Why politics is not a job for amateurs

Really excellent post from Julia Azari in Mischiefs of Faction:

Imagining a political outsider coming in and curing what ails politics is fun and romantic, and it’s not new. On its face, this idea seems very democratic — what could be closer to the ideals of democracy than casting the bastards out and infusing political leadership with new blood, with people who know life outside of the profession of politics? Like many things, this is intuitive but incorrect. Political amateurism presents a threat to democracy.

Democracy is hard. It’s not as simple as picking an election date and site and counting up the votes. It also requires thinking about how different perspectives and stakeholders will be integrated into a system, what to do with the losers of a particular process, and how to balance individual freedom with community concerns. The practice of democracy requires dealing with the reality that disagreement is bound to crop up anytime you get more than one human being in a discussion…

Movements like WTF embrace the pernicious myth of populism that beneath elite squabbles there exists widespread unity of principles. It is true that most people want broadly similar things: peace, safety, prosperity. But there’s a lot of disagreement about how to achieve those things. Productive approaches to politics acknowledge this — denying it won’t make it go away.

Some nice commentary from Alex Theodoridis when he shared this on FB:

This is an important argument from Julia Azari. There was a time when political scientists lamented the fact that reforms to the nominating process had opened the door to candidates like Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter (both governors of sizable states) who lacked Washington experience. John F. Kennedy was once seen as inexperienced when he ran for president (he had been in Congress for 13 years). Obama (with < 1 full U.S. Senate term under his belt) took inexperience to a new level, and Trump (with zero government or military experience and whose resume basically consists of expanding the family business and grooming himself into a reality television star) has made Obama look like a seasoned pro. I’ve long thought the growing willingness (even eagerness) to embrace candidates without experience was a very troubling development. Experience has always been part liability. In gaining it, you build up a record to attack, make enemies, say things that can be used against you, etc. So, if voters impose no electoral penalty for lack of experience, they set the stage for a neophytocracy.

This New Yorker cartoon nails it:

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

Belated Trump Jr and the Russians post

Sorry, between reading too obsessively about this and trying to get some research done, not posts.  Some of the better stuff I’ve read:

1) If nothing else, DJTJ is stunningly incompetent:

If Trump Jr. had wanted to get the materials being offered but cover himself, he would’ve emailed back to say he was appalled at the suggestion, but then used a more secure means of communication to contact Rob Goldstone, who was offering the files, and set up a meeting.

Trump Jr. didn’t do that. He just conducted business over email. Easily hackable, subpoena-able email, during a campaign that centered on his father’s opponent’s poor email management skills.

The incompetence extends from the initial crime to the subsequent cover-up. Trump Jr. kept telling easily debunkable lies, and then changing his story when these lies were exposed. First, he said he’d never met with Russians when he was “representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”

Then, when this meeting came to light, he told the New York Times that, oh, actually, he did meet with Russians, to discuss “a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government.”

Then when the New York Times found that the meeting was about getting information on Clinton, Trump Jr. admitted that this was true, but failed to mention that he had been promised information as part of a Russian government effort.

And then, to preempt yet another Times scoop, he posted all his highly incriminating emails about the meeting on Twitter.

None of this actually made him look less involved or guilty. It just served to erode his credibility and confirm that he had something to hide all along.

Trump Jr. appears to have not taken even basic steps to defend himself and his administration as the scandal unfolded.

2) Clearly a judgment call for whether he actually broke federal law.  I think there’s a pretty good case for why he did.  Here’s Hasen.  A round-up of legal experts from Vox.

The statute in question is 52 USC 30121, 36 USC 510 — the law governing foreign contributions to US campaigns. There are two key passages that apply here. This is the first:

 A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a contribution or a donation of money or other thing of value, or expressly or impliedly promise to make a contribution or a donation, in connection with any Federal, State, or local election.

The crucial phrase here is “other thing of value,” legal experts tell me. It means that the law extends beyond just cash donations. Foreigners are also banned from providing other kinds of contributions that would be the functional equivalent of a campaign donation, just provided in the form of services rather than goods. Like, say, damaging information the Russian government collected about Hillary Clinton.

“To the extent you’re using the resources of a foreign country to run your campaign — that’s an illegal campaign contribution,” Nick Akerman, an assistant special prosecutor during the Watergate investigation who now specializes in data crime, says.

Here’s the second important passage of the statute: “No person shall knowingly solicit, accept, or receive from a foreign national any contribution or donation prohibited by [this law].”

The key word from Trump Jr., according to University of California Irvine election law expert Rick Hasen, is “solicit,” which has a very specific meaning in this context. To quote the relevant statute:

A solicitation is an oral or written communication that, construed as reasonably understood in the context in which it is made, contains a clear message asking, requesting, or recommending that another person make a contribution, donation, transfer of funds, or otherwise provide anything of value.

 Trump Jr. was clearly soliciting information that he knew was coming from a foreign source. Given that political campaigns regularly pay thousands of dollars to opposition researchers to dig up dirt, it seems like damaging information on Clinton would constitute something “of value” to the Trump campaign.

The solicitation bit is why it doesn’t matter if Trump Jr. actually got useful information. The part that’s illegal, according to the experts I spoke to, is trying to acquire dirt on Clinton from a foreign source, not successfully acquiring it. And his statement more or less admits that he did, in fact, solicit this information. [emphasis mine]

3) Dahlia Lithwick’s survey of legal experts likewise finds plenty of case for being criminally responsible (and one notable dissent).   And here’s another lawyer making the case for not breaking any laws.

4)  Regardless of whether crimes were broken or not, the case for attempted “collusion” is sure as hell clear.  TPM summarizes Krauthammer:

He said the Trump team’s defense of there being no evidence of collusion with the Russians to influence the 2016 election was one that he supported for six months, until news broke that Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer to find out information that the Russian government wanted to give the family as a sign of support for the Trump campaign.

 “There was nothing to show that the Trump administration was aware of or supporting the Russians interfering in our election and this just showed up today in black and white, released by Don Jr. himself,” he said. “This is not released in the anti-Trump media. So you see it in black and white. This is not to say that collusion is a crime. It never was. But it is to say that the denial of collusion is very weak right now because it looks as if, I don’t know if there’s any other explanation, Don Jr. was receptive to receiving the information.”

Krauthammer said that Trump Jr. claiming he didn’t get any useful information out of the meeting with a Russian lawyer is “not a very good defense.”

“If you get a call to go to a certain place in the middle of the night to pick up stolen goods and it turns out the stolen goods don’t show up, but the cops show up, I think you’re going to have a very weak story saying, ‘Well, I got swindled here,’” he said. “Look this is incompetence, they got swindled.”

5) Or, as Chait puts it, “The ‘Did Trump’s Campaign Collude’ Debate Is Over. The Only Question Now Is How Much.”

This is a very simple test of the common English understanding of the term “collusion.” Your campaign is told that Russia wants to help you win the election. (“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”) If you refuse to take the meeting, or perhaps take it only to angrily tell your interlocutor you want no part of the project, then it isn’t collusion. If you take the meeting on the proposed terms, you are colluding. If somehow the information on offer turned out to have no value, and the contacts went no farther, then the meeting was ineffectual collusion. But Donald Trump Jr.’s response clearly indicates that he accepted the meeting in order to collude. (“If it’s what you say I love it.”)

This is the scope of the unresolved question now. How much collusion happened?


6) Just to be clear, Trump Jr (and very likely his father) have lied and lied and lied and lied about this.

7) David Graham on “what is if it’s all true?”

Yet with Donald Trump Jr.’s release of self-incriminating emails on Tuesday, the nation learned that the wildest of fantasies was all too real: Granted the chance to take what he believed to be damaging information about Hillary Clinton from a Russian government official, provided because the Kremlin wished to aid his father, Trump Jr. eagerly seized the opportunity. “If it’s what you say I love it,” he wrote to an intermediary. Not only that, but he brought along his brother-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The disclosure of the emails raises a host of questions: Did anyone tell Donald Trump, and if so, when? (The White House and Trump’s attorneys both say he did not attend and was not aware.) Did lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya actually hand over any incriminating information at the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower? (Both she and Trump Jr. say she did not.) Why release documents that, according to some analysts, already implicate Trump Jr. in a federal crime? And why do it now? …

If Trump really knew nothing about the June 9 meeting, one wonders what it was that he was so eager to suppress in his calls to the intel chiefs and his firing of James Comey. And as the collusion scenario that once seemed so implausible is verified by an email trail, which of the other allegations are true, too?

8) My favorite part of this Benjamin Wittes post is his emphasis on the stuff we already knew before the latest revelations:

The problem with dwelling too much on the covert forms of collaboration, which we have come to call “collusion,” is that doing so risks letting Trump at least a little bit off the hook for what is not meaningfully disputed: that the president publicly, knowingly, and repeatedly (if only tacitly) collaborated with a foreign power’s intelligence effort to interfere in the presidential election of the country he now leads. Focusing on covert collusion risks putting the lines of propriety, acceptable candidate behavior, and even (let’s be frank) patriotism in such a place where openly encouraging foreign dictators to hack your domestic opponent’s emails falls on the tolerable side. It risks accepting that all is okay with the Trump-Russia relationship unless some secret or illegal additional element actually involves illicit contacts between the campaign and Russian operatives. Yet it’s hard to imagine how any scandal of illegality could eclipse the scandal of legality which requires no investigation and has lain bare before our eyes for months. [emphasis mine]

But it is this very distinction, in which Trump’s own defenders are so heavily invested, that now appears poised to crumble. Over the past two weeks, two major stories have developed suggesting that there may, after all, have been covert contacts, meetings, and agreements between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

%d bloggers like this: