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It’s Not the Tweet

“Being in a minority, even in a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.” ― George Orwell, 1984
June 10, 2020
It’s Not the Tweet
(Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images)

In this, the 6000th year of our idiocracy, perhaps we should take a moment to refocus. Let’s start by ignoring the fact that the president’s latest insanity came in a tweet.

It’s hard to overstate how batshit crazy this all is. On yesterday’s podcast with Politico’s Tim Alberta, I described it as “f*cking nuts,” which was enough to earn us an EXPLICIT RATING. But even by the lizardy standards of the right’s fever swamps, this was scaly stuff.

Veteran fact checker Daniel Dale tracked the apparent flow of the batshittery:

But Republicans had little trouble brushing it off, easily sliding into smirking evasion. (See Tim Miller’s piece today.) We know the playbook: They didn’t see the tweet; they have more important things to do, wait their phone is ringing, and it’s lunchtime. 

They have psychologically absorbed the essential triviality of the thing. We know the drill: I wish he’d tweet less butgorsuchjudgesregulationstaxcutssocialismmaga. So, cringe, shuffle, LOL. And we move on.

They don’t even bother to look, because then they would have to think, and respond, and a conscience is a terrible thing to have these days. Plus, it’s just a tweet, right?

But the problem is not the tweet. That’s a distraction.

The problem here is the mind of Donald Trump.

The fact that this insanity appears in a tweet seems to distract us from the rather more fundamental fact that it is insane.

But this is the way the president of the United States thinks; the way he processes information and makes judgments. He has access to the world’s most sophisticated intelligence network, and yet continues to get his information not just from television, but from the flakiest corners of the disinformation universe where lies and hoaxes are the currency of the realm.

And, apparently, he can’t tell the difference. Or does not care. 

There are two broad possibilities here: (1) he is so addled and gullible that he actually believes this (actually quite stupid) conspiracy theory, which raises questions about his ability to assess evidence of any sort or, (2) he’s just flinging feces from the bunker to trigger the libs, which Rush Limbaugh assures us is some form of brilliance.

In other words, he either believes it, in which case he’s nuts; or (like his accusations against Joe Scarborough), he doesn’t care if it is true, in which case he is a cynical and vicious sociopath.

The problem isn’t the tweets; it’s the man.  Charles C.W. Cooke gets it exactly right:

This is (almost) beyond parody. The source that triggered Trump was a Russian media operative named Kristian Brunovich Rouz. (Russians. It’s always Russians.) Via the Daily Beast:

Kristian Brunovich Rouz, originally from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, has been living in San Diego, where OAN is based, since August 2017, reporting on U.S. politics for the 24-hour news channel. For all of that time, he’s been simultaneously writing for Sputnik, a Kremlin-owned news wire that played a role in Russia’s 2016 election-interference operation, according to an assessment by the U.S. intelligence community.

Let that sink in.

Rouz’s on-air reports for OAN include a wholly fabricated 2017 segment claiming Hillary Clinton is secretly bankrolling antifa through her political action committee. Clinton, Rouz claimed falsely, gave antifa protesters $800,000 that “went toward things like bricks, hammers, bats, and chains.”

Other smears target billionaire financier George Soros, a longtime Kremlin bête noire. In one segment, Rouz amplified a thoroughly debunked claim that Soros collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, when the Jewish philanthropist was 14 years old. Another Rouz story accused Soros of secretly funding migrant caravans.

But the story about the Buffalo protester was a whole new level of mendacity.  The Wapo takes a crack at explaining. 

In this case, Rouz claims that Gugino was part of a “false flag provocation by far left group antifa.” In other words, that the elderly Gugino intentionally injured himself to make the police look bad, as though there were no other available evidence of the police treating protesters in questionable ways.

The evidence that Gugino is antifa? That he was holding his phone in his hand.

“Newly released videos appear to show Gugino using a police tracker on his phone trying to scan police communications during the protest,” Rouz says. “The tactic, known as skimming, is an old trick used by antifa to locate police officers and plan violence activities, bypassing the police response.”

First, there are no “newly released videos” — just the original video of Gugino approaching the police.

Which leads us to the GOP’s response…

2. Republican Senators Suffer Sudden Onset of Hysterical Blindness

Let’s get this out of the way right now. Back in 2015, I was pretty much all-in for Marco Rubio.

I’d be more embarrassed by this now, if I didn’t also have pictures with…Ted Cruz.

Last night, a colleague, who shared my Rubio-delusion, asked: “The thing we’ll never know is: if Rubio had won in 2016, would the weak character we‘ve since seen have been evident or not?” Another colleague chimed in (this all took place on Slack): “100% It always reveals itself eventually.”

With that preamble out of the way, make sure you read Tim Miller’s fabulous piece in today’s Bulwark:

Marco Rubio doesn’t read Twitter, he only writes on it. This would not be a terrible policy, if one were abiding by it. But Marco Rubio is not abiding by it. He is just telling a really dumb and obvious lie because he doesn’t have the hands to criticize Donald Trump.

Rubio’s latest pathetic Twitter lie was the result of his being asked an inconvenient question about the president of the United States’ most recent monstrous tweet, in which he accused 75 year old protester Martin Gugino—who was pushed down by police and left to bleed like an unwanted rodent—of being secret Antifa….

This charade is one of the stupidest parts of a very stupid presidency.

These senators have ensconced themselves in a bubble where telling absurd lies rather than demonstrating basic decency is not only required to survive politically but is an actual moral requirement.

In their minds anyone who tries to burst this bubble is unsophisticated at best and a big old meany at worst. Okay, that last part’s not true. At worst, anyone asking Republican senators what they think about the Republican president’s tweets is in league with Antifa and is asking for a beating from some Albany cops. To be honest, you might even be Antifa just for reading this.

And so these boneless wonders persist in pretending not to see the things right in front of their eyes. In claiming that words and tweets don’t matter, convincing themselves that feigned ignorance and being false to the truth is the righteous path.

Read the whole damn thing in the Bulwark. 

3. Reforming The Police

Lots of good stuff in today’s Bulwark on how and why we should reform, not defund, the police.

First, Brent Orell draws on the lessons of Camden’s police reforms. He writes that “the most interesting thing isn’t how Camden abolished the Camden police. It’s how the city successfully recreated a police force that sees itself as an ally of the community rather than its warden.”

Ari Schulman writes, “What do ‘Defund the Police’ and ‘Abolish the Police’ Really Mean?” and notes that in practice, “abolish the police” is likely to mean “privatize the police.”

Austin Sarat makes the case: “How to Change Lethal Force Rules for Police,” arguing that the law governing the use of lethal force by police is far too broad and ill-defined.

And Jonathan V. Last looks at the systemic failure of the Minneapolis Police Department.

4. How They Lied

Really, you have to watch this flagrant act of journalism from the Wapo about last week’s use of force for Trump’s photo-op. 

Drawing on footage captured from dozens of cameras, as well as police radio communications and other records, The Washington Post reconstructed the events of this latest remarkable hour of Trump’s presidency, including of the roles of the agencies involved and the tactics and weaponry they used.

Watch the reconstruction above to see how it unfolded.

Watch the whole thing. You’ll thank me. 

5. We Get Mail

Dear Mr. Sykes,

Your conversation today with Tim Alberta really set me off.

Yes, Romney got a raw deal. He is a decent, moral man who got vilified during the presidential campaign. It’s a little tricky for me as a born again Christian who was raised catholic, ran away, then had a conversion later to a nondenominational, bible-based, but clearly progressive form of faith in Jesus. Mormonism departs from that in some significant ways. However, in retrospect, I see how some of the attacks on him were unwarranted and some even gross and viscous. I have admired his political courage during the Trump debacle. Watching him march with the protestors this weekend genuinely brought tear to my eye. That’s leadership.

That said, how you have that discussion about Romney without the context of what was done to John Kerry in his race against Bush? Kerry is a war hero, a public servant of the highest order, and a fundamentally decent, honorable man. Whether or not that Swift Boat nonsense was an officially condoned strategy from the actual campaign or a fringe group, that seems to me the historical antecedent. It was despicable, underhanded, and grossly manipulative..

It seems really unfair to make it seem like the Obama/Biden campaign created that sort of character assassination. I don’t condone it and wish we could go back to more civil debate on substance. But the Fox/Rush right that hijacked my father’s brain created that space. At least in my understanding.

I have been meaning to write for a while, congratulating your intellectually stimulating conversations. I do that today, even though I question this one this morning. I truly appreciate the work you do.
Gregory Lush

Hi Charlie:  I’m a faithful reader of the daily Bulwark newsletters and listener of the daily podcast. Today’s was one of your best. Tim Alberta is terrific. I loved his book and always enjoy hearing him talk about politics.

I have been telling friends ever since 2016 that America’s first big mistake of the last decade was the failure to elect Mitt Romney in 2012. A majority of Americans in 2012 knew that Obama was not a very good president, and quite a few voters switched from Obama 2008 to Romney 2012 — just not enough (kudos to North Carolina and Indiana).  I think there were many voters who knew in their heads they should vote for Romney but thought Obama was a decent guy and it would just look bad to throw out America’s first black president. 

So what did we get in response to the 8-year Obama administration as defended by the venal Hillary Clinton? The Trump shitshow of the last four years.  If Romney had been elected in 2012, America would be finishing what I think would have been a very successful second Romney term.  The stock market would have been just as high in January 2020 and the unemployment rate just as low.  Good justices and judges would have been nominated and confirmed.  And it must be obvious to everyone with a pulse that no one would have done a better job managing the COVID-19 pandemic than the World’s Best Manager, Mitt Romney (see the 2002 Winter Olympics).  Likewise, if the George Floyd murder/protests had happened on Mitt’s watch, he would have handled the situation with the same approach as he is reacting to it now, by speaking for justice, if not actually marching.  Romney would be uniting this country because he is a good and decent man. Tim (and you) were right: what the Democrats and the mainstream media did to Mitt in 2012 was an disgrace.

Oh, and Paul Ryan would be gearing up for a good run for the White House in 2020 after being an excellent Vice President.

All the best,

 James R. Selth   **

Charlie Sykes

Charlie Sykes is a founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. He is also the host of The Bulwark Podcast and an MSNBC contributor.