A Series of Unrelated Events

How the Republican defense of Trump works.

A question I keep seeing is: how are Republicans still defending Trump in the wake of the transcript, much less everything else that has come out?

Now, I know this question encompasses within it the question of why are they doing so, but I'm going to ignore that for the moment. Even if we could know for certain the motives of any given politician, it wouldn't necessarily help us act on them.

So let's focus for the moment on the how of it all.

To better understand how this works just at a cognitive level, simply look at how they deal with the call itself. Trump's perfect call, which has no quid pro quo. Here, the president of Ukraine asks about acquiring some Javelins. There, Trump asks for a favor. Elsewhere, separately from the call, Donald blocked military aid allocated by Congress from going to Ukraine. Afterwards, Trump's aides hid evidence of the call and consulted lawyers.

If you look at all of these things together, it's very obvious what happened: Donald Trump put the screws to a foreign head of state in order to get him to do a favor (or a few favors, related in his mind). If we get into what the ask consisted of, it's even worse: finding or fabricating dirt on an opponent in order to influence an upcoming election.

So how do you defend all of this?

You don't.

You defend any of it.

How do you defend any of it?

Because any of it -- by which I mean, any one piece of it, viewed in complete isolation from the rest -- isn't that damning in and of itself. Some parts are suspicious. Some parts are weird. Some parts have no good explanation when you take the rest of the puzzle pieces away, but "unexplaned" isn't the same as "illegal" or "treasonous" or "impeachable", is it?

Putting the transcript of a call away in a classified server... sure, NatSec wonks and legal experts can explain why this is wrong in and of itself, but at the point it has to be explained? It's a hard sell. The GOP has invested a lot of social capital in the idea that "process crimes" are somehow not actually crimes, in the way that "dwarf planets" aren't planets.

Besides, we've already determined that keeping communication records on the wrong server is fine, when Republicans do it.

So this is how Republicans play defense not just on this case, but on any case. Brett Kavanaugh sat there on live TV and said, "I like beer." as though the beer in and of itself was the reason he was there. Each of the twenty plus credible accusations of sexual assault against Donald Trump is considered as though it exists in a vacuum.

Multiple people independently describing similar conduct by these men aren't considered to be corroboration or even weighed as supporting evidence, but rather because each one is weighed as though it were the first whiff and only whiff of scandal and dismissed as baseless and unsubstantiated, the fact that so many different "disproven" allegations all separately exist is considered a reason not to take any of them seriously!

If this sounds eerily similar to the recent news about the Met dismissing sixty separate complaints against Placido Domingo because there was nothing to corroborate any of them, then you may already have guessed this is not purely a Republican issue.

Rather, this is how power protects itself. Those who have the privilege to control the framing of the narrative get to decide what is a pattern and what is a series of isolated incidents, what is a bunch of puzzle pieces to be put together and what is just random noise.

When our middle eastern, south Asian, and Muslim neighbors are "randomly selected" for additional screening every single time they pass through airport security, they cannot very well prove that any given incident wasn't random. One person singled out one time, out of all the times they fly? Sounds random. Then the next time, it's not the second time but still one time out of all the other times. And so is the next.

Every single time a Black person gets pulled over, it might be legitimate. Every single time you catch your boss's eyes on your chest it might be an optical illusion caused by bad timing. Your coworker who makes creepy comments... any single one of them in isolation might have an innocent explanation.

A politician who talks about states' rights and individual rights but only and always backs laws that express these ideals in terms that allow the privileged to trample the rights of others... can't speculate about their actual motives or beliefs, because each case exists in a vacuum. 

If Trump possesses a genius, it is for ruthless exploiting the inherent weakness of an system that depends in any way on decency and self-restraint. Our society has a vulnerability to this kind of re-framing, which has been tolerated because... well, the people with the most power to change things don't want to lose such a charitable filter over their own actions, real or hypothetical.

Once we start looking at things like racism and sexual harassment and criminal conspiracies as things that may be found in patterns of behavior and not just a series of unrelated events.. well, where does it end?

So we tolerate this flaw in our societal worldview, and some people leverage a bit more out of it than others, and then along comes a man like Donald Trump who thinks rules are for other people and unwritten ones are for suckers. His whole life is a series of sexual assaults and shady deals, but if you can't prove all of them, individually, and without referencing the whole, then there's no pattern to speak of. He's a very successful businessman who has never been credibly accused of a single wrong thing in his life.

So he talked about executing people for whistleblowing. Can you prove he wasn't joking? No? You say he has a habit of making similar remarks? Can you prove each of them weren't a joke, too?

This is how they defend Trump, and if he does wind up shooting someone in broad daylight: so now it's a crime to point a gun Now it's a crime to pull a trigger? At the time the bullet supposedly struck the so-called victim, it was nowhere near Donald or the gun, so what's it got to do with him? Is it a crime now to be near where someone is shot? That sounds an awful lot like guilt by association.

Correlation is not causation, but it's impossible to determine anything about the world if we're not allowed to infer from a pattern of correlated events.

And that is exactly what they depend on.

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