The Other Politicization of Mollie Tibbetts’ Murder

Ricochet’s Bethany Mandel wrote a good, thoughtful piece the other day on the inclination of partisans to immediately politicize certain types of tragedies — the latest example being the murder of Mollie Tibbetts, after the revelation that her suspected killer was in this country illegally.

As Mandel points out, such circumstances elevate what would typically be considered a local crime story to a politically-hot national story, compelling vocal players from both sides of the immigration debate to jockey for position.

We see a similar call to arms in the wake of mass-shootings, in regard to gun control. And unfortunately, what’s often lost in such battles is sensitivity to the pain felt by the families of the victims.

Mandel writes the following:

“I can’t help but think about Mollie’s parents today, and the awful fraternity of families they have joined. Mollie’s parents, like those killed in Sandy Hook and Parkland, and the parents of Seth Rich have experienced the most excruciating loss imaginable, the violent murder of their child, and then watched that child’s death politicized and turned into conspiracy theories and political volleyballs.”

Her point is something everyone should consider, even those who have legitimate reasons for believing that their political stances, had they been implemented into law, could have spared the victim(s).

What makes the Tibbetts story somewhat unique is that it was immediately met with a second tier of politicization, due to the timing of when news of her fate broke. It all unfolded last Tuesday, just as two former close associates of President Trump — Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen — were being convicted of (in Cohen’s case it was a plea deal) multiple serious crimes.

Bizarrely but perhaps not unsurprisingly, this led to a number of political pundits converging these completely unrelated (and very different) stories into a larger narrative, with the clear intent to trivialize the story they found less accommodating to their political sensibilities.

On the Right, commentators suggested that because no one was killed in the cases of Manafort and Cohen, Americans shouldn’t deem their legal woes (and their potential to harm President Trump) to be worthy of public interest. This sentiment was expressed rather vehemently on Fox News’s The Five (before being carried over to the network’s prime-time shows).

“In terms of what is important, I think no one at the Trump rally tonight will give a damn about Manafort or Cohen, but [the Tibbetts case] will probably be fresh in their minds,” Greg Gutfeld said. He later added, “I know that Cohen isn’t squeaky clean. I know Manafort isn’t squeaky clean. Hell, I know Trump isn’t squeaky clean. That’s filler for local radio.”

Gutfeld went on to dismiss the media attention Manafort and Cohen were receiving as attempts to “reverse an election.”

Dagen McDowell said that people would be talking about the Tibbetts case and illegal immigration over the dinner table that night, “rather than two bad white collar criminals.”

“I just can’t believe we’re talking about this,” Dan Bongino complained, referring to the coverage of Manafort and Cohen. He described the Cohen story as a “taxi cab confession” and dismissed Manafort’s conviction as meaningless. “I mean, this is incredible,” he added.

Some on the Left portrayed coverage of the Tibbetts murder as little more than a conservative-media distraction from Manafort and Cohen. Referring to the two former Trump associates, frequent MSNBC guest, Christina Greer, reflected those sentiments.

“I’m sure we’ll hear what [Trump] has to say about this at his rally,” said Greer, “but Fox News is talking about a girl in Iowa and not this, right?”

Juan Williams made a similar point, chiding the producers of yesterday’s The Five (along with his co-hosts) for leading the show with the Tibbetts story.

“In Trump’s case he’s using this to distract and deceive people,” said Williams. “In terms of the big news of the day which is about the Michael Cohen plea deal, about Paul Manafort being convicted. At this point you have the president’s personal lawyer, his campaign chairman, his national security advisor — all convicted felons. And oh no… Instead, we want to talk about a murder. Well there are lots of murders in America. There’s a lower rate of violent crime among illegal immigrants and immigrants than there is among native-born Americans. But guess what, there are some people who say, Let’s not talk about Trump because it’s bad news for Trump.

While Williams made a valid point about media-conservatives not wanting to focus on bad news for Trump (one of the points I made above), the idea of the Tibbetts murder not warranting at least a few days of national coverage is just as flawed as the logic used by some of Williams’ co-hosts.

On Twitter, SooperMexican effectively summed up the situation:

Exactly.

Both stories warrant coverage, and neither story has anything to do with the other. Comparing and contrasting the two, for the sake of minimizing one of them, is pure politics. And with a situation as personally agonizing as the Tibbetts murder, the young victim’s family doesn’t need a second level of politicization to have to deal with right now.

One is assuredly hard enough.




When Honesty Is No Longer a Factor in Who To Trust

Editor’s Note:  I’m on assignment so John Daly is taking over this space.

Bernie Goldberg

 

The other day, Bernie Goldberg wrote a column on this site that referenced a recent CBS news poll. The poll revealed some rather interesting statistics, especially about those who describe themselves as “strong” supporters of President Trump.

When asked who they trust to provide them with “accurate” information, even if they don’t necessarily agree with the personal views of those providing the information, only 11% of this group listed the mainstream media.

This, of course, is no surprise — unless maybe you’re surprised by how high that number is. The U.S. news media has had a genuine, widespread problem with liberal bias for many years (countless examples have been documented on this website). That bias has understandably caused long-term frustration for people on the right, to the point where President Trump’s “Fake News” mantra has compelled a large portion of the base to believe that virtually any negative coverage of our president or his administration is either fabricated or highly misleading.

The more intriguing numbers didn’t involve the news media at all.

According to the poll, a whopping 91% of these strong Trump supporters trust that Trump himself provides them with accurate information. Keep in mind that the question wasn’t about whether they like the president or if they think he’s doing a good job (the answer to both of those questions would assuredly be yes). The question was about the accuracy of what he says.

In reality, Trump habitually and routinely spreads false information. He lies about small things, he lies about big things, he fabricates facts, and he advances unfounded conspiracy theories.

Yet, 91% trust him for information that is “accurate.”

This is why it’s hard to take seriously the Trump supporters I often hear from who insist that our president’s deceitful rhetoric is inconsequential, and that it shouldn’t be taken “literally.”

A big problem, however, is that it is being taken literally (as the poll suggests) by the overwhelming majority of firm Trump supporters in this country — a number that probably translates to about one third of the American electorate (even more if you believe what those supporters say). And if someone’s trying to make the argument that it’s inconsequential for a significant portion of the American electorate to place trust in the accuracy of a chronically and demonstrably inaccurate source of information, how on earth can that same person continue to complain about media bias?

Media bias has long been identified by those of us on the right as a major problem because it taints public opinion through incomplete data and misleading narratives. But these days, few of us seem to care, only seeing misinformation as damaging when it comes from the other side.

Lastly, 63% of strong Trump supporters said that they trust their “friends and family” for accurate information — almost 30% fewer than the number that place their confidence in what Trump says. I suppose this shouldn’t have surprised me, being that a lot of these folks defend Trump more fervently than the average parent would defend his or her own children. Still, it’s a pretty sad statement.

The most amusing responses to Bernie’s column were related to this discrepancy between the trust placed in Trump and the trust placed in friends and family. A number of people in the comment section and on social media were eager to rationalize the poll’s findings, and their explanations were pretty telling.

Here are a few:

“The article doesn’t say if the family members are Progressive Leftists. If that’s the case , I wouldn’t trust what they said either.”

“Yeah families are pretty f—ed up these days….”

“I would say a good 90% of my friends and family are liberal democrats. The number is probably higher. Some of them hate the president so much they’re approaching psychosis. I mean, the hatred literally consumes their day. So why should I turn to them when looking for ‘accurate information’?”

“NONE of the womyn in my family will EVER get over Hillary not becoming ’45’. Why would I rely on those people for news?”

“No, I won’t believe my ‘crazy uncle’ that listens to Alex Jones (or Luis Farrakhan) over the President I ‘strongly support’.”

I particularly liked the last comment, being that no one has done more to legitimize Alex Jones than Donald Trump himself, who actually went on Jones’s radio show and described the vile conspiracy theorist as having an “amazing” reputation. Does that mean Trump’s the crazy uncle?

Now, I can certainly appreciate that some people wouldn’t want to invest an abundance of confidence in the information put forth by certain family members (we can’t pick our family, after all). Friends are a different story, however, being that trust is typically the very foundation of friendship.

Regardless, if you’re inclined to trust the word of a politician (especially one who has proven himself to be pathologically dishonest) over the people closest in your life, it might be time to question whether your devotion to that politician has turned into a religion. It also might be time to develop better personal relationships in your life.




Bailing Out the Trade War

“Tariffs are the greatest!” President Trump tweeted early Tuesday morning. “Either a country which has treated the United States unfairly on Trade negotiates a fair deal, or it gets hit with Tariffs. It’s as simple as that – and everybody’s talking! Remember, we are the ‘piggy bank’ that’s being robbed. All will be Great!”

Only, things haven’t been all that “simple” or “great” in this ill-advised trade war. The administration announced that same morning that up to $12 billion in federal emergency aid would be dispersed to U.S. farmers who are suffering from the effects of Trump’s trade policies. These farmers’ exports have been penalized with levies from multiple countries in response to the president’s new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

In other words, we’re talking about a bailout, and yet another expansion of the agricultural sector’s dependency on government. But unlike the traditional government bailouts we’ve seen for key industries in times of deep economic downturns, this one is being used — in the midst of a strong economy — to repair (or at least place duct tape over) an “emergency” situation brought on directly by a U.S. president’s executive order.

One can only imagine the fire and fury from Republicans and conservatives if Obama had been the architect of this big-government taxpayer-funded fiasco.

Unfortunately, farming isn’t the only American industry already being hurt by Trump’s trade war. A new Bloomberg report shows that the savings U.S. automakers have enjoyed as a result of the corporate tax-rate cut have already been erased (and then some) by the hit they’ve taken from the president’s steel and aluminum tariffs.

“For example, Ford saved about $208.4 million in taxes in the first quarter under a 21 percent corporate rate applied to its profit, compared to if the old rate of 35 percent had been applied to the same profit,” the report states. “The steel and aluminum tariffs will cost the automaker about $509 million in 2018, according to Nomura estimates.”

We found out last month that Harley-Davidson’s having a hard time adjusting to the trade war. According to the company, retaliatory tariffs have driven up the cost of each exported motorcycle by an average of $2,200. This prompted the company to announce that it will be moving some of its production overseas — a business decision that brought on attacks (some would say threats) from Trump himself.

Here was just one of them:

How dare an American company choose not to sit back and lose money for the sake of bad government policy and a politician’s ego!

One can only imagine the fire and fury from Republicans and conservatives if Obama had attacked a private company in such fashion. Only, no imagination is required because he actually did it, to companies like Staples and Boeing, and the reaction on the right was far from dismissive.

According to Whirlpool CEO Marc Bitzer, his company is slated to have to pay $350 million more for raw materials this year, thanks to tariffs. Other major companies have reported similar leaps in tariff-related costs, including Alcoa, Coca-Cola, 3M, GE, and United Technologies (just to name a few).

And of course, it’s consumers who will ultimately flip the dime to help make up for these increased costs being levied on American businesses. Tariffs are essentially taxes, and in the case of government bailouts of industries hurt by the trade war (today it’s just farming, but who knows what tomorrow will bring?), we’re talking about a wealth-redistributing double-tax.

One can only imagine the fire and fury from Republicans and conservatives if… Well, I think you get the point.

None of this makes any sense, of course. Our president has gotten us into a trade conflict that was totally unnecessary, due to a long obsessed over (but completely arbitrary) measure of “fairness” — in the context of trade deficits — that seemingly only he and his most devoted supporters subscribe to.

It would be one thing if the thesis was backed by economic or historical data, but it’s not. It’s propped up almost entirely by feelings.

“But this is about national security and intellectual property!” some of the people reading this column will undoubtedly argue.

Is it really? Because we haven’t heard the administration make this argument in quite a while. Instead, the messaging has been focused on “better trade deals” and “fair trade” which is a much different (and even less compelling) argument. And if the goal truly were related to U.S. protectionism, imposing tariffs is a terrible, self-defeating way of going about it (as the CATO Institute’s Scott Lincicome points out).

One has to wonder how much damage and government intervention into our economy conservatives are willing to accept from President Trump. After all, it really is just about Trump, being that Congress hasn’t been involved in either of these decisions. Trump unilaterally started this trade war, and now he’s unilaterally trying to cover up the damage it’s causing (with taxpayers flipping the dime).

I guess the answer will be revealed by whether or not the Republican-led Congress decides to actually do something about it. Members of the U.S. Congress have it within their power to amend or repeal a small number of Constitutional statues that would put trade-related decisions back in their hands, and put a swift end to this mess. A number of DC representatives from both sides of the aisle have been outspoken in their opposition to the trade war. They should put their money where their mouths are.

Will they? Unfortunately, probably not, as Charles Cooke explains in a recent piece in the Los Angeles Times:

…the incentives for impotence remain strong. Allowing the president to take tough decisions inoculates representatives and senators from having to put on the record a difficult and divisive vote, and spares them from doing the elementary research that their job requires. Besides, at any given point both Democrats and Republicans can use the executive’s Caesarism to their political advantage. If their guy is in power, there exists little motivation to reduce his capabilities. And if the other guy is in, well, then his conduct makes the case for his replacement! Upon these craven theories of self-interest has Congress abdicated its role for 80-odd years.

Additionally, one has to consider the increasingly tribal political environment that now exists within this country’s major political parties. This is especially true of the GOP, where the top political issue (as evidenced by the rhetoric thrown around during election primaries) seems to be whether or not Republicans are sufficiently loyal to President Trump. In which case, the trade-war pains will have to hurt a larger number of constituents directly before backbones in Washington may possibly take shape.

Until then, we can look forward to higher prices and more government subsidizing. But it’s all okay because “trade wars are good, and easy to win.”

Right?




The GOP Is (and Will Remain) the Party of Trump

On Monday, the right-leaning Washington Examiner ran an piece entitled “Don’t become the party of Trump,” in which the publication’s editorial board called on the Republican Party not to “pledge unquestioning allegiance” to the president.

It was a well-written, thoughtful column that pointed out recent examples the GOP’s growing obedience toward Trump. This included the primary loss of conservative congressman Mark Sanford (attributed to his criticisms of the president) and the subsequent call (some would say threat) from Republican National Committee Chairman Ronna McDaniel that directed Republicans to fall in line behind the Trump agenda:

The Examiner called McDaniel’s argument “wrongheaded” and claimed that — if followed — it would deeply damage the GOP:

Neither Republican lawmakers, nor the Right more broadly — the conservative movement, the free-market cause, the pro-life movement, and the right-of-center media — ought to pledge unquestioning allegiance to Trump just because he is powerful. Might does not make right. To the contrary, the best thing about Trump’s presidency has been the degree to which these other forces have harnessed Trump and pulled him in line behind their ideas and arguments.

It was a very good point. Trump’s greatest achievements as president have not come from his populist/protectionist agenda, or the battles he chooses to wage on cultural issues and our national institutions. They’ve come from his selective deference (perhaps compelled by disinterest) to traditional Republican positions and the much-maligned Republican “establishment” — led by people like Mitch McConnell, whose efforts arguably deserve more credit for these successes than Trump.

As the Examiner put it:

Trump flipped from considering his liberal sister for a federal judicial vacancy to adopting a list of highly qualified conservative jurists from which to draw Supreme Court nominees and appointees to lower courts. He went from supporting abortion rights and the country’s leading abortionist, Planned Parenthood, to being the most aggressive advocate of the unborn. His biggest legislative achievement is a tax cut.

Still, it’s these very individuals (and their ideals) — the ones that have steered (and in some cases carried) Trump in the right direction — that are in danger of being booted from the Republican Party. Why? Because they don’t necessarily bow to the altar of Trump. And while the Examiner does make the point that the GOP can learn some things from Trump in regard to messaging, the publication is adamant that the party not abandon its principles:

… the party should not be defined by the man. It should be a party of ideas, not personality.

The problem, of course, is that such advice has been shouted from the hilltops by conservatives for the past three years, and those warnings have fallen on deaf ears. The GOP and even the conservative movement have become more Trump-centric and more Trump-sycophantic — not less.

The result has been more and more righties defending and embracing notions they would have laughed at or even excoriated in the pre-Trump era, like the lavishing of praise on brutal dictators, or the imposition of tariffs on foreign allies (in the name of a made-up problem like trade deficits).

A number of prominent voices on the Right even got behind the U.S. Senate candidacy of credibly-accused child molester, Roy Moore. You might recall that President Trump endorsed Moore after multiple accusers came forward, and that endorsement prompted the RNC to restore funding to the candidate’s campaign.

Remember how, just a few years ago, there was a Tea Party movement (with enough power to flip control of branches of congress) that demanded that Washington deal with runaway government spending, the crushing weight of our national debt, and our impending entitlement crisis? Where are those same people now, as Trump presides over the normalization of trillion-dollar deficits while refusing to touch entitlements? Most are silent, and the remaining vocal dissenters are quickly discarded as “NeverTrumpers” or “RINOs.”

Heck, the one guy who had the guts to lead a legislative effort to reform our entitlements (actually getting bills passed through the House a few years ago) — Paul Ryan — is now seen as villain by most within the Republican Party, with many celebrating his upcoming retirement from politics. Previously, Republicans’ conservative-media-fueled anger at Ryan had stemmed from his failure, as Speaker of the House, to effectively reduce spending. Most of the hostility over the past couple of years, however, has come from Ryan’s occasional rhetorical push-backs against Trump (who has demonstrated no semblance of fiscal discipline, but somehow gets a pass).

Another conservative leader who will be gone soon is Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. A man of principle and integrity, the Right viewed Gowdy as a rock-star back when he led the House Benghazi Committee. These days, he’s portrayed as a “swamp creature” or — you guessed it — a “RINO” by the Trump-Right whenever he speaks to the legitimacy of the Mueller investigation:

And if you don’t think political tribalism, in the era of Trump, is a major factor behind Gowdy’s decision to leave Congress, you should read some of his statements on the topic.

As we’ve seen in recent Republican primaries, the new blood vying for seats in Washington isn’t cut from the same political thread as Ryan, Sanford, or Gowdy. Instead, the key issue they’ve been running on appears to be… well, Trump (who remains very popular with Republican voters) — as in who is the most eager to, as McDaniel puts it, “embrace” his agenda (whatever that happens to be).

This sometimes turns into a contest of who can talk the Trumpiest, or who can express the most personal affection for Trump. Case in point, here’s a campaign email I received today from a Republican primary candidate running to be my state’s Treasurer. The subject of the email was simply “#MAGA”.

Not exactly the display of rugged individualism that we once associated with the Right, is it?

Of course, this Trump-conformity theme has been promoted to the high heavens by big names in the conservative media, who’ve enjoyed the increased ratings and listenership it has spawned. Some of these folks recognized the monetary benefits of going in this direction as early as 2015, with others catching up after the election.

Conservative commentator Jay Caruso pointed out the hopeless absurdity of Trump’s media-sycophants in his latest Monday Notice newsletter (which is worth subscribing to), and how it’s difficult for them to break free from the act:

The problem for these people is that they are in neck-deep so they do not dare to criticize Trump for fear of having the Trump mob turn on them. One of the more blatant examples is when Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard asked Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist while on a Fox News panel if Trump was right when he said North Korea was no longer a nuclear threat. It was a simple yes or no question. A yes or no question with an obvious answer and she would not answer him. That’s how afraid they are of being seen as disloyal to Trump.

Believe me, I would love for Republicans to heed the Washington Examiner’s advice, but it’s not going to happen. That ship has sailed.

The reality is that Trump (and what is perceived to be best for Trump) transcends the party and its stated principles. The GOP has already been re-shaped in his image and defined by his personality, and it will be a long time (perhaps years after he leaves office) before conservatism even has a shot at becoming the party’s identity again.

That doesn’t mean that the conservatives who are still in the mix of things can’t make policy gains and nudge Trump in the right direction. They can. But Trumpism is wearing down conservatism and individualism through attrition. True believers in tenets of small government, personal responsibility, and individual freedom are falling by the wayside in the GOP, and too many of the Republicans who used to care about such things are now far more concerned with chasing off Trump-Train stragglers.

Face it folks, this is Trump’s party and it’s here to stay.




When Presidential Pardons Become an Exercise in Showmanship

U.S. presidents are afforded the legal right to pardon (or commute the sentence of) anyone they want to, at any time they want to. They don’t need a reason. They aren’t required to explain themselves. Still, such decisions often face public scrutiny, and President Trump has recently raised eyebrows over some of the individuals he has chosen (or is considering choosing) to help out with his legal authority.

Last Thursday, Trump announced that he would be pardoning controversial author/filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza for a felony guilty-plea over a violation of federal campaign-finance law. Months earlier, the president pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona who had been found guilty of criminal contempt of court relating to racial profiling.

These two have a few things in common, other than their unrelated run-ins with the law. Both are conservative-media celebrities, both are outspoken critics of the American Left, both are noted conspiracy theorists, and both are staunch supporters of President Trump.

And while we’re on the topic of celebrities, Trump also said this week that he is considering pardoning Martha Stewart, and commuting the sentence of disgraced former Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich (who’s still serving time for federal corruption over — among other things — the attempted sale of Barack Obama’s old Senate seat). Both are alumni of Trump’s old NBC reality show, The Apprentice.

Now, it would be silly to suggest that it’s a mere coincidence that of the several thousand individuals who go through the process of applying for presidential clemency, the ones Trump seems most focused on are provocative celebrity figures whose legal leniency would assuredly spawn lots of media interest and national discussion. Our president, after all, is a showman. He loves to generate mainstream attention. He loves to have lots of people talking about him. And that kind of thing is far less likely to happen when his pardoning powers are used to help some poor schmuck, who no one’s ever heard of, that got at unfair shake from our legal system.

That’s not to say that Trump won’t eventually get around to extending such grace to some of those unfortunate souls, like Matthew Charles from Tennessee, whose unjust situation seems tailor-made for a presidential commutation. But celebrities (the more provocative the better) are clearly Trump’s priority.

With that in mind, Mr. Charles does have one big thing going for him. Kim Kardashian (who’s been a vocal Charles advocate) recently met with President Trump at the White House, to discuss prison reform of all things. That celebrity link may well be the difference in whether Charles is sent back to prison (to finish his sentence) or allowed to live the productive, admirable life he’s been living on the outside.

But for now, it’s people like D’Souza, Blagojevich, and Stewart who are earning the president’s sympathies. And one could argue that they’ve done little (if anything) to garnish special consideration.

As The Washington Examiner’s Becket Adams reminded people in a recent piece, D’Souza (who reportedly didn’t even ask or apply for clemency) used straw donors to funnel an estimated $20k to a senate candidate. He never served any time for his crime other than in community confinement, and his continued insistence (long echoed by fellow media-conservatives) that he was targeted — for being an Obama critic — has never held water. Regardless, the White House’s stated rationale for commutation was that D’Souza was “a victim of selective prosecution”.

It should be noted that this “victim” hasn’t exactly suffered from his prosecution (which again, he plead guilty to). In fact, he’s been making a pretty good living off of conservative speaking engagements.

Rod Blagojevich is in prison not just for trying to sell Obama’s old senate seat, but also for shakedowns of multiple individuals and a children’s hospital. He epitomizes “the swamp” that Trump was supposed to have been elected to “drain,” despite the president’s insistence the other day that Blago was merely in prison “for being stupid and saying things that every other politician, you know, that many other politicians say.”

And of course, Stewart, after her short prison sentence, has remained extremely wealthy and at the top of her professional game. She’s not exactly a damsel in distress.

None of this is to say that Trump’s interests on this front are particularly egregious. They’re not, especially in comparison to what other presidents have done over the years. Bill Clinton’s infamous pardoning of Marc Rich (the billionaire financier with ties to the Democratic Party) and Barack Obama’s commuting of Chelsea Manning’s sentence (she was convicted of espionage) are examples of far worse abuses. That goes without dispute.

Still, it sure would be nice if Mr. Trump (whose enthusiastic supporters insist is a champion of the forgotten man and a slayer of the elites) would resist the urge to treat his pardoning power like a story-line from a reality-television script. There are true victims of flaws and injustices in our legal system who are much more deserving of (and desperate for) his help.

They just haven’t had the benefit of being discussed on Fox and Friends.