You are in the Circus Now
…whether you want to be or not.
“There’s too much to keep up with.”
“It all seems like nonsense.”
“I have no idea what’s going on.”
“I wish Trump would just get to work.”
These are common refrains coming from everyday Americans who are fed up with the information overload they’re getting from the media. If you feel like you’re in a whirlwind, where it’s hard for you to figure out who is actually telling the truth and what story is currently in the headlines, you’re not alone; even professional journalists are in the whirlwind with you.
One of the reasons for the deluge of information is truly due to the fact that there’s a lot of news right now. A couple weeks ago the head of the FBI testified that the Trump Administration was under investigation for its ties to the Russian Government and the Republicans in Congress also failed to make good on their promise to repeal Obamacare. Both of those stories — which are bombshells on their own — happened in the same week. That’s a lot to cover.
But last week the biggest story was mostly centered around the actions of a previously obscure Congressman and it all got really confusing. To fully understand, you have to go all the way back to a series of Trump’s tweets about a month ago:
These four tweets set off a firestorm in D.C. Trump’s accusations turned out to be completely false, as the FBI, NSA, House Intelligence Committee, and Senate Intelligence Committee all pointed out, one by one. But Trump refused to give in and admit he was wrong.
Enter Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, who spent most of last week punching himself in the face. First, he gave an impromptu press conference in which he stated that there was some evidence that Trump and/or his associates were recorded, and that he needed to show this evidence to the White House (Nunes is currently heading the House’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election). Some time later, it was revealed that Nunes actually got this information from White House officials, and that it didn’t support Trump’s claim at all (to his credit, Nunes stated as much in his press conference). In fact, it was similar to earlier reports about Michael Flynn: That foreign officials — in Flynn’s case, the Russian Ambassador — were under surveillance and the communications from the Trump Team were picked up in what is called, “Incidental collection.”
Incidental collection happens when an American citizen is communicating with a foreign agent under surveillance. Transcripts of the conversations can be reviewed by officials with security clearances, but the names of the American citizens have to be “blacked out” and/or redacted in some way. Even though Nunes confirmed that the names were not available in the intelligence he looked at, Bloomberg published a story revealing that Susan Rice “unmasked” the names of the Trump officials caught up in incidental collection. In normal-person terms, that means she removed anything that “blacked out” their names.
Some in conservative media have again latched onto this report to claim that Trump was right, despite the fact that it explicitly says, “There remains no evidence to support“ Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by the Obama Administration. Leave aside the fact that Rice’s actions — which are as of yet not confirmed — are the normal and routine duties of a National Security Advisor and that the “unmasking” could only have come about if there was a legitimate national security risk, as assessed by the NSA or FBI. Leave aside the fact that the Rice story was originally reported by a White Supremacist who doesn’t think date rape is real. Leave aside the fact that even if Trump’s claims are correct, the most likely reason for any direct surveillance of his team is that the FBI believed they were colluding with Russia in a criminal way. This comes down to one thing: An entire section of the Republican apparatus in government has spent a month running defense on an ill-advised and totally false Saturday morning tweet.
Just today, Trump tried to alert the FBI on Twitter to a report on Fox News, as if the FBI was going to learn something new from the human furniture on Fox and Friends:
We are almost a month into this “scandal” and Trump still can’t let it go. Trump’s stubbornness was obvious to anyone who covered him throughout the campaign: When he insulted his fellow Republicans’ wives, he refused to apologize. When he made up a story about seeing “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating, he refused to apologize. Even when Jewish Organizations pointed out that his Administration’s statement on the Holocaust did not mention Jews, he refused to acknowledge any error.
The lesson from all of this is that Trump’s personality is toxic to his agenda and the agenda of Republicans in Congress. If you are waiting on Trump to get to your pet project — Tax reform, abortion, healthcare (already done) — you will be waiting a long time.
The actual policy doesn’t matter to Trump. It’s all about his ego and everything else is taking a backseat. Unless Republicans stop enabling Trump, then their plans for this year and the next are going to be overshadowed by Trump. And with an approval rating hovering at 35%, you don’t want him to be the face of your policy.