It happened in plain sight. This isn’t a criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller, whose report hasn’t been released and who may not have found any criminal offenses. But we can’t unsee what we all saw.
[William] Barr’s note is clear that Mueller did not uncover evidence Trump and his gang were in direct cahoots with Russia’s covert operation to interfere with the US election and boost Trump’s odds. But the hyper-focus on this sort of collusion — as if Trump instructed Russian hackers on how to penetrate the computer network of the Democratic National Committee — has always diverted attention from a basic and important element of the scandal that was proven long before Mueller drafted his final report: Trump and his lieutenants interacted with Russia while Putin was attacking the 2016 election and provided encouraging signals to the Kremlin as it sought to subvert American democracy. They aided and abetted Moscow’s attempt to cover up its assault on the United States (which aimed to help Trump win the White House). And they lied about all this.
My Facebook feed is filling up with posts from liberal friends informing me that Donald Trump is, among many other bad things, an ignoramus when it comes to the Constitution.
Trump allegedly stepped in it on Tuesday, telling Bill O’Reilly of Fox News that the 14th Amendment wouldn’t necessarily impede his rather horrifying proposal to deny citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants born in the United States.
Of course, it’s fun to think Trump is such a buffoon that he doesn’t realize something that’s part of the Constitution can’t be unconstitutional. All he’d need to do is spend a few minutes watching “Schoolhouse Rock!” videos on YouTube to disabuse himself of that notion.
But that’s not what Trump said. In fact, Trump made the perfectly reasonable assertion that the federal courts may be willing to revisit how they interpret the 14th Amendment. Trump told O’Reilly:
Bill, [lawyers are] saying, “It’s not going to hold up in court, it’s going to have to be tested.” I don’t think they have American citizenship, and if you speak to some very, very good lawyers, some would disagree…. But many of them agree with me — you’re going to find they do not have American citizenship. [Quotes transcribed by Inae Oh of Mother Jones, whose story is more accurate than the headline under which it appears.]
Birthright citizenship is not exactly a new issue. Jenna Johnson of The Washington Post noted earlier this week that, back in the early 1990s, none other than future Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid supported reinterpreting the 14th Amendment in order to end automatic citizenship — thus confirming a remark made on the campaign trail by Scott Walker, one of several Republican presidential candidates who have joined Trump in opposing it.
In searching the archives, I couldn’t find a specific reference to Reid. But The New York Times reported in December 1995 that House Republicans and some Democrats supported an end to birthright citizenship, with most arguing that a constitutional amendment would be needed and others claiming that legislation would suffice. Any attempt to enforce such legislation would have triggered exactly the sort of court challenge that Trump envisions.
And it’s not as though the 14th Amendment has stood immutable over time. After all, it wasn’t until 1954 that the Supreme Court ruled, in Brown v. Board of Education, that the amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” forbade segregation in the public schools.
Birthright citizenship was recognized by the Supreme Court in 1898, three decades after enactment of the 14th Amendment. In that case, according to the 1995 Times article, the court overturned a California law that had been used to deny citizenship to children born in the United States whose parents were Chinese immigrants.
Trump’s rhetoric represents the worst kind of nativism, and he should be held to account for his words. But what he’s actually saying is bad enough. When the media exaggerate and distort, they hand him an undeserved victory.
New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen, who’s part of the high-profile news project being launched by the tech entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar, writes that the operation’s journalism will be incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
But will it really be that simple? As I wrote earlier this year, the IRS has cracked down on 501(c)(3) status for journalism, apparently (it’s not entirely clear) because the agency doesn’t consider journalism to be an approved “educational” activity.
Rosen calls the venture, to be named First Look Media, a “hybrid” that melds for-profit and nonprofit operations: there will also be a for-profit technology company that, if it becomes profitable, will subsidize the journalism.
But that’s not what we normally think of when discussing hybrid journalism models. The usual route is for a nonprofit of some kind to own a for-profit news organization. The example most often cited (including by Rosen) is the Tampa Bay Times, which is owned by the Poynter Institute, a journalism research and training organization.
The difference matters, because a nonprofit news organization is prohibited from endorsing political candidates and engaging in other activities that might be deemed partisan. By contrast, a for-profit enjoys the full protection of the First Amendment, even if it’s owned by a nonprofit.
Not that a nonprofit can’t do great journalism — nonprofits ranging from Mother Jones to the New Haven Independent have proved that. But it will be interesting to see how First Look and its high-profile contributors, including Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, negotiate the tricky nonprofit landscape.
Jay Rosen got an answer out of Mother Jones’ Washington bureau chief, David Corn, as to why the magazine is asking the question “Is Barack Obama exaggerating when he compares his campaign to the great progressive moments in U.S. history?”
Corn points to a speech Obama gave earlier this year in which he conjured up visions of the American Revolution, Abolition, the Depression, World War II and other patriotic touchstones in order to drive home his campaign theme of “Yes we can.” MoJo has since added that in the form of a blog post from February unsubtly titled “Barack Obama’s Messiah Complex.”
I’m not going to reproduce the Obama speech excerpts here, because you can just follow the links. But I do want to consider Rosen’s three questions:
Which comes closest to your view?
1.) Sure enough, Obama in this except “compares his campaign to the great progressive moments in U.S. history” and Mother Jones caught him at it, puncturing the Obama hype. Good for them!
2.) No, Obama does not “claim that his campaign is comparable to the great progressive movements in U.S. history.” Not even close. Mother Jones is engaging in the kind of audacious hype it claims to be opposing. Bad move.
3.) It doesn’t matter whether Obama actually said anything like that because his supporters believe his campaign is a movement of transcendent historical importance, and that’s what Mother Jones really meant, it’s just that the editors phrased it badly, attributing to the candidate claims that have been made by others about him.
Jay thinks the correct answer is #2. Strictly on a factual, non-emotional basis, I agree. But it’s more complicated than that. I think the truth is #2 plus a strong dose of #3, along with at least a slight whiff of #1.
All politicians invoke great moments in American history, as Obama did. But Obama has gone farther by explicitly drawing parallels between his candidacy and those moments. It’s understandable — the election of an African-American as president would rank as a stunning achievement for our race-benighted culture. But it’s got nothing to do with Obama personally.
The thing is, I think Obama understands that, and I think David Corn and company understand it, too. So the question becomes why journalists would compress Obama’s argument into a shallow soundbite that makes it sounds like Obama thinks of himself as a combination of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.
It’s not so much that MoJo is completely wrong; it’s that the magazine is being reductionist and stupid. Why?
By the way, I know Corn and have a lot of respect for him. We spent part of the afternoon on Election Day 2004 at a Starbucks near Copley Square, picking out John Kerry’s cabinet for him. But to the extent that he agrees with this particular editorial decision, well, I think he’s wrong.