The Dangers of Normalization and the Failures of the American Press

The American press often gives us bullshit. Not false news… just lacking the depth, backbone and perspective necessary to provide competent coverage. And in the process, they allow the President to normalize bad behavior.

Surrounded by the absurd and the macabre, we have permitted ourselves to seemingly accept the surreal as normal. America has crossed over into the Twilight Zone. Our politicians are broken. Our mainstream news media is broken. And our moral compass is broken. We’ve allowed Donald Trump, and the cult following him, to normalize terrible things in horrible ways and with dreadful consequences.

Over the past week, as the President has been further implicated by his own Department of Justice in serious felonies related to attempts to defraud and deceive the American people during his 2016 presidential campaign, we’ve watched respected political pundits and journalists on major TV networks and newspapers speculate on when such conduct will finally warrant consideration of impeachment.

Really? Do ya think? 

The failure of the mainstream media to hold Trump to reasonable standards and report on him with depth doesn’t end there. While there are rare exceptions, over and over again we’ve seen reporters at major media outlets repeat things stated in Mueller’s filings as if they were new revelations, when in fact 95% of what Mueller has recently disclosed has long been known to those following Trump/Russia closely (well documented, for example, in Seth Abramson’s recent book Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America). The press also frequently repeats myths offered by Trump loyalists without factual basis, most notably the one claiming that the Mueller investigation is close to wrapping up. And the TV news networks in particular often do a great disservice to the public by giving considerable “both sides” air time to individuals willing to lie and grossly distort on behalf of the President, making issues which truly are factual and clear cut in nature seem confused and open to debate.  (And then there is, of course, the case of FOX News, which was once a journalistic source, but has now effectively become a propaganda tool of the Trump administration that utterly fails to meet reasonable journalistic standards. Real news organizations typically fact check their stories from multiple sources; they issue retractions when they make mistakes; they require reporters and journalists to disclose conflicts of interest; they discipline reporters who don’t follow the rules of professional journalism. FOX rarely does any of these things. Their commentators routinely apply radically different standards for judging and critiquing the actions of politicians based on the political party of the politician. Outside of the reporting by Shepard Smith, they routinely omit coverage of major stories that don’t fit their agenda and they routinely present extraordinary distortions of reality as fact.)

We’ve listened to many members of Congress chime in too, making statements that leave one wondering what alternative-reality dimension they are living in. We keep hearing the pundits and politicians tell us we must wait for the results of the Mueller investigation before we have sufficient information to decide how to move forward.

I call bullshit.

The Mueller probe is surely the most complex criminal investigation in American history, spanning activities taking place in at least a dozen countries around the world, involving the search for and analysis of complex documents and financial records spanning decades, testimony from perhaps hundreds of people and indictments against dozens. As new pieces of information are uncovered, it continually opens the door to an even larger web of investigatory material and witnesses, while giving prosecutors more and more leverage to get witnesses to cooperate. And in the midst of it all, some of the subjects of the investigation appear to be continuing to act in a criminal manner on an ongoing basis. While reports covering aspects of the investigation may be forthcoming in the near future, it is likely that aspects of the investigation will continue in some shape or form for a considerable time, unless it is brought to a premature conclusion through obstructive presidential fiat. 

The completion of the Mueller investigation is critically important to the prosecution of those who have committed criminal acts against America.  But we don’t need his investigation to be completed  to understand if the President has betrayed his oath of office and committed impeachable offenses, because so many of the acts have been committed in broad daylight. And we don’t need to know all the minute details to understand how the dominoes are going to fall. All we need to do is remember just a few of the things that are fully in the public domain:

At a July 27, 2016 news conference, then-candidate Donald Trump publicly stated: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing, I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” We now know, thanks to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, that Russian officials began to target email addresses associated with Hillary Clinton’s personal and campaign offices “on or around” this same date.

On May 9, 2017, United States President Donald John Trump fired F.B.I. Director James Comey, who was also leading the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russian tampering in the 2016 US presidential election as well as the possibility of collusion between Russia and members of Trump’s campaign and administration.

Then the following morning of May 10, 2017, Trump met in the White House Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. During this meeting, Trump gave ISIS-related code level Top Secret information to the Russians that Israel had reportedly provided to the US on the strict condition that it not be shared with our allies, much less with our adversaries. Based on contemporaneous notes that were taken and then verbally relayed to the New York Times (and which have not been denied by the White House), Trump also told the Russians “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Photographs of the meeting show the celebratory atmosphere of the exchange between the American President and representatives of America’s greatest political adversary.

And then the following day, May 11, 2017, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that the FBI’s Russia investigation was on his mind during the firing: “And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.'”

And then on July 16, 2018, the President of the United States stood alongside Vladamir Putin at a press conference in Helsinki, Finland  and confirmed to the entire world what so many of us already knew: Donald John Trump has betrayed his duty to America, and acts as though he is beholden to and under undue influence of Putin in ways that constitute an extraordinary betrayal of his oath of office.

Had any of these acts been committed by Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama, serious congressional investigations would have quickly moved towards an impeachment debate, regardless of the partisanship of either the President or the Congress. But not in Donald Trump’s America. He has normalized the unethical and the illegal. After two years of political insanity accompanied by Republican members of Congress working to obstruct justice, serious congressional investigation backed by subpoena power won’t begin to commence until the new House of Representatives is seated next month.

While we certainly do not yet know the full details of every criminal and unethical act, based on what is currently in the public domain and has been broadly exposed, we now know beyond any reasonable doubt that:

  1. Trump and those close to him have conspired and attempted to conspire with Russia in inappropriate and illegal ways related to the 2016 presidential election, while also engaging in other criminal and unethical acts designed to conceal material information about his personal and business dealings from the American public.
  2. Russia, Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, Israel and Qatar all appear to be deeply involved in inappropriate transactions and interactions providing, promising, or offering the possibility for political and financial support to Trump and those close to him, in return for various quid pro quos provided (or attempted to be provided) by the Trump administration. (And there is evidence indicating that Egypt, Turkey, China and Hungary should get added to this list.)
  3. Over a long period of time, Trump, and those close to him, have vastly benefited from extensive money laundering activities and/or other financial considerations that involve him with Russia and Saudi Arabia (and perhaps others) in ways that could give, and in fact have given, Russia and Saudi Arabia undue influence over Trump’s policies and actions.
  4. There is extensive evidence of fraud, tax evasion, and illegal business practices with regard to virtually the entirety of Trump’s current and past business dealings.
  5. Trump has extensively, and is continuing to on an ongoing basis, engage in criminal activity to cover up, obstruct, and witness tamper with the investigation of all of the above.

If someone walks up to us and kicks us in the groin, we don’t have to wait until they are convicted by a jury to know that they engaged in an act of assault. Similarly, we don’t have to wait for Robert Mueller to give us all the specific details to understand that Donald John Trump became President by colluding with a hostile foreign adversary and by committing felonies to cover up his bad behavior. We don’t need Mueller’s report to recognize that Trump has been compromised by Russia and Saudi Arabia. We don’t need Mueller’s report to recognize that Trump has historically, and continues to effectively, run an organized crime operation whose objective is to loot America while defrauding the American people. All we need is a functioning brain, a moral compass, and a desire to put the needs of America ahead of the needs of Russia. For the news media, and for members of Congress, to fail to acknowledge these truths at this point constitutes dereliction of duty.

And none of this even touches upon the ways that America is being jeopardized on an ongoing basis by having a Commander in Chief who appears to be suffering from a clear psychiatric personality disorder; is a congenital liar; has a long history of being the subject of credible allegations of sexual misconduct; has surrounded himself with a largely corrupt cabinet and executive staff; and continually acts with extreme irrationality in dealing with policy and national threats both foreign and domestic.

America is broken and America deserves better. And unless we are resigned to let the American dream go quietly into the night, ending America’s reign as a democracy and world power, it is incumbent upon each of us to not allow our politicians and our press to normalize and ignore the severity and realities of this crisis.

🎶Well, I was there and I saw what you did
I saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off that grin, I know where you’ve been
It’s all been a pack of lies🎶

[Note added December 16, 2018: Some of the comments I’ve received about this issue have been along the lines of… “the House should not impeach him yet because without Mueller’s report, there won’t be enough votes in the Senate to remove him from office, so we should wait until Mueller has given us more evidence because we only have one shot at this.” Again, I call bullshit. One must recognize that one of the primary reasons that there are not yet enough votes in the Senate to remove Trump from office is because the press and the public have allowed Trump’s behavior to be normalized, and they have allowed Trump to repeatedly “move the goalposts” as to what qualifies as the grounds necessary for impeachment and removal from office.

And the fact is, even the Democrats in Congress have been complicit in this. The Democrats know that they will accrue the greatest benefit to their 2020 election fundraising goals and outcomes if: 1) Trump stays in office longer, and is able to do more damage to America, generating even more anger from the electorate; and 2)  if America is consumed in the horror and spectacle as more evidence of his criminal and treasonous activities is continually unearthed during the investigations of 2019, and then the impeachment and trial process in late 2019 and 2020. ]

Cliff Kurtzman
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