Posts Tagged ‘Mike Pence’

The Thinker

Trump is literally losing his mind

I’ve been returning to the original theme of this blog lately: Occam’s Razor. So let’s cut to the chase today: Trump is literally losing his mind.

Let’s stop pretending that Trump is the “very stable genius” that he claims to be. It’s just laughable. Last week’s “summit” in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin should put that to bed. In a press conference after the “summit”, Trump said he could not see how Russia could be responsible for hacking the 2016 elections, despite conclusive evidence from our intelligence community that he was presented with before his inauguration. After all, Putin had told him so very forcefully. Obviously the word of a former KGB agent is much more reliable than the consensus of our entire intelligence community. Back in DC his advisers got him to read a statement saying just the opposite, but he added that it could have been anyone. Last night he was back at it again, so apparently it’s Obama and “Crooked Hillary’s” fault, not the Russians. He called out Obama for not taking action when Obama in fact did take action. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s obstruction though led to a watered down statement prior to the election on Russian meddling instead.

Does he look like a “very stable genius” to you? On this one issue alone, he vacillates back and forth. But of course he does this constantly, making him the most unstable person in the world at the moment. Geniuses of course rarely vacillate, but being very intelligent most are open to changing their minds if the weight of impartial evidence is against them. The only part of “very stable genius” that applies to Trump is the very part. He is very something. Occam’s Razor suggests he is very mentally ill.

Trump is hardly alone there. Mental illness is rife in this country. I noted ten years ago that many very intelligent people I have met struck me as mentally ill. This is in part because intelligence by itself does not mean you won’t suffer mental illness. In Trump’s case though it looks like he is suffering true cognitive decline. Watch videos of Trump from ten or twenty years ago. He was still insufferable, but he could put coherent thoughts together. His vocabulary was much richer. He could express complex thoughts. He could express nuance.

Now his vocabulary sounds like a fourth grader. It’s not news to his staff. They give him briefing books he won’t read. They try to summarize complex topics into a few bullet points, but he still doesn’t absorb them. Heck, he walked into a “summit” with Vladimir Putin without a formal agenda and without aides taking notes. This allowed Putin after the summit to claim that Trump agreed with policies (like Russia’s annexation of Crimea) that he may not have agreed to. Trump’s attention span is very short and he can’t seem to remember anything.

He is placing our country in unique peril. Which means that it’s time for a 25th Amendment remedy. Section 4 of the amendment applies here. It basically puts the onus on Vice President Mike Pence to get a majority of the cabinet members to tell the Senate that Trump is unable to discharge his duties, in this case because of likely mental illness.

Pence of course is his sycophant so this doesn’t look likely, at least in the short term. But that doesn’t mean the conversation should not start in earnest. Yet it seems to be something even Democrats don’t want to say aloud. Certainly they and many Republicans in Congress are already thinking it. Republicans lack the political courage to bring up the topic. Democrats should not.

Americans need to know their president is not mentally ill. The White House tried to dodge this issue with Trump’s last physical. The White House physician Ronnie Jackson gave him the simplest of cognitive tests, which he passed. Jackson has since stepped down as his physician, given his failed nomination as Secretary of Veterans Affairs and allegations of the abusive environment he created within the White House medical staff.

Occam’s Razor is not always right, but it does suggest that the simplest explanation is most likely to be correct. So Democrats should openly express serious concern about Trump’s mental health. This way it at least becomes a legitimate topic of conversation. Ideally those speaking should be key Democrats like Minority Leaders Pelosi and Schumer. They could suggest perhaps three impartial leading psychiatrists give him a battery of evaluative tests and submit a report to Congress. It’s possible but unlikely that Trump will ace them all. In which case the question will be answered: Trump’s increasingly dangerous and bizarre behavior is due to some factors other than mental illness, in which case impeachment and removal is appropriate.

Our operating assumption has always been that our president would be a sane person. This is seriously under question now, particularly when you get tweets from Trump like this latest tirade against Iran:

We can’t start this process soon enough.

 
The Thinker

At the turning of the Trump tide

It’s one thing to hope that Trump will be booted from office. I’ve hoped for it of course and have written a number of posts why I think it’s going to happen. However, it’s another thing to feel that it will happen. Yesterday for the first time I felt it in my gut. Trump’s a goner. It’s just a matter of time now.

Stormy seas have been hitting the Trump presidency, mostly caused by his own relentless and largely inchoate fury and mismanagement. For nearly seven months they have been persistently eroding his own presidency, leading to almost daily incidents that were often scary, troubling, befuddling, confusing and amusing, sometimes all at the same time.

Trump has proven to be his own worst enemy. This suggests at least on some unconscious level that Trump doesn’t want to be president so he is taking actions to bring it about. There have been countless things Trump has done or said that should have brought its swift end. But Trump’s “news conference” on Tuesday at Trump Tower wherein he laid bare exactly what he thinks about the protests and counter-protests last weekend in Charlottesville sure feels like his jump-the-shark moment.

Americans have been exercising extreme patience with this president, but his overt racism and his complete inability to distinguish between the racist and violent actions of the Nazi and white supremacists versus the scattered violent though overwhelmingly peaceful reactions by counter-protesters seems to finally be that bridge too far for Americans. It’s that and the horrific videos of the car James Fields drove mowing down protestors, then backing up and at high speed and mowing down more. Trump can’t distinguish a meaningful difference between these sides. Nor does he understand that there is no such thing as a good racist, and all of the protestors were racists. If you believe that you should have special privileges because of your white skin, you are evil.

Even many of the protestors are appalled by what happened a week ago today. Many are suffering the consequences. There is a reason KKK members usually cover their faces: they are secretly ashamed of their actions but also they didn’t want to be identified. In the Internet age when hundreds of cameras are recording the faces and actions of people at this event it’s not too hard to identify these protestors by name.

The reactions have been swift. After these events, organizer Christopher Cantwell delivered a tearful “I’m being so unfairly treated” video on YouTube and is now facing multiple felony charges, including possible federal charges. Protestors have had their social media, Internet services and PayPal accounts closed. The white supremacist website The Daily Stormer lost its GoDaddy hosting. Many protesters have lost their jobs. While they have the right to protest, most live in Right to Work states. This empowers employers to fire them for any reason at all, at least for any reason not protected by federal or state law and being a racist is not one of them.

Businesses, whose profitability depends on attracting customers of all races, religions and ethnicities, quickly realized that further association with Trump could be toxic for them. Enough ditched two councils Trump had created that within days Trump had disbanded them. At his Tuesday news conference he discussed creating another council to advise him on his supposed theme of the week: fixing America’s crumbling infrastructure. By Thursday this council too was aborted in the womb. Trump’s Infrastructure Week turned out to be a joke.

Instead on Thursday Trump’s advisor Steve Bannon gave two unauthorized interviews wherein he deliberately contradicted Trump on some points. I think he did this to get fired, as he was already estranged and operating from an office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Yesterday Trump formally fired Bannon, who was largely responsible for his election in the first place. Bannon’s real crime: contradicting Trump.

New chief of staff John Kelly’s actions to try to bring order to the White House seem to be flailing even while the worst of Trump’s advisers are slowly being thrown out. And that’s because Kelly learned Tuesday a painful but predictable lesson: Trump won’t let anyone control him. He’ll go rogue whenever he wants. Police will have more success getting guns away from NRA members than Kelly will have getting Trump’s hands off his smartphone and controlling his Twitter feed, something essential if his presidency is to survive.

So Trump has finally jumped the shark and thus it’s all downhill for him from now on. What’s new and telling in the last week is that his supposed advocates are estranging him. Moreover, this estrangement is having a snowball-rolling-downhill effect, picking up momentum everyday. Business interests have abandoned him. Republicans are becoming comfortable criticizing him, making it easier for other spineless Republicans to develop some spine. One minister finally left his prominent evangelical council. Let’s hope others soon follow. Trump deals with his shunning by canceling these councils and events. This morning we learn he won’t attend the Kennedy Center honors. It’s unclear how many would show up if they were held anyhow.

And Trump being Trump he’s accelerating his own decline. He’s pissing off the very people he needs to move his agenda, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. This makes it easier for them to not want to move his agenda too. Worse, should it come to impeachment and removal from office, it gives them animus to get rid of him. The math to rid him is not that hard to achieve. Aside from dealing with the wrath of Trump voters in many districts (voters who are becoming increasingly less supportive of Trump) there is little downside to removing Trump. For if Pence is put in, Republicans have some hope of accomplishing pieces of their agenda and making Republicans look sane again. With Trump it’s clear that it only gets worse and that Trump is facilitating his own end.

For me I have finally reached the point where I am more filled with a feeling of glorious schadenfreude (taking pleasure in the misery of someone else) than I am appalled and scared by our president. Granted, Trump still has the power to wreak nuclear havoc. His downfall to me now seems certain, not just intellectually but emotionally. I sense it. I think at some point rather than face the increasing scorn and legal tsunami heading his way he will just resign. He’ll find a fig leaf reason that he thinks will save his honor by finding something/someone to blame (“Who could have known that Washington was so corrupt?”) then hopefully go.

Real justice would be for him to be prosecuted for any crimes he committed, but also to be ignored and scorned. It seems that Steve Bannon has reached a post-Trump age, as has Fox News. I am hoping for the worst possible outcome for Trump after he is gone: he is imprisoned for crimes, reviled as our worst president ever, his businesses crumble from being toxic assets, and hardly anyone bothers to read his Twitter feed anymore. It would be poetic and real justice.

 
The Thinker

Trump is cracking

The real Donald Trump could no more wrestle down a CNN reporter than he can ascend White House staircases without using the handrail. (Reputedly, most of the time Trump uses the White House elevators.) In short, as a bully Trump’s only weapons are his mouth, his tweets and his many followers. Of the three, the only weapon that means anything are his followers.

His recent tweet linking to an alt-right Reddit group video showing him punching a CNN logo shows what he’d like to do with CNN and the other parts of the media that don’t parrot him, a.k.a. the so-called “fake media”. Recently when CNN discovered inaccuracies in one of its stories, it fired the responsible reporters and published an apology. Trump saw this as vindication that CNN is part of the fake media. Of course firing those reporters demonstrates just the opposite: that CNN reporters who don’t report the news accurately will be fired.

Who likely won’t be fired? Don’t hold your breath for any National Enquirer reporters being fired. The National Enquirer is reportedly Trump’s surrogate bully. After all it was the one that filed a “story” about MSNBC Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, engaged to be married, from such stellar sources as a liquor store owner who reportedly told the Enquirer that Scarborough regularly buys six packs of beer at his store, a charge Scarborough denies.

Reportedly Trump was looking for apologies from Joe and Mika for saying nasty things about him on their show and if he had gotten them he would have called the Enquirer to pull the story. In any case, his previous anti-woman tweet mostly about Mika set a new low for Trump, at least until the publication of this latest tweet with the linked Reddit video. The video sure looks like the president is promoting violence against CNN in particular and the so-called “fake media” in general.

What a peculiar world we live in! CNN is part of the “fake media” because it occasionally publishes a factually incorrect story for which its reporters are fired. Meanwhile presumably the National Enquirer is now part of the trusted media. Of course the Enquirer routinely publishes many stories of dubious authenticity; it’s its whole business model. These included that a hooker murdered Justice Scalia, a Hillary Clinton sex romp was caught on video and that Florida senator Marco Rubio has a love child.

These tweets by Trump are both alarming and pathetic. They are alarming because they give glimpse into a spectacularly disordered mind of the person we unwisely chose to be our president. They are pathetic because as many on both sides of the aisle in Washington have responded, they are beneath the dignity of the office Trump holds. What they really show is a president who is in the process of cracking and thanks to his tweets and our 24/7 media we all have front row seats, whether we want to have them or not.

None of this is particularly surprising, at least if you read my post about Trump’s severe case of narcissism. Trump checks off all the checkboxes, often more than once a day. Trump perceives constant threats from the press. Aside from puerile acts like not letting CNN reporters into White House briefings, there’s really not much he can do to punish the “fake media”. It’s possible that some of his more unhinged supporters will do the attacking in person of the “fake media” that Trump obviously cannot. So someone call up Special Counsel Mueller and ask him to look into charges that Trump is inciting violence along with other suspicious crimes. A classic tactic of a bully when threatened is to bring in reinforcements: more bullies in this case. There are plenty of them among his followers. Some of them have already demonstrated they are unhinged enough to commit crimes against those he hates.

Expect Trump to keep egging these people on. Expect it because this is what narcissists and bullies do when under severe pressure. Trump feels the White House walls closing in around him. Apparently he keeps a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office. How long before, like Richard Nixon shortly before resigning, he starts talking to presidential portraits?

Trump doesn’t seem to find much time for governing. He is too busy trying to defend himself from perceived threats. Perhaps that’s why at 9 AM instead of holding meetings or getting briefings he is tweeting instead. Perhaps that’s why his administration is probably no more than 10% staffed. Perhaps that’s why his agenda is in shambles, one of the few positive aspects of Trump’s illness from the Democratic Party’s perspective. Prospects for the repeal of Obamacare look dubious at best. Cutting taxes is usually high on the Republican agenda but seem to have been kicked down the road. It’s not even clear if a Congress in Republican control can even extend the debt limit. Trump’s dysfunction has real world consequences: grinding government to a halt and emboldening our enemies.

At this point it’s not too hard to predict how this will play out. Trump is dissembling. Since pretty much every day his tweets become more outrageous than those from the day before, his dissembling is picking up inertia. It’s clear that Trump doesn’t know how to get off this train and he likely doesn’t want to get off of it.

The longer it goes on the more likely it is that something will force this train off its tracks. My bet is that action behind the scenes is even more interesting that Trump’s train wreck of a presidency. I’ll bet the White House staff is taking macabre bets on how long Trump has. I’ll bet that Pence is making discreet inquiries among the cabinet about whether there is a support for a 25th amendment solution.

Most likely it will be Trump to push the locomotive off its track. He probably needs to do one spectacularly stupid thing, like physically pushing a reporter or badly bungling a foreign crisis, for politicians to find their backbone. In the meantime Trump continues to add to the pile of evidence that he is unfit for the office he holds.

There was not one thing that brought down President Nixon, but a culmination of factors. That will likely be the case here. For me, it’s looking like these factors will arrive sooner rather than later.

 
The Thinker

Trump is likely to meet the 25th amendment

Like most of America, it’s hard for me to turn my eyes away from the disastrous Donald Trump presidency. On May 19 I noted that every day of his presidency was worse and more unbelievable than the day before. Here it is June 7, and it’s still if not more the case. Tomorrow the excessively sober former FBI Director James Comey gets his turn to openly add to the huge pile of evidence that Trump obstructed justice. Comey’s initial statement is already online. My wife plans to pop some popcorn and watch it live.

Trump is everywhere and most lately has been infecting my dreams. As a classic narcissist, Trump is probably happy about this. The details of the dream are a little sketchy, but somehow I’m in a room with Donald Trump. Like Trump with Angela Merkel (who in his trip the other week told Trump eleven times he can’t negotiate a trade pact with Germany, but only the European Union) I find myself keep saying the same stuff to him and it just does not register.

How does this end? On May 29, I said it wasn’t going to end well, and that’s truer now than ever. I am more convinced than ever that he won’t see out his term, but I am less convinced that he will resign hastily and testily. While that has been his pattern, Trump seems to be going into full bunker mode. Nothing is more precious than his insatiable ego and his conviction that he can never do wrong. You can see it in fine display with his weird tweet the other night where typoed a new word: covfefe. Any other human being would follow it up with a tweet that, oops, he mistyped. Trump misspells all the time, but simply can’t admit this baffling typo so he tried to make a joke out of it. He can’t admit that he has any human frailties. Darn it, he meant to use covfefe and it’s your problem if you don’t understand it.

Trump has already passed Nixon’s “smoking gun” test. This was the evidence that ended in his resignation. Trump has admitted that he fired Comey in part because of “this Russian thing”, which clearly meant Comey investigating potential links between the Russians and his campaign. By all reasonable and lawyerly standards, Trump has obstructed justice, which independent special counsel Robert Mueller will doubtless charge Trump with in time. Trump wanted Comey to drop any investigations into his short-lived National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. He pressed others in positions of power to do the same thing.

Why did he do it? Here’s the scary part. Nixon did it because he was mendacious. Nixon knew better but assumed it would remain a little Oval Office secret. But Nixon went to law school. Trump’s education consists of a bachelor’s degree from Wharton. One hopes he had a civics class or two in school, but obviously not much of it took hold. Trump asked these inappropriate and illegal questions mostly because he didn’t know he shouldn’t. Of course this is the way you do things, was probably what amounted to his rationalization. I’m the president. I am in charge. What I say goes. The idea that the president is accountable to the law and the constitution seems to never entered his brain, even though he swore to do both when he took the oath of office. He doesn’t get this. Frankly, he doesn’t understand the job he signed up for.

Trump was qualified to be president only in the sense that he was native born, age 35 or older and got a majority of votes in the Electoral College. He is clearly not mentally qualified to hold the office though because he has shown no competence in faithfully serving the office.

Which is why I now think his most likely exit will be via the 25th amendment. Republicans will find it convenient not to impeach him as long as it is in their political interest not to do so. Considering that so many of their constituents voted for him there’s plenty of incentive to overlook his dangerous eccentricities via impeachment and conviction. Republicans are tribal in nature. More than ninety percent of them will vote for any Republican on the ticket, no matter how bad or unqualified they happen to be, which proved true in the last election despite Trump’s known problems and temperament. Nixon found out that things do change very quickly. If consensus develops that Republicans in Congress realize they (and their jobs) are better off with him gone, the will should be there. My brother is betting October 15, 2017 is that date. We’ll see.

Me, I’m now betting on the 25th amendment solution. The amendment, adopted in 1967 and amended in 1992 basically says the president can be temporarily removed from office if the vice president and at least half of the cabinet agree that he is unable to discharge his duties. There is plenty of evidence to this already. For example, he’s more than four months into his administration and his government is about 5% staffed. To my way of thinking you are certainly unable to discharge the duties of the presidency if you just don’t understand what they are. If you aren’t aware that your job is to enforce the law as it exists, you cannot faithfully discharge the duties of the presidency. If you aren’t smart enough to know that you can’t ask the FBI director to compromise his required independence from Executive Branch coercion, you can’t discharge your duties. These of course are but a few examples that show that Trump is unable to discharge the powers and duties of the presidency.

It’s also the way Republicans can get rid of his toxic presidency with the least political damage. Which is why I believe that there are already all sorts of backdoor conversations going on amongst Trump’s cabinet and Vice President Mike Pence on whether, but more likely how and when to take this unprecedented step. Trump can of course declare that no inability exists. Congress gets 21 days to decide if Trump is incapable of discharging the duties of presidency adequately. A vote of at least two thirds of both the House and the Senate would remove him from office and we’d have President Pence.

Mental health experts could certainly be called to testify. It would not be hard to make a case that Trump’s excessive narcissism is a mental illness, one probably that cannot be cured, and the illness affects his ability to discharge the duties of the presidency. They could even call Trump to testify in his own defense. Just ask him a few fundamental questions about the duties of the president. There is plenty of evidence already that makes an airtight case. Republicans could use this as the cover they need because it’s irrefutable.

For the sake of the nation we can only hope this happens sooner rather than later.

 
The Thinker

Trump is all hat and no cattle

In case you haven’t noticed, our nation has been living in a Kafkaesque political nightmare. What a week it has been, a crazy week to somehow top all those other crazy weeks since Trump because POTUS. It’s like taking a bad tab of acid. But if you are like me then it’s not necessary because real life can hardly be a weirder bad trip.

I literally go to sleep every night with what I think is a comforting thought: “Well, as crazy as today was, certainly tomorrow can’t be worse.” And every day Trump proves me wrong. It’s like winning a game of improbable chance, like rolling snake eyes every time. But it’s impossible! This defies all common sense and the laws of probability! Surely there will be at least one day there when Trump comes off sounding reasonable, or doesn’t say or do something bizarre and totally off the wall!

The closest he came to this was his substitute for a State of the Union address and only because he read closely off a teleprompter. For almost a day press reports were positive. Then of course he reverted to form and hasn’t deviated since. Tonight he is off on a nine-day foreign adventure guaranteed to rankle both enemies and allies. It’s clear that Trump doesn’t want to go. He only wants to sleep at one of his properties, and there are none on this journey. He is avoiding foreign policy briefings and to the consternation of aides plans to mostly wing it. In Europe, leaders are preparing by keeping the agenda light, short and uncontroversial. It’s just as well because Trump’s ADD will mean after five minutes he will get bored, unless he is speaking of course. I am reminded of that scene from Airplane!

Air Stewardess: Would you like something to read?
Passenger: Do you have anything light?
Air Stewardess: How about this leaflet, ‘Famous Jewish Sports Legends?’

The best Americans can hope for from this trip is that Trump has a whole briefcase of these pamphlets that he can peruse when his attention wanders, which it will be most of the time. It’s not hard to predict though that he will spend nine days stepping on toes and generating more controversy, just like on Wednesday when we learned he is the most picked on president ever. This would be news to Abraham Lincoln who was called among other things (and this just by one New York lawyer) “a barbarian, Scythian, yahoo, or gorilla”.

I do feel sorry, but not for Trump. The people I feel sorriest for are his White House staff. Even though he picked them, or delegated the job to people (mostly Pence) to pick them, they are always to blame for all of his screw-ups even though they do their best to parrot the message of the moment. Then of course they discover that Trump has said something completely contradictory and undercut them moments later. And it’s their fault!

The only mystery here is why they haven’t all quit en masse. Perhaps they secretly enjoy being abused and berated constantly. That doesn’t seem to be the case. The leaks that Trump would have preferred that former FBI director Comey investigate instead of Russian-Trump connections are a result of staff becoming unglued due to constant stress and his abuse. For Trump’s staff, it’s therapeutic to talk to a Times or Post reporter “off the record” and it paints a portrait of total dysfunction inside the White House. Walking and chewing gum at the same time is apparently way too complicated. Just chewing gum is pretty challenging.

The crux of the matter is that Trump is woefully unqualified to be president, the exact criteria that excited voters. He’s always been about image, but it’s abundantly clear now that his image is just bluster, something his supporters chose to ignore during the campaign. Like Bush II, he’s “All hat and no cattle”. Surely we didn’t need another politician, voters said last November. We needed someone to shake things up. In that sense and in that sense alone Trump is winning: he and his minions are spreading dysfunction across the whole federal government. So if you voted for anarchy, surely you are happy, which is probably why there are vodka toasts hourly at the Kremlin.

There aren’t a whole lot of glimmers of light from all this, but there are a few. Our courts in general seem to be interpreting the law rather than rewriting it, much to Trump’s consternation. (When they do he calls them “fake judges”.) Wednesday brought welcome news that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (who himself seems to have played an unseemly part in FBI Director Comey’s firing) has appointed an independent counsel to look into Trump-Russia connections. The ink from the order was hardly dry before Trump of course claimed victimization and persecution, while assuring us there is nothing there. So why be ruffled?

Meanwhile though the Trump bull continues charging through the government’s china shop. It’s unclear how much will be left before he either ingloriously resigns or investigations lead to his impeachment and removal. I’m convinced that he won’t survive this. The only question is when he goes. Trump has a long history of business failures and cashing in his chips. To be true to form he probably will do the same with the presidency at some point, and likely sooner rather than later. When the hand becomes too poor, he folds and walks away complaining. Rest assured when he does he’ll say it wasn’t his fault. Hopefully this will happen before we become embroiled in another war or before a huge diplomatic crisis unfolds.

In that sense I am rooting for his failure, and sooner rather than later. At this point the most patriotic thing Trump can do is resign and hope that by resigning any criminal charges get dropped by prosecutors or pardoned by Mike Pence. The Trump brouhaha though will outlast Trump and will likely tar those on tap to succeed him, certainly Pence who let Mike Flynn into the administration but likely Speaker Ryan too, the next in line.

Are we really living a Kafkaesque political nightmare? At least after Trump goes, I’ll be willing to peak out from under the covers again. What comes next won’t be much fun, but it is likely to be more like entertainment than nightmare, which will mean throwing a bag of popcorn into the microwave instead and hope it settles my queasy stomach.

 
The Thinker

Do we have a constitutional crisis now?

Last November before Donald Trump assumed office I opined that it wouldn’t be long before we had a constitutional crisis. It wasn’t a hard call to make and I was hardly alone is predicting how his administration was likely to unfold. Tuesday’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey though seemed to suggest to many that our constitutional crisis has at last arrived.

Since taking office, Trump has fired three prominent officials with Comey being the latest. All firings relate to potential collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. First up was Sally Yates, who Trump fired on January 30th. She was the acting Attorney General at the time, a holdover from the Obama administration but actually an acting Attorney General for a time during the Bush administration. She had the dubious job of running the department until Jeff Sessions was confirmed.

We learned from her testimony last week that less than a week into the Trump administration she urgently warned the White House counsel that Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, had lied to Vice President Pence and was vulnerable to Russian blackmail. She was fired supposedly for refusing to defend Trump’s executive order on immigration in court but that it came days after this warning to Trump’s counsel seems more than coincidental.

Next was Michael Flynn. He lasted until February 13; eighteen days after Yates first discreetly sounded the alarm. There were so many red flags around Flynn even before he joined the White House it’s amazing that Trump would be so clueless as to pick him. He had failed to register as a foreign agent even though he earned millions working with Russian interests in areas as sensitive as Russian infiltration into eastern Ukraine. President Obama fired him for bad judgment while director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Moreover Obama specifically warned Trump not to hire him. Now we also know that Sally Yates warned the White House as well. Interesting.

And now it’s FBI Director James Comey’s turn. He was fired allegedly because of his handling of the Clinton emails, handling that Trump specifically approved of and cheered on during the campaign. A long report by the Washington Post yesterday makes clear that Trump’s real motivation was that Comey was looking into connections between Trump and the Russian government. He wanted Comey to be looking into White House leaks instead. We also learned yesterday from the Post that Comey had petitioned the Justice Department for additional resources for the probe shortly before being fired.

So there have been three prominent firings by Trump so far and all were key actors involved in exposing potential Trump-Russian connections. It’s getting hard for anyone to credibly claim these actions don’t amount to obstruction of justice. This is why Democrats in particular want an independent special prosecutor to thoroughly investigate these allegations. Comey’s removal certainly slows any investigation. His replacement may stop the investigation altogether.

And who gets to nominate his replacement? Trump, of course, who will seek guidance from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions was apparently instrumental in his firing, despite supposedly having recused himself from all matters related to Trump’s Russian connections.

What’s amazing is how brazen all of this is. Those of us with long memories will recall President Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre in 1973. Nixon first ordered his attorney general Elliot Richardson to fire Archibald Cox, an independent prosecutor tasked to investigate Watergate. Richardson resigned instead. Nixon then ordered deputy attorney general William Ruckelshaus to do it, who also resigned. Next in line was Robert Bork (who was later nominated to be a Supreme Court justice). Bork did the deed and it probably cost him a seat on the court. A federal judge eventually determined that Cox’s firing was illegal. Just two weeks after the “massacre” Nixon resigned. No doubt many Americans are hoping Trump will follow Nixon’s timeline.

Nixon was at least politically savvy. One thing that is abundantly clear about Trump is that he is not. Moreover, with a few exceptions he’s populated his administration with people of similar disqualifications. The few with qualifications (Pence and Priebus) don’t seem to have the courage or ability to get Trump to weigh the political costs of his actions. This of course exacerbates Trump’s problems, giving the impression that he is digging his own political grave. His naivety is pretty staggering and he doesn’t seem to learn from his mistakes. Then there is the optics. The day after firing Comey he invited the Russian foreign minister, Russian ambassador and Nixon’s controversial secretary of state Henry Kissinger to the White House!

Forty years ago we weathered a similar crisis. It’s unclear whether we will this time. It all depends on the strength of character of key Republicans in Congress. In the 1970s Republicans were capable of putting country above party. The way these things usually evolve gives me hope, because when the politics of defending and excusing Trump become untenable for Republicans own reelection, tables can turn quickly. There is no consensus yet but doubtless many Republicans are weighing their own political calculations on when to jump ship. Forty years ago though districts were not so heavily gerrymandered. This suggests that there are more than two weeks left in a Trump administration.

It’s clear to me that by trying to make his political problems go away through firing people, Trump only makes them worse. If there were nothing to Trump-Russia connections then he would have no reason to be concerned, as nothing would tie him to it. Clearly though there is, which suggests to me that Trump eventually will suffer Nixon’s fate. Given his stubbornness, it may take impeachment, conviction and bodily removal by the Secret Service. In a way I’m hoping for the latter. Watching his bloated form being tossed outside the front gate of the White House would be quite a site for the ages.

 
The Thinker

Republicans jump off the cliff

National party political conventions happen only every four years. This week’s Republican convention in Cleveland though makes me seriously wonder if Republicans will have one in 2020 at all. I’m not alone. No less than former President George W. Bush is wondering if he is the last Republican president.

If you managed to tune into the convention, it’s hard not to escape the feeling of doom unfolding there. The Republican Party shows every sign that they have careened right off the cliff. It’s being bungled in just about every way a convention can be bungled. In case you haven’t had your nose to the news, here’s a small slice of the craziness going on in Cleveland at their convention:

  • At the start, there was a brief but doomed floor fight when delegates from Iowa tried to call for a vote that would have allowed delegates to vote their consciences. It appeared to have the support of enough states to actually get a vote, but the chair ignored it, thereby cementing Republicans’ reputation for not actually following a parliamentary process.
  • Melania Trump’s speech lifted whole sentences from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech, the sort of plagiarism that if done in school would get you a failing grade. It turns out that Melania admires Michele, a major problem for any true Republican. She said she wrote the speech herself, but later we were told that a speechwriter did, who eventually took the fall.
  • Last night former candidate Texas Senator Ted Cruz spoke, told delegates to vote their consciences and never endorsed Donald Trump, which got him plenty of boos. They let him talk anyhow even though he told them he would not be endorsing Trump. Trump eventually came out to take the spotlight off Cruz and back to where it belongs: on his glorious self. This will likely be mostly what people will talk about for days, rather than Trump’s convention speech but at least it puts the focus on Cruz and 2020. However, if Trump is true to form, his acceptance speech will likely be an incoherent ramble, so maybe not.
  • Less noticed was that House Speaker Paul Ryan also refused to explicitly endorse Trump at his convention speech. Like Cruz, he seems to know the ship is sinking and he wants to be one of the first rats to jump when it is politically safe to do so on November 9.
  • Tuesday was supposed to be a day to talk about how Republicans would fix the economy. Instead it became a day of vitriol where speaker after speaker went on the attack against Hillary Clinton, many calling for her to go to prison. One woman who lost a son in the Benghazi incident held Clinton personally responsible for his death, even though she did not explicitly authorize the ambassador’s trip to Benghazi. A state legislator in West Virginia called for Hillary Clinton to be hung causing United Airlines to suspend him as a pilot.
  • Apparently Ohio governor John Kasich was sounded out to be Trump’s running mate. The offer, apparently from from Trump’s son: you will do the actual management part and my dad will do the “Making America Great Again” part. Strangely, Kasich declined. It appears Trump is bored with the whole manage the country part of the presidency, and wants to outsource it.

Oh, and so much more! Tonight is likely to be equally as memorable as the first three days. Perhaps more memorable than the convention itself is the stunning lack of coherence out of the convention and the epic mismanagement behind the stage. Trump does not know how to delegate. He has a hard time getting people to work for him because he requires non-disclosure agreements and routinely sues employees who he feels have stepped out of line. His roster of speakers is mediocre and often surreal (Scott Baio, really?) and it’s not even clear if he really chose Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. It appears he had second thoughts and futilely tried to change it at the last moment.

Watching the convention on TV itself is just appalling. There is no way for an impartial viewer not to get the impression that Republicans are passionate and crazy lunatics. Democrats were pretty pissed at George W. Bush at their 2004 convention, but no one suggested that he was a lawbreaker, should be put in jail and hung. It never occurred to Democrats to be this kind of lunatic crazy. But we heard it from speaker after speaker, day after day at this convention. So how can you not escape the conclusion that Republicans are dangerously unhinged?

A convention is normally scripted and carefully stage-managed, but also the organizers think carefully about how they want to present the party to the voters. No one seemed to be doing either parts of this job, bungling the most important part of their sales job prior to the election. Also not going well: fundraising. The typical RNC donors cannot seem to pull out their wallets. Few staff are being hired to go into the field and organize voters. Trump himself seems wholly unconcerned about the party and his campaign’s anemic fundraising, assuming that force of personality will be enough.

The 2012 Republican convention looked like one where Republicans were teetering on the borders of respectability. This is clearly off track, off message and has little of what can be called organization. No wonder George W. Bush is concerned he may be the last Republican president. Republicans seem to be doing everything possible not just to lose, but also to lose epically.

To Democrats, this Republican train wreck has been coming for years. With a few exceptions though today’s Republicans just don’t see what’s coming. But if you want to destroy a party, well, have a party doing so! It feels like this convention will touch all the markers for what not to do. You had best stand aside of the wreckage.

 

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