Email #250: “asked to condemn”?

My family is flying home to Virginia today. I had thought that with you and the rest of Congress on vacation, and with the President on a working vacation in New Jersey, that little would have happened while we were away. Instead we return amid the President’s threats of nuclear war with North Korea and to a Virginia that is not only on the front page of U.S. newspapers but a top story in international papers too.

Since I rarely receive even form letters from you anymore, I have to assume that your staff disregards most of my messages. I did not, for example, receive a response to my June 19 email. I wrote:

“The KKK left a flier on my lawn last August—the same month that Donald Trump received the Republican nomination. They’re not the only white supremacists who voted for him because they think he represents their opinions. Because of that identification, false or not, the GOP has an enormous obligation to counter it.

“KKK voters right here in the 6th district voted for you because you’re a Republican. That’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility. You consistently win by huge margins, so your job doesn’t depend on the racist vote. Though if it did, it would still be your moral responsibility to reject it. The KKK and other white supremacist hate groups are rising in our front yards. What are you doing to stop them? What steps are you taking to address hate crimes and the role our President and your party has played in their increase?”

You of course have taken no steps. You have done nothing to stop the rise of white nationalism in Virginia. You haven’t even bothered to create a form letter because you do not respond to topics that do not interest you. The KKK and its support of the President and other GOP members wasn’t important enough in June. Two months later the rise of the KKK in Virginia is an international headline. Instead of responding to the growing crisis that I and I’m sure many others identified, you squandered that time doing nothing. I also wrote to you about the President and white supremacists on April 5:

Donald Trump is being sued for inciting violence. Three protestors were shoved and punched by his supporters at a Kentucky campaign rally last March. The assaults were recorded on video. One of the supporters later apologized, admitting that he “physically pushed a young woman down the aisle toward the exit” after “Trump kept saying ‘get them out, get them out.” Another supporter has attempted to hide the fact that he belongs to a white nationalist group and was at the rally because he believes Trump shares his views.

Trump’s lawyers say he didn’t mean for them to use force, but the judge saw more than enough evidence that the assaults were a direct result of Trump’s violence-inciting words: “It was an order, an instruction, a command.” Trump’s lawyers also tried to hide the fact that the crowd shouted racist and sexist slurs at one of the protesters. The judge said: “While the words themselves are repulsive, they are relevant to show the atmosphere in which the alleged events occurred.”

You did not respond to this letter either. Have enough of your constituents written to you now about the President and white supremacists for you to create a new form letter yet? Alternatively, you could stop pretending that your personal political agenda justifies your blind support of a bigoted President. The neo-Nazi publication The Daily Stormer was pleased by President Trump’s response to the rally and terror attack: “When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”

You are being asked to condemn the President, and you are walking out of the room too. But no one is blessing you for it. You should instead consider President Kennedy’s paraphrase of Dante: “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”

Email #245: “a very different kind of truth”?

I couldn’t help but enjoy the feature The Roanoker magazine did on you in 2014: “The U.S. Congress’ Clark Kent Wears the Cape in D.C.” I write a lot about superheroes and so appreciated the allusion. When I met the chair of the Rockbridge Republicans at one of your Open Door meeting earlier this summer, he told me Delegate Ben Cline nicknamed me “Professor Comic Book.” Since I’m a professor and I teach comics, I can’t really complain. I’m even presenting a conference paper about comics for the Modernist Studies Association while I’m here in Amsterdam. Though the topic of an early 20th century Belgian artist’s style seems about as far removed from current U.S. politics as I could get it, I was startled to find how much my paper relates to Donald Trump.

Comics scholar Joseph Witek identifies two major modes in comics: naturalism and cartoons. In the first, figures “remain stable as familiar entities, with any changes in shape and size accounted for by the familiar conventions of visual distance and perspective” because “the world depicted within the panels is presumed to be stable.” In contrast, the cartoon mode “disavows any attempt to render the surface appearance of the physical world and makes a very different claim to a very different kind of truth” because stories “assume a fundamentally unstable and infinitely mutable physical reality, where characters and even objects can move and be transformed according to an associative or emotive logic.”

While we could say past Presidents have aligned roughly with political naturalism, President Trump works in the cartoon mode. His reality is fundamentally mutable and unstable. Where contradictory statements by other politicians can produce damaging and often career-ending appearances of incompetence, deception or hypocrisy, for President Trump they are merely what his ghostwriter called “truthful hyperbole.” As Time magazine’s Michael Scherer put it: “Reality, for the reality-show mogul, is something to be invented episode by episode.”

Thus when a poll or statistic that the President declared false in the past produces something favorable to him now, he redraws reality: “They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.” Although the FBI and Special Counsel have stated unequivocally that he is under investigation, the President draws his own picture: “I don’t think we’re under investigation. I’m not under investigation. For what? I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Looking at just a few examples from July alone, the President claimed that he had signed more bills than any other President; that CNN’s ratings were way down; that the GOP won all five special elections; that because of his insistence NATO nations have begun pouring billions of dollars into their defense requirements; that the FBI reports directly to him, that the director of the Boy Scouts called him, and that Lebanon is on the front lines fighting Hezbollah. In fact, several other Presidents signed more bills at this point in their terms; CNN rating were way up; the GOP won four of the five elections; NATO nations agreed to increase spending in 2014; the FBI reports directly to the Attorney General; the director of the Boy Scouts did not call him; and Lebanon is allied with Hezbollah.

Regarding Hezbollah, the Washington Post reported: “It was not clear whether Trump was confused about that, or simply misspoke.” James Comey calls the President’s statements “lies, plain and simple.” The New York Times concludes similarly: “Not every falsehood is deliberate on Trump’s part. But it would be the height of naïveté to imagine he is merely making honest mistakes. He is lying.”

I say he is cartooning. And his sketchbook is our increasingly unstable country.

Email #238: “The president wasn’t involved”?

President Bush’s chief ethics lawyer Richard Painter told The Guardian yesterday that President Trump committed obstruction of justice when he dictated Donald Trump Jr.’s statement claiming his meeting with the Russian lawyer was about adoption policy and not Hillary Clinton. Painter said:

“You’re boxing in a witness into a false story. That puts them under enormous pressure to turn around and lie under oath to be consistent with their story. I think it’s obstruction of justice.”

Before Monday, we were told that the President had no involvement in the statement. His lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said on July 12:

“The president didn’t sign off on anything. He was coming back from the G-20, the statement that was released on Saturday, was released by Donald Trump Jr. and, I’m sure, in consultation with his lawyers. The president wasn’t involved in that.”

Sukelow repeated the claim four days later:

“I do want to be clear — that the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement.”

But on Monday, the Washington Post reported oppositely:

“The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged. But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed. Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had ‘primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children’ when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations.”

And now, according to new Press Secretary Sanders, the President admits that he was involved:

“The president weighed in as any father would.”

According to the Washington Post, other advisers had warned the President against the statement he constructed:

“Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth.”

This appears to be exactly the case–made worse by overt lies committed by the President’s lawyer on his behalf.

I would think that as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, this would be of concern to you. But you have already demonstrated your complete disinterest in overseeing the Justice Department’s investigation into the Trump administration even though oversight of the Justice Department and its investigations is your primary responsibility. Still, forgive me if I ask yet again: how will you respond to this latest allegation?

Email #230: “troubled about the President’s Twitter”?

Thank you for your recent letter regarding President Trump’s use of Twitter. I have written to you about this topic before, but I see now that your office has developed a new form letter. Most of it repeats your other letters verbatim, but the middle paragraph does contain new content:

“One of the ways he has chosen to communicate with the nation is through the use of social media, specifically Twitter. It is my hope that he will use that to share his vision for the future and plans for economic growth to show that America continues to be the greatest nation in the world.  I do understand why some folks have been troubled about the President’s Twitter statements and activity.  Please know that I appreciate those concerns and I hope he will use this platform to convey a positive message.”

While that is hardly a condemnation, it is the most critical statement you have made regarding President Trump yet. Though you don’t express feeling “troubled” yourself, you do “understand” why others have been; you “appreciate” such concerns; and, most importantly, you twice “hope” the President will use Twitter to “share his vision” and “convey a positive message,” implying that he is currently doing neither. It is also possible to infer that his Twitter messages, since they’re apparently not “positive,” are therefore negative. It’s even possible to read your letter as stating the opinion that the President, by not using his messages “to show that America continues to be the greatest nation in the world,” is therefore lowering our nation’s greatness.

But that’s if you read very carefully, since your statements are also the rhetorical equivalent of frowning while looking at your feet. Little wonder The Roanoker called you “mild mannered.” Often that’s a good thing. Your fellow Virginian, Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott said you’re “a perfect gentleman” and “someone who can conduct himself with dignity.” The irony is that you are expressing a dignified and gentlemanly criticism of an individual who is neither gentlemanly nor dignified. The President is a vulgar, ill-tempered, misogynistic bigot whose Twitter messages betray a level of myopic, narcissistic paranoia never before seen in the White House.

While I appreciate even your comically understated attempt to implore the President to behave better, your excessive indirection is self-defeating, even absurdly so. But I am happy to say that for once you and I do share the same hopes.

Bob Goodlatte replies about President Trump’s Twitter activity

Dear Mr. Gavaler:

Thank you for contacting me about President Donald Trump’s Twitter activity.  I appreciate you sharing your concerns.

As your congressman here in the Sixth District, I take the responsibility of being your elected representative very seriously.  Whether it is by my votes, my public statements, or my actions, I strive each and every day to uphold the values and ideals of Virginia’s Sixth District.

President Trump was sworn into office on January 20, 2017 and assumed the responsibilities of the nation’s highest elected office at that time.  As President, he has the “bully pulpit” to advance his agenda to the American public.  One of the ways he has chosen to communicate with the nation is through the use of social media, specifically Twitter.  It is my hope that he will use that to share his vision for the future and plans for economic growth to show that America continues to be the greatest nation in the world.  I do understand why some folks have been troubled about the President’s Twitter statements and activity.  Please know that I appreciate those concerns and I hope he will use this platform to convey a positive message.

I appreciate you taking the time to share your views with me and hope you will stay in touch as the 115th Congress continues to debate issues important to our country. I believe it is vital to keep an open line of communication so I can best serve the interests of Virginia’s 6th District. Please feel free to contact me whenever I may be of assistance to you and your family.

Sincerely,

Bob Goodlatte
Member of Congress

Email #229: “our shame”?

Congressman Caldwell Butler represented Virginia’s District 6 from his special election victory in 1972 to his retirement ten years later. Like you, Butler was a Roanoke lawyer and a loyal member of the Republican party. According to the Washington Post: “if anyone could be counted on during the agonies of Watergate, it was surely Rep. M. Caldwell Butler.”

But then Butler surprised his party and his country, announcing that he would vote for President Nixon’s impeachment: “For years we Republicans have campaigned against corruption and misconduct … But Watergate is our shame. I cannot condone what I have heard, I cannot excuse it, and I cannot and will not stand still for it.” Butler was a member of the House Judiciary Committee and his vote received national attention because it signaled a shift in the GOP away from their own President. Nixon resigned two weeks later.

Butler made his announcement on July 24, 1974—forty-three years ago today. You now occupy his Congressional seat. You are not only a member of the House Judiciary Committee, you are its chair. And if anyone has been counted upon so far during the agonies of the Trump scandals, it’s certainly been you.

And yet you have campaigned against corruption and misconduct too. Speaker Ryan complimented you in 2012 for working hard “to keep watch over the executive branch.” The first House Speaker you served under, Newt Gingrich, said your “basic approach is to try to bring everyone together to get to a solution.” You also weild far more power and responsibility than your predecessor. As Gingrich said: “As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he has a lot of influence because he really does run the committee. In Bob’s case there’s no question he is in charge.”

When Butler died, he was eulogized as a maverick. While there’s little chance that you will be remembered similarly, there is still a chance you will be remembered well. But your reputation will rise or fall based on your actions toward the Trump administration. History will either record you as a Representative who upheld the honor and independence of Caldwell’s congressional district seat or as a party toady who buried his head at the moment of his career when his nation needed him most.

Will you use your influence to continue the Republican party’s shame or to end it?

Email #227: “That’s politics!”?

On July 22, 2016, one year ago today, WikiLeaks released emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee. The DNC had contacted the FBI about the hacks in April, and U.S. intelligence was already linking them to Russia. The emails revealed that Democratic party chair Debbie Wasserman favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, and as a result Wasserman resigned two days later. The timing of the release—three days before the Democratic National Convention—was designed to damage party unity.

In response to the hacked emails, Rep. Pompeo tweeted: “Need further proof that the fix was in from Pres. Obama on down? BUSTED: 19,252 Emails from DNC Leaked by WikiLeaks.” Pompeo later deleted the tweet and is now serving as President Trump’s CIA Director. Donald Trump responded by encouraging Russia to hack Clinton’s emails next: “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” The FBI responded by opening an investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

U.S. intelligence later concluded with high confidence that Russia had hacked not only the DNC but the Republican National Committee too. Russia had stolen similarly damaging emails by Republican officials but did not deliver them to WikiLeaks to be released publicly. Their goal was to aid Trump by harming Clinton—aid the Trump campaign accepted and encouraged.

During the previous election cycle, Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney identified Russia as our “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” Romney’s former adviser Stuart Stevens recently said: “The role of the Republican Party has been to tell the truth about what Russia and the Soviet Union was, not what it was pretending to be. Now some conservatives have gotten into the ‘let’s give Russia the benefit of the doubt’ business.”

Are you one of those conservatives? Do you, like the President and his supporters, want to downplay the findings of the U.S. intelligence community and continue to ignore Russia’s interference in the election?

Last week President Trump tweeted: “Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That’s politics!”

Do you agree with the President? Are you also one of those politicians who would have gone to a meeting to receive documents stolen by Russian operatives? By saying nothing in response to the President’s tweet, your silence confirms your complicity. When our grandchildren read about these events in their American history textbooks, will they see the actions of the Trump campaign as a reflection of today’s political norms or as violations of those norms?