Monday, October 23, 2017

More on the Trumpist authoritarian response to criticism

Chief of Staff John Kelly has gotten entangled in a now classic Trumpian scandal. He got caught smearing a congresswoman with claims that were quickly shown to be untrue. And then the White House smear machine went into action defending Kelly and Trump in spite of the publicly available evidence. All that prompted me to consider some explanations in my post yesterday on What honorable people give up to work for Trump.

Is there something about Trump and his administration that attracts dishonest people? That’s one possible interpretation of recent events. [A second position is that] basically honest, dedicated public servants are corrupted once they experience the Trump environment, the President’s “swamp.”

Here are a few updates.

Chicken or egg question

A bit later on Sunday Paul Krugman tweeted a simpler version.

Paul Krugman
@paulkrugman
A chicken and egg question: does working for Trump destroy your integrity? Or do only people without integrity work for Trump?
10/22/17 12:40 PM

An authoritarian in the White House

Aaron Blake (Washington Post/The Fix) updated an earlier post in The Trump White House’s increasingly authoritarian response to criticism.

Yet again, the White House has declared itself to be above question.

On Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders bristled at attempts to fact-check Chief of Staff John F. Kelly’s comments about Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.). But rather than make a compelling case based on the facts, she decided to posit that a four-star general should be immune to debate.

“If you want to go after Gen. Kelly, that’s up to you, but I think that if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate,” Sanders said.

… The inescapable conclusion here: According to Sanders, Kelly can say just about anything he wants, and the media should just accept it as fact.

Whatever you think of the White House or President Trump, that’s a remarkably authoritarian argument to make. And it’s hardly the first time the White House has gone down this road. It has suggested dissent is unhelpful — even unpatriotic — several times … [For example:]

In February, when the administration was pushing its entry ban, White House senior adviser Stephen Miller said the president’s prerogatives on foreign policy were absolute. “The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned,” Miller said.

Blake lists more examples and offers a “stunning” conclusion.

The White House isn’t disputing the criticisms; it’s suggesting they shouldn’t even be tolerated and aren’t good for the country. That’s a stunning posture for any White House to take.

But that’s only “stunning” if you do not believe that we have an authoritarian in the White House.

The Borowitz Report

Of course our favorite New Yorker satirist, Andy Borowitz, could not pass up a chance to observe that the White House Says It Is Unpatriotic to Offer Irrefutable Video Evidence That a General Lied.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In a stirring defense of Donald Trump’s chief of staff, General John Kelly, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said on Friday that it was “unpatriotic in the extreme” to offer irrefutable video proof that a four-star general lied.

“It is unpatriotic enough to accuse a four-star general of lying,” Sanders told the White House press corps. “But to make available a video that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that that general lied is unpatriotic bordering on treasonous.”

Warming to her subject, Sanders said that any American who sees undeniable video evidence that a general lied and chooses to believe the video “shows disrespect for our country and hatred for our flag.”

“General Kelly has served our country with courage and valor,” she said. “He has earned the right to lie without fear of being contradicted by the facts.”

Minutes after Sanders concluded her remarks, Kelly also received a vote of confidence from Trump, who called his chief of staff “a good liar, for a beginner.”

End satire alert.

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