John Bolton, Enemy of the State

The state, it is Trump.

The remarks in this video from Trump's press conference are very emblematic of the way he operates.

There are two aspects here that I'd like to dive into.

One is that Trump's understanding of national security comes down to his own well-being. His concerns in having someone testify who "knows some of [his[ thoughts" is that if Bolton says something negative, it will make it harder for Trump to manage diplomacy... his style of diplomacy consisting largely of trading compliments and threats one on one with other foreign leaders.

It's not that Bolton might let slip something classified, or reveal something about our strategic goals or defensive capabilities. It's that he might repeat something Trump said about another head of state, undermining his ability to craft his own narratives by saying different things to different audiences and hoping they never find out what he told the other. 

In this respect, Donald has indeed tried to run the government the way he runs his business, where he might tell a licensing board one story and regulators another and investors yet another story entirely in order to get each group to give him what he wants so he can get a building with his name on it and a pile of money to fritter away on his "billionaire" lifestyle while the actual business venture slowly rots from the inside out.

If Bolton were to go around telling the world what Trump says about his marks in front of US officials, it will make it harder (not impossible, just harder) for him to snow them. 

That, to him, is a national security issue. It doesn't actually endanger us as a nation. It doesn't weaken us, unless you think his ability to rack up paper "wins" and brag about them somehow diminishes us. But it makes things work for him, and to Donald Trump, he is the United States and the United States is him: l'état, c'est moi. The state, it is me.

The second aspect is yet another case of Saying The Quiet Part Loud.

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When he talks about not wanting Bolton to testify because he left on bad terms, he's admitting that his whole calculation here is, "Is this good for me?" He sees the world as people who are reliably useful and... well, enemies. It's no exaggeration to say he wouldn't be in office now if not for Jim Comey's actions in October of 2016. Analysis from both campaigns bears this out. The FBI under Comey publicized the trumped-up email laptop investigation into Hillary Clinton and quietly kept a lid on the investigations into Trump's campaign and foreign influence. 

They weren't uniformly in the bag for Trump, but there's no rational analysis that says they were against him. 

Again, he wouldn't have won without them.

So why did he go after Comey with such a vengeance?

Because knowing he owed his throne to Comey's intervention, it became imperative that Donald owned Comey. If Comey were a free agent, acting on his own agenda or even merely doing whatever he thought right, then the power that elevated Trump to the highest office in the land could be turned against him. He had to be sure of Comey's loyalty, or destroy him.

Comey made it clear he wasn't going to be Donald's creature, and so Donald sought to destroy him.

So here we have John Bolton, whose testimony could exonerate Trump or damn him. He left on bad terms — and we should note that when Trump says that was his fault, he's not taking blame for the rift but credit for having fired him, a backwards-facing dig at the dispute in the order of events — and that alone is reason enough for Hair Furor to fear letting him testify. He isn't a reliable tool and this makes him a threat.

None of this is new insight. It's just more being added to the preponderance of evidence that Trump is a dictator in the making. The sad thing is that even when he says on TV for the whole world to hear that he's making his decisions purely on the basis of what's good for him as an individual, the specter of executive privilege may be enough to forestall crucial witness testimony in the trial as it did during the hearing. 

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Quick Hit: The National Archives Reverse Course

Update on a previous entry.

About that altered Women’s March photograph

This affirms my suspicion that it was about pre-emptive headache avoidance than out of a desire to actively push the White House agenda. They ran into a bigger headache than they expected because of it.

Which, again, is not a defense. The rooms where decisions are made throughout our federal government and military apparatus are full of people who are making decisions on the basis of what is least likely to provoke the beast, which amounts to advancing his agenda even if their motivation is to be allowed to continue their actual mission in peace.

With everything else going on right now, I’m not sure if this is going to be on Donald’s radar unless someone close to him decides to use it to rile him up or distract him. It will be interesting to see if he mentions it, or how he characterizes it.

If he does bring it up, I give it about a one-third chance he claims that Democrats threatened the National Archives until they added nasty things about him to a photograph, or something like that.

Slightly more likely is he or his proxies saying that Democrats claimed to be offended by his language and then lobbied the National Archives to put it on display. Trying to pretend that the response to his Access Hollywood audio was about language and civility is a tradition that dates back at least as far as the Women’s March itself, when they were going, “You were offended by ‘grab them by the pussy’ and now you’re wearing ‘pussy hats’? Hypocrites!”

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The Impeachment Response

Trump has at least one hand on the wheel regarding his legal defense. That could get messy.

Donald's formal response to the articles of impeachment has been released. 


In summary: he thinks they should be dismissed by the Senate summarily on the grounds that he's never done anything wrong in his life and everybody is so mean to him. It was a perfect call. Everybody said it was "good" and "normal"... those are direct quotes from the legal brief, and yes, they put quotes around those individual words.

The thing I find interesting is that this response utterly refutes one of Donald's most-cherished parts of his narrative about the impeachment, which is that he released the memo of his "perfect call" to outfox Adam Schiff after he "made up a fraudulent version" in a hearing. He's referring, of course, to Schiff's paraphrase of the call, which could only have existed after he'd read the partial edited transcript that the White House released.

It was an obvious lie but one that Donald has leaned on heavily and I was curious how it would be handled in the legal response. Now we have an answer: Team Trump is still pretending that Schiff's summary of his conduct was an attempt to trick people as to the literal contents of the call, while (reluctantly, I imagine, on Hair Furor's part) admitting it happened after. 

Not only does the evidence collected by House Democrats refute each and every one of the factual predicates underlying the first Article, the transcripts of the April 21 call and the July 25 call disprove what the Article alleges. When the House Democrats realized this, Mr. Schiff created a fraudulent version of the July 25 call and read it to the American people at a congressional hearing, without disclosing that he was simply making it all up. The fact that Mr. Schiff felt the need to fabricate a false version of the July 25 call proves that he and his colleagues knew there was absolutely nothing wrong with the call.

It of course makes no sense. If the "transcript" of the "perfect call" already existed and was being widely reported, there would have been no point in lying about its contents in public. But it's always been a ridiculous and transparent lie. Donald himself is very fond, maybe inordinately so, of doing bad impressions of people he doesn't like and acting out the scenes he imagines unfolding in the aftermath of various events. He did it with Schiff and Pelosi, in this very case, busting out the claim at multiple rallies that Pelosi had been excited about the call until he released the transcript, and then she, according to him, said, "This is the transcript? That's terrible. There's nothing there."

If the logic that Donald applies to his enemies ever applied to him, he'd be guilty of the same fraud he's accusing Schiff of, but worse. Schiff was trying to get a point across about something he actually had read; Trump was imagining the scene the way he'd prefer it to have happened.

But what's interesting in this is the inclusion of Schiff's "false version" in the legal defense at all. To the extent that they are actually lawyers, Donald's legal team has to know that this is not any kind of legal argument. Only one man could think it would be helpful, so it had to be put in at his insistence. 

I'm not putting it past any of the Senate GOP to humor him and run with it. I'm saying, they'd have an easier time giving him what he wants if the response stuck to what sounds like actual points of law. They could pretend this is all a policy dispute over the limits of executive power vs. congressional power and the nature of impeachment and come to a decision they could deliver with a straight face and probably minimal twinges of residual conscience.

But because Donald insisted on making Schiff's conduct a part of the official argument... well, they can't ignore that. And they can't easily refute it, since the mere fact that it's there means it's important to Donald and he'll be mightily affronted if they don't validate him on that.

If they find their spines and souls and we somehow get a fair trial out of this, this will make their decision easier. If, as is more likely, we see a partisan biased miscarriage of justice, it will be more cartoonishly farcical.

This is only the opening salvo. The one thing I would really watch for is if anyone on Trump's team (either his actual team that is supposed to be representing him or any of the Republican jurors) starts throwing around the phrase "perfect call" on the record. The brief says the call was "good" and "normal" and "perfectly legal" but I did not notice that phrase jumping out at me. I am certain, dead certain, that Donald has at every opportunity been haranguing his lawyers and his Senate proxies to "tell them it was perfect" every chance they get and that he's frustrated every time they don't. 

If that becomes the language of the defense, it will be an indication that they've given up all pretense of steering this ship and are willing to let it crash into the shore. That doesn't mean conviction. It doesn't mean acquittal. It means that whatever happens, however it happens, it will be uglier and messier and more destructive than in the alternative.

We will be watching closely.

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Just a quick note...

…to say I’ve renamed my Substack from Untitled Alexandra Erin Newsletter Project to The Erin Endeavor. The old name was not actually meant to be a placeholder but after referring to this as my newsletter endeavor on Twitter, I just kind of saw it in my mind as the perfect title. So here we are. The Erin Endeavor.

How’s everyone doing this weekend? Hope everybody in the path of winter storms is well-prepared.

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Grab 'Em By The Memory Hole

Erasing Trump's role in recent history is an in-kind contribution to his campaign.

One of the stories making the Twitter rounds today is that the National Archives has altered a photo from the women's march of 2017 as part of a then-vs.-now retrospective display on feminism. The modern photo is paired with a historical photo of a suffragist march from 1913, but the modern photo has been doctored so that references to Trump and to anatomy (which is in many cases still a reference to Trump) are visibly blurred out.

First, let's get a little context. This is not a defense of the National Archives but the groundwork in laying out exactly what they're doing wrong, and why it is so.

They have not altered "the official record" of the photo. Copies kept in archive are unaltered. Their management has explained that they only edit photos for display purposes, which certainly has legitimate uses. A black and white photo might have portions highlighted in color to call attention to specific details. A photo might have numbers overlaid on people to help identify them on placards. A picture or document might be remixed into an interactive experience. A "then/now" photo display like the one under discussion could be made by blending portions of two different photos together.

There's nothing chilling about the idea that displays may contain copies of pictures that have been altered. This does not defeat the purpose of the archive or go against its mission.

Where this particular instance goes wrong is that it changes the meaning of a photo being displayed. It erases recent history leading into current events. Sure, they have an unblemished copy of it in the archives and that is the one that will be given to anyone who requests it, but the one that's on display is on display. How many visitors are going to see it, as opposed to the original in the actual archive?

Erasing Donald from the narrative of the 2017 picture is like erasing all mentions of suffrage or voting from the 1913 display. At that time and in that place, he was the reason women marched! The archive describes its decision as one of "avoiding controversy" by being "non-partisan" but just as the FBI and the New York Times firmly did Donald a favor by downplaying and denying the election-year investigations into him, the National Archives is heavily favoring the Republican Party by erasing the fact that the march they're showing was a popular protest against their leader. That's as partisan as it gets.

There might seem to be very little risk that one photo display in one building will change the narrative all on its own, but we already have Trump and his proxies occasionally trying out the tactic of claiming that protesters are people who have come out in support of him. The National Archive is as official a source as one could hope for, and while they may have an internal policy of promotional exhibits being For Display Purposes Only that doesn't mean that everyone who passes through their doors on day trip or field trip is parsing it that way. I daresay that to the average person operating on a subconscious level, the assumption would be that the things they put front and center before the public would be the things they stand by the most.

We talk a lot about how archives aren't neutral, reporting isn't neutral, and how the concept of neutrality is itself a fallacy when the conflict is between those with the power to oppress and those oppressed by that power, but this isn't even that. This is on its face not neutral but biased in Trump's favor. They're erasing his role, erasing his liabilities. And they're doing it in an election year. 

Oh, you can't mention recent events in the struggle for women's rights without reminding the electorate that the Republican incumbent candidate for the office of the president is an enemy of women's rights and a serial sexual assaulter who bragged about it? Too bad. That's the truth, and showing it — not even saying it but just showing it in living color the way it happened — is as close to neutrality as you can get. Erasing it is tantamount to contributing to his campaign, something the National Archives shouldn't be doing.

Now, more context: I have a hard time believing that the person who did this is actually a Trump partisan. I don't believe they did it with the intention of helping Donald out. I think they did it out of fear that not doing it would be seen as campaigning against him. Fear of the right-wing's perpetual motion outrage-manufacturing machine, fear of the well-rehearsed cries of liberal bias, fear of Hair Furor's angry Twitter denunciations...

I think the calculus here was that presenting the actual unvarnished truth was not worth the headache.

It's the same decision a number of GOP figures who are now firmly and deeply in the bag for Trump made, once upon a time, when they thought they could control him or outlast him if they just managed him well enough. It's a decision that becomes easier to make each time you make it, and harder to go against the more compromises you have made in the name of peace. 

Today it's a display piece. 

What will it be tomorrow?

Any way you look at it, the future of our past is getting pretty blurry.

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