In an increasingly digital world in which click-bait headlines and less substance rule, details matter more than ever. The political powers hope -- with some evidence they're right -- that Americans are content with generalities.
A population content with generalities will be much easier to manipulate than one that knows its stuff.
Donald Trump got elected to the presidency through a campaign of generalities. They were the kinds of things about half the voting population really wanted to hear, but they lacked specificity. His supporters didn't care. What made his speech to Congress last week seem so "presidential" wasn't that it was extraordinarily eloquent. It's that it marked the first time Trump has articulated anything close to a roadmap that connects the dots of his often erratic pronouncements via Twitter, Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway or other Trump amplifiers. It was a great speech for Trump because it reflected that he, or somebody, has given more than 140 characters worth of thought to his administration's policies.
That won't change people's minds about whether he's right or wrong on policy, but looking toward the nation's 250th anniversary in 2026 created a speech-making mechanism that put Trump's policies in better context. For example, by securing the border and regaining control of who comes into the United States, the president says, the United States can be smart and aggressive in a legal, merit-based immigration process that Americans can be proud of.
I'm not suggesting any of that will make skeptics into believers, and one speech really shouldn't. But any president has to tie his policies together into a cohesive message that plots a course to an identifiable future. Trump's disjointed pontifications have sounded as though he just wants to keep everyone out. Rather, he said, it should be this nation's determination of who comes in, but once that's determined, let them in.
Details matter on the controversies involving his administration, too. Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused from decision-making in any investigations about Russia and the Trump campaign. News broke that Sessions in 2016 had "met with" the Russian's ambassador to the United States twice. Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer carried the partisan buckets by demanding Session's resignation. Pelosi declared Sessions lied to Congress, a claim that isn't supported by the details. Pelosi would see that if the person at the center of the controversy was a member of her party.
It's unnerving to hear the nation's new attorney general met with the Russian ambassador last year, the same year he was supportive of Trump's election and the year questions lingered about Trump's connections with Russia. Details matter, however. One "meeting" was a Heritage Foundation event at the Republican National Convention attended by about 50 ambassadors. Sessions spoke to the group and was approached by a smaller group after his speech. The Russian ambassador was among them.
That's not much of a "meeting" to get bent out of shape over, and it's not much evidence of anything.
Sessions' one-on-one meeting with the Russian ambassador is more contentious, but it's not unusual for a sitting U.S. senator to meet with ambassadors. Sessions' problem is (1) he hasn't articulated what the discussions in that meeting involved and (2) he could have revealed the meeting when he was questioned during his confirmation hearing.
But perjury? The problem with that is Sessions was not asked if he met with the Russian ambassador in 2016. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., did ask what Sessions would do if he learned anyone with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in 2016. Sessions said he wasn't "aware of any of those activities" and, in a role that some had called a "surrogate" for Trump's campaign "I did not have communications with the Russians."
When it comes to asserting perjury, one cannot ask inartful questions then expect to prosecute someone who answered the question asked, but left out information the question wasn't specific enough to get to.
Did Sessions answer the way he should have? Maybe that depends on what the definition of "is" is, as a former Democratic president once argued. I think Sessions should have revealed it, but not doing so wasn't perjury.
Games of partisanship are still the driving force in the nation's capital. Democrats decried them when Hillary Clinton was the target of the GOP. Republicans decry them now as Democrats do their part. And they all look for the next opportunity to engage in them.
Americans desperately need to pay attention to the details well beyond the headlines because both parties' strategies for influencing the populace count on people being ignorant of the details.
Republicans are sometimes right and sometimes wrong. Democrats, the same. And the electorate's best defense against the games parties play are the details too many Americans are willing to let pass as unimportant or, perhaps, just too much work.
Commentary on 03/06/2017
Print Headline: The artful dodgers