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The Smoking Gun

This Week in the Narrative – 36

Nigel Clarke

Donald Trump Jr. is an idiot.”

So says the ‘right wing’ (and usually supportive of the Trump Dynasty) New York Post.

This, of course, is their response to this week’s revelations that Trump Jr. (alongside Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort) met with Russian representatives during the presidential campaign in an attempt to obtain compromising information about Hillary Clinton.

Much of the mainstream media is presenting this as the “smoking gun” in the investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Personally, I might use a different analogy – that of the “first tangible piece of the puzzle” – to describe this ham-handed attempt at espionage between small-timers and wannabes. The first piece of many, you would hope, if you’re talking impeachments and arrests.

But the reason the New York Post and others were questioning and condemning the intelligence of Donald Trump Jr. was not only his amateurish efforts – leaving an explicit record of his intentions (“I love it”) in an email chain with his “Russian” contact – but how he handled the situation after it became clear a leak of the story was imminent.

In a statement on Twitter, Trump Jr. said, “…in order to be totally transparent, I am releasing the entire email chain of my emails…”

In response to his son’s release of potentially incriminating information, President Trump said, through a spokesperson, “I applaud his transparency.”

I am not entirely sure that either of these two men totally understands the term ‘transparency.’

Usually, when speaking of the transparency of a political figure or government, there is the implication of prevention; that allowing the public to be able to see what they are doing will dissuade officials from illegality and intrigues. As the Washington Post is (ironically) so fond of saying – “Democracy dies in darkness.”

But Trump and Junior are using “transparency” differently – for the admission of corruption after the fact.

I’m not sure that word means what you think it means.

The issue of transparency becomes increasingly important at a time when it feels like most political figures are corrupt.

I think about Hillary Clinton’s approach to transparency during her campaign; the whole enterprise built on a foundation of removing transparency in order to suppress her lengthy history of corruption. From declining to hold press conferences for most of a year, attending events with small groups of private donors almost exclusively, the dismissive “I’ll look into it” attitude towards her speech transcripts and emails, the collaboration with allies in the mainstream media on positive stories, and so on.

Whether or not you believe these efforts succeeded in suppressing Hillary’s corruption from the public consciousness, the end result of this approach to transparency is undeniable – an election loss.

While Donald Trump Jr. may or may not be an “idiot,” one thing even Hillary’s opponents will not deny is her intelligence. It would be difficult to imagine orchestrating the types of Olympic-level corruption the Clintons were involved in were you not intelligent.

Here though, Trump Jr., called an idiot by his allies, is attempting the exact opposite approach to transparency as Hillary; instead of diverting and suppressing, he is essentially saying “Yeah, I did it. So what?”

For those in the mainstream media insisting that it is impossible not to see that the what is a “smoking gun,” I would reply that I am not entirely sure how this saga will be received by the public.

This is a problem the mainstream media are increasingly having. They fail to realize what will or won’t appeal to people at this moment in history, and that the types of narratives which used to be so effective in convincing and distracting, are often now failing in their task.

I think back to a moment in the primary season, early in the mainstream media’s underestimation of Trump, deemed too stupid even for derision.

During a GOP debate, Jeb Bush (remember him?) was scoring major points on Trump with a detailed account of policy positions. Trump immediately interrupted and proclaimed that Jeb had threatened to pull down his pants and moon the crowd. The crowd erupted, and Jeb turned beet red.

When the commotion died down, all Jeb could muster was an assurance to his mother (presumably watching at home) that he had said no such thing.

For most of the mainstream media, this was a moment of Trump’s weakness. Trump supporters covertly thought otherwise.

Of course, this mainstream media blindness extends beyond belligerence.

Consider the media’s belief that Bernie Sanders would be easily swept away if they attached two S-words to him – socialist and sexist. Unfortunately for them, Bernie’s ideas were too appealing to large portions of the public, the condemnations failed, and on another topic, the media were left in the dust.

Most interesting to me, is that even outside Trump supporters, the twists and turns of the Trump-Russia narrative are failing to land more and more often.

Democratic members of Congress like Peter Welch, Tim Ryan, Tim Walz, (alongside “Democrat” Bernie Sanders), and others, are questioning how much attention should be paid to the story.

As Peter Welch said earlier this week:

We should be focused relentlessly on economic improvement [and] we should stay away from just piling on the criticism of Trump, whether it’s about Russia, whether it’s about Comey. Because that has its own independent dynamic, it’s going to happen on its own without us piling on. We’re much better off if we just do the hard work of coming up with an agenda. Talking about Trump and Russia doesn’t create an agenda.

Additionally, an argument exists that Russia, for so long the adversary of the United States in proxy wars across the world, is itself now a proxy war in the battle for ideological control of the Democratic party.

It is relatively clear that the corporate overseers of the Democratic party do not so much mind losing elections, so long as they keep control of the party from progressives. Though, they may find that a political party existing for the defense and proliferation of the interests of multinationals and Wall Street may, does, in fact, have difficulty winning elections.

But those corporate overseers know that every ounce of energy spent on Russian espionage, or something like protesting the electoral college, is one less ounce of energy spent against the holes in the system the Trump administration is exposing.

The question is who, besides the mainstream media and corporate Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, supports the idea of Donald Trump Jr. as the “smoking gun?” I would imagine Trump supporters do not – they are probably applauding Junior’s “transparency” – and progressives view sensationalized stories like this as, at worst, diversionary tactics, and, at best, a condemnation not of Trump specifically, but of a broken political system.

Quote of the Week:

Read More This Week in the Narrative:

Week 35: G20 Guns and Roses

Week 34: Patience is Over

Week 33: The Google Infomercial

Week 32: Steroids and Syria

Week 31: Comey’s Broken System

Week 30: Pittsburgh, Paris, and Pyongyang


Written by Nigel Clarke

Writer and notorious vagabond. From the frozen north. Follow Nigel on Twitter @Nig_Clarke.

Nigel Clarke is a Writer for Progressive Army.

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