Thursday, January 30, 2020

In The National Interest

We’ve always known that Trump has believed that anything he does to stay in office is not to be questioned, and yesterday on the Senate floor during the question phase of his impeachment, his lawyers said it out loud.

Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest. And mostly, you’re right. Your election is in the public interest. And if a president does something, which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment. . . .

“The house managers . . . never allege that it was based on pure financial reasons. It would be a much harder case if a hypothetical president of the United States said to a hypothetical leader of a foreign country, ‘Unless you build a hotel with my name on it and unless you give me a million-dollar kickback, I will withhold the funds.’

“That’s an easy case. That’s purely corrupt and in the purely private interest.

“But a complex middle case is: ‘I want to be elected. I think I’m a great president. I think I’m the greatest president there ever was. And if I’m not elected, the national interest will suffer greatly.’ That cannot be an impeachable offense.

Put simply, no matter what Trump did — and they’re basically admitting that he did what the House impeached him for — as long as it was to get him re-elected, it’s not impeachable because having Trump as president is in the national interest.

Richard Nixon said pretty much the same thing: “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”  And look what happened to him.

Two things about this mindset bother me beyond just the WTF factor.  While we all know that it takes an out-sized ego to run for president and think that you have all the answers to our problems — or at least know how to work with people to solve them — this kind of megalomania is both toxic and anti-democratic in the most blatant way.  We hire presidents through an electoral process to run the country for a relatively short period of time, trusting that they will do their job without trying to remake the entire government in their image but in cooperation with a lot of other people in different offices with different functions — and often with different motives — and leave it either better than they found it or at least intact.  We’ve had our ups and downs, ranging from great to despicable, but by and large we have been able to survive and even thrive without the need to tinker with the basic foundation.  The president is supposed to represent us, not the other way around.  Our national interest — all of ours, including the people who didn’t vote for him — must be paramount, and if that means being thrown out of office by whatever legal means necessary, then that must be our national interest.  The majority of the forty-three* men prior to the current occupant who have held the job understood that, or at least kept their egos on silent mode, knowing that if they put their own personal interests above those of the nation, we would be on the road to authoritarianism of the likes of the nations the Founders rebelled against.

But Trump isn’t one of them.  He puts his own re-election above that of the national interest, believing in his Bond-villain-like ego that he knows best above everyone else, including the “best people” that he brings along, most of whom are either incompetent or corrupt, and destroying the occasional lucky hire that actually does have the national interest at heart.  This can’t be what the men who wrote the Constitution had in mind; if they did, there would be no remedy in the document to remove a corrupt or criminal official from office.  So the very idea that staying in office by any means necessary is not impeachable is, in itself, an impeachable offense, and attempting to carry it out should result in a conviction.

The second thing that freaks me out is that it appears that the majority of the United States Senate accepts the idea that anything Trump does to further his chances for reelection is okay with them, or at least doesn’t rise to the level of removal from office.  Either they are so intimidated by this thumbs on a Twitter account or they silently agree with him.  Neither of those possibilities are conducive to the American idea of democracy or a government with checks and balances as outlined in the Constitution, and it calls into question as to why we the people are not holding those representatives accountable.  Are they so afraid of losing the next election that they are willing to enable this kind of madness, or do they themselves believe that if it were up to them, anything they need to do to stay in office and further their own agenda is acceptable?

There’s a third possibility.  They’re cynical enough to believe that the average American voter doesn’t really care what happens as long as they get what they want out of the government, be it state, federal or local, and that it’s easy to frighten them with an abstract threat — lesbians are getting married! — than it is to rob them blind of their own money in the form of taxes being spent on farm subsidies to make up for the tariffs imposed that killed the soybean market in China.  They rightfully believe that by the time November 2020 rolls around, Trump and his chorus of minions, enablers, and thieves will have bamboozled the voters into believing that Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or whomever is the Democratic nominee is more of a threat to our nation than the dictator-fetishist they’re trying to replace.  No one ever lost an election by underestimating the greed, fear, and paranoia of the American voter.

“L’etat, c’est moi” — “I am the state” — is attributed to Louis XIV of France, although scholars can find no valid proof he actually said it.  It doesn’t matter if he did or did not; at the time monarchs pretty much had absolute power and were accountable to no one.  Both France and the American colonists fought revolutions to end that kind of tyranny, and this nation, as Lincoln reminded us, was conceived with the idea that all men are created equal and that the government that resulted was of, by, and for the people, not some egomaniac intent on turning us into Russia 2.0.  That there is even a doubt that he should be removed from office by a unanimous vote is scarier than whatever he does to stay in office.

*Forty-four men have been elected to the presidency, but there have been forty-five administrations.  Grover Cleveland had two different terms and is counted as both the twenty-second and the twenty-fourth president.  HT Schoolhouse Rock.