Tag Archives: Kellyanne Conway

The Party Line

I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, May 12, 2021.

I don’t think that anybody on our side has been arguing that [voter fraud is] pervasive all over the country. — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, May 11, 2021.

You can’t have the Republican conference chair reciting Democrat [sic] talking points. — Republican Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, in defending the purge of Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, May 11, 2021.

You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January 6, you’d think it was a normal tourist visit.Republican Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia, who claims calling the insurrection at the Capitol an insurrection “is a baldfaced lie,” May 12, 2021.

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Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

There may not be, in former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway’s infamous phrase, “alternative facts,” but in today’s Republican Party there is clearly an alternative reality. No one who follows the news these days can be oblivious to repeated unfounded claims by Republicans of fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Nor can anyone seriously believe that the truth is merely a “Democrat [sic] talking point.” And, everyone who watched at the time or has since seen clips is fully aware that those were not tourists on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021. 

And, yet, here is today’s Republican Party promulgating shameless lies — shameless because they are easily shown to be falsehoods — with impunity. The most apt historical analogy is the machinations of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, where truth was what the party said on any given day, endlessly repeated in party organs like Pravda and Izvestia. The same for Republican leaders, who spew the party line, knowing that it will be repeated by Fox, One America News Network, Breitbart, and other right-wing mouthpieces for GOP lies. 

For today’s Republican leaders, the truth is malleable. McCarthy, McConnell, and the like get away with their lies because they know that, in the tribal environment of the 21st century, the Republican base gets its news only from right-wing sources. So, they lie with impunity in the realization that the voters to whom they are speaking are never exposed to the truth in fair-minded newspapers or television news shows. 

McCarthy cannot be so naive as to believe that no one in his party is questioning the results of the presidential election. He cannot be oblivious to the post last week in which former president Donald Trump said, “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!” (Which raises a question: Has McCarthy purchased his airline tickets to south Florida to grovel once again before the emperor? Trump cannot be happy with McCarthy’s comment.) And, does the senator from Kentucky really believe no one is claiming massive fraud in American elections? (See above, Trump and “THE BIG LIE.”) Is McConnell unaware of polls that consistently show a majority of Republicans believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump? And, McConnell must be savvy enough to understand that the party’s base believes the unproven lies about election fraud because that is what party leaders have repeatedly told Republican voters.

Jim Jordan is certainly correct — and many other Republicans have said, as well — that party leaders cannot be so diametrically off-message as Liz Cheney and keep their posts. But, the issue for which Cheney was purged Wednesday is not some policy difference over tax rates or infrastructure projects. No, the Wyoming Republican was ousted as conference chair because she told the truth, because she repeatedly has said that the 2020 election was fair and that Donald Trump bears responsibility for the criminal attack by the mob he — as she said — “summoned.” No, Representative Jordan, the truth is not a Democratic talking point. 

If it were not so perverse, the claim by Representative Clyde that January 6 resembled a normal tourist day at the Capitol would be laughable. Not many tourists hang nooses on the Capitol grounds. Not many law-abiding visitors smash windows and break down doors. Not many of those who come to see where the nation’s laws are made attack law-enforcement officials. Representative Clyde may be the boldest of the bold GOP liars because most of the American public saw or has seen what happened on January 6. 

The comparison of such lies to the old Soviet Communist Party is apt. The Republican Party has not descended to the level of the Soviet Union during the iron-fisted rule of Joseph Stalin. Dissidents or those whom the party simply no longer trusts are not executed or sent to some American gulag. No, the analogy is to the Soviet Union of the Brezhnev era in the 1970s. Opposition still was not tolerated, but conformity was imposed by less brutal means than in Stalin’s day. Anyone who dared to question Leonid Brezhnev or other leading party hacks might be denounced by name, lose his or her nice apartment, or be fired from a plush job and sent to some remote province.

Like the Soviet Communist Party at its sclerotic worst — when leaders simply mouthed tired, old Marxist dogma, which no one seriously still believed — the current Republican Party no longer stands for anything except maintaining its hold on power. To do that, the GOP must purge truth-tellers like Cheney, rewrite election laws in enough states to enable it to win future elections, and repeat the “Big Lie.”

The truth, after all, is only what the party says it is. But, always stay tuned, the truth is malleable. The party line may be different tomorrow.

Posted May 14, 2021

 

“Law and Order” Candidate

He [Trump] can’t stop the violence because, for years, he’s fomented it.Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Pittsburgh, August 31, 2020.

The true “law and order” candidate in the 2020 election is Joe Biden. The former vice president clearly and unequivocally condemned violence in his Pittsburgh speech earlier this week: Violence from the left and from the right; violence committed by police, and violence perpetrated by those protesting police brutality. Biden did not waffle; he did not temporize. But, he stressed, it must be law and order plus racial justice.

“We have to stand against violence in every form it takes,” Biden said. “Violence we’ve seen again and again and again, of unwarranted police shooting, excessive force, seven bullets in the back of Jacob Blake. Knee on the neck of George Floyd, killing of Breonna Taylor in her own apartment, violence of extremists and opportunists, right-wing militia. And to derail any hope and support for progress, the senseless violence of looting and burning and destruction of property. I want to make it absolutely clear, so I’m going to be very clear about all of this, rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness, plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted.”

A forceful condemnation by Biden of violence, and a striking contrast with President Donald Trump, who at a news conference the same day, voluntarily defended Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old who crossed state lines with a borrowed rifle — thus, already committing crimes — and allegedly killed two people and wounded a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  “That was an interesting situation,” Trump said of Rittenhouse. “You saw the same tape as I saw. And he was trying to get away from them. I guess it looks like he fell and then they very violently attacked him. And it was something that we’re looking at right now, and it’s under investigation. But I guess he was in very big trouble. He would have been — probably would have been killed, but it’s under investigation.”

Trump voluntarily defended a young man who a video shows shooting people on the streets of an American city. Then, the president criticized Joe Biden, falsely, for allegedly not denouncing “the left-wing mobs burning, looting, and terrorizing American cities” and for failing to “condemn Antifa” — a loosely organized group that has become the right’s boogeyman. 

“Law and order” — adopted by Trump as one of his slogans — was used to great effect by Richard Nixon during the 1968 presidential campaign. But, that was 42-years ago — society has changed, and Nixon was the challenger, while Trump is the incumbent. Nixon could rail successfully against urban riots and anti-Vietnam War protests because they happened on President Lyndon Johnson’s watch, not Nixon’s. As president, it is a heavy lift for Trump to convince voters that violence in American cities — which he greatly exaggerates — is someone else’s fault.

Yet, Trump clearly thinks shouting “law and order,” while failing to maintain it, is a winning strategy. He believes White suburban women will be frightened and will vote for him, convinced only Trump can protect them. So convinced is Trump, in fact, that he appears to encourage the disorder he claims to condemn. When his supporters drive into cities to provoke racial-justice demonstrators, Trump calls them “GREAT PATRIOTS!” The Republican convention glorified armed vigilantes by providing speaking time to the gun-toting McCloskeys. And, then-White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said, “The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is” for the president. How cynical can a campaign get?

Biden picked up on Conway’s remark. “This is a sitting president of the United States,” Biden said of Trump. “He’s supposed to be protecting this country, but instead he’s rooting for chaos and violence.” In his Pittsburgh speech, the former vice president enumerated Trump’s failures: More than 180,000 deaths during the pandemic, high unemployment, and a failure to protect children so they can go back to school. To counter this sorry record, Trump is trying to blame violence on Biden and “radical” Democrats. “I look at this violence and I see lives and communities and the dreams of small businesses being destroyed….” Biden said. “Donald Trump looks at this violence, and he sees a political lifeline.”

Trump is amoral, so he not only welcomes the violence, he happily encourages it. In the past, Trump praised violence. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Trump repeated a racist phrase in a retweet. He boasted about “vicious dogs” greeting protestors at the White House. At other times, he has told supporters to “knock the crap out of” of opponents and urged armed militiamen in Michigan’s Capitol to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” The president extols “Second Amendment people” using their weapons, and he has encouraged police officers to bang suspects’ heads against car roofs when guiding them into police vehicles.

For a politician who promises “Law and Order,” Trump has run a notably lawless administration. The Republican National Convention was a four-day violation of the Hatch Act. The president has defied congressional subpoenas and ignored judicial orders while encouraging aides to do the same. Numerous people surrounding Trump either have been convicted of criminal activity or are under indictment. Many surrounding Trump, including members of his family, have used their offices for personal enrichment. Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for a hare-brained scheme involving Ukraine in an attempt to discredit Biden. 

Trump thrives on chaos and stoking the racial fears of his supporters. Urban protests for racial justice — mostly peaceful but with occasional bursts of violence — are red meat for Trump and his loyal base. But, there is plenty of reason to believe this playbook will not work for Trump this time. Trump’s disapproval spikes have been highest when he fans the fires of racial division, such as this past June or after the violent White-supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 when he praised “very fine people on both sides.”

It is convoluted for Trump to argue that only he can save the nation from the chaos he claims is occurring now. He points to the streets of Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, and says, in effect, “See, that is what would happen in Joe Biden’s America.” But, voters see a different reality — one that is happening now, in Donald Trump’s America, on his watch, and which, as Biden said, he “foments.”  

Posted September 4, 2020

Science Matters

My feed on Facebook has been filled with comments and images linking the coronavirus to climate change. Postings have suggested that as the severity of the pandemic proves the warnings of epidemiologists right, perhaps climate change deniers might take a second, more sober, look at the science of climate change. 

The initial response on the political right to the burgeoning pandemic mimicked much of the conservative bias against science and fact. Led by President Donald Trump, many right-wingers claimed the virus was not a severe threat, and many conservatives viewed warnings from the political left as a “hoax” aimed at damaging the president’s reelection prospects. Others imagined that downplaying the crisis might prevent an economic collapse. Trump responded to this concern when he floated the idea of reopening the economy by Easter Sunday.  

But, a far more important explanation than political and economic worries for ignoring the seriousness of the coming pandemic was the right-wing mindset. The Republican Party in the last few decades has been built on the assumption that anything experts say and write should be treated with suspicion, if not downright hostility. Many conservatives deny evidence of evolution, efficacy of vaccines, and proof of climate change. Right-wingers subscribe to the easily disproven theory that tax cuts for the rich produce economic miracles. Not every Republican believes all these ideas, but many do, and they have turned the GOP into a party hostile to fact and science. The Trump administration is just the culmination of this trend, revealed to all when White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway claimed that lies were “alternative facts.”

Trump appears to have had his “Road to Damascus” moment, and he now takes the pandemic seriously, for the most part. But, many conservative governors and a large part of the Trump base has been slow to make the 180º turn from denial to recognition, and the result has been and will be unnecessary suffering and death. Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida — a state with an unusually high percentage of elderly, thus more vulnerable, residents — issued a stay-at-home order only this week, after allowing party-goers to congregate on state beaches during spring break. Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp followed suit Wednesday, claiming he only learned the day before that asymptomatic people infected with the coronavirus were contagious. This fact has been known since at least February, so Kemp is either the dumbest person in America or a liar. Mississippi Republican Governor Tate Reeves resisted a statewide stay-at-home order — issuing one for only one county — even though Mississippi has the highest rate of coronavirus hospitalizations of any state.

It is hard to know if any of these head-in-the-sand governors are now devotees of empirical fact and scientific knowledge, or simply bowed to public pressure and fear of political reprisals if many of their constituents succumb to the disease. And, the virus now is spreading throughout the country, upsetting the early trend in which the disease seemed to afflict the more densely populated blue states. As the rate of hospitalizations in Mississippi indicates, people in red states are getting sick because a virus, any virus, knows no political party or geographical boundary, and this one is no different. The New York Times reports that Idaho’s scenic and beautiful Wood River Valley is a coronavirus hotspot. A funeral in Albany, Georgia, attracted 200 mourners, one of whom evidently was infected with the virus; now, the small, rural town is the center of what epidemiologists call a “super-spreading event.”

It is, of course, tragic if it takes a pandemic to convince science-deniers that truth, facts, and experts matter and should be heeded in the areas in which they are well versed. But, if some are converted by the hard facts of the coronavirus — after denying reality for weeks in the face of evidence and the testimony of experts, and if they transfer that conversion to acknowledge climate change — then perhaps some good will come out of this tragedy.

A modification in attitude toward climate change may be spurred by environmental occurrences seemingly linked to the response to coronavirus. In China and Italy, the air suddenly is cleaner. The canals of Venice, normally fouled by boat traffic and the detritus of people out and about, are now clear. Air pollution has lessened in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Chicago. The level of global carbon emissions has fallen. These changes, of course, are due to the shutdown of economic activity and the resulting drastic reduction in the use of fossil fuels. (In my neck of the woods, the price of gasoline has dropped 70 to 80 cents.)

The lesson here might be lost on climate-change deniers, but it might inform those who throw up their hands and say, well, global warming is a problem, but there is not much to be done about it. Now, there is evidence that a switch from fossil fuels can make a big difference in a short time. A recognition of this fact could persuade people to take steps to limit their consumption of fossil fuels — drive less, buy more energy-efficient cars, switch to electric-powered vehicles, invest in solar panels, and so on. There could well be a kind of transference from the virus to the climate. Once the disease abates, the urgency of tackling the pandemic might settle on tackling climate change. In that way, the coronavirus may become a catalyst for much needed action. 

An effect of all the stay-at-home orders could be a permanent change in consumer and travel habits. Perhaps, people will telecommute more in the future. Changes in work habits and lifestyles would lower emissions. Beyond that, people who doubted the efficacy of science and who traditionally have been skeptical of experts may have learned a lesson from a disaster made worse by their refusal to heed the medical wisdom readily available at the beginning of the crisis. 

Posted April 3, 2020

“The Chinese Virus”

Darn it, Donnie! Just when we thought you might be acting presidential, understanding the severity of the pandemic, urging caution, and mobilizing the government to respond, you revert to your old bullying, narcissistic, xenophobic, racist, and lying self. The times call for sober and bold leadership. Instead, the United States has a cowardly man who ducks all responsibility for shortages of needed equipment and unpreparedness in confronting a pandemic and lies about his failure to recognize the severity of the looming crisis for months while blaming others for the coronavirus.

“I’m not racist at all,” says President Donald Trump. “It comes from China, that’s why,” he said in defense of his increasingly frequent practice of calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus.” But, there is a difference between noting the virus originated in China and describing it as a “Chinese virus.” The negative effect of painting the virus as “Chinese” is obvious: It will ratchet up tensions between China and the United States at a time when international cooperation is needed, and it will foster anti-Chinese, and anti-Asian generally, sentiment at home when unity and cooperation among all Americans is critical. 

The Chinese government deserves condemnation for its initial response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan. At critical moments, Chinese officials put secrecy — an ingrained habit of the ruling Communist Party — ahead of candor in confronting the crisis. The authorities silenced doctors for raising red flags and downplayed dangers to the public. By not moving aggressively at first, the Chinese government lost a key opportunity to prevent the virus from becoming an epidemic. International wrath should be focused on the ruling Communist Party, not on China and the Chinese. 

Labeling the disease a “Chinese virus” feeds an anti-Chinese narrative dating from the arrival of the first Chinese immigrants in California in the 19th century. Already, the United States has witnessed a resurgence of racism aimed at Americans of Chinese descent, or those who are thought to be of Chinese descent. On the Los Angeles subway, a man singled out an Asian American and claimed Chinese people are putrid and cause disease. The victim was not Chinese, but rather a Thai American, though such geographic clarity probably mattered little to the bigoted passenger. In New York, a Chinese woman wearing a face mask was attacked. On a New York City subway train a man sprayed an Asian passenger with Febreze and verbally abused him. Most dispiriting of all, given that it involves a government official, was this tweet from Weija Jiang, a CBS News White House correspondent: “This morning a White House official referred to #Coronavirus as the ‘Kung-Flu’ to my face. Makes me wonder what they’re calling it behind my back.” White House official Kellyanne Conway called the incident “wrong,” but refused to discuss what she called a “hypothetical.”

Cause and effect always is difficult to assess. Some, or all, of these incidents may have happened regardless of whom the president is (some occurred before Trump took to using the term,“Chinese virus”). But, Trump’s xenophobia clearly has inflamed the situation and will continue to do so, just as it did in a chilling incident from 2015, when two Boston brothers beat a homeless Hispanic man with a pole because, they said, “Donald Trump was right, all the illegals need to be deported.” Attacks and rationales like that one are possible now, only the victims will be Asian Americans rather than Hispanics.

Linking the virus to a foreign country and people is a Trumpian way of deflecting responsibility for America’s slow response and overwhelming unpreparedness. “I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump said last week when asked if he bore any blame for the lack of tests for COVID-19. He engaged in his usual finger pointing at his predecessor, President Barack Obama, for regulations that allegedly hampered production of tests and other equipment. It is, of course, just another Trump lie, but even if it were true,Trump had more than three years to correct the problem, which the administration could no do since it had dismantled the global health security office. Trump lied about responsibility for that decision, too.

The Washington Post reports that Trump has told more than 15,000 lies while in office (through the end of 2019), so it is not surprising that he has been less than candid about the coronavirus. Trump downplayed the danger of an epidemic and the seriousness of the disease for several months before his conversion in recent days to a “wartime president.” But, the president’s belated recognition of reality has left his supporters behind, many of whom took him at his word that the virus was a “hoax” and that it was not serious and was disappearing. Polls show a glaring partisan divide in responding to the threat of the virus. Sixty-eight percent of Democratic voters are worried about contracting the disease; only 40 percent of Republicans think they are in danger. Seventy-nine percent of Democrats believe the worst is yet to come; only 40 percent of Republicans agree. 

Those numbers are likely to change, but I suspect Republican voters who suddenly see a danger are probably predisposed to blame “foreigners” for the virus. They followed Trump’s lead in downplaying the danger; now, they will join Trump in labeling it the “Chinese virus.” Trump clearly is playing a dangerous game in stoking anti-Chinese passions with his rhetoric, but it is, of course, right out of his playbook. He was elected by appealing to the worst instincts of his supporters. Now, he hopes to win reelection by following the same path.

Posted March 20, 2020

Trump’s Criminal Response

There comes a point when incompetence slips into dangerousness and then, finally, at a critical moment, into criminality. Americans concerned about President Donald Trump’s disregard for the Constitution, the rule of law, and his boorish behavior — full of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia — could take refuge in the widely held and frequently proven notion that, well, at least he and his administration are incompetent. 

Take comfort no longer. Trump’s willful disregard of the dangers of the coronavirus to public health jeopardizes the well-being of thousands, if not millions, of Americans. The lives of citizens are at risk. Trump’s decision to treat the potential pandemic as a political and public relations matter — which is the way he handles everything else — is no longer merely incompetent. His boasting about his supposed vast medical knowledge is posturing beyond acceptable behavior. His wearing of a hat bearing a campaign slogan at an official presidential visit to the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta demonstrates a callous indifference to the threat the disease poses to ALL Americans. 

Attempting to happy talk the crisis away is no solution. Trump knows a tanking stock market — his one go-to “success” — will tank his reelection chances, so he is trying to pretend that there is nothing to see here in hopes of mollifying investors. Others in his administration attempt to further the illusion that the government is in control. Late last week, Larry Kudlow, the president’s chef economic advisor, assured most Americans that they are “not at risk…. Let’s try to be calm and not overreact.” Kellyanne Conway, a presidential adviser, says, “It is being contained.”

Trump not only happy talks, he wants to manipulate the data to make him look good. At the CDC last week, he suggested that infected passengers on a cruise ship should be left on board rather than brought to port so they would not be counted in the nation’s tally of those ill with COVID-19, the disease caused by this coronavirus. “Do I want to bring all those people off?” he asked. “I would rather have them stay on personally…. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”

With Trump, it is always someone else’s fault. The infected on the Diamond Princess is not “our fault,” so they do not count in the American total. Of course, that suggests that all the other Americans infected are his fault. But, logic is not Trump’s strong suit. Blaming others, however, comes easily to Trump, and the veracity of the accusation is beside the point. For Trump, blaming his predecessor, President Barack Obama, is the default position, so it naturally follows that the lack of available test kits to determine whether someone has COVID-19 is Obama’s fault, an accusation that earned “Four Pinocchios, the level for the most egregious falsehood, from The Washington Post’s Fact Checker. 

Insults also easily roll off Trump’s tongue. After Vice President Mike Pence and Washington state Governor Jay Inslee amicably discussed the federal and state response to the coronavirus outbreak in the Seattle area, Trump said Pence disobeyed orders. “So I told Mike not to be complimentary of the governor because the governor is a snake” and Pence should not be “nice to him,” Trump said while touring the CDC. Trump was angry because Inslee previously had tweeted, “I told [the vice president] our work would be more successful if the Trump administration stuck to the science and told the truth.

The Economist concluded last month that people die at a higher rate in epidemics in authoritarian countries than in democratic ones. That sounds counter-intuitive since autocratic societies can easily impose controls, such as restricting travel. Democratic Italy, for example, apparently is having difficulty locking down 16 million people in large parts of its north while China successfully restricted travel in the Wuhan area after the coronavirus was first detected in that region.  

While authoritarian regimes can respond quickly to crises in certain ways — limiting travel and building the necessary infrastructure, for example — democracies are better at fact-based policymaking and telling their citizens the truth. Unfortunately, telling the truth does not come easily to the Trump administration, and its poor, criminal response to the crisis is one more indication that Trump and those around him have the instincts of autocrats. Even worse than that, the Trump administration combines, in this crisis, the inability of authoritarian regimes to level with their people with the inefficiency and slowness of democratic societies.

From the beginning, Trump has minimized the severity of the crisis (advising people who are sick to go to work) and has floated conspiracy theories that the disease and Democratic criticism of his handling of the outbreak are a hoax. Many on the right bought into Trumpian propaganda and either downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak or argued that it was another plot by “the deep state” to take down Trump. Florida Representative Matt Gaetz jokingly wore a gas mask to the vote on appropriations to combat the virus, only to learn two days later that one of his constituents died from COVID-19. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is on voluntary quarantine after attending a conference and coming in contact with an infected participant. Trump spoke at the same event and shook hands with the organizer who also interacted with the same attendee. Both Gaetz and Representative Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican, had contacts with Trump after possibly being exposed to the virus. And, late Monday came word that incoming White House chief of staff, Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, also had contact with the coronavirus carrier at the conservative conference attended by other Republicans. 

Incidents like this will make it difficult for Trump’s followers to buy his propaganda on the coronavirus and notions that press coverage of its spread is a plot against the president. Weakening public confidence in Trump’s ability to confront a possible pandemic will further complicate the president’s narrow path to reelection. He lost the popular vote in 2016 and won in the Electoral College only by a few thousand votes in several key states. Trump cannot afford any erosion of his base. Beyond that, his failed response to the coronavirus means he forfeits any chance to make inroads with independent voters. 

But, truly, the politics does not matter, and it should not matter to Trump. What is of concern is that Trump is sacrificing public health for political ends. That is criminal.

Posted March 10, 2020

 

 

Constitutional Folderol

That great constitutional scholar — President Donald Trump, who found five articles in the Constitution no one knew existed — now has discovered the founding document’s true intent on the power of the president: Unlimited, as revealed in the flabbergasting letter on impeachment by the president’s legal counsel to Democratic leaders in the House. In an attempt to further his legal legacy, no doubt the president will endow a chair in constitutional law at Harvard University after his tenure in office. Maybe a chair at Liberty University would be more appropriate.

Trump has acted throughout his term as if there were few or no checks on his authority. He frequently has attempted to assume the powers of an autocratic ruler, and often he has praised autocratic leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. This past July, Trump boasted of the breadth of his power. “Then, I have an Article II, where I have to [sic] the right to do whatever I want as president,” he said. “But, I don’t even talk about that.” And, Mr. President, you should not talk about it, since that is a grievous mischaracterization of what is in Article II, which grants the president modest powers, including commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the power to negotiate treaties, and the right to appoint ambassadors, judges, and other senior officials. The latter two most be done with the approval of the Senate. Article I, by the way, conveys vast powers to the Legislative Branch of government. 

Trump is adept at finding powers in the Constitution that have eluded everyone before the self-described “stable genius” started opining on the document. Recently, Trump divined that impeachment applies to far more members of the U.S. government than previously thought. The president recently tweeted that Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a critic of Trump’s Ukraine phone call, is a “pompous ‘ass’” who should be impeached. No one before realized that members of Congress could be impeached. Conventional wisdom assumed impeachment referred only to members of the Executive and Judicial branches of government. But, Trump is nothing if not dogged, and he subsequently expanded his extra-constitutional demand to include “Nervous Nancy” Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, and “Liddle’ Adam Schiff,” a California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee. Both, Trump tweeted, are guilty of “Treason” and mist be “immediately Impeached.” (The capital “I” must mean very immediately.)

In accusing the two lawmakers of “Treason” Trump also has redefined the term’s constitutional meaning. “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort,” is the constitutional definition of treason. Nowhere does the Constitution suggest that criticizing the chief executive is tantamount to treason. There is one infamous attempt in American history to define sedition, but not treason, as public opposition to the government. In 1798, a Federalist-dominated Congress passed the Sedition Act which levied fines and imprisonment against those who “write, print, utter, or publish… any false, scandalous and malicious writing” against the government. The law was signed by President John Adams, who lost reelection to Thomas Jefferson in 1800. Jefferson’s Republican allies in Congress immediately repealed it and most of the accompanying Alien Acts. 

Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, has furthered Trump’s constitutional interpretations in his incredible letter to congressional leaders. Cipollone made more of a political than a legal argument, aimed at winning in the court of public opinion rather than in Congress or the judiciary. Among Cipollone’s points is the contention that the House impeachment inquiry is not valid because the House never voted to authorize it, as done in the cases of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. It is true that no such vote has been taken this time, but that has no meaning. The Constitution merely says, “The House of Representatives… shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.” The document does not describe the process, which leaves the rules of a proceeding entirely up to the House.

Cipollone attacked the House’s inquiry as overly partisan, lacking in due process, and a violation of constitutional norms. Again, all that is beside the point, since the House determines its own proceedings. The politics behind Cipollone’s screed is clear: He (Trump, that is) hopes to rally the president’s base, convincing Trumpistas that all of this is a ”COUP” and a “witch hunt,” as the president likes to say, aimed at reversing the 2016 presidential election. 

The White House’s strategy may backfire, convincing the opposition instead that Trump considers himself above the law. Already, there is an indication that White House intransigence about supplying witnesses and documents, as requested by congressional committees, is persuading many Americans to back the impeachment inquiry. Recent polls — including one by Fox News, Trump’s favorite network — show mounting support for an inquiry, at least, with more Americans than ever before favoring not only impeachment but Trump’s conviction in the Senate and removal from office. 

There is no legal or constitutional substance in Cipollone’s arguments. As George Conway — a lawyer and frequent Trump critic, who is married to Kellyanne Conway, a White House adviser — tweeted, “I cannot fathom how any self-respecting member of the bar could affix his name to this letter. It’s pure hackery, and it disgraces the profession.” And, as the polls show, Trumpian intransigence may be doing the president more harm than good in the court of public opinion. The strategy of trying to label impeachment as an example of Democratic overreach is undone by the arguments based on constitutional folderol and legal nonsense offered by Trump and his allies.

Posted October 11, 2019

 

Meteorologist-in-Chief (Complete with Sharpie)

Did he think we would not notice? An obviously added line altering a map showing the meteorologist-labeled “cone of uncertainty” of Hurricane Dorian. Such an amateurish production, clearly hand drawn with a Sharpie in an age when any seven-year-old with a computer can use sophisticated imaging software to make virtually undetectable graphic changes.

The great Sharpie scandal began with a tweet from President Donald Trump Sunday, September 1: “In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” Alabama? Really? By Sunday, all computer models showed Dorian devastating the Bahamas, then moving up the East coast of the United States. The only uncertainty was how far off the coast the hurricane would track. That distance would determine the extent and areas of devastation in the United States.  

The altered map was dated August 29 (dates are important to this story), three days prior to Trump’s Sunday tweet. The original of the map — without the added line — shows the “cone of uncertainty” stopping well short of the Alabama-Florida boundary. Now, Trump canceled a trip to Poland to mark the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II to monitor the hurricane and direct relief efforts. He sent Vice President Mike Pence to represent the United States, and he offered congratulations to the people of Poland. For what exactly? Successfully being invaded? Surrendering well? Does our president, who lacks the empathy gene, know that one-fifth of the population of Poland — roughly six million people — perished in that conflagration? Does he not know that three million of that total were Jews, virtually the entire Jewish population of Poland? In any event, Trump appears to have done most of his hurricane monitoring from the golf course. 

In fairness to Trump, the original models did show the possibility of a glancing blow from Dorian affecting Alabama.On September 4, Trump tweeted a map from August 28 (the date, four days before his Alabama will be hit hard tweet, can be seen in the lower left corner of the accompanying map) showing a number of projected hurricane paths, but the hurricane was still far out to sea on that date, making predictions extremely dicey. But, Trump claimed vindication: “This was the originally projected path of the Hurricane in its early stages. As you can see, almost all models predicted it to go through Florida also hitting Georgia and Alabama. I accept the Fake News apologies!”

The fake news moniker, of course, belongs with the president for having the audacity to disseminate such a crude fraud. The weather authorities (the National Weather Service, the National Hurricane Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) issue constant updates to enable people to know if their region is going to be hit by the hurricane and how severe any impact might be. Granted that predicting a hurricane’s path is an inexact science, but predictions have become more accurate over the years and accuracy increases the closer the storm gets to land. People who live along the East coast need reliable information in order to decide whether to stock up supplies, board their windows, and/or evacuate. Trump telling Alabamans they would be hit three days after NOAA removed the state from its calculations was not helpful. The National Weather Service was so concerned that its Birmingham office issued a correction shortly after Trump’s erroneous tweet: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.”

One of the most shocking aspects of the Sharpie scandal is the utter contempt with which Trump holds the public. To make a video from the Oval Office displaying a crudely altered map indicates that Trump must think the American public consists of a mass of dunces. No one yet knows who altered the map, whether it was Trump or some underling. The author is irrelevant. What is relevant is that Trump chose to use the map for his propaganda purposes, thinking the public, or at least the dwindling slice of the public that is his base, would accept an obvious fake as real. The Sharpie scandal harks back to a truly Orwellian moment when Trump told his base not to believe the media, but to “rely on me in terms of telling them what’s happening.” It is a short distance, it seems, from Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” to alternative maps.

The Trump presidency is a never-ending tissue of lies and scandals, and, in the great arc of his misdeeds, the Sharpie incident ultimately will rank low. But, it is significant for what it reveals about the president and his staff.  As the storm neared the Carolinas — with the potential for severe damage — the president chose not to offer advice but to try to convince the public that he was right. Instead of saying, well, at one time a hit on Alabama was possible, but I misspoke as to timing, which most people would have done, or, better, let it go entirely (Trump tweeted Thursday, multiple times, about Alabama and Dorian), the president issued a lie to cover up the original lie or error, whichever it was. His ego is so fragile, his narcissism so enormous, that Trump cannot ever admit a mistake. Instead, he would rather lie and look foolish. And, his staff and appointees go along with it.

Leaders with autocratic tendencies can get away with almost anything, except looking foolish. When the public starts laughing — which many have done over the Sharpie scandal — the leader is in serious trouble. It is hard to imagine that even hardcore Trumpistas do not find this episode humiliating for the president. 

Of Trump it can truly be said, “Seldom right, but never in doubt.” That is not a quality Americans should want in a president, especially in the nuclear age when a mistake can lead to the annihilation of humanity. 

Posted September 6, 2019

The Divine Right of Trump

L’etat, c’est moi!  — Quotation attributed to King Louis XIV of France, known as the Sun King, an apostle of the Divine Right of Kings. 

Sir, the Constitution says treason is punishable by death. You’ve accused your adversaries of treason. Who specifically are you accusing of treason?NBC News journalist Peter Alexander questioning President Donald Trump, who replied: Well, I think a number of people…. If you look at [former FBI Director James] Comey, if you look at [former FBI Acting Director Andrew] McCabe, if you look at probably people higher than that. 

Just when I think President Donald Trump can go no lower, he gobsmacks me with a further descent into the unthinkable. Having called for the jailing of Hillary Clinton, his 2016 presidential opponent, Trump is now accusing two former directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the agency charged with protecting, among other things, Americans from treasonous acts, of treason. But, wait, Trump’s reference to “people higher” is even worse, because who was higher than Comey and his deputy director McCabe? Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, their boss, and President Barack Obama, her boss. To put it bluntly, Trump has accused his predecessor of treason. That both Obama and Lynch are African Americans should not escape notice.

“This is really a feature of petty dictators, where you see the power of investigation… used as a political tool against enemies,” Claire Finkelstein, the director of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at the University of Pennsylvania’s  law school, told NBC News. Trump’s ploy is transparent; he wishes to confuse the public with tales of wrongdoing by the intelligence and law enforcement communities to suggest he is a victim of a conspiracy to undo the results of the 2016 election. To accomplish that goal, Trump does not care how much damage he does to the Constitution or the rule of law. All that matters is chaos and mayhem, which serve to obscure his conspiring with Russians to influence the election results and his subsequent coverup of that conspiracy while president.

Trump has stripped any officials with a modicum of respect for the Constitution from his entourage. Only sycophants who believe their most important job is to assuage the narcissism of the would-be dictator-in-chief are left. For proof of this, watch the video of the press conference in which Trump called upon a number of top aides, including press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, counselor Kellyanne Conway, and economic adviser Larry Kudlow, to attest to his calmness when he blew up a meeting with top Democratic leaders over a plan to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. 

Whether Trump was calm or throwing a temper tantrum is not the point. But, the fawning over the putative dictator by his aides is reminiscent of the behavior one would have seen in Berlin and Moscow in the 1930s. The suggestion that launching an investigation by the head of the FBI into possible cooperation between Trump and Russians is treason reflects the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings, the tenet that empowered the absolute monarchs of Europe centuries ago. “I am the state,” said France’s King Louis XIV.

Only once before has an American president suggested that criticism of him is unlawful. In 1798, during the so-called Quasi Naval War with France, the administration of President John Adams ushered a series of laws through Congress — known as the Alien and Sedition Acts — that toughened requirements for the naturalization of immigrants and prohibited criticism of the government. One victim of the law, Representative Matthew Lyon of Vermont, accused President Adams of “unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and self avarice.” Adams may have been stung, but that hardly undermined the legitimacy of the government of the United States. Lyon’s constituents agreed, reelecting him to Congress while he was in prison. 

Leaders who see themselves as synonymous with the government they lead easily conclude that criticism of them is tantamount to illegal attacks on the nation. In 1798, the confusion of leaders and their government was called sedition; now, under Trump, the accusation is treason. Under Adams, Lyon was jailed; Trump would have Comey and McCabe executed, if he had his way.

Trump is right: Treasonous acts are being committed. But, he is wrong about who are the criminals. Not Comey and McCabe, American officials who did their jobs. No, the guilty party is the president, who flouts the law, conspires with foreign governments, and obstructs justice. His illegal behavior apparently knows no bounds. In February, Trump declared a fake emergency to spend money Congress refused to appropriate for a border wall the nation does not need. The unwillingness of Republicans in Congress to stand up to this unconstitutional defiance of the separation of powers emboldened Trump to further rule by fiat. Now, he appears ready to ignore the House and Senate vote — supported by Republicans and Democrats — to end support for Saudi Arabian backing of the war in Yemen and sell arms to the murderers of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

Like a petty despot, Trump ignores all requests and subpoenas for administration officials to appear before congressional committees and submit documents to Congress. Trump also has authorized Attorney General William Barr, another Trumpian lapdog, to declassify intelligence secrets in an investigation into the investigators who tried to prevent Russian penetration of the Trump campaign. Apparently, in the pursuit of power, Trump believes CIA sources should become public, but not his tax returns. 

These are abuses of power tantamount to treasonous undermining of the nation’s security and its constitutional checks and balances. Tump’s war on the rule of law will get worse the more the evidence and his actions deem him unfit for office. Expect  the president’s lawlessness to continue until Congress takes action. Trump must be removed from office to demonstrate that this is a nation of laws, not men, and that we rejected the Divine Right of Kings when we overthrew King George III.

Posted May 28, 2019

The Bottom Line

Will President Donald Trump read the Mueller report? Of course, he famously does not read. Maybe someone verbally will summarize it for him. Someone other than the attorney general. If someone does, here is the key sentence in the report of special counsel Robert Mueller: “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.” (Volume II, page 2.)

In other words, President Trump obstructed justice. But, and this is the key to how to interpret the above sentence, the special prosecutor and his team “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment.” (Volume II, page 1.) They reached that conclusion based on the opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, which holds that a sitting president cannot be indicted or prosecuted. Though the president cannot be indicted, he or she still can be the subject of a criminal investigation. But, because the president cannot be indicted, it would be unfair, the Mueller team concluded, “to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes.” Why? Because “the ordinary means for an individual to respond to an accusation is through a speedy and public trial, with all the procedural protections that surround a criminal case.” (Volume II, page2.)

Mueller’s office found itself in a four-part, catch-22 situation. First, the Mueller team could not indict or prosecute a sitting president. Second, the team could make the president the focus of a criminal investigation. Third, the team decided not to conduct that criminal investigation in a manner that might result in a conclusion the president committed a crime. To do so would be unfair to the president because he could not clear his name in court (because he could not be indicted). Fourth, if he were innocent, the team “would so state.”

Ergo, the president of the United States is guilty of obstruction. Congress: It is now up to you to do your job and start impeachment proceedings. Only Congress can do what the legal system cannot: Reach a determination on the guilt of President Donald Trump.

Mueller laid out a roadmap for Congress to pursue impeachment proceedings. The entire second volume of the report, roughly 200 pages long, details all the evidence of Trump’s possible obstruction of justice, including such well-known episodes as Trump discussing former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russians with then FBI Director James Comey, Trump’s firing of Comey, the president’s attempts to curtail the special counsel’s investigation, Trump’s lies about the infamous June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting among his son, son-in-law, aides, and Russians, Trump’s attempt to force then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his recusal, and on and on. It is all there, much of it already known, but in a form Congress easily could follow.

Trump knows what he has done, which is why the special counsel’s report quotes (on page 78 of Volume II) the president saying when Sessions told Trump of Mueller’s appointment, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.”  In true Trumpian fashion, the toddler-in-chief did not blame himself for his dilemma. Instead, he “became angry and lambasted the Attorney General for his decision to recuse himself from the investigation, stating ‘How could you let this happen, Jeff?’” 

The section on “collusion” does not make for much better reading for Trump and his allies. The report details the ways in which Russia interfered “in sweeping and systematic fashion” in the 2016 presidential election through “a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.” (Volume I, page 1.) The special counsel did not attempt to determine if there had been collusion between Trump and his campaign and Russia because “collusion” is not a crime under United States law. Robert Mueller focused on “conspiracy,” which is a crime. Conspiracy requires a coordination between two entities in which both parties — in this case the Trump campaign and the Russian government — take actions “that were informed by or responsible to the other’s actions or interests.” Using that definition, “The investigation did not establish that the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” (Volume I, page 2.)

But, there sure were a lot of contacts between the two, far more than can be detailed here. Just one point should suffice: The Mueller report found a number of campaign officials and “surrogates” promoted content from a Russian-controlled Twitter account. Among those named were Trump’s sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway.  

Conway’s name appearing in the report makes all the more befuddling her attempt to spin its conclusions. Referring to the day of the report’s release as “the best day” for Trump since his election, Conway said, “I called this a political proctology exam” in which the president received a “clean bill of health.” She added, “We’re accepting apologies today, too, for anybody who feels the grace in offering them.”

Trump was just as delusional as his adviser. “I’m having a good day, too,” he said. “It’s called no collusion, no obstruction.” If this is a good day, I would hate to be around Trump or Conway when they are having a bad day.

Much of what the report contains was known before its release. But, it is jarring to read the conclusions detailed in one place in concise chronological order. And, whether these are new revelations or a rehash of ones already known, none of it is acceptable. The bottom line on obstruction: The president is guilty. As for “collusion,” the Russians clearly did interfere in the 2016 presidential election, the Trump team welcomed such contacts, and both sides benefitted. 

There may be no crime in that, but it was wrong, and Congress must now do its job.

Posted April 19, 2019

Chaos President

We always knew it, but President Donald Trump’s behavior this past week proves, again, that he thrives on chaos. When most people expected the president to continue basking in the glow of his — very partial — exoneration in the Barr summary of the Mueller report, Trump pivoted instead to threatening his opponents and raising divisive issues. Trump always has been a sore loser; now, it turns out, he is a sore winner as well, never accepting any victory graciously. Instead, Trump feels compelled to eviscerate his opponents and confound his supporters.

Many a savvy politician would have spent the past week saying something like this: “Special counsel Robert Mueller says there was no collusion. So, now is the time for the nation to come together, Republicans and Democrats, and accept his findings and move on to do the work of the American people. I want to start with proposals that should get bipartisan support, attacking the opioid crisis, which knows no geographical or political boundaries, fixing our broken infrastructure, and curbing the price of prescription drugs. I call on all Americans to work with me.” Trump even gave a hint that he understood this script, tweeting that while he believed Democrats would continue to “harass” him, “maybe we should just take our victory and say NO, we’ve got a Country to run!”

But, that, in the end, is not Donald Trump. Graciousness and conciliation are not in his DNA. Instead of a call for national unity, Trump immediately went after his opponents. The day after the release of Attorney General William Barr’s summary, Trump accused those who called for the special counsel investigation of “treasonous things,” indicating they “will certainly be looked at.” He added, “There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things. I would say treasonous things against our country. I’ve been looking at them for a long time.” One of those “people” who Trump attacked was “little pencil-neck” California Representative Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who, Trump tweeted, “spent two years knowingly and unlawfully lying and leaking, [and] should be forced to resign from Congress!” And, of course Trump renewed his assault on the media as “the Enemy of the People and the Real Opposition Party!”

Other Republicans echoed the president. Sycophantic South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and frequent Trump golfing buddy, says the Judiciary Committee will investigate the investigators, looking into the FBI’s handling of the Steele dossier and the Justice Department’s conduct of the Russia investigation. Really, senator, investigate officials for doing their job? The ever-loyal White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders asserted that members of the media and Democrats who accused Trump of conspiring with Russia are guilty of “treason, which is punishable by death in this country.” Really, Ms. Sanders? You want to execute Trump’s opponents? Is this where we are as a country? And, finally Fox News host Jeanine Pirro launched a tirade in which she demanded the government “make an example of the traitorous, treasonous group that accused Donald Trump of being an agent of the Russian government.” One of her guests was Trump lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani who praised Pirro as a “crusader for justice.” Pirro has proved herself a bigot who has no boundaries (exhibit A: Her Islamophobic attack on Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota for wearing a hijab), but Giuliani, a former district attorney, should know better. 

But, it was not only attacks on perceived enemies that engaged the president and gave evidence of chaos. Following release of the Barr letter, Trump launched several divisive policy proposals opposed not only by Democrats but even some Republicans. The latter particularly have a hard time with Trump’s renewed attempt to overturn Obamacare. The administration began last Monday by calling for the courts to strike down the healthcare law. Administration defenders claim Trump, who vows to make the GOP the party of healthcare, has a replacement plan. “We’ve been working on a plan for a long time,” said White House adviser Kellyanne Conway. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said, “We’ll try to fix it ourselves.” This is news to congressional Republicans who say no repeal-and-replace plan is in the works. Congressional Republican leaders and backbenchers do not want to have anything to do with repealing Obamacare, correctly interpreting GOP losses in the 2018 midterms as a rebuke of the party’s position on the Affordable Care Act. 

Then, there is Trump’s quixotic threat to close the border to prevent spurious caravans of migrants seeking the right to request asylum from entering the United States. Sealing the border with Mexico means closing ports of entry. It does nothing to prevent anyone from crossing illegally. In fact, it probably encourages those who wish to make a legal asylum request to try to enter illegally.  And, closing the border would have a disastrous economic impact, causing prices to rise, especially on groceries initially, and then on other products such as automobiles. It would engender numerous lawsuits against the federal government, and more than half the U.S. population probably would oppose such a move. At the same time, Trump wants to end aid to three Central American countries from which many migrants come. Cutting off assistance would only encourage others to migrate due to increased economic hardship, a fact lost on the president and his supporters. 

All of this sows the chaos upon which Trump thrives. Whether all of it appeals to his base is another question. Closing the border will, of course, but killing Obamacare may hurt many of his supporters who rely on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace for their health insurance. Of course, Obamacare is likely to survive, so Trump gets the chaos without the ill effect of his supporters losing health insurance. In fact, Trump lives for those political moments when he can right a wrong he caused. The most recent instance of this was his “saving” last week of funding for the Special Olympics, a problem caused by the unveiling of his heartless budget. The money for this program was minuscule in the scope of the massive national budget, and Trump probably did not know it had been cut. But, axing the Special Olympics was in line with his budgetary cruelty, and he waited several days, letting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos take intense heat for the decision, before riding to the rescue and throwing her under the bus in the process.

Chaos is Trump’s modus operandi. It also serves to deflect attention from the details of the Mueller report, which may yet prove damaging to the president and his political future. When the report becomes public, those details may lead to even more chaos. Is chaos any way to run a country?

Posted April 2, 2019