Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Asterisk Presidency*

In 1961, Yankee slugger Roger Maris was threatening to break Babe Ruth's then-hallowed record of 60 home runs in a season.  That year teams played more games than ever before as baseball expanded its regular season from 154 to 162 games.  Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick, who had been a dear friend of Ruth's, suggested that if Maris did not break the record within 154 games, his total should go in the record books with an asterisk.  As it happened, Maris hit his 60th home run in game 159 and his 61st on the last day of the season.  And while there was never an official asterisk -- and, in fact, no official "record book" -- the asterisk became associated with Maris' 61 homers and undermined the legitimacy of his achievement for decades. 

The stigma attached to Roger Maris because he happened to break the record of a much-beloved legend was unfair.  If anyone should have had an asterisk it should have been Ruth and all the other players who established records before 1947, while baseball was segregated, because they never had to play against the great African American players of their day.  But what Maris' situation tells us is that the metaphorical use of the asterisk -- fair or not -- can create a longstanding question of legitimacy. 

Which brings us to Trump -- who won the presidency after the FBI director and the Russian government undermined his opponent, the latter perhaps in coordination with the Trump campaign.  Even with this unprecedented interference, Trump still lost the popular vote by over 3 million.  And the stench of his illegitimacy has only worsened since he assumed office.  His refusal to separate himself in any meaningful way from his business interests, constructing what Jonathan Chait refers to as "a full-on nontransparent oligarchy" is mind-boggling.  The Republican Party's failure to confront such debilitating conflicts or undertake anything close to a good-faith investigation of Russian hacking, of course, makes them complicit in, paraphrasing Chait again, a "shocking degradation" of the presidency.  Finally, there's the fact that Trump has proven himself psychologically, intellectually and morally unfit for office -- dangerously so.  Thus, if any president deserves an asterisk it is this ludicrous, corrupt, ignorant bigot.   And the asterisk should remain unless and until he discloses his tax returns and the full extent of his international and domestic business entanglements, and is cleared by an impartial and rigorous investigation of any Russian meddling.

And then there's Neil Gorsuch, our newest Supreme Court Justice.  Gorsuch's confirmation was only made possible because of the Republicans outrageous refusal to hold hearings and vote on President Obama's mainstream-to-a-fault nomination of Merrick Garland despite the fact that there was almost a year left in Obama's presidency.  The brazen theft of this seat from the Democrats has badly damaged the Court's credibility, ensuring that what is supposed to be the least partisan branch of government is completely entrenched in electoral politics.  The bottom line is that Gorsuch should not be on the bench.  Every opinion Gorsuch writes and every decision in which his vote is the deciding one should have an asterisk.  (Gorsuch's first vote, a tie-breaking one, was to deny a stay of execution for a possibly innocent Arkansas man who was then put to death as part of the state's despicable rush to kill several condemned men before the expiration of one of the lethal injection drugs, giving us, as the New York Times editorialized  "an early, and troubling, look into the mind-set of the high court’s newest member.")  The Gorsuch asterisk, unfortunately, is one that will remain for a lifetime.


Post a Comment