5 Huge Scandals That Now Seem Pretty Dumb In Retrospect
A new president has taken office, so now things will return to normal. That means no more will we be saying, "Yeah, the president has been fined $2 million for illegally misusing charity money, but there's no time to think about that right now." Instead, we'll get back to making a huge deal over the usual milquetoast Beltway nonsense ... or will we?
Maybe not. Maybe the rules of the game have changed forever. As such, it might be useful to reflect on some controversies of the recent past and marvel at how much the world cared about ...
The "You Didn't Build That" Brouhaha
"If you've got a business, you didn't build that," said then-President Barack Obama at a July 2012 campaign speech. And with that line, he laid bare the cynical lie at the foundation of socialism. He was denying that we're capable of creating anything on our own, and if that's what he believes, well, then no wonder he thinks the government has the right to take as much as it wants from you.
His opponent, Mitt Romney, countered by listing such entrepreneurs as Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, and Papa John (we're tempted to mock these specific examples for various reasons, but let's stay on topic here). That year's Republican National Convention adopted "We Built It" as a theme. It featured a live performance of a song called "I Built It," a completely fictional rags-to-riches story from a country artist who immediately vanished back into obscurity, and just look at the inspired crowd swaying to it with perfect rhythm:
But really ...
He did say "you didn't build that," but when someone uses the word "that," you've got to go back through their words to see what that they're talking about. Like, millions of people are apparently still very confused about what Meat Loaf meant when he sang "I'd Do Anything Love (But I Won't Do That)," but if you just listen to words right before every time he says that line, the answer's right there.
Obama said, "Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that." He was saying you did build your business, but you didn't build the bridges or roads. The broader speech was about all the various ways businesses benefit from public works, from the fire department to the research behind the internet, but that line in particular was about the very narrow subject of transport infrastructure.
So the line was, even at time, something taken out of context and should never have been a controversy. But the hubbub is even funnier looking back. Today, "businesses owe society for roads" doesn't sound like an attempt to reach across the aisle so much as the bare minimum argument for the existence of government, something that says "I'm libertarian, just not kooky libertarian." Today, if a Democrat put forward that argument, they'd probably get pushback from the left for how moderate that is. "Here you are arguing about tolls," you might imagine Twitter saying. "And meanwhile here's me, waiting for you to ERASE MY STUDENT DEBT." (4.2M retweets, no elaboration required.)
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The Red Hen Incident
For years, the US prosecuted illegal immigration but expelled without prosecuting those who came with children, since jailing children is a can of worms no one wants to deal with. The Obama administration also built a giant detention center for asylum seekers, sticking kids and parents in there together hoping this would deter more refugees from showing up, till a court said they couldn't detain kids permanently, that's nuts.
Then came 2018. The Trump administration started doing what a court said Obama couldn't, and more. They detained child asylum seekers indefinitely, but also separated them from their parents, now using the threat of losing your kids to deter new asylum seekers. They had no plan to return the kids to the parents, and hundreds are still parentless today, despite lawyers' attempts to track the parents down. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had to defend this policy, then on June 22, she went to eat at Red Hen, a small Virginia restaurant. They refused to serve her. They did offer to comp her friends' food though, to make up for the awkwardness of her absence.
And so Trump-aligned media sources had a new story to cover, moving from the separation of families to the separation of Sarah from her cheese board.
But really ...
In the United States, racial discrimination is a no-no, as are a couple other types of discrimination with protections against them enshrined in law. But beyond those, establishments can turn you away for whatever reason they like. They can refuse service because you defended caging children. They can refuse service because you didn't cage enough children. Their store, their rules. You didn't build that.
So, viewpoint discrimination is legal. Know what isn't legal? Using a government position to attack a private business for personal reasons. Which happened when Sanders called out the restaurant, and continued when President Trump baselessly attacked the place's hygiene. Resulting in Red Hen getting their reviews throttled, hacked, and having to close for two weeks. When you stand behind the White House podium, you're generally not the one getting bullied.
Not that Sanders stood behind the White House podium all that much. The administration went long stretches without press briefings, with the final gap lasting more than 300 days. The media are currently cheering the new press secretary who promises briefings free from Trump-level lies (just regular lies then; we know how to deal with those), but they should really be cheering/dreading four years of regular briefings, period.
The Movement To Impeach Barack Obama
In December 2013, the House Judiciary Committee held a meeting that they noted was not about impeaching Obama, except for when they said it was. The charge against the president wasn't exactly anything he'd done but what he'd failed at: his "constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws." For example, he hadn't deported enough children (he'd deported a record number of people total, but not enough children). Also, he hadn't enforced one of the mandates of Obamacare. It doesn't appear any of his opponents liked the mandate, but that didn't mean he had the right to go ignoring it, dammit.
This was just one of the many pushes to impeach Obama, from the Congressman who said we should impeach him for being born in Kenya to the Oklahoma legislature who asked that he be impeached over letting trans kids into bathrooms.
But really ...
We're tempted to compare those impeachment charges to the current one against Donald Trump. It's just that the current impeachment charge is kind of wimpy. Really, one single article of impeachment, that's all you can come up with? A couple weeks ago, it seemed like Trump on tape asking Georgia to overturn their election in his favor or his firing a US attorney for not helping in this matter would be impeachable offenses (given that Trump's own legal team, in court, admitted his own voter fraud allegations were false). Or what about when we got his taxes and realized he'd reaped millions as president selling favors -- you'd think that would have been a bigger deal, but we must have been preoccupied that day because we forgot about it right after.
At this point, it might be more interesting to compare Obama's charges to the impeachment charges against Joseph Biden.
Yeah, there have been articles of impeachment filed against Joe Biden. They were filed by Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Greene, for the record, has previously said 9/11, the Reagan assassination attempt, and the Parkland school shooting were all staged, and this filing will go nowhere, but if you aren't thoroughly informed on politics enough to have checked in on how investigations have dismissed all these claims, they sounds serious. The phrase "quid pro quo" is in there, as is "collusion." Why, those were the very words used against Trump! (When real scandals get more serious, made-up ones must too.)
The "But Her Emails" Scandal Gave Way To Worse Behavior
When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, she resisted IT security measures, choosing to use something called a "personal BlackBerry," on whose nature archaeologists can only speculate. She maintained a private email address, and it eventually came out that she hosted this from her own server in her New York home. Her staff deleted some 30,000 personal emails from this server, which sounds incredibly suspicious if you see in this a pattern of behavior from her. Consider for instance, the following MAD cartoon, describing Clinton as a Pokemon:
Some of those jokes may seem strange to you till you realize that this Clinton vs. Trump Pokemon matchup isn't recent commentary but a spread from over 20 years ago, and those missing files refer to a completely unrelated scandal. But the worries over the contents of those deleted personal emails were nothing compared to the national security risk of storing classified information in such an insecure manner, which any hacker could surely mess with.
But really ...
The last few years have lowered the bar a bit for politicians' cybersecurity protocols.
If we're talking about removing files from a private server, Trump had an example of that of course, but the more common thing now is apparently just everyone using insecure devices and no one caring about it. Half a dozen in Trump's inner circle used personal email addresses -- or, worse, WhatsApp, and to record these conversations in accordance with the law, they'd take WhatsApp screenshots. Trump and Giuliani constantly spoke on unsecured, hackable lines. Trump always used an insecure iPhone that of course had a mic and camera, and he refused to turn it over for regular inspections to see if it had been breached. Then there was the Twitter account.
It was always strange that the president communicated using his personal Twitter account, but we all assumed special measures secured it. Probably, the account was tied permanently to his specific device or maybe even to a custom device Twitter had presented to him. Not so, it turned out. Trump didn't even have two-factor authentication turned on. He just had a password -- "maga2020!" -- and any of us could have logged in and tweeted as him. Any of us could have loaded up on put options on the Shanghai Stock Exchange then tweeted "I am hereby suspending all trade! MAGA!" in the middle of the night in the US, crashed the international markets, squared off our positions, and made millions before anyone realized it was a hoax. (Not that we've put much thought into this or anything.)
The Tan Suit
One time, Obama wore a tan suit.
But really ...
The president's fashion choice on August 28, 2014 -- a day featuring such important functions as a press conference regarding US presence in Syria -- earned significant criticism from those who said he had adopted a casual look unbecoming of the office.
Every so often, the media cooks up controversy over a politician's look or habits, and it's generally about their being too elitist, not too laid-back. With Obama, it was dumb controversies over arugula (which sounds fancy, whether or not it really is) and Dijon mustard. At the time of writing, someone at the NY Times observed Joe Biden wearing a Rolex and wants to see if they can make that a thing. Pointing out, on the other hand, that Donald Trump serves McDonald's on White House china doesn't really stand a chance at stirring resentment. You vote for the guy you want to have a beer with, and the less they care about formalities the better. He knew exactly how this looked, and he relished it:
But some controversies break the rules. What we're saying is, the tan suit thing wasn't just dumb compared to actual Trump scandals, or dumb compared to actual Obama scandals, but dumb compared to even fake Obama scandals. For a short time, Obama's opponents were fooled into thinking they cared deeply about dress codes.