Last week started with The Leader being praised for his Presidentialness because he gave an almost normal speech and got a bunch of politicians to applaud a war widow. The week ended with the revelation that the attorney general lied to Congress about meeting with the Russian ambassador, and The Leader tweeting paranoiacally about how ex-President Obama had tapped his phones and demanding an investigation.
The Leader’s digital ravings gave conservatives a new load of bullshit to swallow on his behalf — which they did, swiftly and without sugar on top. Apparently, like Jeff Sessions, they’re too deeply implicated in The Leader’s grift to back out now.
Mainstream media types gushed over The Leader’s Tuesday speechifying, especially his allegedly altered tone — “Trump Sounds a Different Tone” (New York Times), “President Lays Out Bold Agenda With Softer Tone” (NBC), “Trump softens immigration stance, takes measured tone in speech” (Reuters), etc.
Conservatives were over the moon. “Media Amazed At How Lost Democrats Are In Their Response To Trump’s Speech,” chortled the Daily Caller. “If not a new chapter, a turning of the page,” slurred Peggy Noonan at the Wall Street Journal.
Then AG Jeff Sessions got, as John Mitchell once said in a different context, his tit caught in a big wringer: The Washington Post and others revealed he’d met with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during The Leader’s presidential campaign and denied it to Congress. Given The Leader’s own heavy Russian ties, Sessions had little choice but to recuse himself from the DOJ’s yeah-right investigation of those ties in the 2016 campaign.
Senator Ted Cruz called the scandal a “nothingburger,” and many among the brethren, perhaps thinking normal people would go for it because it contained the word burger, picked it up as a magical incantation:
“Sessions Recuses Himself From Russian Nothing-Burger,” said Matthew Vadum at the Canada Free Press; “Hey, [New York] Times, can I get some fries with that nothingburger?” laughed Kyle Smith at the New York Post. “The Jeff Sessions Attack Is a Nothingburger,” agreed Erick Erickson.
“Russia and The 2016 Election – A Complete and Total ‘Nothingburger,’ ” headlined the Last Refuge, rattling off several cases (such as David Axelrod and the British Labour Party) of Democrats working with foreign campaigns and candidates — neglecting to mention that none of these Democrats tried to hide what they were doing and certainly did not lie to Congress about it.
Nonetheless the Leader was reportedly outraged that Sessions would do such a thing (recuse himself, I mean, not hold clandestine meetings with Russians) and, after his anger had percolated overnight, came up with his now-famous tweets (e.g. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”).
This is of course The Leader’s SOP when cornered: to vehemently accuse other people of things he’s accused or guilty of. But the nutty notion that Obama has been sabotaging him — a job The Leader and his gang seem to be managing fine on their own — has been brewing among the rightbloggers for some time.
Breitbart’s been the forefront of this, with stories like “SEVEN WAYS OBAMA IS TRYING TO SABOTAGE THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION,” in which their proof points included “Betraying Israel at the United Nations” (i.e., being president and having a policy conservatives don’t like) and “A new Cold War with Russia” (ha ha ha ha ha); and “REPORT: VALERIE JARRETT TO MOUNT INSURGENCY FROM OBAMA’S DC MANSION” (“The plan, reportedly, is for Obama to force Trump to resign or to have him impeached”). In fact, some people think a Breitbart story about “OBAMA’S ‘SILENT COUP’ VS. TRUMP” is what put the wiretapping bee in The Leader’s bonnet in the first place.
But this stuff’s been popping up at other wingnut outlets, too. Back in February, for example, Alex Jones’s Infowars was claiming that Obama was “directing the activities of an army of more than 30,000 anti-Trump activists” who, they further claimed, were “heavily involved in many of the protests and riots that have been popping up around the nation in recent days.” This particular fantasy was also reported at the New York Post (“How Obama is scheming to sabotage Trump’s presidency”) and at conservative sites like Power Line (“George Soros may or may not be in the background, although he frequently is”).
Former Army officer and Fox News talking head Tony Shafer, who has been telling weird Obama stories for years (“My Sources Say Obama Was in the Room Watching Benghazi Attack Happen“), recently claimed the resignation of White House advisor Michael Flynn was not due to his unrevealed contacts with the Russians, as everyone thinks, but the result of “trip wires for things to go off like booby traps” laid by Obama advisor Ben Rhodes.
In recent days, even before the wiretap accusations, this conspiracy theorizing has spread like wildfire at sites like Gateway Pundit (“Obama Scheme to Sabotage Trump Admin With High Profile Moles Exposed?”) and World Net Daily (“64 WAYS OBAMA IS SABOTAGING TRUMP” — top that, Breitbart!). And of course The Leader himself has been rambling to reporters that the many leaks from his own office were somehow Obama’s doing.
So crazy as The Leader’s accusation might seem to normal people, to the brethren it was just part of their new normal, and they dutifully defended it.
Breitbart offered more hysterical headlines like “NON-DENIAL ‘DENIAL’: OBAMA RESPONSE TO TRUMP ‘WIRETAP’ CLAIM RAISES MORE QUESTIONS.” “Interestingly, however, a number of other former Obama administration officials do not deny that such a wiretap existed,” said Breitbart’s Matthew Boyle. “They just deny that the White House or Obama himself would have approved it or ordered it…” (Also interestingly, Ted Cruz doesn’t deny that JFK was killed, he just denies that his father did it. Suspicious! What is he hiding?)
Boyle added, “The president forced a set of facts into the news cycle that was already previously public but framed in a way that puts his political opponents and the establishment media on the defensive.” Translation: The Leader made up a crazy story which people who read Breitbart will eat up and discharge as shit-tweets.
“Barack Obama and His Deep State Operatives Are Attempting to Sabotage the Duly Elected President of the United States,” cried Rush Limbaugh. Day By Day’s Chris Muir did a cartoon showing Obama at his “SHADOW GOVERNMENT RESIDENCE,” planning an apparent coup with “tax cuts for Hollywood, foreign ‘pay to play’ and DOJ slush funds for my sleepers in government,” etc.
The smoother operatives took a well-how-can-anyone-really-know-anything (but Obama did it!) approach — particularly rightwing lawyers, who snapped their suspenders and shystered up some sophistry.
“Some curious language in both Trump’s ‘wiretap’ accusation and Obama’s defense,” equivalenced Cornell law professor William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection. While all that Russian stuff was just “innuendo attributed to the intelligence community,” he declared, the Leader’s tweet was worthy of close syntactic analysis: For example, he said, the phrase ” ‘just found out’ — which suggests some conveyance of information or newly-found understanding.” To me it suggests some conveyance of bullshit, but IANAL.
Jacobson professed not to know whether Ben Rhodes’s simple statement of fact that “no president can order a wiretap” was true (“that does not mean, however, that there was no wiretap,” Jacobson misdirected; “only that Obama is claiming neither he nor the White House ‘ordered’ it”), nor even what the FISA Court does (“I’m not going to be one of those instant experts on FISA”) before ruling “it’s believable to me that people in the Obama administration or the permanent bureaucracy would target Trump and his campaign in some way.” Thus Jacobson proved the old legal adage untrue: One needn’t pound the law or the facts before pounding the table.
University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor Ann Althouse noted The Leader’s use of ” ‘wires tapped’ and ‘wire tapping’ in quotes and that misspelling ‘tapp,’ ” and wondered if “it could have been intentional. Is it some figure of speech? Is there a special way of speaking within Twitter that the grownups don’t understand?” Althouse also got hermeneutic with the Washington Post headline “Trump, citing no evidence, accuses Obama of ‘Nixon/Watergate’ plot to wiretap Trump Tower”: ” ‘Citing no evidence,’ ” she declared, “doesn’t mean he has no evidence.” Let’s give Honest Don the benefit of the doubt here!
Former litigator John Hinderaker, apparently peeved that AP also mentioned The Leader’s lack of evidence, rejoined, “there is no doubt that Obama’s Justice Department — the most corrupt and politicized Department of Justice in modern American history — obtained a FISA warrant to conduct surveillance on Trump associates, and possibly Trump himself, in the heat of the presidential campaign.” See? There’s “no doubt,” “possibly”! That’s how the pros do it, folks.
Even allegedly respectable Republicans were careful not to contradict The Leader too strongly. Take the statements by GOP Senators Ben Sasse and Lindsey Graham. Each sounded harsh about the possibility of The Leader’s Russian collusion — but each gave equal weight to The Leader’s bananas accusation against Obama (“I don’t know if it’s true or not but if it is true, illegally, it would be the biggest political scandal since Watergate” — Graham; “It is possible that he was illegally tapped” — Sasse).
Some may see this as a rhetorical device, but frankly I don’t think Sasse’s and Graham’s intended audiences are, let us say, susceptible to rhetorical subtleties. No, they weren’t employing irony — they were pitching boob bait, and hoping their voters would gobble that instead of them.
Anyway, The Leader demanded his fantasy be investigated, and the GOP Congressman in charge of the House Intelligence Committee said sure thing, boss. This had some of the brethren skipping ahead in their role-play to the orgasm.
“Yes, There Could Be Serious Legal Problems if Obama Admin Involved in Illegal Surveillance,” reported Robert Barnes of Lawnewz. “Do liberals understand what Pandora’s Box Obama opened up by Obama using the powers of the NSA, CIA, and FBI to spy on his political opponents?” Barnes also claimed the “FISA court unwittingly granted” a warrant “which Obama then misused to spy on Trump and many connected to Trump.”
Barnes took care to stick in phrases like “if the stories are correct” and “we just don’t know at this time,” in much the same way a burglar might try to rub his prints off the doorknobs on his way out of a crime scene. I doubt Barnes’s readers were fooled — that is, any more than they’d already fooled themselves. The brethren have entered a new world where whatever The Leader says, no matter how outlandish, is what’s true — or, if not true, at least what they’ll defend. Keep that in mind as you audit the even crazier things they’ll be saying soon enough.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 6, 2017