By John Atcheson
Turns out, the first word a lot of people think of when it comes to President Donald Trump is this one: idiot.
The White House’s handling of the Comey firing looks a lot like a clip from The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. The Press Secretary hiding in the bushes, Trump sending virtually his entire staff under the bus with his various and rapidly shifting versions of his reasons for the firing, and his unhinged Twitter rants at the press for covering the fiasco as a fiasco.
Once again, pundits are talking about impulse control, the ADD Presidency, rank amateurism in the Oval Office, threats to Democracy—all the stuff that they talked about in the campaign. The stuff that was supposed to doom his bid for the presidency to failure.
All of this is grim stuff. We haven’t seen a threat to democracy as serious as this since Watergate, so I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be addressing it.
But it’s worth considering what we are not talking about as we watch this political pornography play out … and also, how does the focus on Russia undercut the Democratic Party? In other words, what if this is exactly what Trump intended when he fired Comey? It’s worth remembering Trump’s mentor was Roy Cohn, who was a master at controlling the narrative and one of his favorite techniques was to change the subject with an in-your-face outrage of one kind or another.
Let’s examine what we’re not talking about, and then what the effect of the whole Russian narrative is having on the Democratic Party.
What We Aren’t Talking About
Shortly before Trump tossed in the Comey Molotov Cocktail into the national living room, here’s what was dominating the news:
- The Republicans in the House had just passed a disastrous Health Care Bill that was essentially a giant tax cut for the rich and a “screw you” to anyone who actually needs health insurance;
- Trump had just put out a “budget” that exploded the deficit and gave huge tax cuts to corporations and the ultra-wealthy;
- The Congressional Progressive Caucus had just released a budget that preserved social programs, cut the deficit, and increased revenues using provisions that are popular with both Republicans and Democrats.
But none of that is being discussed much any longer. And if you ran as a populist, but all your policies are benefitting the top 1%, that’s exactly what you’d hope for. Yes, the few Congressional members who are brave enough to hold town meetings are still getting mugged by outraged constituents, but these meetings are not getting the kind of coverage they would have pre-Comey. And that means the Health Care Bill isn’t getting the kind of serious examination it would have if the media weren’t doing all Comey, all the time. Again, exactly what you’d want if you knew the guts of the legislation were so bad, that if it got out there, even the Trump bobble heads would be pissed off. So folks aren’t talking about the fact that it was rushed to the floor before getting scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), before we knew what its effects were and what its ultimate cost could be, before people caught on to the fact that the state waiver provision stuck in the revised version of the bill turned it from merely a cruel piece of legislation to the cruelest piece in modern history.
Or take the budget “proposal,” which was getting panned by the media and even the few Republicans left in the Senate who actually are fiscal conservatives. Hell, even Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took issue with some of the cuts. This reprise of “trickle down” and “supply side” chicanery was being almost universally ridiculed by the press and economists, and it was heavily influenced—if not outsourced to—the Heritage Foundation, an outfit funded by the likes of the Koch Brothers. Here again, the last thing Trump wants after running as a populist and a fiscal conservative is to get widespread coverage of just how much this plutocrat’s budget resembles the stuff he railed against in his campaign.
And speaking of budgets, the media once again ignored the sanest budget proposal in Washington, The Congressional Progressive Caucus’s Better Off Budget, which cuts the deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next 10 years—Trump’s budget would have increased it by at least $1.4 trillion over that time period, by the way—while creating 8.8 million new jobs. The Better Off Budget uses policies that are wildly popular with the majority of Americans to accomplish this.
Now, it must be said that the press always ignores the CPC’s budget proposals, but maybe Trump was taking no chances—after all, if anyone held them up side-by-side, Trump and the Republicans would have been unmasked as the charlatans they are.
But there’s no danger of that when it’s all Comey, all the time.
Much is made of the fact that Trump’s popularity among those who voted for him hasn’t budged, despite the fact that he’s screwing them left and right with his policies. Well, these kinds of maneuvers may explain why. Look back. When the Russian stuff was first heating up big time, we suddenly just had to bomb Syria. Wagging the dog is a time-honored way to change the subject. So is firing a controversial senior public servant.
Comey, the Russians, and the Establishment Arm of the Democratic Party
If Trump isn’t an idiot, then here’s where his tactics are brilliant. The neoliberal elitists who control the Democratic Party have been trying to keep the focus on the Russian intervention in our election as the reason Hillary Clinton lost. The progressives in the Party have been attacking the Party’s estrangement from the people and its rejection of the New Deal policies as the reason. In short, there’s a battle on for the heart and soul of the Party.
Firing Comey brings the whole Russian thing to the fore and works to sidetrack the real debate the Democratic Party needs to have about its future.
Two things were working to undermine the establishment’s hold on the Party until Comey’s firing. First, Sanders continued to poll as the most popular politician in America. Second, people were beginning to realize that it was the content of Secretary Clinton’s emails that hurt her, not the emails per se. And that content revealed the soft underbelly of the Democratic Party. To wit: the neoliberal belief in small government, the power and goodness of the market, free trade, deregulation, and fiscal austerity was simply too close to the Republican dogma to generate enough passion among progressives to get a good turnout, and Democrats need a good turnout to win elections.
But now it’s all Comey all the time, and the Democratic establishment is taking full advantage of that to deflect attention from the real reason they’re losing at all levels of government. It appears they’d rather risk losing elections than embrace a truly progressive agenda, and Trump just reinforced their self-serving narrative.
Yeah. What if he’s not an idiot?Φ
John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and he has just completed a book on the 2016 elections, tentatively titled, WTF America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back on Track, which will be released in the Spring. This article first appeared in Common Dreams.