Aug 12, 2019

'What's the upside of Donald Trump?'

'What's the upside of Donald Trump?'

A reader writes in about POTUS. Plus, the Jeffrey Epstein story.

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Today’s read: 7 minutes.

We’ll cover: Jeffrey Epstein, positive traits about Trump and an immigration story to keep an eye on.

What D.C. is talking about.

Jeffrey Epstein. On Saturday, the multimillionaire celebrity and alleged child sex trafficker was found dead in his jail cell after an apparent suicide. Just 24 hours before, thousands of documents were released from the civil suit against Epstein disclosing a laundry list of sexual abuse allegations against him and several of his high-power associates, including both Democratic and Republican politicians. Reminder: Epstein had a history of chumming it up with Bill Clinton, President Donald Trump, Prince Andrew of Britain and dozens of other powerful politicians, academics and business executives. 10 years ago, he served 13 months in prison but got got loads of free time, special treatment and was even allowed to leave jail. Then, in 2018, a reporter from the Miami Herald named Julie Brown wrote a bombshell piece about how Epstein avoided more serious prosecution. It got a lot of attention, and he was eventually arrested and brought up on charges again — this time in New York City.

What Republicans are saying.

How could this have happened? It’s a massive failure of the federal prison system that he lacked enough supervision to take his own life, especially given he had been on suicide watch just 11 days before his death. George Conway, a notorious never-Trumper and the husband of White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, tweeted: “Who made the decision not to put the nation’s most prominent pretrial detainee, a prisoner probably facing life in prison and who tried to kill himself in mid-July, on suicide watch? There should be a pretty clear answer to that pretty quickly.” Philip Klein, Executive Editor of the conservative Washington Examiner, said: “Infuriating to let Epstein die on his own terms. What an utter failure.” President Donald Trump, who knew Epstein personally, elevated conspiracy theories that Epstein was murdered at the direction of the Clintons, who also associated closely with him.

What Democrats are saying.

How could this have happened? Epstein is one of the rare current events stories that can bring together most Democrats and Republicans. Both sides seem somewhere between scratching their heads and anger, wondering how such a high-profile inmate could be left for dead. Both are spreading conspiracy theories about the circumstances of his death. While some right-leaning Americans (and President Trump) are insinuating that the Clintons were involved in his death, left-leaning Americans and high-paid television pundits like NBC’s Joe Scarborough have been inexplicably trying to tie his death to Russia. Or, claiming that Trump had Epstein killed. Both sides are using Epstein’s associates as fodder to attack the others.

My take.

First and foremost, I just feel a deep sorrow for Epstein’s victims. While it’s smart journalistic practice to describe Epstein as an “alleged sex trafficker,” the evidence against him is pretty convincing. Millions of court documents, thousands of photos of minors, and dozens of witnesses under oath. And, if his accusers are to be believed (which, again, the evidence suggests they should be), this is another instance he’s evaded real justice. Scores of women who were abused by Epstein and his associates when they were young teenagers had the bravery to come forward against him, in some cases for the second time, and they are once again without justice. Many of them  were distraught at this outcome when news of his death broke.

On another note, watching the story break about his death has been unsettling. Conspiracy theories about Epstein’s death spread immediately. Trump’s, in particular, are worth noting. The president has now helped spread a number of conspiracies, including the birther conspiracy, a conspiracy about undocumented immigrants voting in California and a conspiracy about Ted Cruz’s dad being involved in the JFK assassination, just to name a few. CNN showed a graphic with 15 conspiracy theories Trump has helped spread:

By the end of Saturday, both #ClintonBodyCount and #TrumpBodyCount were trending on Twitter. Popular pundits baselessly shared reckless posts that he might have been killed by a bad actor. And I get it: Epstein was a high-profile, rich criminal who was well-connected. Certainly, there were a lot of people who wanted him quiet. It’s also true that we do not yet know for sure that he committed suicide and it’s totally possible there’s more at play than what mainstream news outlets are reporting (this is the most reasonable exploration of the blossoming Epstein conspiracies I’ve seen). Even today, Attorney General William Barr cryptically said there were “serious irregularities” at the facility where he was detained. But there’s also no evidence of foul play, either. Epstein was a deeply disturbed person who thrived on power and reputation. And he had suddenly lost both. It’s not hard to imagine him wanting to take his own life. The driving force of the conspiracy theories is that Epstein somehow managed to kill himself while on suicide watch, which sounds off. But The New York Times reported that he had been removed from suicide watch 11 days before his death.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Tangle is about repairing the relationship between reporters and readers. Get your question answered by simply replying to this email and asking what you want to know.

Q: While we can all point to multiple qualities of our president that are unbecoming to say the least, must there be something that we can point to that’s positive about Donald Trump? Are there any redeeming qualities that we can emulate in our own lives, in an effort to advance both personally and professionally?

- Dan, Charlotte, NC.

Tangle: Thanks for this question, Dan. I think it’s a good one, and I think it’s really interesting to look at President Trump’s “qualities” alone as opposed to just his policies. In many ways, the office of the presidency is just as much a symbol as it is a legislative branch.

President Trump has lit America’s political discourse on fire in a way few politicians have before him. There’s a lot to say about why, and plenty of convincing points on either side that it’s because he’s a brilliant media strategist or because he’s a pathological liar who is an absolute dunce. But there are, in my opinion, some obvious qualities about Trump that I’d describe as “positive.” For one, he’s making politics, governance and world affairs relevant to American pop culture. Even if it’s out of pure horror, people are tuning in and paying attention to what our government is doing in a way they never have in my lifetime. Love him or hate him, he makes it tough to look away. I see it in my own personal life: Trump is a frequent conversation topic over dinner or drinks, and my friends seem genuinely interested in what our government is up to. That was part of the inspiration for this newsletter. Given that how our government legislates is more important than the NFL or the Kardashians, I think it’s a great thing that Trump has ignited interest in the office of the presidency and what our government is up to on a day-to-day basis.

I also think it’s great that he’s willing to present an authentic voice. Is his authentic voice honest? Rarely. But even though Trump lies all the time, he also gives real, unbridled answers more often than a lot of other seasoned politicians who manically stick to the script. Much like I nod in approval when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talks about how much time other members of Congress spend courting donors instead of doing their jobs, I also nod in approval when Trump calls out people who begged him for endorsements privately but then criticize him publicly. And, obviously, most Americans enjoy this spectacle as well — they just like it more when it’s the politician they support.

Finally, Trump was such a shock to the system that the most basic things about how government and our presidency work have been questioned. His “I alone can fix it” attitude has drawn attention to the reality that he, alone, can actually do quite a lot. For instance, lots of of suddenly concerned Americans wonder how Trump has unilateral power to get so much done without the approval of Congress or voters. Many of those same people were unconcerned when Barack Obama, George Bush or Bill Clinton exercised and expanded executive power, but now that someone more threatening to them is in office they see how dangerous it is. This kind of awareness has given momentum to legislation that would limit an American president’s largely unchecked authority, which is a good thing when you consider how much presidential power has expanded in the last few decades. One small is example is a bill passed by the House of Representatives that would restrict Trump’s ability to start a war without Congressional approval or spend military dollars on a border wall. If these kinds of restrictive bills are applied to Trump and presidencies in the future as a response to his penchant for acting unilaterally, that’s a good thing.

As for your personal life, my mom always tells me that “it doesn’t hurt to ask.” In a funny way, that expression makes me think of POTUS. If Trump exemplifies anything, it’s playing out of your league. He was the butt of every joke when his presidential run began, he was wildly unqualified and — despite his repeated denials of this fact — neither he nor anyone else in his family believed he could win. But he did. Yes, he was an extravagantly wealthy white man with connections in the political world. But one could make the case he exemplifies the “it’s worth a shot” attitude that has succeeded for plenty of other aspiring Americans. Clearly, lots of Democrats got the message. We now have what feels like a football stadium of Democratic candidates running for the presidency.

A story that matters.

Days after two Mississippi plants were swept up in an immigration raid, Koch Foods announced on Facebook it would host a job fair to fill the jobs held by the undocumented immigrants that were deported. The news poses a real-life case study for two opposing views in the immigration debate. For decades, immigration restrictionists have claimed that undocumented immigrants have stolen jobs that would otherwise go to Americans. Pro-immigrant activists have responded to this claim by saying that undocumented immigrants often take less-desirable jobs that American workers don’t want and ultimately contribute to the economy by paying taxes. Now, a real-life example: will Koch Foods quickly fill the vacated jobs? Or will the factory struggle to hire workers without tapping the undocumented workforce again? The Clarion Ledger, a Mississippi paper, has the story.

Tweet(s) of the day.

“The Mooch,” President Trump’s former communications director who stepped down after just 11 days for an expletive-filled outburst, has finally soured on Trump (and it’s mutual).

If you’re interested.

Rolling Stone did an excellent piece on Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the Hawaii congresswoman who went after Kamala Harris during the last Democratic debate. While Gabbard is a presidential long shot, it’s worth a read, especially if you’re interested in why she’s so divisive. Most of the news around Gabbard has a tone of negativity, like the recent New York Magazine profile about her childhood in a cult-like group. But Matt Taibbi portrays her positively as a staunch anti-war advocate being attacked unjustly. It’s a unique story. Read here.

Have a nice day.

In Berlin, bee populations are growing at such a rapid rate people are starting to think there are too many of them.  ICYMI: the rest of the world has been freaking out about the depleting bee populations, which threatens the global food supply. Now, German cities have found the answer: urban beekeeping. The trendy, fruitful hobby is growing in popularity, and bee populations are growing with it. Profound benefits to the German environment await. You can read more here.

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