Weighing whether to can Rosenstein, Trump tuned in TV hosts
By JONATHAN LEMIRE
Monday, September 24
BRIDGEWATER, N.J. (AP) — As Air Force One streaked across the desert sky and Las Vegas faded in the distance, President Donald Trump began seeking opinions.
The TVs on the plane, tuned as always to Fox News, carried headlines about an explosive new story: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had suggested wearing a wire to secretly record Trump, and raised the idea of using the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office.
On the flights both to and from a Missouri rally, Trump polled staff on the plane, called his outside network of advisers and kept a careful eye on what his favorite hosts on his favorite network were recommending.
The messages were mixed, but more were in favor of containing the urge to fire Rosenstein, a move that would declare open warfare with the Justice Department and cast doubt on the future of the special counsel’s Russia probe, according to two people familiar with the exchanges but not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.
Trump, though telling confidants that he felt the moment was another example of the “Deep State” and media conspiring to undermine him, held off dismissing Rosenstein. For now.
But the aftershocks of the story are rattling Washington still.
“He shouldn’t fire Rosenstein unless you believe Rosenstein’s lying. He says he did not do the things alleged,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. on “Fox News Sunday.”
“But there’s a bureaucratic coup against President Trump being discovered here. Before the election, the people in question tried to taint the election, tip it to (Hillary) Clinton’s favor. After the election they’re trying to undermine the president.”
The details of the memos written by a former deputy FBI director, Andrew McCabe, triggered immediate speculation that the information would give Trump the justification to do what he has long desired: dismiss Rosenstein, the Justice Department official overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The story broke as Trump was in his motorcade heading toward a Department of Veterans Affairs event in North Las Vegas, Nevada, on Friday, though some in the White House had been alerted to the report the day before. Rosenstein immediately put out a statement refuting the story and then, after being summoned to the West Wing that evening by White House chief of staff John Kelly, put out a second, stronger denial.
At the same time, at a rally in Springfield, Missouri, on behalf of Senate candidate Josh Hawley, Trump made a cryptic remark about removing the “lingering stench” from the FBI and Justice Department but did not explicitly bring up the Rosenstein story.
Later, the president angrily asked confidants, both inside and outside the White House, how to respond. He received mixed messages. Some urged him to fire Rosenstein. Others suggested restraint while seeing if the report was incorrect or if it was planted by some adversary.
Still others believed that firing Rosenstein before the November election would further the Democratic talking point of an administration in disarray and damage the Republicans’ chances of keeping control of Congress.
Trump also received conflicting advice from his other team of counselors: the hosts at Fox News. While Laura Ingraham initially urged Trump to fire Rosenstein, Sean Hannity pleaded with the president not to act.
“It is all a setup,” said Hannity, seeming to directly address Trump. “Under zero circumstances should the president fire anybody.”
And on Saturday, another Trump cable favorite, Jeanine Pirro, took to Twitter to wonder if Rosenstein himself leaked the story “to force” Trump to fire him.
Spending the weekend at his New Jersey golf course, Trump continued to ask allies about the reports and fumed about the involvement of McCabe, whom the president has long believed conspired against him. McCabe was fired this spring not being fully truthful under oath.
But the president’s attention was also divided while at Bedminster, as he was focused on developments in Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings while also being urged by aides to prepare for the upcoming U.N. General Assembly.
Trump, never shy to loudly express disappointment in the Justice Department, has not tweeted about the matter. The White House did not respond to requests for comment.
“Rod deserves the right to be heard,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“And I’m sure at some point the president will bring Rod in and say, ‘Rod if you think I am incompetent, if you feel the need to wear a wire when you’re talking to me, then why are you serving in my administration?’”
Democrats urged that Rosenstein be spared.
The report “must not be used as a pretext for the corrupt purpose of firing Rosenstein in order to install an official who will allow the president to interfere with the Special Counsel’s investigation,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted.
But the reports create even greater uncertainty for Rosenstein in his position at a time when Trump has lambasted the department’s leadership and publicly humiliated both Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Some of Trump’s fiercest congressional allies had already floated trying to impeach the deputy attorney general.
It’s also the latest revelation that could affect Mueller.
Sessions withdrew from the Russia inquiry soon after he took office, to Trump’s dismay, and Rosenstein later appointed Mueller. Trump has resisted calls from conservative commentators for more than a year to fire both Sessions and Rosenstein and appoint someone who would ride herd more closely on Mueller or dismiss him.
The reported conversation about possibly secretly recording the president took place at a tense May 2017 meeting during the tumultuous period that followed Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. The White House said that decision, which upset many rank-and-file agents, was based on the Justice Department’s recommendation. The Justice Department issued a statement from one of the participants in the meeting who described the remark as sarcastic.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JonLemire
Something’s going on here: Building a comprehensive profile of conspiracy thinkers
September 24, 2018
Associate Professor of Psychology, Union College
Joshua Hart does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Here’s a theory: President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Here’s another: Climate change is a hoax. Here’s one more: The “deep state” spied on Donald Trump’s campaign, and is now trying to destroy his presidency.
Who believes this stuff? Conspiracy theories have been cooked up for ages, but for the first time in history, we have a president who has regularly endorsed them. Assuming that President Donald Trump’s preoccupation is genuine, he shares it with many fellow Americans. What explains it?
I’m a psychologist who studies, among other things, people’s worldviews and belief systems. I wanted to figure out why some people gobble up conspiratorial explanations, while others dismiss them as the raving of lunatics.
Consistency in views
By and large, people gravitate toward conspiracy theories that seem to affirm or validate their political views. Republicans are vastly more likely than Democrats to believe the Obama “birther” theory or that climate change is a hoax. Democrats are more likely to believe that Trump’s campaign “colluded” with the Russians.
But some people are habitual conspiracists who entertain a variety of generic conspiracy theories.
For example, they believe that world politics are controlled by a cabal instead of governments, or that scientists systematically deceive the public. This indicates that personality or other individual differences might be at play.
In fact, some people seem to be downright devoted to conspiracy theories. When conspiracy maven Alex Jones’ content was recently banned from several social media websites, the popularity of his Infowars news app skyrocketed.
Scientific research examining the nature of the “conspiratorial disposition” is abundant, but scattershot. So in a pair of new studies, and with help from my student Molly Graether, I tried to build on previous research to piece together a more comprehensive profile of the typical conspiracy theory believer, and for that matter, the typical non-believer.
We asked more than 1,200 American adults to provide extensive information about themselves and whether they agreed with generic conspiratorial statements. We tried to measure as many personal factors as possible that had been previously linked to conspiracy belief. Looking at many traits simultaneously would allow us to determine, all else being equal, which ones were most important.
Consistent with previous research, we found that one major predictor of conspiracy belief was “schizotypy.” That’s a constellation of traits that include a tendency to be relatively untrusting, ideologically eccentric and prone to having unusual perceptual experiences (e.g., sensing stimuli that are not actually present). The trait borrows its name from schizophrenia, but it does not imply a clinical diagnosis.
Schizotypy is the strongest predictor of conspiracy belief. In addition to experiencing the world in unusual ways, we found that people higher in schizotypy have an elevated need to feel unique, which has previously been linked with conspiracism. Why? Probably because believing in non-mainstream ideas allows people to stand out from their peers, but at the same time take refuge in a community of like-minded believers.
In our studies, conspiracy believers were also disproportionately concerned that the world is a dangerous place. For example, they were more likely to agree that “all the signs” are pointing to imminent chaos.
Finally, conspiracists had distinct cognitive tendencies: They were more likely than nonbelievers to judge nonsensical statements as profound – for example, “wholeness quiets infinite phenomena” – a tendency cheekily known as “bullshit receptivity.”
They were also more likely to say that nonhuman objects – triangle shapes moving around on a computer screen – were acting intentionally, as though they were capable of having thoughts and goals they were trying to accomplish.
In other words, they inferred meaning and motive where others did not.
Is Trump a conspiracy thinker?
Although we can’t know how he would score on our questionnaires, President Trump’s public statements and behavior suggest that he fits the profile fairly well.
First, he does display some schizotypal characteristics. He is famously untrusting of others. Donald Trump Jr. has described how his father used to admonish him in kindergarten not to trust anyone under any circumstances. The elder Trump is also relatively eccentric. He is a unique politician who doesn’t hew consistently to party lines or political norms. He has espoused unusual ideas, including the theory that people have a limited lifetime reservoir of energy that physical exercise depletes.
President Trump also seems to see the world as a dangerous place. His campaign speeches warned about murderous rapist immigrants flooding across the border and black communities being in “the worst shape” they’ve ever been. His inauguration address described a hellish landscape of “American carnage.”
Chaos needs comfort
The dismal nature of most conspiracy theories presents a puzzle to psychologists who study beliefs, because most belief systems – think religion – are fundamentally optimistic and uplifting. Psychologists have found that people tend to adopt such beliefs in part because they fulfill emotional goals, such as the need to feel good about oneself and the world. Conspiracy theories don’t seem to fit this mold.
Then again, if you are a person who looks at the world and sees chaos and malevolence, perhaps there is comfort in the notion that there is someone to blame. If “there’s something going on,” then there is something that could be done about it.
Perhaps, then, even the darkest and most bizarre conspiracy theories offer a glint of hope for some people.
Take the “QAnon” theory that has recently received a flurry of media attention. This theory features a nightmare of pedophile rings and satanic cults. But some adherents have adopted a version of the theory that President Trump has it all under control.
If our research advances the understanding of why some people are more attracted to conspiracy theories than others, it is important to note that it says nothing about whether or not conspiracy theories are true.
After the Watergate scandal brought down a president for participating in a criminal conspiracy, the American public learned that seemingly outlandish speculation about the machinations of powerful actors is sometimes right on the money.
And when a conspiracy is real, people with a conspiracist mindset may be among the first to pick up on it – while others get duped. The rub is that the rest of the time, they might be duping themselves.
Trump assails Kavanaugh accuser, ditching GOP strategy
By ALAN FRAM and CATHERINE LUCEY
Friday, September 21
WASHINGTON (AP) — After holding his tongue for a week, President Donald Trump sarcastically assailed the woman claiming a decades-old sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, tweeting that if the episode was “as bad as she says,” she or “her loving parents” surely would have reported it to law enforcement.
Trump’s searing reproach of Christine Blasey Ford on Friday defied the Senate Republican strategy — and the advice of White House aides — of not disparaging her while firmly defending his nominee and the tight timetable for confirming him.
The comment came as the California psychology professor’s attorneys sought agreement from Republicans on terms under which she might testify at a Judiciary Committee hearing next week. That showdown, should it occur, could play out on national television and settle whether Kavanaugh’s nomination survives.
The president’s tweet brought blistering rejoinders from Democrats and a mix of silence and sighs of regret from his own party. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who hasn’t declared support for Kavanaugh, called the remark “appalling.”
It was also the latest provocation — from a man who’s faced a litany of sexual misconduct allegations himself — of moderate female voters whose support Republicans will need to fend off a robust Democratic drive to capture congressional control in November’s elections.
Kavanaugh, the 53-year-old District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals judge, has repeatedly denied the accusation from his teenage years. Ford, 51, says an inebriated Kavanaugh pinned her on a bed during a high school party in the 1980s, muffled her screams and tried undressing her before she escaped.
Minutes after Trump’s tweet on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell played verbal hardball of his own, drawing a standing ovation when he assured a gathering of evangelical activists that the conservative Kavanaugh would soon be a justice.
Acknowledging the tumult Ford’s accusation has caused, McConnell said at the Values Voter Summit, “Keep the faith, don’t get rattled by it. We’re going to plow right through and do our jobs.”
McConnell has wanted to whisk Kavanaugh to confirmation before the court’s new term starts Oct. 1 — and before November’s elections. He still hopes to do so despite the emergence of Ford’s allegations.
Republicans have pressured Ford to testify at a hearing this Monday, a session at which Kavanaugh has already said he’d appear. In bargaining that continued Friday, her attorneys conditionally offered an appearance for Thursday, saying Monday wasn’t possible.
Ford also wants the government to provide security. Her lawyers say she’s relocated her family due to death threats. She planned to meet with FBI agents in the San Francisco area to discuss those threats, said a person close to her who would describe her plans only anonymously.
Ford’s attorneys want Ford to testify after Kavanaugh, not appear in the same room as him and face no questioning by outside attorneys. Republicans, whose 11 committee members are all male, have looked for a female lawyer to handle Ford’s examination.
But it seemed almost certain that Kavanaugh would testify last, a position attorneys believe is advantageous because it allows a rebuttal of any charges.
Until Friday, Trump’s most caustic comment had been an expression of incredulity that Kavanaugh had committed an assault. His relatively restrained responses had some White House aides believing they had tamed his notoriously undisciplined impulses.
“The president doesn’t need anybody to tell him. He does the right thing,” presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters Friday morning when asked if she’d advised him to not criticize Ford.
Minutes later he erupted from Las Vegas, where he had spent the night after a political rally.
“I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!” he wrote.
The remark infuriated many who’ve long argued that women are frequently overwhelmed, confused and ashamed by sexual attacks and keep silent or even bury the memory without confiding with anyone. Using a combination of Justice Department statistics and Census Bureau surveys, the government says fewer than 1 in 4 rapes and sexual assaults were reported to police in 2016.
Ford has said she never mentioned the alleged incident to anyone until 2012, when she revealed it during a marriage counseling session with her husband.
“A highly offensive misunderstanding of surviving trauma,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted about Trump’s attack. Sen Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called it “another disgusting attempt to discredit Dr. Ford,” while Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., tweeted, “It’s sad but not surprising that she’s been met with an utter lack of decency by elected leaders of this country.”
McConnell’s confident prediction of Kavanaugh’s impending confirmation came as the nomination seemed to be gaining momentum. GOP senators who’d voiced concern about Ford’s charges had stopped short of expressing opposition to Kavanaugh, and growing numbers of Republicans said it was about time to vote.
Still, Kavanaugh’s fate remained unclear, with some saying that a hearing featuring him and Ford would be decisive and risky for the GOP — and not helped by Trump’s tweet.
Ari Fleischer, who was spokesman for President George W. Bush, said in an interview that the tweet did not help party leaders corral moderates Collin and Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whose support in the 51-49 GOP-run Senate would likely be pivotal.
“Nobody has anything wired,” Fleischer said. “We’re watching events unfold. If she testifies, all bets are off.”
Trump’s tweet also opened the door for political foes to remind voters of his own history of sexual misadventures.
During his 2016 presidential campaign alone, he was accused by more than a dozen women of sexual misconduct and endured the release of a 2005 video that captured him boasting about groping women. He’s also defended prominent men accused of sexual misbehavior, including former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes and Roy Moore, the Alabama GOP Senate candidate who was defeated after allegations of seeking relationships with underage women.
AP congressional correspondent Lisa Mascaro and reporters Mary Clare Jalonick, Eric Tucker, Ken Thomas, Jill Colvin and Zeke Miller contributed.
Are today’s white kids less racist than their grandparents?
September 17, 2018
Assistant Professor of Sociology, Mississippi State University
Margaret Hagerman does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Mississippi State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
In America’s children, we often see hope for a better future, especially when it comes to reducing racism.
Each new generation of white people, the thinking goes, will naturally and inevitably be more open-minded and tolerant than previous ones.
But do we have any reason to believe this? Should we have faith that today’s white kids will help make our society less racist and more equitable?
Previous research has had mixed findings. So in order to explore more fully what white kids think about race, I went straight to the source: white children themselves.
In my new book, “White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America,” I explore how 36 white, affluent kids think and talk about race, racism, privilege and inequality in their everyday lives.
The limitations of survey data
Before beginning my research, I looked at what previous studies on the racial attitudes of young white people had found.
According to some researchers, we do have reason to be hopeful.
Using survey data, they found that young white people are expressing less prejudice than generations before them. For instance, white support for segregated schools – a traditional measure of racial prejudice – has dramatically decreased over a 50-year period. And surveys show that younger whites are less likely to express racial stereotypes than older whites.
But a second group of researchers disagreed. They found that whites today simply articulate racial prejudice in new ways.
For example, according to national survey data, high school seniors are increasingly expressing a form of prejudice that sociologist Tyrone Forman calls “racial apathy” – an “indifference toward societal, racial, and ethnic inequality and lack of engagement with race-related social issues.”
Racial apathy is a more passive form of prejudice than explicit articulations of bigotry and racial hostility. But such apathy can nonetheless lead white people to support policies and practices that align with the same racist logic of the past, like a lack of support for social programs and policies designed to address institutional racism or an indifference toward the suffering of people of color.
Other researchers question the ability of surveys to capture honest responses from whites about race-related questions or to describe the complexity of whites’ perspectives on race.
As useful as surveys can be, they don’t allow us to fully understand how white people explain, justify or develop their views on race.
What the kids are saying
In order to better understand how white children think about race, I interviewed and observed 30 affluent, white families with kids between the ages of 10 and 13 living in a Midwestern metropolitan area. Over the course of two years, I immersed myself in the everyday lives of these families, observing them in public and in the home, and interviewing the parents and the kids. A few years later, when the kids were in high school, I re-interviewed a subset of the original group.
These children had some shared understandings of race, like the idea that “race is the color of your skin.” But when I brought up topics like racism, privilege and inequality, their responses started to diverge, and there was more variation than I anticipated.
Some kids told me that “racism is not a problem anymore.” But others told me in great detail about the racial wealth gap, employment discrimination, unequal schooling, and racist treatment of black kids by police.
As an 11-year-old named Chris explained:
“I think that the white kids, since they have more power in general in society … disciplinary actions aren’t brought down as hard upon them. But when it’s, you know, a black kid getting in trouble with the police … I think people are going to be tougher with them, because, you know, [black kids] can’t really fight back as well.”
Although some of the kids had much greater understandings of the history of racism in America, others flattened time and lumped all of African-American history together, while also mixing up names and dates.
One 11-year-old named Natalie told me:
“Racism was a problem when all those slaves were around and that, like, bus thing and the water fountain. I mean, everything was crazy back in the olden days. … But now, I mean, since Martin Luther King and, like, Eleanor Roosevelt, and how she went on the bus. And she was African-American and sat on the white part. … After the 1920s and all that, things changed.”
When it came to the understandings of privilege and inequality, some kids made comments like, “There’s no such thing [as privilege]. Everyone gets what they deserve in life, if they work for it.”
Other kids disagreed, like 11-year-old Aaron:
“I think [whites] just kind of have the upside. … And since much of society is run by white people anyway, which is an upside, more white people are, you know, accepted into jobs, so they get the upside. So, yeah, I do think they have the upside.”
I also found that many of the children expressed forms of racial apathy. When a black teenager was shot and killed by a police officer in the community, 16-year-old Jessica told me that she “did not care” about black people being killed because they “obviously did something to deserve it.”
But some kids, like 16-year-old Charlotte, had a very different reaction:
“It should all be stopped. There is actually a problem and a system that allowed this to happen. … Technically, legally, what that officer did was ‘okay’? It’s like, well, maybe that’s the problem. Maybe killing black people shouldn’t be legally ‘okay,’ you know?”
The importance of a child’s social world
Why such stark differences among these kids?
It wasn’t simply a matter of these kids repeating the views of their parents.
I found that their perspectives were shaped less by what their parents explicitly said about race and more by the social environments these kids grew up in – and how their parents constructed these environments.
Decisions parents made about where to live, where to send their kids to school, which extracurricular activities to enroll them in, where they traveled and what media they consumed work to create what I refer to as a child’s “racial context of childhood.”
Within this racial context, kids developed ideas about race by observing and interpreting what was going on around them. And because of important variations in these social environments, the children made sense of race in different ways.
In this sense, my work builds on existing scholarship on how children develop understandings about race and racism in the context of family, place, early school experiences,elementary and secondary schools, child care and even summer camp.
All of these aspects of a child’s social environment play a role in shaping how they learn about race.
Are white kids less racist than their grandparents? My research with kids doesn’t give us any reason to believe that each new generation of white people will naturally or inevitably hold more open-minded and tolerant viewpoints on race than previous generations.
Dismantling racism in the United States will require more than just passive hope.