Some Thoughts on Accountability
Plus: Bill Barr writes a book
Several things to keep your eye on this morning, including the implosion of the Russian economy, and the peace talks along the Ukrainian-Belarus border (paint me skeptical they will succeed). Meanwhile, the Russians are launching rockets into residential areas in Kharkhiv, killing dozens of civilians.
(Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty.)
I think it is safe say that, in terms of political courage, Tom Cotton is no Volodymyr Zelensky.
Asked four times to criticize Donald Trump’s ongoing praise of Vladimir Putin, the Arkansas senator dodged, weaved, and refused to take a stand.
“Former President Trump was out there talking about it last night,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos said. “I simply don’t understand why you can’t condemn his praise of Vladimir Putin.”
But, of course, George understood perfectly well. He understood because he has watched Cotton and other Republicans choke on questions like this for the last six years.
The ABC host pushed repeatedly, noting that Trump is not only the leading figure of the GOP, but that he was also signaling his intention to seek a return to power.
Stephanopoulos said: “You’re a senior member of the Republican party. Donald Trump is the leader of the Republican party. He said last night again, suggested that he’d be running for president. When Fox News asked him if he had a message for Vladimir Putin, he said he has no message.
“Why can’t you condemn that? I feel quite confident that if … a Barack Obama or Joe Biden said something like that, you’d be first in line to criticise him.”
But Cotton’s failure to answer was as predictable as it was pathetic.
As I wrote over the weekend, the GOP is not going to break with Trump over Ukraine for all the usual reasons.
But the biggest reason they cannot break with the fetid mess of late-stage Trumpism is that Republicans cannot hold Trump accountable without holding themselves accountable, as well.
There are, of course, many forms of accountability — to one’s conscience, to society, and to history; and it takes many forms, from apologies, to penance, to actual punishments that are proportionate to the misconduct.
This is why memory is so important; because the alternative to genuine accountability is not only amorality, but also amnesia.
So let’s remember some things.
Amanda Carpenter reminds us “It’s worth remembering now, as so many Republicans pin “Stand with Ukraine” images to their profiles, how little most of them cared when Donald Trump withheld critical military assistance from the country in 2019 as he pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to do his political dirty work.”
They were there. They knew. They heard it. And then virtually every one of them voted to back Trump.
At the time, Trump’s bold attempt to get Zelensky to announce sham investigations into the Biden family and 2016 conspiracy theories were primarily viewed as a domestic affront. But the sight of Russian rockets raining down on Kyiv this week was a reminder that this obscene “drug deal” had real-world consequences.
They all need to be held accountable for that.
They also need to be held accountable for their open or tacit support of Trump 2024 because a Trump Presidency 2.0 would also have real-world consequences.
This excerpt from Carol Leonnig and Phil Rucker’s book, “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year” also takes on added importance:
In fact, Trump had privately indicated that he would seek to withdraw from NATO and to blow up the U.S. alliance with South Korea, should he win reelection. When those alliances had come up in meetings with Esper and other top aides, some advisers warned Trump that shredding them before the election would be politically dangerous.
“Yeah, the second term,” Trump had said. “We’ll do it in the second term.”
Here’s a flashback, via the NYT:
WASHINGTON — There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO, the military alliance among the United States, Europe and Canada that has deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.
Last year, President Trump suggested a move tantamount to destroying NATO: the withdrawal of the United States.
Senior administration officials told The New York Times that several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Current and former officials who support the alliance said they feared Mr. Trump could return to his threat as allied military spending continued to lag behind the goals the president had set.
Exit: Republicans who don’t want to be held accountable for their enabling of Trump and their complicity in his crimes, obviously are also reluctant to be held accountable for wanting this to go on… and on.
Meanwhile, if you are updating your Putin-the-steely-eyed-realistic-chess-playing-genius file, you might want to consider this observation from the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia:
Speaking of accountability…
For the moment, I’m withholding full-metal judgment on this:
WASHINGTON — Former Attorney General William P. Barr writes in a new memoir that former President Donald J. Trump’s “self-indulgence and lack of self-control” cost him the 2020 election and says “the absurd lengths to which he took his ‘stolen election’ claim led to the rioting on Capitol Hill.”
In the book, “One Damn Thing After Another: Memoirs of an Attorney General,” Mr. Barr also urges his fellow Republicans to pick someone else as the party’s nominee for the 2024 election, calling the prospect of another presidential run by Mr. Trump “dismaying.”
“Donald Trump has shown he has neither the temperament nor persuasive powers to provide the kind of positive leadership that is needed,” Mr. Barr writes.
Good. If late. But, FFS, did anyone cover-up, bully, or lie for the TFG more zealously than this guy? And does everyone have to wait until they publish a f**king book to tell Americans the truth? (Trust me: More TK.)
Accountability, you ask?
I apologize in advance for the spoilers.
Cheney’s question to GOP Leaders — “Have you lost all sense of decency?” — is strictly rhetorical, of course. Because we know the answer.
Of course, MTG won’t be held accountable for her appearance with groypers over the weekend. Kevin McCarthy won’t even think about it. He’s far too busy purging Liz Cheney for telling the truth about January 6.
And then there’s Arizona Senator Wendy Rogers:
The world rallies for Ukraine
Reason for hope.
This is Prague:
This is Berlin:
Two faces of conservatism
At the anti-CPAC, vaccine cards were required to enter, temperatures were taken by a computer outside the check-in area and everyone in the room wore a mask. It was held at the National Press Club, an organization devoted to promoting and protecting the free press.
About 460 people registered for the event, Mayo said, from 41 states, and tickets cost $35. The “Principles First” event cost about $20,000 and does not make money, Mayo said. “We don’t have a Matt Schlapp that does this and charges from $300 to $5,000,” he said, referring to the CPAC organizer. “It’s all volunteers.”
None of the major television networks seemed to be in attendance, and no prominent would-be 2024 candidates, members of Congress or governors were in the room.
Mayo said the conference had drawn “disgruntled Republicans and independents frustrated with CPAC who believe in reality, the Constitution and the rule of law.” …
Discussions on the agenda included “Should We Stay or Should We Go: The Practical Politics of Principle” and “Defending Democracy: Principles of Protecting Elections.” Biden was not the focus, according to presentations heard by a Washington Post reporter, and the president’s name was not mentioned in the detailed schedule and agenda of the event.
The main attractions on Saturday were Rep. Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican and fierce Trump critic recently removed from GOP House leadership, and Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state of Georgia who rebuffed Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud. Both spoke via prerecorded videos. Other crowd favorites included Olivia Troye, a former national security aide to former vice president Mike Pence who now appears frequently on MSNBC as a fierce Trump critic, and Bill Kristol, the columnist, who socialized outside the ballroom and was slated to speak.
Denver Riggleman, a former Republican congressman from Virginia who is now working for the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol, drew guests to their feet by acknowledging Harry Dunn, a Capitol Police officer standing in the back of the room.
The Bulwark crew represented:
1. What Changed Germany’s Mind
Michael Orenstein in the Bulwark:
Until yesterday, Germany remained extremely reluctant to create even the faintest appearance that it was threatening Russia militarily—hence its refusal even to allow overflight rights to NATO allies exporting arms to Ukraine. For its own domestic and moral reasons, Germany needed to be a peacemaker to the last.
Putin’s blatant and unprovoked assault on Ukraine changed that calculus. Now, no one in their right mind could possibly blame Germany, so it is finally safe to act. Germany can play a key role as a supporter of Ukraine, both by sending arms to help the poor people in Kyiv and throughout the country and by rearming itself, as Scholz has promised to do, to meet the obvious threat from Russia.
2. Should the U.S. Respond to Putin’s Nuclear Provocation?
Must-read piece from Tom Nichols in the Atlantic:
What should the U.S. do?
For now, the sensible, and confident, American answer should be to do nothing. This might seem counterintuitive: The Russians have gone to higher alert, and it would seem only prudent to answer this with a reciprocal raising of U.S. alert status. But that Cold War reaction would, I suspect, exactly what Putin wants. He’s in a jam and he’s trying to look strong, and part of the way he can do that is to turn his hare-brained scheme in Ukraine into a gigantic Russian-American confrontation. Putin would like nothing better than to take everyone’s mind off Ukraine and focus us all on a game of nuclear chicken.
It's amazing how we see things that aren't there (Hillary and George Soros wearing the flensed faces of little children in nonexistent basements of pizza parlors) but never see what is right in plain view.
If Donald Trump is not an actual paid agent of Russia and the FSB, he is their willingly manipulated asset whose financial existence depended on a flow of laundered Russian money.
He attempted publicly to create support for moving the US out of NATO when in office, if not at the specific direction of the Vladimir Putin and the FSB, then in accord with their lead.
He has committed himself to ending the US involvement in NATO after he takes office again. He has praised the invasion of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin and continues to do so.
Where is the mystery about who and what directs and controls him?
For once, I have very little to critique here. I think that one thing this war between Russia and Ukraine has revealed is that, by and large, most liberals and former GOP conservatives actually do have some measure of agreement on certain things. Your position, for example, means you have the same position as Bernie Sanders on this one. Granted, for different reasons. But that can be ignored if we all come to the same conclusion.
I think, perhaps, that in politics we may focus too much on the methods, not the ends. We may focus a bit too much on how we're making the sausage and not if the sausage is any good. There is broad agreement on NATO, for example. Most liberals are anti-war. But most liberals are better said to be anti-offensive war. The idea of bringing in more NATO members, of defending our allies, especially against right wing authoritarians, is rather popular. Or, to think of it another way, the list of people neocons dislike for various reasons; China, Russia, Iran, ect; turn out to be the same people most liberals dislike for entirely different reasons. And the political press would spend a lot of time talking about these reasons without pointing out that the end result is actually agreement.
What is most curious is that this leaves us in a position where the people most out of step turn out to be the people most in power in the current GOP, and the people most out of power in the current Democratic party. Oh sure, you'll find some liberals who are somehow nostalgic for the Soviet Union, but they're further left than Bernie Sanders, and have virtually no constituency in the Democratic Party, because liberals increasingly look to places like Germany or Sweden as their idea of a place to emulate, not a place like the Soviet Union. On the opposite end, the modern GOP, who emulate Putin because he's some kind of white Christian savior figure in their eyes, are now trying to figure out how to spin the whole thing, because they don't actually have any kind of principles beyond being against whatever the Democrats are for. This is how you get takes that Biden is 'failing' despite the fact that over the past week he's managed to unite virtually the entire world behind the US' initiatives.
Now, I dislike horseshoe theory. But I suspect that two things require examining that may have been overlooked by many people in the political sphere, because of our own biases and views towards each other. The first being that the modern political right, founded on grievance, is actually woefully unable to articulate any kind of coherent worldview because they do not have one, and because they do not have one, they are increasingly drawn to leaders who are not popular among US citizens. This we mostly already knew. But what we didn't know is that when events shift, and they always do, that the modern right would suddenly collapse into two vastly different but equally obvious camps. The first being the Cotton figures, who went along with it all because of political desires against domestic foes, but who now seem lost because even if they lack shame, they can't figure out what they're for anymore. The other side are the MTG's of the world, who lacking any real views in terms of worldview, immediately fall back on their true feelings, which means being even more open about how white supremist they are. This is why you have some people being like 'oh joe biden is weak' and looking very bad at it, and the others are trying to compare Russia invading Ukraine with immigrants coming to America. When the wind shifts, people show their true colors.
The second thing I think everyone in the political sphere needs to grasp is that, while socially speaking most Democrats and Republicans are rather far apart on many things, when it comes to geopolitics, most are in agreement on just about everything. NATO is good, internationalism is good, free trade is good. In fact, it appears that for all the talk of how 'globalist' liberals are, it has never occurred to anyone that this might make liberals more willing to support a global social and military order, not less. That the desire to create a global world might make them look favorably upon supporting our allies in Europe and Asia. The Afghanistan withdrawal made it appear that liberals and conservatives were far apart, when in reality, the core issue was why the conflict happened, not the underlying belief in the American system. Liberals by and large, support the idea of NATO as a defensive alliance and supporting our allies. They do not support offensive wars. But as we've seen, selling military hardware to people who deserve it is entirely consistent with the modern liberal sensibility, who is not anti-war as much as anti-offensive war.
Actually, no, there's one last thing, this one more negative. Can we talk about how god awful the Democrats currently are at politics? By which I mean, Biden has risen to the moment, united the world behind the US in bringing about the swiftest destruction of a world economy in history, has given the world a reason to support not just maintaining NATO but expanding NATO, and has done it all while presiding over the largest economic recovery since the great depression.
And YET. The Democrats quibbling and refusal to speak openly and boldly about how successful they've been has allowed the right wing media to fill the void. Americans somehow think we're in a recession, and that Biden is actually not doing a great job while in reality, he might be the best president since Reagan in terms of handling international affairs. It is baffling to me that the Democratic messaging apparatus is so utterly broken that they can't seem to get out the simple message of 'look how strong biden is, look how much he's working to help you and America.'
Fire all of your messaging people, Democrats. They're awful at their jobs. I hate to go 'Trump was good at anything' but you can be damn sure he'd be screaming every day and every night about how great a job he was doing, because he is already trying to take credit for things. He's a fool and a bore, but if there is one thing Democrats could learn from him, it's that voters do not care about how the sausage is made, they care if it tastes good. And it would be nice if they would be willing to go in front of the American people and loudly and proudly endorse that it is in fact, good. Americans reward this sort of behavior, they like loud, bold leaders. And while I don't think we should be saber rattling, having more of the Biden who said he'd like to take Trump behind the gym would be a good thing, and other Democrats should be willing to say that this America, the multiethnic and multicultural one, is worth supporting and is stronger than ever before.