Category Archives: presidency

The Rubicon – Trump and what must be done

Looked at from a certain perspective, the course of the Trump administration so far could be depicted as a series of moments best characterized by people’s reactions to them– summarized perhaps as “OMG!” or “WTF?” or “ROFLMAO!”  The last might be more common, I think, if most of the stuff this incompetent buffoon puts out did not have so many serious implications.  His ludicrous imposition of tariffs on our allies (Canada?  CANADA?) is just the most recent example.

Unfortunately, any humor we might have found in the gyrations of a president unhindered by such mundane virtues as truthfulness and an allegiance to facts is fast becoming impossible.  His clownishness has begun to have real world impacts, to the point that some think the Western political and economic order as we know it is in danger.

More than that, closer to home the implications of Trump’s attitudes and actions are crowding in on our domestic political life.  To put it succinctly, we are now effectively living through a constitutional crisis.  To put it more informally, this shit is getting real.

The Mueller investigation may be approaching a climax.  Certainly, Trump’s hysteria over it continues to grow.  This past week, it reached a gobsmacking peak when Trump asserted the idea that he can pardon himself in the event of any indictment.

Please, roll that one around in your brain for a minute.  What Trump is saying, effectively, is that he is above the law.  That he can commit crimes and then escape any consequences for those crimes.  This is, essentially, the assertion of an absolutist privilege, something never countenanced in the Constitution or among the Founding Fathers.  This would be a major cornerstone for an authoritarian regime.

I take some comfort in the fact that most people, aside from Rudy Giuliani and a few of the more servile Trumpist lackeys in Congress, think the idea either laughable or unacceptable or both.  Any attempt by Trump to pardon himself, most agree, would swiftly bring impeachment down on his head.  It’s so obviously a threat to our republican form of government that even hard-shelled right-wing GOP congressmen would have to reject it.  As a possibility, it probably exists on in Trump’s own deluded imagination.

But to me the fact that Trump is even willing to broach the idea publicly means we must have crossed some sort of Rubicon last week.  To anyone other than a true believer, there can be now no doubt as to how Trump sees himself, and himself in relation to the Republic.  This man has been a threat, is a threat, and will be threat, to that republic until he has been removed from office.

Now, a reality check.  It’s so easy to type the words, “remove from office”, but not at all easy to carry out in fact.  Under our Constitution, removal of a president by impeachment has to meet a high bar–that of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”.  This was intended by the Founders to prevent presidents from being removed for mere political disagreements.  This requirement is right and proper, and has helped keep the United States from the sort of governmental chaos that other nations have all-too-often known.  But it means that removing a president, even one that deserves removal, is not easily done.  Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both acquitted in their Senate trials, and Richard Nixon resigned before the articles of impeachment against him could be completed.  Removing a president by impeachment, in other words, has never actually been done.

To remove a president from office means that matters of evidence have to be presented to the Senate in a trial.  If we want to remain a nation of laws– which is really what this is all about– that means we can’t impeach a president just because we dislike him or disagree with him.  This is essentially what they tried with Bill Clinton and the effort fell flat, as it should have.

Evidence is what the Mueller investigation is about.  At this point in time, however, we don’t know what, if anything, Mueller has uncovered, beyond the indictments that have already been made public.  There is plenty of gossip, supposition and rumor about what Mueller is finding, but we really don’t know.

In the end, he may not find anything, especially around the charges of collusion with the Russians.  It may be all smoke and no fire.  Despite the overheated nature of press speculation around the investigation, there may yet be nothing there.

If that happens, then we have one problem– how to deal with the incompetent, narcissistic clown occupying the White House.  Because, quite aside from alleged criminality, Trump is still horrifyingly unqualified to be president, intellectually, morally, and in terms of skills.  He is already causing damage to the reputation of the United States, our ties with our closest allies (Canada, come back!), and our diplomatic efforts to make the world safer and more free.  He has no policy other than his whims and what he thinks will please his base.  And the Constitution makes no provision for the dismissal of a president for incompetence– otherwise, our history would look very different, perhaps for good, but far more likely, for ill.

In the case of Trump remaining in office, then for the sake of the country he will need to be legislatively quarantined.  That would mean Congress would have to act to reduce his power and hedge him about with legislation that will limit the damage he can do.  To a certain degree, this needs to happen, anyway– the powers of the presidency have grown outlandishly over the last seventy or eighty years, in large part because the successive crises this country has faced that required a strong executive power.  With Trump as chief executive this realignment of the executive branch of the government becomes an emergency priority.

This would not be easy.  Among other things, Congress would have to act in a bipartisan manner that’s almost a myth nowadays.  This is where the paralyzed, sclerotic state of our national government would come back to bite us.  An incompetent president, blundering around like a drunken Godzilla and destroying the functionality of government, our alliances, our economic ties with other countries, and on and on, should be a matter of urgency for all Americans, regardless of political stripe.  Instead, we see a Republican congressional leadership, in both the House and the Senate, who have been willing to hold their nose and lend their lip-service to Trump, in the cynical hope that he will further their agenda before he topples.  If Congress continues to be controlled by these sort of opportunists then there is little hope of reining in Trump, unless and until he commits some blunder so horrifying– getting us into a shooting war with North Korea, for example– that even the Republican leadership could not ignore it.  But by then, the damage will be done, and millions could suffer for the GOP’s lack of courage.

If, on the other hand, the Mueller investigation does turn up evidence of an impeachable offense– well, then we have the same problem.  Impeachment would require votes in the House pass the articles; the trial in the Senate would require a two-thirds vote to convict.  It’s an open question whether the current majority party in either house has the patriotism and the spine to follow through with an impeachment and trial, even if a plethora of smoking guns are lined up in a row in front of them.  In Watergate Republicans were among the leaders who helped force Nixon out of office.  In a Trump impeachment, it seems doubtful that more than a handful of honorable GOP members would even show up.

As an aside, there used to be something called the Republican Party in this country– the party that produced Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower.  That party is, sadly, long, long gone.

Whether it is to contain a chaos-producing president or to impeach a criminal one, it seems unlikely that Congress in its current form will have the will or the ability to do what is needed.  The only remedy then will be to change the composition of Congress in the next midterm election.

Note– this is not a partisan call for Democrats to swarm the polls.  This is a call for everyone who cares about their country to vote for people who will do what is needed to contain Trump, or bring him to justice, regardless of partisan label.  At this point I don’t care if you call yourself Democratic, Republican, Socialist, Tea Party, Green, Independent or People for the Restoration of High Button Shoes, if you recognize the danger Trump poses and are willing to act to counter it, we need you.  Like yesterday.

After that, if Trump is still in office in 2020, he needs to be voted out.  Period.  End of sentence, and slam the door.

After Trump, however his administration ends, it will then be the patriotic duty of all Americans to start picking up the pieces and putting things to right.  At that point, we will need to address the systemic problems of our political system that allowed this waste of mortal matter to gain the highest office in the land in the first place.

But that’s another post, for another time.

Later.

 

 

 

 

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The state we are in– January 27th, 2018

In a word, we are in a state.  And I’m not sure where we’re headed.

I haven’t written much in the last year about the US political situation, or the ongoing tragedy/farce/horror show that is the Trump administration.  Partly this was because of a preoccupation with many personal issues, and partly because every time I thought I had a good topic upon which to dilate, Trump would do something even more outrageous and send me back to the drawing board.

But things seem to be coming to a head.

The Mueller investigation may be closing in on final conclusions.  It’s not yet clear whether the President is actually suspected of wrong-doing by the investigation, but you wouldn’t know it from the way Trump and his surrogates act.  But this is more than people acting guilty– Trump, his minions in Congress, and Fox News, are actively, and transparently, engaged in an effort to discredit the Mueller investigation, the FBI and the Department of Justice.  I hope people understand just how scary that is– a faction in our government and media has essentially declared war on an agency of our government.  It is (so far) a war of words, but the rhetoric is all-or-nothing– “secret societies”, “conspiracy”, “purges”, as if the DOJ were the enemy of the people, not their instrument.  It is cynical, it is false, and it is destructive, and it undermines our very democracy.  I doubt that Devin Nunes and his ilk are bright enough to understand what they are doing, but that doesn’t make their actions any less destructive.

People worry about the country sliding into a constitutional crisis when Mueller releases his findings.  For my money we’re in a constitutional crisis now.  We have an unfit, dangerous president who is actively attempting to impede a Department of Justice investigation, and has, in the process, effectively asserted (if not in so many words) the concept that he is above the law.  This crisis, of course, will become acute if and when Mueller lays out evidence that our chief executive has violated the law.  That is when we will see if there is any courage and backbone left in the other branches of government, specifically Congress, to do what it needs to do to preserve the rule of law and a government of the people.  If Mueller sets out evidence that Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors”, and the Republican-dominated Congress does nothing, then our constitution will be well on its way to becoming a dead letter, and the door opened to a sort of autocracy never before seen in this country.

Having said that, let me take a step back for a moment.  At the moment we are faced with a particular crisis revolving around an unfit chief executive, and that is distressing and dangerous, but this whole affair is just the latest manifestation of a comprehensive breakdown of American political life that has been gathering speed for at least a generation, if not longer.  We in this country have just about lost all sense of being fellow Americans with each other.  We are increasingly divided into ideological silos, between which there is little communication and understanding.  Everything is polarized, everything is divided, usually with bitter rancor, and our government itself increasingly cannot function as it should because of that division.  The very mechanisms of government are, time and again, hijacked to punish political opponents.  You have only to remember the Gethsemane of Barack Obama’s eight years in office, in which the not-so-loyal opposition determined from the start to deny him legislative success, not because they had a better plan, but because obstruction was the only thing they could think to do, to understand what I am talking about.

The point is, whatever the outcome of our current difficulties, we live in the midst of a more deeply-seated crisis that will persist after Trump is gone, and to which, personally, I do not see an easy solution.  Trump is really just a symptom of this deeper, and widening, division.  It may be that the last time we were this divided was the 1850’s, and that should scare everyone who cares about this country.  At the end of that decade, with a little help from John Brown, our country split wide open, and we tumbled into the worst war this country has ever known– the one in which we killed each other wholesale.  A latter-day John Brown just might have the same effect now.

As an aid to understanding how we got to this pass, I recommend watching Robert Reich’s brilliant cartoon summary of the last 70 years of American socioeconomic history.  He has a clear idea of where we should end up; I hope it’s just my lack of imagination that fails to see how we summon up the collective political will to get there.

In the meantime, we all need to buckle up and hold on– the ride is about to get really bumpy.

Later.

A Kleptomaniac in theWhite House, with a couple of extra thoughts

 

Thank God for SNL–

 

I think this article has to be required reading for anyone concerned about the course of our country under Trump (written by a conservative, by the way….)–

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/03/how-to-build-an-autocracy/513872/

This article immediately reminded me of a book I read years ago, Friendly Fascism by Bertram Gross, which resonates with David Frum’s concept that the autocracy Trump intends to build will not be based on the heavy-handed models of 1930’s fascism, but which will still just as effectively castrate our civil liberties.

Frum’s article has a lot to recommend it, especially how it frames Trump’s main purpose as the creation of a kleptocracy with him and his family at the center, all of which, if unopposed, would be as utterly destructive of our civil liberties as the worst of the Nazi regime.  I am, however, a little cautious about Frum’s assumption that we won’t see the same sort of heavy-handed political and social control as previous fascisms.  If it were left to just Trump, that might be true, but too many of the people around Trump are positively scary, starting with Jeff Sessions and ending up with Steve Bannon, whose white nationalist views are nothing less than apocalyptic.  If Trump leaves much of the actual running of the government in the hands of his aides, as seems likely, then people like Sessions and Bannon will inevitably use that power to further their own agendas– or get us into disastrous situations in foreign lands.  A crook opening a door for worse criminals is nothing new, except, perhaps, in this country.  That the crook is a buffoon doesn’t make the situation any easier.

It’s going to have to come down to people, progressive and conservative, putting aside their differences on issues to join forces to stand up to these people.  The test of Americans as a people will be whether we can do that.

Hang in there.