Friday, January 18, 2019

Impeach The [Expletive Deleted]

Many of us fantasize that Special Counsel Mueller will soon wrap up his investigation and produce a wide-ranging and scathing report that will result in Trump's ignominious demise.  I suppose that's possible.  But it is far more likely that Mueller will accede to Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president and will ultimately submit a narrowly-focused, restrained report that will encompass only some of Trump's misdeeds.  We can expect the administration to aggressively attempt to quash wide swaths of the report with broad claims of executive privilege that will have to be adjudicated in court, perhaps before Trump-appointed judges.  And there is also the question of whether the soon-to-be-appointed Attorney General, to whom the report will be submitted, will release it to the public and to Congress, or, as his confirmation testimony suggests, will disclose only a distilled and abbreviated version.

This means that the Democrat-controlled House cannot simply wait for Mueller to save the day.  Nor should it leave the task of investigating Trump's myriad scandals to a scattershot investigation by its various committees and subcommittees.  As Yoni Appelbaum thoughtfully and, to my mind, quite persuasively argues in his must-read article in The Atlantic, Congress must impeach Trump now:  "It must immediately open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump, and bring the debate out of the court of public opinion and into Congress, where it belongs."  Indeed, "only by authorizing a dedicated impeachment inquiry can the House begin to assemble disparate allegations into a coherent picture, forcing lawmakers to consider both whether specific charges are true and whether the president’s abuses of his power justify his removal." Impeachment proceedings will reframe and refocus the narrative and make it harder for Trump to change the subject as he is so adept at doing. 

I previously agreed with the Democratic Establishment that it was premature and politically unwise to push for impeachment.  It seemed to make more sense to let Congress methodically exhaust all investigative avenues to prove Trump's malfeasance first.  But this recalcitrance was based on a misconception about impeachment.  What Appelbaum makes compellingly clear is that the impeachment process does not require proof  before going forward.  On the contrary, impeachment hearings are an appropriate vehicle for developing evidence to establish whether impeachable offenses have been committed.  As Appelbaum helpfully reminds us, Nixon's impeachment hearings began before discovery of the so-called smoking gun tape recording of Nixon authorizing the CIA to shut down the FBI investigation.  In other words, damning evidence against Nixon that led to his resignation was developed in the course of those hearings.

Here, it is without question that there is already probable cause to go forward with an impeachment inquiry on a myriad of issues that include profiting off of the presidency, colluding with foreign powers and obstructing justice.  And now we have a new report that Trump may have suborned perjury of his attorney regarding the extent of his efforts to cut a deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow. As Trump hastens to destroy the country, what are we waiting for?

Once an impeachment inquiry is launched, a committee will subpoena documents, call witnesses and weigh the evidence before proposing specific articles of impeachment to be considered by the House. If the House votes to impeach, then the proceedings would move to the Senate where, after a trial, it would take two-thirds of the Senate to remove him.  While it is virtually impossible at this point to envision the Senate Republicans putting country over party, they should be compelled to stand up in the face of what is sure to be overwhelming evidence and explain to the American people why they continue to support this palpably unfit miscreant.  And even if the Senate fails to convict, Appelbaum convincingly contends that the process itself will impede Trump's ability to pursue his destructive agenda as well as cause him deep and lasting political damage.

The mid-term election has given Democrats an opportunity to safeguard the country.  They need to seize it.

Friday, January 11, 2019

On The Importance Of Remaining Outraged

Revised from January 2, 2018
But Trump is anything but a regular politician and this has been anything but a regular election. Trump will be only the fourth candidate in history and the second in more than a century to win the presidency after losing the popular vote. He is also probably the first candidate in history to win the presidency despite having been shown repeatedly by the national media to be a chronic liar, sexual predator, serial tax-avoider, and race-baiter who has attracted the likes of the Ku Klux Klan. Most important, Trump is the first candidate in memory who ran not for president but for autocrat—and won. -- Masha Gessen, New York Review of Books, Nov. 10, 2016
Two years ago, after the unthinkable happened and a malevolent orange shit gibbon became the President of these United States, Masha Gessen wrote an essential piece entitled "Autocracy: Rules for Survival."  She criticized Obama, Clinton and other leaders of the Democratic Party for their far too conciliatory post-election reactions that pretended Trump was a "normal" politician to be given the benefit of the doubt.  She sharply observed that their magnanimous responses may have been meant to ensure a peaceful transfer of power but effectively closed off any alternative to despair and acquiescence by implying that there was no daylight between acceptable, indeed necessary, peaceful protest and a violent insurgency. 

After two years of enduring the complete abdication of political norms, the relentless attacks on our democratic institutions, the corruption and self-enrichment, the racism and xenophobia, the pathological lying and incoherent rambling, the obstruction of justice and abuses of power, so-called reasonable, mainstream pundits and politicians continue to call for calm, measured responses.  They insist that we should keep our collective powder dry for when Trump creates a true national emergency, as if we haven't been living in one. 

How pitiful was the reaction of establishment folks who reached back for their fainting couches when Rashida Tlaib, a newly-elected congresswoman, had the audacity to say what we all should be thinking -- that we should "impeach the motherfucker."  How self-defeating that they also want to rein in another, the refreshingly brilliant Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose bold progressive policy proposals and stunningly effective rhetoric should be celebrated -- and emulated.

To those who call for modulating our outrage and lecture us to remain civil at all costs, it is well worth revisiting the six rules Gessen provided after the election, which are more relevant than ever:

Rule #1.  Believe the autocrat.

Trump says a lot of ignorant and provocative things that one would not expect from any rational human being, much less the purported leader of the free world.  While, as Gessen pointed out, it is human nature to assume he is exaggerating and to reach for a rationalization, it should be clear by now that Trump means what he says.  When he threatens to shut down the government indefinitely, we should not assume he is bluffing.  When he uses white nationalist rhetoric harkening back to the Jim Crow Era and dog whistles harkening back to Reagan, we should not assume he is merely firing up his base.  And when he repeatedly disparages the Justice Department, nominates acting and non-acting AG's who have expressed skepticism of the Mueller investigation, and interjects comments to and about key witnesses, we should not assume he is merely venting and won't foment a constitutional crisis when the walls start closing in further.  

Rule #2.  Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.

The bar is so low for Trump that anytime he reads complete sentences from a teleprompter without going on an off-the-cuff rant and drooling all over himself, the media is quick to remark that, at long last, Trump has acted presidential.  Mainstream pundits and politicians yearn, as we all do, for a calm, rational leader and many continue to engage in magical thinking, believing that any time now Trump will moderate his behavior and transform from mentally and morally unfit to fit.  But we can't be fooled by the occasional, although increasingly rare, appearance of reasonableness.  As Gessen wrote: "Panic can be neutralized by falsely reassuring words about how the world as we know it has not ended. It is a fact that the world did not end on November 8 nor at any previous time in history. Yet history has seen many catastrophes, and most of them unfolded over time. That time included periods of relative calm."

Rule #3.   Institutions will not save you

The White House press corps and other media entertain the musings of Trump aides and former aides (without noting their non-disparagement agreements) who enable the President by translating spontaneous tweets and crazy gibberish into something less insane and inane, and by spewing lies (i.e., alternate facts, unfortunate misstatements) that are then dutifully reported. Trump himself refers to the media as "the enemy of the people" and has threatened to shut down those outlets that he deems to be unfair -- or disloyal -- to him.  (See above:  believe the autocrat.)  This has all had a corrosive effect on the public's view of what constitutes not only real news, but real facts.  As for other institutions, Congress, until recently completely controlled by Republicans, undermined investigations that could have led to revelations of the Trump campaign's connections to Russia while pursuing trumped up scandals to undermine those revelations.  Republicans blithely ignored Trump's corruption and unfitness for office in favor of tax cuts, deregulation and appointing right wing judges.  And speaking of those judges, the courts, are being stocked with lifetime appointees at a record rate, filling vacancies left open by unprecedented Republican obstruction during the Obama Administration.  And then there's the Supreme Court, which now boasts two Trump nominees.  This surely will come in handy for Trump and his cabal when they mount court challenges to the nature and scope of the myriad investigations that will finally originate in the House now that Democrats are in control.   And don't assume that Mueller will save us.  (See above: believe the autocrat.) 

Rule #4.  Be outraged.

Every day there is something -- often more than one thing -- to be outraged about.  It is hard to resist scandal fatigue.  It is hard not to become inured to the arrogant abuse of power, the daily madness, the destruction of formerly accepted norms, the lies, the corruption, the cruelty, the ignorance and the instability.  The drip, drip, drip of the Russia scandal.  The nomination of unqualified judges who are avatars for the culture war.  The senselessly harsh and aggressive immigration tactics that are still tearing families apart.  The attempts to sabotage the ability to obtain affordable health insurance.  The ethics violations from virtually every cabinet member when they are not otherwise destroying the agencies they were appointed to run.  The efforts to mine, drill, frack and otherwise exploit public lands while ignoring climate science and destroying the environment.  The self-enrichment and business deals by Trump's family in the face of massive conflicts of interest.  And on and on and on.  It is impossible to keep up. But, as Gessen reminds us, "in the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock"

Rule #5.  Don’t make compromises.

We have already seen virtually the entire Republican Party sell their already very dark souls.  It is essential that we ensure that the Democrats -- particularly now that they have won the House -- resist and refuse to cooperate with an illegitimate president -- one who has still not disclosed his tax returns (but, hopefully, will be compelled to soon)  or revealed his myriad business interests and conflicts of interest; who, the mounting evidence suggests, cooperated with a foreign power to get elected; who is catering to a white nationalist agenda; and who has complete disdain for constitutional principles, democratic institutions and conventional norms.  "Those who argue for cooperation will make the case, much as President Obama did in his speech, that cooperation is essential for the future. They will be willfully ignoring the corrupting touch of autocracy, from which the future must be protected."

Rule #6.  Remember the future.

I can't say it any better than Gessen said two years ago:  "Failure to imagine the future may have lost the Democrats [the presidential] election. They offered no vision of the future to counterbalance Trump’s all-too-familiar white-populist vision of an imaginary past. They had also long ignored the strange and outdated institutions of American democracy that call out for reform—like the electoral college, which has now cost the Democratic Party two elections in which Republicans won with the minority of the popular vote. That should not be normal. But resistance—stubborn, uncompromising, outraged—should be."

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Monday, December 3, 2018

The Slippery Slope From Bush I to Individual I

Hagiography of dead U.S. presidents is a long-held tradition (see, e.g., St. Ronnie).  But at least we used to have Hunter S. Thompson around as a necessary corrective.  His off-the-hook obituary of Richard Nixon is brutal.  Here's just a taste:  "If the right people had been in charge of Nixon's funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president ... Richard Nixon was an evil man -- evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it. He was utterly without ethics or morals or any bedrock sense of decency. Nobody trusted him ... and honest historians will remember him mainly as a rat who kept scrambling to get back on the ship."

Crucially, Thompson acknowledged that his Nixon obit may have been over the top but insisted that journalists must avoid the urge to paint the recently departed leaders with sentimental, revisionist strokes:  "Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism -- which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place."

Which brings us to George Herbert Walker Bush.  The white-washing of his tenure and the praise for his decency is getting out of hand.  Sure, he appeared to put the good of the country -- at least as he saw it -- above personal financial gain.  As far as we know he didn't pay off porn stars.  And he was capable of compromise and ideological flexibility on occasion.  But that's a pretty low bar. 

So before we get too maudlin as we look back on those less vulgar days of bipartisanship, good fellowship and the rule of law, let's talk about Iran Contra. The Reagan Administration sold weapons to Iran, ostensibly to secure the release of hostages, and then used the money from the arm sales to fund the Nicaraguan Contras.  However, there was an embargo on arms sales to Iran and legal prohibition against funding the Contras. The ensuing scandal revealed evidence of money-laundering, arms smuggling and drug trafficking.  Bush, who was then Vice President Bush, famously claimed he was "out of the loop."  But he stonewalled the independent counsel's investigation -- refusing, for example, to turn over his diary -- and when he became president, he pardoned six participants, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.  Cap was about to go to trial, and the pardon thwarted the ability to determine Bush's role among others in the scandal.

Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel, issued a scathing statement condemning Bush's actions:   "President Bush's pardon of Caspar Weinberger and other Iran-contra defendants undermines the principle that no man is above the law. ... The Iran-contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed with the pardon of Caspar Weinberger....This office was informed only within the past two weeks, on December 11, 1992, that President Bush had failed to produce to investigators his own highly relevant contemporaneous notes, despite repeated requests for such documents....In light of President Bush's own misconduct, we are gravely concerned about his decision to pardon others who lied to Congress and obstructed official investigations."

Then there's Bush's classic use of dog-whistle racism in his presidential campaign in 1988 -- the famous "Willie Horton ad" used to scare white people into believing that if Bush's purportedly soft-on-crime opponent, Mike Dukakis, won the presidency, black rapists would be let loose on the country.  And he repeatedly sought to question Dukakis' loyalty to the United States, using McCarthy-ite innuendo, stating, for example, "I am not a card-carrying member of the ACLU. I am for the people."

Finally, there's Clarence Thomas.  In one of the most cynical moves in modern politics, Bush nominated the most anti-civil rights African American he could find to replace civil rights icon Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court.  Thanks to a condescending bunch of misogynists on the Judiciary Committee, Thomas was confirmed despite light-weight judicial credentials and credible allegations of sexual harassment.  And in the close-to-three decades he has been on the Court, Clarence Thomas has arguably been the Court's most conservative member.

In sum, Bush I undermined an independent investigation into government malfeasance by refusing to cooperate while abusing the power of the pardon. He appealed to the Republican base by using racist tropes and questioning the patriotism of his opponents.  And he put on the Supreme Court a far-right extremist with a history of inappropriate behavior towards women.  Any of this sound familiar?


Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Quintessential Met

Baseball is filled with heartbreaking stories about potential superstars who never reach the promise that seems within their grasp.  The Mets have had their share.  Dwight Gooden was a sensation when he burst onto the scene at age 19 as a once-in-a-generation talent, but  injuries and substance abuse tragically derailed his career.  His teammate, Darryl Strawberry, also never lived up to his limitless potential.  Then there was the trio of can't miss pitchers dubbed Generation K in the mid-1990s --Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson -- who all suffered major arm injuries before they even got started.  More recently, Matt Harvey, another dynamic pitcher, dubbed the Dark Knight, has had his path to almost-certain greatness stalled by injuries before being unceremoniously shipped out of town.

David Wright is not exactly in this category.  He is one of the greatest Met players of all time -- their greatest position player.  He is the career leader in pretty much every offensive category (except home runs in which he is 10 behind Darryl Strawberry).  But a series of injuries over the last several years took their toll on what could have been a Hall of Fame career.  

An article by sportswriter Matt Snyder plausibly claims that at age 30, Wright looked like he was on his way to the Hall of Fame.  At age 27, after six full seasons (2005-2010), he was a five-time All Star, with two Gold Gloves.  He, rather than Jimmy Rollins, arguably should have won the National League MVP in 2008 (he came in fourth in the voting).  Wright had two other top-ten MVP finishes in that span.  His career at that point was comparable to George Brett, Chipper Jones and Ron Santo -- three Hall of Fame third basemen -- when they were that age.  The following year, 2011, Wright suffered a stress fracture to his back, and missed two months of the season.  He rebounded in 2012, with another MVP-caliber season (finishing sixth in the voting) but hasn't had a full healthy season since.  Wright couldn't play at all last year and the two years before then he appeared in a total of 75 games.

As Snyder points out, through 2013, his age 30 season, Wright had pretty much maintained the great numbers he had been putting up throughout his career, with totals that included a .301 batting average, over 1500 hits, almost 250 doubles, 222 homers, 876 RBIs and 853 runs scored.  According to Snyder, with a relatively healthy next six-to-eight years, Wright likely would have amassed somewhere between 2500-3000 hits, 550 doubles, 350-400 home runs and 1500 RBIs and runs -- in other words, Hall of Fame numbers. Sadly, since then, he has either played hurt or was too hurt to play.

David Wright could have gone elsewhere after 2012, but remained loyal to the Mets, and signed a 7-year contract extension.  As a result, he is one of the few Met stars to have played his entire career with the team -- actually, with all due respect to Ed Kranepool, he is the only Met star to have played his entire career with the team.  In 2013, he was named team captain, and has been a steadfast presence with a remarkably positive outlook despite relentless setbacks to his recovery and generally disappointing play by his teammates.

With remarkable self-sacrifice and determination, Wright tried relentlessly to overcome the back, neck and shoulder injuries that have plagued him, and as another dismal season is nearing its end, he was hoping to take the field with the team either for a well-deserved swan song or perhaps as a stepping-stone to a more expansive comeback next year.  He played in some rehab games before the end of the minor league season and a few simulated games but it became clear that his body would not allow him to go forward at the major league level.

Met management has mismanaged so much over the decades but they deserve enormous credit for how they ultimately handled the end of David's career -- which ended today.  He was activated for this weekend.  He pinch hit yesterday and started the game today.  After two at bats (a walk and a foul out), he trotted out to third one last time and was then taken out of the game, leaving the field to an emotional ovation by his adoringfans at a sold out Citi Field.

Wright's career has spanned a period of hope and failure all too familiar to Met fans.  The devastating loss to the Cardinals in Game #7 of the 2006 playoffs, the two historic collapses to miss the playoffs the next two years (despite his stellar play), followed by six straight losing seasons and then a World Series appearance in 2015, which the team squandered, losing in 5 games.  Wright couldn't play at all these last two years and neither, it seemed, could the Mets.

So much of David Wrights' baseball career -- the injuries, the team's awful play and ownership's problematic decisions -- have been out of his control.  But he ended his career on his own terms.  He deserved it.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Democrats Need To Seize The Kavanaugh Narrative

Originally posted at Daily Kos

The questioning of Brett Kavanaugh before the Judiciary Committee was painful to watch — and not just because he came across as an evasive, entitled, intemperate, partisan bully.  The structure, tightly controlled by Sen. Grassley and giving each Party alternating five minutes, provided Republicans the ability to simply bloviate while Democrats were repeatedly interrupted by Kavanaugh’s self-aggrandizing filibustering.  This was hardly a process designed to get at the truth.  And the Democrats didn’t help themselves by lacking a well-coordinated attack.  By design, the day’s second half successfully drowned out Dr. Ford’s powerful, wholly credible first half.

But now that it appears that there will be a week before a floor vote while the FBI conducts an investigation, the Democrats have an opportunity to reset the conversation in order to bolster Dr. Ford as well as Kavanaugh’s other accusers, and further undermine Kavanaugh’s credibility.

As a minority party they lack subpoena power and are not empowered to hold an official hearing.  But they can do plenty that is unofficial.  They can hold an extended press conference over the course of several days, bringing forward witnesses, including the other victims of Kavanaugh’s sexual assaults, former classmates who can describe his drinking and belligerence, others who can expose his lies about his high school yearbook, experts on trauma to corroborate Dr. Ford’s testimony and others.  They can also present witnesses to flesh out his dissembling to the Committee about his activities while working in the Bush Administration.

It would be a missed opportunity for the Democrats to sit back and do nothing this week in the hope that the FBI conducts the kind of thorough investigation that will provide dispositive evidence sufficient to persuade Senators Flake, Collins and Murkowski to vote Kavanaugh down.  They need to  be aggressive, creative and change the narrative.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Republicans Weren't Borked; Democrats Were Garlanded And Are About To Be Kavanaugh'd

Brett Kavanaugh railed hysterically against the Democrats who "borked" him during the first round of confirmation hearings and tearfully protested that, worse than that, he was now the victim of "revenge on behalf of the Clintons."   Right, he is the victim here.  Steeped in Republican conspiracy theories, this rage-fueled rant did not exactly show the even-handed temperament of a fair-minded, non-partisan judge.

 "Bork," of course, is grossly misleading shorthand for the politicization of the judicial nomination process.  Republicans are fond of citing Robert Bork's confirmation hearing as the casus belli for rancorous and partisan battles over Supreme Court nominees.  But let's set the record straight.  Ronald Reagan nominated Bork, a radical jurist whose views on the federal government's role in protecting civil rights, voting rights and reproductive rights were far outside the mainstream.  He opposed 1960's landmark civil rights legislation on the ground that government coercion of “righteous” behavior is “a principle of unsurpassed ugliness.”  Not only opposed to Roe v. Wade, he disagreed with the Supreme Court’s 1965 decision in Griswold v. Connecticut which struck down as a violation of the right to privacy a law that prohibited married couples from using contraceptives.  And he did not believe that the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause should apply to women.

Importantly, Democrats did not filibuster Bork's nomination; he was afforded a full, if incredibly contentious, confirmation hearing, after which six Republicans voted with the Democrats to reject him.  After Bork's Supreme Court nomination was scuttled, the vacancy went to Anthony Kennedy.  Imagine if Bork hadn't been borked.  He would have cemented an an extremely frightening and very solid majority that would have very quickly eviscerated rights for women, minorities, labor and criminal defendants, erected insurmountable barriers for challenging the actions of corporations, and gutted federal regulations protecting the environment.  Kinda what we will be facing if Kavanaugh is confirmed.

Reagan's post-Bork nominees -- Kennedy and Scalia -- were confirmed unanimously.  And even after the Democrats regained control of the Senate, the first President Bush's nomination of Clarence Thomas (to replace Thurgood Marshall, no less) was confirmed despite Thomas's extreme conservatism, well-founded and disturbing allegations of sexual harassment and a thin judicial resume.  Thomas won by a painfully slim 52–48 vote, with the help of 11 Democrats.

And Samuel Alito, the choice of the second President Bush to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, and a justice probably farther to the right than Scalia and Thomas, was confirmed despite enough Democratic Senators voting against him to have successfully filibustered and prevented an "up or down" vote.

When Justice Scalia left the building, as it were, President Obama called the Republicans' bluff and nominated not a left-leaning progressive to the Supreme Court but, rather, Merrick Garland -- a centrist with a reputation for fairness, civility and following the rule of law.  Judge Garland was someone GOP leaders agreed would be acceptable until Obama nominated him.  Then this unassailable jurist was unable to muster even the traditional courtesy meetings with Republican Senators much less confirmation hearings or a vote.

Ignoring the fact that Obama had almost a year left in his second term when Garland was nominated, Republicans contended that the next president should decide who should fill the Supreme Court, an argument that had no basis in history or logic or convention, but they stuck to it.  Well, they stuck to it until it appeared that Hillary Clinton was going to win the presidency, when Republican leaders such as John McCain and Ted Cruz began arguing that the Court didn't really need a ninth justice after all.  Unwittingly or not, they revealed the Republican plan to refuse to allow Clinton -- or any Democrat for that matter -- to appoint the next justice. 
That question became moot when the unthinkable happened and the malevolent orange shit gibbon became president.  He nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the seat stolen from the Democrats.  The New York Times, on its handy liberal-to-conservative chart, put Gorsuch to the right of Alito and Scalia, but to the left of Thomas.  Smarting from the Garland debacle, the Democrats filibustered the confirmation vote, but the Republicans voted to get rid of the filibuster for Supreme Court, and Gorsuch was confirmed by a vote of 54-45, with three Democrats joining all the Republicans

Republicans (and some apologist Democrats) like to say that the Republican removal of the filibuster for the Supreme Court was fair play after Democrats voted to eliminate it for lower court nominees.  But the Democrats reluctantly voted to get rid of the filibuster only after the Republican's unprecedented obstruction culminated in stopping Obama's three nominations to the D.C. Circuit based on the specious argument that Obama was engaged in "court packing" when he was merely seeking to fill existing vacancies.  If the Democrats hadn't taken action, not only would Republicans have voted to eliminate the filibuster anyway when they returned to power, but they would have many more judicial vacancies to fill.

So, here we are. Justice Kennedy retired and Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh.  The initial hearing was marked by the Republican refusal to allow Democrats -- or the American people -- to know the content of hundreds of thousands of documents from Kavanaugh's time as White House staff secretary in the Bush Administration.  These documents could have shed light on any number of critical issues, including the extent of his involvement in crafting the Bush-Cheney policy on torture, his role in using stolen strategy memos from Democrats and his role in preparing certain right wing judicial nominees for their confirmation hearings.  Indeed, the few documents that were disclosed provide pretty convincing evidence that he lied to Congress about these issues.

Then, today, a truncated hearing on one of the several sexual assault charges against Kavanaugh -- with only the accuser and the alleged perpetrator permitted to testify. Again, the Republicans thwarted any wider inquiry that could have gotten us closer to the truth.  But we know the truth and it doesn't matter to Republicans.  Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was utterly convincing in her measured, credible testimony about what Kavanaugh and his accomplice, Mark Judge, did to her when they were in high school, as well as how it has traumatized her.  Then Kavanaugh came on with a Trump-inspired performance consisting of vitriol, conspiracy-mongering and lies.  He was evasive and remarkably hostile to questions from Democrats -- especially from the women Senators who had the audacity to question his qualifications for a position he considers his birthright

And in an utterly demoralizing redux of the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearing, a woman's compelling story was shouted down by an aggrieved man and his enablers, while she was ignored.  Kavanaugh pleased Trump, thrilled the deplorable base of the GOP, and apparently gave Republican Senators enough cover to plow his nomination through.

Republicans believe that the third, purportedly co-equal branch of government belongs to them.  For Republicans, this is apparently akin to the legal principle of adverse possession -- where one acquires title to property simply by virtue of being in possession of it for a certain number of years.  The Supreme Court has firmly been in conservative hands ever since President Nixon replaced members of the Warren Court.  And they intend to keep it that way.

Until we stop them.

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Kavanaugh Fight Is the Republican Party's Death Rattle

The confirmation of Clarence Thomas provides the closest parallel.  The demeaning treatment of Anita Hill by a condescending bunch of misogynists on the Judiciary Committee whose failure to fairly and meaningfully consider that Thomas engaged in sexual harassment and lied about it was a galvanizing moment in our history.  It brought issues about how women were treated in the work place into the public discourse.  It gave other women the space to talk about their own experiences.  And it spurred women to run for office and in many cases to win seats in both the Senate and the House.

But Clarence Thomas was confirmed (52-48).  And while those of us who believed Anita Hill then or do so now will always look at Thomas as someone who does not deserve to sit on the high court, there he sits.  He doesn't say much when he's on the bench but for over 25 years he has provided an ironclad conservative vote.

The integrity of the Supreme Court was supposed to take a hit after the Thomas confirmation, or after the travesty of Bush v. Gore, or Citizens United, or after Republicans stole a Supreme Court seat from Democrats by refusing to hold a hearing for Merrick Garland.  And political pundits are now speculating that confirming Brett Kavanaugh without the disclosure of his substantial paper trial or meaningfully resolution of questions about his actions while in the Bush Administration or, more recently, sexual assault allegations, will be a blow to the Court's credibility. 

But the Court has proven to be impervious to attacks on its reputation.  As designed, the Supreme Court, even at it has become more partisan, remains insulated from partisan attacks.  The justices have lifetime appointments, and their legacies are generally not sorted out until long after they have left the bench.  In real time, criticism no matter how harsh or justified can't really touch them.  So if and when Brett Kavanaugh -- or a right wing doppleganger -- is confirmed it won't matter how he (or she) got there. Like Clarence Thomas, he (or she) will be there for life.  And with Thomas, Gorsuch (the beneficiary of the Garland theft) and Bush II picks Alito and Roberts, the new justice will anchor a right wing majority that will transform the country's legal landscape.

And that's the end game for conservatives.  They don't care that the president is an amoral, ignorant monster as long as he nominates judges and justices who will please Evangelical Christians, the Koch Brothers and Wall Street. They probably don't really care whether they keep the House or even the Senate in the midterms if it means cementing a right wing majority on the Court.

They would see that as a pyrrhic victory for Democrats.  They understand that the country's evolving demographics are not on their side and that their base of non-college educated white men is dwindling.  But they don't need a majority if they control the courts.  They can come back and win elections with court-approved unregulated campaign funds, gerrymandering and voter suppression.  And they know that even if the Democrats control Congress, the courts as in the days of yore, can strike down progressive legislation. 

But what the Republicans are not counting on is the magnitude of the blowback.  As happened after the Thomas hearings, the despicable treatment of Kavanaugh's accuser by hamfisted Senate Republicans will further energize and empower current generations of women and non-deplorable men.

One would think that Trump's misogyny and history of sexual misconduct, GOP support for other sexual predators, and their War on Women, from attempting to defund Planned Parenthood to voting against renewing the Violence Against Women Act, would be enough.  But their uncompromising support of Kavanaugh and trashing of Christine Blasey Ford, his accuser, should be the last straw.  If Kavanugh is confirmed despite credible and corroborated evidence that he sexually assaulted a 15-year old girl -- and then lied about it -- the level of outrage should propel Democrats to victory this November.

But that's not all.  Kavanaugh's confirmation, as well as the chipping away of Roe v. Wade and other disastrous court decisions that Kavanaugh's confirmation ensures, will continue to resonate in 2020 when Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and others will have potent arguments for why women need to lead this country in the White House as well as in state and federal legislatures. 

In 2020, Clarence Thomas will be 72.  He will not be on the Court forever.  When he goes, the Democrats will be in power and replace him, resulting in a liberal majority on the Court for the first time since the Warren Court was dismantled during the Nixon Administration.  The old white men of the Republican Party will eventually be gone too -- replaced by a progressive majority that truly represents the diversity of the country.

That's our end game.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Merrick Garland Never Sexually Assaulted A 15-Year Old Girl (Just Sayin')

Brett Kavanaugh was hand-picked by the Federalist Society to provide a fifth vote on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and protect Big Business from regulation and accountability.  His confirmation would cement a right wing majority for a generation or more and transform the country's legal landscape.  As the New York Times summarized in a recent editorial: "That means, for starters, making it harder for minorities to vote, for workers to bargain for better wages and conditions, for consumers to stand up to big business and for women to control what happens to their bodies. It also means making it easier for people to buy and sell weapons of mass killing, for lawmakers to green-light discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender Americans, for industries to pollute the environment with impunity, and for the wealthy to purchase even more political influence than they already have."

Elections, however, have consequences. The fact that the Republicans control the presidency and the Senate means that absent extraordinary circumstances they should be able to choose a justice who aligns with their policy preferences -- and Kavanaugh is as aligned as any potential justice could be.  Without more, liberals and progressives would be entitled to strenuously object and make their case to the American people but, in the end, the Republicans would get their man.

But there is so much more.

There are the unanswered questions about Kavanaugh's spending habits, his debts, and who paid off his debts or financed his lavish lifestyle.  As a recent Mother Jones article noted "no other recent Supreme Court nominee has come before the Senate with so many unanswered questions regarding finances."

There are his false and misleading statements during his sworn confirmation testimony about his involvement while in the Bush Administration in the vetting of particularly controversial judicial nominees, his knowledge of and reliance on confidential strategy memos regarding judicial nominees that were stolen from Democratic Senators, and the extent of his role in such fraught Bush-Cheney policies as torture and illegal wiretapping.  When the model of decorum-to-a-fault, Senator Patrick Leahy, says Kavanaugh was "not truthful," it means Kavanaugh must have been lying his ass off.

There is the fact that the President and Senate Republicans have expedited the hearing and suppressed tens of thousands of documents that have thwarted Democrats' ability to shed further light on Kavanaugh's tenure in the Bush White House.  Given the damning information that has been leaked, what explosive shit are they still hiding? 

Most recently, there are credible, corroborated allegations that when he was a 17-year old prep school student he sexually assaulted a 15-year old girl who, not surprisingly, was deeply traumatized by the experience. And while there are some who may believe that what one does as a 17-year old is inconsequential when considering their qualities as an adult, the lies of a 53-year old about his conduct when he was 17 is sure as hell relevant.

And, of course, there's Merrick Garland.  There is always Merrick Garland.

If Kavanaugh's nomination is not withdrawn despite all of the alarming questions and concerns about his nomination it is because Trump knows he needs him:  Kavanaugh's views on executive power suggest he does not believe a sitting president can be investigated much less indicted for criminal conduct.  As the Times points out, if confirmed, Kavanaugh "will be in a position to rule on any case involving Mr. Trump or his associates, a disturbing scenario even before you consider his alarmingly permissive views on presidential power and authority."  And that is the reason that makes him most unfit.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Democrats Apologize While Republicans Destroy Democracy

Senate Republicans are rushing ahead to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to be the next Supreme Court Justice without allowing Democrats -- or the American people -- to know the content of hundreds of thousands of documents from Kavanaugh's time as White House staff secretary in the Bush Administration.  These documents could shed light on any number of critical issues, including the extent of his involvement in crafting the Bush-Cheney policy on torture and whether he lied to Congress during his earlier confirmation hearing for appellate judge about how involved he really was.  The Republicans stole one Supreme Court seat by refusing to hold any hearing for President Obama's nominee Merrick Garland, and are about to snag another by refusing to hold a meaningful one.

What is almost equally outrageous is that Democrats are going to participate as if Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings will be anything but a charade.  They will earnestly ask their questions, make deeply felt pronouncements, and vote "no" while the Republicans secure another far right wing justice after again making a mockery of Congress' advise and consent role.  Just as when Garland was hung out to dry and Neil Gorsuch was subsequently nominated by Trump, Senate Democrats seem incapable of thinking creatively or acting aggressively to stop or at least resist the radical takeover of the judiciary.

In the run up to the hearings, when Democrats should have been using every procedural and rhetorical tool at their disposal to challenge the Republicans and throw sand in the gears of Senate business (e.g., withholding unanimous consent, quorum calls), they negotiated a deal to fast track judicial nominees so that they could get back on the campaign trail.  And they appeared on the Sunday TV news shows to apologize for doing away with the filibuster for lower court nominees when they were in the majority as if that would have deterred Republicans from doing away with the filibuster for the Supreme Court which now gives them the ability to confirm with a bare majority.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar actually expressed regret for her vote to end the filibuster.  Not that Democrats reluctantly voted to eliminate the filibuster only after the Republican's unprecedented obstruction culminated in stopping Obama's three nominations to the D.C. Circuit based on the specious argument that Obama was engaged in "court packing" when he was merely seeking to fill existing vacancies.  (See Using The Filibuster As A Weapon Of Mass Destruction)  Not that Republicans abused the "blue slip" tradition that allowed a home-state Senator to thwart Obama nominees by withholding consent, and then eliminated the blue slip tradition when they came into the majority.   (See Senator Leahy Can Go Fuck Himself) Not Merrick Fucking Garland.

A New York Times editorial cogently explained how Kavanaugh's fifth vote on the Court would transform the country's legal landscape:
That means, for starters, making it harder for minorities to vote, for workers to bargain for better wages and conditions, for consumers to stand up to big business and for women to control what happens to their bodies. It also means making it easier for people to buy and sell weapons of mass killing, for lawmakers to green-light discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender Americans, for industries to pollute the environment with impunity, and for the wealthy to purchase even more political influence than they already have.
And then there's the fact that a president has nominated a justice for the Supreme Court while under investigation -- while there is a cancer on the presidency -- and one who, as the Times points out "will be in a position to rule on any case involving Mr. Trump or his associates, a disturbing scenario even before you consider his alarmingly permissive views on presidential power and authority."

The weekend before Republicans are going to push through such a Supreme Court nominee without allowing him to be questioned on his record, the message from Democrats is that this is at least partially their own fault for not being nicer when they were in power.

Admittedly, Democrats don't have a whole lot of options at this point but for fuck's sake, they should not be conceding the "both sides do it" bullshit that Republicans have been using as a justification for shredding long-standing rules and traditional norms in order to take over the judicial branch since Robert Bork.

This is not the time for civility.  It is a time for resistance.  And Senate Democrats need to demonstrate that they are up for the fight.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A Drumpf Lib

The malevolent orange __________ continues to degrade the office of the presidency.  Rather than reading his briefing memos and relying on the intelligence agencies at his disposal, he has tweeted a bogus conspiracy theory he heard about on Fox & Friends early this morning regarding __________.

Then in a series of rage-tweets during his Executive Time, he redoubled his efforts to undermine and obstruct the Special Counsel's Russia investigation by recklessly impugning the integrity of an FBI/DOJ employee named __________, disparaging the investigation as nothing more than a _________, demanding that the government instead investigate ___________ -- although that Fox-inspired nonsense has already been debunked -- and demanding prosecution of his political enemies, including __________, __________, and Hillary Clinton.

In a campaign rally/jamboree/cult gathering in __________, he once again decried the mainstream media as the enemy of the people for failing to uncritically praise him for doing __________, which it turns out was not at all what he actually did.  He lied about __________.  He claimed that liberals were _________ and that __________ was going to happen if they won the mid-terms, which sounded very much like a threat to end civil society.  And he spewed terms such as __________ and __________, which were dog whistles that racists understood loud and clear.  In the process, he roused the crowd into chanting __________. 

Meanwhile, new reports surfaced about __________, demonstrating again how Trump and his family continue to profit from the presidency and how his failure to disengage from his financial empire has created debilitating conflicts of interest. He still refuses to disclose his federal tax returns and Congress has declined to demand them.

Another cabinet member/administration official, __________, has been accused of  __________, a grossly unethical practice that should -- but won't -- result in his/her dismissal.  While another business associate/lackey, ___________, has reached a plea/immunity deal.

Remarkably, __________also happened today, which under any other administration would be a front page scandal but barely receives any attention now.

As developments with the Special Counsel investigation provide tantalizing new clues about __________, Trump reportedly contemplates shutting it down by firing __________.   Despite such reports, the Republicans still refuse to take any steps to shield Mueller from a Nixon-inspired Saturday Night Massacre.

Indeed, the GOP is nothing more than a craven bunch of Vichy Republicans who have willfully failed to be a check on the presidency, refusing to investigate __________, __________, __________,  much less criticize Trump over __________.

Meanwhile, the Democrats tepid response is dispiriting.

But the unprecedented corruption and abuse of power emanating from the White House every day, together with the new spate of bold, energized candidates, including __________ and __________ will hopefully stir everyone to the left of the deplorable right to work towards ensuring a Blue Wave in November.  Otherwise we're __________ed.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Only The Mid-Terms, Not Mueller, Will Save Us

What will happen if the Republicans retain the House and Senate in November -- if some combination of gerrymandering, voter suppression, race baiting, third-party malfeasance, media fail and voter apathy suppresses the Blue Wave?  It is unthinkable, but let's think about it anyway.  Trump would feel vindicated and emboldened to double or triple down on his authoritarian white nationalist agenda, punish his political enemies, pardon his friends, and continue to degrade the office of the presidency through corruption and abuse of power. 

The Senate would continue to confirm right wing, Trump-friendly judges at an unprecedented rate.  Meanwhile, the Special Counsel's investigation would be shut down or muzzled. Indeed, two key Senators -- Lindsay Graham and Charles Grassley -- have already strongly signaled that they would welcome Trump's firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Sessions, of course, recused himself from the Russian investigation after it became clear he had lied during his Senate confirmation hearings about his own Russian contacts.  To his credit, it appears that he has not attempted to insulate the president from the investigation which was why he was appointed in the first place.  A new AG or an interim one would not be so constrained.

But even assuming Mueller survives unscathed and wraps up his investigation, a hostile AG and a supine Congress could keep the report bottled up, in whole or in part.  We may never see the evidence, findings or conclusions of the investigation.

In any event, there is already a consensus that a sitting president cannot be indicted and that a president's removal or other sanction can only come from Congress. So, if we are all waiting for Mueller to provide the explosive report that would lead to Trump's removal, it is not going to happen unless Democrats control Congress and do some work on their own. 

If the Democrats do take back at least the House -- and if they are willing to use their power to launch aggressive investigations of Trump's corruption and abuse of power (I know, that's a big "if"), then all bets are off.  And I'm not talking about impeachment -- yet -- which would require not just a majority of the House to impeach, but 2/3 of the Senate to convict.  First let's get the evidence and see what where it takes us.  Maybe, ultimately, impeachment.  Maybe the facts will be so damning and the liability to Trump, his family and his businesses so serious that he would resign -- take his ball and go home with some self-deluded justification that he and his cult could get behind.

Paul Waldman
provides a handy list of what a Democratic House could do:
  • Use their control of the Ways and Means Committee to obtain and release Trump’s tax returns so that we finally learn what he has been hiding.
  • Hold hearings on the ways Trump is personally profiting off the presidency and potentially violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause.
  • Mount a serious, comprehensive investigation into the Russian attack on the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s cooperation with that attack.
  • Investigate accusations of wrongdoing that have been leveled at Cabinet officials such as Wilbur Ross and Ryan Zinke.
  • Demand answers from the administration on the decision-making process and effects of controversial administration policies, such as adding a citizenship question to the census, relaxing rules for power plant emissions, making it easier for private “universities” to scam students, and tearing children from their parents’ arms at the border.
And Frank Rich paints the picture of what it would look like:
Nonstop congressional investigations will attempt to illuminate every dark corner of an administration in which the kleptocracy extends from the Trump family to most Cabinet departments. Those close to Trump, both in his family and in his immediate circle, will fear for their futures, both legally and financially. The GOP and the Trump Organization alike will be on the ropes, and in full panic. This is evident from the wrongdoing already apparent — indeed, already the subject of indictments and guilty pleas.
But this can only happen if Democrats regain Congress.  So while we wait for more of Trump's former cronies to make immunity or plea deals, for more indictments and prosecutions, for the drip, drip, drip of tantalizing facts that hint at the depths of Trump's corruption and depravity, and for Mueller's next steps, we need to do what we can do -- work on ensuring the Democrats win in November.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Dear Democratic Senator: Slow It Down If You Can't Shut It Down

I sent the following letter to my Democratic Senators in California:

First, I want to thank you for taking such a strong, principled stand in opposing Judge Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court.  I appreciate that in addition to opposing him for his outside-the-mainstream views on abortion, civil rights, workers' rights, environmental regulation and health care, you have articulated why his views on executive power should disqualify him in light of the ongoing investigation of the president.  Indeed, it would be outrageous for the president to be permitted to choose a justice who could be a critical vote on issues relevant to his own liability and that of his family and his associates.  In addition, it is beyond comprehension that a meaningful confirmation hearing could be held without essential documents that could shed light on Kavanaugh's work while in the Bush Administration on such fraught issues as torture and wiretapping -- and on whether Kavanaugh was truthful when he minimized his involvement with these matters in sworn testimony during his prior confirmation hearing for the federal bench.  So thank you.  

I am also writing out of concern that Democratic leadership may cut a deal that would permit the quick confirmation of a number of federal judges in order allow Senators running for re-election in the midterms to hit the campaign trail.  Given the pending Russia investigation, Trump's alleged involvement in violating campaign finance laws that essentially make him an unindicted co-conspirator, and the almost daily revelations of scandal and corruption, Democrats must vigorously oppose all lifetime appointments until these matters are resolved.  The Republican rush to confirm a record number of federal judges before the midterms has already proven disastrous for the judiciary, and it is far past time that you and your Democratic colleagues use every possible procedural move to slow it down if you can’t shut it down.  At the very minimum, no deals should be struck with Republicans who -- from obstructing President Obama’s nominations (including, but not limited to, Merrick Garland) to ignoring time-honored blue slips in order to advance Trump’s nominations to rubber-stamping extreme right wing Federalist Society recommendations -- have been shredding Congressional norms and Constitutional checks that have previously ensured at least a modicum of integrity and fairness in our government. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Republican Reform

I have never voted Democrat in a Federal election in my life  ...  This year, for the first time, I will vote for a Democrat candidate in a Federal election ... I will do so for two reasons: First, I want to increase the nationwide total of Democratic votes. The greater the total, the greater the rebuke to the bankrupt Republican party and to the malignancy of Trumpism.  Second, and more importantly, the Nunes tape demonstrates clearly what most of us have all-too-sadly known for a long time. The Republicans in Congress have abdicated their role as a coordinate branch of government. They have forgone the responsibility of acting as a check on authoritarianism. They have sold their soul for policy success at the expense of the nation. Nunes is simply the most obvious, corrupt example thereof. They have no claim to any moral authority any longer.  They are only enablers of Trumpism and should be turned out of office. That's why, for the first time in my life, I will cast a Democratic vote this November. I urge all of my Republican friends who retain a view of country over party to do the same.
-- Paul Rosenzweig
I enthusiastically welcome my former high school classmate, the highly esteemed Paul Rosenzweig, and a growing number of other Republicans who have not lost, or are rebooting, their soul, and are strongly disavowing Trump and his craven Republican enablers in Congress.  Along with an energized progressive base, we need them, and should encourage them to urge other like-minded, non-deplorable Republicans to support Democrats in the mid-terms and beyond. So even those (not Paul) who are monetizing their revelatory change of heart by writing and selling books about what progressives have known all along, I say "welcome" with open arms.

And so it is in that spirit of good fellowship and common cause that I will not confront them with the fact that Republicans have been exploiting race, xenophobia and divisive social issues well before Trump.  (See, e.g., Nixon/Pat Buchanan's Southern Strategy; Reagan's Philadelphia, Mississippi/Welfare Queen Strategy; Bush I/Lee Atwater's Willie Horton Strategy; Sarah Palin's Tea Party Strategy)  They have been shredding the Constitution since Watergate.  (See also Reagan/Bush I Iran Contra Scandal; Bush II/Cheney Torture)  They have been lying about economic policy to justify tax cuts for the wealthy since Reagan (See, e.g., Laffer Curve).  I'm not going to talk about this uncomfortable history because there is no need to shame these well-meaning people who are truly showing great integrity by publicly coming forward when it would be easier to remain quiet.

But I do want to bring up one aspect of the Republican agenda that pre-dated the rise of Trump but on which he is eagerly capitalizing -- the outright theft of the Supreme Court (and the federal judiciary, more generally). I don't recall hearing any prominent Republicans speak out when Merrick Garland was denied even a hearing after President Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court?  Or when Neil Gorsuch was confirmed instead, after the Election and after the Republicans eliminated the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.  And now Trump has nominated Brett Kavanaugh who, if confirmed, will, thanks to the Gorsuch for Garland maneuver, cement a hard-right majority on the Supreme Court.  For the anti-Trump Republicans who are otherwise fine with an ultra-conservative court in principle, do the ends justify these means?  And what about the fact that Trump is choosing a justice who is likely to consider issues involving the Special Counsel's investigation of Trump, his Administration and/or his family?  And what about the push by the Republican-controlled Senate for a confirmation hearing without the release of records that could shed light on Judge Kavanaugh's role at the Bush White House -- particularly as it pertains to the internal debate over the use of torture?  (My friend Paul has penned a piece supporting Kavanaugh -- a former colleague from their Kenneth Starr days -- that elides these issues.)

I applaud and appreciate the embrace by formerly stalwart Republicans of "country over party," and their recognition that Democratic control of Congress is essential to checking Trump's authoritarianism.  If that is as far as you can go, that's OK.  We are truly happy to have you.  But I urge you to consider how Trump and his co-conspirators in the Senate are undermining the integrity of the judiciary.  That's worth fighting against too.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Whither The Deplorables

Let's assume that Michael Cohen will testify that Trump was aware of and approved ahead of time the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting where his son and other campaign officials met with a Russian operative to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton.  Let's further assume that his testimony can credibly be corroborated by others.  This would mean that Trump conspired with a foreign government to win the presidency, lied about it and, as we already know, tried to cover it up by dictating an exculpatory but untrue statement about that meeting's purpose.  Game, set, match.  Or as a White House lawyer put it during Watergate after learning of a smoking gun-type revelation from a taped conversation in the Oval Office, "that's the ball game."  Right?

The problem, of course, is that almost half the country is watching a different ball game.  The one where the fans are not at all bothered by Trump's racism, authoritarianism, corruption or, as it turns out, his treasonous conduct.  They will either deny the truth or justify it or say it doesn't matter.  This includes the Republicans in Congress as well as the roughly 40% of the population that provide him with unconditional support -- roughly the same percentage, by the way, that doesn't believe in evolution.  Just sayin'.

Frank Rich wrote a compelling piece last year about "the remarkable staying power of the American voters" who support right wing demagogues and put people like Donald Trump in office.  He notes the many parallels between Trump's campaign and the racist, nationalist and populist appeal of George Wallace, and how Wallace, after a failed attempt as a third-party candidate in 1968, actually posed a serious challenge for the Democratic nomination in 1972, until he was shot while on the campaign trail.  As Rich points out, Wallace’s supporters (ultimately co-opted by Nixon) were driven “by their authoritarianism, feelings of political powerlessness, and racial prejudice.”  Sound familiar? 

Trump has given these people a voice.  And, in return, they have given him their undying loyalty.  So what happens when Mueller provides irrefutable evidence of corruption, abuse of power and conspiring with the enemy?  We already know the Republican Party will do nothing beyond a few  tweets expressing their concern -- they are so in the tank for Trump and have been so willing to put party over country that it is folly to think that anything Mueller finds will be enough for them to actually act. 

So, of course, Democrats must take back the House and maybe even the Senate to restore some semblance of democracy to at least one branch of the government.  And then perhaps, finally, an investigation with subpoena power, bolstered by Mueller's findings, can be undertaken that hopefully won't be thwarted by Trump-nominated judges. But then what?

Trump has thoroughly degraded our democracy with his constant lying, the commingling of his personal, family and business interests with those of the government, his relentless attacks on legitimate media, and his aggressive efforts to undermine the Russia investigation.  He has created a cult of personality for a wide enough swath of the country that his demise -- whether by being frog-marched out of the White House or by failing to win re-election -- will be seen as the product of a "witch hunt" or a "rigged" political process.  Or, worse, the work of the Clintons.  Will they accept it peacefully?  Or will they take to the streets with their guns and tiki torches? 

There has long been an assumption that our government, our democracy is strong enough to withstand bad electoral choices, that there is a pendulum that will swing back from the brink of disaster.  After all, we survived Nixon and Reagan and Bush II.  Will we survive Trump?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

No New Supreme Court Justice While There Remains A Cancer On The Presidency

There are plenty of compelling reasons why the Senate should refuse to act on whoever Trump nominates to replace Justice Kennedy on the Supreme Court.  Of course, there is the fact that the Republicans stole outright the last Supreme Court seat by refusing to even hold hearings for President Obama's nominee.  There is the need to confront their hypocrisy in using as a pretense for such obstruction that the confirmation process should not be held in an election year.   And there is the grave concern that anyone Trump  nominates will, based on the list he has already provided, cement a far right wing majority for a generation or more and send us hurtling back to the dark ages.

These issues have predominated the discourse since Kennedy announced his decision to pack it in.  What has mostly been missing from the various talking points, particularly those of the Democratic leadership, is how inappropriate it would be for a president to nominate a Supreme Court justice while under investigation for cooperating with a foreign power that helped get him elected. 

At the end of January 1973, a month into Richard Nixon's second term in office, two officials of his re-election committee (CREEP) were found guilty of conspiracy, burglary and bugging the Democratic Party’s headquarters at the Watergate office complex.  Others had already pleaded guilty.  A week later, in early February, the Senate established a Select Committee to investigate what had become a full-blown scandal. Nixon's top aides, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman resigned in April, and the Senate's televised hearings began in May.  The rest is history. 

There would not be a Supreme Court vacancy during Nixon's truncated second term and so the issue of confirming a Supreme Court justice during this constitutional crisis never came up.  But imagine if it had.  Do you think there is even the remotest possibility that the Senate would have simply gone ahead and held confirmation hearings as if there weren't "a cancer on the presidency," as Nixon's former counsel John Dean put it? 

Well the cancer has returned and under this presidency it has metastasized.  There have been Saturday night massacre-type firings, recusals, indictments, guilty pleas and Congressional hearings.  There is already enough evidence in the public sphere to establish Trump campaign officials' connections to Russian efforts to throw the election to Trump as well as Trump's own attempts to obstruct the investigation into those connections.

If it is true that Trump cooperated with Russia's election meddling or that Russia succeeded in obtaining some form of kompramat giving them some power over Trump, then everything he does as president is devoid of legitimacy.  And that certainly includes selecting a justice to serve a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. Shouldn't we at least wait to see the results of Special Counsel Mueller's investigation before moving forward on what may be a nominee from an illegitimate president?

But even more than this, the Supreme Court will likely soon have on its docket cases brought by Trump and members of his Administration that directly relate to the Mueller investigation.  Issues likely to appear before the Court include whether a sitting president can be indicted, whether a president can be forced to testify, whether a president can pardon himself.  Since whoever he picks to sit on the Court would play such a critical role in deciding these and other potential issues directly impacting his liability, Trump has a debilitating conflict of interest in choosing a nominee.

Democrats need to focus less on trying to shame Majority Leader McConnell for his hypocritical power plays because he can't be shamed.  And, in any event, this isn't merely about Senatorial gamesmanship but about fundamental democratic principles.

The sad reality, however, regardless of whether we are talking about the nomination in terms of abuse of power or Republican hypocrisy and obstruction, is that elections matter -- even those tainted by Russian interference and Trump collusion.  Republicans hold a 51-49 majority (with Pence as a tie-breaker), which means the Democrats need to not only keep their members unified but convince two Republicans to cross over and oppose a Trump nominee.  This means making sure those conservative Democrats running for re-election in red states understand that they will need the support of their base, and particularly Democratic women who support Roe v. Wade, and they will lose it if they play along with the Republicans on this nomination.  And it means pressuring Senators Collins and Murkowski, two women who purportedly support a woman's right to choose, to put their votes where their principles are.

We also must demand that Democrats throw sand in the gears of the Senate to hamper the Republican's rush to confirm a nomination before the mid-terms.  They must use whatever procedural and technical tools at their disposal to shut down or at least slow down Senate business, including refusing unanimous consent that typically expedites hearings and exploiting rules that encourage free and open debate.  It is far past time for the Democrats to abandon their crazy-making deference to civility and norms.  They need to emulate Maxine Waters, not shun her.

This Supreme Court vacancy presents a key opportunity to mobilize voters and frame the issues in advance of the midterms.  (You know Republicans will be doing the same with their anti-choice base.)  I can think of no better way to deflate the passion and energy of liberals and progressives than to witness another tepid response by establishment Democrats to the incessant and dire threats to our democracy.  Even if this is ultimately a losing battle, it is one badly worth fighting for.

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