Their Man in Washington

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Last Friday, news broke that the US Intelligence Community had, again, as it did in 2017, determined that the Russian government was interfering in an American presidential election with the goal of helping elect Donald Trump.

But unlike the 2017 assessment, which was a post-mortem, this one was an active red alert: the IC was warning that Russia was in the process of attacking our democracy as we speak. It was as if a radio message came in during the wee hours after midnight on December 7th, 1941 saying “Uh, Japanese planes are headed toward Pearl Harbor.” Or if on the morning of September 11th, 2001 an observant flight attendant walking out of an Au Bon Pain at Newark’s Terminal B had noted, “Hey, four guys are getting on this plane carrying boxcutters.”

But President Donald J. Trump, upon hearing about this assessment, which had been briefed to the House Intelligence Committee on February 13, did not raise the alarm, get on the red phone to Vladimir Putin and tell him to cut that shit out or else, or lift even one of his tiny little fingers to stop the Russian actions.

Nope.

Instead, he flew into a rage at the very suggestion that Russia was working to help him, denied it was true, and did everything he could to bury the news, to include firing his acting Director of National Intelligence for allowing the briefing in the first place, and replaced him with a former Internet troll.

So to be clear, here’s the situation, which would be eye-rollingly bad if it were the plot of an airport spy novel:

The President of the United States is a notoriously shady businessman with extensive financial connections in the land of one of our most vicious enemies, connections he lied about during his campaign for office, giving that enemy vast leverage over him. He openly accepted the help of that enemy in order to win the election, and since taking power he has repeatedly, brazenly served its ends at the expense of our own. (See the Oval Office meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak, Helsinki, the quashing of the Mueller probe, Syria, and more.) He has refused to harden our electoral system against future attacks of the sort that aided him, and for obvious reasons, as he is yet again accepting that enemy’s help, and using the full power of his presidency to cover it up, along with his complicity in it.

Do I really need to say that this state of affairs is a five alarm housefire of a crisis without precedent in American history?

It was a dazzling intelligence coup by a regional power (albeit a conniving and ruthless one) over a superpower—one in the grip of a self-destructive mass hysteria, aided by an often naive media, and beset by deep vulnerabilities in its democratic institutions. Every patriotic American ought to be infuriated by what’s going on. Yet it is the most ostentatiously flag-waving right wingers who have been most thoroughly hoodwinked by this effort, and most adamantly insist it is not happening.

In the Kremlin they must be howling with laughter.

WHAT, US WORRY?

We have known for more than three years that the Russians (and others) intended to attack our electoral system again. Numerous defense and intelligence officials and private sector experts have frantically rung the fire bell in an effort to rouse the government to action, only to be shut down by a livid White House and a shamelessly unbothered Mitch McConnell. Most pointedly, special counsel Robert Mueller, having already indicted a dozen Russian intelligence operatives for the 2016 attacks, warned Congress of this very thing on national television last July.

Now we see it happening before our eyes, and Trump and his Republican protectors actively abetting it.

The story was a bombshell, but not as big a bomb as it should have been. It should have obliterated all other news. It should have resulted in a national emergency, mass protests (and resignations) in the Departments of State and Defense and Homeland Security, a general strike in the CIA, DIA, FBI, and the rest of the Intelligence Community, angry rallies in the streets, barricades going up, Senators and Congressmen on the floor of the US Capitol building demanding the president’s resignation.

Did I miss that while watching Week 3 of the XFL?

Folks, we are allowing a demonstrable asset of a hostile foreign state to sit in the Oval Office, using the full range of presidential authority to maintain a chokehold on power, serving the interests those enemies at the expense of the United States, refusing to admit what he is doing, let alone put a stop (and why he should he when it helps him so?), and blocking every effort to expose the truth.

To be fair, plenty of profoundly outraged veterans of the national security and intelligence apparatus raised the alarm. Here’s a tweet from former CIA Director John Brennan (whom Trump vindictively stripped of his security clearance):

We are now in a full-blown national security crisis. By trying to prevent the flow of intelligence to Congress, Trump is abetting a Russian covert operation to keep him in office for Moscow’s interests, not America’s.

And Sally Yates, former acting US Attorney General (whom Trump fired):

This is a screaming red siren, but in the daily barrage of crazy, can we hear it?Trump is not only trying to rewrite history of Russia’s intervention in 2016, he is now using the power of the presidency to conceal their 2020 scheme to re-elect him.

And Admiral (Ret.) Bill McRaven, the Navy SEAL who oversaw the 2011 Bin Laden raid as commander of US Special Operations Command (who Trump dismissed as a “Hillary lover”):

As Americans, we should be frightened — deeply afraid for the future of the nation. When good men and women can’t speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient, when integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national security — then there is nothing left to stop the triumph of evil.

But these howls of indignation are not enough.

As an abuse of power, getting in bed with the enemy to maintain one’s position atop the government is about as abuse-of-powery as it gets. As Trump himself would say, we used to shoot people who did that sort of thing.

THE BEST PEOPLE

Trump learned of the February 13th House briefing because the greasy little excuse for a human being that is Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) went running to the White House to tattle about it. Apparently, during the briefing Nunes and other Republicans refused to accept what the intel experts were telling them, attacking it as Democratic Party disinformation, part of their tinfoil hat fantasy about a “Deep State” conspiracy against the President. A theory that conveniently disregards the fact that it was the President’s own appointees presenting the facts.

(Subsequent attempts by administration to downplay and discredit the contents of the briefing—credulously regurgitated by the likes of CNN—smack of transparently weak damage control.)

Of course, “tattle” is not really the right word, as there was nothing clandestine about the briefing, conducted by Shelby Pierson, the IC’s lead official on election interference. On the contrary: it is the job of the Intelligence Community to provide critical analysis to the US government, especially, uh, people like the House Intelligence Committee. But that is the very point: Trump is subverting the entire purpose of the IC to protect his own ass, and by extension, serving the ends of Vladimir Putin.

Donald’s typically rage-a-holic and hamhanded response was to throw a temper tantrum, and to fire acting DNI Joseph Maguire, who—and you’ll be shocked to hear this—has been on Trump’s shit list ever since he testified before the House in the Ukraine scandal last fall. (Prompting the angry op-ed from Maguire’s fellow SEAL and longtime comrade, Admiral McRaven.)

True to form, Trump’s choice for new DNI, Richard Grenell, currently the US Ambassador to Germany, has zero intelligence experience or any other qualifications that remotely recommend him for the job, save one: he is a vocal and fanatical devotee for Trump. Grenell—a man with a severe case of Resting Douchebag Face—is so hated by the German government and public in his present job (for which he is equally unqualified), that some in Berlin took the unprecedented step of demanding that he be recalled.

What could go wrong?

And so we see Donald Trump suppressing and destroying the very raison d’etre of an intelligence apparatus: to provide truthful, fact-based analysis to facilitate informed decision-making at the highest levels. By so doing, he is not only perverting his office, but doing untold damage to the security of the United States.

AUTOCRACY IS AS AUTOCRACY DOES

This latest scandal dwarfs even Ukrainegate, though it is related in terms of sheer corruption, international skullduggery, and connection to the original sin of the Trump administration, which is its fealty to Moscow. I reported last week that Trump, newly emboldened after the travesty of his “acquittal” by Senate Republicans, is on a deathquest to obliterate the 2017 conclusion of the IC regarding Russian ratfucking on his behalf……reflecting his even more fundamental obsession, the notion that such Russian aid delegitimizes his “victory.”

And so we see further evidence that Post-Impeachment Trump feels absolutely unshackled in his belief that he can break any rule he wants, and with absolute impunity. Lesson learned, right, Susan Collins?

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent:

When the Senate acquitted President Trump of the high crimes he committed against our country, Republicans and Democrats alike fell back on a convenient fiction: No, Trump has not really placed himself beyond the law and accountability entirely—for he can always be held accountable in the next election.

Republicans adopted this fiction to obscure Trump’s crimes—that his Ukraine shakedown was all about corrupting that same election. Democrats adopted it to diffuse pressure to sustain the investigative war footing that protecting the country demands.

The news that intelligence officials warned House lawmakers that Russia is again trying to sabotage our election for Trump, and that this disclosure angered him, shatters that fiction entirely.

These revelations are already getting shrouded in euphemism. One CNN analysis insists “America” is “blundering” into another crisis of electoral legitimacy, and that the “partisan divide” is hampering the US response to it. This notion that the country writ large is stumbling helplessly into this crisis, when in fact one party is inviting it in a manner the other simply is not, and its companion idea that “partisanship” will paralyze our response to it, will be ubiquitous.

So let’s not mince words: Trump and his GOP defenders appear to be actively abetting an attack on our country. By contrast, Democrats can be accused only of passivity—a serious abdication, but not remotely comparable to what Trump and his defenders are orchestrating.

To Sargent’s point about false equivalence, the IC also concluded that the Kremlin is interfering to help Bernie Sanders. The difference was in Sanders’ response, even if he didn’t make it publicly until forced to comment: “I don’t care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president. My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.” (Bernie also suggested that some of the more virulent and divisive rhetoric attributed to some of his supporters might actually be coming from Russian trolls.)

DEAR GREAT GRANDCHILDREN: WE SUCKED

A word from the foggy past that deserves a lot more airplay these days is “quisling,” meaning a treasonous collaborator with an enemy invader or occupier, particularly one who participates in an puppet government. The name comes from Vidkun Quisling, the compliant leader of Norway under the Nazi occupation. (His family must be so proud.)

Henceforth, I suspect, American “quislings” will be rebranded as “trumps.” The guys in marketing are very excited about it.

When the history of this period in American life is written, our generation will be covered in shame for what we allowed to happen and just shrugged off as we went about our daily business. I have long wondered how far Trump would have to go to rouse the ire of a sufficient number of Americans to force his ouster.

It is to our great national humiliation that we ain’t found that limit yet.

**********

Illustration: Santa Monica Daily Press

Wake Up Little Susie

Wake Up Little Susie

Well, that didn’t take long, did it?

Trump had barely been acquitted by his bootlicking GOP minions in the US Senate before he began making fools of those very lickers, at least the ones who had told us with a straight face that he’d “learned his lesson” after being branded with the scarlet “I” of impeachment, and would be more careful going forward.

His (non)acquittal wasn’t even four hours old when he and his allies began weaponizing the power of the federal government to persecute his political opponents, just as they do in an authoritarian regime like the ones Trump so openly admires, and which we now arguably are. That very evening Senators Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced a Senate investigation into Hunter Biden, and the Treasury Department said that it would comply with requests to provide pertinent records, even as it continues to shield Trump’s own financial records from public view.

The next day, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) proposed a Constitutional amendment to make impeachment harder by requiring a three-fifths vote of the House rather than a simple majority. (Didn’t we just learn how fucking hard it already is?)

In fact, this purge began even before the final vote, as soon as the notion of, ya know, like, hearing testimony or evidence from witnesses was shot down and it was clear that the denouement was at hand. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox News that Trump believed there should be retribution for the Democrats who spearheaded his impeachment, noting “how horribly he was treated, and maybe people should pay for that.” The WaPo reported that Lindsey Graham, speaking to Fox News on the Sunday after the vote on witnesses, stated that “a “sweeping GOP counterattack” was in the works, and “outlined a plan that would include an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden, who is running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and a pursuit of the whistleblower whose account triggered the probe into Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine.”

Once he was formally acquitted, Trump himself immediately began calling for criminal prosecution of those who had dared question his conduct. He fired Gordon Sondland, and had not just LTC Alexander Vindman but also his twin brother frogmarched out of the White House, then called for the Army to punish him. Of course, as George Conway pointed out (seconded by Adam Schiff), “punishing witnesses for complying with subpoenas and giving truthful testimony about presidential misconduct” are themselves high crimes and misdemeanors, leading to suggestions that “we may have to impeach him again.”

But Donald was just getting started. In the days that followed he successfully pressured the DOJ to reduce its sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, a man who had been convicted of (wait for it) obstructing justice, witness tampering, and lying to Congress to protect Trump. He then threatened the federal judge hearing that case, Amy Berman Jackson (who previously gave Paul Manafort a very light sentence, lest we forget), called for Stone to get a new trial, and suggested that the federal prosecutors who won the conviction should apologize to this real-life Batman villain. (They all quit instead.)

Needless to say, this is brazen Mob-like intimidation of the judicial system more suited to the Sicily of legend, or a Third World banana republic. But Trump now feels completely free to engage in this wantonly imperial behavior, and why shouldn’t he? It was reported that Trump administration officials are “terrified that their careers will be ruined by a vindictive president if they report anything unethical.” And that is the exact intent. Autocracy functions by cowing resistance and rewarding toadies, all pegged to pleasing or displeasing the Dear Leader.

With his newly recharged sense of immunity, Trump is only going to get worse. “SNL” joked recently about Jeanine Pirro replacing RBG on the Supreme Court. Don’t laugh.

Folks, this is what an authoritarian one-party state looks like. Get used to it. (Or—and here’s a novel idea—get up on your feet and do something about it.)

In short, does anyone in America look more foolish right now than Susan Collins (Dishonorable mention: Lamar Alexander, Lisa Murkowski, Ben Sasse, and 48 others.)

Yeah, Trump learned a lesson from his impeachment all right: he learned he really can do whatever the fuck he wants.

THE NIGHTMARE OF KAKISTOCRACY

This entire presidency has been like a “Black Mirror” episode.

Trump wants to throw people like Colonel Vindman and Andrew McCabe and John Brennan in jail, but pardons the likes of Dinesh D’Souza, Joe Arpaio, and Rod Blagojevich? He makes a wanton ignoramus and avowed enemy of book learnin’ like Betsy DeVos the Secretary of Education, and Rick Perry the secretary of a department he can’t even name (and wants to dismantle), while purging the government of anyone who is actually competent in their job? He attacks NATO and praises the Kremlin, puts a man credibly accused of rape on the Supreme Court, and gives the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh?

Somewhere, Anthony Burgess is consumed with envy that he didn’t ever invent anything this sadistically baroque.

Meanwhile Uday and Qusay Trump remain on a tear, howling about nepotism, lack of qualifications, and trading on the family name by Hunter Biden, and with no shame or fear (or sense of irony) about doing so, because they—correctly—expect no pushback from the right wing cult that enables them, a cult includes not only red-hatted rank-and-file frothing at the mouth about Mexican rapists, but also the senior leadership of the RNC.

Kafka, Pirandello, Orwell, Ionesco—no absurdist or surrealist could top our current “reality.”

Their dad himself, with characteristically infantile fury and lust for revenge, recently raged that if he weren’t president, he’d be suing everyone all over the place.” (As if having the power of the presidency at your disposal is not rather more useful.) That was certainly his lifelong strategy as a private businessman and hyper-litigious wannabe celebrity. But the real bottom line is, if he weren’t president, he’d be in jail.

Susan Glasser in the New Yorker:

In his post-impeachment rage, Trump wanted vengeance, and he wanted us to know it. There was no one inside his Administration to stop him. A month ago, Congress had at least the theoretical power to do something about his overreaching. Today, thanks to the Senate’s very clear vote, it does not. So, although the President himself is unchanged, the context around him is very much altered. In the history of the Trump Presidency, there will be a before impeachment and an after. It’s too late for lessons learned, and it’s most definitely too late for Bill Barr to complain about the President’s tweets.

Next up, bet your bottom dollar: a pardon for Roger Stone, fittingly, the living connection between Tricky Dick-era Republican criminality and its Trumpist descendant. You know he’s gonna do it, right? In a tweet (of course), he literally told us he’s going to use his power to save Roger’s saggy white ass. And I literally mean literally, cryptic quotation marks, capitalization, and butt-covering question marks notwithstanding:

I have known Roger Stone (and his Very beautiful wife Nydia) for a very long time. A great patriot, Roger (and many others) will never ever “serve time” as long as I am in office (long time?). Time to change the laws?

Judge Jackson ultimately gave Stone a little over three years—less than the seven to nine that federal prosecutors asked for, but no doubt a bid that will still enrage Trump. Pardons or commutations for Manafort and Flynn wouldn’t surprise me either.

It’s no surprise that the crimes for which he pardoned this recent batch of rogues (Kerik and DeBartolo along with former “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant Blagojevich)—bribery, graft, and the like—are Trump’s own specialty. (Shitbirds of a feather, amirite?) What Trump is after, as the WaPo’s Paul Waldman succinctly put it, “is the normalization of corruption.” He truly sees nothing wrong with the sort of thing all these men were imprisoned for, and which he himself does as naturally as he breathes or grabs pussy.

But more specifically, Trump is also laying the groundwork for shielding his accomplices in Russiagate, which along with a certain black guy from Hawaii, remains his chief obsession. Newly emboldened by a compliant US Senate, and more confident than ever in his absolute authority, Trump is trying to erase the fact of Russia’s interference on his behalf in 2016, which has long stuck in his craw as tainting his electoral “victory.” (And of course doing nothing to stop Russian interference again in 2020.)

And now we learn that Julian Assange will allege that Trump—via longtime Kremlin water-carrier Dana Rohrabacher—dangled a pardon if Assange would agree to clear Russia in that matter, the exact same form of bribery Trump employed with Kyiv. Assange is pond scum, but if true (and it sure rings true) that would be an atomic bomb….in any sane time.

And how is the press reporting this sort of thing? There are alarmed opinion pieces to be sure—many of them quite brilliant. But the straight news departments of our best newspapers continue to say things like, “Trump Takes On Judge Amy Berman Ahead of Stone Sentencing.”

Really? “Takes on” is a bit mild, if you ask me. More like “threatens in a mobster-like way.” (And for extra irony, the piece carries a photo of Judge Berman with her colleague Merrick Garland.) This would be an outrage, a scandal, and an impeachable offense if Donald Trump had not just been assured by Moscow Mitch and the Republican-controlled US Senate that he will never be impeached no matter what he does.

From now on, would it not be easier just to keep track of the things Trump does that are NOT an abuse of power?

The only thing that gives me any comfort is the fact that Donald Trump is the king of own goals.

Trump has always been his own worst enemy, needlessly committing unforced errors and bringing on trouble because he’s a sociopath who doesn’t understand right from wrong, or that you shouldn’t say the quiet part out loud. (See: publicly calling on Russia to hack the DNC server, firing Jim Comey, explicitly telling Lester Holt he did it to stop the Russia investigation, releasing the readout of the Zelenskyy call, etc.) And he repeatedly does himself the most harm when the external danger has, miraculously, passed. Recall that, although Ukrainegate was well underway by summer 2019, it reached its critical moment of self-incrimination with “The Hollow Men”-like whimper that marked the end of the Mueller probe and emboldened Trump to make his infamous July 25th call to Zelenskyy the very next day

So it is now, with the danger of impeachment past, that the unfettered (and unhinged) Trump, on a blood quest for vengeance, is apt to do something really insane and self-destructive. Not that anything he has yet done has been insane and self-destructive enough to hurt him. But we are surely now entering into new and even darker waters.

KNOW YOUR ENEMA

I want to stop a moment to offer an instructive example of that segment of our nation that, far from being put off by the rise of American fascism, thrills to Trump and his monstrousness.

Here’s Mollie Hemingway, from the right wing rag The Federalist, singing the praises of what she calls Trump’s “epic” State of the Union address, with special attention to a certain someone he chose to honor:

Smack dab in the middle of the speech, President Trump thanked conservative hero Rush Limbaugh for “decades of tireless devotion” to the country. In recognition of his work and the inspiration he has provided millions of Americans, Trump announced the country’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He had Melania Trump immediately present the honor in front of the assembled crowd.

While it is beyond common for liberal heroes and liberal celebrities to receive awards, Republican leaders acted over the course of decades almost as if it was okay for conservatives to be treated as second-class citizens in this regard. President Trump recognizes that the half of the country that is not liberal also likes to honor its celebrities and heroes.

Limbaugh has taught millions of Americans about conservative ideology, emphasizing the Constitution and the country’s founding ideals, and suffered attacks from the left as a result. He is a folk hero who is beloved in part because he defends tens of millions of Americans against attacks.

No other previous Republican president or nominee would have had the courage to bestow this award on such a deserving American.

I don’t know where to begin having a rational conversation with someone who thinks that a shock jock whose stock in trade is racism, misogyny, homophobia, and general hatemongering, who thought nothing of going on the air and advocating for harsh prison terms for drug addicts even as he was illegally scoring oxy, is a “deserving American,” a “beloved folk hero,” or a great educator and defender of “the country’s founding ideals.” (I guess that’s true if you count slavery.) Indeed, short of Trump himself, there may not be any living American who has done more in the late 20th and early 21st centuries to spew poison into the public conversation. But that is the mentality we are up against.

Please note that The Federalist fancies itself a legitimate journalistic organ, not a sewer-dweller like Breitbart or InfoWars (not that it’s easy to tell). For her part, Hemingway is a journalism fellow at the Washington DC campus of Hillsdale College, an evangelical Christian school in Michigan that is alma mater to Erik Prince, Betsy DeVos’s brother and the founder of Blackwater, who is himself implicated in Trumpian skullduggery and currently at risk of being charged with perjury for lying to Congress. So consider the source.

I mentioned “Black Mirror” already, right?

WILL THE SHEEPLE RISE?

Remember when the cops who beat Rodney King were acquitted? In many parts of the world, the nakedly corrupt acquittal of the head of state by his political allies would have prompted a similar uprising.

Let me be clear: I’m not calling for us to burn the country down. (Trump is already on top of that.) But I am calling for us to do more than watch “The Masked Singer.”

Speaking to Business Insider, Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works, said “the system is enabling Trump” as we watch behavior “straight from the literature on authoritarianism.”

“The Republican Party is betraying democracy, and these are historical times. Someone has got to push back”…. Stanley said there should have been mass protests in the streets after the vote against witnesses, warning that the absence of significant public outcry served as “a further sign to the party in power that they can go ahead and do what they want.”

So that boat has sailed.

With Trump’s trial behind us (the first one, at least—see Assange), progressive hopes are now pinned on the election, and rightly so. It would have been far better if we were going into that effort having publicly registered our collective unhappiness over the miscarriage of justice that was his acquittal, but here we are. So with that in mind, let’s try to look ahead and not make another big mistake. To wit:

We have to get out of the pre-2016 mindset and recognize what the GOP has been brazenly broadcasting for the past three years, and never louder than with Senate Republicans’ shameful excusal of Trump’s attempts to fix the election:

They do not intend to hold a fair vote.

The sooner we acknowledge that and find a way to fight back, instead of arguing amongst ourselves over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, the better off we will be. It’s the only way.

But how? That is the $64,000 question, of course. (Dating myself.) I don’t pretend to have the answer. But step one is for us to recognize that Trump and his GOP enablers have blatantly announced that they are going to cheat, and therefore we ought to stop deluding ourselves that this is a routine election like those of the past. If a Democratic candidate would bluntly point that out on national television, it would immediately change the conversation. (Of course, they would immediately be accused of pre-emptively undermining the legitimacy of the election….which Trump himself did in 2016, and the GOP cheered.)

But watching the fractiousness of the Democratic presidential field, I am worried. Charlie Sykes described last night’s debate as “a murder-suicide worthy of an Agatha Christie novel. The one where everyone ends up dead.” Listening to the candidates rip into each other, I could see the Trump campaign ads practically writing themselves. Sykes:

Consider that Trump’s impeachment trial was just last month; that he has launched a revenge tour that includes daily attacks on the rule of law; is in open conflict with his attorney general; and that he had just handed out pardons to a bunch of sleazy cronies… and no one even mentioned it. None of seemed to register, or even seemed relevant. It was as if the Democratic debate took place in an alternative non-Trump universe.

We already squandered a crucial opportunity with our tepid reaction to Trump’s escape from impeachment. If we fail to come together now, to recognize that the perfect is the enemy of the good candidate-wise, and to set aside ultimately minor intramural differences in interest of our common goal of putting out the greasefire raging at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, we’ll deserve what we get.

Even if we unite behind a strong candidate instead of self-harming like a pre-teen with body issues we still face an uphill battle, and right now we show no signs of getting to that stage of unity.

As Professor Stanley says, “The deeply worrying moment is when you start to become a one-party state,” a perilous point at which we are now perched, because “the Republican Party has shown that it has no interest in multi-party democracy.”

In an Atlantic piece bluntly titled “Trump Is Going to Cheat,” former Obama speechwriter Sarada Peri detailed the GOP’s plan terrifyingly well. Let me quote her at length:

How can Democrats run against a candidate who will simply deny his unpopular positions and make up nonexistent accomplishments? No amount of fact-checking can counter his constant stream of mendacity, which has become white noise in our political culture.

Lying, of course, is only one challenge. The Democratic nominee will also have to contend with cheating….(Trump) and the whole Republican Party seem intent on using the power of government to assist in the president’s reelection. Republican senators have already announced that they plan to look into the Biden family’s dealings in Ukraine, despite absolutely no evidence that Hunter Biden committed a crime or that the former vice president did anything but carry out U.S. foreign policy. Anyone who thinks these investigations are sincere should note that there is no comparable probe planned into the blatant corruption of sitting president Trump and his children.

Trump and members of the White House staff, meanwhile, are violating with impunity the Hatch Act, which prohibits executive-branch employees from using their position to influence an election. The president uses his personal Twitter account both for official business and as an arm of his political campaign; nobody bats an eye….

Trump’s reelection campaign, abetted by right-wing media and companies like Facebook that have absolved themselves of any democratic responsibility, is waging a disinformation war modeled on the efforts of dictators and unprecedented in its scale. As reported by this magazine, the campaign is prepared to spend $1 billion to harness digital media to the president’s advantage, including bot attacks, viral conspiracy theories, doctored videos, and microtargeted ads that distort reality.  

The Trump campaign’s efforts are also bolstered by foreign actors…..They could be as subtle as social-media accounts that stoke partisan differences or as blunt as software attacks on voter databases….

At the same time, his campaign is fomenting distrust in the very system he is undermining. Using guerrilla tactics, his supporters jammed up the Iowa Democratic Party hotline on caucus night to sow chaos. Then, when the results indeed yielded chaos, Republican trolls, including Don Jr., tweeted out conspiracy theories about a rigged election. Worst of all, congressional Republicans are shamelessly blocking election-security bills, including two that would specifically fight foreign interference in American elections.   

Should the lying and cheating fail—should the Democrat manage to win the 2020 election—Trump will have one more trick up his sleeve. Before the 2016 election, he suggested that he might not accept a defeat. So who’s to say that he will accept one in 2020? You don’t have to squint hard to see the clues: He retweeted Jerry Falwell Jr.’s suggestion that he ought to have two years added to his term and “joked” about staying in office longer than eight years. If he loses in November, the litigious showman might claim that the election was rigged against him and theatrically contest the results in court.

Goddam!

This electoral treachery by the right wing did not begin with Trump. Just as Donald did not turn the GOP into a party of racist authoritarian plutocrats but is merely its logical next step, neither did Republican ratfucking begin with Russiagate and Ukraine (though Trump has boosted it to new levels of audacity and shamelessness). Voter suppression and disenfranchisement, the lie of “voter fraud,” uber-gerrymandering, Putinist disinformation, racebaiting, xenophobic fearmongering, etc etc are all part and parcel of a longstanding effort to hang on to power by a party that knows it is in a demographic death spiral. But the rise of MAGA Nation and the Jonestown-like cult of personality that surrounds Trump and that forgives (indeed, applauds) everything he does, no matter how illegal or despicable, has given the GOP a once-in-a-generation chance to carry out this highway robbery.

So let there be no mistake. As I have written time and time again, the Republican Party has no intention of giving up power, and therefore no intention of participating in a fair election and risking that outcome. They have shamelessly announced their intention to cheat. If we let them do so, we’ll have no one but ourselves to blame.

It’s easy to see in retrospect where we made critical errors that changed the game. (The most gutting recent example: letting McConnell’s indefensible blockage of Merrick Garland slide because we thought Hillary was a lock to win.) This moment is another one….except that there is still time to play it smarter. Let us go into the election fighting tooth and nail to win, yes, but also raising the alarm that the other side is not even pretending to obey the law.

I don’t mean to de defeatist—on the contrary. Now is the call to arms. (NB: metaphor.) Unlike the impeachment, where we were at mercy of 52 careerist cowards—a pass to Mitt Romney—in the election the power to defeat this cretin is in our hands, even with the reality of Republican cheating, but only if we are smart and tough and bold, and above all, don’t sabotage ourselves.

Let’s end with Quinta Jurecic of Lawfare, writing in The Atlantic:

The country has a long slog ahead of it; how long, nobody knows. It is easy to be cynical. But surviving the slog, without stepping away from it and bowing to the idea that nothing matters, is the only way to live through the short term. The frustrations resulting from failed or incomplete efforts to prevent wrongdoing are also part of that task. This doesn’t mean they’re necessary hurdles to be surmounted on the way to an inevitable victory; there’s no such thing. It’s just that this labor is, as Weber put it, what it means to have “measured up to the world.”

 

 

Travesty Complete: Cowards Bend the Knee

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Remember when we used to ponder if and when a constitutional crisis might arrive?

Good times.

“Trump acquitted” read the matching headlines in the New York Times and Washington Post on Wednesday, and for once I agree with the cry of “fake news!” regarding our two leading newspapers. As Nancy Pelosi said even before the fait accompli of the sham verdict was announced, “There can be no acquittal without a trial, and there is no trial without witnesses, documents and evidence.”

I reported that quote last week but it bears repeating as we review the Bert Lahr-like behavior of Trump’s GOP allies in delivering unto us that travesty of justice.

It was stomach-churning to watch Senate Republicans cravenly abdicating their constitutional duty—their patriotic duty—in ignoring an avalanche of evidence and objective reality itself for the sake of partisan power and their own sorry asses. But as the comedian Michael Che said on “SNL”’s Weekend Update, “What better way to start Black History Month than by being failed by the justice system?”

It was a mockery of jurisprudence and the rule of law, of course, but worse, it promises to have terrible repercussions for presidential abuse of power and the further debasement of our represented democracy, opening the door to full-blown autocracy at a level never before see in the United States.

And so the first line of 52 obituaries got written this week, all of which will make a bunch of as-yet-unborn great-grandchildren go red-faced with shame someday. The sins of Nixon’s dead-enders look trifling by comparison.

Meanwhile, the implications of the catastrophe these bastards have wrought are just beginning to unfold.

“THANK YOU SIR, MAY I HAVE ANOTHER?”

Among the most howlingly ludicrous rationalizations for excusing Trump’s actions was Susan Collins’ assertion that she believed he had learned his lesson. (In that regard she was echoing Lamar Alexander, who had said a similarly idiotic thing.) That was either world-beating naiveté or contemptible dishonesty; in either case, there is not an iota of evidence from Trump’s 73 years on this Earth to support that hypothesis. True to form, Donald wasted no time in making a fool of Susie by announcing that he had learned no such thing. And STILL, even after the humiliation of his response, she voted for acquittal.

Since then, Collins has had the gall to go on Fox News (natch) and smile, saying, “Well, I may not be correct on that. It’s more aspirational on my part.”

Aspirational. Wow. You know, I have some aspirations too, and they are encapsulated by UCLA Law School professor Jonathan Zasloff, who wrote: “Pine Tree Staters: either your senior Senator is a blithering idiot, or she thinks you are. Either one is a reason to throw her out of office this November.”

Word, as the kids say.

Parroting Collins and Alexander’s nonsensical position, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) defended her acquittal vote with an extra dollop of AYFKM by decrying “rank partisanship,” which was, to say the least, rich. (Bye Felicia.) A number of other weasely Republicans followed Lamar, Susie, and Lisa’s lead down the “wrong but not impeachable” road (like Marco Rubio and Ben Sasse, the GOP’s very own Eddie Haskell), even as Trump rejected that approach, instead demanding unqualified affirmation of his papal-ike infallibility. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia called their bluff with his motion for censure, which would have at least acknowledged Trump’s wrongdoing. Needless to say, that proposal died on the vine, with the GOP caucus shunning it like vampires faced with a crucifix, holy water, and an order of garlic knots from Olive Garden.

Of course, the whole notion that it isn’t a serious offense to pressure a foreign power to interfere in our elections is risible.

Then there was the utterly despicable and deceitful Rand Paul, who had a doozy of a followup to last week’s stunt of trying to get John Roberts to name the whistleblower (and then doing so himself at a press conference). This week Paul went a step further and named the man right on Senate floor. As Axios reports:

Paul defended his decision to CNN’s Manu Raju, arguing that he did not single out the alleged whistleblower with his floor speech: “I would say the chief justice did that. By not allowing the question, he’s sort of confirming to the public who it is. I have no idea who it is.”

Did I call Rand utterly despicable and deceitful already? (Just double checking.) I hope his neighbor comes over the beats the snot out of him again.

And that’s just a brief survey of the profiles in cowardice that define the modern GOP at its highest levels.

Writing in the Atlantic, Lawfare editors Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic laid out a blistering 23 point rebuttal to all those who think Trump did nothing wrong, or if he did, it was no big deal. Among their points:

It is not an impeachable offense for the president of the United States to condition aid to a foreign government on the delivery of personal favors to himself……(nor) to demand that a foreign head of state dish dirt on the president’s political opponents—or demand that he make dirt up if none is available to dish…..(nor) to push a foreign law-enforcement agency to investigate a US citizen for conduct no US law-enforcement agency has found to warrant an investigation. 

Abuse of power is not an impeachable offense. The oath he swears to “faithfully execute” his duties and “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” notwithstanding, the president is generally free to use his powers under Article II of the Constitution to benefit himself and harm those he disfavors.

None of this moved the Senate GOP caucus an whit, of course. Here’s Paul Krugman, in a piece called “How Zombies Are the GOP’s Soul,” on what he aptly calls the Walking Dead:

(E)veryone in Washington understands perfectly well that Donald Trump abused the powers of his office in an attempt to rig this year’s presidential election. But Senate Republicans are nonetheless about to acquit him without even pretending to look at the evidence, thereby encouraging further abuses of power…..

I guess you might have hoped that there would be some limits to what these apparatchiks would accept, that even they would draw the line at gross abuses of power and collusion with foreign autocrats. What we’ve learned, however—and perhaps more important, what Trump has learned—is that there is no line. If Trump wants to dismantle democracy and rule of law (which he does), his party will stand with him all the way.

Seconding that thought, Krugman’s Times colleague David Leonhardt wrote of the simple reason Trump does what he does: “Because he can.”

(T)he current Republican Party cares more about holding on to power than anything else. In service of this goal, the party has even fought democracy, be it preventing American citizens from voting, changing the rules for Supreme Court nominations, stripping authority from incoming governors or running an impeachment trial unconcerned with facts…..

The country is left with a president who has spent decades doing whatever he thinks is in his self-interest—and a political party willing to protect that president. Staying in power trumps all. That, of course, is the ideology of autocracy.

In his eloquent closing statement, lead House manager Adam Schiff plaintively asked of these zombie Republicans: “Every single vote, even a single vote by a single member, can change the course of history…..It is said that a single man or woman of courage makes a majority. Is there one among you, who will say, Enough?’”

There was one, and only one.

“BELIEVE IN AMERICA”

Here is Mitt Romney his speech on the Senate floor, explaining his courageous decision to buck Donald Trump, Moscow Mitch, and the entire flaming cesspool that is MAGA Nation in order to do the right goddam thing (sorry—Lord’s name in vain):

The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the President committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a “high crime and misdemeanor.”

Yes, he did.

The President asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival.

The President withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so.

The President delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders.

The President’s purpose was personal and political.

Accordingly, the President is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.

What he did was not “perfect”—No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security interests, and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.

Impressive. I have long disagreed with many of Romney’s ideological positions, but his courage and integrity here are beyond a doubt, particularly given the vitriol that was immediately unleashed on him from his right flank.

Reportedly Mitt’s act of courage caught Trump off guard—as he’s unfamiliar with the concept—causing the White House to cancel a scheduled Rose Garden appearance with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido. (Or maybe Juan just refused to go to a mike and announce an investigation into the Bidens.) Mitt also robbed Trump of his expected chance to crow about absolute party solidarity, just as the steadfastness of red state Democratic Senators Jones and Manchin robbed Trump of the chance to claim “bipartisan exoneration.”

That Mitt stands alone as a hero for recognizing that’s wrong to try to steal an election shows just how far and how low the GOP has fallen.

That is not to minimize his bravery. Romney is already paying the price in the vicious, vituperative verbal attacks from Trump himself, his spokespeople, children, other Republicans, as well as the larger corpus of mouthbreathing troglodytes who drink deep from the Kool Aid trough. Physical threats are sure to follow, if they have not already. Just yesterday that great Republican stalwart Donald Trump Jr. called from Mitt’s expulsion from the party, which is like Carrot Top calling for Richard Pryor’s expulsion from the Comedy Hall of Fame. Junior also re-posted a meme calling Romney a “pussy” (raising the question: did his dad try to grab him?), reflecting the sub-juvenile level of political discourse from the kakistocrats who are our ruling family.

(Can I get some props for being, I am quite sure, the first person ever to compare Mitt Romney to Richard Pryor?)

So everything you need to know about the descent of the Republican Party into the sewer is there in Mitt Romney’s fall from GOP standard bearer and presidential candidate in 2008 to pariah in 2020. Romney represents a kind of respectable, reasonable Republicanism that is pretty much dead, its other prominent practitioners (Kristol, Jolly, Boot, Rubin, Wilson, Steele, among others) having already fled the party. As one social media post succinctly put it, “I didn’t vote for him in 2012, but I didn’t fear a President Romney.”

This week he earned his proud place in history just as surely as every last one of his 52 colleagues earned theirs in infamy.

WELCOME TO THE AUTOCRACY

Back in the jaundiced land of yellow-bellied bootlickers, the folly of Collins’ absurd faith in Donald Trump’s inherent goodness was exposed immediately, not only with Trump’s sneering rebuke of her, but with statements that starting coming out of the White House and from senior GOP officials as soon as the “no witnesses” vote passed last Friday. Trump’s (non)acquittal hadn’t even happened yet when his allies began weaponizing the power of the federal government to persecute his political opponents—just like they do in an authoritarian regime like the ones Trump so openly admires. Which we now arguably are.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox News that there should be retribution for Democrats and others who pursued impeachment (e.g., Schiff, Nadler, Romney, Pelosi, Bolton, et al,) and that in his upcoming speech to the nation Trump would speak about “how horribly he was treated, and maybe people should pay for that.” Chuck Grassley announced a Senate investigation into Hunter Biden. The loathsome Lindsey Graham announced that the Senate would investigate the whistleblower. (Ah, their obsession.) There were reports that Trump wants John Bolton criminally prosecuted for mishandling classified material—one of the greatest hits from Trump’s 2016 bag of tricks, even as it’s the height of irony.

Today the White House fired Gordon Sondland as US Ambassador to the EU and made a show of pushing out LTC Alexander Vindman, who was due for normal reassignment, but whose transfer is being showcased as part of Trump’s purge. Both Vindman and his twin brother Yevgeny, also an Army lieutenant colonel assigned to the National Security Council staff, were escorted out of the White House by security officers—a spectacle as chilling and ironic as it was petty. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) proposed changing the Constitution to make impeachment harder by requiring require a three-fifth vote of the House rather than a simple majority. (Uh, didn’t we just learn how fucking hard it already is? Scott Matthews suggested the addendum that Democrats only count as three-fifths of a person.) That would track with newly converted presidential power fan Ken Starr’s pearl-clutching fear that impeachment is becoming a partisan tool. Perish the thought!

Of course, if anyone knows about being a partisan tool, it’s Ken Starr.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is precisely the kind of vindictive persecution of his enemies, unshackled from any worry of Congressional or judicial oversight, that critics feared and predicted would ensue were the Senate to excuse Trump’s behavior in Ukrainegate. Was there ever any doubt that it would happen? Or did Trump’s gentle, forgiving, Christ-like personality and lifelong devotion to humility and common decency make you think otherwise?

Remember, Trump made the infamous July 25, 2019 Zelenskyy call THE VERY NEXT DAY AFTER the special counsel probe was laid to rest with Mueller’s anti-climactic House testimony. Now, emboldened even further after skating away from this second existential threat, he and his surrogates have brazenly announced that he is out for revenge for those who challenged him, and will use the full power of the presidency—indeed the unfettered power of a despot—to obtain it. He has also made it clear that he will continue doing the exact thing that got him impeached.

Because the GOP just told him that he can.

And it’s only just beginning. This slippery slope to autocracy is likely the most alarming part of the whole Senate charade.

The editorial board of the New York Times:

Even before the acquittal, the State of the Union address made clear that Mr. Trump—enabled, as in his business life, by his exceptional shamelessness—intends to deploy every power available to a president in pursuit of his re-election. If there remained any doubts on that score, they were dispelled when Melania Trump hung the Presidential Medal of Freedom around Rush Limbaugh’s neck…..

He can do whatever it takes to win re-election, and the Republican Party will have his back.

I would add that “whatever it takes to win re-election” is not an anodyne sports cliché in this case, and certainly not confined to only what is legal. The shameful GOP ranks-closing in acquitting Trump of his illegal attempts to cheat in the 2020 election—atop its years of gerrymandering, voter suppression, and spreading of disinformation about voter fraud—is a blaring claxon announcing that the Republican Party actively intends to steal the election by any means necessary.

Don’t say we weren’t warned.

CALIGULA WITH THE BOMB

Republicans obviously don’t give a damn about the damage to the rule of law, to our system of government, or to anything else. As Jelani Cobb wrote in the New Yorker, that may come back to bite them in the ass, if the republic survives at all and they are ever evicted from power. Then again, democracy may have died in darkness long before that can come to pass, as they clearly have no intention of surrendering power.

Former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt offered the grim observation that Donald Trump is now more powerful than any US president in history, including Washington, Lincoln, and FDR……and he ain’t exactly shy and retiring about using it. If he can order an investigation of the last Vice President (shades of Edge of Democracy, and Brazil’s Lula/Dilma/Bolsonaro nightmare), he can order it of any American, using the DOJ, FBI, IRS, CBP, and the rest of the federal alphabet soup.

Schmidt was referring to political power, given that Trump has a compliant Republican Party and GOP-controlled Senate behind him that will submissively bow to his every whim, no matter how illegal or simply batshit, as well as an increasingly right wing federal judiciary, including a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court (featuring two justices who owe him their seats). If he wins a second term he is likely to have a 7-2 right wing SCOTUS majority, four of whom he put there.

At the federal level, only the House is a brake on him, and as we saw this week, not a very powerful one. (And only as long as the Democrats can hold it.)

But Trump is also insanely—and I do mean insanely—powerful in sheer physical terms. Thanks to his control of the nuclear arsenal—which he can launch without any consultation with the other branches of government or the US military—he literally has more power than any human being who has ever lived, including all the Caesars, Napoleon, Queen Victoria, and Hitler. (Quibble: it’s a dead heat with his man-crush Vlad Putin, whose nuclear arsenal is smaller, but whose ironclad one-man rule is undeniably even more ironclady.)

That sounds right, doesn’t it? The most unqualified, proudly ignorant, morally bankrupt, dumbass lucky and undeserving motherfucker ever to sit behind the Resolute Desk is of course the one who has grabbed the most power. And now, at last, he has the go-ahead to use it with impunity.

To that end, Susan Glasser writing in the New Yorker is a helluva lot smarter than Susan Collins sitting in the US Senate.

From here on, there can be no more illusions.

Until the voters render their verdict in November, Trump will be the President he has always wanted to be: inescapable, all-powerful, and completely unaccountable.

LET US PREY

I just heard that Trump is going to give the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Ivanka.

Not true, but for a moment you thought it might be, didn’t you? Because none of us would be shocked if it happened.

It was fitting that on the eve of his escape from justice, Trump staged the State of the Union address as gauche reality TV spectacle. As a Twitter user called A. Sharon wrote, “It just perfectly encapsulates the Trump administration’s massive and absolute incompetence when Rush Limbaugh and a 100-year-old Tuskegee Airman are in the same room and Rush Limbaugh is the one going home with a Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

That’s like giving Jeffrey Epstein an award for mentoring young girls.

The medal for Limbaugh is an obscenity all by itself, but consider this: This past fall Trump gave a lesser award to Rick Rescorla, whom I was privileged to know, a Vietnam War hero who saved the lives of 6000 Morgan Stanley Dean Witter employees on 9/11, before perishing himself when he went back into the towers to search for stragglers.

Res ipsa loquitur.

At the end of the SOTU Nancy Pelosi calmly tore her copy of Trump‘s speech in half after, causing Don Jr—again—to sink to the occasion and suggest she should be jailed. (Boys, these guys sure have a fetish for locking up powerful women, don’t they?) He’s half right: someone definitely belongs in jail, but it damn sure ain’t her. Meanwhile Matt Gaetzof course!—acted on the boy prince’s suggestion, filing an ethics complaint against the Speaker. I say again, an ethics complaint. From Matt Gaetz. On behalf of Donald Trump. And with No Discernible Irony.

Even so, many, even on the left, fell back on their fainting couches and scolded the Speaker for sinking to Senior’s level. (Many of them the same pundits who lament that the Democrats have not successfully figured out how to fight on the new political battlefield that Trump created.) But without the speech-tearing-up, the story the next morning would have been all about how he “owned” her with that handshake snub. Instead she deftly flipped the script when she ripped the script. (YSWIDT?)

But as we know, when a Republican (especially a man) does something aggressive he’s praised as an alpha. When a Democrat (especially a woman) does it, even just in self-defense, she’s attacked for being rude, if not worse. Much worse.

But as usual, Nancy cannily eviscerated the fake outrage over her gesture:

“I don’t need any lessons from anybody, especially the president of the United States, about dignity. It’s appalling the things that he says. And then you say to me: ‘Tearing up his falsehoods, isn’t that the wrong message?’ No, it isn’t,” she said, adding: “I feel very liberated. I feel that I’ve extended every possible courtesy. I’ve shown every level of respect.”

The next day came Don’s appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast, where the existence of God was disproven when he didn’t burst into flame the moment he walked into the room. Trump’s speech there was a masterpiece of projection and dishonesty for the ages, worthy of the worst fascist despot you care to name. (The Onion headline read, “ Trump Spends National Prayer Breakfast Attacking God for Allowing Impeachment to Even Happen.” Distance between satire and reality: about one millimeter.)

But everything Trump does beggars the most outrageous satire. The prayer breakfast atrocity was just the logical extension of a vicious Republican perversion of truth that goes back at least to McCarthy. A prominent signpost: the Swift Boating of war hero John Kerry by draft dodger George W. Bush. Up is down, night is day, war is peace, freedom is slavery.

What’s really fascinating is that Trump’s speeches of the last few days, like his pronouncements after dodging the Russiagate scandal, are less triumphant than they are merely livid.

Before his (non)acquittal, I read the word “gloat” a lot in reference to how he was expected to act once McConnell gave him his get-out-of-jail-free card. He hasn’t disappointed. But truly, what does he have to gloat about? Not that he was cleared in a fair trial—only that he exerts such Simon Legree-like command of his servile minions that he demanded this unquestioning obedience and they meekly complied.

Trump himself seems to recognize this, if only subconsciously. Following the prayer breakfast, he gave a speech from the East Room of the White House that Charlie Sykes, writing in the Bulwark, called a “Festival of Grievances.” Here again he less crowed over his triumph than fulminated that he had to go through this ordeal at all. (Poor baby. A word of advice, in order to avoid this in the future: maybe don’t commit so many crimes.)

Sykes:

Trump described his enemies as evil, corrupt, leakers, liars, lowlifes, sleazebags, and dirty cops. “Adam Schiff is a vicious, horrible person,” Trump told his eager minions. “Nancy Pelosi is a horrible person.” It was a pure Trumpian stream of consciousness: self pity, bitterness, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, sniffs, anger, mockery, self pity, James Comey, sniffs, the dossier, Hillary, Obama, conspiracy theories, Russia, self pity, Mitt Romney, payback, Hunter Biden, sniffs, insults, Robert Mueller, the FBI, bullshit, self pity… 

Through it all ran the theme of Trump as Victim. No one had ever been treated as badly as he had been. He didn’t know “if other presidents would have been able to take it.”

But by all means, let’s excoriate Nancy Pelosi for tearing up a piece of paper.

What America saw….was Trump in full. There was no expression of regret, no grace notes, no appeals to the better angels of our nature. Instead we got a raw, bitter, unhinged rant of crazy. Two of them, in fact. And it was all perfectly on brand.

Trump is a man unconstrained by the demands of decency or conscience, logic or consistency, and he clearly revels in the license these freedoms afford him. However feckless some of his former aides may have been, it is clear that Trump now occupies a world in which no one tells him no, or cautions him against improprieties, or urges graciousness, or pleads with him to be presidential, or responsible, or even coherent.

As these eyepopping performances demonstrated, Donald Trump is not a happy boy. For a man who has enjoyed seven and a half decades of outrageous and undeserved good luck and privilege, who has been coddled and protected and shielded from consequence even as he engaged in the most despicable behavior his whole life long, who improbably rose to the highest office in the land without a shred of the necessary qualifications, he is nonetheless a roiling ball of rage and resentment 24/7. (Look at his signature, graphologists.) As I noted a week or so ago, that is one of the few things about his reign that gives me any solace. But of course it is really a tragedy for him and for us both.

We long ago learned that this infantile behavior, which would have sunk any previous American politician, let alone a presidential candidate, is exactly what his slavish disciples relish about him. They don’t love him in spite of it—they love him because of it. Sykes again:

Trump’s casual cruelty and off-the-cuff vindictiveness is no longer a bug; it is the product differentiator, the special sauce, the killer app of Trumpism. It is precisely what his admirers cling to most fervently. Many of them no longer even try to pretend that they are loyal to his policies, rather than his person.

Many a graduate dissertation will surely be written about how millions of Americans came to a point of nihilism that obsidian. But in the mean time, they are damn hard to reason with.

THE NIGHT THEY DROVE DEMOCRACY DOWN

So was the impeachment worth it? I have long argued that it would be regardless of the result, and I stand by that.

Yeah, I know Trump’s approval went up a little, due largely to increased fervor of his rabid base. But you don’t beat a bully by being too timid to fight back and too afraid of making him or his followers angry. Going into November Trump was gonna gyrate them into a mouth-foaming fury with one thing or another……if not with this, then with something else.

The Democratic Party stood up for the rule of law, laid down a marker for behavior that America (at least some of it) will not tolerate, and did it all knowing that they would not win in the Senate. Schiff’s aforementioned closing statement, which is already being called the “Midnight in Washington” speech, was profound and epic. For generations to come, when the name “Donald Trump” is nothing more than an obscenity whose origins are lost in time, schoolchildren will still be reading it. (Hopefully not in a textbook called “The Collapse of American Democracy.”) A close second to Schiff’s eloquence was Hakeem Jefferies’ “America is in the wilderness…..and the eyes of history are watching.”

In a New York Times op-ed, Neal Katyal and Joshua Geltzer write:

The Democrats were told constantly that impeachment would hurt them in November. Mr. Trump himself has boasted that it will, and what’s more he has relished the chance to claim exoneration and to take a victory lap at the same time as Democratic hopefuls began duking it out in earnest in the primaries. The Democrats knew all this, and what’s more, they knew they faced an uphill battle: That’s what the constitutional requirement of a two-thirds Senate majority to convict imposes from the beginning.

But they still did the right thing. They called out impropriety so glaring that it could not be suffered in silence. And they reminded all of us that a political party can pursue what’s right over what’s expedient.

Looping back to Michael Che’s joke, Trump’s (non)acquittal was very reminiscent of OJ’s, an analogy I made before when Bob Mueller declined to make a determination about Donny’s conduct in Russiagate. Truly, these two rich and privileged men—friends, I hasten to note—are the two least deserving beneficiaries of a broken justice system one can imagine. They even had the same disreputable lawyer.

But now that it’s over, where do we go from here?

We are constantly being told—especially by Republicans—that the election is the best remedy for addressing Trump’s unfitness, should one hold that view of him. But by excusing his actions—which concerned rigging an election—the GOP is bluntly announcing that it does not intend to hold a fair election at all.

As the author Michael Gruber argues, it is clear that the Republican Party not only condones foreign interference in US elections (on its behalf only), but actively desires it, as that is one of the few ways that the GOP can continue to win elections in this country with demographics that are increasingly trending against them, clinging to an ever-diminishing base of aging white people, Christian evangelicals, gun nuts, racists, and other John Birch-y fellow travelers.

And now they have codified that plan, and given it the stamp of Congressional approval.

If I were Bernie, I’d immediately call on Russia, China, Israel & Saudi Arabia to release any info they have about Donald Trump’s finances & to open investigations into Don Jr, Eric, Ivanka & Tiffany. After all, the Senate just affirmed that it’s totally OK to do that. Right?

We’re heading into some pitch black darkness, my friends, and I am not confident in the ability of the American people or our institutions to come out in any recognizable form on the other side. We best gird ourselves for a fight, on multiple fronts, and not underestimate the fervor, venality, or underhandedness of our foe.

Let’s give Mitt Romney the final word. He deserves it:

I acknowledge that my verdict will not remove the President from office. The results of this Senate Court will in fact be appealed to a higher court: the judgment of the American people. Voters will make the final decision, just as the President’s lawyers have implored. My vote will likely be in the minority in the Senate. But irrespective of these things, with my vote, I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me. I will only be one name among many, no more or less, to future generations of Americans who look at the record of this trial. They will note merely that I was among the senators who determined that what the President did was wrong, grievously wrong.

We’re all footnotes at best in the annals of history. But in the most powerful nation on earth, the nation conceived in liberty and justice, that is distinction enough for any citizen.

**********

Hat tip to Guy Maddin.

Painting, Jacques-Louis David, 1808: “Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, December 2, 1804.” Oil on canvas, the Louvre.

 

 

Travesty in Progress: Part 3

Travesty Pt 3 picWhy are we not out in the streets?

We really are a nation of sheep. I don’t wanna sound like a xenophile, but I can hardly think of another Western country where the people would take an outrage like this lying down.

Our ruling political party just shamelessly whitewashed the most egregious imaginable corruption by its leader, demonstrating a contempt for the rule of law that is truly gobsmacking. In fact, they went even further than that: on the way, they argued for near-absolute, unfettered power for that leader. And as the kicker, all of it involves their attempts to undermine the fundamental fairness of the one mechanism they claim is our recourse, which is free elections, that they would turn into a sham.

And here among the engaged segment of citizenry there is moaning and lamentations and wringing of hands as we ponder what we ought to do. But what we won’t do—not yet anyway—is let our wrath be felt by putting these gargoyles on notice, by harnessing the power of public dissent and making it known that that we will not stand for this bullshit.

But by all means enjoy the Super Bowl…..

ACQUITTAL WITHOUT EXONERATION, OR EVEN ACQUITTAL

As the New Yorker’s Susan Glasser wrote, “The Senate can stop pretending now.”

Over the first ten days of Donald Trump’s trial, and particularly in the three consecutive days that the House managers had to make their case uninterrupted, the Democrats mounted a professional, proficient, methodical argument for his removal from power. The fact the craven Republican Party refused to acknowledge the evidence and even objective reality is an act that will stain its members forever.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois noted that this White House could not find even one witness who would stand up under oath and defend what Trump did. But there were loads of them—Trump’s own staffers and appointees—lined up to testify under oath about his misdeeds. Which is why the White House was so desperate to block that.

In a scathing editorial, the New York Times wrote:

(Senate Republicans) didn’t refuse to hold a fair trial so much as they refused to hold any trial at all. Of course, Mitch McConnell, the majority leader for whom bipartisanship is a dirty word, had promised no less. He announced in December that he planned to work in complete coordination with the White House in protecting the president from any accountability, and that he had no intention of honoring the oath he would take to be an impartial juror.

The irony is stifling. For months, Mr. McConnell and other Republicans complained that the impeachment process was being rushed, that the president was being denied basic procedural protections, and that there was no testimony from those with the most direct knowledge of Mr. Trump’s actions and motivations. Then they refused to hear from a single witness and refused to demand a single document from the White House…..

I’m beginning to think the Republican Party might be slightly hypocritical.

The vote…..brings the nation face to face with the reality that the Senate has become nothing more than an arena for the most base and brutal—and stupid—power politics. Faced with credible evidence that a president was abusing his powers, it would not muster the institutional self-respect to even investigate….

Chuck Schumer referred to the “permanent asterisk” that would be by Trump’s name in the history books. With characteristic élan, Nancy Pelosi went further, saying Trump won’t be acquitted at all. “You cannot be acquitted if you don’t have a trial,” she said. “And you don’t have a trial if you don’t have witnesses and documentation.”

I am going to adopt Nancy’s attitude, and I encourage you all to do the same. Previously my position was that we were going to have “acquittal without exoneration.” But truly, this is not even acquittal by any reasonable definition of the word.

HEADY LAMAR

The man who delivered the coup de grace, longtime Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), took the absurd position that the House managers had more than proved their case; he just didn’t think it was a big deal. (On the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress, Alexander was even more appallingly dismissive.) But as I noted last week, this is not a position the White House defense team argued, opting instead for their boss’s preferred argument, “I am a king.”

In explaining his decision, Alexander argued that Trump’s removal ought to be settled in the next election. But the WaPo’s Greg Sargent blisteringly dismantled that irrational position, which he describes as “self-refuting”:

What Alexander fails to acknowledge is that Trump’s own conduct was both an effort to solicit foreign help in rigging that very election and a clear sign Trump believes it’s absolutely within his authority to continue using his official powers to do just that…..

Alexander’s position—that Trump did solicit foreign help in the election, but it’s up to voters to impose accountability for it—refutes itself. While acknowledging the corruption Trump is capable of, it clearly tells Trump he can continue corrupting that very mechanism of accountability with impunity….

A vote against witnesses—especially when paired with an acknowledgment of Trump’s corruption—can only be a vote to carry through Trump’s own coverup to completion, leaving the country exposed, adrift and in the dark, unable to know precisely what Trump is prepared to inflict on us.

The last point is especially true given that it was clear that there was a mountain of relevant evidence that the ostrich-like Senate refused to examine, let alone reveal to the public. As Garry Kasparov puts it:

Trump’s actions were not an attack on Ukraine or on Biden, but on the integrity of the presidency, US elections and American democracy. And it was surely just the tip of the iceberg. Alexander admitting that and not caring is doubly cowardly.

Alexander, of course, is retiring and has nothing to lose by standing up to Trump, making it all the more disheartening that he chose not to do so. If any Republican in the Senate could take a stand on “principle,” it’s him. So watching him cast the deciding vote that not only sealed Trump’s (fake) acquittal, but protected him from further public exposure of his crimes, ought to disabuse us all of the notion that Republicans are somehow holding their noses when they support and abet this bastard. They have no principles to compromise, apart from maintaining their own power, lining their pockets, and serving the venal interests of their own kind. They are active, enthusiastic accomplices to Trump’s ongoing corruption.

So is Trump using the GOP or is the GOP using Trump, or is it both? And which is worse?

GRAND OLD PARTY

And so, with the announcement of his vote, Alexander put an end to this kabuki.

But what of the other Republicans?

Walter Sujansky writes that many of them “were contorting into pretzels to explain their votes, but Marco Rubio took the prize with the most mealy-mouthed and self-contradictory rationalization”:

(Rubio said), “Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a President from office.” That’s like a juror saying “the evidence convinced me that he committed a serious crime, but I think we should let him go free because he’s my boss and I might lose my job if he’s not around to run the business.”

And watch: that will not be good enough for Trump, who demands not just a defense of “wrong but not impeachable” (per Alexander), or “impeachable but never mind” (Rubio), but affirmation of no wrongdoing at all—a Dershowitzean decree of l’etat c’est him. Look for Little Marco to get bitch-slapped by the White House and quiveringly backpedal on even this initial statement, embracing instead the “perfect call” stance. Somebody get him a glass of water.

In fact, as I also wrote last week, Trump’s legal team—especially the vile Mr. Dershowitz— went much further even than that, offering what Amy Davidson Sorkin of the New Yorker called “a pseudo-intellectual scaffold for Trump’s self-delusion.”

Dershowitz was arguing that, as Schiff said on Thursday, if the President believes that a deal is in his political interest, “then it doesn’t matter how corrupt that quid pro quo is.” Schiff was not exaggerating when he called this argument “a descent into constitutional madness”……

(B)y Dershowitz’s logic, a President could not only seek foreign assistance in a campaign; he could unleash any number of investigations into his political opponents, declare spurious emergencies to prevent their parties’ political gatherings, engage in surveillance, or take measures to limit access to polling stations—suppressing, rather than amplifying, voters’ voices.

As Jamil Smith wrote in Rolling Stone, leave it to Trump to use even impeachment to grab even MORE power.

Meanwhile, Rand Paul disgraced himself by trying to get Chief Justice Roberts to name the original Ukrainegate whistleblower…..and when Roberts refused, did it himself at a press conference.

Kentucky might have the worst two senators in the country which is saying something.

Speaking of which, once he knew he had the votes to block witnesses, the senior Senator from the Bluegrass State, Mr. McConnell, gave Susan Collins a “hall pass” (in the worlds of Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Rhodes) so she could vote “yes” for witnesses, purely to help her on Election Day in purplish Maine, where she rightly faces an electorate furious at her cowardice on Kavanaugh and throughout this administration in general. (No US Senator is less popular in their home state.)

Yes vote last week or no, she still richly deserves to be chucked out of office, and rob Moscow Mitch of one more seat in his caucus.

And lastly there is Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Susan’s pal, once thought to be a likely “yes” vote on witnesses, whom the New York Times described as engaging in “a suffocating tautology” when she announced she was voting no:

Ms. Murkowski was saying that because the trial would be unfair, she would vote to prevent witnesses, ensuring that the trial would be unfair. On the other hand, her statement was such a searing indictment of the institution’s capacity to perform a critical constitutional function that one wonders how she can bear to work there.

FEBRUARY SPAWNED A MONSTER

We all knew this was coming of course, but to be on the verge of actually watching it happen is still grim and depressing. Is it any comfort to know that we are on the side of the angels and that history will remember these Republican men and women as the cowards, quislings, co-conspirators, accomplices, and in some cases outright traitors that they are? I don’t know, but it’s all we got.

It’s strange how we talk of the acquittal being “set for” Wednesday, like a scheduled C-section. I don’t know if I’m brave enough to look upon the Rosemary’s baby it promises to bring forth. At least Trump has been denied the full force of trumpeting his latest Houdini-like escape during the Super Bowl and the State of the Union, though he’ll do his best of course. Throughout this ordeal it was often said that if Nixon had had Fox News, he wouldn’t have been forced to resign. I guess that’s been proved true.

And so Trump’s lifelong run of vastly undeserved good luck continues, proving that there is no God.

The comedy writer Peter Mehlman of “Seinfeld” fame (the “shrinkage” episode, the “yada yada yada” episode, among many many others) tells an anecdote about being a young man working for Howard Cosell in the 1980s, and being present when Cosell interviewed the young-ish up-and-coming Trump, who back then was just a brash and crass and relentlessly self-promoting New York real estate developer and running punchline in Spy magazine, not a potential Mussolini.

Afterward, Mehlman reports, Cosell remarked privately, “That’s the dumbest, luckiest SOB I ever met.”

I miss Howard.

As we come to terms with Trump’s (non-)acquittal, we all know what will happen next. He will surely be further emboldened by his latest escape from justice, having gotten away with yet another epic set of high crimes and misdemeanors.

Going forward Trump will no doubt behave in an even more brazenly criminal and unfettered way with even less fear of being held accountable—if you can conceive of that. He will also surely act vindictively to punish those who attempted to do so.

The implications are terrifying. As Sargent writes, “There is zero doubt Trump will continue to abuse his powers in any way he sees fit to solicit more foreign interference—or potentially to wield the government against his 2020 opponents in more grave ways.”

Steve Almond again:

The moment he’s acquitted, we know Trump will immediately crow about his glorious exoneration, because his entire brand is based on impunity—the idea that he is powerful enough to say and do whatever he wants without consequence.

This exoneration, in turn, will establish a new precedent: for Trump himself, and all future presidents. They’ll forever more be able to pressure a foreign government to dig up dirt on opponents, freely subvert our elections and block Congress from investigating them. This behavior will no longer be abuse of power. It will become standard operating procedure.

And former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal:

If Trump is acquitted, he can call on foreign governments tomorrow to investigate every Democrat in our nation (and do so in secret). He can ask DOJ to target every Democrat as well, too. And his legal argument, voiced by his lawyer, is that there is nothing wrong with this. Buyer beware.

Of course, this is a one-way street, one affixed with tire puncturing spikes, as the author Michael Gruber writes:

Let us also note that any Democrat who approaches a foreign power with an offer of special help if elected, in return for, say, hacking Trump’s financials, will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY THE SAME

Of course, the GOP can’t keep the truth from drip drip dripping out—or even gush gush gushing. What will happen when it does? Needless to say, MAGA Nation won’t care, and the Republican leadership will try to ignore it, but the further airing of evidence promises to make their craven actions even more blatantly shameful, for those who give a shit.

Bolton’s book has already made fools of the GOP, not that it derailed the 9:15 Acquittal Special, making stops on Capitol Hill, Mar-a-Lago, and Trump Tower Moscow. Then, within hours of Senate Republicans voting to end the trial without hearing from Bolton or anyone else, or considering any evidence, the Trump administration admitted in federal court that it was withholding two dozen crucial emails containing precisely the kind of the information germane to the proceeding: Trump’s orders regarding the withholding of military aid to Ukraine.

Yet Senate Republicans still stubbornly crossed their arms and insisted, “Nope, we don’t need to see any of that.”

And now we have just learned that White House counsel Pat Cipolline was in the goddam room when Donald Trump directed John Bolton to withhold aid to Ukraine, and Bolton refused. And yet there Cipolline stood, for days, in front of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and all 100 assembled members of the United States Senate, the “greatest deliberative body in the world” (stop, stop—it hurts when I laugh) insisting that there was no evidence whatsoever that Trump knew anything about the scheme, which Cipolline knew firsthand was a bald-faced lie.

That all by itself is a world-beating scandal, or should be. That it isn’t is a terrible indictment of how cynical and numb to corruption we have become in the past 300 years since Trump took office.

Cipolline is a material witness to this impeachable offense and ought to be subpoenaed to testify before Congress, and disbarred, or worse.

STORM WARNING

What the United States look like on the other side of this debacle remains to be seen, but it doesn’t look promising.

It’s true that Trump will be tarred forever with the stain of impeachment, which he clearly knows, and which clearly eats at him. But he will not have been truly held to account, not by a long shot.

Impeachment has loomed so large over this entire presidency since day one (per the right wing complaint) that it’s hard to imagine what life will be like when it is over. I realize that Trump can be impeached again, and will surely do things to deserve it, very possibly things even worse than he’s already done. I’m not at all against a second impeachment (or a third, or a fourth), although I think they stand even less chance of helping our cause, thanks to sheer fatigue, and the danger that they would feed Republican spin about so-called Trump Derangement Syndrome. Continued investigation, on the other hand, is a certainty, especially as more facts come out. But its objective will be aimed primarily at the ballot box.

So for all practical purposes, what we will be left with is the election. That will be a brave new world, and perhaps the forced focus on that will be a good thing.

I would like to believe that the American people will display enough collective common sense to throw every last Republican bum out in a sweeping cleaning of house in November, chucking not only Trump but also McConnell, Graham, Collins, and all the rest out on their ears. However I am not convinced that that will happen, given the demonstrated willingness of millions of our fellow Americans not only to put up with this bullshit, but to actively cheer it, and of millions of others to be too apathetic to get off their fat asses and vote.

A significant section of American people just don’t give a shit—not a majority, but enough to allow others to put a chokehold on our government, given its counter-majoritarian mechanisms. Barring a national awakening, I have little optimism that those disastrous institutional flaws will ever be rectified. On the contrary, under continued Republican control they are apt to get worse.

Indeed, there is good reason to believe that the GOP does not intend to participate in a fair vote in 2020, or ever again, and that Trump will not willingly leave office regardless of the results. Hell, this entire impeachment was about trying to cheat in the next election! And by letting Trump skate—indeed, arguing that he was within his authority in what he did—the Republican Party has bluntly announced that it is going to cheat in 2020! We can’t say we weren’t warned.

If Trump does manage to win in November, legally or illegally, God knows what the next four years and beyond will look like. It remains possible, as many warned, that the impeachment hearings will galvanize his fanatic base and prove a boon to him. That has always been a danger, no matter what. But we had no choice. Absent impeachment, the GOP would have manufactured something else with which to whip those folks into a foaming-mouthed fury. They may yet do so.

But as I’ve argued numerous times, impeachment was the right thing to do not only on principle, but tactically as well. Even without a conviction, the process aired many of Trump’s worst crimes and made the case against him to voters. The House managers cogently laid out an impressive case publicly airing the evidence of his unfitness for office and his removal therefrom. It is inconceivable that these proceedings have not done damage to Trump. He certainly thinks so. The Senate Republicans certainly think so, based on their transparently desperate efforts to stop it. Some have even copped to it on the record. Even the faux acquittal has done so. Whether that translates into electoral victory in November, notwithstanding foreign interference, Republican ratfucking, and other skullduggery and attempts to rig the election, I don’t know.

If this thorough public accounting of Trump’s wrongdoing and unfitness does not sufficiently move the electorate, that will be a truly depressing verdict on the moral courage of the American people or lack thereof. And if it makes his followers and undecided voters like him more, we’ve got bigger problems than just tactics.

In the words of Adam Schiff:

If right doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how good the Constitution is,” Schiff said. “It doesn’t matter how brilliant the framers were. Doesn’t matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is. Doesn’t matter how well written the oath of impartiality is. If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost. If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost….

You know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for the next several months. He’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to. This is why if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed.

WHAT CAN A POOR BOY DO?

As I’ve written many times, how pathetic is it that the American experiment, this glorious republic, should come to an end at the hands of a D-list game show host? But as Bill Maher says, “We’re officially living in a dictatorship….and not even one with good rail service.” For all the talk of liberal hysteria, Trump Derangement Syndrome, and violations of Godwin’s Law, this is no longer a hypothetical.

Steve Almond again:

The transformation of Trump from party pariah—a man Lindsay Graham called “a kook” a “loser” and “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot”—to a de facto monarch is the inevitable culmination of this moral rot. “Any time you ignore what could become an evil force,” Graham observed four short years ago, “you wind up regretting it.” These days, Graham isn’t ignoring that force. He’s become its loudest defender.

Now Trump’s Republicans will be on the record for all of eternity.

And for what? To prop up a corrupt and cruel grifter whom most of them despise and mistrust. The only thing greater than their shame, apparently, is their shamelessness. They needed Trump to find that shamelessness. That’s what he’s given them—and all it cost them was our constitutional democracy.

The only remaining remedy is the 2020 election, an election already besieged by voter suppression, gerrymandering and the perverse math of the Electoral College and, thanks to Mitch McConnell, foreign subversion, too.

The only way to repudiate this culture of sociopathic nihilism and lawlessness is for citizens of good faith to become more politically active. We can, and should, watch what’s happening on the floor of the Senate in despair and outrage.

“Citizens of good faith” he is calling upon. That’s us, folks. Bob Mueller’s not gonna save us, and Mitt Romney’s not gonna save us, and John Bolton is not gonna save us. Only we can save us.

Let us again heed Garry Kasparov, who ought to know:

Don’t be surprised, be angry. Show all of these GOP Senators treating Trump like a king that American democracy still works by voting them out. Every last one of them.

The result is bad and the methods are worse. The GOP is saying the president can do whatever he wants. They are a pack of docile reprobates bringing shame on this great nation.

Trump’s pathetic defenders deserve to be grilled every day as further evidence of his abuses comes out. They are also complicit in his every act going forward. They know what he is and what he did, and that now he will do more. The 2020 election is under assault.

Is it possible that Obama will be our last president under a system that bears any resemblance to American representative democracy as we once knew it?

He might be, if we don’t do something about it.

Go Niners.

********

Photo by Samuel Corum / Getty, for the New Yorker

 

 

Travesty in Progress: Part 2

Travesty 2 copy

Do you think Donald Trump is sleeping at all?

Of course not.

Do you think he’s able to concentrate on matters of state (just kidding!), or his golf game, or grabbing pussy, or squeezing pennies out of the gnarled hands of destitute old age pensioners who are behind on their rent, or any of the other things he loves to do?

Look at his Twitter feed. He is consumed night and day with his impeachment, a fuming maniac wandering the halls of the West Wing in an enraged state that would make Nixon look like the Buddha. Even I am not that obsessed with the impeachment, contrary to the impression you might get from the steady flow of these essays.

Very weird behavior for a guy who is guaranteed to beat the rap.

In fact, the thought of a permanently apoplectic, haunted Trump is about the only part of this whole horrific affair that gives me any pleasure.

DON’T WAIT, CALL EIGHT

At the end of last week, prior to the beginning of the bizarre and antiquated ceremony of written questions, the White House lawyers presented their defense of the president, such as it was. Tellingly, for their leadoff on Friday they used only two of their available eight hours, which speaks to the fact that they really have no credible case to make.

WBUR’s Steve Almond writes:

McConnell, and his merry band of quislings, know that Trump is guilty. That’s why they want this proceeding over as quickly as possible. To call it a “trial,” as I’ve argued, is disinformation. This is a show trial, pure and simple, in which Republicans’ stated goal is to exonerate the defendant.

The House managers prosecuting the articles of impeachment against Trump— charging that he abused the power of the presidency to cheat in the 2020 election, then obstructed Congress’s investigation of the same—are engaged in, or are attempting to engage in, an actual trial.

You know: evidence, witnesses, facts.

The president’s defense team is performing for Fox News and other conservative media outlets. There is no discussion of evidence, witnesses or facts, just a recitation of blustery talking points, grade-school deflections, legalistic doublespeak and Trumpian conspiracies….

It is even more telling that the defense has not even bothered to contest the facts that the Democrats laid out. It wasn’t that long ago that many people thought they would make the argument the Trump’s behavior was wrong but not impeachable. That’s a position with which I strongly disagree, but at least it would have made some sense legally speaking. But of course the GOP can’t do that, because that is not what Trump demands. Instead, Republicans have saluted, barked “Three bags full!”, and gone all in with Trump’s pathological insistence that he did nothing wrong whatsoever, that his actions were completely within his authority, and that his behavior was “perfect.” (Pope Francis, white courtesy phone).

This is madness, of course, and Adam Schiff  & Co. beautifully explained why. It is an insane, outrageous, and specious claim that only the most Kool-Aid drunk of these Republican senators could possibly believe. The other, more conniving ones are engaging in an absolutely nihilistic charade, which is worse. (Though not as scary.) Yet that is the argument that Trump’s lawyers—Sekulow, Cipolline, Philbin, Bondi, Starr, and Dershowitz above all—are making. No thinking person can possibly be convinced by it, but then again, that description lets out all of Trump’s followers and the entire leadership of the Republican Party.

A key Republican defense is that Trump did nothing wrong because he was legitimately fighting corruption in Ukraine. As I’ve written in previous blog posts, this is risible. But no lie, no fairytale, no fish story is too outrageous for MAGA Nation to clutch to its collective bosom and defend to its dying breath, which can’t come too soon, if you ask me. (I refer to the movement of course, not any individual humans. Like Nancy Pelosi, I love all people, and I’m not even Catholic.)

But all you really need to understand in order to obliterate that defense is that Trump and his people actively tried to cover up his actions….frantically so, in fact. At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, if he did nothing wrong and everything is above board, why so desperate the need to hide it?

Another outrageous howler—and one that totally elides the substance of the charges—is the contention that these impeachment proceedings overturn the last election. Needless to say, nothing could be further from the truth. Impeachment is a mechanism built into United States Constitution by our Founders for this very purpose, that of removing a criminally unfit president. For the GOP to ignore that—and worse, deny it—and claim instead that this trial is some sort of coup is dishonesty of the worst sort. I know that’s not surprising in the least, coming from these swine.

But if the Founders devised impeachment as the constitutional remedy for a cancerous presidency, this one is like getting chemotherapy from William S. Burroughs’ Dr. Benway.

It is also the height of irony that Republicans go on and on about the Democrats trying to “steal” an election when that is the very thing that Trump—with their help—is on trial for, and worse, continues to be engaged in even as we speak. But then again, as I like to say, that is Fascism 101: accuse your enemies of your own crimes.

The White House defense team has also screamed that that the House inquiry was incomplete, unfair, didn’t call the right witnesses, and didn’t offer the administration a chance to make its case. That’s the same House inquiry that the White House flatly refused to cooperate with, blocked the appearance of witnesses at, defied subpoenas from, and otherwise obstructed to an extent that would have made Bob Haldeman blanch. They further claim that since the House “didn’t do its job,” there’s no reason for the Senate to do so now.

Is anyone fooled by this whose brain is not rotting from the red dye in their Chinese-made MAGA hat seeping into their gray matter?

Catch Pat Philbin next month in a performance of Kafka’s “The Trial” at the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater in Jupiter, FL.

DREAM TEAM

Just having Alan Dershowitz on your legal team looks bad, as SNL noted with the return of the great Jon Lovitz. Even so, Dershowitz’s much ballyhooed appearance proved one of the week’s more insane moments, as he argued that, since all politicians believe their election—and re-election—is always in the public interest, Trump’s shakedown of Kyiv is perfectly acceptable. In fact, anything they want to define as “in the public interest” justifies anything at all they want to do. It was the ultimate manifestation of Nixon’s famous statement to David Frost, that “When the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” (Not to mention the thinking of a certain French monarch.) In short, it is a rejection of democracy full stop in favor of rule by divine right.

Because that’s what America has been all about since 1776, right?

But it was also Dersh being too clever by half, with a thought experiment that he clearly believed was intellectually bold, but actually just made him sound like a lunatic and brought down an avalanche of ridicule. It is destined to be a sad coda to his already sordid history of defending wife murderers and pedophiles, if that is possible.

Ken Starr, meanwhile, looked like he was acting in Pirandello play, so absurd was his outrage at the very idea of impeaching a president! As Ben Wittes quipped, quoting a colleague, “Does Ken Starr know he’s Ken Starr?”

Here’s Susan Glasser on Starr, a man who, after giving us Monica Lewinsky’s stained blue dress, was fired as president of Baylor University for failing to properly handle a campus-wide sexual assault scandal:

Certainly, it was a bizarre spectacle: the man who brought us the last impeachment of a President lecturing the Senate on the dangerous evils of impeachment.

I’m old enough to remember when, in 1998, Starr produced the most X-rated document ever to be printed under congressional seal, in service of lobbying for an impeachment. The document, which will forever be known as the Starr report, detailed Bill Clinton’s Oval Office trysts in painfully graphic detail. (Google “Starr report” and “cigar” if you don’t remember.) Now, in 2020, the author of that report is acting as the sanctimonious guardian of congressional dignity, lecturing us all on the floor of the Senate about the unfair, improper charges against Donald Trump? Within seconds of opening his mouth on the Senate floor, Starr had his liberal critics—and lots of non-liberals, too—sputtering with outrage.

In his remarks as a member of Trump’s legal team, Starr inveighed against what he called the “Age of Impeachment,” saying that it is happening “too frequently” and is “inherently destabilizing” and “acrimonious.” He reserved particularly scathing words for the “runaway House” and its conduct during Trump’s impeachment, which he called “dripping with fundamental process violations.” Starr seemed especially upset about the partisan nature of the Trump proceedings by the Democratic-controlled House. “Like war, impeachment is hell,” he said. Remember, this is the man who advocated for the impeachment of Bill Clinton, by a Republican-controlled House, for lying under oath about an extramarital affair. Irony is dead. Very, very dead.

With all due respect to Dershowitz, Starr, Dewey, Cheatem & Howe LLP, Trump would be in infinitely better hands with Cellino & Barnes. But that doesn’t mean he won’t still win, because Senate Republicans have made it clear that they are going to close ranks and protect him no matter what his legal reps do or fail to do.

BIDEN MY TIME

On MSNBC Brian Williams quipped that the White House lawyers made a helluva case for impeaching Hunter Biden.

Given the way Bill Barr functions like Tom Hagen to Trump’s Don Corleone, you can bet that if Hunter had done anything even remotely illegal he would already be strapped to a backboard a la Hannibal Lecter and on his way to the Supermax federal prison in Florence, CO. (Or more likely, left a free man for now, the better to serve as a whipping boy during the campaign, as the target of a lengthy and drawn-out criminal prosecution that would play out till November. “Lock him up!”)

Moreover, it almost doesn’t bear repeating that when it comes to trading on a powerful parent, Hunter Biden is a piker compared to the Trump kids, which makes Donald’s focus on him both the height of chutzpah and a measure of his own malignantly narcissistic sociopathology, characterized by a world-beating sense of entitlement and inability to recognize his own hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, we ought not to forget that, notwithstanding the fact that he is being impeached, in many ways Trump’s entire Ukraine scam has worked beautifully, as here we are talking about corruption and Joe Biden.

REVENGE OF THE MAD BOMBER

So to what extent has Bolton’s bombshell altered the calculus of all this? Five days in now, we are getting a picture.

Clearly, it’s mixed.

Bolton has undoubtedly put pressure on the GOP and cast a glaring light on the fundamental dishonesty of the Senate trial. As I wrote earlier this week, I deeply dislike the man on ideological grounds, but I have to admire his tradecraft in doing as much damage to Trump as he could possibly do, even if it does not ultimately lead to his eviction from Pennsylvania Avenue.

In the New Yorker, John Cassidy writes:

Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Pat Cipollone, the lead member of Trump’s legal team, learned about the Times scoop. Rather than arguing that their client’s misdeeds didn’t rise to the level of impeachable offenses, he and his colleagues have, with straight faces, echoed the President’s claim that he didn’t demand a quid pro quo from Ukraine and, indeed, did nothing wrong at all. They’ve also argued that there is no firsthand evidence to show that he did.

Bolton has now blown that defense out of the water, giving Adam Schiff the priceless opportunity to play humiliating clips of Cipolline and Sekulow themselves making that now-debunked argument in the Senate last week. It’s not a good look for the accused when the prosecution is able to use his own lawyers’ words against him.

(Schiff also made the “imagine if Obama” argument, a staple of progressive conversation for the past three years. It was a joy to hear it on the floor of the Senate. When Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz then foolishly submitted a written question that sought to “gotcha!” him, Schiff deftly turned their disingenuous query and its skewed premise on its head and beat them to a bloody pulp with it, metaphorically speaking.)

What’s even more headspinning is that the White House has had Bolton’s book since December 30…..meaning Trump knew his former NSA intended to expose that lie. Yet he and his team still brazenly made this argument, a measure of the contempt they have for the entire impeachment process, and the rule of law full stop, not to mention their cocksure confidence of how tightly they have the Republican Party by the short hairs.

Cassidy goes on to describe the rock and a hard place between which JB has stuck his own party:

To be sure, there isn’t much more to be said about Trump’s perfidy, and, in the grand scheme of things, even the spectacle of Bolton providing a firsthand account of the President’s lying and venality may not do him much further damage. We all recall his quote about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue. Many of his supporters revel in his status as a Washington pariah. But the former national-security adviser showing up on Capitol Hill and telling his damaging tale (evidently, the Ukraine material isn’t the only revelation in Bolton’s book) would certainly reflect badly on the Republicans who tried to prevent him from appearing. These senators already look like patsies and enablers. If Bolton repeated what is reportedly in the book for all the world to see and hear, it would make them look like blithering idiots as well. Who else would have agreed to countenance Trump’s preposterous defense—that his real concern was corruption inside Ukraine?

Well put. It’s not hard to understand why it would be awful for the GOP if Bolton were to testify.

But of course, here’s the kicker: if Senate Republicans block him from testifying, they’ll look even worse. As Laurence Tribe noted, the GOP position boils down to “Trump didn’t do what Bolton said, but we don’t wanna hear from Bolton.” Or as Philip Bump writes in the WaPo, “Trump’s effort to block Bolton’s testimony makes little sense—unless he’s guilty.” Could it be any simpler?

Jonathan Chait, in New York magazine:

Initially, even Trump’s staunchest supporters conceded that pressuring Ukraine to investigate Trump’s rivals would be, if true, unacceptable. (Lindsey Graham: “very disturbing”; Steve Doocy: “off-the-rails-wrong.”) As evidence of guilt accumulated, their denial that this unacceptable conduct took place narrowed to a tiny, highly specific claim: No witness testified that Trump personally ordered them to carry out a quid pro quo.

But now Bolton has done precisely that, which, Chait argues, is why the GOP has fallen back to its Masada-like, die-in-place Dershowitzean position of “So what?”

So in many ways, Bolton’s revelations have not changed the game much at all, a testament to just how debased and desiccated the Republican Party has become, and just how pathetic its fealty to Donald J. Trump.

JUST THE FACTS (NOT)

The majority of Senate Republicans have already announced that they intend to pretend John Bolton and The Room Where It Happened don’t exist. That strikes me as a childish case of wishful thinking and short term gratification, but whatever. It remains to be seen if Romney and three others will override them. (But Cory Gardner of Colorado, apparently, ain’t gonna be one of them. Good luck looking for a new job come the morning of November 4, Cory.)

Here’s Susan Glasser again, on how the GOP has turned goalpost-moving into an art form:

At any other moment in Washington in my lifetime, I would have predicted with absolute confidence that the Bolton revelation would force Republican senators to switch their position and support witnesses. And not just a few, but almost all of them. But this is now, and the unthinkable and inconceivable have become increasingly routine. Here it was, the proverbial smoking gun, right in the middle of the trial, crucial evidence that Trump, his advisers, his lawyers, and his enablers on Capitol Hill knew about and were trying to suppress. Just last week, Trump’s legal team told senators that “not a single witness with actual knowledge ever testified that the President suggested any connection between announcing investigations and security assistance”…..

But we have had so many smoking-gun moments in the last few years. This is the post–“Access Hollywood” tape GOP, which elected as President of the United States a man who bragged of grabbing women by their genitals on tape, just a few weeks after the recording came to light. In the Ukraine scandal, we have seen this process repeat itself. Facts emerge that show the President’s actions to be inappropriate, outrageous, and clearly, straightforwardly wrong. At first, even Republicans on the Hill seem to waver. But again and again and again they find a way to accommodate themselves to the unpleasant new information, to rationalize and to justify….

The post-Bolton-bombshell Republican Party will be largely the same as the pre-Bolton-bombshell Republican Party.

Even if we do get the four necessary Republican votes to compel witnesses, and even if Bolton and others testify and evidence is aired, the idea that the Republican majority might actually convict Trump is like betting on the Washington Generals to beat the Globetrotters.

But here’s the thing:

Counter-intuitively, suppressing the facts in order to acquit Trump is not the formulation here, but rather, quite the opposite. The acquittal is all but a foregone conclusion. The GOP’s real concern is hurrying to that conclusion in order to avoid the further airing of facts.

They know that with each passing day more and more (and more and more damning) evidence of Trump’s wrongdoing will come out. That is the real threat to the party—that the public will hear that evidence, and the unavoidable recognition of Trump’s criminality and unfitness will chip away at GOP support going into November 2020. The steady drip drip drip of revelations of the complicity of various other Republican politicians in the Ukraine scheme—Pence, Pompeo, Barr, Nunes, Mulvaney, Ron Johnson, and others—only turbocharges their desperation. How far and deep and it goes we don’t know….and they don’t want us to.

Therefore the Republican Party will do anything to avoid that turn of events. Even the danger of public backlash at an obvious coverup is less worrying to them than letting the truth be aired, and the backlash that would entail.

The author Michael Gruber has often noted that the Republican Party is behaving as if it will never have to face a fair election again. That may very well be its intention. The Republican embrace of the unitary executive theory only makes sense for them if they can keep Republican presidents in power.

So do these self-evident GOP fears of public backlash contradict Gruber’s theory of Republican confidence in one-party rule?

On the contrary. They bolster it.

In an autocracy, the ruling party’s grip on power is dependent on maintaining control of the narrative. The removal of legitimate popular elections does not mean that they can entirely ignore the will of people (though it sure makes it easier). Ask Ceaușescu, Marcos, the Shah. For the public to become sufficiently enraged and galvanized to action by the airing of irrefutable evidence of Trump’s corruption, as well as that of the GOP at large, represents a threat every bit as real as a flipped district in Wisconsin.

ACQUITTAL WITHOUT EXONERATION

The consensus in the punditocracy is that Trump badly wants his acquittal before Super Bowl Sunday, when his interview with Hannity and a million dollar ad are scheduled to run. (Former RNC chairman turned Never Trumper Michael Steele confidently opines that the ad is surely built around the whole idea of Donald trumpeting his victory.) Not to mention the State of the Union looming next Tuesday.

How’s that for a charmed life: he not only gets to skip merrily way from his high crimes, but even gets to demand the timing of that impunity’s arrival.

But the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne crystallized the ultimate irony that many observers have already noted: the willingness of McConnell and the Republicans to turn this trial into the most blatantly possible sham you can imagine is robbing Trump of the thing he wants the most, which is plausible exoneration that he can wave like a flag during the upcoming general election.

Of course he will do that anyway. (He would do that even if they found him guilty.) But the more obvious the farcical nature of the trial, the harder it will be.

Therefore, what we are about to have as an acquittal without exoneration.

Dionne:

By working with Trump to rig the trial by admitting as little evidence as possible, McConnell robbed the proceeding of any legitimacy as a fair adjudication of Trump’s behavior. Instead of being able to claim that Trump was “cleared” by a searching and serious process, Republican senators will now be on the defensive for their complicity in the Trump coverup.

John Cassidy makes a similar point:

(I)f McConnell somehow succeeds in preventing Bolton from testifying after all this, there can no longer be even any pretense that the trial is on the level, or that an acquittal along party lines is anything other than an abject display of political cowardice and self-abasement by the current generation of Republican senators.

And Chait as well:

McConnell’s desired process of muscling through a wildly unpopular vote to suppress all evidence, followed by a vote to acquit, would rob the outcome of much of the legitimacy Republicans crave. It would instead be widely and accurately seen as a cover-up.

Mitch McConnell is not known for giving a flying fuck how bad his blunt machinations look, so long as they work. (Right, Merrick Garland?) But he is nonetheless a savvier operator than Trump. Knowing that his majority is going to acquit the president regardless, why hasn’t he put on at least the veneer of a fair trial? Would that not have been smarter public relations, and therefore politics, as Dionne, Cassidy, and Chait all note?

I’ll tell you why not:

Because, per above, the Republicans fear the facts and evidence coming out—on live TV no less—much more than they fear being accused of holding a sham trial. Since an acquittal is a near-certainty, the real goal of the Republicans is to limit the amount of damaging information about Trump’s behavior (and theirs) that will come out—ideally, to zero. That is how guilty the GOP knows he is, and how terrified it is of the details being made public. They would rather risk a backlash over a farcical trial than risk people hearing the truth.

But Adam Schiff has made the salient point that eventually the facts will come out, sooner or later, one way or another, and they promise to be even worse than what we already know. (Damn near every shoe-drop thus far has been.) The Republicans, consumed with short term survival and fearing for their political lives—and maybe their actual lives, depending on whether you take Trump’s mobby “head-on-a-pike” and “take-her-out” and “paid-the price” threats literally or just seriously—are obviously gambling that the public will have lost interest and moved on by then.

Ironically, Democrats might benefit politically from a rushed trial where GOP perfidy is blatant more than they would from a seemingly legitimate trial with witnesses and evidence that still ends in acquittal. In fact, the anti-Trump conservative writer Jonathan V. Last has suggested that the Democrats embrace that idea and stop even trying to call witnesses…..ignoring the obvious fact that the GOP would use that against them, much as they instructed witnesses in the House inquiry to defy subpoenas, and now criticize House Democrats for not spending years in court fighting to enforce them.

So what looks worse: a sham trial that blatantly blocks witnesses in order to excuse the accused, or one that allows them to speak and give airtight evidence and still excuses him? Neither reflects well on the GOP.

If only we lived in a country where people cared.

To that end, I am not so naïve as to think any of this will make an iota of difference to MAGA Nation come November. But either way, witnesses or not, in trying to crow about his alleged “exoneration,” Trump will not have the benefit of an even a halfway-convincing trial to bolster his claim. Any thinking person cannot seriously look at this charade and conclude that it was just…..and that includes the crucial “centrist” Republicans who are on the fence, soccer moms in the Philadelphia suburbs, and Obama/Trump switch hitters who are undecided about how to vote this time, among others. Given Trump’s razor thin margin of victory in 2016 (even with foreign interference), and his abysmal approval ratings outside his cult-like  base, those are voters he cannot afford to lose.

It also suggests a roadmap for how to proceed in the post-impeachment world. As Aaron Blake writes in the Washington Post, “The nightmare scenario for the GOP is that they give Trump the quick and witness-free acquittal that he apparently desires, but then information like Bolton’s keeps coming out.” Which we all know it will.

Jonathan Chait one last time:

Such an outcome would, in turn, legitimize House Democratic efforts to continue the investigation. They can continue to press for Bolton’s testimony, and continue prying loose the documents Trump has withheld. To the extent a Senate trial was perceived as thorough and fair, it would have made additional investigations look like sore-loser-ism. Republicans will say it anyway, but the national media will be far more likely to take such probes seriously in the wake of an overt cover-up.

If impeachment is about exacting a price for Trump’s misconduct, perhaps the highest price will come by letting his enablers reveal exactly how far they are willing to go.

GOODNIGHT DON

As I write this, the written questions phase of the trial has just ended. Susan Collins has announced she will vote yes to allow witnesses and Lamar Alexander has announced he will vote no. albeit on the Trump-defying grounds of “wrong but not impeachable.” (Two cheers for Lamar.) Murkowski has said she’ll announce her decision in the morning and Romney has been silent so far. There is speculation about John Roberts having to cast a tiebreaking vote, or abstain, which would be a de facto vote for the GOP position. What tomorrow will bring, I don’t know—none of us do—but it’s possible it could be the day that this all ends and Trump is acquitted.

And somewhere, right now, Donald Trump is wide awake, fuming about it all.

*********

Next time, more on whatever insane bullshit rolls down the pike next.

Photo: Business Insider

 

Travesty in Progress: Part 1

Travesty

Oy. Where to begin?

How about at the beginning, which is to say, at the end….

Barring a deus ex machina, we all pretty much know how this is going to play out. Senate Republicans began this trial by voting 53 to 47 along strict party lines (with one exception, 52 to 48) to block every Democratic motion concerning its conduct, eleven motions in all, including those to subpoena White House officials, demand Defense Department documents, forbid the selective submission of evidence, and everything else resembling the accoutrements of a fair trial as we understand the term.

Notwithstanding the revelations that recently emerged from behind John Bolton’s mustache, this week those same public servants (cough cough) are likely to do the same and block the calling of witnesses, to be followed by a swift acquittal of this cretinous pretender to the presidency. That will be a shameful and disgraceful day for the Republican Party, which no longer resembles anything like a legitimate political organization, but rather a cult of personality comprised of zombies, cynics, quislings, neo-fascists, and low-level mobsters living in terror of their deranged capo.

But it will also be a terrible and disgraceful day for our entire country, marking another steep step down into the abyss of full-blown autocracy.

Of course, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but let’s not be naive. The conduct of the trial so far has been even more risible than most observers expected—which is saying something—and promises to be a dark harbinger of where it’s headed.

On the bright side, the 49ers are in the Super Bowl. Niners GM John Lynch deserves to be NFL Executive of the Year, don’t you think?

TRIAL AND TERROR

The Republicans are in a jawdroppingly frantic rush to shut their ears and eyes to the evidence and hurry through this trial to its inevitable verdict of Trump’s perfection as a president and Olympian model of a human being—nay, demigod.

We started with the farcical spectacle of Republican senators like McConnell and Graham swearing to be impartial after announcing that they had already made up their minds and consider the whole thing illegitimate. (Try that next time you have jury duty.) Moscow Mitch then sprung his rules for the trial on the world without any consultation with Chuck Schumer, a howling breach of the “Clinton rules” he dishonestly claimed to be following. No surprise, those rules are a mockery of justice, in keeping with McConnell’s other preemptive announcement that he—in effect, the foreman of a jury—was going to coordinate his every action and take all his directives from the accused.

Because that’s how trials usually work, right?

Soon after, McConnell further showed his hand with his request for Schumer to “stack his motions,” thus openly admitting that the Republican majority intended to vote down every single one without any serious consideration of any of them. Schumer, rightly sick of the majority leader’s games and wielding what little power he has, admirably refused, icily telling McConnell that “there will be a good number of votes.” By so doing, Chuck forced his Republican colleagues to announce one by one, over and over again, their shameless participation in this blatant obstruction of justice.

They didn’t seem too bothered about doing so.

The House managers went on to lay out a powerful, compelling, meticulously detailed case that was about as ironclad as it could be. The Trump defense team, by contrast, offered arguments filled with misdirection, ad hominem attacks, and outright lies. This is not a Rashomon matter of two equally valid interpretations of events, and saying otherwise is a perfect example of the dangerous false equivalence has bedeviled us throughout the Age of Trump. One side is arguing the facts, hard as those might be for right wing ears to hear. The other side is playing with its own feces.

The defense’s presentation was so weak that even a troglodyte like SCIF-storming Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida dismissed it as embarrassing even by the standards of an eighth grade book report. Doubt it? Witness Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow humiliating himself by publicly demonstrating that he doesn’t know what a FOIA lawsuit is.

Like many on the left, I marveled at the eloquent and powerful performance of lead House manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who has already cemented in his place in American history as a kind of present day Mr. Smith meets Atticus Finch meets Joe Welch. I know conservatives are eyerollingly sick of the praise heaped on Schiff from dazzled liberals, sneering that we don’t realize it matters not a whit to half of America. But for those who believe—not without good reason—that the Democratic case, no matter how well presented, is pointless given the GOP’s obvious intransigence, it’s worth noting that not a few of these Republican senators, who normally dine only on Fox News, were being confronted and forced to hear some of these facts for the first time. Even Republicans like the Oxford-educated Foghorn Leghorn impersonator Sen. John N. Kennedy of Louisiana had to give Schiff props. Over on Fox itself, retired judge Andrew Napolitano also spoke the truth in lauding the strength of the Democratic case. (Watch for Andy to be looking for a new gig very soon.)

Another personal favorite of mine was the superb Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) quoting Biggie Smalls as he eviscerated Jay Sekulow’s snide question of why they were there are at all:

We are here, sir, because President Trump abused his power and then he tried to cover it up. And we are here, sir, to follow the facts, follow the law, be guided by the Constitution, and present the truth to the American people. That is why we are here, Mr. Sekulow.

And if you don’t know…..now you know.

(No doubt Ari Melber was as hard as a rock.)

But you really have to hear Mr. Jeffries say it: the printed word does not do it justice. How fitting in a moment when very little justice is being done.

Jerry Nadler had his moments too. Here’s Jennifer Rubin:

Nadler explained that it makes no sense to argue you can neither prosecute a sitting president nor remove him when he poses a danger to the country. “The Constitution is not a suicide pact. It does not leave us stuck with presidents who abuse their power in unforeseen ways that threaten our security and democracy,” he said, invoking the famous phrase uttered by the late Justice Robert H. Jackson. Nadler added dryly, “Until recently, it did not occur to me that our president would call a foreign leader and demand a sham investigation meant to kneecap his political opponents, all in exchange for releasing vital military aid that the president was already required by law to provide.”

The Democrats’ use of multimedia was similarly inspired, particularly the damning clips from the not-so-distant past of Lindsey Graham and fame whore/serial scumbag defender Alan Dershowitz, both vehemently arguing then the exact opposite of what they are arguing equally vehemently now.

Memo to boomers: on the Internet, everything lives forever.

HOW DARE THEE!

So far the Republicans’ unwillingness to do their constitutional duty has been shocking in its sheer brazenness. We have seen them nodding off, doing crossword puzzles, ducking out for extended “bathroom breaks,” and in the case of Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), not only reading a book from the right wing bestseller list during the trial, but even nipping over to give an interview to Fox News while she was supposed to be seated in the Senate listening to testimony. Why John Roberts didn’t complain about that I don’t know.

As Chris Hayes put it on MSNBC (and on Twitter), I’m sorry that these Republican senators are so inconvenienced by being asked to do their goddam job. (Profanity mine.)

Ted Cruz apparently thinks this whole thing is so hilarious that he made a joke about a drinking game. I’m glad he’s enjoying himself, but I would humbly suggest that the people of Texas ask themselves whether they want a man with so little regard for the gravity of these proceedings representing them in the United States Senate. As if that is Ted’s only flaw.

Meanwhile, those who were paying attention got their skivvies in a bunch over precisely the wrong things. The odious Susan Collins was so aghast at Jerry Nadler‘s verbiage that she had to pass a note to Chief Justice Roberts, middle school style. (“I like you…..do you like me?”) So what exactly did Nadler say that so offended Susan and prompted her to whip out her quill and write to the grand poobah of the United States Supreme Court? This:

NADLER: So far, I’m sad to say, I see a lot of senators voting for a coverup, voting to deny witnesses—an absolutely indefensible vote, obviously a treacherous vote. Either you want the truth, and you must permit the witnesses, or you want a shameful coverup. History will judge and so will the electorate.

He clearly hit a nerve. But the fact is, unless you want to quibble over whether by “treacherous” he literally meant “guilty of treason” or merely “fraught,” every single thing Nadler said was 100% correct. That is what so enraged the Republicans.

UCLA law professor Jonathan Zasloff writes:

(Collins) wasn’t stunned by Pat Cipollone’s lying about the House impeachment proceedings. She wasn’t stunned by Jay Sekulow mendaciously accusing Val Demings about “lawyer lawsuits.” She wasn’t stunned by #MoscowMitch putting on a show trial. But when Jerry Nadler pointed out accurately that the Senate could be an accomplice to cover-up, THEN she fell on her fainting couch.

She is really a complete fraud. But you knew that.

Collins is emblematic of the haughty attitude Senate Republicans, who have made a histrionic Sarah Bernhardt-like spectacle of how offended they are at the mere suggestion that maybe, just maybe they’ve been letting a con man-cum-wannabe dictator run roughshod over them. They damn near have the vapors! How we got to the point where the fragile feelings of our senators is more important than their duty to the Constitution, I don’t know. (Snowflakes.) Their offense-taking is ridiculous, of course, but nevertheless may provide enough of a handhold for them as they seek a rationalization, any rationalization at all, for further protecting this asshole.

MISTER ROBERTS

More to the point, for Roberts to act on Collins’s complaint and rebuke Nadler (and Jay Sekulow for his angry reply) speaks to the cruel hoax at the heart of this pitiful excuse for a trial. Much like our eggshell-skinned senators, what does it say that the lone moment that stirs the presiding judge to umbrage is when one of the prosecutors dares speak the plain truth?

The author Steven Beschloss notes that the demand for “civility” is often a weapon deployed by the powerful to control and suppress those who dare question their rule, the American civil rights movement being a prime example:

Civility deployed this way is not about improving the quality of our body politic and public discourse, but aimed at keeping critics quiet.

It is worth noting that Trump, throughout his career, has exploited the civil process of US courts and the general civility of those who refuse to assume the worst. The societal expectation of civility (and the disbelief toward the utter lack of it) has made it easier for him to get away with so much—tearing apart migrant families and losing track of the children’s whereabouts, for example, or covering for Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and the Saudis after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi….

But if you believe your house is on fire and your family faces death and destruction, is it appropriate to engage in pleasant and polite tones when speaking to the alleged arsonist and his accomplices? Is that not the time to speak and act with clarity to spur action and put out the fire?

Speaking of the Chief Justice, in a piece titled “John Roberts Comes Face to Face with the Mess He Made,” Dana Milbank notes the bitter irony that Roberts should be forced to sit almost powerlessly and watch this charade:

Roberts’s captivity is entirely fitting: He is forced to witness, with his own eyes, the mess he and his colleagues on the Supreme Court have made of the US political system. As representatives of all three branches of government attend this unhappy family reunion, the living consequences of the Roberts Court’s decisions, and their corrosive effect on democracy, are plain to see…..

Now, we are in a crisis of democratic legitimacy: A president who has plainly abused his office and broken the law, a legislature too paralyzed to do anything about it—and a chief justice coming face to face with the system he broke.

But Roberts is not as powerless as he has chosen to be, which makes him not merely a witness to this travesty but a willing accomplice to it. Roberts’ only substantive act so far has been that scolding of “both sides“ (each of which features some very fine people, I’m sure). Meanwhile, he didn’t say boo when the Republicans spewed outright lies, or when Marsha Blackburn ran over to do an interview on Fox, or any other time. Ruth Marcus has written that he is doing the right thing on that first point, and that senators are to be smart enough to decide for themselves what is true and untrue. Fair enough, though she has more faith in the collective intelligence and integrity of the US Senate than I do. However, many others have noted that Roberts has in effect put his thumb on the scale on behalf of his fellow Republicans with his inaction, and further, by loaning the majesty and imprimatur of the Supreme Court to this laughable show trial without complaint.

For a man who is reportedly so concerned with his legacy, this performance may not go down into posterity very well. Marcus ends her piece applauding Roberts’ discretion with a reference to the Chief Justice in Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial, the unfortunately named Salmon Chase, who was openly in Johnson’s pocket, and how unseemly that was. No doubt. But the true analogy here is with McConnell’s GOP caucus, which in this case is the party brazenly league with the accused. Roberts’ failure to account for that in any appreciable way is undeniable, and represents his real culpability, and his real kinship with his 19th century predecessor.

Should this pattern continue, rather than being remembered as an honest broker, or an umpire who just called balls and strikes, as SCOTUS nominees like to portray themselves during their confirmation hearings (exception: Brett Kavanaugh), Roberts—contra Schiff—may well be remembered as a craven collaborator in this farce.

JOHN BOLTON’S APACHE DANCE

So all in all it was a helluva Week 1.

And then came Mr. Bolton.

Word of what is in John Bolton’s soon-to-be published kiss-and-tell memoir, uncovered and printed by the New York Times Sunday afternoon, has thrown a juicy plot twist into this otherwise predictable story. It was certainly a strategic leak, and its timing—smack in the middle of the White House’s presentation of its defense (such as it is) and ahead of a vote on hearing from witnesses—was impeccable.

For those Trumpkins who are furious about that, please note that Bolton’s book leaked only because the White House itself recklessly made multiple copies of the single advance manuscript it was given. (D’oh!) Even better, the book apparently is called The Room Where It Happened, raising the unlikely possibility that John might rival Ari and Hakeem as a hip hop aficionado.

In any event, the man is clearly not throwing away his shot.

The account of events in Bolton’s manuscript obliterates a chief pillar of the White House defense, implicates multiple administration officials as well as Trump himself in the illegal withholding of aid to Kyiv, and fills in several other holes in the Ukrainian whodunit. For Republican senators to now continue to claim that there is no need to hear from this man, or from any other witnesses, will be a Herculean task of denial and dishonesty, not that that aren’t up to it. Dozens of them will continue to cling to that absurd and shameful position, but going forward it will be much harder for the handful who have been on the fence—Romney, Murkowski, Portman, Collins, et al—to remain perched there. Romney has already stated outright that he supports a subpoena for the former National Security Advisor-turned-coldblooded political assassin, for which he inevitably has earned the ire of some of his more vile GOP colleagues.

As a New York Times editorial noted, Bolton’s detailed description of the Ukrainegate mess—a “drug deal,” in his words—and Trump’s centrality to it not only rattles the Republican defense, but throws a glaring 10,000 kW Klieg light on the hypocrisy of his Senate defenders……like—surprise!—a certain someone from the Palmetto State:

The most galling part is that Republicans have already admitted how bad the president’s behavior was. Back in September, Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican and one of Mr. Trump’s staunchest defenders, said: “What would’ve been wrong is if the president had suggested to the Ukrainian government that if you don’t do what I want you to do regarding the Bidens, we’re not going to give you the aid. That was the accusation; that did not remotely happen.” 

Except that it did, as Mr. Bolton is apparently willing to say under oath.

Bolton is an unlikely hero in this increasingly Shakespearean saga. Let’s leave aside for now his long history as a chickenhawk, a rabid jingoist, and an advocate for aggressive US military intervention almost everywhere on Earth. His bellicosity was a perfect fit in this idiotic administration, but also at odds with its America Firstism (an already pre-existing contradiction in Trumpworld of which Bolton was merely the most extreme manifestation). He and Trump were destined to clash, and they did, and John left—“I quit, no you’re fired” style—swearing vengeance.

Of course, that very hawkishness is precisely what makes Bolton such an especially credible witness for conservative viewers, and such an existential threat to Trump. John Kelly’s endorsement of Bolton this afternoon suggests that a revenge of the Deep State might be building. Ironically, despite the Fox News conspiracy mongering, there was no such cabal until Trump alienated the entire bureaucratic class. Now his habitual mistreatment of his top staff is karmically coming back to bite him in his big fat white ass.

Could there be a more fitting role for a man whose whole brand is the love of dropping bombs?

The coy, will-he-or-won’t-he of Bolton’s testimony has been a bit of a farce within this larger farce. If he wanted to take revenge on Trump—or, less plausibly, act on principle and just do the right thing—he could have done so at any time. He was under no legal obligation to keep silent. He could have volunteered to testify before the House during its impeachment proceedings. He could have held a press conference. For his lawyers to announce, as they did on January 6th, that he would obey a Senate subpoena, if issued, was welcome, but also a bit frustrating and disingenuous.

Obviously, one reason he has kept quiet until now is that he wants to drive up interest in (and sales of) his forthcoming book. In noting that profit motive, it must be said, Team Trump is correct. But Old Testament-style vengeance, even more than love of filthy lucre, seems to be the motivating force here. In any event, Bolton’s self-aggrandizement does not change the substance of what he has to say in the slightest, nor its import. He would hardly be the first lowlife gangster to turn on his former family and aid the prosecution and the public it serves, whatever his motives.

In purely practical terms, a live TV appearance before the Senate would likely be the best advertising for his book for which John Bolton and his publishers could ever hope. Graeme Wood of the Atlantic writes that Bolton is an ice cold motherfucker who has patiently bided his time, waiting for the moment when he can do maximum damage to Trump, while still maintaining his right wing cred, with an eye on his position in the post-Trumpian Republican world, should one ever come to be.

OK with me. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and if Bolton’s bruised ego causes him to become an improbable John Dean and bring Trump down, God bless him. We can return to enmity another day.

One last note:

Reportedly, several GOP senators are furious with the White House, having now learned that it has known the contents of Bolton’s book since late December, and put them in this extremely awkward position. And it gets worse. At the time of the January 3rd drone strike on Qasem Suleimani, I was among many to half-joke that Trump was trying to buy Bolton’s silence with this high-risk step toward Johnny’s longtime dream of a shooting war with Iran. (“Might Trump even have privately offered to start that war in exchange for Bolton’s cooperation? Does Brett Kavanaugh like beer?”) Now we find that that is not such a joke after all. Laurence Tribe notes that the White House was given its advance copy of Bolton’s book on December 30, and killed Suleimani three days later.

Just in case you thought there was anything that was beneath this insane clown president and his grotesque collective of business-suited henchmen.

NOT NOW JOHN

Bolton’s bombshell may or may not force the Senate to hear from witnesses. Even in the wake of these revelations, I would not be at all surprised to see the GOP stick to its “move along, folks, nothing to see here” stance. In fact, they might need to dig in even further, given the growing threat. Going on four years now, I have not yet overestimated their venality.

For the time being the GOP remains sickeningly servile to the monstrous leader with whom it has made its Faustian bargain. Trump’s alleged comment that any Republican who votes against him will have his or her “head on a pike” (you know, the way the accused talks to a jury?) sure rings true, despite the inevitable White House denials. I’m sure Donald is privately proud of it and how well it’s worked. This is the language of a mob boss, as many have noted. To watch the Republican senators tremble in such fear of this has-been game show host is appalling to behold. Does not one of them have a single working vertebra?

We are about to find out.

**********

In part two of this essay, we’ll look at what effect the Bolton Bombshell is likely to have, the GOP’s flimsy defense of Trump, and gaze into the crystal ball to imagine what the post-Trump world might look like, should it ever arrive…..

Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Images

Smog Machine

Smog Machine

And so the long overdue trial of President Donald John Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors has at last begun. We pretty much know where it’s going to go, but if there’s one thing the past four years ought to have taught us, it’s that even the most outrageous surprises and shocks ought not to surprise or shock us. So buckle the fuck up.

Already it’s been head-spinning.

For starters, the past week saw the Senate open its impeachment proceedings with momentarily reassuring solemnity and ceremony……until one realized that this is precisely the kind of charade that the GOP wants, a veneer of gravitas and seriousness that masks the utter depravity of the highway robbery actually about to go on.

The tip off was the surreal spectacle of Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham raising their right hands and swearing an oath that they would be impartial jurors, after bragging to the press (and the President, and their voters back home) that they were going to be anything but. Predictions that someone, anyone on the Democratic side would say boo in objection proved laughable.

As if to make the point, even as that farce was unfolding, last week also saw stunning new evidence of Trump’s complicity in Rudy Giuliani’s “drug deal” (John Bolton’s words, not mine), and a jawdropping TV interview in which Lev Parnas calmly implicated just about every swinging richard in the administration in the crudest kind of political gangsterism imaginable.

(The president’s defenders immediately attacked Parnas as a disreputable thug and indicted felon out only  to save his own skin—much like they once attacked Michael Cohen on the same grounds. And as with Michael Cohen, I feel compelled to point out that Trump hired this guy.)

Last week also gave us an except from Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Phil Rucker’s new book A Very Stable Genius which details a 2017 incident in a classified Pentagon briefing room in which a draft-dodging ex-game show host and serial grifter–cum-Russian stooge berated decorated four-star generals who’d devoted their lives to serving this country, calling them “dopes and babies.” It saw the mainstream media behaving like TMZ in breathlessly manufacturing a fight between Bernie and Elizabeth Warren….Susan Collins continue to disgrace herself…..Trump poaching Jeffrey Epstein’s legal team (perfect!)…..and the emergence of the newest member of the rogues’ gallery of Trump associates, the grotesque Robert F. Hyde, congressional candidate and amateur US ambassador-stalker. (Can I just ask: what the hell is up with that guy?)

And then there was Republican Senator Martha McSally of Arizona, who made news with a sneering, contrived putdown of CNN reporter Manu Raju calculated to thrill the right wing electorate.

Dig it: When McSally ran for the Senate in November 2018, she lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. (I repeat. She lost to a Democrat. In Arizona.) She is only in the Senate now because Arizona’s Republican governor appointed her to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Senator Jon Kyl, who himself had stepped in only temporarily after John McCain died. Now McSally is locked in a desperate fight to stay in office, with threats both from her right flank in the upcoming GOP primary, and from the left in the subsequent general election, in the person of her popular Democratic opponent, former astronaut Mark Kelly (also Gabby Giffords’ husband, by the by).

In that context, it is generally assumed that McSally’s performance was a deliberate ploy aimed at shoring up the mouthbreather vote, rather than a genuine expression of her contempt for the widely respected Mr. Raju as a “liberal hack.” Which raises the question: if you’re only pretending to be a troglodyte in order to win over the troglodytes, at what point does that behavior actually make you a troglodyte?

The ever-incisive Greg Sargent wrote in the Washington Post:

In a perverse way, it’s fitting that this episode is going viral at exactly the moment when President Trump’s impeachment trial is getting underway—that is, when Trump’s defenders in the Senate are set to put on a great show of pretending to give serious consideration to the case against Trump, before voting to acquit him. McSally’s vile little performance puts the lie to that notion as effectively as anything possibly could.

PRO WRESTLING IN THE CAPITOL

So now the main event is about to begin, even if the fix is clearly in.

For its opening stages, the first questions are whether the GOP will vote to dismiss right off the bat, and whether any witnesses are going to be called before Moscow Mitch pronounces Trump sinless as Jesus Christ and twice as good on camera.

Dismissal seems unlikely, if only for tactical reasons. For once, Team Trump may be smart enough to avoid asking for an embarrassing losing vote, while McConnell knows there’s no need to be even more brazen than usual when he can just as easily arrange an acquittal in a couple weeks’ time. (Then again, no one has yet overestimated either one’s arrogance, so let’s wait and see.)

When it comes to the latter question, Charlie Sykes noted in the Bulwark that Trump’s repeated, histrionic calls for the Senate to hear witnesses will of course soon be revealed as “bullshit, as the president will make every effort to block any witnesses from testifying at the trial.”

And no wonder. We are getting a fuller picture of the cloud of sleaze, corruption, and sheer stupidity that surrounds his presidency and his dealings with Ukraine. As David French notes, the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his “team” (including Lev Parnas) were a virtual traveling Mos Eisley cantina of crooks, grifters, and amateurs…..

But on that point of just how kangarooish this trial is going to be, the most pertinent thing I read all week was satire from the Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri, in a piece called “Sure, Whatever, Let’s Have Witnesses. Maybe That’ll Finally Convince Me Trump Is Guilty”:

I thought I was at a point where no fact, however compelling, could possibly break through my blissful fog of ignorant support for President Trump, but—I’d love to be proved wrong!….

So, why not have witnesses! Sure, let’s hear from John Bolton! Let’s hear from Lev Parnas! Maybe reading a note on some Ritz-Carlton stationery describing the president’s involvement in withholding aid in exchange for the announcement of an investigation into his political rival will turn out to be the thing that changes my mind.

Ouch. She’s dead right, of course. Nothing is going to open the hermetically sealed minds of MAGA Nation, not even a time-stamped video of Donald dressed like a French maid and giving Vlad Putin a Robert Kraft-style happy ending.

Don’t get me wrong. There are numerous very good reasons why the Senate ought to hear from fact witnesses: in order to discharge its constitutional duty, to let the truth be known, and to demonstrate to the country and the world the manifest criminality that Senate Republicans are about to shamelessly excuse. Indeed, there are no good reasons it should not hear witnesses.

But Petri’s point—that nothing is going to change the minds of Trump’s faithful, least of all facts, no matter how irrefutable—speaks to the broader truth at the core of this entire national nightmare, one that I’ve written about over and over: millions of Americans simply do not care about Trump’s crimes, or his shocking unfitness for the presidency, or the danger he poses to the republic and the world.

And that is only a subset of a larger and even more alarming fact: that belief in objective reality itself—truth, as it quaintly used to be called—is vanishing. But it is not vanishing of its own accord. It is vanishing because it is under relentless attack by forces that benefit from its obliteration.

Guess who.

THE TRIUMPH OF TRUTHINESS

The destruction of objective reality as a commonly accepted metric has been widely remarked upon as probably the most dangerous aspect of Trump’s reign, one that promises to have lasting and deleterious consequences long after this oranged-hued pustule of an alleged human being has been lanced.

To understand why, and how it came to be, let’s look to Russia, global leader in ballet, ice hockey, and radioactive teacups.

Unlike old-fashioned dictators, Vladimir Putin has pioneered the art of despotism that gives the illusion of freedom, making it all the more insidious. Freedom of speech exists in Putin’s Russia, but is toothless. The mass of the Russian people willingly, even eagerly, submit to his authoritarian reign (a la À Nous la Liberté), having been beaten into a state of collective cynicism. For Putin, the preferred mindset of his loyal subjects is that all politicians are corrupt and dishonest, the truth is unknowable, and liberal democracy is just as much a sham as post-Soviet autocracy.

To achieve this state of intellectual paralysis and submission, Vlad has mounted a war on the very idea of truth itself. As Dave Roberts wrote in Vox last November:

As Putin and other modern autocrats have realized, in the modern media environment—a chaotic Wild West where traditional gatekeepers are in decline—it is not necessary for a repressive regime to construct its own coherent account of events. There are no broadly respected, nonpartisan referees left to hold it to account for consistency or accuracy. All it needs, to get away with whatever it wants, is for the information environment to be so polluted that no one can figure out what’s true and what isn’t, or what’s really going on.

Or as Garry Kasparov famously said (and he oughta know): “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

I have written previously about this, in Rudy Giuliani: Post-Modern Philosopher (August 20, 2018), The Death of Hypocrisy (October 22, 2018), The Right Wing Loop of Malicious Ignorance (March 1, 2019), and The End of Outrage (June 20, 2019). But the most exhaustive exploration of the topic to my knowledge is British filmmaker Adam Curtis’s stunning documentary HyperNormalisation, available for free on his preferred platform, YouTube. Curtis’s movie explores the origins of this effort in (not kidding) Russian avant garde theater, and its weaponization by Putin to neutralize meaningful dissent and political opposition. And it’s a model he is successfully exporting to his client state the USA even as we speak.

More recently there was a brilliant deconstruction of this phenomenon by Sean Illing, also in Vox. Let me quote from it at length:

We’re in an age of manufactured nihilism. The issue for many people isn’t exactly a denial of truth as such. It’s more a growing weariness over the process of finding the truth at all. And that weariness leads more and more people to abandon the idea that the truth is knowable….

What we’re facing is a new form of propaganda that wasn’t really possible until the digital age. And it works not by creating a consensus around any particular narrative but by muddying the waters so that consensus isn’t achievable….

Illing goes on to quote the smug and insufferable (but not wrong) Steve Bannon, who in 2018 notoriously said that, “The Democrats don’t matter; the real opposition is the media.” In other words, the Republicans’ true enemy are facts themselves, and those who would point them out. Bannon’s solution, which he proudly touts, has been “to flood the zone with shit”…..that is, to apply those Russian-pioneered and tested principles detailed in HyperNormalisation. Illing again:

We live in a media ecosystem that overwhelms people with information. Some of that information is accurate, some of it is bogus, and much of it is intentionally misleading. The result is a polity that has increasingly given up on finding out the truth. As Sabrina Tavernise and Aidan Gardiner put it in a New York Times piece, “people are numb and disoriented, struggling to discern what is real in a sea of slant, fake, and fact.” This is partly why an earth-shattering historical event like a president’s impeachment has done very little to move public opinion….

(Zone-flooding) produces a certain nihilism in which people are so skeptical about the possibility of finding the truth that they give up the search. Putin uses the media to engineer a fog of disinformation, producing just enough distrust to ensure that the public can never mobilize around a coherent narrative.

Illing goes on to quote Peter Pomerantsev, a Soviet-born reality TV producer turned academic and the author of a book on the subject, who contends that Putin’s aim “wasn’t to sell an ideology or a vision of the future; instead, it was to convince people that ‘the truth is unknowable’ and that the only sensible choice is ‘to follow a strong leader.’”

That terrifying epistemological void represents the exact dynamics described in Erich Fromm’s seminal 1941 book Escape from Freedom…..which is to say, the human impulse to trade freedom for security, accounting for the otherwise mysterious appeal of a tyrant.

Though Illing refers above to an informational “fog” (even Petri uses that term in her satire), it’s actually something much more sinister than that naturally occurring phenomenon, with its benign Sandburgian associations. It’s more like smog: a toxic miasma, one deliberately produced by folks with ill intent, meant to obscure and choke.

The evidence suggests it is working depressingly well.

INK-STAINED WRETCHES AND UNWITTING ACCOMPLICES

Like a frivolous lawsuit, this Putin/Bannon-style disinformation does not have to have any credibility to achieve its goal: just sowing doubt is enough. Inserting into the media bloodstream an unfounded rumor—sometimes called a “lie”—or scurrilous innuendo, or outright slander, poisons the informational system by definition. It doesn’t matter if it’s untrue, or easily disproven: its mere existence creates at least some believers, and enough confusion to achieve its intended, malicious effect. The goal is simply to create a false equivalence in which an absurd contention—the earth is flat, climate change is a hoax, Trump understands the nuclear triad—is given just as much credence and weight as a demonstrably true one.

The media’s inherent impulse toward “objectivity” only exacerbates the problem. In another Vox piece called “Donald Trump and the Rise of Tribal Epistemology,” published early in the Trump administration, the aforementioned David Roberts argued that “journalism cannot be neutral toward a threat to the conditions that make it possible.” Yet even after being played for suckers in 2016, the mainstream US media continues to treat Trump like an ordinary politician, not the dangerous, lie-spewing psychopath he is. A prime example was the response to Trump’s  batshit six-page letter of last December 17, which was reported with headlines like “Trump Savages Impeachment Proceedings in Letter to Pelosi” (from Politico), and “Trump Slams Impeachment as an ‘Illegal, Partisan Attempted Coup’” (CNBC), and not the more accurate and appropriate “Trump Goes on Unhinged Rant; SWAT Team of Psychiatrists Called In.”

But even when pushing back, as they occasionally do, presents journalists with a dilemma which speaks to the difficulty of reporting on a player operating in bad faith. Illing cites UC Berkeley linguist George Lakoff on the “framing effect,” which holds that the more a lie is repeated—even in the process of debunking it—the more we begin to believe it, as the sheer repetition inevitably cements it in the mind and gives it the halo of truth.

That puts Trump’s critics in a real bind. As Illing writes:

Debunking it is still useful, of course, but there’s a cost to dignifying it in the first place…. There are too many claims to debunk and too many conflicting narratives. And the decision to cover something is a decision to amplify it and, in some cases, normalize it.

Another toxic effect of “flooding the zone” is that it dishonestly tars legitimate news organizations as being no better than their underhanded and untruthful rivals:

The left overwhelmingly receives its news from organizations like the New York Times, the Washington Post, or cable news networks like MSNBC or CNN. Some of the reporting is surely biased, and probably biased in favor of liberals, but it’s still (mostly) anchored to basic journalistic ethics.

As a recent book by three Harvard researchers explains, this just isn’t true of the right. American conservative media functions like a closed system, with Fox News at the center. Right-wing outlets are less tethered to conventional journalistic ethics and exist mostly to propagate the bullshit they produce.

Ironically, Trump’s supporters viciously distrust the media—but only the legitimate media, while eagerly ingesting “news” from a wanton disinformation machine like Fox. But that is the very point: that these fellow Americans of ours are in a Bizarro World where up is down, right is wrong, and day is night, projecting on the other side (and especially the “other side’s” media, as they view it) their own side’s most grievous sins.

In addition to the debasement of traditional journalism, the rise of social media and technological developments in just the last ten years have turbocharged this already dangerous situation, as Illing alluded to above:

One major reason for the (Bannon) strategy’s success, both in the US and Russia, is that it coincided with a moment when the technological and political conditions were in place for it to thrive. Media fragmentation, the explosion of the internet, political polarization, curated timelines, and echo chambers—all of this allows a “flood the zone with shit” strategy to work.

Today, gatekeepers still matter in terms of setting a baseline for political knowledge, but there’s much more competition for clicks and audiences, and that alters the incentives for what’s declared newsworthy in the first place. At the same time, traditional media outlets remain committed to a set of norms that are ill adapted to the modern environment.

To that end, the scariest horror movie of the past year might have been the feature documentary The Great Hack by Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, detailing how Cambridge Analytica ratfucked the 2016 election, and how the exponential growth of data mining is feeding a vast global campaign of meticulously specific and targeted disinformation, with a sophistication never before possible in human history.

WHAT, ME WORRY?

In some ways, though, this story is not all that alarming. After all, we’re not talking about covert manipulation of voting machines. (We should be, but we’re not.) In the end, no matter how intense or sophisticated this disinformation may be, what it comes down to is nothing more than trying to change people’s minds. No one is forcing anyone to vote for Trump, or surreptitiously changing their vote (as far as we know). All they’re doing is barraging us 24/7 with propaganda and lies that browbeat, deceive, and otherwise manipulate us into supporting political positions that are in opposition to the facts, our own true interests, and anything approaching defensible morality.

Yeah. That’s all.

It’s true that millions of thoughtful Americans have proven resistant to the firehose of bullshit that is aimed at them every day. Critical thinking remains the hazmat suit that protects against such venomous informational warfare.

Even so, it goes without saying that it is not healthy for a representative democracy to be under this kind of malicious, non-stop, psychological assault. Even if you personally are clear-thinking enough to see through the propaganda, not everyone is. We all know (and many of us are related to) otherwise intelligent, educated people—some of them very intelligent and very well-educated—who for one reason or another have been taken in by the con artistry of the current moment. And we flatter ourselves even to think that we ourselves are immune to it. Brainwashing works, and Stockholm syndrome is real; sufficient repetition of a lie will eventually crack even the most rational mind and the strongest will. The smog machine is a severe threat to democracy that we ignore at our peril.

Now the good news: I am told by professionals in the field that we can use this law of informational physics for our own purposes as well, to counter dark propaganda and obliterate the lies. It ain’t easy. But if we continue to hammer our own message—which has the advantage of being true—small cracks will begin to appear in the red wall of ignorance and slavish blind faith that feeds the Trumpian cult of personality. And once those cracks appear, they can be widened. People do leave cults, after all.

Of course, others drink the cyanide-laced Kool-Aid and die.

CUI BONO

Illing explains how this dynamic has played out in the impeachment saga:

The Trump administration has been remarkably successful at muddying the waters on Ukraine and impeachment, and Republicans in Congress have helped by parroting the administration’s talking points.

The fact is, Trump did what Democrats have accused him of doing. We know, with absolute certainty, that the president tried to get a foreign government to investigate a family member of one of his political rivals. And we know this because of the witnesses who testified before the House Intelligence Committee and because Trump’s own White House released a record of the call proving it.

Yet all the polling data we have suggests that public opinion on Trump and Ukraine has basically held steady. Again, some of this is pure partisan recalcitrance. But there’s good reason to believe that the right’s muddying of the waters—making the story about Ukraine and Hunter Biden, pushing out conspiracy theories, repeatedly trumpeting Trump’s own version of events, etc.—has played a role.

The issue is that the coverage of the trials, in both the mainstream press and right-wing outlets, ensures that these counternarratives are part of the public conversation. It adds to the general atmosphere of doubt and confusion. And that’s why zone flooding presents a near-insoluble problem for the press.

Roberts again: “This is what Republicans need more than anything on impeachment: for the general public to see it as just another round of partisan squabbling, another illustration of how ‘Washington’ is broken.”

But in truth, any reasonable, clear-eyed evaluation of the simple facts of Ukrainegate blows that “both sides have a point”-ism right out of the water. And that’s just what we know. Lev Parnas’s TV appearances last week made it very clear that there is still a helluva lot we don’t know, and none of it is likely very good news for Trump.

But will any of it matter?

In his Vox piece from last November, David Roberts wondered “what would happen if Robert Mueller offered clear, incontrovertible evidence of Trump’s guilt. Would Republicans be able to prevent supporters from ever finding out? What if the truth was revealed but it had no power, no effect at all, because half the country had been walled off from it? What if there is no longer any evidentiary standard that can overcome our polarization?”

Now, with Ukrainegate, that scenario looks like it is about to come to pass.

This is the point I have been hammering on about for months: that we would not be in this fix if millions of Americans were not totally onboard with this monstrosity of a US presidency. Even though they are in the minority, their political clout is sufficient to empower the venal Republican leadership to keep a chokehold on the republic.

Another way to look at it is that the rest of America—the majority, that is—has been insufficiently militant in getting to our feet and making our voices heard that we will not stand for this shit.

As impeachment remains unlikely to evict Trump, and exercise of the 25th Amendment is hopeless, the ballot box remains our last best hope to save the United States as we once knew it. Last week the WaPo ran article titled, “Poll Finds Black Americans Determined to Limit Trump to One Term.” Oh let it be so, for we all know that the African-American vote is critical to getting this sonofabitch out of office. So let’s translate that anger into levers pulled and boxes checked and chads punched at the polls in November.

But oh the irony that we are counting on black Americans to save the republic. After all it’s done for them.

STARR CHAMBER

All of which brings us back to Trump’s trial itself. As the author Erick Kelemen writes, Ken Starr couldn’t get a conviction in the last impeachment; maybe he’ll do better this time.

Jonathan Chait has already pre-emptively destroyed the GOP’s absurd defense, per Starr’s colleague Alan Dershowitz, which seems to hinge on the monarchist notion that a US president cannot be removed for abuse of power, an absolutely ass-backwards inversion of the entire impeachment clause.

Trump believes profoundly that a president can use the government exactly as he sees fit. In his mind, “abuse of power” is an oxymoron. To charge him with “abusing” the presidency makes no more sense than charging him with abusing the Trump Organization for personal gain. And now the authoritarian conviction that Trump believes as a matter of instinct has been sanctified as a formal legal theory, endorsed by presidential lawyers.

As my friend Susan Koppenhaver writes, let’s try swapping “Obama” for “Trump” in this above-the-law defense and see how long Republicans stick with that theory.

Dershowitz is arguing that the Founders didn’t really mean “high crimes and misdemeanors” when they wrote “high crimes and misdemeanors”….they meant ordinary crimes, like robbing a bank, or shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue. (Ahem.)

Two problems with that.

First, as Chait points out, the GAO just publicly announced its conclusion that Trump did commit a literal crime in withholding aid to Ukraine. And second, it didn’t take long for the press to dig up video of Dersh telling CNN exactly the opposite in 1998:

It certainly doesn’t have to be a crime, if you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president, and who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty, you don’t need a technical crime.

But even as risible and utterly without merit as this defense is, it may well be enough of a fig leaf—more than enough, in fact—for Republicans to hold in front of their tiny tiny testicles as they vote to acquit (and thereby further embolden) Donald Trump. Even less credible is the Republican argument that we ought to leave it to the next election to decide what we should do about a president who is trying to steal that election.

Charlie Sykes again:

It would almost be funny, if the stakes were not so high. We are, after all, watching a bad reality television show with nuclear weapons and a president whose contempt for the rule of law will be unleashed by the near-inevitable vote to acquit.

The conduct involved is serious enough, but this is what makes this trial unique: it involves an ongoing high crime and misdemeanor. The key difference between this investigation and the Mueller probe is that his misconduct in Ukraine is prospective—it involves attempts to meddle with the upcoming election, not the last one. His presidency remains an active crime scene….

(Republicans’) eventual vote to acquit Trump will be even more dangerous because “exoneration” will further embolden a president who already runs his government like a gangster. How might he react? What might he do? Never forget: This Ukraine adventure began literally the day after Robert Mueller testified before Congress and Trump thought that he had been let off the hook for obstructing justice.

So tomorrow, when the impeachment trial begins in earnest, the effect of this epistemological shitshow will be on full display. Every indication is that the Republicans will make an absolute sham of it. But their ability to do so, and get away with it, will be predicated on the willingness of millions of Americans to ignore indisputable evidence in favor of immersion in counter-factual fantasy and post-modern rejection of the very concept of objective reality.

********

Illustration: National Geographic

Acts of War in the Age of Endless War

Trump-Globe-12-22-16 copy

Let’s start by dispensing with the patently obvious.

Donald Trump’s decision to kill Iranian major general and Quds Force commander Qasem Suleimani was driven by a number of factors, but none of them involved prudent forethought and counsel with foreign policy advisors, Middle East experts, and military officers.

We can debate the merits and demerits of such a radically destabilizing move all day. (Spoiler alert: the demerits have the upper hand.) But what we can’t do is pretend that the decision was made in any kind of rational, well-considered way that bespeaks a thoughtful commander-in-chief with an awareness of the implications—or even any curiosity about them—or acting with the best interests of the United States at heart.

It was more like the act of a severely maladjusted seventh grader who got first into his parents’ liquor cabinet, and then their gun rack.

Unquestionably Suleimani was a bad hombre, as the saying goes, with buckets of American blood on his hands from the Iraq war. Good riddance to him. But the wisdom of taking him out right now is highly debatable. It was an order that reportedly shocked even Trump’s top military advisors, who by some accounts only mentioned the possibility as a hypothetical, never thinking he’d go for it. (Have them met him?) Michelle Goldberg writes in the New York Times:

According to Peter Bergen’s book Trump and His Generals, James Mattis, Trump’s former secretary of defense, instructed his subordinates not to provide the president with options for a military showdown with Iran. But with Mattis gone, military officials, The Times reported, presented Trump with the possibility of killing Suleimani as the “most extreme” option on a menu of choices, and were “flabbergasted” when he picked it.

So much for Trump as Sun Tzu.

Here in the reality-based world, there can be no plausibly denying that Trump’s chief motivations were as follows, in no particular order:

1) A wag-the-dog attempt to defend against impeachment, which—Mitch McConnell’s machinations notwithstanding—is closing on Trump like a vise.

Ironically, Donald remains likely to escape conviction, which is a howling travesty of justice and indictment of the illness of our political system. But instead of celebrating his continuing lifelong streak of insanely undeserved good luck, just the idea of impeachment is clearly driving the already batty Mr. Trump even battier, resulting in all kinds of erratic and self-destructive behavior, from record-breaking tweetstorms to ordering assassinations that might destabilize the entire global order.

Of course, distracting us from impeachment is merely a sub-task of Trump’s broader effort to get re-elected, which not coincidentally also motivated his unconstitutional skullduggery in Ukraine, which is why he is being impeached in the first place. So in one sense we can look at Suleimani’s killing as little more than an aspect of his re-election campaign, like kissing babies or offering coal subsidies.

2) His instinctive belligerence and knee-jerk tendency to opt for the most extreme, hamhanded, and clumsily faux macho option in any given scenario, regardless of whether he is being impeached or not.

3) Related to #2 above, wanton indulgence of Trump’s massive ego—perhaps the defining principle of his entire presidency.

The Washington Post reports:

Trump was also motivated to act by what he felt was negative coverage after his 2019 decision to call off the airstrike after Iran downed the US surveillance drone, officials said. Trump was also frustrated that the details of his internal deliberations had leaked out and felt he looked weak, the officials said.

This is how we make decisions now.

Needless to say, a huge part of this megalomaniacal insecurity is Trump’s raging, unquenchable jealousy toward Barack Obama, manifested in a desire to undo all of his predecessor’s accomplishments, from the ACA to the JCPOA, and to impulsively take any action that Obama—often wisely—declined to, especially when it comes to the use of force.

Earlier I compared Trump to a twelve-year-old. But this is the mentality of a toddler. And one who never gets hugged.

This dynamic began early in Donald’s presidency when he authorized a risky covert operation in Yemen after some gung ho Pentagon advisors informed him that “Obama wouldn’t do it,” a mission that subsequently went awry and wound up killing a Navy SEAL and several children.

Surely there are other equally petty and appalling reasons Trump decided to launch the strike on on Suleimani, but I suspect they fall roughly under these three headings.

In short, the claim that the strike was twelve dimensional chess, or bold leadership, or anything but classic Trumpian impulsivity and egotism, is hogwash. So please don’t pester me with the fairy tale that Donald Trump is some military genius.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE CREDIBILITY GAP

The odious Mike Pompeo claimed with a straight face that the White House ordered the strike to preempt an “imminent attack” on US lives. But this is Lucy-holding-the-football territory, recalling previous lies that led us into other disastrous foreign wars, from the sinking of the Maine to the Gulf of Tonkin to Iraq’s mythical WMD.

Numerous experts have attested that Suleimani was always in the process of planning such attacks, giving the lie to the notion that there was some urgency to killing him now when we could have done so at numerous points in the past. (Like Obama, George W. Bush also declined to pull the trigger on Suleimani, despite being given the chance—also like Obama, on the wise counsel of his foreign policy advisors.) And we know that Pompeo and his lieutenants had actually been lobbying Trump to order this killing for months, not because of any new emergency.

Conveniently, the alleged evidence of this “imminent attack” was initially classified. When the administration finally got around to briefing Congress—four days after the strike—the response was less than effusive. Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah—I say again, a Republican senator—called it “probably the worst briefing I’ve seen at least on a military issue in the nine years I’ve served in the United States Senate,” as well as “insulting” and “demeaning.” (In response, Trump’s pet water carrier Lindsey Graham wasted no time violating Reagan’s 11th Commandment and attacking his fellow Republican for “empowering” Tehran. )

Writing in the Atlantic, George Packer neatly dismantled Pompeo’s specious claim, as well as the administration’s flimsy argument for killing Suleimani on broader strategic grounds:

Suleimani was a supremely powerful leader of a state apparatus, with his own cult of personality, but he was not a terror kingpin. His death doesn’t decapitate anything. He had the blood of tens of thousands of people—overwhelmingly fellow Muslims—on his hands, but he was only the agent of a government policy that preceded him and will continue without him. His deeds are beside the point; so is the display of American resolve. The only reason to kill Suleimani is to enter a new war that the United States can win.

What would that war look like? How will Iran fight it? How will the U.S. respond? What credible allies will we have, after Trump’s trashing of the nuclear deal thoroughly alienated Europe? Who will believe any intelligence about Iran’s actions and intentions from an administration that can’t function without telling lies? How will American officials deliberate when Trump has gotten rid of his experts and turned his government into a tool of personal power? What is the point of having a Congress if it has no say about a new American war? What is our war aim, and how can it be aligned with Trump’s obvious desire to be rid of any entanglement in the region? What will happen if Jerusalem becomes a target and Israel enters the conflict? What will the American people accept by way of sacrifice, when nothing has prepared them for this?

There’s no sign that anyone in power, least of all the president, has even asked these questions, let alone knows how to answer them.

Thus we are brought to a moment of bittersweet irony.

Like many administrations before it, this White House is asking us to take its word when it comes to the most violent and consequential actions a government can undertake. But the Trump administration has less than zero credibility when it comes to saying, “Trust us, it was the right thing to do. We can’t tell you exactly why, but it was.” So in this moment when Trump really needs the faith and confidence of American people, there is some grim satisfaction in seeing his record of world-beating mendacity now come back to haunt him.

FORE!

Bullshit excuses aside, no one can say with confidence what all the long term effects of this reckless action will be, but it is all but impossible that any good that comes out of it will outweigh the inevitable bad. That bad has already begun with the humiliating—and debilitating—expulsion of US forces from Iraq, and Iran’s full-bore resumption of its nuclear weapons program. Even if the crisis does not escalate into a full-scale shooting war (as was the initial and widespread fear, now marginally soothed by tentative signs of saber-holstering by both sides), going forward it promises to bring on a raft of unpredictable and potentially nightmarish problems. Chief among these are the further alienation of the US in the international community (yes, isolationists, that matters) and the attendant handicaps that alienation creates in the conduct of US foreign policy; a more dangerous operational climate for US military forces in the region and arguably worldwide; and of course, violent reprisals of one kind or another that might yet engulf us in a deeper military quagmire. Most grim of all now is the near-certainty that Iran will now get the Bomb within the next decade.

Gee, who’d have thought that giving this kind of power to a maliciously ignorant D-list game show host would have those kind of repercussions?

So while his slavish followers high five and fist bump over what a tough guy they believe he is, Trump has in reality dealt the US a grievous setback on the international stage, dramatically escalated the lethal risks to American life and limb, and risked dragging us into the exact kind of Middle Eastern quagmire he breathlessly campaigned against. He even managed to create a second shameful spectacle of US weakness in the space of four months as our troops are forced to scurry out of Iraq tails between legs, much as we did from Syria, where the laughing Russians cruised in and took over our bases without so much as firing a shot.

If that’s your definition of military success, Donald Trump is indeed a martial mastermind after all, bonespurs be damned.

So once again, as with all things Donald, we are confronted with the headshaking consequences of having a deranged man-baby as our fearless leader. As Mehdi Hasan wrote in the Intercept:

This is not a column, however, about the consequences of the US government assassinating the second-most powerful man in Iran….. Rather, this is a column that allows me to express my ongoing astonishment that Donald Trump is president of the United States; my ongoing bewilderment with a world in which an unhinged, know-nothing former reality TV star and property developer, with zero background in foreign affairs or national security, may have just kicked off World War III. (From his golf course, no less.)”

The point—and its direct origin in the existential threat to Trump’s presidency—was expressed even more pointedly in this anonymous meme that is caroming around the Interweb: “Right now there’s an impeached president authorizing international assassinations without Congressional approval while tweeting from a golf course.”

Indeed, every aspect of Trump’s behavior here is emblematic of his awfulness.

It should come as no shock that he didn’t inform the Democratic leadership of the Suleimani strike beforehand, though he did inform the Republican leadership, and of course Vladimir Putin (must keep the boss in the loop). And it goes without saying that this entire horrific crisis is merely an acceleration—albeit a wholly unnecessary one—of the trajectory Trump put us on with his foolhardy withdrawal from the JCPOA back in 2018, itself another example of his pathological obsession with Barack H. Obama. (See Kakistocracy and the Iran Deal in these pages, May 11, 2018.)

The timing of John Bolton’s cryptic announcement earlier this week that he is willing to testify in a Senate impeachment trial was also interesting. The presumption is that Bolton’s testimony would be hostile and disastrous for Trump. But perhaps John is prepared to perjure himself and defend Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine out of gratitude for his former boss finally starting his long-desired war with Tehran. It is tempting to go down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theory here. Might Trump even have privately offered to start that war in exchange for Bolton’s cooperation? Does Brett Kavanaugh like beer? We can leave that one floating. In any case, I am confident that ever since the Suleimani strike John Bolton has been dealing with the kind of permanent erection that ED commercials warn you to see a physician about.

THE DOG WAGS BACK

Already the next phase in this piteous, bloodsoaked farce is unfolding. Trump threatened to bomb Iranian cultural sites, which it seems almost petty to point out is a war crime when it is being proposed in the context of a far bigger and broader atrocity. Deep thinkers like Sean Hannity (“Dude, do you even lift?”) encouraged Trump go even further and begin a full-scale strategic bombing of Iran, which I guess looks good on paper, if you’re a fucking moron. Even Tucker Carlson saw the stupidity in that, which suggests that the cognitive dissonance of Trump’s America Firstism colliding with his inner bully’s natural propensity for bombing the shit out of people may be too much even for MAGA Nation.

But even if we avoid a wider war right now, major damage has already been done in terms of decreased US power in the Persian Gulf and the re-acceleration of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, per above. And if matters do take a dark turn at any point in the near future, Trump’s demonstrated willingness to do what is technically known in foreign policy circles as “crazy shit” does not bode well…..especially if he perceives that he obtains a domestic political benefit from such behavior that will help protect him from Nancy Pelosi pulling up in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue behind the wheel of an empty moving truck.

To leapfrog ahead to the darkest possible scenario, were the US and Iran to get into a series tit-for-tat airstrikes, it is not beyond imagination that Trump might even launch a nuclear strike on Tehran. After all, during the 2016 campaign he openly wondered why we have this massive nuclear arsenal if we never get to use it. As Business Insider reports:

“In any other circumstance, I would have argued that the norm against using nuclear weapons is so strong there’s no chance that a president would use a nuclear weapon,” (said) Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey who studies nuclear arms control. “At the end of the day, though, it’s just a norm. And this president delights in smashing norms.” 

Given his innate tendency to always go for the stupidest response, and his juvenile desire to do “bold” things his predecessors would not do (with good reason), there is in fact every reason to suspect Trump would not hesitate to go there. If so, then we will see just how much moral courage the US military establishment has in standing up to him, like Seven Days in May in reverse.

Alarmism, you say? OK, sure. Because Donald Trump would never do something insanely aggressive just in a fit of pique.

Even short of nuclear war, Trump clearly intends to use conflict with Iran to distract from impeachment, thrill his fans, and try to lure wobbly center-right undecideds over to his team with the illusion of strength and patriotism. It’s a time-tested strategy, and one that he histrionically (but incorrectly) predicted Obama would use. In general, Trump’s past attacks on Obama are a master class in projection, providing a reliable roadmap for what he himself will do in any given scenario, as he cannot imagine a leader taking anything other than the most cynical and self-serving path.

Will it work? Here’s Aaron Blake, writing in the WaPo:

Pollsters and political analysts often talk about a “rally around the flag” effect that comes when the United States is attacked or launches new military campaigns. And there is something to that. But it’s often quite short-lived, and there’s little evidence it has actually helped any recent president win reelection.

In fact, Trump’s net gain is likely to be even less than previous wartime presidents, given his aforementioned credibility problem. In New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait writes:

Americans historically support their presidents in foreign conflicts, both the wise ones and unwise ones alike, at least initially. Trump no doubt believes the halo effect will last at least through November—that he might undertake an action that would harm his reelection out of some larger sense of duty to the nation or the world is unfathomable. But presidents traditionally benefit from a presumption of competence, or at least moral legitimacy, from their opposition. Trump has forfeited his.

So the Extremely Stable Genius is not likely to get far with this strategy beyond the base that already adores him, and perhaps a few jingoists who have heretofore been fencesitters. Whether that is sufficient to make an electoral difference will be yet another test of the intelligence, gullibility, and moral courage of us as a nation. So far, apparently not even Trump himself is buying his own bullshit, as he was back to tweeting about the impeachment “witchhunt” even as Iranian missiles fell on US troops.

There is also the strong possibility that Trump’s Wag the Dog ploy may even backfire, so transparent are his domestic motives and so stark his record of transactional behavior, particularly if matters with Iran go south fast.

ASSASSIN’S CREED

Moving beyond the details of this specific international incident and its impact on the ongoing domestic US political crisis, we must ask ourselves what Trump’s order to kill Qasem Suleimani says about the state of our democracy and how we conduct war in the 21st century.

On CNN, Pete Buttigieg— lest we forget, a former Navy intelligence officer and Afghanistan vet as well as a Rhodes Scholar—was asked by Jake Tapper if he thought the Suleimani strike qualified as an “assassination.” Wisely refusing to engage in gotcha semantics, Mayor Pete replied:

I am not interested in the terminology. I’m interested in the consequences and I’m interested in the process. Did the president have legal authority to do this? Why wasn’t Congress consulted? It seems like more people at Mar-a-Lago heard about this than people in the United States Congress who are a coequal branch of government with a responsibility to consult. Which of our allies were consulted? The real-world effects of this are going to go far beyond the things that we’re debating today and we need answers quickly.

Pretty good answer. Maybe that kid should run for president.

But let’s dig into the topic, because the exploration is instructive.

Whether carried out by a non-state actor or a sovereign government, assassination is a specific form of killing distinguished by the political nature of the act, its victim, and/or the intended reaction. As such, it is not usually classified as “murder” when carried out (or at least sanctioned) by a nation state, though it is usually is when carried out by an individual acting on their own initiative, even if all the other circumstances are identical. Judge for yourself the wisdom or hypocrisy of that, and the implications for chaos versus justice.

But the verbiage is fungible. An execution of a head of state—even by the mob—is usually not considered “assassination” per se, even when it triggers, or results from, a similar kind of regime change. (Sorry, Charles I and Louis XVI). By contrast, we routinely talk about the “assassination” of John Lennon, which is a measure of his stature as a cultural figure. But in truth, Mark David Chapman didn’t kill Lennon over his antiwar activism. In that sense, assassination is a bit like art or porn, in that it’s hard to define but easy to recognize when you see it: Caesar, Lincoln, Trotsky, the Kennedys, King, Malcolm X, Gandhi, Mountbatten, Bhutto, and so on. Maybe most terrifying of all is Franz Ferdinand, whom Steve Schmidt evoked this week.

As a political tool, assassination is a technique as old as geopolitics itself—if you want to kill a snake, cut off its head. Notwithstanding our pearl-clutching rhetoric when others employ it, the US has certainly not shied away from killing foreign leaders in the past, not only despots but popular elected democratic figures as well, as evidenced by the corpses of Patrice Lumumba and Salvador Allende, and sometimes even our own surrogates, like Ngô Đình Diệm.

Usually the questions swirling about assassination as tool of state power involve the ethics of taking out a civilian representative of a foreign power, even for convincing reasons that advance national objectives. But that is not the question here. Suleimani was a major general in the Iranian army and a uniformed combatant commander. Therefore the issue is not his legitimacy as a target but whether we were plausibly in a true state of war with Iran where we are actively shooting at the bad guys, or if this was an aggressive provocation that risked ratcheting a low intensity conflict into that more dangerous realm without good reason.

Yet even that is a tricky question.

Since 1945 the demise of formal declarations of war has badly blurred the line between peace and war, which is already pretty blurry if one subscribes to Clausewitz’s definition of warfare as the extension of politics by other means, which I do. In the wake of Vietnam, the 1973 War Powers Act was meant to curb an American president’s ability to deploy US forces into harm’s way for an extended period without Congressional approval. But Mohammad Atta and friends definitively rang down the curtain on that era. The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress three days after 9/11 amounted to a blank check for the president to order military action as he or she sees fit, without appreciable oversight, and with no expiration date. In the almost two decades since then, the American people have come to accept those parameters without much pushback, but with dire consequences.

Fighting a “terrorist” enemy in a kind of shadow war that lacks the usual metrics for determining not only victory but even concrete benchmarks of success, we as a nation have grown accustomed to a permanent state of war. Some would say that is precisely the Orwellian state of affairs that, in their Adam Curtis-style symbiosis, both the powers-that-be and their terrorist foes would like.

In such a world, the term “assassination” has become almost useless, since it is pejorative by nature, and since 1976, technically illegal as a tool of US policy under Executive Order 11905, not that it has mattered. (Hence the euphemism “targeted killing.”) If we set aside semantics—and also morality, as it is so malleable—the real question, to which Mayor Pete alludes, is whether a specific military action makes sense strategically and pragmatically. In the case of targeting a specific foreign individual, whether a member of an opposition government or a non-state actor, there can be good utilitarian arguments, even in “peacetime.” But in the case of Suleimani, there is reason to fear exactly the opposite.

Infamously, language itself can be weaponized to create the illusion or legitimacy. Last April, the Trump administration made the eyebrow-raising decision to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, joining only Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in formally applying that term. We don’t have to get into a philosophical debate about the definition of terrorism to understand that labeling a uniformed element of a foreign army “terrorists” is problematic for about a dozen different reasons. If the IRGC is a terrorist organization from our point of view, so is the US Air Force from theirs.

Pragmatism aside, the fact that few Americans object to Suleimani’s killing on moral grounds, and only a few on legal grounds, is itself if a measure of how comfortable we as a people have become with the murky waters of endless war. When utilitarianism is the only guide, it is quite easy for that kind of self-styled flinty-eyed fortitude to slip into the indiscriminate application of force—a policy of murder first and rationalization later—with “pragmatism” as an all too convenient cover. A credible justification for a surgical strike on a center of gravity, whether the assassination of an individual, an airstrike on a terrorist camp, or the bombing of a nuclear reactor, can readily be twisted into something more venal (or be a mere veneer in the first place). Many an act of international aggression has been cloaked in the righteous rhetoric of “self-defense.” Few but the Quakers would argue that the world would not have been well-served and spared terrible horrors if a certain failed painter had met with a suspicious traffic accident in 1935. But it is disturbing how easily that same logic can be turned to Vladimir Putin serving up a cup of poison tea over, say, irritation at the mouthiness of a former KGB man turned defector to the West. The slope is as slippery as they come, circling us back to why assassination is reflexively proscribed the first place.

WAR WITHOUT END AMEN

But Trump is plainly not about to be dissuaded from using force however he fucking feels like it, neither by precedent, nor protocol, nor actual law, and certainly not by semantics. He clearly conceives of his commander-in-chief role much like his role in domestic affairs: absolute, not subject to questioning by mere mortals, and definitely unfettered by the Constitution or the requirement to consult with—much less obtain permission—from Congress.

The unitary executive approach to waging war suits Trump terrifyingly well: we could hardly have drawn up a more perfectly awful POTUS to inherit the expanded warmaking powers of the post-9/11 era.

Numerous sages predicted this state of affairs. Drone strikes, clandestine special operations missions, and targeted killings were among the distinguishing aspects of the so-called “Global War on Terror” that began under Bush 43, much of it hidden from public view and carried out with little to no oversight from Capitol Hill. As those shadowy operations grew under his Democratic successor, many on the center-left were comfortable giving Obama such expansive powers, trusting that he would use them judiciously and wisely. But many on the far left were not so sanguine, making them strange bedfellows with Obama-haters on the right, who were fine with the aggressive exercise of US military might, but just didn’t like a black guy in charge. Now, as the Cassandras foretold, those right-wingers have been delighted to take the vast presidential latitude established in the years 2001-2016 and hand it over to the host of “Celebrity Apprentice.”

The result, to return to Hasan’s formulation, is that we now have a criminally unqualified, proudly ignorant cretin and serial grifter with the near-absolute power of life and death, and the authority to order the killing of any single individual he deems a threat, at the mere press of a remote control button, from oceans away, or even the obliteration of the entire planet.

This is the world in which we now live, one of endless war, where victory is not only impossible but undesirable, and where a mad king can run amok, and we the people just nod and go about our day. It will remain so until the American public decides that we have had enough, or until the integrity and decency of the United States has been so thoroughly debased that it no longer matters.

********

Illustration by the Norwegian cartoonist Bloom

They Did the Right Thing

DTRT

Donald Trump is now only the third US president in 230 years to have been impeached, the first to suffer that humiliation in his first term, and the first to have it happen while he is running for re-election. And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Trump may well go on to win a second term, which will be a sorry comment on the state of the American republic and the gullibility of the American electorate. If that happens, history will not look back kindly on our era, or on us. (We already look not so great having let him into the White House once.) Conversely, this episode may prove to be a mile marker on his well-deserved demise.

But to that point, I have been deeply dismayed at how much of the analysis of his impeachment has been focused on sheer gamesmanship, and whether Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats have played this well or badly, and what the impact will be on their collective political fortunes.

Really? How small. How shortsighted. How depressing.

The Democratic majority in the US House of Representatives just took on the somber and sorrowful duty of impeaching a US president for high crimes and misdemeanors, the evidence of which was so overwhelming that it wasn’t even a close call for anyone willing to look at that evidence objectively. (I realize that lets out the entire Republican Party,) The GOP has not substantively tried to deny it; in fact, the White House itself openly admitted to the offenses in a phone conversation readout that it unilaterally released. Trump’s own chief of staff bragged about it on national television. It is depressing of course that many of our fellow Americans—many of them US Congressmen and Senators—stubbornly refuse to admit that, either out of willful ignorance, regular ignorance, or craven Machiavellian cynicism. But it does not alter the facts.

Yet as E.J. Dionne observed in the Washington Post, when the articles of impeachment were unveiled last Tuesday, “a large share of the reporting and commentary was about the political risks facing Democrats for insisting on something that would once have been uncontroversial: It is a chilling threat to freedom and to democracy for the commander in chief to use his power to press a foreign government to investigate a political opponent.”

Last month a Monmouth University poll reported that 62% of Trump supporters said that they would support Donald Trump no matter what he does. Let that sink in a moment. Like religious fanatics, they self-report that there is NOTHING Trump could do that would make them turn on him. Not his famous hypothetical murdering of someone in plain sight on Fifth Avenue. Not outright bribery (which he copped to with Zelinskyy.) Not rape (of which he has been credibly alleged). Not treason (of which he has been credibly alleged). Not, presumably, giving the State of the Union address in blackface, or selling kiddie porn, or advocating lynching, none of which frankly would surprise me.

And apparently the GOP leadership agrees.

FOR THE DEFENSE

From the time the Ukraine scandal broke, the right wing has spent precious little time trying to defend Trump’s actions, fighting instead about “process”—always the sign of a weak hand. Those who even bothered to address the substance mostly argued some variation of the claim that the actions weren’t so bad and don’t rise to the level of impeachable offenses. (That claim is risible, of course. If extorting a foreign power to spread disinformation in an American election isn’t impeachable, nothing is.)

Others—incredibly—have gone further, parroting Trump’s own insane insistence that he did nothing wrong whatsoever, and indeed acted “perfectly.” That was the gist of GOP counsel Stephen Castor’s argument to the House Judiciary Committee, predicated on the absurd claim that ginning up a smear campaign against Joe Biden constitutes a legitimate anti-corruption effort on behalf of US national interests, and not merely to benefit Donald Trump’s own political future.

I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night.

Another red herring: For weeks now I have read right wingers on the web refusing even to discuss Ukrainegate on the grounds that some mysterious and much bigger dirty bomb was about to drop that would shower the Democrats in feces. It now seems clear that they were referring to the DOJ IG report that came out last week. You may have noticed that it was disappointingly short on details of Hillary issuing secret orders to her cabal of Illuminati FBI agents, and long on facts that obliterated the right wing’s cherished myth of an ongoing Deep State coup. Not that Bill Barr would acknowledge that.

Yet another related argument we keep hearing—one that also tellingly avoids the substance of the charges against Trump—is that we ought not bother with an impeachment when we are less than a year away from an election in which the people can decide for themselves the president’s fitness to remain in office. Really? When the issue at hand is election interference itself? Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) succinctly summarized that argument as the equivalent of saying, “’Why not let him cheat just one more time? Why not let him have foreign help just one more time?'” Or as Neal Katyal put it, it’s like saying we ought to settle this dispute with a game of Monopoly, when the very crime of which Trump is accused is cheating on Monopoly.

The whole “let’s wait” argument is dishonest in the extreme, especially coming from Republicans, who damn sure would never let a Democrat slide because we were at the two minute warning. And—god forbid—should an opening on the Supreme Court pop up between now and November, don’t look for Mitch McConnell to argue that we ought to wait till after Election Day to fill it.

All this bullshit was on full display on national television today. I watched a lot of the House debate and it’s impossible to pick out which Republican congressmember was the most loathsome, so competitive was the field. It was a remarkable parade of dishonesty, distraction, and demagoguery, a Festival of Yelling White Dudes, many of whom seemed to be channeling their inner Brett Kavanaughs, having seen that that was a winning strategy, at least in appealing to an audience of one.  (Not a few also engaged in juche-style adoration toward their Dear Leader, which he also eats up.) For a preview of how history will remember it, those Republicans would do well to examine how Nixon’s dead-end defenders are viewed today (or Joe McCarthy’s). And everything lives forever on the Internet.

But at the end of the day, here is the height of irony: Trump and his followers claim that with the impeachment, the Democrats are illegitimately interfering with the upcoming election, when in reality the whole reason for the impeachment is that Donald Trump was doing precisely that with his illegal pressure on Ukraine, which only the sadly deluded or the willfully dishonest can try to deny.

WALKING AND CHEWING GUM

I realize that from the start impeachment and the upcoming election have been inextricably connected. But the fixation on gamesmanship over principle is unhealthy to say the least.

I’ve heard the argument (from the left) that Trump is such an existential threat to our republic that his defeat at the polls must be prioritized over all else. Fair enough. Except that I’m not convinced that we will be facing a fair election in November. Is that preemptive, 2016-style Trumpian doubt-casting on the legitimacy of the vote, something I and many others decried when he regularly did it on the campaign trail against Hillary? Feel free to lob that allegation if you wish. But I would call it a well-founded fear, with lots of evidence to back it up, unlike Trump’s wildly unsubstantiated and dangerous claim. In any case, I’m certainly not willing to put all my eggs in that electoral basket when it comes to stopping that existential threat.

Moreover, I’ve argued before that the two are no mutually exclusive—as that argument presumes—but rather complementary. I don’t think impeachment is a losing strategy, politically speaking; on the contrary, a losing strategy is being so afraid of your criminal opponent that you are too meek even to stand up and call him out for his crimes.

Going into this process with the knowledge that Senate Republicans will almost surely refuse to convict, the Democratic Party has made the decision—correct in my view—that principle here demands impeachment even if it fails…..even if Trump gets to disingenuously wave acquittal as a banner of exoneration, as he did with Bill Barr’s distorted four-page non-summary of the 400-plus page Mueller report. It’s true that acquittal might look impressive to some undecided voters, but what would look even worse, IMHO, is handwringing by an insufficiently brave and bold Democratic Party that claims Trump is an unfit criminal pretender, but is unwilling to make that case in Congress as the Constitution demands.

(What worries me more is that if someone is still undecided about Trump at this point, they might be too stupid to be swayed by logic. In that regard, Team Trump has an edge for sure.)

Impeachment is a moral imperative. If Senate Republicans are willing to close ranks and say that the POTUS (at least a Republican POTUS) is above Congressional oversight, then they will have dealt a grievous blow to our representative democracy. But they must be forced to admit it publicly. I for one am not willing to let them get away with it unchallenged, without calling them out and insisting they stand up and demonstrate by a public show of hands if they are indeed that craven and dishonest. (Spoiler alert: they are.)

Will Trump go on to win in 2020? He might, but not because impeachment strengthened him. If he wins it will because of this cult-like support on the right, its willingness to game the system with black propaganda, foreign assistance, voter suppression, and—crucially—because our side didn’t make a sufficient argument for his wrongdoing and unfitness and for the appeal of our own candidate and platform by contrast. Impeachment is part of making that argument. When I see articles about how Trump is allegedly “winning” on impeachment despite the facts, or about how the Democrats are supposedly blowing it, or how Trump’s re-election is a lock, it makes me ill with its too-cool-for-school ennui. And I hear this cynical garbage not only from the right, as we would expect, but also from the center-left, and from ”Saturday Night Live.” In truth, as Democratic strategist Joel Payne recently told Chris Matthews, this impeachment is 20 points more popular right now than Bill Clinton’s ever was. Even Fox News shows fully 50% of voters in favor of impeachment and removal—not just impeachment, but impeachment AND removal. And I say again: that’s a poll from Fox News.

But even if I turn out to be wrong about the political implications (and I am sure that somewhere there may be perhaps one example of me being wrong), the bottom line is that Trump’s actions in Ukrainegate, and his brazen defiance of the US Constitution in obstructing the Congressional investigation thereof, have left us with no choice. We cannot ignore or excuse it. As Michael Luo writes in the New Yorker, “Failing to impeach Trump would have set a dangerous precedent—that Presidents can subvert American foreign policy for their own ends, without fear of consequences.”  It arose in the first place after he was not held to account over Russiagate; even now, he continues to thumb his nose at the rule of law and behave like an absolute monarch to the throne born, as Rudy Giuliani goes gallivanting around Ukraine openly carrying on with the very behavior for which his master is being impeached. And it will only get worse if Trump skates yet again.

Yes, I fear what the country will look like if we are saddled with four more years of this. But not impeaching him would have been worse, would have emboldened him even more than acquittal, and would not have improved our electoral fortunes even a whit. Yeah, the GOP wouldn’t have been able to run on impeachment and rile up its base, but it would have just riled them up with something else. Do you doubt it? Appeasing bullies, avoiding conflict, and hoping that won’t get mad or madder than they already are is never a winning strategy.

CREEPY OLD GUY

Based on his record number of angry old man tweets last week, and his astonishing six-page rant at Nancy Pelosi that read like it was dictated by a deranged fifth grader, Trump is obviously mad as a wet hen about his impeachment, even as he claims unconvincingly that it’s helping him. It may indeed be helping him, in terms of fundraising and energizing his base, but he is still visibly furious about it because he knows what a humiliation it is. You’d think he’d be delighted that he’s basically about to get away with murder, again, but he clearly understands what a stain this is on his legacy, even if he’s acquitted. Conviction or no, it is the most serious possible black mark against a US president, and Trump knows that as of this morning the very first line of his obituary will definitely include the “I” word. (Speaking of which, can we hurry up with that please?)

Yet in another irony, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, et al are partially robbing Trump of even the consolation of a presumptive acquittal by brazenly announcing in advance that they intend to mount such a sham of a trial in the Senate that only the most slavering Trump disciple will accept its result as genuine exoneration.

McConnell kicked it off by going on “Hannity” and declaring that he is not going behave like the foreman of a jury—which is what he will be—but rather as an arm of the defense. Graham then weighed in by repeatedly saying he’d already made up his mind and didn’t even need to sit through a trial, or hear any evidence.

Neither senator’s position is particularly surprising, of course. As Jennifer Rubin wrote in a piece unimprovably titled “Don’t Worry, Sen. Graham. No One Thought You’d Be Fair”: “Amidst his boot-licking and willful ignorance of a ‘quid pro quo,’ Graham left little doubt that he had the slightest intention of doing his job as a juror.”

Once again, Graham’s is a rather different mindset than he had as one of Bill Clinton’s most aggressive prosecutors in 1999, when he said:

I have a duty far greater than just getting to the next election. Members of the Senate have said, “I understand everything there is about this case, and I won’t vote to impeach the president.” Please allow the facts to do the talking…. Don’t decide the case before the case’s end. 

I know it’s become tedious to say, but let me say it again: Lindsey Graham might be the most loathsome, hypocritical, contemptible swamp creature in all of Washington DC, which is saying something, because the competition is world class. As the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus noted:

Fifteen current Republican senators served in the House or Senate during the Clinton impeachment. All but one of those—Sen. Susan Collins of Maine—voted either to impeach Clinton or to convict him and remove him from office. I’d challenge any of them to explain why they deemed Clinton’s behavior so bad and are so unmoved by Trump’s.

(Speaking of Leningrad Lindsey, I was recently appalled to learn that he and I were both stationed in Germany at the same time in the 1980s, he as an Air Force JAG officer at Rhein Main AFB in Frankfurt, me 35 klicks north as an Army infantry officer at a place called the Rock. I don’t recall ever seeing Lindsey on any of the many Friday nights I spent at the bar of the Rhein Main Officers Club. Perhaps he was busy contemplating how he could help the Russians bounce back from their impending defeat in the Cold War.)

So in a bitter irony, the words of McConnell, Graham, Dewey, Cheatem & Howe LLP may prove to be self-destructive by giving the lie to even the illusion that Trump will be truly exonerated. Of course, Donald is going to claim that no matter what, and MAGA Nation will believe it. But it won’t help his case with any thinking Americans, to the extent that anyone cares about them anymore. And it won’t look good in the history books, which we know that the transactional Republicans don’t care about at all, except when it comes to removing references to evolution.

To state the bleeding obvious: If Trump is so innocent, why are his Republican pals so afraid to review any evidence?

The preemptive destruction of even the veneer of due process is  all the more baffling when the GOP could easily put on the pretext of a fair trial and still carry the day. Are Republicans really that afraid of what will come out and what they will have to willfully deny in voting for acquittal? Or perhaps they just don’t give a fuck, so greedy and compacent and contemptuous have they become of even the trappings of democracy. To that end, the desire for a quick trial is not just a matter of downplaying the allegations and moving on (though it is more proof that impeachment truly does hurt Trump, even as the GOP tries to convince the DNC and America that it does just the opposite.) It is a further admission of Trump’s guilt.

As A.B. Stoddard writes in The Bulwark, “If Trump and Senate Republicans want to finish impeachment as quickly as possible, then they must believe that time is not on their side and that future developments are likely to cut against Trump’s position.”

I think that is safe to say.

Ironically, Trump—of course—wants a circus, because he is a sociopath who seems to genuinely believe that he has done no wrong here or anywhere else (see again The Letter), and cannot by definition, and that the Senate trial would be a great venue in which to smear Joe Biden with absolute lies. His lapdog Mr. Graham, the former prosecutor, admittedly got off a bon mot when he suggested that when someone has said out loud that they’re ready to acquit you (no matter what), you ought to get out of the way and let ‘em.

Trump wants to drag Joe and Hunter Biden and Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff into the Senate to testify? OK then, as Chuck Schumer rightly said, let’s also hear from Mulvaney and Pompeo and Pence and Bolton and Parnas and Giuliani.

I’m waiting.

GARLAND RULES

Seeing as Senate Republicans have brazenly signaled that they intend to violate their oaths, shamelessly ignore the evidence, and protect Trump no matter what, movement is building to use that against them: that is, to call them out and refuse to allow them to get away with this criminal dereliction of duty. Per above, they would have done well to keep their traps shut and at least pretend to obey the law and act impartially, and then vote to give Cheetoh Benito his get-out-of-jail-free card. But a hazard of the Trump era is that these thugs have grown accustomed to announcing in advance that they are gonna rob a bank. And this time, the cops are waiting for them.

Lots of smart people, from Laurence Tribe to Charlie Sykes to Bill Kristol to John Dean (!!!!), have recently suggested that the Democrats need not accede to the GOP’s blunt announcement that it has no intention of holding a fair trial in the Senate. As Sykes writes: “There is no requirement that the House immediately send the articles of impeachment over to the senate. This is Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s final card.”

Tribe has been proposing as much even before Ukrainegate broke, back when we were mulling impeachment based on the Mueller report. His initial idea was that the House impeach Trump and never refer the articles to the Senate, thereby denying him the chance to wave the inevitable hyperpartisan acquittal as a flag of exoneration. Now the actions of McConnell, Graham, et al have give the Democrats justification for so doing, or some variation thereof. The new notion is to humbly insist that, gee, Republican Senators not behave like jurors in a mob trial bought and paid for by the Don, as they have bluntly announced they intend to do.

McConnell’s flag-planting in Camp Trump is already being used against him, and rightly so. After Schumer proposed calling Bolton, Mulvaney, et al as witnesses in the trial, Tribe tweeted: “If (McConnell) rejects these reasonable ground rules & insists on a non-trial, the House should consider treating that as a breach of the Senate’s oath & withholding the Articles until the Senate reconsiders.”

Writing in the Washington Post, he explained further:

Under the current circumstances, such a proceeding would fail to render a meaningful verdict of acquittal. It would also fail to inform the public, which has the right to know the truth about the conduct of its president….

Consider the case of a prosecutor armed with a grand jury indictment who learns that the fix is in and that the jury poised to consider the case is about to violate its oath to do impartial justice. In that situation, the prosecutor is under no affirmative legal obligation to go forward until the problem is cured and a fair trial possible. So, too, the House, whose historical role is to prosecute articles of impeachment in the Senate after exercising its “sole” power to impeach, is under no affirmative constitutional obligation to do so instantly. That is especially true when the majority leader has made clear that he is, for all practical purposes, a member of the defense team.

We are in Merrick Garland territory here, folks. This time, let’s play hardball like they do. Just because we have long assumed (correctly, it turns out) that the GOP intends to acquit Trump no matter what does not mean we should roll over and just let them do it without a fight…..without throwing up every procedural argument and obstacle the law allows…..without put a 10,000 kilowatt spotlight on their actions…..without making it clear that if they proceed with a kangaroo court (as they were fond of calling the House proceedings), they will in effect be just confirming Trump’s guilt.

As Senator Schumer said on TV, if the Republican majority holds a ridiculously speedy trial that dispenses with the charges without any serious consideration of them, the American people will rightly ask: “What are they hiding?” (At least some of them will ask that.)

Indeed, with their prejudicial statements beforehand, McConnell and Graham (and possibly others) may have compromised themselves as jurors and rendered it impossible to take the oath required of them by Rule XXV of the Senate Rules prior to participating in an impeachment trial: “I solemnly swear [or affirm, as the case may be] that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of [the person being impeached], now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.

Will a Democratic Senator like Schumer or Kamala or Cory Booker or Liz Warren or Bernie move that McConnell (and Graham, and others similarly self-tainted) recuse himself? I certainly hope so. How will Chief Justice John Roberts respond? I don’t expect Mitch to do the right thing, or for Roberts to press it. But that spineless bastard should be forced to address the charge and publicly own his refusal to step aside. Red Hat Nation, of course, will find a way to cheer even that hypocrisy. But history will record it as yet another shameful moment by which the man from Kentucky will be cursed on into posterity.

MISS IT! NOONAN!

A note on language:

I hesitate to call Trump supporters “conservatives,” as they are anything but. But when I call them Republicans—which seems fair, given the party’s abject, bootlicking surrender to the man from Queens—I often get Trump people snorting to me that they are not registered Republicans, and in fact loathe the party establishment, followed by a laundry list of their complaints about the late John McCain. But since they now own the GOP, I suggest they get used to the elephantine label. Alternatively, I will settle for calling them “right wingers,” which is undeniable by any definition.

Whatever we agree to call them, it goes without saying that the formerly anti-Trump Republicans who have now obsequiously gone all in on Trump—Graham, Cruz, Paul, Pompeo, et al—are beneath contempt. (I think I saw Marco Rubio’s testicles on a milk carton.) But there is also a whole cowardly class of so-called conservatives who want to have it both ways, particularly in the punditocracy.

While any number of absolute cretins can regularly be seen on Fox News, occasionally a real piece of work shows up elsewhere. One such Republican apologist who appeared last week on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press Daily” with Chuck Todd, was conservative chattering head Danielle Pletka. I suppose she is what passes for a “reasonable” Republican in the current climate, which says a lot, but it was revolting to listen to her blithe assertion that the American people have decided Donald Trump is guilty of these crimes but that they’re not impeachable, and are bored with the details. (Implying that she feels likewise.) That is surely true of MAGA Nation, but it’s hardly true of the entire country. I have rarely heard a more cynical and dishonest generalization, one aimed at selling a false narrative right out of the GOP playbook.

It’s also amazing to see these allegedly respectable old school conservatives—not just screeching Breitbart brand hyenas—lamenting the “divisiveness” ripping out country apart. (It shouldn’t be amazing after decades of Republican hypocrisy, but it is.) Consider Peggy Noonan, a Reagan-era apparatchik who gets trotted out as we look back wistfully upon what now seems like an era of kinder and gentler reactionaryism. Noonan too recently appeared on “MTP Daily” to bemoan the fact that impeachment process has been so “partisan”—as if the real problem is the Democrats insisting on the rule of law, and not the GOP’s indefensible aiding and abetting of this criminal president. (Todd, as is his wont, didn’t push back, but joined in her pearl-clutching.)

And merrily we roll along with the toxic false equivalence that brought us to this pretty pass in the first place.

But I know this much: The more that Republicans claim that Democrats are damaging themselves with impeachment, the more I know we are on the right track.

FIGHT THE POWER

As I’ve argued before, the upcoming Senatorial ranks-closing around this criminal will be one of the blackest days in modern US history.

But no matter what ultimately happens, I am proud of the Democratic Party in this moment, which is not something I can always say. As Michael Luo again reports, “In the past few months, Democrats have satisfied their responsibilities, under the Constitution, to conduct a sober fact-finding inquiry, but their Republican counterparts have steadfastly refused to fulfill theirs.”

Congressional Democrats have stood up for the Constitution, the rule of law, and the idea of separation of powers and checks on balances on an wannabe despot. They have deployed the biggest and most powerful weapon in the constitutional arsenal in marking Trump with the scarlet letter “I.” It might cost them the 2020 presidential election, or it might win it for them. It might doom their chances to retake the Senate or it might bolster those chances. Let us hope it doesn’t cost us the House, even if certain individual Democratic members lose their seats in Trump-friendly districts for the sin of exercising integrity. But none of that is the broader point. However it shakes out, history will report that in this time of crisis, the Democratic Party showed some goddam backbone and was willing to stand up for principle.

Mayors are figuring unusually heavily in this election—from young Mr. Buttigieg, to old Mr. Bloomberg, to the batshit crazy Mr. Giuliani. But the one I have in mind at the moment is an honorary one, and a fictional one, Ossie Davis as “Da Mayor,” who told Mookie, and us: “Always do the right thing.”

Good advice.

********

Framegrab: Ossie Davis and Spike Lee in Do the Right Thing (1989), written, directed, and produced by Spike, shot by Ernest Dickerson.

 

 

 

Obstructed View

Obstructed View

Here’s the lede, which I’m going to say again and again as long as this shitshow continues:

None of this would be happening if millions of Americans were not totally thrilled about the idea of a right wing autocrat.

So this week let us examine that headsnapping fact through the prism of just one aspect of the Ukrainegate scandal: the Trump administration’s brazen obstruction of the investigation, something with which those aforementioned millions are just fine.

OBSTRUCT THIS

Yesterday the legal counsels for the House Intelligence Committee—Daniel Goldman for the Democratic majority and Stephen Castor for the Republican minority— delivered statements to the House Judiciary Committee ahead of a vote to move forward with articles of impeachment, which are likely to be presented today. In one sense the lawyers’ appearance was just more kabuki theater, as their respective statements represented diametrically opposed, mirror image visions of Ukrainegate in the never-ending Rorschach test that American life has become.

But as I have often said, two people arguing about the shape of the planet are not both necessarily correct, no matter how loudly the flat earth faction shouts.

Goldman succinctly laid out a case that only the most deluded Trump disciple, or cynical right wing partisan, could plausibly deny. Castor’s statement, by contrast, was a laughable display of dishonesty, obfuscation, and misdirection hinging on the idea that Donald Trump is a valiant and altruistic anti-corruption crusader whose actions in this matter are driven only by his deep, deep desire to clean up the dirty domestic politics of the country of Ukraine. If you’re onboard with that, email me at info@thekingsnecktie.com, because I have a bridge just down the street at the end of Cadman Plaza that I’ll let you have cheap.

But we need not spend one syllable here on the underlying high crimes regarding Ukraine; they have been well-detailed elsewhere, including in these pages. Let us instead confine ourselves purely to the White House’s obstruction of efforts to investigate those offenses, which is to say, the coverup.

I say “coverup,” but that term implies a secret effort to hide the facts. The Trump administration is openly blocking investigators’ access to the facts, which is less like a coverup than flatout contempt for the rule of law.

As every rational observer has already stated, if the White House had exculpatory evidence, they would have rushed it into the public eye. It would be blaring 24/7 from Donald’s Twitter feed, and on Hannity and Judge Jeannie and Ingraham every night, and from the lips of every Trump supporter (should they be able to pry them loose from Donald’s ass).

But they don’t have any such evidence. Very much the contrary.

Therefore, Team Trump has instead done precisely the opposite. It has stonewalled, ordering every conceivable arm of the federal government not to cooperate with proper Congressional oversight. As the report of the House Intelligence Committee put it, “(Trump) has ordered federal agencies and officials to disregard all voluntary requests for documents and defy all duly authorized subpoenas for records. He also directed all federal officials in the Executive Branch not to testify—even when compelled.”

Most egregious (and telling) of all, the White House has instructed the most important, high-ranking witnesses like Mulvaney, Bolton, and Pompeo—the people who have the information that would be most valuable to Congress—not to appear, even when legally ordered to do so. (NB: Trump has issued these “orders” even when the individual in question, like Bolton, or Don McGahn, is no longer a federal employee and under no obligation to obey. So these punks are complicit in the refusal, much as they want to pretend their blood-covered hands are tied.)

Trump of course, has said he would “love” for these individuals to testify, which is damn near a guarantee that the White House will never let them do so. The reason, as both Occam’s razor and common sense tell us, is that if they were to tell the truth under penalty of perjury (not necessarily a certainty), what they have to say would likely be a knife in the heart of Trump’s claim of innocence.

Then again, why not let them testify? No matter what they have to say—and remember, Mulvaney has already said on live TV that hell yes, Trump ordered the Code Red, and “we do this stuff all the time”—the Republican Party will just deny that it amounts to a hill of beans. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

GOD SAVE THE KING

This obstruction of justice is arguably worse even than the abuse of power that Trump is obstructing investigation of. (And that abuse—stealing taxpayer dollars to bribe a foreign leader to interfere in our elections—was pretty goddam bad.)

Even Richard Nixon, the previous titleholder when it comes to contempt for Congress and the rule of law, at least acknowledged the authority of the Constitution he was subverting. Trump, on the other hand, is behaving with utter disregard for even the pretense that he ought to obey the law, operating instead with the same wantonly criminal mentality that has been his north star his entire, obscenely entitled life. And that is not because he is a Nietzschean ubermensch. It’s because he’s a lawless cretin.

In the Bulwark last week, Never Trump conservative Charlie Sykes wrote brilliantly about the magnitude of Trump’s unprecedented obstruction. I’ll quote it here at length, because, you know, why reinvent the wheel when Charlie has already built such a beautiful unicycle?

In laying out the case against Donald Trump, the House Intelligence Committee noted that Trump ”is the first President in the history of the United States to seek to completely obstruct an impeachment inquiry undertaken by the House of Representatives under Article I of the Constitution, which vests the House with the ‘sole Power of Impeachment.’”

The report noted that the president “has publicly and repeatedly rejected the authority of Congress to conduct oversight of his actions and has directly challenged the authority of the House to conduct an impeachment inquiry into his actions regarding Ukraine”……

This makes Trump historically unique. As of today, Congress has received only a single document from the Administration: the read-out of the July 25 call between Trump and the Ukrainian president. Everything else is behind the Trumpian stonewall, along with testimony of key players from Mick Mulvaney to John Bolton.

No other president,” the report concludes, “has flouted the Constitution and power of Congress to conduct oversight to this extent.” Richard Nixon famously resisted releasing the White House tapes until compelled by the Supreme Court, but nevertheless “accepted the authority of Congress to conduct an impeachment inquiry and permitted his aides and advisors to produce documents and testify to Congressional committees.”

Let us pause a moment to take that in.

Trump is saying, in effect, that Congress has no right to investigate him. The actual charges in question are irrelevant, because in Trump’s view it doesn’t matter. He can do whatever he pleases and Congress can’t say boo. And that, my friends, is the very definition of autocracy.

If and when these articles of impeachment come before the Senate, surely including obstruction of the investigation as one of its charges, the broader GOP is going to have to stand up in public and announce if it agrees. If it blithely excuses Trump’s obstruction, we will have crossed an extremely dangerous line. And right now, we have every reason to believe that is exactly what the Republican Party intends to do.

SLOW YOUR ROLL (GOP STYLE)

At the same time that the Trump administration is engaging in this Guinness Book of World Records-worthy obstructionism, its amen corner in the Republican leadership and right wing media is arguing that the Democrats are moving too fast on impeachment. This was the deliberately disingenuous argument made last week before the House Judiciary Committee by the GOP’s own handpicked witness, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, one that can be summarized as, “What’s the hurry?”

As with most of the GOP’s die-in-place defense of Trump, it is a process argument that tellingly fails to rebut any of the actual allegations against him—always the sign of a weak hand. But that’s the least of it.

Turley’s argument that impeaching on less than full and total evidence cheapens the process and lowers the bar for removal of a president is the height of dishonesty, since—do I really need to say this?—it is the White House itself that is that is illegally withholding that very evidence. You can’t refuse to comply with a process and then complain that the process is proceeding without you. (Unless your surname rhymes with “garbage dump.”) One has to admire the chutzpah, except for the part where that chutzpah destroys our democracy.

At the core of Turley’s circular “logic” is the ultimate deceit of the Trump/GOP position. They are employing this irrational, Kafkaesque defense because they cannot defend his actions on their merits, such as they are.

Turley’s performance ought to have made him the laughingstock of the faculty cafeteria. His white dude bias, on the hand, is top notch. The Nation reports: “During the confirmation battle for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor—the first woman of color ever nominated to the Supreme Court—Turley argued that his thorough ‘review’ of 30 Sotomayor opinions revealed that she lacked the ‘intellectual depth’ of a good Supreme Court nominee.” (In other news, Quasimodo calls J-Lo ugly.)

And let’s go back even further with the amazing Jonathan. The Nation again:

In 1998, testifying in front of the House Judiciary Committee during the Clinton impeachment hearing, Turley said, “No matter how you feel about President Clinton, no matter how you feel about the independent counsel, by his own conduct, he has deprived himself of the perceived legitimacy to govern. You need both political and legal legitimacy to govern this nation, because the President must be able to demand an absolute sacrifice from the public at a moment’s notice.”

It’s impossible to explain the shameless hypocrisy of Turley’s conflicting statements without concluding that his testimony, in both hearings, was offered in bad faith. Can Turley really expect us to believe that he would support impeachment if Trump lied about what he got on Volodymyr Zelensky’s blue dress, but would also support Bill Clinton’s right to extort a foreign power to influence an American election?….

 Back then, Turley was lauded by people like Rush Limbaugh for demanding that Clinton’s own Secret Service agents be subpoenaed to testify about what they know. You’ll note that Turley made no such demands yesterday of former national security adviser John Bolton or Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney….

Luckily, Turley’s argument is moot. The Mt. Everest of evidence already on hand is more than sufficient for articles of impeachment, and indeed conviction. The very act of stonewalling makes Trump look super duper guilty (I’m using the technical legal term), which any sentient person not shitfaced on Fox News-brand Kool Aid can see, and is itself impeachable conduct.

TOO LEGIT TO QUIT

Turley’s specious arguments are part of a broader GOP stance that is only slightly more sophisticated than Trump’s juvenile position that “I can do whatever I want” (but only slightly).

That Republican position stops short of rejecting the whole concept of impeachment, but holds that this particular process is so out of order that cooperating would only “legitimize” it, thus opening future presidents up to similar indefensible attack by radical, out-of-control opponents. (Somewhere in the ninth circle of hell, Dick Nixon is smiling.)

Two reasons that’s a joke.

First of all, per above, if the White House and GOP had evidence that would absolve Donald Trump of these offenses, they would certainly air it—especially if they thought the whole impeachment was a charade. The Trump administration isn’t exactly known for its subtlety or restraint.

But they don’t and they can’t.

Secondly, the claim of illegitimacy itself is the real howler, when everything about this impeachment has been done by the book. It is precisely the mechanism the Founders created for a scenario of this exact sort. You might be a Republican who thinks this particular application of it is groundless, that the evidence is just not there, and that the Senate ought to vote to acquit. (You might also be on crack, but still.) But no serious person can argue that the process itself is illegitimate. To do so is to say there is no impeachment clause at all, and to say there is no impeachment clause is to say that we are a monarchy. In that regard, the GOP’s fancier argument is really no different than Trump’s crude one.

The autocracy-curious GOP is very keen on the letter of the law when it comes to the President’s unilateral authority to do things that infuriate the other party (and huge swaths of the public), like ordering the Muslim travel ban, or re-allocating budget money to build a beaded curtain on the southern border. But when it comes to the House exercising its own Constitutionally-mandated authority, suddenly they cry “Overreach!”

As we are reminded ad nauseam, impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. If in the last decade the Republican House had had the votes to impeach Obama for the infamous khaki suit, or for putting Dijon mustard on his hamburger, or for taking off his jacket in the Oval Office (all real things that Republicans were outraged over), it would have been within its rights to do so. It would have been absurd, and therefore counterproductive to Republican fortunes, but not unconstitutional. (Otherwise they would surely have tried it.) That is why the Founders set the bar for conviction in the Senate so high, at a two-thirds majority. If a frivolous or even merely weak case for impeachment is brought, the Presidency should defend itself, as Bill Clinton did. Categorically refusing to do so implies guilt, not principle. But to say that impeachment is illegitimate full stop and therefore the White House is within its rights to defy it is about the most extreme and anti-constitutional position an American political party could take. And that is the position that the Trump administration and a good many of its defenders in the Republican Party are taking.

GASLIGHT FEELS RIGHT

Let us return briefly to the great legal scholar and totally not a partisan hack Jon Turley.

In addition to his “what’s the hurry?” argument, Mr. Turley also told the House Judiciary Committee that he believes that Trump should not be impeached based on the evidence presented thus far, but that “if you prove a quid pro quo, then you might have an impeachable offense.”

Is he kidding, or is he seriously arguing that Trump did not withhold military aid to Ukraine (and a White House meeting for President Zelenskyy) for personal gain, after a parade of witnesses before the House Intelligence Committee, including firsthand testimony from EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, established that he did precisely that?

This is Republican gaslighting at its finest.

Needless to say, Republicans would shriek with outrage and scorn if a Democratic politician tried to make the same specious claim, and they would be right to do so. The GOP is clinging to the “no quid” argument the same way the Mafia claims that a Mob boss is innocent because he didn’t explicitly say in writing, “Take this handgun and go shoot Vinnie ‘The Elbow’ Scarfone in the face outside Umberto’s.” (Which is precisely why we have the RICO Act.)

And I’m not a constitutional law professor, but even if Trump hadn’t extorted Kyiv by withholding items of value, just asking a foreign power to interfere in an American election is illegal. (Or so I learned during “The Bob Mueller Show,” which ran on MSNBC from 2017-19.)

I bring this up because it goes directly to the dishonesty of Turley’s other argument about undue haste, and the White House’s blanket refusal to cooperate with the inquiry. The fact that Turley propagated the “no quid pro quo” fiction suggests that NO amount of evidence will be acknowledged as sufficient, and the Republican Party will continue to reject demonstrable reality. And once they plant that black flag of nihilism, they have no more credibility whatsoever and there is no having any rational discussion with them.

The real reason for that blanket refusal, as Charlie Sykes also notes in his recent Bulwark piece, is that it is working. Again, he deserves quoting at length:

As galling as it may be to acknowledge it, the reality is that Trump’s effort to obstruct Congress is a success, much like his well-documented efforts to obstruct the Mueller probe. The House decision not to push for the enforcement of its subpoenas virtually guarantees that the case will go to the Senate without volumes of pertinent evidence.

I am among those who think the evidence at hand is more than sufficient to justify Trump’s impeachment. But his partisan supporters will continue to declare the effort a sham and the case unproven and unironically complain about the lack of direct evidence—ignoring Trump’s all-out effort to conceal it from Congress.

Historians, who will know far more about Trump’s conduct that we do now, will marvel at how much evidence of his misconduct was left on the table. They will have access to documents, emails, text messages, memoirs, and transcripts (the United States vs. Giuliani?) that we have not seen.

At least some of them will write, “in fairness…” and then note the comprehensive nature of Trump’s obstruction. But, by then, Trump will have been acquitted by the senate and claimed exoneration.

For Trump, this is the lesson that he learned from the Mueller probe – investigations can be successfully obstructed, the rule of law be damned.

And this goes to the heart of the current impeachment effort: the obstruction is not a sideshow: it is heart of Trump’s attack on constitutional norms. In effect, he is in the process of shattering the system of checks and balances that we have relied on to check executive power. If he continues to succeed, it will set both a political and constitutional precedent that will be all but impossible to reverse.

That is an exceptionally depressing assessment, but sadly, an accurate one.

But none of this obstruction would succeed if the GOP did not excuse and condone and actively abet it. And the GOP would not do that if there was not an electoral benefit…..in other words, because they know that sixty-some million right wing Americans are totally supportive of it. The day that Donald Trump is acquitted by the quisling Republican majority in the Senate will be a dark day for American democracy. But the real point is the extent to which the Republican rank and file is totally fine with it.

WE DON’T NEED THIS FASCIST GROOVE THANG

We rightly blame Trump for being a human colostomy bag, and the GOP for creating the conditions that gave rise to him, and for protecting him to the ends of the earth for their own venal interests. But we also need to recognize that this is not a strictly top down phenomenon, but rather the result of the great mass of our own countrymen who have incentivized the GOP to do that, and continue to do so.

I don’t contend that most Republicans see themselves as championing the cause of fascism. That is precisely the problem. They have become so brainwashed by decades of Fox News indoctrination that they don’t even recognize the actions of this administration as anti-democratic, or hypocritical, or unconstitutional, or simply wrong. Their ability to think critically is gone. Call me an elitist libtard, say I’m part of the problem, or what have you, but it’s the truth. The tribalism has become so intense that many Republicans and other right wing Americans see Democrats and progressives as inherently evil, assaulting “democracy” at every turn, and their own tribe as inherently good and decent and right at all times. That is the mentality of a cult, not a rational political organization. And—anticipating the pushback here, Trumpers—part of that tribalism is to accuse the other side of being just as tribalistic and unable to think critically, an ouroboros of self-justifying false equivalence that powers this perpetual motion disinformation machine. See above re the flat earth.

We know that the plutocrats and kleptocrats and jingoists who comprise the Republican leadership, with their fetish for the unitary executive theory, tend to favor an authoritarian state that facilitates their greed, both foreign and domestic, vastly preferring it to representative democracy with its messy “will of the people” and all that rot. We also know Trump has a hard-on for despots, as shown by his man-crush on Putin, his praise for Kim and Xi and Duterte, his kowtowing to Erdogan, and his shameful, ongoing defense of Riyadh. The real crisis for our country began with the merger of these two poisonous forces, when the GOP accidentally discovered that it could weaponize this demagogic con man for its own purposes. That is tragic, and chilling, but easy enough to understand.

What is more mysterious is why ordinary rank-and-file Republicans are predisposed to crave an autocracy, or for that matter, why anyone would do so who is not part of the ruling class that has profit participation in it. Perhaps it is for the same reason that conservative working and middle class people—especially in the US—habitually vote against their own economic interests (“Hey, I’ll be rich someday too!”). Or perhaps, through nature or nurture, they are desperate for a cruel daddy figure to make them feel safe and/or boss them around. I don’t know.

But it goes without saying that all of these right wingers, mandarins and hoi polloi alike, only admire and condone such autocracy from the right. American conservatives, you will recall, were red faced with fury over Barack Obama’s alleged “imperial presidency“ and his use of executive orders. A left wing president who engaged in even a fraction of Trump’s abuses of power would likely lead to violent uprising by our heavily armed, Kid Rock-listening, Stars-and-Bars-waving countrymen. We are way beyond simple tribalism here and into a dangerously irrational realm.

An example. Just last week another great American, Ken Starr—cementing his place in infamy as a partisan bagman without a shred of integrity—accused Nancy Pelosi of “abusing her power” and suggested that the Senate might just dismiss articles of impeachment out of hand. I am skeptical of that prediction, but not because I think McConnell would never be so shameless. (Two words: Merrick Garland.) I think that under the right conditions Mitch would do it faster than his wife can funnel money to her relatives back home. But I suspect the GOP would prefer a show trial that they and Trump can use to claim “total and complete exoneration.”

But the greater point is the sheer hypocrisy of this American Javert. Starr sure does have a different standard for presidential misbehavior than he did in the late ‘90s, not unlike his former underling Brett Kavanaugh, who now believes a sitting president should not even be investigated while in office, let alone charged with a criminal offense. Next step: making the whole idea of a Democrat in the White House impossible by declaring any election that puts one there illegitimate by definition.

Think the GOP won’t go that far? OK. We shall see.

REPUBLIC’S END

As the author Michael Gruber writes, “The GOP is acting like a party that will never have to face a free and fair election again.” Indeed, there is a lot of evidence that it thinks it will not.

The entire history of the Trump presidency thus far is the story of a rapid slide into bald-faced one-man rule, to include the debasement of free elections. If Senate Republicans are now willing to close ranks and say that the POTUS (at least a Republican POTUS) is above Congressional oversight, then they will have said in effect that we are not a representative democracy at all, and the president is in fact a king. And kings don’t need no stinking elections.

Even with the upcoming Republican primaries, the GOP is taking no chances, canceling many of those elections (in eight states so far) rather than give anyone a chance to challenge Trump. As Charlie Sykes also points out in the Bulwark (it was a big week for Charlie), that in itself bespeaks not strength but weakness. For a president who likes to brag about his sky-high approval ratings within his party what is he so afraid of? Shouldn’t he welcome the chance to display his alleged dominance? Hell, even tinhorn tyrants like Putin and Kim at least pretend to hold elections to provide a veneer of legitimacy to their rule.

So be careful what you wish for, Republicans. You might like an autocracy fine when it foists your chosen one on snowflakes like me, but you might not like it so much when you’re the foistee.

For three years now I have been in a near-constant state of blood pressure-popping fury at what is happening to and in our country. (Did anyone notice? I think I hid it pretty well.) Weirdly, I am now finding that recognizing the all-out Republican embrace of autocracy actually calms me down a little. Once the claim of GOP belief in democracy is completely exposed as the farce it is, it’s easier to face—and in some ways easier to fight. I no longer feel quite so enraged by Republican lies, hypocrisy, and other crimes, because we no longer even pretend to believe in the same values or form of government. We are fast approaching the point where there’s no denying that we live in an unrepentant authoritarian state, ruled by a maliciously ignorant manchild whom the party happily uses to advance its hateful agenda, in return for which they allow him to enrich himself and his brood, and shield him from rightful legal accountability.

Yeah, that sounds like what the Founders had in mind in 1787, doesn’t it?

And if Trump manages to win again in 2020, legitimately or otherwise, the idea of Donald unchained in a second term is a truly chilling one. His acquittal itself will do grievous damage to the republic; if he subsequently gets four more years, it is fair to ask whether our republic will survive at all in any kind of recognizable form.

If we do not act to hold Trump accountable, either through removal by impeachment or by electoral defeat, his behavior will continue and indeed get worse. Indeed, it is continuing even now. Even as the impeachment barrels forward, Rudy Giuliani was just on the ground in Ukraine continuing to engage in the very behavior that has put this presidency at existential risk. It was a gobsmacking sight. But this administration is giving the finger not only to the impeachment inquiry but the rule of law full stop, knowing that the GOP has its back, and thus planting the flag of autocracy on the White House lawn. And sixty-some million Americans seem perfectly fine with that.

Until that changes, this nightmare will continue.

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Illustration: LP cover of George Harrison’s Wonderwall Music (1968), by Bob Gill. (Read more about the creative friction in its gestation and the reason for the missing brick.)