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.

A Trump news companion

Wonder if there’s anything about the president in the news today…

Hmmm, a lawyer who worked for Donald Trump in his private company before he became president, and I guess for a little time after he became president, pleaded guilty to some bank fraud charges today…oh, but also to some federal election law violations.  Michael Cohen admitted to arranging payments to two women to keep them from telling secrets that would damage the campaign of Dona…well, he doesn’t actually name the candidate whose campaign would have been harmed, but it’s clear who it was.  (It was Trump.)  Those are the payments to Karen McDougal and to Stephanie Clifford (Stormy Daniels), women who claimed to have had sexual relationships with Trump, relationships which he still denies…although his lawyer now admits in court to making the payments to keep the stories of those affairs quiet (hell of a lot of good that did!) and says that Trump repaid him, although Trump denies even knowing anything about the payments.   Something doesn’t quite synch up here.  Those bank fraud charges were about his other business operations, nothing to do with Trump.

What else…

Oh, the guy who was the Trump campaign chairman for a few minutes in 2016 was found guilty by a federal jury of eight tax and bank fraud charges (and got a hung jury on ten other counts)…looks like all those crimes had nothing to do with Trump, either, except maybe give us another data point on Trump as a judge of character.  Let’s see, along with Paul Manafort and Cohen, we have:

  • Michael Flynn, retired general who was fired as national security adviser over “trust” issues, who pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his pre-inauguration contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.
  • Rick Gates, another former Trump campaign official and inaugural committee official, and Manafort business partner, who has admitted committing crimes with Manafort
  • George Papadopoulos, a one-time Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his attempts to set up meetings between the Trump campaign and representatives of Russia
  • Twelve Russian intelligence officers indicted for hacking the Democratic National Committee
  • Thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian companies indicted for interfering in the American political system

…and those are just the people collared, so far, by the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.  (Never before seen a witch hunt that came back with so many witches in just a year’s time, have you?)  Can Trump have been that bad a judge of character?  Maybe he’s actually a really good judge of character, and found what he was looking for: like all those people that Mr. Mueller has taken an interest in.  Maybe like his pal Omarosa, who he loved so much before he said mean things about her.

Trump’s argument is Manigault Newman:

  • Was only hired because she begged for a job, and he acquiesced.
  • Was not smart.
  • Was broadly disliked and mean to people.
  • Constantly missed meetings and skipped work.
  • Struck [Chief of Staff John] Kelly so negatively he suggested she be fired, and, perhaps most damningly.
  • Was of such questionable quality as an employee that she failed to win his reality show three times.

But she kept her job, even after Kelly complained—Kelly, whose job was to guide Trump’s White House staff.  Why?  What is the one quality Manigault Newman possessed that was sufficient for Trump to argue she keep her job?

She praised Trump.

Maybe he’s getting what he got because he looked for people who reminded him of him, or who at least were willing to swim in the same pool as him.

The problem with being Donald Trump isn’t just being Donald Trump. It’s all the other, lesser Trumps around you. It’s the versions of yourself that you create, the echoes of yourself that you inspire. They’ll devour you in the end.

I don’t mean his biological offspring, though they’re no picnic. I mean his spiritual spawn. I mean the knaves, nuts, schemers and dreamers who have taken their cues from him or turned his lessons against him. This is their moment. This is their month.

What was that other thing about Manafort I just saw?  Oh yeah:

I’m reading that people from the Trump Administration who at his West Virginia rally tonight are reportedly busy reminding people that a president can’t be indicted; wonder why they think that’s important to say right now?  (My understanding is that it’s Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president, but not a law.)

Remember when the former Navy Seal who ran the mission that got Bin Laden wrote a letter to Trump that said “revoke my security clearance” after the president did that to John Brennan, the former CIA chief who’s been very critical of Trump’s actions as president (to say the least)?  In that letter Bill McRaven said something that was echoed the next day by more than a dozen other former high-ranking intelligence agency officials who criticized Trump for playing political games with the country’s security:

Like most Americans, I had hoped that when you became president, you would rise to the occasion and become the leader this great nation needs.

A good leader tries to embody the best qualities of his or her organization. A good leader sets the example for others to follow. A good leader always puts the welfare of others before himself or herself.

Your leadership, however, has shown little of these qualities. Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.

If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be.

(I think he’s being polite with that very last bit there…)

Well, there was a weird next chapter in that story today: with his very own thumbs (I think, given the odd capitalization) the president wrote on his Twitter that former director of national intelligence James Clapper “admonished John Brennan for having gone totally off the rails.  Maybe Clapper is being nice to me so he doesn’t lose his Security Clearance for lying to Congress!”  Not sure what Clapper actually said, but what University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck said about Trump’s Tweet ought to be talked about:

I think I’m ready for the sports section now…