L’État N’est Pas Nous

Here’s the thing about political power in America in 2020, from a pragmatist/realist viewpoint: 

When you hold as much power as the Republican Party currently does, you hold the actual levers of power in this country – Congressional, Executive, and Judicial power. Rather than a representative government, where a Congressman or Senator works on behalf of constituents, the government begins to revolve around this party’s central power base, to which these so-called representatives must show fealty. The party becomes the power. And when the interests of this small power base clash with the interests of the people, the politicians of this party who side with the people become  apostates, they are banished from the halls of power. As we’ve seen, no current member of the party in power has the wherewithal to defy the power base. And therefore the people hold no power.

As we are witnessing this week, it becomes difficult-to-impossible for a small majority in one half of one branch of government to hold the other party to account when that party, basking in its power,  decides it is not subject to the Constitution’s accountability measures—its so-called “checks and balances”.  

That is our American irony. No one is interested in checking or balancing their own power.

In this situation, the pejorative “above the law” can cease to be a pejorative from the perspective of the few who wield the vast power undergirding law and its enforcement. “Létat,” the French king said, “c’est moi.” The law becomes what they say the law is. It exists to serve them, not to restrain them. In the common tongue, the question being posed by a party whose primary long-term goal is to retain and consolidate that power into permanence is, “Who’s gonna stop us?” We are witnessing the answer to that question this week. That is, we are watching a proceeding called a “trial”, the outcome of which — acquittal — we already know. It is assured. Because a power advantage, not facts or law, will determine that outcome.

“We have the vote”, we say, but who are “we”? One party is steadily gathering to itself the power over who votes, and how, and where, and in what gerrymandered district. I submit that a newly emboldened narcissist madman, with fresh confirmation that he can do “whatever he wants as president”, will have his people get right to work on expanding that advantage (with welcome help from his friends in the East). They will choose which voters they want to vote, and if your profile matches those on the other side, or even those on the fence–they won’t choose you. 

They vote in Russia. They vote in Iran. Those bastions of democracy. But only the approved candidate wins. Remember the last “election” for Saddam Hussein? Iraqi officials declared Saddam had been re-elected by a 100% unanimous vote of all 11,445,638 eligible Iraqi citizens.

I’m just figuring this out for myself, not preaching. I am over the shock of this realization. I’m neither Democrat nor Republican, I feel no hatred or need for vengeance, though I do feel some pity and disgust at unchanging human nature. At this moment I feel, maybe for the first time, that Martin Luther King’s optimism for the future of America was misplaced. It appears that the arc he spoke of does not, in the end, bend towards justice. It bends toward greed and malice. And that seems to be the way the minority of this society, clinging to power by whatever means necessary, wants it.

I’ve always been an observer first, and I have no illusions regarding the extent of my own political power, which is negligible (like any American who is not very wealthy or in office).  I am aware that even my presidential vote (thanks to the antiquated Electoral College) is powerless. I am aware that power in this country, rather than resting with the people as the old document says, rests with those ravenous and ruthless enough to crave it beyond the pale of all moral or legal restraint. And that is not me.

And so the question hangs unanswered in the air – who’s gonna stop them? 

Gaming the Throne

Like me, other Americans who have yet to drink the Trump team Kool-Aid may be wondering why an otherwise widely respected and successful private attorney like William Barr would want to insinuate himself into the orbit of a “man” [sic] like Donald Trump. (As we have seen with Mr. Cohen, Mr. Stone, Mr. Manafort, Mr. Flynn, Mr. Papadopoulos, Mr. McGahn and so many others, those who seek membership on the president’s much-investigated team often become the target of investigation themselves. Not to mention the indictments and convictions.)

So why would Barr submit an Attorney General “job application,” back in 2017, in the form of an unsolicited memo opining that the Mueller investigation was improper and that the president is, for all practical purposes, immune to prosecution? He had to know this would ingratiate him in the mind of a president who, at the time, had only Twitter derision on offer for then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And as we know, Mr. Sessions was not long in the job thereafter.

Was it so that once he attained the job of running the Department of Justice he could effectively quash the special counsel’s report? It would seem so, given his highly controversial “interpretation” of the report as “exonerating” the president from any possible charges of obstruction of justice (controversial because we now see, even in the highly redacted version provided by Barr, that it does no such thing). Not content to “sweeten the well” with his nearly fact-free “summary” of the report (which contains not so much as one complete sentence from the report), he also made the highly unusual gesture of holding a press conference on the day of its release. This was apparently to explain away the president’s attempts at obstruction using the novel (and bizarre) “Kavanaugh” doctrine. That is, the president’s “emotionally driven” attempts to get others to end or undermine Mueller’s efforts–then in some cases firing them if they refused — were understandable given the highly partisan pressure he was under since day one of this presidency. In other words, who wouldn’t attempt to subvert the Constitution, who wouldn’t try to slow the progress of justice, when it was this same  justice that had been bearing down on one so relentlessly for so long? Who indeed.

But why would Barr do that?  Why would he venture beyond mere flattery and submissive/sycophantic rhetoric to willingly putting himself on the list of those actors who, in the end, may be found to have aided a presidential law-breaker? Surely Barr knows that although Nixon walked away from his crimes, Dean and Haldeman and  the rest did some time.

As always, there is an answer, and the answer is that Barr himself has a personal interest in permanently shelving the results of the special counsel’s inquiry. According to an April 15 article by Cristina Maza in Newsweek: “This much is known: On Barr’s public financial disclosure report, he admits to working for a law firm that represented Russia’s Alfa Bank and for a company whose co-founders allegedly have long-standing business ties to Russia. What’s more, he received dividends from Vector Group, a holding company with deep financial ties to Russia.”

Remember Alfa Bank? The Russian Oligarch-controlled entity that was found to somehow be in regular, secret communication with the Trump campaign’s server located in Trump Tower back in 2016? Barr worked for the firm that represents Alfa right up to his confirmation. And as for the Vector Group, according to Maza, “The company’s president, Howard Lorber, brought Trump to Moscow in the 1990s to seek investment projects there. The trip is widely seen as the first of many attempts to establish a Trump Tower in Moscow.” And Don Jr. is said to have been communicating with Lorber as recently as during the 2016 campaign (when, we recently learned, contrary to their earlier claims the Trump’s organization was still talking to Russian interests about the proposed Moscow project).

As with so many other Trump “associates” we’ve known, in the end it doesn’t take much digging to connect the dots that connect William Barr to the same Russian financial and government interests that were so famously represented at the Trump Tower meeting attended by Don Jr., Jared, Manafort and, of course, Russian operatives waaaay back in the olden days of 2016. What is difficult to understand is how none of this came up during Barr’s “lightning round” Senate confirmation.

Then again, it’s not as if rife incompetence,  disdain for democratic norms, not to mention fear, naked self-interest and shameless self-promotion only pervade the one half of Congress. There’s more than enough of that disease infecting both parties’ representatives on Capitol Hill, not just in the White House these days. This is not to mention the newly politicized, Garland-free Supreme Court. We seem to have drifted completely away from the idea of actual accountability and this quaint old notion called rule of law, toward an endless parade of grandstanding, toward tiresome identity politics mixed with careful political maneuvering, toward basic acquisition of power for one’s own tribe, for one’s own selfish purposes and one’s own exclusive ideology.

Trump likes to trade in “Game of Thrones” memes, because he sees American society and American government in the stark transactional terms he learned in the bare-knuckle world his family inhabits–one of conquest, dominance and submission of the type that pervade that HBO fantasy. It is a strongman’s world where one’s reputation is forged not by one’s character or actions but by one’s ability to control or successfully manipulate  the actions and words of others toward one’s own advantage. “Rules” and “law”—”ethics”—those are for the powerless, for weak ineffective nobodies to worry about. But while TV shows come and go, the question for the rest of us—as Trump collects his campaign fortune, builds his base and secures his independence from a weak and feckless Congress, as he secures the courts—is whether we citizens want our elected representatives to play their roles as if they are starring in a winner-take-all TV game. Because they are playing their game in our real world, and it appears playing for keeps. It seems to me the question is being answered for us, by people who’ve forgotten how to represent us, people who’ve abandoned the idea of governing and now settle for the chance to win their portion of the tawdry spoils of our pointless internecine war.

Rather than effectively represent the interests of those who put them in office, or even simply uphold the rule of law on which this society was founded, our so-called leaders and “arbiters of justice” appear content to act as low-level players in a greedy simpleton’s lawless, zero-sum game.

Contest of Wills? No, a Developing Constitutional Crisis

The news is so frustrating. The media – out for ratings, just like the reality show star in the White House – portray our developing constitutional crisis as some kind of battle royal between two outsized personalities. The sense we get from the media is that we’re watching the trash-talking preliminaries of a heavily anticipated title match (although, of course, only one party to the fight is engaging in the trash talk). The idea is that we’ll have this big battle, and the winner will take all as he is showered with accolades by his loyal fans. The loser will vow to rise again, saying “wait till next year”. Then it will all be over, and we will shut off the TV and go to bed, satisfied that it was a very exciting man-to-man contest.

But that’s not what’s happening, not at all. What’s happening is we have a secretive, lying, cult-like, bullying, paranoid, ignorant, truth-averse, and very likely criminal gang squatting uneasily on what should be a presidential administration. They fear the revelations of truth and the application of the law so much, they and their co-conspirators in Congress appear willing to go above the law, to exercise raw power in challenging hundreds of years of legal and institutional precedent, in order to protect themselves and their cash cow – what the rest of us call the federal government. Anyone who threatens to reveal the truth they eliminate if they can, or try to intimidate into silence if they can’t (yet). They are not administrators, they are a modern day confederation of mobsters. They are looters and anarchists who demonstrate on a daily basis their utter contempt for the rule of law and for our democracy’s institutional norms.

Should they prevail, there will be no “next year” for this republic and its few dedicated defenders. We know how the “five families” ended up in the long run – they took everyone else down with them.

And opposed to them, we have a dedicated REPUBLICAN war veteran and prosecutor of lawbreakers, an administrator of justice, who has served honorably and with distinction for decades under Republican and Democratic presidential administrations alike (real ones). He runs an experienced legal team working quietly, professionally, humbly and methodically in the cause of justice.  The team has already secured guilty pleas from several of the administration’s former foot soldiers and lieutenants. There will be more. But, as opposed to the unhinged daily stream-of-consciousness tweets (mostly lies and fabrications) from the reality show star, their story is as yet untold. Seizing on that legally and procedurally necessary information vacuum, the mob attempts to explain the character of the investigation  to us as a witch hunt (without explaining to us why a Republican career legal professional would conduct a witch hunt against a presumably innocent Republican president).

The media should stop pretending this is a contest of wills devoid of legal or moral context. Based on all we’ve seen and heard, this is people at the top levels of government—in concert with an antagonistic foreign power and self-aggrandizing criminal leak weasel–attempting to bring down this republic and everything it stands for. They do it all in the name of ego and personal gain, allied with the most ignorant and self-serving among our citizens, their hallmarks being contempt for truth, ethics, morality, justice, or any other admirable quality that exhibits even the smallest trace of human decency.

Saint Putin

I keep encountering people who seem to think Putin is some kind of heart-pure Diogenes, coming on American TV and telling us how screwed up our system is, and how our political system is the SOLE reason for all our problems. Never mind that he was actually here, as is his and the KGB’s tradition, to rub it in for his own amusement (and his people’s). He’s to be admired by Americans now. Because Megyn Kelly (or whatever her name is) sat there dumbstruck (emphasis on dumb) while he rattled off a string of spying/meddling/etc. accusations (which are true for both countries, of course, not just the US).

So for the record: Putin denies any and all involvement in the 2016 campaign (which is a denial of documented fact). He – in a Trumpian move – instead offers up that it is YOU who are guilty of (insert crimes here). I guess he showed us! Just not with any evidence.

We seem to have come to a place where Trumpers have had to manipulate their brains into thinking that the president was right when he (under orders)  excoriated the US for its own “evil deeds” whenever Russia’s 2016 Trump campaign (Moscow branch) was brought up. To do this, you also have to believe – Trump-like – that it’s a zero-sum game, that “both countries do it” so “both countries” are equally “evil.” Just two powerhouses duking it out for the spoils, right? To the president, who remains to this day “neutral” on Russia (!) there is no moral question. After all, he just appointed a CIA director who not only willingly tortured American prisoners, but who participated in a cover-up after mistakenly torturing an innocent person. What morality? It’s all about WINNING.

And that is somehow patriotic and in line with traditional Republican attitudes on Russia, yes? That there is a moral equivalence between the Russian kleptocracy/dictatorship and (what’s left of) American democracy? Or, if we’re not equivalent yet – we’ll get there?

Yes. That’s the new patriotism – Putin is all right, just looking after his “Russia First” interests, murdering rivals and invading neighbors. This paves the mental pathways for accepting a morally bankrupt president as legitimate. Because in the Trumpian world, everyone’s equally morally bankrupt. And everyone’s legitimate – until proven guilty.

How Will He React?

So – what will happen? We are all waiting around as more and more damning evidence comes in, more White House staffers walk, or are indicted, or plead guilty. We are at a point – with the indictments, guilty pleas, and talk show gut-spilling – a point where we all can see into the workings of this administration. And we see – those of us who still want to see the truth – that the workings are corrupt, lawless, and not in the interests of the nation.

We have seen the president destroy, belittle, demean, abandon or at least excoriate everyone around him, from the media, to Democrats, to Gold Star families, to the many women who accuse him of assault, to porn stars with NDAs, to federal judges, to his attorney general, his secretary of state, to “Republicans” (perhaps forgetting he is one), to his top advisers, and of course most significantly to every national security/law enforcement agency we have. Of course, we have NOT heard even one word of criticism leveled against Russia or Putin. Nor has the administration spent one dime of the millions authorized for State Department counter-measures to Russian interference. Nor has the administration bothered to implement the legal sanctions imposed by Congress against Russia. With, of course, no explanation.

One day soon, Meuller will arrive with the goods. We know what he will tell us – that the president is a crook, a self-dealing fraud, liar, grifter and lawbreaker whose only concern – whose ONLY concern – is and has always been what he can gain personally and for his family via the presidency. He will tell us that, in fact, due to the Russians’ having “cultivated” trump for a number of years (and likely “compromising” him given his ravenous sexual appetite and taste for teens), then having worked with Trump and his campaign to intervene in the 2016 election process (see: Don Jr., Hope Hicks and the hastily constructed memo of lies), the president is indelibly tied to the Russians, indebted to them in terms of their help with the campaign and, likely, literally indebted to Russian oligarchs and others who have funneled cash his way (not to mention the money laundering that has gone on at Trump properties). He is owned by Russia, and has been quietly working for them since day one. I don’t have to prove it. The media reports as a whole, the data we’ve seen dripping out of the various investigations taken as a whole – not to mention the transparent actions of the administration itself and the growing list of indictments and guilty pleas-  have already confirmed it. For further proof, I direct you to the current attempts by Trump’s corrupt allies in Congress – Nunes, Gaudy, etc. – to begin construction of the “alternate” reality they are desperately hoping will supplant “real” reality in the minds of Americans already inclined to believe whatever anyone says that might shield Trump. These are the (totally fabricated) ideas that the FBI/NSA/CIA are  (suddenly) rife with corruption, that Hillary and the Obama administration were the Russia “colluders”, that Obama “abused” the FISA warrant process to “out” Trumpian enemies, etc. All so much bullshit, but what else is new from this pack of self-serving liars?  We all remember the seven-year-long Benghazi fiasco, right? Or at least how much money was wasted on it?

So again – what will happen? At the point that we receive the truth – will the truth win out? Will it be accepted as truth? And if it is – what then? Pence has lived  a textbook life since becoming VP of the “I am completely out of the loop” variety. So of course he is, and has been since day 1,  hedging, ready to assume the presidency in the event all is discovered. But my guess is that Meuller will find that everyone in the campaign is guilty, so Pence will also be damaged goods.  And what if, as it appears, the Russia meddling was not limited to propaganda and coordination with the Trump campaign, but actually extended to manipulation of voting counts in the crucial swing states Trump won – unexpectedly – by razor-thin margins? Do we undo the Trump presidency?

Maybe. But that scenario leaves out Trump’s die-hard, reality-challenged supporters in the alt-right media and in our corrupt Congress. We already know they will refuse to believe the truth (because they are Post-Truth people). They will believe the ‘alternate fact’ stories being spun up right now by Trump’s allies (see above), because they like that reality better than the real reality. And after all, what value does truth have for these people? It just gets them in trouble.

And Trump? How will he react to being totally exposed, once and for all, as a fraud and a crook – and a traitor? It’s anyone’s guess, but in the past his practice has been simple – NEVER back down, never apologize, never admit error (let alone guilt of treason). But that doesn’t work if you are being removed from office – he can’t sue his way out of that humiliation. It will be final and complete. It will shatter his fragile illusion of himself and his even more fragile ego. As a man sadly deluded into thinking he’s perceived as a great president, it will ruin him.

And at that moment – when his downfall and his humiliation are complete, when he realizes he will be the first president to be forcibly removed from office, and thus realizes he is an utter failure – at that exact moment he will still have the ability to independently launch a first strike nuclear attack.

The only positive in that scenario is that there are currently no U.S. first strike plans that target the United States.

 

Post-Politics

I was just watching the end of a concert by a favorite band, The XX. It was sort of an epiphany – you’d have to see the concert, but it is simply a show full of love. These kids love one another (I’ve seen them in interviews) and I believe they love their fans for giving them a voice. And their fans love them.

It used to be you could just assume folks put love in the “plus” column, unless they’re jerks. But need I tell you? Jerks are on the rise.

And not just love. Everything that goes into it, into art, into soulful expression – into taking that risk of putting yourself out there, in whatever form, to affirm that love is good, to make yourself vulnerable to ridicule by expressing admiration for warm emotions, for friendship and respect. For honor, which is based on honesty, and truth, which is required for honesty.

It appears you risk being some kind of snowflake. Be that as it may, it’s a risk the vast majority of us are still willing to take. Only a few have found this time to be an apt opportunity to reveal an inner, coarser self, one that had heretofore been kept under wraps.

But they are a noisy few!

What my eyes and ears tell me, though, when witnessing an XX concert or a flood of “mad” emojis under a Pence speech, is that they are few in number compared to those who simply want to live and let live. The problem? Of course, it’s simple – though relatively rare, white Christian nationalism is now concentrated in the political class, more specifically the Republican party. This is having, for some, a legitimizing effect on what would have been scandalous behavior not ten years ago.

I mean, remember when you could get impeached for lying about a blow job?

When the governor of Nebraska goes into open battle with public higher education and Planned Parenthood, going so far as to call Nebraska a “pro-life” state (where he is dying to execute his prisoners, but never mind) – this reveals a deeper corrosion that preceded the president’s slimy rise to power. Ditto Walker, Brownback, Christie, Sessions, Bannon, Miller. They were waiting for him as one awaits a savior.

And the Joe Blows out there, with the aid of Facebook, are ascendant in their new nastiness, their on-script, imagination-free on line bullying and harassment.  Feeling their new “legitimacy” [sic] and testing out those “button-pushing” words!

I was never able to imagine how the right-wing political class would normalize Trump. I thought it impossible. And I was right – the man refuses to even pretend to be civilized. But I was forgetting that for a significant minority, it was not necessary to normalize the president’s boorish behavior.

To them, he was already normal.

In this, I believe many of us are “post-political,” in that we know we are members of a sane, rational majority. But we have little representation in the central government or in our region, both of which are seas of deepest, now-darkest red. Our leaders are leaders in name only. They are sectarians. They don’t identify with us, they don’t represent us, and they don’t want to. We are sailing different seas, every day. Our paths do not cross. Or if they do, it is to oppose each other’s ideas.

They are becoming to me as I already am to them – irrelevant.

 

Two and Two Make Trumpism

I believe we are watching our language break down in real time in the manner described by George Orwell in his famous novel 1984. I believe a lot of people have simply given up on independent thinking and objective reality, and are content to merely spout empty slogans to shield themselves from words they perceive as threatening to their self-constructed, solipsistic world view.

To such people the truth is, in effect, arbitrary and tangential to the goal of communication, which is to win.

This never really occurred to me before, that the principles of Newspeak (i.e. the fewer words people have to use, the better at limiting what they think) would go mainstream in 2016. Instead of the nuanced analysis and acceptance of facts not in support of one’s position required by honest debate,  we get people who’ve been trained to rely on epithets and catch phrases: “swamp creature” and “snowflake” and “lock her up” (complete with 2-minute hates, a la Goldsteinism) and “build that wall” and “violent/intolerant left” and “fake news” and all the other all-purpose MAGA terms that seek to shut down informed debate before it can start.

I no longer attempt to “argue” with self-identified Trumpers, because there will be no reasoned argument. There will be only slogans and Kellyanne-style “whataboutisms” and, if those don’t silence the unwanted sound of information coming their way – insults designed to intimidate or subtly threaten the speaker for not being on the right team, and never mind the details. Wrong team.

What there will never be is an admission that anything Trump ever said or did was wrong or misguided or illegal. Or, if he did make a slight error in judgment, what about Hillary and her emails? What about the murder of Seth Rich by the DNC? And other assorted distracting falsehoods and irrelevancies (oft-repeated to gain that veneer of truthiness).

What supporters of Trump ask of us is that we deny the reality of our senses – that we not believe our eyes and ears. Reality is not the foundation on which their arguments are made – it is the prize to be won by making them. Everything Trump announces about himself on a regular basis – that he is a sexual predator, a misogynist, a narcissist, a bigot, a fraud, a serial liar, a criminal and a cheat – none of these facts can be relevant or even true. They cannot. Because if they were, Trump supporters would be backing a man with no moral authority whatsoever. They would be backing a fraud.

So to Trump supporters, Trump’s not a sexual predator – CNN doctored that tape. He’s not a misogynist – (insert woman’s name) is lying (or she had it coming). He did not make fun of that disabled reporter, even though it’s on tape. He’s not a bigot – Mexicans really are mostly rapists and drug dealers and “maybe a few good people too”, and Muslims are dangerous and need watching anyway. He’s not a cheat – all those contractors who say they got stiffed are lying. The hundreds of lawsuits? Sore losers. And the massive protests? Protesters are all actors being paid by George Soros and the DNC.

Eventually, Trump will have never gotten draft deferments, will never have had five kids from three different wives whom he serially cheated on, will never have called Mexicans rapists, will never have mused about having sex with his own daughter. And he will never have called the press “the enemy of the American people” – once he controls the press.

At that point, the matter will be settled. Two and two will make five. Forever.

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