R.I.P. Republican Party

Over the last four years the Republican Party as a whole, but especially in Congress, lost its way.  They abandoned everything that they used to believe in in order to assuage the Tweeter-in-Chief.  As a result, the party has been on life support most of that time.  We can now call the time of death as Sunday 23 August, 2020.

The Republican Party is now officially a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump Family, Inc.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, on the eve of the Republican National Convention, the party announced that for the first time in its history, they would have no platform.  In a one page declaration of “whereases” assailing the media and affirming their enthusiasm for Mr. Trump, they concluded by saying,

Resolved, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda;

Resolved, That the 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention.”

I guess it boils down to “I’ll have what he’s having.”  More succinctly, the Republicans now publicly declare that they stand for nothing.  There is no official vision, plan, policy, or goal that they will try to achieve over the next four years.  Whatever the president says at the moment, is, I suppose, what they will do, even if tomorrow they need to reverse course when he changes his mind after seeing something on Fox News.  The Republicans will just wait around for a kingly pronouncement.

Unfortunately, Mr. Trump does not have a vision or plan for the future either.  In interview after interview on Fox News and other friendly venues, interviewers have tossed him softball questions as to what to expect over a possible second term.  So far, zilch, nada, zip, nothing.  His replies only have been rambling statements about past grievances, pet peeves, or “acing” a cognitive ability test.

I find it sad, and a bad omen for our country.  I believe firmly in the two party system as part of the checks and balances that keep our country on a relatively middle of the road path to the future.

Arguably, many past platforms may have been exercises in producing wish lists by those that write them.  More positively, they provide a blueprint, plan, policies and aspirational goals that the respective parties want to accomplish should they carry the election.  Now, according to their own document, there is nothing that the Republicans want to achieve other than whatever Mr. Donald J. Trump and his family declare in the moment that they should do.

The Republican Party is dead.  The Cult of Trump is alive and well.

The Republican National Convention is now nothing short of a coronation for Mr. Trump.  Indeed, Mr. Trump has repeatedly declared that the upcoming election would be “rigged.”  Yesterday, to kick off his convention, he declared that “the only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election.”  Think about that.  His party has given him carte blanche to do whatever he wants, and he publicly declares, repeatedly, that the only election result he will accept is if he wins.

That is a combination that should concern us all, especially given Mr. Trump’s increasingly lawless actions.

I do not wish to insult the intelligence or motives of those that support Mr. Trump.  It is a long American tradition to distrust the government, the media, and experts about anything and everything.  Mr. Trump is nothing else if not a salesman.  He knows how to tap into that resentment.  No matter the facts, or the eloquence of the argument, no one is going to sway the die-hard Trump supporter that they should stop supporting him.  Listening to the language showered upon him in the first day of the Republican Convention shows he has attained a Messianic following.  It is truly a cult of personality.  His support rests upon cultural and emotional issues, not a coherent vision for the future.  That is not going to change no matter how outrageous his behavior becomes over the coming months.  His followers are going to “stick it to the man” no matter what.

The establishment Republican Party that may have moderated his behavior ceased to exist.  They will not do their Constitutional duty.  I blame the Republican members of Congress and their obvious cowardice in the face of actions by a president that they would have wholeheartedly condemned in any other modern president Republican or Democrat.  Perhaps future historians will be able to figure out why there has been such a wide-spread display of cowardice on their part.  I cannot explain it.

It is now up to the voters to decide.  We need to weed out the merely outrageous aspects of Mr. Trump’s behavior that distract us nearly every wearying day.  Instead it is time to focus on those actions of his, as aided and abetted by a cowering Senate, that threaten our future as a Republic.

We cannot be intimidated or cowed.  Too much depends on it.  Please vote, no matter what.

 

 


Stealing The Election In Plain Sight

The President of the United States wants to take away your vote.  He tells us this now almost daily.  Four years ago he told us that he actually won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election.  On 27 November 2016 he claimed that “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”  He had no proof of that then and he still has no proof.  It did not happen.  Of course, for a president that has told over 20,000 documented lies, we should not be surprised that he lied about this.

He continues to make this claim, and now that the 2020 election is approaching, he continues to assert that it will be “rigged,” “fraudulent,” “corrupt” and a host of other unsubstantiated claims that may put the integrity of the election into question in some people’s minds.  In a July 2020 interview with Fox News host Mike Wallace, the president (of the United States!) would not commit to accepting the results of the election if he lost.

Remember, even though he is a known liar, the president, just like Saddam Hussein did, tells us what he is actually trying to do.  He is up front about it.  In my opinion, he tells us what he is going to do — in this case, try to steal the election — because he knows no one will stop him.  Appeals to honor, ethics or the law have no impact on him.  Repeat after me: “He just doesn’t care.”

The key feature of his intended interference in the upcoming election is his knowledge that he is likely to lose.  He created an Electoral College victory in 2016 by the slimmest of margins (roughly 75,000 votes spread out over three states) and is unlikely to get more votes in 2020.  Low turnout and protest votes against Secretary Hillary Clinton allowed him to sneak by.  He knows that.  The conditions in 2020 are totally different and the voter turnout will be very large — a fact not in his favor.  What to do?  Suppress the vote, claim fraud, and fight with every available tool in his dirty tricks bag to keep votes from being counted.

Is this my usual hyperbolic ranting about the Worst. President. Ever?  No.  The president told us what he is going to do.  Right up front.  In July he was complaining that the results of the election would not be available for “days, months or even years later.”  He also said, wait for it, that the election results could be tied up in court for years.  Aha!  What is Mr. Trump’s favorite weapon?  The courts.  He sues everybody about everything.  All the time.  Rest assured that if he loses the election there will be a prolonged legal effort to invalidate ballots or even the results in key states that he loses.

More forthright still, the president has taken to attacking the validity of the process surrounding voting by mail.  He claims absentee ballots are okay (he and his family vote that way) but mail-in ballots are not. (Yes, I know that they are the same thing.) Again, there is no evidence of any nefarious activity.  Here is really what he means, as he put in a May 2020 Tweet (in all caps):   “MAIL IN VOTING WILL LEAD TO MASSIVE FRAUD AND ABUSE.  IT WILL ALSO LEAD TO THE END OF OUR GREAT REPUBLICAN PARTY. WE CAN NEVER LET THIS TRAGEDY BEFALL OUR NATION.”  (It isn’t clear to me whether the tragedy is the end of the Republican Party or mail-in voting.)

In other words, the higher the turnout, by making it easier for people to vote during a pandemic, the less chance he has of winning.

What is he doing about it?  Trying to destroy the United States Postal Service.  As usual, he is upfront about it.  I will relate the details of his scheme, but perhaps all you need to know is what he is continually saying, and to also think about the ramifications of what he is saying.  Mr. Trump is blocking funding to the USPS to purposely keep the system from being able to handle the increased mail.  Specifically, he is blocking 25 billion dollars for the post office and 3.5 billion to help states with the mailed ballots.  This was supposed to be part of the Coronavirus aid package.  His opposition is a major impediment to continuing the aid which ran out at the end of July. He explicitly tied them together in an interview on the Fox Business Network.  But I’ll let him tell you how he is trying to disrupt a smooth election.

“Now they need that money to make the post office work, so it can take all of those millions and millions of ballots.  Now, if we don’t make a deal, it means they won’t get the money.  That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”

In May, the president installed a crony of his as Postmaster General.  Since then over 30 seasoned leaders in the postal system have been reassigned, lay-offs have begun, there is a freeze on hiring and new required procedures have created great backlogs of undelivered mail.  Think that will have an impact on mail-in (or absentee, if you prefer) voting?  In addition, the new Postmaster General has decided that ballot information and ballots themselves will be treated as the class of mail with which they are marked.  Traditionally, the states mail in bulk using third class rates with the knowledge that the postal system will move those pieces as if they were first class mail.  So, if the states and the voters want to make sure that the ballots get out and back in on time, they have to spend millions of dollars more than before —  states that are already seriously cash poor as they have worked to fight the pandemic.

All of this hurts everyday Americans.  Millions receive needed prescriptions by mail.  Others receive checks by mail.  Business transactions are hurt.  And on and on.  All because the president is afraid of the voting results if Americans can vote without fear of catching a disease that has already killed over 165,000 of our fellow citizens.

Here is why it matters.  First, 34 states currently have “no excuse” absentee ballots.  That means you do not have to be out of the state to vote absentee.  Other states have pending legislation to implement similar procedures.  As more states move in that direction, the devil is in the details.  States count absentee ballots if they are post marked on or before (some require at least a day before) Election Day.  Thirty-two states require that the ballots reach election officials no later than, or the day before, Election Day.  The other eighteen states have deadlines ranging from the day after to three days after to ten days after the election.(Some states have legislation pending that may increase or decrease the numbers with these requirements.)

Do you see a pattern here?  Now you know why the president will provide no money for the postal system and why he placed a crony in charge of the system who is making changes that significantly slow down the process.  Time matters.

So let’s sum it up.  Mr. Trump is sabotaging the postal system to disenfranchise voters.  It is probable that with the mailed ballots that make it in, the count will not be over on election night.  It might be election week.  Pretend that Mr. Trump is leading on Election Day in some key states that have large amounts of mail-in ballots.  Over the following days, Mr. Biden overtakes Mr. Trump as the counts finish up.  Mr. Trump calls it a fraudulent election and takes steps to overturn the results.  He goes to court in every state that he claims he should have won.  Chaos ensues.  The mind can conjure all types of scenarios as to what he does in those circumstances.  Possible nightmare scenarios.

Fret not, however, as all reputable scholars and Constitutional experts from all political views agree that the Constitution is clear that the president’s term ends at noon on 20 January 2021.  Period.

If there is in fact no resolution to the election by then (inconceivable to me) then the third in line behind the former president and vice-president is the Speaker of the House.

President Nancy Pelosi.


Democracy Under Attack

Following his Impeachment Trial, Mr. Donald J. Trump became predictably vengeful and embarked on a revenge tour.  He is now systematically using the power of the presidency to invoke his personal wrath on anyone that did not faithfully and fully support him — personally — rather than doing their duty and supporting their oath to the Constitution.  The purge will only end when the Trump regime is fully stocked with Trump loyalists, regardless of their ability to handle the job, personal background, or knowledge of anything related to the job.  For the most part, expect it to be the “B Team” — or maybe more like “F Troop.”

Mr. Trump is taking another page out of the Autocracy 101 text book.  We should not be surprised.

Recently, I was referred to an article in the New York Review of Books by Masha Gessen.  Titled Autocracy: Rules for Survival it provides six rules based on living much of her life in autocracies and becoming an expert on Russia’s Vladimir Putin.  Ms. Gessen is much better at explaining herself than I could ever be — it is worth the time to read the original — and her November 2016 article is stunningly prescient in predicting Mr. Trump’s behavior in the years following his election.

In brief, these are the six rules.

  1. Believe the autocrat.  They always tell you exactly what they are going to do.  Mr. Trump exhibits this behavior.  What some consider to be exaggeration, hyperbole or “Trump being Trump” is actually him telling you what he is going to do.  Or at least what he wants to do if he can figure out a way to get away with it.  I first observed this trait in Gulf War I where I was involved in a group tasked with the formulation of a policy and a strategy to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and to restore a semblance of order in the Gulf region.  With study, it became obvious that he was telling the world exactly what he intended to do — or what he would try to do — but you had to peel away the bombastic language to fully understand what he was saying.
  2. Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.  When things seem out of control, the smallest sense of normality tends to soothe people’s concerns.  We all need reassurances.  When things are at their worst, anything that makes it seem as if the situation is temporary and that it will all be okay in the end is a salve that may hide the wound rather than heal it.  What is happening today in our country is not normal.  No one-off State of the Union speech or any other glimmer of normal presidential behavior should mask the fact that 99% of the time our president is out of control.
  3. Institutions will not save you.  American values are based on ideas like a free press, an independent judiciary, Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch and leaders within the government protecting the Constitution for all Americans.  It takes about two seconds to recall that Mr. Trump fires anyone that stands up to him, constantly debases members of the media, attacks judges that do not do want he wants, and always succeeds in getting the formerly Republican members of Congress to acquiesce to his every whim.  Mr. Trump and his regime took a steam roller to the established norms of government and continue to test the limits of the law in every corner of government.  There are no longer any safety barriers keeping the regime within safe boundaries.
  4. Be outraged.  While many of us may no longer be surprised by statements and actions from Mr. Trump, one needs to continue to be shocked.  Do not normalize bad behavior especially when it threatens the fabric of our democracy.  Be prepared for ridicule when continuing to call out such awful behavior while others continue with their mantra that it is just Trump being Trump.  As he himself calls it when belittling those that critique him, be prepared for accusations of suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome.  Be prepared for unpleasant attacks from his most ardent supporters.  Do not back off.
  5. Don’t make compromises.  So many former Republicans, especially in the Senate, predicted that Mr. Trump as president would be the worst thing that ever happened to our country.  After three years of his presidency they are now his most loyal and fervent supporters.  Their support is not necessarily a re-evaluation of his competency or ability or vision, but rather it is a compromise of their own values in order to retain power.  Mr. Trump is no different than the person they ardently decried during the campaign.  Those around him have changed.
  6. Remember the future.  Mr. Trump, his regime, and Trumpism cannot last forever.  Look to reform our institutions in order to restore the foundations of our democracy.  Put into law what we as a country previously took to be accepted norms of behavior that our leaders would honor.  Work to project a new vision for our country that is inclusive and that addresses the problems that Mr. Trump was able to cynically manipulate for his own purposes.  Stay in the game.

In the every day course of our own lives it is possible to lose sight of the big picture attack on our democracy.  It’s hard.  Frankly, it’s exhausting.  It is easy to lose oneself in areas outside of politics because it is just so relentlessly Trump.  Every gosh darn day there is some new Tweet or speech or rally that saps all of the energy from one’s soul when it is clear that he has no idea what he is talking about.  Nearly 17,000 documented and provable lies during his presidency numbs the soul and becomes normalized.

And that is the plan.

Autocracy thrives on indifference or exhaustion or just turning it over to the regime and letting them take care of it all as long as my day-to-day life is not impacted.  Mr. Trump and his regime are interested only in themselves and in the amassing of personal power.  Period.  Anything else is a sales pitch presented in the moment to get a cheer or to attack an opponent or to appear to care.  Remember that fundamentally, they don’t care about you or me or the rule of law.  Only themselves.

It is up to us as citizens to stay vigilant and to call out the fouls when we see them.

 


How Low Will They Go?

As more and more information becomes available through the release of sworn testimony concerning the shakedown of Ukraine perpetrated by the President of the United States and his minions, the Republicans in Congress have become increasingly desperate in their defense of his actions.

They have used arguments ranging from the ridiculous to the downright dishonest.  Recently, three Senators that I thought were relatively straight shooters, even if I didn’t usually agree with their ideas, grovelled in front of Mr. Trump in public.  At campaign rallies, Rand Paul (KY) and John Kennedy (LA) made speeches demeaning others in terms that would get any fourth grader in trouble as Mr. Trump stood behind them grinning his “look what I’ve made them do” grin.  Lindsey Graham (S.C.) increasingly is getting desperate in his attempts to be Mr. Trump’s bestie.  When asked about the most recent incriminating testimony from witnesses in the House of Representatives, he stated that he refused to read the transcripts.  In other words, a future juror in the president’s trial (should he be impeached which I think he deserves to be) refuses to even look at the evidence, much less give it due consideration.  Appalling.

Next week the public hearings in the impeachment inquiry begin.  After weeks of complaining that it was a secret “Soviet style” proceeding, the president and his underlings now claim that the hearings should not be public.  Because they know that unequivocal evidence exists that an orchestrated shakedown occurred?  Perhaps they fear that the public will continue the trend towards supporting impeachment if they hear the truth?

According to several reports, House Republicans are now contemplating claiming that the president did not know what his flunkeys, specifically Mr. Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Mick Mulvaney, and Ambassador Gordon Sondland, were doing.  They went “rogue.”  Nice try.  Mr. Trump himself released a Memorandum for the Record (MFR) that captures in his own words the  shakedown of the President of Ukraine.  Numerous individuals with direct knowledge, including listening to the phone call, have testified that there was a months long effort to make it clear to the Ukrainian government that to get what they so desperately needed to fend off Russian aggression was a public statement by the Ukrainian president.  According to the sworn testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent that statement must include three words.  “Investigation.” “Biden.” “Clinton.”  No statement, no reward.  A shakedown at the direction of Mr. Trump.  Also known in legal circles as extortion.

In the Senate, it appears that their defense of Mr. Trump will boil down to a three pronged response. “He did it.”  “So what?”  “Get over it.”

Nice.

The evidence will continue to show that the president abused the power of his office.  He probably is used to doing business this way in all of his endeavors.  Additionally, there was a concerted effort, as outlined in sworn testimony, to cover it up.  We all know enough about Mr. Trump that if he gets away with this abrogation of the public trust he will do it again.

The story is not very complicated.  In the coming weeks we will hear it for ourselves.  All Americans believe that no one is above the law.  That is now being put to the test.  Impeachment and removal from office is a sobering responsibility given to the Congress through the Constitution.  It should be approached with the utmost care and with a full understanding of the consequences of such an action.  Trivializing the process with playground epithets and unserious rationalizations should not be a part of the process.  One would expect both Democrats and Republicans to understand the stakes and to live up to their oaths of office.  Undertake due diligence.  Review the evidence.  Treat career diplomats and military officers testifying under oath with respect.  And yes, search their souls for the strength to do what they think is in keeping with our national values and laws.  We should expect nothing less from our elected officials.  Unfortunately, one party is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump, Inc.

He did it so get over it is not a defense.  It is a desperate short-term effort to retain power that is unworthy of American values and our faith in the rule of law.  Politicians should rise to the occasion and reflect our better selves.  Unfortunately, I expect that the road ahead will only get lower and muddier.

 


Fatigue Makes Cowards Of Us All

The title quote above is indelibly etched into my mind as it was emblazoned over the stairway from the crew locker room down to the boat storage area in the USNA boat house at Hubbard Hall. For four years every time I passed by that sign I took it onboard.  As college rowers we knew its meaning.  It takes mental toughness as well as physical fitness to compete at a high level. You can quit or you can fight through it.  The quote is attributed to General George S. Patton or Vince Lombardi — take your pick — but its origin is unclear.  Its meaning is not and it stayed with me through all of the years since then.

Its relevance takes on a new dimension to me in the current political atmosphere.  The President of the United States is so outrageous in his daily Tweets, rallies and pronouncements to the press that it wears me down.  It is truly fatiguing.  It becomes part of the background of daily life.  It becomes too easy to say that it is just Trump being Trump.

But we cannot.  We cannot give in to that fatigue.  He must be called out each and every time that he spouts hateful, racist and misogynistic things.

When E. Jeanne Carroll alleges that Mr. Trump raped her and he responds that it couldn’t have happened because “she’s not my type” we should ask what type of woman would Mr. Trump rape?

When Mr. Trump racially attacks members of Congress that oppose his ideas we must call him out.  The latest episode comes this weekend with an attack on Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and the city of Baltimore.  What does Mr. Trump mean when he says about Baltimore that “no human being would want to live there”?  We should recognize that he knows full well that the city is majority African-American.  Does that mean that they are not human?

The outrageous lies are endless.  Mr. Trump is the most deliberately divisive president in my lifetime.  Probably, he is the most divisive since the U.S. Civil War.  Why do we tolerate it?

The Trump will be Trump argument is weak and cowardly.  It is not okay. He is not what America is about.  He has bullied the Republican Party to the point that good Americans that three years ago decried his abhorrent behavior now go meekly along.  They pretend that they did not hear or are too busy to notice the latest insult.  Or worse, they defend his comments.

Mr. Trump is a master of the playground mantra of “I’m rubber you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”  He projects what he knows about his own character and his tactics onto his critics.  And make no mistake, his critics are to him anyone that does not blindly follow along with total loyalty in every manner of endeavor.

The Republican Party is dead.  The Democrats cannot get their act together.  Mr. Trump is taking advantage of every crack in society and ignoring the law to further his own personal gain.  As long as the citizens of this great country look the other way, either out of fatigue or out of a sense that laying low is the best way not to get into trouble, we will see him amplify his outrageous behavior into dangerous areas.

We are better than this.  Do not let fatigue make you a coward.

 

 


The Bigot In Chief

As I am sure you know, on Sunday Mr. Donald J. Trump sent out a series of racist tweets about four Congresswomen of color.  Besides putting forth lies about who does or does not love their country, and other blatantly bizarre statements concerning a Congresswoman’s “love” for al-Qaeda, for three days (and counting) he used the most basic of racial and ethnic slurs by telling them to go back to where they came from.

This should not be surprising.  Mr. Trump has a record of racist statements and actions dating to the 1970’s when he and his father were sued by the federal government for discrimination in the renting of apartments in a building in Queens, New York.  The list of other racist statements and actions over the decades is way too long to recount here.  However, since declaring his candidacy for president the number of such incidents have increased.  As president, Mr. Trump seems to have settled on attacking women of color. Such attacks include the mother of a Marine killed in action, the wife of a soldier killed in action, various Congresswomen of color prior to this incident, and numerous others.  For some reason, he thinks that’s a good thing to do.

The president is a racist.

Some may argue that I cannot possibly know what is in his heart.  That is true, I do not.  I do know that his recurring actions and words show that he is a racist.  White nationalists say that he is one of them.  They recognize what they see. To paraphrase an old saw, if he walks like a racist, quacks like a racist and looks like a racist, he’s a racist.

Sadly, however, many of us already knew this and are profoundly disappointed in his actions, but not surprised.  What is surprising is that the entire Republican House and Senate members — save a few countable on one hand — support his racism.  Don’t take my word for it.  Yesterday the House voted to condemn the president’s remarks. Only four Republicans voted for the condemnation and one former Republican did so.  One of the four is the only African-American Republican in the House.   The vast majority of Republicans, in the House and Senate, are white men.  There is one African-American Republican Senator.

The Republicans lack of a back bone makes me sad for our country.

Mr. Trump is fully in control of the Republican Party and good men and women that used to stand up for what was right now meekly submit to his will — and in some instances loudly support his every deed — including the most basic of hurtful phrases.  “Go back.”  Those two words convey hate for the “other.”  Hate for people with “funny” names or who don’t look like northern Europeans.  It means that you do not belong here with “real” Americans, no matter how long you and your family have lived in the United States.  It separates you.  It is meant to demean.  It is hateful.  Words matter.  And only four Republicans put what was right over the fear of a Tweet from Mr. Trump.  In my book, if you stand up for a racist by actively supporting his words and actions, then that makes you a racist.

Shameful.

Mr. Trump took this course on purpose.  There was no attempt to “explain what he really meant” or to clarify, or to otherwise soften his words.  In fact he doubled and tripled down on his remarks by going out of his way to repeat them over and over.  It is entirely possible to disagree on a policy statement or a political agenda as I do with much of what the four Congresswomen under attack are pursuing.  What is not okay is using racial and ethnic smears to personally attack other American citizens duly elected to their office.

Why is he doing this?

Three reasons come to my mind.  First, this is his re-election campaign strategy.  He and his fellow Trumpist politicians want these four freshman Congresswomen to be seen as the face of the Democrats.  He will campaign that they represent the “true” Democrats and that if any Democrat is elected you will have people with funny names and darker skins running the country into the ground.  Remember that he started his run for the presidential nomination with the birther movement that claimed President Barack Obama was not a U.S. citizen and followed it up with his first speech from Trump Tower announcing his candidacy by calling Mexicans rapists and murderers.  It is a cynical and divisive deliberate strategy.  It is a naked manipulation of people’s fears and emotions.  It will get worse, especially since he sees no consequences to his actions.  Republican politicians rolled over and now have no stomach for standing up to him.  Probably, many will emulate him in their own campaigns, further dividing our country and demeaning our values.

Second, he is appealing to his base — and “base” may be the most correct term as he is using the basest of strategies to look for re-election in 2020.  I knew there were racists in our country, I just did not know there were so many.  And no, I don’t think every Trump supporter is a racist, but I fail to see how any policy he espouses or judge he appoints cancels out his obscene behavior that demeans the office he holds and besmirches the values of our entire country.  Our country is an idea, a set of values, the search for “a more perfect union,” and not one based on ethnicity or who our ancestors might have been or the color of our skin.

Third, he is covering something up.  Mr. Trump has a penchant for capturing the news cycle when he does not want us to look too closely at some other action or circumstance.  My guess is that the circle around him and Mr. Jeffrey Epstein — the industrial level child sex trafficker — is getting tighter and smaller.  They were known to hang together in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Indeed, in 2002 Mr. Trump is quoted in New York magazine saying that Mr. Epstein is a “terrific guy” and that “he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”  How young?  Mr. Trump hosted a party at Mar-a-Lago where he and Mr. Epstein were the only two male guests.  All the others were young women flown in for the party.  On Monday a bail hearing for Mr. Epstein was held in New York that included testimony from two of the young girls he abused. Is it possible that Mr. Trump was too personally involved with Mr. Epstein and his evil life style, even has the president says he “is not a fan”?  “When you’re a star, they let you do it.  You can do anything.”

The President.  Of the United States.  Is using the most vile and divisive words and actions to open old wounds and make new ones for his own personal gain.  And 98% of elected Republicans and millions of people think that is okay.

Historians will look back on this period and mark it as the end of the Republican Party.  The Republicans will be right up there in the pantheon of failed political parties with the Whigs and the Know Nothings from the 19th century.  The only question is how much damage to our country will they allow before they collapse.

In the meantime, we are in big trouble as a country.  We lost our soul when this man became president.  Every day we endure a new attack on our values and our Constitution.  I fear that Mr. Trump has lowered every bar of common decency and that his words and actions put people’s lives in danger.

When does it end?


The Fix Is In

Several events last week disturbed me to my core as I realized the depths that Mr. Donald J. Trump and his administration will go to protect him from the rule of law and any sort of accountability.  One of the prominent warning signals came in the form of Attorney General William Barr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  In case you missed the live broadcast of his appearance, I will point out that it was not just what he said in response to questions but also how he said it.  He was clearly annoyed that any Senator would question his decisions or his power as the head of law enforcement in the United States.  Perhaps more chilling was his unadulterated and unabashed pro-Trump posture.  He is no longer the Attorney General of the United States, or even the attorney charged with protecting the presidency as an institution.  He clearly and forcefully defended Mr. Trump, the man, and not the president, the office.

Among many startling elements of A.G. Barr’s comments regarding the Mueller Report are what I see as the three most egregious points:

  • The most troubling and news worthy defense of Mr. Trump by A.G. Barr was his insistence that the president is above the law.  You read that correctly.  In response to a question on obstruction of justice — and the fact that if Mr. Trump was successful in carrying out the obstruction, then that could be the reason that no conspiracy to work with the Russians was proved — Mr. Barr stated that under the Constitution the president has the authority to oversee investigations (including those involving the president) and therefore has the authority to shut them down.  Thus, there can be no obstruction even if the president stops an investigation into himself because it is within his power.  He further argued that this is especially true if the president thought the investigation “was not well founded” or “groundless.”  The president has the ability to declare it so.  “The president does not have to sit there, constitutionally, and allow it to run its course.”  And there you have it.  All the president has to do is say that there is no reason to investigate him and then no one can investigate him.  (I assume a “hoax” is “not well founded.”)  The Attorney General believes the president is above the law.  (For info, Article I for the proposed impeachment of Richard Nixon was obstruction of justice.)
  • The second most troubling aspect of A.G. Barr’s testimony is that he waffled mightily in response to a question as to whether the president or any one else at the White House asked him to investigate others.  The context was a section of the Mueller Report that indicated Mr. Trump pressured the Department of Justice (DOJ) to re-open an investigation of Secretary Hillary Clinton and others of Mr. Trump’s political opponents after the election.  He finally answered “I don’t know.” Right.  (As Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) pointed out, that’s not something one might forget.) It used to be a bipartisan agreement that a president using his office to investigate a political opponent on purely political grounds was an abuse of power (Article II of those brought against Mr. Nixon).
  • The third most troubling comment was the confirmation by A.G. Barr that Special Counsel Mueller objected to the characterization of his report put forward by Mr. Barr on 24 March.  In his statement summarizing the results of the Report he claimed that Mr. Mueller found no criminal evidence of conspiracy or obstruction.  When the report was finally released, we found that was not true.  Mr. Mueller wrote to Mr. Barr three days after his March summary to object to the characterization of his work.  “The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.”  Some Senators think that Mr. Barr lied in his previous testimony when he said that he had not heard any objections from Mr. Mueller when in fact he had already received and read the letter.

There were more, but then you can read it for yourself.

Let’s put a few more developments from recent days out there to paint a picture.  Consider the following:

  • In an on-air discussion with Sean Hannity of Fox News Mr. Trump said of the Mueller Investigation, “This was a coup.  This was an attempted overthrow of the United States government.” Incredibly — although I don’t know why I continue to be surprised — Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the House Minority Leader, used the same word in response to a reporter’s question.
  • The Trump Administration asserted that it will fight or ignore any House subpoena. They are also going to court to stop subpoenas of other entities where Congress is seeking information about the president and possible financial ties to other governments or foreign entities.  “We’re fighting all the subpoenas.”  (Contempt of Congress — refusing subpoenas — was Article III of those against Mr. Nixon.)
  • Mr. Trump still does not acknowledge Russian interference in the 2016 election.  According to the Mueller Report there were 251 contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian-connected operatives including 37 meetings in person or via Skype.  At least thirty-three campaign officials and advisers held the meetings or were aware of such meetings.  Recall that the Mueller Report concluded that “the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”

On Friday, Mr. Trump and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin held a nearly ninety minute phone call.  Mr. Trump did not confront Mr. Putin about the attacks.  President Obama may have been asleep at the switch and not done all that he could as his administration learned the breadth and depth of Russian intrusion, but he did talk directly to Mr. Putin to warn him against further meddling.  He also imposed sanctions against Russia (which are the ones that presidential adviser Michael Flynn got into trouble over for calling the Russian Ambassador and saying that Mr. Trump would lift them).  President Obama also expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the US and shut down two of their facilities in the US.  Yet in his ninety minute conversation with Mr. Putin, Mr. Trump did not even bring up the Russian actions except to say that he and Mr. Putin did not collude and Mr. Putin should know because he was the one who was supposed to have done it.  They then agreed that it was a hoax.  You can’t make this stuff up.

So what does all of this mean?

When taken in their totality it means that we have a president with no boundaries, no oversight, and no sense of what is right.  Mr. Trump still has not been held accountable for any of his outrageous actions and must surely think that the preponderance of evidence indicates that he never will be.  Most certainly not by the Republicans in the Senate and not by the Attorney General.  In fact, should someone, somehow initiate proceedings against the president, we already know that his A.G. says he can shut it down because, well, just because he can if he wants to.

It is also clear that Mr. Trump will not take Executive Action to stop Russian interference in the 2020 election.  Although various agencies are working to shore up our defenses, there is no national level coordination and planning under way to prevent further meddling.  Indeed, Mr. Trump and others in his administration implied that he would take their help again in 2020.(Russia if you’re listening…)

I think that the evidence above also indicates the Mr. Trump believes that the purpose of the federal government is to do his bidding and therefore he will not hesitate to use the full power and strength of the U.S. government to take down his political opponents.  Apparently he will do so with the willing acquiescence of the A.G. and Republicans in the House and Senate.

Talk of coups really scares me.  Do the president and the leader of the Republican Party in the House really think that the Mueller Investigation was an attempted coup? Stop and think about that for a moment.  Anyone that threatens this president’s sense of well-being is a direct threat to him.  Really?  A coup?  If they actually believe that then there is nothing he will stop at to prevent losing his power.  And who will stop him?  The House is being ignored (A.G. Barr won’t even show up to testify about the Mueller Report and his role in its release).  No oversight there.  The Senate trembles in its boots that one of their Republican colleagues will be the subject of a nasty Tweet. No oversight there.  The Attorney General is now the personal defense attorney for Mr. Trump.  No oversight there.  The fix is in.

How far will he go?  Declare martial law for some other self-created crisis?  Nullify a close election he loses?  Suspend the election because he Tweets out that the Democrats are attempting a coup?  I am not sure what he is capable of doing.

Do I sound like a wing nut conspiracy dealer with too much time on his hands?  I hope so.

And yet, the things I’ve mentioned above happened in only a matter of days.  In other administrations, Republican or Democrat, there would be a major reaction to such a clear threat to our norms and national well-being.  Sadly, most people just dismiss it as business as usual.

One theory floating around is that Mr. Trump and his advisers and supporters in Congress are pushing the Democrats in the House as hard as they can so that they are left with little recourse except for impeachment.  Improbably, the Republicans think that an impeachment proceeding against Mr. Trump will help his approval ratings and “guarantee” his re-election in 2020.  To them there is no down side as they know that the Senate would never convict him of the Articles of Impeachment.  If that is the plan, how much further will the administration overflow the banks of good government to create a flood of institutional indignities to force the issue?

I worry that we are in the midst of the creeping destruction of our Republic.  It is taking place in slow motion and in public so that most people who are rightly concerned with the day-to-day effort of just going to work, to school and of trying to keep food on the table don’t see it.  Like everything associated with this president, it is hiding in plain sight.


The End Of The Beginning

Last Friday, Attorney General William Barr announced that the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller was complete.  Yesterday, Mr. Barr put out a summary of the Mueller Report that some likened to a book report because it was very short on content and long on unanswered questions.  There was some good news for our country in his summary.

According to Mr. Barr, Mr. Mueller did not find evidence of any conspiracy or criminal cooperation between the Trump Campaign or the President of the United States and the Russian Federation or any others associated with that country to rig the election.  Very good news, indeed.

Let that sink in for a minute as you contemplate what it would mean had Mr. Mueller found that the president did conspire with a foreign adversary to win the election.  We as a country would be in a very difficult place today had the result of the investigation been different.  At the same time, think what a low bar that is.  Never in the roughly 240 years of our national existence has there been any need to investigate such a matter.  It was inconceivable.  Yet, today, celebrations ensue that the president did not sell his soul to the Russians.  At least politically.  But let’s take a big sigh of relief that it is a positive outcome.

Also good news is that Mr. Mueller was able to finish his investigation without undue interference.  Or at least it appears that way, with one known exception that I will address below.  I have faith in Mr. Mueller and his thoroughness (read Mr. Barr’s letter to see just how thorough).  In my estimation, he is a man of integrity who carried out his mission as he saw it and did not seem to be distracted by the circus atmosphere the president created.  (Mr. Trump owes him an apology.  Instead last night he continued to attack him and the investigation in his public statements and on Twitter.  Shameful.)  From the Attorney General’s letter, it also seems that Mr. Mueller took a very narrow view of his assignment and focused primarily on Russian interference.  As we have already seen, other crimes or unsavory activities were farmed out to the presiding jurisdictions for action.  It remains to be seen what else may arise from other federal and state district attorneys but there are no new indictments, announced or sealed, pending from Mr. Mueller directly.

There are many, many caveats and unanswered questions that hang over the whole report.  First and foremost is the fact that no one has seen it outside of a few people in the Department of Justice (DOJ).  Neither we as citizens nor our representatives in the House and Senate have seen it.  We do not really know what it says — only what Mr. Barr says it says.  By releasing his letter as he did, he gave Mr. Trump and his supporters a very big political win.  Everything that comes after, no matter how damning it may or may not be, will be considered “sour grapes” or otherwise discounted.  I happen to believe that there will be considerable evidence of wrong doing within the Trump Organization and the Trump Campaign that we will find to be unacceptable behavior from a presidential candidate but may not rise to the level of criminality or a provable conspiracy.  Why all the lying about Russia?  By lots of folks at different times and in different places including countless Russia lies by Mr. Trump himself?  My own opinion is that the lying was covering up financial relationships and business deals between members of the Trump family and organization and various nefarious Russian oligarchs and entities.  Again, perhaps not criminal (although such a great volume of lying to the people of the United States should have some consequence), but at best inappropriate and unseemly.  We just do not know and will not know until the report is available to all.

Remember that despite Mr. Trump’s claim that he was “totally exonerated” by Mr. Mueller he was not.  Concerning possible obstruction of justice, Mr. Mueller did not make a decision.  Mr. Barr’s letter quoted directly from the Mueller Report to say that regarding obstruction, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”  I will be one of several million Americans that will want to know how that non-decision came about.  It is curious that a seasoned, respected, courageous prosecutor would collect a very thorough number of facts and then take a pass on recommending whether or not it reached the level of criminality.  What gives?  The context of Mr. Mueller’s remarks in this regard will be very important.  This is where we don’t know if there was undue influence on the investigation.  Was he told not to make a decision?  Why did Mr. Barr make a decision that there was no obstruction of justice if the investigator did not say so?  Attorney General Barr wrote a long legal dissertation about the investigation even before he was nominated to the position (some critics opine that it was his try-out and audition for the office in that he caught the president’s attention with it).  In it he stated his belief that a sitting president could not obstruct justice while carrying out the prescribed duties of the office.  (Such as firing the FBI director.) Some in Congress and elsewhere are worried that the “fix was in.”  In their view, Mr. Barr was hired to protect Mr. Trump from liability in just such a case.  Without the supporting documentation, we cannot know what transpired.  Unfortunately, Mr. Barr muddied the waters of an investigation that was meant to clear things up.  If we knew the context of Mr. Mueller’s “pros and cons” regarding obstruction, we may even find that his intent was to outline the road map for Congressional inquiries and possible action.  Mr. Barr seems to have tried to short-circuit that possibility.  In my view that was a political decision made in the president’s favor rather than a legal one that should have been left to Mr. Mueller.

Lost in the Tweets and punditry is the fact the report apparently concludes that the Russians did meddle in the election with the intent of helping Mr. Trump — or at least with the desired impact of helping to defeat Secretary Hillary Clinton in the general election.  This should be a major focus of those purporting to want to serve our country.  How did they do so?  What recommendations are there for stopping or at least limiting future interference?  If the president accepts the results of the conspiracy investigation why does he still refuse to acknowledge that the Russians did interfere even as every knowledgeable person in the intelligence agencies and the Congress say that they did?  This should be the basis of serious action on the part of the administration and the Congress to protect the 2020 election.  Will that happen in the midst of the political brouhaha that is occurring daily?

Pressure will be brought to stop further oversight by the House committees looking into the actions of the president and his aides as well as on the District Attorneys looking into possible illegal activities undertaken by the Trump Organization and Kushner, Inc.  Those investigations should continue.  Despite claims by Mr. Trump and his supporters, Mr. Mueller’s report does not seem to touch on those activities.  If they were illegal or unethical, the public should know.  If they are not, then it would seem that the Trump family would want that information to be forthcoming as well.

There is an awful lot that we do not know about the Mueller Report.  Right now, no one outside of the DOJ even knows how many pages it is or the depth of the supporting documentation.  With 19 lawyers, 40 FBI agents, 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants, 500 witnesses and other investigative work behind the report, it should be substantial and detailed.  But we don’t know what we don’t know and there is no clear indication from the DOJ as to when or how much of the report will be made available.

Finally, while I do not really see the parallels between Mr. Trump and President Richard Nixon, I will merely point out that the Watergate scandal and investigation lasted a very long time.  The original break-in occurred in June 1972.  In October 1972 the FBI began to uncover the extent of the nefarious campaign efforts.  In May 1973 the Senate Watergate Committee began its hearings and Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox was sworn in to investigate.  In May 1974 the House Judiciary Committee began impeachment hearings (whether or not to do it).  In July 1974 on a bipartisan vote the House committee approved three articles of impeachment (the first was for obstruction of justice, the second was for misuse of power and not fulfilling his oath as president, and the third was for failure to comply with subpoenas).  In August 1974 the president resigned.  He was never impeached.

My purpose in relating this bit of info is not to advocate for impeachment but merely to say that the completion of the Mueller Report is only the beginning of the search for the truth about what did or did not happen.  It takes a long time.

Unfortunately, I think that the way Mr. Barr released selected excerpts from the full report will only serve to harden the positions of those that support Mr. Trump as president and those that think he has conducted himself improperly in the White House.  Nothing has been fully settled except — thankfully — the president and his aides did not directly conspire with the Russians to throw the 2016 election.

It seems to me that a lot is still on the table and that this is only the beginning of more to come.  I fear that given Mr. Trump’s proclivity to lean towards autocracy, that the idea that he was “exonerated” and the victim of a “witch hunt” will only embolden him and reinforce his worst instincts.

I hope that I am wrong.

 

 


Where Are The Pesos?

(With a bow in the direction of Steve Schmidt, the former campaign manager for Senator John McCain’s presidential bid, for the title.)

Last night the president gave a speech to the nation about the alleged crisis on our southern border.  Lots of figures and statistics continue to be thrown around to support the president’s desire to build a wall.  Most are misleading or purposely distorted in order to support his campaign pledge.  Whether you support the wall or not, here are the facts provided by Mr. Trump’s own administration and other independent sources.  We can disagree on the best way to provide border security, but it should be a fact based discussion.  With the emotion removed it becomes a different situation.

  • Mexico will not pay for the wall.  Claims that the new U.S., Mexico, Canada trade agreement (NAFTA by any other name with a few improvements) will result in Mexico “essentially” paying for it is false.  Whether or not the new agreement changes the balance of trade between the U.S. and Mexico, that money does not go into the U.S. Treasury.  And the U.S. Senate has yet to take up the new agreement so it is not in force.  No time-table for ratification is set.
  • 800,000 American federal workers are out of a pay check come Friday.  There are hundreds of thousands of more American workers without pay checks that support the Federal government or that provide services to the government that are without pay checks and will not get back pay.
  • Claims that the number of migrants crossing the border are unprecedented are wrong.  According to the U.S. Border Patrol, there were 303,916 apprehensions at the border in 2017.  That is the lowest in 45 years.  In 2018 there were 396,579.  A slight increase, but significantly lower than the 1.6 million apprehended in 2000.
  • The southern border is not the primary way that undocumented immigrants enter the country.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2017, 606,926 people were in the country illegally by over staying their visas.  That is roughly twice the number from the southern border.  101,281 of those who did not leave when their visa expired were from Canada.
  • According to the U.S. State Department, “there was no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.”
  • According to the U.S. government, in 2017, 2,554 official encounters in the U.S. occurred with people on the terrorist watch list (which does not mean they are terrorists as it is often a case of mismatched names or other glitches).  Of those, 2,170 attempted to enter through airports.  NBC news reports, based on a DHS report to Congress, that the “roughly 4,000” terrorists cited by Trump Administration officials that were stopped were from around the world, not at the southern border.  This includes stopping some before they get on an airplane overseas.  Again this refers to people on the watch list, not necessarily actual terrorists.  In the first half of 2018 exactly six immigrants were stopped at the southern border for being on the list.  In the same time frame, forty-one were stopped at the Canadian border.
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel deported 5,872 suspected gang members in 2018.  ICE does not break down which gangs these people belong to so it is impossible to know how many belong to MS-13.  Additionally, some of those in the mix that were deported were not actually members of gangs.  It is likely that the number of MS-13 gang-bangers arrested by ICE is in the hundreds.  The total number of gang members deported in 2018 is less than one percent of those entering legally and then staying in the country illegally.
  • Any murder or rape is a tragedy.  Keep in mind that statistics consistently show that immigrants — legal or illegal — are far less likely to break the law than those born in the United States.
  • According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) about 90% of the heroin entering the U.S. comes through Mexico.  Frankly, no one knows exactly how much enters the country each year.  However, DEA reports that the very large majority of it comes through legal ports of entry by land, sea and air.
  • The vast majority of non-U.S. citizens attempting to enter the U.S. do so at legal ports of entry.  Under U.S. and international law, those seeking asylum must be taken at their word that they are in danger of their lives, or persecution in their native lands until a hearing is held to adjudicate their claim.  Not everyone crossing the southern border seeking asylum is granted it.  Current administrative processes at the border result in extremely long wait times (it could be months) to enter through a port of entry.  This induces desperate people to try to cross illegally and then to turn themselves in to authorities.  This happens quite often and in peaceful ways.  Whether the individuals entered legally or illegally, if they ask for asylum, under the law, they must be heard.

Here is my opinion.

What is really at stake is Article I of the Constitution.  In what is known as the “vesting”clause, all legislative authority is given to the Congress, including appropriations and authorizations to spend money.  Note that it comes before Article II that gives executive power to the president.  Article III creates the judiciary.

In his first two years, Mr. Trump did not have a Congress that would put a check on his whims, desires and plans.  Now he does with Democrats controlling the House of Representatives.  On their part, the House is exercising their Constitutional power of the purse to establish that they are a co-equal branch of government and do not have to give in to the president on every issue.  Frankly, it is about time.  Missing in action is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) who got burned by the president’s promises in December and refuses to get involved to end the shutdown.  It is likely that in short order (a few days to a week) Republican Senators will start to come over to the Democrat’s plan and Mr. McConnell will have to bring the Democrats’ bills to the floor to again pass what they already did just before Christmas.

Remember that the bills passed by the House last week are exactly the same as those already passed by the Republican controlled Senate.  Because a new Congress was installed last week, all bills not passed by both Houses need to start over.

The government shutdown over the wall has nothing to do with border security.  All sober government officials, Republican or Democrat, support border security.  They differ on how our money and resources should be spent to protect and regulate the border.

The wall is a political stunt.  The president backed himself into a corner and when a bipartisan deal was presented to him (including the bill passed in the Senate just before Christmas), after agreeing to it, he caved to right-wing pundits and proudly proclaimed that he would own the shutdown.  That he and many of his advisers did not understand that when a shutdown goes into effect it means the government shuts down, hurting countless thousands of people across the country, is a story for another day.

Warning!  Warning!

It appears that there are three ways this situation can be resolved.  Mr. Trump caves.  The House and Senate get together and pass veto proof bills to fund the government.  Finally, Mr. Trump may follow through on his threat to declare a National Emergency, mobilize the military and use Department of Defense funds to build his wall.  This last move is that of an autocrat.  It is Despot 101.  Create a threat where one doesn’t exist, declare an emergency, mobilize the military, bypass the democratically elected legislature and take steps to curtail any opposition.

And all of it is based on a big lie.  I cannot think of a more dangerous scenario.


The Good News and The Bad News

It has been a busy week.  First the good news.

For the third time I was an Election Judge (poll worker, but sworn in as a judge in this state because of the decision-making that may be needed).  Once again it was a very long day with no respite, but worth it.  At our location, everyone, Republican, Democrat or Unaffiliated, was uniformly cheerful, friendly, and appreciative of their role to play in our democracy.  It was refreshing in the current era to see the best parts of our republic.

In my state, Maryland, one of the “bluest” in the country, we re-elected a Republican Governor for the first time in decades.  At the same time, the Democrat controlled state legislature gained more seats for the Democrats and voters re-elected our Democrat Senator and Representatives.  I consider that a positive sign as well.  In the first year of the Governor’s term, he tried to push legislation through that did not have the support of the representatives.  At the same time, some of the legislation the Democrats wanted was turned back by the Governor.  The same old story?  In this case, no.  Both the Governor and the legislative leaders realized that nothing would be accomplished if they didn’t — wait for it — compromise on the issues.  That does not mean it was all unicorns and rainbows, there were some knock down, drag out battles over certain issues.  On the whole, however, both parties recognized that compromise was necessary in order to accomplish meaningful results.  Consequently, most of those involved, including an unheard of for this state second term for a Republican Governor, returned to office.  (To put it in perspective, he is only the second Republican Governor in Maryland since Spiro Agnew — Richard Nixon’s first Vice president.  The last two term Republican Governor was Theodore McKeldin first elected in 1951.)

I was looking forward to writing an entirely positive piece in this space and was feeling better about the state of affairs in our country after the election.  After all, the House would now have oversight over the excesses of the Executive Branch for the first time in two years.

It lasted less than twenty-four hours.  Then came the bad news.  In duplicate.

Wednesday night another mass shooting of innocent victims occurred.  This time in Thousand Oaks California, considered the third most safe city in the country, according to FBI statistics.  Mostly students out for a break in the routine and a little dancing were gunned down.  Another needless tragedy that is becoming increasingly too common.  According to the Gun Violence Archive, this was the 307th mass shooting in the U.S. in 2018.  (They define a mass shooting as four or more people shot in one incident — not necessarily all deaths.)  Another in a long line of sad days for too many families and for all of us as citizens.  Perhaps the new Congress will finally address common sense gun laws that are supported by a majority in the country across all party lines.

Earlier that day the president gave what can only be described as a bizarre press conference that was either an attempt at showing that he would not change his habits and methods despite a significant defeat at the polls or a deliberate attempt to be bizarre in an effort to change the news cycle away from the success the Democrats had at the polls.

More significantly, he fired (yes, fired, when the president asks for a resignation it is not a voluntary action to resign) Attorney General Jeff Sessions Wednesday afternoon.  It was not so surprising that he did so, as he had been saying he would for well over a year, but it was unsettling that he did so less than twenty-four hours after the polls closed.  To some extent, it is what it is.  I was no fan of Mr. Sessions, but I did respect that he stood up to the president over the ongoing Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by the president.  Mr. Sessions did the right thing to recuse himself in accordance with the ethics of the situation and the rules of the Department of Justice (DOJ).  Mr. Trump never got over the fact that someone in his administration did the right thing.  He constantly asked where was “his Roy Cohn” — an Attorney General that should defend him personally and shield him from investigations, rather than work for the American people in upholding the principles of the Constitution.  (You may remember that Roy Cohn was Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and mentor.  Mr. Cohn started his public career as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Chief Counsel during the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954.  Mr. Cohn is  the person responsible for teaching Mr. Trump to always “hit back twice as hard” against any accusations and “deny, deny, deny” — never apologize or admit to a mistake.)

The real bad news was not necessarily in the departure of Mr. Sessions.  The shocker was the person Mr. Trump named as his successor.  Mr. Trump’s intent to stop the Mueller investigation is reflected in his choice.

In a move that many Republican and Democrat Constitutional scholars consider against the law, Mr. Trump got his Roy Cohn by appointing Matthew Whitaker as the Acting Attorney General.  Mr. Whitaker is not a Senate confirmed official, which is the basis for many scholars and experts to consider his appointment to be illegal.  The normal sequence of events would be for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to become the Acting Attorney General.  Conceivably, Mr. Trump could have appointed another Senate confirmed official as the Acting AG but he did not do that.  Why, you ask?  I do not know what goes on in Mr. Trump’s mind, but I can guess.

This is a bit down in the weeds, which I think Mr. Trump believes most people don’t care about, but this turn of events is serious and with long-lasting impact.  I will attempt to explain why, as succinctly as possible.

Mr. Rosenstein has been the supervisory official for the Mueller investigation.  Mr. Trump has been at odds with him for nearly two years about that investigation.  He wants to put someone into the DOJ as Acting AG in order to have someone in place to over rule Mr. Rosenstein and to inhibit, if not derail or eliminate, the Mueller probe before it indicts one of his family (the odds are high that Mr. Donald Trump Jr. is in Mr. Mueller’s sights) or comes back with a report saying that the Trump Campaign did conspire with the Russians to influence the election and then Mr. Trump obstructed justice in an attempt to cover it up and/or protect his family and business interests.

Legal scholars not only think Mr. Whitaker is an invalid appointee, but they also mostly agree that should he stay in the position, he must recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation because of his extensive public remarks stating that he does not believe anything happened between the Trump Campaign and the Russians.  Oh, and that there was not obstruction of justice. Unfortunately, before being briefed on the investigation or before talking to the ethics attorneys in the DOJ, Mr. Whitaker has expressed that he will not recuse himself.  Of course not. Mr. Trump would not have appointed him if he did.  Preposterously, today Mr. Trump claimed to reporters that he did not know Mr. Whitaker, even though Mr. Whitaker often accompanied or replaced Mr. Sessions in many meetings with the president.  Reportedly, since the president did not like Mr. Sessions, Mr. Whitaker often spoke to the president in his stead.  My view is that some kind of quid pro quo was reached between Mr. Trump and Mr. Whitaker.  The former would appoint him Acting AG with some kind of follow on appointment in the future and the latter would make sure Mr. Mueller and his investigation was severely inhibited or ended.  Such an arrangement of course would be illegal and further the case for obstruction of justice.

They are birds of a feather, however.  Mr. Trump is well-known for his scams, such as Trump University that took in millions of our fellow Americans money based on promises never delivered.  It was forced to close down and Mr. Trump paid a hefty fine.  Mr. Whitaker was on the Board of Directors of a firm that the Federal Trade Commission labeled a “scam,” shut down and fined millions of dollars.  Additionally Mr. Whitaker sent threatening emails to some who complained that they were scammed.  So, they have that in common.

Mr. Whitaker has been especially clear in his remarks regarding the Mueller investigation and the circumstances surrounding the president.  He is right in line with the president that there is nothing there and that it is politically motivated.  In fact, he has opined that the “real” investigation should be of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).  Here is what will happen, in my view.

  • Mr. Whitaker will severely limit funding for the Mueller investigation which will curtail further work without having to actually dismiss him and effectively end the investigation.
  • Mr. Whitaker further will limit Mr. Mueller’s work by prohibiting a subpoena of the president to force him to answer questions and will limit any other new avenues of investigation.  (The Acting AG overseeing the investigation must approve all significant elements of the Mueller probe.)
  • Mr. Whitaker will appoint a new Special Counsel to investigate Mrs. Clinton and the DNC in an effort to distract from the Mueller investigation and to give the president a new “caravan” to attack in an effort to distract the American public.

All of this will happen quickly, so that the new Democrat majority in the House has no chance to stop it before taking over in January 2019.  Mr. Trump must be feeling trapped between the rock (Mr. Mueller) and a hard place (the incoming Democrats in the House).  He will act out in any way possible to protect himself, his family and his business interests.  He probably feels that with Mr. Whitaker as the Acting AG, he can dictate which actions the DOJ should take and how Mr. Whitaker can act to protect him.  This is dangerous new territory for our country.  Firing Mr. Mueller directly will cause a political firestorm that may backfire on Mr. Trump.  Instead there will be delays, obfuscation and a slow strangling of the Mueller probe.  The real question is how senior officials in the DOJ, starting with Mr. Rosenstein will react to this affront to our Constitution.  Do they resign in mass?  Do they soldier on doing the best that they can under stifling circumstances?

What about the Republicans in the Senate?  Will they find a spine and stand up to the president at last? Are there any Republicans left in the Senate or have they all become Trumpists?  I see little hope as Senators such as Lindsay Graham (Trumpist — SC) have gone from saying that firing Mr. Sessions would not be tolerated to supporting Mr. Trump’s action to remove him.

“If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay.  Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, unless Mueller did something wrong.”  — Lindsay Graham in July 2017

“What I’ve been saying for months is every president deserves an attorney general they have confidence in and they can work with.” — Lindsay Graham in November 2018

I am not picking on Senator Graham as his remarks reflect the change in almost every Republican in Washington today.  They changed from executing their oversight role to a becoming a rubber stamp of all things Trumpian, even as it defies what they say they’ve stood for their entire lives.

So for a few hours Tuesday night, I felt good about the future of our country.  I still feel good about it in the long run.  A few short hours later I realized that in the short run, we have a crazy ride ahead of us that will threaten the very fiber of our country.  I think we will survive based on the goodwill I experienced Tuesday, but it is not going to be easy or pretty.

Hang on for a crazy trip over the next two years.  It’s gonna be wild, baby!