Trump to flee the USA? I’d bet on it

At one of Trump’s recent rallies he said this:

Running against the worst candidate in the history of presidential politics puts pressure on me. Could you imagine if I lose? My whole life, what am I going to do? I’m going to say ‘I lost to the worst candidate in the history of politics.’ I’m not going to feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country? I don’t know.

This was supposedly said in jest. There’s just one problem. Have you ever heard Donald Trump laugh?

Not me, not once. Trump has no sense of humor at all as best I can tell. That’s because he doesn’t understand the root of humor. What makes something humorous varies from person to person. Mostly it’s about surprise. You expect to hear something but what you get is not what you expect and it’s usually something off the wall, and that’s often what makes it humorous. Would it surprise you at all if Donald Trump left the country after he is badly defeated? It wouldn’t surprise me. In fact, I’m expecting he’ll do just this.

There’s also the benign violation theory of humor. Humor arises in if there is both a violation from civil norms and it’s a non-threatening violation. Leaving the country to live elsewhere (likely a country without an extradition agreement with the United States, in Trump’s case) is definitely a violation of a civic norm. Is this non-threatening? Not to most of us. If Trump committed any crimes, we would like him to be held accountable for them. We’d feel threatened if he put himself outside of the law.

He wouldn’t emigrate unless he felt he would be held accountable for violating the law. It would be humorous if Trump chose to move to, say, Sweden. It would be funny because we don’t expect that Sweden would let him become a permanent resident and because it’s a socialist state. But we already sense Sweden wouldn’t have him, so that suggestion would be funny, but it’s not one that Trump uttered. He’s incapable of making this mental leap and seeing the humor in it. We all know what he’s really talking about: moving somewhere outside of the reach of U.S. law and which would accommodate his lifestyle. Offhand, only Russia comes to mind but he wouldn’t be too happy there. Now Trump moving to Iran, now that would be funny.

Trump raises this because it’s on his mind. As I posited in my last post, he knows he’s going to lose. Moreover, he’s getting desperate. In today’s Washington Post we learn that he’s considering firing FBI director Christopher Wray because he won’t indict Joe and Hunter Biden, like he wants him to do. The lack of evidence doesn’t bother him. The same fate may await Attorney General Bill Barr, who generally has bent over backward to accommodate Trump. Waiting until after the election to fire them though assumes that Trump wins. There’s little chance of that. Firing them after an election he loses is kind of pointless. It won’t change the fact that he lost.

Trump is privy to his actual crimes. Even non-lawyers like me can see there would be no problem filing charges. Once he is out of office, there’s no reason not to, as he is no longer untouchable. It’s likely that New York State has a set ready to file on January 21. Trump though doesn’t want to live elsewhere, which is why I suspect before he leaves office, he will try to pardon himself. If he gets too much heat for the idea, he’ll plan to resign on the condition that Mike Pence will pardon him.

Pardoning himself looks legally dubious at best, but with three of nine justices appointed by him, it’s not out of the question they would decide it’s legal. Actually, the constitution seems to forbid it. The clause is:

The President … shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

Trump has been impeached, but not convicted, so there is some wiggle room there. But grant on the other hand has a more specific meaning. In most interpretations, granting is something done to someone else (the grantee) by the grantor. It would take some stretching to interpret it otherwise.

In either event, the safer course for Trump will be to go somewhere else until courts rule in his favor, somewhere outside of U.S. law. So, I can certainly see him holing up in some country like Russia hoping to eventually come home. Better safe than sorry, though.

We’ll just have to see how this all plays out. But if you are looking for someone to say Trump will either try to pardon himself or resign to get Pence to do it, you heard it here first. It would not be surprising in the least. Trump has spent a lifetime dodging accountability, so it’s part of his playbook. And since most of us in our hearts know Trump is likely to do something like this, it’s not unexpected, and also not humorous.

When the extent of his crimes is uncovered, most of us will regret that witch burning was outlawed centuries ago.

Opening Pandora’s box

The U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1789. After the constitutional convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked what sort of government we were going to get. He famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Next Wednesday may be the end of our republic. That’s when the U.S. Senate is likely to acquit Donald Trump. The U.S. Senate is basically enshrining Richard Nixon’s assertion that if the president does it, it’s not illegal. Richard Nixon’s corpse would be smiling, if that were possible.

It will be an entirely predictable end to a trial in which no one seriously disagrees the president committed impeachable crimes, including the president’s lawyers. They just say that he has immunity from them. Republican senators seem to agree, setting the precedent that the president is above the law, or above any meaningful check by Congress. Senators can’t even be bothered to call witnesses. Many of them, rather than listening to the testimony presented, were caught reading books and doing crosswords instead.

So after his “exoneration”, it’s likely that if Trump wanted to arrest dissidents and deny them the right of a jury trial, he could get away with it. Because even if impeached again, the Senate won’t throw him out of office for offenses like this. There’s really nothing Trump won’t be able to get away with after Wednesday, and given his temperament you know he’s going to try. It’s likely to make all Republicans except the Never Trumpers giddy. It’s what they have been hoping for all along.

Oh, but there’s an election coming up! Voters will rectify things! Things aren’t so bleak after all! Since Trump’s election, Democrats have been on the upswing, winning the House, winning seats in the Senate and turning Virginia blue. But even if all of this happens, the precedent is now set. Congress has essentially voluntarily ceded power, allowing the Executive to become even more powerful, and itself more irrelevant. The script has now been tried and tested. Whether Republican or Democrat, the president can now simply refuses to respond to any congressional subpoenas. Unless two-thirds of the Senate agree to remove him from office, he or she has carte blanc.

A fair election in 2020 is problematic. There is the usual voter suppression and gerrymandering, which will be dialed up to 11 for November 3. The U.S. Senate is fine if other countries want to hack our election system or set up disinformation campaigns, even though it is explicitly against U.S. law. The U.S. Senate has effectively nullified lots of laws like this by simply refusing to hold accountable those charged with enforcing them. In short, the law means nothing to our senators, unless it can be used against their political enemies. Law is now meant to be applied selectively, and as a political weapon. Trump has an attorney general who agrees and who now states this as policy.

We are in a huge mess because our senators refused to do their job. Our system of checks and balances has proven able to be hacked. Our founders assumed that institutional forces would make these forces work. They did not want political parties, but we created them anyhow. As a consequence, 231 years later this system has proven fatally flawed.

The only chance of rectifying this is if Democrats win the trifecta in November: turning both houses of Congress and the executive blue. And even then there are institutional forces that make returning to a real republic problematic at best.

We can start with Donald Trump who you know will claim the election is rigged if he loses and will refuse to vacate the White House. Most likely he will see if he can affect a military coup to retain his hold on power. After all, if the election he is trying to rig goes against him, it must be illegitimate. Then it will be up to our military to resist the urge. I’d like to say I have faith they will resist, but we live in extraordinary times.

But even if Trump loses and goes, even if Democrats win a trifecta, there is a court system now full of cronies of Trump and Republicans designed to thwart any progress. You know the courts will find a reason to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Any universal health care plan that a President Sanders wants to put in place will be judged unconstitutional as well. A likely recession will weigh against a Democratic president and a Democratic congress, as the 2010 election showed.

Then there are the hosts of other issues that need addressing, with climate change at the top of the list. But since our constitution is now broken, it must be fixed too. That will require constitutional amendments that will be very hard to ratify. To start, the system of checks and balances needs to be changed. The impeachment and conviction process for presidents needs to change. The Justice Department must by statute and funding be under the supervision of the courts, not the executive.

It’s enough to make anyone despair. We cannot despair. Instead, we must get busy. We must reclaim our republic. Freedom is not free, and democracy is not free. We must fight for its return, with our blood if necessary.

Trump is impeached. So now what?

So yea, I got my wish: Donald Trump is impeached, and he’s become the first Republican president to earn the dubious distinction. (Richard Nixon was wise enough to resign before the House voted.) I should be dancing for joy except I don’t dance and this momentous event is really just one strategic chess move in a much larger chess board.

Not to spoil it for you, but we Democrats are down a queen and regaining the chess board is going to be tough. Impeaching Trump is like taking a rook without penalty, but Democrats are a long way from restoring a functional democracy again. And really, that’s what it’s all about for me. I don’t want Democrats to run everything; I just want a real republic again.

We don’t have that now. With the courts stacked with some 150 new federal judges since Trump took office, almost all very conservative, a 5-4 conservative-leaning Supreme Court, an Electoral College stacked against the majority and red states having contests to see who can purge the most Democratic-leaning voters from their voting roles, it’s a very scary time. Our republic is now in a very fragile state, and it’s abundantly clear that Republicans are using all their powers, and lots of dirty tricks, to get rid of it altogether.

That’s because unlike their chess board, they know our side could add more chess pieces to the board. But this takes time and it also takes a functioning republic. Demographics will eventually bite Republicans in the ass, but it only matters if we have a functioning republic. It’s clear that losing political power is not something they can allow if they can help it, so they will be pushing very hard to make sure it doesn’t happen.

So what’s next? A Senate trial, of course, which shows every likelihood of being a sham trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is already stacking the deck, not that it’s likely that twenty Republican senators will vote to convict Trump. McConnell has openly said he is working with the White House counsel, and he’s hinting that he doesn’t want any witnesses called.

So there will likely be no testimony from those key witnesses that Trump wouldn’t let testify, like his acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney or John Bolton, his recently departed national security advisor. In a real Senate trial, Trump shouldn’t be able to keep them from testifying. Or maybe he could, but the optics would look really bad with Republicans in control of the chamber. In any event, the Chief Justice presides and if Senate rules allowed it, he would require it. So better to not allow it in the first place, let each side bloviate their same talking points and then let pretty much everyone do what they were going to do anyhow: vote their political leanings.

If these witnesses do testify though, it’s likely to be damning; it just won’t make any difference. Because the new game is now the 2020 elections. It’s not news to most of us who pay attention that senators vote their prejudices and the interests of those who give them campaign money, with a few exceptions. If these key witnesses actually testify to what they saw, and testify truthfully, it is damning of Trump’s guilt. But it won’t make a difference to Trump retaining his office, but it may make a difference to voters.

A lot of hay was made of the U.K.’s Conservative Party winning a decisive majority in Parliament in their recent snap elections. Many pundits see in this a warning for Democrats here: pull to the center and don’t nominate a candidate for president on the liberal extreme like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

They may have a point. Or they may be missing the point. As best I can tell, the vote was much more about Britons being sick of the Brexit issue and just wanting it to go away. Brexit has been their own all-consuming national nightmare. It didn’t help that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbin was even wackier than Boris Johnson, the current prime minister. Voters there may have thrown up their hands, not so much because they love conservatives and want to be separated from the European Union as they don’t want to deal with the issue anymore. Like Trump’s presidency, Brexit has been turning the U.K. into an ungovernable mess.

It may be that U.S. voters want to end our ungovernable mess in Washington too. If so, at least they will have a clear choice: go with a radical new government that disenfranchises many voters and gives power to those with money, or return to a saner time when government at least wasn’t quite so insane. Republicans like power but do they really want four more years of a seesawing Trump presidency? It’s just a chaotic mess. For Republicans in Congress, of course the answer is yes, but for a lot of Republican voters out there, about 15 percent according to most polls, the answer could very well be no.

So Joe Biden may look old and not the least bit shiny, but at least he’s not nutso, he’s not corruptible and he’s spent most of his career simply trying to do the right thing for the country and his constituents, albeit imperfectly. And he’s willing to work across the aisle, although it didn’t work at all for Barack Obama. He’s definitely not Jeremy Corbin. For those of us with longer memories, he’s much more like Hubert Humphrey: another happy warrior.

Trump will try to win the election the way he and Republicans won it in 2016: voter suppression, gerrymandering, spreading disinformation, openly seeking foreign interference and riling the base into a toxic stew. So things will just get crazier.

But it may be that while they get crazier, Americans in general will say “Enough of the crazy!” and toss the bums out. It could be our way out of our own Brexit. Or at least a move that bring Democrats a new bishop and a knight on the chessboard.

Stay tuned. The game is afoot.

Impeachment is the logical result of a break-the-rules presidency

It looks like the House of Representatives will formally vote this week to open an impeachment inquiry on Donald Trump. The move is unnecessary but doubtless the Trump Administration will quickly find another rationale for why it can’t provide testimony and documents for the inquiry. One thing Trump is good at is moving goalposts.

To be clear, the House has the sole power to impeach. The U.S. Constitution is silent on procedures it must use. If the House wanted to, it could conduct it entirely in secret, including the final vote on impeachment. An impeachment is not a trial; it’s the political equivalent of a grand jury indictment. Trump has no more right to open impeachment hearings than he had to be in the grand jury room during Robert Mueller’s investigation into him. An impeachment is a political indictment saying there are probable grounds to think that the president engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors. The Senate has the sole power to remove someone from federal office. Trump’s trial would happen there and both prosecutors and the defendant would have the right to present their case. It’s a very high bar to remove someone from office by impeachment, as it takes two-thirds of senators present to convict.

Trump’s reaction to the impeachment though is symptomatic of his general problem: he assumes he can make whatever rules he wants. His lawyer has taken it to the ultimate extreme, claiming in court that the Constitution gives the president blanket immunity from all actions while in office. This cannot be. If courts upheld this, it would be the end of our republic. A president truly immune from prosecution while in office could cancel elections and declare himself president for life.

So presumably this has no chance in the courts. But to Trump, it may not matter. He thinks he is a dictator and acts like one. So why not ignore the courts? He wouldn’t be the first president. Andrew Jackson ignored Supreme Court decisions he didn’t like, figuring that the court had no way to enforce its decisions. He was right and this points to a fundamental flaw in our system of government: it assumes our Justice Department is not corruptible, because it’s that department which enforces federal law. And ultimately the Justice Department reports to the President. It would be better if the Justice Department was run by our court system.

But lately it sure looks like the Justice Department under Bill Barr is corruptible. Recently, it announced a criminal investigation into Robert Mueller’s investigation of Donald Trump. Also, Bill Barr is running around Europe on taxpayer dollars trying to get foreign governments to investigate crazy allegations against Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee. Barr is breaking the law by illegally interfering in our election. Logically, he should be impeached too. By statute, the department is supposed to enforce the law as written. Bill Barr though believes his job is to follow out orders by the president instead.

Likely most of the people who voted for Donald Trump were sick to death of our system of government. They saw Trump as the Great Orange Bully that would be the bull in the china shop, breaking things so that the inertia that has characterized our government for the last couple of decades finally comes to an end.

There’s no question that our system of government is hard to legally change. The task is made much harder when those who control it largely are not accountable to voters. Gerrymandering, voter suppression and the endless amounts of money the U.S. Supreme Court is content to allow to be spent on elections makes this already Herculean task that much harder. This explains why some of the most prominent Democratic presidential candidate are running a campaign a lot like Trumps: calling for large structural changes. Doubtless a President Warren or a President Sanders would try to push things to the limit to affect these changes. But it’s unlikely that they would openly break the law to do so. In some ways, this is an admission that their campaign promises are doomed to fail if elected.

So likely is Donald Trump’s presidency. He certainly is breaking things, but our bureaucracy is the bigger and more enduring force and will probably be able to fix the china shop when he is gone, though it may take a few decades. You can see this in whistleblowers coming forward and people agreeing to testify anyhow. The only way that Trump’s changes last is if he can get away with things.

Chances are he will, if he can stay in office. Assuming our justice system is still around after he leaves, he’ll be spending most of the rest of his life as a defendant, if not in prison. Which is why dictatorship appeals to him. He figures he doesn’t have much of a choice but to act like a dictator. His only way out seems to be to never relinquish power.

The most dangerous time for our republic is not yet here. It happens after the November 2020 election. If Trump is reelected, he may well succeed in destroying our government’s fundamental structures. Acquitted by the Senate and presumably given the go ahead by the American people, there is nothing to stop him. If the Senate couldn’t convict him the first time for his many egregious crimes, they likely won’t during a second term.

But if he loses, he has to be removed from office. At that point we all have to hold our breath. He will rally his supporters to take things into their own hands to protect him, which means civil unrest. Ultimately it will come down to our military: will they support Trump or their country? Chances are in January 2021, we will find out. God help us.

Reading the tealeaves on the Trump end game

If it’s true that thirty Senate Republicans would convict Trump in an impeachment trial (if a secret vote were allowed), then perhaps what’s needed is a plausible reason they could openly vote to convict Trump. The obvious reasons don’t appear to be enough. Senate Republicans don’t seem to be bothered by his grifting, and likely won’t be the least bit fazed that he’s decided to host the next G-7 meeting at his money-losing Miami resort either. It appears that in general Republicans are on board with using public office for private gain.

They also probably won’t be bothered by what Trump’s chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, openly confirmed today: that aid was withheld from Ukraine specifically to force Ukraine to look into possible Democratic misdeeds there, misdeeds that only appear in the fevered imaginations of the rightmost of the right wing. That’s open lawbreaking, but is most likely wholly excusable by Republicans.

But Trump’s decision to abruptly withdraw our special forces from Northern Syria, in the process abandoning allied Kurdish separatists who were instrumental in neutering the Islamic State, well, that might do it. Hard to say yet but as bad as this is, it keeps getting worse. Turkish president Erdogan wasted no time in sending in paramilitary forces when our troops started to withdraw, and had them throw some volleys near our troops too for good measure too. The House voted 354-60 to condemn Trump’s actions in Syria. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is holding up a similar vote in the Senate, which would likely attract an even higher share of Republicans.

Trump is basically saying to Congress: Impeach me! I dare you!

His lawbreaking is open; the case irrefutable, and it will rest entirely on whether Republicans will put country over party. Right now that looks like a losing bet. However, this Kurdish mistake might be the fig leaf Republicans need. The scope of this disaster is just starting. It’s likely to get much worse.

For example, it looks like we have nuclear weapons in Turkey, a disclosure we only know about because Trump has seemed to confirm it, a breach of long-standing policy. We rent these bases from Turkey, but Turkey essentially control our forces there. Which means that Turkey might grab our nuclear weapons. Oops.

So it’s possible that Turkey would seize these weapons and once seized who knows where they might end up? Presumably it would be very hard to trigger one of these weapons. I hope all sorts of specially encrypted codes would be required, but who knows? They could probably be disassembled and, worse, reengineered. It’s not clear if there is anyone left in the Defense Department agile enough to get these weapons out of Turkey.

There is that plus a whole host of other bad things there that are underway. The Kurds were one of our few allies in the region, and now they are aligned with Syria and Russia simply to survive. There are already atrocities being committed against Kurdish fighters and civilians by Turkish paramilitary forces, if not the Turkish army itself. Hitherto, national security has been the Republican Party’s strong suit. Trump is rapidly making our country less secure. From this vote in Congress, it’s clear Republicans are deeply worried by Trump’s actions.

Trump gets more Captain Queeg-like every day. His latest meeting with Congressional Democrats was described as a Trump meltdown. Trump is pretty obviously cracking, if he hasn’t cracked already. I wonder if like Richard Nixon during Watergate he is talking to a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Not likely. If talking to any portrait, it would be one of Andrew Jackson.

As Gallup pointed out, when a majority of Americans polled said Nixon should be impeached and removed, Nixon resigned. Trump has already met that milestone. This suggests that Trump’s resignation should also be forthcoming. Like Nixon, there would be no doubt that he would be impeached. It’s much less likely he would actually be removed from office, but that may be changing.

Our genius president would be wise to seriously consider resigning. That’s what most geniuses would do, looking at the bad hand of cards he has served himself. Many believed that Nixon made a secret deal with his then vice president Gerald Ford to pardon him for his offenses before resigning, which Ford did sometime later. A more rational Trump would be looking for a similar exit strategy. It’s really his best hope as his prospects for winning a second term diminish.

Why? Because of that darn U.S. Constitution, which he obviously hasn’t read. Article 2, Section 2 says that the president’s pardon power is unconditional, except in the case of impeachment. So a President Pence could not pardon a former President Trump who is impeached, convicted and removed from office by Congress. This means that after his trials for his many misdeeds are over, Trump would likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

Trump’s vanity and boundless ego probably won’t entertain such a suggestion, and it’s doubtless anyone on his staff has the spine to suggest something pragmatic like this. Nixon was rational enough to know when to resign. It’s unlikely Trump will ever see the bad hand he dealt himself.

Turning of the tide on Trump’s impeachment?

Having recently written that there was no bottom for Republicans, I can’t help but wonder now if the tide is finally turning against Donald Trump.

I don’t mean his impeachment. I don’t see how that’s not going to happen now. I mean his removal from office. As I noted in the last post, it’s a high hurdle, since it takes 67 votes, which means 20 of 53 Republicans have to vote to remove him, along with all Democrats and independent senators. It’s never been done successfully before, but then arguably we’ve never had a president who is so chronically a liar and lawbreaker before. And that says a lot because if you study Andrew Jackson’s presidency, you can see why Trump is so busy emulating him.

I believed from the start that if Democrats opened impeachment hearings, the public would come along. And they are coming. The most recent omen that should scare Republican senators: a Fox News poll that 51% of Americans want to see Donald Trump impeached and removed from office. 45% are opposed, but that’s a nine-point shift since July.

It’s hard to see how this gets better for Trump. Not only is he our most reckless president, he’s also our stupidest. He admits lawbreaking that proves the Democrats’ points, making calling witnesses pretty pointless except as a means to add more charges. When you trust your gut more than you trust professionals who are supposed to manage your problems, expect to fall flat on your face. Trump does many times a day. Republicans keep looking for a way to excuse his behavior, but they can’t. Republicans in Congress are now largely running from the press. They don’t want to be pinned down by either the press or voters.

The thing is, there are apparently enough votes to convict Trump already … if senators could hold a secret vote. Maybe in the end, that’s how it will go: they’ll create some mechanism where they put their vote secretly in a box and have it counted. This is likely as brave as these senators will get, since they seem otherwise wholly intimidated by Donald Trump. But the loonier it gets, the easier it may be to summon the political courage required. There is, for example, this tweet by Donald Trump:

That’s right: no one has more wisdom than Donald Trump. How do we know? He says so!

Cracks are appearing all over his ship of state. It’s not just whistleblowers, but also the courts that are beginning to smack him down. Those summoned to testify in front of Congress are starting to come forward, particularly those that no longer work for him. Of course Trump and his Justice Department want to claim executive privilege over those they no longer employ. The real Trump toadies seem to agree, but people are coming forward and testifying anyway.

His stonewalling of Congress isn’t helping him either. First, it gives those who don’t like him more incentive to go against his will: whistleblowers are coming out of the woodwork. Second, the truth is coming out anyhow: there is too much to control, and it doesn’t help when your administration is wholly inept at it. It keeps getting uglier and more egregious. Our ambassador to the European Union was ordered to work with Ukraine, even though Ukraine is not part of the E.U. Our former ambassador to the Ukraine was abruptly fired when she wouldn’t do Rudy Giuliani’s bidding. Giuliani is not a federal employee and has no delegated responsibility. And then there’s Rudy himself, who seems as equally unhinged as Trump. He claims he is Trump’s personal lawyer, but it appears that Trump isn’t actually paying him. Trump loves to get something for nothing. In this case, Giuliani is more like a deadweight dragging him down.

Trump simply doesn’t understand that grifting is bad. He’s surrounded himself with sycophants who agree: the whole point of government is apparently to loot it. There’s no magic document out there that is going to clear him. Instead, day by day, the accumulating evidence will get worse as more grift is exposed.

Things will really hit the fan when his tax records are exposed. He’ll try to keep it bottled up in the courts, but this strategy won’t last forever. As for obstructing Congress, it’s not even slowing down impeachment hearings that much anymore. Trump likes to think he can control what the House can do, but he can’t. He’s impeached already; it’s just a matter of time.

What does it take to get at least 20 Republican senators to vote to convict this guy? It’s not so much finding their backbone, as finding their constituents have turned against him. Now 20% of Republicans support Trump’s impeachment and removal. By nine points, independents favor it as well. These numbers will only continue to grow. In this case though Nixon’s crimes and obstructions look relatively minor. The case against Trump is overwhelming. If there is enough of a political price to pay, Trump can be removed.

The job for the rest of us, particularly those represented by these Republicans, is to let them know they will pay a price. I’m not saying that enough Republicans will summon the necessary courage, but if it happens it’s likely to come like a torrent. The cracks have appeared. At some amorphous point I think it’s likely to come tumbling down.

Here’s hoping.

Trump is unraveling in plain site

The governing phase of the Trump presidency is effectively over. Donald Trump is unraveling in plain site. As a result there is basically nothing he can get done between now and the election, assuming he survives that long. I am very skeptical now that he will make it that long.

You know what people care about by how they spend their time. Right now, all Trump cares about is impending impeachment hearings. He has no time to govern because most of the time he is tweeting, and mostly he is tweeting about Democrats having the audacity to hold impeachment hearings against him. There has been 36 tweets today so far, and it’s only 9:15 PM. The first one was at 5:00 AM. And most of them were related to the impeachment investigation. So far that’s nine more than the 27 tweets yesterday, again mostly impeachment related. It’s hard to find a waking hour when our president is not tweeting.

When you tweet all the time, it squeezes out the time you need to actually govern. To govern, you have to make decisions and take actions. You need to talk with your aides, consult with foreign leaders, heck, consult with your own party. Instead his presidency is now largely a series of multiple tweets an hour, mostly full of rage and hurt.

This self-professed extremely stable genius is proving he is none of these things. He is also proving himself awfully damned stupid, or perhaps just incredibly incurious. The main reason Nancy Pelosi approved an impeachment investigation was due to the “transcript” (actually, a bunch of Cliff Notes) of a call he had with the president of Ukraine back in July. It says right on it: declassified and released on authority of the President. And the notes say explicitly that he wanted political favors from Ukraine:

I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.

This is against the law: compromising our national security for political purposes. It’s not an ambiguous matter. But Trump denied he did this. So he either did not read the “transcript” he declassified or (perhaps because he is functionally illiterate) didn’t understand what he was reading. Most likely he had no idea that what he did was illegal, or felt that it shouldn’t be because his intent was pure somehow in his own mind. According to the still-anonymous whistleblower, someone figured it out, and moved these notes into a more secure electronic vault specifically for code word classified information, another likely violation of our classification laws.

Just today Trump publicly said China should investigate Joe Biden and his son too. It’s like he wants to be impeached. There are two incontrovertible egregious violations of our law right there.

No one is left in the White House to say no to him. Those who did are gone. All he has left are lackeys, who are easily disposed. His trusted source of news is the Fake News … no, not CNN and the Washington Post, but Fox News and right wing websites that are feeding him fake news, such as that Ukraine has an email server that contains the missing Hillary Clinton emails, or something.

Trump is worried about impeachment because it makes him look bad, which reduces the likelihood that he will win reelection. His chances of actually being removed from office are still slim, although I continue to be astonished that Republicans in Congress are still mostly sitting on their hands and biting their tongues while this Captain Queeg roams around the White House. Trump actually believes the fake news being fed to him. More worrisome (but not surprising) are that his aides do too … they actually believe this crap, or they are too timid to say they know better. Trump won’t brook any dissent. Oh the irony: Trump is being undone by the fake news he consumes because, well, it’s fake, instead of the “Fake News” which his actually real news. His fake news can’t be empirically proven. But his case of cognitive dissonance is so severe he can’t admit to himself that it could possibly be fake; or that his “friends” have been faking him out all this time simply so they could wield political power.

Obviously, this isn’t going to end well. The logical me knows what a more logical Trump should do: simply resign at some point, after getting a promise of a pardon from Mike Pence, as I mentioned in my last post. But Trump is severely mentally ill and is not playing with a full deck. Above all, he can’t acknowledge to himself that he is not the glorious image of himself that he sold to himself and to voters. And with an administration full of sycophants, they apparently mostly believe this stuff too, or simply are in it to the bitter end, like our so-called Attorney General Bill Barr.

My wife is expecting that Trump will bust a blood vessel or something and keel over dead. Given his obesity, his chronic lack of sleep, his refusal to exercise and his dangerously disordered mind, she may be right. He is clearly feeling the gates closing. It’s all he cares about.

His days of governing though are plainly over.

Promises of a Pence pardon is now the key to getting Trump out of office

Maybe it was my last post that did it. After waiting all year for Democrats to open up impeachment hearings over a clearly lawless president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has finally decided to open impeachment hearings, or rather an impeachment inquiry, which amounts to the same thing.

It sure is curious though. Mueller’s report has been out since March and it documented ten episodes of obstruction of justice by Trump. The report technically wasn’t needed. There was plenty of impeachable conduct prior to its release that was illegal if true, along with a trail of Trump detritus-charged or convicted of crimes committed at Trump’s behest.

Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen is sitting in jail right now for his offense, but his un-indicted co-conspirator “Individual-1” isn’t because, well, he’s the President of the United States, and the U.S. Justice Department has decided justice is deferred for presidents until they are out of office. Impeachment though is a political judgment, not a criminal one. There was no reason to wait other than cowardice, unless you believe in game theory.

Why is it that Trump’s attempt to strong arm Ukraine to help his reelection seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back? After all, during the campaign Trump invited Russia to hack the Democratic Party, and they thoughtfully obliged. But our political wags didn’t see this offense as impeachable. It’s clear that Trump has crossed many big blue lines. I just thought any obstruction of justice allegation would be a big blue line too.

While no one is breathing a sigh of relief, this is the first truly hopeful sign that Trump won’t finish his term. It suddenly feels different, simply because it’s causing quakes in Congress that weren’t manifested before, mostly among Republicans.

Pelosi probably would not have opened an impeachment inquiry at all had it not been for these whistleblower’s charges, which we can finally read online. I’m convinced though that Trump feels truly victimized. He has no idea that his conduct could be illegal because, well, he is profoundly ignorant on matters of the law and avoids being educated. As far as he is concerned, ignorance is an excuse. Moreover, when his people tried to make him act adult-ish, he fired them. So now he has an administration full of sycophants.

He spent his life breaking the rules and largely getting away with it, so this is normal for him. You can often do that if you can afford to throw teams of lawyers at your problems. It’s the way he has always done business: running them like a criminal syndicate and ripping off anyone foolish enough to partner or work with him. He must have figured Republicans in Congress would keep him from facing any consequences. When Democrats won the House in 2018, that illusion was shattered. But he still has the Senate, its Republican majority and control of the 67 senators he needs to avoid conviction.

Is this still true? The Senate has 53 Republicans so at least 20 would have to be persuaded to convict him for him to go. I certainly thought so in my last post, but political friends are rarely true friends. Basically Trump has no friends. I don’t believe there is one Republican senator that wakes up and thinks, “Gosh, Trump and me have so much in common. I wish I could spend more time with Donald Trump.” He certainly has plenty of sycophants like Lindsey Graham that are ready to kiss up to him. Graham used to hate Trump until it was in his political interest to like him, i.e. when his voters voted for Trump. It’s an open secret that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dislikes him. He’ll join Trump to advance goals of mutual interest, like getting more conservative jurists on our courts. I don’t think he has ever joined Trump for eighteen holes of golf.

Impeachment and conviction then are ultimately political decisions. That’s how it worked for Richard Nixon. So if a senator up for reelection determines he will pay a political price for not convicting Trump, he might bale on Trump. Trump’s running in 2020 is supposed to help his reelection, not hurt it.

As I noted though, Trump’s approval rating in many red states are tipping negative. Those senators up for reelection that clearly affected by Trump’s unpopularity include Susan Collins (ME), Joanie Ernst (IA), Thom Tillis (NC), Martha McSally (AZ) and David Purdue (GA). Right there that’s five seats that could go to Democrats, which would give Democrats the majority in, even if Doug Jones (AL) loses.

There are a number of red states where Trump’s net approval is at zero or only a few points above. I am using a Morning Consult Poll to track Trump’s approval by state, which is about a month old. This is potentially a concern for Steve Daines (MT, +0 Trump approval), John Cornyn (TX, +4), Ben Sasse (NE, +2) and Pat Roberts (KA, +4). If Trump turns toxic in these states, rather than riding his coattails, they could be pulled down with him.

There are other Republican senators up for reelection who are unpopular but haven’t gotten the memo. Take Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Just 18% of Kentuckians approve of the job he is doing, so he has less than half the national approval rating of Donald Trump. In a wave election, and with a good Democratic challenger, next year could be his last in the Senate, not to mention as majority leader.

Trump’s impeachment will be the dominant story for months, and probably all of 2020. If it goes to a trial in the Senate, each senator will be making their own political calculation and may decide they have better prospects if they vote to convict him. The Ukraine evidence is damning. There is no way to say it isn’t. All senators can say is that although it’s damning, they won’t convict Trump anyhow.

Still, getting 67 senators to convict is a huge problem. But will a vote ever be taken? Republican consultant Mike Murphy says 30 Republican senators would vote to convict Trump if the vote was secret. It’s not hard to see Mitch McConnell going to the White House to tell Trump that the votes to convict him are there, so he should resign. That might do it. It worked with Richard Nixon. More importantly, for Trump, resignation would be preferable to actual conviction, a distinction Donald Trump’s fragile ego could not endure.

But there’s another reason Trump should prefer to resign. Presumably Trump would require some conditions for his resignation: a promise from Vice President Pence to pardon him for all related crimes. Because what Trump is scared of the most is not his impeachment, or losing his reelection, but going on trial for his crimes. When he is out of office for any reason, at least before 2023, he’s fair game for prosecutors.

If he wins reelection, he’s golden: he can wait out the statute of limitations. But this is a huge and problematic bet for him, particularly with his unfavorables, a recent impeachment dogging him and a possible recession arriving. Doubtless there is some thought that by being exonerated by the Republican Senate he can claim innocence and ride that to a reelection victory. But look at it from Trump’s perspective: do you want to hope you can win reelection despite the unfavorable odds? Or do you want some assurance that you won’t ever go to jail, if you can be assured of a bunch of Pence pardons? Trump is mostly bluster. I think he’ll go with saving his own skin.

Ultimately, he’ll prefer the golden prison of Trump Tower to the bare metal one with cinder blocks in a federal penitentiary.

Democrats in Congress are proving pathetic

The only thing sadder than Donald Trump and the current state of the Republican Party and our democracy may be the current state of the Democratic Party.

I’m reading Hillary Clinton’s book What Happened. It’s not particularly interesting or insightful, but I felt a duty to read it since it was a Christmas present from my daughter. I read it where I read most stuff I don’t want to read: when sitting on the john and in snippets.

I’m reading the chapter where she talks about “those damned emails” (as Bernie Sanders put it). It was such a nothing-burger. There was no rule requiring the Secretary of State to use a @state.gov email address. In fact, her successor John Kerry was the first SoS to use one. Nonetheless, Republicans in Congress and Donald Trump turned this nothing-burger into the major topic of the 2016 election. They used it to create unwarranted mistrust against her.

Arguably, James Comey (former FBI Director) threw the election to Donald Trump by reopening the issue just before the election. So if you can inflate a story that is basically nothing and go at it relentlessly, you can apparently win elections. Donald Trump has obviously used this tactic profitably and is busy repeating it relentlessly. Notice that when anything comes up that makes him look bad he makes up some other phony smear against someone else or some group and promotes it relentlessly. And stupidly, the media usually goes along. The latest one is to complain about homeless people in California. You don’t see the press looking a conditions at our border detention facilities anymore. They’ve moved onto something newer and fresher, and Trump has an infinite supply of bait.

Contrast this with what the Democratic Party is doing with regards to Donald Trump’s many misdeeds. The most recent one is the most egregious of all: an allegation by a whistleblower that is likely that Donald Trump asked the government of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son for potential misdeeds in his work for Ukraine. Donald Trump has relentlessly been using his office for private gain since becoming president. It should not surprise us that he is also using it to undercut a potential opponent in the 2020 campaign.

If this was a quid-pro-quo arrangement with Ukraine, as in “I won’t release our aid to your country until you do this for me” (and Ukraine’s funds have been suspiciously held up), it would be a clearly illegal act, a national security issue and about the highest crime possible relevant to removing a president from office. No wonder this whistleblower felt compelled to blow the whistle. Compared to Hillary’s “crime”, it’s at least a thousand times worse.

So you would think Congress would be doing something to hold Trump accountable. House committees hold sporadic hearings where subpoenaed witnesses rarely show up. The Trump Administration simply stonewalls all Congressional subpoenas and witnesses. Trump claims powers that he doesn’t have. For example, Corey Lewandowsky never even worked for the White House, but Trump claimed executive privilege over his testimony. Lewandowsky did testify, sort of, but revealed little new and was rude and snide the whole time to the committee. The others didn’t bother to show up.

The obvious response by Democrats should have been to call the Sergeant at Arms and put Lewandowsky in the clink. The House has such a cell in the Capitol basement. They could let him out after he pays a fine TBD until he truthfully answered all their questions. The House has done this in the past for those showing contempt of Congress. Naturally, Democrats did nothing.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is convinced that impeaching Trump is bad politics. She fears a backlash that will strip Democrats of their majority in the house. This is despite polls consistently showing Trump deeply disliked, even in red states like Arizona. Whereas Republicans proved in its endless Benghazi – Clinton email investigations that going after someone relentlessly is good politics, regardless of whether it turns up anything. It’s Congress doing its job: oversight. Unlike Hillary Clinton though, Democrats have a mountain of credible crimes and misdemeanors against Trump. Any one of them done by Barack Obama would have resulted in impeachment by Republican House of the time.

By doing nothing of consequence, Democrats in Congress are basically enabling a bully. Bullies though just keep getting stronger until they are stood up to. They have to be faced down. If they get away with it, they try even more outlandish stuff. The sky is the limit for Donald Trump. Most recently he had his lawyers make the outlandish claim that he can’t be prosecuted for any federal or state crimes while in office. This is clearly false, but Trump makes his own reality. He’ll keep making his own reality until he is stood up to.

Yes, if impeached by the House he likely will not be thrown out of office because at the moment there are not 67 senators with the spine to do so. Nonetheless, the House should impeach his ass. First, if Congress doesn’t take action in these situations, God help the next Congress that tries to hold a president accountable. Second, keeping aides from testifying alone is impeachable conduct. A Congress that can’t perform its oversight role cannot function. It’s like expecting Congress to write laws without having access to any information. Third, there has never been a case of a president who deserved impeachment more. The legal and political case against Trump is overwhelming.

Also, the optics are changing. The country is now evenly divided about whether Trump should be impeached or not. A majority of House Democrats also favor impeachment hearings. It’s changing because more people are paying attention. The more that do, the more they realize it is not only justified, but necessary.

Democrats can look at history for perspective. Polls showed that Richard Nixon maintained good favorability ratings until shortly before he resigned, and Trump’s are much worse already. Calling attention to his misconduct, as relentlessly as attention was paid on Hillary Clinton’s emails, makes it newsworthy and draws attention.

But at some point, Congress simply needs to draw some boundaries. Simply obstructing Congress’s duty to conduct oversight is impeachable because he is thwarting the intent of the constitution he swore to uphold. It’s quite possible that by taking steps to open impeachment hearings that Trump will cave and start providing witnesses. Bullies after all are more smoke than actual power. Their power diminishes quickly when they are called to account.

Congress should be using every tool in its toolbox if for no other reason than to keep it relevant. The only power it is exercising so far filing lawsuits, which Trump wait it out until they are moot. He’ll probably ignore rulings he doesn’t like anyhow. This minimal oversight seems to be what Nancy Pelosi wants as well. She wants an election to impeach Donald Trump. Hopefully that will work in keeping him from getting a second term, but it does nothing to restore the rule of law and the proper balance of power within government. It’s the latter than is the worse threat in the long term.

Why we must impeach Donald Trump

So the Mueller report (with many redactions) finally was made public. Unsurprisingly, the report did not exonerate Trump. It was quite the opposite, in fact. While Mueller could not prove beyond a reasonably doubt that Trump or his campaign conspired with Russia, he found plenty of evidence to show that Trump obstructed justice. He just refused to prosecute these obstructions, believing that constraints put on his investigation precluded this possibility.

Mueller basically laid out the obstruction charges and their underlying evidence and suggested that Congress could impeach Trump in part based on his evidence. Less noticed was another possible approach: wait until Trump was out of office and then prosecute him. But this is only viable if Trump does not win reelection and the subsequent administration chooses to prosecute these crimes within the five years of the statute. If Trump does win reelection, the statute of limitations effectively means he can’t be charged for these crimes. In short, in certain situations the president can circumvent his own accountability to the law. It’s all because of an opinion by the Justice Department that a sitting president can’t be indicted for crimes while in office. (This seems strange to me. What’s the point of having a vice president then?)

I noted before that Trump wouldn’t escape justice. Neither Richard Nixon nor Bill Clinton did. Nixon agreed to resign to keep from being impeached and convicted, a badge of shame that he carried to his grave. On Bill Clinton’s last day in office, Clinton agreed to pay a fine and lose his law license for perjury he committed testifying about his relationship with Monica Lewinski. This was to avoid facing these charges and possible jail time when out of office.

In some ways those were simpler times. Today’s hyper-partisan Congress means that if the House impeaches Trump, it’s almost a slam-dunk that the Senate won’t convict him, just as the Senate refused to convict Clinton and narrowly avoided convicting Andrew Johnson. Nixon would have certainly been removed from office for his cover up, i.e. obstruction of justice charges laid out by his special prosecutor. Mueller laid out ten obstruction of justice charges that could be filed against Trump and likely would have been filed against him if Justice Department regulations forbad it.

I’m surprised no one has filed a lawsuit to challenge these regulations. It’s possible but unlikely that the Supreme Court would declare them unconstitutional. There is no law that gives the president this special treatment, just an opinion (once amended) by the Justice Department’s legal team.

Mueller’s team made fourteen referrals to other prosecutors, only two of which we know about. It’s quite likely that some of these referrals will come back to bite Trump, either before or after he leaves office. It’s already quite clear that New York State will be prosecuting Trump and the Trump Organization for violating its charity laws. The Trump family may face prosecution since it looks like they fraudulently protected their father’s wealth to inherit more of it. Trump’s sister abruptly resigned her appellate court seat recently to avoid an internal investigation. So despite Attorney General Bill Barr’s spin that the report leaves the president untouched, it’s quite clear that Trump will be haunted by charges and court cases, probably for the rest of his life.

There are a lot of wags in Congress discussing whether Trump should be impeached or not. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already stated she doesn’t want to open impeachment hearings unless there are enough Republican votes in the Senate to make Trump’s conviction likely. Others like my home state senator Liz Warren have publicly stated that Congress has a duty to open impeachment hearings and if the evidence is strong enough, to convict the president and remove him from office.

I’m with Liz. Certainly I’m aware that there is little likelihood that the Senate would convict Trump. I suppose it is possible that hearings would bring to light enough evidence to persuade enough Republican senators to throw Trump overboard. I am for impeachment not for an idealistic reason, but for a pragmatic reason: the lawless Trump Administration must not be used as a model by future administrations hoping to escape justice.

Just two posts ago I noted how alarmed I was because I felt we were at the edge of autocracy. I’m just as alarmed today. The way for a democracy to survive is not to acquiesce but to rise to the occasion. It’s likely if the House held an impeachment vote that it would impeach Trump. It would set a mark in the sand for future presidents that this conduct is unacceptable. It would also force a trial in the Senate that, even if doomed, would hold senators accountable. It would mark those voting against his conviction for life. The case for Trump’s lawlessness is inescapable.

So while it might not actually hold Trump accountable, it would formally tarnish his legacy, give little sanction to his behavior, uphold the principle that no one is above the law, demonstrate that Congress had the nerve to push back against a lawless president and make it easier in the future to maintain our democracy.

Pelosi is looking at the 2020 election and wondering if impeachment would distract from a winning message for Democratic candidates. I am thinking that standing up for democracy and the rule of law is the primary responsibility of any member of Congress. That’s what they are elected to do, not to be weasels. If the American people object to that, well then our democracy truly is lost.

Let’s not give in to hopelessness and unaccountability. Let’s do the right thing and open impeachment hearings.