"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"...doesn't philosophy amount to the sum of all thinkable and unthinkable errors, ceaselessly repeated?"--Jean-Luc Marion

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Saturday, June 15, 2019

"Why are we the prophets?"

Wander the "smarter" websites, everyone's hair is on fire because Trump.  Probably with good reason, I'll grant, but in a world of pundits where I doubt even Rick Wilson remembers seeing the Edward Gorey titles to "Masterpiece Mystery" in real time, it's notable how young the pundits are, and how determined they are to stake their place in history and declare THIS MOMENT!! one for the ages which they alone can stand athwart and rally the people to the barricades!

Or something.

Start with Dahlia Lithwick, who warns us how much damage Trump can do (and yes, he can):

The answer, of course, is that we’ve let him get away with it. As Michelle Goldberg argued Thursday, we let him because we are numb and tired and losing our capacity to react. This is partially because while Donald Trump remains a first-order attention grabber, he no longer feels like a first-order problem—perhaps because we have learned that there isn’t much to do about him, or because we think that voting him out in 2020 is the best answer. Instead of trying to stop this administration that is simply and stubbornly still there (and surely getting worse), we seem to have decided to spend most of our energy on our other priorities, on our lives, and on following the 2020 Democratic primary. Who can blame us, really, with Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats focused on infrastructure, hearings, reelection bids, and their own races? They are the people who can do something tangible to end this presidency, and from the looks of it, many are not very focused on that task (opting instead to spend time fighting over what to focus on). That means that every day House Democrats send out the message that “this is a crisis” and also that “I’m working on other projects” becomes a day in which they look like they are either overstating the crisis or declining to take appropriate action. Democracy is on fire. Nobody knows what to do. Therefore, democracy can’t really be on fire? Repeat.

The base problem is that, to most Americans, a "first order" problem is one that affects their jobs, their homes, their lives. "It's the economy, stupid" was a reminder of what ordinary voters cared about, and it wasn't the intricacies of decorous international conduct.  Impeachment is not just a political issue in Washington, it's a political one in America, too.  And unless Trump wades into a truly unjustified war ( "unjustified" would be fairly easy to establish, actually, and Trump knows it.  He's no more likely to get into a war than he is to stop being self-obsessed.), or if he declared himself diktator, or suspends Congress and declares martial law, most of America figures we'll survive him. Politicians lie, after all; and take care of themselves and their buddies. Trump is egregious and offensive, but Americans don't see him as a clear and present danger to the nation. Mostly he's a lout: boorish, embarrassing, and unfit for office. But the still-preferred remedy is political. That means an election.

For most of America, the crimes of Donald Trump are too abstract to be a problem. For most Americans, crime means violence to persons, or taking property. Lying is bad, but it's inchoate. Politicians lie. The sun rises in the east. So what?

Someone like Trump doesn't get re-elected. Removed from office? Eh. We'll get to him. What Tony Schwartz advises is what most Americans are already doing. Trump's actions don't directly threaten them, or the continued existence of the nation. Like the farmers hurt by Trump but resolute, Americans know they will survive. Removing Trump won't suddenly restore contracts farmers have lost, restore trade companies have lost, or make any real difference in daily life. The crisis of his removal, a slow moving national train wreck with nothing but a new crisis when he is prematurely gone, has no appeal. Nixon cheated to win office, conspired to cover it up, and betrayed the very people he hired to investigate the crimes. He pissed America off. Trump has simply disgusted them. He won't be re-elected, but he won't be impeached, either. If Congress can't get anything else done, the Democrats should lay that blame squarely on the Republicans. It's the only thing that will leave the country in better shape in 2021.

"Democracy is on fire"? This isn't 1968.  It isn't the Civil War years, or the 1930's. LBJ was forced to step away from running for re-election even though he'd trounced Goldwater four years earlier and did more to change the direction of government toward serving the people in 6 years than FDR did in 14. Vietnam wiped that from memory. Nixon won in '68 on a "secret plan" to end the war, although the one secret was how much he expanded it. He won against a candidate as inept as Hillary Clinton, and one tied to Johnson's failures (we've all forgotten his successes). But the people had forced LBJ down in high moral dudgeon, and 6 years later they did the same to Nixon after Watergate was fully revealed.  Democracy wasn't on fire, it worked; as it is doing now. Indeed, the idea that we the people are just awaiting instructions sounds more like fascism than democracy to me. We don't need instructions; there is a wisdom of the people that will prevail.  Much as I hate admitting that, I've learned it's often true.  Better them than me; I don't want the responsibility.  Trust me, neither do you.

Michael Cohen is upset by the same set of facts which bothers Ms. Lithwick:

“For the president to suggest he would willingly take assistance from a foreign government to win an election is as close as you can get to unambiguously violating the presidential oath to protect and uphold the Constitution,” Cohen wrote.

He went on to explain Trump’s relationship with North Korea, “What is clear from all this is that the president is willing to ignore North Korea’s defiant behavior and give the country a pass for violating agreements between the sides as long as Kim says nice things to him. In effect, Trump is ignoring America’s national security interests to mollify his tender ego. This would be pathetic if it wasn’t so dangerous.”

“These latest outrages only magnify the point that has been obvious for years now: the president is unfit for office. His only loyalty is to himself and his ego. He has no ethical or moral core. He doesn’t understand the difference between right and wrong, only what’s best for him personally,” he said.

“It’s exhausting to have to keep repeating these essential facts, but it’s still necessary. Because there is little reason to believe he will stop. Calling for the impeachment of Trump is no longer just about registering outrage over his actions. It’s no longer just a response to the criminality exposed in the Mueller Report. It’s about averting an ongoing crisis — and stopping the president from actively undermining national security and American democracy on a daily basis,” he wrote.

But, again, "undermining national security" hasn't been a national obsession since the days of Joe McCarthy and the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities, which persisted for a decade or longer after Tailgunner Joe was censured and left the Senate.  That's pretty much our national pattern for worrying about national security on a national scale.   We don't do it reflectively (Eisenhower was President!), but reflexively.  When the inchoate becomes choate, ugly things tend to happen.  Not that Trump is going to return us to those days (thank the lords and the low creatures!), but again, the public consensus is:  "Fine, we'll vote him out in 18 months.  We can last that long.  The system works this way, and we can wait."

But what if we were to compare Trump to a gangster?  Wouldn't that work?

But perhaps Trump was right. Maybe Stephanopoulos needs a good talking to from the Capo di tutti i capi on Pennsylvania Avenue. Doesn’t George get it that politics in the age of Trump is a criminal enterprise, that politicians are no different from gangsters? They don’t go to the FBI and turn each other in. They don’t report crimes. They commit them, and they keep their mouths shut. My buddy’s having sex with underage girls? Call the FBI? Are you kidding?

Trump acted like a bank robber who walked up to a cop standing in front of the bank and said, “hey, man, I’m going in there in a minute, and I’m going to rob that bank, and what are you going to do about it?” We got our answer from Republicans the next day. Nothing. Zip. He’s going to rob that bank? We’re cool with that. By the way, we’ll be happy to pick up any bills he drops on the way out.

Stephanopoulos looked like Lester Holt the day Trump told him on TV that he fired Comey because of “the Russia thing.” He knew he was onto a big story, so he pressed him. “You want that kind of interference in our elections? he asked, fishing. Trump allowed that he might call the FBI “if I thought there was something wrong,” but he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with accepting campaign help from the Russians or anybody else. He has admitted he didn’t think there was anything wrong with seeking Russian help when he begged them during the 2016 campaign, “Russia, if you’re listening,” and urged them to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. That’s what he does. That’s who he is.

The only thing that’s new is that Trump has dropped any pretense he’s going to follow the law. He doesn’t care what the law is. When Stephanopoulos reminded him that Christopher Wray, the Director of the FBI, had testified to Congress that any campaign receiving a solicitation from a foreign government should report that fact to the FBI, Trump told him, “The FBI director is wrong.”

Trump just warned the chief law enforcement officer of the land that if he does his job, he’ll be fired. This should come as no big news to Wray, however. He watched it happen to former FBI director James Comey. He watched it happen to former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe. Trump treats law enforcement officials like subcontractors on one of his buildings. Stiff the stupid fucker, and if he comes back at you, fire him. And if he doesn’t like that, sue him.
The next time Trump has Stephanopoulos over to the Oval Office for a lecture on the Way the World Works, he’s going to call off the election, turn to the camera and say, now what are you going to do?

Yes, Trump did all of that.  But it isn't like he shot somebody on live TeeVee, or stole some kid's lunch money.  All the analogies to crime are apt in that accounting:  they are also analogies, which by their nature are abstract.  There's a reason the press demands a "smoking gun":  because nothing less than that will convince a majority of Americans that something's rotten in the state of Denmark and something must be done RIGHT NOW!  In fact, the example of Hamlet is instructive here.  If he kills his uncle the King, it's regicide, and unless he convinces the nation the King was a murderer himself, Hamlet is worse off than before.  But if he doesn't, where is justice?  The difference is, Hamlet can't wait for the next election cycle, and while most Americans trust their Representative and Senator, yours are crooks and thieves who can't be trusted in broad daylight, so how do we know they're doing what's best for the country in turning the President out?

Is Trump a gangster? Well, in the mold of fictional gangsters, yeah. But will he cancel elections or refuse to leave office? A) That would require being more directly accountable than Trump has ever been in his life. He doesn't have the balls. B) If he does either of those things, call me when the country shrugs. Because it won't.

But it won't happen, either.


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