Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Monsignor Worries About Answered Prayers

Sad Republican senators at the White House, 7 August 1974, via Medium.

Shorter Monsignor Ross Douthat, apostolic nuncio to 42nd Street ("How Trump Survives"):
Looking through the lenses of their own partisanship at the total history (all two cases) of 20th-century presidential impeachment for clues as to what is to come, liberals tend to think that Nixon ended up out of office because, unlike Clinton, he was guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, while conservatives believe it is because the senators of the Republican minority in 1974 were more high-minded than the senators of the Democratic minority in 1998. But my hot empirical take, drawing on Twitter commentary by the political scientist Jacob Levy is that it was the oil shocks and stagflation that brought Nixon down. Meaning not "the economy, stupid," but a cascade toward economic debacle, foreign-policy catastrophe or late-1960s civil strife, as the case may be, which convinced Senator Goldwater and the others that Nixon was going to have to go.
The moral being that you won't get rid of Trump just because he's a criminal, but only if you're cascading toward economic debacle, foreign-policy catastrophe, or late-1960s civil strife, and if you want that to happen you're a bad person. I'm not saying you shouldn't impeach him, because he's an extremely bad person, but you should hope that you fail.
You think I'm kidding?

It might just be the case that in our system it takes a clear cascade of disasters to pre-emptively remove a president, even a manifestly corrupt one. And though the likelihood of such a disaster the longer Trump remains in office is one reason to wish for his removal, even his fiercest critics should prefer stability, and the necessity of defeating him at the ballot box, to the Something Worse that might expedite his fall.
Were things really that bad in 1974? Goldwater, Rhodes, and Scott told Nixon he'd have to resign because they were concerned about fuel prices and the end of US participation in the Vietnam War? (I think the key element was enough high-minded Republican senators in both cases, to vote against Nixon in 1974 and for Clinton in 1999, as there sadly aren't today.)

If anything Goldwater might have been upset about Nixon's reaction—unconservative wage and price controls, and noises of accommodation with Democrats including a proposed national health insurance system (which wasn't a very good proposal, in my opinion, but wasn't something a True Conservative could contemplate with equanimity).

In wishing we could remove Trump are we making one of those prayers that we should hope aren't answered?

I obviously don't think so because I think the crisis is here. We're in the middle of a foreign-policy catastrophe brought on, precisely, by Trump's corruption and the narcissism that leads him to base decisions on who flatters him the best, the paralyzing of international organizations and projects as the US becomes unable to participate in them, the increasing effrontery of bad actors in Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, China, and others who have Trump's number and use it, and so on. I think we're in a terrible economic situation as well even though the favorite indicators don't show it, with the agricultural and manufacturing economy collapsing under the Trump tariff wars while our imports don't slow down, but who knows how long that takes. We should all be worried about the increasingly uniform Republican rejection of climate science and every form of health and safety regulation, to say nothing of the encouragement of white nationalism with an actual Nazi writing his speeches threatening the civic peace. I confess I want Trump out because I think he's running a dreadful, bad, no good administration at every level and in every department, but I recognize that is not an impeachment case prefigured in the Constitution.

Nevertheless, if Douthat recognizes that Trump's unfitness increases the likelihood of disaster as long as he stays in office, surely that's the kind of instability he claims to fear, and it would be a good idea to get rid of him sooner rather than later, and because so much of the maladministration—especially in foreign policy—is rooted in his self-dealing corrupt nature, it is an impeachment case. The political issue isn't whether there's a crisis, but whether the public perceives a crisis that's there or not.

Rich Lowry's on my radio as I type explaining that it's better to keep Trump and his acknowledged corruption because Elizabeth Warren might try to violate the Constitution by banning fracking nationwide or instituting a wealth tax or breaking up the big tech monopolies. That's a remarkably stupid argument, because the only way to find out whether these proposals violate the Constitution or not is to propose them and begin the institutional debate to decide it; if they decide a wealth tax is inconsistent with the terms of the 16th Amendment, she (we) won't get away with it, and if they don't Lowry is wrong and no harm's done. Old Mr. Buckley had to learn to live with school desegregation when that turned out to be constitutional too.

But at another level it's a fairly important kind of conservative blindness showing itself when Lowry complains that these kinds of proposals are a meant as a liberal "power grab" for government taking it beyond the limits prescribed in the Constitution, as if the purpose of the Constitution were to establish a kind of balanced budget system for power which must never be exceeded, rather than the positive benefits of to "establishing a more perfect union", "ensuring domestic tranquility","promoting the general welfare", etc.

It's a characteristic conservative dishonesty, of course, to speak of government power as this single undifferentiated force, rather than the many levers it uses for different purposes, of which anybody might prefer some to be weaker and others to be stronger, conservatives included (e.g. when they ask for increased government power to prevent refugees and asylum claimants from entering the country). But it also betrays a terrible lack of understanding that laws don't exist for their own sake but for accomplishing particular purposes.

We have criminal laws mostly for a reason, and it's not because the Constitution says we can: it's because crimes harm people, and one of the traditional functions of government is to try to stop them, in our document in line with the domestic tranquility and general welfare provisions. The problem with Trump's corruption isn't the abstract fact that it breaks the law but the concrete fact that it harms people; promotes the prosecution of destructive wars in Syria and Yemen and Ukraine, for instance, contributes to the global warming destruction of our habitat, takes funding from important projects and feeding it into his hotels and golf courses, decreases our ability to promote our national interests in international fora, and so on. The law doesn't enable us to prosecute him for being stupid or unbalanced, but it does enable to prosecute him for these things, and we should. Even though it won't work, to stand up for the principle.

No comments:

Post a Comment