Rep. Nadler: Ending readouts anti-democratic

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) reacts to the news that the White House will end readouts of Trump's calls with world leaders, saying he doesn't think there is anything he can do about it in a Republican-led Congress.

Posted: Jul 25, 2018 5:40 PM
Updated: Jul 25, 2018 6:00 PM

Nine hours on Tuesday provided a useful snapshot of America's headlong rush into moral relativism.

At noon, President Trump spoke to a VFW convention in Kansas City and told the crowd: "Just remember, what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening."

Even for a president who tweeted "any negative polls are fake news," three weeks into his administration, this flat-out appeal for people to ignore what they see with their own eyes was jarring. Observers quickly pointed out that the American president's syntax was uncomfortably close to an infamous line from George Orwell's "1984:" "The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command."

In "1984," the Ministry of Truth is dedicated to teaching citizens to accept sinister nonsense, like 2+2=5 and War is Peace. The test of a loyal party member is "a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary."

In other words, the test of loyalty is not only to lie for the regime but to convince oneself to believe the lies, or at least to dismiss any meaningful difference between truth and lies. And that's where the real danger with the hyper-partisan defense of Trump is emerging.

Increasingly, you hear a normalization of the idea that President Trump's lies are merely matters of style and not substance. This is accompanied by the exhausted excuse that Americans shouldn't worry about what Trump says but instead watch what he (or his administration) does. This requires buying into the moral relativism at the heart of Trump's deny, distract, deflect and divide rhetorical strategy. The last and laziest defense is a shot of whatabout-ism accompanied with the chaser that says a fact-based debate is itself is divisive.

It is a fact universally acknowledged that Donald Trump is not really into reading books and so I would never suggest that he was consciously borrowing from Orwell's script. But the unconscious parallels are undeniable; in the dystopia of "1984," the Ministry of Truth devoted itself ruthlessly to revising the historical record to back up Big Brother's pronouncements.

Which is a reasonable segue to Trump's adjacent attempt at reality distortion on Tuesday, when he tweeted, "Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election. Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don't want Trump!"

This tweet, of course, contradicts everything we know about Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 election on Donald Trump's behalf and runs counter to virtually all of Trump's previous statements (or lack thereof) about Russia. But it does muddy the otherwise clear facts of this ongoing national security threat. If, like the President, you're disinclined to take the US intelligence community's word, then you might actually have been persuaded by Vladimir Putin's answer at the Helsinki press conference, when the Russian president was asked, "Did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?" Putin's response? "Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.--Russia relationship back to normal."

But you would not know that infamous exchange occurred if you were looking for it on the official White House transcript -- because it was literally absent from the record and the accompanying video. As of Wednesday morning, the White House still had not corrected or explained the omission.

A few hours after Trump's about-face on Twitter, his administration compounded this impulse to erase or obscure inconvenient facts. CNN reported that the White House has suspended the practice of publishing "readouts," public summaries of President Donald Trump's phone calls with world leaders. This move brings "an end to a common exercise from Republican and Democratic administrations" of providing what in some cases is the only public record of conversations between the President and other leaders.

This move is not just another hit by the Trump administration to bipartisan presidential norms that aim to ensure transparency, like regularly publishing White House visitor logs or releasing the President's tax returns. Because tone comes from the top, we've seen a similar approach taken by administration agencies, from the EPA's attempt to ban employees use of the phrase "climate change" to efforts to hide former EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt's meeting with industry lobbyists to the Interior Department's issuing a factually false report about the economic impact of national monuments.

On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, the Trump administration doubled down Tuesday on its abandonment of free trade in favor of trade war tariffs to enact subsidies for suffering farmers to offset political pain. Some usually compliant conservative senators cried foul, with Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson sputtering, "This is becoming more and more like a Soviet type of economy here: Commissars deciding who's going to be granted waivers, commissars in the administration figuring out how they're going to sprinkle around benefits."

When conservatives accuse a Republican president of pushing policies that create a "Soviet type of economy" you know we're through the looking glass.

But Tuesday's litany of lies and obfuscation reached a new peak with the release on CNN's "Cuomo Prime Time" of a 2016 tape between Trump and his consigliere Michael Cohen, discussing a $150,000, possibly "cash" payment to the owner of the National Enquirer to quiet Karen McDougal, who'd alleged an affair with Trump. The Trump campaign and later the White House had outright denied this affair and the alleged payoff. Perhaps President Trump's earlier admonition for his VFW crowd was meant as anticipatory defense: "Just remember, what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening."

This desperate search for an alternate reality is not a hallmark of democracy or past Republican presidents. But it is evident in another news story that quietly dropped Tuesday night: The President has banned the viewing of any cable news station on Air Force One other than Fox News, after he allegedly caught the First Lady watching CNN.

These actions, a snapshot of less than 24 hours in the Trump presidency, and the increasingly absurd defense of the indefensible, leads someplace far more dangerous. It ends up endorsing the idea that truth doesn't matter and that a president's litany of lies should not be over-indexed or seen as destructive to our democracy. In sum, "get over it -- our guy won." In this world view, power and nationalism provide their own imperatives -- an idea more commonly advanced by the Chinese government, which also on Tuesday imposed their final deadline on US airlines to change the name of Taiwan on their maps and websites -- a move which the Trump administration had previously (and accurately) described as "Orwellian nonsense."

Reality Check: Truth does matter. History shows that the honesty of the president matters. Clear-eyed confrontation of any attempt by a modern day "ministry of truth" to blur the distinction between fact and fiction is a core responsibility of citizens and journalists alike. Democracy depends on facts made available to citizens in a self-governing society. That's the gospel of truth at the heart of what Abraham Lincoln once called our "political religion."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 591445

Reported Deaths: 7367
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1224421730
Ramsey51212875
Dakota45791452
Anoka41604438
Washington26834283
Stearns22196222
St. Louis17734303
Scott17244124
Wright16009139
Olmsted1322598
Sherburne1167187
Carver1047545
Clay814492
Rice8037107
Blue Earth749641
Crow Wing663189
Kandiyohi654283
Chisago596651
Otter Tail574078
Benton568297
Goodhue477272
Douglas466375
Mower464832
Winona453950
Itasca435556
McLeod422559
Isanti419664
Morrison418260
Nobles407648
Beltrami394459
Steele386715
Polk383568
Becker379751
Lyon360251
Carlton345054
Freeborn341529
Pine327822
Nicollet325643
Brown305040
Mille Lacs303253
Le Sueur290922
Todd281632
Cass271328
Meeker255740
Waseca235922
Martin230531
Roseau209019
Wabasha20513
Hubbard188341
Dodge18453
Renville179743
Redwood174037
Houston171616
Cottonwood164821
Fillmore155910
Wadena155922
Pennington153619
Chippewa152138
Faribault152119
Kanabec144326
Sibley143110
Aitkin134736
Watonwan13219
Rock128119
Jackson121712
Pipestone115426
Yellow Medicine114120
Pope11006
Murray10619
Swift105218
Stevens90411
Marshall88117
Clearwater86616
Koochiching82715
Wilkin81112
Lake80919
Lac qui Parle75222
Big Stone6004
Lincoln5813
Grant5748
Mahnomen5469
Norman5399
Unassigned48993
Kittson48622
Red Lake3957
Traverse3695
Lake of the Woods3243
Cook1620

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 366827

Reported Deaths: 5937
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk57596625
Linn20845335
Scott20025241
Black Hawk15803308
Woodbury15128228
Johnson1447483
Dubuque13368208
Dallas1117898
Pottawattamie11113168
Story1061248
Warren577088
Clinton555593
Cerro Gordo539789
Sioux514474
Webster512393
Marshall482975
Muscatine480799
Des Moines455766
Wapello4299122
Buena Vista424540
Jasper418872
Plymouth401180
Lee375755
Marion362575
Jones298957
Henry291637
Carroll285752
Bremer284360
Crawford266440
Boone264534
Benton256455
Washington254150
Dickinson248343
Mahaska230351
Jackson221742
Clay215525
Kossuth215364
Delaware209541
Tama209571
Winneshiek196834
Page192622
Buchanan191232
Cedar190023
Hardin185243
Fayette185041
Wright184637
Hamilton179849
Harrison179573
Clayton169456
Butler164934
Mills162322
Madison162219
Floyd160542
Cherokee158738
Lyon157941
Poweshiek154734
Allamakee151551
Iowa148724
Hancock147834
Winnebago142431
Cass138554
Calhoun138413
Grundy136333
Emmet134140
Jefferson132335
Shelby131037
Sac130319
Union128333
Louisa128049
Appanoose127949
Mitchell126342
Chickasaw124015
Guthrie121530
Franklin120021
Humboldt119126
Palo Alto112723
Howard104622
Montgomery103338
Clarke100124
Unassigned9710
Keokuk95831
Monroe95229
Ida90535
Adair86532
Pocahontas85522
Davis82924
Monona82830
Osceola78616
Greene77610
Lucas77323
Worth7478
Taylor65812
Fremont6229
Decatur6089
Van Buren55818
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Audubon51010
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