Sunday, February 14, 2021

Sunday Reading

The Verdict of History — David Remnick in The New Yorker.

On January 18th, two days before relinquishing power and flying off to his tropical exile, Donald Trump did what tyrants love to do: he attempted to rewrite the history of his nation.

His instrument was the 1776 Commission, a motley assemblage of right-wing academics, activists, and pols who called for “patriotic education” in the schools and the construction of a National Garden of American Heroes that would “reflect the awesome splendor of our country’s timeless exceptionalism.” The garden would feature statues of Bogart and Bacall, Alex Trebek, and Hannah Arendt. The era of Trump will be recalled for its authoritarian politics, its lawless compulsions, and its hallucinogenic properties.

It is not difficult to imagine how the members of the 1776 Commission would evaluate Trump’s second impeachment trial. They, like the great majority of Republicans in the Senate, would vote for acquittal. Trump avoided conviction by a vote of 57–43 on Saturday, but history—history as it is assembled through the rigorous accumulation and analysis of fact—will not be so forgiving. Throughout the trial, the Democratic impeachment managers presented overwhelming evidence of Trump’s criminal culpability, his incitement of the January 6th assault on the U.S. Capitol. Their case was clear: for months, Trump sought to undermine, then reverse, a national election, and, when he ran out of options, after he was thwarted by various state election officials and the courts, he proved willing to see the lives of his own Vice-President, the Speaker of the House, and other members of Congress endangered so that he might retain power.

There is a long history of violence against democratic processes and voters in America: in the eighteen-fifties, nativist gangs like the Plug Uglies set out to intimidate immigrant voters; in the eighteen-seventies, white Southerners formed “rifle clubs” and attacked Black voters to hasten the end of Reconstruction. But this event was unique in U.S. history. This mob was inspired by a President.

After final arguments on the floor of the Senate on Friday night, I spoke with Jamie Raskin, a Democrat who represents Maryland’s Eighth Congressional District and who was the lead impeachment manager for Trump’s trial. Shortly after we began talking about the proceedings, Raskin cut himself off for a moment, saying that he needed to collect his thoughts.

“I have to admit,” he said, “I’m exhausted.” For Raskin, the trial was the least of it. On the day before the assault on the Capitol, Raskin and his family had buried his son Tommy, a brilliant young man who was suffering from depression and took his own life on New Year’s Eve. And yet, despite the weight of that unspeakable tragedy, Raskin guided the prosecution of Trump in the Senate chamber with a grace, an unadorned eloquence, rarely, if ever, witnessed in our degraded civic life.

Raskin paused and went on, telling me, “Look, Trump’s motivation was clear. He wanted to prolong and delay the certification of the Electoral College votes in hopes of putting so much pressure on the Vice-President and Congress that we would cave. And then the President would try to force the election into the House of Representatives, where each state delegation would have one vote and the Republicans have a majority of the states. All of his concentration was on thwarting the count so that the Vice-President would be forced to say there’s a need for a contingent election. That is what the President had in mind, and he came dangerously close to succeeding. And at that point he could also have decried the chaos and declared martial law.”

In recent weeks, the impeachment managers assembled voluminous evidence—not least, visual evidence from inside and outside the Capitol building on the day of the violent uprising. Watching images of the mob swarming through the marble halls of the Capitol and baying for vengeance, I was startled to realize how the true nature of the event, the degree of its violence and bloody-mindedness, the calls to capture, even assassinate, leading figures in the U.S. government, was not fully known to the American people in real time. It was sickening to watch men and women lugging Confederate symbols and shouting deranged slogans—“1776!”—pound on the doors of members of Congress, eager for violence. It’s no less sickening to imagine the cynicism required of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Lindsey Graham, and so many other Republican senators to dismiss the case as outside the bounds of the Constitution or as an instance of political opportunism.

Joaquin Castro, a Texas congressman who spoke with clarity and passion as an impeachment manager, told me that during the long hours of the trial it seemed to him that Republican senators were attentive as they watched film and listened to descriptions of the insurrectionist violence. “There was a lot of evidence they hadn’t seen,” Castro said, recalling how close the raging mobs had come to descending on Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi, and others and how viciously they attacked officers of the Capitol Police. The impeachment managers recited the number of the dead, the wounded, the suicides in the days after. “There were times when they were clearly moved by what they were seeing and hearing,” Castro said. “But then later I’d read reports at the end of the day that nothing had changed. The very idea that the evidence was horrific and the events tragic—it wasn’t getting through enough.”

What’s become evident is that Republican members of Congress fear not only the indignity of losing a primary; some have come to fear the potential for violence among their constituents. Rather than persuade, resist, or prosecute such people, they placate them. To do so, they bow in the direction of Palm Beach.

On Friday night, the CNN reporter Jamie Gangel issued a startling report that the Republican House leader, Kevin McCarthy, had phoned Trump during the riot and pleaded with him to call off the mob. Trump told McCarthy that the rioters were Antifa. According to Gangel’s congressional sources, McCarthy told Trump that no, “These are your people.”

“Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Trump replied.

“Who the fuck do you think you are talking to?” McCarthy reportedly responded.

Gangel’s account made plain Trump’s colossal disregard for the lives of his own Vice-President and the members of Congress. His only interest was to foment maximal chaos, with the hopes of overturning an election he had lost by a wide margin.

McCarthy’s courage proved as fleeting as a spring shower. A week after Joe Biden’s Inauguration, McCarthy flew to Palm Beach and showed his fealty to the disgraced former President. Trump’s persisting capacity to raise funds for the Republican Party could not be ignored. How could McCarthy stand for principle if circumstances would soon demand Trump’s appearance at a chicken dinner? In one of the overstuffed parlors of Mar-a-Lago, McCarthy and Trump posed for a photographer. McCarthy managed a pained smile and issued a tortured statement on the fruits of his journey. “Today, President Trump committed to helping elect Republicans in the House and Senate in 2022,” McCarthy said. “For the sake of our country, the radical Democrat agenda must be stopped.”

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, also proved to be in only temporary possession of a spine. After sending moralistic “signals” to reporters and colleagues that he was repelled by Trump’s behavior, he declared himself on Saturday morning ready to forgive and forget. “While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and we therefore lack jurisdiction,” he said in an e-mail to his Republican colleagues, saying that he would vote to acquit. McConnell’s note insured that there would be no last-minute turn against Trump. It was, of course, McConnell who had scheduled the trial to take place after Trump was out of office.

No less incredibly (or predictably), Mike Pence could not bring himself to denounce Trump, either. The impeachment managers recalled during the trial that at 2:24 P.M. on the day of the insurrection, only eleven minutes after Pence had been hustled out of the Senate chamber, Trump tweeted that his Vice-President lacked the “courage” to forestall certification. Trump knew from talking to Senator Tommy Tuberville, of Alabama, that Pence was in danger. Tuberville told reporters, “I said, ‘Mr. President, they just took our Vice-President out, they’re getting ready to drag me out of here. I got to go.’ ”

Five days after the insurrection, Pence met with Trump in the Oval Office. The meeting was described by White House sources as awkward. Pence was encountering a President who had left him for dead. And yet he repressed any sign of resentment or worse. The Washington Post reported, through Vice-Presidential sources, that Pence was “frustrated” with Trump but that he did not “share the animus or fury that some of his former aides have for the President.” Trump, Pence told allies, was merely getting “bad advice” from his senior staff about the election.

Sensing opportunity in the Republican Party’s moral-positioning sweepstakes for 2024, Nikki Haley, who served the Trump Administration as United Nations Ambassador, told a reporter for Politico that she was “disgusted” by Trump’s behavior. At first, when Trump was merely spinning a conspiracy theory about the election and embedding it in the Party’s consciousness, Haley had been dismissive of a second impeachment. “At some point, I mean, give the man a break,” she had said. “I mean, move on.” But things have changed. “I don’t think he’s going to be in the picture,” Haley said, of Trump’s potential role in the next election cycle. “I don’t think he can. He’s fallen so far.”

Back in the reality-based community, the impeachment managers repressed their knowledge that they would not likely win the sixty-seven votes needed for a conviction. They methodically made their case that Trump’s incitement was not a matter of a single speech at the Ellipse before the march to the Capitol. It was a long accumulation of rhetoric and action, of calls to violence, of incendiary tweets and retweets, of encouraging or applauding violent action in Charlottesville, in Michigan, on I-35 in Texas, on the debate stage (“Stand back and stand by”). The most dangerous conspiracy theory in the land had nothing to do with Jewish space lasers or child-molestation rings. Trump’s story of his election “victory,” a theory conceived months before the ballot, was the source material of a nativist insurrection that could easily have ended not with five dead but with many dozens.

“He truly made his base believe that the only way he could lose was if the election was rigged,” Joaquin Castro said during one of his trial speeches. “And, Senators, all of us know, and all of us understand how dangerous that is for our country. Because the most combustible thing you can do in a democracy is convince people an election doesn’t count, that their voice and their vote don’t count, and that it’s all been stolen—especially if what you’re saying are lies.”

The trial ended in a sour acquittal. A shamed ex-President would inevitably declare victory.

But it is no victory at all. Within hours of his Inauguration, Joe Biden cancelled the plans of the 1776 Commission. Propaganda would not become the law of the land. In his closing argument, Raskin quoted a Black Capitol Police officer who, after being called the N-word repeatedly, after his fellow-officers were beaten, abused, bashed with flag poles, and sprayed with bear repellent, asked, “Is this America?” History will judge Donald Trump severely for his crimes against the United States.

Forget the Verdict of History; I Want a Perp Walk — Charlie Pierce.

Let me dispense right at the beginning that the verdict of history doesn’t interest me in the least. First of all, Americans have the attention span of fruit flies and, to far too many of them, history is whatever came in over their iPhones 10 minutes ago. Second, I am now of a sufficient age that it’s even odds that I won’t be around when the ultimate verdict of history is handed down. So, on Saturday, when I saw El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago skate one more time on his unfitness for office and his rank deficiencies as a human being, all the flowery talk about the verdict of history was no consolation. I want a perp walk, not the march of time. Leg irons, not talk of legacies. There is nobody for whom I am rooting louder than I am for Fani Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County who gives every indication that she plans to haul the vulgar talking yam into a local courthouse and, if baby Jeebus is still my amigo, stick him in prison blues and dump him into a holding cell that has a leaky ceiling.

Well, it’s a lovely thought, anyway.

The system didn’t work Saturday and no ex post facto mudslide of inanity from Mitch McConnell can obscure the fact that the system was completely incapable of reining in, coping with, and ultimately punishing one of the grossly incompetent authoritarians ever to attain high political office. As the past four years have demonstrated almost daily, the system is rotted clean through in some very important areas, and it didn’t take much strength for the former president* simply to knock the supports out from under them. And, on Saturday, as this latest burlesque came to an end, we saw the final proof that almost nobody is really interested in shoring things up in case a more competent oligarch buys himself an administration down the line.

To everyone’s surprise, just as things were starting up, the House managers won a vote to call witnesses. This was in reaction to news that broke on Friday night of a witness to a conversation from January 6 in which the former president* and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy had a screaming match about how the former president* was leaving members of Congress to die at the hands of his mob. So the House managers went for witnesses and won a majority of the Senate over to their side.

At which point, the Senate Democrats folded like a $15 silk suit.

During a long recess after the vote on witnesses, the senators all got together and, as the minutes went by, the unmistakable aroma of chickenshit began to waft north from Washington. Gifted with a golden anchor to hang around the neck of their political opponents, the Senate Democrats opted instead to hit themselves in the head with it. They agreed simply to admit into evidence the written statement of Rep. Jaime Herrara Beutler, a congresswoman from Washington state who’d been a witness to the McCarthy-Yam screamfest. This, they insisted, was a famous victory, in that the defense agreed that conversation had happened and that, therefore, it had been proven that the former president* had been the reckless, putting the life of Vice President Mike Pence at risk. Of course, the very first thing that defense attorney Michael van der Veen said in his closing argument was that the president* and his team had conceded no such thing. Oy.

And there was no good reason for it. Calling witnesses were not going to delay other policy initiatives; the COVID relief package is still in the House and likely will not emerge until at least February 22, and the Senate itself is in recess next week. The Senate literally has nothing better to do for eight full days.

Thus did the one unpredictable moment of the week go a’glimmering. (There could have been another one. Senator Willard Romney, it was reported, was at one point ready to throw hands at Senator Ron Johnson. My money was on Mitt. It’s hard to bet against a guy who’s got 70-odd years of clean living to fall back on.) Ultimately, the former president beat the system. Again. Even Mitch McConnell admitted in his postmortem remarks that the former president* was guilty as hell of everything with which the House managers charged him. Fani Wills, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Doonesbury — Ask your doctor…

Saturday, February 13, 2021

We Will Remember You

The Senate acquitted Trump by a vote of 57 for conviction, 43 for acquittal.  They needed ten more to convict.

I’m sure the slathering mob will go after the seven Republicans who voted to convict.  Some of them are already planning on retiring in 2022, and amazing as it seems, some actually have a conscience and voted to convict, knowing he would be acquitted even if they voted the way they did.

But the lesson we learn is that now we know who thinks it’s more important to fear the mob than follow the law.  Those senators who voted No think they are safe in their seats, and many probably are.  But it doesn’t mean that we who believe in the rule of law and the Constitution will forget who sided with the insurrectionists; the ones who defiled the Capitol with the Confederate battle flag — something that never happened in the last attempt at destroying the union — and enabled Trump to crow that his lies and provocations for death and destruction are above the law.  Those senators, including two here in Florida who think they are safe, had better think again.  Of course I would never threaten them the way they so blithely allowed the mob to threaten the lives of their fellow citizens.  I am threatening them with the most powerful weapon of all against them: the ballot box.  I will make it my mission to see that the enablers, the sycophants, the cowards, and the Quislings face righteous justice by terminating their employment at the public trough and send them into retirement.

For all I care, they can go on Fox News or sell used cars on Biscayne Boulevard.  All I care about is getting them out of office so that no one thinks they represent me and that my tax dollars are paying their salary.  I will not subsidize treachery, cowardice, and Fascism.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Happy Friday

One down, one to go.

The House Managers wrapped it up yesterday. Charlie Pierce.

Any congressional session in 2021 that ends with someone quoting Tom Paine about why tyranny is like hell because it is not easily conquered is bound to grab my attention. So, it was a startler when Rep. Jamie Raskin wrapped up the impeachment managers’ case for conviction of the former president* by citing that particular passage in reference to the former president*’s incitement of the insurrection of January 6. It also functioned as a warning that, conviction or no, the actual insurrection is as alive and contagious in the country as the pandemic is. After all, recent polling indicates that a majority of Republicans still believe that El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago was cheated out of his “very great landslide” victory. That’s not going away, and there’s no apparent appetite among Republicans to do away from it. And, in the end, Raskin hung one last anchor around all their necks.

Tom Paine wasn’t an American, but he came to help us in our great revolutionary struggle against the kings, and queens, and the tyrants. In 1776, in the crisis, he wrote these beautiful words, it was a very tough time for the country, people didn’t know which way things were going to go. Were we going to win, against all hope? Because for most of the rest of human history, it had been the kings and queens and tyrants and nobles lording it over the common people. Could political self-government work in America, was the question.

And Paine wrote this pamphlet called “The Crisis,” and he said these beautiful words…He said, “These are the times that men and women’s souls. The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will shrink at this moment from the service of their cause and their country, but everyone who stands with us now will win the love and favor and affection of every man and every woman for all time. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered, but we have this saving consolation: the more difficult the struggle, the more glorious in the end will be our victory.

Good luck in your deliberations.

What he meant was, good luck living with your consciences after you vote to acquit this guy. You’re betraying everything this country has claimed to believe about itself all the way back to its founding. And you’re doing it on behalf of someone who gladly would’ve welcomed a bloodbath if it kept him in office. As far as summer soldiers go, you guys have established a permanent beachhead in Cancun.

There is no contesting the facts of the case brought by the House managers. What happened at the Capitol was anything except spontaneous. It was the logical, foreseeable end of a campaign to delegitimize any election result that didn’t include the incumbent’s winning re-election. And the incumbent embarked on that campaign full in the knowledge that chaos was his best weapon and only chance, and he pursued the campaign whether it got his own vice president strung up or not. Thursday’s wrap-up presentation leaned strongly into demonstrating that the former president* welcomed the violence, and was completely uninterested in acting to defend the Capitol no matter how many frantic phone calls came in from senators who were hiding under their desks at the time. As manager Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado argued:

He reacted exactly the way someone would react if they were delighted, and exactly unlike how a person would react if they were angry how their followers were acting. Again, ask yourself how many lives would have been saved? How much pain and trauma would have been avoided if he had reacted in a way the President of the United States is supposed to act?

Senators, the evidence is clear. We showed you statements, videos, affidavits that prove President Trump incited an insurrection — an insurrection that he alone had the power to stop. And the fact that he didn’t stop it, the fact that he incited a lawless attack and abdicated his duty to defend us from it, the fact that he actually further inflamed the mob, further inflamed that mob, attacking his vice president while assassins were pursuing him in this Capitol, more than requires conviction and disqualification.

On Friday, the former president*’s legal team will go through the motions of rebutting the massive amount of evidence presented by the managers. They won’t even try that hard. They don’t have to. The summer soldiers have their back.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Day 2: Looking To Kill People

The scenes on TV were terrifying.  The House Managers’ presentation also included transcripts from overwhelmed and terrified police officers.  The mob was not there to peacefully assemble.  They were looking to kill people.

Charlie Pierce:

The third day of The Second Impeachment was, as the late Jimmy Breslin once said of the case against Richard Nixon, a burial job. The steady, methodical case presented by the House managers, illustrated by security video and audio recordings heretofore unseen and unheard, makes it quite plain that, for four years, the country was flirting with apocalypse, stuck in the close-in suburbs of armageddon. Watching in angry fascination all Wednesday, I couldn’t get out of my head Starbuck’s musings, as the first mate watches Ahab lash the Pequod through a typhoon against all common sense:

But shall this crazed old man be tamely suffered to drag a whole ship’s company down to doom with him?

The evidence is now undeniable. What we saw on Wednesday was the definitive proof that what broke into the Capitol last month was a hunting party. They came to kill people. “Hang Mike Pence” was not a metaphor. Hearing the hunters caroling, “Nannnnnn-cy? Nannnnnnnn-cy?” in that horror-movie sing-song was to hear the trilling of murderous intent. They came to the Capitol to kill people. Mitt Romney probably was saved by Officer Eugene Goodman, and this was before Goodman saved everyone else. (A security camera caught Goodman encountering Romney outside the Senate chamber as Romney was headed unwittingly into the teeth of the mob. Romney pivots like genuine Barry Sanders and beats feet in the other direction.) Rep. Jim McGovern had a near thing in the Speaker’s lobby. There could have been a massacre of the legislators, our own Guy Fawkes Day made complete. The heroism of the Capitol Police and the Washington Metropolitan Police is now immortal in a building in which practically every closet and bit of wainscoting are immortal, because this was a hunting party that came to the Capitol to kill people.

The House managers brought this evidence through a series of enormously gifted storytellers, and storytelling always has been an important part of legal proceedings. This was particularly true of Stacey Plaskett, a former NYC prosecutor who represents the U.S. Virgin Islands as their delegate to the Congress. Plaskett was tasked with connecting the events at the Capitol with the violence that was a subtext to the former president*’s entire political career. To do this, Plaskett brilliantly employed the episode in which some Trump supporters, including Proud Boys, ran a Biden-Harris bus off a Texas highway.

PLASKETT: Sometime after 12:30 p.m., a caravan of more than 50 trucks covered in pro-Trump campaign gear confronted and surrounded cars carrying Biden-Harris campaign workers and a Biden-Harris campaign bus as they were traveling down Interstate 35 from San Antonio to Austin. According to witnesses, this caravan repeatedly tried to force the bus, you saw and you see in that video, to slow down the middle of the highway and then to run it off the road. What that video you just saw does not show is that the bus they tried to run off the road was filled with young campaign staff, volunteers, supporters, surrogates, people, and as the Trump supporters closed in on the bus, a large black pickup truck adorned with Trump flags suddenly and intentionally swerved and crashed into a car driven by a Biden-Harris volunteer. News of the event went viral on social media. The President of the United States, in a campaign, saw his own supporters trying to run a bus carrying his opponents campaign workers off the highway and to physically intimidate people in this country campaigning, and here was his response the next day:

The President of the United States tweeted a video of his supporters trying to drive a bus off the road. You will recall in that first video that I showed you there was no sound. The one that he tweeted had a fight theme song played to at the president—the president put that music to that video. He added at the top, “I love Texas!” By the next evening, that Tweet that he did had been viewed 12.6 million times, and it wasn’t just the Tweet. On November 1 at a Michigan rally with a slew of reporters the president talked about that incident again.

Plaskett was spellbinding. None of this was normal, her presentation said, perhaps the last and most serious use of that phrase in reference to our four-year slow-dance with the palest of the pale horsemen. The day was a feast of shame for every Republican in the Senate chamber, even the ones who have come around at last, even the quick-pivoting Mitt Romney. This, the evidence said, this is what you and your politics have wrought. On. January 6, Donald Trump gave a speech, and hell followed after him.

In one way, it had the desired impact on some of the Republican senators who were watching.

As senators Wednesday absorbed the videos at former president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) bent his head down to his desk, and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) reached over to place a comforting hand on Lankford’s arm.

The vivid footage of the assault on the Capitol revived “horrible memories,” Daines said later.

Throughout a day of excruciating evidence, showing police officers screaming in pain and rioters screaming angrily, some Republican senators reacted with visible emotion. Yet there was little indication they would change their minds and vote to convict Trump, holding on to the argument that a former president cannot be impeached.

If the Democratic House managers’ goal was to make it personally and politically painful for Republicans to clear Trump, they appeared to make headway Wednesday, raising the question of whether any more GOP senators would join the half-dozen who appear willing to consider conviction.

But not the desired result. Some were horrified in other ways. Sen. Lindsey Graham clutched his pearls at seeing such terrible videos, but it was because the House Managers had the temerity to show the violence that gave him the vapors. Sen. Rick Scott said it was a “complete waste of time.” Sen. Rand Paul was doing his newest coloring book: Cap’n Crunch vs. Count Chocula.

Sen. Ted Cruz basically summed it up.

“The result of this trial is preordained,” said Cruz, who had mounted an effort to contest the electoral college results on Jan. 6.

I’m remembering the trials of Klansmen in Alabama who were arrested for killing civil rights marchers or lynching Black people who tried to register to vote. The results of those trials were preordained, too, when the all-White juries returned the verdicts. It’s the same old story.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Day 1 – Yes, It’s Constitutional

Via the Washington Post:

The Senate voted along mostly partisan lines Tuesday to pursue Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, after hours of arguments and the airing of a gripping documentary of the deadly Capitol riot that followed Trump’s inflammatory rally on Jan. 6.

Aided by the graphic 13-minute video that spliced violent images of the Capitol siege with Trump’s rhetoric, Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) and other impeachment managers delivered an impassioned account of the physical and emotional trauma to lawmakers, police, staffers and local residents. They said there was no “January exception” in the Constitution — meaning that a president couldn’t escape accountability through impeachment just because he had left office before the trial.

“If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing,” Raskin said of Trump’s behavior.

Trump’s lawyers countered that the trial — the first proceeding of its kind for an ex-president — would be unconstitutional because Trump was no longer in office, even if he was impeached by the House before leaving. One of the attorneys acknowledged that the former president lost the election, undercutting one baseless claim that Trump has spread since Nov. 3.

The Senate swiftly voted 56 to 44 against Trump. The proceedings will resume at noon Wednesday.

The Republicans who voted against the constitutional resolution is summed up succinctly by a cartoon by Adam Douglas Thompson in The New Yorker:

Charlie Pierce:

At the end of the first day of the Second Impeachment, the Senate took a vote in which its members decided, by a 56-44 count, to allow the trial to proceed. Mitch McConnell voted “no,” thereby giving up one of the Senate’s important constitutional prerogatives. Also voting for the trial to end were Senators Rob Portman, Richard Shelby, and Chuck Grassley, none of whom are running for re-election, and, therefore, have nothing at all to lose, but all of whom now leave office reckoned to be big piles of that out of which one cannot make chicken salad. Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, was the only surprise. Earlier, he had voted not to proceed with the trial. On Tuesday, he reversed himself and voted with the majority.

As for the legal beagling, it’s hard to compare the two teams of lawyers because they appeared to be arguing from separate dimensions. The House managers, led by Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, opened up with a truly terrifying collage of videos made in the middle of the January 6 insurrection. (Observers in the Senate chamber noted that several Republican senators, including Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio, pretty much ignored the presentation.) As a statement of what the Republicans are choosing to overlook in their abject cowardice, that video was more eloquent than any argument Raskin et al. could make. However, both he and Joe Neguse of Colorado, the latter of whom got to be the civics professor of the prosecution, were clear and cogent and drew clear lines from the riotous mob to the previous administration*, largely by pointing out that the violence came not from the speech the former president* delivered on January 6, but from a campaign against the election itself that the former president* had conducted beginning last summer. Not that any Republican cared to look, but the historical record is now irrefutable. The insurrection began long before the windows broke.

On the other side, we had Bruce Castor and David Schoen, who apparently beamed in from Dimension X. Castor started out trying to schmooze the senators and then went woolgathering all over the lot. If there was a theme to Castor’s presentation, it was pitched at a frequency that I couldn’t hear. Schoen at least was able to get from A to B to C without breaking his leg chasing butterflies. Schoen leaned hard into Tuesday’s fundamental question: whether this impeachment is illegitimate because the former president* is not president* anymore, although constitutional scholars from across the ideological divide have expressed the opinion that this is all hooey. He also was obviously tasked with being the defense team’s ambassador to The Base. (It was Schoen who got the phrase “cancel culture” into the record of the trial, for which he may get a prize.) But to sum up the defense case is to point out that the lawyers didn’t even address the events presented in the video. Their case was bloodless and incoherent. The riot was neither.

You cannot escape the images of the riot and insurrection even though I tried by turning to other channels or just turning off the TV. They are still there. Certainly Republicans like Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio would rather talk about anything else.

Probably the most egregious was Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) who told the New York Times that Trump deserves a “mulligan” for exhorting the crowd to violence.

“Look, everyone makes mistakes, everyone is entitled to a mulligan once in a while,” he said. “And I would hope — I would expect that each of those individuals would take a mulligan on each of those statements.”

Seriously. And I am very sure that the other 43 Republicans who voted against the resolution think the same thing: that Trump and his cop-killer crowd should get a pass.

We can’t riot against them. But we can make sure that the next time there is an election, they won’t get a mulligan.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Here We Go Again

Impeachment 2.0.

The Senate on Monday prepared to launch a historic second impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump on the accusation that he instigated the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, with Democratic and Republican leaders agreeing on a rapid timetable that could bring the proceedings to a close within a week.

The charge is serious, and the circumstances are unprecedented — it is the first impeachment trial for an ex-president as well as the first time any president has been impeached and tried twice. But there is little drama surrounding its outcome: Most Republican senators have signaled that they will not be voting to convict a former president.

As much as I would love to see the Senate unanimously vote to convict him and grind his legacy into the dirt, the prediction that he will get away with it yet again is the most likely outcome. The arguments about the constitutionality of the trial or the charges of suppressing his First Amendment rights are his legal team’s attempt at distraction. Unlike the first impeachment a year ago, the facts of the case are clear, the evidence still marring the walls of the Capitol, and the rioters are still posting their videos on YouTube. But the majority of the Republicans will vote to acquit because they are more interested in saving their political future as well as having legitimate fears about their own safety; what happened on January 6 in the Capitol could happen in their own home town, wrought by the nutsery that Trump unleashed.

The question of Trump’s guilt or innocence isn’t what’s being considered here. The question is whether or not the senators believe more in the rule of law than the rule of party and politics. Based on what we’re seeing so far, the answer is clear, and the next week in the Senate will be little more than a study in foregone conclusions. More’s the pity.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Two Little Words

According to Charlie Pierce, two words make all the difference.

I know there’s an nearly overwhelming impulse among many people to blow off the upcoming impeachment trial of El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago in favor of worrying about the pandemic, and the economic miseries, and the dreadful lack of bipartisanship that has given Susan Collins a case of the sad. However, as can be seen by the case presented Tuesday by the House managers—and, to an extent, by the answers provided by the former president*’s lawyers—the issues in play in that trial are as serious as any ever brought against anyone who ever was president, asterisk or not. The former president* stands accused of waging a guerrilla war against the government he was elected to lead. As the House Managers put it in their filing.

By the day of the rally, President Trump had spent months using his bully pulpit to insist that the Joint Session of Congress was the final act of a vast plot to destroy America. As a result— and as had been widely reported—the crowd was armed, angry, and dangerous. Before President Trump took the stage, his lawyer called for “trial by combat.” His son warned Republican legislators against finalizing the election results:“We’re coming for you.” Finally, President Trump appeared behind a podium bearing the presidential seal. Surveying the tense crowd before him, President Trump whipped it into a frenzy, exhorting followers to “fight like hell [or] you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Then he aimed them straight at the Capitol, declaring: “You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.” Incited by President Trump, his mob attacked the Capitol.

“His mob.” Those two words are the heart of the case brought against the former president*. There are literally hundreds of videos supporting the proposition that, in every way that mattered, this was indeed the former president*’s mob. The mob included his personal lawyer and his eldest son, who joined him in inciting them, and it doesn’t matter how many times the former president* said the word, “peaceful”* out loud, he knew what he was doing as clearly as he knew what he was doing back in 2015, when he would tell his crowds to “beat the crap” out of protestors.

And, in a very real way, the former president*’s new lawyers cop to a good piece of this in their reply, which concentrates at least in part on the argument that, even if the former president* did incite the mob, he did so in such a way that’s covered by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. If your reaction to this is, “Holy hell, these guys have big, clanging brass ones,” you’re not alone, pilgrim.

It is admitted that after the November election, the 45th President exercised his First Amendment right under the Constitution to express his belief that the election results were suspect, since with very few exceptions, under the convenient guise of Covid-19 pandemic “safeguards” states election laws and procedures were changed by local politicians or judges without the necessary approvals from state legislatures. Insufficient evidence exists upon which a reasonable jurist could conclude that the 45th President’s statements were accurate or not, and he therefore denies they were false. Like all Americans, the 45th President is protected by the First Amendment. Indeed, he believes, and therefore avers, that the United States is unique on Earth in that its governing documents, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, specifically and intentionally protect unpopular speech from government retaliation.

You have to admit. It’s as daring a Hail Mary argument on behalf of a guilty party as any you’ve ever heard. Not only does it none-too-subtly imply that there’s some theoretical merit to the argument that the election was rife with fraud, simply because the former president* said so in public, but it also says quite directly that a president* of the United States cannot be stopped from inciting an insurrection, or be punished for having done so, not because of presidential immunity, but because he has the same First Amendment right to do so as some guy on a milk crate in Washington Square Park. Of course, eventually, the former president*’s lawyers follow this argument right over a cliff.

OK, look out below!

It is admitted that President Trump spoke on the telephone with Secretary Raffensperger and multiple other parties, including several attorneys for both parties, on January 2, 2021. Secretary Raffensperger or someone at his direction surreptitiously recorded the call and subsequently made it public. The recording accurately reflects the content of the conversation. It is denied President Trump made any effort to subvert the certification of the results of the 2020 Presidential election. It is denied that the word “find”was inappropriate in context, as President Trump was expressing his opinion that if the evidence was carefully examined one would “find that you have many that aren’t even signed and you have many that are forgeries.” It is denied that President Trump threatened Secretary Raffensperger. It is denied that President Trump acted improperly in that telephone call in any way.

Ultimately, the former president*’s case rises and falls on whether or not you can impeach a president after he leaves office. But it’s not our job here to deny his lawyers some fun building up those billable hours. I do not have a First Amendment right to perjure myself. A con man does not have a First Amendment right to sell yachts he does not own. And it’s hard for me to imagine a constitutional philosophy under which a president has a First Amendment right to gin up a mob and set it upon the Congress. But, then again, I think I lost the plot on this politics thing long ago.

I find it ironic that Trump’s mob lawyers would plead the First Amendment when their client has done as much as anyone in the office ever did to trample on the rest of the the Constitution. I’m not a lawyer, but as we’ve all learned in high school civics class, not to mention the playground and sports fields, that words have consequences and that while you can freely express your opinion about anything you want, it’s not a violation of the Constitution if people respond to what you say and that you bear some responsibility for saying the words in the first place.

That said, the one hundred people who will sit in judgment on Trump will have sworn an oath to uphold the law and the Constitution. The supreme irony and the sad fact is that there will most likely not be enough of them to say the one word that matters: Guilty. Why? Because they fear that the mob that came after the Capitol on January 6 will then come after them. And there’s your irony on a silver platter.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Guilty Pleasure

I get a somewhat perverse pleasure out of seeing Republicans — especially those who were anti-Trump, then became his best (or worst) enablers — who now have to squirm and explain why he shouldn’t be held accountable for inciting the riotous mob that attacked the Capitol on January 6.  Case in point, Florida’s own Marco Rubio, who tried running against Trump in 2016 and sank like a turd in a well only to defend him like the kid in high school who sucks up to the bullies so he won’t get stuffed in a locker.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Sunday said that he will attempt to end former President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial because it is “stupid.”

Rubio make the remarks during an interview with Fox News host Chris Wallace.

“First of all, I think the trial is stupid,” Rubio said dismissively. “We already have a flaming fire in this country and it’s like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire.”

Rubio suggested that a pardon of Trump would be “good for the country.”

Wallace pointed out that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has condemned Trump for his responsibility in the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“Is Sen. McConnell wrong, sir?” Wallace wondered.

“I think the president bears responsibility for some of what happened,” Rubio admitted. “It was most certainly a foreseeable consequence of everything that was going on and I think that’s widely understood and maybe even better understood with the perspective of time. I think that’s separate from the notion of let’s revisit this all and stir it up again.”

Which is Mr. Rubio’s way of saying “Don’t remind the country of the attempt to overthrow the government because it might get some people upset,” which is really his way of saying “When I’m up for re-election, please don’t remember that I helped the seditious goon that inspired the mob.”

Sen. Rubio is just one of the many dopes who are suddenly concerned about unity and making nice. He pales in comparison to the inkstain Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) who took to the front page of the New York Post to complain that he’s being muzzled by “cancel culture.” Let the irony soak in.

I fully believe we need to have some sort of Truth and Reconciliation Commission to rectify and bring justice to this country in light of the crimes and lies that were committed by Trump and the people who enabled them. While I think it is a serious matter and will speak to history about how we at this time dealt with it, it doesn’t mean we can’t mock and belittle the people who should be held accountable while we’re at it.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Sunday Reading

Tell The Whole Story — Masha Gessen in The New Yorker.

One of the most quoted lines in American nonfiction is Joan Didion’s “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” It’s the first sentence of “The White Album,” an essay in which Didion recounts some facts, some images, and some reporting notes from 1968. Didion felt that she had lost the ability to string the stuff of stories into narratives, and, as a result, life itself seemed to drain away. She was plagued with symptoms that were variously interpreted as neurological or psychiatric—or, after the fact, by Didion herself, as a normal reaction to 1968, which could have given anyone a case of vertigo and nausea. Outwardly, she appeared to function, except when she didn’t, when her mind was besieged by disconnected phrases and an overwhelming sense of existential dread, apparently insurmountable for being well founded.

Nations, in this way, are like people: they cannot survive without a story. A common sense of past and future, a broad agreement on organizational principles, trust that your neighbors near and distant share a general understanding of reality and current events—all of these are necessary for any kind of politics to function. American politics right now are like Didion’s life in 1968: a jumble of fragments, a thin veneer of functionality, and an abyss of well-founded existential fear. At this moment, we are deciding whether we will try to forge a coherent story.

During the first impeachment of Donald Trump, in November, 2019, I wrote that it was impossible to observe the hearings without first choosing between two non-overlapping views of reality, two different stories. In one story, Trump had repeatedly abused power and was finally facing impeachment for a particularly egregious incident of abuse. In the other, Democrats had been trying to get Trump for years and had finally latched on to an inconsequential incident, staging a witch trial to get rid of the President. This week, the Republican Party is still closing ranks around the President, with a mere ten exceptions in the House. Wednesday’s impeachment hearing, like the first, was legible only through one of two frames: either Trump organized an attempted coup and was being impeached for it, or, as Representative Jim Jordan, of Ohio, claimed in his speech on the House floor, “It’s always been about getting the President no matter what. It’s an obsession.”

Although several Republican representatives acknowledged that the violence at the Capitol on January 6th was terrifying, condemnable, and un-American, some of them compared it to Black Lives Matter protests, or what they imagined the Black Lives Matter protests to be. “Make no mistake, the left in America has incited far more political violence than the right,” Representative Matt Gaetz, of Florida, said. “For months, our cities burned, police stations burned, our businesses were shattered, and they said nothing.” By this logic, since no one was impeached for, say, the property damage sustained in Minneapolis last year during the protests of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police, no one should be impeached for inciting chaos at the Capitol.

President-elect Joe Biden released a statement several hours after the House voted on the motion to impeach. This timing seemed designed to signal that impeachment is not one of Biden’s top priorities. “I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation,” the statement read. Over all, Biden has distanced himself from the proceedings, underscoring that he sees his job as getting his Cabinet seated, speeding up vaccine distribution, and passing his economic-relief package. On Thursday, barely more than twenty-four hours after the impeachment vote, Biden gave a speech in which he made no mention of it, or Trump, or January 6th.

Most Democrats in the House have based their calls for impeachment on the claim that Trump is a “clear and present danger” and must be removed from office immediately. Framed this way, the process does seem to lose its urgency after Trump has moved out of the White House. The backers of impeachment will then shift their focus on the imperative to prevent Trump from ever running for office again. As malignant as Trump is, though, can the task of banning him from federal office be as urgent as legislative measures that will have a material impact on the lives and health of millions of Americans?

As long as the proceedings are narrowly focussed on Trump, the case for urgency will grow only harder to make. Instead, the goal of the Senate trial should be defined as finding and telling the truth about the insurrection. My colleague Jill Lepore has taken up the question of what we ought to call the events of January 6th. “Any formulation is a non-starter if it diminishes the culpability of people in positions of power who perpetrated the lie that the election was stolen,” she wrote. The task before the Senate, then, ought to be to produce the first draft of those history books.

Too often, we think that trials, whether in the courts or in the Senate, exist to mete out punishment—that they need to establish the facts only to the extent necessary to decide on the charges brought before them and determine the appropriate penalties. But, as of next week, whether Trump should be removed from office will no longer be an operative question. A Senate trial focussed only on Trump may not hold the attention of the media, the public, or even the lawmakers themselves. And if the trial in the Senate sputters out, the story of January 6th will be told in dozens or even hundreds of separate trials, in federal courts located in different states. Different judges will be deciding whether different defendants were guilty of trespassing, damaging federal property, assaulting officers and journalists, and taking part in an insurrection. It will not be the job of any of these judges to paint a comprehensive picture of what happened on January 6th, what led up to the insurrection, and what made it possible.

In the absence of such a story, the task of preventing future insurrections will fall to the F.B.I. and the uniformed services. Security in the Capitol and the capital will be permanently increased; domestic surveillance will grow in scale. In other words, the U.S. will respond to this crisis the way that it has responded to other crises: with securitization and the curtailment of political rights. The grave term “domestic terrorist,” which has gathered much traction in the past week, paves the way for just such a response. But the insurrectionists were not terrorists. Their primary purpose was not to inspire terror in the general population; their purpose was to prevent the elected President from taking office. Unlike most terrorists, they acted directly upon their target, going to the seat of political power in the United States and attempting to seize power, following what they perceived as orders from the President of the United States.

Reframing the Senate trial of Trump as a truth-finding mission rather than a punitive undertaking requires a voice more authoritative than that of any one senator or even a majority of the Senate. It requires the voice of President-elect Biden. Such a proposition runs against all of Biden’s political instincts: the idea that he should focus on his own Administration and his legislative agenda; the tradition of moving on in the name of healing; the knowledge that getting things done in the Senate is the process of counting votes, negotiating, making concessions; the desire to get results in the most efficient way possible.

An attempt to tell the story of the insurrection—and the story of the Trump Presidency, which made it possible—would not be efficient. It would have to be sprawling, ambitious, grand. It would require the President-elect and senators to use their full political and intellectual muscle. This needs to be done not because it is necessary to punish and banish Trump, but because this country cannot rely only on snatches of stories that float haphazardly through non-overlapping realities. Biden certainly fears that insisting on a deep and broad Senate trial would further alienate Trump’s supporters. But if impeachment is allowed to fizzle, or even to proceed in the most efficient way possible, that will guarantee nearly half of Americans will watch the process without having to challenge the notion that the Democrats are simply out to get Trump. Can they be pulled in by a more detailed, more truthful, and undoubtedly more troubling story? We cannot know—but without telling a story we cannot live.

Joe [hearts] Bernie — Charlie Pierce on Biden’s economics.

On Thursday night, we saw President-Elect Joe Biden bow to the iron constraints of The Blog’s First Law of Economics. To wit:

Fck the deficit. People got no jobs. People got no money.

To which we have added the codicil:

People got the ‘Rona.

For decades, Biden’s been a fiscal liberal, but one who was willing to cut deals that made him look less like a liberal and more like a creature of the mushy center. On Thursday, with a $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” he declared himself firmly on the side of Professor Keynes.

I know what I just described does not come cheaply, but we simply can’t afford not to do what I’m proposing. If we invest now boldly, smartly and with unwavering focus on American workers and families, we will strengthen our economy, reduce inequity and put our nation’s long-term finances on the most sustainable course.

No hedging. Not even a head fake toward The Deficit. Nothing about tax cuts. We will spend, and spend big, because that’s what this unprecedented double crisis demands. And there was more.

You won’t see this pain if your score card is how things are going on Wall Street. But you will see it very clearly if you examine what the twin crises of a pandemic and this sinking economy have laid bare. The growing divide between those few people at the very top who are doing quite well in this economy, and the rest of America. Just since this pandemic began, the wealth of the top 1% of the nation has grown roughly $1.5 trillion since the end of last year. Four times the amount for the entire bottom 50% of American wage earners. Some 18 million Americans are still relying on unemployment insurance, some 400,000 small businesses have permanently closed their doors. It’s not hard to see that we’re in the middle of a once in several generations economic crisis with a once in several generations public health crisis.

To hear Joe Biden sounding like Bernie Sanders, and to hear him put economic inequality in the middle of his plan to revive the country’s economy, is to hear for the first time in a long while that the federal government knows what it’s there for. After four miserable years being in thrall to the whims of an incompetent president,* and a Republican Congress that repurposed itself as nothing more than the Human Resources department of the federal judiciary, the federal government is stirring again to act on its own. If nothing else, Joe Biden knows where all the levers are. That, in itself, is a cause for hope.

Doonesbury — What’s left?

Friday, January 15, 2021

Happy Friday

If you’re feeling a bit stressed, just think about what’s happened in the last two weeks:  The state of Georgia elected both a black man and a Jewish man to the United States Senate; armed insurrectionists tried to take over the United States government with the emphatic support of the current president; that president has now been impeached for the second time, and Ford introduced an electric SUV version of the Mustang.

Good news and bad all in a rush of fourteen days.  If that’s not enough to shake up your spinal cord, then you’re probably comatose.

How about some Friday Catblogging to sooth your weary mind.  Sombra keeping a calm but watchful eye.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Make It Stick This Time

The House is going to impeach Trump again.

The push for an unprecedented second impeachment of President Trump took a dramatic bipartisan turn Tuesday, as several senior House Republicans joined the Democratic effort to remove Trump for his role in inciting an angry mob to storm the Capitol last week and the White House braced for more defections.

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the third-ranking House Republican, and Rep. John Katko (N.Y.), the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, both publicly held Trump responsible for last Wednesday’s violence. They were later joined by Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.).

“The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Cheney said in a statement, adding, “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Said Katko, “To allow the president of the United States to incite this attack without consequences is a direct threat to the future of our democracy.”

Kinzinger added, “If these actions . . . are not worthy of impeachment, then what is an impeachable offense?”

A senior administration official said the White House expects at least a dozen Republicans to support impeachment in the likely House vote Wednesday. The White House is rudderless, unwilling or unable to mount any defense other than saying that Trump will already be leaving next week, two administration officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal dynamics.

Trump, banned from Twitter, for the first time lacks the ability to aim angry tweets at those who oppose him, and White House officials conceded that he has few ways to stem the tide. He has asked Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) to urge fellow Republicans to oppose impeachment, an official said. Top House GOP leaders have announced their opposition to impeachment but have not given their members an alternative way to register disapproval of Trump or the assault.

As we know from last year, just impeaching him does not remove him from office. That will take a conviction in the Senate. Under normal circumstances that would be a non-starter, but maybe this time

Senator Mitch McConnell has concluded that President Trump committed impeachable offenses and believes that Democrats’ move to impeach him will make it easier to purge Mr. Trump from the party, according to people familiar with Mr. McConnell’s thinking.

The private assessment of Mr. McConnell, the most powerful Republican in Congress, emerged on the eve of a House vote to formally charge Mr. Trump with inciting violence against the country for his role in whipping up a mob of his supporters who stormed the Capitol while lawmakers met to formalize President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory.

In a sign that the dam could be breaking against Mr. Trump in a party that has long been unfailingly loyal to him, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in the House, announced her intention to support the single charge of high crimes and misdemeanors, as other party leaders declined to formally lobby rank-and-file lawmakers to oppose it.

“The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Ms. Cheney said in a statement. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Even before Mr. McConnell’s position was known and Ms. Cheney had announced her plans, advisers to the Senate Republican leader had already privately speculated that a dozen Republican senators — and possibly more — could ultimately vote to convict Mr. Trump in a Senate trial that would follow his impeachment by the House. Seventeen Republicans would most likely be needed to join Democrats in finding him guilty. After that, it would take a simple majority to disqualify Mr. Trump from ever again holding public office.

Don’t for a moment think that Mitch McConnell is considering voting to convict out of any concern for the rule of law or the good of the country. He’s thinking solely of the political fortunes of the Republican party; that if Trump is still around and eligible to run for another term in 2024, it’s going to make it hard to bring the GOP back to the way he wants it. That we might be able to get back to some semblance of normalcy would be a side effect.

Comparisons are being made to the first week of August 1974 when Richard Nixon was faced with a Supreme Court ruling that he must turn over the incriminating tapes in Watergate. The Republicans in the Senate realized that Nixon had to go, not for the good of the country, but for the sake of the mid-terms looming in November 1974. I think the more apt comparison would be the last week of April 1945 in Berlin when the bombs were falling around the bunker and yet Hitler still believed the war could be won and showed no remorse for what he had wrought. (Yes, Hitler comparisons are the end-game, but as long as we’re talking about psychopaths, we might as well go with the big one.)

We have a week. A lot can happen in a week. The Senate could actually meet, vote, convict, and brace themselves for the future.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A Law Unto Himself

Oh, come on; you knew this would happen.

Trump on Tuesday used his sweeping presidential pardon powers to forgive the crimes of a list of boldface names, including disgraced politician Rod R. Blagojevich, convicted junk bond king Michael Milken and former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik.

Trump pardoned or commuted the sentences of seven convicted white-collar criminals at the center of federal anti-corruption and tax fraud cases spanning decades, alongside four women whose cases were not as well known.

The action frees Blagojevich, the former Democratic governor of Illinois, from the federal correctional facility in Colorado where he was serving out his 14-year sentence. He was convicted on corruption charges in 2011 for trying in 2008 to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat.

“He’ll be able to go back home with his family after serving eight years in jail,” Trump told reporters. “That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion and in the opinion of many others.”


The executive actions announced Tuesday fit a pattern of highly personal presidential justice that largely bypasses the traditional pardon process administered by the Justice Department. Most of the people who have received clemency under Trump have been well-connected offenders who had a line into the White House or currency with his political base.

The justice system isn’t supposed to work based on “my opinion and in the opinion of many others.”  It’s supposed to work based on the laws and the rules passed by Congress and the legislatures.  And it’s not supposed to work based on who paid the most money to your friends and contributors or as a neener-neener to your predecessor.

Charles P. Pierce:

The banana republic is a republic gone bananas.

Trump has also declared himself to be the “chief law enforcement officer of the country.”

Trump’s constant commentary and increasing willingness to flout traditional legal processes signal that the president feels emboldened and unrestrained after Republicans voted almost unanimously to acquit him on impeachment charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, said Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers,” a history of White House chiefs of staff.

“It shows that Susan Collins was right — Trump has learned a lesson,” Whipple said, referring to a prediction by the Republican senator from Maine that Trump would be more cautious after impeachment. “The lesson he learned is that he’s unaccountable. He can do whatever he wants now with impunity.”

He’s also projecting what kind of treatment he’s hoping to get from the next Republican president when he’s rotting in jail in 2028.

It’s still not too late to impeach and convict the motherfucker.  And this time, do it right.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Sunday Reading

The Firing of Lt. Col. Vindman — Benjamin Wittes in The Atlantic.

In 2018, Donald Trump waited to move against Attorney General Jeff Sessions until the day after the midterm elections—but he didn’t wait a day longer than that. No sooner were the elections over than Trump dismissed Sessions, who had upset the president by recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Sessions, Trump believed, was “supposed to protect” him. The first senator to endorse Trump’s bid for the presidency never regained his favor.

Trump managed to wait two days after his Senate acquittal before taking care of family business, as Michael Corleone would put it, with respect to those who had upset him in the Ukraine affair.

Yesterday, he removed from the National Security Council staff Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman—along with Vindman’s twin brother, who served as an NSC attorney, for good measure. Lieutenant Colonel Vindman had had the temerity to object to Trump’s “perfect” phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and then committed the unforgivable sin of telling the truth about the matter when the House impeachment investigation sought his testimony. The brothers were, according to reports, escorted out of the White House complex.

Explaining himself this morning on Twitter, Trump, of course, went on the attack:

Fake News @CNN & MSDNC keep talking about “Lt. Col.” Vindman as though I should think only how wonderful he was. Actually, I don’t know him, never spoke to him, or met him (I don’t believe!) but, he was very insubordinate, reported contents of my ‘perfect’ calls incorrectly, & was given a horrendous report by his superior, the man he reported to, who publicly stated that Vindman had problems with judgement, adhering to the chain of command and leaking information. In other words, “OUT”.

Trump also fired Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, who had tried to play both sides—testifying in a fashion that upset Trump while being cagey at first and thus raising questions to House members about his candor. Sondland had managed to please nobody, and his presence on the scene at all was, in any event, a function of his large donation to the presidential inaugural committee. He had bought his way into service at the pleasure of the president and, having done so, proceeded to displease the president. Most eyes will, I suspect, remain dry as Sondland blusters his way back to the hotel business.

But Vindman is another story.

His was not a political position. He is an active military officer, rotating through the NSC on assignment. The president can put quotation marks around lieutenant colonel, as he did in today’s tweets, in an effort to demean Vindman’s service, but there is nothing to demean about his service, which has been in all respects honorable. The conduct for which his career has been attacked, what the president calls Vindman’s “insubordination,” was exceptionally brave truth-telling—both in real time and later when Congress sought to hear from him. When that happened, Vindman did not shrink from the obligation to say what had happened.

Unlike his boss, John Bolton, he did not withhold information from Congress, nor did he cite potential privileges that could be resolved only by court order or by book contract. Unlike Sondland, he didn’t waffle when called. Rather, along with a group of other public servants at the NSC, the State Department, and the Defense Department, he went up to Capitol Hill and told the truth.

And thus did Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman join a very special club—a motley crew of public officials who have drawn the public ire of a president of uncompromising vindictiveness for the crime of doing the right thing. It’s a club composed of former FBI officials, including two former directors of the bureau; American ambassadors; a former attorney general; some lawyers and investigators; even the former ambassador to the United States from the United Kingdom—anyone who has a line he or she won’t cross to serve Trump’s personal needs or who insists on doing his or her job by not hiding unpleasant realities.

Membership in this ever less exclusive club entitles Vindman to a number of, uh, benefits: unending, random attack by the most powerful man in the world using any of his available means of communication with the entire globe; mockery and derision by his associated media outlets, a category of abuse that in Vindman’s case includes anti-Semitic insinuations and frivolous allegations of inappropriate liaison with a foreign power; the security threats that inevitably come with such unwanted attention; damage to a distinguished career, a dramatic example of which happened yesterday; and, perhaps most unnerving of all for people who are used to anonymity, a kind of notoriety that leaves club members wondering if the person catching their eye on the street recognizes them with hatred or admiration or something else.

It is all part of a civil-liberties violation so profound that we don’t even have a name for it: the power of the president to suddenly point his finger at a random person and announce that this is the point in the story when that person’s life gets ruined.

Membership in this particular club has some genuine benefits, too. They are hokey things, such as honor and patriotism and duty. Because one thing all of the members of this particular club have in common is that—in very different ways—they all tried to do their jobs. They sought the truth. And they told the truth when called upon to do so.

In his congressional testimony, Alexander Vindman promised his father, “I will be fine for telling the truth.” It is the solemn obligation of the Pentagon and the military brass not to make a naïf of him for saying this. It is the job of the Washington policy community and the private sector to make sure that he is employable when he leaves military service—a role the community has not always played effectively with respect to members of this particular club.

And it is all of our jobs to make sure that Trump’s stigmatization does not work, to push back against his ability to turn public servants into nonpersons when honor and truth-telling displease him.

Thirteen (well, ten) Ways of Looking at an Impeachment — Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker.

(With apologies to Wallace Stevens, and in descending order of despair—though, perhaps, ascending order of importance.)

1. Impeachment was, despite it all, essential.

The purpose of impeachment was never political. It was never meant to be undertaken, and never should have been undertaken, with an eye to the Democrats being in a better political position after it was over. On those grounds it was, as Nancy Pelosi clearly felt, up to the very brink, a gamble not worth taking. The reasonable argument for why it had to be attempted was that to not impeach Donald Trump was not, well, reasonable. To allow obvious heedlessness to pass unchallenged was to collaborate in it. Impeachment was undertaken out of principle—the principle that the rule of law matters, and the corollary principle that political parties are not put in office to practice passivity. And it was, it must always be remembered, undertaken not at the political behest of a few radicals but in response to the collective and appropriate panic of national-security and intelligence professionals within the executive branch, who blew whistles and gave testimony because they believed that the President’s behavior was as wrong as wrong could be. Whether it was politically advantageous or not in the short run, it would have been politically disastrous in the long run to crawl away from such a conflict begun in such patriotic good faith. Right really should matter here.

2. Yes, but Trump won, and the consequences are terrifying.

As some people said at the time, the one good thing about an attempted impeachment was that at least the Republican senators, who all know exactly who and what Trump is, would at last be forced to own their bad consciences. What no one properly understood was that they had no consciences left to own—that their recognition of Trump’s obvious guilt would be overwhelmed by their fear of his opposition and that of his followers; exactly because they knew how bad he was, they would be compelled to redouble their irrational allegiance. They could not even look at any evidence, because they knew what it would show. Bad money always gets thrown in after good, as the gamble becomes ever more desperate. The trouble is that Trump is now left in firmer control of a party made passive by adherence to him, with his wounded narcissism leaving him more evidently deranged than before. His behavior during his post-impeachment appearances might have seemed extreme to Ludwig II of Bavaria, or caused Caligula to raise an eyebrow. Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr will protect Trump while allowing the Justice Department to be used as a weapon against his enemies. Of all the truly frightening moments of the process, the worst might have been the attempt at reassurance by Senator Lamar Alexander, who insisted that, though Trump might have been mistaken to ask a foreign President to investigate his political rivals, he will now know that the right thing to have done would have been to ask his Attorney General to start investigations. That this idea—in itself a betrayal of every imaginable American constitutional principle—was proposed as more appropriate is a true mark of the defeat of the rule of law. Nothing now stands between Trump’s id and Trump’s actions.

3. Actually, Trump won, but it’s trivial.

Trump is an inherently weak President—one with a narrow base of support and zero persuasion skills, and, as of now, one who is too chaotic to be much good at suppressing dissent. His acts and their intended consequences are further apart than our fears and his unhinged rages make us believe. Imagine if the plot had succeeded and the President of Ukraine actually announced investigations into the Bidens—would anyone have actually been fooled about the origins of those investigations, aside from those among Trump’s followers who live to be fooled by him? The true pattern of Trumpism—oafish chaos with self-defeating results, evil talk, and impotent action—will continue. Nothing has altered. The best efforts of Trump are horribly ugly but ultimately meaningless. All that has happened is that we are exactly where we were before, but with one side marginally less passive and the other marginally more enraged. Allowing Trump to have gotten away with his “perfect” phone call would seem to us now far worse as policy, while having exactly the same effect of creating an ever more unbounded Trump. A Trump not called to order would be no different than one who has been.

3. And you know what? Actually, Trump lost.

The idea of a “verdict of history” is an absurdity. But the verdict of verdicts is not. In this regard, Mitt Romney’s speech was, however impotent judicially, dispositive morally. Scoffing at the idea that Trump’s behavior was not impeachable, showing that it obviously was, Romney ended all ambiguity and spoke for the truth, and to history.

4. Adam Schiff’s eloquence will always be remembered.

Certainly, the most permanent moment of the entire impeachment lay in Schiff’s performance before the Senate as the lead House manager. Often speaking extemporaneously, with a sobriety and a carefully paced intelligence that one might have thought had vanished entirely from the American lectern, let alone American politics, he was, without exaggeration, Lincoln-like. Lincoln-like, that is, in a highly specific, formal way: he laid a careful, even tedious foundation of elaborate law and evidence, and then rose to moral exhortation only on that basis. He turned legal argument into moral practice. It may be too late for anyone to act on this truth, but, if the Democratic Party could vote its conscience and its honor right now, it would surely end, en masse, by nominating Schiff for President.

5. And so will Romney’s courage.

John F. Kennedy’s famous book “Profiles in Courage” would be better off called “Profiles in Collaboration,” since, as all now know, it was largely written by his doppelgänger, Theodore Sorensen, albeit from J.F.K.’s ideas, while the courage of many of Kennedy’s subjects, especially those who voted to acquit Andrew Johnson in his impeachment trial, now seems less conclusive than it once did. No matter—the central idea is that democratic politics, though designed to conform legislator to constituency, sometimes demand a legislator who refuses to conform. This idea, of nonconformity through principle, is essential to the difference between demagogic democracy and liberal democracy, and Mitt Romney, whatever his flaws and faults, defined it for his time. (It was made all the more moving by his being inspired by that most echt American of scriptures, the Book of Mormon.)

6. There was a truly shocking collapse of conscience.

The real story was not the complete collapse of conscience among the Senate Republicans. That was to be expected—after all, the first vote for impeachment ever offered by a senator of the same political party as the President was Romney’s. The real collapse was among the higher-ranking politically appointed military and national-security professionals who had been part of Trump’s inner circle before departing it, voluntarily or not. John Bolton’s behavior, in particular, was inexplicable. Clearly filled with contempt for Trump’s manifest unfitness, he refused to speak openly against him, apparently out of some bizarre mix of distaste for the Democratic Congress and a will to sell books in the fall. The passivity of the Republicans was to be expected; that of Bolton was not. Nor was that of other high-ranking former officials, including respected retired generals like James Mattis—and H. R. McMaster and John F. Kelly, who spoke softly, but not sharply. Though they weren’t in the White House at the time of the Ukraine phone call, they know the character of the President. Yet they remained largely silent, seemingly out of a misplaced sense of professionalism and discretion. (Misplaced because of the unique gravity and urgency of the circumstance. Though it’s good for soldiers to be discreet, there are moments when their duties as citizens are more important than their habits as officers.)

7. It’s over, and Trump will win.

An overwhelming number of vectors now point toward Trump’s reëlection this year: the state of the economy, the disarray of the Democrats, and the general truth that incumbent Presidents win. How the Constitution will survive in the face of a second victory, given the speed with which Trump is demolishing it now, is hard to imagine.

8. It’s not over, and Trump will lose.

Trump’s disadvantages remain enormous. No incumbent President before him has done so little to win over even a small part of the opposition. The Democrats just need to nominate someone capable of understanding and acting on the basic truth of all liberal-democratic politics—that what is needed is the broadest possible coalition, the biggest imaginable tent in which to gather the forces against the autocrat. It should not really be as hard as it is threatening to be.

9. History has its eyes on you.

This quote from “Hamilton,” and the very fact that, not long ago, that work, with its image of glorious diversity, was the one great American entertainment, should remind us of how rapidly and suddenly political waves can crest and take over. The contingencies and chances that come with political life are far greater than its destinies and certainties. Any attempt to trace our current crisis to some inexorable pattern laid down in 1964 or 1980 or even 2007 is absurd. It was not very long ago when the natural culmination of the cycles of history seemed to be the Presidency of Barack Obama—a Presidency that had seemed to many impossible to imagine, and that, as hard as it is for progressives to accept, was sufficiently radical to inspire the wild reaction that we are living through now. History is made by lost regiments, late-arriving cavalry, or, in this case, by tens of thousands of votes hived off here and there in Midwestern states. Nothing is written, or fated, or certain, and, as momentous as this election will be, no one knows its outcome, which will depend as much on the tiny fractals of chance as on some inexorable plot in history.

10. History is happening.

One last quote from “Hamilton,” again, to coax us all out of the sudden, enforced numbness that many feel. There has been, perhaps, in the past three years, an undue lack of passion in the opposition to Trump’s degradation of democracy into PutinOrbán-style autocracy. Too much trust, perhaps, was placed in the workings of constructional processes, culminating in the impeachment and acquittal. During Trump’s term, there has been no march on Washington as large as the first Women’s March, right after the Inauguration, no turn to mass protest as the fundamental anti-democratic nature of the Administration deepens. History will forgive us our failures; it will never forgive us our passivity. The coming months are fateful for our democracy; everyone will be tested, and every vote will count if all these American ambiguities are, somehow, to be resolved.

Doonesbury — Surf you must.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Some Statement

I think it says a lot about the state of our nation when there are headlines and BREAKING NEWS banners on TV about one senator bucking his party and actually voting to convict Trump because of the evidence presented to him as a juror at trial.

In the wider world, Mitt Romey didn’t do anything that would warrant a Jimmy Stewart/Frank Capra movie; it’s not as if he really put his job at risk, and while I applaud him for showing what today could pass for courage in the face of the shitstorm he’s wrought, it shouldn’t be amazing or stunning that someone did the right thing.  What it does tell us is that the rest of his party and their anvil chorus of hypocrites and sycophants in the Orcosphere lack the moral stability of a honey badger and that they have no more foundation for moral clarity than a pimp.

What is really pissing off Trump and his horde is the fact that Sen. Romney stole their “perfect” exoneration moment away; they can’t say that every single Republican stood with Trump, and worse, he became the story, not Trump’s victory waddle around the Rose Garden.  And while I have always found the people who justify their actions based largely on their religious convictions to be both boring and suspect, I have to say that Mr. Romney’s testimony of faith sounds suspiciously like he’s been reading Faith and Practice, the Quakers’ owners manual, by risking material and earthly gains to take a stand based on something more than just political considerations.  It’s not what you wear on your sleeve but hold in your heart that really matters.

Like most of these kerfuffles, it will be over in a week and I’m very certain that in November the state of Utah will be solidly behind Trump and that Mr. Romney will be re-elected when he’s on the ballot again.  But for one news cycle, we saw at least a vertebrate moment in what is usually a sea of Jello and blubbering cowardice and mendacity.

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.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Can I Get A Witness

Looks like it might happen.

White House lawyers pleaded with senators Tuesday to acquit President Trump based on “the Constitution and your common sense,” concluding their defense even as Senate GOP leaders struggled to block demands for new witnesses that could throw the trial into turmoil.

In a closed-door meeting after closing remarks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told colleagues he doesn’t have the votes to block witnesses, according to people familiar with his remarks who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe them. Just four GOP senators would have to join with Democrats to produce the majority needed to call witnesses — an outcome McConnell has sought to avoid since it could invite new controversy and draw out the divisive proceedings.

An initial vote to allow witnesses, expected Friday, does not ensure witnesses would actually be called, since the Senate would have to subsequently hold separate votes on summoning each individual witness. And Trump’s ultimate acquittal still remains all but assured, since a two-thirds vote in the GOP-run Senate would be required to remove him.

While everything is theory until it happens, and acquittal is still likely, it’s going to make it rather hard for the Republicans on the campaign trail to justify their vote if they get asked repeatedly how they could vote to let Trump off when they’ve had witnesses lined up to say “Yeah, he did it,” and, more importantly, it would completely freak out the White House and his toadies.

One could easily make the case that in the long run — that is, in November — it’s better that the Republicans get away with having this laughable show trial without witnesses and acquit Trump with a whoop and a “whew, we got away with it.”  The Democrats will have ready-made TV ads to run against the Republicans who, in spite of overwhelming evidence, still cravenly let him get away with it.  I would hope that’s the case.  But the electorate has the long-term memory of a goldfish, and by the time we get to October and the run-up to the election, the impeachment trial will be a distant memory to most of America.  So expecting them to hold Trump accountable for what happened in the summer of 2019 in the fall of 2020 is a big ask.

And then there’s the small matter of justice.  But this is politics, so justice is the last thing we’re supposed to be concerned with.  Still, it would be nice if we were to at least go through the motions.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Sanctimonious Toad

Charles P. Pierce on the appearance of Ken Starr in defense of Trump:

On November 28, 1998, a lawyer named Samuel Dash quit his job. Dash was a heavy hitter. 25 years earlier, he had been the majority counsel on the Senate Watergate Committee under Sam Ervin. But he couldn’t possibly continue because he thought he was being complicit in an act of constitutional heresy. From the AP:

You have violated your obligations under the independent counsel statute and have unlawfully intruded on the power of impeachment…I resign for a fundamental reason…Against my strong advice, you decided to depart from your usual professional decision-making by accepting the invitation of the House Judiciary Committee to appear … and serve as an aggressive advocate for the proposition that the evidence … demonstrates that the president committed impeachable offenses.

Dash directed his resignation at Kenneth Starr, who then was the independent counsel charged with rummaging through President Bill Clinton’s entire life. Along the way, as Dash knew, Starr’s runaway prosecution force, which included a young and lubriciously minded lawyer named Brett Kavanaugh, had demolished the lives of dozens of people, in Arkansas and in Washington. And Dash knew Starr’s investigation for the kangaroo stampede that it was, and Dash would have none of it.

You have no right or authority under the law, as independent counsel, to advocate for a particular position on the evidence before the Judiciary Committee or to argue that the evidence in your referral is strong enough to justify a decision by the committee to recommend impeachment.

All of which became relevant again when Ken Starr appeared on Monday on behalf of El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago, arguing in a lengthy episode of what can only be called constitutional psychedelia that the House of Representatives had run a renegade investigation of a president* acting within the lawful powers of his office. I think the world went all purple and green amphibians when Starr—Ken Fcking Starr, the legendary bed-sniffing yahoo—had the audacity to put the name of the late Peter Rodino in his mouth. It’s a wonder his teeth didn’t burst into flames.

Speaking in the condescending tones of a Baptist preacher who you know has bondage gear stashed in a steamer trunk somewhere, Starr presumed to lecture the Senate on the parameters of its constitutional duties. It was altogether remarkable to hear the author of a soft-core-porn-novella of an impeachment report wax sententiously, and in cathedral tones, about being in “democracy’s ultimate court.” It was altogether remarkable to hear a guy who lost his job at Baylor University after he oversaw a period where the school’s athletics department was plagued by sexual-assault allegations lecture a chamber full of lawyers about how precious due process is.

If a more sanctimonious toad than Kenneth Starr ever has crawled through American politics, I’m hard-pressed to know who it was. He got up in front of the Senate chamber and had the webfooted gall to say this.

Impeachment is hell, or at least, presidential impeachment is hell. Those of us who lived through the Clinton impeachment, members of this body well understand that a presidential impeachment is tantamount to domestic war…It’s filled with acrimony and it divides the country like nothing else. Those of us who lived through the Clinton impeachment understand that in a deep and personal way.

The same Ken Starr who once insisted that this was the only way democracy could be saved from a dangerous president.

According to Ms. Lewinsky, the president touched her breasts and genitalia, which means his conduct met the Jones definition of sexual relations even under his theory. On these matters, the evidence of the president’s perjury cannot be presented without specific, explicit and possibly offensive descriptions of sexual encounters.

The same guy.

Newspaper taxis appeared on the shore…

Funeral arrangements for Irony are pending.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Anything For A Buck

The New York Times has gotten an advance — remember that word — copy of former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton’s forthcoming book in which he spills the beans about what Trump knew and when he knew it about holding back the Ukraine aid until he could squeeze them on doing his bidding on the Bidens.  Much of this we already knew from the testimony to the House Intelligence Committee by various witnesses, but the Democrats have been trying to get Mr. Bolton to come forth and testify in the Senate to put the cherry on top of the impeachment sundae.

So far Mr. Bolton has been teasingly offering to come forth.

Mr. Bolton would like to testify for several reasons, according to associates. He believes he has relevant information, and he has also expressed concern that if his account of the Ukraine affair emerges only after the trial, he will be accused of holding back to increase his book sales.

So it would seem that Mr. Bolton is more interested in boosting his public image along with his book sales.  Forget the fact that Trump and his gang have been actively attempting to subvert the 2020 election; he’s got books to sell, and who’s gonna fork over $35 or whatever for old news and the word of disgruntled warmonger?

Even if Mr. Bolton was a stand-up guy who really gave a real damn about whether or not his former crime boss was trying to win reelection based on a phony piece of propaganda from the Kremlin, and even if he does come and testify in front of the Senate and provides proof beyond a reasonable doubt that not only did Trump do everything he’s accused of and also knows where the Lindbergh baby is buried and who cremated Jimmy Hoffa, the Republicans have enough votes and venality and self-ass-saving to acquit him.  So John Bolton can go ahead and sell his books, make his money.  He changes nothing.  Prove me wrong.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sunday Reading

They’re Not Listening — Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker.

Each day this week, when the Senate impeachment trial of Donald John Trump has convened at 1 P.M., the proceedings have opened with a prayer by the Senate chaplain, Barry Black, pitched to the tenor of the day. On Wednesday, responding to the ill-tempered partisan exchanges that marked the trial’s contentious first afternoon and evening, Black urged senators to “remember that patriots reside on both sides of the aisle.” On Thursday, he practically begged senators to take their role seriously, cautioning them against “fatigue or cynicism,” and insisting that “listening is often more than hearing.” Black warned against jeopardizing friendships of many years in the heat of the impeachment moment, and, on Friday, he returned to the theme of “civility and respect” and implored senators to maintain their ability to “distinguish between facts and opinions without lambasting the messengers.”

I came to look forward to these homilies, but only because they seemed like pleas to a country and a Senate that no longer exist. If anything, the chaplain was pleading with senators to do the exact opposite of what we all know they are doing. In Trump’s exhausted, jaded capital, there is some listening, but certainly no hearing. Civility is as often as not a dirty word, a synonym for moral compromise and not a prescription for practical politics. In days of watching the trial, I have observed only a handful of instances of Republicans and Democrats interacting with each other in any way. The Senate of the United States in 2020 is not a place where meaningful talking across the aisle is possible. It is not a place where facts are mutually accepted and individuals of good will can look at them and come to opposite but equally valid conclusions. The distance is too vast, the gulf unbridgeable.

We already knew this, of course, before Trump was impeached by the Democratic House of Representatives and put on trial by the Republican Senate, a trial that has been fast-tracked toward his inevitable acquittal. But what a sad and powerful demonstration of the phenomenon we are witnessing. On Thursday night, at the start of one of his most passionate—and ultimately partisan—speeches, the lead House manager, Adam Schiff, began by making an overture to the senators, going on at great length about their fairness and thanking them for keeping “an open mind.” To say this was aspirational would be a stretch. Schiff knew there were few, if any, open minds in the Senate, where, in the course of twenty-four hours spread across three days, he and his fellow House managers made their opening arguments.

The House team’s approach to the problem of having an essentially unpersuadable audience was to veer between lengthy and at times repetitive PowerPoint-enabled recitations of the evidence against Trump—which was plentiful—and impassioned appeals to the Senate to do something about it. As the week built toward the House managers’ Friday-evening close, the level of passion seemed to rise, along with every senatorial tweet and TV interview confirming that their eloquence was largely lost on their audience.

On Friday afternoon, Hakeem Jeffries, of New York, offered an impressive recap of the lengths to which the White House went to keep Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign secret. He cited names and dates for the cover-up. At the end of his presentation, his tone changed. “There’s a toxic mess at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” Jeffries, who is often pegged as a future Speaker of the House, said. “I humbly suggest that it’s our collective job on behalf of the American people to try to clean it up.” A few hours later, Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee chairman and another of the managers, went further. After outlining Trump’s assertion of essentially unlimited executive privilege and pointing out that Trump is the first President to categorically refuse to provide a single witness or document in response to a congressional impeachment inquiry, Nadler compared Trump to a would-be king. Trump is “the first and only President ever to declare himself unaccountable,” Nadler said. If he is left unchecked by Congress, Nadler concluded, “He is a dictator. This must not stand.”

In his own closing, Schiff hit many of the same themes. He ran through a litany of Trump’s obstructive acts. “That has been proved,” he said, over and over again, as he checked off each item on his list. His disdain for the President was palpable. (“For a man who loves to mock others, he does not like to be mocked,” Schiff, a frequent target of Trump’s attacks, said.) And then he ended with an homage to “moral courage” and the real political bravery needed in “disagreeing with our friends—and our party.” It was a moving speech, as Schiff’s usually are, and it sought to acknowledge that Republicans would have to do something very brave indeed: listen to his case and truly hear it. He even proposed that Republicans merely punt the remaining question of whether to call witnesses in the trial to Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the Senate proceeding. “Give America a fair trial,” he implored. “She’s worth it.” But, of course, it was not to be. Indeed, a riff in Schiff’s speech citing a CBS story that Trump associates had reportedly threatened that any Republican who dared to vote against Trump would end up with his or her “head on a pike” soon had G.O.P. senators claiming to be offended and outraged by Schiff’s words. As Schiff was speaking, the Associated Press tweeted out a news story that captured the moment. It said, “Democrats do not appear close to getting the 4 GOP votes needed for witnesses to appear in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.” The game is all but over.

Who, in the end, were they speaking to? And to what end? Jeffries and Nadler and Schiff spoke of Trump as a liar running a dangerously dysfunctional Administration—which counts as an incontrovertible truth in their world but clearly does not in that of the Republican senators. Those senators, after all, have been Trump’s enablers and supporters for three years now, no matter how initially reluctant they were to back him. They have voted almost entirely in lockstep with his priorities, even those that diverged from the Party’s previously held orthodoxies or the senators’ own longstanding beliefs. If Trump’s Washington is the toxic hot mess that Jeffries spoke of, these folks cannot conduct the cleanup. They voted for the pollution.

There are two observations from the Senate floor that stick with me after three long days of hearing the House present its case. These observations speak to how essentially impossible the task of addressing the jury was for Schiff and his fellow-prosecutors. The Republican John Kennedy, a canny Rhodes Scholar from Louisiana who is nonetheless known for his folksy observations, told a reporter, as he headed into the arguments on Friday morning, that the managers had made a mistake in reading their audience. “Very few souls are saved after the first twenty minutes of the sermon,” he said. Less charitable was the view of Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, who said that she had been watching her Republican colleagues squirm in their chairs and understood that nobody likes to be forced to listen to something that they disagree with. “Most of us get restless when we are presented with information we don’t want to hear,” Hirono said, and of course she was right. Imagine doing that for twelve hours or more a day, confined to a hard wooden seat, with no food and every bathroom break you take scrutinized by reporters as proof that you are not taking your job seriously. That, roughly, is the predicament in which the Senate Republican members found themselves this week. It is no surprise that they looked unhappy.

But, still, if the goal of the House managers was to sway any votes, then it is hard not to see their presentation of the case as a failure. On Thursday night, the Republican Rob Portman, of Ohio, spoke to CNN’s Manu Raju outside the chamber and made what counts these days as a concession of sorts to the Democrats. Portman acknowledged that Trump’s withholding of millions in military aid and a White House meeting from Ukraine, as he sought politically motivated investigations, was problematic behavior. “Some of the things that were done were not appropriate,” Portman said. “I’ve used the word ‘wrong’ and ‘inappropriate.’ That’s a very different question than removing someone from office who was duly elected, in the middle of a Presidential election.”

This, in effect, is what I would have expected Republican senators to say in defense of Trump in a previous, less polarized era. It is a modified, updated, Trumpified version of the defense that Democratic senators used twenty-one years ago in voting to acquit Bill Clinton on charges of lying under oath about an extramarital affair: Wrong, bad, inexcusable, but does not rise to the level of impeachment and removal from office.

Had Senate Republicans adopted this argument en masse, the trial would still have the same partisan outcome, but at least it would have taken place in the world of shared facts and expectations. But Portman is no longer the mainstream of the G.O.P.; the center has not held. On Friday afternoon, Judy Woodruff, of PBS, asked Portman’s colleague Deb Fischer, of Nebraska, whether she at least accepted “their premise” that Trump had asked Ukraine to investigate his 2020 political rival, former Vice-President Joe Biden. “I don’t,” Fischer said. This is remarkable stuff. What must the Senate chaplain make of such willful defiance of the facts? The demand from Trump to investigate Biden—by name, no less!—is right in the summary of his July 25th call with the Ukrainian President—the “perfect” phone call, as Trump calls it. The President has tweeted dozens of times since September urging Americans to “READ THE TRANSCRIPT!” How is it possible that one of the hundred senators is so disdainful of her duty that she has not bothered to do so or, if she has, is so willing to ignore what it so plainly says?

This is not a serious defense of Trump, of course, but it is amazingly revealing. The Senate trial of twenty-one years ago was for the Rob Portmans; the Senate trial of today is for the Deb Fischers. There is no audience for Adam Schiff, or if there is it has shrunk to a small handful of Republicans who may or may not vote next week to keep the trial going with witnesses and further evidence. For the rest of the Republicans and the forty per cent or so of America that has unflinchingly supported Trump through his Presidency, there will be another show, produced personally by the showman-in-chief.

That starts on Saturday, when the Trump legal team begins its opening arguments. Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, a Harvard Law School graduate who was the solicitor general of Texas before he became a senator, told the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, in an interview on Friday morning, that he was actively advising the Trump legal team after hours of sitting on the Senate floor each day. He said that he told the President’s lawyers, “No. 1, focus on substance more and process less.”

Don’t expect much substance. On Thursday morning, Trump gave a clear indication of the kind of defense he wants and where his mind is as he directs his lawyers. After “having to endure hour after hour of lies, fraud & deception by Shifty Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer & their crew,” Trump tweeted, “looks like my lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V.” Later, Trump’s private lawyer for the impeachment, Jay Sekulow, elaborated, in the language of show business preferred by the reality-TV star in the White House. Saturday’s presentation by the Trump legal team will be like a “trailer,” Sekulow told reporters, during a break on Friday—a preview of “coming attractions.” The show, for a few more days at least, will go on.

Tick-Tock — Erin Blankemore in the Washington Post on really knowing what time it is.

If you tune a shortwave radio to 2.5, 5, 10 or 15 MHz, you can hear a little part of radio history — and the output of some of the most accurate time devices on Earth.

Depending on where you are in the United States, those frequencies will bring you to WWV and WWVH, two extremely accurate time signal stations.

Developed before commercial radio existed, WWV recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. It’s the oldest continually operating radio station in the United States.

Both stations are overseen by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the federal agency that governs standards for weights and measures and helps define the world’s official time.

That time can be heard on shortwave radio 24/7.

Early on, WWV focused on experimental broadcasts (think Victrola concerts that wowed early radio users). Beginning in 1945, it began broadcasting time, too. In 1948, it was joined by a sister station in Hawaii for better Pacific Coast coverage. Unlike its Pacific counterpart, WWV also broadcasts at 20 MHz.

The format is bare-bones: Ticktock-like tones mark each second. Every minute, a voice announces Coordinated Universal Time, also known as UTC, which corresponds with Greenwich Mean Time. The stations also broadcast marine storm warnings, Department of Defense messages and updates on the status of GPS satellites and solar activity.

The information is provided by cesium atomic clocks and is accurate within less than 0.0001 milliseconds. The signal takes a tiny bit of time to travel to radio listeners, but is accurate within 10 milliseconds in most places within the United States. The stations are most recognizable to shortwave radio fans, and they are used to calibrate stopwatches, synchronize clocks for scientific and industrial applications, and even to tune pianos and time astronomical observations.

But another sister station, WWVB, is less familiar and arguably more widely used.

It doesn’t broadcast voices, just digital time codes over a ­low-frequency carrier. In North America, millions of radio-controlled watches and alarm clocks sync up with WWVB.

Don’t have a shortwave radio, but want to listen in? Call 303-499-7111 for WWV or 808-335-4363 for WWVH, and listen to up to two minutes of the oddly comforting broadcasts.

Doonesbury — Priorities