It’s a metaphor we’ve become fond of using in these dark times: If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Laurence Tribe, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at the Harvard Law School, is an impeachment hammer. The constitutional scholar has spent most of Donald Trump’s presidency floating the various ways in which Trump might be impeached.
Some of this was spent echoing wild conspiracy theories involving ultra-dubious sources whom even the Daily Kos, which will publish literally anything so long as it’s harmful to anyone not suitably leftist, warned were “self-aggrandizing, self-promoting hacks.”
Tribe naturally became one of the media’s favorite sources during the impeachment process and trial. The media circus tent picked up stakes long ago and had moved onto more salient issues even before we were all under stay-at-home orders communicating with our co-workers and loved ones via Zoom. This left Tribe as a palm reader still glued to his booth long after the fairgrounds were deserted.
If only there were some tacky, heartless way he could reinsert himself into the media conversation.
What if we were to learn that Trump suppressed scary information re COVID-19 (and the needed federal response) in January to postpone the economic turndown until it could no longer endanger his Senate acquittal? Retweet if you wouldn’t be surprised by his making that tradeoff.
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) April 5, 2020
That’s one way, I suppose.
On Sunday, the Harvard professor reminded us that impeachment happened and that he was still trying to make it happen by implying that the president had “suppressed scary information re COVID-19” because an “economic turndown” could “endanger his Senate acquittal.”
As of Monday morning, a grand total of 28,000 people had retweeted his message, a significant number when you consider Tribe has 806,400 followers on the social media platform. It’s impossible to calculate how many of these retweets involved some appended comment such as, “Can you believe this fabulist? Unreal,” but even factoring those into the equation, it’s a hefty number.
And let’s not forget that Tribe isn’t seen as some far-left crank who’s debased his credibility with conspiracy theories like this. (He should be seen that way, mind you, but he isn’t.) He appears with unpleasant frequency on CNN and MSNBC, although less so since impeachment has petered out. And he appeared with everyone knowing he was a man who frequently dallied with farcical ideas about the president.
Take, for instance, his stance on a report that spies had called Trump a useful idiot or a Russian asset for saying that Russia should be readmitted to the G-7. “Of course he’s both,” Tribe said in a now-deleted tweet. “Trump has been a Russian asset AND an idiot, how useful is unclear, from the beginning.”
In another now-deleted tweet, he compared Trump to Adolf Hitler and implied what he saw as their similar physiognomy belied other similarities.
— Cameron M Fox (@CameronMFox1) May 14, 2019
“Horrifying. I’m not saying Trump is becoming Hitler, so don’t bother tweeting the distinctions,” he tweeted. “But the physical and behavioral resemblances aren’t altogether irrelevant. No prior president even suggests the comparison.”
Apparently, enough people tweeted the distinctions that Tribe decided, not unwisely, to take it down.
This is really just the start.
Tribe was an unusually enthusiastic booster of The Palmer Report, a website filled with unverified Trump conspiracy theories. Another source he’s used is Claude Taylor, a D.C. photographer whose “scoops” — like a totally uncorroborated 2017 claim that Steve Bannon was under investigation for physical threats against White House staffers, amplified by Tribe — are generally ignored by the media.
Now, he’s claiming, sans any evidence, that the president might have let hundreds of thousands of people die because he didn’t want to be convicted.
Leaving alone the practical problems with the claim — Senate Republicans would have almost certainly sped up or suspended the process if a pandemic was at our doorstep and the stock market was plummeting — the claim itself is enraging.
Remember that Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton was dragged over the coals by the media for suggesting that Wuhan research facilities might be the source of the novel coronavirus. That was considered a conspiracy theory, even though Cotton hadn’t said it was released deliberately or was a bioweapon. Events of recent days have proven that’s not entirely out of the question; even The Washington Post, which blasted Cotton as a peddler of debunked conspiracy theories, has published a piece making the exact argument Cotton did.
Tribe, meanwhile, isn’t in the news for this. While I understand he’s not a member of Congress, Tribe is a powerful thought leader on the left whose influence could be felt in the Democrats’ rhetoric and impeachment strategy. This deserved more attention.
Instead, a blue-checkmarked constitutional law scholar is allowed to blast reckless conspiracy theories about the president of these United States allowing coronavirus to spread unchecked because he was afraid it would affect his acquittal.
And mind you, this isn’t going to affect his screen time on CNN or MSNBC at all. Everyone there is going to continue pretending this never happened and continue soliciting the opinions of a man who isn’t entirely sure Donald Trump didn’t scheme to spread disinformation about coronavirus that got people killed.
Impeachment is still the nail for Tribe. Everything — including a pandemic that’s an existential threat to our way of life — is processed in that frame of mind for him. Thus, irresponsible conspiracy theories, as long as they link back to that key event for him, are perfectly acceptable.
I would hope cable news channel executives and his fellow academics would see this and realize what they’re dealing with when it comes to Tribe. This is a man who needs far less time in the public eye.
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