The Best One Percent

In his brief remarks to the media, General John Kelly, chief of staff to President Donald Trump, momentarily made everybody else in Washington D.C. look small

Good speeches do not always have to be painstakingly crafted well in advance and written down or beamed onto a teleprompter. Neither do good speeches always require a grand event as their backdrop. Sometimes the most stirring speeches can be extemporaneous, or at least appear relatively spontaneous when delivered.

And into this latter category fall the remarks made yesterday by former Marine Corps general John Kelly, chief of staff to President Donald Trump. Kelly was seeking to defend his boss from accusations that the president had been dismissive bordering on callous when making a telephone call of commiserations to the wife of a fallen US soldier killed in an ambush in Niger, a call which was overheard by a Democratic congresswoman and reported to the media.

I make no comment about the individual circumstances of the case here, though many other media organisations have seen fit to voyeuristically pick over what should be an intensely private moment in order to extract political advantage from it. For those interested, the two opposing sides are effectively summarised here and here.

Far more inspirational than this tawdry back-and-forth, however, were the words of Chief of Staff John Kelly, who sought to end the unseemly debate by describing to the press corps in detail the process which takes place when a US service member is killed in action overseas. These remarks range from the very detailed and practical (describing exactly what happens to the body and where it is taken) to the profound, and are worth quoting at length.

Kelly begins:

Most Americans don’t know what happens when we lose one of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, our Coast Guardsmen in combat. So let me tell you what happens:

Their buddies wrap them up in whatever passes as a shroud, puts them on a helicopter as a routine, and sends them home. Their first stop along the way is when they’re packed in ice, typically at the airhead. And then they’re flown to, usually, Europe where they’re then packed in ice again and flown to Dover Air Force Base, where Dover takes care of the remains, embalms them, meticulously dresses them in their uniform with the medals that they’ve earned, the emblems of their service, and then puts them on another airplane linked up with a casualty officer escort that takes them home.

A very, very good movie to watch, if you haven’t ever seen it, is “Taking Chance,” where this is done in a movie — HBO setting. Chance Phelps was killed under my command right next to me, and it’s worth seeing that if you’ve never seen it.

So that’s the process. While that’s happening, a casualty officer typically goes to the home very early in the morning and waits for the first lights to come on. And then he knocks on the door; typically a mom and dad will answer, a wife. And if there is a wife, this is happening in two different places; if the parents are divorced, three different places. And the casualty officer proceeds to break the heart of a family member and stays with that family until — well, for a long, long time, even after the internment. So that’s what happens.

This is made all the more poignant by the fact that John Kelly suffered the loss of his son – First Lieutenant Robert Kelly – in Afghanistan, and presumably experienced this same heart wrenching process, something invisible to most civilians in the age of an all-volunteer professional army.

The brief core of Kelly’s remarks then focus on the fine qualities of the men and women who serve in the US military, before defending the actions of his boss. First, the praise:

Who are these young men and women? They are the best 1 percent this country produces. Most of you, as Americans, don’t know them. Many of you don’t know anyone who knows any one of them. But they are the very best this country produces, and they volunteer to protect our country when there’s nothing in our country anymore that seems to suggest that selfless service to the nation is not only appropriate, but required. But that’s all right.

Goodness me, that’s powerful. Remember, this is a former Marine Corps general and the serving chief of staff to President Trump, and he is saying that the state of the country is such that America is no longer worthy of the sacrifice made by its men and women in uniform. Think on that for a moment.

And then comes the necessary defence of President Trump, in which Kelly references his own painful loss:

So he called four people the other day and expressed his condolences in the best way that he could. And he said to me, what do I say? I said to him, sir, there’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families.

Well, let me tell you what I told him. Let me tell you what my best friend, Joe Dunford, told me — because he was my casualty officer. He said, Kel, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war. And when he died, in the four cases we’re talking about, Niger, and my son’s case in Afghanistan — when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this Earth: his friends.

That’s what the President tried to say to four families the other day. I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning, and broken-hearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing. A member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the President of the United States to a young wife, and in his way tried to express that opinion — that he’s a brave man, a fallen hero, he knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted. There’s no reason to enlist; he enlisted. And he was where he wanted to be, exactly where he wanted to be, with exactly the people he wanted to be with when his life was taken.

That was the message. That was the message that was transmitted.

This next section (which reminds one of Cicero’s exclamation O Tempora, O Mores!) is good too, because it is so obviously heartfelt coming from somebody from an older generation raised in a dignity culture:

It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred. You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life — the dignity of life — is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well.

Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer. But I just thought — the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that that might be sacred.

Kelly ends with this scathing criticism of politicians such as the congresswoman who saw fit to leak details of President Trump’s telephone call to one of the families:

I’ll end with this: In October — April, rather, of 2015, I was still on active duty, and I went to the dedication of the new FBI field office in Miami. And it was dedicated to two men who were killed in a firefight in Miami against drug traffickers in 1986 — a guy by the name of Grogan and Duke. Grogan almost retired, 53 years old; Duke, I think less than a year on the job. Anyways, they got in a gunfight and they were killed. Three other FBI agents were there, were wounded, and now retired. So we go down — Jim Comey gave an absolutely brilliant memorial speech to those fallen men and to all of the men and women of the FBI who serve our country so well, and law enforcement so well.

There were family members there. Some of the children that were there were three or four years old when their dads were killed on that street in Miami-Dade. Three of the men that survived the fight were there, and gave a rendition of how brave those men were and how they gave their lives.

And a congresswoman stood up, and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there and all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call he gave the money — the $20 million — to build the building. And she sat down, and we were stunned. Stunned that she had done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.

But, you know, none of us went to the press and criticized. None of us stood up and were appalled. We just said, okay, fine.

So I still hope, as you write your stories, and I appeal to America, that let’s not let this maybe last thing that’s held sacred in our society — a young man, young woman going out and giving his or her life for our country — let’s try to somehow keep that sacred. But it eroded a great deal yesterday by the selfish behavior of a member of Congress.

As a speech, this has pretty much everything. It might not have been the most stirring or poetic, but John Kelly is a blunt, military man and to have spoken in the cadence of John F Kennedy or Barack Obama would have been totally false and out of character. The authenticity of Kelly’s remarks derive from the seriousness of the subject, the dignified way in which a story of personal loss was mentioned (compared to the overt emotionalism of many contemporary speakers) and the workmanlike delivery.

What John Kelly did more than anything else was shame the people who had sought to cynically use a story based on the death of American soldiers for their own purposes – be it Democratic politicians looking for more character flaws in Trump, Republican politicians who sought to defend Trump or the media who saw a potentially juicy mini-scandal which would generate pageviews and ad revenue.

He shamed a group of neophytes and cynics, people who by and large did not serve in uniform themselves, but saw fit to pontificate on the protocol governing military rituals as though they were discussing any old arcane political dispute. Kelly effectively contrasts the quiet, selfless duty of American soldiers with the self-aggrandising behaviour of American politicians. And there can be few among the Washington DC political class, who measure their popularity by the number of their Twitter followers and see themselves as the centre of the universe, who did not come out of that press conference feeling at least slightly chastened.

This can also only be good for the career and reputation of John Kelly himself, who has faced scepticism that he would be able to rein in the excesses of the Trump administration and criticism for those occasions when that superhuman feat eluded him. By briefly lamenting that women are no longer honoured in today’s America (putting aside the fact that such 1950s-style honour was a double-edged sword), Kelly not-so-subtly denounced his own boss, whose record of behaviour towards women is not good. Criticising the politicisation of gold star families during the Democratic National Convention served the same purpose. Thus, Kelly successfully burnished his image as a man serving out of duty to his country and respect for the office of president rather than admiration for the individual who currently holds that office.

I struggle to think of a contemporary British political speech of similar power and worth. Does anybody recall any of the speeches given this party conference season, besides the slow-motion self-destruction of Theresa May? Has there been a British political speech in the last decade which made the heart beat a little faster or brought a lump to the throat?This is made even more depressing when one remembers that John Kelly is not even a politician – he is a retired general pressed into service to steady a wobbling first-year Trump administration.

Kelly’s remarks are a fine example of an effective speech, composed and well delivered under difficult circumstances, with a hostile media audience ready to throw hard-to-defend accusations against his equally hard-to-defend boss. Yet by the time he was done, John Kelly walked out of that briefing room ten feet taller while everyone else visibly shrank in moral stature.

That’s impressive. I would like to import just a fraction of that ability to Westminster.

 

UPDATE: 21 October

This report from the Washington Post suggests that John Kelly’s account of Representative Frederica Wilson’s speech at the newly-opened FBI building was not accurate. This in no way detracts from the power of the speech or even necessarily mean that Gen. Kelly’s righteous indignation was altogether misplaced, but the record should be corrected.

 

UPDATE: 22 October

Having sat back rather pleased with myself, thinking I might have written something vaguely original, I discovered today that Jonah Goldberg was simultaneously coming to the same conclusion in his G-file newsletter.

Goldberg sees in Kelly’s speech the same thing that I see – a dignified admonishment to President Trump as much as to the media or the Left:

The trends Kelly alludes to are real and lamentable, and they predate Donald Trump’s arrival on the national political scene. But it strikes me as indisputable that Trump personifies these trends, and if Kelly were not trying to do his job, he would acknowledge that.

Perhaps Kelly was criticizing the Gold Star Khan family in his remarks about the convention. But he could just as plausibly have had the president in mind. We need not rehearse all of the ways in which Donald Trump — who has bragged of his adultery and sexual assaults and who has insulted women’s looks — has less than an exemplary record of honoring the sanctity of women.

I understand that many Christian groups have convinced themselves that Trump is an instrument of God, but let us not delude ourselves that he is also a man of God.

It is also worth pointing out the media’s evident latent, automatic animosity toward any member of the Trump administration, merited or not. When it was shown that John Kelly misreported the content of Rep. Wilson’s speech at the opening of the FBI Academy, nearly all the media ran with a headline about Kelly being wrong, or even lying. They neglected to point out that the video evidence actually also underlined the truth of what Kelly was trying to say – that on the occasion of the dedication of a building to the memory of slain law enforcement officers, the politician present chose to make the occasion about herself.

 

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Donald Trump’s Inexcusable Loyalists Deserve To Be Betrayed As He Chooses His Cabinet

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Donald Trump loyalists betrayed conservatism by supporting the president-elect during the campaign; if they are now betrayed by Trump and frozen out of his administration it will be sweet justice

As Donald Trump’s cabinet takes shape, some of those who sacrificed the most reputationally and ideologically to get on board the Trump train are angry that the president-elect is giving consideration to other people who refused to campaign with him, even those who may not have voted for him.

Sarah Palin (who, to be fair, didn’t have much of a reputation to sacrifice) has now belatedly rediscovered her commitment to small government after apparently finding out that there will be no place for her in the Trump administration. In response to this slight, Palin took to the newspapers accusing Donald Trump of promoting “crony capitalism” for offering incentives to business to keep production in the United States.

That’s not quite what she was saying a month ago when she was praising and supporting Trump, and it is slightly jarring to see her pivot effortlessly back to Tea Party talking points having previously embraced Trump so strongly.

But nothing has made the Trump loyalists as angry as the gnawing possibility that Donald Trump might pick Mitt Romney to be his Secretary of State over his dedicated henchman Rudy Giuliani, one of the only people to publicly defend Trump after the leaked ‘p*ssygate’ recordings made the news. Why should Rudy be overlooked, the thinking goes, when he did everything for Trump while Mitt Romney looked on distastefully from the sidelines?

The Trump loyalists deserve absolutely no sympathy in this regard – though Jonah Goldberg does an excellent job of summarising their predicament in this week’s G-file:

Consider the following thought experiment. A very rich guy makes you an offer: “If you eat this bowl of sh**, I will grant you a wish.” You think about it for a minute or two, and then you grab a wooden spoon and start to dig in, when the rich guy says, “Hold on. You’ve got to do it publicly.”

Well, you figure, “What’s the difference? Once I get my wish it will be worth it.” So, you head on over to a television studio with your plastic bib and your spoon, and you tuck into the steaming bowl like Mikey in the old Life cereal commercials.

Then the rich guy says, “Sorry, one more thing: I can only give you a coupon for your wish. But, I promise to honor it once I get the job of genie. Just keep eating.”

What to do? You’ve already acquired a reputation for coprophagia and no one else is offering wish-coupons, so you stick it out. Besides, you’re not alone. A bunch of other folks have been promised similar coupons and you’ve formed a tightknit group. You spend a lot of time talking about how smart you are for agreeing to this arrangement. You fantasize about what you’ll do with your wishes and how sorry the naysayers will be.

Then, the rich guy gets the job of genie. Woo-hoo!

Naturally, you want to redeem your coupon. But all of a sudden, the rich guy starts playing coy. He’s honoring the coupon for some people, but not you. That would be fine — one coupon at a time and all. But then you learn that the genie-elect is giving out coupons to people who didn’t partake of the fecal feast. Uh oh.

And then you see news reports that the big man is not only giving out wishes to people who never earned a coupon, but he’s considering granting a wish to the foremost guy who criticized the big man and tried to keep him from being able to grant wishes at all!

Okay, this getting belabored. But you get the point. If Trump remains the loyalist, Gingrich, Huckabee et al. have golden tickets. The last thing they want is Willie Wonka Trump letting just anybody into the chocolate factory.

This blog finds it very hard to generate sympathy for those big-name American conservatives who so comprehensively sold out their own ideology and their own party to Donald Trump.

If the likes of Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin now find themselves betrayed and left out of the Trump administration they helped to inflict on America, it is still nothing compared to the betrayal of conservatism that they committed by throwing the principles of freedom and small government out the window to worship at the feet of a thin-skinned, constitutionally illiterate big government authoritarian.

May their time in the wilderness be long and full of regrets.

 

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Meet Donald Trump, Special Snowflake

Donald Trump’s reputation as a brave warrior against political correctness is a big fat lie – he has always been happy to use free speech-busting, SJW tactics to attack and silence his critics

In a move which perfectly illustrates the yawning chasm between the “two Americas”, the cast of hit Broadway musical “Hamilton” saw fit to deliver a rather patronising end-of-show lecture on equality, diversity and tolerance to vice president-elect Mike Pence, who was sitting in the audience.

Telling the audience that there was “nothing to boo” (many of them seemed to disagree, and heartily booed Mike Pence when he first took his seat in the theatre and again when the cast addressed him as he was leaving), cast member Brandon Victor Dixon said:

Vice-president elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us at Hamilton: An American Musical. We really do.

We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir.

But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.

We truly thank you for sharing this show — this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.

It is actually not a bad speech, and was certainly delivered with an eloquence and dignity which has been largely missing from both sides of this dismal presidential election.

One can take issue with the idea that people need to be constantly nurtured by successive presidential administrations and “protected” by government, but Donald Trump has said enough inflammatory and offensive things on his path to the White House that nobody can say that all of the trepidation is unjustified, or that some people are not in legitimate need of reassurance – either because of things that the president-elect himself has said, or by irresponsible scaremongering by those opposed to Donald Trump.

And yes, one could also rightly point out that it doesn’t say much for America’s social cohesion and inclusivity when the producer of Hamilton: An American Musical could authorise such a speech in the sure knowledge that the words addressed to Mike Pence would speak for every single one of the cast and crew (as they almost certainly did). How many Trump voters or conservatives in general work in musical theatre, or dare to admit their political preferences if they do?

As Brandon Victor Dixon boasted, there was indeed every kind of diversity standing on that stage at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York. Every kind of diversity apart from intellectual and political diversity.

But of more interest than the cast’s speech itself, though, is the response it provoked from president-elect Donald Trump, who now seems to have been given back full control of his Twitter account after anxious aides confiscated his devices in the closing days of the campaign to prevent any final day gaffes or Twitter wars.

Trump clearly did not take kindly to seeing his future vice president lectured on American values by a cast of musical theatre actors, and fired off this angry tweet:

And then this one, when the rage had still not subsided eight minutes later:

The theatre must always be a safe and special place? Really? I can think of at least one American president in history who had a decidedly unpleasant experience in a theatre, 151 years ago. And during his pivotal and historic presidency, Abraham Lincoln withstood insults and diatribes far worse than anything ever levelled at Donald Trump, and did so with infinitely more grace.

But mark what we are witnessing here: Donald Trump, slayer of political correctness, fighter of censorship, champion of free speech and supposed scourge of the Identity Politics Left, now using exactly the same language of grievance and victimhood to portray himself as a victim in a bid for the moral high ground.

Jonah Goldberg warned months ago that while Donald Trump is quite happy to profit from being seen as an anti-PC warrior, he is also ruthless in using PC tactics himself when he feels under attack:

This idea that Donald Trump is against political correctness is just a fiction. He’s against being held accountable to people to political correctness for himself but he is delighted to use the exact same bullying tropes of political correctness against other people. He’s done it against me when he tried to get me fired from National Review, saying I was insulting to women and that I have to apologise or resign or be fired because I was so insulting to women. What did I do that was so insulting to women? I said that Donald Trump is staying up late into the night like a teenage girl, tweeting. Which was A, accurate, and B, accurate.

During the primaries when Jeb Bush had a completely understandable and forgivable gaffe about women’s health issues, for weeks Donald Trump was talking about how horrible Jeb Bush was on women’s issues, playing these politically correct cards. He’s a nearest weapon to hand arguer in all things because he does have no philosophy, he has no intellectual grounding whatsoever.

And again here:

Nor is he the enemy of political correctness they make him out to be. Trump is perfectly happy to invoke and deploy PC arguments and standards against his opponents, he just wants to be immune from their sting himself.

And now, perhaps, people will start to realise that the man they just elected to the White House is not actually for free speech and against censorship and thin-skinned intolerance in principle, but only when those behaviours stand in his way or threaten to make him look foolish.

In this way and so many others (like the laughable idea that he is a conservative, and that his miraculous Damascene conversion from being a stereotypical wealthy New York liberal is in any way sincere), Donald Trump has conned his way to the White House. And as we have seen, his impulsive nature means that President Trump will inevitably react to events before his aides can restrain him or urge him to rise above minor slights and insults to portray a presidential calmness. Therefore, it will not be long until Trump is exposed as the thin-skinned, criticism averse, dissent silencing authoritarian that he is.

Inauguration Day itself will be one of the first big challenges – there are plans afoot for millions of protesters to descend on Washington D.C. and numerous other cities to voice their opposition to the supposed Trump agenda. Will Trump be seen tweeting responses and insults to the protesters from the presidential platform now being built on the steps of the Capitol, as he watches the inauguration festivities taking place? Will he demand that the National Mall be made a “safe space” free of political dissent as he and Melania take the limousine drive down to the inauguration site?

For those who have so far been willing to overlook them, Donald Trump’s grave character defects were always going to be exposed by events. And now it seems that we didn’t even have to wait until he placed his hand on the Bible and gave the oath before the portrayal of Trump as a happy warrior against censorship was exposed as a sham.

This probably will not bother Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters just now. While the president-elect demands safe spaces for himself, he at least continues to throw rhetorical bombs at all of the “right” people to keep his base happy. But one day that will change.

In a couple of years, when Donald Trump’s political agenda is quite possibly mired in gridlock and the Republican Party faces a difficult set of midterm elections, some of those Trump supporters, unhappy with the slow delivery of Trump’s promised land of milk and honey, may wish to register their anger at the president. And if they do so, the president will attack them too, just as he attacked the hated SJWs and college snowflakes and identity politics zealots during the campaign. But it will not feel so good when the president is demanding a safe space free from the criticism of his own one-time supporters.

Funny. I wonder how many Trump voters realised that they were electing the biggest and most precious snowflake of them all to the most powerful job in the world.

 

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FBI Reopens Investigation Into Hillary Clinton’s Emails As More Come To Light

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Hell hath no fury like a Clinton facing an existential political threat

And so with just eleven days until the presidential election, the week closes with the shock announcement that the FBI is reopening its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private unsecured email server now that new potentially significant emails have come to light through a separate, unrelated investigation into former congressman (and estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin) Anthony Weiner.

Cue the standard reactions you would expect from the major players. Donald Trump took to the stage at his next campaign rally and solemnly (well, with what passes for solemnity when delivered by Trump) told his supporters that there had been a critically important development in the campaign, relaying the news of the FBI’s reopened investigation to tumultuous cheers from the crowd. He went on to claim that the developing story was “bigger than Watergate“.

Meanwhile, the cable news channels, grateful for anything which disrupts the rather predictable “Clinton romping to near-certain victory” narrative which is so bad for ratings, eagerly talked up the “bombshell” development.

The only one we had yet to hear from was Hillary Clinton herself. She had precious little to say on the subject at her next campaign rally in Iowa, but we have now heard that the campaign is understandably furious at the timing of the announcement, and is pressing for immediate answers (and a swift second exoneration) from the FBI.

But what is the likely significance of this flurry of Friday activity? I think that Jonah Goldberg’s initial hot take is right on the money:

I think Comey has to have found something significant to have done this. Re-injecting himself into the presidential campaign eleven days before the election is not something he would do lightly or happily. But I have no idea what that something might be.

I agree. James Comey has a reputation to protect, one which will not be enhanced by making himself the sudden focus of the presidential election campaign this close to polling day if it turns out that there is nothing to the newly discovered email stash. Serious conversations would have gone on before Comey made the final decision to write that letter to congressional committee chairmen informing them of his decision to reopen the investigation, and that alone counts for something.

Goldberg continues:

I’m more confident, however, that if the Clinton campaign was holding back any opposition research in reserve, it is now very likely to get dropped like the payloads from a squadron of B-52 bombers. So far the Clinton camp has been very, very skillful in deploying its oppo. It doesn’t rush things and has been comfortable letting story lines develop. (Yes the Trump team is right that many of these sexual abuse stories are “orchestrated.” But “orchestrated” isn’t a synonym for “untrue”).

What would that oppo look like? I don’t know. But, unless there’s something much worse than the “groping” storyline we already know, the sexual-abuse charges are now baked in with most of the public (and among Republican apologists). Until today, that was probably fine with the Clinton camp because she’s been on course for a big win. If you’re in the clear lead, the incentive to drop more oppo is not there because there’s always the risk of blowback.

But the polls have tightened a little. More troubling for her is the fact that between the Doug Band story and now this, Clinton is likely to be in the spotlight for the next few days or longer. (By the way, how happy is Doug Band to be wiped out of the news cycle?) And the dilemma for Clinton is that whichever candidate is in the spotlight tends to suffer in the polls because the American people don’t like either of them.

And that’s why I think we can expect the Clintonites to do what they do best: change the subject from their wrongdoing to someone else’s, presumably Donald Trump’s. Maybe it won’t happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time the Sunday shows are on, or by Monday morning at the latest, we’ll have at least two “bombshells” to discuss.

Most people I have spoken to seem agreed that Hillary Clinton is holding something back in reserve – an additional Trump scandal (either real or confected) different in tone and nature to the others, which could be deployed as a kind of political doomsday device if Clinton found herself behind in the polls or facing serious political difficulties going into the home stretch. Anyone who knows how the Clintons operate would probably concur that this would be absolutely in character.

The only question, to my mind, is whether Hillary Clinton panics and deploys her doomsday device now, in an attempt to change the narrative and avoid losing a whole weekend’s worth of news cycles, or if she holds her nerve and waits to see any potential wobble in the tracking polls before deciding whether or not to take action.

As Jonah Goldberg rightly points out, there are disadvantages to unleashing an opposition research-generated political doomsday device this close to the end of the election. If the scandal is “good” enough, it could succeed in driving more moderate Trump supporters away or depressing his overall voter turnout. But if it is perceived as being little different to a restatement of Donald Trump’s personal flaws which have already been “priced in” by his supporters then it will make little positive difference, while potentially tarring Clinton with having used underhanded tactics in the home stretch.

There is no margin for error in this decision, so if we do see a big revelation from Hillary Clinton it will be a good sign that her campaign is seriously worried – and perhaps that they do not have full confidence in the many polls which have shown her maintaining a consistent lead over Donald Trump.

So while on face value this has been a rare good news day for the Trump campaign – probably the best since Hillary Clinton’s “medical episode” in New York on 9/11 – rather than rejoicing and taking a premature victory lap, now might actually be the time for the Donald Trump campaign and his supporters to hunker down and prepare for the worst.

Sticking their heads above the parapet to enjoy the spectacle of Hillary Clinton flailing in response to new questions about her improper use of email may be tempting and even cathartic, but it also increases the risk of being taken by surprise in the event of the deployment of Hillary’s Revenge.

If Hillary Clinton has something, anything else on Donald Trump, the temptation now comes hardest upon her to use it. This election campaign has either been blown wide open in Donald Trump’s favour, or is about to be slammed shut in his face.

 

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Should Journalists Have To Declare Their Political Biases And Donations?

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Belief that the media is biased is one thing that unites conservatives and leftists in America and Britain. So why not demand that journalists reveal any political affiliations upfront, to give us better context for their reporting and commentary?

Should online, print and television journalists declare their political leanings (and donations) upfront, in the name of transparency? Jonah Goldberg thinks so, and makes a persuasive case.

Goldberg writes in the National Review:

One of the reasons I like good opinion journalism, particularly in long-form magazine articles, is that it doesn’t hide from the fact it is making an argument. You know where the author is coming from, and you can take that into account as he or she marshals facts and evidence for his or her case. We know opposing lawyers in a courtroom are biased, but if they don’t make strong arguments, they lose.

I understand bans on reporters giving to campaigns, but we should understand what those bans are: a means of hiding the political leanings of reporters from readers and viewers.

This has become a particularly hot topic after a report issued by the Center for Public Integrity confirmed the unsurprising fact that American journalists and media personalities give vastly more in campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party than to Donald Trump and the Republicans.

And given this vast discrepancy – with $382,000 given by hundreds of media personalities to Clinton and just $14,000 by a handful of people to Trump – Goldberg points out that hiding behind the fig leaf of impartiality or being a political “independent” is no longer fooling anyone:

Anyone who has spent a moment around elite reporters or studied their output knows that they tend to be left of center. In 1981, S. Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman surveyed 240 leading journalists and found that 94 percent of them voted for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, 81 percent voted for George McGovern in 1972, and 81 percent voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976. Only 19 percent placed themselves on the right side of the political spectrum. Does anyone think the media have become less liberal since then?

None of this means liberals — or conservatives — can’t be good reporters, but the idea that media bias is nonexistent is ludicrous. Judges have far greater incentives to be neutral and objective, yet we know that Democrat-appointed judges tend to issue liberal decisions, and Republican-appointed judges tend to issue conservative decisions.

The Obama administration and campaigns have hired dozens of prominent, supposedly nonpartisan journalists, including former White House press secretary and Time magazine reporter Jay Carney, former Time managing editor Rick Stengel, the Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray, and ABC’s Linda Douglass.

Was it just a coincidence that they were all ideologically simpatico with the Obama agenda? How did the Obama team even figure out they were liberals in the first place?

Of course, exactly the same revolving door between the media and political worlds can be found in Britain, with well-known television journalists from BBC and ITV news suddenly shedding the white robes of virtuous objectivity to mysteriously shack up in Downing Street in a political communications role. This transcends party politics, and the Conservatives are by no means the only ones at fault – in the case of Jeremy Corbyn’s ideological henchman Seumas Milne, we have seen a Guardian polemicist not even leaving his job but merely take a leave of absence to become head of communications for the opposition Labour Party.

You can’t stop this from happening, and nor should anyone necessarily try. But the public do have a moral right to know the political leanings and affiliations of those who report and interpret the news. We expect MPs and Lords to declare their financial interests so that we can monitor their behaviour and ensure that they are not unduly influenced by their commercial connections. But a well-functioning press is every bit as vital to our democracy, so why should we not understand the motivations of reporters, commentators and editors.

Consider the case of Jasmine Lawrence, editor of the BBC’s 24-hour news channel. Lawrence was caught posting virulently hostile (and ignorant) thoughts about UKIP on social media prior to the 2014 European Parliament elections, and received only the mildest of cautions from her bosses.

As this blog noted at the time:

What the BBC fail to address in their response is the fact that the remainder of the BBC’s election coverage is not the problem. The problem is the fact that Jasmine Lawrence will remain the editor of the BBC News Channel, presumably resuming full duties as soon as the election coverage is completed on Sunday.

Yes, it is certainly likely that she caused editorial harm and biased coverage in the weeks leading up to the election before her ill-advised tweet saw her stripped of her duties, but how much more damage can she now do in the coming year leading up to the general election?

We all have political preferences, and that’s fine. But the Jasmine Lawrence tweet doesn’t just reveal a tendency to lean one way or the other along the political spectrum. The editor of the BBC News Channel clearly has a deeply ingrained, long held antipathy toward UKIP and the people who support that party or agree with its policies.

Are we really supposed to believe that when she walks into the BBC offices in the morning, Jasmine Lawrence takes off her scornful, UKIP-denigrating hat and puts on her cap of unblemished impartiality, and that the decisions she makes regarding story selection, focusing of time and resources, determining which guests to interview, lines of questioning and other matters will not be influenced by the same sentiments that prompted her to call UKIP supporters white, middle aged sexists and racists?

At present, we are deluding ourselves that the people who report the news – and worse still, the people who get to decide what even counts as news in the first place – are uniformly honest and committed to impartiality, and that the possibility of subconscious bias simply doesn’t exist. And this is holding human beings to a standard of behaviour which cannot possibly be met.

Far better that we more fully embrace the free market in our journalism, and equip news consumers (i.e. ordinary voters) with more perfect information – not just about our politicians, but also about the people who report on them. That way, television and print journalists can continue to strive for objectivity where appropriate, but we will have the backup of knowing about any political memberships, donations or affiliations that may influence their reporting, either consciously or subconsciously.

This doesn’t need to be an official thing. Indeed, nothing would be worse or more totalitarian than keeping a centralised state register of journalists’ political affiliations – that would be Orwellian in the extreme. Rather, the culture should be changed so that declaring one’s political allegiances upfront comes to be seen as a matter of honour and journalistic best practice.

Only earlier this week, a BBC television journalist named Danny Carpenter was suspended from his job for describing Theresa May’s new Conservative government as “the new Nazis” on his personal Facebook page.

The Daily Mail reports:

A BBC news presenter has been suspended for allegedly calling the Tory government ‘the new Nazis’ in an online social media rant.

BBC Look North’s Danny Carpenter reportedly accused the government of being ‘cynical, vicious, racist and xenophobic’ in a Facebook rant and has now been suspended by the corporation as they carry out an investigation.

Mr Carpenter is also said to have called for the Brexit to be ‘voted out’ by Parliament because of a ‘combination of dishonest fear-mongering and lies about the economy’.

This is clearly a partisan zealot of the highest order, someone with political beliefs even more pungent than those of this blog – and clearly very ideologically different. But just as I would never expect to be allowed to stand in front of a television camera reporting the news with a straight face, so Danny Carpenter should never have been allowed within 5 miles of a BBC studio except as a paid opinion contributor (like my star turn on the BBC Daily Politics earlier this year).

Jonah Goldberg is quite right to point out that the pretence of journalistic impartiality is a fraud which we all perpetrate on ourselves. Pretending that we are being served a conscientiously-curated stream of objective, unbiased reporting at all times lulls those of us credulous enough to believe it into a false sense of security, meaning that people do not apply their own scepticism or challenge what they are told.

And the rest of us, fully aware that what is being sold to us as objective coverage is in fact ideologically skewed, are increasingly spurning the mainstream media. More and more of us are taking refuge in new independent media sources, curated for us by algorithms and presented through social media, some of which are diligent and honourable but many of which can trap us in an ideological bubble of bias confirmation.

Goldberg concludes:

This lack of transparency benefits news organizations, but it really doesn’t fool anybody — except maybe the reporters themselves.

I agree. And playing along with the deception by furiously pretending that we have an impartial media only fuels the atmosphere of distrust and resentment in our politics. Having prominent journalists declare any strong political allegiances upfront would not solve all of our problems by magic. But it certainly wouldn’t do any harm.

 

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