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.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

INTERNECINE STRIFE


“The most disturbing thing I've learned from the Trump presidency isn't anything about @realDonaldTrump. It's what Trumpism has revealed about friends, neighbors and family that hurts deeply and makes me sad.”
Nate Bell @NateBell4AR

This tweet from Nate Bell, an ex-GOP politician, expresses succinctly what has been gnawing on me without finding the right articulation to bring it out in the open.

Nate Bell is hundred percent right. Donald Trump is just one person, entitled to his opinions like all of us are. The fact that he has been elected President does not change that. While it is curious, to say the least, that he feels comfortable – in fact is hell bent – to voice his personal opinions, misconceptions and fabrications by tweet, knowing that all of this will ultimately become part of the public record of his presidency, it remains only one person’s contribution to the public discourse. It is the response, that his unprecedented (for a President of the USA), reckless, and vicious torrent of bias and agitation has spawned, that saddens me. I still have difficulty accepting that America has offered such fertile soil for his brand of bullying, populism and demagoguery.

No one can say that Donald Trump deceived the voting public by campaigning as something else (more) than he is, a bigoted, narcissistic, misogynistic, unscrupulous manipulator of the minds of people who want to believe that only their ilk represents the real America. So, we got what we voted for. And we should not be surprised to see that this man now behaves exactly like he did in his sordid campaign even though voters (how many of them?) may have thought that, once in office, he would conform to traditional decorum and prudence under the spell of the majesty of the office he was elected to.

I just finished reading Rick Atkinson’s first book of what is promised to be a trilogy on the Revolutionary War, titled “The British Are Coming”. It is a monumental account of the epic struggle that was required to give birth to a nation determined to no longer be governed by an autocratic distant power but by the people and for the people. Atkinson’s book makes it painfully clear that American independence was not universally embraced by the inhabitants of the thirteen colonies and that communities and families were split between loyalists (to the Crown) and rebels (dedicated to independence and republicanism). The uprising against the British control of the thirteen colonies was setting up the first American internecine strife, pitching neighbor against neighbor, children against parents and siblings against siblings.

This scene of internecine strife would be repeated, with no less devastating effect, during the Civil War and – to a lesser extent – during the Vietnam War. And now it rears its ugly head again and this time it is my first direct encounter with it. I witnessed the Vietnam War from Europe, where people were less personally involved, but similarly divided.

Like Nate Bell, I am set back by what Trumpism has revealed about (some of) my friends, peers, neighbors and extended family. The rift that clearly exists between Trumpists and Never-Trumpists is not about policy but mostly about style and character. I cringe every time I see, which is often more than once a day, how the leader of the free world drapes himself in the American flag while -in the words of David Rothkopf – embracing nearly constant jingoism and denying people who disagree with him the mantle of patriotism. I have never been one to believe that the ends justify the means. I do not dispute that a more assertive American policy in the relationship with our allies and trade partners was probably overdue, but it matters a great deal how one plays in the sandbox. This President has no respect for continuity of purpose in America’s relationship with its allies and adversaries and is all about personal glorification, adding to the Trump brand, never mind that his successor will have to clean up the mess.

My uneasiness stems from the fact that many of my friends, peers, neighbors, and extended family members don’t see it that way. Would they put up with Trump-like behavior from their bosses, their direct reports, or members of their network? Not a chance! But for this President of the USA the normal rules of personal conduct are suspended, because the economy is booming and the stock market is at an all time high. Do they really believe that under a true Republican conservative President this would not have happened? And is it worth paying the price of near universal ridicule and contempt from the rest of the free world?

I admit to being part of the problem. Finding myself no longer on speaking terms when it comes to domestic politics with those who will defend this charlatan of a President à tort et à travers. At my age, I can ill afford to lose friends, when natural attrition is already taking a steep toll. It hurts, but for me it is a matter of human decency and civilized norms that I cannot disavow.

To the victor go the spoils. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now unequivocally say who was on the wrong side of history in the three previous episodes of serious national discord rising to the level of internecine strife. The loyalists, the confederates and the Vietnam hawks got the short end of the stick and were condemned to live with the ignominy of having been found to have been supporting the wrong (lost) cause. It gives me good reason to believe that 50 years from now (but hopefully sooner) it will become indisputably clear that Trumpism was an aberration, an episode of a large part of the public, misled by a seriously flawed character with appeals to people's basic instincts of fear, aggression and contempt, finding themselves on the wrong side of the arc of history.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

CHECKS AND BALANCES


Is it wishful thinking or recognition of the inevitable when I convince myself that the day of reckoning for this President is imminent and that the only question is if it will be Congress, the Judiciary or the voters who will push him into ignominy?

It is hard to miss the irony: The man who whipped his followers into a frenzy with chants of ‘lock her up’ when talking about his challenger for the Presidency is now, according to hundreds of US prosecutors, only saved from being indicted by the office he holds and only for the time that he can hold on to that office. The Mueller report strongly suggests that the President obstructed justice multiple times in an effort to derail the investigations into the Russian interference with our 2016 Presidential election.

Irony upon irony is that his sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, had to retire in February as a federal appellate judge to end an investigation into whether she violated judicial conduct rules by participating in fraudulent tax schemes with her siblings. One sibling had to give up her job in order to stay out of trouble, the other has to hold on to his job in order to escape indictment.

This nation has had bad actors in the White House before and the voters cannot always be blamed: some of them, like John Tyler and Andrew Johnson, were never elected to be President but inherited the White House because of the untimely death of their predecessors, William Henry Harrison and Abraham Lincoln. And we narrowly escaped another unelected misfit in the White House when Spiro Agnew was forced to resign in 1973 shortly before the downfall of Richard Nixon. But sometimes the voters just get it wrong, like when they elevated people like Martin van Buren, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and Warren Harding to the highest office in the land. Incompetency, egomania and corruption appear to be the common thread between the reasons why these men failed the nation that entrusted them with the Presidency. Thankfully, we can take solace in the fact that none of these ‘bottom feeders’ served more than one term. Warren Harding died of a heart attack before he could finish his first term.

Remarkably, until now only two Presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have had to endure impeachment proceedings. Both were impeached, but not convicted by the Senate (conviction requires a 2/3rd majority vote in the Senate). Richard Nixon avoided a certain impeachment by resigning his office.

While the Judiciary has no authority to remove a sitting President from office, it has the authority and power to convict him/her once he/she has left office for crimes committed before, during, or after his/her term in office (but not for acts which can credibly be asserted to be within the President’s judgment or discretion in the execution of duties as established by the constitution or law). In other words, our current President could be convicted, after leaving office, if for instance he were to be found guilty of using his office to obtain favors for his business, but not for giving orders to use military force against people who are illegally crossing our borders even when such use of military force results in the death of people who are crossing the border to seek asylum in the US.

The constitution is mute on the issue of a criminal indictment against a sitting President. The rule that a sitting President is immune from criminal prosecution is based merely on a Justice Department policy established in a memo from the Watergate era and confirmed in a 2000 policy memorandum stating that “The indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions”. Note that this position was taken under a Republican administration (Nixon) and confirmed under a Democrat administration (Clinton). It is hard to imagine a future Attorney General (who is a Presidential appointee) ever waiving or scratching this rule.

This Justice Department rule has for an (unintended?) consequence that a President can escape criminal prosecution for offenses committed during his tenure (or before then, e.g. during his election campaign) by serving out two terms, since most federal offenses, including obstruction of justice, are subject to a 5-year statute of limitation. This is why House Democrats have introduced, on May 10 of 2019, the “No President is above the Law Act”, which would defer the start of the statute of limitations period until after the targeted President has left office. Never mind that this proposal has no chance of becoming law since it could not survive a Presidential veto, even if it could pass the Republican controlled Senate.

From all of this, it is crystal clear that the designers and guardians of our constitutional system of government have always assumed that the voters would have the savvy to separate the chaff from the kernels and not elect a President who would be willing to break the law to protect his/her own personal interests. It appears that this confidence in the wisdom of the voters may be naïve or misplaced. Too often in our history voters have overlooked character flaws in their choice of President or fallen victim to treachery and deceit by their chosen candidate once in office. The defense against this error in judgment by the voters is in the impeachment provision of Article 2, section 4 of the constitution.

In 2020, the voters will be called to task again. Given the fact that the Judiciary’s hands are tied, the checks and balances on an errant Presidency will have to come from the voting public. That public would be greatly served by the House of Representatives initiating impeachment hearings for the sole purpose of bringing to light the pattern of self-serving transgressions committed by the 45th President, so that no voter in 2020 can say that they did not know how badly they were served during the first term of the President they voted in office in 2016.

Friday, April 5, 2019

BECAUSE I SAY SO


I have brought up a few children – although most of that job was superbly done by my wife of 50 years – and I can vividly recall the times that I told them, in answer to their question why they had to do something, or do something a certain way, or not to do something, ‘because I say so’. I knew then, as I do now, that that was a cop out. An abuse of parental authority. Cutting off further discussion by using those words meant that I was either too lazy to give them a real answer or that I was deliberately hiding the truth from them.

I think about this often, as and when I hear our President making blatantly untrue statements of which we are being served daily examples. The Washington Post reported that as of February 17, 2019 President Trump had made 8,718 false or misleading claims in his first 759 days in office. That is an average of 11 per day!

PolitiFact, owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies, keeps a scorecard on Trump statements and reports that only an astonishingly low percentage (15%) of his statements are judged to be ‘true’ or ‘mostly true’. That means that 85% of the statements coming from our President are judged to be either ‘half true’, ‘mostly false’, ‘false’ or ‘pants on fire’.

I have never known anybody in the public domain to be willing to make verifiably untrue statements so easily, repeatedly and emphatically as our President. It does not seem to faze him that the press jumps all over these statements the moment he makes them; in fact, he seems to relish that as an opportunity to accuse the media of disseminating fake news and being biased against him. We have just seen that spectacle when he, completely unprovoked and in a White House appearance with the NATO Secretary General, made up that his father was born in Germany (in his book ‘the Art of the Deal’ he claimed his Swedish ancestry). It falls in the category of trying to rewrite history to conform to his own world view, aspirations or vanity. The most egregious examples of this flaunting or bending of the truth are in his pronouncements about his ‘landslide election victory’, the size of the crowd attending his inauguration, the ‘massive election fraud’, trade wars being easy to win, a ‘crisis’ at our Southern border, Obama’s religion and birthplace, his support from among women,  wind turbines causing cancer, US Steel building six new plants in the US, his denial of original positions he took on entering the Iraq war and women’s right to choose, his ownership in the Trump Winery, falsely claiming it to be the largest winery on the East Coast. And the beat goes on…….

It is a common feature of authoritarian rule that, over time, a narrative gets created that bears no resemblance to the objective truth, but only serves to establish and perpetuate the myth of good judgment, foresight and statesmanship of the ruler. The next step then is to have a good part of the population jump on board and subscribe to the alternate reality. This is what happened with Mao Zedong in China, with Stalin in the Soviet Union, With Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and the Kim dynasty in North Korea. It does not succeed without an almost religious, fanatical, belief in the word of the ruler.

And that is where the threat to our democracy is embedded. The US nation has become so divided, fed information by media that conform to one or the other side of a polarized world view, that it has become way too gullible in accepting the gospel spread by the TV and Cable evangelists of the new political dogma. On the right side and the left side. It is disturbing that in my lifetime the political center has seemingly evaporated. You remember talk of the ‘silent majority’ in the seventies and eighties? If there still is such a thing, it has not shown up at the polls or even in the media.

In the 2016 Presidential elections, many of us saw the Hillary – Donald contest as a choice between the lesser of two evils. Although it is still early in the run up to the 2020 election, chances are that the voters will be confronted with a similar choice again in the next race to the White House. In the GOP only Bill Weld has emerged as a primary contender for Trump. Not a credible contest. And Independents seem to be reluctant to put their substantial clout behind Howard Schultz. The likely scenario is a choice between Trump or a far left of center Democrat like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris. I simply refuse to believe that the American voting public will go the (democratic) socialist left-wing route and rate the chance high that the Democrats will hand Trump a second term by nominating an unelectable contender from among their ranks.

If that scenario plays out, and the GOP does not get repudiated at the Congressional and State House elections, Katy bar the door: Trump and a slavishly submissive GOP will have four years to rule by executive power, stack the judiciary further with originalist conservatives and have a free hand to feed the American public its warped version of the truth, misrepresenting what is truly happening (or should happen) in America and the world at large. Then, if we have the audacity to ask why we should go along with misguided and dangerous tactics and policies, we will be told: ‘because I say so’. How many of us will then step in line, or fall silent, shrug our shoulders and go along?

So far, our institutions are holding. The judiciary, prompted by interest groups and civic organizations like ProPublica and the ACLU, scrutinizes every step of the Trump administration and pushes back everywhere it finds unconstitutionality or abuse of executive power. And, since the Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives in 2018, Congress is taking its oversight responsibility seriously. But that is a tenuous, momentary, condition that hangs in the balance because of an opposition in one of the halls of power in Washington that can be erased in the next election.

The last person we should accept the words ‘because I say so’ from is Donald Trump, who is proven to be a pathological creator of his own, alternate, truth to suit his personal interests, views and ambitions.