Tag Archives: Lindsey Graham

So… The Emperor Has No Clothes

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Most political analysts assume Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a master strategist who knows how to use (or bend) the Senate’s rules to achieve his ends. That is the prevailing interpretation based on McConnell’s career in the Senate and his sometimes dubious accomplishments, such as pilfering a seat on the Supreme Court by denying Merrick Garland a vote and ramming through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination in the waning weeks of the Trump administration.

But, what if the emperor has no clothes? Is it possible that the unnecessary and silly dispute over raising the debt ceiling reveals not McConnell’s wiliness and strength but, rather, his impotence?

McConnell admitted as much in recent days when he conceded that even if he wanted to allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling on a straight party vote, with Republicans voting “no” but not filibustering the measure, he could not corral every Republican to allow the increase to pass. McConnell did convince 10 Republicans to approve a procedural move to allow the Democrats to move forward a stopgap bill raising the debt ceiling through early December. That bill passed Thursday night on a straight party vote. But, the concession is a temporary, not a long-term, fix, and its passage left some  Senate Republicans angry with McConnell because they think he caved into the Democrats. 

Most analysts agree the majority of the Republican caucus would stand aside and allow the Democrats to pass a debt ceiling increase rather than force the United States to default on its debts. But, there are a few diehard conservatives among Republicans — perhaps five or so senators — who would filibuster any proposal that would allow a majority vote on the issue. If one senator objects, then it would take 10 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats to end a filibuster. That would reveal dissension among Republicans, something that McConnell would not want made public. 

The debt ceiling standoff — temporarily ended, though it may be — is yet another argument for abolishing the filibuster. The filibuster has become a tool of Republican obstructionism, allowing a willful, petulant minority to prevent the majority from doing the people’s business. Something is wrong with a system that allows one senator to filibuster a measure and the rest of his or her colleagues refusing to vote to stop that obstructionism. Republican senators represent 40 million fewer voters than Democratic senators, yet the Senate is evenly split. It is likely to get worse. According to estimates, by 2040, 70 percent of Americans will be living in the 15 most populous states. They will be represented by only 30 senators, while the other 30 percent of Americans will have 70 senators voting on their behalf. 

The filibuster gives a small minority of a minority the power to prevent popular legislation from passing. It is absurd that a handful of senators, from small states, can prevent passage of popular measures to protect the environment, raise the minimum wage, or reform immigration policy. Both parties, of course, have wielded the filibuster in recent years to frustrate the other, but McConnell and his Republican colleagues have utilized the filibuster to bolster minority power in ways never intended by either the Framers of the Constitution or by senators through most of American history.

Fear that Democrats might take steps to abolish or limit the filibuster probably convinced Republicans to yield temporarily on the debt ceiling increase. While the filibuster is hard to justify ever, its use on matters that are not issues of policy — such as the United States honoring its debts — is beyond the pale. Everyone on both sides of the aisle insists that the United States must not default on its obligations, yet Republicans were willing to prevent a vote that would allow the country to honor its debt. Invoking the filibuster on the debt ceiling was not policy, but political maneuvering by Republicans aimed at making Democrats as uncomfortable as possible and, ultimately, allowing Republicans to portray Democrats as profligate spenders. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham conceded the political motives of Republicans when he said, “I mean, I’m not going to be a complete asshole about it [raising the debt ceiling]. But, I’m going to make them take some tough votes.” Good to know that Graham sees himself as only a partial “asshole.”

Democrats have been inching toward doing something about the filibuster by either eliminating it entirely or carving out categories of legislation that would not be subject to minority obstruction. Republican intransigence on voting rights, for example, has forced increased demands for reforming the filibuster. The current fight over the debt ceiling has led some who have been hesitant to end the filibuster to change their minds. President Joe Biden — who served decades in the Senate and has been viewed by many as an “institutionalist” — said this week that it is “a real possibility” the Senate would change its rules to bypass Republican filibustering on the debt ceiling. Later, Biden added that filibustering debt legislation is “not right, and it’s dangerous.”

“Republicans are making the case more powerfully than I could a million times on the floor,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat and a longtime filibuster opponent. “What they are doing is obstruction and utterly exposes the filibuster. And it is not just inconvenience. It is desperately dangerous.” McConnell and other Republicans may have gotten the message that Democrats saw the fight over the debt ceiling as a way to alter the filibuster.

But, that recognition does not change the fact that McConnell cannot control his caucus. The willingness of a handful of Republican senators on the far right to endanger the credit of the United States forced McConnell to deny Democrats any Republican cooperation in allowing a straight party vote on preventing a default. So, perhaps it is McConnell being led by far right conservatives in the Republican Party rather than McConnell leading the Republican caucus.

After all, the emperor has no clothes!

Posted October 8, 2021

Will There Be a Eulogy?

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

There is only one reason for lawmakers to vote against establishing an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection: The lawmakers are afraid the commission will conclude they are either complicit in the insurrection or a member of a political party that condones treason. Republicans know they have a lot to hide, which is why most Republicans in the House and Senate voted against a commission.

America’s fragile democracy has suffered two major blows in 2021. First, the riot itself, the first attack on the nation’s Capitol since the British burned Washington in 1814 and the most serious treasonous assault on our constitutional republic since the South seceded in 1861. The second blow is the realization that one of the two major political parties is no longer committed to maintaining democracy and the rule of law. By voting down an investigation into treason, the Republican Party has shown its true colors: Subservience to an autocratic leader, a disregard for truth, and a willingness to shred constitutional norms in an unabashed pursuit of power. 

The vote by Republicans to kill a commission combined with stringent voter suppression and nullification laws wending their way through Republican-controlled state legislatures showcase the perilous state of American democracy. A democratic political system can survive only when both political parties — and a substantial majority of the citizenry — agree to abide by the rules. But, in 2021, America is afflicted by a political party that no longer honors the rules. By their actions, Republicans have shown they have no policies or beliefs other than winning elections by any and all means, no matter the legality or fairness. By refusing to investigate an attempted coup to overturn the results of a free and fair election and by passing laws in a number of states clearly aimed at suppressing the franchise of those likely to vote for their opponents, Republicans raise the question of whether they will honor future Democratic electoral victories.

Americans would be naive if they doubted the possibility of further assaults on our polity. The vote against a January 6 commission and the failure to convict former president Donald Trump for his role in fomenting the insurrection — only seven Republican senators voted to convict — only emboldens Trump. The only lesson he could take from both votes is the one he always seems to take when he goes unpunished for his transgressions — that he got away with it, so he can do it again. Trump, who shows every sign of mounting another run for the presidency in 2024, will conclude that he can trample on electoral laws and encourage his supporters to try any tactic — from intimidation to outright fraud — to influence the results. 

What is most perplexing in all this is the strategy of supposedly wily political operatives like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who apparently has concluded that the only way he can become majority leader in 2022 is by placating Trump. McConnell clearly has no great liking for the former president, but the Kentuckian is motivated by a hunger for power, and he seems to share the prevalent view within the Republican Party that Trump is the key to future electoral success. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham expressed this forthrightly: “Can we move forward without Trump? The answer is no…. I’ve determined that we can’t grow without him.”

But, senator, the question remains: Can the GOP grow with Trump? After all, in 2016, Republicans controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress. They lost the House in 2018 and the presidency and Senate in 2020. Trump’s approval rating never topped 50 percent during his four years in office. (President Joe Biden is consistently over 50 percent, with some polls even showing him exceeding 60 percent.)

Trump can, it is true, cause problems for Republicans whom he perceives as not sufficiently subservient to him and the Big Lie, his constant claim he won the 2020 presidential election. Republicans fear his possible support of primary challengers should they vote or speak against him. But, and this is a big but, what purpose does it serve a Republican office seeker to fend off a primary challenger if he or she cannot prevail in the general election?

The 2022 electoral map favors Republicans. Redistricting following the 2020 census will likely give Republicans additional House seats, and gerrymandering and voter suppression laws will damage Democrats’ chances in a number of Republican states. Midterms tend to favor Republicans anyway, since their supporters are more likely to vote in a non-presidential election year than Democrats. In addition, the party out of power tends to pick up congressional seats in midterm elections.

Still, while the past may be prologue, it is not determinative. Suburban counties across the country — traditionally Republican strongholds — abandoned Trump last November. This trend helped Biden and the Democrats flip states like Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, all of which voted for Trump in 2016. Suburban voters may not take kindly to a party that condones treason and threatens the existence of our democracy, a possibility that ought to worry Republicans as they plot strategy for 2022. At the same time, Biden is popular, and his policies even more so. Republicans have made defeating those policies their sole goal, offering little in their place other than obstruction. 

But, the popularity of Biden and democratic policies counts for little if Republicans get away with their assault on democracy. Their actions in recent months — questioning a legitimate election, refusing to punish a president for inciting an insurrection, and voting against an investigation of that insurrection — indicate a lack of commitment to democracy. More frightening for the future is the attack on voting in state legislatures. President Biden noted the danger in his remarks Monday at the National Memorial Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery. “Democracy itself,” he said, “is in peril here at home and around the world.”

Democrats can have all the public support in the world, but voter suppression, or electoral fraud, or overthrowing the results of an election — all very real possibilities — could overcome their popularity. At that point, democracy will be dead. Will Republicans allow a eulogy?

Posted June 1, 2021

The Death of the Republican Party

Republican senators appear poised to finish what former president Donald Trump started — the destruction of the Republican Party — if, as appears likely, enough of the GOP caucus votes to acquit Trump.

There is little hint that Republicans in the upper chamber have changed their minds on holding Trump accountable, despite the damning and compelling evidence presented by the House impeachment managers of Trump’s guilt in inciting the insurrectionary mob to storm the Capitol on January 6, 2021. There are five or six senators who are likely to vote to convict based on their prior votes on the constitutionality of the proceedings. Some were horrified by the video shown by the House managers, but remain steadfast in their decision to hide behind process — still maintaining that convicting the former president after he left office is unconstitutional — while ignoring the gripping and mounting corroboration of Trump’s role in summoning and directing the mob. For Montana’s Steve Daines, the vivid footage revived “horrible memories,” but there is no evidence Daines has changed his mind on the outcome of the trial. As former Alabama Democratic senator Doug Jones tweeted, Republicans are “apparently shaken, but not stirred.”

Others expressed contempt of the proceedings. Jose Hawley, forever a punk, reportedly watched part of Wednesday’s presentation from the visitor’s gallery with his feet propped up on the seat in front of him, reading what NBC reporter Garrett Haake said was “non-related material.” Senator Rick Scott of Florida called the trial “a complete waste of time… [and said] it’s vindictive,” as if discovering the truth has no merit. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham — who once was intriguing but is now simply repulsive — tweeted, “I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House Managers offensive and absurd.” Really, senator? The presentation was offensive? Not the rioters looking to hang former vice president Mike Pence and assassinate Speaker Nancy Pelosi? Not Donald Trump, for sending them on their deadly mission? Shooting the messenger is your response, Senator Graham?

No wonder thousands of voters are deserting the Republican Party! According to The New York Times, nearly 140,000 Republicans quit the party in January. That number reflects data from 25 states (19 do not have party registration, and figures were not available in the remainder of the states). The number of potential voters not available to Republicans in future years is much higher, given probable desertions in the remaining states and the possibility that conservative-leaning Independents may no longer vote Republican. The pusillanimity of Republican senators who vote to acquit in the face of overwhelming evidence of Trump’s guilt likely will drive thousands more from the GOP.

According to Reuters, anti-Trump Republicans held a Zoom call last week to discuss forming a third, center-right party. The meeting included former elected Republicans, former officials in the administrations of Republican presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Trump, and Republican strategists. Their plan includes running candidates in some races against Republicans and Democrats but also endorsing center-right candidates in others, whether those candidates are Republicans, Democrats, or Independents. Those on the call expressed dismay over Trump’s actions as president, the subservience of congressional Republicans, and the votes of a majority of the House Republican caucus and eight senators refusing to certify the electoral tally in two states. Again, a failure of Republican senators to vote to convict will only hasten plans to form a splinter party. Republicans have been unable to maintain their hold on the White House, the Senate, and the House with Trump at the helm. With Trump gone, the challenge from a newly established center-right party could further undermine Republican electoral prospects. 

The possible success of the anti-Trump group could lead to the first reordering of the American party system since the Civil War. While third parties have achieved limited success — most famously Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Progressive Party in 1912 — the two-party system has been remarkably stable for over 150 years. The longevity of the modern Republican and Democratic parties rests on both housing disparate factions. The Republican Party traditionally reflected a coalition of socially progressive moderates in the East, big business and financial elements, farmers, and more conservative groups in the center and West of the country. The Democratic Party contained southerners determined to maintain segregation, northern liberals, voters in big cities, and immigrants.

All that has changed since the 1960s. First, the Democratic embrace of civil rights legislation drove white southerners out of the party and into the opposition. Then, Ronald Reagan succeeded in making Republicans a more conservative party while attracting many workers in the North who once voted Democratic. Now, in recent years, the two parties have become far more ideological, with Republicans moving further to the right, Democrats to the left. When the two parties were coalitions of conservative and liberal elements, they were able to fashion bipartisan compromises to advance the public interest. Now, the Republican Party under Trump has become a cult of personality intent only on maintaining power. (Political theorists Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein have claimed for nearly a decade that the Republican Party has ceased to believe in governing and is no longer moved by evidence and science. Trump has only made these trends worse.)

The status of the two parties today reminds historians of the breakup of the party system in the 1850s, just prior to the Civil War, when two things happened. First, millions of immigrants — mostly Catholic — flocked to America, congregating in big cities and voting Democratic. By the mid-1850s, the Know-Nothing Party — comprised of native-born Protestants — had attracted millions of formerly Whig voters. The party lasted only for a few years, leaving its voters without a home.

Second, and more importantly, the Whigs always represented a coalition of Southern planters and northern business groups. Many of these Northerners were reform-minded, and many opposed slavery. The Whigs fell apart — as did other national institutions, such as Protestant denominations — under the pressure of a rising northern determination to restrict the extension of slavery in the vast unorganized Louisiana territory acquired from France in 1803 and the Mexican Cession of 1848.

By 1854, when Congress voted to organize the Nebraska Territory (modern Kansas and Nebraska) under the doctrine of popular sovereignty, which allowed Southern planters to move into the territory with their slaves, the North erupted in anger. Anti-slavery Northerners formed the Republican Party, which attracted the votes of those opposed to slavery along with many who voted Know-Nothing in the mid-1850s.The new party elected Abraham Lincoln president in 1860, and, within months, seven southern states seceded, leading to the Civil War. After the war, and the period of Reconstruction, the two parties — Republicans and Democrats — formed the current American party system.

It has lasted, giving the nation remarkable political stability, for more than a century-and-a-half. Whether it can withstand the presidency of Donald Trump, the move of the Republican Party into a cult of personality devoted to Trump, and the development of ideological parties unable to govern is today’s over-arching political question.

The votes of more than two-thirds of Republican senators — needed to acquit Trump — will only hasten the realignment of parties. 

Posted February 12, 2021

The Republican Party is a Terrorist Organization

The Republican Party is a terrorist organization, unwilling, apparently, to convict a known terrorist for inciting insurrection, unwilling, evidently, to purge terrorists within its ranks, and, unwilling, ostensibly, to condemn the lies that aid and abet terrorism. It pains me to conclude that one of our nation’s two major political parties is a terrorist organization, but facts are facts. 

The Senate vote Tuesday on the constitutionality of proceeding with the trial of former president Donald Trump signals that the proceedings likely will end with Trump’s acquittal on the charge of inciting the January 6 riot at the Capitol. The evidence against Trump is overwhelming, and more emerges almost daily. His constant lies about electoral fraud and his tweets urging his followers to come to Washington to contest the certification of electors along with his speech just prior to the mob storming the Capitol prove his culpability. But, 45 of the 50 Republican Senators agreed with Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, that there is no constitutional basis for trying a former president.

Most constitutional scholars disagree, and precedents exist for the impeachment and trial of officials who no longer hold office. Democrats believe a trial is justified, arguing that Trump must be held accountable for his role in the riot. Conviction also can be followed by a vote to bar Trump from ever holding office again. 

By raising a bogus constitutional issue, Republicans have given themselves a public relations out for voting to acquit. They can get credit among hard-core Trumpistas for not voting against their cult hero, while saying to more moderate Republicans that they merely acted on constitutional grounds without assessing Trump’s guilt. As a political dodge, the argument on constitutionality may work; from a moral perspective, any vote to acquit puts the Republican Party on the side of terrorists. Historical accountability will be severe for the GOP.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has played his usual duplicitous role in the run up to the Senate trial. After the January 6 riot, McConnell announced that Trump had “provoked” the mob, suggesting he favored impeachment. But, in the week after the House impeached Trump on January 13, while he was still majority leader, McConnell refused to reconvene the Senate, guaranteeing that the trial would occur after Trump left office and paving the way for Paul’s cynical constitutional gambit.

I suppose it is conceivable for a senator to vote against the constitutionality of a trial and then turn around and vote to convict Trump. A public official may have constitutional qualms about an issue, but once the question of constitutionality is resolved by the appropriate authority, that official must do his duty according to the law. Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman, who is not running for reelection in 2022, but still voted with the majority of Republicans against going to trial, says, “But I’ve not made me mind up, I’m a juror.” But, it is going to be a heavy lift for Democrats to persuade at least 17 Republicans to vote for convicting Trump.

Republicans condoning terrorism goes beyond the Senate vote. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who said Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack on the Capitol, traveled to Florida Thursday to grovel before Trump in an attempt to mend relations. It may be one thing for Republicans in the Senate to vote to acquit on the spurious argument that a trial of a former president is divisive, but it is quite another to actually cozy up to Trump-the-terrorist. Apparently, congressional Republicans believe placating Trump is the key to winning elections. “We cannot take the House and the Senate back without his help. That’s just a fact,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina. Of course, with Trump in the White House, Republicans lost the House in 2018, and with Trump at the head of the ticket, Republicans lost the presidency and the Senate in 2020. That is a whole lot of help, Senator!

McCarthy seems amenable to rewarding terrorists. He placed Representative Majorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who identifies with the QAnon cult and refers to deadly school shootings as “false-flag” operations by gun-control advocates, on the House Education and Labor Committee. Greene should be condemned, not rewarded, by the House GOP leadership for liking a comment on her Facebook page saying “a bullet to the head would be quicker” in removing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Greene also liked comments about executing FBI agents, who she believes are part of the “deep state” working against Trump. Urging the assassination of the speaker and the execution of agents of the federal government are terrorist acts. Greene should be removed from all House posts, and Republicans should purge her from the party. Action should be taken against other terrorists within Republican ranks, such as Alabama Representative Mo Brooks, who said, at the rally before the storming of the Capitol, that January 6 was the day “American patriots start… kicking ass.” Similarly, some form of punishment is warranted for those members of Congress who encouraged and may have aided the mob.

Republicans have been complicit spreading lies that fuel terrorist acts. House and Senate Republicans did Trump’s bidding by lying about electoral fraud. Eight Republican senators and two-thirds of the Republican House caucus voted to overturn the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania after the riot that endangered them. All but 10 Republicans voted against impeaching Trump, despite evidence that his actions put their lives at risk on January 6. 

Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney harshly condemned his colleagues for failing to disown the lies about electoral fraud. “I say, first of all, have you gone out publicly and said that there was not widespread voter fraud that Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States?” the former presidential candidate asked. “If you said that, then I’m happy to listen to you talk about other things that might inflame anger and divisiveness.” But, Romney asserts, do not claim a trial or condemnation of terrorists within the Republican Party is divisive, while continuing to spread lies.

Republicans must hold Trump accountable for his role in the terrorist attack on the our nation’s Capitol, condemn the terrorists in their ranks, and repudiate their own lies about the election. Failure to do so brands the Republican Party as a terrorist organization.

Posted January 29, 2021

A Frightening Place

It was all bullshit. —  President Donald Trump, February 6, 2020, celebrating his Senate acquittal. It was the first time a president has used that profanity in a formal event on camera in the East Room of the White House. 

It does not quite have the forgiving tone of Abraham Lincoln’s “With malice toward none; with charity for all;” or Franklin Roosevelt’s call to struggle, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself;” or John Kennedy’s appeal to action, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country;” or Ronald Reagan’s challenge, ”Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” “It was all bullshit” passes for eloquence in the era of Trump, and the words exemplify the destruction this president has wrought on the nation’s sense of decency, fair play, honesty, and political comity.

Trump has wreaked havoc on the nation, from a dysfunctional foreign policy that rewards dictators and punishes longtime friends and allies to domestic policies that hasten environmental destruction, exacerbate climate change, contribute to increasing income inequality, and undermine healthcare. Many of Trump’s regressive policies can be undone by the stroke of a pen by the next president. Some of the recovery from Trumpism requires voters not only to throw him out of the White House but to elect enough Democrats in the fall to control both houses of Congress.

But, unfortunately, I fear Trump has done lasting damage to the nation, setting dangerous precedents for future presidents. His coarseness, his meanness, and his ability to corrupt the nation’s political processes and escape retribution may serve as a template for future presidents. The president’s ability to bend one of the nation’s political parties to his will damages the proud tradition of independent political action and the long history of courageous politicians speaking truth to power (Utah Senator Mitt Romney is the exception). Trump has recast the Republican Party into an instrument of his narcissism, making it a willing accomplice in his campaign to accrue near dictatorial powers and his undermining of the Constitution and the rule of law.

Trump also has succeeded in converting roughly 40 percent of the electorate into slavish supporters of his ill behavior willing to turn a blind eye to his lawlessness. Trumpistas support what can only be termed a “cult of personality,” which believes the leader can do no wrong. They go further, implicitly sanctioning Trump’s crass speech and despicable actions, suggesting that if the president does it, it is not illegal. Richard Nixon would have approved.

The president’s recent behavior is evidence that his impeachment and subsequent acquittal have emboldened him in his pursuit of dictatorial powers. In this, he is aided by his lackeys in control of key governmental agencies and his sycophants in Congress. 

Exhibit number one: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has turned over Hunter Biden’s confidential financial records to Republican Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin to aid Trump in his quixotic attempt to smear former vice president Joe Biden. Mnuchin acceded to the request the senators made one hour after Trump’s acquittal despite refusing to release Trump’s tax returns as required by law. 

Exhibit number two: South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham — often an unhinged defender of Trump — says Attorney General William Barr has “created a process” for Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to feed the Justice Department dirt on the Bidens dug up in Ukraine. As in authoritarian nations, the organs of government are used to smear and damage the leader’s perceived enemies. At the same time, Barr has shut down six investigations into Trump and his businesses, and the attorney general has issued new rules to prevent the FBI and other law enforcement agencies from conducting politically sensitive investigations. Barr’s decree may be an attempt to prevent abuses such as those that occurred in 2016, or, it might be an attempt to insure that there are no probes of possible foreign interference in the 2020 election.

Exhibit number three: Trump has retaliated against two aides who testified under subpoena in the House impeachment inquiry. Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was recalled from Brussels, and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was removed from his position at the National Security Council. Now, a president certainly is entitled to have aides whom he trusts, but the haste with which these firings were announced and the manner in which Vindman was ousted suggests Trumpian retribution against those he blames for impeachment. In Vindman’s case, his brother — who also had a government post — was removed as well (shades of Joseph Stalin ordering the deaths of the families of those he purged), and both Vindmans were escorted immediately from the White House. Both Sondland and Alexander Vindman were planning on leaving the administration soon, but Trump sought public vengenance. 

The recent firings confirm the suspicion that Trump wants only yes men and women working for him. Any president benefits from diverse opinions, but in the case of the current occupant of the Oval Office, the wish for lackeys serving him is particularly dangerous. Trump is an ignorant man made more dangerous because he is oblivious to his ignorance. No Team of Rivals as depicted in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s seminal study of Lincoln and his Cabinet for Trump. 

The nation is in a frightening place. Romney has been warned he would not be safe if he attends a conservative conference, and one-third of Republicans have a positive view of Vladimir Putin, the murderous, autocratic president of Russia who Trump clearly admires. And, our nation is led by a man who utters expletives in the White House, fires those who are not 110% for him, utters lies with abandon in the State of the Union, and blasphemes at the National Prayer Breakfast. Matters will only deteriorate if Trump is reelected and is encouraged to further consolidate authority. As it is, I fear what the months until the election hold for us.

Posted February 11, 2020

My Dream

When the Chief Justice walked in, you could feel the weight of the moment. I saw members on both sides of the aisle visibly gulp. The weight of history sits on shoulders and produces sometimes results, you never know what will happen. Remarks by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer after the opening day of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

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The New York Democrat may be right: “You never know what will happen.” If enough Republicans (as few as three, depending on Chief Justice John Roberts’ vote in a tie) side with Democrats, witnesses will appear at the trial. Former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s potential testimony about what he termed the “drug deal” to force Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden would place further pressure on vulnerable Republican senators who are currently likely to acquit the president. The testimony of other possible witnesses could yield such an overwhelming mountain of evidence that even South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham might have difficulty remaining Trump’s most subservient lapdog. And, then, there are the documents which could further incriminate the president.

This scenario — a dream, really — is, of course, hypothetical. As of now, Republicans are poised to find Trump not guilty, even though the evidence gathered by the House during its impeachment inquiry conclusively demonstrates that Trump’s offenses warrant his removal from office. This raises a troubling question about  the oath Chief Justice John Roberts administered to all the senators, which was the first order of business in the Senate trial. Every senator present raised his or her right hand and heard Roberts ask, “Do you solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help you God?” Then, the senators walked to the front of the chamber and signed their names in the oath book.

Here is the question: How did the vast majority of Republicans who have decided the president did nothing wrong — many publicly stating so — take a solemn oath to administer “impartial justice”? How did Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — pictured here signing the oath book — so swear, given his earlier statement about the trial: “I’m not impartial about this at all”? If McConnell already has decreed he is not “impartial,” how can he swear to do “impartial justice”? How does Graham swear the oath after saying, “I have clearly made up my mind. I’m not trying to hide the fact that I have disdain for the accusations and the process…. I’m not trying to be a fair juror here.” How did that work for McConnell and Graham and the rest of the sycophantic Republican caucus? Did they cross their fingers on their left hands behind their backs while holding their right aloft? Too bad there is not a camera angle from the back of the chamber.

There is much that is dispiriting about Trump’s presidency. American democracy has been damaged — perhaps beyond repair — by his undermining of the Constitution and the rule of law. The American public’s sense of decency and fair play may have been corroded substantively, as well, and civil discourse may never recover from Trump’s bullying and mockery of his opponents. But, perhaps, most depressing of all is the collaboration of Republican lawmakers in the diminution of their authority and independence. 

Of course, the rise of the imperial presidency did not begin with Trump. Since the middle of the last century, power has flowed to the president, resulting in the exaltation of the executive branch and the diminution of the legislative branch. Congress has sat idly by — sometimes actively cooperated — while it has lost the last vestiges of control over war making and foreign policy. Even in the domestic arena, the penchant of recent presidents to issue executive orders has led to a loss of congressional influence. The willingness of current Republicans in Congress to look the other way when the president impounded funds for Ukraine that the legislature had authorized indicates a willingness among Republicans in the House and Senate to surrender the ultimate source of congressional power: Control of the purse.

I am reminded of the fate of the Roman Republic when pondering the submissiveness of Republicans in Congress in the face of Trump’s depredations. I have written on this subject before, but Rome, after decades of political dysfunction, slid from a republic into an empire with the acquiescence of the Roman Senate, which willingly granted to Octavian — who became the first emperor under the name Augustus (which means the illustrious one) — control of the army and a permanent status as princeps, first citizen. The fiction of the Roman Republic continued, and the Senate remained an official body, but it had little power except to exalt the status of the senators. 

Rome provides a map of how a functioning republic slips into autocracy step by small step until one day the public realizes freedoms and liberties have been lost. Rome’s descent into tyranny was not inevitable. The Roman Senate could have resisted Octavian’s power grab, but it did not. The silence of congressional Republicans who are too frightened to challenge Trump is reminiscent of the Roman Senate’s silence.

Trump’s impeachment trial is about more than the president’s guilt or innocence. It is about whether Americans value the gift given to us by the Founders of the American Republic. It is about whether American society protects its liberties and self-rule from the assault of a would-be autocrat. Trump has said Article II of the Constitution gives him the power “to do whatever [he] want[s].” The document does not do that, but the document will be meaningless if Republicans in the Senate acquiesce in his undermining of American democracy. Like the Roman Republic, the American Republic works only as long as everyone agrees to play by the rules as outlined in the Constitution.

Sadly, Republican complicity in the destruction of the Constitution likely will continue as the Senate exonerates the president of wrongdoing. But, I am writing this on MLK Day, so allow me my dream. Maybe Senator Schumer is right. Maybe senators on both sides of the aisle “could feel the weight of the moment.” If so, congressional Republicans may cease to be silent and do what Roman senators failed to do in the first century BCE and say, enough, we will not allow you to destroy our Republic.

Posted January 21, 2020

The Reign of King Hyperbole

Long live King Hyperbole! He appeared this week on Twitter and the floor of the House of Representatives, dressed in his finest cloak. The Republican Party — once the party of Lincoln — is so bereft of ideology, thought, and moral compass that it — now more properly known as the party of Trump — can only pay homage to King Hyperbole. Democracy be damned! The Constitution, ignore it! Long live King Hyperbole!

No Republican defended President Donald Trump’s actions in shaking down a U.S. ally for the benefit of his reelection. No excuses were offered, because there are none. All that the Republicans who trooped to the well of the House to speak in the debate on the president’s impeachment could say was, well, not much more than exaggeration in the form of hyperbole.

To be sure, there were hours to fill in the debate Wednesday, and each member had only a minute or two to make a point — hence, the outsized metaphors. The president weighed in early in the contest to see who could cite the most inapt historical atrocity. A day before the vote to impeach, Trump compared his treatment — unfavorably, of course — to the Salem witch trials. “More due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials,” wrote Trump-the-historian in a tirade in the form of a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Historical aside: 19 alleged “witches” went to the gallows in Puritan Massachusetts in 1692, and one man was crushed to death by heavy stones — his punishment for refusing to enter a plea before the court. Another four convicted “witches” died in prison before their execution dates. No one is suggesting such a fate for the president, only his removal from office — and perhaps a later date in court.)

By the time the impeachment debate reached the floor of the House, the historical gaze of some went much further back in time than the late 17th century. For sheer absurdity, the prize must go to Representative Barry Loudermilk, a Georgia Republican, who said — with a straight face — “When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers. During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Democrats have afforded this president in this process.” Loudermilk was not the only member to invoke the Crucifixion. Representative Fred Keller, a Republican from Pennsylvania, cited the Gospel of Luke, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

I am not going too far out on a limb here in asserting that Jesus — suffering an excruciatingly painful death on the Cross — was far more forgiving than Trump. Supposedly pious Republicans using biblical imagery to defend the crotch-grabbing, election-cheating, lying, racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic bully in the White House borders on blasphemy. No, it is blasphemous.

Other absurd comparisons: Representative Mike Kelly, another Pennsylvania Republican, invoked Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s reference to Pearl Harbor: “This is a date that will live in infamy.” “Today, December 18, 2019, is another date that will live in infamy,” Kelly said. And, Representative Clay Higgins of Louisiana came up with vivid imagery while not indulging in amateurish history. “I have descended into the belly of the beast. I have witnessed the terror within,” he opined. Oh, my!

Republicans once knew — but, have apparently forgotten — how odious Donald Trump is. Lindsey Graham said the real estate developer was “unfit for office.” Now, Graham does not even want to hear the evidence in Trump’s Senate trial. Mick Mulvaney once called Trump “a terrible human being.” But, that was before Mulvaney became Trump’s acting chief of staff. Rick Perry, who has resigned as Energy Secretary, referred to Trump as a “barking carnival act” and labeled his candidacy as “a cancer on conservatism” before becoming one of the three amigos in the Ukraine caper. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called Trump a “pathological liar” and “utterly amoral” before defending the man who slimed his wife and father.  

The Democrats did their duty and impeached the president for abuse of power and obstructing Congress. The Senate, under the ever-compliant Mitch McConnell, will conduct a sham trial, and, if “Moscow Mitch” gets his way, the upper chamber will not call any witnesses. Apparently, McConnell fears what those witnesses might reveal. The majority leader’s position is hypocritical and untenable. House Republicans wasted a lot of breath claiming none of the witnesses called by Democrats in the House had first-hand knowledge of what Trump demanded from the Ukrainians. That claim was not true — there was testimony from witnesses who listened to the infamous July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. But, true or not, why not hear the testimony of other witnesses who have first-hand information about Ukrainian policy?

Trump’s acquittal is virtually a foregone conclusion, which only will embolden Trump to further abuse of his office. The day after acquittal, the president — if he waits that long — will be hatching another plan to cheat in the 2020 presidential election. It may involve a  different foreign country, or it may be some other nefarious plot. But, Trump will try to rig the election. Why? Because he cheats at everything, he cannot tolerate losing, and, while he does not read much, he can read the polls. Actually, judging by the travels of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s current personal lawyer, the cheating continued during impeachment and probably will continue during and after the trial.

Trump will cheat — and he will get caught because he is incompetent and because he relies on cronies like Giuliani. What will the Republicans say then? Still look the other way? Probably. Invoke more hyperbole? Hard to top the Jesus imagery, but do not discount their abilities. King Hyperbole will be back.

Posted December 20, 2019

The Incompetence Defense

What I can tell you about the Trump policy towards the Ukraine is that it was incoherent…. They seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo. — Senator Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican

There are three problems with this defense. First, the mere asking by the president for a foreign country to investigate a political rival of his — which is confirmed in the rough transcript released by the White House — is an impeachable offense. No American should welcome such an intervention, whether by friend or foe, ally or enemy. The framers of the Constitution warned about foreign meddling in domestic politics, most notably in Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist No. 68 and George Washington’s Farewell Address. Trump’s prodding of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens amounts to a violation of campaign finance laws as it is tantamount to an illegal request for a contribution from a citizen of a foreign country to Trump’s re-election. No quid pro quo — successful or not — is necessary for the Trumps’s request to Zelensky to qualify as an act warranting impeachment and conviction. 

Second, incompetent bank robbers are still bank robbers, subject to governmental judicial scrutiny. A bank robber who points a gun at a teller, demands all the money in the bank, then flees only to drop the loot on the way out has committed a prosecutable offense. The robber’s failure to get away with the bank’s money does not exonerate him or her of a crime. Similarly, Trump’s incompetence — of which there is abundant evidence — does not excuse his criminal behavior. 

Third, Trump has shown no remorse or contrition. The incompetence defense might aid Trump in avoiding impeachment if he were able to admit the crime, apologize for his bad behavior, and promise never to do it again. But, of course, Trump is incapable of doing any of that, and he continues to maintain, “The call to the Ukrainian President was PERFECT” (capital letters in the original). It is impossible to escape the conclusion that if Trump were exonerated for his extortion attempt against Ukraine, he would probably extort some other vulnerable country needing American assistance. After all, Trump’s call to Zelensky came the day after former special counsel Robert Mueller testified shakily on Capitol Hill. An evidently emboldened Trump decided that since he got away with the Russia caper from 2016, he was free to invite Ukrainian meddling in the 2020 election. The juxtaposition of Mueller’s testimony with the Zelensky call especially troubles House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff. 

In truth, Republicans cannot agree upon a defense for Trump because of an obvious salient fact: He is guilty. Left with no coherent argument, Republicans frequently grandstand — as in the stunt by roughly 30 House members to storm the secure hearing room where the House Intelligence Committee takes depositions (some of the 30 are committee members and, thus, entitled to be in the room) — or engage in diversions and stalling tactics geared to drag out the proceedings for as long as possible. The latest such diversionary maneuver is the GOP demand that former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden and the anonymous whistleblower who filed the initial complaint against Trump be compelled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee as part of the impeachment inquiry. 

Hunter Biden certainly showed a lack of judgment in assuming a position on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, but poor judgment, as far as I know, is not a crime. He also made a lot of money by trading on his father’s name, neither of which — making money or using connections — is a crime. The younger Biden is irrelevant to the accusations against Trump. The president’s strong-arming another nation to investigate a political rival is wrong regardless of whether Hunter Biden behaved properly or improperly in sitting on Burisma’s board. If Hunter Biden did anything wrong — and there is no evidence he did — then he should be prosecuted by the proper authorities, not investigated by Congress during the inquiry into the impeachment of President Trump.

As for the whistleblower, there are two excellent reasons why he or she should be allowed to fade into history. First, if the identity of the whistleblower in this case is revealed, then no future whistleblower will feel safe coming forward to do his or her patriotic duty and report untoward behavior. Second, the whistleblower cannot shed any more light on the inquiry. He or she merely reported what he or she learned, passing it on the proper authorities. The House and the public know far more now than the whistleblower reported at the start of the investigation. We have Trump’s own confession — why he keeps saying, “Read the Transcript!” is beyond me; it reveals an impeachable act — and we have the testimony of numerous parties, some of whom are career officials, others of whom are Trump appointees. The whistleblower reported what he or she heard from others; officials who were on the call or privy to Trump’s machinations have now testified. What more could the whistleblower possibly tell the investigators? 

Some on the right argue that the reluctance of the Intelligence Committee to call the whistleblower to testify is a denial of the president’s due process rights since he cannot confront his accuser. But, again, to what point? The impeachment inquiry is akin to a grand jury proceeding, where defendants have few rights. Trump, in fact, has far more protection in the Intelligence Committee than he would have before a grand jury. In the Senate trial, Trump will have counsel who can cross-examine and challenge all of the testimony. His due process rights are not in jeopardy.

The sad truth is Republicans have only weak arguments and diversionary tactics at their disposal because the evidence against the president is overwhelming. Having tied their political fortunes to a criminal who can still rally his base, Republican lawmakers are loath to challenge him. So, they debase themselves and the offices they hold by raising specious defenses and attempt to hamstring the inquiry. We can only hope the Democrats in Congress remain united and focused in response to the GOP maneuvers. Constitutional government requires the vigilance of the Democrats. 

Posted November 12, 2019

 

 

The Smallness of It All

Reading the notes of President Donald Trump’s telephone call to the president of Ukraine was as dispiriting as reading the transcripts of President Richard Nixon’s tapes. The same smallness, the same pettiness, the same sense of victimization, the same meanness characterizes both. Nixon’s tapes, with all their “expletives deleted” (it was a more decorous time) reveal the man as a bigot whose sole goal appeared to be to get even with those he believed had scorned him. Trump, we already know, is a bigot and a narcissist with no moral compass (sorry Ivanka, if, as you said, you got your “moral compass” from dear old Dad, you are in trouble). The released version of the Ukraine call did not tell us anything new about Trump, but it did confirm — as if confirmation were needed — that Trump — like a seedy two-bit mob boss — will do anything, stoop to any level, to tar his opponents. 

Henry Adams, the great-grandson of one president and the grandson of another, once remarked, “The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant alone was evidence enough to upset Darwin.” Lucky for Darwin, Adams never encountered the presidencies of Nixon and Trump. To be fair, Nixon was not a man without talents. He was learned in foreign affairs, and his presidency was marked by accomplishments: The opening of U.S. contacts with China, negotiating arms limitation treaties with the Soviet Union, and important reforms in civil rights, the environment, and worker protection. But, he was a deeply flawed politician — an opportunist as John Farrell shows in his masterful biography, Richard Nixon: A Life — who nursed grievances against what he saw as the elites of the Eastern establishment. Nixon’s resentments stemmed from a persecution complex that manifested itself in the belief that his political opponents and the press were “out to get him.” Nixon’s insecurities and paranoia, more than anything else, explain the Watergate scandal. 

Trump is similar to Nixon, but without the intelligence nor the disgraced president’s accomplishments. Philip Rucker’s superb piece in The Washington Post this past Sunday details Trump’s sense of victimization, a trait he shares with Nixon. But Trump, Rucker writes, unlike Nixon and other past presidents with “a deep sense of persecution and self-pity… is the first [president] to broadcast that mentality to the world,” which he does in virtually every public appearance and tweet. Trump also differs from Nixon in that he commits his crimes in plain sight. Nixon organized the “plumbers” in secrecy, making it difficult to discover the depth of his criminality. Trump, aided by Rudy Giuliani (everyone’s version of a “crazy uncle”), brags about his misdeeds.

One of the more disturbing aspects of the Ukrainian scandal — indeed, of all Trump’s myriad misdeeds — is the reluctance of Republicans, who ought to know better, to speak out. Their reason is obvious: The Republican Party has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Donald Trump and any attempt to challenge the “boss” will lead to a primary battle in which the Trump critic is sure to lose. Trump is adept at whipping up the furor of his base against those he attacks. So, Republicans cower before Trump, fearing reprisal.

As has been pointed out, Republicans in 1974 supported Nixon until the very end, until it became obvious that Nixon was guilty of the very things of which he stood accused. When Democrats began to investigate the connection between Nixon’s aides and the burglary at the Watergate, House Republican Leader Gerald Ford of Michigan (who became president upon Nixon’s resignation), referred to a “political witch hunt.” Kansas Republican Senator Robert Dole called press accounts of wrongdoing “a barrage of unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations.” And, Tennessee Senator Howard Baker’s famous questions — “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” — may have enshrined Baker as a man of rectitude, but the Republican senator intended the questions as a protection for Nixon on the mistaken belief that the president did not know about Watergate and the subsequent cover-up. 

It was only in the summer of 1974, after the “smoking gun” tapes revealed Nixon’s complicity in the cover-up, that Republicans deserted the president. At that point, Republican grandees — led by Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater — told Nixon he would be convicted in the Senate. Rather than face that ignominy, Nixon resigned. So far, that has not happened in the scandal surrounding Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president, but it is also true that most of Trump’s defenders in Congress — at least the outspoken ones — are members of the House and not the Senate. It is a case of “he said, she said,” according to Tennessee Republican Representative Chuck Fleischmann; the whistleblower had “zero first-hand knowledge,” said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana; and Democratic “political bias” is fueling the investigations, opined Representative Devin Nunes of California. 

Senators are keeping their powder dry — except for Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who defends Trump, and Utah’s Mitt Romney and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, who expressed concern and are cautious in their statements — because they will sit as a jury in a trial if the House impeaches. Far better not to get too far ahead of this story with a defense of Trump when senators might well be presented with either overwhelming evidence of the president’s impeachable offenses or a cascade of public sentiment against the president, or both, which is what happened in 1974.

Watergate and Ukraine, two scandals concocted by small, amoral men to further their own political ends, regardless of the harm to the country and Constitution they swore an oath to “protect and defend.” During Watergate some patriots rose to the occasion and performed heroically. They included Democratic Representative Peter Rodino of New Jersey, who headed the House Judiciary Committee, Democratic Representative Barbara Jordan of Texas, whose eloquence moved many, six Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who found the courage to vote for at least one of the articles of impeachment against Nixon, and, of course, Goldwater and a few of his colleagues who convinced Nixon that he was finished, saving the country the spectacle of a trial in the Senate. 

Will there be great men and women this time around? Yes, on the Democratic side, but who among Republicans will stand up and do the right thing and put country before party?

Posted October 1, 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