Friday, November 6, 2020

Investigate, Prosecute, "Lock Him Up"

For years I've regarded his very existence as a monument to all the rancid genes and broken chromosomes that corrupt the possibilities of the American Dream; he was a foul caricature of himself, a man with no soul, no inner convictions, with the integrity of a hyena and the style of a poison toad.”  -- Hunter S. Thompson (on Richard Nixon)
When President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for "all offenses against the United States," he stated that it was out of concern for the "immediate future of this great country."  Next came Iran-Contra, which culminated in the pardon by the first President Bush (with the support of then-Attorney General Barr) of several key participants who had been indicted and whose trials would likely have dispelled the notion that Bush was, as he claimed, "out of the loop."  More recently, President Obama refused to seek any investigation of Bush II's "War on Terror," despite substantial evidence that wiretapping laws were broken and torture was authorized at the highest levels.  Much like President Ford, Obama claimed that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” 

And now that the end is nigh for the malevolent orange shit-gibbon, there are the frustratingly familiar calls for abstaining from investigating and prosecuting the myriad acts of abuse of power and corruption that have marked this horrid presidency from Day One.  The argument goes that we should be grateful that we are rid of this "mentally deranged U.S. dotard," as dear leader Kim Jong-un calls his dear friend  -- that, in the words of President Ford, "our long national nightmare is over." 

Accordingly, we are supposed to maintain our democratic cred by not engaging in political retribution against those who have lost power.  Further, given the immediate attention needed to address the economic, environmental and, most urgently, public health, disasters that will have been left in the disastrous wake of this disastrous presidency, we must, as President Obama said about his predecessor, "look forward as opposed to looking backwards." 

In The Atlantic, my old high school classmate (and favorite Republican), Paul Rosenzweiggamely tried to thread the needle, arguing that any investigation and prosecution of Trump should be limited to his conduct before and after his presidency, and that declining to pursue him for his actions as president is "the price we pay for the routine peaceful transition of power."  In Rosenzweig's view, going after Trump for his acts as president would result in an "ever-escalating cycle of retribution," with each administration prosecuting its opponents -- that "indicting one former president risks making a habit of doing so, and reducing America to little more than a revolving-door banana republic."  As Rosenzweig put it, if we think "lock her up" is wrong to say about Hillary Clinton, then "lock him up" is equally improper.  

First, the notion that Democrats should not launch legitimate investigations into the most corrupt administration in history out of fear that Republicans would respond in kind once they are again in control of the White House assumes, wrongly, that the GOP is not a nihilistic, anti-majoritarian cabal.  The modern Republican Party is not constrained by civility or norms or any notion of decency.  As Mitch McConnell made clear in completing his theft of the Supreme Court, the GOP will always put party over country and wield whatever power they can, while they still can.  Indeed, if they manage to hold onto the Senate, stay tuned for their shameless obstruction of Biden's efforts to restore the economy or deal responsibly with COVID or climate change, their refusal to pass any meaningful legislation or confirm judicial and executive nominees, and their bogus investigations of Hunter Biden and others in order to sabotage the new Administration. The Pelosi/Schumer/Feinstein non-confrontational approach (e.g., limited investigations, narrowly-drawn impeachment, docile SCOTUS confirmation opposition) does nothing but embolden Republicans, who know that Democrats default to compromise and appeasement.    

Second, there is a world of difference between fevered cult-inspired cries at Trump rallies for locking up Hillary Clinton, who was never found to have committed any criminal wrongdoing, with the reasonable investigation and pursuit of justice in response to the unprecedented level of corruption committed by, what Sarah Kendzior so aptly calls, "a transnational crime syndicate masquerading as a government."  
 
Rosenzweig agrees that the tax and mortgage fraud, campaign finance violations, and sexual assaults that occurred pre-presidency are all fair game.  But he would stop there, although he concedes that "the discretionary policy of not prosecuting an ex-president for acts committed while in office ... would have to yield in extreme cases."  But if this isn't an extreme case, I'm hard pressed to imagine what would be.  Trump's pervasive malfeasance as president has been far more egregious and has posed a far greater threat to our nation than anything he did before he slithered into office.  

Under normal circumstances it is certainly not ideal to go after a leader who has been justly defeated in a popular election.  BUT THESE ARE NOT NORMAL CIRCUMSTANCES.  There has never been a more corrupt president and the bill of particulars grows larger every day.  Indeed, we have only recently learned about Trump's interference with a criminal case against a state-owned Turkish bank at the urging of Turkey's authoritarian leader and presumably so as not to jeopardize Trump business interests there.  More details are emerging about Trump's unfettered self-enrichment while in office and reports of millions of dollars that taxpayers have paid to Trump-owned entities.  He appears to have worked with Russian disinformation operations to taint his opponent, used the resources of the government in his reelection campaign and undermined the efficacy of the Post Office to thwart the timely arrival of mail-in ballots.  And he's got a couple of months to do even more damage.

There has been a disturbing pattern of Republican Administrations, beginning with Nixon, to engage in abuse of power, violate of the Constitution and federal law, and break formerly-sacrosanct norms.  Each time we are persuaded it would be unseemly and undemocratic to hold them accountable. This has led us to this moment and to this presidency.  

The current American crisis is in part due to those officials who refused to curb Mr. Trump’s worst behaviour. When organized crime hijacks government, officials must act aggressively, transparently, and immediately. They cannot waste time like Robert Mueller did with his plodding, placating probe. They cannot “impeach at the ballot box,” which Nancy Pelosi – a staunch opponent of impeachment until she buckled to pressure from her colleagues and the public – suggested throughout 2019. They cannot go by the book when the book is burning.
We need to hold Trump, his family and his cronies accountable because their brazen wrongdoing demands it.  But we also have to come to grips with how easy it was for this "fascist carnival barker" to undermine our system of government.  All it took was a political party willing to follow him in lock step and a compliant media that normalized his pathology.  And so, a full accounting of all the ways our institutions have been corrupted is essential so we can figure out how to better protect the nation from the next wannabe kleptocrat -- one who may not be as clownish and incompetent as this one.  

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