to victory.
On a somewhat related note, the thematic reasons why Trump voters chose the way did are also significant. Speaking of racism and xenophobia, supporters of Donald Trump rated immigration trends and terrorism the most important issues facing the United States. Screw the economy and foreign relations—let’s worry some more about brown people. As for the quality that best drew voters to Trump, it wasn’t whether the candidate cares about them, exhibits good judgment, or has the right experience—those voters tended to go for Clinton—but whether he or she could bring about “change.” Whatever the heck that means.
In a nutshell, that’s why Donald Trump is set to be our next President. As for who we can blame for this, besides the obvious in Trump himself and his supporters, there are three core enablers for the man’s political success. Certainly, the Republican Party let him waltz right in and secure the nomination after a barrage of similarly weak candidates failed to stand in his way, and after the GOP at large sowed the seeds of fear and hate he exploited. The media, too, acted irresponsibly and selfishly, chasing ratings while failing to challenge Trump on his lack of defined policy, his factual inaccuracies, his reckless language, or even his refusal to publish his tax returns. In addition, the Democratic Party, in its own right bears some responsibility. Among its most damning sins are its failure to stand up for the working class, its inability to protect jobs and wages, its support for disastrous trade deals like NAFTA and TPP, its complicity with corporations and wealthy donors, and its allowing antitrust laws to lapse or otherwise become weaker, thereby consolidating power into fewer and fewer hands. The failure to stop Donald Trump is a collective one, and though it probably won’t happen, these enablers should do some serious soul-searching for fear of endangering their long-term prospects.
Should anything happen to Donald Trump, whether in terms of his health (not that I’m wishing for the man to pull a William Henry Harrison or anything) or impeachment, the next man in line may not be all that much of an improvement. Mike Pence, who has been governing the proud state of Indiana, has arguably made a number of shitty choices during his tenure. He vetoed a refund of a tax overcharge on the basis it would have cost too much to administer. Before he got too much (warranted) negative feedback, he proposed JustIN, a state-run news service some likened to Pravda in the Soviet era. He rejected Medicaid expansion in his state under the Affordable Care Act on principle, to the detriment of his constituents. He insisted on a ban against a needle exchange program that was effective in limiting the spread of HIV related to a particular drug injection, and later reversed his position, but refused to use state funding to provide for such exchanges. Perhaps most notably, he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, which allowed for discrimination against the LGBT community and cost Indiana some $60 million in revenue before its reversal. An opponent of gay marriage and women controlling their own reproductive rights, Mike Pence is one of a seemingly increasingly long line of conservative Republican leaders who puts evangelical beliefs ahead of his state’s and the nation’s best interests. He’s not Trump, but he’s no rose either.
In terms of what damage he may do in terms of signing legislation into law and what damage he likely already is doing in his appointees for key positions (Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy—are you f**king serious?), that Donald Trump has been thrust into a position of immense power is bad enough, but his association with the far-right and his inspiration to the likes of David Duke makes for some shitty ripple effects just the same, let me tell you. I said earlier that Trump’s electoral victory should not be seen as a mandate given how he lost the popular vote and in light of how divided we are as a nation. And yet, the Breitbart crowd and members of the so-called “alt-right” have taken it as such, viewing themselves as fighters in a culture war they are winning, standing against political correctness and other liberal “absurdities.” They also apparently like boycotting companies who don’t stand for their white supremacist agenda. You know, even though they probably don’t use their products anyway. But boycott it is! TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP!
When Hillary Clinton formally acknowledged the alt-right in a speech during the campaign, though I feel it needed to be said, it further legitimized this loosely-constructed movement that coincides with the likes of Gamergate’s sexist perpetuators. That Stephen Bannon has been given a prominent advisory role in Trump’s administration, though, should concern us more conscientious Americans. Donald Trump is not normal, and those who sanction his misdeeds and try to normalize his objectionable behavior are standing in the way of progress. Furthermore, the gang mentality with which many of them operate, encouraging online attacks on and/or death threats against individuals whose values clash with theirs, is troubling, as is the unwillingness of social media services to more aggressively pursue those accounts which violate their terms of service for fear of losing traffic. In short, the alt-right has arrived, as much as many of us might not like to dignify them with a response, and it is incumbent upon those of us who have respect for others—not just respect for white males who refuse to admit to their privilege—to speak out against their behavior and words as dangerous and wrong.
Before Donald Trump swooped in to save the day and stop the threat of taco trucks on every corner in the United States, the United Kingdom gave us a teaser trailer for the U.S. presidential election with a referendum vote on whether or not to remain in the European Union. As with the election in the States, the experts predicted voters would do the sensible thing; if this were an analogy in the vein of the old SATs: UNITED STATES: ELECT HILLARY CLINTON :: UNITED KINGDOM: VOTE REMAIN. And, as with the election in the States, voters did the exact opposite.
The parallels are uncanny. The decision to leave the EU was, as it was in the United States, mediated by a greater incidence of older voters opting to do the wrong thing. Like with Trump’s anti-immigrant appeals and vague notions of “making America great again,” Leave voters were swayed by visions of “securing the nation’s borders” and “taking back control” of the country’s economy, not to mention equally empty promises of the UK Independence Party. Additionally, voters seemed to be making choices that were a direct rejection of existing politics. Barack Obama, David Cameron—either way you slice it, the public clamored for change, no matter who would bring it or what it would entail. The fallout from both votes is still being assessed, but the discontentment of the working-class voter and upward trends in outspokenness among white nationalists worldwide suggest the U.S. and UK votes are not isolated incidents, and in turn, that the risk of other Brexit-like events occurring in the future in other countries is all-too-real. The winds of change are blowing, and one can only hope our houses don’t get knocked over when the gusts have subsided.
Contrary to the apparent beliefs of some, black people don’t enjoy getting mowed down by police at routine traffic stops. While police shootings may not have been any more numerous in 2016 than in years past, through the advent of cellphones and other camera-based technologies, violence involving police certainly has become more visible. Whatever the precise rates of deaths related to encounters between civilians and police, it would seem as though we have a lot of progress to make regarding recognition of the disparity of treatment people of color receive at the hands of police and that which is received by whites, regardless of whether the person accosted by one or more officers has a gun or not.
A perfect illustration of the failure of much of white America to confront its privilege in this regard comes in arguments about the very name and nature of black activism in the United States which exists in large part due to documented police brutality. In response to hearing the moniker Black Lives Matter, or merely even the phrase “black lives matter,” some people are too quick to “correct” the original speaker with the phrase “all lives matter,” or counter with their own version (i.e. “blue lives matter”) that serves to negate the critical recognition of blackness inherent in the initial figure of speech. To me, however, this falls prey to a fairly obvious logical trap: if all lives matter, then black lives, as a subset of all lives, should matter too, and there should be no problem accepting that terminology. “Black lives matter” does not mean black lives should matter more than other lives, but simply that they should matter as much as white lives, blue lives, or any other color lives of which one can think. Clearly, though, they don’t, or else there wouldn’t be a need for organizations such as Black Lives Matter.
The need to scrutinize adherence by individual officers to specified protocol when engaging possible suspects, as well as the systems which serve to shield “rogue” cops from criticism and/or prosecution, is undermined by two key strategies of those who react to protests with knee-jerk defenses of our uniformed police. The first is to question the integrity of the victim—yes, victim—who, because he or she is labeled a “thug” or has a history with the law, evidently deserves to be effectively lynched by the police who intercede him or her. The second is to de-legitimize efforts of black activists wholesale, conflating them unfairly with those who loot and otherwise take advantage of violence and associated protests for their own gain, likening them to terrorists, or wrongly insisting they are advocating for the slaughter of police. In both cases, this is counterproductive, regressive thinking.
As some have argued, those cops who are too nervous not to shoot someone at a routine encounter shouldn’t be placed in such a highly leveraged situation, and either way, good police—which comprise the majority of forces around the nation, let’s be clear—should be appreciative of efforts to root out bad actors from their ranks. As for the protests against police brutality, this doesn’t equate to disrespect for the police, nor does kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem constitute an affront to our military, as Colin Kaepernick’s example reminds us. Black Lives Matter et al. don’t want to see law and order dissolved. They just want to see police officers and officials who wear the badge held accountable when they do wrong, and at a very basic level, not to be utterly afraid they might die when getting pulled over by a squad car. It’s 2016. We need to do better as a country in addressing racial inequality, especially within the purview of criminal justice.
There have been too many mass shootings in the United States of late, but the Orlando nightclub shooting, in particular, was particularly devastating for many of us. Not only was it a tremendous loss of life, but that the LGBT community was apparently the specific target of the violence made this brutality that much worse for a population that regularly faces hatred and persecution. Speaking for myself, it is difficult to comprehend how someone could harbor such hate for themselves and others that they would wish to walk into a building and start firing indiscriminately. Perhaps this idea gets the tiniest bit easier to understand when we understand this hate works both ways. As jihadists would seek to inspire terror in the West through bombings and mass shootings, white nationalism encountered in Austria, France, Holland, the United Kingdom and the United States, among other nations, has created an environment that has often proved hostile to Muslims, and has made the prospect of accepting more refugees from war-torn countries like Syria decidedly poor. I mean, Donald Trump ran on a platform of which one of the key tenets was a temporary ban on travel to the U.S. for all Muslims. It’s incredible, and incredibly shameful, at that.
Never mind the idea that all this bluster about “bombing the shit out of ISIS” may actually be good for the Islamic State’s ability to recruit and strengthening its resolve. The jingoists among us would have everyone believe that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with the laws of the United States, that it is a “cancer” to be snuffed out, and that American Muslims who don’t do enough to help discover would-be terrorists in their midst (which, evidently, is quite easy) are guilty in their own right, and regardless, likely merit surveillance of their homes/places of worship and tests administered to gauge their love for and commitment to the U-S-of-A. This conflation of Islam, a religion which preaches peace at its core, and the bastardized religion ISIS and other jihadists/”radical Islamists” practice, is a patently false equivalency.
For the sake of an analogy—one for which I can’t take credit, let me stress—ISIS is to everyday Muslims what the Ku Klux Klan is to white people who aren’t unabashed racists. In both cases, the majority disavows the hate and violence these groups perpetuate. This is by no means saying we shouldn’t be vigilant against individuals who would wish to do us harm. As bad as the Orlando massacre was, though, and as unforgivable as the actions of an organization like ISIS/ISIL have proven, our responses and the negative feelings that accompany some of these reactions reveal an ugly side to our patriotism as well. In the demonization and the pursuit of “the other,” we run the clear risk of losing ourselves.
I didn’t originally write about it, but the Chicago Cubs actually won the World Series. To wit, I have neither observed nor heard any stories about swarms of locusts descending on fields or rivers of blood forming, but I’m not ruling them out just yet. The apocalypse takes time to develop, you know?
Wells Fargo was forced to fire thousands of mid-level managers for directing employees to create fake accounts and sign up customers for services without their knowledge, essentially making them scapegoats for the company’s aggressive sales model. The company eventually apologized—sort of—and John Stumpf was eventually removed from the role of CEO, but the big bank largely closed the book on this sordid chapter of its history without really admitting wrongdoing, and Stumpf had a nice golden parachute on which to drift to security. Meanwhile, Wells Fargo has apparently learned absolutely nothing from this fiasco, as new CEO Tim Sloan has expressed the belief that the company and the banking industry as a whole could actually do with less regulation. Evidently, it’s all fun and games when you get to play with other people’s money.
FBI director James Comey, despite finding that Hillary Clinton and her aides were extremely careless in their handling of E-mail while Clinton was Secretary of State, that Clinton should’ve known certain E-mails were classified and didn’t belong on an unsecured server in the first place, that the State Department was generally lacking in security protocol for classified E-mails, and that Hillary used multiple unsecured devices in locations where American adversaries could have exploited this vulnerability, held a press conference to announce he was not recommending charges be filed against the Democratic Party nominee. Then, a week before the general election, he announced that the Bureau was looking anew into Clinton’s E-mails, which she and her campaign cite as a factor in why she lost. So, nice going, Director Comey! You’ve undermined confidence in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and perhaps swayed the election! Don’t pat yourself on the back too hard!
Chris Christie not only failed to capture the Republican Party nomination, but he was overlooked by Donald Trump for vice president despite being, more or less, his manservant. Oh, and Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority, and Bridget Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, two key figures in “Bridge-gate,” were found guilty on all counts in a trial related to the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, and a separate criminal trial is set to take place for Christie himself. Congratulations, Chris. You played yourself.
Puerto Rico defaulted on its debt, a result fueled by a combination of fiscal and economic factors, including the repeal of tax breaks for businesses, the creation and sale of triple tax-exempt municipal bonds, the inability of the commonwealth to declare for bankruptcy, exempting wealthy investors and businesses from paying capital gains taxes, “vulture” hedge funds buying up bonds and demanding a full payday, and institutions like UBS selling risky bonds they themselves underwrote to unsuspecting customers. Today, Puerto Rico’s financial future is yet in peril with individuals who are alleged to have helped the island along the path to crisis serving on its appointed oversight board, and with Donald Trump being a crazy mofo. Also, the U.S. Virgin Islands may be on the way to its own debt crisis. Um, huzzah?
In some good news, the Trans-Pacific Partnership seems to be all but dead, being disliked on both sides of the political aisle. Also, the Dakota Access Pipeline is on indefinite hold, as the Army Corps of Engineers found more research needed to be done regarding the environmental effects of its intended route through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Of course, supporters of these canceled or postponed initiatives may yet redouble their efforts, so we concerned progressives can’t really relax. At least we can enjoy a short breather before the ball drops, eh?
In the title of this piece (remember back that far?), I reference the notion that 2017 has to be better than 2016. I’m not sure it amounts to much, though, beyond wishful thinking. If the best qualification for improvement which comes to mind is that we won’t be electing Donald Trump, it’s cold comfort in light of the fact he’ll already be President. Going back to his appointees, if they are any evidence, the country is set upon a bumpy path for the next four years, or until the man gets impeached—whichever comes first. His Defense and National Security Cabinet leaders view Islam as a threat to America. His Education Secretary is an opponent of public schools, despite never having attended one. His Energy Secretary infamously once forgot the name of the department he has been tapped to helm. His Health and Human Services director wants to privatize everything and largely gut social programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. His HUD Secretary knows nothing about housing administration.
Wait, I’m not done yet! His head of the Justice Department failed to be confirmed as a federal judge once upon a time because he was an out-and-out racist. His Labor Secretary opposes raising the minimum wage. His Secretary of State has likely financial ties to Vladimir Putin. His Transportation Secretary is married to Mitch McConnell—and that’s evidence enough of poor judgment. His Treasury Secretary oversaw 50,000 or so foreclosures from his position within OneWest Bank, an entity which was accused of unethical practices and discrimination against minorities. His EPA head is a climate change denier. His Small Business Administration director is former CEO of a fake wrestling empire. And his United Nations representative has no foreign policy experience. Irresponsible does not begin to describe these selections, and fingers are crossed that one or more of them fail to get confirmed by the Senate.
So, yeah, I’m not incredibly optimistic about the United States’ prospects right now. The silver lining, as I see it, is that more and more Americans are waking up to the realization that our system is broken and that it doesn’t work for everyone, and with luck, that number will grow as the sheen wears off the shiny promises Trump has made and can’t hope to keep. I wouldn’t have wished for a Donald Trump presidency in a thousand years, but if this hastens the movement of the nation in a more progressive direction, so be it. For those of us who refuse to accept Trump and the America he has envisioned as normal, and who insist that we’ve come too far as a country to simply put the train in reverse, the resistance starts now. 2017, we look to you in strengthening our resolve. And 2016, once more, you can go f**k yourself.
A few days ago, NBC News aired a Commander-in-Chief Forum with presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump prominently featured, and to say it was not well received would be a bit of an understatement. To be fair, NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andy Lack—not to be confused with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck—singularly praised moderator Matt Lauer’s performance during this television special, and the presentation did garner some 15 million viewers. To be less fair, however, Lack’s lauding of Lauer’s handling of the forum may be singular in that he seems to be the only person who thought the whole shebang was capably handled. Members of the press, officials from past presidential administrations, pundits, and social media critics alike blasted Matt Lauer’s handling of the admittedly-limited thirty minutes devoted to interviewing both Clinton and Trump. Among the points of contention from the dissatisfied peanut gallery:
Lauer spent about a third of his time with Hillary Clinton talking about her ongoing E-mail scandal, while glossing over a number of arguably more important topics, such as national security.
Lauer did not fact-check Donald Trump when he made the claim that he never supported the Iraq War, even when most of the audience seemed to be aware he totally f**king did.
Lauer appeared to let Trump be, you know, himself and talk over the person asking him the questions, while frequently interrupting Clinton, inspiring allegations of sexism.
Lauer did not press Trump more strongly on stupid shit he said or has said in the past, such as the Republican Party nominee’s Tweet which evidently suggested it’s women’s fault by enlisting in the first place for getting sexually assaulted in the U.S. military, or his assertion that he knows more about ISIS than the actual American generals in charge of combat operations in the Middle East, or even his continued support for Vladimir Putin, a man who was instrumental in the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and who may or may not be behind hacks of the Democratic National Committee.
In other words, Lauer more critically interviewed Olympic swimmer and professional moron Ryan Lochte than he did a man who might actually become President of the United f**king States.
Perhaps it is no great wonder with public relations disasters such as the Commander-in-Chief Forum in mind to hear news such as this report back from June from Gallup that Americans’ confidence in newspapers has gone down 10% in the past decade from 30% to 20%, and that their faith in television news has likewise declined by 10% from 31% to 21%. It should be noted that other institutions asked about in this same survey have their own confidence problems, including churches/organized religion (down 11% to 41%), banks (down 22% to 27%), and Congress (down 10% to a mere 9%). Still, Americans’ distaste for and mistrust of the news media is real, something that neither bodes well for the success and continued survival of various news outlets, nor augurs particularly auspiciously for an informed public, at that. Seeing these statistics in a vacuum, it’s hard to tell, in chicken-egg fashion, whether flagging confidence in the mainstream media has fueled the downturn of newspapers and cable TV, whether public interest has waned in response to an inferior product already on the decline, or, like the ouroboros—the snake eating its own tail—these two trends exist not within a linear cause-effect relationship, but rather as part of a circular duality that feeds on itself. If the last case is indeed true to reality, this is doubly bad, for not only does this set of circumstances likely accelerate the process of disintegration, but if we are still thinking of serpents after the last metaphor, we are likely profoundly scared in an Indiana Jones-like way. DAMMIT! I HATE SNAKES, AND I HATE MSNBC!
On the subject of the decline of newspapers as a source of information, undoubtedly, the rise of television and later the Internet meant there was only so much consumer attention to go around, and online content and news providers have an added leg up on newspapers in being able to tailor advertising to individual users, which hurts print media’s ability to generate valuable ad revenue. From a cost perspective, too, newspapers fight a losing battle in trying to limit expenses in light of the burden of overhead, with clear disadvantages in the price of physical circulation, printing each edition, or even rewarding writers and other employees for their services. There are additional challenges faced by newspapers and all media for that matter, such as the fragmentation of the market to reflect niche interests, the social media requirement faced by businesses irrespective of industry, and the lingering economic effects of the Great Recession, to consider. All in all, it’s a potent brew of negative influences on newspapers’ ability to thrive today, and a number of publications serving major metropolitan areas have been forced to limit print circulation or fold altogether over the years.
Meanwhile, on the matter of television news networks, while recently the networks have enjoyed ratings coups owing to people tuning in to witness the shit-show that is the 2016 presidential election, on the long-term whole, as of May 2015, cable news has seen its overall median daily audience shrink 11% since 2008, according to Pew Research. Potentially outmoded statistics aside, many reason what happened to newspapers vis-à-vis cable news will repeat itself with the likes of CNN, FOX News and MSNBC relative to blogs and other online media. As Paul Farhi, writing for The Washington Post, outlines, prime-time cable news shows are heavily reliant on an aging audience, and face obvious competition from online news sources better served to meet the needs and desires of younger generations. Meaning that while the network that professes to offer “news” but really just utilizes fear-mongering, prejudices and unsubstantiated claims to gin up its viewers is enjoying a long-standing run atop the charts, even it might have trouble sooner than later. And not just because the GOP is a shell of its former self and has been co-opted by idiots and white supremacists.
Indeed, going forward, the traditional news media has its work cut out for it if it wants to stay afloat in a sea of competing interests. To this end, various media outlets need to generate clicks, ratings and subscriptions, and to do this, they have to find some hook with the consumer-user. How these news services achieve this end, and whether or not this will only guarantee them a worse fate in light of the public’s fragile confidence in them, is the multi-billion dollar question. Right now, as noted, the corporate media is riding high. After all, almost 15 million viewers tuned into NBC News’s Commander-in-Chief debacle—and that wasn’t even a debate! Whether or not the American people will actually turn out to vote in November is another story, but in the lead-up to the election, there certainly seems to be a great deal of interest in who stands to become our next President and what sort of damage he or she might inflict on the country should he or she win. At the end of the campaign season, though, and following the election and even inauguration, it almost seems inevitable there will be a drop-off in interest, and in the post-election hangover in which America will find itself after months of a tiresome primary/debate schedule, the traditional media may discover it has less clout and more competition than it might otherwise have considered.
From the swivel chair on which I’m sitting, news media has not done a good job of covering the 2016 presidential election cycle. Nor has it done a fair job, or even a “Needs Work” kind of job, as a child might see on his or her grade-school assignment. No, the mainstream media has done a piss-poor job of serving the public interest when it comes to the campaign season. (I perhaps would’ve referred to it as a “deplorable” job, but Hillary has ruined that word for the foreseeable future—and may have even done damage to her election bid with her “basket of deplorables” turn of phrase.) The powers-that-be behind today’s remaining major newspapers and big-name news networks would be apt to protest this characterization, and furthermore, would insist they are providing fair and balanced coverage that considers all viewpoints. While under most circumstances, objectivity in reporting is highly advisable, when the situation warrants a firmer hand in steering the discussion, particularly when representing all angles means to give a voice to elements whose arguments are little more than bigotry and deliberate misrepresentation of reality, the refusal of the news to intervene is a failure, and a seemingly cowardly one at that, or else it values ad revenue over integrity.
Former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien recently took her old employer to task over its lack of discretion in reporting on the U.S. presidential election. O’Brien’s takedown of CNN’s coverage, particularly in the network’s kowtowing to the more reprehensible voices on Donald Trump’s side of the fence, is to be commended for its directness as well as its consideration of the implications not only for the outcome election, but for the fate of CNN and television journalism itself. What most agree are the critical points of Soledad’s impassioned remarks:
On giving white supremacists a platform because they are Trump supporters/delegates…
“I’ve seen on-air, white supremacists being interviewed because they are Trump delegates. And they do a five minute segment, the first minute or so talking about what they believe as white supremacists. So you have normalized that. And then Donald Trump will say, ‘Hillary Clinton, she’s a bigot.’ And it’s covered, the journalist part comes in, ‘They trade barbs. He said she’s a bigot and she points out that he might be appealing to racists.’ It only becomes ‘he said, she said.’ When in actuality, the fact that Donald Trump said she’s a bigot without the long laundry list of evidence, which if you looked at Hillary Clinton’s speech, she actually did have a lot of really good factual evidence that we would all agree that are things that have happened and do exist. They are treated as if they are equal. That’s where journalists are failing: the contortions to try to make it seem fair.”
And on CNN and others building up Donald Trump for ratings…
“Hateful speech brings a really interested, angry audience. ‘This is genius! We should do this more often. What shall we do when this election is over? We’re going to have to think about ways to really rile people up, make them angry and divide them.’ Because that is something that cable news, frankly, and everybody can cover really well. So, I find it very frustrating. I believe he was over-covered at the beginning. Now, it is ‘he said, she said’ all the time. We have lost context. We actually don’t even cover the details of something. We just cover the back and forth of it. It’s funny to watch if it weren’t our own country and our own government actually operating.”
What supposed “bigot” Hillary Clinton believes at heart about the key voting demographics to which she panders, one can’t be sure, but Soledad O’Brien is right: at least she has not made attacks on minorities the cornerstone of her campaign the way Donald Trump has his. Furthermore, I’d argue she’s deadly accurate on what the media has done, by and large, to frame the ultimate showdown between Clinton and Trump. Make no mistake—a winner-take-all electoral competition between Hill and Don is exactly what print media and the major news networks wanted. The aggregate favorability rating of the Democratic Party and Republican Party nominee is an almost-historically low one, if not the lowest altogether, such that viewers and even the supporting casts related to each campaign themselves have strong feelings one way or another. Throw in the apparent belief of media outlets that their audiences are stupid, don’t care about “the issues,” and would rather see these party heads squabble than speak substantively on important subjects, and you’ve hit on, to a large extent, the news media’s approach to covering this election.
Indeed, the mainstream media is trying to dance precariously between two functions, and the discussion of whether or not their routine is a winning one is accordingly worthwhile. On the one hand, America’s major news outlets, like many concerned citizens, don’t have a death wish. Donald Trump, who hasn’t been good at very much in his 70 years—let’s be honest—would make an even worse President of the United States than the shady businessman the more informed among us know him to be. Hillary Clinton, by proxy, is made to look through headlines and clickable, shareable content that much stronger as a candidate on matters of policy, aside from her obviously superior experience after years in politics. On the other hand, however, said outlets really, really like the ratings and traffic the mere mention of Trump’s name generates, including that which derives from the man’s more, shall we say, outspoken supporters, and so, despite their better judgment, they all but waive their editorial discretion in the name of “fairness.” The result is that both candidates have not been pressed by the press as strongly as they could or perhaps should be questioned, and as a result, the detractors of both Clinton and Trump can claim the media is letting them off the hook. To a certain extent, they’re all right.
If I were in Matt Lauer’s shoes, granted, I would be likely be a bit apprehensive about confronting the two biggest figures in American politics right now, and I would also have to balance the probing nature of journalistic intent with the direction of the NBC brass—you know, provided I wanted to remain employed. All this aside, if I were to have the opportunity to interview Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I would want to pose these types of questions:
1) OK, we get it—you regret voting for the Iraq War. Now that you’ve adequately expressed your remorse for political purposes, what do we do about our continued entanglements in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere abroad? What is our timetable for a meaningful reduction in military spending, or for that matter, a reduction in the number of American troops deployed in combat areas, if at all?
Dating back to the party primary season and even during the Democratic National Convention, Hillary caught a lot of flak from Bernie Sanders supporters and surrogates from her stances on the Iraq War and her perceived hawkishness. Indeed, Mrs. Clinton seems to be a bit right of center on the subject of the use of the military and spending to accomplish its goals, so these are worthwhile questions, especially for those who got behind the Sanders campaign and support more progressive aims of the Democratic Party. With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 just behind us and talk of “we will never forget,” it seems ironic to employ such verbiage when the U.S. still is invested heavily in Afghanistan and Iraq, and thus can’t forget a War on Terror still ongoing. More like “we will never get out,” if you ask me.
2) Unless you’re hard up for donations—and judging by your big-ticket fundraisers and speaking fees, you have plenty of cash at your disposal—why should the Clinton Foundation wait until after winning the election to stop accepting monies from corporations and foreign interests?
Hillary Clinton already has a bit of an optics problem regarding trustworthiness in light of her ongoing E-mail imbroglio, concerns about where monies are going after they reach the Hillary Victory Fund, and other scandals which may be somewhat trumped up by Republicans but otherwise do reflect legitimate character concerns. The Clinton Foundation, which has come under fire recently for insinuations it is emblematic of a pay-to-play paradigm which coincided with her affairs as head of the State Department and thus may have crossed ethical lines, and has been characterized by some vocal dissenters as more or less a money laundering operation, by these tokens, is not helping matters.
Among others, Robert Reich, who avidly supported Bernie Sanders until Clinton won the Democratic Party nomination, and now has put his influence behind Hillary because of his recognition of the danger of a Donald Trump presidency, recommends the Clinton Family divest itself of operational ties to its namesake charitable organization, in the interest of propriety and transparency. If Hillary Clinton and her campaign were smart, they wouldn’t wait to effect these changes, and certainly wouldn’t make them contingent on an election victory, but this a major-party presidential campaign we’re talking about here—sound judgment often falls by the wayside.
3) Don’t you think it a bit douche-y to wear a $12,000 Giorgio Armani jacket and talk about income inequality?
I’ve brought this up before, but I would have to ask HRC directly just to gauge her reaction. Follow-up question: why did you or anyone pay so much for something that looks so hideous?
4) Why exactly were aides of yours smashing devices with hammers? What reasonable explanation is there for this that does not involve wanting to hide or obscure information?
Like Tom Brady smashing his phone in the midst of the Deflategate controversy, this is pretty much a rhetorical question, but I’d like to see and hear her explain why so many Blackberries and iPads had to be obliterated. Though I will admit it was probably oddly pleasurable for the person or persons tasked with doing the destroying. But still.
5) At this point, what does it matter whether the DNC and your campaign were hacked by Russia, or by Guccifer 2.0 acting independently, or by aliens, as Susan Sarandon jokingly suggested? What does it matter, Mrs. Clinton?
OK, so getting hacked is obviously a concern for any organization, and thus society as a whole, as is the theoretical publication of private information of individuals pursuant to matters of privacy in various data leaks. Still, the Democrats seem a little eager to point to Russia and shout, “Look what they did!” when the content itself of the leaked messages is objectionable. Whether it’s intentional bias against the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign or the influence of money on leadership within the party or even in government as a whole, these connections give the public a clearer picture of the kinds of people and institutions with whom/which they are dealing, and how democracy continues to be constrained by party politics and corporate/individual wealth. To this end, the DNC Leaks et al. are a public service, even if the manner in which they were obtained is suspect. Confessedly, though, as much as I feel I’m making a valid point, I kind of just wanted to take a swipe at Hillary Clinton’s semi-infamous “What does it matter?” moment from the hearings of Benghazi. When Americans die, in a potentially avoidable way, and the public is misinformed as to whether or not the attack was terroristic in nature, it does matter. Perhaps not as much as to warrant the extent of the costly investigation into the events surrounding Benghazi to date, but it does.
1) Why won’t you release your tax returns?
I’ve also discussed this before, musing as to why Donald Trump so obstinately has refused to acquiesce on this count. Some suspect it is because of his supposed ties to Russian businesses (though the Clintons have profited in their own right from Russia, including through the sale of uranium), but I suspect, perhaps more benignly, that Trump wants either to conceal the likely situation that he pays little to no taxes through loopholes, or—even worse in his eyes—that he doesn’t have nearly as much money as he says he does. This may not sound terrible to you or I, but when your entire brand is built on the image of you as a successful entrepreneur able to afford a lavish lifestyle, losing this appearance of obscene wealth could be devastating to this myth. It would be like the storied emperor with no clothes—and I’m immediately sorry for any mental images you now own because of this comparison.
2) How do you explain the immense rent increase for the Trump campaign headquarters in Trump Tower in July after you started receiving considerable funding from donors and weren’t just “financing your own campaign?”
The Trump campaign has explained the nearly four-times spike in its rent expense at Trump Tower resulting from adding “two more levels to its existing space,” whatever that means. While there’s no proof of anything shady, that purchases leading to greater expenses are synchronous with the addition of benefactors, and that Trump stands to indirectly benefit from this arrangement, is enough to raise one or more eyebrows. The deflection that the Clinton camp pays more on rent doesn’t assuage potential culpability either. Saying you spent less than Hillary Clinton on rent is like saying you smoke less weed than Tommy Chong. It’s not exactly something to hang your hat on.
One thing the press has not discussed nearly enough regarding Donald Trump’s business dealings is that he has repeatedly screwed people out of money, and then has shielded himself behind the cloak of litigation or has relied upon the auspices of bankruptcy law to avoid having to pay all his bills. If Trump can’t pay his staffers as he should, why should we expect him to do what’s right for America’s finances, or for that matter, give him the keys to the country?
4) Would you like to personally apologize to Jersey City, and in particular, its Muslim population, for making claims about thousands of people cheering in the streets when the Towers fell, even though this has been thoroughly debunked?
OK, I gotta say this one’s for me. When even Crazy Rudy Giuliani disagreed with Trump’s steadfast assertion that thousands of Muslims in Jersey City were celebrating the fall of the World Trade Center, you knew the man was full of shit, and anyone else who sides with Trump on this issue is either full of shit too, or has spent too much time watching Fox News and has had the parts of their brain devoted to higher-order thinking and encoding of memory eaten away by the stupidity. I don’t care if you’re talking about Muslims, undocumented Mexican immigrants, or members of the Borg collective—if they’re from New Jersey, step the f**k off.
5) Seriously, though, release your f**king tax returns.
Not really a question anymore, but then again, it shouldn’t be. If you have nothing to hide, you should have no problem complying. Shit, even Crooked Hillary obliged on this front. You don’t want to be worse than Hillary at something, do you, Donald?
Returning to the theme of journalistic accountability in the mainstream media and perceptions of bias, even before the events of this election cycle and the rise of online content/social media, a core group of outspoken Americans took to distrusting the “liberal media” and its leftist agenda. How dare they believe in concepts like gender and race equality? How come their “facts” don’t match what I know deep down in my gut? Why do they insist on telling me I’m wrong for hating gays and transgender people and telling them they can’t buy wedding cakes in our shops or pee in our bathrooms? TOO MUCH POLITICAL CORRECTNESS! TOO MANY BIG WORDS! AAAAAHHHH! This kind of mentality, I believe, has helped fuel the rise of the alt-right and eschewing of more reputable news sources for airheads such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and even conspiracy theorist extraordinaire Alex Jones. Which, though it may chagrin network executives and digital content managers, might not be a huge loss for the rest of the viewing population. Not for nothing, but the fewer trolls we have on Comments sections of major news providers’ sites criticizing “libtards” and demeaning them as a bunch of whiny, sissy babies, I feel, is a good thing.
However, in news media’s indiscriminate push for ratings and revenue, that liberals and conservatives alike can be alienated by CNN, or The New York Times, or even Huffington Post, suggests that corporate-owned media outlets, buoyed by short-term successes, may only be riding a road to ruin in the long term. For libertarians, progressives, skinny people, fat people, people who try to ford the river or caulk it and float it, there are umpteen options, and while not all of them are winners (many, indeed, are not), by appealing to a more provincial audience, they stand to draw away attention from the big players in the mass media market. Again, when survival is anything but assured, prominent networks and newspapers are justifiably desperate for the public’s consumption. Catering to a lower common denominator, however, or failing to curb those who pander to a more deleterious element, seriously risks undermining the public’s trust and guaranteeing that they won’t come back. After all, when trust is gone, what else is left worth keeping?
By most counts and accounts, the United States of America had a fine Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. According to the official medal count, the U.S. was head and shoulders above the other competing countries, garnering 51 more medals (121) overall than China, the next-best country on the list (70), and 19 more golds than Great Britain/the United Kingdom, besting them 46 to 27. And while, perhaps, Usain Bolt’s capturing three more gold medals and cementing his legacy as one of the all-time greats, as well as the host country winning gold in its two biggest sports—soccer and volleyball—were most significant on the world stage, a number of American athletes made their mark on the record books. Gymnast Simone Biles won five medals at the Games—four of them gold—vaulting high into the air, and of course, into our hearts. Swimmer Michael Phelps continued to add to his trophy case. Fellow swimmer Katie Ledecky proved dominant in her races, at one point breaking her own world record. In all, the United States was a force with which to be reckoned in basketball, swimming and track and field, and the women’s soccer team’s early exit at the hands of Sweden marked the only real big upset of the Olympics on the American side, unless you count Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross failing to win gold, and that was only really surprising considering Jennings had never lost at any Summer Games.
Unfortunately, it was not all sand, smiles and sunshine in Rio for Team USA, and despite the country’s relative dominance in the 2016 Olympics, the achievements of the whole have been at least somewhat overshadowed by the actions of one or more bad apples. In particular, the drunken late-night-into-early-morning antics of Ryan Lochte and other members of the U.S. men’s swim team have gotten a fair bit of play on social media and traditional news for the seeming strangeness of it all. It all started innocently enough—if that’s the word one would use about a purported crime—as a tale of Lochte and Co. being pulled over by men posing as police officers, only to have these men point a gun at Ryan’s head and rob them. After all, the story made sense. Rio de Janeiro is no stranger to crime and violence, and within the course of these very Olympics, at least one other athlete was legitimately held up at gunpoint, while reports surfaced of gunfire narrowly missing reporters. The tale weaved by these soused swimmers, owing to what we know of Rio and Brazil, sounded, early on, plausible.
It was not long, though, before the Lochtean narrative began to unravel. Just a few days after Ryan Lochte gave his account of the night’s events and the armed hostility which allegedly ensued, Fernando Veloso, Rio de Janeiro police chief, categorically denied the American swimmer’s claim, and furthermore, said this of him and his story: “We saw our city stained by a fantastical version.” Lochte initially told authorities the taxi the members of the swim team were pulled over, and then a gun was cocked and put to his head. That, evidently, didn’t happen, however, at least not in that way. The taxi instead stopped at a gas station upon the swimmers’ request so they could use the bathroom, whereupon they treated the facilities with the utmost respect. Kidding! They acted like drunk assholes, tearing up the joint! It is only then that a security guard brandished a gun, and witnesses say they saw the Americans give the guard money before leaving.
In fact, right down to the times of events supplied by both sides’ accounts of what happened, key details differ. Simon Romero, in an article for The New York Times, and with the help of Larry Buchanan and Josh Keller, in an interactive point-by-point comparison of Lochte’s version vs. the Rio police’s, outlines how materially inconsistent the two narratives are from one another. The four swimmers—Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, Jimmy Feigen and Ryan Lochte—said they had left Club France, a creation of the Rio Games to honor its namesake, at four in the morning, all intoxicated-like. According to Fernando Veloso and video camera evidence, however, it wasn’t until 5:50 AM that the four members of Team USA stumbled out of the joint. As noted earlier, Lochte’s telling of what happened next at the gas station paints a different picture than what the police insist and what surveillance shows. No gun was cocked and pointed at Ryan’s head, and as he casually failed to initially mention, the swimmers tore up the bathroom and urinated around the premises, though Lochte was adamant on both points that his account was accurate. Perhaps most telling of all, Ryan Lochte said in an interview on The TODAY Show that he and the other athletes were the victims, and that any inconsistencies in his recounting of that night could be attributed to “traumatic mischaracterization.” Once more, however, the videotape tells a different story, and footage of their return to the Olympic Village shows the men laughing and joking around. Seemingly odd behavior from a bunch of victims.
While Simon Romero, in authoring his article, acknowledges the idea that a weapon does appear in both versions of the events in question and that the swimmers do end up giving money in response to this implied—if ultimately moot—threat, and while, furthermore, Chief Veloso admits that it is possible this was an attempt at extortion by the security guards, who were moonlighting at the gas station while also working as prison guards, that Ryan Lochte apparently made up details to make he and the rest of the swim crew present look better (I’m sorry, Ryan, but the idea you would say “whatever” to a gun cocked and held to your head strains credulity), and that he seems inauthentic in his contrition, makes his non-apology apology all the more disappointing. Lochte spoke to Matt Lauer—because when you want hard-hitting journalism, you naturally turn to Matt Lauer—in a one-on-one interview to clarify and apologize for his actions and earlier statements. And though he professed he had “let his team down” and that he was taking “full responsibility” for his actions, his euphemistic language betrayed the notion that he didn’t truly, well, get it—that he acted like an asshole, he lied about it, and he left the other swimmers to try to clean up his mess. A few choice comments from his responses:
“I left details out, which—that’s why I’m in this mess—is I left certain things out. And I over-exaggerated some parts of the story.”
“Over-exaggerated?” I don’t even know if such a word exists, but that’s not the point. Even if you lied by omission, you still lied. Don’t say you exaggerated to try to blunt the impact.
“You know, it was still hours after the incident happened. I was still intoxicated. I was still under that influence. And I’m not making—me being intoxicated—an excuse. I’m not doing that at all. I mean, it was my fault. And I shouldn’t have said that.”
Actually, that’s exactly what it sounds like, Ryan. I get it—alcohol impairs judgment. Still, no one, ahem, held a gun to your head and forced you to drink that much, and while we’re dissecting your words, you weren’t intoxicated—you were drunk. You and/or your mates were hammered enough to trash a gas station bathroom and piss all over the place. And though they are in their twenties, and that might afford them some clemency in chalking their hijinks up to youthful exuberance, 32 years of age, while still not that old compared to many, is more than enough years to warrant better judgment on your part.
“It’s how you want to—it’s how you want to make look like. Whether you call it a robbery, whether you call it extortion, or us paying just for the damages, like, we don’t know. All we know is that there was a gun pointed in our direction, and we were demanded to give money.”
This is where Ryan Lochte’s explanation begins to go off the rails, and where Lauer actually gets some points for pressing the Olympian on this issue. Robbery and extortion are two very different things, and as Matt Lauer highlights at one point, through someone translating so Lochte and Co. could understand, the Americans were made aware that they were paying money so that security didn’t call the police. In that respect, as Lauer insists, they were making a deal to avoid punishment, and weren’t “victims” being targeted, as calling it a “robbery” would suggest. In other words, they weren’t all that innocent.
“I was immature. And I made a stupid mistake. I’m human. I made a mistake. And I definitely learned from this. And I’m just really sorry.”
You’re human—well, aren’t we all? Isn’t it a premature to say you’ve learned from this, that this chapter of your life is over? You haven’t had remotely enough time pass to demonstrate through your actions that you’ve truly learned anything. And you say you’re sorry, but I tend to believe you’re mostly sorry you got caught.
“It could [cost me a lot of money]. And that’s something that I’m going to have to live with. That’s something that I’m going to have to deal with. But I know what I did was wrong. And I know I learned my lesson. And all I can do now is better myself and making sure that this kind of stuff never happens again.”
You mean, it should. See, this is why I think Ryan Lochte is truly sorry: because this incident could cost him endorsement deals (in fact, it since already has), and perhaps worse yet, could cost him a place on the U.S. swim team. If Lochte were truly repentant for his actions, he wouldn’t care about what this means for his sponsorships or his quest for more medals, but would place the greatest priority on restoring the public’s faith in him and Team USA, because he deserves to be admonished. I’m not sure that I would want Lochte’s “shenanigans” to permanently damage his image; no one was apparently hurt or killed, and besides, who doesn’t love a good redemption story?
All the same, you’re concerned about your legacy as a role model to little kids? For whose sake? Yours or the kids’? How about you start by admitting you lied, and to refrain from lying going forward? How’s that for a start?
What must have been particularly galling to Brazilians—and viewers from other countries, including the United States— in watching the events of “Lochte-gate” unfold was the feeling that a spoiled white athlete had acted like an idiot and chose to cheaply try to further pile onto an “exotic” (used by white people when they can’t tell where you’re from) city and country feeling the effects of economic distress, political turmoil, poor infrastructure and violent crime. Worse yet, that members of the media were already looking to exonerate Ryan Lochte, or at least mitigate his level of culpability and responsibility, smacked of a certain degree of privilege. This tendency toward revisionism was brought to the forefront beautifully in a dialog between—you guessed it—two more NBC personalities. A rather salty Al Roker came out in a discussion on The TODAY Show about Lochte by stating the reality of the situation more baldly than an Olympic swimmer’s shorn body. As he put it, speaking to Billy Bush, “He lied. He lied to you, he lied to Matt Lauer, he lied to his mom. He left his teammates hanging while he skedaddled. There was no robbery, there was no pull-over. He lied.” When Bush tried to argue that Ryan Lochte lied about certain details, or that he embellished within his account, Roker quickly interceded, having none of Billy’s sugar-coating Lochte being a liar-liar-pants-on-fire. Or as freelance writer Alexander Hardy put it, “And now, back to Al Roker vs. White Nonsense.”
Though perhaps not an especially egregious example of it, Ryan Lochte’s—and by extension, Billy Bush’s—euphemisms for his drunkenness and lying, as well as his seeking to quickly move on from the controversy, are what some would refer to as “whitesplaining.” As Dictionary.com defines the larger “-splain” neologistic family, it refers to “acombiningformextractedfrommansplain,andmeaning“toexplain orcommentonsomethinginacondescending,overconfident,and ofteninaccurateoroversimplifiedmanner,fromtheperspectiveofthe grouponeidentifieswith.” Thus, if we are whitesplaining Lochte’s antics, we would say he embellished, or over-exaggerated, or otherwise made a mistake. And, plus, he tearfully apologized. White people love when you do that.
I say Lochte-gate is perhaps not an especially egregious example of the phenomenon, because, again, besides a bathroom and the reputations of the swimmers involved getting superficially damaged, no one seems to have gotten physically hurt. It is therefore less serious as with the case of former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, whose six-month jail month for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman was justified by the judge’s assertion it would “severely impact” his life—as if getting raped doesn’t impact one’s life. Or as in the now-infamous case of Ethan Couch, who killed four people while drinking and driving—while speeding and with a restricted license, no less—and then tried to claim “affluenza” (the inability to understand the consequences of one’s actions because of financial privilege) as a defense. And then there are the “whitesplanations,” if you will, that try to defend or justify more systemic forms of discrimination, as in the support of police officers in more obvious cases of brutality (“they shouldn’t have been resisting”) or the rejection of affirmative action and similar practices on principle (“I don’t want an inferior choice forced on me”). As the persistence of the Donald Trump presidential campaign beyond rational belief illustrates, white people can splain away pretty much anything if you let them.
Rich white people may seek to deflect accusations of rape or murder on the count of their privilege—or, in the case of Trump and his supporters, will assume it of other groups—but it’s their pretense of superiority while trying to hide their wrongdoing that really gets one’s proverbial goat. Not that it exculpates him, of course, but Donald Trump seems to have made this maneuver into an art form. He states some wildly inaccurate theory or lies outright, which is clearly wrong and/or easily debunked, he doubles down on his assertion, and he begins to treat you as if you’re the asshole for bringing up the whole issue he had previously considered closed. In a similar vein, but arguably not nearly as well, Hillary Clinton has stubbornly tried to move past any culpability in her use of one or more private E-mail servers to access classified material while serving as Secretary of State, putting our national interests at risk. She has claimed to have sent over all relevant E-mails in the ongoing inquiry into her use of a private E-mail account. But that’s not true, as 15,000 new E-mails just found would hint at. She has insisted that E-mails weren’t listed as classified at the time they were sent and received, but FBI Director James Comey has refuted that assertion, and after being directly confronted with Comey’s testimony, she responded to the controversy by non-apology apologizing that she “short-circuited” in her response. What are you—a robot, Hillary? No, you didn’t short-circuit—you lied. Then, as a consummate politician would, she tried to shift the blame, alleging Colin Powell told her to use a private server. OMFG, HILLARY, NO, HE DIDN’T. STOP LYING. FOR ONCE, JUST STOP.
And yet, as extremely careless and negligent as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are with their handling of facts or even their own finances, if we’re once more concerned with trying to explain away violence and wanton destruction, let’s highlight the ultimate government-related recipient of a free pass in the U.S. military. There are any number of ways you can approach lack of accountability within the leadership of the Department of Defense and the Armed Forces—discrimination against gays, and an apparent epidemic of sexual assaults against women without superiors doing enough to address the problem, come to mind—but in terms of the slaughter of innocent people, that those with the requisite authority can order a drone or helicopter strike, resulting in massive unintended civilian casualties if a miscalculation or other snafu occurs, and justify it with no more than an “Oops!” is troubling indeed.
Just last month, an American air strike left at least 85 innocent Syrians dead, and while Pentagon officials promised it would investigate these deaths, seemingly no outward progress has been made on this particular front, and it is not as if this error in accuracy and judgment yielding the murder of non-targets is an isolated incident. On one hand, the actions of ISIS and other terror groups is reprehensible, but on the other hand, when we’re indiscriminately bombing the Middle East, killing random human beings without even having to look them in the eye when we destroy their families and villages, that makes us as a country only marginally better. “War on Terror,” huh? When your primary distinction between what you do and what jihadists do is that you don’t film people getting their heads chopped off, that’s a problem, and when the American people accept these “mistakes” or fail to demand more accountability from their leaders in Washington and from the media reporting on these matters, we are guilty by association.
When all comes down to brass tacks, what especially matters, as a subset of this perceived lack of culpability, is that consequences of real weight so frequently seem to be lacking. U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Executive Scott Blackmun has vowed the USOC will review the case of Ryan Lochte and his accompanying drunken swimmers, including potential ramifications, but any theoretical strong ban or fine is unlikely. Brock Turner was banned from both the Stanford and U.S. swim teams, but as discussed, he still got off relatively easy. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton apparently live in a world where there are no repercussions for violating ethical and moral standards, if not the law outright, and in which fabrications and lies are assumed as part of “politics as usual.” And speaking of these two vis-à-vis the U.S. military, noting the former’s self-indulgent tough-guy image he puts forth, and the latter’s much-talked-about hawkishness, does anyone really believe either of them will do much to curb defense spending? If you do, let me tell you about some lovely beachfront property in Idaho I have for someone like you.
What the above figures fail to appreciate is that we, the American people, are smarter and less forgetful than they think we are. Well, most of us are. I’ll confess that some of my peers and adults younger than I am do things that cause me to scratch my head sometimes—not to mention adults my parents’ age. Also, I can personally attest to the notion millennials are forgetful, at least in terms of short-term memory. By the same token, however, the Internet never forgets, so there’s that to fall back on, and moreover, millennials are also supposedly quite good at reading people for authenticity. So, Ryan Lochte et al., some quick notes, in closing: 1) if you’re going to lie, at least do a better job of it; 2) ditto for your non-apology apologies; 3) we understand when you’re using euphemisms to hide your lies, or “over-exaggerations” or “short circuits” or “uh-ohs” or whatever you call them; 4) for us non-Trump-supporters or those of us who are not Jamie Foxx, blaming it on alcohol or people of color only makes matters worse, and 5) when property gets destroyed, or people get bombed, killed, raped or run over, and your reputation suffers, you are not the victim, so stop acting like one or crying that you are. The American public deserves better than a blanket apology, and exploiting your money, power and/or privilege to obscure this idea doesn’t make you better for it. Sorry, but we’re not sorry for saying as much.
Donald Trump and the River of Blood. It sounds like the title of a terrible movie, or an effect of his winning the election akin to a biblical plague—which could very well happen, mind you. An inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame with a real shot at becoming President of the United States? That’s some straight-up apocalyptic shit right there.
What exactly is the River of Blood, you might ask? Well, let’s first set the scene. Some seven years ago, Donald Trump bought and renovated a golf course in Virginia, renaming it after—who else?—himself. To add an air of gravitas to the newly-minted Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, VA, the billionaire had erected a monument to a locale on the premises known as “The River of Blood.” The commemorative inscription on the associated plaque, underneath Trump’s family crest, reads as follows:
Many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot, “The Rapids,” on the Potomac River. The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as “The River of Blood.”
It is my great honor to have preserved this important section of the Potomac River! —Donald John Trump
Great American soldiers dying! Rivers running red with blood! The history! The pathos! Thank you, Mr. Trump, for preserving and calling attention to this most venerated of sites!
There’s only one problem with this dedication to the site of so much spilled blood and humanity: there is no such thing as the River of Blood.
Wait, seriously?—I can hear you say. How can Donald Trump just make up something like that? First of all, he’s Donald Trump. As far as he’s concerned, he can do anything he wants short of standing in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shooting someone—and even then he might still be OK, at least in terms of the polls. Second of all, um, he’s Donald f**king Trump. The man has stretched the truth if not outright lied time after time; in fact, Trump won the dubious honor of PolitiFact’s 2015 Lie of the Year for his collective campaign misstatements.
As Nicholas Fandos reported in The New York Times in November of last year, two separate historians of the surrounding area, Richard Gillespie and Alana Blumenthal, as well as a third expert speaking on condition of anonymity, dispelled the notion that any such phenomenon manifested where Donald John Trump alleges it did. Now here’s where we get to the crux of why this story is so quintessentially Donald Trump. The response of the man behind Trump Steaks and other ideas of questionable merit? “How would they know that? Were they there?”
“How would they know that? Were they there?” Um, no, Mr. Trump, obviously not. Do consider that they are historians, however. That is, it’s literally their jobs to research these kinds of things, so if anyone would know, it should be them. Donald Trump’s reaction accompanies another bit of unflappable logic: “That was a prime site for river crossings. So, if people are crossing the river, and you happen to be in a civil war, I would say that people were shot — a lot of them.” By this reasoning, Confederate and Union soldiers must have been fighting in this area continuously, such that they would’ve been trying to cross the Potomac through a hail of bullets and other mayhem. Because they were all apparently f**king stupid. That’s why they all died. Right.
By trying to wade through this deficiency in realism, one already spends more time on the abstract notion of the River of Blood than he or she ought to. Just as effectively, and much more efficiently, one might respond to questions of “How would they know?” and “Were they there?” with a similar sentiment of, “What are you? Five years old?” Because that’s the level of Donald Trump’s argument, the one with which you are trying to reason. I know you are, but what am I? Nuh-uh! Quit it! That’s it—I’m telling Mom!
Of course, Trump being Trump, caught in an obvious fabrication, merely doubled down on his assertion that the River of Blood was, you know, a thing. He stated repeatedly that “numerous historians” had told him his claim was accurate, though he couldn’t remember any of their names. This despite his boast that he has “one of the best memories in the world,” and—I am not making this up—his forgetting that he even said that. Like a murder suspect whose alibi falls apart under scrutiny, Donald Trump’s story then changed: these anonymous “historians” did not actually speak to him, but rather his “people”—who he predictably refused to name. In a final show of irritation, Trump then told reporters this:
“Write your story the way you want to write it. You don’t have to talk to anybody. It doesn’t make any difference. But many people were shot. It makes sense.”
“It doesn’t make any difference. But many people were shot. It makes sense.” Yes, you feel it makes sense, Mr. Trump. Just like you feel hordes of rapist Mexicans are running across the border. Or you feel Muslims were cheering on New Jersey streets when the towers fell on 9/11. Or you feel that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, Saudi Arabia or wherever the hell you think he’s from. That’s where we are in American political discourse vis-à-vis factual truth vs. what Stephen Colbert and others have helped define as “truthiness.” This same battle which evidently boils down to a matter of feelings versus facts was recently illustrated by Newt Gingrich in an interview on CNN regarding the crime rate today as opposed to years ago. Despite attempts by the reporter to point to actual statistics which showed that crime is down, on the whole, nationwide, Gingrich argued the more important notion is that the average American “does not think crime is down,” and furthermore, that the statistics were only “theoretically” correct and are used to prop up a liberal stance anyway. As John Oliver and others have insisted, that’s not how it’s supposed to work. If you are going to make a logical point on domestic or foreign policy, you should be able to cite documented evidence, or else not scoff at the very notion of a fact. Otherwise, what’s the point? By this token, college students should be able to write whatever they want and bullshit their way to an A. Let’s just all lift material straight from Wikipedia. Don’t worry—if it weren’t true, it wouldn’t be on the Internet in the first place, am I right?
Donald Trump insists the facts on the fantastical River of Blood don’t make a difference. To him and his supporters, maybe not, but for the rest of America, they do, or at least they should. With all the dumb and insensitive shit Trump has said during just this election cycle alone (speaking of “rivers of blood,” let’s not forget this gem from early on in the campaign season regarding women and their apparent inability to see reason while on their period), it would seem his Democratic Party rival should have an easy path to victory, especially since the Dems’ party platform is vastly more inclusive and progressive than anything the GOP could hope to come up with. I mean, shit, Trump’s ongoing war of words with American Muslims Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the father and mother, respectively, of Humayun Khan, who died serving the United States, should alone disqualify him in the hearts and minds of voters.
And yet, an American public growing increasingly disillusioned with the state of establishment politics in this country, as well as a growing divide between the haves and the have-nots makes Donald Trump, a self-professed outsider and politically incorrect to a fault, seem like a breath of fresh air, even when he contradicts the very ideals he supposedly champions. Moreover, this aforementioned Democratic Party rival has her (still feels good to write about a female major-party nominee, I’ll admit) own, shall we say, complicated relationship with the truth and with being perceived as trustworthy. Hillary Clinton, according to recent polling, is rated as trustworthy by a scant 34% of Americans. That’s just above a third of those surveyed, and worse yet, roughly the same mark Trump gets. Granted, HRC seems to be the subject of more focused attacks from Republicans, and also has not particularly endeared herself to the “Bernie or Bust” crowd, though on the latter count, I don’t know if there’s anything she could do to appease them at this point, much less anything anyone else could do.
Still, it’s not like Hillary isn’t seemingly her own worst enemy sometimes. In an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News, when asked about—what else?—her E-mails, and whether or not she lied to the public, Clinton said, “Chris, that’s not what I heard Director Comey say, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity, in my view, to clarify. Director Comey said my answers were truthful, and what I’ve said is consistent with what I have told the American people: that there were decisions discussed and made to classify retroactively certain of the E-mails.”
Um, Hillary, bruh, no, he didn’t. From James Comey’s questioning at the hands of Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), a man who has seemingly nothing better to do but to try to get Hillary Clinton indicted or at least keep her out of the White House:
Gowdy: Secretary Clinton said there was nothing marked classified on her E-mails either sent or received. Was that true?
Comey: That’s not true.
Gowdy: Secretary Clinton said, “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my E-mail. There is no classified material.” Was that true?
Comey: There was classified material E-mailed.
Ms. Clinton, you may have not heard Director Comey say that, but he couldn’t have been much clearer in this respect. It’s no wonder, therefore, that PolitiFact awarded her a Pants on Fire distinction for her expression of her innocence, and The Washington Post gave her four Pinocchios. Even Ron Fournier, writing for The Atlantic, got in on the act, with a piece asking imploringly, if not perhaps rhetorically, “Why Can’t Hillary Clinton Stop Lying?” These are not questions/ratings you would hope to see from your best hope to keep Donald Trump from winning the presidency. And while your supporters may not care about, to borrow a phrase from Bernie Sanders, your “damn E-mails,” much as Trump’s supporters may not give a hoot about—let’s call them “gaps in foreign policy knowledge”—you can’t just lie your irresponsibility away, Hillary, or at least you shouldn’t be able to. Lots of shoulds and shouldn’ts herein, and yet, one of these two has to win. You know, barring some crazy pre-November indictment scenario, and that’s essentially mere fodder for Bernie Sanders supporters’ wet dreams.
In spite of the Democratic National Committee’s bumbling approach to try to sabotage Bernie Sanders’ bid for the Democratic Party nomination, her perceived lack of honesty and her evident tone-deafness of the subject of income and wealth inequality, Hillary Clinton should still be able to win the 2016 U.S. presidential election—though it’s yet all but a coin toss. Again, the Democratic Party platform is much more “user-friendly,” so to speak, than the Republican Party’s political agenda, and following Clinton’s historic nomination and accompanying acceptance speech, there appears to genuine enthusiasm for Hillary as a candidate, especially among women voters. On top of this, at the end of the day, Hillary Clinton has a better temperament for the presidency than Donald Trump—which isn’t exactly challenging to cultivate, mind you—but it’s the reality of the situation. If nothing else, HRC can respond, even in a lie, with poise. “The Donald,” on the other hand, in his 70 years on this planet, has garnered little, if any, true wisdom as a by-product of his experience, and as exampled by the tale of “The River of Blood,” he responds to adversity as every bit of the spoiled man-child many of us imagine him to be.
How do I know this? Was I ever there in person with Trump to witness his wanton buffoonery? No, but I don’t need a historian to tell me what so is plainly stated in his actions and speech. Donald Trump is not fit to be President of the United States, and any refusal by conservatives, Republicans and members of the media to repudiate him because of this speaks to their unfitness as well.
In the Season 6 finale of Game of Thrones—and yes, this contains spoilers, because if there’s one show you need to watch and not get behind on, it’s this one, so I have no qualms about spoiling it for you; I mean, for Christ’s sake, people stop watching Internet porn while it airs—Cersei Lannister looks to be in a difficult spot. She has been denied a trial by combat—with a gigantic man nicknamed “The Mountain” in her corner, mind you—and faces a hearing in front of the High Sparrow and, presumably, the gods, regarding a litany of alleged offenses, which we as viewers know largely to be true. So, after seasons of manipulating and scheming, it would seem as if Cersei is set to finally receive her comeuppance. We see her staring out the window from her lofty perch, imagining she might be simply counting down the moments to her grim fate, or perhaps finally showing a shred of remorse for her misdeeds and the general carnage she has wrought.
Eh, not so much. Like any true powerful villain, Cersei Lannister has an ace up her sleeve, or rather, the ultimate trump card in the form of barrels and barrels of Wildfire, an explosive substance hidden in a cache under the Sept of Baelor and thus conveniently located perilously close to where she is set to stand trial. Such that instead of actually facing responsibility for her actions, she instead orchestrates a way to detonate that Wildfire, blow up the Sept, and not only avoid any such consequences, but in one fell swoop, take out her major enemies within King’s Landing, namely that of the High Sparrow himself and of Margaery Tyrell, her chief rival in terms of power over the throne and over her son, Tommen, king of the realm and husband to Margaery. Well played, Cersei. Except for the fact Tommen, either so grief-stricken at the loss of his beloved, so fully aware now that he has been a puppet since he started wearing the crown, or both, that he decides the best course of action is to hurl himself out of the closest available window, thereby fulfilling the prophecy long ago told to Cersei that all her kids would die. Um, take the good with the bad, eh? This particular chapter of the Cersei Lannister ends with the blonde puppet-master herself now seated atop the Iron Throne as ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. I mean, she pretty much has won the post by default, but regardless, there she is—hear her roar.
Why do I bring up Game of Thrones in a blog about politics, social issues and other topics related to current events? Because I imagine a lot of people, reacting to news that the FBI is not recommending that the Department of Justice levy charges against Hillary Clinton and her aides in her ongoing scandal about her use of a private E-mail server to respond to classified matters of state, feel about the same way regarding the twist of expectations. As with Cersei Lannister’s apparent ability to stack the deck in her favor and otherwise maneuver out of harm’s way, Hillary, faced with not one but two high-profile investigations (let’s not all of a sudden forget the recent to-do about her culpability in the attack on Benghazi), looks to be in the clear on both counts, at least in terms of criminal liability. And while Hillary may not be nearly as conniving as Cersei, that critics see a pattern of deception and lies without any legal repercussions which fits a Clintonian narrative that began with Bill’s own ethical and moral flexibility, shall we say, while in the Oval Office, has many observers convinced that both she and Bill play by a different set of rules than the ones you and I do. For all the talk of a “rigged” economy and political system this election cycle, Hillary Clinton’s “great escape” can be seen as a prime example.
Before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s step back a bit and revisit how the news broke. On Tuesday, FBI director James Comey spoke publicly to say that there was no evidence that Clinton intentionally transmitted or willfully handled classified information, and as such, per the Bureau’s judgment, “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.” Hillary’s top three aides—Huma Abedin, Cheryl Mills, and Jake Sullivan—also appear to have been cleared of wrongdoing. The transcript of Comey’s statement can be found here.
James Comey’s statement explains much about the painstaking process used to assess whether or not Hillary Clinton was guilty on two fronts: a felony count of mishandling classified information either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way, and a misdemeanor count of knowingly removing classified information from appropriate systems/storage facilities. While ultimately the Federal Bureau of Investigation claims to not have clear evidence of malfeasance on either count, Comey’s remarks are notable for their commentary on Hillary’s handling of the situation, as well as the notion they refute prior statements made by the former Secretary of State regarding specific actions during her tenure and as part of the FBI’s investigation. Gregory Krieg of CNN, in fact, highlighted the seven most damning lines on Hillary Clinton within James Comey’s speech, which I will enumerate with my own notes:
“Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” While only 110 messages in 52 chains of the 30,000 messages analyzed by the FBI are reported to have contained classified information at the time of their transmission, this nonetheless refutes Clinton’s assertion than none of the E-mails were classified at they were received or sent. Ms. Clinton, your nose just grew a little.
“There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those with whom she was corresponding about those matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.” Here we go with the whole “reasonable” person idea. We’ve already brought up what a “reasonable” prosecutor should or shouldn’t do, and now we have what a reasonable Cabinet member should do. Bear in mind Hillary isn’t the only one who has been found to have erred in this way, but if we’re trying each case on its merits, others’ lack of adherence to procedure shouldn’t have a bearing here.
“None of these emails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these emails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at agencies and departments of the United States government—or even with a commercial email service like Gmail.” Yeesh. You know, as a government unit charged with the sanctity of sensitive information, that when your level of security is being compared to that of Google’s, you’re doing something wrong.
“Only a very small number of the emails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information. But even if information is not marked ‘classified’ in an email, participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it.” This sentiment is particularly intriguing for two reasons: 1) even if the percentage is small of messages containing classified info (less than 1%), according to this argument, the absolute number carries more weight, and 2) no matter whether or not a message says “classified” or not, discerning minds should know better. Should.
“While not the focus of our investigation, we also developed evidence that the security culture of the State Department in general, and with respect to use of unclassified email systems in particular, was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information that is found elsewhere in the government.” Cybersecurity is a serious issue these days, such that the State Department’s evidently cavalier attitude toward these matters does not inspire confidence in the agency as a whole—nor does it speak highly to the tone set at the top by the person in charge.
“We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account. We also assess that Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal email domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent.” OK, this definitely doesn’t inspire confidence. In fact, it’s downright scary that classified information was accessed in this way, and while there is a mitigating factor in terms of the zeal with which hackers may pursue access, this doesn’t change the idea that E-mail security should have been a top priority under Clinton’s watch.
“She also used her personal email extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related emails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries. Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.” See also #6. On a good intelligence day, lone wolf and splinter group terrorist attacks are still able to occur, such that “hostile” adversaries really don’t need the help. For someone who prospectively would have the ultimate responsibility of keeping America safe as Commander in Chief, this does not speak well of Hillary’s leadership abilities.
It should be noted that just because the FBI doesn’t recommend an indictment, this doesn’t mean that the Department of Justice can’t decide to still follow through with criminal charges of some form. Technically, then, Hillary Clinton is not completely out of the water. Then again, Hillary is technically not the Democratic Party nominee until party delegates make their official declaration at the Democratic National Convention. But, yeah, as much as I, H.A. Goodman, or any number of Bernie Sanders supporters might wish it, HRC is almost certainly not getting indicted, and almost certainly will be the Democratic Party nominee.
With that business aside, the reaction of many to the Bureau’s findings is characterized by disappointment, if not downright anger. Of course, Hillary Clinton could be caught in the act of littering, and people would still be calling for her head. Not to diminish littering, mind you—we only have one Earth, after all—I’m just trying to make a point about the antipathy the woman inspires. Even if objectivity is seemingly in short supply for all things related to Hillary, however, except for her staunchest supporters, the general consensus seems to be that something doesn’t add up in the Case of the Missing E-Mails. For one, it is not especially clear as to how Clinton’s actions, as “extremely careless” as they were, do not qualify as “gross negligence” and therefore do not satisfy the requirements for an indictment. As Julia Edwards of Reuters reports, the answer may have as much to do with legal precedent as much a wholly concrete definition of the term. According to the lawyers surveyed in the piece, without proof of specific intent of Hillary Clinton’s to share sensitive information with people not authorized to see it, under the Espionage Act, there is not much prior incidence of charging individuals along these lines. That is, recklessness does not necessarily equate to negligence. Donald Trump and other Republicans are quick to point to the example of General David Petraeus as being a superficially similar set of circumstances, but as the article and interviewees within highlight, Petraeus admitted to sharing confidential information with Paula Broadwell, his biographer and lover, and only did so after initially lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about doing so. There are appreciable differences in these two scenarios.
Then again, as amateur and professional legal analysts might argue, intent does not necessarily need to be present to qualify behavior as negligence. Meanwhile, as more recent testimony from Clinton’s top aides suggests, the former Secretary of State may have been more active in concealing certain evidence than mere carelessness would hint at. One surprising admission on the part of Huma Abedin when deposed was that Hillary Clinton put her daily schedule as Secretary of State in a “burn bag” on more than one occasion. Elsewhere in her deposition, Abedin was questioned on a message sent by Clinton regarding the latter’s demand that there not be “any risk of the personal being accessible” with respect to her E-mail, which may be read as Hillary trying to take normal precautions of safety (as Abedin chose to read it), or may be interpreted as HRC deliberately looking to hide government information. These details are surely no smoking gun, and some might even point to the knowledge that President George W. Bush’s staff burned his schedules, according to Brad Blakeman, Dubya’s former scheduler. And yet, it would be vaguely weird for Hillary Clinton to insist on making sure her printed schedules were unobtainable yet leave the door unlocked, so to speak, with respect to her electronic communications. Intent or no intent, the inconsistency is pretty embarrassing, simply put.
As tends to be the case with Hillary, it is not necessarily an act of explicit malice which defines her “dark side,” if you will, but an attitude or pattern of noncompliance under the premise that certain standards of normal conduct don’t apply, a modus operandi attributable to Bill, as well. The intersection of Mr. and Mrs. Clinton’s troubled legacies came to a head last week when the former just happened to run into the Attorney General Loretta Lynch at Phoenix Airport, and they just happened to talk about nothing pertaining to the investigation the agency Lynch heads has been conducting with respect to Mrs. Clinton, and it totally didn’t dawn on either of them that they shouldn’t be meeting like this. Notably on Bill’s part, as Robert Reich and others have insinuated, it speaks to a sense of entitlement. Granted, Bill and Hillary are not alone in feelings of hubris, so to speak, among the political elite in the United States and elsewhere, but they are hardly models on this dimension. After Slick Willie’s stunt on the tarmac in Arizona, one might venture to say they aren’t particularly careful or smart about it either. Bad optics? Even a blind person would be wont to think something looked fishy with that “chance encounter.”
Hillary Clinton and her supporters have been quick to turn the page following James Comey’s and the FBI’s recommendations not to indict the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, and their calls have been that much louder for Bernie Sanders to call it a campaign and fully get behind Clinton following the news; reportedly, Bernie has even been hearing jeers from other members of Congress growing more and more impatient with the absence of his endorsement. (If they were smart, establishment Democrats would take Sanders seriously in hearing about how to fix a party that has its own trust issues with the public; see also Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, for instance, who sided with Republicans and payday lenders against consumers. But they don’t seem terribly interested in that.) Even if charges are not filed against HRC, however, and even if Bernie Sanders gives that prized endorsement (because an endorsement means that his supporters will automatically jump at the chance to vote for Hillary, since they evidently are mindless drones who hang on Bernie’s every word), Comey’s criticisms are more or less a blueprint for Republican attack ads leading up to the election. Plus, on the heels of fault-finding by the Special Committee on Benghazi, if this is supposed to help the would-be “Madam President” on her perception problem, um, it’s not doing the job. In fact, for all the answers this FBI investigation was intended to provide, any number of questions loom large in the wake of James Comey’s press release.
Speaking of being quick to turn the page, the FBI director, after making his statement, took no questions from the media. It seems only fitting for a case like Hillary Clinton’s use of E-mail while serving as Secretary of Stare, in which adherence to protocol was suspect, and the integrity of evidence is questionable. At best, the findings point to poor judgment on the part of Hillary and her top aides, and that’s before considerations of potential ethics violations or woeful incompetence. Either way, the cloud of suspicion that has hung over Hillary Clinton will, in all probability, not go away anytime soon, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s own reputation stands to take a hit in its own right. “Fidelity, bravery, integrity?” Americans are less sure about that right now—myself included.