Category Archives: US politics

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.

Remember John Brown

A snippet from Morning Joe regarding Trump’s declaration that the media is the “enemy of the American people”–

 

The commentators are right about the danger of what Trump is saying, but equally important, I think, is the point John Heilemann makes at about the 7:35 mark, that Trump’s language is an incitement to terrorist acts such as the Oklahoma City Bombing, still the worst domestic act of terror in our history.  It’s a point that I think needs to be repeated over and over again– we are in dangerous waters, and it may take just one latter-day John Brown to set the ship on fire.  The danger exists from both the left and the right– the respective ends of our political spectrum are overheated, and it’s possible some fanatic or deluded individual will do something so awful that our political discourse, or what’s left of it, will completely disintegrate.  What happens then, God alone knows.

Pray.  Stand up for the helpless.  And don’t let anybody, left or right, blather about doing something radical, even if you’re sure they’re not serious.  At this moment we just do not need more gasoline on the fire.

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.

 

 

And immediately, sunlight….

No honeymoon for Il Duce

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/people-across-world-rally-womens-rights/

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/inauguration-2017/women-s-march-washington-echoed-cities-around-world-n710156

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/worldwide-people-rally-in-support-of-women%E2%80%99s-march-on-washington/ar-AAm5Ltx?li=BBnb7Kz

Note to self: yo, numb-nuts, you missed out on joining the local march because you weren’t paying attention.  Keep a better ear to the ground in the future, nimrod, because this is exactly the sort of thing I want to add my two cents to.

But this put a smile on my face after yesterday’s gloom.  We are a very large and noisy conglomeration of people, and that’s exactly what we need right now.

And we’re off to the races….

I’m just going to do this once, because if I do it every time Il Duce and his minions do something off the wall I will expire from an incredulity overdose.  I’m going to have armor up and ignore the small stuff.

So, just this one time–  are you shitting me?

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/white-house-website-promotes-melania-trump%E2%80%99s-modeling-and-jewelry-line/ar-AAm4lRR?li=BBnb7Kz

On the other hand, why am I surprised– this is a guy who thinks he’s a business genius and that a business model is appropriate for governance.

I am now in the process of barricading myself in my apartment with a tub of double-fudge ice cream.  Diabetes be damned.

Later.

A little perspective…..

As Inauguration Day arrives, I find myself in a strange mental state.  At the most basic level, it is still a matter of incredulity to me that Trump is going to take the oath of office and become President of the United States.  If I stop to think about it I start rehearsing in my mind the utter absurdity of it.  Teeth get gritted and steering wheels death-gripped.  It’s like the universe has played a practical joke on humanity (because who POTUS is at any given moment affects most if not all of the people on the planet) and we’re just waiting for the sumbitch to bust out laughing and tell us it was all a joke.

At another level, I am trying to think what I can do.  Writing, for sure– this is one time I wish I had the gift of satire, because, by all the evidence, a good satire gets right under Donald’s skin in a way that really highlights his narcissism and self-centered ways.  Contributing to progressive causes and groups and being the best citizen I can possibly be are other things I can do.  Oh, and if the Clown-in-Chief actually implements a Muslim registry, I intend to register as a Muslim, which will at least tell El Bozo that his little plan to scapegoat a religion isn’t going to slip by unnoticed and unremarked.

At the same time it is strange how  everyday life still makes its demands on you.

I still need a job.  I still need to lose weight (not helped by all the comfort eating I’ve been doing in the last two months).  I am in the midst of figuring out how to end a very long relationship.  I’m worried about my blood-pressure and diabetes and trying to remember to take my medication for both.  I am adjusting to the consequences of a long-distance relocation, some of which I anticipated and some I didn’t.  I worry about my daughter, from whom I am now physically separated but still as close as a text.

I still have to brush my teeth and shower and (at least once or twice a week) shave my face.  I still have to do laundry (note to self: today is probably a good day for that).  I have books to read and items to pick up at the store.

I am still trying to write fiction– I’m attempting to serialize The Horseman on this blog, and Princess of Stars, about which I haven’t talked a great deal in the last few months, is still an active project, at least hypothetically.  Part of me wonders if fiction isn’t a frivolous distraction right now, but then I remember that fiction can be a powerful vessel for truth.  It’s an open question whether I have the talent to make my writing as effective as it could be, but I am still possessed of the impulse to write stories, even as the house burns down around me.

And then I find myself, just for a moment, wild with happy excitement at a new Logan trailer (careful, it’s got splashing gore in it, but then, it’s Logan, waddaya expect)–

At one level, you might expect this to be far off my radar, but on the other hand, I suspect in the next year or so we’re all going to need moments of down-time, of allowing ourselves to be distracted from whatever disaster is unfolding.  Logan is not the only movie I’m looking forward to this year, and then there’s Season 7 of Game of Thrones.

This is an important point– for all our fear and uncertainty, and despite the necessity of resistance, we will still need to tend to our ordinary, workaday lives.  It’s essential we take care of ourselves and our loved ones, to make the lunches for the kids to take to school and to get the car lubed when needed.  If we don’t we won’t be able to sustain our effort to speak truth to power, to stand up for the helpless, and to preserve the Republic.

So, take a deep breath, everybody.  Take care of yourselves and your loved ones.  Do what you can, and stay together.  And we will get through this.

Later.

Five songs for the resistance

Some songs for the resistance-

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps I am showing my age in that most of these songs are from fifty to sixty years ago, the last time we were in serious need of marching songs.  Perhaps we need a new generation to write the anthems of the new resistance.  Nevertheless, these still speak to me, especially Pete Seeger’s interpretation of We Shall Overcome, which breaks my heart every time I listen to it.  Take heart from this music, and do what you can.

Later.

I want to turn it all off, but I can’t- Frontline’s Divided States of America

I just finished watching the two part Frontline documentary Divided States of America (Part One is here), which recapitulates the history of the Obama administration and the rise of populist rage in this country.  It’s enlightening and difficult at the same time, especially as it is unsparing in its recounting of Obama’s naivete and missteps during his two terms.  On the whole it is balanced and sober.  It is also sobering– it ends on the note that Obama came into office with the idea of bridging divides, and he leaves office with the country more divided than ever.

In the documentary there are talking heads from both sides of the political spectrum, and some of those on the right are quick to blame the president for the divisions.   That is both unfair and typical of the right.  The divisions were there before Obama became president; his presidency, however, laid them bare in ways we did not anticipate when he took office in 2009.

The documentary is very good about outlining the rise of populist anger in this country in the last eight years. What exploded at first as the Tea Party and then the candidacy of Donald Trump has deep roots.  The documentary ties the current populism to that which emerged during the 2008 Republican campaign and which found its focus in Sarah Palin, but of course it goes back decades, to the civil rights era and the culture wars of the Eighties and Nineties and the drastic changes in our society and the technology it employs for work and communication.  The absolute (and to progressives, irrational) rage of conservatives who think their country is being stolen by blacks and immigrants, and that Obama was a Muslim socialist bent on destroying white America, is outlined in detail.  The documentary describes the divide in the country as being so profound that it almost amounts to there being two antithetically opposed Americas at war with each other.

That observation resonated with me.  Over the last three decades I have watched this country grow more and more polarized, to the point that we hardly consider those on the other side of the divide from us to be true Americans.  That polarization is what really frightens me, far more than even Trump, because I don’t know how to heal it, and because it is absolutely destructive to our political unity.  I fear this country has gone past some limit without realizing it.  Once this sort of rhetoric gets past a certain point, and people begin to accept it as normal, then there comes a time when your opponents don’t just disagree with you, they are evils that have to fought, in the streets and house-by-house.  In other words, the logical end of this sort of rhetoric is civil war and social dissolution.

And when Trump inevitably spins out of control and crashes, the rage of Trump supporters will not go away.  He did not create it; it created him.  When he’s gone– and I will be surprised if he lasts as much as two years– his supporters will have to find another figurehead to encapsulate their anger.  And what new monstrosity will they create the next time?

I am tired of it all.  I wish I could turn it all off.  But I can’t.  I am not optimistic about America’s chances, but I can’t join a rush to the lifeboats.  Weary and weak as I am, I have to stay and try to do what I can.  I hope you do, too.

But we don’t have to watch the inauguration.  That much, at least, is a relief.

I recommend the Frontline documentary to anyone who wants a good summary of how we got here.

Later.

 

Some pointed questions for 2017

So, lots of people are greeting 2017 with enthusiasm, assuming (or hoping) that is has to be better than 2016.  2016 was, indeed, a dreadful crap-fest.  Terrorist attacks, desperate refugees, the Syrian civil war, and Russian ass-holery were all bad enough, but here in the US we had an election that literally threatens the life of the Republic.  Pretty much everyone whose last name isn’t Trump has ample reason to be happy to see the year in the rear-view mirror.

But, of course, as much as we try to make January 1st into a celebration of newness and renewal, it is nothing of the kind.  Each successive year works out the tensions and conflicts of the preceding, while introducing new ones.  It’s an open question how those tensions and conflicts will work themselves out at this particular moment of history.

So, regardless of its infant state, and with particular reference to the situation here in the US, let’s shove 2017 under a bright light and ask it questions that need answers–

  1. Will Donald Trump live up to his hype and become the rampaging narcissistic tyrant the words he uttered during his campaign promised?  For the sake of the Republic, for the sake of ordinary people, we pray he doesn’t, that he will somehow find it in himself to conduct his presidency in a manner that will help and not harm the lives of Americans and the admittedly imperfect form of government we’ve sacrificed so much for.  We hope and pray, but our expectations are low.
  2. Will Republicans, now that they have control over two out of three branches of the government (and possess a fair prospect of seizing control of the third, in the form of the Supreme Court), find it in themselves to actually govern?   The modern Republican party has so long been an institution of obstruction and denial it is difficult imagining them actually engaging in doing anything positive.
  3. Some folks on the right-wing seem to be set to try to rollback almost every gain America has made in the last eighty years– never mind the Affordable Care Act or Roe v. Wade, these people have their sights set on Social Security.  Will they be allowed to gut the progress of the last three generations of Americans for the sake of ideologies most Americans do not share?
  4. Will the white supremacists and the climate change deniers and the billionaires and the CEO’s who are Trumps advisers and cabinet members actually stand for something other than their fanaticism or their self-interest?
  5. Is anyone in the incoming Congress or administration going to face up to the fact that global warming is real, and is a direct threat to our nation?  This issue, which should be one of science and reasoned response, is another that has become entangled in ideological claptrap.
  6. When Trump violates the Constitution, will the Republican-dominated Congress find it in themselves to apply the Constitutionally-mandated remedy of impeachment?  Or will it roll over and play dead because the guy in the White House is their’s and giving them goodies?
  7. How much suffering lies ahead for the American people?  How much will they have to go through before this irrational poison is flushed from our system?  And what form will the flushing take?

Poor 2017– it can’t answer these questions.  Neither can anyone else.  We are just going to have pray, live these times out and do what we can.  I can’t think of a better way to encapsulate our purpose now than this scene from Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring

None of us who want a better future for our country wanted to find ourselves here.  But these times are upon us, and now we have to decide what to do.  At the very least, speak for the voiceless, stand up for the helpless, and tell tyranny the truth.  We don’t have to row to Mordor; it is upon us.  But one thing is true– we have to do this together.

May God bless us and keep us through what is coming.