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.
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.”