We’re not done yet

Donald Trump lost the election, bigly.  There is no honest, reasonable question about that any more, not even among judges with a conservative philosophy, or ones who were nominated by Republican presidents.  Even those nominated by this Republican president.

Last month more than 84.1 million Americans voted for someone other than Trump; another 80.8 million eligible voters voted for no one at all.  That’s 165 million Americans who, given the opportunity to sign up for another four years of Trump as president, said, no thanks.  Almost 70% of Americans of voting age.  A landslide.

But 74.2 million of our fellow Americans did vote for him.  That’s more than voted for him in 2016, more than voted for any candidate for president in any year other than Joe Biden this year.  Almost 47% of the people who voted in this election, almost one-third (31%) of all eligible voters, took the time to stand up and say “Thank you sir, may I have another?”.

(The Electoral College totals—306 for Biden, 232 for Trump—reflect a larger percentage for Biden than do the popular vote totals, but that’s the nature of the Electoral College.)

It’s wishful thinking to assume that those 74.2 million people will now just shrug, say “oh well, you win some and you lose some,” and try to resume their normal lives, or whatever passes for normal in the age of COVID-19.  Some will, but we’ve seen evidence of thousands who’ve turned their backs on demonstrable truth and maintain what I’d describe as an irrational belief in Trump as their hero, as the guy who’s fighting for the little man.  Irrational in that there is not only no evidence that Trump has tried to help the average American but ample evidence that he doesn’t give a damn about the little guy and is only ever in it for himself.

Yet, they persist.  Rather than reassess the field for 2024, MAGA Nation is far more likely to (1) want Trump to run again, or (2) support one of his children, or worst of all, (3) support another fascist and authoritarian candidate, one who is smarter than Trump and who would do more and lasting damage to our democracy if he becomes president.

It is fear of those voters—the base—that has prevented leaders of the Republican Party from more than a low-key, tacit admission that Trump lost and Biden won.  Those people have demonstrated that Trump is who and what they support and that they will punish any variance from full-throated support of Trump.  As long as Trump keeps up a public face of contesting the election results—even though he probably understands that he cannot win and stay in power—no Republican sane enough to recognize that reality can publicly acknowledge real reality.

There is no shortage of people and groups now distancing themselves from the party of Lincoln, from the party of Reagan.  They make a persuasive argument that an organization that maintains loyalty to someone as off his rocker as Donald Trump has abandoned the tenets of principled Republicanism and principled conservatism.  One is The Lincoln Project, founded by longtime Republican officials and operatives and which was not shy about its support of Biden: “President Donald Trump and those who sign onto Trumpism are a clear and present danger to the Constitution and our Republic. Only defeating so polarizing a character as Trump will allow the country to heal its political and psychological wounds and allow for a new, better path forward for all Americans.”

Another, which I just discovered in a story in The New Yorker, is Veterans for Responsible Leadership.  Organized by Naval Academy graduate and former Navy SEAL Dr. Dan Barkhuff, this group is giving military veterans who can’t stomach the treachery of Trump a place to go to fight back.

Barkhuff is a conservative. He voted Republican until 2016, when he saw insurmountable character deficiencies in Donald Trump. He noted that, as [James] Stockdale endured torture as a P.O.W., Trump, who dodged the draft, was “enjoying the comforts” of the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce. As troops risked their lives in Afghanistan after 9/11, Trump was bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy.” The thought of Trump becoming President disgraced the friends that Barkhuff had lost to combat and the peers he had watched make “countless small choices: to be truthful, to stay committed to a code of honor and duty, and to choose a harder right over the easier wrong.” Barkhuff thought it reasonable to expect any leader to respect courage, self-sacrifice, and service. He did not vote for Trump.

When Trump took office, Barkhuff decided to give him a chance, hoping that the President “would rise to the level of the office.” But, Barkhuff told me, Trump was “worse than I thought he would be—and I thought he was going to be terrible.” Barkhuff often expressed his dismay on Facebook, where his posts were seen only by his relatives and Navy pals. When he discovered that other veterans shared his concerns, he created a page—Veterans for Responsible Leadership—where like-minded members could vent.

Service members are trained to remain apolitical when in uniform, but veterans are free to espouse their views. The V.F.R.L. members chatted online about diversity in the military (“transgender people should obviously be allowed to serve”), athletes kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice (kneeling “is NOT disrespectful to our troops”), and the President’s divisiveness (“Trump wins only by creating controversy and firing up people. . . . It’s dictatorship 101”). Most of the members were Navy vets, yet V.F.R.L. hoped to recruit from all branches and ranks. Glenn Schatz, one of the V.F.R.L. leaders and a former nuclear-submarine officer, told me that the Trump Administration’s assault on established norms called veterans back to service. “Once you’re out of uniform it’s your obligation to speak up when you see the Constitution being violated,” he said.

(snip)

In the 2018 midterms, V.F.R.L. backed one candidate, Dan McCready, a Democrat and former Marine Corps captain, in North Carolina, who ultimately lost his congressional race. By 2020, “there were no Republicans left to support,” Barkhuff told me. “They had all gone all in on Trump.” V.F.R.L. did not endorse the high-profile veterans Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, or Dan Crenshaw, of Texas, because, the organization argued, by aligning themselves with Trump, they had “sacrificed foundational principles for political expediency.”

(snip)

On July 3rd, Barkhuff, in a post on V.F.R.L.’s Facebook page, tried to capture the scope of the criticism surrounding Trump’s handling of military issues: “Since his inauguration Donald Trump has, in no particular order: lost active duty troops on missions he personally approved and blamed it on ‘his’ generals . . . , refused to believe the intelligence reports given to him by the Central Intelligence Agency . . . , minimized the TBI’s (traumatic brain injuries) sustained by troops in Iraq during an Iranian missile attack as ‘headaches’, deployed active duty troops to our southern border to stop a ‘caravan’ of migrants immediately before the midterm elections, called a collection of his generals including General Mattis a bunch of ‘dopes and babies.’ ”

Barkhuff asked if he had forgotten anything. Dozens of replies piled up, highlighting other affronts: Trump had disparaged Gold Star families; publicly ridiculed Senator John McCain, a former P.O.W., for being captured in Vietnam; appeared to make unilateral policy decisions by tweet; asked for a military parade; and inappropriately involved Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a photo op. Later discussions would mention Trump retweeting a post from an account linked to QAnon conspiracy theories, alleging that the seals never killed Osama bin Laden. (Robert O’Neill, the former seal who said he fired the kill shot, had to tweet assurances that the bin Laden operation had happened, and that the target was dead.)

Please read the article, very much worth the time.  You can get the short course in this pre-election spot that Barkhuff recorded for The Lincoln Project.

I take comfort in knowing that there are people all across the political spectrum in this country who really do see Trump for what he is, who haven’t and won’t fall for the charlatan with the easy answers to the very real and serious problems our country faces.  Our next step is to realize that the problem hasn’t been solved just because we voted him out of office.  There are still 4+ weeks before Biden is sworn in, and Trump’s not done yet…even his enablers in the White House are starting to be concerned.

The right choice; the only right choice

This isn’t the New York Times or the Washington Post or CNN, or any of Donald Trump’s other favorite targets.  This is the Wall Street Journal, fer cryin’ out loud, adding its credibility to that of many other outlets in reporting the story that seems to have shaken loose the impeachment process in Washington, D.C.: “President Trump in a July phone call repeatedly pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son, according to people familiar with the matter, urging Volodymyr Zelensky about eight times to work with Rudy Giuliani on a probe that could hamper Mr. Trump’s potential 2020 opponent.”

To summarize: the president is accused of using his official position, by withholding and threatening to withhold American military aid to another country, to pressure that country’s leader into conducting an investigation meant to damage the political career of one of his potential political rivals in advance of the 2020 election.

And this came after the report last week that someone inside the intelligence community had filed an official whistleblower complaint about Trump making a commitment to a foreign leader, which the inspector general for the intelligence community determined was legitimate and an urgent matter that should, by law, have been forwarded to Congressional committees.  But it wasn’t—still hasn’t been—because the acting director of national intelligence blocked it.  A Trump appointee who was never confirmed by the Senate, made that decision in conjunction with Bill Barr’s Justice Department.

Today Trump insisted there was nothing untoward in his conversation with the president of Ukraine, and later said he would release a transcript of that phone call…tomorrow.  We have some idea of how reliable a document that might be.  But in the meantime, these developments led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to change her mind and announce a formal impeachment inquiry.  At last.  It’s about time.

(Earlier today, prior to the Democratic caucus and Pelosi’s announcement, Slate restarted the Impeach-O-Meter as a “(still wildly subjective and speculative) estimate of the likelihood that the House votes to impeach Trump before the end of his first term” and which I intend to try to keep up with, and late this afternoon published a helpful refresher guide on How to Impeach a President.  Neat.)

Go online and search “Trump’s impeachable offenses”  to refresh your recollection if you need to.  Since inauguration day this president has repeatedly and unashamedly shown his disdain for the Constitution and the law, for tradition, for the separation of powers, and for the intelligence of the American people—especially, I think, for the ones who supported him out of a misplaced belief in his promises about…everything!

(Those are just from the past week.)

It’s past time that our Congress took the action the Constitution provides for in a case like this—this is what impeachment is there for, dammit.  Up to now the Republicans in Congress have proven themselves unable to undrink the Trump-aid, and there’s no real doubt that the Senate would never convict Trump of any accusations brought by the House.  But the Democrats simply cannot abdicate their responsibility to their constituents, and to history, to do what they can.

For so many of his actions as president, Trump deserves impeachment by the House.  He deserves to be condemned to that short short list of impeached presidents, right next to Hillary’s husband, even if he’s not removed from office by the Senate.  As a more practical matter, Adam Jentleson, a staffer for former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, argues that the impeachment process itself will hurt Trump politically, and that not moving ahead with impeachment opens the door for Trump to insist that he was fully exonerated of all wrongdoing.  You want to listen to that for the rest of your life?

There are two lessons here for House Democrats as they debate whether to open an impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

First, polling can change.

I don’t know how else to say this: getting impeached is bad. It is not something you want to happen to you, especially if you’re president. You do not want to go down as one of only four [sic] presidents in history to be impeached. This is a bad thing. Only Democrats, bless our hearts, could convince ourselves that it is good for a president to be impeached.

Richard Nixon’s approval rating was at 65 percent when his impeachment process began and only 19 percent of the public supported his impeachment. By the end, the numbers had flipped: his approval was 24 percent and support for impeachment was 57 percent.

(snip)

The second lesson from the [Merrick] Garland experience is that like nature, power abhors a vacuum. The decision not to impeach is not a decision to focus on other things, it is a decision to cede power, control, and legitimacy to Trump. Trump is not a master chess player, he just bluffs his opponents into forfeiting their moves—and that is exactly what he is doing to House Democrats.

For their part, House Democrats have argued that by foregoing impeachment they can shift the conversation to topics their consultants tell them are safer ground, like health care. That’s not going to happen. Reporters cover news, and only events that drive news can shift the message.

(snip)

Impeachment is a long process that will highlight Trump’s crimes, which according to (literally) one thousand former federal prosecutors, include “multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.” Imagine the Michael Cohen, James Comey, or William Barr hearings but on steroids, for many weeks. Anything can happen and hearings can go haywire, but the odds of making a convincing public case against Trump are stacked strongly in Democrats’ favor. Trump’s crimes are serious and laid out in meticulous detail by an unimpeachable source. The public already believes he committed serious crimes by a margin of two to one. There is already a loud chorus decrying Trump’s crimes and arguing that he should be impeached, ranging from Kellyanne Conway’s husband to a sitting Republican Congressman. In this case, the impeachment process is like one of those meals where all the ingredients come in a box: you have to boil some water and maybe crack an egg, but it’s basically idiot-proof.

If and when the House votes to impeach, the ball goes to the Senate. The Senate can ignore it, which means the House’s impeachment is the last word. That would be fine. But McConnell would be under enormous pressure from Trump and the entire right-wing echosphere to call a Kangaroo court into session for the purpose of letting Trump off. If the Senate conducts a trial, Senate Republicans up for reelection in 2020—like Maine’s Susan Collins and Colorado’s Cory Gardner—will have to decide whether to vote to remove from office a President who has been shown to have committed serious crimes, or protect him. They will likely vote to protect Trump and it will cost them: they will have to explain which of Trump’s many crimes they think are no big deal, why they disagree with the many voices from their own party saying his crimes make him unfit, and why a criminal president should be allowed to continue in office.

More importantly, if the public believes Trump is guilty but the Senate lets him off anyway, he won’t ever be truly exonerated—he’ll be O.J. Simpson, assumed guilty but sprung by allies and circumstance. Some Democrats have argued that we should skip impeachment and vote Trump out instead. But if the House impeaches Trump and Senate Republicans fall in line to protect him, the argument that the ballot is the only way to remove him will be supercharged.

By contrast, declining to impeach Trump validates his claim that Mueller exonerated him.

(snip)

Even more ominously, Trump’s weaponized Department of Justice under Barr, who has shown himself to be Trump’s eager and obedient partner in abusing the power of the state to advance the president’s political interests, will inevitably invent a pretext for investigating the Democratic nominee. Democrats should consider whether they’d rather engage that fight against a president who has been impeached for serious crimes, or against a president strengthened by the de facto exoneration bestowed when his opponents declined to pursue the evidence against him.

https://twitter.com/tonyschwartz/status/1175403260590657536

And remember this:

I can always count on Dahlia Lithwick to see through to the crux of the matter: “The integrity of our democracy isn’t threatened when a president breaks the law. It’s threatened when we do nothing about it.”

It defies logic for House Democrats to insist that their sole hope for salvation will be found in the 2020 election, when the 2020 election is subject to the same acts of foreign interference that poisoned 2016; when indeed they are failing to respond to the admitted acts of interference that happen before their eyes. By refusing to hold the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responsible for any of that interference—indeed by pretending it was very, very bad but let’s look forward and not backward, House leadership is inviting even more abuse. And in the face of it, Democrats continue to insist that the long game is what matters, even as the short game is making the long game increasingly unwinnable.

The net outcome of doing nothing is not politically or morally neutral. The net outcome is future loss after future loss.

When Corey Lewandowski puts on a clinic about contempt of Congress and nothing is done by the only body capable of doing something, that sends a powerful signal that all such future contempt will be welcome and effective. And when Robert Mueller says plainly and unequivocally that the next election is already in the process of being stolen, and nobody acts to secure it, that sends a powerful signal that all such interference is welcome and effective. To be sure, Democrats have very limited power at present and nobody doubts that the Senate will cower, whatever the results of an impeachment probe may be, and fail to convict. But by sitting on that limited power, fretting about how sad and mad they are, House Democrats are in point of fact giving over those limited powers to the other side.

By seemingly forgiving and forgetting the past, House Democrats are implying that they’ll also forfeit their chance at oversight in the future. In failing to say that the last worst thing was the impassable red line, they imply time and again that they are waiting for the next worst thing, which may really be the red line. But the implication that everyone’s waiting for the “big one” ignores the fact that the big one happened when this president endangered spies in a casual conversation in the Oval Office, when he took Vladimir Putin’s side over his own security advisers in Helsinki, when he tried to have Jeff Sessions fired, and when he conditioned foreign aid on helping to bury a political adversary.

Is it time to talk impeachment? Of course it is

If this president, after all he’s done in just two years, including everything proved and everything illuminated in the Mueller Report, doesn’t deserve to have the House consider impeachment, why bother having impeachment in the Constitution?  What offense against the Constitution, and the law, and preserving good international relations, and political ethics and societal norms and common sense and plain old good manners, will it take for the men and women we elected to look out for our nation to get off their asses and do their jobs?  There is too much smoke there now for it not to be prudent for them to make sure that nothing’s on fire.

By the way, threatening not to work with Congress on anything—not even infrastructure!—until it stops investigating allegations of wrongdoing against him should make it clear to all that he doesn’t understand how the system works.  He wasn’t elected king.

And people who are subpoenaed by Congress don’t get to choose whether to comply or not.  Not how it works.  They can refuse to testify once they get there, and be held in contempt and go to jail as a result (and be proud that they stood up for what they say they believe in), but if they claim to believe in the rule of law they can’t ignore a subpoena.  Keep your eyes open for the proliferation of Trumpeters arguing that for some dumb reason or another the law doesn’t apply to them.  Then imagine making that argument in your own defense.

Yeah.

Sorry, I’m not done reading yet

Too slowly, for sure…I want to see how it ends, don’t you?!…but the good news is a number of other people were able to prioritize and offered their thoughts after reading the Mueller Report.  Here are some of the ones I like:

What do conservatives think?  I mean real conservatives, not opportunists currently busy taking advantage of the fact that a man pretending to be conservative was elected president.  People like David French

..and Jennifer Rubin

…and Rick Wilson

From a bit broader perspective, what does the Mueller Report tell us (that we had only imagined to this point):

Christie Whitman thread: Russia attacked, Trump demonstrated he cares only about himself, and it would have been worse but for the folks who ignored the most egregious “orders”

Politico took a dive into the footnotes and came out with some choice Easter eggs

Even some Republicans are unhappy enough about this report to actually say so.  Out loud!  John Thune castigates Trump’s lying for undermining trust in America’s political system

And Lindsey Graham makes an excellent case against Trump:

(Oh, he wasn’t talking about Trump, was he?  Oh well, if the shoe fits…)

We can talk about impeachment later…gotta keep reading.

Donald the Dog Whistler

It’s not the fact that there are throwbacks like the people who marched in support of a Robert E. Lee statue in a park in Charlottesville, Virginia, yesterday that surprises me.  Saddens me, yes, but doesn’t surprise.  The only part about all that happened yesterday that did surprise was the response to it all from the president of the United States: I don’t know if he was excrutiatingly selective about his words, or just tone deaf, but he couldn’t find the words, or even the Tweets, to condemn white supremacists.

He didn’t/wouldn’t take sides in a fight over basic human rights, or even pretend to take sides and be seen as part of the mainstream.

What he did do yesterday was dog-whistle a message to some of his supporters, the people who knew he was an ignorant, truth-impaired, narcissistic megalomaniac with the attention span of a two year old but voted for him anyway, because when he promised to “make America great again” they heard “take our country back.”  If we didn’t realize a long time ago what that means to those people, we know now:

The turmoil in Charlottesville began with a march Friday night by white nationalists on the campus of the University of Virginia and escalated Saturday morning as demonstrators from both sides gathered in and around the park. Waving Confederate flags, chanting Nazi-era slogans, wearing helmets and carrying shields, the white nationalists converged on the Lee statue inside the park and began chanting phrases like “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.”

(snip)

“We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” to “take our country back,” said Mr. [David] Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Many of the white nationalist protesters carried campaign signs for Mr. Trump.

The White House is trying to cover his ass about it today, but what the president said yesterday—when it happened; when it mattered—was “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence.  On many sides; on many sides.”

Meaning what, exactly?

Yesterday in Slate, Josh Levin had a great answer to that question:

He then said those three words again—“On many sides”—as if to emphasize that this throwaway phrase was in fact the only bit of his short speech that he truly believed in. He did not talk about white supremacy, and he did not note the prevalence of racist chants. The troubles in Charlottesville, the president said, were everyone’s fault. Or, to put it another way, nobody in particular was more responsible than anyone else for what happened in Virginia this weekend. Not the president. Not the party that enabled him. Not even those who idolize Adolf Hitler.

Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacist violence, coming on the heels of his silence in the aftermath of last week’s mosque bombing in Minnesota, is just the latest affirmation of his fundamental immorality. The president’s racist, anti-Semitic, Muslim-hating acolytes heard the words Trump didn’t say on Saturday. They know they have an ally in the White House, a man who will abet anyone who abets his own hold on power.

Don’t think that it’s only the liberal mainstream media that thinks Trump is favoring the white supremacists—the white supremacists noticed, and cheered, the fact that he did not attack them and their ideology!

Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us.

He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate… on both sides!

So he implied the antifa are haters.

There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all.

He said he loves us all.

Also refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him.

No condemnation at all.

When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room.

Really, really good.

God bless him.

He’s had another 24 hours to think about it, to articulate his beliefs, to try to make clear to people how he feels on the subject.  As of post time, he has not.  [UPDATE 8/14: Here‘s what he had to say today; it does not seem to me that his heart was in it.] [ANOTHER UPDATE 8/15: Never mind, he took it back.]

Josh Levin:

On a day that called for the president to take a stand, he instead made a perverse call for unity. “I love the people of our country,” Trump said at the end of his Bedminster Address. “I love all of the people of our country. We’re going to make America great again. But we’re going to make it great for all of the people of the United States of America.”

The neo-Nazis in Charlottesville heard that call, and so did the posters on the Daily Stormer. “On many sides,” Trump said. These are not anodyne words. They are dangerous ones. On Saturday, the president had the chance to tell the nation what it is he does and doesn’t believe in. That’s exactly what he did.

You could also check out this fine Twitter thread from yesterday, if you want to have a think about the gist of the protest from the white supremacists: