Breitbart’s gushy Trump book presents ‘alternative facts’ on the first 100 days

WGBH News photo illustration by Emily Judem

If you are a stereotypical Massachusetts liberal (I plead guilty, your honor), the story of President Trump’s first few months in office is one of incompetence, corruption, and cruelty, all playing out beneath the penumbra of the burgeoning Russia scandal.

But that’s not how it looks to Breitbart News, the right-wing nationalist website that has served as Trump’s most outspoken — and outrageous — media cheerleader. In a new e-book titled “The First 100 Days of Trump,” Breitbart’s Joel Pollak describes the president in glowing terms.

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The Comey firing

James Comey. Photo (cc) 2016 by tua ulamac.

President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey appears to be highly suspicious for all the reasons others have already stated. In a democracy, you just can’t get rid of the person who is investigating your administration for possible wrongdoing.

Yet I have to point out that there is nothing in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s report that is wrong. Comey was a terrible FBI director in many respects, and he mishandled the public aspects of the Hillary Clinton email investigation in every way imaginable.

As late as Tuesday, several hours before the firing, we learned that he had grossly overstated (under oath) the extent to which former Clinton aide Huma Abedin forwarded emails to her estranged husband, former congressman Anthony Weiner. It was the Abedin-Weiner connection that formed the pretext for Comey’s announcement just before Election Day that he had reopened his investigation, a move that likely cost Clinton the presidency.

Of course, Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had no problem with Comey’s sabotage of Clinton’s campaign at the time, and their claims that they are deeply, deeply troubled by it now are absurd. The outrage with which the Comey firing has been greeted is entirely justified.

But if President Obama had fired Comey the day after the election, or Trump shortly after his inauguration, it’s not likely that many people would have objected.

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I want you to help me with my reading list for a course on Trump and the media

Donald Trump. Photo (cc) 2011 by Gage Skidmore.

I’m teaching a course in May and June called The Media in the Age of Trump, and I’m trying to flesh out my reading list. I’ll be asking my students to subscribe to The Washington Post (because it’s free for anyone with an .edu email address), and I have a number of worthwhile readings already chosen. Although I probably won’t assign all of these, I am listing them below.

What else would you recommend? In a perfect world, I would have two or three in-depth, evidence-based pieces arguing that President Trump is getting a raw deal from the press.

Please offer your suggestions at the Facebook version of this post. Or send an email to me at dan dot kennedy at northeastern dot edu.

No, Spicer had no malevolent intent. Yes, he has to go.

Photo via Michael Itzkoff

There’s a school of thought that the harsh criticism of White House spokesman Sean Spicer over his bizarre statement about Hitler never gassing his own people has been overblown. According to this line of thinking, expressed by (among others) Michael Scherer of Time magazine, Spicer deserves the benefit of the doubt because he obviously experienced a brain cramp and had no malevolent intent.

I agree that Spicer’s offensive statements were of the brain-cramp variety and not an actual expression of anti-Semitism. But I disagree that he should get a pass. He is the press secretary for the president of the United States, not an aide to a state rep. A person in that job needs to be quick on his feet and to be able to avoid stumbling into such offensive language, no matter how inadvertent. I couldn’t do it. By all indications, neither can Spicer. Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple puts it this way:

The halting, hard-to-follow speech patterns reflect an unflattering truth about the top spokesperson at the White House: He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. A press secretary needs to have command of a vast topical landscape. Spicer has mastered bluster, and not much else.

Consider, too, that when he realized what he had done, he managed to dig himself in deeper, referring to Nazi death camps as “Holocaust centers,” and then attempting to clarify his remarks with this reference to Hitler: “I think when you come to sarin gas, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.”

“His own people.” Hitler, of course, did not believe that German Jews were “his own people,” and as a result 6 million Jews were exterminated. To see Spicer carelessly adopt the same idea in defense of his own misstatement is pretty shocking.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has a sharp analysis of Spicer’s meltdown. He agrees with the point that Spicer was trying to make: that Hitler, even while he was semi-secretly gassing Jews in concentration camps (his own people, you might say), refrained from using chemical weapons on the battlefield, probably because to do so would have risked overwhelming retaliation. “Spicer is simply too big a boob not to know this and too inept to clean up his mess without digging deeper,” Marshall says.

It’s time for Spicer to go.

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Yes, Dems should filibuster Gorsuch — even though it’s not really about Gorsuch

Judge Merrick Garland, left, meets Sen. Al Franken last March. Photo (cc) 2016 by Senate Democrats.

You may have missed it amid the Sturm und Drang over the fate of health care, but late last week Chuck Schumer announced that Senate Democrats would filibuster President Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Schumer will almost certainly fail. But it’s worth trying to stop this illegitimate nomination. And if Senate Democrats approach it in the right way, they can make an important statement about our broken system of government and what happens when only one of our major parties is willing to respect the norms and traditions that have long guided us.

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It wasn’t the politics of health care that did in Trumpcare. It was the substance.

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer earlier this year. Photo (cc) 2017 by Lorie Scholl.

I find myself frustrated at the tone of much of the commentary following the humiliating withdrawal of the Trump-Ryan health-care bill Friday. I could find a bunch of stuff to link to, but we’ve all seen it. It’s all about winning. So much winning. And if the bill had been approved, most commentators would be hailing President Trump for his big victory.

Yes, Trump got the politics wrong. But of far greater significance is that he and House Speaker Paul Ryan got the substance wrong. There was nothing in their legislation other than a chest-thumping assertion that Obamacare is dead — and that we’re going to screw the poor, help the rich, and dismantle much of what was accomplished by the Affordable Care Act.

The two groups that defeated the legislation did so on principled grounds: Democrats and moderate Republicans who wanted Obamacare to remain entirely or mostly intact; and the House Freedom Caucus, whose extremist members don’t want any government involvement in health care whatsoever. On the other side, those who supported Trumpcare couldn’t point to a single provision that would have improved anyone’s lives other than the wealthy people who’d get a tax cut.

After the defeat, Trump blamed House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer. He’s right — it’s on them. And we should thank them for saving the most important piece of social legislation since Medicare was approved in the 1960s. And these folks, too:

Any major new program needs technical fixes along the way. Unfortunately, after Obamacare was approved, congressional Republicans refused to consider any such legislation. That, along with attempts by many Republican governors to undermine it in their states, is responsible for the ACA’s not working as well as it should.

On Friday, the ACA was saved. It now must withstand at least two years of Republican attempts to starve it of funds. But as Jonathan Chait of New York magazine points out, it’s not likely to be repealed after the debacle of this week. Trump and congressional Republicans won’t be in power forever. At some point, we’ll have an opportunity to get this right.

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Gather ’round the keg and let Paul Ryan explain why hurting the poor is freedom

Paul Ryan. Photo (cc) 2016 by Gage Skidmore.

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s slide in the public eye from policy wonk to partisan hack was a long time coming. But it finally reached its bottom during the past few weeks in two revealingly smug displays of insolence.

The first came in the form of Ryan’s prediction that a report by the Congressional Budget Office would show that fewer Americans would be insured under his plan to replace President Barack Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act.

“The one thing I’m certain will happen is CBO will say, ‘Well, gosh, not as many people will get coverage.’ You know why? Because this isn’t a government mandate,” Ryan said in a television interview. “So there’s no way we can compete with, on paper, a government mandate with coverage.”

Sure enough, the CBO reported that 24 million more Americans would go without coverage under Ryan’s plan than under Obamacare. And Ryan pronounced himself to be delighted, saying his legislation “is about giving people more choices and better access to a plan they can afford.” As for all those millions of people who would go without health coverage, well, you know, freedom.

Ryan’s second offense came last week in the form of a public conversation with Rich Lowry of National Review. In a classic “Not The Onion” moment, Ryan shared with Lowry his excitement at the prospect of slashing health care for the poor:

So Medicaid, sending it back to the states, capping its growth rate. We’ve been dreaming of this since I’ve been around — since you and I were drinking at a keg…. I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a long time. We’re on the cusp of doing something we’ve long believed in.

Ryan was so proud that he posted the video on his own website, Speaker.gov. It speaks volumes that he feels so comfortable in his assault on poor people that he can crack frat-boy jokes about it in front of an audience.

Not too many years ago, Ryan was regularly described as the intellectual leader of conservative Republicanism. He was a reader of books — well, OK, Ayn Rand novels. He discussed complex policy issues as though he knew what he was talking about. And he thoroughly bamboozled much of the punditocracy.

In late 2015, shortly after Ryan deigned to become House speaker in response to the importunings of his leaderless party, Eric Alterman of The Nation dug up some choice quotes. Jacob Weisberg of Slate had referred to a Ryan plan to reform (that is, gut) Medicare as “brave, radical, and smart.” David Brooks of The New York Times wrote that Ryan had “set the standard of seriousness for anybody who wants to play in this discussion.”

According to a 2012 profile of Ryan by Alec MacGillis in The New Republic, the liberalish uberwonk Ezra Klein of The Washington Post — who later founded Vox — was also not immune to Ryan’s charms. Klein praised Ryan’s radical budget-cutting plans as “a more honest entry into the debate” than typical conservative boilerplate. MacGillis also observed: “Once you earn a reputation as a Serious Man in Washington, it’s almost impossible to lose it.”

Gradually, Ryan has managed to lose it. Without question, Ryan’s slide began after he accepted Mitt Romney’s offer to be his running mate during the 2012 presidential campaign. Ryan was demolished during his debate with Joe Biden — a far more intelligent man than he is generally given credit for, but someone who, unlike Ryan, has never been described as an “intellectual.” It was an embarrassing moment for Ryan, and one from which he has never completely recovered, despite his rise in the Republican hierarchy.

Some observers have always been onto Ryan’s act. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman — a Nobel Prize-winning economist, which really does qualify him as an intellectual — has described Ryan as a “con man” and worse. Charles Pierce of Esquire regularly refers to Ryan as a “zombie-eyed granny starver.”

Now Ryan is putting the finishing touches on his proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare. As I write this, he is making changes to mollify conservatives who don’t think the measure goes far enough and moderates who think it goes too far. It will be quite a trick if he can pull it off. But as Robert David Sullivan of the Jesuit magazine America put it in a discussion on Facebook, “Paul Ryan is the Julia Child of making policy drafting catastrophes look barely presentable enough to swallow.”

Which is perhaps the ultimate irony of Paul Ryan. Even though he has been revealed as more an ideologue than an intellectual, even though his clenched-teeth alliance with President Trump has diminished him, he may be on the verge of his greatest triumph — a triumph that will line the pockets of the rich and harm the poor, the sick, and the elderly.

Ayn Rand would be so proud.

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