March 29, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Maybe Not Illegal, Certainly Intolerable
Adam Schiff makes an argument all Democrats should copy.
It’s only natural that Donald Trump is now targeting Adam Schiff. A graduate of Harvard Law and former US attorney, Schiff is the current chair of the powerful House Intelligence Committee, who’s leading a probe separate from Robert Mueller’s into Trump’s finances and ties to Russia. To the president, Schiff is a clear danger.
After William Barr released a four-page summary claiming Mueller could not establish a legal case against Trump for conspiracy with corrupt intent to defraud the United States, Trump blasted the California Democrat, saying he “should be forced to resign” from the Congress. Republicans, as compliant as ever, obliged. From The Hill:
Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) brandished [on Thursday] a letter signed by all nine GOP members of the panel calling for Schiff’s resignation and accusing him of promoting a “demonstrably false” narrative that harms the panels’ integrity.
Actually, Schiff never did any such thing.
As you’d expect from a former prosecutor, Schiff has been careful and shrewd when speaking of the difference between conduct required of prosecutors to make a case beyond a reasonable doubt and conduct becoming of a president. Schiff has been clear that conspiracy to commit a crime is one thing; working with foreigners hostile to the US is another. You can “collude” with an enemy while avoiding criminal liabilities. The Republicans believe they can blur the difference. Schiff won’t let them.
But that’s not all Schiff is doing. He’s creating a diversion of sorts, drawing the Washington press corps’ attention away from Democrats being asked whether they intend to impeach. The less focus there is on impeachment, for now, and the more there is on a firefight between two Washington elites, the better things will be for the Democratic Party, especially those candidates hoping to unseat the president.
Patriotism means something else when insulting a dead war hero elicits joy, when evidence of real collusion to undermine our national sovereignty elicits hostility.
I suspect the Republicans haven’t thought through what they are doing. Sure, they hope to stop Schiff from finding more dirt. But the more they attack him, the more powerful he becomes. House members don’t serve statewide constituencies. Congressional districts tend to be narrow and partisan. While some might be worried about his national polling, Schiff isn’t. Back home, they are cheering him on.
More important than Schiff’s investigation, I think, is the argument he’s making to justify it. It’s something all Democrats should copy. As the Republicans attack Trump’s enemies and defend him with lies about “demonstrably false narratives” that are not at all demonstrably false, the Democrats are free to talk to about the ideals making a good president. Central to that is love of country. This clip is worth your time.
You’ll recall that the president enjoys on occasion invoking the memory of John McCain in order to punch him in the face. It’s indisputable among real conservatives and most party regulars that McCain was a man of honor and integrity. He was, after all, a Vietnam prisoner of war who refused to be released before others were. For this reason, Republicans worry when the president slanders his good name. This is especially true among Senate Republicans reputed for being moderate. They don’t want to be seen standing with a president who stands against John McCain.
Republicans are stuck between McCain’s ideals and a new GOP that celebrates a draft-dodging president who won the White House with the help of an autocratic foreign government. What does that say about the meaning of American patriotism? First, that it has changed. It used to mean, among conservatives, the love and defense of a country founded on principles of freedom and liberty, the blessings of which all people, regardless of race, creed, religion or color, could have if they chose to.
But the meaning is quite different when insulting a dead war hero elicits joy, when evidence of real collusion to undermine our national sovereignty elicits hostility. It means patriotism isn’t about universal principles anymore. It means patriotism applies only to us, not them. It means patriotism is blood and soil. It’s become fascism.
This is why Adam Schiff’s remarks Thursday were so damn powerful. He seemed to have picked up John McCain’s mantle, redefined it in Democratic terms, and turned it against the Republicans. Schiff said: “You might say [Russian ties are] just what you need to do to win. But I don’t think it’s OK. I think it’s immoral, I think it’s unethical, I think it’s unpatriotic, and yes, I think it’s corrupt and evidence of collusion.”
“I don’t think that [President Donald Trump’s] conduct—criminal or not—is OK. And the day we do, the day we think that’s OK, is the day we will look back and say that is the day that America lost its way.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Free Speech Idiocy Is Killing Us (public)
The cost of failing to engage in a morally complex debate.
Post-Mueller, Who Do You Trust? (public)
There are a million ways of speaking factually while speaking untruthfully.
Go to stoehr.substack.com to join!
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.