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.

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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.

***

 

“…and in the darkness bind them.”

The tolling bell you hear is the slowly swinging pendulum sounding the death knell of the Democratic party. I was concerned this outcome would come to pass, and it is coming. I’m no Democrat, but I understand that this government is built on a foundation of two parties in opposition, performing the expected checks and balances on one another. And Democrats seem to have disappeared from the landscape.

When there is only one party, they can turn off the spigot of information, legislate in the dark, and shut down all avenues of debate over government policy. And that’s what the Republicans are doing. Want to complain to Sen. Deb Fischer or Sen. Ben Sasse about the Senate health care bill? Why? You don’t know what’s in it, and neither do they. We have reached the point where, in a room full of citizens and their elected Congressional representatives – who themselves are members of the ruling party –  there is still nobody in the room with the ability to influence government policy.

If no other truism about Americans is reliable anymore, the “winners win” mantra of the pro sports/corporate/suburban/white/government classes remains a bellwether, a rock solid institution of the American psyche that makes us all kin to Alabama football fans. Winners win, and losers lose, and any other value judgment you care to apply is – sorry – irrelevant. This is also one of the very few things the president knows – he knows that by and large, Americans abhor an ethical, morally conscious loser who loses more than they are bothered by the unethical, immoral winner who wins. Trump himself is the poster boy for this American institution. We all know he’s unethical, dishonest, immoral, etc. He knows nothing about government, or frankly anything else. But he was elected president because he projected a winner’s persona and smeared everyone else with his favorite label for everyone who’s not named Trump – loser.

Thus the more Democrats lose, and the more they point impotent fingers at one another for losing, and the more Republicans win on an agenda of intolerance, race hatred, misogyny, corporate greed, xenophobia, white power, and all the rest, the more the idea gets cemented in sparsely-informed American minds that Republicans are on the winning side of these class warfare issues. Trump’s deplorable positions on everything – women’s rights, immigrants, NATO, the “Wall”, free trade, police and government corruption, government transparency and ethics, voting rights, the environment, energy policy, tax policy, health care – these become the winning positions.

I’ve never believed that people in general are “good at heart” – many are, but you only have to study recent history (or just go to a Trump rally) to learn that many are not. Let’s be real – many people are self-centered, vindictive and hateful. Such people see a friend in Trump, who nurtured and shaped their inchoate paranoia and rage into hatred of HIS enemies. History also teaches that good people who find themselves in a society experiencing rising intolerance, fascism, nationalism, widespread corruption – once it gets going they don’t necessarily have the means to stop it from happening. Because the people who are not good at heart (but who ARE in power) quickly render the democratic institutions that could stop their insurgency inert. Meanwhile, they repeatedly bring into question the very nature of law and order, and of facts themselves, until literally everything comes down to a matter of opinion. Sound familiar? Russia provides a great example. We were warned by a number of Russians that they too felt like Putin’s election was just a phase, a hiccup, that the country would “right itself” before he was able to transform a fledgling democracy into a standard-issue dictatorship. They were wrong. (Just last week literally millions of Russians risked their liberty by participating in an illegal Anti-Corruption march. The effect, apart from coverage by the foreign press and many arrests, was absolutely null.) And we are wrong if we think Trump and his eager GOP army of polite, smiling fascists will be kind to our beleaguered republic. Putin did his best to install Trump because he gambled it would help destabilize our delicate democratic balance of power (not because he’s a friend of Trump). Boy did he hit the jackpot.

If you don’t see it now you may one day, when you’re looking down the barrel of an Authorized Unruly Citizen Execution device, thinking “this can’t happen” to white, law-abiding me. But it happens nearly every day, right now, to people of color – just recently in Omaha, in fact, though the murder weapon was a taser rather than a pistol. These people of color – like the Native Americans at Standing Rock, like the people at every anti-Trump protest who find themselves being pummeled with rubber bullets and arrested for “rioting”  – these are the test subjects. Jeff Sessions is in Washington actively encouraging more police departments to engage in such tests by publicly announcing that he is abandoning all Justice Department investigations into civil rights abuses by local police forces (and will initiate no new investigations), while he and Trump quietly remove the legal safeguards of civil rights policy reform enacted over the last eight years. And I believe that eventually, just like the civil rights workers who were wantonly murdered in the American South in the 1960s, white folks who persist in exposing these police murders for what they are in the 2000s are likely to find that same target on their chests.

(In fact, 53 years ago today, on June 21 ,1964, civil rights workers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Henry Schwerner were arrested by a Mississippi deputy sheriff for speeding. They were released into the hands of Klansmen who had plotted their murders. They were shot, and their bodies were buried in an earthen dam. Recall that Jeff Sessions has testified much more recently that he was “OK” with the Klan until he learned they used illegal drugs.)

The irony is that true leaders in some of the police forces under investigation (Philadelphia, Chicago) were welcoming of federal guidance and federal prosecution of bad officers. They offered that it’s difficult to change police culture from within or prosecute bad actors locally because of the “old guard” and “blue wall” mentalities that can be generated in tight-knit police departments, not to mention local tax/funding issues quashing internally-driven improvements. But Sessions doesn’t want more humane police. He actually wants them to get “tougher” on us, if that’s even possible given that the police are murdering people every week.

I don’t enjoy reaching these conclusions. But given the facts, I can’t see my way to any other, rosier ones. Back in August – November 2016, I implored every forward-thinking person I know (and even some backward-thinking persons) to stop Trump. Quit complaining about Hillary and the DNC, and STOP TRUMP. Not stopping him, to my mind then, would be a signal to the country and to the world that the man represents what we are, and who we are. Not stopping him is the equivalent of endorsing him. “None of the above” or a protest vote for a candidate whose name you probably won’t even remember in a year is unacceptable. Silence is assent. We have assented, we have met the Trumpers and they are effectively us, and we knew all along that the people to whom we’ve handed this power are not the type to put it to good use for the common betterment of the country and its citizens – because they have never been that type, never served and never contributed to the country. Draft-dodging Trump, tax-dodging Trump, pussy-grabbing Trump and his billionaire cabinet – not to mention Steve Bannon – have demonstrated over the course of their lives that they are interested only in enriching themselves and their families or chosen clans.  They’re in it for the money. We threw out everyone who was in it to do some good.

…And He is Us

You know how in the thriller movies, you’ll have a disaster situation brewing because of some evil figure secretly plotting the destruction of the Western world?  Like in James Bond you have SPECTER, or with Superman you got your Lex Luthor?

In these movies the “established order” always comes around to save the day, even if it looked shaky or damaged or a little bit corrupt at the start. Because in the movies, even if they focus on a super-hero (or super spy), it’s “human values” that win in the end, even against the most powerful of evil forces. Because in our American mythology, good may suffer setbacks, but eventually – with the faith of its believers – good triumphs over evil.

But those are movies. How does that work when the ones plotting the destruction of America are also in charge of America? Who will be the “forces of good” that come to the rescue when the American people themselves have, by their votes, elected would-be  destroyers of all things good to lead the country?

In this non-movie I call “reality”, every tenet of democracy that Americans hold dear is under attack – the Constitution, the rule of law, equality under the law, civilian control of the military, national security, an independent judiciary and a free press. But those who we would call to action to defend us? Our representatives in Congress? Yeah they are also the ones attacking our freedoms, as you have guessed by now.

But it’s worse than that. The Trump administration “officials” [sic] and their toadies in Congress who are currently going ahead with their vow to “deconstruct the administrative state” also have the support of nearly half the electorate. So even though it’s plain for all to see that this administration (when not lining its pockets with taxpayer cash) is mainly about the destruction of bedrock Western ideals as espoused in the Constitution, the problem for those who see it is that about half the country refuses to look. They are too elated about “winning” – i.e., the fact that the democratic process was undermined and perverted enough in 2016 to allow a DNA sequencing error like Donald Trump and his amoral billionaire “friends” [sic] to be put “in charge” [sic] of the country.  They are too busy enjoying the tears of their vanquished “enemies” (i.e., their fellow Americans) to be concerned about what it is, actually, that their president is up to.