A few thoughts on the events of the day

Though there is no doubt that he did it—even he admits it—I was not surprised that the United States Senate declined to convict President Trump on the articles of impeachment today.  Disappointed, yes; and still unable to really understand all the whys and hows behind the decisions of the senators, yet not surprised.  Such is the cognitive fog many fight through trying to make sense of things these days, and I am one of them.

The conventional wisdom was right, of course: no way would enough Republican senators go against their party and vote to remove this Republican president from office, even as they acknowledged Trump should not have withheld Congressionally-approved American foreign aid from Ukraine to try to coerce that country to take action designed to help Trump’s re-election effort.  And they wouldn’t vote to remove him even over his open and clear obstruction of Congress’ investigation of the administration, symbolically raising their arms to shrug “but what can we do?” in response to Trump’s refusal to provide any documents to investigators and his order to most government officials not to cooperate—a figurative flipping the bird at the quaint concept of co-equal branches of government and of Congressional oversight of the Executive.

There wasn’t any foreshadowing in the early chapters of this story to signal that a tidy resolution was coming, but the happily-ever-after in me was still waiting for the big surprise in the final act: for all the patriots to stand up and be counted, for the Never Trumpers and the whole Republican caucus to realize that if they would just all act together they could get rid of this troublesome interloper now, then execute a campaign (they’d have to have one, right?) to strategically release inside information that would make the MAGA crowd see the truth.  Sponsoring tens off thousands of screenings of “A Face in the Crowd” would be a good start.

But that didn’t happen: Mitt Romney was the only Republican senator to vote to convict on abuse of power (but not obstruction of Congress).  Not even the members who are retiring at the end of this year, and who agreed that the House managers proved the accusations, could be persuaded to speak truth to power.  The most persuasive reason I’ve heard offered to explain that: they want to avoid having their retirement spoiled by threats from strangers, or retaliation from a former president who never forgets a slight and can’t even imagine, apparently, that everyone doesn’t share his own high opinion of His Huuuugeness.  Really?  Don’t they fear the ruin of their reputation in history for pretending that the emperor does have clothes?

What’s next?   Well, there’s the election.  Trump defenders argued that it’s too close to the 2020 election to remove a president via impeachment, that it was more proper to simply let the voters pass judgement at the polls.  And so we shall.  Remember, though, Adam Schiff warned that we’re dealing with a candidate who seems OK with bringing on foreign governments to influence the outcome of our elections, and I find that argument persuasive.  (Dear Democrats, please don’t screw the pooch on this like last time and nominate a candidate who will inspire who-knows-how-many voters to decide “anybody but HIM!”)

More House impeachment proceedings?  Sure, why not.  There’s no rule against it, the Democrats still control the chamber, and there’s plenty of material for them to work with…you could start with all the tidy piles of evidence just sitting there in the Mueller Report, plus don’t forget the easy-to-understand illegally profiting from public office offenses—that stuff gets mayors and county commissioners booted out all the time.  There will probably be more inside information pretty soon: think John Bolton’s book might have some pertinent truths?  Might other former insiders also decide, finally, to tell what they know?  Jim Mattis; Rex Tillerson; John Kelly; others whose names we don’t even know—yeah, I’m talking to you.

There’s one more source of information, and inspiration, on this subject that shouldn’t be discounted: Trump himself.  Because you just know that the big fella is feeling pretty confident right about now, thinking he’s got the green light to do whatever he wants since he thinks the Constitution says a president can do whatever he wants to do (it doesn’t say that, of course) and he finally found an attorney general who acts like the Don’s consigliere rather than the chief law enforcement officer of the United States.  I have high confidence that new impeachable conduct is right around the corner, if not back there just a block or two.  Probably both.

My high school biology teacher was also our football coach.  On Mondays in the fall he started every class by offering everyone a chance to comment “on the events of last weekend” before we moved on with new business.  I didn’t understood the value of that offer back then as much as I do today…the comments are open.

It’s not all about Trump

…even if he thinks it is.  It’s not.  And I ran across an interesting column in today’s Washington Post which offers just six quotations as evidence that the weird-ass dysfunctionality of our politics, if not our society in general, is seen in more than just the batshit-crazy emanations from the Toddler in Chief.

He’s there on the list, of course, at #1, but not quite in the way I would have expected.  Writer James Hohmann turns to this week’s budget submission document from our “I’m all about business and will shrink the deficit and take care of the budget” president for the quote that shows there are still some adults standing watch in Washington who are trying to send a signal to the brainwashed (folks wearing red ball caps, to protect their very clean brains) about what this administration is doing to our economy:

“Even with high levels of economic growth, excessive deficits continue to threaten the Nation’s progress, and any unforeseen shocks to the economy could make deficits unsustainable,” it says. “If financial obligations continue to grow at the current pace, the Nation’s creditors may demand higher interest rates to compensate, potentially leading to lower private investment and a smaller capital stock, harming both American businesses and workers.”

It’s not that this budget submission is going to become law as is; Congress hardly ever passes the budget that any president proposes.  This one came from the man whose most significant achievement of his first year in office (just in under the wire) was to pass a giant tax cut that is already swelling the debt and the deficit.  I’ll admit that my federal income taxes were down for 2018 as compared to 2017 so I’m benefitting, at least in the short term.  I don’t know that any of us benefits in the long haul in an economy in which, as the White House itself warns, deficits are going to stay above a trillion dollars a year “for the foreseeable future” and that the national debt “will soon surpass a percent of GDP not seen since 1947.”  Hohmann notes, “The White House projects that the government will need to spend $482 billion on interest payments for the debt next year alone.  That’s more than the entire budget for Medicare.”  Good allocation of resources, Donnie.

Second quote, from the noted not-Trump hater Dick Cheney, who was talking tough with VP Pence about the administration’s foreign policy at a conservative function in Georgia last weekend:

“We’re getting into a situation when our friends and allies around the world that we depend upon are going to lack confidence in us. … I worry that the bottom line of that kind of an approach is we have an administration that looks a lot more like Barack Obama than Ronald Reagan.”

I first thought the next thing to say here was to marvel that this Republican administration is frightening the previous Republican administration when it comes to dealing with our allies, but I decided that was wrong: it’s not fair to Republicans—the mass of good, not-crazy ones—to label Trump a Republican, and it’s no surprise that former diplomats and officials and the defense hierarchy disagree with Trump’s attitude of telling our allies to just shut up and be grateful we deign to be on their side.

Pence, unprepared for tough questions, mostly shrugged off Cheney’s concerns and praised Trump as a transformational leader. Reading the transcript shows what a total loyalist Pence has become to Trump. He staked out several positions that are at odds with the posture he took as a congressman and governor.

Moreover, the conversation between the two men who have held the No. 2 job underscored the deep fissures that remain inside the GOP over Trump’s foreign policy. It’s the same tension that led to Jim Mattis’s resignation in December as defense secretary after Trump abruptly announced the complete withdrawal of troops from Syria. The president eventually relented under pressure from hawks on the Hill. Some troops will stay.

Consider the other quotes: Nancy Pelosi thinks impeaching Trump is “not worth it” because it’s so divisive, Paul Ryan predicts Trump will lose in 202o if the race turns out to be “about Donald Trump and his personality,” Tucker Carlson doesn’t deny and doesn’t “bow to the mob—ever.  No matter what.” when he’s exposed for hateful comments made more than ten years ago (which should not to be confused with the hateful comments he makes on his Fox News Channel show these days with regularity).   They all offer us a chance to think, if we choose to.

Oh, wait, there was one more quote.  It was reported by people who were in attendance at a GOP fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, and was flatly not denied by the president’s press secretary:

“The Democrats hate Jewish people.”

Said Donald Trump.  No further discourse required.

Wait, you don’t suppose it really is all about Trump after all?  Do you?