Sunday, February 14, 2021

If It's Really the End of Trump

Uncredited image from CityWatch Los Angeles, July 2020.

Commenter BradleyKSherman writes re the end of the impeachment drama:

On 8 September 1974, Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon. That was the anticlimax to two years of built up tension. My hate was pure but my rage had no outlet. So I was prepared for this exact denouement. That was no more the end of the GOP than is this. It was the end of Nixon and I think this is the end of Trump.

Some thoughts from me:

That's at least half of a pretty happy thought IMO, but if it really is the end of Trump (of which I'm more hopeful than a lot of really smart people), I'm having a little trouble putting together the other half.

Getting rid of Nixon had two very important political consequences:
  1. it created the space for big reforms in the system, to prevent the Nixonian abuses from happening again, which didn't in the long run work too well, either in stopping (GOP) presidents from manipulating CIA and FBI and DOJ for political ends or in curbing (mainly GOP) corruption through campaign money, and 
  2.  it created the space for the GOP to be taken over by movement conservatives, which worked out all too well for them, creating this whole neoliberal era and the end of postwar social democratic prosperity.
The consequences of the end of Trump ought to have a similar shape, and I can imagine them being very positive indeed, though I don't quite know how to bring them about.

Reforms centered around the idea of preventing a Trump from happening again are essential, and Congress needs to mobilize for them in a manner like that of the Church Committee in the 1970s, but on a broader base, and looking at a partly different set of issues. 

To me, as you might remember, the abuses of  intelligence agencies from 1980 through around 2006 were kind of solved in the Obama administration, by Brennan and Mueller and Clapper (don't @ me!), and the parallel effort in the Justice Department, while less successful, made a good start (including good work on some issues I especially care about, voting rights and immigrant rights). The experience of the Trump administration really bears that out: Trump people failed remarkably in their efforts to subvert FBI and CIA—who would have thought!—as well as the military (which Nixon wouldn't have dreamed of trying), while the Justice Department was badly hurt by the grotesquely bad and corrupt attorneys general Sessions and Barr and worms like Rod Rosenstein, but I'm very hopeful it will come back together in the Biden administration. The reform that's needed for Justice, though, is some kind of wall separating it from the White House, so that a future Trump can't use it as a personal thug force the way Trump did, whether to push legally questionable policies (like Reagan and the Bushes) or punish political enemies (on a scale worse than Nixon attempted), and I don't know how that's accomplished. 

On campaign finance, the Obama administration sadly did nothing, as far as I'm concerned (it was my original beef with Obama back in 2008 that he opted out of public financing, when I made a solemn vow that I'd never give him a dime, a vow I kept), and the Supreme Court certainly didn't help with its series of terrible decisions starting with Citizens United in 2010. There's a great set of solutions to longstanding problems in campaign finance as well as protection of voting rights and election security in the For the People Act designated as S.1 and H.R.1., including ways that could probably help address Trump's flagrant misuse of campaign funding to feed his businesses—

H.R. 1 ensures that there are cops on the campaign finance beat that will enforce the laws on the books. H.R. 1 tightens rules on super PACs and restructures the Federal Election Commission to break the gridlock and enhance its enforcement mechanisms. It also repeals Mitch McConnell’s riders that prevent government agencies from requiring commonsense disclosure of political spending.
—if it can be enacted, which may require ending the filibuster, which may continue to be impossible for the near future, but who knows. 

But the big thing is that the president has to somehow be made subject to the law—to the Constitution and existing statutes—and to the conventions that have grown up over the centuries, which should somehow be enacted into law, from the disclosure of tax returns and financial interests to the staffing of the government with Senate-confirmed officials instead of a small army of Actings and Persons Performing the Duties Of. She or he can't be allowed to collect foreign and domestic emoluments as Trump did (with the help of an opinion drafted by flunkies in the General Services Administration) in public, let alone secretly. He can't be allowed to violate the law on nepotism as Trump did (with the help of an opinion crafted by his goons in DOJ) turning huge swathes of executive responsibility over to his corrupt and feckless son-in-law. He can't be allowed to carry on secret dealings with foreign leaders who have important powers to affect his business interests, as Trump and his son-in-law did with Putin, Erdoğan, MBS and MBZ, and who knows who else. He can't devote official TV time to advertising the products and services he sells in another job. He can't have another job, pretending it's really his son's job. He can't flagrantly obstruct justice by interfering in the investigation of his criminal national security adviser or his so-called attorney or his ratfucker-in-chief or his other campaign associates; or by creating forged documents; or by firing the FBI director for refusing to serve as his made man. He can't perjure himself in a federal investigation. He can't use the Justice Department to persecute his enemies (mostly agents properly investigating him for some of these crimes). He can't use the State Department to help him sweet-talk or bully foreign leaders into giving him a hand in an election campaign—he can't do it on his own, without the State Department, either. He can't use the military to stop a political demonstration—even if it were to become violent, only civilly constituted authorities are allowed. He can't conspire with his attorneys, or with state officials, or with irregular thug militias like the so-called Proud Boys and Oathkeepers, to institute emergency rule and prevent his elected successor from taking office. 

It's an issue (like the Senate and the Electoral College) that the Founders, may their memory be a blessing, didn't get right. The Second Branch must be brought under the joint control of the First and Third. It's always been a problem, not just since the "Imperial Presidency" but all the way back to Adams (Alien and Sedition Acts), but Trump has made it an absolute emergency. We've been watching all these things happening right out in public for the past five years, paralyzed, because there are no legal mechanisms for doing anything about it. If he'd really shot somebody on Fifth Avenue in full view of a crowd of onlookers he wouldn't have been arrested! There have to be ways to stop it!

As to the Republican party, if Trump is really over, it ought to be the end of the 40-year libertarian-or-neoliberal ascendency among the patricians and evangelical pietism among the plebs, because they're the ones responsible, and they know they are, for the extremes we've seen over the last term of government for the rich that's really small enough to drown in the bathtub, in the form of the 2017 tax cut and the wholesale deregulation of business, and government for the poor that ends up visible mostly in the form of cops shooting unarmed people dead in the streets and immigration agencies wantonly destroying families (while doing nothing to protect the jobs or the lives of citizens supposedly endangered by immigrant labor or immigrant crime). Trump himself, dumber than Reagan and lazier than Bush, spending more time on his business interests than governing and more time watching TV than either, typifies government so small you can hardly see it while those who are supposed to govern busy themselves with the entertainment industry, as performers (Trump as a kind of Catskill tummler/proprietor) and audiences. For the Christian right, who traded their souls to a notorious adulterer and sexual assaulter and obvious unbeliever—

"I am not sure I have," Trump said when asked if he'd ever asked God for forgiveness. "I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don't think so," he said. "I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't."

—in return for about 20% of the federal judiciary being turned over to presumed abortion opponents, they earned themselves plague, economic crisis, crazy coup attempt, and probable damnation. 

Not that they're going to actually see it that way, beyond a vague sense of having been let down, reflected in the numbers that have been switching their party affiliation since 6 January and the dip in overall approval:

In a Gallup poll released Wednesday, approval of the Republican Party fell to 37 percent, down from 43 percent in November. That decline, combined with a slight uptick in the Democrats’ favorability, gives Joe Biden’s party its first double-digit advantage in voter approval since the government shutdown of 2013.... And Gallup’s findings suggest that the wave of formal defections from the party may signify a broader informal movement away from the GOP: The Republicans’ declining approval was concentrated entirely among its own voters, as just 78 percent of self-identified GOP voters voiced approval for the party, down from 90 percent in November.

I'm sure inertia and continued resentment of non-white people, intellectuals, youth, and anybody who has fun will keep most statehouses red for a while, together with the traditional gerrymandering and vote suppression, but it's going to get harder and harder to mobilize the party at a national level, and I'm starting to feel a hope of keeping the Senate Democratic in 2022. The GOP will have to find a somewhat different shtik than the one they've been using since 1980 if they want to get big again, and I don't think it's Josh Hawley "populism".

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