Posts Tagged ‘Richard Nixon’

The Thinker

Preventing future presidents Nixon and Trump

In my sixty-one years I have watched two disastrous presidencies implode. Nixon’s ended in an abrupt resignation following the Watergate scandal. Trump’s implosion is currently underway. It’s unclear how it’s going to end, but I’m reasonably confident he won’t survive a first term. It’s also unclear if our nation will too, at least in its form where branches of government keep a check on each other, which is already not happening.

Both Nixon’s and Trump’s presidencies qualify as national crises. Over the decades too much power has shifted toward the Executive and Congress has largely failed in its role to check the Executive’s power. Moreover, because the presidency has become so powerful, it attracts people drawn to power including people who should really not be president. Trump is the obvious poster child.

Given that about forty years spanned Nixon and Trump, it’s not too hard to predict that if nothing changes we’ll endure another disastrous presidency within a few decades.

One way of checking executive power has already been enacted: we passed the 22nd Amendment limiting a president to no more than two terms. Unfortunately, eight years gives presidents plenty of time to muck of the mechanics of government.

Time is revealing some flaws in our constitutional system. How do we fix things? These suggestions range from the idealistic and unlikely to the practical. They don’t necessarily guarantee another Nixon or Trump but make them less likely. Of course I am hardly the first one to suggest some of these solutions.

Elect a national attorney general. Many states do this already. It allows the people to decide who should impartially administer our laws. Being a constitutional office, this person could not be fired by the president but would take an oath to impartially administer the laws of the United States and would be in charge of managing the Justice Department. Because presidential election years are too consequential, I propose we elect an attorney general during midterm election years. The term would be for four years. Nixon and Trump demonstrate that you can’t count on a president to ensure that justice is fairly administered, particularly when the Justice Department has to look into the executive branch. The executive needs its hands constitutionally tied from managing the impartial administration of justice.

Get rid of the Electoral College. Presidents should be elected based on the popular vote. Of course, twice recently it didn’t happen. Had Al Gore and Hillary Clinton (who won the popular votes) become president, it’s unlikely that we would have invaded Iraq or had to worry about a lawless chief executive. Obviously a constitutional amendment is a steep climb given that it’s not in red states’ interests. Still, initiatives like the National Popular Vote would guarantee electoral votes to the popular vote winner nationwide by committing a state to assign all its electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. These state laws are written to take effect only when enough states that comprise a majority of the electoral votes pass state laws. 12 states are currently onboard representing 172 electoral votes. We need states comprising 98 more electoral votes to make this a reality. No, it’s not unconstitutional because the constitution empowers states on how they wish to apportion their Electoral College votes. Most states have a winner take all system.

Require presidential candidates release their tax returns to get on the ballot. The constitutionality of some proposed state efforts has been questioned, which is probably while this has been introduced in a few state legislatures it hasn’t passed in any. However, Congress could pass such a law with no issues. Obviously, this has been a problem with Trump, who still claims the IRS is auditing his returns, which is false. Even if it were true, there is no law prohibiting a candidate from releasing his tax returns while being under audit.

Split the presidency into two positions: head of state and chief executive. Arguably the U.S. president has too much power, as he/she is both the head of state and the chief executive. As a practical matter, doing both competently is virtually impossible. Most other democracies split these duties. For example, Israel elects a president that represents the nation but has few powers, but can speak for the nation. Its prime minister is the chief executive. Great Britain has the Queen as its head of state. Presidents tend to be politicians, not statesmen. We need both, not one or the other. The head of state should be the moral voice of the country. They too could be elected in “off” years.

Decentralize first-use of nuclear weapons. It’s quite frightening that Donald Trump has the power to launch nuclear weapons against any country he wants at any time, given his impulsive nature documented in Bob Woodward’s latest book Fear. In general, this is a dangerous power with massive implications for the nation. Congress should pass a law that prohibits the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States without the consent of Congress. Since such a decision might clue in potential adversaries, such a decision should require agreement by the president, Speaker of the House and both the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate.

Reinstate the full Voting Rights Act. We need a law that explicitly overturns Shelby County v. Holder (2013). The case removed constrains on certain mostly southern states with a history of suppressing minority votes from enacting voter laws without a preclearance from the Justice Department. If we want to be non-discriminatory, make all states get preclearances. When a day after this decision, Alabama passed a Voter ID law you know this will be a problem for the foreseeable future.

Obviously I am against political or racial gerrymandering. I would like to see federal voting districts drawn impartially by federal judges, as is true in most republican forms of government. This effects the composition of the House of Representatives and state legislatures, so it’s off topic here. It has no effect on the national popular vote for president.

 
The Thinker

Whites are being horribly exploited … by other whites

Fox News host Laura Ingraham drew some attention in August when she said this on her Fox News TV show:

“In some parts of the country, it does seem like the America we know and love don’t exist anymore,” she said, with videos of agricultural work playing over her shoulder. “Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people. And they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like.”

Donald Trump’s election proved there are plenty of white people worried that America isn’t quite white enough for their tastes anymore. It’s making them nervous and scared and not coincidentally is causing many of them to stock up on guns.

The browning of America is hardly new but for decades Republicans have been riding this anxiety to political power. Richard Nixon’s 1968 Southern Strategy (as well as his Silent Majority strategy in his 1972 reelection) harnessed this fear. Ronald Reagan stoked it too, with images of imaginary welfare queens buying steaks and driving Cadillacs. Donald Trump of course made this anxiety the center of his campaign and his presidency. Fear, particularly fear of “the other” is a powerful motivator.

Reagan’s imaginary welfare queen was probably not a white person. This is strange because whites receive the majority of food stamps. In 2015, 40% of SNAP recipients were white. That’s more than blacks (26%) and Hispanics (10%) combined. If you are one of those whites on food stamps though, it may be scary though because it suggests that you can’t do any better economically than those other “lesser” races in our country. That can be unsettling. But whites traditionally have always been the biggest recipients of food stamps because they are a majority of the country.

Still, Laura Ingraham’s remarks are awfully odd considering that she has an adopted Guatemalan daughter. With images of brown agricultural workers in the background during her tirade, you have to wonder how long it’s been since most of our agricultural workers were white. Whites don’t want to work agricultural jobs, even for increased wages. I live in Western Massachusetts where local farmers advertise heavily for agricultural workers but get few takers. That’s because these jobs are brutal, far away and don’t pay well. Just 23% of agricultural workers in the United States were born here. I was born in 1957 and I’d be very surprised if in my 61 years the majority of agricultural workers were ever white.

As for Ingraham’s assertion that none of us ever voted on these changes, what a load of malarkey! Congress makes immigration law so we have only ourselves to blame. Agricultural interests though doubtless pushed these laws. They succeeded with guest worker programs and policies that gave short shrift to immigration enforcement on our Mexican border. This was not bad. It allowed our agricultural section to flourish and keep their prices low. With native born Americans unwilling for the most part to take these jobs, that we still have an agricultural sector is due principally to these workers we’re told to despise. To this day, it’s largely unheard of for an employer to be held liable for undocumented workers they employ.

Yes, America certainly did look a lot whiter in 1957 than it does today. The places I lived in when I was young were so far in upstate New York that I don’t recall even seeing a black person until I was in high school. Lots of these places still exist, but in cities like Hazelton, Pennsylvania they are finally coloring up. And it’s making lots of whites in Hazelton anxious. In 2013, a Hazelton-area chief of police channeled his frustrations with a crazy YouTube video.

There are plenty of reasons for whites to be anxious, but it’s not because the nation is coloring up. It’s because pathways for whites to enter the middle and upper classes are narrowing. Things are particularly bleak for blue-collar whites, the base of Trump’s support who he’s largely left out to dry. A good paying blue-collar job is hard to find and harder to retain. When lost these workers usually quickly fall into jobs that don’t pay a living wage, even if they work two or three of them. People like Amazon warehouse workers, many of whom are on food stamps. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is worth $164B but can’t pay his warehouse workers a living wage. He’d rather let the U.S. government try to fill in the difference with food stamps instead. Amazon is hardly alone, which is why a $15/hour living wage proposal polls so well.

It’s the rise of wealth inequality that is driving most of this white anxiety. While courting whites though Republicans (and sometimes Democrats) have worked instead for their real masters: corporations and rich people. They’ve enacted tax cuts that disproportionately allow the rich to keep more money. They cut services and when possible entitlements that principally benefit the rest of us, like affordable public college tuitions, that used to be free in many states. Corporations use their tax cuts to buy back their own stocks rather than raise wages for their employees or invest in the future. Minimum wage laws rarely move upward, making it impossible for people falling through the cracks to reach for the next rung. So-called Right to Work laws make it hard for workers to organize for higher wages. Moreover, Republicans shamelessly feed the myth that if you work harder and try hard enough you can scale the economic ladder. In most cases though they took the rungs out of the ladder decades ago. Middle and lower classes have been disenfranchised not by accident, but by design. Bernie Sanders long ago recognized the real issue: the system is rigged against working people.

The game is rigged but there are some signs that whites may be waking up at last. Midterms in two months should be revealing. In deeply red states like Oklahoma, West Virginia and Arizona teacher strikes have drawn the sympathy of the public, including working and middle class whites. They are even electing politicians who commit to raising their taxes in exchange for more services. They can certainly understand how teachers are struggling economically on substandard wages. It may be that Republicans have played the race card about as far as it can be played.

In any event, it’s absolutely clear that the rich and the powerful, who are principally white men, have been systematically and cynically abusing middle income and working class whites, feeding their anxieties and promoting false rationalizations for their anxieties. Curiously the best way to make this anxiety ebb is for whites to rise up against their economic masters and elect people who will put rungs back in the economic ladder again, many of whom will be brown, black or female. White politicians are horribly misleading and abusing them.

 
The Thinker

Trump is an illegitimate president

The day of Donald Trump’s election is certainly seared in my mind, as it is in most Americans’. Like most people, including apparently Donald Trump, I thought Hillary Clinton had the thing locked up. And she did if we elected presidents by popular vote: she won by three millions votes. Trump’s lopsided win in the Electoral College was made possible by margins of about 4000 votes in Pennsylvania, 10,000 votes in Michigan and 22,000 votes in Wisconsin. Had Clinton won those states she would have squeaked a win of 273-258 in the Electoral College.

That night was surreal and every day since has been too. I didn’t sleep that night but the next day I felt that our country had fundamentally changed. As someone not given to conspiracy theories, I felt his election had to be something of a fluke. But based on what we now know, it’s clear that Donald Trump was not fairly elected and is hence an illegitimate president.

I’ll grant you that Hillary Clinton was a poor candidate. If you want to win, a party should never nominate a candidate with negative likability scores. But Trump’s were just as bad. Two really unpopular candidates were nominated. No surprise then that, like in 2000, so many on the margins voted third party. Libertarian party candidate Johnson got 3% and Green party candidate Stein got 1%.

Events this week though show clearly that the odds were unfairly and illegally stacked to elect Trump. With these tiny margins in three swing states, it’s quite likely that had Americans known that Trump had paid off at least two mistresses before the vote that our national nightmare would not now be underway.

This Tuesday of course both Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen and ex-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort were convicted of multiple felonies each. Cohen directly implicated Trump, making him effectively an unindicted co-conspirator. If Trump were a nobody instead of president, he too would have been indicted for these campaign finance violations, a felony. Cohen of course should have never participated in this crime, but he would have never had the temptation had Trump not directed him to do so.

Then there are the Russian government’s efforts to help Trump. It’s also clear that at least some in the Trump campaign, specifically Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen attended a meeting with Russians for the express purpose of learning dirt on Hillary Clinton. Since just hours after the meeting Trump tweeted that there would be forthcoming dirt on Hillary, it really sounds like he was in the know too. I expect that these links will come out in time and we’ll discover genuine conspiracy.

In any event, it was not a free and fair election. The Trump campaign did not play by the rules. And it was enough, by a tiny margin, to swing the election. There were of course other acts, arguably legal but morally repugnant, that helped as well. These included voter suppression efforts and making people in certain precincts wait inordinately long to cast a vote. It’s impossible to say if the election had been fair that Trump would still have won. But it is clear that by playing dirty and by participating in illegal activities, things that voters should have known were not known and probably would have changed a lot of votes. Former FBI Director James Comey’s announcement late in the campaign that the FBI was reopening its investigation the Clinton investigation, against FBI policy so close to an election, obviously had some influence too.

While it’s surprising to me that Trump won, it’s not surprising to me that the Trump campaign fought dirty. Trump hasn’t changed at all. He always jumps first and expects not to pay a consequence. He attracts people with similar inclinations, which apparently consist of virtually the entire Republican Party. Unlike Richard Nixon, he is likely to escape the political consequences of these actions because Republicans show no inclination to put country before party, which they did in the Watergate era. I remember.

Still, karma may pay Donald Trump a visit at last. While he is unlikely to be forced from office, he is likely to get impeached (but not removed from office) if Democrats retake the house this November. Also, Trump has a history of bailing when things get too bad. Thus it’s quite possible that when the evidence of his guilt becomes overwhelming he will resign in a fit of pique.

His behavior this week has been his most bizarre to date; he is clearly under great psychological strain. Even if he can escape impeachment and removal, he is likely to be charged with crimes in the state of New York, most likely for running his charity in an illegal manner but quite possibly for money laundering too. He can’t pardon himself or his lackeys out of state charges. At best he can only defer these trials until he is out of office. It’s quite possible that Trump will spend years in prison after leaving office, a dubious first for a U.S. president.

As far as his reputation is concerned, he can now never escape having an asterisk next to his name in the ranks of U.S. presidents. The footnote will have to note that his election was likely illegitimate. Trump accused Barack Obama of being an illegitimate president because he asserted that he was born in Kenya. Oh the irony that his accuser will forever live with this asterisk, and with overwhelming evidence that will show him to be the worst U.S. president in history.

Rest easier, Richard Nixon.

 
The Thinker

Stoking toxic white masculinity or why we’re going postal

Go on. Take a look at Mother Jones’s Google sheet showing mass shootings in the United States.

The spreadsheet starts in 1982. Prior to that these were rarely a problem. Since then incidents of mass homicide by gun have increased in general year by year, with the number of fatalities and injured increasing too, often exponentially.

As I have noted before, in most cases the perpetrator was male and white. Of the 91 major incidents noted, a woman carried out only 2. A man and a woman carried one out. There are a scattering of these attacks carried out by Asians and blacks, but 80% or more were perpetrated by white men.

The spreadsheet does not begin to capture the extent of the problem, but does document the worst of the worst. Business Insider notes that through September there have been 273 mass shootings in the United States in 2017, which averages out to about one a day. They are so common they rarely make it beyond the local paper.

Obviously something is going on in our culture, even beyond the looser gun laws that we have now compared with 1982. A postal employee carried one of these first major incidents out. In 1986 postal worker Patrick Sherrill killed 15 and injured 6 others in a post office in Edmond, Oklahoma and then killed himself. Since then workplace shootings have become common, as the spreadsheet attests. There was another “gone postal” incident in 1991 that killed 5 and injured 5, this one from a laid off postal worker. In 2006 a forcibly retired and mentally ill woman killed 8 at her former post office in Goleta, California.

It’s hard to draw causation from correlation. But in general things were okay until around 1980. In 1981 Americans elected Ronald Reagan. He was the first president since Roosevelt to fundamentally change the implicit American “contract”. He quickly demonstrated the change by firing air traffic controllers who went on strike. Prior to Reagan it was generally possible for a man to provide for his family. Since then obviously many more women have entered the workforce. Women are often paid less than men for the same work, an obvious cost savings to employers. The man as family breadwinner slowly went the way of the milkman. This made men, particularly white men, feel disenfranchised. It was like living in a Twilight Zone.

Republicans piled it on in two ways. First, they promoted the idea of rugged individualism. They said men (particularly white men) should all be Marlboro men. We were all cowboys of sorts: loners, independent and self-sufficient. Only loser men couldn’t step up to the plate and provide for their family when necessarily.

Second, Republicans appealed to racists. Until the last election it was rarely overt. Nixon famously won based on a “southern strategy” which amounted to getting support from white Southerners that had previously voted Democratic. Southerners were played for their racist tendencies, just not overtly. Their prejudices were masterfully channeled against the “others” which amounted to people not like them: not white and working class.

At the same time they (often with the help of Democrats like Bill Clinton) unleashed forces that undercut their prosperity. They pushed right to work laws that had the effect of cutting wages by making it hard to collectively organize. They unleashed the forces of the free market that quickly found cheaper places to manufacture stuff, mostly outside the United States, jobs traditionally held mostly by white men. These actions exacerbated the tensions on the white working class, and white men in particular. I have seen these tensions borne out in my own family and among my friends. Many rightly feel shafted by what happened to them, particularly during economic downturns. More often they simply feel ashamed, as if there is some defect in them.

If your economic floor drops out from under you, your social safety net is shredded, you learn that you can’t provide for your family but you feel that you must do so anyhow and thus your status in society is dropping you are going to be severely stressed.

The NRA masterfully harnessed this anxiety by promoting a gun culture, not to emphasize sporting, but to sell the illusion that with a gun at least a man can still be a man. This anxiety is hardly covert. We saw it recently in Charlottesville. White men, self-identified Nazis and white supremacists were chanting, “You will not replace us”. They were asserting their special status as white men and those they saw responsible for their decline (such as Jews) would pay the price, perhaps with the guns they openly carried.

Now Donald Trump promises to make America great again. He rose to power on this very anxiety. Of course since becoming president he’s gone out of his way to not address these problems but to actually make them worse. Just yesterday Congress passed a bill that won’t permit consumers to file class action lawsuits against their banks. Vice President Pence broke the tie vote.

This though is pretty minor stuff compared to the way Trump is undermining Obamacare. It makes health insurance ever more costly and problematic, and if the government won’t subsidize it for middle and lower income Americans it becomes largely unaffordable again. This simply feeds more economic anxieties.

Trump though doesn’t seem too worried. He’s got a great game of distraction going on where he puts the blame on others, like undocumented workers. Even Congress is getting into the game. A tax reform package in Congress proposes to limit deductions into 401K plans. This amounts to a tax increase on the middle and lower class, all to give tax cuts to the richest Americans. Trump and Republicans believe — probably with good justification — that they can keep their base distracted and blame others for their policies that make things worse for their base.

All this really does is make bad much worse. The fundamentals of our economic and social anxiety haven’t changed and Republicans are actively trying to worsen them. The working class will still get fleeced. As for this Mother Jones table of mass shootings, it’s pretty easy to predict the number of incidents and their lethality will continue to increase as our politicians throw ever more wood onto this ever bigger bonfire of anxiety and hate.

 
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

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

Constitutional crisis dead ahead

Like many of you I woke up November 9 feeling nauseous, upset and wanting desperately to hide under my pillow. Actually, I didn’t sleep on election night. I tried but it just didn’t work. My heart was racing like a freight train. I didn’t have a stethoscope, but I’m sure my heart was skipping beats. It was made worse being in a hotel on election night and having to fly home the next morning. CNN was everywhere. With three hours between flights and stuck in Atlanta I wanted escape CNN but found no escape from it until I got home.

Days later I still hadn’t fully recovered but the shock of Trump’s election faded somewhat. That was until a few days ago when Trump started appointing and nominating people that will form his administration. I should not have been surprised that it was full of racists, misogynists, anti-environmentalists, pro-lifers, and pretty much the worst possible people for positions of power, including a U.N. ambassador with no diplomatic experience and a new Education secretary that hates public schools.

Then there was Trump himself, still clueless about the office he will inhabit in two months. He’s not going to prosecute Hillary Clinton he said, which at least had the effect of pissing off most of his supporters: you know the ones who delight in making people they hate suffer. They were relentlessly chanting, “Lock her up!” at his rallies. How good of you Donald, except that as president you would have no authority to do this at all. That would be a decision that your Attorney General could independently decide to look into, but anyone who has read the news in any detail knows that Hillary won’t be charged with anything anyhow because the FBI has already looked into it and there is no legal case.

It’s totally embarrassing how clueless Trump is about the actual powers the president has. You would think after campaigning for a year that he would have a clue by now. He doesn’t and he doesn’t seem to be appointing advisers who understand or will tell him the limits of the president’s powers. He plans to wing this presidency thing, like he winged his campaign, which guarantees he will continually do stupid and probably illegal stuff. He’s not even in office yet and he’s doing stuff that would have special prosecutors nipping at his heels in any other administration. You know, stuff like promoting his business interests when he meets with an Indian hotelier carrying his Trump brand or when talking to the president of Brazil. Then there is the goofy stuff, like for every new regulation he says he will get rid of two others. He just waives a magic wand and it will somehow get done.

A year or so back when I was contemplating a Trump presidency, I suggested that if elected both Republicans and Democrats would happily impeach and convict the guy. Now I am not so sure. Logically he has so much baggage that with his shoes tied together it shouldn’t take too many steps before he falls on his face. He disposed of the Trump University lawsuit this week (after saying he wouldn’t settle) but there are plenty more suits in the wings, and potential criminal charges if allegations of having sex with a minor can be substantiated. It’s unclear now whether House Republicans would impeach him or not. Their success is now tied to Trump’s. Even if impeached, would the Senate (also in Republican hands) convict him, when doing so would undercut the Republican brand and set them up for failure in 2018 or 2020? Or will he instead spend four years bullying his way through the Congress and let the voters sort it out in 2020? The latter is much more likely.

Everywhere he goes Trump is likely to be hounded by protesters. When protestors aren’t hounding him there will be plenty of Democrats in Congress as well doing their best to block his agenda. With Clinton’s lead in the popular vote now in excess of two million votes, and with suspicions by some of vote rigging in key precincts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, it feels like America is on the verge of being ripped apart. We will have open racists in the White House. If his plans come to fruition then at best certain Muslims might be in a national registry, at worst in internment camps like we did to the Japanese during World War 2. The feeling of injustice regarding the election is pervasive; the ineptness of the incoming administration looks catastrophic. Will Americans respect our constitutional government when it is at such variance with the popular will? What will we do when Trump orders entities like the National Guard to round up “illegals” in our sanctuary cities where mayors have pledged they will not let this happen?

Maybe many of these fears simply won’t come to pass. Trump seems to be signaling that he is going to kiss off many of his supporters now that he’s won the election: he basically cucked them. He told the New York Times that he would look into this climate change thing. Moderating on a few things though will hardly be enough because he will have cronies in place to do maximum damage. He shows both the temperament and the predisposition of someone willing to see what he can get away with through fiat. It’s clear that most of those who voted for him will cheer him on if he tries, and support him with their personal arsenals if necessary.

It looks like some eighty years after Sinclair Lewis wrote his novel It Can’t Happen Here, it’s happening today and it’s our misfortune to live through such times. Political institutions seem no longer moored to the constitution, but only to their party loyalties. In the 1970s both Democrats and Republicans came together to hold President Nixon accountable for actions by his staff to undermine the 1972 election. It led to Nixon’s resignation. Today, voter suppression is a feature of red states. I don’t see holding Trump accountable happening during his term. Except for a few principled Republicans like Senator John McCain, these characters are almost absent in the Republican Party.

It was this realization that made me feel sick and queasy again. I sense in my gut that our nation is in great peril, a constitutional crisis is coming, and it’s coming soon. I also sense that there are simply not the men and women of character that will do follow the law and our constitution.

I sure as hell hope that I am wrong.

 
The Thinker

Unwinding the crazy (or why Obama and Mitt Romney need to talk)

So my daughter has been chatting with me on Skype. She wants to know: “Dad, have politics ever this crazy?” She would actually take some comfort in knowing that demagogues like Donald Trump have actually arisen before and have had a stake put through their hearts.

I had to tell her no, not in my lifetime anyhow and not within the United States. There are plenty of demagogues out there all the time, but few come around as Donald Trump has to create cyclones of ill will all for the purpose of acquiring something close to the pinnacle of political power in the world: being president of the United States. I see him getting the Republican nomination; hopes of a brokered convention are just fantasies. There have been deeply evil politicians and presidents. Richard Nixon comes to mind but at least he was trapped by a political system of checks and balances. It’s not clear if Trump becomes president whether the system still has the backbone to deal with someone like him. I’d like to think so, but I am skeptical.

Over the years this blog has been around, I’ve made something of a second career cataloguing these demagogues. Democrats are not entirely clean, with John Edwards leaping to mind. Both sides of the party can be pandered to and inflamed. Mostly though these demagogues have limited appeal. Some of the many I have blogged about include Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck. I have read enough history though to know that Donald Trump is not quite unprecedented. Early in our history we had a president arguably as bad as Trump: Andrew Jackson whose portrait mysteriously adorns our ten-dollar bill.

We’ve also had our share of bad presidents but who were not demagogues. Woodrow Wilson was a racist who purged blacks from the government. President Harding dropped his pants for more than one woman not his wife and got embroiled in the Teapot Dome oil scandal. Herbert Hoover and a top-heavy Republican congress ushered in the Great Depression. Lyndon Johnson made the Vietnam debacle much worse. And I’ve shown 12 years ago that Ronald Reagan was pretty much a disaster of a president. Then of course there is George W. Bush. Still with the possible exception of Jackson none of these presidents rise to Trump’s level. None had the mentality that the ends justified the means. Trump’s success makes him a singular danger to our democracy.

So sorry daughter, we are living the Chinese curse of living in interesting times. Polls suggest a Trump election win will be quite a stretch, but if anyone could pull it off Trump is demonstrating he has the skills and oratory to do it. Trump though is not unique, but simply the most articulate spokesman for the Republican brand. It’s a brand full of chest thumping, racism, classism and staking out unequivocal positions that have devolved into concerns about the size of Trump’s hands and penis. They are all doing it without qualification, except possibly John Kasich. These candidates will denounce Trump on the one hand but won’t take the next obvious step: saying they will not support him if he wins his party’s nomination.

This is because for all their claims of principle they really don’t have any. It’s not principle that drives them; it’s the lust for power. This puts them ever further on the extreme right as well as makes them back down from taking principled stands like saying they won’t support Trump if he wins their party’s nomination. They are all jockeying for power as best they can by keeping their options open. I was puzzling through Chris Christie’s endorsement of Donald Trump shortly after dropping out. Why was he doing this? The easy rationalization is that both are bullies and he identifies with a fellow bully. But the same can be said for most of the Republican candidates. I think Christie is hoping to be nominated as his running mate. I think he is further expecting that if Trump wins office he will eventually be impeached and removed, leaving him as president. It’s a tactic worthy of Frank Underwood; he was just the first to go there. While Christie may admire Trump for being a master bully, I think his real motivation is simply a lust for power.

The larger question is how do you undo something like this? It’s not like we are at the precipice. Lots of people are already jumping off the cliff into the political unknown. It’s time for the grownups not just to speak up but also to take real action. Mitt Romney says he won’t vote for Trump but did not suggest an alternative, which is hardly helpful. Establishment Republicans are trying to persuade voters in keystone states like Florida and Ohio to vote for someone else, but they appear too late to the game to change the dynamics. President Obama recently spoke out, but it was at a fundraiser. Changing the dynamics here though is pretty much impossible when the other party will refuse to even listen to you. Just for starters Republicans in Congress won’t even allow Obama’s budget director to present his budget, the first time this has ever been done. A Republican Senate also refuses to entertain a nominee for the Supreme Court.

We need an elder statesman with mojo and credibility to bring the parties together to tone down the rhetoric and is some marginal way change the conversation and up the civility factor. There is no one such person, unfortunately. Jimmy Carter comes to mind but Republicans would dismiss him.

We urgently need a national timeout. All these key muckrakers need to have a private conclave and hash this out. If I were President Obama I’d be on the phone with Mitt Romney. I’d be penciling in a date in a couple weeks at a private retreat like Camp David and use the power of shame (if it works) to bring all these blowhards together in one place to hash this out. This would include Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress and all the presidential candidates on both sides. It would also include chairs of the Democratic and Republican national committees. I’d include trained facilitators and psychologists to help ensure the meeting moves forward productively The topics would include: setting baselines for acceptable political behavior and setting up a process involving some compromise so that Congress and the President can work together in some minimal fashion through the election.

Would it work? The odds are against my proposal but someone needs to step forward and we need two brave people on both sides of the aisle. I don’t see any others who can play this role.

Sadly, nothing like this is likely to happen, but it needs to happen. Is there a grownup in the room?

 
The Thinker

The southern strategy bites back

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson recently wrote that Donald Trump has changed the Republican Party permanently. In the past the establishment elite controlled the party. Unfortunately well-moneyed Republicans were relatively few in number. They had to find votes somewhere so they adopted a “southern strategy” that pandered to the fears and prejudices of those principally in the south. This included crass appeals to classists, racists, fundamentalist Christians and to those who wished for things to be the way they were in the 1950s, you know, when non-whites knew their place.

It worked quite well. Essentially the Republicans picked up formerly white southern Democrats when Democrats (some say unwisely) moved toward being more inclusive instead of the party of the white working class. Starting with Richard Nixon, Republicans realized that catering to people’s prejudices was a reliable vote getter. Republicans stoked then exploited these class divisions and anxieties so well that today the south and much of the non-coastal west is now a deep shade of red. Robinson said that Trump’s genius was to call to task Republicans because they didn’t follow through on their promises to this new base, actions like sending undocumented immigrants home. He said that Trump has fundamentally changed the party, wresting control from its establishment and making it explicitly a party centered on addressing these fears rather than merely pandering to them.

It used to be that in the Republican Party the tiger controlled its tail. The tail (the Tea Party, racists and Christian fundamentalists) now appears to control the party. We’ll find out for sure if Trump wins his party’s nomination. Even if Trump somehow slips, anyone who takes his place will have to sound a lot like him, which is why Ted Cruz won’t say anything bad about Trump while echoing most of his talking points. Counterproductively, the remaining Republican candidates are busy criticizing each other instead of focusing on Trump, at best a pennywise but pound-foolish strategy.

The Republican Party is thus on the cusp of becoming an officially anti-democratic party. It’s clear this is where they’ve been heading for a long time given their hostility toward the poor made manifest in egregious gerrymandering and increasingly odious voting restrictions. It’s like George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Republicans have decided they are the pigs. What Republicans don’t want to admit is that any control they get must be tenuous at best, as the nation’s changing demographics will eventually overwhelm them. They already recognize their reality by creating egregious voter restriction laws. These stack the deck in their favor but they cannot last forever.

Trump’s policies are popular with his supporters because he is proposing actions that explicitly redress these problems. He wants to deport the undocumented and cut off a path to citizenship for those here legally. Do this and you can at least push off the date of white disempowerment. When Trump proposes a wall along our border with Mexico, what his supporters hear is not that it will deter the undocumented from coming into the United States, but that it is a concrete step toward moving us back to the 1950s when they were in charge and minorities knew their place.

An explicitly anti-democratic party should be very scary to the rest of us. It suggests that Republicans want a radical change to our constitutional government. Trump’s words at least suggest he plans to govern by fiat if he cannot get his way.

It’s understandable that many voters are frustrated with the gridlock in Washington. I am one of them. They want to elect someone that can end it. By supporting someone who will use non-constitutional means though, they tacitly are saying that this is the only way things can change. If elected, Trump’s methods appear to be to take action unlawfully and unilaterally if necessary. He can say that he ran on this promise, voters voted him in anyhow and thus he has their sanction. However, the problem of Washington gridlock has everything to do with excessive gerrymandering that Republicans spent decades working on to garner disproportionate political power. Gerrymandering gives power to the extremes and disempowers the middle.

Curiously many of Trump’s political supporters are not new Republicans but frustrated disempowered people in the middle who see him as their savior. You can see this because some of Trump’s policies are not traditionally conservative at all. His supporters are less concerned with whether the policies are conservative but whether he can make government function for the people again. They see Trump as a man of practical action who by using the force of personality and the presidency will untangle this Gordian knot. For decades the disenfranchised white working class has propped up the Republican Party’s power, with little to show for the support they were given. This gave an opening for the daring (Trump) to exploit.

I contend that what really irks Trump supporters are not the loss of white political power, but their ability to influence politicians to work for the middle class, as evidenced by their declining wages and more problematic standard of living. As Jimmy Carter has pointed out, we effectively live in an oligarchy now. The Republican Party is the champion of the oligarchy. And the oligarchy wants a sense of stability that leaves them in charge. Then they can exploit government and the country for their benefit, which in recent decades has meant a decline in the standard of living for most of us by redistributing income to the rich.

Trump supporters are realizing that they have been had and their votes for Republicans have been counterproductive, but for many they still can’t vote for a Democrat because most Democrats don’t believe in the specialness of whites that Republicans have skillfully exploited. However, it’s why Bernie Sanders can appeal to many Trump supporters, and visa versa, by channeling their economic frustrations. Both are speaking to them in a language they understand. Trump though has chosen to pander to the white working class.

Both parties have exploited working whites for many decades. Whites perceive that Democrats favor minorities at their expense, which they attribute to erosion in their standard of living. They also perceive that Republicans pander to them for votes but give power to the oligarchy instead. They don’t realize that by uniting with many of those they instinctively revile that government could work for them, and in the process work for everyone else too.

To make that leap they must see behind the façade, which is that white Christians are somehow more special than everyone else. I expect the smarter Trump supporters will leach off toward supporting Bernie Sanders instead.

Trump is a showman and a fraud. Those who want the real deal though need to support someone whose entire career has been toward making the government represent the people. By raising the boats of the middle and lower classes, the anxiety about these others should ease.

 

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