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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

WASHINGTON — If Paul Ryan were a liberal, conservatives would describe him as a creature of Washington who has spent virtually all of his professional life as a congressional aide, a staffer at an ideological think tank, and, finally, as a member of Congress. In the right’s shorthand: he never met a payroll.

If they were in a sunny mood, these conservatives would readily concede that Ryan is a nice guy who’s fun to talk to. But they’d also insist that he is an impractical ideologue. He holds an almost entirely theoretical view of the world defined by big ideas that never touch the ground and devotes little energy to considering how his proposed budgets might affect the lives of people he’s never met.

In making Ryan his running mate, Mitt Romney guaranteed that this election will be about big principles, but he also underscored a little-noted transformation in American politics: Liberals and conservatives have switched sides on the matter of which camp constitutes the party of theory and which is the party of practice. Americans usually reject the party of theory, which is what conservatism has now become.

In the late 1960s and ’70s, liberals ran into trouble because they were easily mocked as impractical ideologues with excessive confidence in their own moral righteousness. They were accused of ignoring the law of unintended consequences and of failing to look carefully at who would be helped and who’d be hurt by their grand schemes.

Since I’m a liberal, I’d note that these criticisms were not always fair. Many of the liberals’ enduring achievements — from civil rights to environmental laws to Medicare — grew from the boldness their confidence inspired. But, yes, there was arrogance in liberalism’s refusal to take conservatism seriously.

Conservatives, in the meantime, gained ground by asking tough and practical questions: Will this program work as promised? Does it bear any connection to how the world really works? And, by the way, who benefits?

Now, it is liberals who question conservative master plans and point to the costs of conservative dreams. And in Ryan and his budget proposals, they have been gifted with a the perfect foil.

How can Ryan justify his Medicaid cuts when, as the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found, they would likely leave 14 million to 19 million poor people without health coverage? How can he justify tax proposals that, as The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis pointed out, would reduce the rate on Mitt Romney’s rather substantial income to less than 1 percent? How can he claim his budgets are anti-deficit measures when, as The Washington Post’s Matt Miller has noted, his tax cuts would add trillions to the debt and we wouldn’t be in balance until somewhere around 2030?

For Ryan, such questions (and many others arise) are beside the point because his purposes are so much grander. “Only by taking responsibility for oneself, to the greatest extent possible, can one ever be free,” he wrote in the introduction to his “A Roadmap for America’s Future” in 2010, “and only a free person can make responsible choices — between right and wrong, saving and spending, giving or taking.”

This is close to the definition of freedom offered by Ayn Rand, Ryan’s one-time philosophical hero, in her book, “The Virtue of Selfishness.” Ryan didn’t quote Rand, but as the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza observed, he did cite a lot of intellectuals, including Milton Friedman, Adam Smith, Max Weber, Émile Durkheim, and Georges-Eugène Sorel. Didn’t conservatives once dismiss this sort of thing as “a term paper”?

None of this takes away from Ryan’s charm or seriousness. My one extended experience with him — seven years ago, I moderated a thoughtful and exceptionally civil discussion about politics between Ryan and his liberal Wisconsin colleague Tammy Baldwin — brought home to me why Ryan is so personally popular. He is great to engage with and really believes what he says.

But the issue in this election will be how Americans want to be governed. Republicans mock President Obama for still thinking like the professor he once was, yet in this race, Obama — far more than today’s conservative theorists and to the occasional consternation of his more liberal supporters — is the pragmatist. He’s talking about messy trade-offs: between taxes and spending, government and the private sector, dreams and the facts on the ground. In embracing Ryan, Romney has tied himself to the world of high conservative ideology. As liberals learned long ago, ideology usually loses.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com.

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  • 1.Why did Trump choose to hide certain specific files and not others at Mar-a-Lago? What were the criteria that Trump used to keep some files concealed and not others? Who selected those files? Did Trump consult or direct anyone in his selection of secret files? Trump was notorious for being too impatient to read his briefing papers, even after they had been drastically shortened and simplified. Is there the slightest evidence that he spirited these papers away so that he could consult or study them? Who besides Trump knew of the presence of the files he had concealed at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 2. Mar-a-Lago has an infamous reputation for being open to penetration even by foreign spies. In 2019, the FBI arrested a Chinese woman who had entered the property with electronic devices. She was convicted of trespassing, lying to the Secret Service, and sentenced and served eight-months in a federal prison, before being deported to China. Have other individuals with possible links to foreign intelligence operations been present at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 3. Did members of Trump's Secret Service detail have knowledge of his secret storage of the files at Mar-a-Lago? What was the relationship of the Secret Service detail to the FBI? Did the Secret Service, or any agent, disclose information about the files to the FBI?
  • 4. Trump's designated representatives to the National Archives are Kash Patel and John Solomon, co-conspirators in the investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016, the Ukraine missiles-for-political dirt scandal that led to the first impeachment in 2019, and the coup of 2020. Neither has any professional background in handling archival materials. Patel, a die-hard Trump loyalist whose last job in the administration was as chief of staff to the Acting Secretary of Defense, was supposedly involved in Trump’s “declassification” of some files. Patel has stated, “Trump declassified whole sets of materials in anticipation of leaving government that he thought the American public should have the right to read themselves."
  • The White House counsel failed to generate the paperwork to change the classification markings, but that doesn’t mean the information wasn’t declassified.” If Pat Cipollone, the White House legal counsel, did not “generate the paperwork,” was he or anyone on his staff aware at all of the declassifications? The White House Staff Secretary Derek Lyons resigned his post in December 2020. Did his successor, who held the position for a month, while Trump was consumed with plotting his coup, ever review the material found in Trump’s concealed files for declassification? Or did Patel review the material? Can Patel name any individual who properly reviewed the supposed declassification?
  • 5. Why did Trump keep his pardon of Roger Stone among his secret files? Was it somehow to maintain leverage over Stone? What would that leverage be? Would it involve Stone's role as a conduit with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers during the coup? Or is there another pardon in Trump’s files for Stone, a secret pardon for his activities in the January 6th insurrection? Because of the sweeping nature of the pardon clause, pardons can remain undisclosed (until needed). Pardons are self-executing, require no justification and are not subject to court review beyond the fact of their timely execution. In other words, a court may verify the pardon was valid in time but has no power to review appropriateness. A pardon could even be oral but would need to be verifiable by a witness. Do the files contain secret pardons for Trump himself, members of his family, members of the Congress, and other co-conspirators?
  • 6.Was the FBI warrant obtained to block the imminent circulation or sale of information in the files to foreign powers? Does the affidavit of the informant at Mar-a-Lago, which has not been released, provide information about Trump’s monetization that required urgency in executing the warrant? Did Trump monetize information in any of the files? How? With whom? Any foreign power or entity? Was the Saudi payment from its sovereign wealth fund for the LIV Golf Tournament at Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club for a service that Trump rendered, an exchange of anything of value or information that was in the files? If it involved information in the files was it about nuclear programs? Was it about the nuclear program of Israel? How much exactly was the Saudi payment for the golf tournament? The Saudi sovereign wealth fund gave Jared Kushner and former Trump Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin $2 billion for their startup hedge fund, Affinity Partners. Do the Saudis regard that investment as partial payment for Trump’s transfer of nuclear information? Were Kushner or Mnuchin aware of the secret files at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 7.Did Trump destroy any of the files? If so, when? Did those files contain incriminating information? Did he destroy any files after he received the June subpoena?
  • 8.Were any of the secrets of our allies compromised? Has the U.S. government provided an inventory of breaches or potential breaches to our allies?
  • 9.Does the resort maintain a copying machine near the classified documents that Trump hid? Were any of the documents copied or scanned? Are Trump’s documents at Mar-a-Lago originals or copies? Were any copies shown or given to anyone?
  • 10.Trump’s lawyer Christina Bobb has revealed that a video surveillance system covers the places where Trump hid the files at Mar-a-Lago, and that the system is connected to a system at his other residences at the Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey and Trump Tower in New York City. According to Bobb, Trump and members of his family observed the FBI search and seizure of his files at Mar-a-Lago, “actually able to see the whole thing” through their surveillance system. Who has that surveillance system recorded entering the rooms where the files were kept?

Kevin Bacon, right, in "The Following"

The aftermath of the August 8, 2022 search of the Mar-a-Lago club, former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, isn’t the first showdown between the FBI and a cult leader.

The Following, a 2013 Fox Pictures series, played out in similar fashion. Three seasons was enough for the producers and it’s been nine years since our introduction to Joe Carroll, English professor-novelist-serial killer, so there’s a spoiler risk -- but not enough to prevent the comparison.

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