Quick Takes: Trump Dares Call It Treason

A roundup of news that caught my eye today.

* In the Trump era, this will probably not amount to anything more than a minor blip on the screen. Still…it is worth noting when the President of the United States calls his political opponents treasonous for not clapping enough during his State of the Union speech.

* James Fallows has written an important piece titled, “Calling the Trump Era by Its Proper Name.” I recommend that you read the whole thing. But given those remarks by the president today, this part stands out.

…from its Founders’ era onward, the country’s leaders have stressed that America the nation is also America the idea. This was an invented nation, in the late 1700s the first of its type the world had seen. And for all of its evident injustices and failings and hypocrisies, in principle it was based on the open-ended quest to become a moreperfect union.”

At the level of high theory, this meant learning about the checks and balances of the Constitution, and the discussions in the Federalist Papers about the intricate machinery of a lasting democracy. In practice it meant respecting the rules of American interaction at least as much as the results, and understanding that those rules included both written strictures and long-established norms…

I don’t know whether Trump has encountered the phrase l’etat, c’est moi [I am the state], but he is showing us just what it means. Except for that odd passage in his inaugural address, there’s no evidence I can think of that he recognizes the claims, validity, or importance of a set of rules beyond his personal interests or aggrandizement.

* This article by Molly McKew documents how the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign was an example of collusion with Russia.

What is happening on social media is very real; it is not passive; and it is information warfare. There is very little argument amongst analytical academics about the overall impact of “political bots” that seek to influence how we think, evaluate and make decisions about the direction of our countries and who can best lead us — even if there is still difficulty in distinguishing whose disinformation is whose. Samantha Bradshaw, a researcher with Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Research Project who has helped to document the impact of ‘polbot’ activity, told me: “Often, it’s hard to tell where a particular story comes from. Alt-right groups and Russian disinformation campaigns are often indistinguishable since their goals often overlap. But what really matters is the tools that these groups use to achieve their goals: Computational Propaganda serves to distort the political process and amplify fringe views in ways that no previous communication technology could.”

This machinery of information warfare remains within social media’s architecture. The challenge we still have in unravelling what happened in 2016 is how hard it is to pry the Russian components apart from those built by the far- and alt-right — they flex and fight together, and that alone should tell us something.

* Apparently Sen. Grassley doesn’t want to be outdone by Rep. Nunes.

Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is still going hard after Christopher Steele, the ex-British spy who compiled the so-called Trump dossier.

After referring Steele to the Justice Department last month for criminal prosecution, Grassley was back at it Monday, publicly releasing a heavily redacted version of a memo alleging that Steele materially misled the FBI about his contacts with the media.

That seems to be the opening act to go after the State Department, which Nunes suggested would be their next move.

Among the other hints in the unredacted portions of Grassley’s memo is an allusion to another memo associated with Steele that was separate from the dossier Buzzfeed published in 2017. That memo, Grassley suggested, included a report of information that came from a “a friend of the Clintons” that was passed to Steele via a State Department source.

* Josh Marshall thinks that Devin Nunes is coordinating with the White House and makes a pretty good guess about who he’s probably working with.

You don’t need to look long to find the probable point of contact between Nunes and the White House. Michael Ellis is Senior Associate White House Counsel, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Council Legal Advisor. He’s an intelligence officer in the Naval Reserve. Before he went to work at the White House Counsel’s office he served as Nunes’ General Counsel on the House Intelligence Committee.

* Beyond a Super Bowl win, Pennsylvania got some great news today.

The Supreme Court on Monday denied a request from Pennsylvania Republicans to delay redrawing congressional lines, meaning the 2018 elections in the state will probably be held in districts far more favorable to Democrats.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who hears emergency requests from the state, turned down the petition without obvious objection from his colleagues.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court last month ruled that the state’s Republican legislative leaders had violated the state Constitution by unfairly favoring the GOP. Although there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state, Republicans hold 13 of 18 congressional seats.

It is the most significant victory by critics of the way most congressional and legislative districts are drawn and a sign that their efforts will be felt as early as this fall’s midterm elections.

* Finally, today I learned about John Legend’s work on criminal justice reform via his organization FreeAmerica. As part of those efforts, he is rekindling interest in a Bob Marley tune, “Redemption Song.”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.