The news for Donald Trump isn’t subtle: He’s the target of a federal investigation.
It’s historic. It’s blunt. It cuts to the quick.
On Wednesday evening, news broke that Trump received a target letter from the Department of Justice – that means a letter sent by federal prosecutors to a person when there is “substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime and who, in the judgment of the prosecutor, is a putative defendant,” in order to afford them a chance to testify before any indictment is issued.
You can’t be any more blunt than that.
Once again Trump is making history — not exactly in the way he intended, but as the classic rock anthem he likes to play at his rallies tells us, you can’t always get what you want.
Trump is at the head of the class of people who are making history in a way they wish they weren’t. He stands as proof there are few statesmen left in U.S. politics. Today we have an overabundance of bullies and cowards, with him in the forefront. That may soon change.
Legislators like former House Speaker Tip O’Neill would admonish his opponents by saying something like “I hold him in the highest minimum regard.” Now? Trump calls Democrats “traitors” and Ron DeSantis screams “woke” so often you’d think he was a human alarm clock.
Late in the daily White House briefing Monday, presidential press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about Nikki Haley’s CNN town hall and what restrictions, if any, the Biden administration supports on abortion.
Jean-Pierre said this: “So I didn’t watch this town hall, so I can’t really speak to exactly what she said. What I can speak to, what the president has said, is that he will continue to call on Congress to restore Roe v. Wade.”
That was a blunt pushback against those who want to limit a woman’s right to choose, but the subtlety with which the Biden administration dismissed Haley should not be overlooked. Jean-Pierre’s tone wasn’t mean-spirited or snarky, but the inference was clear; she hadn’t bothered to watch Haley’s town hall because Haley isn’t worth paying attention to.
Haley, on the other hand, is about as subtle as loud flatulence on a wooden pew during a boring sermon. She said that a vote for Joe Biden in 2024 is really a vote for Vice President Kamala Harris — alluding to the president’s age and his chances of falling victim to the actuarial tables. That’s about as subtle as she can be.
Without sounding mean-spirited or snarky, the White House press secretary made clear that Nikki Haley isn’t worth paying attention to.
James Rosen of Newsmax was a bit subtler on Tuesday when he asked whether there was a concern about Biden because of his tumble on stage during a recent Air Force graduation ceremony (when he tripped over a misplaced sandbag) and a near-tumble in Hiroshima on some stone steps. Was the White House considering “some kind of review of the advance procedures that are employed on behalf of this, the nation’s oldest president?”
On that occasion Jean-Pierre was not subtle. “We are not. Things happen,” she said. (Saying “shit happens” wouldn’t fly on that stage.) “Other presidents,” she continued, “have had similar situations.”
Yes indeed. Gerald Ford fell over so often that in the first year of “Saturday Night Live” Chevy Chase built a comedy career out of poking fun at him for it. If Jean-Pierre had wanted to subtly dismiss the question, she could have reminded us that the president played golf on Sunday. But she chose not to do so.
Subtlety in our political discourse is a rare and often misunderstood art form; as rare as an honest politician and as misunderstood as John Lennon saying the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ. It is also in as short supply as is vetted factual information. One could argue those issues are linked. Donald Trump offers a case in point.
As political rhetoric has devolved into verbal sledgehammers aimed at the head and the heart, the need for vetted facts has never been greater, even as the supply has waned. It is far easier, when using rhetoric loaded with bombast, lies and fear, to jettison fact, nuance and subtlety. Instead of solving actual problems with facts, we’ve taken to playing political Dungeons and Dragons — complete with mythical villains and heroes that don’t exist.
Subtlety? That goes over almost everyone’s head. Jean-Pierre has received a fair amount of grief from the press due to her performances in the briefing room, but most of us missed her withering putdown of Haley on Monday because those watching couldn’t see it for what it was.
There are times, of course, when subtlety is not what you want. It is too easily misunderstood by those incapable of cogent thought. Jean-Pierre demonstrated that when she finally answered Rosen’s question Tuesday: She was blunt and simple.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby did the same thing at the podium when asked about Russia’s concerns about Ukraine’s expanding military capabilities. “If you’re worried about Ukrainian military capabilities, then leave Ukraine,” he said. When asked what the U.S. thought about Ukrainian attacks inside Russia, Kirby made clear our government doesn’t endorse them: We are helping Ukraine defend itself against invasion, not invade Russia in return. When asked about escalating tensions between the U.S. and China Kirby said, “We don’t want an escalation.” That is blunt, useful and factual.
Being too subtle, in any of those instances, could have easily led to the administration being accused of making light of a serious matter.
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But blunt rhetoric is often used only to browbeat others and distort facts. That’s where it crosses the line. The problem lies in recognizing that fact — some politicians, many members of the press and millions of American voters apparently lack the ability or desire to understand that blunt distortion often causes blunt trauma.
There are thousands of examples of this in daily political reporting. Some of us have become numb to it because being pounded with lies occurs so frequently, leaving us as dazed as if we had been physically beaten. If it’s not Donald Trump screaming “witch hunt” or “fake news,” or DeSantis sounding his “woke” alarm clock, then it’s other Republicans making up “alternative facts” to use as mental bludgeons against the populace.
Last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said on Fox News, “We are not interested in whether or not the allegations against Biden [as vice president] are accurate.” No kidding. He just wants to move the needle away from Biden for the 2024 election.
They’re coming for Donald Trump. They inch closer to him every day. There’s nothing subtle about Jack Smith, the federal grand juries or the Manhattan D.A.
That Demogorgon act has a second head, belonging to House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer of Kentucky, who continues to press a case against Biden even though he has yet to produce any evidence, or any of the “whistleblowers” he claimed he had. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland chided Comer about that in April.
Where subtlety still must be understood, nuances deciphered and blunt facts assessed independent of emotion is in the realm of the courts. And that’s where Donald Trump’s penchant for blunt theatrics will be cooled by the blunt force of reason and vetted facts.
They are coming for Donald Trump; they inch closer to him each day. There is no subtlety in the actions of special counsel Jack Smith, the Manhattan district attorney’s office or the federal grand juries at work in Washington, D.C., and Florida.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that John Solomon, a conservative writer and one of Trump’s representatives to the National Archives, had “published an article claiming that federal prosecutors had notified the former president he was a target of their investigation and was likely to be indicted ‘imminently'” in the Mar-a-Lago documents case.
Trump bluntly denied it. Other sources have now confirmed it.
Trump had something different to say on his own social media platform: “How can DOJ possibly charge me, who did nothing wrong when no other president’s [sic] were charged … The greatest witch hunt of all time!” Except of course he typed it in all-caps. I cannot be bothered.
When his former attorney Ty Cobb bluntly expressed the view that Trump was screwed, Trump replied, “Ty Cobb is a disgruntled former Lawyer who represented me long ago, and knows absolutely nothing about the Boxes Hoax being perpetrated upon me by the DOJ.”
That’s about as deft with the sledgehammer, bludgeon or cudgel as Trump can get.
This week has seen a lot of activity and rising tension around the former president. His reaction is typical of the man, and further evidence of his character. He cannot craft a subtle statement or take a subtle approach to anything. Those who believe he can are exactly the marks he seeks. He is a man of crude tastes, crude bearing and crude actions.
To paraphrase Gene Wilder in “Blazing Saddles,” you have to remember who Donald Trump is; because of his inability to use anything other than blunt force, he only appeals to simple people, people of the land, the common clay of our nation — you know, morons.
There was never one day inside the Trump administration when he or those who spoke for him were as subtle or soft with a throwaway comment as Jean-Pierre was on Monday.
Donald Trump represents the worst in American politics. He represents the destruction of cohesion and the ascendancy of dunces — elected officials incapable of holding any job outside of Washington and determined to keep their power by manipulating voters through gerrymandering, rhetoric, voter suppression and fear.
They are incapable of any more thought more rational than primal, brutal instinct — the urge to drive you into a corral while spewing venom. These people Donald Trump brought to power are the Demogorgon. Their inability to be subtle, whether in word or deed, is the easiest way to identify them.
The “target letter” delivered to Trump this week is the federal government stating that there are still rules you cannot break and get away with. It’s a shot across the bow — not just to Trump but to all who aspire to be like him. It’s an indication that justice is more than a cynical game rigged by powerful men.
Your roll, Donald.
from Brian Karem on Biden v. Trump: the rerun