Wednesday, May 16, 2018

This Is Not Normal: Democrats Must #Shut It Down

The Democrats in Congress continue to go about the business of governing as a respectful minority party.  They express concern about the degradation of our politics, ask pointed questions at confirmation hearings of horrific nominees who are ultimately confirmed, mostly vote "no" when votes come up on awful legislative proposals that ultimately pass, and otherwise comport themselves with dignity.  In other words, business as usual.

But nothing about the current state of affairs is usual.  We have a president who has installed a veritable kleptocracy at the White House.  He is running the executive branch as if he were the head of a crime family -- which he is.  Failing to untangle himself from his many business entanglements, every policy decision is rife with conflicts or potential conflicts of interest.  Was his sudden decision to ease sanctions on Chinese telecommunications company ZTE payback for the Chinese government's $500 million investment in a Trump Organization venture in Indonesia or just another coincidence?  There are so many coincidences because, from Qatar to the Philippines, there are so many business deals or attempted deals between the Trump family and foreign governments -- deals that are not only enriching the Trumps but appear to be impacting foreign policy.   (See Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Emoluments Clause But Were Afraid To Ask)

Speaking of his businesses, The Washington Post recently published a report, "As the ‘King of Debt,’ Trump borrowed to build his empire. Then he began spending hundreds of millions in cash" which takes a deep dive into the Trump Organization's real estate holdings -- a business Trump remains involved in -- and strongly suggests they were funded not through borrowing but through money laundering.

And we still don't have his federal tax returns.

And then there's his consigliere, Michael Cohen.  The latest revelations detail various entities including Russian oligarchs and major U.S. companies making payments through a shell company set up by Cohen which was used to pay hush money to at least one adult film actress.  As The New Yorker's Amy Davidson Sorkin put it, "this all starts to sound pretty much like the textbook definition of a slush fund."  Such arrangements raise questions not only about legality but, more relevant to U.S. security concerns, whether Trump's unsavory conduct has opened him up to blackmail.

And how about the cascade of sleaze that has infiltrated just about every cabinet official and agency head.  Scott Pruitt, the EPA's Administrator, personifies the degradation that is well underway:  grossly unethical and scandal-driven while laser-focused on destroying our resources.

The level of corruption is unparalleled in modern American politics.  And we haven't even begun to talk about the myriad connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, including, of course, Donald Jr.'s fateful meeting with a Russian agent in which he expressed eagerness to obtain negative information about Hillary Clinton.  Or Trump's clumsy, but nevertheless inappropriate and likely illegal efforts to obstruct the investigation that he characterizes as "fighting back."

Meanwhile, the Senate is on the verge of confirming -- with Democratic votes -- a CIA director who engaged in torture and destroyed evidence of torture -- a vote Senate Republicans will allow to take place despite the absence of critical information about the nominee's role because it has been deemed classified.  After stealing a Supreme Court seat, the Senate continues to confirm in record numbers extreme right wing judges to lifetime appointments, rejecting Senatorial courtesy that Democrats (foolishly) afforded Republicans when they were in the majority.   (See Senator Leahy Can Go Fuck Himself)  And on and on.

The Democrats are the minority party in both Houses and so they have limited opportunities to directly thwart the Administration and its Republican enablers.  But that doesn't mean they should not take every opportunity to remind the public that THIS IS NOT NORMAL.

The media and mainstream pundits appear to be focused on whether it is prudent for Democrats to talk about impeachment as an electoral strategy going into the mid-terms -- and whether it would be better for Democrats to focus on economic issues that will resonate with a wider swath of voters.  But there is no reason why Democrats can't campaign on policy issues (which they have been doing) while also stressing how Trump's rampant corruption and unmitigated ignorance has undermined those policies -- from affordable health care to  immigration to the environment.

Brian Beutler is exactly right that while Democrats do not need to commit to impeachment, "[t]heir refusal to acknowledge Trump’s basic incompatibility with high office is instead normalizing the idea that corrupt businessmen can use the presidency to enrich themselves at the expense of the public."
It is completely reasonable for Democrats to weigh the political costs of acknowledging or dwelling on Trump’s obvious unfitness for office. But it’s also a mistake in both the near and long term to pretend the obvious doesn’t exist. It’s a dangerous thing—for people and for the institutions that make the country governable—that Trump is president. The fact that he won’t divest himself from his businesses, won’t stop mingling his public duties and his financial interests, and also won’t say whom he owes money to, or who could otherwise ruin him financially, is an affront to all citizens, and a national security emergency. Democrats will have the power to reduce these harms, and pressure the president to get his interests and the public interest aligned, if they control at least one chamber of Congress. Whether that leads to impeachment or not, it’s a better argument than the Republican appeal that Republicans must keep Congress so that Trump can continue to be historically corrupt and conflicted without oversight.
During a presidential debate in 1988, Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis was asked by moderator Bernard Shaw if his wife were to be been raped and murdered whether he would favor the death penalty for the killer.  It was an outrageous question that demanded a passionate response.  We all know what happened.  Dukakis calmly, rationally responded: "No, I don't, Bernard.  And I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life."  And so he lost the debate and perhaps the presidency.

The Democrats' response to Trump and the GOP's utter disregard for ethics and norms of democratic governance remind me of a tepid, eminently reasonable Michael Dukakis -- calm, rational, policy-driven.  No sense of outrage.  No indication that the pillars of democracy are being dangerously whittled away.


Between now and the mid-terms, the Democratic Party must eschew tradition and courtesy, and throw sand in the gears -- not as an electoral strategy but as a matter of principle.  They must use every technicality and procedural rule from objecting to unanimous consent requests to forcing roll call votes on every matter.  They must slow down government business to a crawl. They should take advantage of the Senate’s rules encouraging free and open debate to skewer Republicans for their refusal to hold their leader accountable, and flood the floor with speeches. They may not be able to shut it down completely, but they can't pretend that this is normal.


Post a Comment