Tag Archives: Matt Gaetz

Baby Steps

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

I may be a cock-eyed optimist, but I think I discern tentative steps — baby steps — indicating cracks in the facade of right-wing Republican extremism and subservience to former president Donald Trump. Two recent events indicate that some semblance of common sense may be appearing within Republican ranks. I stress the may be, but the votes of 17 Republican senators to take up a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill and the results in Tuesday’s special election in Texas seem to indicate a return to levelheadedness in a party that has gone off the rails in the last several years.

The infrastructure bill has not yet been drafted, but the 67-32 vote in the Senate to move the package forward and begin debate came hours after a centrist bipartisan group of senators reached a compromise on the proposal to provide federal money for roads, bridges, rails, water, and other physical infrastructure programs as well as funding expansion of broadband to rural areas of the nation. Just last week, Senate Republicans blocked consideration of a similar infrastructure bill. 

Updating the nation’s outmoded and decaying infrastructure always promised to be the most likely part of President Joe Biden’s ambitious legislative plans to win bipartisan support. Everyone — on both sides of the political divide — believes the nation’s infrastructure is in serious disrepair, and fixing bridges and roads has wide public support. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — who previously boasted that he was “100 percent” focused on torpedoing Biden’s agenda — voted to begin debate. 

McConnell and the rest of the GOP are in a tough spot on infrastructure. Passing the bill would, of course, give Biden a major victory, but, on the other hand, filibustering a very popular measure would give Democrats a significant campaign issue in 2022. No Republican up for reelection next year wants to have to explain to constituents why he or she voted against repairing a local crumbling bridge or pothole-filled road. 

But here is what is most interesting about the votes of a third of the Republican Senate conference: They were cast in defiance of the wishes of former president Donald Trump, who urged GOP members to wait until after the 2022 midterm elections, when Republicans presumably would control Congress, before considering an infrastructure bill. It was something of a running joke that, as president, Trump repeatedly promised to have an “infrastructure week,” but no legislation was ever introduced. After Wednesday’s vote to allow debate on infrastructure, Trump lashed out at the minority leader: “Under the weak leadership of Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans continue to lose.” The former president particularly savaged Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney: “Hard to believe our Senate Republicans are dealing with the Radical Left Democrats in making a so-called bipartisan bill on ‘infrastructure,’ with our negotiators headed up by SUPER RINO [Republican in name only] Mitt Romney.” 

It is difficult to know if the sudden courage of Senate Republicans to challenge the party’s cult leader owes anything to the surprising results in the Texas special election to fill the post of Representative Ron Wright, who died in February. Trump backed Susan Wright, the former representative’s widow, but she lost by six points to Jake Ellzey, a member of the Texas state legislature, in a runoff between two Republicans after no one secured a majority in the first round of voting in May. It is, of course, possible that Democrats in the suburban Dallas-Fort Worth district voted for Ellzey to rebuff Trump, but regardless of the vote breakdown, the results are an embarrassment to the former president and bring into question the clout he wields among Republican voters. 

Trump’s influence among Republicans will be put to the test in next week’s primary in Ohio, where a number of Republicans are vying to replace former Representative Steve Stivers. Trump is backing Mike Carey, a former energy lobbyist running for the Columbus-area open seat. But, several Trump allies favor rivals. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is supporting Ron Hood in the primary, and Debbie Meadows, the wife of former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, is promoting Ruth Edmonds.

Trump world views these interventions as acts of disloyalty, though both Paul and Meadows say they simply are backing rival candidates. Paul claims he favors a fellow libertarian, while Meadows had endorsed Edmonds, who is Black, arguing she “will be a powerful voice in Congress countering the growing BLM/Marxist movement” and whose “life experiences” as a Christian “have uniquely prepared her to stand up against the race-baiting bullies of the radical Left.” Whatever the motives of Paul and Meadows, Trump allies say their apostasy “will be remembered.”

Republican baby steps toward acting like a normal political party could easily lead nowhere. The infrastructure bill has yet to be drafted and many in both political parties are not pleased with the scope of the bill and the manner in which it will be funded. Republicans may be up to their usual shenanigans, stringing along negotiations until the clock finally runs out with no deal at all. Progressive Democrats are not happy with the framework for the bipartisan deal, and they desperately want to get a much more expensive companion bill dealing with “human infrastructure,” such as combating climate change and expanding Medicare, passed as well. That bill would have to become law without any Republican votes, requiring several hesitant moderate Democratic senators to support it. 

Republican voters may choose the Trump-backed candidate in next week’s Ohio primary. A victory for Carey would reinforce the view that Trump is a kingmaker in Republican primaries, forcing Republicans to shy away from working with Democrats and discouraging any shows of independence from the emperor of Mar-a-Lago. Nothing scares a Republican running for reelection more than the possibility of a primary challenge from the right. 

Still, the infrastructure deal and the Texas election results give reason to hope that at least some Republicans are beginning to return to some semblance of normal. Not all, of course, as Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, and their ilk are still around. But, a healthy two-party system in which thoughtful political leaders can reach viable compromises is essential for the stability of the American body politic. For that reason alone, we should all applaud the recent developments. 

Posted July 30, 2021

“Cancel Culture,” History, and Memory

It may seem counterintuitive, but during the last year of Donald Trump’s presidency more than 160 Confederate symbols were either removed from public spaces or renamed. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, most of those symbols were removed or renamed after the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, a tragedy that sparked a renewal of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The recognition of the inappropriateness of monuments, statues, and other forms of memorialization of the Confederacy intensified at the same time that racism was given public space under former president Trump. Those two contradictory trends and the conflicts they engendered reveal a nation torn apart, with some in the country moving toward greater inclusivity while others rebel against demographic and cultural changes by turning inward and reinforcing their tribal identity.

Many Americans — especially on the political right — see the tearing down or renaming of Confederate symbols as an instance of “cancel culture.” It is an explosive term, meaning different things to different people. Examples of “cancel culture” include editors at prominent newspapers and journals resigning after running controversial pieces that provoked dissent among their own staff; the suspension of a White professor who used a Chinese word in class that students thought resembled a racial slur in English; and a Biden appointee — Neera Tanden — finding her nomination in jeopardy because of old tweets. 

But, to the right wing, “cancel culture” often refers to the wishes of progressives to make the public marking of history inclusive. Conservatives look at the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee as an attempt to erase the history of the Confederacy. Progressives see a statue of Lee as offensive to the descendants of enslaved Americans who Lee fought to keep in bondage, and many Whites and Blacks believe a statue of Lee condones treason.

The Republican National Convention last August gave voice to the right’s belief that the left is trying to erase history. “Freedom of speech is trampled on daily,” the delegates resolved, “with the notions of ‘political correctness,’ the plan to eliminate ‘hate speech,’ and the promotion of a ‘cancel culture,’ which has grown into erasing of history, encouraging lawlessness, muting citizens, and violating free exchange of ideas, thoughts, and speech.” 

There is a lot to unpack in that resolution. Why would anyone favor hate speech? The inclusion of that phrase reflects a conflation — whether deliberate or not, I cannot say — of free speech with offensive actions. Most people on the left — certainly those dedicated to protecting free speech — believe speech is protected, but actions are not. The First Amendment protects speech, but it does not protect harassment, threats, or the creation of hostile environments. Nor does the First Amendment require the government to provide a platform to anyone. Similarly, the First Amendment does not give license to incitement (January 6, 2021, for example), and it does not prevent a business from refusing to associate with someone whose speech or actions it finds objectionable. Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley was incorrect in complaining that the cancellation of his book contract by his publisher because of the senator’s actions on January 6 was “a direct assault on the First Amendment.” Hawley also saw the voiding of his contract as proof “the Left [is] looking to cancel everyone they [sic] don’t approve of. I will fight this cancel culture with everything I have.” 

Hawley’s reference to “cancel culture” taps into a common complaint on the right. Trump gave voice to this sentiment in his speech at CPAC Sunday: “For the next four years, the brave Republicans in this room will be at the heart of the effort to oppose the radical Democrats, the fake news media, and their toxic cancel culture. Something new to our ears, cancel culture.” Potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley described “cancel culture” as “an important issue,” adding that “[Trump] knows that political correctness and cancel culture are dangerous and just plain wrong.” And, Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz said, “You cannot cancel a culture that loves its heroes.” 

Gaetz sidled up to the reality of the term “cancel culture” by referring to “heroes.” Statues of famous people are a function of memorializing those whom a society treats as “heroes.” A society commemorates a “hero” because it believes that individual is worthy of public recognition. Not only public recognition, but recognition in the public square, where everyone can see who is being remembered.

Black Americans, and many White Americans, do not believe Robert E. Lee is a hero worthy of public recognition. Yes, but the right counters, hero or not, Lee is a part of American history and removing his statue amounts to erasing history. That sentiment, whether sincere or not I cannot judge, misunderstands the role of history and memory.

Statues are not history; rather, they are the way in which a society chooses to remember its history. No one would erase Robert E. Lee from American history, just as no one would erase the Confederacy or the terrible sin of slavery from historical memory. Rather, the tearing down of statues that commemorate unsavory parts of history reflect a desire to honor the past in ways that reflect contemporary values and mores without insulting or harming segments of our diverse society.

The Confederacy will always be taught in our schools. Lee’s decision to fight on behalf of Confederate treason will never be forgotten, nor will the stain of slavery. Historical memory remains; what changes is whom we choose to memorialize as a hero.

Better a statue of Harriet Tubman than traitorous Robert E. Lee.

Posted March 2, 2021

Do the Right Thing

The 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach President Donald Trump Wednesday deserve credit for political courage.

The 197 who voted in the negative deserve continued scorn for their willingness to abet Trump in his heinous behavior.

It is that simple.

Trump is a recidivist who will say whatever he is told is necessary to avoid criminal and political liability, but once he believes he is in the clear — or his worst impulses get the better of him — he will revert to norm, which, in this case, means encouraging his supporters, once again, to attempt to overthrow the government of the United States. We have seen this movie before, most notably after White supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. So, yes, Trump released a clearly scripted video Wednesday evening urging his supporters to avoid violence, but he strikingly avoided accepting blame for inciting the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. The day before Wednesday’s impeachment vote, he called remarks to his supporters before the riot — urging them to march on the Capitol and show “strength” — “totally appropriate.” Who knows what he will say tomorrow?

Trump’s propensity to cause mayhem is one reason — in addition to sending a signal to other would-be dictators and supporting the rule of law — why the Senate must convict him of the House’s charge even after he leaves office next week. The constitutional penalties for conviction include removal from office and “disqualification” from ever holding federal office again. While Trump cannot be removed from office after January 20, he still could run for the presidency again. The Senate must insure that never happens. As noted constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe points out in The Washington Post, there are precedents in American history for convicting impeached officials — judges — after they left office. 

Trump is not the only Republican who needs to take responsibility for abetting insurrection. Complicit also are the nearly two-thirds of the Republican House caucus who voted on January 6 to overturn a free and fair election and the 197 Republicans who voted on January 13 not to impeach. A trial in the Senate, incidentally, will force Republican senators to go on record as supporting or opposing the Constitution and the rule of law. The public needs to know who among its leaders is patriotic and who would overthrow the government.

There are indications and rumors that some members of Congress actively aided the insurrectionists. Democratic representatives have accused unnamed Republicans of giving tours of the Capitol to insurrectionists the day before the siege. Representative Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat from New Jersey, said some of her GOP colleagues “incited this violent crowd.” Democrats are furious at gun-toting new Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado who tweeted the morning of the insurrection “Today is 1776” and, then, in the midst of the attack, revealed that Speaker Nancy Pelosi had left the floor of the House chamber. The House should expel these members, as well as Alabama’s Mo Brooks who told told the MAGA-clad thugs on the National Mall — before the riot — “today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”

The defense of the president offered by the 197 Republicans who voted against impeaching him ranged from the absurd to the pathetic to technicalities. There was the usual “whataboutism” offered by Ohio’s Jim Jordan — “they spied on his campaign” — and Florida’s Matt Gaetz — “Speaker Pelosi stood at the rostrum and tore through the president’s State of the Union speech” (oh my!). Jodey Arrington of Texas said the president showed “poor judgment” in his speech to the rally — as if Trump had told an off-color joke at a state dinner.  Most were oblivious to the cynicism of claiming impeachment would only further divide the nation, as if their repeated lies about a fraudulent election were not divisive. None praised the president, and Michael McCaul of Texas worried that he might regret his decision, saying future revelations might “put me on the wrong side of this debate.” Note to the representative: You already are on the wrong side!

Contrast the pusillanimity of the Republican majority with the brave 10 who voted to impeach. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House and no flaming liberal, said, “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution…. The president of the United States summoned the mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack.” Washington’s Dan Newhouse announced he was voting yes because “there is no excuse for President Trump’s actions.”  Another Washingtonian, Jaime Herrera Beutler, perhaps said it best. “I’m not afraid of losing my job, but I am afraid that my country will fail,” she told her colleagues.

Because of the actions of the president — who incited a violent insurrection against the government he leads — troops are bivouacking in the Capitol for the first time since Confederate armies threatened to cross the Potomac during the Civil War. This is all because a vain, narcissistic, ignorant man refused to recognize the results of a legitimate and free election, lying that he won but his victory was stolen. It is also because Republicans in a position to do something about Trump and his malignant actions refused to act for four years.

Republicans were furious in early 2020 when Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California, speaking at the Senate trial after Trump’s first impeachment, quoted an anonymous threat warning Republican senators that if they voted to acquit they would wind up with their “head on a pike.” It was meant metaphorically, of course, but Republicans in Congress were always afraid of Trump’s wrath and its influence on their constituents, which is why they repeatedly overlooked the president’s offenses and why it took courage for Beutler to say she was “not afraid of losing my job.” All the others, sadly, were afraid. Some Republicans, according to Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat, were afraid for more than their jobs, fearing for their lives and the safety of their families if they voted to impeach the president. Representative Peter Meijer, a Michigan Republican, says some of those who voted to impeach are “altering our routines, working to get body armor… [because] our expectation is that someone may try to kill us.”

Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second ranking House Democrat, told Republicans, “It is never too late to do the right thing.” Only 10 in the House listened. Let us hope enough Republican senators heed Hoyer’s advice and do the right thing at the trial of Donald Trump.

Posted January 15, 2021

  

   

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

 

 

The Problem of Defending Trump

The political cowardice, servility, and sycophancy displayed by many congressional Republicans toward President Donald Trump’s criminality no longer surprises, but it continues to shock. Wednesday’s grandstand stunt by a group of Trump’s congressional allies — storming a closed-door committee hearing — demonstrates two things: First, the panic of frantic Republicans confronting a steady drumbeat of gripping evidence, and, second, the lack of a convincing argument for Trump’s innocence.

Every time Trump’s defenders offer a case on his behalf, the goal posts move, either because new evidence emerges or because the president and his allies, through incompetence and poor planning, admit to yet another piece of the Ukraine puzzle. First, the president’s supine supporters argued that the whistleblower’s complaint was unsupported and hearsay; then, they claimed there was no quid pro quo; later, there may have been a quid, but there was no quo (since the Ukrainians, allegedly, did not know the military aid was held up); now, they rail against the process, complaining the impeachment inquiry lacks transparency and is a witch hunt since Republicans, so they say, are not equal partners in the investigation, though they nearly are equally represented in the committees.

Complaints about process indicate arguments lost. Since Republicans cannot rebut the evidence revealed during the process, all they have left is to claim the process is a sham and unfair. So, Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, lead more than 30 of his colleagues into a secure committee room in the Capitol where California Democrat Adam Schiff — chair of the House Intelligence Committee — “is holding secret impeachment depositions.” The Republicans who staged the caper later talked to reporters only about process, sidestepping the allegations central to the impeachment inquiry. The stunt compromised security in the room because the Republicans brought cellphones into a secure area, potentially allowing Russian, Chinese, or whomever hackers access. Ohio Republican Representative Jim Jordan said of the cellphones, “It was a mistake, so no big deal. They understand now, and it won’t happen again.” Representative Jordan, it is a big deal, and are you suggesting more disruptions of a constitutional and secure process?

The Republican argument about process is riddled with holes and inconsistencies. First, a Republican-run House of Representatives had no qualms about holding secret hearings on the trumped-up claims surrounding the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s role as secretary of state in the tragedy at Benghazi, Libya. Second, Republicans have not been denied access to the hearings on impeachment. Republican members of the three committees involved in the inquiry — Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight, and their appointed staff — can participate in the hearings and ask questions. Only lawmakers not on those committees — Democrats as well as Republicans — are barred. Third, the hearings are closed because they are more productive that way. When Democrats earlier held a public hearing on accusations of Trumpian wrongdoing, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski openly mocked lawmakers in front of the cameras. Fourth, some of the testimony potentially involves classified and secret material that must be vetted in private first. Fifth, the House impeachment inquiry is akin to grand jury proceedings, which are always secret. Sixth, the House will hold open hearings when it begins to consider the actual articles of impeachment. And, seventh, the trial in the Senate, presumably, will be public. But, that is up to Senate Majority Leader “Moscow” Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans.

Republicans have been driven to pro forma complaints about process because of the overwhelming evidence against Trump. This has been evident from the first inklings of the Ukraine scandal, but the Democrats running the impeachment inquiry, especially Chairman Schiff, have been meticulous in building a case against the president. The dramatic testimony this week of William Taylor, a former military officer and diplomat who has served his country for 50 years, clearly shows that Trump ran a rogue operation aimed not at furthering U.S. national interests but geared to aiding his reelection campaign. Taylor is a West Point graduate who served in Vietnam and who undertook diplomatic missions for both Democratic and Republican presidents. No one can claim Taylor is an operative of the so-called Deep State out to get Trump. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo persuaded Taylor to take the post — over the objections of Taylor’s wife — as ambassador to Ukraine after Trump insisted on the ouster of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Taylor, who took detailed notes, soon realized that Trump — along with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others minions — was conducting an extortion campaign against Ukraine. Taylor told the Intelligence Committee that there was, indeed, a quid pro quo (not that one was needed to proceed with impeachment) in Trump’s demand that Ukraine pursue two investigations to aid him. One, was to look into the debunked idea that Ukraine colluded with Democrats in 2016 to the detriment of Trump’s campaign; the other, was to target Burisma, a company whose board once included Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden who Trump views as his strongest potential adversary in 2020. There were two potential rewards for Ukrainian cooperation: A meeting between Trump and Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and the release of congressionally authorized military aid.

The administration, typically, has launched a smear campaign against Taylor and other patriots who have testified before Congress. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham released a statement asserting, “President Trump has done nothing wrong — this is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution.” (The idea of a Trump defender invoking the Constitution after the president referred to the “phony emoluments clause,” which is clearly in the Constitution, is laughable.)  The attempted sullying of Taylor’s reputation is vile, but not surprising.

Taylor had the courage to come forward and tell Congress what he knows about the administration’s rogue foreign policy. Now, it is up to Republicans in Congress to demonstrate similar courage and stand up to Trump. That is particularly incumbent on GOP senators as they will have to serve as jurors in a trial before the Senate after Trump is impeached, as he almost surely will be. This week’s stunt of storming a secure House meeting room to interfere with a legitimate and lawful impeachment inquiry suggests congressional Republicans have a long way to go to live up the oaths they swore to uphold the Constitution.

Posted October 25, 2018

 

The Don and His Consigliere

“Liar, liar, pants on fire!” That playground taunt, delivered by Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona and accompanied by a poster, was the epitome of the Republican defense of President Donald Trump during the day-long testimony of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen before the House Oversight Committee. Admittedly, Trump — who acts like a mob boss — is a tough guy to defend, so it should surprise no one that the Republican strategy was to impugn the bearer of the bad news rather than to counter the substance of Cohen’s remarks.

Chris Christie, a former governor of New Jersey and a Trump defender, noticed the weakness of the GOP ploy. The president, Christie said, must have been “fuming that no one’s defending him.” Christie labeled the lame performance “either a failure of those Republicans on the Hill or a failure of the White House to have a unified strategy with them.” 

In truth, there was not much Republicans could do. Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina tried to defend Trump against Cohen’s accusation of racism by positioning an African American woman — Lynne Patton, a longtime Trump aide and current official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development — over his shoulder as a prop to demonstrate diversity. That piece of theater led to a scuffle later in the hearing when Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, labeled the use of Patton a “racist act.” Meadows bristled at the thought Tlaib was calling him a racist, but she insisted she was talking about the act, not Meadows.

For the most part, GOP members simply used their time not to poke holes in Cohen’s testimony — which would have been difficult because he provided documentary evidence for many of his charges — but to question his motives or to attack Democrats for holding the hearing in the first place. It seems Republicans on the Oversight Committee have no idea what oversight means, since they refused, when they were in the majority, to hold any substantive hearings to investigate credible charges of Trumpian misdoings.

Gosar of the playground taunts was disowned last November by six siblings, all of whom endorsed his opponent in the 2018 midterm election. “We gotta stand up for our good name,” said David Gosar in a political advertisement on behalf of his brother’s opponent. “This is not who we are.” But, it is who the member of Congress is. Gosar got so excited by his attack on Cohen that he stumbled over his words. Others also demonstrated a fair degree of apoplexy. Meadows looked as if he were about to have a coronary when he tried to nail Cohen for allegedly lying on a committee form about whether the former Trump aide had been paid for services by a foreign government. The dispute demonstrated only that Meadows had not accurately read the question on the form. 

Ohio Representative Jim Jordan expressed outrage that Lanny Davis — a friend of Hillary and Bill Clinton — represented Cohen. Jordan and others repeatedly attacked Cohen as a convicted perjurer. Cohen is going to jail for that crime, and other misdeeds. But, even liars sometimes tell the truth, especially when they have documents to back up their assertions. 

Much time was spent on Cohen as a would-be influence peddler and prospective recipient of lucrative book and movie deals. Numerous Republican members tried to get Cohen to vow he would not profit from his notoriety, which Cohen refused to do. Republicans also tried to portray Cohen as a grasping office seeker disappointed he did not get a job in the White House. All in all, the strategy of attacking Cohen as a dishonest criminal who should not be believed begs an important question: Why did Trump employ such a disreputable person for a decade?

The truth is, of course, that Cohen is much like Trump, who was something of a mentor to the younger man. Apparently, Cohen had easy access to Trump and his family. According to Cohen, he briefed Trump, Don Jr., and Ivanka at least 10 times during the 2016 presidential campaign about the Trump family’s attempt to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. That gives the lie to Trump’s claim of no business dealings with Russia and implicates Ivanka for the first time in that sordid episode. One other family note: Don Jr. might want to inquire as to the veracity of Cohen’s statement that father thought son “had the worst judgement of anyone in the world.”

Cohen produced checks indicating Trump reimbursed his fixer for the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels while Trump was in the White House. Cohen also testified that he was present in July 2016 when Trump took a call on speakerphone from Roger Stone who said, “He had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” According to Cohen, Trump replied, “Wouldn’t that be great.” 

Cohen also offered tantalizing hints of more investigations. When one member of Congress asked about Cohen’s last conversation with his former boss, Cohen declined to give details, saying it is “being investigated right now” by federal prosecutors in New York. As for other instances of possible wrongdoing or crimes by Trump, Cohen repeated, “Again, those are part of the investigation.” Stay tuned!

The former consigliere reaffirmed that Trump operated like a mob boss. Trump never gave explicit instructions to Cohen to do wrong, but Cohen understood the “code.” Like a good Mafia underling, Cohen was not hesitant to threaten those who might stand in Trump’s way. When asked, Cohen said he issued about 500 threats on behalf of Trump (that includes threats of litigation) in his decade of employment. So, Cohen should not have been shocked that Trump used mob language in calling his former aide a “rat.” Nor should anyone have been surprised that on the eve of Cohen’s testimony, Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, who has a history of incendiary comments, tweeted, “Hey @MichaelCohen212 — Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends?” (The tweet has been deleted, but the gist was repeated on the House floor.)

Cohen’s testimony — and the antics of a fool like Gaetz — demonstrate once again that, as Cohen pointed out, Trump corrupts everyone who comes in contact with him. That may be the greatest tragedy of this sordid presidency.

Posted March 1, 2019

An Open Letter to President Trump

Dear President Donald Trump:

My grandparents came to America in the early years of the last century to escape the poverty and bigotry of Tsarist Russia. They built a good life here, far from the vicious anti-Semitism and pogroms of the time and place they left. True, America was not without its own versions of anti-Semitism. Quotas for universities were common, and Jews, no matter how wealthy they became, were not often welcome at the poshest of country clubs.

But, that changed. In my lifetime — I was born during World War II — restrictions on Jews largely disappeared. Jews are accepted in universities without consideration of their religious background. Jews have been successful in the worlds of business, entertainment, and the media. Three Jews sit on the Supreme Court, and they are not the first to serve on the nation’s highest court. Many serve in Congress, and a Jew even ran for the vice presidency. George Washington’s promise of safety for Jews in America apparently had come true: “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”  

Until now, that is. Two years into your presidency, Mr. Trump, we are at the intersection of too many weapons in the hands of too many unhinged and, often, angry people, politicians who stoke fear and bigotry for their own political advancement, and the world’s oldest hate. I know you and your supporters deny responsibility for the recent violent outpourings of intolerance. But, sir, if your words — encouraging chants of “lock her up,” praise for Representative Greg Gianforte as “my kind of guy,” and frequent references to the press as “the enemy of the people” — have no bearing on what has happened, then why do you tweet them? Why hold rallies? Why say these things? 

Though it probably was not your intention, you have, of course, admitted your complicity. Just one example will suffice: When recently asked on the White House lawn if you intended to soften your rhetoric following the arrest of a suspect in the mail bombs sent to prominent Democrats and the media, you said, “Well, I think I’ve been toned down if you want to know the truth. I could really tone it up.” In other words, Mr. Trump, your words do have consequences, and you know it.

Sometimes, it is not even the inflammatory words that cause harm. You tweeted about “this ‘Bomb’ stuff” slowing down Republican electoral momentum. Really? Did you really find the attempted bombings of political opponents that trivial? And, was winning elections the most important thing involved? And speaking of trivializing tragedy, after the synagogue shooting Saturday in which 11 people were killed, you complained that the need to hold a news conference in the rain resulted in “a bad hair day.” Mr. President, the message is clear: References to “this ‘Bomb’ stuff” and a “bad hair day” tell your most avid supporters that while you may ritually (and rather robotically) condemn their violence, you are not all that troubled by it.

You never stop, Mr. President. Monday, you tweeted, “The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame… [of the] great anger in our Country.” At a rally in Illinois the same day as the synagogue shooting, you called for unity, then quickly denounced Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and Maxine Waters (I wonder, what do they have in common?). 

Mr. Trump you have Jews in your family, but you appear oblivious to the murderous effects of anti-Semitism. You have stoked this ancient prejudice for your own ends, whatever they may be. Your constant attacks on George Soros, the wealthy Jewish financier and contributor to progressive causes, is one instance. Just last week, at a White House event, you attacked so-called “globalists” — a word that has replaced “cosmopolitan” as code for “rootless” Jews — and chuckled when the audience chanted “lock him up” in reference to Soros, a survivor of the Holocaust. In the past, you refused to condemn Nazi marchers in Charlottesville and associated, for political ends, with Republicans more open than you in their anti-Semitism. Did you know when you gave Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, your “Full endorsement” that he had invited a Holocaust denier to the State of the Union? The poison has spread: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who wants to succeed Representative Paul Ryan as speaker of the House, accused, in a since-deleted tweet, Soros, Michael Bloomberg, and Tom Steyer of trying to buy the election (Bloomberg, like Soros, is Jewish; Steyer’s father was Jewish). And, Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, blamed Soros for funding protests against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

It is not only Jews who are targeted these days. The mail bombs sent to Democrats and others cannot be separated from your constant demonizing of political opponents and the media. Your appeals to the prejudices of your audiences — disproportionately older, male, and white — cannot be disassociated from the recent spate of anti-immigrant and anti-African American hate crimes. Just last week, a man killed two African Americans in a Kentucky supermarket after a congregant prevented him from entering a predominantly black church. 

Mr. President, on August 25, 2015, I posted a piece, entitled This is How It Starts, about two Boston brothers who beat a homeless Hispanic man and cited your anti-immigrant rhetoric as incentive. “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported,” one of the attackers said. At the end, I wrote, “We know how it starts. The question is: How does it end?”

Unfortunately, you continually, forcefully give us the answer. 

Sincerely,

Judah Ginsberg

Posted October 30, 2018

Undermining the Rule of Law (It’s the Autocrat’s Way)

Autocracy grows when society’s institutional protectors of freedom are sabotaged. President Donald Trump relentlessly has attacked the free press, calling it “fake news” in an effort to undermine the credibility of news accounts detailing collusion between his campaign, then his administration, and Russia. Now, Trump and his enablers are attacking special prosecutor Robert Mueller and federal law enforcement officials in hopes of stopping or curtailing the investigation of the president’s inner circle of advisers, past and present.

For the past several weeks, Trump and his partisans have engaged in a reckless and sustained attack on the FBI and the special counsel. Their aim is obvious: If Mueller’s impartiality is questioned, then the public might not believe any report he issues concluding there was wrongdoing on the part of Trump or his aides. Even more ominous is the possibility that the sustained attack on Mueller’s probe is intended to lay the groundwork for Trump’s firing of the special counsel.

Trump is leading the charge. “After years of [former director James] Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters – worst in History!” the president tweeted earlier in December. In a speech last week in Pensacola, Florida, the president referred to a “rigged system.” He added, “This is a sick system from the inside. And, you know, there is no country like our country but we have a lot of sickness in our institutions.” It is a curious spectacle that Trump heads a government that he accuses of conspiring against him politically. Trump’s ploy is obvious: If the system is “rigged” no one can object to the president either pardoning aides (or himself, for that matter) indicted during an allegedly corrupt probe or removing the special prosecutor.

Trump is not alone in attacking law enforcement; he is receiving assistance from a number of shameless congressional Republicans. At a hearing last week, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee launched an all-out assault on the special counsel and the FBI. Representative Steve Chabot of Ohio said, “The depths of this anti-Trump bias on the Mueller team just goes on and on. It’s absolutely shocking.” No, Representative Chabot, what is shocking is how you and your cohorts are willing to undermine the public’s faith in the impartiality of the special counsel’s office.

There was more. Representative Ron DeSantis of Florida speculated that anti-Trump bias is leading the FBI to conclude that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and DeSantis threatened current FBI Director Christopher Wray with “a contempt of Congress.”  Ohio Representative Jim Jordan said he has a “hunch” that there is  “pro-Clinton, anti-Trump bias” at the FBI. Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida called Comey an “egomaniac rouge” who was biased against the president. The assertion of FBI bias against Trump and attacks on Comey are interesting, given that Comey’s decision to reopen the probe of Clinton’s emails less than two weeks before the election probably contributed to Trump’s victory.

Fox News anchor Sean Hannity, a sometime Trump adviser, called Mueller “a disgrace to the American justice system’’ and said his team is “corrupt, abusively biased and political.’’  The goal of the onslaught against Mueller by conservative media and politicians is, in the words of Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman, “to delegitimize Mueller in such a way that he can either be fired or can be ignored if he concludes the president broke the law.”

All of this talk of bias in the probe is beyond absurd. Mueller is a longtime Republican who was appointed FBI Director by President George W. Bush. Rod Rosenstein, a Republican who was appointed deputy attorney general by Trump, named Mueller as special counsel. Comey is a Republican who served in the Justice Department under George W. Bush. He has made political contributions to John McCain and Mitt Romney, both former presidential nominees of the Republican Party! The current director of the FBI, Wray, is another Republican who has contributed to GOP candidates and who was appointed to head the bureau by Trump.

Despite all this, Trump and his cohorts have no reluctance to scream “bias.” They cite political contributions that some on Mueller’s team made to Democrats. Trump’s defenders also point to anti-Trump texts made by Peter Strzok who was a key FBI investigator into Clinton’s use of a private email server. Strzok was removed from the investigation promptly after his texts became known. Rather than showing anti-Trump, pro-Clinton bias, the Strzok episode appears to be evidence that the system is functioning well.

The FBI is one agency of government Americans traditionally have held in high regard. A 2015 poll found that 68 percent of respondents viewed the FBI “favorably.” But, a poll by the University of Texas — completed after Trump began attacking the FBI — shows that only 43 percent of Texas Republicans now look favorably on the bureau.

Trump simply does not care about any damage he does to American institutions such as the FBI. The only goal is his own survival, and, to insure that, he has attacked (so far) the courts, the media, American allies, his own political party, the Intelligence community, former presidents, and even the pope. And, there is no evidence his attacks will end.

It is the strategy of an autocrat. Do not believe the press or the justice system or the electoral process. Believe me!

Which is why the most dangerous president in American history must be removed.

Posted December 15, 2017