Watching the saga of the Nunes Memo and the constant Republican attempts to protect and cover for Donald Trump and his minions, no matter how great the purported crime, I keep thinking back to a 2004 movie that didn’t get the attention it deserved.
“Millions,” directed by Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting,” “Slumdog Millionaire”) and written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, is the story of two British boys who find themselves in possession of a fortune when bags of money from a train robbery accidentally fall into their hands. Damian, the younger and more devout of the two, tries to do good deeds with the cash while his older, more venal brother, Anthony, spends it to bribe other kids at school.
Twists and turns ensue and as the movie nears its climax, a new family friend takes Damian with her so the two of them can try to spend some of the remaining loot. Resentful, Anthony says to his father, “She’ll kidnap him, hold him to ransom for the rest of the money,” and his father calmly replies, “No, Anthony, that’s what you would do.”
So every time I hear the GOP deny any and all allegations about collusion or obstruction of justice involving Trump, every time they accuse Democrats—or the media, the Department of Justice, the FBI or the alleged “Deep State”—of pretzel-twisting the truth and sabotaging the republic, I think of that movie and say to myself, “No sir, that’s what you would do.”
Call it projection, call it a monumental lack of self-awareness, call it just plain stupidity, but the proclivity of the right, the kneejerk reflex that lashes out with false accusations and distortions that perfectly mirror what they themselves seem to be doing for real is mindboggling.
They accuse the press and opponents of bias, of lying about the president and his associates, but to make their case they betray their own bias, dissembling and cherry-picking evidence, not revealing underlying information and ignoring the facts that prove them wrong. They accuse the other side of partisanship, yet as former CIA director John Brennan told Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press, “I never, ever saw the Democrats do something like this that was so partisan, so reckless and really just laid waste to the protocols that governed committees.”
The Trump loyalists claimed their specious Nunes Memo proved allegations that are not even mentioned in the document and yet want to use it to further interfere with the Mueller investigation—although the special counsel had nothing to do with the FISA surveillance warrants targeting Trump advisor Carter Page which are the memo’s focus. Clutching their pearls in feigned shock, they decry the Democratic Party funding of opposition research (which initially was paid for by anti-Trump Republicans) and accuse investigators of “orchestrating leaks to the media,” things the GOP has never ever done, not once, honest, cross my heart and hope to plea bargain.
Face it: Despite the GOP memo’s implication, and keeping in mind that his research was only part of a wider body of evidence, British citizen and dossier compiler Christopher Steele wasn’t “desperate” and “passionate” in his opposition to Trump because he’s some closet Democrat Abroad. Clearly, it was because a) he’s a former MI6 intelligence expert on Russia and pretty much knows what he’s talking about and b) he was concerned, like so much of the rest of the world, that Trump’s irrationality, his ignorance of international affairs as well as his various ties to Russia’s oligarchs make him a menace to peace and stability.
Republicans would do well to remember—some conveniently choose to forget, others actually seem not to realize (!)—that when Trump is being criticized as ignorant and self-aggrandizing, in most instances, he’s not being attacked just because he’s a member of their party. It’s because he is ignorant and self-aggrandizing and it’s killing the country. The danger transcends party lines.
Trump himself has yet to recognize, if ever he will (doubtful), that this is not the United States of Trump. He forgets that when members of his administration swore an oath it was not to him but to the nation and the Constitution. At his inauguration, he himself pledged to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” although the oath also reads “to the best of my ability,” which he doubtless sees as a loophole.
Further, the Justice Department is not, as you seem to believe, Mr. President, a fully owned subsidiary of the Trump Organization. But you have made inroads toward achieving exactly that, with whatever threats and pressure you have applied via your chief of staff, attorney general and the pliant Nunes and other Republican members of the House intelligence committee, who cynically abandoned the good of the country to do everything possible to interfere with and, if at all possible, quash the investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The hapless yet dangerous Nunes, who behaves like the love child of Joseph McCarthy and Inspector Clouseau, along with his pals (including you, Speaker Paul Ryan) will abandon all principle, all patriotism, for the mess of pottage that represents what’s left of the Republican Party, fueled by fear of Trump’s perfervid base and the interests of the fat cats throwing campaign contributions their way.
This current attempted politicization of the Justice Department and the FBI—and certainly, in the past neither has been innocent of the basest motivations—bears all the marks of authoritarianism, the subversion of truth and integrity in the name of power and dictatorial control. The systems of checks and balances we have so far relied on to keep Trump in line and allow the investigation to move forward already has been sabotaged, perhaps fatally.
Meanwhile, as David Corn at Mother Jones notes, all of this distracts from the fact that “the US political system remains under threat from Vladimir Putin’s covert information warfare campaign and that the Trump administration has decided not to intensify sanctions that might deter Moscow from again subverting American democracy. Still, these significant events received a sliver of the coverage devoted to the tussle over #releasethememo.”
The Washington Post’s EJ Dionne writes, “The autocratic leader lies and then falsely charges his opponents with lying. He politicizes institutions that are supposed to be free of politics by falsely accusing his foes of politicizing them. He victimizes others by falsely claiming they are victimizing him.”
When Donald Trump declares, as he did when the Nunes memo was released on Friday, “I think it’s terrible, if you want to know the truth. I think it’s a disgrace what’s going on in this country . . . A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves, and much worse than that,” isn’t it possible to think that deep down he subconsciously was talking about what he himself has done?
Yet publicly, Trump thinks he has been vindicated by the Nunes memo. Either he hasn’t read it, is delusional and believes that wishing will make it so, or is so deeply cynical he believes he can keep perpetuating on the nation and the world the same style of sleazy con job that began when he started making unsavory real estate deals and bilking subcontractors.
Like that kid in the movie “Millions” it’s not what you would do or I would do. But it’s what Donald Trump and Devin Nunes would do. And do so by the hour and minute, to the deep detriment and destruction of these United States.
Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship.