A call to allies

One of the two best things I learned from watching the major political parties’ national conventions was that a four-night-long television mini-series with no drama about who will win the competition is much better when you concede that the live action in the hall doesn’t matter, so just producing it as a TV show works fine.  Probably better.  The second is that there’s a law called the Hatch Act that was designed to protect government workers from undue pressure and threat to their jobs from political parties and their operatives, but it also prohibits government facilities and workers who are on the clock from being used for partisan political purposes.

Truth is I actually knew that one before.  What I learned last week is that it’s just one more time-honored political tradition that President Trump and his party dumped on because, well, they are who they are.

I watched both major parties’ political conventions because I always do, because I thought I ought to so I’d have first-hand knowledge of what happened, and because I wanted to see what they would do since they couldn’t gather tens of thousands of people together in close quarters during the COVID-19 pandemic.  There was, shall we say, a distinct difference with respect to the medically-accepted protocols on how to fight the spread of a virus that is still killing a thousand Americans a day.

If you needed another opportunity to see the president give a rambling speech that focused on his many personal grievances, you got that.  If you are confused about how the incumbent president could offer a catalog of problems facing our country today—problems that started during his term or which became worse during that time—and try to scare you into believing those things are Joe Biden’s fault and will get worse if Trump loses the election, well, I’m with you on that one.  If you’re wondering how Joe Biden (or anyone, for that matter) could abolish the suburbs, I do not know.

For a faster and more entertaining version of the highlights of those lies, CNN’s Daniel Dale has it nailed.

Facing re-election is when most politicians take time to consider how to broaden their appeal and improve their chances.  Safe to say we can all agree that Donald Trump is not most politicians.  He is not trying to broaden his appeal.  He is counting on frightening those of our fellow citizens who supported him four years ago into doing so again, while taking actions which he thinks will make it harder for those who oppose him to vote at all.  And he’s hoping that his supporters will just overlook the fact that during his three and a half years in office he has weakened if not poisoned our relationships with international allies while sucking up to dictators, that he started trade wars that hurt American businesses and farmers, that his see-no-evil response to the pandemic is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans and the cratering economy that was a direct result of our effort to protect ourselves from the virus, that he and his family businesses have siphoned off millions of tax dollars, that he overtly supports and encourages racists while never expressing concern for their actions (should we give him credit for honesty, for not pretending to care?), that he thumbs his nose at the laws of the land when they would inconvenience him and dares anyone to stop him.

To ignore the fact that so many of “the best people” he hired for his administration have ended up guilty of crimes committed in thrall to Trump and have served or are still serving time.  That he was impeached for trying to bribe another country to damage a political opponent.  That he lies to us every day in such an obvious way that it would embarrass a four year old.

Please don’t ignore this: former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, now a professor of international studies at Stanford, outlines the signs and symbols from last week’s Republican National Convention that identify Trump as an autocrat in the making:

Are you like me, do you read that list and hear the ring of truth?

For those who want to treat this election in a more traditional way and focus on “the issues,” I found a nice website that will help you with that.  It’s keepamericagreat.com and we’re all for that, right; here’s what you will find:

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The cool thing is it lays out what Trump promised four years ago in areas such as the economy and jobs, immigration, foreign policy and more, and reports whether he made good on those promises or not.  (Hint: they say he did not.)  The hilarious thing is the site, sponsored by the Biden campaign, snatched up the URL of a variant of Trump’s mantra because, well, the Trumpsters apparently didn’t think to do it themselves.

I am encouraged to read of many Republicans coming out publicly against Trump…too bad there are so few Republicans in federal office who are doing the same.  I sympathize with people like life-long Republican William Treadway, a West Point graduate who swore an oath (as did Trump himself!) to protect this country from enemies both foreign and domestic.

Well, we have met the enemy, and he is a bigoted, failed businessman whose primary use of the American presidency has been to dodge accountability for his own misdeeds, to distract from ongoing Russian attacks on both our election systems and our soldiers, and of course, to line his pockets with money squeezed from the blood and sweat and suffering of Americans nationwide.

He has even sent federal agents, dressed like my soldiers were in Afghanistan, to a city near you with the prime goal of beating, assaulting and abducting women, veterans, and others exercising their First Amendment rights as part of a program of unconstitutional “proactive arrests.” (Never has a more Stalinist term been uttered in this decade.)

Trump is an existential threat to the United States. That is not hyperbole. Many Republican friends will say that they, too, understand that fact, and find his behavior abhorrent. Yet, when it comes to considering Joe Biden, the struggle remains very real.

Their solution instead is to pick a third party, write-in Captain America or simply not cast a ballot at all.

This would be an evasion of civic responsibility. The right to vote is sacred and hard-earned, and to waste it on what amounts to abstention is an insult to those who have given their lives to protect that privilege. (emphasis added)

The only powers we citizens have against such a reckless and cruel administration as Trump’s are the voice and the vote. While one voice and one vote may seem too minimal to have any impact against a government so powerful, if we all join in chorus, a nationwide roar, we can reclaim our America from under the boot of an abusive, corrupt and shameful administration.

Staying home this fall or voting for a write-in under these conditions would be a gutless act. The two-century experiment in self-government that’s given us all so much is in need of just one thing to keep from withering: A sensible vote from responsible citizens.

In the face of a national leader so toxic to the Republic and her people as Trump, the policy goals of his opponent become irrelevant next to the preservation of the Union. What we need right now more than anything is stable, honest leadership and serious accountability for those who’ve wronged this nation and her people. We need a President Joe Biden.

(snip)

I’m willing to announce it, openly and proudly, because while it may not align with my policy goals, it aligns perfectly with my oath to protect this nation from danger. I understand that others cannot take that position publicly. But when you fill out your ballot, whether you do it at home or in a voting booth, remember: I’m on your side, and always have been.

We’ll be secret allies for now, and later, when our country has healed, we will take pride together, knowing that we did our part to save it.

It matters

Today the U.S. House of Representatives impeached the president of the United States.  Even though the chances are vanishingly small that the United States Senate will remove this president from office over these two articles of impeachment, that matters.

Read the Mueller Report.  Read the House Intelligence Committee report.  Read the House Judiciary Committee report.  Read the summaries of any of those documents.  Or just think about all the incredible stories of the goings on of the president ever since Donald Trump was sworn into office.  There is more than enough evidence for a clear-eyed observer to conclude that Trump has committed impeachable offenses…so many, and so blatantly, in fact, that to not impeach him would have been the grossest example of the House ignoring its responsibility to perform checks and balances of the Executive Branch.  Any president who had done what this one has done would deserve to be impeached, too, to be shamed and held up to the ridicule of history, and have the Senate vote to remove him or her from office for the good of the country.

But wait: the place is swarming with Republicans who say there is no proof that Trump did anything illegal, or even improper, or impeachable at all.  Many of them are actually screaming it, and then insisting Trump is the best president ever—not just better than Obama or Clinton or Bush (either one) but better than Washington or any of those other dudes.  It’s fascinating.

I get it that party loyalty is important, if you’re a member of a party, and I get that there are more members of Congress than I would like to admit who actually love what Trump is doing and won’t do anything to get in his way.  That includes so many who were seemingly appalled by Candidate Trump, who saw him as a threat to the country; now they have his back without question.

Why in the world are all these people so servile to Trump?  Why in the hell don’t these men and women, who in most other circumstances behave as though they are the highest expression of God’s own creation, act the part of members of Congress and assert their authority as a co-equal branch of the government?  They may be loyal to a president of their own party, or to the president of our country, but they don’t work for him and they aren’t there to do his bidding.  They may agree with the president’s policies and support his goals, but they have a responsibility to their constituents, and the Constitution, and to the rest of us, too, to be a restraint against a president who oversteps his bounds.  They have taken the art of deluding themselves to the zenith, and achieved a new nadir when it comes to supporting their party at any cost.  Hard to understand how they don’t see that their own reputations and honor and place in history are at risk, each and every one of them.

As troubling as it is…as confusing as it is…to see so many apparently intelligent and well-educated people publicly forsake the evidence of their own senses to support a president who has so clearly demonstrated his utter contempt for the rule of law and the oversight role of the Congress in American government, it’s even worse to see those among them who are abdicating their own part in this government, apparently without a fight.

The Constitution gives the House the responsibility to impeach a president or other government official, and the Senate the role of jury in a trial of the president presided over by the chief justice of the United States.  So how, in the name of all that’s right and moral and legal and American, can the man who leads the majority in the U.S. Senate say he will work with the White House counsel to arrange the details of the trial?  And do it like it’s no big deal?!  We know that the chances of the Senate convicting Trump are microscopic, but what are we supposed to think now about the fairness of this proceeding, or the honesty with which the senators will consider the evidence, when the jury foreman announced in advance that his team will work hand-in-hand with the defense lawyers?

If anything, Mitch McConnell should be coordinating trial details with the Democratic leader in the Senate.  On Monday came the news that Charles Schumer wrote to McConnell proposing a framework for the trial, including the names of a handful of witnesses who never testified to the House investigators, people he would like to hear from in the Senate trial.  McConnell dismissed the idea; he even said there would be no witnesses.  We can, and should, speculate about the reason for that stance; I think he’s worried that his members might not be able to countenance their support of Trump if they heard what Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton would say under oath.

Or is McConnell kidding himself when he thinks he’s going to be in charge? In Slate, Bruce Ackerman argues that the Senate can’t bar any witness, that it’s up to the House and the president—the prosecution and the defense—to decide those things.  And most importantly, that it will be the presiding judge—Chief Justice John Roberts—who will run the court.

Once John Roberts replaces Vice President Mike Pence as the Senate’s presiding officer, McConnell’s attempt to change the rules would generate a constitutional crisis. As I have noted, the rules explicitly give Roberts, and nobody else, the power to “direct all forms of the proceedings.” If McConnell tried to seize control, Roberts could refuse to allow the Senate to vote on his initiative, especially if McConnell proposed rule changes that were inconsistent with Roberts’ pledge “to do impartial justice.”

(snip)

The chief justice is a serious jurist, dedicated to sustaining the Supreme Court’s central position in our system of checks and balances. His impartial conduct of the trial is especially crucial in the aftermath of the blatant partisanship displayed by McConnell and the Senate during the confirmation battle over Brett Kavanaugh. With this episode vividly in the public mind, it is imperative for Roberts to demonstrate, by his actions, that he takes the Constitution seriously and is not merely serving as a pawn in McConnell’s scheme to guarantee an acquittal.

If the majority leader did make an effort to change the rules midstream, this would serve as Roberts’ moment of truth: Will he demonstrate to the tens of millions of viewers that he is determined to put the Constitution above bitter partisan conflict?

Given Roberts’ repeated efforts to sustain the court’s legitimacy in the past, there is every reason to expect him to stand his ground and refuse to allow McConnell’s motion to be considered on the floor. If McConnell continued to defy Roberts and insisted that his colleagues back him up, it seems highly unlikely that his fellow Republicans would provide him with the bare majority needed to provide appropriate window dressing for his attempted constitutional coup.

This week began with news that 750 historians believe Trump should be impeached, and that a Fox News poll found half the country thinks Trump should be impeached.  This poll also finds Trump would lose the popular vote in November to Biden, or Warren, or Sanders, or Buttigieg, or even Bloomberg.  But for me, the best part of that story was seeing the Fox & Friends contingent so thoroughly gobsmacked to have to learn that their own network’s poll had such bad news for their guy…it revealed at least a little of the subconscious understanding on their part that their company’s preferred role is pimping Trump rather than doing journalism.  Another interesting consideration was raised by Charles P. Pierce, who makes the case that the Republican Party is the only organization—anywhere—that has a chance to save the republic.

What if, I think to myself, what if the Republicans have a plan: what if they’ve lulled Trump in with their obsequiousness and shameless praise—the kind of stuff that Trump so clearly loves and encourages—and when it comes right down to a vote, what if they surprise the crap out of all of us and vote to remove him from office?  Can we rely on a sudden tsunami of personal conscience, or love of country, or just plain old fear for how they will be remembered by history, to save the day?  Maybe they will see just one too many examples of Trump’s childish temperament, like his unhinged letter to Nancy Pelosi yesterday, and decide they’ve had enough.

They could just finally get fed up with the president’s obstruction of justice, and obstruction of Congress.  Of them.  No other president I can think of has ever so publicly dissed Congress, and thumbed his nose at the law, as has this one.  (On this point, Trump may accurately claim to be the best in history.)  Congress has a right to ask for, and receive, cooperation from the Executive Branch in its investigations.  Though there are exceptions for withholding some information—executive privilege—the people who get Congressional subpoenas have a duty to honor them.  Maybe they refuse to answer questions when they get there, but they have a duty to answer the call of the Congress.  In ordering the people in his administration not to do so, Trump effectively said to Congress: uh, f*** you losers, make me if you can.  And yet, most of the Republican members of Congress still stand up for him, rather than stand up to him.  Go figure.

Anyhow, the House vote to impeach Trump is important.  It matters that we have members of Congress who are standing up to the bully, reminding him and us that abiding by the rules and laws and traditions of this country is expected.  The oath those members took was to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and they should be faithful to that promise.  And if Trump is not removed by the Senate, there are still options.  One is that the House could delay sending the impeachment to the Senate until senators agree to conduct a fair trial: this would keep McConnell from fixing the outcome of the trial while the House keeps the focus on Trump’s bad deeds, which could keep pressure on Republicans to abandon Trump as the Republicans of 1974 finally abandoned Richard Nixon.

Another option is pouring everything into defeating Trump at the polls in 2020.  This week a group of Republicans announced the Lincoln Project dedicated to defeating “Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box.”  The organizers wrote about their effort in the New York Times, and didn’t sugarcoat the fact that Trump is not the only name they are targeting for defeat:

Patriotism and the survival of our nation in the face of the crimes, corruption and corrosive nature of Donald Trump are a higher calling than mere politics. As Americans, we must stem the damage he and his followers are doing to the rule of law, the Constitution and the American character.

That’s why we are announcing the Lincoln Project, an effort to highlight our country’s story and values, and its people’s sacrifices and obligations. This effort transcends partisanship and is dedicated to nothing less than preservation of the principles that so many have fought for, on battlefields far from home and within their own communities.

This effort asks all Americans of all places, creeds and ways of life to join in the seminal task of our generation: restoring to this nation leadership and governance that respects the rule of law, recognizes the dignity of all people and defends the Constitution and American values at home and abroad.

(snip)

…national Republicans have done far worse than simply march along to Mr. Trump’s beat. Their defense of him is imbued with an ugliness, a meanness and a willingness to attack and slander those who have shed blood for our country, who have dedicated their lives and careers to its defense and its security, and whose job is to preserve the nation’s status as a beacon of hope.

Congressional Republicans have embraced and copied Mr. Trump’s cruelty and defended and even adopted his corruption. Mr. Trump and his enablers have abandoned conservatism and longstanding Republican principles and replaced it with Trumpism, an empty faith led by a bogus prophet.

(snip)

Mr. Trump and his fellow travelers daily undermine the proposition we as a people have a responsibility and an obligation to continually bend the arc of history toward justice. They mock our belief in America as something more meaningful than lines on a map.

(snip)

We look to [Abraham] Lincoln as our guide and inspiration. He understood the necessity of not just saving the Union, but also of knitting the nation back together spiritually as well as politically. But those wounds can be bound up only once the threat has been defeated. So, too, will our country have to knit itself back together after the scourge of Trumpism has been overcome.

A seemingly well organized effort, with some serious money already committed: Republicans out to convince other Republicans to fight Trump and those of their own party who enable him.  They expect that will mean Republican losses in the next election, but believe that to be preferable to another four years of Trumpism.  The polls indicate that most Americans agree, if not most Republicans.

In which the President of the United States makes plain that he really doesn’t get it

Wait, what?

It’s not the “Ukraine” part that makes it an impeachable offense, you know.

I’ll set the over/under at two on the number of Republican members of Congress who by the end of the weekend will finally wake up, ask “what died in here?” and bravely come out in favor of the impeachment investigation. Baby steps.

Just like a little love, campaign truth is hard to find

You hold your breath…you make a wish…and you’re disappointed when it doesn’t come true.  And then you remember that things don’t happen just because you wish them to.  Such is the case, not very surprisingly, with the level of discussion this week in the race for president.

Mitt Romney’s selection of Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan (no relation) as his running mate last Saturday was greeted as good news by some people positioned all along the political spectrum, from those tea party members and fiscal conservatives who love his budget plans to those more liberal folks who believed his serious interest in issues would spark a real debate.  How long did that last?

Until Tuesday.

If we can all agree that Joe Biden is to oratory what Spam is to steak, we can agree that his inelegant comment to a mixed-race audience in Virginia was not meant to invoke the specter of slavery.  Yet that was all Romney and Ryan had to say—that the Democrats were running a campaign of hate—even before that evening’s newscasts hit the air.  (I do give them credit, though, for how well they can operate with the threshold set so low on such a finely-tuned sense of outrage.)

Tuesday also featured some well-prepared interviewers catching Romney surrogates on their indefensible claim about Medicare cuts under Obamacare.  This piece on Mediate has all the links to both occasions: CNN’s Soledad O’Brien with John Sununu, and Fox News Channel’s Brit Hume with Ryan himself, as each of them tried to pass off the latest Republican mischaracterization (to be kind) of the impact to Medicare funding under the Affordable Care Act.  Just nailed them, which was amusing; watch the clips.  The partisan noisemakers can’t really slough this off with the standard allegation of liberal media bias—we’re talking BRIT HUME here!  If FOX NEWS was schooling your VP, you got to make allowances that just maybe CNN was playing it down the middle, too.

But the best thing I saw on Tuesday, from the perspective of trying to keep the facts straight, was an interview on Slate with the author of The New New Deal.  Journalist Michael Grunwald went looking for the truth about the impact of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus bill passed by Congress in early 2009, designed to help get the country’s economy rolling again.  His conclusion: the stimulus bill worked.

Not that everything in it worked, or worked perfectly, not that there weren’t problems or some waste and fraud.  But mostly, the stimulus bill did what it was designed to do; it can be argued that the economy hasn’t done better because the stimulus was too small, although Obama could never have gotten Congress to go for more.

…the stimulus was supposed to create jobs at a time when jobs were vanishing at a terrifying rate. Nonpartisan economists agree that it helped stop the free fall; job losses peaked the month before it passed, and the economy dramatically improved once it kicked into gear. But even after the dramatic improvements, the unemployment rate was still sky-high and rising; an economy can do a lot better than losing 800,000 jobs a month without doing well. Ultimately, the stimulus was a 2.5 million-job solution to an 8 million-job problem.

To the extent that Obama’s opponents will argue that Grunwald’s story is biased, he replies:

I don’t think my book portrays the Republicans as “vicious,” but I do show—thanks to a lot of in-depth interviews with GOP sources—how they plotted to obstruct Obama before he even took office. I show how the stimulus was chock full of stuff they claimed to support until Jan. 20, 2009—not just things like health IT and the smart grid and energy efficiency and scientific research, but the very idea of Keynesian stimulus. Every presidential candidate in 2008 proposed a stimulus package, and Mitt Romney’s was the largest. So I do spend a fair amount of time chronicling Republican stimulus hypocrisies. (Readers might enjoy the backstory of Sen. Judd Gregg’s short-lived nomination to be Obama’s commerce secretary.) In general, I’d have to say my reporting backs up the Norm Ornstein-Thomas Mann thesis that the Republicans have gone off the policy deep end—denying global warming, denying Keynesian economics (except when it comes to business tax cuts and defense spending!), trashing Obama’s government takeover of health care and also his Medicare cuts, drumming stimulus supporters like Crist and Specter out of the party.

Read the interview; the book is just coming out this week.  I want to hear this story—we should all want to hear this story, and other stories—from someone who hasn’t already sold out to one party or one candidate.

We’ve debated a bizarro-world stimulus that does not exist. And I think that’s true about Obama, too. I don’t think he comes across as “brilliant.” I think he comes across as a pragmatic left-of-center technocrat who wasn’t interested in pursuing lost causes, but basically tried to do what he said he would do during the campaign. He wasn’t a policy entrepreneur with new policy ideas, but he did his best to get 60 votes for old policy ideas that made sense, and then pushed his administration to put them into action as cleanly and competently as possible. And I did a lot of reporting in the bowels of the bureaucracy and around the country to show how change has been playing out.

I tried to tell the story as fairly and honestly as I could. But I didn’t try to be balanced for the sake of balance. When politicians were full of shit, I tried to point that out.

That’s what we need more of from reporters.  Dutifully transcribing the opinion of the spokeshuman from one party and then the opinion of the spokeshuman from a second party doesn’t get us the truth; what the political parties have to say is designed to benefit the parties, not to promote truth.