A Vice President With Few Virtues

A tough new Dick Cheney biopic is triggering some conservatives. Have they learned nothing?

So instead, I am summoned to a more urgent, if distasteful, task: to try and explain why anyone in the conservative movement (or anywhere else) would want to normalize Dick Cheneylet alone flat-out cheer for him. After all, this was a man who left office with an approval rating as low as 13 percent.

.. That’s lower than Richard Nixon when he resigned, lower than Jimmy Carter when he was replaced by Ronald Reagan. It’s as low as Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression and as low as Barack Obama among Republicans and conservatives.

Even today, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both have triple the approval ratings that Cheney left office with.

.. To plagiarize what Andrew Sullivan famously said about Hillary, anyone with Cheney’s destructive track record towards his own movement should have been drummed out “under a welter of derision.”

.. We don’t have to be “ordered” to remember and revere historical figures like Reagan, MLK, and JFK, or be shamed into doing so. But who the heck did Dick Cheney ever benefit outside of the corporate-crony one percent?

  • What small, non-monopoly business did he ever give a chance to grow?
  • What did he do to improve our schools and police?
  • What did he do for balanced-budget conservatism, as he overruled Alan Greenspan and his own treasury secretary, gloating that “deficits don’t matter”?
  • How did Cheney make us more secure, with Iraq and Afghanistan all but ruined, Iran and Syria feeling stronger every day,
  • and ISIS having wrought its destruction—and with Osama bin Laden still livin’ large for two-and-a-half years after Cheney retired?
  • How do you defend someone who literally went to the Supreme Court to keep the minutes of his infamous 2001 energy task force meetings secret (they were co-chaired by Kenny-Boy Lay during the height of Enron’s rape of California’s power grid),
  • while at the same time suggesting the outing of a truly top secret CIA agent (Valerie Plame) just to get revenge on her journalist husband?
  • How did Cheney uphold Ronald Reagan’s mantra of curbing big government excesses when he justified warrantless surveillance and straight-up torture?
  • And what lasting benefit did Dick Cheney bestow on the conservative or Republican brand, with Barack Obama winning the biggest landslides since Reagan and Bush Senior?

It was my respected colleague Kelley Vlahos who solved the mystery of why some members of the Beltway press just can’t quit Cheney: “because they still won’t admit that the war was wrong.” Bingo. Expecting the U.S. to export insta-democracy to decidedly non-Western cultures? Putting overwhelmingly Christian and Jewish “viceroys” in charge of historically Muslim nations? Gee, what could possibly go wrong…

.. As chilling and thrilling as Christian Bale is as Dick Cheney, perhaps no scene in Vice is as squirmy as Richard Dreyfus’s impersonation of Cheney in Oliver Stone’s W., when he stands in front of a CGI map in the War Room and smirkingly announces, “There is no exit strategy. We STAY!” (If that scene didn’t actually take place, it might just as well have.)

.. Still, there are scenes in Vice that come close. For a biopic about a man who defined the adage “personnel is policy,” it’s fitting that director Adam McKay, who has a strong comedy background, chose actors who are known for being funny just as much as for their work in dramas. Those include Sam Rockwell as George W., Tyler Perry as Colin Powell, and Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld. (Reuniting Bale and Carell also indicates that McKay rightly sees Vice as an unofficial prequel to his financial meltdown dark farce The Big Short.) Like the aforementioned W., McKay’s Vice is a sometimes frenetic, sometimes eerily calm black comedy satire. And like Josh Brolin in W., Sam Rockwell plays George Jr. as an easily played and comical doofus. There’s no doubt in this film as to who the real president was from December 2000 to the end of 2008

.. Watching Bale as a terse, leering, manipulative young reactionary as he grindstones and plays people against each other from the late ‘60s to his Bush-Cheney heyday, one is struck by his shameless entitlement. Cheney uses movement conservatism and old boy connections as his own Uber. If Christian Bale is a slim and athletic man trapped in a fat and ugly body, Cheney sees himself as the Richelieu or Machiavelli of his own real-life movie, trapped just one step behind the real decision-makers—until he finally gets that chance to ride his horse from Aqueduct to Santa Anita.

.. The other key role among these garbage men is Amy Adams’ take-no-prisoners performance as Lynne Cheney. Mrs. Cheney had the straight-A brains and Ph.D.-level drive to be a powerful judge or executive in her own right, and was, according to Adams, a better “natural politician” than her husband. But as a card-carrying member of the Phyllis Schlafly/Anita Bryant/Beverly LaHaye-era Right from rural Wyoming, Lynne had less than zero plans to transform herself into another bra-burning icon. Instead, “she lived her [considerable] ambitions through her husband,” as Adams said. Adams even added that compared to the iron-fisted Lynne, her husband Dick might have been the “velvet glove”!

.. And as these Cheney-rehabilitating articles prove, Lynne wasn’t the only one who got off on Dick’s raw exercise of power and privilege. Watching Dick Cheney at work must have been intoxicating for a Dwight Schrute or Montgomery Burns in his small pond, for someone who coveted the kind of vulgar bullying power that Cheney wielded. It was no accident that Stephen Bannon famously and semi-humorously put Dick Cheney in his own hall of heroes, behind only Darth Vader and Satan, citing Cheney’s peerless talent at “disrupting” established orders.

.. Sorry, I’m just not there for conservative writers infantilizing Cheney and going all triggered snowflake at what big meanies the Hollywood libr’als are being to him. Christian Bale said it himself: “[Cheney’s] a big boy…he says himself he has no remorse, no regrets, he’d do everything again in a minute.” Exactly.

Trump Bites on Putin’s ‘Incredible Offer’

But he’s not the first president to foolishly place his trust in the Russian despot.

President Trump did get one thing right on Monday in Helsinki: Vladimir Putin did make an “incredible offer.”

.. But he’s not the first president to foolishly place his trust in the Russian despot.

President Trump did get one thing right on Monday in Helsinki: Vladimir Putin did make an “incredible offer.”

.. having the indictment, they must have calculated, would strengthen Trump’s hand in the confrontation.

.. Of all the president’s mind-boggling utterances at the press conference, I found this the most stunning.

.. One hoped that Trump’s election would end Obama’s hallmark depictions of moral equivalence between America and thug countries. Yet here’s how the president, at the start of his term, defended Putin when Bill O’Reilly called him a “killer”: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?

.. when has this president ever been restrained by a presidential norm?

.. the most alarming part of the presser was the palpable satisfaction the president took in describing Putin’s “incredible” proposal. Trump is desperate to show that his entreaties to the Russian despot — amid the “collusion” controversy and against the better judgment of his skeptical advisers and supporters — could bear real fruit. It made him ripe to get rolled.

.. The proposal to invite Mueller to Moscow brought to mind others who’ve tried to investigate Putin’s regime on Russian soil. There is, of course, Sergei Magnitsky, who exposed the regime’s $230 million fraud only to be clubbed to death with rubber batons in a Russian prison — Putin said he must have had a heart attack.

.. Then there is Nikolai Gorokhov, a lawyer for the Magnitsky family who has been investigating regime involvement in the fraud. He was slated to testify in a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit against Prevezon, a company controlled by Putin cronies that is implicated in the fraud. But then, somehow, Gorokhov “accidentally” fell from the fourth-floor balcony of a Moscow apartment building.

.. Truth be told, the prospect of hosting Mueller’s investigators in his accident-prone country interests Putin less than the “reciprocity” he has in mind.

.. This is classic Putin. The former KGB agent takes every Western misstep as a precedent, to be contorted and pushed to maximum advantage. As we’ve observed over the years, for example, the Kremlin has rationalized its territorial aggression against former Soviet satellites by relying on U.S. spearheading — over Russian objections — of Kosovo’s secession from Serbia.

.. While positing lip-service denials that he meddled in our 2016 election, Putin implies that we had it coming after what he claims was Obama-administration interference in Russia’s 2011 parliamentary elections

.. if our government does not see how Russia (like other rogue nations) is certain to exploit the precedent the Justice Department has set by indicting foreign officials for actions taken on their government’s behalf, we are in for a rude awakening

.. Naturally, Putin expects us to help him investigate Bill Browder. If you think the word “collusion” makes Trump crazy, try uttering the word “Browder” around Putin

.. the Russian dictator repeated his standing allegation that Browder and his associates have evaded taxes on over a billion dollars in Russian income. He further claimed that “they sent a huge amount — $400 million — as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.” While this is outlandish, it reminds us of the purported dirt on Mrs. Clinton that Putin’s operatives sought to peddle to the Trump campaign in June 2016.

.. Natalia Veselnitskaya reportedly told Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort that Browder was involved in a tax-evasion scheme that implicated Clinton donors. This, she urged, was information that could be used to damage the Clinton campaign. Ms. Veselnitskaya also rehearsed the Kremlin’s rant against the Magnitsky legislation.

.. at least as far as what is publicly known, the Trump Tower meeting remains the closest brush that Trump has had with “collusion” — the narrative (indeed, the investigation) that has dogged his presidency. It is astonishing that the president would allow Putin to manipulate him into reviving that storyline.

.. Memo to DOJ: Expect Russia to issue indictments and international arrest warrants soon — as Putin said, it’s all about “reciprocity.”

.. The “incredible offer” that Putin hit Trump with — and that Trump was palpably thrown by — was not woven out of whole cloth. Did you know that the United States and the Russian Federation have a bilateral mutual-legal-assistance treaty? Yeah, it was negotiated by the Clinton administration and ratified by the Bush administration. The MLAT calls for us to cooperate when the Putin regime seeks to obtain testimony, interview subjects of investigations, locate and identify suspects, transfer persons held in custody, freeze assets — you name it.
.. It’s part of our government’s commitment to the notion that the law-enforcement processes of a constitutional, representative republic dedicated to the rule of law can seamlessly mesh with those of a gangster dictatorship whose idea of due process is deciding which nerve agent — polonium or novichok — is the punishment that fits the “crime.”

..  It enables Putin to pose as the leader of a normal, law-abiding regime that just wants to help Bob Mueller out and maybe ask Bill Browder a couple of questions — preferably out on the balcony.

  1. Clinton joined with Russia in an agreement to . . . wait for it . . . protect Ukraine.
  2. Bush looked Putin in the eye, got a “sense of his soul,” and found him “straightforward and trustworthy” — so much so that
  3. his State Department regarded Russia as a “strategic partner” that was going to help us with Iran (by helping it develop nuclear power!) .
  4. . . while Russia annexed parts of Georgia.
  5. Then came Obama’s “Russia Reset” — more “partnering” on Iran,
  6. ushering Moscow into the World Trade Organization,
  7. signing off on the Uranium One deal (and let’s not forget that cool $500,000 Russian payday for Bill Clinton and all those millions flowing into the Clinton Foundation) . . .
  8. while Russia backed Assad and the Iranian mullahs,
  9. annexed Crimea,
  10. stoked civil war in eastern Ukraine, and
  11. conducted cyber attacks on our election system.

Reporter Shows The Links Between The Men Behind Brexit And The Trump Campaign

.. there was the stunning revelation that we found out that the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, had actually reached out to WikiLeaks. So it had got hold of Julian Assange. And this was in August, before the Trump election. And he offered to help distribute Hillary’s stolen emails.

So that was a kind of mind-blowing moment for me news-wise because the idea that, you know, we knew that WikiLeaks was consequential in the U.S. election, and we knew that Cambridge Analytica was, but we had no idea that there was a sort of channel of communication between them.

.. The second alarm bell was that Chris had this insane presentation that he pulled out which Cambridge Analytica had given to Lukoil, which is a massive Russian state oil company. And the presentation just didn’t make any sense because supposedly it was the sort of advertising pitching Cambridge Analytica do – commercial work. But the presentation was all about influencing elections. Why would you be pitching a Russian oil company in how to manipulate voters?

.. I do think that it was having an American newspaper which forced Facebook as an American company to take note. And that was also what helped force Zuckerberg in front of Congress. So I do kind of give tribute to our American partners in helping bring that about. I kind of think that Facebook considers the rest of the world as lesser, as less consequential, as less important. And, you know, I really feel that’s what’s happening with its refusal to come to parliament. I really do very seriously think that Britain should consider banning Facebook from having any role in any of our elections because if you’ve got a foreign company which is playing an absolutely pivotal role in your elections but yet it’s completely unaccountable and it won’t even answer questions to lawmakers then I think you’ve got a really, really serious problem in terms of national security.

.. another British figure who Americans are probably not familiar with but played a key role in the Brexit campaign and may be a link to Russia. And his name is Arron Banks.

.. So Arron Banks, he’s a businessman based in Bristol, in the West Country here, and he’s the bankroller of it. So Arron Banks gave more money towards the Brexit campaign than any other person in Britain. And he is this strange and – I wouldn’t say strange character, but there’s just so many questions. Essentially, we don’t know where Arron Banks’ money comes from. And that is a source of one other investigation into Britain. He’s married to a Russian woman, Katya Banks.

.. And one of the key people he met in London was Ambassador Yakovenko. And Ambassador Yakovenko is described by Mueller as a high-level contact between the Trump campaign in the Kremlin.

.. We had two Brexit campaigns in Britain. That’s why I have to make the distinction. And on the same day that he launched it, he went to the Russian Embassy with his associates, and at the Russian Embassy, we know that the Russian ambassador introduced him to an oligarch called Siman Povarenkin, and Povarenkin offered him a couple of lucrative potential business deals. One of them was a gold deal. It was about buying into six separate gold mines and consolidating them. And one was this very intriguing one. Alrosa, it was called. And that was a state diamond mining company in Russia.

.. He always said he had met the Russian ambassador. But he’d met him only once. He’d had one boozy lunch with him. And this was something he’d carried on saying for – for two years, he said that. He had that line very consistently. And now – we’re now up to – it’s 11 meetings between him and the ambassador, or between his associates and the political secretary at the embassy.

And it’s just, why did he lie about it? Why did he lie about it? It’s, like, always the question you come back to with these things.

.. People in America, I don’t think, have realized this fully. And people in Britain certainly haven’t realized this fully. But they overlap very, very distinctly. And, you know, one of the points we have in common with America is simply that our laws and our democracy was not prepared for what hit it in 2016. And by that, I mean because all of our laws were around sort of ensuring that our vote was free and fair in terms of a sort of 19th century model of how you run elections and how you control spending. And with the rise of the Internet, that just changed everything.

.. So in just a few years, everything is being done via Facebook, and to some degree, via Google. And that’s all in complete darkness. So the thing about Facebook, and the thing which is so frustrating in terms of being able to get any answers from it, is that these are black boxes.

.. And we know that all of these advertisements, which were shown in the referendum, all the data went through the Facebook’s servers. They know a lot of the answers we’re scratching around as journalists and trying to figure out from the tiny clues left on the surface.

And it comes back to, time and time again, the role of Silicon Valley in these elections is the really, really key thing. And Russia exposed that weakness.

.. The Russian Embassy Twitter account is this extraordinary thing. It trolls me. It trolls other journalists. It trolls, like, MPs. And I thought it was the Russian Embassy first. And it had my article about Arron Banks and the gold deals and his meetings with the embassy. It had a picture – a screenshot of that. It put fake news stamped over it. And then it said, this journalist lies, or this journalist conspirator or something. And it tagged me into it.

And then I realized it wasn’t even the Russian Embassy Twitter account. It was the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Twitter account. So this is the Kremlin. This is the government agency in Moscow, which directs all of Russia’s foreign affairs, targeting me specifically via its Twitter feed and calling me a conspirator and writing, fake news, and going in to defend Arron Banks and Nigel Farage, interestingly.

.. And the thing is about it, this thing is just being normalized. It does it in this jokey way. And this is also what we saw from the Leave EU campaign – Arron Banks and Nigel Farage’s campaign. By doing things in this jokey fashion, it normalizes it. And then you go a bit further.

.. the Russian Embassy started writing me letters and calling my journalism – calling me a bad journalist and with an agenda and spreading lies, et cetera. And at the same time, Arron Banks and Nigel Farage’s campaign were retweeting the Russian Embassy. And then they did this, like, mock video of me, so they took a clip of the film “Airplane!” and it was a woman being hysterical in the film. It’s like a spoof. People come and slap her around the face, and then they threaten her with a gun. They’d Photoshopped my face into that video, and they’d added the Russian national anthem to the music behind it.

.. And again it looked like a joke. It was like ha ha ha ha ha ha (ph), look at this hysterical woman. But it was intended to unnerve me. And initially, I was just kind of like, well, this is just weird. But then hundreds – literally thousands of people actually reported that to Twitter and to the police and to Leave.EU and it didn’t come down. And this is why what is going on on the Internet is – and that the role of the tech giants is so invidious and so problematic because Facebook and Twitter and Google, it look – these look like public spaces. We are all communicating through them and mingling in them, but they’re not. They’re private companies. And this is why the Russian government has been able to exploit these things in the way that it has. And that’s what’s made democracy so vulnerable.

.. because I’m experiencing this kind of viscerally, this information warfare sort of viscerally, and I’m experiencing it from these forces, these campaigns in my own country. So Leave.EU, this is a domestic, political campaign here. And when we get hold of these emails, Arron Banks’ emails, we discovered that they were communicating with the Russian Embassy about social media messaging. This idea that they were actually coordinating in their attacks on certain things that – there’s that those levels of sinister in this which I really don’t think should be treated like a joke.

Trump the European Nationalist Puts America Last

President Trump, in concert with several European leaders, including those of Hungary, Poland, Austria and Italy, is intent on dehumanizing immigrants and refugees. The aim is to equate them with terrorists and criminals ready to “infest” — Trump’s word — American and European civilization, defined as a threatened white Judeo-Christian preserve.

It’s a consistent policy buttressed by insinuation and lies about the supposed threat, and designed to manipulate fear and nationalism as election-winning emotions in a time of rapid technological change, large migrant flows and uncertainty. Vermin infest, not humans.

Every utterance of Trump on immigration is meant to conflate immigration with danger. This is a direct repudiation of America’s distinguishing essence — its constant reinvention through immigrant churn.

The immigrant brings violence. The immigrant brings terror. The immigrant’s humanity is lesser or nonexistent. These are tropes about “the other” whose capacity to galvanize mobs, and wreak havoc, was proved in the first half of the 20th century. Trump does not hesitate to use them.

.. Viktor Orban, the right-wing Hungarian leader, who has said that “every single migrant poses a public security and terror risk.”

.. The Hungarian parliament has just passed legislation that would throw people in jail for providing assistance to asylum seekers and migrants.

.. Matteo Salvini, the rightist Italian interior minister

.. Before taking office, he said Italy was packed with “drug dealers, rapists, burglars,” whom he wants to send home.

.. the destabilizing impact of globalization on Western democracies; stagnant middle-income wages; growing inequality; fear of an automated future

..  the ease of mob mobilization through fear-mongering and scapegoating on social media.

.. Trump is strong because of a global nationalist lurch; that his feral instincts make him dangerous; and that he may well win a second term, just as Orban has now won four terms.

To ridicule Trump will achieve little absent a compelling social and economic alternative that addresses anxiety. The Democratic Party, for now, is nowhere near that.

.. Trump likes to go for the jugular. He sees opportunity in a Europe that is split down the middle between nations like Hungary and Poland that make no attempt to sugarcoat their anti-immigrant nativism and states like Germany that have not forgotten that the pursuit of racially and religiously homogeneous societies lay at the core of the most heinous crimes of the last century.

.. Orban is the most formidable politician in Europe today. It’s no coincidence that Trump called him last weekend. Their aims overlap.

..  Trump tweeted this week that “Crime in Germany is way up” and that allowing immigrants in “all over Europe” has “strongly and violently changed their culture.”

..  Trump (whose stats on German crime were wrong) backs Orban against Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in the continuing bid to make racism and xenophobia the new normal of Western societies.

.. the greatest danger is within. A two-term Trump presidency would likely corrode American institutions and values to the point at which they could scarcely be resurrected.