I’m a Republican. Why Is My Party Gaslighting America? (POLITICO Magazine)

I’m a Republican. Why Is My Party Gaslighting America?

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I’m a Republican. Why Is My Party Gaslighting America?

By AMANDA CARPENTER

Riddle me this: If Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have smoking gun evidence of a deep-state conspiracy that threatens American democracy itself, wouldn’t they be doing more than playing silly hashtag games, such as #ReleasetheMemo?

Hint: The answer is yes. If this were a serious undertaking, congressional investigators would be collaborating with the Department of Justice, FBI and relevant Senate committees to save America from the threat within. But we’re no longer dealing in the realm of facts and reason when it comes to grave matters of security and justice. We are, at Donald Trump’s behest, fully engulfed in a narrative explicitly designed to impugn and destroy the credibility of the law enforcement agency tasked with investigating the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia during the 2016 election.

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The memo in question is one written by the staff of Republican Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes—the same Nunes who recused himself from the Russia investigation last year amongst allegations that “he made unauthorized disclosures of classified information.” Now, Nunes is at it again. This time with a four-page classified memo that, if you believe what those who have read it say, shows an Obama-era FBI rife with corruption and engaging in eye-popping abuses of power. The details of what the memo says have been kept private, because they are classified. But that hasn’t stopped Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill and beyond from crowing about the allegedly shocking memo since mid-January, demanding it be released to the public and spawning a viral hashtag, now used by everyone from Donald Trump Jr. to Sean Hannity and Julian Assange. After the House voted on Monday to do so, House Speaker Paul Ryan made a statement in favor of the decision. Now, the matter is in the president’s hands.

But really, at this point, it doesn’t really matter what the memo says. Prompted by Trump, his allies on Capitol Hill and in the Trump-affirming media universe, millions of Americans have been led to brainstorm all the various ways faceless bureaucrats embedded in the government could be working to undermine Trump. The entire American political media complex is consumed with speculation about what may be in the memo’s contents. We’ve all been sucked into a story we know probably isn’t true. And, there’s not a thing we can do to stop it. The president has already claimed two scalps with his shameless bullying, rumor mongering and conspiracy peddling: Former FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. And it’s happening all over again. With #Releasethememo, the FBI has already been accused of a multitude of various crimes without ever being given the chance to answer or explain.

The #ReleasetheMemo campaign bears all the classic hallmarks of a uniquely Trumpian ruse. Throughout his career as a New York real estate mogul and media star Trump has stumbled upon a foolproof way of trapping people into his web of lies. He always begins by casting vague aspersions about his target, in this case, the law enforcement networks investigating him. Recall how news reports of the now well-known and controversial dossier prompted him to ask, “Are we living in Nazi Germany?” Or how he compared the surveillance of campaign associates, such as Paul Manafort and Carter Page, to “McCarthyism” and “Nixon/Watergate.” Nevermind that his actions more closely resemble those of Nixon during Watergate than anything undertaken those investigating him. Trump wanted his followers to believe one thing and one thing only: A massive conspiracy was underfoot to undermine his presidency, and he’s been peddling this particular theory for well over a year now.

Next step: Rather than answer any questions directly about the matter, Trump advances his narrative, often while denying any responsibility for it. His statement to NBC’s Lester Holt about firing Comey is a classic example. “And, in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election they should have won,” he said. In other words, he fired Comey because of the Russian investigation, but denied there was any wrong doing with Russia. This tactic has similarly played out with #ReleasetheMemo. Republicans have widely advanced the narrative that various abuses were committed, but denied naming anything specific, citing security concerns with releasing the material.

Here’s another Trumpian tactic: suspense building. When Trump tweeted that “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” people immediately started to question whether, a la Watergate, there was a secret taping system inside the Oval Office. They hoped there were tapes. Even Comey himself testified to Congress, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” Weeks later, Trump admitted there were no tapes. Oftentimes Trump will, whether he has it or not, promise information will come out “soon … perhaps in two weeks.” This is the precise stage we find ourselves upon now with #ReleasetheMemo. At this moment, Trump is waiting to make a final decision to release the contents. We all have our countdown clocks on; Trump is in control of this story. Whatever happens next, rest assured, Trump will use the self-manufactured controversy Nunes created to discredit the Russian investigators.

You may think this all sounds silly and misleading; that this nonsense could never work. But when people see what’s in the memo, it won’t settle the debate. More likely than not, another round of gaslighting will begin to tip the debate in Trump’s favor. Remember, Trump is the same guy who used the bogus birther theory to launch himself on the political stage. He is the same guy who used the National Enquirer to accuse Ted Cruz’s father of being involved in the assassination of JFK. Don’t laugh. The same week Trump started flacking the flabbergasting story, Cruz dropped out of the presidential election and Trump became the default GOP presidential nominee.

And this time, Trump has an eager crop of Republicans on Capitol Hill eager to assist him and an entire government apparatus at his disposal in the form of bobble-headed Cabinet secretaries, press teams and even a vice president. As a result, everyone is talking about what could possibly be in the mysterious memo. Republicans are running to TV cameras hyping claims about improper surveillance, FISA court abuse and partisan rancor inside the FBI.

We are being gaslit into believing that, supposedly, those investigating Trump’s ties to Russia are so biased and corrupt nothing they produce should be believed. Every once in a while, the true aims of this narrative are revealed. Rep. Matt Gaetz, the freshly-elected Republican congressman from Florida, let the truth slip. He told CNN’s Jake Tapper in between his hits on InfoWars with Alex Jones, that there was “tremendous bias that should stop this probe from going forward.”

“Stop this probe from going forward.” Alas, there is always a purpose to Trump’s gaslighting. Trump’s firemen on Capitol Hill know their mission. Whether they succeed or not depends on our ability to see through the smoke. At this point, the future seems hazy.

Amanda Carpenter is a CNN contributor, former communications director for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and speechwriter for Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC).

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January 31, 2018 at 09:32AM

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