I call your attention to the first segment of the Morning Rant this morning for one reason: the compelling case it makes about incitement to violence:
Actually, I agree generally with the substance of the commentary, though not necessarily with the mood music.
And I think it might be worth your while to take a listen to today’s Morning Rant. That, you should not be surprised to learn, is the very reason why I posted it.
We are indeed in a situation of peril. But here’s the deal.
Let’s say you’re out on the interstate, driving, let’s say, on the open road to get from one of Trump’s Hellhole Cities to another. And something goes wrong. A driver near you is behaving dangerously. There’s a blinding snowstorm. You’re driving into the sunset, the sun comes out from behind the clouds, and you can’t see a damn thing. These things have all happened to me, and I’ll bet they have happened to you as well.
There are three reactions you might have.
- You might pretend there’s nothing wrong, and drive with only the normal level of skill and attention.
- You might have a panic attack.
- You might rev up your concentration to its highest pitch, switch into driving with your utmost level of skill, and just bloody well get through it.
Two of these approaches invite disaster. Only one is appropriate to the situation.
This is the spirit in which I aim to blog, because, as the subtitle says, we are “living in an implausible, poorly written dystopian novel.”
And Does the End Justify the Means?
It’s axiomatic that if foreign heads of government cannot have private conversations with the President and others in our government—if they reasonably anticipate that their exact words will be printed in the press—then they will cease to have candid conversations. Either they will stop talking at all, or, if they do talk, they will only mouth the same bullshit they would serve up in a campaign rally.
This is terrible. The reasons are obvious, but David Frum’s analysis is still worth a read.
And, in addition to major injury to American interests, leaking the transcripts was a crime.
Who Done It? And Why?
We know they are the real transcripts because the White House did not claim otherwise, or ask the Washington Post not to publish. (That, per the WaPo’s reporter, on Morning Joe.)
So who leaked the transcripts? To begin with the obvious: you can’t leak the real transcripts unless you have the real transcripts. There are, then, essentially three possibilities.
Scenario Number One: It Was the “National Security Establishment”
One possibility—perhaps the most obvious one—is that someone in the State Department or the military was the leaker. David Frum lays out the case:
Senior national-security professionals regard Trump as something between (at best) a reckless incompetent doofus and (at worst) an outright Russian espionage asset. The fear that a Russian mole has burrowed into the Oval Office may justify, to some, the most extreme actions against that suspected mole.
The nature of this particular leak suggests just such a national-security establishment origin. It is a very elegantly designed leak. The two transcripts belong to calls whose substance was already widely reported in the media; they give away nothing new.
Better still from a national-security establishment point of view: both calls make the foreign leader look good at home. Enrique Peña Nieto will be helped, not hurt, by his dignified defense of Mexican national interests; Malcolm Turnbull is shown being simultaneously compassionate to deserving refugees but stern in his defense of Australian law and preexisting agreements with the United States.
Best of all, from that same national-security point of view, the transcripts reveal Trump as an arrant fool without actually compromising any important U.S. national interest. Speaking to the president of Mexico, Trump claims he won the state of New Hampshire because it is a “drug-infested den.” Trump won the state’s Republican primary, but lost New Hampshire in 2016, and that quote will not help him do better in 2020. The Turnbull transcript confirms the accuracy of early reports that Trump erupted in temper—and exposes Trump’s claims about the call as untrue. …
Scenario Number Two: It Was Trump’s Posse
We have it on good authority that pretty much everybody in the White House is leaking like a sieve. And some of those leaks—especially of late—seem to have come from members of Trump’s coterie who want to reveal just how bad things are getting, as a step toward protecting Trump from himself. For example, this afternoon Jonathan Chait—speaking in general terms, not specifically about the transcript leaks—had this to say:
During his very brief tenure as communications director, Anthony Scaramucci blurted out something very telling: “There are people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president.” The conviction that Trump is dangerously unfit to hold office is indeed shared widely within his own administration. Leaked accounts consistently depict the president as unable to read briefing materials written at an adult level, easily angered, prone to manipulation through flattery, subject to change his mind frequently to agree with whomever he spoke with last, and consumed with the superficiality of cable television.
Scenario number two seems like a definite possibility.
Scenario Number Three: Trump
Today Morning Joe advanced another highly plausible theory: that the leak was engineered by Trump himself. And who on God’s green earth might he do such a thing, given that the transcripts make him look like an idiot?
- he’s so oblivious that he doesn’t know the transcripts make him look like an idiot, and because
- he thinks, correctly, that his base will be pleased to see him being nasty to foreign leaders—and will not grasp that the transcripts make him look like an idiot, and because
- the obvious damage to national security will allow him to claim, once again, that the press is the enemy of the people.
Now, this is truly a harebrained idea. But it’s the very sort of harebrained idea that an improvisational narcissist would come up with, in the misguided view that he’s cuter than Bambi.
And, By the Way, Does the End Justify the Means?
Under scenario three, obviously not.
Under scenarios one or two, well, as my philosophy professor used to say, if the end does not justify the means, then what does justify them?