Author: Ruth Marcus

Trump says he's concerned about due process. Since when?

THE WASHINGTON POST OPINIONS President Trump wished former White House aide Rob Porter “a wonderful career” on Feb. 9, saying Porter “says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that.” (The Washington Post) Spare us, please, from listening to lectures about due process from President Trump. “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new,” Trump tweeted Saturday morning, combining his trademark ignorance of proper punctuation with a strange echo of Dr. Seuss’s “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” “There...

Read More

The huge challenge of covering Trump fairly

By Ruth Marcus, The approaching presidency of Donald Trump poses daunting challenges for the journalists covering him, not merely because he has described them as dishonest, low-life scum or because of anxiety over whether the new administration will adhere to basic norms of access, such as daily briefings and regular news conferences. The president-elect’s behavior presents fundamental questions, recurring daily if not hourly, about the best way to serve our audience. These are technical issues of craft, ordinarily of interest only to journalists themselves. In the Age of Trump, they are imbued with real-world consequences. Should news organizations depart from customary restraint and label Trump’s falsehoods as outright lies? Should the media treat Trump tweetstorms with the rapt attention devoted to more traditional presidential statements, or refrain from such reflexive coverage in order to avoid being distracted, perhaps intentionally, from more important matters? And given the physical constraints of headlines, how should news organizations handle a presidential claim — say, to have saved thousands of jobs — when the underlying details — the jobs may not be as numerous as advertised; the positions might have remained in the United States anyway — may be far more nuanced, if not disputed outright? The media wrestled with these questions during the presidential campaign and adjusted their behavior. Fact-checks migrated from mere sidebars into essential components of the main story. Reporters steeped...

Read More

Welcome to the post-truth presidency

By Ruth Marcus, Welcome to — brace yourself for — the post-truth presidency. “Facts are stubborn things,” said John Adams in 1770, defending British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre, “and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Or so we thought, until we elected to the presidency a man consistently heedless of truth and impervious to fact-checking. Oxford Dictionaries last month selected post-truth — “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” — as the international word of the year, and for good reason. The practice of post-truth — untrue assertion piled on untrue assertion — helped get Donald Trump to the White House. The more untruths he told, the more supporters rewarded him for, as they saw it, telling it like it is. As Politico’s Susan Glasser wrote in a sobering assessment of election coverage for the Brookings Institution, “Even fact-checking perhaps the most untruthful candidate of our lifetime didn’t work; the more news outlets did it, the less the facts resonated.” Indeed, Hannah Arendt, writing in 1967, presciently explained the basis for this phenomenon: “Since the liar is free to fashion his ‘facts’ to fit the profit and pleasure, or even the mere expectations, of his...

Read More

Bill Clinton’s role as first spouse: To disappear

By Ruth Marcus, How do you solve a problem like Bill Clinton? More precisely, how does, as is increasingly likely, President Hillary Clinton figure out what to do with First Gentleman Bill Clinton, and his cargo hold of accompanying baggage? Bill Clinton may be an asset to his wife, but he is also a problem — a sprawling, messy and hard-to-manage one that encompasses the twin minefields of sex and money. Sex first. Donald Trump’s misbehavior with women is a far more important topic than Bill Clinton’s, for one simple reason: Trump is on the ballot; Bill Clinton is not. Trump has tried to drag Hillary Clinton into the picture, asserting that she “systematically attacked and discredited the victims of Bill Clinton’s sexual harassment and assault.” This accusation would be troubling if it had more factual support. It doesn’t. Yes, Hillary Clinton’s instinct was, too often and for too long, to credit her husband’s claims of innocence over the accusations of his accusers. Still, denial is a powerful psychological force, and her decision to stick with a troubled marriage seems as worthy of respect as it is of disdain. That does not mean Bill Clinton’s conduct is irrelevant. There is no condoning a record that reflects not just serial adultery, but abuse of power. Clinton was a successful president who deserved the two terms for which he was elected,...

Read More

Trump’s leaked returns show his tax fixes would most help — guess who

By Ruth Marcus, “The only news here,” Donald Trump’s campaign declared in an unsigned statement emailed late Saturday night, “is that the more than 20-year-old alleged tax document was illegally obtained, a further demonstration that The New York Times, like establishment media in general, is an extension of the Clinton Campaign, the Democratic Party and their global special interests.” No. The news — unrebutted by the Trump campaign as of this writing — is that Trump could have avoided paying federal income taxes for 18 years. Assuming that the claimed losses were legit, this would have been legal. The opportunity for tax avoidance, which could have shielded as much as $50 million a year in Trump income from any federal income tax liability whatsoever, is the result of rules that permitted him to carry forward net operating losses from his businesses 15 years into the future, and to use those losses to wipe out taxable income for three previous years as well. It is one thing for us — that is, the rest of us tax-paying chumps — to know, thanks to disclosures required by casino regulators, that there were a few years in which Trump paid no taxes. It is one thing to suspect that there may have been additional no-tax years. It is quite another to have documentation that strongly suggests Trump’s tax holiday could have gone...

Read More

Most people grow out of middle school. Not Donald Trump.

By Ruth Marcus, Perhaps the best way to understand Donald Trump is as a case of arrested development. In terms of personality and worldview, Trump is stuck in middle school. Early middle school. And that’s being charitable. Part of growing up is developing self-control. Trump never has. Listen to him in the presidential debate, interjecting compulsively, and flash back to seventh grade and the boy in the back of the class who kept interrupting the teacher with wisecracks. It was amusing, the first time or two. Then it became annoying. We grew so inured to Trump’s antics during the primary campaign that there is a risk of forgetting how great a departure his mugging for the camera and interrupting opponents was from the rather staid norm, especially during general election debates. Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton and moderator Lester Holt a whopping 55 times . “Not,” Trump said. “Wrong.” “Facts.” “Take a look at mine.” But Trump the interrupter is not the only manifestation of Schoolboy Trump. Part of growing up is learning to take responsibility for your mistakes, and to accept criticism. Trump never has. Nothing that goes wrong is ever his fault. It’s always the malfunctioning microphone (and who was behind that?) or the hostile moderator (who did a good job, Trump pronounced, before his own bad reviews came in). Part of growing up is learning to manage...

Read More

The menacing Trump is a danger we can confront

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters on June 16 in Dallas. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) By Ruth Marcus, Along came the alligator. A horrifying story at the end of a horrifying stretch, a heartbreaking coda befitting a nation on perpetual edge. That the story would go viral was guaranteed: a 2-year-old grabbed, his father trying in vain to fight off the primordial beast, an unforeseen danger lurking in what is supposed to be the happiest place on Earth. It is human nature to be mesmerized by such a tale. In the early days of cable news, we could not avert our national gaze from Jessica McClure, the 18-month-old who fell into a well in her aunt’s backyard in Midland, Tex. Baby Jessica’s rescue was the subject of round-the-clock coverage during the 58 hours workers labored frantically to free her. Decades before came the Lindbergh Baby, snatched from his crib at 20 months, his decomposed body found two months later, after a tabloid frenzy and a nationwide manhunt, just five miles from home. These stories tug at the heartstrings, but they also evoke our deepest insecurities — that peril is omnipresent and vigilance unavailing, that happiness and security can evaporate in the unlucky happenstance of a fleeting moment. You can be a random toddler in a scruffy backyard day-care center or “the most famous baby in the world,” as the New York...

Read More

Trump’s outlaw view of the judiciary

Donald Trump at a campaign rally in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters) By Ruth Marcus, “The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution.” — Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 78 Somewhere, Hamilton — West Indian, not Mexican — is weeping over Donald Trump and his alarming, ignorant conception of the role of the judiciary. The latest, scariest manifestation of Trump’s attitude involves his now doubled-down attack on the federal judge — Indiana-born, but Mexican for Trump’s repellent purposes — hearing the Trump University cases. U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel “is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater,” in Trump’s view, “a total disgrace,” because he has allowed the class-action fraud lawsuit to proceed and, most recently, had the gall to unseal documents detailing Trump University’s operations. In Trump’s universe — governed by the rule of self-interest, not the rule of law — Curiel’s actions can be explained only by his ethnicity: “Mexican, which is great,” but also, Trump told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, “an absolute conflict” of interest because “I’m building a wall.” The racism infecting Trump’s assessment — in a Trump presidency, under this cynical assessment, no Hispanic judge could rule on any executive initiative — demands notice and rejection. But Trump’s comments also highlight his disturbing attitude toward the role of the courts. Reasonable people can differ over...

Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Right Now in Politics