So I Was Wrong Again -- American Politics and No Way Out

About 30 years ago there was a Kevin Costner movie called "No Way Out".  If you never saw it and ever intend to, there is a major spoiler coming.  Anyway, Costner is a military officer having a fling with a woman played by Sean Young, who is also having a fling with Costner's superior officer.  Sean Young turns up dead (probably a fantasy for the director since every director who worked with her wanted to kill her).  There is some sense that Costner's superior officer may be guilty, and Costner is named by the officer to lead the investigation, but with a twist -- the officer is trying to get the girl's death blamed on a mysterious Russian spy, who may or may not even be real, to divert attention from his adultery and possibly from the fact that he was probably the killer.  Things evolve, and it appears that Costner is going to be framed not only for the girl's death but also as the probably mythical spy.  The movie is about Costner desperately trying to escape this frame, and in the end is successful.  But in the final scene, Costner is seen speaking in Russian to his controller.  He is the spy!  The original accusation was totally without evidence, almost random, meant to divert attention from his superior's likely crimes, but by accident they turned out to be correct.

I feel like that with the Russian election hacking story.  For months I have said the Russian election hacking story was a nothing.  It made little sense and there was pretty much zero evidence.  It was dreamed up within 24 hours of the election by a Clinton campaign trying to divert attention and blame for their stunning loss.  I have called it many times the Obama birth certificate story of this election.

But it turns out that pursuing any Trump connection whatsoever with Russia has turned up some pretty grubby stories.  In particular, seeing a Presidential campaign -- and the President's son -- fawning over unfriendly foreign governments to get their hands on oppo research is just plain ugly.  That the Clinton campaign may have done shady things to get oppo research of their own is irrelevant to the ethics here (and perhaps one good justification for electing Republicans, since the media seems to be more aggressive at holding Republicans to account for such things).

Sorry.  I fell victim to one of the classic blunders - the most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia" - but only slightly less well-known is this: "Never underestimate the stupidity and ethical flexibility of politicians."

Postscript:  In general, my enforced absence from both twitter and highly partisan blogs is going quite well.  I will write more about it soon, but I have to mention this:  I had a small break in my isolation yesterday when I was scanning around the radio on a business trip.  I landed on Rush Limbaugh, and would have moved on immediately but the first words I heard out of his mouth were "golden showers".  OK, I was intrigued.  He then used that term about 3 more times in the next 60 seconds (apparently he was going with the "everybody does it" defense of Trump by accusing the Clintons of getting oppo research from the Ukraine, or whatever).  Anyway, any issue that has a Conservative talk show host discussing golden showers from Russian hookers can't be all bad.


  1. Ruggerbunny:

    Quality Princess Bride reference!

  2. John_Schilling:

    But it turns out that pursuing any Trump connection whatsoever with Russia has turned up some pretty grubby stories.

    It's not just Trump at this point, alas. You (via Rush) allude to the Steele Dossier; strikes me as very much the same thing. The RNC deliberately hired an agent - a literal foreign spy - to go talk to Russian sources including their intel community and see if they had any dirt about a candidate that the RNC at that point really didn't want to win. And when that was overcome by events because the RNC now wanted Trump to win after all but the Democrats needed him to lose, the DNC apparently took over funding Steele's work knowing full well the nature of the business. Trump Jr. was almost unbelievably stupid in how he did this; apple tree something something. But it doesn't seem that there's anyone left inside the beltway with the integrity to turn down even the possibility of dirt on their opponents just because it comes from a foreign intelligence service.

    Write that story with any politician you don't like, reality will back it up for you.

  3. Glen Raphael:

    I honestly still do not grok the concern about any Trump/Russia connection. Maybe it's because I don't care all that much who wins elections, but...on what basis do we *care* which countries people connected to a presidential candidate are willing to talk to? It seems like there's an unspoken (and unproven!) background assumption that other countries aren't routinely trying to influence our election results and get in good with potential election winners and an assumption that candidates (and their associates) shouldn't be willing to talk to ANYONE who might plausibly want to help the campaign no matter where in the world these helpers are and who they are connected to. But...where do these implied rules come from? Is there any justification for these rules other than "we don't like the outcome of the last election and we're grasping at straws to find some factor that MIGHT be different than prior elections, even if there's no evidence to suggest it?

    It's not "treason" to cooperate with people in countries we're not at war with. It's not even "grubby" or "shady". It's just "politics". Indeed, it's GOOD politics to cooperate MORE with countries which have a reputation for not liking us. "Cozying up to Russia" makes WWIII less likely. Shouldn't we WANT backroom dealings between Trump-related people and possibly-Russia-related people? Why doesn't "Only a Trump could work with Russia" evoke "Only a Nixon could go to China"?

  4. gvanderleun:

    "In particular, seeing a Presidential campaign -- and the President's son -- fawning over unfriendly foreign governments to get their hands on oppo research is just plain ugly. "

    Oh grow up.

  5. bloke in france:

    Trump announces that the US is shortly to become a net enrgy exporter. It shows he's in Putin's pocket because Russia would love to get less money fot their O&G exports.

    Contrarywise, Obama's interference in the British referendum about leaving the EU was just statesmanship.

    Barry, better not come to a UK golf course. Someone might bring a private prosecution for perverting the course of justice, and you might get banged up for a bit.

  6. BobLouGlob:

    I believe the Don Jr. controversy is essentially an inside look at the sleaziness of politics and nothing more. The truth is if it were you and I in the same boat, we probably would look for dirt on the other candidate as well. It's how politics is done and how it has always been done in this country. However, the lawyer was not working for the Russian government, but the democrats seem determined to make it illegal to even talk to Russians. While this is ugly, I think its politics as usual.

    I've really soured on Trump, also. His and now Don Jr.'s inability to control himself in the messaging does damage to himself and what he wants to get accomplished. In general, I agree on much of what he campaigned, but he may not get anything done because he is always creating needless distractions. Its disheartening to finally get a non-politician in office and it winds up being a guy who can't stop talking when necessary.

  7. BobLouGlob:

    Why? It is ugly. Politics is always ugly when you get to the heart of it. It's the awful truth of American politics that much of it today is more about trashing the other guy than on having a clear message.

  8. mlouis:

    You underestimated that a campaign would take damaging info from a foreign government? I have assumed my whole life that the "ethics" of -high-level politics are far worse than that (but that one cares unless it's the other tribe doing it). The "ethics" of high-level business aren't much better to be honest.

  9. bobby_b:

    I don't see the concern.

    With a working press, we'd have people digging for dirt on Hillary in a way you'd probably accept as proper..

    We don't have that, so looking for that same dirt through other paths seems a prudent thing to do.

    If I learn that Politician Smith is an active kiddie-diddler by listening to Russians as opposed to Americans, so what? The emphasis ought to be on Smith's actions, not on where I heard about it. Complaining about the Russian source is merely a way to shield Smith from the consequences of his actions.

    If Kim Jong-un had documentary proof that Politician Smith was molesting a kid, or accepting bribes, I'd certainly investigate the provenance of that information, but I'd also happily accept it.

    Any other view would indicate a desire to maliciously strike at Trump.

  10. bobby_b:

    " . . . he may not get anything done . . . "

    He got us Gorsuch. With that one stroke, he accomplished much, and he can rest on those laurels as far as I'm concerned.

  11. bobby_b:

    That's not a reflection on politics. It's a reflection on voters. Politicians wouldn't do it if we stopped rewarding it.

    We get the politics that we deserve.

  12. ErikTheRed:

    I loathe Trump, but I'd agree with you on this. Dirt is dirt, and can either be verified as fact or not. Whining about where it came from is just argumentum ad hominem.

  13. C078342:

    I agree. We have had 8 years of a self-entitled, egotistical, empty suit zero doing his best to destroy and "fundamentally change" America. Begone zeroBama. President Trump may be unconventional and maybe even controversial, but he has America in his heart. MAGA and I might ad, Take Back America!

  14. ErikTheRed:

    "We get the politics that we deserve."

    Horseshit. At a practical level, we have no say or power whatsoever over the politicians that wind up on the menu. We have two tribes (each containing their own internal factions) that have formed a duopoly and have shamelessly locked other players out. There's zero integrity to the process. The trend right now is to have large, family-dominated factions controlling the tribes. On the left you have the Clinton machine (hopefully falling apart) and on the right you have the Bush machine (hopefully falling apart). Trump spotted the trend and is trying to push his family faction into control of the GOP.

    That's all this is: nothing more and nothing less. There's no real choice, but you have to accept the outcome regardless. The "trick" of representative government is getting you to accept the outcome because of your participation, meaningless as it is. You can invest as much time and energy into it as you want (all wasted, but you're still free to do so. Kinda. Sorta. For now. Some restrictions apply. Void where prohibited. Must be 18 or over. Not available in all states. Shamelessly stolen from Doug Stanhope). So the short story is there is no "we." Just "them." You can pretend there's a "we" if it makes you feel better, but it's about as useful as believing in Santa Claus.

  15. CapnRusty:

    I think you are blaming the wrong source for the "distractions." The entire Russian-hacking-interference-collusion thing was initiated by the loser Clinton, and has been fed ever since by the media. Combined, they are seeking to enrage an ignorant and gullible mob* in a blatant attempt to impeach Trump on the grounds that they really, really don't like him. In the process, they are showing the rest of us exactly what they think of us.

    * Facts proven by their reaction to the peaceful transfer of power.

  16. ErikTheRed:

    But it offends muh sacred Chinese-made cloth feelz!

  17. Matthew Slyfield:

    Even worse for Trump's critics here (and the email chain kind of backs this up), according to Trump Jr. the supposed information on Hillary was just a ruse to get Trump people to talk to them, the Russians wanted something else, a law governing US entities doing business with Russia repealed. Trump Jr. says that he and the other Trump campaign people who he brought along, blew off the Russians once they revealed what they really wanted.

  18. irandom419:

    Agreed, Obama gave Putin a rim job and Shillary would be no different.

  19. Heresiarch:

    Politicians wouldn't do it if we stopped rewarding it.

    We don't have nearly enough parties to send that precisely targeted a message.

  20. Glen Raphael:

    To answer my own question: the popular theory seems to be that Trump Jr's "collusion" was to violate campaign finance law. Specifically, it's illegal for foreign nationals to donate money to political campaigns, so it's also illegal for campaigns to solicit/encourage/facilitate such donations. (the relevant law is here: ). But if the law merely prohibited donation of *money* people could trivially get around the restriction by donating gold or pigs or beanie babies or other things that can be converted to money later, so the law adds alongside "money and checks" a vague umbrella phrase "thing of value". It is not allowed for campaigns to encourage/solicit/accept bribes in terms of money or another "thing of value".

    Thus, the (frankly moronic) claim seems that any info the Russians come up with as a result of their opposition research *has value*, so it counts as a "thing of value", so anybody trying to collect said info was colluding to break the law.

    Of course by that logic giving a presidential candidate a free copy of _The Economist_ would also be illegal...

  21. Mercury:

    "But it turns out that pursuing any Trump connection whatsoever with Russia has turned up some pretty grubby stories. "

    Oh for fuckssake, it's not like the Russians drove Hillary into a ditch or threw votes into the river or gave Trump a billion dollars. Trump way underspent Hillary and outfoxxed the Democrats' savvy, super with-it, social media strategy to boot.

    If the Russians hacked into Trump's private server and uncovered a kiddie-porn ring the NYT headline wouldn't be: "Russians Meddle In Election!" But somehow when Hillary and the DNC's OWN EMAILS make them look like criminal sleaze (which US voters are better informed for having learned about)....its all about the Russian angle.

    You want to see SERIOUS, foreign influence and pay-for-play in a US election???

    This is what it looks like:

  22. Joe:

    you forgot to add Obama credit card donation system that turned off any ability to trace the source of any foreign donation

  23. joe:

    Why would the Russians try to influence the US election in favor of Trump when they had already bought Hillary while she was sec of State - ie uranium one

  24. LowcountryJoe:

    I really dig the connection with 80s pop culture on this one.

  25. BobLouGlob:

    By needless distractions I basically mean tweeting irrelevant things. That is all Trump's doing and completely unnecessary.

  26. BobLouGlob:

    As others have already mentioned, with 2 parties it has nothing to do with voters. Our choices in the last election were a corrupt political elite, a loudmouthed D-list celebrity, both going for the throat of the other. Until 3rd parties and independents can do better than Gary Johnson, politics won't change, no matter what the people want.

  27. Matthew Slyfield:

    The Trump campaign didn't even take any damaging to Hillary info from the Russians. The claim that they had dirt on Hillary was just a ruse to get someone from the Trump campaign to talk to them because they wanted something from the Trump campaign. According to Trump Jr., once they found out what the Russians wanted and that they didn't have squat on Hillary, they blew the Russians off.

  28. GoneWithTheWind:

    Don't hurt yourself bending over backwards to find something that Trump Jr did that was wrong. This will never end. The MSM, the entire Democrat machine and many Republican never Trumpers will continue this long after Trump's presidency is done. WHY? Exactly for your response which is just one of the many variations of there is so much smoke there must be fire. But all the smoke is generated by the MSM, the Democrat machine and many Republican never Trumpers. That's it. A big smoke machine to fool the easily fooled. The real story is the treachery and personal destruction by these left wing nuts. This is why good people won't run for public office.

  29. Mr. Generic:

    Because the Ukrainian government that was put in place by a US-backed revolt was helping out the Hillary campaign.

  30. Mitch Parker:

    It is simpler. The Russian rulers want all of the western world (and the rest of the countries as well) to be in as big a disarray and as close to the edge of "oh, you managed to win but it was just 50.01% vs 49.99%" as possible. This allows them to point to other countries and proclaim - "see those angry people? half of them are convinced that the elections were rigged or that the pre-election process was unfair, etc. it's the same shit everywhere, *SO* don't complain about what is going on in Russia, it's normal" - and then continue stealing their own elections with hopefully less pushback.

  31. slocum:

    I voted for Gary Johnson, not Trump or Hillary. I can't stand Jeff Sessions, retro-drug warrior or Trump's positions on the wall, free trade, or immigration and am no fan of his buffoonish behavior, but I just can't get the needle on my outrage meter to budge on this one. I thought Eugene Volokh had a pretty good take on the situation:

  32. mlouis:

    Yes, entirely possible. My main point was that the ethics of those in power (across politics, industry, whatever) are awful and this should surprise no one. We are now in an age of "transparency" thanks to social media and a lot of elite institutions aren't going to fare well.

  33. wreckinball:

    I think the whole "collusion" thing is a farce. They are actually on a witch hunt and the witch must be someone associated with Trump since they ignore all wrong doing by Democrats.

    Getting "dirt" on Hillary is not a crime , no matter the nationality of the "dirt" provider, unless the "dirt is stolen goods, e.g. DNC emails.
    Which appears to as of this date to be the only actual crime in this whole sordid mess. But one fact that is always over looked is that law enforcement was never allowed to investigate the scene of the crime, i.e. the DNC server.

    Try this one with your police. Make a robbery claim. Say you suspect your political rival is behind it and is colluding with nefarious spys. Then don't allow the police to investigate the robbery. Instead hand them a report from someone that you hired that guess what? Says your stuff was stolen by nefarious foreign spys. And then exhort them (your political cronies) get going on nabbing you rival for something.

    Don't think there would even be an investigation. I mean Trump's tact is rough but this is a witch hunt.

  34. Peabody:

    OMG! Politician X was interested in getting dirt on their opponent from a person with connections to country/company Y! OMG!

    I have no problem with someone having an issue with this as long as they have have an issue with 99% of politicians/politics. However, for the Dems and media to act like this is a big deal is incredibly hypocritical and/or disingenuous.

    Until there is the slightest bit of evidence that there was some sort of quid-pro-quo this is well within the bounds of what the media has considered normal politics.

  35. mx:

    I don't understand this. It's essentially "we got a Supreme Court Justice, so who cares if the President is unable to control himself, talks nonsense, changes his story on a daily basis, threatens national security, accuses people of crimes without any evidence, doesn't have the slightest idea about the policy he endorses, backs bills and turns around and calls them "mean" a few weeks later, and leers at women?" Surely we should expect something more from our President in four years than just picking a name from a list?

  36. John O.:

    As a Libertarian I'm getting tired of the Russian angle that the media keeps pumping because the Democrats and the Media are grasping at nothing but straw. If you want to defeat Trump, you have to take issue with his policies and action as President, not insinuate an unholy alliance with the Russians.

  37. herdgadfly:

    Well, you heard everything you needed to hear from the Trumpists who feel obligated to defend Trump against his own asinine, often unethical behavior. Unfortunately Rush and Sean Hannity and all of the Fox cast and only-the-Lord-knows-all of the names, have abandoned conservatism in favor of a leaderless Republican government at the Federal level. Y'all remember the wall, right? How about all those jobs? Bring on the higher retail prices resulting from 15% ethanol in gasoline and a trade war with China and continuation of Obamacare. Damn those Trump-caused proxy wars!

    Today, I heard a very religious right-wing talker incredibly tell a caller that Don Jr. didn't do anything illegal when he met with the Russian "Honey Pot" lawyer to discuss dirt on Hillary. Doncha know that Don Jr is not part of the official Trump team, so foreigners giving away valuable information to him is OK. After all, he is running the Trump companies. Conveniently, the timing of the meeting last summer gets in the way and people somehow don't remember the videos showing the entire Trump family attending the Trump for America rallies. I see where the meeting details have changed yet again and Junior left the meeting after only 20 minutes. - and the NYT hasn't yet tied in the details of Paul Manafort and the Russian money but the Senate is taking testimony.

    Sadly, my viewpoint comes from rejecting the Trump defense based upon illogical thinking that is coming from the big names. When things get hot, speculate about what might be if Hillary had been elected - and that ends all logic.

  38. herdgadfly:

    Oh no! The US will become a net energy exporter! That sounds like good news to me - its spelled "J O B S." Suddenly, "My dog's bigger than your dog." Natural gas never smelled so good. And where are we in the development of methane-powered (CNG/LNG) vehicles? Honda has a CNG Civic - but few places to "fill-up."

  39. herdgadfly:

    The point is that Junior went to the meeting to get information from a foreign national and the law sez "no way!" There can be no logical basis for any other characterization of his intent - so he broke the law.

  40. herdgadfly:

    Any GOP candidate running would have gotten us a Gorsuch - so no points to be had here.

  41. Glen Raphael:

    What law specifically says someone in a campaign can't "go to a meeting to get information from a foreign national"? I don't think you've thought this through - it can't *possibly* be the case that that on its own is illegal, not unless you're bringing in other as-yet unstated additional assumptions.

    For instance, suppose you work for a campaign and are considering to hire a polling firm or an image consultant or a PR person and they're Canadian or British - is THAT illegal? Illegal to merely "get information" from these people?

  42. Zachriel:

    If I learn that Politician Smith is an active kiddie-diddler by listening to Russians as opposed to Americans, so what?

    There was no evidence of a "kiddie-diddler", unless you are thinking of Pizza-gate. Instead, you are ratifying the weaponization of Russian cyber-warfare against the U.S. and its allies.

    Russia is a kleptocracy, run by an autocrat, an authoritarian regime that imprisons or murders journalists, whistle-blowers, and dissidents. Russia is engaging in a widespread pattern of cyber-warfare against democratic countries, including fragile, new democracies in eastern Europe.They stole private emails from the DNC, and recruited an army of trolls, then marshaled them to help Trump in his presidential campaign. The Trump Administration has repeatedly lied about their connections to the Russians, while Trump is treating Putin as a great friend, putting Russia ahead of democratic allies such as Germany.

    You would reward Russia for cyber-warfare, just as Trump suggested, encouraging their efforts to destabilize democratic institutions.

  43. Ray:

    The thing is, we still haven't learned anything new or ground-breaking:

    - Everyone (even most of Trump's voters) knows he's not a high character guy. We didn't vote for him for his character.
    - All of the Russia stuff has still uncovered nothing illegal. Stupid? Sure... but probably nothing any other career politician might try to pull, just more sloppily and amateurishly.

    In the meantime, Trump is getting *some* good things done -- and those policy outcomes are FAR better than anything we would have seen under an equally ethically questionable and corrupt Clinton regime (yes, it IS relevant to point out).

    Count me amongst the group that would probably say I disapprove of Trump, but would still vote for him again.

    The biggest reason I shrug over all this partisan desperation from the Left and the Media over Russia -- if they do dig something up they're able to get Trump out of office on, we end up with Mike Pence, and actual conservative. I'd be over the moon.

    So, pass the popcorn, keep digging for mud, and keep appointing judges and opening up pipelines...

  44. Ray:

    Yeah. This. And to argue that other campaigns aren't getting dirt from whatever source they can is naive at best.

  45. Ray:

    I'd have preferred many other Republican nominees, but when it came down to Hillary vs. Trump, only one of the two would have gotten us Gorsuch.

  46. wreckinball:

    So you're saying exposing that Hillary and the DNC colluded against Bernie and rigged the primaries and basically colluded with the entire media for debate questions, talking points etc. is a bad thing?
    And of course trolls. Don't forget the incredible influence of trolls. Seriously?

  47. wreckinball:

    "incredibly tell a caller that Don Jr. didn't do anything illegal "

    Because incredibly he didn't;

    Go here it may help.

  48. wreckinball:

    we end up with Mike Pence
    A point a lot of leftists I'm not sure grasp. Getting rid of Trump does not install Hillary in the office.

  49. wreckinball:

    And there you go. What law says no way?