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Donald Trump’s Persecution Complex

donald-trump-microphone

Donald Trump responded to the appointment of former F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to take over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials is about what you’d expect from him:

WASHINGTON — President Trump lashed out on Thursday, saying he was the target of an unprecedented witch hunt, a day after the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to investigate ties between his presidential campaign and Russian officials.

In a pair of early morning Twitter posts, Mr. Trump cited, without evidence, what he called the “illegal acts” committed by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and the campaign of his former opponent, Hillary Clinton — and said they never led to the appointment of a special counsel.

“With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel appointed!” Mr. Trump wrote, misspelling counsel.

Moments later, Mr. Trump added, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

The posts, shortly before 8 a.m., were a stark contrast to his muted reaction to the announcement on Wednesday evening that Robert S. Mueller III, a former F.B.I. director, had been named to investigate ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

 

(…)The president is correct in his observation about the rarity of a special counsel, though his references to the Clinton campaign and the Obama administration may not bolster his case. There were multiple congressional investigations of the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and the role played by Mrs. Clinton, then the secretary of state, and Mr. Obama.

It is not the first time Mr. Trump has likened the questions about his campaign and Russia to a witch hunt. In January, while still president-elect, he said in an interview with The New York Times that the persistent focus on Russia’s hacking of the American presidential campaign was a witch hunt carried out by people bitter at his victory over Mrs. Clinton.

This stands in stark contrast to the rather muted statement that the White House released under his name last evening after the announcement:

As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country.

Here are the tweets in question:

As it so happens, Trump was delivering the commencement address at the United States Coast Guard Academy just hours before the announcement about Mueller’s appointment yesterday, and that speech also turned into a rant about how he was being persecuted rather than, well, a normal commencement address:

NEW LONDON, Conn. — An embattled President Trump used a commencement address to the Coast Guard Academy to defend himself on Wednesday, telling graduating cadets that no leader in history had been treated more “unfairly” by the news media and Washington elites.

Mr. Trump began his speech with a tribute to the service’s efforts to stop drug dealers on domestic waterways and the open seas. But he quickly changed the subject to himself, signaling that he was gearing up for a fight after a week of damaging disclosures, capped by the revelation that he had asked James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, to drop the bureau’s investigation into the president’s first national security adviser, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote.

“You will find that things are not always fair,” Mr. Trump said, blurring the lines between an inspirational, forward-looking commencement speech and talk about himself, much as he did at a commencement address to students at Liberty University in Virginia on Saturday.

“You have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight,” Mr. Trump said, offering his personal credo, before switching to an explicit theme of self-defense. “Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

When the audience applauded, Mr. Trump — whom aides have described as frustrated and defiant as controversy has engulfed the White House in recent days — smiled and told people to stand by their beliefs.

“You have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight,” Mr. Trump said, offering his personal credo, before switching to an explicit theme of self-defense. “Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

When the audience applauded, Mr. Trump — whom aides have described as frustrated and defiant as controversy has engulfed the White House in recent days — smiled and told people to stand by their beliefs.

(emphasis mine)

The Washington Post also reports that behind the scenes at the White House, Trump is upset with his staff for not mitigating the mistakes that he is making:

As Donald Trump has grown increasingly angry and frustrated with his White House staff, the beleaguered targets of his ire have a quietly roiling gripe of their own — their boss, the president himself.

Since he fired FBI Director James B. Comey, Trump has lurched through crises of his own making — from the explosive report Monday that he had revealed highly classified intelligence to Russian officials to the bombshell Tuesday that he had urged Comey to end the federal investigation into Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser.

In his wake remain his exhausted aides and deputies, the frequent targets of Trump’s wrath as they struggle to control an uncontrollable chief executive and labor to explain away his stumbles.

Wednesday evening brought yet another challenging development for the White House, as the Justice Department announced a special counsel to investigate possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

Some White House staffers have turned to impeachment gallows humor. Other mid-level aides have started contacting consultants, shopping their résumés. And at least one senior staffer has begun privately talking to friends about what a post-White House job would look like, according to two people close the staffer.

Trump largely thinks that his recent mishaps are not substantive but simply errors of branding and public relations, according to people close to him and the White House. Indeed, as he faced a wave of criticism following the disclosure that he had leaked ”code word” intelligence material to Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting last week, the president took to Twitter to say that he had “the absolute right” to do so.

As an initial point, it is just plain odd that someone giving a commencement address would spend seemingly more time talking about themselves and how badly they were allegedly being treated than they do about the graduates and their future. Judging from the coverage I saw of the address Trump only barely addressed the mission of the Coast Guard and the commitment that these young men and women were making to the defense of their nation. With Trump, though, it’s hardly surprising given the fact that his own victimization is a common theme of his speeches. It was just one day into his Administration, after all, that Trump was giving a speech in front of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Memorial Wall, which is dedicated to the men and women who have died while working for the Agency and which included memorials to people whose missions remain so secret that they can’t even be acknowledged by name, and used the occasion to brag about the size of his Inauguration Day crowd. Additionally, Trump’s Twitter account has long been a means by which he has torn into his critics in the media and elsewhere.

These two incidents taken together, then, are just another example of something have seen from Donald Trump throughout his campaign for President, as well as long before that when he was the bombastic, controversial celebrity that we knew him to be. I’m speaking, of course, about Trump’s tendency to see himself as an eternal victim of his critics, whether those critics happen to be the New York tabloids that followed him around as far back as thirty years ago, the national news media, or the numerous politicians and political pundits who have spoken out against him. What I suppose makes it odd is that he’s President of the United States and really ought to be above all of this. Add into this the fact that Trump apparently blames his staff for not defending him from his frequent missteps, and it’s becoming very clear what kind of President Donald Trump is going to be over the coming years.

Greg Sargent notes that Trump’s reaction to the Mueller appointment shows that he’s totally delusional about what’s happening to him:

Let’s trace the basic arc of this whole story. The special counsel might not be happening if Trump had not abruptly fired former FBI director James B. Comey. The reporting indicates that Trump was driven to do this out of grievance-laden rage at Comey for failing to make the Russia probe disappear (Comey isn’t supposed to do that at Trump’s behest, and firing him isn’t going to do it either). So this was rooted in crazy, and didn’t have to happen.

More to the point, the manner in which Trump fired Comey led directly to the special counsel. Trump had made the decision and then instructed Rosenstein to produce the bogus rationale for it (Comey’s botched handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe). Trump then blithely conceded on national television that the real reason was Comey’s handling of the Russia probe. He was either unaware that this might be a problem, or didn’t care, because, well, you can take the rule of law and shove it. All this unleashed a tirade of criticism arguing that Rosenstein, having helped provide a cover story for Trump (which Trump himself then blew up), is too compromised to oversee the continuing FBI probe. This surely helped bring about the special counsel’s appointment — and Trump authored it.

After that, Comey associates retaliated by leaking word that Trump had demanded Comey pledge his loyalty at a private dinner in January. And after that, Comey associates leaked word of a memo in which Comey asserted that Trump had tried to persuade him to quash the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s Russia ties. To be fair, we don’t know if either of these things happened. But if they did, which is perfectly plausible, these things, too, appear rooted in Trump’s autocratic contempt for basic institutional processes. And we will soon hear from Comey himself on these matters when he testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Trump has created a problem for himself in yet another way, too: He denied asking Comey for a loyalty pledge by vaguely threatening to release alleged tapes of their conversation. Now, if Comey publicly attests to that pledge, the White House will be forced to produce these tapes or admit they don’t exist, and it’s very likely that neither of those outcomes would turn out well for Trump.

The point is not just that Trump’s actions are entirely to blame for the appointment of the special counsel. It’s also that there are no indications that Trump even understands this. And on top of that, these actions themselves — which simply did not have to happen — will now likely be probed by the special counsel, too.

 

Sargent’s Washington Post colleague Philip Bump, meanwhile, notes that Trump’s claim to be the victim of a bigger ‘witch hunt’ than any previous politician simply doesn’t add up:

So what politicians might similarly have been subjected to Trump-style witch hunts?

The immediate and obvious example is President Bill Clinton. As his time in office was wrapping up, Government Accountability Office estimates figured that some $90 million had been spent on independent investigations over the course of his presidency, culminating in the impeachment trial in the Senate that left him in office. That’s the equivalent of $132 million today. Clinton and his administration were investigated for a broad range of things: the Clinton’s Whitewater real estate deal, terminating employees in the White House Travel Office, the death of Vincent Foster and an investigation into FBI files on political opponents. Oh, and that whole thing with Clinton’s infidelity.

The reader can be the judge of how those allegations compare to the charges at the heart of the investigation in which Trump is involved — an investigation, mind you, that focuses on his campaign, and not him specifically. Any number of other politicians with lower profiles or further back in history have been subjected to unfair and relentless criticism, including as a function of race. Dozens of black public officials were murdered during the Reconstruction period in the South.

(…)

A question central to Trump’s comment: If something is actually amiss, is it still a witch hunt? We don’t say that Nixon was the focus of a witch hunt, though if we apply the Clinton standard, perhaps it was. There is an implication built into the term that there’s no merit to the accusations being leveled, which, of course, is why Trump uses it. In his previous uses of the term, though, that association is softened. For example, Trump himself settled a fraud lawsuit against Trump University despite claiming that he would easily win in cour

But if Clinton’s investigations weren’t a witch hunt and Trump’s are, that Clinton was found to have perjured himself appears to be the difference.

Setting rather high stakes for Trump’s defense of his complaint about how unfairly he’s being treated.

This part of Trump’s modus operendi plays well into his supporters, of course. For years, conservatives have stoked the fires of a persecution complex on the right that includes such notions as the idea that the entire “mainstream media” is out to paint them in the worst possible light, that Democrats are engaged in some kind of conspiracy to silence them and in particular the idea that religious freedom for Christians has come under special attack, something that can be seen in the rather ridiculous “War On Christmas” theme that repeats itself year after year. When Trump came on the scene, he seems to have simply adapted his own long-standing assertions that he too is a victim of an unfair media into a political context, and the crowds that have come to hear him speak have loudly applauded any time he encourages them to turn their hatred toward the media, the left, or anyone else they believe is “attacking” them. Now that he’s in the White House, he’s using that persecution complex as a means to shift attention away from his own mistakes, incompetence, and blatant flaunting of the rules that have governed Presidential behavior generations. He is, in other words, the perfect President for the paranoid right.

The truth, of course, is that Trump is not being persecuted at all. He’s being criticized for his irresponsible rhetoric, and for the rather obvious incompetence being demonstrated by his Administration, his rhetoric, and his own decisions and actions. This has been true of every recent President, and for other politicians as well. The fact that Trump apparently can’t handle it is yet another sign that he doesn’t belong in the White House to begin with. Of course, that’s something that many of us have been pointing out for the better part of the past two years, and which was obvious at least as far as six years ago when he was making outlandish and unsupportable claims about the birthplace of the President of the United States. As the Nixon Presidency showed us, there are obvious dangers in the idea of someone with this kind of persecution complex sitting in the Oval Office, and Trump seems to be repeating many of the same mistakes that the 37th President of the United States did that led to his downfall. In fact, some of Nixon’s final words to his staff on his last day in office seem to encapsulate quite nicely what Trump is potentially doing to himself:

We want you to be proud of what you have done. We want you to continue to serve in government, if that is your wish. Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.

With those words, it seemed as though Nixon had finally realized what it was the led to his undoing. The question is whether Trump will learn that lesson, and what will happen to the country if he doesn’t.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    Trump will never, ever understand that he doomed himself. He’s incapable of it: The man has no self-awareness. He operates on instinct, not reason.

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  2. Not the IT Dept. says:

    If Trump’s staff are unhappy, they can quit – after they apologize for trying to normalize this crap-storm of a sociopath. After they quit, they can use up their savings and sell their houses to pay for their legal costs, then they can starve in a gutter – without healthcare. Kismet.

    Trump’s narcissism has been on display for decades; what is relatively recent is the disjointedness of it, the rambling stream-of-conscious Palin-like quality. He actually used to speak in coherent sentences. There’s definitely been a deterioration and that makes it all the more noticeable. If his family cared for anything but their inheritances – or their future alimony – they’d get him to a neurologist asap.

    Long may Trump tweet! It’s going to be a long four years.

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  3. Moosebreath says:

    ““Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

    Even ignoring the politicians who were assassinated, this is a remarkably silly statement. To the contrary, far more personal attacks with far less underlying basis for them were made by Trump on Obama.

    Matt Yglesias has the appropriate response to Trump’s whining:

    “The truth is that Trump is no child. He’s 70 years old. And he’s not just any kind of 70-year-old. He’s a white male 70-year-old. A famous one. A rich one. One who’s been rich since the day he was born. He’s a man who’s learned over the course of a long and rich life that he is free to operate without consequence. He’s the beneficiary of vast and enormous privilege, not just the ability to enjoy lavish consumption goods but the privilege of impunity that America grants to the wealthy.”

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  4. michael reynolds says:

    Psychopath:

    -Uncaring
    -Shallow emotions
    -Irresponsibility
    -Insincere speech
    -Overconfidence
    -Narrowing of attention
    -Selfishness
    -Inability to plan for the future
    -Violence

    Add a life of privilege. Add a love-hate relationship with a domineering father. Add dyslexia and the need to conceal it. Subtract a lot of IQ. Add feelings of social inferiority.

    You have a man who lies not just to others but to himself and insists that anyone near him validate his lies. You have a man who ridicules handicapped people. You have a man constantly threatening to ‘bomb the sh!t out of’ various people. A man who suggests the FBI director lock up reporters. A man incapable of even the appearance of empathy. A man who commits fraud without remorse. A man who pushes legislation without knowledge of or concern for the consequences.

    Donald Trump is a stupid psychopath.

    ReplyReply

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  5. Hal_10000 says:

    We NeverTrumpers warned the GOP this would happen: that he would burn up their political capital on petty feuds and vendettas and personal scandals.

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  6. Argon says:

    It’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you. Especially if you deserve it.

    To paraphrase a Demotivator poster:

    The one common factor in all your failures is you.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.

    Let me get the world’s hyoogest violin and play “My Heart Bleeds for You”.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  8. DrDaveT says:

    The Donald’s role model: Captain Queeg

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  9. Jen says:

    This is all surreal. It isn’t just that nothing is ever his fault. He clings to realities that exist only for him, which causes him to make bad decisions.

    For example:

    […] But Trump doesn’t just hope that Flynn will beat the rap. Several sources close to Flynn and to the administration tell The Daily Beast that Trump has expressed his hopes that a resolution of the FBI’s investigation in Flynn’s favor might allow Flynn to rejoin the White House in some capacity—a scenario some of Trump’s closest advisers in and outside the West Wing have assured him absolutely should not happen. […]

    The mind boggles.

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  10. Pch101 says:

    It’s odd how right-wingers who would eagerly tell a guy without shoes to pull himself up by his bootstraps and boast about the virtues of personal responsibility can then, without any trace of irony, take zero responsibility for anything as they play victim. They’re whiny biatches, nothing more than that.

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  11. Argon says:

    From an article quoted above:

    In his wake remain his exhausted aides and deputies, the frequent targets of Trump’s wrath as they struggle to control an uncontrollable chief executive and labor to explain away his stumbles.

    Each aide fully deserves the abuse they receive for facilitating Trump. Except for the permanent staff in the White House. The latter have my deepest sympathies.

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  12. James Pearce says:

    @Jen:

    He clings to realities that exist only for him, which causes him to make bad decisions.

    Joe Lieberman as Director of FBI being the latest….

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  13. CSK says:

    @Jen:

    Trump will do what he wants, because he always does what he wants, even if it’s in his own worst interests.

    He has to be The Big Man. He has to be Number One. Even if it puts him in Leavenworth or Danbury or–this would be really cool–Attica.

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  14. Stormy Dragon says:

    Another congressional Republican in charge of investigating Trump resigns:

    Chaffetz will resign at end of June

    At this rate, there may be a Democratic majority even before the midterm.

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  15. pylon says:

    “No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

    In the US, Lincoln, JFK, RFK, Milk, Moscone, Giffords, McKinley, Garfield, Davis, Brown, Burks…. all say hi.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  16. CSK says:

    @pylon:

    I’m sure Trump has some vague awareness of who Lincoln, JFK, and RFK were. As for the rest you named? Forget it.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  17. al-Alameda says:

    @Minority President-elect Trump:

    This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!
    4:52 AM – 18 May 2017

    So, that was the incredible insight – a revelation – that came to him at 4:52 AM.

    And then, about 2 hours later, following a blinding flash of light, another incredible insight:

    With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!
    7:07 AM – 18 May 2017

    Seriously, What’s left? Some morning, at 4:00 AM, following a couple of Twitter blasts, he snaps, and while attired in a monogrammed Trump bathrobe, he grabs a megaphone, goes out into the Rose Garden, and starts announcing to no one in particular, “I could have been someone!”

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  18. Barry says:

    @Pch101: “It’s odd how right-wingers who would eagerly tell a guy without shoes to pull himself up by his bootstraps and boast about the virtues of personal responsibility can then, without any trace of irony, take zero responsibility for anything as they play victim. They’re whiny biatches, nothing more than that.”

    My theory, confirmed daily, is that all right-wing talk is Freudian projection.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  19. Mr. Bluster says:

    @DrDaveT:..The time has come for us to say sayonara…

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Pch101 says:

    @Barry:

    It’s more akin to being an abusive boyfriend or wife beater.

    Constant criticism is used as a tool of manipulation. If she wears a green dress, then it should have been a blue dress. If she wears a blue dress, then it should have been a green dress. There’s always something bad, or missing, or a hair out of place. There’s always something to complain about, always a flaw, always a problem.

    And of course, abusers are flawed people, so they lash out in order to distract others from talking about their flaws, instead.

    Unfortunately, liberals often fall for it by trying to engage it on the substance, when they should be attacking these abusers on the right for being the dim a**holes who they are. Engaging them directly simply allows the right to control the dialogue, since they’re determining what liberals talk about. Don’t fall for it.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  21. michael reynolds says:

    @Pch101:
    Liberals never ‘get’ power. It’s not their metric, they lack whatever sense is required to understand power. If you assume people are essentially good and rational you don’t recognize or have a way to deal with aggression.

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  22. Yank says:

    He is good representation of his “base”. Mediocre white guys who blame everyone, but themselves for the mediocrity.

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  23. MBunge says:

    it is just plain odd that someone giving a commencement address would spend seemingly more time talking about themselves and how badly they were allegedly being treated than they do about the graduates and their future.

    Two sentences is “seemingly?”

    Mike

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 8

  24. Tony W says:

    @MBunge: Classic example. You latch onto the “more time” idea and completely neglect the actual point of the comment which is that Trump can’t say anything without bringing it around to talking about himself. Ever.

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  25. Pch101 says:

    Bunge is the smartest guy in the room if everyone else in the room is dead.

    ReplyReply

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  26. Scott O says:

    @MBunge:

    https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/05/17/remarks-president-trump-united-states-coast-guard-academy-commencement

    Read it and judge for yourself. If you were giving a commencement address would you spend so much time talking about Bunge?

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  27. Mr. Bluster says:

    Just finished reading Pud’s speech.
    There are at least nine sentences that start with the pronoun I.

    ReplyReply

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  28. Facebones says:

    @Stormy Dragon: The best explanation for Chavetz stepping down was from Kevin Drum. Rather than speculating about potential scandals, he thought it was simpler than that.

    He thought Hillary was going to win, and he’d be on Fox News every day ranting about Emails! Benghazi! And all the other Greatest Hits. He’d get 4 years of exposure investigating Hillary, setting him up for a potential run for Pres in 2020.

    But Trump won. Even worse, he now has to pretend to do his job and investigate very obvious scandals. And either he stonewalls enough that he becomes reviled as a clueless stooge or he actually investigates and finds proof of wrongdoing and angers the Trumpkins.

    So better to walk away (with a pension!) and run for governor of Utah in a while.

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  29. MBunge says:
  30. Moosebreath says:

    @MBunge:

    Interesting article, though some parts of it contradict Trump’s thesis, such as:

    “On national television, Trump was the topic of 41 percent of all news stories—three times the usual amount. It was also the case that Trump did most of the talking (see Figure 1). He was the featured speaker in nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of his coverage. Members of the administration, including his press secretary, accounted for 11 percent of the sound bites. Other Republicans, including Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, accounted for 4 percent. Altogether, Republicans, inside and outside the administration, accounted for 80 percent of what newsmakers said about the Trump presidency.

    For their part, Democrats did not have a large voice in Trump’s coverage, accounting for only 6 percent of the sound bites. Participants in anti-Trump protests and demonstrations accounted for an additional 3 percent.”

    and

    “What’s truly atypical about Trump’s coverage is that it’s sharply negative despite the fact that he’s the source of nearly two-thirds of the sound bites surrounding his coverage. Typically, newsmakers and groups complain that their media narrative is negative because they’re not given a chance to speak for themselves. Over the past decade, U.S. coverage of Muslims has been more than 75 percent negative. And Muslims have had little chance to tell their side of the story. Muslims account for less than 5 percent of the voices heard in news reports about Islam. So why is Trump’s coverage so negative even though he does most of the talking? The fact is, he’s been on the defensive during most of his 100 days in office, trying to put the best face possible on executive orders, legislative initiatives, appointments, and other undertakings that have gone bad. Even Fox has not been able to save him from what analyst David Gergen called the “’worst 100 days we’ve ever seen.”” (footnotes omitted)

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  31. Pch101 says:

    Charles Manson gets more negative coverage than Mother Theresa. Obviously, the media is to blame for this.

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  32. Tyrell says:

    @Moosebreath: It seems most of the people are not watching the main stream news networks; at least based on the things that I am hearing around here. Like two different worlds.

    “Warning: Federal laws prohibit the removal of this label”

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  33. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Pch101: Well, the media and the fact that Mother Theresa isn’t alive any more but Manson still is.

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  34. Pch101 says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    Hitler has been dead for awhile, and they still won’t leave that poor guy alone.

    After all, all politicians are the same, right?

    ReplyReply

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