Tuesday, June 30, 2020

PALACE REVOLUTION

June 30, 2020

It may have happened already we just don’t know about it yet or it will happen in the next few weeks, certainly before the Republican Convention scheduled for August 24-27. The tide has turned. A confluence of events and utterances, all in June, has woken up the servile Republicans from their stupor and has them now quietly but inexorably looking for the exits. The Nixonian moment is here and someone will whisper in the President’s ear, if not already done, that it is time to go. There are several straws that can legitimately claim to have broken the camel’s back, but I pick the one where our Commander in Mischief responded, in an interview with Sean Hannity to a softball question of what his top priorities for a second term presidency would be, with the following (verbatim):

Well, one of the things that will be really great, you know the word experience is still good. I always say talent is more important than experience. I’ve always said that. But the word experience is a very important word. It’s an — a very important meaning. I never did this before. I never slept over in Washington. I was in Washington, I think, 17 times. All of a sudden, I’m president of the United States. You know the story. I’m riding down Pennsylvania Avenue with our First Lady and I say, ‘This is great. But I didn’t know very many people in Washington. It wasn’t my thing. I was from Manhattan, from New York. Now I know everybody, and I have great people in the administration. You make some mistakes. Like, you know, an idiot like Bolton. All he wanted to do was drop bombs on everybody. You don’t have to drop bombs on everybody. You don’t have to kill people. 

This typical Trumpian utterance (you can read transcripts of numerous prior interviews and find the same disconnectedness and rambling) turned fatal not just because of what it said and not said, but also given the time in which it crossed the President’s lips. Our President offered this incoherent and irrelevant response at the time that COVID-19, the economic crisis and the Black Lives Matter protests dominated everyone else’s agenda. None of it had his attention. Of course, he could not have answered the question truthfully. It would not have come across very well had he said that his top priorities would be to further enrich his family fortune and shield himself from prosecution for crimes committed prior to and during his first term in office. Nor, that his top priority for now would be to guarantee for himself and his family immunity from prosecution from such crimes, in case he would be denied a second term. With Bill Barr as Attorney General, there would never be a better chance to get the slate wiped clean of all crimes and misdemeanors waiting indictment upon his leaving office.

Were Donald J. Trump a true Republican, office worthy, President, he would have thankfully accepted this interview slow pitch and drilled it over the fence with an answer that his top priority would remain to keep the American people safe from any hostile action by America’s adversaries, from COVID-19 or any other virus, from cyber intrusion and from unfair competition. In follow-up, he could have told the viewing public that on his agenda for a second term would be to take effective steps to reverse the trend of increased inequality between American residents, that manifests itself in income, wealth, health, education, housing and incarceration from which ethnic minorities are disproportionate victims of disadvantage.

He could have told the audience that he would use his second term to bring America’s fiscal house back in order, to negotiate new trade deals with any nation that would side with the United States in the fight against unfair Chinese trade practices, to upgrade Obamacare and cover the cost of COVID-protection and treatment for all Americans, and to finally implement a comprehensive immigration policy. It might have required a stretch of imagination, but he could even have committed to some serious steps to address climate change. He could have made a pledge to rule in a second term by legislative action rather than by tweet and executive order.

Predictably, Trump said none of this. He never once showed that he was even aware that his constituents were in the midst of the most serious crisis of their lifetime, affecting health, the economy and their unity and solidarity. As Anne Applebaum wrote in The Atlantic: “The true nature of the ideology that Trump brought to Washington was not ‘America First’, but rather ‘Trump First’.

Thus, is it time for a palace revolution. It is unthinkable that the GOP majority in the Senate is prepared to go down with the ship, wrecked by a President who should never have been. I confidently predict that Moscow Mitch, now with the Russian bounty scandal hanging over his head, will want to get rid of his nickname by getting rid of the man who most stands in the way of his chance to remain majority leader of the Senate. After all, Trump has served his purpose of getting 200 Federal Judges appointed, including two Associate Justices of the Supreme Court. He has become dispensable and more of a liability than an asset to the Republican cause. His fate was sealed when he foolishly cleared Lafayette Square in order to wave the bible at us in front of St. John’s church, made a fool of himself at the WestPoint graduation ceremony and again at the Tulsa campaign rally that misfired in the worst way after initially being planned for Juneteenth, and ordained an end to America’s participation in the World Health Organization at a time of the worst global pandemic since the plague. His dropping the ball in the interview with Hannity was just the icing on the cake.

Mitch McConnell will now make sure that the man he used for his purposes, be it in the most supine way imaginable, will only be a one term President.


Friday, May 15, 2020

GOOD MONEY AFTER BAD


May 15, 2020

We are down for the count. We have received a sucker punch out of the blue and it has hit us harder than anything after Pearl Harbor. The corona pandemic was not in our planning and it has caught us by surprise, just like Japan did on December 7 of 1941. But, to our credit, and in spite of the political polarization and paralysis, Congress has acted quickly to fund the repair and recovery effort and mitigate the impact on the economy and its public and business participants. As of this date, Congress has authorized the spending of $3.6 trillion, which - according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget – will add $2.4 trillion to this year’s deficit. To put this number of $3.6 trillion in perspective, it is roughly 18 % of our total economy as measured by GDP. And, this will not be the end of it. With a faltering economy and unemployment approaching or surpassing 20%, a lot more money will have to be spent to prevent this crisis from turning into the next great depression. No doubt, in an election year, that Congress will be prepared to let Treasury borrow that money. Nobody can, given the situation we find ourselves in, reasonably argue against the need for massive fiscal and monetary stimulus at this time, but the pace at which we are now adding to the national debt should make us think about the carelessness with which we have managed fiscal policy during normal times.

Let’s consider the numbers for the last three decades. In 1990, under H.W.Bush’ term in office, the national debt stood at $3.2 trillion (less than what we have now already spent on the corona crisis) and it took six years to cross the $5 trillion line. The next milestone of $10 trillion in debt was not reached until 2008, twelve years later. But then, fueled initially by the stimulus enacted to get us out of the great recession of 2008 and now by the extraordinary steps taken to combat the corona crisis, the national debt has exploded to over somewhere in the range of $25-30 trillion, where we will end up before 2020 is behind us.

Over the last thirty years we have had many good years, economically speaking, interspersed with a few years of economic setbacks, but the one constant is that through all this, our national debt has never been reduced at any year and just shown accelerated growth. That should have been unacceptable to all of us and it is a shame that we have never had the courage to hold our legislators and administrations accountable for their failing to be willing to live within their means. This is not a partisan failure. The record shows that the national debt has been growing under the Democratic administrations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as well as under the Republican Bush and Trump administrations. We have consistently refused to either cut spending or increase taxes and never even considered to do both at the same time. The worst part of all of this is that, in spite of all the deficit spending, we have not seriously addressed the main challenges the nation faces. All challenges that can be grouped under the larger umbrella of the problem of persistent and increasing inequality. We have, in the public sector, been mortgaging our financial future without buying anything of substance with the money we have received on loan. The cause for this fiscal misbehavior is to be found in a fundamental unwillingness of our politicians - on either side of the aisle - to approach budgeting the appropriate way of first assessing the policy needs of the country and then funding these needs by adjusting tax measures as needed to balance our books.

Our needs are rising and generally well recognized, but we are stubbornly unwilling to pay for the solutions that present themselves, so we kick the can down the road and yet keep borrowing to merely keep the doors open. We have ourselves to blame: we reward, with our votes, our lawmakers for the goodies they provide us and punish them for not lowering our taxes. But there will come a day of reckoning. We just learned that 40% of family income earners of less than $40,000/year have lost a job in the aftermath of the corona crisis. And, although good hard numbers are hard to come by, we have ample anecdotal evidence that the corona virus has hit our most vulnerable, the elderly, the incarcerated, the disabled, racial minorities, and low-income earners, much harder than the rest of the population.

This may be about the only good thing coming out of this crisis. It puts the effects of inequality in such revealing limelight, that we can, much as we may want to, no longer ignore it. The low-income earners are taking it on the chin, not only in terms of unemployment and susceptibility to the virus. Case in point: healthcare. Our dependency on employer provided healthcare worked passably well under full employment conditions that we have enjoyed for so long, but is wholly inadequate at the unemployment rate we are now facing and will have to deal with in the foreseeable future. The low-income earners are not only disproportionately losing their jobs, but also their healthcare insurance, at a time that they most need it. Other case in point: education. With the cost of education where it is today and the shifting towards more online learning, the most privileged 1% of income earners will feel no pain, but the bottom 40% will be handicapped by lack of income, no or poor broadband access, and little or no access to a working space conducive to studying and learning.

It is ironic, but deeply sad, that minorities are disproportionately represented among the lower echelons of healthcare work (EMT workers, nurses, and workers in nursing homes and long-term care facilities) and thus disproportionately exposed to the coronavirus. It is not unlike the foot soldiers at war: they are taking the brunt together with low income workers in retail and distribution. Inequality means that the people we need most in the fight against the virus and are most exposed to it, are denied the privileges that the better off in our society take for granted.

I can’t believe that I would ever say this, but in this case we should by all means throw a lot of good money after the bad money we have wasted when times were good. We need to protect the most vulnerable in our society from the worst impact of COVID-19 first, keep them a viable part of our economy by guaranteeing them a living income and shielding them from the virus. When we have that under control, we can begin to seriously address inequality in all of its aspects. But that may have to wait until after January 20, 2021.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

THE WAY BACK


April 12, 2020

It is Easter and, of course, we are thinking about resurrection. We have just been hit by what may turn out to be the worst crisis of our lifetime and, because we have been told to stay home and away from each other, we have time to think about how we could have been better prepared to cope with the pandemic and the social and economic upheaval it has caused and how we get out of the crisis situation we are in.

If there is one blessing to be derived from this crisis, it is that it is bringing, unmercifully, into focus the shortcomings of our social and political structure. Now, that is obviously only a blessing if we are ready and willing to learn from it and to take steps to address, mitigate and, if at all possible, eliminate these inadequacies. Whether that will come about depends entirely on our political will and the quality and integrity of our political leadership.

What are the inequities and inadequacies brought to the surface by the COVID-19 crisis?
·       A lack of any strategic plan to reduce the extreme inequalities that have creeped up in the American society and that now result in a very uneven distribution of the burdens, health wise, economic and social, of sickness, death, anguish, despair and suffering, among distinctly separate segments of our population.
·       The negative effect of wholesale changes in agency leadership and staff and in regulatory policy resulting from changes in administration.
·       The absence of a coordinated public health strategy and plan that clearly assigns responsibilities between the various levels of government.
·       The absence of complete and uninterrupted funding of public health needs at all levels of government.
·       The absence of a reliable domestic supply chain for critical components of the medical care structure: facilities, staff, equipment, tests and testing capacity, vaccines, and therapeutics.
·       The absence of equal, reliable, high capacity broadband access in all regions and communities of our nation allowing for cyber learning and communication between all citizens and their institutions.
·       The absence of a permanent safety net structure capable of financially supporting the victims of epidemics and their economic effects, whether they are individuals or businesses.
·       The inability or unwillingness of our politicians to set their differences in ideology aside and work together on helping the country to manage through this crisis with minimal lasting damage. We constantly hear the words ‘we are all in this together’, our politicians talk the talk but fail to walk the walk.
·       The unpreparedness to safeguard the security and continuity of our political process in the absence of physical proximity, whether it is in the right of assembly or participating in elections. The public sector is far behind the private sector in the use of cyber technology in support of its most vital processes.

The best we can hope for is that the enormous damage done by and during this crisis in terms of human death and suffering and the economic collapse resulting from it will make us stop and think about what really matters to us, individually and collectively. There should be some ‘wake-up’ effect of the complete disruption of our ‘business as usual’ routine. Suddenly, our traffic problems have disappeared, the air in and above our cities has cleared up, and gas prices are lower than at any time we can remember. We get a renewed appreciation for the essentials of life, shelter, food, clean air, and good health. We learn to live without dependence on TV sports and the exploits of our favorite professional team. We do okay without the thrill of the Final Four, the Masters, Wimbledon and Major League baseball. What can we learn from this very different experience?

There is little doubt that the corona crisis will be recognized in history as a major disrupter on the scale of the Spanish Flu epidemic, the Great Depression, World War II, the Vietnam War, 9/11, and the 2008 recession. These paradigm changing events present, by their shock effect, rare opportunities for fundamental changes in the body politic. Jamie Dimon, in his letter to J.P. Morgan shareholders, points to this when he writes: “there will come a time when we will look back and it will be clear how we – at all levels of society, government, business, healthcare systems, and civic and humanitarian organizations – could have been and will be better prepared to face emergencies of this scale.”

It is not complicated. The task at hand is to systematically address and correct the inadequacies that have surfaced during this crisis. We know how to start that process: with the creation of a bipartisan working group similar to the 9/11 Committee. Special attention should be given to the issue of ‘inequality’, which, in my mind, is the defining issue of our time. The corona crisis presents again a stinging reminder of how human hardships of life, death, sickness and economic despair are unevenly divided throughout our population. Someone in the social media likened the reality of the corona experience to the last moments on board of the Titanic: “In first class the celebration was continuing, the orchestra was playing, but below decks the water was engulfing crew and passengers alike.”

When the issue of ‘inequality’ comes up in the political discussion, the focus is normally on ‘income inequality’ or ‘wealth inequality’. That focus may be misguided and unnecessarily divisive. History and human nature will tell us that a degree of income- and wealth inequality is unavoidable. The negative consequences of inequality in income and wealth are mostly centered around access to health services, education, and housing, or, rather, access to the best available resources in these categories. These negative consequences can be addressed by direct government subsidies to the institutions delivering these services to people who cannot afford the real cost. This does not mean that the government needs to take over the delivery of these services, just the preparedness to pay for equal access for all Americans, regardless of income or wealth.

No doubt, these solutions come at a cost. But, if any shock effect should come from this crisis, may it be that it is time to leave the dreamland of ever lower taxes. The American economy generates more than enough wealth to provide all Americans with equal access to fundamental living essentials like quality healthcare, quality education and quality housing. Equitable taxation structures should be designed to share the wealth and result in balanced budgets at times of economic prosperity, while allowing all Americans these fundamental living essentials. Deficit financing should be reserved for periods like the one we are living through now when a crisis forces increased government expenditures and reduced government revenues.

Before too long, we will be on the way back from this crisis. Hopefully, we will realize that this will not be the last pandemic we will experience and prepare ourselves to recognize the next one earlier and with more urgency. And hopefully we will be better equipped to tackle the next one before it can do too much damage. Like Jamie Dimon says: “There should have been a pandemic playbook. Likewise, every problem I noted above should have detailed and nonpartisan solutions.” I feel like he spoke for me.

Let’s make the way back a path to a stronger future for all Americans. We do not have a divine right to success, but we sure can help ourselves and strengthen our exceptional republic.

HAPPY EASTER!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

IMPOTUS 45


I am an unabashed and unapologetic non-Trumper conservative who has been waiting for more than three years for an occurrence that would, even to the most faithful Trump fanatics, expose the incompetence of the person we elected to be our 45th President. I have long believed that Donald J Trump would be brought down by a self-created crisis and many times he has come close. More than once have I tweeted “give the man a long enough rope and he will hang himself”. But so far, he has been saved by an implausible streak of good luck and a servile, subservient conduct of the GOP majority in the Senate. It looks as if his luck has finally run out.

We have Nassim Nicholas Taleb to thank for coining the notion of the “black swan”. A ‘black swan’ is an unforeseen external event that has an earth shattering, course altering, effect on life’s expected routine. The surfacing of the COVID-19 virus is technically not exactly a black swan, because it cannot be said that it was outside the realm of regular expectations. We have known for a long time that a pandemic could come out of the blue and get out of hand because of initial failure to recognize the symptoms and as a result of the human inclination towards denial. But the Trump administration has managed to be caught flat footed and utterly unprepared to deal with the threat, even though it had ample warning from the initial appearance of the corona virus in Wuhan, China and the spread outside of China in the following weeks. Only the last two days has the President changed course and determined that he now has a veritable crisis on his hands that requires government intervention.

The occurrence of the virus is explainable and predictable, and so is the failure of the Trump administration to address it timely and effectively. From day one it was clear that a pandemic would have a serious health, social and economic impact that, in turn, in an election year would threaten the re-electability of Donald J Trump. For this reason – and, likely, for this reason alone – the President himself chose to ignore the warning signals, downplay the risks, pooh-pooh the seriousness of the threat and hope that his luck would hold and that the thing would blow over before the primary season would be there and the people would ponder the political implications.

No one can argue that the President is responsible for the outbreak of the corona virus epidemic in the USA. As has been said, the virus knows no borders, gender, age, creed, race or social status. It would have arrived on our shores regardless of any early government intervention and it would have arrived here under any other occupant of the White House. But as the head of the federal government, the President is certainly responsible for the state of unpreparedness with which the nation now has to face, deal with, and overcome the health, social, and economic threat the COVID-19 represents.
This would be true of any other President, but it takes on particular meaning with a President like Trump, who likes to brag that he knows more and has a better handle on issues than anyone around him, including the press and experts inside and outside of his government. Remember when he said (be it in another context): “I alone can fix it.”?

As David Remnick observed in The New Yorker on March 16, “the President has squandered the most precious resource in a pandemic: time.” He did so in the mistaken belief that this storm would blow over in short time and could be ignored at no peril to his political future.

This is no hurricane. It is not a replay of Katrina that impacted the Texas Gulf, a region, or Maria that devastated Puerto Rico, a US territory. COVID-19 is a storm of national scope and impact. Trump got away with the mismanagement of the Puerto Rico hurricane relief, because Puerto Ricans do not influence the outcome of national elections. He will not get away with his misjudgment and mismanagement of the corona crisis, which impacts the whole country and is certain to push the US economy into a recession. His statement during a March 13 press conference: “I don’t take responsibility at all” will not absolve him. On the contrary it will be held against him come election time in November. How can any responsible chief executive of any institution not hold him/herself accountable for any action or omission of the organization he/she leads? In COVID-19 Donald J Trump has met his Waterloo! Only a complete collapse of the Democratic presidential campaign can now salvage his chance to be a two term President.

It is a long way between now and November 3, and there is a lot of time for mischief in the interim. Given Trump’s conduct so far during his first term in office, with his authoritarian and self-serving style, and given the fact that a servile GOP will let him do just about anything, we are entering a dangerous phase that will call for extreme civil alertness and oversight. There is no telling how much harm this President can do for as long as he has majority support in the Senate; and the jury is still out on how much the Supreme Court will let him get away with. Now that he finds himself deprived of the opportunity to hold mass rallies, he is likely to say and do just about anything to rile up his fanatic base of support in the run up to the election. And his narcissistic, egocentric, profile suggests that he may go berserk once he becomes convinced that he might lose the election, defeated by a faltering economy that went into recession at just the critical time (and as a result of a black swan for which he does not bear responsibility).

He still has time – until January 20, 2021 – to impose his will on a variety of his favorite targets by executive orders, pardons, and simply by testing the boundaries of the executive branch authority. The danger is exacerbated by his realization that, once out of office, he loses the protection against indictment for criminal conduct in his business before or during his tenure in office.

I may have given this President the twitter handle #IMPOTUS45, in large part because of the incompetence of his administration as exposed by the onset of the COVID 19 epidemic, but I know full well that he is not so impotent that he could do no more serious harm to our republican democracy. Caveat emptor!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

SYCOPHANTS


February 4, 2020.

We have just gone through a revealing constitutional process that was televised and recorded for everyone to see and, because of my retired status, I have been able to follow it pretty much from A to Z. I say that, even though at this point the final vote on the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, the President of the United States, has yet to be taken. But, one of the remarkable aspects of this solemn process is that the outcome was preordained by the political reality of our time. Which, immediately, raises the question why the Democrats chose to go the impeachment route in their legitimate efforts to perform the Congressional oversight function which is such an important part of the constitutional powers of the legislative branch of government. Fore sure they must have realized that no American President has ever been removed from office before.

In spite of all the contentiousness and disingenuity of the argumentation on both sides of the impeachment battle, I found it fascinating to watch the actors in this process putting life into words of a constitution that was written centuries ago. It was a pity that the TV cameras were not permitted to bring us the tableaux of what actually happened inside the Senate instead of being blindly focused on whoever held the floor at any particular moment. What went on in the heads of the actors on stage, the contestants, the senators, and the chief justice, remained carefully hidden from us if they were not actually speaking.

We were all curious to see how Chief Justice John Roberts would interpret his role in the process of presiding over the impeachment trial in the Senate. And we learned that he chose not to influence the course of the process, much less the outcome. He stepped in only three times. Once to remind the contestants to observe proper Senate decorum, once to block a question that would have exposed the identity of the whistleblower who triggered the House investigation of the Ukrainian quid pro quo, and once to declare that he would not be offering a deciding vote if a Senate resolution would end up in a 50-50 tie (which never happened).

Ultimately, it came down to a dispute of what would (or would not) constitute a “high crime or misdemeanor” as referred to in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution. If the President’s actions were found to meet this criterion, the Senate would be obliged under the Constitution to indict him and remove him from office.

Even though most of the President’s defenders tried to argue, as he himself did, that the President did nothing wrong, confronted with the available evidence, the Republican senators had to retreat to the position that “maybe it was wrong, inappropriate, what the President did”, but it “did not constitute a high crime or misdemeanor and therefore it was not impeachable and the President could (should) not be convicted and removed from office”.

Many words have been spoken, and written, about the unique features of the Senate impeachment trial process. The way the Trump impeachment process has developed, it has become clear to all of us that an impeachment trial is different, in many aspects, from a trial of persons accused of and indicted for crimes or misdemeanors under any of the criminal codes of State or Federal statutes. And these differences largely benefit the President. Maybe rightly so, because it should not be easy to remove the President from office. If the impeachment trial had been a criminal trial, no doubt witnesses would have been called, heard and cross-examined and both the prosecution and the defense would have been allowed to introduce documentary evidence. The trial judge would have been calling all the shots, rather than the Senate majority leader, who had already declared that he was coordinating the process with the White House. In a criminal trial, jurors would have been screened for existing biases for or against the defendant. This time, the Senate, sitting in as the jury deciding guilt or innocence, consisted in majority of members of the President’s party.

I may be proven wrong, but I submit that the historic significance of Trump’s impeachment trial will not be in the Senate’s verdict of conviction or acquittal, but rather in the precedent it sets for Congress’ powers of oversight of the Executive Branch. At a time that one President after another (but no one more than President Trump) has been testing the will of the Congress and the Judiciary to enforce the limits of executive power established in the Constitution, it is important as ever to maintain the carefully crafted democratic system of checks and balances between the three branches of government. This system of checks and balances is at the core of the Constitution and the democracy is threatened if the checks are not performed or the balance is not maintained. By these criteria, the impeachment provisions of the Constitution failed the test of time and changing realities.

The degree to which the GOP Congressional delegation has been surrendering its oversight authority in deference to President Trump is astonishing. As if they are not aware that the time may come, sooner than they will want to acknowledge, that there will be a Democrat in the White House again and they will wish to see Congress put the guard rails on the powers of the Executive Branch at that time. Having said that, I realize that we cannot overestimate politicians’ capacity to reverse positions any time the shoe fits a different foot. How revealing isn’t it that a comparison of the Clinton and the Trump impeachment trials shows that the spokesmen for the Democrats and Republicans have been reversing arguments, almost verbatim using each other’s arguments of 22 years ago against the other.
Hypocrisy reigns if it comes to political expediency. Most blatantly exhibited by Mitch McConnell who, as Leader of the Senate, held up the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court on the grounds that we were in a Presidential election year, but has already declared that he will immediately take up the filling of another Supreme Court vacancy if it arises in 2020 before November 3.

The outcome of the Trump impeachment trial demonstrates that we have arrived at the worrisome reality that the President can get away with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress as long as his party has a majority in the Senate. Fatefully, this new reality destroys the ideal of two co-equal branches of government. For now, this benefits the GOP. It will be different, but equally damaging, once the shoe fits on the other foot. This is not what the Founders ever envisaged. In their time, there were factions, but no institutionalized political parties. Madison and Hamilton were both of the belief that a large number of Congressional delegates would guarantee that there would always be enough of a diversity of judgment and opinion to guard against a tyrannical majority imposing its will ad lib against all better judgment.  They built a miraculous structure for republican democracy, but they did not foresee that, one day, that American democracy would be cheated by a collusion between an immoral, self-centered, narcissistic President and  a bunch of partisan sycophants who care more for their hold on power than for the interest of the People they are supposed to represent.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

EVERYTHING HANGS IN THE BALANCE


December 15, 2019

We know, from reading the Federalist Papers, that James Madison and Alexander Hamilton were keenly aware that they could not presume that the voters would always put the leadership of the country in the hands of a person of irreproachable character who would put the interest of the People and the country first. This is why section 4 of Article II, dealing with the impeachment process, is included in the Constitution.

The President, the Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States can all be removed from office by impeachment. The words “civil officers” shields military officers from impeachment and the precedent was early established that impeachment provision does not apply to members of Congress either.

It is remarkable though that, in all of the 231 years that the Constitution has been in effect, no President or Vice President has yet been removed from office by impeachment. The only civil officers to be impeached and removed from office have been judges, seven so far. Two Presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton have been impeached by the House of Representatives, but acquitted by the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned before the House of Representatives had a chance to vote on the articles of impeachment drawn up against him.

In a couple of days, the House of Representatives will issue a third impeachment against a sitting President and then it will be up to the Senate to decide if it will remove Donald J. Trump from office for committing the high crime of abuse of power and/or obstruction of Congress. It is widely believed that the outcome of this process is preordained to be the third acquittal of a President in the history of the Republic.

In the immediate aftermath, half the nation will rejoice and the other half will be furious, but future generations will wonder where the system, so thoughtfully and ingeniously put in place by the founding fathers, failed to deliver in the face of irrefutable evidence of conduct unbecoming of the holder of the highest office in the land and a persistent and flaunting breach of the oath taken at the inauguration of our 45th President.

The short-term effect of the system failure may be limited if, in less than a year, the voters correct the situation and vote Donald J. Trump out of office. But the long-term effect is likely to set a precedent that no President, nominated by the party controlling the Senate, will be impeached and removed from office.
The carefully crafted system of checks and balances does not work when the institutions that are charged with the obligation to provide the checks are stubbornly refusing to do their job.

If Congress is incapable or unwilling to keep the ambitions and powers of the President in check, then the next safeguard to the system is in the hands of the judiciary branch of government. At the time of this writing, numerous actions by Donald J. Trump, committed in office, as a Presidential candidate, and as a private citizen are currently under scrutiny of various courts. Only a dubious Department of Justice memorandum from 2000 prevents the indictment and criminal prosecution of this President.

Can the courts step in where Congress fails to put the guard rails on Presidential conduct and authority? Will they? The senate majority leader has worked long and hard on confirming lifetime appointments to the Federal Courts as well as the Supreme Court for judges who are considered favorable to his party’s cause. And Donald Trump, with his handpicked and subservient Attorney General, as President and as private citizen has all the means to delay final verdicts by endless appeals. The delaying game pays off, both politically and legally: With most federal offenses subject to a 5-year statute of limitation, a second term would shield this President from ever getting prosecuted for criminal offenses any other citizen would be convicted of and imprisoned for. And, until the Supreme Court has spoken, the public remains in doubt about the legality of the disputed actions by the defendant, allowing the GOP to argue that the President has done nothing illegal.

Under these conditions, only the voters can restore the checks and balances that are imperfectly working under one party sabotage and the current balance of power. Best of all would be if the People convincingly deny Trump a second term, but the Democrats appear to be hell bent on making the same mistake that cost the Labour party in the UK dearly, by going way left of where the voting public is willing to go. Second best then is for the voters to punish the GOP, for its subservience to an unfit President and the relinquishing of the basic republican tenets, and take them out of the majority in the Senate.

The Constitution itself cannot pull us out of the existing quagmire, if the impeachment tool is taken out of the toolkit by party considerations and the judicial process is slow to respond and handcuffed by Presidential prerogatives. But the battle is not lost. It merely shifts to the forum where it best belongs, the voting public. Everything hangs in the balance with the 2020 national elections. They will decide if we will still have a Republic that we can keep.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

THE MEAN STREAK


Growing up as a child in the Netherlands, right after the Second World War, a deep admiration and respect for anything American was instilled in me. It did not matter that, in the process of liberating our country from the Nazi’s, a lot of damage was done to our infrastructure (homes, buildings, roads, bridges and railways), for us the America lead Allies were good guys, heroes. They gave us back our freedom that had so brutally and completely been taken from us for 5 years.

As it happened, it was in fact Canadian, not American, troops who drove the German occupiers from our village. They shot our house to pieces in the process (we survived in the cellar). It did not matter to my parents, did not diminish the gratitude they felt towards their liberators.

That gratitude was widened and deepened by the implementation of the Marshall Plan (the subject of an impressive 2018 book of the same title by Benn Steil). The war had left all of Western Europe destitute, bereft of infrastructure and resources. The economies of Germany, Italy and the European Allies were in shambles and the Truman administration quickly recognized that, without American support, its peoples were vulnerably exposed to the communist propaganda coming from the Soviet Union.

I grew up in an austere, scarcity, economy, where essential food, like meat, butter, sugar, and clothing was rationed, but the Marshall Plan saved us from starvation and the threat of communism. All the more reason to think highly of America.

In the austerity climate, we were allowed very few indulgences, but as conditions and family income improved somewhat, I was allowed to subscribe to the weekly, Dutch language, comics magazine “Donald Duck” a Disney creation. In fact, I believe that it was a free bonus item for subscribers to a popular ladies’ magazine my mother subscribed to. Regardless, it shaped my view of America and the American people.

The main character, Donald Duck, was a smart, irreverent free spirit, always looking for adventure, love and opportunity to do good. A model American citizen and a spin off from the American GI’s that had come to our rescue. His alter ego was ‘uncle Dagobert’ in the Dutch edition (Scrooge McDuck in its original American version).                                                                             

By naming him ‘uncle Dagobert’ it was not so obvious at first that we were dealing with a real scrooge, but story after story he was unmasked as a greedy, self centered son-of-a-bitch, devoid of empathy with the less fortunate and dismissive of the lovable Donald Duck.

Disney was no fool. With Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck he depicted two sides of a split personality that are perpetually and inseparably linked. What I’m saying is that there have always been (and probably always will be) two opposing elements to the American psyche: one benevolent and compassionate and one with a mean streak. These elements are always there, link yin and yang, good and bad, black and white. But they show up with different intensity, with different band width, in different people or groupings and at different times. Sometimes the benevolent, compassionate sentiment prevails, at other times it is overwhelmed by the mean streak.

The mean streak is of all ages and shows strong correlation with populism. It shows up most vehemently and violently when Americans get riled up behind populist causes, as was the case with the witch hunts in colonial New England, the persecution and displacement of native Americans, the Ku Klux Klan, the Jim Crow sentiment of the Reconstruction, the internment of Americans of Japanese origin, McCarthyism andone could argueslavery.

The mean streak rears its ugly head again, this time under the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’, subtitled ‘and may everyone else be damned’. The Donald we have to deal with these days is the embodiment of the American mean streak in his callous refusal to wall off the Presidency from his personal and business interest represented by the Trump brand; in his bending of the truth, if not cheating and lying; in his dismissal of science and facts; in his contempt for the less fortunate, refugees and immigrants in particular; in his ridicule and retribution for anyone who dares to oppose him; in his incendiary language used to rile up his populist supporters; in his devotion to other bad characters on the world stage and his disdain for the American Allies who fought alongside our GI’s against absolutism.

The Donald may be the embodiment of the American mean streak, but in that he is far from alone. This is the most distressing reality of today. Give the mean streak a political platform and it will inevitably attract a crowd. There are always more followers than leaders. That is the essence, the hallmark of populism. How much of a crowd, how many followers? That is something we will have to find out in the 2020 election.

Which side of the American split personality will win out in 2020? Which Donald will prevail? The duck who endeared America to the world or the Donald who knows no business but his own business? The long arc of history shows that, also in America, good wins out over evil. But we may be in for a few more years for the mean streak to burn itself out.