March Madness — higher ed’s Springtime PR-fest known as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament — usually refers to when the spotlight catches underdogs like the University of California Irvine (UCI) Anteaters.
UCI, the 13th seed in the South Regional, upset 4th seeded, Kansas State in the biggest first-round upset last Friday.
Irvine, not known for basketball, has the unique diversity distinction as one of the most Asian American schools in the country.
UCI entered the Fall of 2018 with a 35 percent Asian American population, the highest in the UC system — more than Berkeley or UCLA, according to the statewide UC website (UCI’s profile includes Whites, 16 percent; Latinx, 22 percent; African American, 2 percent. International students are at 19 percent).
Those demographics produced one of the top basketball teams in the country. You can’t just photo shop your head on an athletic body and join this varsity.
Still, madness has its limits.
Sunday night, UCI was hammered by 12th seeded Oregon, 74-59.
Logic was restored in basketball, but not national politics, where March Madness has a different meaning in the Trump era.
NO COLLUSION? SORT OF, BUT DEFINITELY NO EXONERATION.
The president has been so stuck on a certain refrain as he tries to convince the country of his fitness to be president, one wonders if he should officially change his name to President “No Collusion.”
On Sunday, when Attorney General William P. Barr released his Cliff Notes summary on the Mueller Report, Trump’s very first public remarks were filled with a favorite catchphrase.
“It was just announced there was no collusion with Russia, the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” the president said. “There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction. None whatsoever. And it was a complete and total exoneration. It’s a shame that our country had to go through this. To be honest it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this before I even got elected it began. And it began illegally. And hopefully someone’s going to look at the other side. This was an illegal takedown that failed and hopefully somebody’s going to be looking at the other side. And so it’s a complete exoneration. No collusion. No obstruction.”
Too bad Trump-speak obscures the truth and reveals a kind of collusion confusion.
The issue wasn’t collusion, but rather whether the Trump campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election. Barr’s note said Mueller did not find evidence to reach that conclusion. That’s despite that infamous Trump Tower meeting.
Obstruction is more complicated. Mueller laid out both sides of the question and specifically stated “while this report does not conclude the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Barr, Trump’s handpicked attorney general who was against the Mueller probe in the first place, did what he was expected to do. Both he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided not to prosecute the president.
But on what basis? A crime isn’t necessary to prove obstruction. Was it because Mueller wasn’t able to subpoena and interview Trump? We’ll only know if we go beyond Barr’s summary and Congress gets the full Mueller report — the one that cost taxpayers $25 million to produce.
Without that, there can be no “complete exoneration.”
And even then, it may not be complete. Not when there’s also the criminal investigation of the Southern District of New York, the investigations into his workplace, his charitable foundation, his inaugural committee, all to come.
That there were no new indictments out of the Mueller report was somewhat of a relief for Trump considering the scorecard so far for the Mueller team is pretty alarming: Seven convicted or pleading guilty, 27 more indicted including 26 Russians, according to a New York Times count.
And of course, two of Trump’s top associates — campaign chair Paul Manafort and personal attorney Michael Cohen — are going to jail.
“Complete exoneration”? That’s madness.
And mind you, no one has even begun to mention a prominent “I” word, unless you mean “Irvine.”
If Trump wants to change the dynamic and bring the country together, he should immediately collude with Congress to get at the truth. That would send the message to all that our democracy is strong. And that the president understands one of its basic tenets. That he is not above the law.
DISTRACTIONS, FREE SPEECH AND HIGHER ED
This is a real opportunity for the president to actually show he is capable of uniting the country by being “presidential.”
What is that? A president for all of us and not just himself?
But already Trump seems to be preparing to attack over Mueller, referring in his first public remarks to “an illegal takedown that failed” and how “hopefully somebody’s going to be looking at the other side.” Sounds like he’s prepping for an autocrat’s revenge.
Leading up to the release of Mueller’s report, Trump’s behavior was already a bit unhinged. There was a barrage of tweets that were so unbecoming of a president, but it is his preferred mode of communication. Anti-intellectual. Non-serious. Short. Pungent. Like spitting on the curb.
He especially likes to pick on Republicans. War heroes like Sen. John McCain, whom the president criticizes because he was captured. And then there’s George Conway, a Filipino American Republican, and the husband of presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway.
George Conway has dared to engage the president by pointing out the possibility of that executive branch narcissism is a form of mental illness. Though not fair to people with real mental illness, the shared information from the DSM-5 does makes a legitimate observation, if not a legitimate diagnosis. In response, the president criticized Conway’s fitness as a husband, which the president knows a lot about after his own three marriages, two public affairs and one damning “Access Hollywood” video.
But there are distractions, and there are things to get done while you’re distracted.
That’s where higher ed fits in.
Did you see the president’s executive order on campus free speech last week?
It doesn’t do a damn thing about free speech.
In fact, it makes it more costly.
The First Amendment as the law of the land already works well among public institutions. This executive order was simply to codify the kind of threat the president made to the University of California at Berkeley after the school cancelled appearances by the conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in 2017.
Any cancellation was not a violation of First Amendment rights by the school. And yet, the president was clearly eyeballing the stripping of more than $300 million in federal research funds UC Berkeley if it didn’t play by his rules.
Plain old bully tactics.
Most news outlets, which gave tons of coverage to the initial story in 2017, gave the executive order signing short shrift this time. It shouldn’t have. This is a real threat and a
“below the radar” abuse of power as it ties federal funds to whether campus’ allow Pro-Trump conservatives to speak on campus.
They can already. But now there’s a financial threat in writing.
It’s just another example of the Trump -style, so antithetical to our democracy.
But a clear sign of the new March Madness.
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He is an adjunct professor at San Francisco State University. He writes for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. You can follow him on Twitter @emilamok.