Tag Archives: Pelosi

Whistling by the Graveyard

On August 25, 2018, the New York Times published a “News Analysis” of Donald Trump’s treatment of the American legal system:  Trump’s War on the Justice System Threatens to Erode Trust in the Law, by Michael D. Shear and Katie Benner. https://nyti.ms/2oINv1V

The piece opens with this:

In his attempt at self-defense amid the swirl of legal cases and investigations involving himself, his aides and his associates, Mr. Trump is directly undermining the people and processes that are the foundation of the nation’s administration of justice.

The result is a president at war with the law.

Further, and presciently,

The president’s public judgments about the country’s top law enforcement agencies revolve largely around how their actions affect him personally – a vision that would recast the traditionally independent justice system as a guardian of the president and an attack dog against his adversaries.

The comment ends with this:

“No matter when this all ends, Trump will have caused long-lasting damage to the ability of the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to execute on its mission…. He is sacrificing our public safety and national security on the altar of his own ego.” [quoting Christopher Hunter, a former FBI agent and prosecutor]

Certainly, the authors could not have precisely foreseen how Trump’s approach to governance would lead to the present circumstances, but their overall impression of the direction of Trump’s presidency was stunningly accurate.

Now, perhaps emboldened by what he convinced himself was “exoneration” by Mueller and thus a free hand going forward, Trump has been caught out trying to use a foreign power to influence the 2020 election. And, the evidence is clear, Trump and his loyal team of lawyers, who were also allowed to skate by Mueller, have clumsily tried to cover up the president’s crimes by secreting the records in a computer system designed to contain only coded high-security information. Indications are that this is not the first time they have done this. As we have come to expect, Trump responded to all this by threatening his “enemies,” attacking the press and deflecting by inventing others’ offenses that he purports to expose.

All of that was simply too much for the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who called for an impeachment inquiry and had the votes to do it. Trump responded by declaring that Pelosi was no longer the Speaker of the House. This from a man who publicly swore a solemn oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Also, as we have come to expect, Republican enablers in and outside the White House rushed to Trump’s defense with all manner of false and hysterical claims. While the wagons were being circled, more news emerged, including that Secretary of State Pompeo was listening on the Trump-Zelensky call even though he indicated otherwise in television interviews. Trump is demanding to “face my accuser” and has said that the White House is trying to determine the whistleblower’s identity even though the governing law provides for protection of that individual’s identity. Trump supporters have offered a large cash award for anyone who will conclusively identify the whistleblower. Trump has not repudiated them for this action, arguably putting the whistleblower’s life in danger.

And so it goes. Meanwhile, the Editorial Board of the New York Times and the editors of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch have both called for Trump to resign. Likely, other major newspapers will join the list. What goes around ….

The Times if, of course, still trying for “journalistic balance,” by giving print space to defenders of Trump to make their case. The same Sunday that the Times printed “The Allegations Are Grave. An Election Is at Risk. The Founders Were Clear,” a half-page op-ed appeared, entitled “Impeachment Is an Act of Desperation,” by Christopher Buskirk, publisher and editor of the very conservative website American Greatness. Buskirk’s argument is the reason for the title of this post.

Buskirk posits that by proceeding with an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s conduct, the Democrats are playing into the Republicans’ hands and assuring Trump of victory in 2020. Why? Because (1) “we’ve all been down this road before” and nothing Trump has done or said so far has affected his support that “has bounced around in more or less the same range since he took office,” (2) what about Hunter Biden in Ukraine? (3) impeachment “success requires broad public support,” and (4) Democrats can only beat Trump by focusing on the issues.

The corollary to the first point is that “there will be no resignation, there will be no conviction in the Senate.” That is probably true, but it misses the point that Trump’s conduct is so egregious across a broad range of areas and issues that a well-presented impeachment case in the House will serve the Democratic agenda in 2020 as well or better than any candidate on her/his own. It also ignores the Democratic sweep of House seats, and return to a majority there, in 2018. Finally, to claim that Trump’s popularity has not been affected by his prior egregious acts in office ignores the reality that his “popularity” is very low. These are not the likely elements of a winning position.

Buskirk’s second point is the classic Republican trope transplanted from Barack Obama (the usual target of Trump ego-angst) to Joe and Hunter Biden. But, no matter what the Bidens may have done in Ukraine, and so far there is no evidence of wrongdoing, a point made repeatedly by past and present Ukrainian officials with reason to know, it would not justify Trump’s attempt to arm-twist a foreign government into investigating a domestic political opponent. Except for self-defense against physical threats, American law does not support a defense that “someone else broke the law so I can too.” This is essentially the “Hillary’s emails” defense and it’s worthless. As Yogi Berra famously said, it’s déjà vu all over again.

Buskirk’s third point – impeachment success requires broad public support – is, I believe, simply wrong. Impeachment requires only a smartly executed process of compiling and presenting for public viewing the evidence of corruption in the multiple scenarios in which Trump has acted as if he were above the law. But even if Buskirk’s claim is right, we are in early days and it’s premature to conclude that the public won’t get on board as the evidence of Trump’s venality and illegality is presented. Again, this assumes the presentation is properly done. I have argued repeatedly that this must not turn into another political show with politicians sitting on the House committees trying to act like practicing prosecutors. Develop a list of “points to be proved” and leave the questioning to experts that know how to do it.

Finally, the fourth point that defeating Trump requires beating him on the “issues,” is an attempt to divert attention from what is at the root of the current mess. Trump has willfully violated a serious federal law designed to protect American elections from foreign interference and then tried to cover it up. Moving the records to a secret computer for coded security information is functionally equivalent to Richard Nixon’s deletion of 18.5 minutes of tapes involving a crucial meeting between the President and his Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, the revelation of which ultimately destroyed Nixon’s support in the Senate and forced his resignation prior to being impeached and removed. Trump’s crimes are extremely serious and they follow a thoroughly documented showing of at least 10 prior instances of criminal obstruction of justice in the Mueller Report. He was only saved from indictment by Mueller because the Department of Justice, dubiously, has opined that a sitting president may not be indicted.

Buskirk argues that impeachment of Trump now is just “political theater” and “more Washington psychodrama.” He claims the voters are simply uninterested in the crimes Trump may have committed and that they “just want to know what Washington is going to do for them.”

Methinks Buskirk has it backwards. Trump’s most ardent supporters seem only interested in political theater. The proof is evident in the endless tapes of Trump’s rallies that have little or nothing to do with “issues” and everything to do with performance. Trump is a star in that crowd because … he’s a star. He gives voice to their anger and fear and they see no irony in the fact that he is rich and unlike them in almost every way. He does not really share their fear and anger; he puts on the show they came to see and they love him for it even though the hard evidence is that he has done virtually nothing to make their lives better.

And that is the ultimate point. Even if Buskirk’s assessment regarding the “issues” is correct, it fails to reckon with Trump’s massive and ongoing failure to deliver on most of his electoral promises. If indeed it is only “issues” that will motivate the voters, and Trump’s illegal and immoral conduct of the Office of President and multiple violations of his oath of office are not “issues” of interest or force in the election, Trump’s performance still fails. Most of his governance actions are for “show” to impress his political base but it is not a stretch to show how he has failed to deliver.

So, is impeachment a mistake? I don’t think so. Democrats have been handed a weapon by Trump that needs to be used with surgical precision. We have a criminal in the White House, a person who does not respect the office he holds or guiding principles of the government he swore to serve. It should not be hard for the Democrats to show this to the electorate in a compelling way, to motivate their own base to go the polls in 2020 and, if Donald Trump still sits in the White House, to send him packing.

Breaking News: Massive Cave-in at White House

Here’s how it went down.

When Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, first learned that Trump was caving on the government shutdown and the fight over “wall funding,” he misunderstood and thought that one of Melania’s escape tunnels had collapsed. He soon learned the truth. Trump was backing down! This was mightily puzzling to McConnell who, despite leading one-half of the co-equal branch of government known as Congress, was in reality a vassal to his liege lord Trump and was being left out in the cold. What could possibly be going on?

McConnell ran to the White House to get instructions from the master negotiator himself, Donald J. Trump. Trump was, however, confused by his fight with the Democrats over funding for his promised “border wall” (or, as he now says, “whatever you want to call it”). Trump had repeatedly rejected border security funding proposals that did not include the “wall,” preferring to shut down the U.S. government and thereby show how tough a negotiator he is. Trump’s negotiating principle was: “give me what I want or I will hurt you … or someone else you care about.” You know, like a mob boss. Trump apparently believed that it would be effective to simply continue demanding the one thing the Democrats, in solid control of the House of Representatives, weren’t prepared to give, complaining all the while that the Democrats wouldn’t negotiate. McConnell was at a loss how to help his lord and master out of this jam.

Many theories exist about how to negotiate effectively. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of books have been devoted to the subject. The one tactic that virtually all negotiation authorities seem to agree on is that taking an extreme position at the outset and refusing to budge in order to get the other side to yield by simply repeating the position is the least effective approach to making a deal. Credible books on the subject devote considerable space to explaining how to deal with the “my way or the highway” negotiators because, despite their dismal record of results, there still are many “negotiators” who try the tactic.

Trump is a great example of this. By dint of his past position atop a real estate empire financed with other people’s money, he is accustomed to demanding and getting others to yield, lest he walk away or file a lawsuit (a favorite tactic). Surrounded by people eager to please, it appears no one told him that trying to negotiate by taking hostages and threatening to hurt them and continue hurting them is unlikely to lead to a favorable outcome. Even if someone told him, it’s unlikely he would have listened. Trump has made it clear many times that he already knows everything he needs to know about everything.

So, Trump shut down the government, loudly proclaiming that the shutdown was “on him” and no one else. Somehow, he thought that forcing hundreds of thousands of federal workers to either work for no pay (we’ll get back to you sometime later with your money) or stop working altogether without pay was going to force the Democrats led by the newly ensconced Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to yield and give him the wall money he wanted. Maybe he thought, “she’s a woman and cares about people, so she’ll crack. I don’t care about anyone but myself so I can outlast her.” Maybe he just thought she was a weak person, since he thinks most people, especially women, are weak compared to him. Maybe he just had too many hamberders and couldn’t think straight. We’ll never really know.

What we do know is that the hostages in Trump’s power play tended to blame him and the Republicans for their inability to do their jobs and pay their bills. Members of Trump’s cabinet, in their usual fashion, tried to prove their loyalty and come to his aid, by pointing out that federal workers without incomes could simply borrow from a bank or credit union. Another characterized the work of federal workers forced to labor without pay until an unknown future time as “volunteering.” The wife of one of Trump’s wealthy sons pointed out that while, yes, there was a “bit of pain” involved in being without an income, it was for a greater cause and thus everyone should be happy to sacrifice. And on and on and on. They gave new meaning to the phrase “tone deaf.” Future historians trying to explain this time will be stymied by the utter absurdity of the theater created by these buffoons, all appointed by or otherwise owned by Trump.

As the casualties piled up, and the airplanes began to stack up as air traffic control faltered due to inadequate staffing, Trump finally caved. He accepted a short term funding and reopening of the government with negotiations then to begin regarding border security. The same deal he would have had back in December and on multiple occasions since then.

In classic Trump fashion, of course, the cave in was accompanied by a meandering blathering incoherent speech about border security and, finally, a repeat of the same old threat: “give me what I demand or I will declare a national emergency, shut down the government again and build the wall with money I will steal from other parts of the federal budget.” Indeed, in a tweet following his Rose Garden speech, Trump flatly denied he had made a concession at all. He reframed his collapse as a decision to help the

“millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the Shutdown with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal is done, it’s off to the races!”

The “understanding” Trump refers to is only an illusion within his own mind, not something that involves third parties.

To remove any lingering doubts about that, the putative White House Press Secretary, who now has nothing to do but repeat Trump’s messages, tweeted:

In 21 days President @realDonaldTrump is moving forward building the wall with or without the Democrats. The only outstanding question is whether the Democrats want something or nothing. [emphasis added]

That must make sense to Sanders but for the life of me I don’t know what the hell she is saying. Someone I know well replied to her on Twitter with

Really? Trump caved to give Democrats another chance of yield to his demands? That’s your story?

So, apparently, if we’re to believe Trump this time, it’s still “my way or the highway” and this whole three-week suspension of the shutdown is only to help out the Democrats. Or the federal workers. Or somebody.

On that note, the “negotiations” will resume. Now, no one knows whether the courts will sustain a declaration of national emergency in these circumstances. Trump’s record in court is pretty bad, but this is largely uncharted territory. The data on border crossings do not appear to remotely support the idea that there is a national emergency but it remains to be seen whether the courts will simply defer to the “president’s authority” on this.

Of course, one must also wonder why, if Trump has the power to arbitrarily declare a national emergency, he would also have to shut down the government again. One may also wonder why, if he is so determined to build his wall, he doesn’t just use the powers he claims to already have and proceed to steal the money from some other budget item. But logic has never defined this presidency, so maybe that’s just a silly question. Or, just maybe, his legal advisors have warned him that he is on thin ice in claiming absolute power to build the wall on his own order. Again, we’ll likely never know what thought process, if any, actually underlies these twisted mental gymnastics. One thing we can reasonably be sure of – it’s not to help out the Democrats and it’s not about protecting federal workers, about whom Donald Trump gives not one … damn.

The other point to be made here was, I think, very well made in a Facebook post attributed to Dan Rather by the site, Truth Matters. Summarized, the argument is that to bring the issue of border security and the “wall” forward properly, Trump should have arranged for legislation to be introduced, after which hearings would be held, expert testimony collected and, ultimately, votes taken on the elements of a proper modern border security regime. In legislative terms, this would be called “regular order.” But, no, Trump thinks he is a dictator who can simply demand what he wants and everyone will yield as they did when he was in private life running his real estate companies.

The resistance led by Pelosi shows that at least one half of the Congress, under Democratic leadership, understands its proper constitutional role as balance against the executive. Trump thinks he’s going to win because he needs to satisfy his political base and he is blind to the reality that even some of that group of slavishly devoted followers were hurt by and disapprove of the government shutdown Trump directed and that he continues to threaten.

So, the negotiations will resume with Trump’s threat on the table: “do it my way or I will simply go around you.” This is not a formula for success and there is no reason for Democrats in the House to yield to this type of threat from the president. It is not in fact the Democrats who don’t want to negotiate – it is Trump who still insists “you will do it may way or else.”

I am not prescient and will not try to predict how this is going to come out, but it’s hard to be optimistic when one party takes the position of a 5-year old who won’t eat dinner unless he’s guaranteed two desserts.

When last seen, Mitch McConnell was seen standing in the cold in front of the White House holding a note addressed to the president. It read “My liege, what, oh what, do you want me to do now?”

Note: some of the above is satire but it’s impossible to know which part. It could all be true.