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donkeytrumpIf you’re like me, over the last few months you overdosed on political discussions, opting instead to invest more time watching videos of babies laughing and cats falling off of things. For the first time in as many years as I can remember, I didn’t even try to watch last night’s State of the Union address because I just don’t think I had the stomach for it. But some stuff is going down in Washington this week that’s just too much for me to ignore without at least offering some passing commentary.
Call it a brain dump to clear my head. If I don’t take the time to do this, it will all sit there like a pebble in my shoe, making me crankier by the day. Ordinarily I’d take the time to lace every paragraph with more links back to the most reliable government and media sources for each individual thing I bring up, but right now I just don’t have the time to do it for every single thing. I do have a day job and four children to parent. Maybe I’ll be able to go back and provide more links later.

The Nunes Memo

Last April, the co-chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes (R-Ca), recused himself from the committee’s investigation into possible Russian meddling into our electoral process leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Or at least we were led to believe he was doing so. He did that because throughout the process he couldn’t seem to stop divulging classified information to the press (or directly to the White House before even sharing it with the committee, as he may have done again recently), a flaw one would presume disqualifies a person from a committee expressly designed to handle sensitive information in a prudent manner.
Evidently he stepped aside from nothing, however, and this week he has become embroiled again in a deeply partisan divide over whether or not any investigation should be undertaken into ongoing Russian meddling in our electoral process. I say “ongoing” because even after President Trump fired FBI director James Comey for attempting to investigate this, under its new director the bureau has still deemed it necessary to set up a task force for the express purpose of monitoring future attempts at influencing our elections, as we have found the Russians have done in 27 separate international elections over the last decade.
Over the protests of the heads of both the FBI and the Department of Justice, Nunes persuaded the Republican-controlled committee to declassify the notes of the Republican side of the committee only (but withhold the Democratic ones, nothing suspicious there) in order to discredit both law enforcement agencies, feeding a growing narrative among Republicans that our intelligence community cannot be trusted (at least not when investigating Republicans).
Supposedly the explosive detail in this memo is that the FBI and the Department of Justice (under Trump’s own administration, by the way) applied to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to extend a warrant monitoring the Trump campaign’s former foreign affairs director, Carter Page, who our intelligence community had reason to believe was acting as a foreign agent of the Russian government. So far it appears proper protocols were used in extending said warrant, but the Republican members of the committee believe that any attempt to use tips drawn from the much-maligned Steele dossier to justify extending the warrant should have come with a disclosure that the opposition research it represented was funded in part by the Clinton campaign.
Am I the only one who finds it ironic that it is the conservatives who suddenly support dismissing an investigation, no matter how much malfeasance it turns up, because of what they feel was a procedural omission? Aren’t they the ones always complaining that our law enforcement methods have gone soft, allowing criminals to go free on technicalities? Come to think of it, I find it hard to process that the very party who brought us The Patriot Act now feels that we cannot trust our top law enforcement agencies, and that we are spying too much on our own people.
It doesn’t take much figuring to see that this current push from the never-gone Nunes aims to discredit the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, who is heading up the DOJ’s involvement in the Russia investigation in lieu of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who also had to recuse himself from the investigation for failing to disclose that he met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on multiple occasions before the election. If Rosenstein gets the axe next, one can be forgiven for expecting that his replacement would quickly decide to fire Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel currently in charge of the investigation into Russia’s involvement in our electoral process.
You’d think a party with nothing to hide wouldn’t mind simply allowing an investigation to run its course, especially one which saw fit to spend two years and roughly $7 million investigating Hillary Clinton on everything imaginable, leaving no accusation uninvestigated, no matter how far-fetched.

From Russia, With Love

Another thing that happened this week is that the deadline for the Trump administration to enforce sanctions against Russia came and went without any noteworthy action taken at all—to the honest surprise of absolutely no one. Many have argued this is the very reason for which Trump was elected in the first place, to scale back or even eliminate punitive measures applied to Russian financial interests because of the amount of personal indebtedness he maintains to those same interests.
And yes, I know that sounds ludicrous to anyone who spends their time reading only conservative sources of news and opinion (they seem to think Trump is an honest and successful businessman). Any of those people would accuse me of being equally misinformed for making such a claim. But think about it for a minute: What ultimate motive would Vladimir Putin have for meddling in American politics? Or in the political landscape of any other country in the world? Is it really that difficult to imagine that Russian financial interests would govern any interference in our political process, and that this would be the top priority?
Did anyone really wonder if the Trump administration would enforce the sanctions which, by the way, were approved by an almost unanimous congress (517-5) over his repeated protestations? That’s amazingly bipartisan support for a measure which, if you recall, was a direct response to our discovery that state-run Russian servers were responsible for hacking into the DNCs emails in an effort to discredit Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
This would probably be a good moment to pause and note the double standard utilized by the current leaders of the GOP: Any opposition research funded by the Clinton campaign (and later turned over to our own feds for review) is automatically illegitmate and any damning information found therein should be disregarded—not acted on by anyone, especially our Department of Justice or the FBI—but it was totally appropriate to make use of opposition research done by Russian hackers and then shared with the public via Wikileaks in the summer of 2016.
Note also the disparity of things discovered by the two parties’ opposition research: What we learned from Russia’s hacks into the DNC emails was that party leaders showed favoritism toward one of their own candidates over another, whereas we learned from the Clinton campaign’s research that multiple high level officials in the Trump campaign were quite possibly acting as foreign agents for a government intent on corrupting our political process, attempting to sew widespread distrust in our own intelligence agencies into the fabric of our national discourse (mission accomplished, by the way). Equating the findings against the two different parties makes little sense unless you have severely distorted thinking about what constitutes our best national interests.
Under the present circumstances, Trump’s decision not to enforce the sanctions against Russia should have been an explosive moment, effectively ending his credibility with his own hawkish party. But how many times before have we thought, “This is it. This is the thing that will end this national embarrassment?” Yet nothing is too base, too low for this current political party.

What’s Church Got to Do with It?

For my part in particular, I blame white evangelicals for falling asleep at the wheel on this one. Without their vote (to the tune of 81%) and continued support no matter what he does, the party currently defending Trump would remove their protection and feed him to the lions, metaphorically speaking. The Republican Party would vanish virtually overnight without white evangelicals reliably showing up to vote for them.
[Related: “Without Evangelicals, the Republican Party Would Be History“]
As Michael Gerson recently said of white evangelicals, they no longer possess a gag reflex toward Trump. No matter what he does from this point forward, evangelical leaders will defend him as “a baby Christian” or else they will give him “a mulligan.” Incidentally that last term won’t mean much to anyone who doesn’t play golf, which in itself should tell you something about their target audience.
Where is the prophetic voice among evangelicals calling “God’s people” to stand up against self-indulgent leaders who abuse their positions of power to lead a nation in a dangerous direction? Whatever happened to that contingent within the fold who recognize the dangers of making dishonest compromises with world powers who shouldn’t be trusted (see any of the Old Testament prophets)?
They are silent because Trump panders to the lowest common denominator among them: their desperate need to be validated in the public square after having lost the battle for cultural dominance in a modern world. Trump promises to make everyone say “Merry Christmas” again (as if they don’t already, and as if presidents are supposed to force people to say anything) and enable churches to become easier targets for shameless politicking by removing some of the separations of church and state which protect the religious freedoms of everyone, not just white evangelicals.
Baptists used to understand the importance of not wedding church to state. In fact, they practically authored the idea themselves. But centuries of privilege have blinded them to the pitfalls of the merging of these two institutions in unholy matrimony. I would imagine in time they will ultimately pay for hopping into bed with a thrice-married owner of casinos with strip clubs. But they will likely never understand what happened to them. They’ll chalk it up to the forces of evil undermining their work through letting gays marry or failing to overturn Roe v. Wade.
They also fail to see what’s going on because they’ve come to trust those sources of news and information which pander to their biases, never noticing how thoroughly those news media outlets fail to live up to the church’s moral standards on any level. That, I think, is my greatest fear in all of this: that even after Trump and the party that gave him his high position of authority and power have been caught red-handed in the middle of the worst acts of disloyalty to American ideals in recent memory, millions of us will simply decide that “fake news” somehow won out over truth and the people who lose their positions will not have deserved the consequences they earn for themselves.
I’ve lost so much trust in my fellow countrymen where critical thinking skills are concerned, and I just don’t know yet how much worse it’s going to get.

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[Image Source: Donkey Hotey]

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Neil Carter is a high school teacher, a father of four, and a skeptic living in the Bible Belt. A former church elder with a seminary education, Neil now writes mostly about the struggles of former evangelicals...