No, I Won’t Back Down

Well, I won’t back down,

No, I won’t back down-

You can stand me up at the gates of hell,

But I won’t back down.”

                    –Tom Petty

FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers testified before the House Intelligence Committee today, and both men stated, unequivocally, that there was no evidence to support Trump’s tweeted accusation that former President Obama ordered a wiretap on him at Trump Tower during the election. The hearing actually had a more serious purpose; it was an inquiry into the investigation of whether Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election and if anyone in Trump’s campaign had aided and/or abetted Russia in the endeavor. As expected, the Democrats on the committee focused their questions on the extent of the intervention and possible collusion, while the Republicans drilled into who could have leaked information regarding the investigation to the press. In other words, the Democrats were concerned about the damage and possible future dangers to our country, while the Republicans were more concerned about the damage and possible future dangers to their party and the Trump administration.

This is not a reflection of any great love of the GOP for Trump. The opposite is also true: Trump has thumbed his nose at the GOP repeatedly and often. This is a crude marriage of convenience. Both the party and the administration view each other with a goodly measure of disdain, yet reluctantly stay together, believing the marriage necessary to achieve their own interests. The GOP needs Trump to be their puppet, malleable and willing to sign anything they put in front of him. Trump needs the GOP to boost his frail ego, to validate him as a serious leader and someone to be respected and admired. Ironically, they share a fervent hope: that they can realize their respective goals before the other tarnishes their brand. In the meantime, the administration and the Republican-led Congress will test the ability of this nation to survive a cruel and vindictive agenda that they have labeled a great return of freedom for America.

Given the events of the last few weeks, culminating with the testimonies provided by Comey and Rogers today, the marriage is starting to crumble. Trump has always had a casual relationship with the truth. While we can generously allow that perhaps he is simply embarrassingly ill-informed, when confronted with facts, he cannot admit being wrong. The truth is, Trump has knowingly made false assertions, usually to divert attention from a current problem of his own making. When called on the veracity of his statements, he claims his proclamations are true unless proven otherwise. This is a bizarre and illogical position to stake. For example, I could claim that there are invisible leprechauns in the White House, put in place by Obama, to spy on and leak information on Trump and his staff to the press, and unless you can prove that these leprechauns do not exist, well, they do. Even worse is his belief that the FBI and Justice Department are at his beck and call to prove his ridiculous assertions, which is a waste of our tax dollars and federal resources.

Trump was given ample opportunity to take back his tweet for weeks. He was given many chances to recant. Instead, he preened and blustered, assuming that he could create some narrative to justify his accusation. His bluff was called, and he had nothing, not even a pair of twos. He was exposed before the House Intelligence Committee and, thanks to cable television, all of America as an ignorant liar. Most telling was the fact that not one Republican stood up to defend Trump. But was this public humiliation enough to force him to acknowledge his mistake and apologize to Obama and the nation? Sadly, no. Instead, he issued more tweets/lies about how the hearing cleared his administration of collusion with the Russians. It didn’t. Rather, Comey had to respond real-time that his testimony was being mischaracterized by Trump.

Trump will never back down. He could be in hell with his feet on fire, and the likelihood is that he would continue to bellow out falsehoods, then complain about how the fake news keeps refuting him. He thinks standing by his lies makes him a winner. It really just makes him a whiner.

Alternative Facts, Inadvertent Omissions And The Inconvenient Truth

Michael Flynn tendered his resignation today, after the clamor over his discussions with a Russian diplomat about the U.S. sanctions became too much for even Trump to bear. That’s saying a lot. Donald Trump’s trademark, both in his private business dealings and in his administration, is undisciplined impetuousness. He thrives on thrashing about like a bull in a china shop, ignoring any protests regarding his behavior, and paralyzing those around him for fear of setting him off.

Trump is ignorant, yet believes himself infallible and beyond reproach. He is arrogant, yet remarkably insecure. When criticized or made to feel inadequate, he obsessively lashes out, both verbally and on Twitter, like a petulant toddler. During these tirades, he almost always resorts to citing false, disproven stories, either unwilling or unable to separate truth from fiction. Like a child, he seems compelled to rewrite history to cast himself as the hero, smarter and more talented than he really is. When reminded of what really happened, he angrily dismisses it as “fake news”. In summary, Trump plays fast and loose with the facts.

As has been made painfully evident during the past month, those in his administration share these characteristics. Kellyanne Conway is often smugly and glibly dishonest during interviews. When she was finally called on the lies she was spouting, she claimed she was offering “alternative facts.” Sean Spicer’s press conferences are the American equivalent of the surreal press briefings given by Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf during the Iraqi War, where al-Sahhaf would claim that no American troops were in Iraq as U.S. tanks rolled by behind him. In his resignation, Flynn stated that he “inadvertently briefed…incomplete information”. In other words, he lied by omission. Trump didn’t feel this was an issue until the story was leaked. After being publicly pressured to fire Flynn, Trump was more angry about the leak than about the lie and potentially illegal actions of his former National Security Adviser.

The problem is that facts don’t matter to this administration. Stories can be conjured out of thin air, like Conway’s Bowling Green Massacre, or made up in the face of contradictory evidence, like Spicer’s insistence that more people attended Trump’s inauguration than Obama’s, despite photos clearly showing the opposite. Words can be strung together any which way and presented as facts, regardless of whether they are or not. And if actual facts are not presented? Then it never happened; what happens in Moscow stays in Moscow. But like the boy who cried wolf, this administration will lose all credibility, if it hasn’t lost it already. While this may provide priceless material for comedians, the situation is quite serious. What countries would trust us, either in trade or in an alliance? The world may very well decide that it can live without a delusional, unreliable partner—and that is the inconvenient truth.