E pluribus unity

After two days of consideration, and some moping, I’ve determined that I am disappointed with the final vote by the Senate in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, especially since they were so close to calling witnesses who might have provided evidence that could have won over enough votes to convict him of the charges.

I got up early (for a Saturday) to watch the closing arguments, and even though Mitch McConnell had emailed that he would vote to acquit I was happy to learn that there was a chance that witnesses would be called to testify.  As someone who believes Trump’s illegal and un-American behavior deserves whatever punishment is available, I began dreaming—calling witnesses was going to increase the chances that something would happen that would persuade more senators to convict Trump.  It might be the only way to get Republicans who were hell bent on protecting Trump—or who at least wanted to look like they were protecting Trump, in order to insulate themselves from the anger of Trump nation—into a position in which they could vote their real conscience.  Deep down, where everyone knows that Trump is a menace.  Even Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz.

Although disappointed in the verdict, I am not surprised by it.  Because this is not a movie.  In fiction, without a doubt, there would have been a surprise speech from some Republican senator that clearly and persuasively and emotionally laid the blame for inciting the attack on Congress on Trump, not just for his speech on the Ellipse that day but for the months of blatant lies inflaming his supporters into thinking a nefarious force was stealing the election.  Something like this, right up until the “but…”

Of course, there was a nefarious force at work…it was Trump.

I can’t comprehend how or why people believed Trump’s warning that an election that had not yet happened had already been rigged.  Not that Trump doesn’t have a high enough opinion of himself to make the claim that the only way he could lose would be through theft, but I still don’t get how so many Americans would accept this transparently self-serving claim as true—before the first vote was even cast, and with no offer of proof for how it would happen.  After all the opposition to Trump’s policies and his actions that had developed over the years, why was it hard to believe that a lot of people wouldn’t want him to be president any more?  You didn’t have to agree with those people to be honest enough with yourself to see that they were there, and they were going to vote for someone else.

The election came, and he did lose, and he bored right in with the lie.  There was no evidence of widespread fraud.  Court after court after court (after court) rejected literally dozens of legal claims.  Right through the recounts and the canvasses in state after state, right through the certification of electoral votes in all fifty states, the lying persisted.  These men and women who believed themselves patriots—the only real Americans left—convinced themselves that Trump was right, that taking up arms against their own government was the patriotic thing to do.  They were so entrenched in the delusion that they even photo-documented themselves committing the crime, unburdened by any concern for their own legal culpability.  Hundreds of them are now aware of just what a mistake that was.

The case against Trump presented by the House managers left any honest audience little wiggle room in concluding that Trump committed an impeachable offense: encouraging an armed assault against the United States Capitol and its defenders, the members of the legislative branch of government, and his own vice president.  The smoking gun was right there in Trump’s tiny hand: even if you accept the argument that he meant it when told his supporters that day to make a peaceful protest, you have to explain why, for hours after the violence began, he did nothing to try to stop it.  Didn’t get on TV and call on them to stop.  Didn’t Tweet at them, telling them to stop.  Didn’t call in the National Guard, or any other law enforcement to assist the Capitol police.  Did nothing to restore law and order. *

A majority of the U.S. Senate voted that Trump is guilty of the charge, but not the two-thirds of members present that the Constitution requires.  Today the Houston Chronicle editorial board praised those seven Republicans senators who braved the backlash sure to come by voting to convict based on the compelling evidence presented in the trial.  As for the others:

Their colleagues who voted to acquit either averted their eyes from the glaring evidence or cowered behind strained legal arguments. History will judge them, but the American people need not wait. We bore witness to the assault on our nation’s Capitol and the evidence presented in trial.

We will not forget Trump’s crimes or the failure of most in his party to hold him accountable. Senators failed to show the same kind of courage that Republican state officials did as they resisted the former president’s pressure to overturn an election.

They failed to put their duty to safeguard democracy above partisan allegiance. They took no strength from former Vice President Mike Pence, who rebuffed calls to interfere in the Electoral College certification process, or from former Attorney General Bill Barr, who investigated allegations of voter fraud and, finding no evidence, chose to resign rather than perpetuate Trump’s false claims.

They failed to honor the bravery of the officers who risked their lives to prevent further carnage, including Capitol officer Brian D. Sicknick who was killed and the almost 140 officers who were bruised, bloodied and bashed by a mob wielding bats and flag poles.

Perhaps the starkest profile in cowardice belongs to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for voting to acquit and then delivering a damning speech proving he knew better. McConnell declared Trump “practically and morally” responsible for the Capitol riot but relied on a questionable legal interpretation to claim the Senate lacked the power to hold a former president accountable. Then he tried to pass blame on the House for delays when he himself blocked the Senate from starting the trial while Trump was still in office.

Such excuses, including Texas Sen. John Cornyn’s claim that Democrats were being “unnecessarily vindictive” in pursuing impeachment, aren’t fooling anybody who’s been paying attention.

So, disappointed…but not discouraged.  Not yet.  The verdict of the U.S. Senate does not protect Trump from the criminal justice system, which can still prosecute him for his actions in regard to the attack on the Capitol just as it can for his attempts in Georgia and elsewhere to pressure local officials to commit election fraud.  Not to mention the civil and criminal investigations in New York and elsewhere, which get the feel of being too much to remember, so thanks to George Conway for bothering to write it down.

In the meantime I intend to try to follow the advice offered by E.J. Dionne yesterday: think about how the good that came out of this trial can be the foundation for the future:

…a diverse and able group of prosecutors laid out an indelible record not only of what happened on Jan. 6 and why, but also Trump’s irresponsibility throughout his term of office: his courting of the violent far right; his celebration of violence; his habit of privileging himself and his own interests over everything and everyone else, including his unrequitedly loyal vice president.

This record matters. We often like to pretend that we can move on and forget the past. But our judgments about the past inevitably shape our future. Every political era is, in part, a reaction to the failures — perceived and real — of the previous one. The Hoover-Coolidge Republicans loomed large for two generations of Democrats. Ronald Reagan built a thriving movement by calling out what he successfully cast as the sins of liberalism.

By tying themselves to Trump with their votes, most House and Senate Republicans made themselves complicit in his behavior. And Trump will prove to be even more of an albatross than Hoover, who, after all, had a moral core.

(snip)

It’s a sign of how far and how fast the ex-president has fallen that opponents of impeachment rationalized their votes by saying, as McConnell did, that Trump must still confront the “criminal justice system” and “civil litigation.” You’re in trouble when your would-be friends are saying you should be prosecuted rather than impeached.

All of which strengthens the hand of a president whose central campaign theme was a warning against the threat that Trump posed to democracy itself. A bipartisan majority of 57 senators and 232 House members has now declared that Joe Biden was right.

Here’s some of what Joe Biden had to say, standing in front of the Capitol two weeks after Trump’s mob tried to steal an election and subvert our system of government.

Few periods in our nation’s history have been more challenging or difficult than the one we’re in now.  A once-in-a-century virus silently stalks the country.  It’s taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II.  Millions of jobs have been lost.  Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed.  A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us.  The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer.  A cry for survival comes from the planet itself.  A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear.  And now, a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.

To overcome these challenges – to restore the soul and to secure the future of America – requires more than words.  It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy:  Unity.

(snip)

I ask every American to join me in this cause.

Uniting to fight the common foes we face: Anger, resentment, hatred.  Extremism, lawlessness, violence.  Disease, joblessness, hopelessness.  With unity we can do great things.  Important things.  We can right wrongs.  We can put people to work in good jobs.  We can teach our children in safe schools.  We can overcome this deadly virus.  We can reward work, rebuild the middle class, and make health care secure for all.  We can deliver racial justice.  We can make America, once again, the leading force for good in the world.

(snip)

Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, and demonization have long torn us apart.  The battle is perennial.  Victory is never assured.

Through the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice, and setbacks, our “better angels” have always prevailed.  In each of these moments, enough of us came together to carry all of us forward.  And, we can do so now.  History, faith, and reason show the way, the way of unity.

(snip)

And so today, at this time and in this place, let us start afresh.  All of us.  Let us listen to one another.  Hear one another.  See one another.  Show respect to one another.  Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path.  Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.  And, we must reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.

My fellow Americans, we have to be different than this.  America has to be better than this.  And, I believe America is better than this.

(snip)

This is a time of testing.  We face an attack on democracy and on truth.  A raging virus.  Growing inequity.  The sting of systemic racism.  A climate in crisis.  America’s role in the world.  Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways.  But the fact is we face them all at once, presenting this nation with the gravest of responsibilities.  Now we must step up.  All of us.

* EDITOR’S NOTE: This post has been updated to remove a referenced Tweet which claimed Trump and his family watched the attack on the Capitol from a party tent on the White House lawn.  That was not correct; the Poynter Tweet below explains the error.  HIPRB regrets the error.

Confoundmentalizing

So I’m sitting here on a rainy afternoon, dealing with some back soreness that would have made playing golf problematical anyway, and instead I’m working on a blog post.  And I’m hashing through ideas trying to develop the topic, which is always a thing, when I find that our president and his band of accomplices and enablers are doing the hard work for me right now.  Thank you, Mr. President.

In case you missed the early chapters here, last night Attorney General Bill Barr issued a statement announcing that the U.S. Attorney in New York City, Geoffrey Berman, was stepping down and the president had nominated the current chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission to be the new U.S. Attorney.  (Well, it wouldn’t be the first time Donald Trump has fired the man in charge of the Southern District of New York.)

BUT, Berman takes issue: “I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning:”

And Twitter is aglow about (1) what seems to be a poorly-executed Friday Night Massacre by the Administration, five months before the election, of the prosecutor leading the office investigating multiple cases against Trump, his associates, and his businesses, AND (2) that Barr’s letter is lying when it says Berman resigned.

I learned from reading about this today that Berman was appointed to the job in an acting capacity by the federal judges in New York, after Trump fired the Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney (who refused the standard request to submit his resignation) but never nominated anyone to be confirmed by the Senate.  And, that Berman is/was a Trump supporter.

This afternoon, Barr issues a letter to Berman expressing surprise that Berman was saying he wasn’t going anywhere, and taking the tough stand that “I have asked the President to remove you as of today, and he has done so.”  Really?   Because it turns out, Trump doesn’t think he has done that at all.  He says this is all on Barr:

This, given the most favorable spin I can think to put on it, is evidence of a complete lack of professional competence by the attorney general.  Without offering any explanation at all of why he would try to remove the federal prosecutor in New York.  To not try to spin it, it sure as hell looks like the White House is trying to cover Trump’s ass.  Again.  Which takes me back to where I was when I started this, and that is to think through why it is that people who support Donald Trump do not/will not acknowledge the evidence of their own senses of what he is doing.

I started out writing “people who are conservative” but that’s not right. “Being conservative” is not the problem; being conservative is not a problem at all.  Fact is, there are plenty of conservative people who have been very vocal about the problems they see with this president, and declared their intention to work against his re-election.  Take a look at Republican Voters Against Trump on Twitter for example, where they’re lining up a series of short videos by long-time Republican voters who explain, calmly and logically, why they believe Trump should not be re-elected…and for many, why they think the current Republican leadership should be routed, too.

This is not about conservatism, nor I think is it about any political philosophy, unless Know-Nothingness is still a thing.  This is about people who are unwilling to be honest with themselves about what’s going on right in front of them.  And when the things going on are tearing down the institutions of American democracy, that’s a problem.

The problem is not what Donald Trump believes in.  I am persuaded that he doesn’t have any deep and abiding beliefs or philosophy other than that making money, for himself, is the only worthy goal of life.  Period.  Running for president in 2016 was a publicity stunt to raise his profile and open up money-making opportunities; he didn’t believe he would win.  Since then, his actions have been intended to (1) maximize his profitability and (2) placate the voters who supported him, as a means of shoring up (1).

The problem is not that too many Americans support Trump or his policies.  Remember, although he legitimately won the election he did not get the majority of the votes that were cast.  In fact, the Census Bureau reports “In 2016, 61.4 percent of the citizen voting-age population reported voting” and we know Trump won 46 percent of that 61.4 percent total, which means he won the election with the support of (roughly) just 28 percent of Americans who were old enough to vote!

The thing that annoys me so much is to see what Trump does, and then see the people who don’t get it or who don’t care about it.  Today, Trump and his attorney general couldn’t get their story straight as they tried to fire a federal prosecutor who is investigating Trump businesses and Trump associates (a bad look all around), but it won’t make a damn bit of difference to the MAGA crowd.  Not-a-doctor Trump suggests people inject themselves with cleaning products to fight a deadly virus, or take a drug that the medical experts say has no value in this case, while he is adamant about setting a bad example in not wearing a mask, and there are plenty of Trump supporters who decide to see that as a courageous stand against government overreach into our daily lives.

Nothing bad that happens is ever his fault, despite being the guy who asked for the job that carries the ultimate responsibility when it comes to actions by our government.  It’s one childish excuse after another.  You wouldn’t stand for this whining from your children; why do you accept it from your president?

OK, a couple more, just for fun:

The story of the film so far

The top level news from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report to the attorney general on his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is important confirmation: the Russians did try to influence the outcome of our 2016 presidential election.  Based on Bill Barr’s summary of the report sent to Congress last Sunday, the only currently available report on the report’s contents (a source I choose to trust, as I trust the effort of Mueller’s team), we should now have no reasonable disagreement that Vladimir Putin’s government committed cyber war on our country, and that we should be doing something about it.  I know our president has belittled that notion in the past (disagreeing with the findings of our country’s intelligence community; not clear why), but if he’s going to accept the other conclusions from the Mueller investigation he’ll have a hard time disagreeing with this one by blaming the messenger.  (I say that despite Trump’s demonstrated disdain for anything approaching intellectual consistency, but still…)

Next up: Mueller does not find evidence to indicate that Trump or any of the people in his campaign intentionally or unintentionally worked with the Russians to influence the outcome of the election: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”  I find I agree with the analysis that this is good news…for everybody.  For Trump, certainly, in that it seems to clear him from being pursued criminally in that respect, reduces the chance of impeachment proceedings, and provides a political boost for his 2020 campaign.  But also for our country, in that we can take some solace in knowing that our president and his people did not conspire with a foreign government to seize power.  This was never a given, sadly, so it’s good to know now.

I also agree with the many who argue for the public release of Mueller’s complete report.  A shorthand argument: if the report “completely exonerates” Trump, as he insists it does, then we should all get to share the happy details.  A good longer version comes from David French in Sunday’s National Review:

The American people need full disclosure — and not just of the Mueller report itself. We need to see relevant FISA applications, supporting documents, classified testimony, and any other evidence relevant to not just the Mueller investigation itself but also to the inception of the Trump–Russia investigation. This conclusion is rendered even more urgent by two important political realities.

The first relates to the obstruction of justice. As Barr explains in his letter, the Mueller report neither accuses Trump of committing obstruction of justice in the course of the investigation, nor does it exonerate him [emphasis added]. Instead, the attorney general and deputy attorney general (both Trump appointees) examined the evidence and concluded that the evidence was “not sufficient” to conclude that the president obstructed justice. Democrats will trust this conclusion exactly as much as Republicans would trust a Democratic attorney general to evaluate the actions of a Democratic president.

(snip)

…nothing in Barr’s letter excuses the fact that Trump hired and surrounded himself with some of the worst people in politics — felons and liars who sometimes committed crimes in the ham-handed attempt to cover up their own contacts or attempted contacts with Russian assets or operatives. The president’s personal lawyer, his campaign chair, his longtime friend and adviser, and his first national-security adviser (among others) each engaged in patterns of deception that were not only criminal, they created real and genuine alarm in fair-minded Americans that at least some people in the president’s inner circle were more than willing to work with our enemies abroad to gain financial or political advantage here at home.

But these facts notwithstanding, there are still grounds for immense relief that America’s most recent presidential election has been (further) legitimized and that years of speculation about President Trump’s ties to the Russian government have proven unfounded. These last 30 months of investigations — beginning well before Mueller’s appointment — are among the most divisive and contentious events in modern political history. As we wait to read the full report and move into the inevitable battles over its contents, we can be sure that more division and contention await. Yet today, at least, we can be grateful for the good news we have, and it is good news indeed.

Mark Joseph Stern echoes French’s argument in the sense that full disclosure of the Mueller report is also necessary for analysts to determine if Barr’s quick assessment and summary of the results of the 22-month investigation were an improper effort to head off further action against the president who appointed him to the job.

Barr outlined one key finding unambiguously: The Trump campaign, he wrote, did not coordinate with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election. That conclusion will come as a great relief to the president and his supporters, if Mueller’s report is as clear-cut as Barr indicates. But the attorney general’s summary includes a second finding that is confusing and equivocal. Mueller, Barr wrote, left “unresolved” the question of whether Trump obstructed justice. He instead laid out “evidence of both sides” and allowed Barr, along with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, to use those findings to determine whether the president committed obstruction. On the basis of this evidence and analysis—which we cannot yet evaluate—Barr and Rosenstein decided that Trump did not commit such an offense.

This portion of the summary will remain a puzzle until Mueller’s report is released to the public. But Barr provided a clue to his reasoning, by suggesting that he did not see evidence Trump hampered the Russia probe with “corrupt intent.” As former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal has noted, it is hard to understand how Barr, or Mueller, or anyone, could gauge Trump’s intent, because the president has not been interviewed about his intentions. Why not? We know at least one person vigorously opposed to compelling Trump to submit to an interview: Bill Barr, whose 2018 memo declared that Mueller could not legally do so.

The full report will be beneficial to Congressional committees, too, to the extent that they are resolved to pull their heads out of their asses and start providing checks and balances of the executive branch rather than being the president’s cheering section and public defender.

So we wait, for…who knows how long.  Barr has said he’s all about the transparency, the president says he doesn’t mind at all if the report is made public, but there’s no requirement in law that it ever be released to anyone other than the AG nor any mention of a time limit for so doing.  That’s given Dahlia Lithwick time to bemoan the fact that facts don’t, in fact, seem to matter…that this issue has already devolved into political posturing and stupidity without most of us ever seeing what Mueller did, in fact, report.

Someday, when we’re sitting around the electronic campfires we’ve lit to pretend-warm the huts in our Mars colonies, we will tell our grandchildren about whatever vestigial memories we have of facts. Perhaps we will be able to date their demise to the 46-ish hours between the announcement on Friday, March 22, 2019, that Robert Mueller had submitted his final report to Attorney General William Barr, and the letter Barr released on Sunday, March 24, 2019, which purported to summarize its contents and legal conclusions entirely.

In those 46 hours, there were exactly two facts known: that nobody else had been indicted by Mueller, and that Barr did not find any proposed action by Mueller to be “inappropriate or unwarranted.” That was, quite literally, all we knew. And into that void—that absence of facts—swept the spin. On Fox News, the declamation came forth that there had been an actual finding, of, what else, “no collusion.” Indeed, as Justin Peters noted, the television news station that exists exclusively to protect and defend the president’s preferred narrative declared, without basis in any publicly known or knowable fact, that it was “No Collusion Day!” While every other network was trying to parse out scenarios and future outcomes, and carefully explaining that nothing definitive had been shared with the public, conservative media and congressional Republicans were already claiming that the facts had been amassed, and assessed and released, and supported their cause. Were they clairvoyant? Did they have some insider information? No, they just had the special feeling they get at Fox: The facts are not material to the claim. In the absence of any knowable facts, Republicans declare victory and invent their own. In the absence of any knowable facts, Democrats declare defeat.

Still, you kinda feel like there’s so much more to know, so much more you want to know.  We need to know…