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Last week, Donald Trump made the mistake of submitting to an interview by a legitimate, objective reporter. The journalist, George Stephanopoulos, and ABC News retained full editorial control per journalistic standards and ethics. This was confirmed when Donald demanded a do-over after his chief of staff coughed during one of the president’s responses. Trump abruptly ordered germ-spewing Mick Mulvaney out of the room, directed the camera crew to re-position, and started over with his answer to George’s question. Viewers saw the whole thing. But in his biggest dissing, “Celebrity Family Feud” beat out Donald’s interview by about 2 million viewers. Americans were 50% more interested in “The Feud” than Trump’s Greatest Hits, even with the added excitement of Stephanopoulos calling him on his lies. (scroll down for full article)

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[GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS]: “I don’t think that’s what [Mueller] found, but we don’t have time for that now. We’ll talk about it later.”

[DONALD TRUMP]: “That is what he found. Excuse me. He found no collusion. And they didn’t find anything having to do with obstruction because they made the ruling based on his findings and they said no obstruction.”

[STEPHANOPOULOS]: “He didn’t examine collusion, [and] he laid out evidence of obstruction —”

[TRUMP]: “Oh, you trying to say now that there was collusion, even though he said there was no collusion?”

[STEPHANOPOULOS]: “He didn’t say there was no collusion.”

[TRUMP]: “He said no collusion.”

[STEPHANOPOULOS]: “He said he didn’t look at collusion —”

[TRUMP]: “George, the report said — no collusion.”

[STEPHANOPOULOS]: “Did you read the report?”

[TRUMP]: “Yes, I did. You should read it, too, George.”

(Transcript: George Stephanopoulos Interview With President Trump; ABC News; 6/16/2019.)

Last week, Donald Trump made the mistake of submitting to an interview by a legitimate, objective reporter. The journalist, ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, and his organization retained full editorial control per journalistic standards and ethics.

This was confirmed during the interview’s airing when Donald demanded a do-over for his answer to a question after White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney coughed during the president’s response. Trump abruptly ordered the germ-spewing Mulvaney out of the room, complained about his coughing, directed the camera crew to re-position, and started over with his answer to George’s question.

And viewers saw the whole thing.

But hitting Trump where it hurts were his television ratings. Celebrity Family Feud beat out Donald’s nationally broadcast interview by about 2 million viewers. Americans were 50% more interested in The Feud than Trump’s Greatest Hits, even with the added excitement of Stephanopoulos calling him on his lies.

“The famously ratings-obsessed president must have been disappointed to learn that his big ABC interview was not a big hit on TV. … Trump’s performance during the interview — the openness to foreign interference so long as it helps him, the pushing of easily debunkable conspiracy theories, praise for totalitarian dictators, and more — would have been unthinkable had Stephanopoulos been talking to any other president. But 30 months into Trump’s tenure, the lackluster TV ratings are another indication of how the Trump spectacle is becoming normalized.”

(Rupar, Aaron; “Trump’s Interview With George Stephanopoulos, Explained”; Vox; 6/17/2019.)

George, You’re Being a Little Wise Guy

[GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS]: “You didn’t answer questions on obstruction.”

[DONALD TRUMP]: “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I did answer questions. I answered them in writing.”

[STEPHANOPOULOS]: “Not on obstruction —”

[TRUMP]: “I don’t know about this — I don’t know. I answered a lot of questions. They gave me questions. I answered them in writing.”

[STEPHANOPOULOS]: “Not on obstruction.”

[TRUMP]: “Look. George, you’re being a little wise guy, OK — which is, you know, typical for you. Just so you understand. Very simple. It’s very simple. There was no crime. There was no collusion. The big thing’s collusion. Now, there’s no collusion. That means they set — it was a setup, in my opinion, and I think it’s going to come out.”

(Ibid.; Stephanopoulos-Trump; 6/16/2019.)

George Stephanopoulos did what few reporters are willing or able to do when they question Trump at press conferences, before Marine One (presidential helicopter) departures, or in Oval Office Q&A’s. Stephanopoulos followed up the president’s fabrications with reality and facts. Trump lied outright again. George followed up and corrected the facts again.

Trump is used to being let off the hook when he lies. He’s used to silence or non-confrontation after telling whoppers. James Comey recently described in an op-ed how subordinates (and reporters who want to retain their West Wing privileges) simply sit quietly after Donald declares he had the largest inaugural crowd in history, or some other fabulistic pomposity. The FBI director admitted to this practice. Imagine the strength of character it would take for a lesser official to correct the commander in chief, say, the secretary of state, communications director, or vice president — or a reporter whose career depends upon her White House press pass.

But George Stephanopoulos is not beholden to the president for anything. Donald thought he could outfox George intellectually. Trump thinks he’s so good at rhetoric (i.e., persuasion and argumentation) that he could lie profusely (as usual), rationalize it all to George, and show him up with dazzling word salad. But Donald can do this only with subordinates or others who need him. When he’s up against the wall, held to account by anyone who doesn’t need him, he’s forced to go where no intellectually honest, civil, moral rhetor would go:

[TRUMP]: “I answered a lot of questions. They gave me questions. I answered them in writing.”

[STEPHANOPOULOS]: “Not on obstruction.”

[TRUMP]: “Look. George, you’re being a little wise guy, OK — which is, you know, typical for you.”

(Ibid.; Stephanopoulos-Trump; 6/16/2019.)

George Debunks Trump’s FBI Criticism and Deep State Conspiracy With One Question

“It took a single question for Stephanopoulos to debunk the conspiracy theory Trump has been pushing about the Obama-era FBI trying to throw the 2016 election for Hillary Clinton. Alluding to the fact that the Trump campaign was the subject of a counterintelligence investigation that began in July 2016, but the FBI didn’t leak about it, Stephanopoulos asked Trump, ‘If they were determined to prevent you from becoming president, why wouldn’t they leak it beforehand?’ …

“Trump acknowledged that Stephanopoulos’ premise was correct. ‘You know what, you’d have to ask them,’ Trump said. ‘And you know what — had that gone out before the election, I don’t think I would have had enough time to defend myself.’ …

“The President accidentally undercuts the ‘Deep State’ claim by admitting a leak about the FBI’s investigation before the election would have been fatal. But that didn’t happen. Instead, then-FBI Director James Comey repeatedly publicized the bureau’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails, while Trump confidant Rudy Giuliani appeared to be the recipient of leaks about it. Two days before Comey sent a letter to Congress announcing that the Clinton email case had been reopened, Giuliani went on Fox News and said Comey had ‘a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next two days.’ Giuliani later admitted to receiving a heads-up about the ‘surprise.’”

(Ibid.; Rupar; 6/17/2019.)

How Does He Get Away With It?

Psychologists, sociologists, and historians will be analyzing President Donald Trump and his human lemming followers for hundreds of years. Right now, though, no one can fully figure out how he has secured cult-leader control over 40% of the electorate and virtually all Republicans currently serving in government — for whom no amount of Trumpian corruption, amorality, and dishonesty is too much.

In the meantime we are left with, at least temporarily, a new, gutter standard of discourse. If a president sets these standards, the media has no choice but to engage with him, because he is the president.

But we (the people) do not have to accept a corrupted standard of rhetoric from those with whom we might engage. The proper standards of persuasion and argumentation, i.e., rhetoric, arise from the concept of critical thinking. I like this hybrid definition:

“the careful, deliberate, skilled, active interpretation and evaluation of (the veracity, bias, and fairness of) observations, communications, information, and argumentation.”

(Fisher, Alec & Scriven, Michael; Critical Thinking: Its Definition and Assessment; 1997.) (Moore, Brooke Noel & Parker, Richard; Critical Thinking; 2007.)

Skillful use of persuasion and argument carries ethical responsibility. Aristotle was concerned about the misuse of persuasion, which is why he and his Greek buds specified certain ethical guidelines as mandatory for the science and art of rhetoric. The speaker must be “a person of good intentions … and dedicated to truth, accuracy, and goodwill.” And that person should possess “fair-mindedness” and “credibility.” (Memering, Dean & Palmer, William; Critical Thinking: Discovering How to Compose and Analyze Arguments; 2006.)

So when attendees at your next book club meeting discount anything from The New York Times, The Washington Post, or CNN as fake news, shut them down quickly. When people in your Facebook political discussion group say, “What crimes were committed?” “There was no collusion,” “Hillary had sex with the Steele Dossier,” or “Trump was totally exonerated by the Mueller report,” stop engaging. It’s bad for your mental health.

Clearly, these are not people “of good intentions … dedicated to truth, accuracy, and goodwill.”

The following is my answer to Trump cult members who attempt to persuade and argue with no rhetorical accountability or critical thought. Feel free to copy and paste it wherever helpful to you:

Universal Answer to Trump Cultists Wasting Our Time

Here is why engaging with you any further is a waste of everyone’s time. Critically thoughtful discussion is possible between two people or groups who fundamentally disagree on issues. But it’s not possible when one person or group — you — dishonestly refuses to accept baseline facts that reasonable people on both sides of the argument do. It’s not possible when one person or group engages in chronic projection and wholesale logical fallacy to disguise their critical weakness on the facts. When you deny things you know to be true, or wish not to be true, you are a waste of time. When you deny the veracity of legitimate information sources, simply because your leader tells you to, you are a waste of time. By your standards of (un-critical) thinking, all truth is deniable, and there is no reality except that which your leader deems to exist. Once this intellectual insincerity has been exposed about a person or group — you — any further attempt at critically thoughtful debate is a colossal waste of time. ■


EXCERPTS FROM CHRIS CILLIZZA’S “THE 24 MOST BONKERS LINES FROM DONALD TRUMP’S ABC INTERVIEW”

3. “I just was given a meeting with my pollster who — I, frankly, don’t even believe in pollsters, if you want to know the truth. You just run a campaign and whatever it is, it is.”

Follow this logic: Trump just came from a meeting with his pollster but he doesn’t even believe in pollsters. So — how, why, uh, what? Also, does anyone else remember that Trump would start almost every campaign rally during the 2016 primary by going through the most recent polls where he was ahead? Yeah, me too.

6. “I like the truth. You know, I’m actually a very honest guy.”

“President Trump has made 10,796 false or misleading claims over 869 days. Also: Donald Trump lies more often than you wash your hands every day.”

7. “Not only — not only wasn’t he charged, if you read it, with all of the horrible fake news — I mean, I was reading that my son was going to go to jail — this is a good young man — that he was going to go to jail.”

It is true that Donald Trump Jr. was not charged by special counsel Robert Mueller. It is also true that Trump Jr. agreed to meet with Russians at Trump Tower in the summer of 2016 on the promise that they had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. It is also also true that Trump Jr. replied to an email promising dirt on Clinton with this now famous/infamous line: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

9. “[You don’t call the FBI. … Oh, give me a break – life doesn’t work that way. …] The FBI director is wrong because, frankly, it doesn’t happen like that in life.”

Trump is saying that FBI Director Christopher Wray, who he appointed to the job, is wrong about politicians needing to report entreaties by foreign powers to the FBI. Trump, as you may know, is not in fact a law enforcement professional. Here’s what Wray said on the subject last month in testimony to Congress: “If any public official or member of any campaign is contacted by any nation state of anybody acting on behalf of a nation state about influencing or interfering with our election, then that’s something that the FBI would want to know about.”

10. “I don’t — there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent,’ oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”

Truly stunning stuff here. What Trump, who is, reminder, the President of the United States, seems to fail to grasp is that a foreign country would almost certainly have a motive for passing along negative information about Trump’s opponent.

Think back to what we know about Russian interference in the 2016 election. They sought to interfere to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton because they thought Trump would be better for their interests. Trump’s blindness — willful or otherwise — that other countries would pass along this information as part of an attempt to manipulate an American election to produce their desired results is scary — especially when you consider that we have another national election coming in 17 months.

11. “It’s not an interference. They have information. I think I’d take it.”

It is interference. There is a reason that we only let Americans vote in elections. Because Americans should be the ones who have the only say about the future leaders of America. I mean, come on. This is 7th grade civics class stuff.

16. “We had nothing to do with Russia.”

“At least 16 Trump associates had [over 140] contacts with Russians during the campaign or transition.”

18. “What difference does [my internal] polling information make [to Russia]? It doesn’t matter. [Paul Manafort] was maybe trying to do something for an account or something.”

Well, it is a bit odd that Trump’s campaign manager was sharing polling information with [Konstantin] Kilimnik in hopes that it would wind up in front of two Ukrainian [and one Russian] oligarchs, right? I mean, that doesn’t happen every day.

20. “And [Vladimir] Putin, I will say this: if he had it, it was up to him. He would much rather have Hillary Clinton be president right now.”

We know from the Mueller report that Russians interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump and hurt Clinton because they believed Trump would be better for their country’s long-term interests. Also, Putin said flatly that he wanted Trump to win after the two men’s summit in Helsinki. “Yes, I did,” he said. “Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”

21. “But two or three years ago, if somebody comes into your office with [foreign-generated] oppo research — they call it oppo research — with information that might be good or bad or something, but good for you, bad for your opponent, you don’t call the FBI.”

What is this “oppo research” of which you speak?

22. “I would guarantee you that 90%, could be 100%, of the congressmen or the senators over there, have had meetings [with foreigners about election help] — if they didn’t they probably wouldn’t be elected — on negative information about their opponent.”

Trump seems either incapable or unwilling to understand the difference between negative information a campaign unearths about another candidate and taking information from a foreign power. The first is business as usual in politics. The latter is a clear attempt to influence the outcome of another country’s sovereign elections.

23. “I don’t know, I stay uninvolved. I stay totally uninvolved.”

Trump is talking about his dealing with the Justice Department and its ongoing investigations. And yes, this statement is beyond laughable.

24. “The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it, but you go and talk honestly to congressmen, they all do it [accept foreign election help], they always have. And that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.”

I don’t think he knows what the meaning of those words actually are. This feels like a good place to end.

(Cillizza, Chris; “The 24 Most Bonkers Lines From Donald Trump’s ABC Interview”; CNN.com; 6/13/2019.)

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Trump Corruption Chronicles — We Must Never Forget