Don't Take The Trump Bait
We have begun to move past him. Don't let the FBI take us back.
When I first heard about the FBI’s raid on Mar-A-Lago, I merely hoped that there was a very, very good reason for it, and that the feds found what they were looking for. Days later, none of us knows the answer to either of those questions.
Donald J. Trump knows, of course. But he won’t tell us — because appropriate official silence allows him to flood the zone with his own bullshit, gin up his fevered base, and burnish his case for returning to power as a triumphant victim of the Deep State (aka the rule of law). All I know is that he is a grotesque liar and will say anything if it wins him a few minutes of news-cycle attention.
But look: I have no idea why the former president seems to have insisted on keeping boxes of highly classified documents he received in office, and then refused to give them all back. I don’t know why he resisted a subpoena on what seems like a routine request. It looks fishy — but with Trump, it always looks fishy. He acts like a criminal even when he isn’t committing a crime. He has never accepted the legitimacy of any legal authority if it is targeting him, and literally cannot submit willingly to it without some kind of psychic break. He could be guilty, but he could also be innocent; or guilty of something not-so-bad.
Equally, I have no idea why the FBI really had no option but to do this — given its huge political risks. And it seems perfectly possible to me that the US government’s fanatical protection of its own secrets has led to another stupid overreach by clueless prosecutors.
There is, of course, the rule of law; but there is also prosecutorial discretion. To go after a former president in such flamboyant fashion in a deeply polarized polity is an inherently political decision — and requires, above all else, prudence. Was Garland prudent? I guess we’ll see. But one thing we’ve learned from the Establishment resistance to Trump is that it has more often than not both empowered him and weakened liberal democratic legitimacy. It almost never works with a man as slippery and shameless as Trump. A few more rabid Twitter cycles and every minuscule facet of this story will be pored over, and, in all likelihood, the conclusion, if it ever emerges, will be what it has consistently been: messy, absurd, and without that cathartic “We got him!” moment every Resistance groupie has been dreaming of since 2016.
But it does offer a snapshot of where the culture of this democracy is, and it isn’t pretty. The Pavlovian response on the right — instant shock! horror! rage! — exposes just how deep our crisis of legitimacy runs. When conservatives propose defunding the FBI, when a governor like Ron DeSantis uses terms like “the Regime” to describe a duly elected administration, and when calls to outright civil war flood the Twitterverse, you begin to see how far tribal hatred has completely eclipsed the notion of the rule of law in our teetering republic.
And Trump himself, of course, sees no fire without instinctually reaching for his flame-thrower:
Nuclear weapons is a hoax, just like Russia, Russia, Russia was a hoax, two Impeachments were a hoax, the Mueller investigation was a hoax, and much more. Same sleazy people involved. Why wouldn’t the FBI allow the inspection of areas at Mar-a-Lago with our lawyer’s [sic] , or others, present. Made them wait outside in the heat, wouldn’t even let them get close — said “ABSOLUTELY NOT”. Planting information, anyone?
Yes, a former president is alleging the planting of evidence by the Deep State to destroy him. Cue the GOP spin:
America, it seems, won the Cold War only to see its own federal law/enforcement/national security apparatus morph into a version of the old East German Stasi.
Please. This is so much melodrama and so little politics. It’s 2016 - 2020 in an infinitely recurring loop. And the way out of this is not deeper into it.
In fact, we’ve just begun to see a looming exit. This past month, we’ve seen real signs of incremental progress on the plane of reality. We have moved the dial on climate change in historic fashion; we’ve beefed up the semiconductor industry; we’ve secured lower drug prices for Medicare; and we’ve raised taxes on the very rich. In the last year, we’ve passed bipartisan infrastructure investment, withdrawn from the sinkhole of Afghanistan, and helped stymie a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
And what’s striking about all this Dark Brandon energy is its pragmatism, moderation, and lack of polarizing melodrama. And, apart from climate change, the agenda is not that different than Trump’s — which suggests our deep cultural divides are not insuperable, our democratic politics not inevitably doomed, and our current president not as far off from what we hoped for than we may have recently feared.
Which means to say: there remains a center. It shows signs of life. Its modest but palpable success reveals how politics can actually work in post-everything America. Let’s build on that. Let’s focus on it. And do all we can to keep Trump and his toxic minions from distracting us.
(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue also includes: my philosophical take on why exceptions (e.g. homosexuality) prove the rule (e.g. heterosexuality); my discussion with Dexter Filkins about DeSantis and their home state of Florida; reader dissents over my views on DeSantis and several other topics; four notable quotes for the week; an Yglesias Award for a far-left TV personality giving props to far-right personalities; 15 links to other Substackers on a variety of topics; a Mental Health Break of a window view in northern Michigan set to music; window views from Dubrovnik and Bellevue; and, as always, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new challenge. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)
From a newcomer:
OK, I finally subscribed, for now on a monthly basis. The Dish and Talking Points Memo are the only politics coverage I pay for at this point — a good pairing for my needs. I certainly don’t agree with everything you write, but it’s nice to get out of the echo chambers without feeling like I’m being yelled at.
Plus, your work kept me sane during the Iraq fiasco + Dick Cheney torture regime and the Obama years, when Fox News and the like started to really go off the rails. So I feel I as though I owe you backpay for that, $5/month being the least I could do.
Other subscribers often tell you what column of yours got them to subscribe, so here's mine: “The Joy of Doing Nothing” was the perfect antidote to our overheated times (figuratively and literally). If you keep peppering the Dish with those essays, I’ll keep subscribing!
Exceptions Prove Rules
Here’s something I’ve wanted to get off my chest for a while, and since our summer break is coming up — why not now?
Exceptions prove the rule. Or, more precisely, exceptions do not disprove the rule.
I don’t mean this as a trivially semantic question. I mean it as something quite profound about humanity. In a world as complex and varied and fast-changing as the one we live in, both in nature and in culture, almost every rule is going to have some kind of exception or other. But this does not invalidate the centrality or general reliability of the rule or rules in general. Au contraire.
(Read the whole 1200-word piece here, for paid subscribers)
New On The Dishcast: Dexter Filkins
How to think about Ron DeSantis? We decided to ask Dexter Filkins, who recently wrote this super-smart profile of the man for The New Yorker, which the Dish discussed here. Dexter is an award-winning journalist best known for covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the New York Times. His book, The Forever War, won the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award. He’s the best in the business, a native of Florida, and a longtime friend of the Dish.
For two clips of our convo — on the encouraging record of DeSantis enforcing the rule of law in Iraq, and on how even GOP leaders are now turning against law enforcement — pop over to our YouTube page. Listen to the whole episode here. That link takes you to a bunch of listener comments and dissents over last week’s episode with Sohrab Ahmari. Browse the entire Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy.
Dissents Of The Week
A reader prods my provisional support for DeSantis:
Buddy, you need to find another horse. His tweet on the Mar-A-Lago search is disqualifying. The “Regime”!? Really?
I made this exact point above — before reading this dissent. And I agree. It’s pretty close to disqualifying. Another reader adds, “Well, here’s more news regarding DeSantis’ dictatorial tendencies: removing an elected prosecutor (state attorney) because he doesn’t like what he’s saying.”
“Dictatorial.” Please. The WSJ notes that “Florida’s constitution gives broad powers to the governor to suspend officers such as state attorneys.” Even the editorial the reader links to — which outlandishly calls the suspension a “putsch” — concedes that the state attorney “should have been more cautious in expressing how he would handle these cases” and “the wording should have been more nuanced.”
Read another DeSantis dissent, along with one about BLM protests during Covid and another about my summer in Ptown, here. As always, keep the dissents coming, and Bodenner will select the strongest ones, as is tradition: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In The ‘Stacks
This is a feature in the paid version of the Dish spotlighting about a dozen of our favorite pieces from other Substackers every week. This week’s selection covers subjects such as Republicans against contraception and IVF, death-row organs, and guinea pigs. Below is one example:
Always read Barro on monkeypox — this time on “the public health officials who keep gaslighting us.” Maddening.
You can also browse all the substacks we follow and read on a regular basis here — a combination of our favorite writers and new ones we’re checking out. It’s a blogroll of sorts. If you have any recommendations for “In the ‘Stacks,” especially ones from emerging writers, please let us know: email@example.com.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!
The results for last week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today. The contest always includes a ton of fascinating facts about the culture and history of the window’s location. Here’s an example:
I love this contest, but sometimes I really love this contest. This was one of those times: exciting sleuthing with daughter no. 3 and a poignant story about a famous writer on Mexican food. For that story, I want to take to the town of Zitacuaro, where Diana Kennedy, the English woman who introduced authentic Mexican food to the English speaking world, died two weeks ago at the age of 99.
She moved to Mexico City in 1956 with her future husband, Paul Kennedy, a correspondent for the New York Times stationed there, and she fell in love with the food. She spent the rest of her life researching and writing about it, travelling all over Mexico in her truck to collect recipes from small villages and learn about local ingredients. Her first book, The Cuisines of Mexico, was published in 1972; her last, Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy, in 2010.
For the last 46 years she lived in Mexico in a house she built near Zitacuaro, which was eco-friendly before the concept took off. There she welcomed groups for cooking classes and grew obscure ingredients she had collected from all over Mexico. Below is a trailer for a wonderful documentary about her made in 2020, just before the pandemic. She was still going strong then.
The Cuisines of Mexico was one of the first cookbooks I bought when I moved to the US in 1978, and I still remember the day we spent making Chiles Rellenos in our apartment in Somerville, MA. And yes, it took all day; first the picadillo, then the tomato broth, then the chiles, then the batter. The following passage from the recipe will give you an idea of Kennedy’s love of the cuisine and her fierce contempt for bad imitations of it:
There is always an exclamation of pleasure and surprise when a cazuela of golden, puffy chiles rellenos sitting in their tomato broth is presented at the table. If you have eaten those sad, flabby little things that usually turn up in so-called Mexican restaurants in the United States as authentic chiles rellenos, you have a great surprise in store. Here is yet another prime example of the fine feeling the Mexicans have for texture in their food: you bit through the slightly crisp, rich chile poblano to experience the crunch of the almonds and little bits of crystallized fruit in the pork filling. Then there is the savory broth to cut the richness of the batter.
They were sublime, and I have never since had anything remotely like them in a restaurant. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to reminisce about a wonderful writer and a wonderful meal.
See you next Friday.