Turning mourning in America into the dawn of a better day

George Bush himself would not countenance that we grieve so long or loudly for him, just another citizen on the same journey as the rest of us.  But I sense he wouldn’t disagree with those who use the occasion of his death to grieve for the temporary loss of that which his life symbolized.  Leonard Pitts catches that well in his column in the Miami Herald today, in which he jumps off from Bush’s efforts to inspire with calls for a kinder, gentler country that could generate a thousand points of light

Presidents – and those who want to be president – have always sought to weave poetry from the prose of our daily lives, to ennoble our strivings and speak to what another Republican once called “the better angels of our nature.”

That’s what statesmen did once upon a time. But America has seldom seemed further from statesmanship – or from the vision Bush articulated – than it does now as the 41st president passes from the scene.

He died just days after the United States used teargas against asylum seekers, including children in diapers, after a handful of boys and men threw rocks at a border checkpoint in San Diego.

He was eulogized in Washington as lame duck Republican legislator[s] in Wisconsin brazenly strong-armed democracy and lifted a middle finger to the will of the people, voting to strip power from the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general.

He was memorialized in Texas as investigators in North Carolina probed an alleged scheme in which an operative working for a GOP candidate collected absentee ballots from voters in Democratic areas and diverted them from the ballot box.

These are the kinds of things that seem to happen every day in the thugocracy America has become. And that speaks to how thoroughly America rejected the vision of itself Bush offered 30 years ago.

(snip)

…the successes and failures of his public life have little to do with the very particular sense of loss some of us feel as the last president of the Greatest Generation takes his leave. There is always a sense of moment when a president dies. But the death of this president, this decent man, seems to close one of the few remaining doors between us and that time when presidents made poetry of our prose and you didn’t wake up every day to some new thugocratic outrage.

“Some have said this is an end of an era,” Bush’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Russell Jones Levenson, Jr., said during his eulogy in Washington. “But it doesn’t have to be. Perhaps this is an invitation to fill the void that has been left behind.”

No, it doesn’t have to be the end, and we don’t have to give up hope that the system Bush cherished and served will revive, and survive.

There’s other news today that I choose to take as a positive sign that the body politic’s natural antibodies are turning the tide in the on-going fight against the invaders: in court papers filed in the cases against Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, federal prosecutors reveal evidence of legal violations they claim were committed by Donald Trump.  And with hints of more to come.  As Democrats are poised to take control from Republicans in one house of Congress with the hope that they will fulfill the constitutional mandate of checks and balances that Paul Ryan’s House never did.

A thousand points of light are just the beginnings of a new dawn.

Advertisements

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…

Seatbacks in the upright and locked position, please; we’re about to encounter some (more) turbulence

If you were thinking that someday the chickens of justice would come home to roust, probably in that thing on the top of Donald Trump’s head, then today could be the day they start.  Very excited at the news of the first indictments in special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation and of charges against three people, including a guilty plea that ties the Trump presidential campaign to Russian attempts to influence the election.  En garde!

One-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime business partner Rick Gates are named in indictments alleging felony conspiracy, but the indictments make no reference to the presidential campaign nor any reference to coordination between the campaign and Russia.  Up front, let’s remember that an indictment is not proof of a crime, and that Manafort and Gates both pleaded not guilty to the charges today.  But let’s remember as well that an experienced and skilled investigator and prosecutor like Mueller doesn’t go the grand jury with charges without having a strong case.  (Yes, yes, I know about grand juries and ham sandwiches, but still.)  Also, we should have faith that this is just the first public step in a well-developed-and-researched case(s), not the last.

Why was it again that Manafort was the former campaign chairman?  Oh yeah, because he was fired from the campaign after it was learned he’d received more than $12 million in payments from a former president of Ukraine, a pro-Russia politician whom he had worked with for years, that he had failed to disclose.  And for what has he been indicted?  Conspiracy against the United States of America, conspiracy to launder money, and more.

I believe in giving credit where it’s due, especially in areas where it rarely ever is: the president was accurate when he tweeted this morning that the indictments of Manafort and Gates make no reference to the Trump campaign, nor do they allege wrongdoing in relation to the campaign.  Now, on the other hand (you saw this coming), he tweets that as if it’s all that needs to be said ever again on the topic, as if that proves the ultimate innocence of Trump, and all the Trumpets, and the campaign, of all the Russia allegations, and then (of course) uses it as a springboard (again) to suggest the real investigation should be aimed at Hillary Clinton.  (Heavy sigh.)

But he offers no comment at all on the rest of the indictment news, which I think is far more important on its face: the fact that former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pled guilty earlier this month to lying to the FBI in the Mueller probe, which is the “most explicit evidence [so far] connecting the Trump campaign to the Russian government’s meddling in last year’s election.”

Short version: Papadopoulos tried repeatedly to arrange a meeting between a London-based professor and Trump campaign officials…because he was told by the professor in April of 2016 that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of emails, at a time long before the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign were public knowledge…and then he lied to the FBI about how valuable he considered the professor but now acknowledges he knew then that the professor had “substantial connections” to Vladimir Putin’s government.

It’s unbecoming for a graying, overweight man in his 60s who is not Santa Claus to be giddy, but I’m right on the edge of that with today’s news.  Mueller is ready to start showing his cards, and I trust that he (a) is smart enough to believe he has the goods, and (b) has all the ducks properly aligned, before he starts to deal the cards.  Charles Pierce has the same feeling: this is just the beginning, or as he puts it, the snowball has started to roll downhill:

For a while on Monday, whomever in the White House is charged with the task of hiding the presidential* telephone had done a fairly good job. The president*’s Twitter account was rigged for silent running. Republican congresscritters also were maintaining a discreet distance in the immediate aftermath of the news. (Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin popped up on Three Dolts On A Divan to say “dossier,” “Hillary,” and “uranium” a few times, but his heart didn’t seem to be in it.)

At the very least, it would seem to me, Republican congressional leaders ought to be forced to take a position as to what they would do if the president* fired Robert Mueller now that the first shoe has dropped. This should be an easy one, of course, but there is that tax bill to pass, and all that money to shove upwards to the donors, so obligations to the Constitution can wait.

This isn’t going to go like a Perry Mason murder trial, where the real killer suddenly feels remorse and rises to confess the whole thing.  Trump won’t go away easy; we can expect he’ll resist every step of the way because he still believes he’s smarter and luckier (and richer, and better looking) than everyone else.   And of course, there’s the general understanding that he will lie…about everything, as he has done, even when lying doesn’t help his cause.  He operates as if he firmly believes that everyone accepts everything he says as gospel because, well, because it’s him saying it; the fact that he is often wrong and contradicts himself is apparently irrelevant to the true believers.  Now, that was probably a good bet to be true when he lived in a universe wholly populated by people dependent on him for their financial well being.  For the rest of us, the vast majority of the world’s people who don’t have a financial relationship with Trump, it’s annoying and pathetic.  But we know it’s coming, so we’ll deal with it.

Despite the agony I imagine the president will put the country through, I admit I relish the thought of that day when we’ll get to see this guy go up in flames.  But it won’t be tomorrow…author Kevin Kruse (@KevinMKruse) tweeted a reminder earlier today that it was almost two years between the first Watergate-related indictments (of the Watergate burglars) and Richard Nixon’s resignation.  And it was close to the end of that period before the Republican Congressional leadership moved past their private disgust and went public with their opposition to the president of their own party.

There’s no encouraging reading yet on how far the Republicans who control Congress today will let this go before publicly standing up to the White House.  You’d like to think they’d already be taking a stand against a good bit of what Trump has been doing, but as Pierce noted, there are still rich Americans in desperate need of tax cuts, which means Republicans have some pipers to pay before they can stand up for America.