Tag Archives: Trump

Most Disturbing Statements Since Trump Was Elected

According to a recent report in Axios, cited by CNN’s Chris Cillizza, Donald Trump’s personal attorney, John Dowd, recently said the “President cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case.” http://cnn.it/2AUcpAw  That extraordinary claim has now been repeated in even more stark terms by the President (not mine) himself: ““I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,” Trump asserted in a widely reported interview with the New York Times. My emphasis on “absolute right,” because this is the type of claim made by dictators and kings. Under the Constitution there are few, if any, absolute rights and the right to break the law is certainly not one of them.

By extension, Trump’s principle leads to this: since every governor is likely the chief law enforcement officer in a state, the governor cannot obstruct justice under state law by interfering with the independence of the state office of attorney general.  And, since the police chief is the chief law enforcement officer in a city, he cannot obstruct justice either, no matter what he does or no matter what inspires him to act (e.g., here’s $100,000 to stop my friend (or me) from being prosecuted)? Or is it the mayor? Or both? Does Trump really believe that all these people are above the law and may interfere in investigations and prosecutions that could lead to themselves as targets? If that is the state of things, and you add up how many powerful people that involves, with command over the military, National Guard and police, you have the makings of tyranny and dictatorship.

Most likely, Trump never thought about the implications of his statement which he probably sees as applicable only to himself in his capacity as the supreme being.

Mr. Dowd, in his capacity as Trump’s lawyer, is entitled, of course, to make what are sometimes called “extension of law” arguments to support his client’s position, even if, as I believe is true here, the argument is pure poppycock. It is fundamental that a statement (read “expression of view”) made in one context may be harmless but pure poison if said to the wrong person or in a different context. Is the President merely expressing his opinion when he says to the head of the FBI “I sure wish you would let the Flynn thing slide,” and then fires the Director when he does not comply?

One might have pause over this in light of the supporting statements of Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz (disclosure: I studied First Year Criminal Law under him). Dershowitz, however, as smart as he is, is not infallible. His position reminds me of some of the ultra-fine point-making for which law school classes were notoriously famous and are fine in an academic setting. In the real world we inhabit now, it proves way too much to say that the President of the United States is essentially immune from the law against obstruction of justice.

Dershowitz seems to be saying the President is “merely” exercising his Constitutional authority when he, for example, countermands a potential criminal prosecution or, for another, pardons himself or pardons targeted members of his staff even before they are charged with anything. He argues that no president has ever been charged for doing so. So what? Perhaps Special Prosecutor Mueller will be the first. There is always a first time and Trump seems primed to be it.

Obstruction seems just the kind of “high crime” that the Constitution’s impeachment provision was intended to expose to sanction by Congress and by law enforcement after impeachment succeeds.

This “I am the law” approach to governance is precisely what the Founders of the country were trying to overcome in fashioning a constitutional republic of laws, not of men. It was the essential lawlessness of the King of England, whose decrees were final and not subject to question, that the Founders intended to prevent when the office of the President of the United States was created with a provision for impeachment of the President for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” For a short, but incisive, treatment of this subject, read Impeachment, A Citizen’s Guide, by Cass Sunstein. [Note: I expect to discuss that, and some related books, in a forthcoming post.]

Mr. Dowd’s/Trump’s view that the President is both “the law” and “above the law” poses a threat to every American, including those who still think, if that word can be used here, that Trump is infallible. In this country, no one is immune from the reach of the law for crimes committed, including obstruction of justice.

No doubt an impeachment action based on obstruction of justice, collusion with enemies of the country, would end up in the Supreme Court pretty fast because Trump will never yield no matter how compelling the evidence. So, Mr. Mueller, the world turns its eyes to you. Whenever you’re ready. Bring it.

And Happy New Year.

More Republican Legislating in Secrecy

The Republican “tax reform” plan is now public. The details, such as they are, appear throughout the media, so I won’t repeat them here.

My point isn’t so much about the terrible concepts underlying the plan as it is about the way, yet again, that the Republicans have chosen to go about the business of legislating. They created this “plan” on their own and intend, it seems, to mark it up and force it through the Congress without hearings or other meaningful opportunities for input, except, or course by the lobbyists for the large corporations and the very rich.

That is not to say that reductions in the corporate tax rate are a bad idea; frankly, I am not sure about that, except to say that the claims of massive economic growth and production of new jobs are ludicrously overstated.

No, the point I struggle to make is that this is a really bad way to legislate on any matter of great public importance, of which the country’s revenue-raising system surely is a classic example. It seems that the Republican leadership is more concerned with delivering a “victory” to their failing president than they are about anything else. In doing so, they are turning their backs on Republican fiscal responsibility doctrine, thereby making complete their surrender to the chaos politics of their chosen leader.

Here is a relevant portion of the 2016 Republican Platform on which Donald Trump was ostensibly elected:

Our Tax Principles

To ensure that past abuses will not be repeated, we assert these fundamental principles. We oppose retroactive taxation. We condemn attempts by activist judges at any level of government to seize the power of the purse from the people’s elected representatives by ordering higher taxes. [???]

We oppose tax policies that deliberately divide Americans or promote class warfare. Because of the vital role of religious organizations, charities, and fraternal benevolent societies in fostering generosity and patriotism, they should not be subject to taxation and donations to them should remain deductible. To guard against hypertaxation of the American people in any restructuring of the federal tax system, any value added tax or national sales tax must be tied to the simultaneous repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment, which established the federal income tax….

The huge increase in the national debt demanded by and incurred during the current Administration has placed a significant burden on future generations. We must impose firm caps on future debt, accelerate the repayment of the trillions we now owe in order to reaffirm our principles of responsible and limited government, and remove the burdens we are placing on future generations.

You don’t need a PhD in the dismal science [economics, for the blessedly unacquainted] to see that those principles are going to be sacrificed by a tax regime that increases the deficit by something in the neighborhood of $1.5 trillion.

Someone once said that desperate times require desperate measures. However, the economy is growing robustly and there is no known rationale for a massive deficit-based stimulus.

In any case, I digress. All these arguments can be debated but not without actually having a debate. The Republicans are set upon a course that replicates their multiple failed attempts to eviscerate the health care insurance marketplace. No hearings, no public input, just an ideologically driven attempt to remake the country in the image of Donald Trump. The Republican tax plan is not going to do much, if anything, for the vast majority of Trump’s acolytes, but they seem unaware and uncaring. The cult of personality trumps (sorry) everything for them.

There is, however, an opportunity coming up in 2018 for the country to save itself from the demagoguery of this administration and its congressional enablers by returning control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats. That chance depends upon, among other things, whether the Democrats can stop bickering long enough to vote. And, of course, there is the slow burning fuse of investigations by Special Prosecutor Mueller, drawing ever closer to the center. The only question is whether it will be in time. Tick tick tick ….

Twitch Your Eyes So They Think You’re Crazy

Imagine, if you will, that Donald Trump and family/hangers-on are in a bar planning further destruction of the poor and middle classes. Some immigrant waiters have accused the group of cheating on their taxes and undermining the Constitution. Trump’s gang doesn’t take kindly to being told the truth. The two groups are about to tangle.

The bar doors swing open and in walks Sheriff Mueller, dressed in black and sporting double holsters marked “subpoenas” and “indictments.” The Sheriff counts off his steps as he approaches the group and says softly, “it about time you boys got out of town.” They laugh. The National Marshall is on Trump’s payroll and Trump and team are sure they are above the law.

This is, of course, fiction, except for the part about Trump and team being sure they are above the law. And, further, I didn’t make this up by myself.

In case you haven’t seen it, GEICO this year produced a great ad called the “Cowboy Showdown.” You can see it at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOG8AFPQcM4.  The basic idea is that in a typical Western bar scene, the sheriff confronts a scruffy trio of cowboys who have just been accused of card cheating. The sheriff tells the thugs that it’s time they got out of town, a demand met with hostile mirth by the cowboys. The sheriff then speaks his “left foot, right foot” steps as he moves in closer and then, in a close-up, says “Twitch your eyes so they think you’re crazy.” He does, as uncertainty spreads on the faces of the cowboys. And so on.

The ad’s humor resonates because almost everyone has seen variants of the scene in old western movies performed straight and serious.

The announcement of the indictment of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates reminded me of the ad, which in my view ranks right up there with the camel ad demanding that office employees acknowledge that it is “hump day” (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LtjzQaFZ3k).  The charges follow close behind Trump’s recent tweets chastising the Secretary of State for trying to negotiate a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear threat. In case you missed them, Trump tweeted: “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…,” followed by “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”

This follows other tweets in which Trump has threatened the total annihilation of North Korea, amidst name-calling reminiscent of school-yard behavior of grammar school boys.

The connection between the GEICO ad and Trump’s Tillerson take-down is that this is how Trump negotiates. The sheriff is outnumbered three-to-one and is trying to intimidate the cowboys into giving up their advantage by indicating he is nuts and may do something irrational and unexpected. This spooks them into a state of uncertainty and weakness. However, the sheriff, at the end of the ad, is still outnumbered and in a precarious situation.

This how Trump negotiates – make the other side think you’re irrational and capable of anything, in this case undermining the credibility of your official representative, and thus may at any moment unleash the full fury of American military power against a sitting-duck North Korea.

The “I may be crazy so you better be careful” strategy is not uncommon in business and other negotiations, as you know if you have experience with negotiating in high-stress situations. But the strategy rarely leads to good outcomes against experienced negotiators who are familiar with the approach and know now to deal with it. The outcome can only be positive if the other side responds rationally. If the other side is genuinely bonkers too, the outcome can quickly lead to mutually catastrophic results.

In the case of North Korea, it seems highly likely that Kim Jong-un has, at best, a severely distorted view of the United States and the political system that produced Donald Trump as president. Many people in the West see this confrontation as the worst-case scenario in which a demented, angry and generally ineffectual Trump acts out his fantasies and gets the world into a nuclear confrontation that could be avoided by adult behavior. If both Trump and Kim Jong-un are indeed crazy, as much evidence suggests, we are in a boatload of trouble as a civilization.

The case establishing that Trump may be insane is growing with every passing day. He has now threatened to abort the Iran nuclear deal, dumping it into the lap of Congress, because, most likely, he has no real idea what to do. He has threatened to cut off assistance to Puerto Rico which, according to multiple credible accounts, is in a humanitarian crisis unlike anything ever experienced in modern times. Trump seems unaware that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Or maybe he just doesn’t give a damn. They are, after all, not like the people who elected him.

And now, frustrated that the Republican-dominated Congress cannot fulfill his promise to end the Affordable Care Act, Trump also is ending the billions in federal subsidies that make it possible for the health insurance marketplaces to offer meaningful insurance for the millions of people most in need of it.

Trump’s presidency is the work of an incompetent and likely irrational madman. If not crazy in the clinical sense, he is unhinged from reality a substantial part of the time. He does not understand government, has failed to staff multiple critical leadership positions throughout the government and spends a huge amount of time golfing. He still lies constantly and is unnaturally obsessed with Hillary Clinton and with undoing everything President Obama accomplished. He is in constant conflict many of his “advisors” in the White House. Most importantly, he is set upon undermining the free press which is protected by the very same Constitution he swore to uphold on January 20.

Trump’s “eye-twitching” is the real deal, not make-believe or only for effect. He is the only president in history who took the oath of office knowing that his real intent was to undermine the federal government. His uber-entitled cabinet members, when they’re not undermining environmental protections, are flying around on private jets. His coterie of family members and true believers are enriching themselves at the expense of everyone else.

As one commentator has accurately observed,

It’s become standard for reports coming from the inside of the White House to acknowledge, slyly at first but now overtly, that Trump is in constant need of managing. He believes false reports and refuses to read truthful ones. He lashes out at anyone who hasn’t lied for him adequately. There are now entire reports devoted to his rage, his anger, his madness and his inability to accept responsibility. [http://slate.me/2ggY2xy, bold in original]

This is the situation for which the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1967, was designed. Whether or not he is a moron, as the Secretary of State recently labelled him, and even if not “crazy” in the clinical sense, he is certainly mentally unstable and incapable of responsibly executing the duties of the high office he occupies. Recall that he has access to the nuclear firing codes and is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

Unfortunately, the 25th Amendment, drafted by a senior senator from Indiana with the counsel of a constitutional law professor at Fordham, contains much vague language that makes invocation even more fraught than it would, in all events, be. It has also led to some sloppy analysis and commentary about what the amendment means. There are, for example, two alternative means for removing the president due to inability to perform. Sometimes, they are conflated by well-intentioned commenters on this most serious of constitutional questions.

One method is that the “Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments” (i.e., the Cabinet) may declare in writing that “the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” In that case, the “Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

The amendment then states that the President can make a written declaration that he no longer has an “inability,” at which point he resumes his office, unless the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet declare in writing that the President continues to be “unable” to do his job. In the case of such conflicting declarations, Congress must decide. That decision requires a two-thirds vote (known as a super-majority) of both the House and the Senate. If Congress concurs with the Vice President-Cabinet majority, the Vice President remains Acting President; if not, the President resumes his office.

It seems pretty clear that the crafters of the amendment did not want to make it easy to remove a president. That was probably wise, but now the unthinkable has happened. A president with the emotional makeup of a ten-year-old has been elected and the Republican Party is prepared to support him no matter what he does.

This brings us to the second method of removal under the 25th Amendment. To understand it, you simply substitute “a majority of … the principal officers of … such other body as Congress may by law provide” for the ‘a majority of the Cabinet.’ Everything else in the written declarations process remains the same, including the role of Congress to resolve conflicts between the President and either the Vice President-Cabinet majority or the “Vice President and other-body” majority.

This appears to be a dead letter because Congress has never created that “other body” with a group of “principal officers” who could vote on the President’s “inability” to do his job.

It may occur to you that there is a potential circularity in the alternative method. This appears so because the Congressional creation of the alternative body must be provided “by law” enacted by Congress. Since Congress cannot by itself enact a law, it could be argued that the alternative body can only be created with the cooperation of the sitting president who must sign the legislation. No one would expect a sitting president expecting a political attack by his own Cabinet would ever sign such legislation to make it easier to remove him. The answer, I believe, is the second method probably would have to be set up by a responsible and rational president who was not expecting a removal effort against him. Once the president has become irrational, he simply won’t cooperate with the Congress on any alternative removal mechanism and, thus, the alternative removal mechanism could not be used.

The apparent assumption of the drafters of the 25th that the President and the Congress would always act in advance of a crisis and do so responsibly seems naïve in the current context. In any case Congress has never passed a law to create the alternative body to address the “inability” of the President to perform his duties and, in the present political setting, it is unlikely to do so.

Where, then, do we end up? With Sheriff Mueller securing indictments. The Republicans and their news agents at Fox News are, naturally, parroting Trump’s continuous efforts to deflect attention elsewhere, usually to Hillary Clinton. Like some B-grade crime movie, Trump keeps screaming, via Twitter, “look, look, it’s not me/us, she’s getting away! Get her!”

At this point it’s a bit late for Trump and his gang to get out of town, so Sheriff Mueller will just have to finish the job he started. Trump and Fox will continue to try to undermine him. Maybe Trump will try to fire him. That would be a fatal mistake. If Trump is counting on the Sheriff to blink first, that also is a mistake. Manafort is in for a rough spell if he is found guilty, so maybe he will do the smart thing and start telling the truth. Then whose eyes will be twitching?

Trump Orders Three Dragons Sent to Puerto Rico

Faced with growing criticism about his ignoring the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, President Trump, according to sources in the White House, ordered three dragons sent to Puerto Rico to re-establish law and order and help with recovery efforts.

According to inside sources, speaking anonymously because they are not authorized to talk about the U.S. dragons, the President became enraged when informed that one of the dragons was out of commission and that the others were on break following some taxing fire-breathing in a battle that the Pentagon is denying ever happened. “Dammit to hell, this is what happens when you let the Dothraki into the military!” Trump was reported to have said. No one knew owning dragons could be so complicated. No one on the White House staff will even admit that the U.S. has dragons, probably fearful of tipping off North Korea.

Trump told one source that he was planning a personal visit to Puerto Rico to assess the damage, but that he couldn’t go until he completed his next golf round at Mar-a-Lago, scheduled for next Thursday. “Scott Pruitt, Steve Mnuchin and Tom Price are flying down to play with me and it’s very important, believe me,” Trump said. “Each of the Cabinet members will be taking a separate private jet, for, you know, security reasons.”

Asked about his relationship with Price, Trump grumped, “Hell, I didn’t fire Jeff Sessions for lying to Congress and then refusing to cover me on the Comey thing, so why would I would fire my buddy Price over a little thing like a private airplane trip or two. Hell, I fly private all the time and look at me, I’m the damn president.” [see  BREAKING NEWS ITEM AT THE END]

When told that the 3.4 million people in Puerto Rico were American citizens, Trump was incredulous. At last report the president was planning a weekend tweet-storm to distract attention from Puerto Rico. At press time the subject of the tweets was still undecided.

Unfortunately for Trump, and American taxpayers, a fourth member of the Trump Cabinet, Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior, was also implicated in the luxury travel scandal, which he called “a little BS.” Zinke was interviewed while bailing hay for three of the horses kept in his $500,000 private stable which is accessible by elevator directly from his office at the Interior Department. “Look, I bail my own hay so the government won’t have to pay for it.”

The president said he had tried to speak with Scott Pruitt about his use of luxury travel for government business but Pruitt was inside his private in-suite $25,000 soundproof booth and could not be reached by his staff or anyone else. No one knows who he has been talking to in there.

It is expected that the subject of dragons for Puerto Rico will be discussed at a high-level meeting at the Pentagon this weekend. Trump will miss the meeting but probably will get a briefing some time when it’s convenient. Meanwhile, he has assured everyone that things in Puerto Rico are coming along just great.

BREAKING NEWS:  Tom Price has resigned. Another of the president’s “men” is out. The exodus continues. Can Pruitt and Zinke survive under these circumstances? What about Mnuchin? What about Mnuchin’s wedding? What about Jared’s emails? What does Zinke’s horse know? Why does Pruitt need a battalion of Secret Service protection? Is he afraid of Trump? When will enough be enough?

Once More into the Breach, Dear Friends

Unchastened by multiple past failures of leadership and intellect, the Republicans in Congress have signaled their intention to bring one more piece of “repeal Obamacare” legislation to a vote before the month is out, so as to secure the benefit of a 50-votes-wins procedure. This time it’s the Graham-Cassidy version that would replace the Affordable Care Act with block grants to the states which would then be free, individually, to permit insurers to effectively price out of existence the coverage for pre-existing conditions that is now mandated by federal law. They will do this even without scoring of the impact by the Congressional Budget Office.

Thus, each state that chooses to support the Republican goal of undermining access to health insurance for Americans in order to secure some vague idea of “fiscal responsibility” and, more truthfully, to stamp out perceived federal support for such practices as abortion, can do whatever it wants with access to health insurance. This, notwithstanding that all polling shows a substantial majority of Americans favor key elements of Obamacare protections, including coverage for pre-existing conditions.

This effort is urged on the Republican Party by its putative leader, Donald Trump, who hates everything associated with Barack Obama and is determined to remove all vestiges of Obama’s presidency from the face of the earth. Trump thinks he can’t lose here because he promised his so-called political “base” that he would get rid of Obamacare. If he succeeds, and the base delusionally concludes it’s a victory for them, Trump is a hero. If Congress cannot deliver the bill to him for signature, Trump still sees himself as the winner because it is Congress’s failure, yet again, that has denied him fulfillment.

And nothing is more important to Trump than winning. So far, his presidency has failed in almost every significant initiative it has attempted, so Trump is desperate to accomplish something, anything, regardless of the consequences.

It is time, once again, for the people to rise up and reject this outrage by demanding in the clearest way possible that every member of the Republican Party in Congress vote against this monstrosity. Almost all of them will disrespect the will of the people, of course, because in the end they don’t give a damn about the people. But there are a few, literally only a few, Republicans who have previously shown the courage and humanity to stand apart from the rest of the drones.

Here we have Senators McCain (Arizona), Collins (Maine) and Murkowski (Alaska). It comes down to the same three people to demonstrate the moral fiber and independence of thought and action that history now demands of them. Senator Paul of Kentucky has already said he is opposed to the bill, but you can’t count on him to stay that course. He hates the Affordable Care Act almost as much as Trump does.

Everyone who cares about this should lay down a barrage of calls, emails, tweets and posts calling on those three to stand, once more, as the bulwark against the depravity of the Republican Party and its attempt to deny tens of millions of Americans any modicum of real access to health insurance.

Trump Makes It All Clear – He is a Traitor to American Values

I don’t know if I have anything important to say that has not already been said by the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of writers, commentators, pundits, Tweeters and others who are repelled by the overt alliance of the President of the United States with white supremacists and so-called alt-right neo-Nazis. Nevertheless, I must write about Charlottesville.

As background you may want to revisit my related post at https://shiningseausa.com/2017/05/09/visiting-holocaust-museum/

I am an old white man, the beneficiary of white privilege. A beneficiary of the reduced competition for jobs and other societal benefits by virtue of the systematic and relentless suppression of blacks and other minorities over the more-than-a-century since the end of the Civil War. I am the beneficiary of the sacrifices of millions of people, citizens, soldiers, doctors and many others who gave their time, their career opportunities, parts of their bodies and minds and, of course, their very lives to prevent the Nazis of 1930s-1940s Germany from dominating the world and destroying absolutely and finally what they believed were inferior cultures. If you reflect on this, you too should be aware of these “gifts” from past generations that have made your life of privilege possible.

These gifts were not intended to preserve America for white people alone, but to protect the country, and its culture, from destruction at the hands of a delusional lunatic who preyed on the fears of his countrymen to create a killing machine of unparalleled cruelty that still defines the phrase “crimes against humanity.” Despite that, it is also true that, at the time of World War II, the United States itself still practiced multiple forms of overt institutional and legally-reinforced racial discrimination. The country had not yet come to grips with its conflicted legacy of democratic values and abuse of non-whites. The post-War recovery, however, helped create conditions in which the discriminatory “rules” of Jim Crow were rejected and the American values expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution began to take hold.

The process was not peaceful. If you recall the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision abolishing school segregation, many whites resisted violently the idea that minorities, primarily Blacks at that time, would be given opportunities equal to those they and their ancestors had enjoyed all their lives. Violent resistance to the Civil Rights Movement was powerful but gradually, over years, the progressive forces favoring equal opportunity were successful in inserting the founding principles of the country into legislation and court decisions.

Slowly, the American creed, reflected in pledges of allegiance and other rituals that I recall from my earliest school days, became reality. Blacks and other minorities began to secure employment previously reserved to whites. They began to run for public office and to win elections. Eventually, the country elected a black man to be President of the United States.

Many liberals concluded that racism had largely been banished from American society. They were wrong. The election of Barack Obama seems to have been a turning point, inspiring a broad-based rejection of the progressive ideas he espoused. The leadership of the Republican Party made clear they would stop at nothing to prevent him from being successful in leading the country. They fought him at every turn. And the forces of conservative Republican hostility captured control of a majority of governorships and state legislatures.

And then they elected Donald Trump to the presidency. Trump is seemingly oblivious to history and incapable of making even rudimentary distinctions between dissimilar events. Charlottesville is just the latest example, but it establishes beyond doubt that Trump is, deep down, a racist.  Or, if, as many of his supporters have argued, he is just playing politics to please his base and “really doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,” then he is a racist. You cannot play the role in real life and escape the label. Behave like a racist and you are one. No matter what you may “believe” deep down.

In Charlottesville, there were two different but related phenomena involved. One was the desire of some people to oppose through protest the removal of Confederate memorials that they claim to believe are legitimate and valuable elements of American history worthy of open public preservation. I disagree vehemently with that view but I can understand how some people of good will might disagree and hold an intellectually opposite, but honest view about how history should be acknowledged. For present purposes, I will assume that there were some (a very few) such people intermingled with the white supremacist/KKK/neo-Nazi marchers carrying torches and chanting Nazi slogans and giving Nazi salutes in Charlottesville.

But what is completely untenable and unacceptable is that the presence of the few presumed people with a legitimate, if ill-conceived, position on removal of Confederate memorials can change the fundamental anti-American nature of the protest. Anyone with a legitimate position to assert on removal of Confederate memorials should have removed themselves immediately from the field of play when the torches came out and the chanting/saluting began.

No amount of rhetoric from Donald Trump can lift up legitimate protesters in this crowd by saying there were “good people on both sides.” The good people, if they were there, bear responsibility for aligning themselves with the neo-Nazis. To a large degree, you are who you associate with. By trying to equate the “good people” with the Nazis, Trump has revealed for all to see that his sympathies are with the alt-Right neo-Nazis.

The other phenomenon is the neo-Nazis themselves who were there on pretext of protesting the removal of the memorials but were equating those efforts with an attempt to eliminate them from society. It should be easy for the President of the United States to distinguish between the legitimate protesters against removal of memorials (a tiny fraction of the total even under my generous assumptions) and the neo-Nazis.

Belief is, I suggest, a matter of choice. We believe what we choose to believe. Trump has made his choice and voiced it publicly, following a brief period of trying to acknowledge, under intense pressure, who the real bad guys were, and, again under pressure, reading a prepared script to try to overcome his racist rant from the day before. Ultimately, he could not stand aligning himself with the good guys. He likes what the neo-Nazis stand for and he has made that as plain as possible.

I have seen multiple references in articles and statements that the “President made a big mistake” and “it’s unfortunate the President wasn’t clearer about what he really meant” and so on. There is a word for this but I won’t use it here. Suffice to say that this was no “mistake.” To suggest that it was is to see the issue as one of political strategy rather than what it really is: a question of morality and societal norms. Trump often says he “tells it like it is.” Most of the time, that phrase is followed by a demonstrable lie, but in this case, it is clear beyond doubt that Trump has spoken his true mind. He approves of the Nazis. He continues to tweet about what he perceives as a loss of history and culture.

Well, Mr. President, (I choke on that phrase in your case), the only culture being affected by removal of these Confederate memorials is the culture that said it was acceptable for people to own other humans as slaves, that it was OK to treat people as mere property to be disposed of as the owner saw fit. If, as is now clear, that is what bothers you about removing the memorials, then you have, at long last, self-identified as a prototypical racist, and you cannot escape with scripted denials days after the fact.

The neo-Nazi point of view is as delusional now as it was when Adolf Hitler espoused racial purity of the Aryan race as the rationale for killing millions of people. You must be among the most illiterate or willfully stupid people on earth to be unaware of the distinctions between the social/cultural history of the United States at its founding and the situation today. You, like the admirers of Confederates who took up arms against the country, you, like the founders who resisted every effort to address the slavery question in the original Constitution, you, sir, are a traitor to what this country stands for. How dare you attempt to equate George Washington and Thomas Jefferson with the Nazis marching in Charlottesville? You are a disgrace to this country and you should resign immediately.

Apologies to readers for the length of this post. On my birthday, I get to do what I need to do.

The Sound of Fear, Starring the Trump Family Deniers

The latest revelation about the collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is about a meeting attended by the campaign manager Manafort, Trump Son No. 1, Donald Jr., and Trump-in-Law Jared Kushner. I won’t waste your time with the details which were first reported by the New York Times, a newspaper of global fame to which the Trump family has been notably hostile. Maybe not a good move on their part.

I want instead to focus on the narrative that the Trump Family, and its enablers like Kellyanne Conway, have tried to spin in response to the now-admitted meeting whose stated-in-advance purpose was to secure dirt on Hillary Clinton that was sourced in the Russian government. That narrative has a familiar ring as it seems to follow almost exactly the concept of “alternative pleading” that law students learn about in courses on trial practice.

The idea of alternative pleading is that since, in the early stages of a lawsuit, you don’t know for sure how things are going to play out, you, as the defendant accused of some wrongdoing are entitled by rules of court to plead alternative defenses, including defenses that are inconsistent with each other. The evidence will then show what it shows and some defenses will fail while others may succeed. To some extent it resembles the old saw about throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks.

To illustrate, suppose a lawsuit is filed against D claiming D’s conduct was the proximate cause of injury to plaintiff P resulting in damages of X amount, which P therefore is entitled to recover from D. D’s typical first step is to move to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. That is, in simple English, even if everything alleged by P is true, there was nothing wrong with D’s conduct and thus the suit should be dismissed. A “fake suit” in current Trumpian parlance.

Kellyanne Conway, among others, has made this precise argument: even if Junior was seeking dirt on Clinton, this is politics and there was nothing wrong with seeking such dirt that might help the Trump campaign. But this argument ignores the fact that the source of the information was the Russian government, which suggests conspiracy with a foreign power to affect the outcome of an American election. Most rational people consider that seriously wrong, possibly criminally wrong.

So, what next? Faced with the revelations about Junior’s meeting, to which he has confessed publicly via the Family’s chosen medium, Twitter, the Trump Family Deniers change the tune, moving toward classical alternative pleading. First, the story was “there was no such meeting,” Then, if there was a meeting, I didn’t attend it. But if I did attend a meeting, it was a waste of time because we didn’t learn anything with which to smear Clinton so I left the meeting empty-handed. So, even if I did attend the meeting with the intention to do harm to Clinton, no harm to Clinton arose from my conduct, so everything is okeydokey. No harm, no foul. Finally, even if there were some harm, we were just amateurs at politics so we can and should be forgiven our sins and let bygones be ….

In a lawsuit, this sort of stairway to the basement approach is perfectly acceptable practice and the Trump Family Deniers’ playbook appears to follow it quite closely. The problem, of course, is that this is not a lawsuit, not yet anyway.

Instead, it is the early-to-middle stage of investigation into one of the greatest scandals in the history of American politics. One of the singular features of the scandal is that, from the very outset, during the campaign itself, Trump made no secret of his desire for assistance from Russia among others and no secret of his desire to buddy-up with Vladimir Putin (who will be featured in my next blog post). At the same time. Trump repeatedly denied there was any connection between him and Putin or between his campaign and anyone connected with the Russian government. His fame as liar-in-chief, thoroughly documented by many observers, led many to suspect that the denials were false.

Slowly but surely, more revelations of contacts between the Russians and the Trump campaign have emerged.  All the while Trump and his enablers, including Attorney General Sessions as well as several family members and key campaign players, have denied there is anything there. Their stories have changed over time, of course, as new revelations undermine the previous denials. This is starkly shown by the latest stories about Junior and Kushner meeting with a promised source of incriminating evidence on Clinton.

Even if it is true that the Russian lawyer with whom Junior/Kushner/Manafort met did not actually have any useful information and was really trying to influence Trump on the issue of adopting Russian children or to blunt the move to increase U.S. sanctions on Russia, the fact remains, and at this point appears to be undeniable and undenied, that the purpose of the gathering, from Junior’s point of view, was to seek Russian help in the battle with Clinton. And, of course, he wants everyone to believe that the President knew nothing of the meeting.

So craven are the enablers of the Trump Family Deniers that Ed Rogers, in an op-ed in the Washington Post this morning, http://wapo.st/2uaPmNy, singing the familiar tune “hysteria among the media,” argues that,

No senior campaign official, much less a family member of the candidate, should take such a meeting. Having the meeting was a rookie, amateur mistake. Between human curiosity and a campaign professional’s duty to get the dirt when you can, Trump Jr. likely felt that the person had to be heard. However, the meeting should have been handed off to a lackey. Said lackey would have then reported the scoop — or lack thereof — and awaited further instruction. [emphasis added]

What can one say after that? A fair reading of it, I suggest, is (1) perfect execution of “we were just amateurs at politics” defense, and (2) in a play right out of the Godfather, never send anyone from the family to do the dirty work and leave fingerprints; send in one of the stooge soldiers who can be sacrificed if necessary to protect the family, (3) seeking dirt from dirty sources like the Russian government is just good political fun, so what’s the problem?

This “win at any cost” mentality may be part of what led Trump to confess to Lester Holt in the now famous interview that he was going to fire FBI Director Comey because of Comey’s pursuit of the Trump-Russia connection regardless of what the leadership of the Department of Justice recommended. Trump and his very very rich family are accustomed to getting their way without arguments and if you do argue, you’re fired.

Maybe I’m being naïve about politics but I continue to struggle with understanding how the Republican Party can continue to support this president, given that he has no real connection to conservative political values that have driven the Republican Party historically and is making a complete hash of the office of the President. He has accomplished nothing of positive significance since taking office six months ago while destroying international relationships that have sustained world peace for decades. More about this in the next post.