Saturday, February 18, 2017

Brooks consults the Kristol ball

Not finding a credit for this image. Anybody?
David Brooks, pulling out his Kristol ball, finds the future is fuzzy: he can't imagine how the Trump administration will survive for the whole quadrennium ("What a Failed Trump Administration Looks Like"), but he can't imagine how it will meet its demise either.  Gone are the good old days when you could rely on the nation to unite in the effort to get rid of a criminal president:

I have trouble seeing exactly how this administration ends. Many of the institutions that would normally ease out or remove a failing president no longer exist.
There are no longer moral arbiters in Congress like Howard Baker and Sam Ervin to lead a resignation or impeachment process. There is no longer a single media establishment that shapes how the country sees the president. This is no longer a country in which everybody experiences the same reality.
Funny thing about Howard Baker, ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee investigating the Watergate burglary, and how he asked his famous question:

On June 29, Baker, in his easy drawl, began his try at Dean.
“My primary thesis is still, what did the president know, and when did he know it?” said the senator.
What’s forgotten today is that Baker thought he was protecting Nixon with that line. He was attempting to wall off the president from the actions of aides who might have done something wrong.
“He evidently meant to exculpate Nixon from prior knowledge of the break-in,” wrote historian Fred Emery in his book “Watergate: The Corruption of American Politics and the Fall of Richard Nixon.”
To be fair, once Baker found out what the president knew (everything) and when he knew it (from the start, since he was running the show himself), he got on board and did his duty. But I can't help thinking what they had then that we don't have now in Congress was really not so much moral arbiters as Democrats. If John Conyers were running the House Judiciary Committee instead of Bob Goodlatte (under whose despotism the committee's website gives the impression that it doesn't have any Democrats at all) the hearings would have started weeks ago.

Of course what Brooks is doing is asking us to help him hide from exactly that.

In general it's not easy to identify the "institutions that would normally ease out or remove a failing president", because they normally don't. Do they? Did I forget the part where the moral arbiters and media establishment whooshed Woodrow Wilson out of the White House after his collapse in September 1919, 14 months before the next election, or the demented Reagan when they became aware of the president's illness during the 1984 campaign? Or Warren G. Harding in January 1923, when the president's complacent acceptance of corruption in the Veterans' Bureau and the Interior Department and Justice Department became well known to Washington insiders and the president himself was too feeble with the heart disease that would kill him eight months later to finish a round of golf?

I wouldn't say there was ever a time when "everybody experiences the same reality", except inside the solipsistic world of David Brooks's brain. If such a time ever comes in the real world I hope I'm dead.

Nor do I believe there was ever a "single media that shapes how the country sees our president" unless when it was maintaining the view that everything was perfectly normal, nothing to see here, move along now, gentlemen. And it wasn't a good thing; Brooks seems to be nostalgic for a time when, as Canada's Kent Commission complained in 1981,
Because of the large amount of capital required to put out a newspaper, the press became concentrated in the hands of big business. Diversity of opinion was placed in jeopardy. Freedom of the press ultimately came to depend on an increasingly restricted ability to publish or be published. As in old authoritarian days, the definition of truth once again risked becoming the prerogative of a few, now the few who had the power of money.-
What's normal, in fact, is a widespread effort among the wealthy and mighty to gloss over the weirdness of a given presidency, as long as it's a presidency of and for the wealthy and mighty, down to George W. Bush (whose incapacity for high office was clear to pretty much the whole electorate by 2006, when his Gallup approval rating slipped under 40% and mostly never came back up, a good two years before his second term finally flamed out in financial apocalypse).

Brooks is really unable, as yet, to start doing that. To his credit. Trump offends him too much. But you can see him edging there, from his call to resistance three (3) days ago, to the hope that the emperor may not be able to do anything—

President Trump can push all the pretty buttons on the command deck of the Starship Enterprise, but don’t expect anything to actually happen, because they are not attached.
Or maybe he'll bring himself down in some unexpected way. Brooks just can't figure it out because he's only human!

The only saving thought is this: The human imagination is vast, but it is not nearly vast enough to encompass the infinitely multitudinous ways Donald Trump can find to get himself disgraced.
"Wait a minute, could you repeat that?" "Sorry, the spirits are fatigued now, my vision grows dim, and we've hit our 800 words. Come back on Tuesday."

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