……..this is like playing pin the tail on the donkey……….with a Real Donkey…………
The leaks won’t stop
There’s a solution, but they’re not going to like it.
The Trump administration can sure try. It can make a renewed effort to identify and punish leakers in intelligence agencies — something Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to do in the coming days. It might prevail on FBI director nominee Christopher Wray to entertain the possibility his predecessor James Comey reportedly balked at: throwing reporters in jail for leaked information. It can even turn against itself: On Wednesday night, White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci accused White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus of leaking Scaramucci’s financial disclosure forms, and threatened to call the FBI to have Priebus investigated.
It won’t work.
This isn’t just because the president himself is allegedly cavalier with classified info, like the details he reportedly told Russian emissaries in May that could lead to the identification of Israel’s best source on ISIS, or his tweet in July that confirmed a covert program in Syria(in the course of insulting a Washington Post story about it).
It’s because of the way the president runs his government.
Donald Trump and his advisers have created an administration in which there is no way to get the president’s attention, or to resolve problems, through normal channels.
The only way to make sure an issue will get any attention whatsoever — much less have a prayer of actually getting fixed — is to leak.
Trump doesn’t read memos. But he watches Fox & Friends.
Imagine you’re a somewhat senior government official — one who doesn’t get a lot of face time with the president, but who has access to pretty important information — and you need to send a message to President Donald Trump.
You can try to write him a memo, or get the message into a briefing paper his staff is preparing. But the staff is trying to squeeze a ton of information into the incredibly narrow aperture of “what the president is actually going to read.”
Your message had better be less than a page (ideally a lot less, so that it can fit on a page with all the other messages all the other officials like you are trying to send). It had better include a visual aid — a map is good.
If you can find some way, however gratuitous, to mention the president’s name in the text, that’s great — unless he’s already stopped reading before he even gets to what you’re trying to say because someone else didn’t jam his name into a paragraph.
You’d better not need the president to actually make a choice between multiple options. You should be able to tell him the pros and cons of how something will play in the press — which doesn’t give you a lot of options if you’re trying to get him to deal with something that shouldn’t be publicly known. And whatever you do, don’t tell him he can’t do something: That’s reportedly “the quickest way to get him” to do just that.
Or you can go the easier route: You can just leak the information to someone so that it ends up on Fox & Friends.
Why should lobbyists outside the government have a more reliable way of reaching the president than people inside it? You go where the president is likely to see you.
This isn’t a product of the federal government. It’s a product of organizations Trump runs. His campaign was famously leaky. His transition team was so leaky that pretty much every major Cabinet appointee was known in advance. His White House is hardly in a position to lecture executive branch agencies about leaking, given how liable they are to dish about their boss and each other to any of several reporters.
It’s perfectly understandable. They, too, are simply giving themselves the best chance of reaching the president’s ear.
If you refuse to take bad news the easy way, you force yourself to deal with it the hard way
The information flow could, in theory, be fixed — if Trump wanted to. But to want to fix it — to be willing to slog through detailed memos and limit his screen time — he’d have to confront a deeper problem: The most powerful man in the free world is simply unwilling to hear bad news.
This is one of the biggest reasons the information he gets from staff is so limited — reports indicate that to keep him in a good mood, staffers deliberately pad packets of press clips with positive coverage. But even dissent that manages to get through to him might go unheard or rejected — it could even ruin his mood and cloud his decision-making for the rest of the day.
That defeats the whole purpose of telling the president bad news in confidence. It makes leaking the obvious choice.
Erick Erickson wrote about this back in May, when discussing a friend who witnessed the meeting in which Trump divulged classified information to the Russian officials:
The President will not take any internal criticism, no matter how politely it is given. He does not want advice, cannot be corrected, and is too insecure to see any constructive feedback as anything other than an attack.
So some of the sources are left with no other option but to go to the media, leak the story, and hope that the intense blowback gives the President a swift kick in the butt. Perhaps then he will recognize he screwed up. The President cares vastly more about what the press says than what his advisers say.
This is a feature of Trump’s personality, but it isn’t confined to Trump. You can see it throughout his administration — in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s distance from staff, in Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly’s insistence that any criticism of his agents is a direct attack on morale.
Trump appointees can’t be trusted to be objective when dealing with internal issues because the president appears to feel no compunction about attacking people for disloyalty — as his sustained attack on Attorney General Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government has made painfully clear. Obama appointees run the risk of getting shoved out at any time if they cause any problems. And then there are all the positions in government sitting empty, simply preventing conflicts from being resolved because there’s no one senior enough to resolve them.
The Trump administration, to all appearances, has only one way to deal with bad news: shoot the messenger. If the messenger stands up and identifies himself in a private meeting or a memo or a recusal, they know where to shoot. If the messenger leaks to a reporter, they don’t — and besides, they might, just might, realize it was their problem to begin with.
Bad news doesn’t simply go away if you don’t want to hear about it. The Trump administration has created an environment in which leaks are fulfilling the function of basic executive processes, like resolving internal disputes, correcting course, and simply giving the president an accurate sense of what’s going on.
If the Trump administration really wanted to stop the leaks, it would change to make leaking unnecessary. But that would require the president to shut up and listen to people he’s already decided are part of the “deep state” out to get him. It would require him to acknowledge that he can’t drain the swamp without getting drowned in leaks.
…….serious history being written these days…….. many issues in dispute…..facts are facts…..try some of these……w
It was a breezy, surprisingly pleasant summer week in Washington as the frenzy around potential Trump-Russia revelations reached near-carnival levels. On Thursday, brightly clad groups scattered across the lawns of Capitol Hill could almost have been picnickers — if not for the mounds of cable leashing them to nearby satellite trucks. Every news studio in D.C. seemed to have spilled forth into the jarring sunlight, eager for the best live backdrop to the spectacle that awaited. Bars opened early for live viewing of former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.
Political ads against Comey — who isn’t running for anything — aired during coverage of the hearing, often back-to-back with vibrant ads praising President Trump’s first foreign trip, where he “[united] forces for good against evil.”
Only D.C.’s usually opportunistic T-shirt printers seemed to have missed the cue, forced to display the usual tourist “FBI” fare in rainbow spectrum but offering no specialty knitwear for the occasion. The conversion of America’s political arena into a hybrid sporting event/reality show was nonetheless near complete.
Russian state media — eagerly throwing peanuts into the three-ring circus in the days before by endlessly looping Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin’s mockery of America’s “hysteria” on all things Russia, and on the day after by running headlines of American “collusion” with ISIS — was dead silent on both of this week’s Senate hearings, during both of which intelligence leaders offered bleak and candid assessments of the cascading Russian threat against America.
And this is perhaps the banner flying over the investigations circus: Missing from the investigation of the supposed Russia scandal is any real discussion of Russia.
The starkest aspect of Comey’s prepared statement was the president’s lack of curiosity about the long-running, deep-reaching, well-executed and terrifyingly effective Russian attack on American democracy.
This was raised more than once in the hearing — that after Trump was briefed in January on the intelligence community’s report, which emphasized ongoing activity directed by the Kremlin against the United States, he has not subsequently evinced any interest in what can be done to protect us from another Russian assault. The president is interested in his own innocence, or the potential guilt of others around him — but not at all in the culpability of a foreign adversary, or what it meant. This is utterly astonishing.
Since the January intelligence report, the public’s understanding of the threat has not expanded. OK, Russia meddled in the election — but so what? Increasingly, responsibility for this is borne by the White House, which in seeking to minimize the political damage of “Trump/Russia” is failing to craft a response to the greatest threat the United States and its allies have ever faced.
Even if the president and his team were correct, and the Comey testimony definitively cleared the president of potential obstruction of justice or collusion charges — even if that were true, that does not also exonerate Russia. Nonetheless, this is a line the president seems to want drawn.
So here are the real issues — about Russia; about the brutal facts we have yet to face; and about some hard questions we need to ask ourselves, and our political leaders, and our president.
1. No matter what is true or not, we have moved toward the fractured, inward-looking, weakened America that President Putin wants to see.
An honest assessment of where we are reads like the setting of a dystopian spy novel. Paid advertising is defaming private American citizens viewed as opponents of the president, while political ads praise our glorious leader. The policy process is paralyzed while both party caucuses, once well-oiled legislative and messaging machines, have factionalized into guerrilla-like cells. The same can be said of many government agencies, whose halls remain quiet, awaiting political appointees who may never arrive. Policies are floated and tweeted and drafted and retracted. There are uneasy relationships between the White House and the intelligence community, and between the White House and Congress, and between the White House and other parts of the White House — which is bleeding over into how the intelligence community interacts with the Congress, as well.
This factionalization mirrors a deep and deepening public divide, which has been greatly accelerated by a war on truth. The Russian narrative is increasingly being echoed by far right media, and finding its way into mainstream conservative media. Episodes of violent unrest, and the potential for wider chaos, don’t seem far off.
Meanwhile, no one seems to be watching what Russia is still doing to us. No one is systematically speaking about the tactics of Russian hybrid warfare, and that these go beyond “fake news” and “hacking” into far-reaching intelligence operations and initiatives to destabilize Western countries, economies and societies. No one is talking about how Russia provides training for militants and terrorists in Europe, even as U.S. generals say it is supporting the Taliban as it attacks American forces in Afghanistan. No one is leading a unified effort to roll back Russian influence in Europe or Asia or the Middle East. No one is commenting on Russia’s new efforts to entrench its presence near eastern Ukraine, escalate the fighting there and destabilize the government in Kyiv.
No one is commenting on how Russia is sparking and fueling Middle Eastern wars — first a physical one spiraling out from Syria, and now a diplomatic one that sweeps across the region. In a very real sense, if you want a glimpse of the world that Putin’s “gray Cardinal” Vladislav Surkov imagined when he described nonlinear warfare — “all against all” — the current churn throughout the Middle East, the Gulf states and North Africa is a pretty good example. This is a massive realignment that deeply affects U.S. interests, and which will cost us, in blood and treasure, in immeasurable ways.
But no one is commenting on the new hardware and manpower that Russia has deployed to the eastern and southern Mediterranean, or to its eastern and western borders. Our trenches will draw nearer again after the summer exercise season, but who will man them on the Western side is more uncertain. Europe’s newfound fortitude is absolutely critical — but their military capabilities will lag their ambitions for years to come.
Our relationships with our truest allies are frayed and fraying — and not just in headlines, but in trust and intelligence sharing and functionality, even as critical ambassadorships and administration jobs gape open. Those who remain, especially from the Pentagon and military commands — Defense Secretary James Mattis and the EUCOM and SOCOM commanders, notably — have been patrolling Europe with trips and reassurances, good work that was undone when the president removed mention of Article 5 from his speech at NATO headquarters. Though he committed to the principle of collective defense on Friday during a news conference with the president of Romania, that one act of petulance is devastating to years of NATO’s strategic planning.
Even behind closed doors, Trump reportedly did not once mention Russia to the NATO heads of state — not to discuss Russian attacks against our allies, and not to discuss Russia’s menacing of NATO skies, seas and borders. Instead, he browbeat our allies. Maybe it’s news to the White House — but it was Russia’s aggression, not Trump’s hectoring, that inspired the alliance to boost national military spending. Days later, the sting still on the slap, Trump lashed out at the mayor of London following a terror attack. These words and images, next to those of the president yukking it up in the Oval Office with the Russian foreign minister, add a dangerous element of fragility to the greatest military alliance in history.
It leaves us to wonder — who does President Trump imagine will come to our aid after the next attack on our soil? Who does he imagine will stand next to our troops and ease the burden at the front lines in the many wars he is fighting?
For while our attention is on the center ring and who may next find their head inside the lion’s mouth, we are engaged in expanding special warfare in Africa, a tense standoff on the Korean peninsula, expanding operations in the Middle East. The president has requested a military budget to match this operational appetite — even if his inability to manage Congress makes it near-certain this will be trapped behind a continuing budget resolution until after the midterm elections. The Pentagon is clear on the purpose and direction of these operations, but the president’s tirades against countries hosting our men and military assets — Qatar, South Korea, Germany, etc. — complicate our ability to execute on-task.
Even Putin admits that “patriotic” Russian hackers were behind the attack on America — a fact the president will still not mention without caveat. Trump is isolated, manages those around him with Stalinesque puppeteering, and rightly views himself as under attack. But even if given every benefit of the doubt about the election, it is clear he does not think Russia is a threat.
2. Russia has altered American policies, our relationships with our allies and our view of our place in the world.
To be clear: I am not saying Trump did not win the election, or that he didn’t have considerable momentum toward the end of the campaign. Candidate Trump had a narrative that captured many hearts and minds — but this did not happen in a vacuum, but rather a landscape awash in Russian active measures.
A constantly misunderstood narrative was revisited during the Comey hearing — questions about whether Russian actions “changed” the vote. The focus on whether this means Russia physically changed votes is the greatest diversion tactic of all. Ironically, D.C.’s political class — whose existence is based upon the ability to deploy narratives that get some people to vote, and others not to — refuses to admit that outside interests could change a small percentage of votes in the Rust Belt.
If the Trump campaign itself has openly discussed its use of data-backed information operations to conduct targeted voter-suppression campaigns, possibly at the individual level — why would we believe the Russians wouldn’t be experimenting with the same tools and tactics? Do we really think Russian-friendly parties, oligarchs and state-owned interests hire U.S. political consultants and pollsters and technology firms merely to run ad campaigns, rather than to learn how to use these things against us?
These tools and tactics in the information space work better against America than anywhere else because there are a lot of us, and because English is the language of the internet — and the amplification factor because of these things is staggering, especially when one of our presidential candidates was borrowing and repeating Russian narrative and disinformation. What possible claim could any sensible American politician make that these factors had no impact in the decision making process of the American voter?
In fact, you can track the radical changes in the belief of certain narratives during the time period Comey identified as when the most intensive Kremlin-led activities were underway (beginning in summer 2015 through present day). During this time frame, Republican views on free trade agreements dropped 30 points, from roughly the same as Democrats to radically divergent (Democratic views remained relatively steady). Putin’s favorability rating increased, even while unfavorable views remained constant, fueled by a 20-point increase among Republicans and an 11-point increase among Independents. Between early 2016 and now, Republican views of whether media criticism can help keep political leaders in line — which for the previous five years was almost identical to Democratic views — dropped by 35 points.
An isolationist America that is softer on Russia and more in favor of authoritarian traits in leaders fits right into the narratives that the Kremlin nurtures and spends billions to promote. And if views changed so dramatically on these aspects of Russian narratives — why is it we believe their efforts didn’t change any votes?
In many ways, the trust-based, state-based U.S. voting system is surprisingly resilient to basichacking or meddling. Every state, sometimes every county, runs its own elections with its own rules with its own machines (or not) serviced by their own vendors. Certainly, there are easy ways to hack this infrastructure — technicians servicing software, unsecured machines, etc. — but the decentralized system makes it a complicated affair. It’s uncertain and it’s messy and it would leave a trail of money and evidence that can be found and exposed.
Far simpler, it turns out, is just hacking people — getting them to change their views over time without realizing that they are doing so on the basis of deliberately coercive and false information that is targeted at them because they exhibit certain traits and habits that “data scientists” have profiled. And no one can prove anyone did anything.
And yes, this is indeed terrifying. So yes, it would be great if everyone would move on from denying the existence of the “hacked votes” no one is looking for to looking instead at the far more important issue: that Russian information warfare has come of age thanks to social media. Perhaps then, the tens of thousands of “programmers” working for Russia’s three largest data companies will make a lot more sense.
3. It will happen again; it is still happening now.
One final point, on the tactical weaponization of discrete pieces of information. Ours was not the only case where hacking introduced info or disinfo that came to dominate specific parts of the information space (particularly when massively amplified by botnets that know how to game the algorithms).
Just this week, the planting of a single false report, allegedly by Russian hackers, was used to justify a diplomatic rift that will fuel the realignment of the Middle East. Russia has been working to accelerate this process since 2011, when it used the Syrian civil war as a pretext to deploy to the region. It is no accident that this realignment has meant a proxy war that has empowered Iran — which has been helping kill Americans in Iraq since at least 2004 — and special efforts targeting countries that the U.S. has relied on for regional basing and power projection — including Turkey, Egypt, Qatar and Iraqi Kurdistan.
This tactic works because it prays on doubts and grievances that are already present — as the best information warfare does. Truth doesn’t matter. Once we know how we feel about something, who cares what the truth is? And information is just one act of Russia’s shadow war.
So this is where we are, six months after first taking stock of what Russia did to America. We are paralyzed and divided, watching a salacious sideshow of an investigation while Russian initiatives are underway in countless places, completely unchecked. The American president, eager to be rid of this “cloud,” has equated dismissing Russia’s global imperialist insurgency with loyalty to him.
As I wrote for Politicoin January, Russia is clear about what its objectives are. When I said then that Russia was at war with the United States, this was an edgy, controversial view. Now, it is regularly repeated by senators and TV commentators. But our societal understanding of the war we face has not expanded fast enough.
Even looking only at the advance of Russian military assets — men, materiel, supporting infrastructure — the picture is grim. And yet the most concise encapsulation of the Russian concept of hybrid warfare — the chart depicting the “Gerasimov doctrine,” developed by the Russian chief of the general staff — shows that information warfare is the constant through all phases, and that the ideal ratio of nonmilitary to military activities is 4:1. The more important war is, by far, the shadow war. And yet we still refuse to accept what’s happening.
I don’t know why we just choose not to believe what Russia says, when they have repeatedly outlined what their strategic goals are and then moved to achieve them by force and guile. But it’s a bridge of disbelief we need to be willing to cross.
The war is in the shadows. And, right now, Russia is winning. There is only one question that we should be asking: What are we going to do to protect the American people from Russian acts of war — and why doesn’t the president want to talk about it?
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—At a press conference on Tuesday morning, Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, told reporters that people who are pushed out of windows are “extremely lucky” because they get “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fly through the air.”
“Ever since the dawn of civilization, mankind has been enchanted by the dream of flight,” Carson said. “People who get pushed out of windows get to realize that cherished dream.”
“That’s what makes America a great country,” he continued. “People are pushed out of windows every day here.”
Carson said that, while he had never personally been pushed out of a window, “it’s on my bucket list.”
On a subject more pertinent to his new job at hud, Carson said that people without housing “enjoy the rare satisfaction you can only experience by building your own dwelling out of cardboard.”
Andy Borowitz is a New York Times best-selling author and a comedian who has written for The New Yorker since 1998. He writes the Borowitz Report for newyorker.com.
……unless there’s some last minute hail Mary that gets us out of this nightmare…..this friggin nightmare is going to go from bad to worse…..maybe way worse…..depending on who you are……angry white guys are probably going to do just fine….for awhile…. since it’s their ilk that is making that last gasping sound….. fading from influence….way too slowly…..
…….Angry White Guys…..
….they’ll probably move towards their favorite targets first…..
Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman says…….
As 2017 dawns and the Republicans prepare to take control of both houses of Congress and the White House, a life or death matter looms for millions of Americans who currently have health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare: The GOP says it’s full steam ahead on repeal of the ACA. Why are they so damn eager to eliminate healthcare for tens of millions? Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman says the GOP’s motive goes beyond their free market zeal.
For years, Republicans have been hoping and praying for a predicted Obamacare death spiral, but it has yet to materialize, and now the GOP faces a much more terrifying prospect:
“Despite higher premiums, enrollments in the exchanges are running ahead of their levels a year ago. Meanwhile, analysts are reporting substantial financial improvement for insurers: The premium hikes are doing the job, ending their losses.”
Should the Republicans let the program continue to grow and expand, becoming more popular and financially stable with each passing day, it would be even more difficult for them to rip coverage away from millions of Americans who have decent, affordable heath insurance.
“Republican congressional leaders like Paul Ryan nonetheless seem eager to push ahead with repeal. In fact, they seem to be in a great rush, probably because they’re afraid that if they don’t unravel health reform in the very first weeks of the Trump era, rank-and-file members of Congress will start hearing from constituents who really, really don’t want to lose their insurance.”
At a much deeper level, the real reason the GOP hates the Affordable Care Act so much can be distilled down to two main points:
The ACA is paid for in part by higher taxes on wealthy Americans. Now that the GOP is in control, they are going to do everything they can to give their rich contributors as many tax cuts as they can.
Republicans don’t think the government should play any role in improving the lives of average Americans. It doesn’t fit into their Ayn Rand theory of Objectivism. The GOP thinks that if you don’t have decent healthcare, it’s all your fault.
Krugman concludes his analysis with this reminder:
“When the number of uninsured Americans skyrockets on their watch, they’ll claim that it’s not their fault. Like everything, it’s the fault of liberal elites.”
…..wait….it’s our American Spring….yeah that’s it….that’s the ticket!….
Pat Buchanan: If Trump Loses, There Could Be A Revolution
In a column yesterday, Pat Buchanan warned that if Donald Trump loses the election in November, America could experience a revolution.
Buchanan, citing Trump’s recent suggestion that the election could be “rigged,” said that if Hillary Clinton defeats Trump, “would that not suggest there is something fraudulent about American democracy, something rotten in the state?”
“[T]he Republican electorate should tell its discredited and rejected ruling class: If we cannot get rid of you at the ballot box, then tell us how, peacefully and democratically, we can be rid of you?” he continued. “You want Trump out? How do we get you out? The Czechs had their Prague Spring. The Tunisians and Egyptians their Arab Spring. When do we have our American Spring?”
Buchanan then quoted John F. Kennedy’s remarks on U.S.-Latin American relations: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
“I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged,” Donald Trump told voters in Ohio and Sean Hannity on Fox News. And that hit a nerve.
“Dangerous,” “toxic,” came the recoil from the media.
Trump is threatening to “delegitimize” the election results of 2016.
Well, if that is what Trump is trying to do, he has no small point. For consider what 2016 promised and what it appears about to deliver.
This longest of election cycles has rightly been called the Year of the Outsider. It was a year that saw a mighty surge of economic populism and patriotism, a year when a 74-year-old socialist senator set primaries ablaze with mammoth crowds that dwarfed those of Hillary Clinton.
It was the year that a non-politician, Donald Trump, swept Republican primaries in an historic turnout, with his nearest rival an ostracized maverick in his own Republican caucus, Sen. Ted Cruz.
More than a dozen Republican rivals, described as the strongest GOP field since 1980, were sent packing. This was the year Americans rose up to pull down the establishment in a peaceful storming of the American Bastille.
But if it ends with a Clintonite restoration and a ratification of the same old Beltway policies, would that not suggest there is something fraudulent about American democracy, something rotten in the state?
Specifically, the Republican electorate should tell its discredited and rejected ruling class: If we cannot get rid of you at the ballot box, then tell us how, peacefully and democratically, we can be rid of you?
You want Trump out? How do we get you out?
The Czechs had their Prague Spring. The Tunisians and Egyptians their Arab Spring. When do we have our American Spring?
And if, as the polls show we might, we get Clinton – and TPP, and amnesty, and endless migrations of Third World peoples who consume more tax dollars than they generate, and who will soon swamp the Republicans’ coalition – what was 2016 all about?
Would this really be what a majority of Americans voted for in this most exciting of presidential races?
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable,” said John F. Kennedy.
NEW YORK—The Republican Presidential nominee, Donald Trump, tore into the media on Thursday for what he called its “extremely unfair practice” of reporting the things he says.
“I’ll say something at a rally and I look out and see all these TV cameras taking every word down,” Trump told Fox News’s Sean Hannity. “No one in politics has ever been subjected to this kind of treatment.”
“It’s unbelievable and, frankly, very unethical,” he added.
At a rally in Florida, the candidate lashed out at a TV cameraman whom he caught in the act of recording his words for broadcasting purposes.
“Look at him over there, picking up everything I’m saying, folks,” Trump shouted. “Get him out of here.”
In his interview with Fox, Trump hinted that he might drop out of this fall’s televised Presidential debates if the media continues its practice of reporting the things he says.
“I’ve always said that I would be willing to debate if I’m treated fairly,” Trump told Hannity. “But if the media keeps recording everything I say, word for word, and then playing it back so that everyone in the country hears exactly what I said, I would consider that very, very unfair.”
The Republican convention……..Melania Trump’s excruciating blunder …..Jul 19th 2016….. BY J.A. Cleveland at The Economist ….
IT HAD been billed as the high point of the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland—a speech by Donald Trump’s beautiful, Slovenian-born wife, Melania, on July 18th, in which she was expected to paint the presumptive Republican candidate in a new and softer light. Mr Trump’s advisers have described that rebranding exercise as their big objective in Cleveland; Paul Manafort, the campaign’s manager, says the four-day coronation of Mr Trump as the Republican nominee will show a “very personal” side to him. Interviewed on her way to deliver the speech, Mrs Trump claimed to have written it herself, “with a [sic] little help as possible”.
She did not, in fact, say anything terribly new or personal about her husband. Introduced by the man himself—after Mr Trump, emerging from a light-filled backdrop, to the sound of “We Are the Champions”, had made a memorable first appearance at his coronation—Mrs Trump delivered a familiar panegyric. She praised her husband as an “amazing leader” whose “achievements speak for themselves”.
She offered no clue on how Mr Trump might differ in private from the thunderous braggart he has made for public consumption. Neither did she say anything to support his claim that she is one of his most astute political advisers. Mrs Trump offered instead an anodyne portrait of wifely devotion—with no acknowledgement of the potentially humanising strains or peculiarities inherent, it might be assumed, in her match to a difficult man a quarter of a century older than her.
In any event, her speech went down well with the Republican crowd. Mrs Trump is thought to be a nice person. And her speech was, at least, a pleasant change of tone from the noisy, ill-tempered events of earlier that day. The afternoon had been dominated by a row between the convention’s organisers and a group of delegates from Virginia and elsewhere, whose effort to register their dissent against Mr Trump had been ridden over roughshod.
The evening of speeches that followed was then filled with windy harangues against Hillary Clinton, Mr Trump’s presumptive Democratic rival, offered by an assortment of B-list actors—including Scott Baio, a television star of the 1980s—former soldiers and Rudy Giuliani. It was noisy, nasty and, with the exception of Mr Giuliani, who delivered a powerful, foam-flecked denunciation of Mrs Clinton, often low-grade speaking. Mrs Trump’s speech, by comparison, was at least peaceful.
But then things went badly wrong for her, her husband, and what is already shaping up to be a strange, modestly provisioned and poorly attended convention, from which most of the party’s luminaries are absent. Two passages of Mrs Trump’s speech, it emerged, had been lifted, more or less exactly in places, from Michelle Obama’s address to the Democratic convention in 2008.
“Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do,” Mrs Obama said in a speech richly praised at the time by, among others, Mr Trump.
“From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect,” said Mrs Trump.
“And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation,” Mrs Obama’s speech continued. “Because we want our children—and all children in this nation—to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”
Or as Mrs Trump put this: “That is a lesson I continue to pass along to our son, and we need to pass those lesson on to the many generations to follow, because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”
Mrs Trump is not her husband. So her apparent plagiarism is not about to kill his campaign—as happened, for example, to Joe Biden’s fledgling presidential run in 1988, after he was shown to have unwittingly ripped off speeches by both Robert Kennedy and Neil Kinnock, the then leader of the British Labour Party. Yet Mrs Trump’s blunder is still worse than embarrassing.
It points to the inadequacy of Mr Trump’s campaign effort, which is lagging behind that of Mrs Clinton, his presumptive rival in November, in cash and organisation by any measure. Late last month, Mr Trump was trying to roll out a national campaign with less than a hundred employees; meanwhile, he sought to preserve the close-knit, deeply loyal and scattily amateurish spirit of the skeletal operation he constructed during the primaries. That one of his speechwriters appears to have ripped off Mrs Obama suggests he might wish to buck up that idea. That this error or idiocy was not picked up in the weeks-long editing process that followed is remarkable.
Worse, the scandal raises an obvious question about the straight-shooting honesty of Mr Trump’s campaign that is one of his main boasts. Plainly, Mrs Trump was trying to reinforce just that impression by claiming, falsely, to have written the speech herself. She now looks a phony, which makes Mr Trump look like a phony, too.
He would now seem to have two ways of dealing with the fallout. He could admit the error and fire the errant speechwriter. Or Mr Trump, who almost never admits to possessing any weakness, may choose to ignore the blunder and simply blame the media for making an unnecessary fuss. His spokesman, in a statement released shortly after the foul-up was noticed, suggested Mr Trump preferred the second path.
“In writing her beautiful speech, Melania’s team of writers took notes on her life’s inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking,” it ran. That contained at least an admission that Mrs Trump was wrong to have claimed authorship of the speech. But America’s media, long bullied and abused by Mr Trump, and now delighting in his embarrassment, are going to want to see more of a climb-down than that.
“Maybe [this is] the funniest fuck up in the history of political conventions,” tweeted the conservative commentator David Frum. It really was.