Tag Archives: impeachment

A Shared Understanding of Reality

For probably twenty years, I have written about the growing gulf between libertarian and “country club” Republicans, on the one hand, and the Evangelical/social conservative/white nationalists who make up an ever-growing percentage of the party, on the other.

I think it is safe to say that the “Never Trumpers” come disproportionately from the ranks of the (increasingly endangered) libertarians.

While I have significant differences with libertarians on economic policy, they tend to be educated and thoughtful proponents of a particular worldview, not– like so many on both the far Right and far Left–emotional and tribal “my way or the highway” extremists.

Trump’s assault on norms of democratic governance has deepened the rift between libertarian Republicans and the others– a rift underscored by a recent article from Reason Magazine,titled “Trump’s Congressional Defenders Deny Reality.” (Reason is a premier publication of libertarianism.)

During Monday’s impeachment hearing, Republican lawyer Stephen Castor denied that Donald Trump had asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender to oppose Trump in next year’s election. “I don’t think the record supports that,” Castor said.

That jaw-dropping moment starkly illustrated the lengths to which Republicans have gone in rebutting the charge that Trump abused his powers for personal gain. The president’s defenders have repeatedly contested well-established facts in a way that makes fair-minded nonpartisans despair of having an impeachment debate based on a shared understanding of reality.

According to the White House’s own transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump asked Zelenskiy to look into the claim that Biden pressed the Ukrainian government to replace Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin with the aim of thwarting an investigation of Burisma, an energy company that employed Biden’s son Hunter as a board member. “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution,” Trump said, adding that “it sounds horrible to me.”

Trump asked Zelenskiy to “look into it,” and Zelenskiy agreed, saying his new prosecutor general “will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned” (i.e., Burisma). Trump himself has said what he wanted from Zelenskiy was “very simple”—”a major investigation into the Bidens.”

You can argue, as Republicans have, that there was nothing improper about that request. But you cannot credibly deny that Trump made it.

This, in a nutshell, is America’s current dilemma: We do not have a shared understanding of reality. There are multiple reasons for this state of affairs: increasing tribalism, a media environment that encourages confirmation bias and discourages a shared recognition of fact, a widening divide between educated and uneducated Americans, and the cynical manipulation of persistent racial and religious resentment by people who profit from that manipulation.

Thoughtful individuals who disagree about politics and policy can nevertheless come to satisfactory resolutions–they can engage in the scorned but utterly necessary process of compromise. Ideologues and members of a cult–inhabitants of alternate realities–can neither participate in a legitimate conversation (defined as one in which the parties actually hear what the others are saying) nor reach an accommodation that requires them to relinquish even a small part of whatever it is they are demanding.

In the real world, it has been conclusively proven that Russia–and not Ukraine–meddled in our 2016 election. In the real world, Trump withheld desperately needed and congressionally approved military aid in order to get Ukraine’s President to announce an investigation into his (Trump’s) political rival.

But that’s in the real world, and elected Republicans don’t live there anymore.

 

Bring In The Clowns. Don’t Bother, They’re Here.

There’s a cartoon making the rounds on social media that shows Lt. Col. Vindman–in his military uniform– testifying during the impeachment hearing before the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman Devin Nunes, in full clown regalia, is asking him “What’s with the uniform?”

I loved it.

As Impeachment proceedings move to the Judiciary Committee, I thought I’d do a quick review of some of the more vocal–okay, looney-tunes–Trump defenders on the Intelligence Committee.

Nunes is a hysterical ( in both senses of the word) Trump devotee; during the Mueller investigation, reporters caught him running information to and from the White House in an effort to exculpate the President by disparaging American spy agencies, and engaging in a variety of other behaviors that were not, to put it mildly, in furtherance of the rule of law.

Indeed, despite once sponsoring something called the “Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act,” Nunes may be the poster child for legal frivolity.

According to a column in the LA Times, 

He has sued:

¤ A stone fruit farmer in Dinuba, and two other people, for conspiring to damage his 2018 reelection by asking that Nunes not be allowed to call himself a “farmer” on the ballot.

¤ The research firm Fusion GPS and a Democratic group called Campaign for Accountability for attempting to interfere with his “investigation” (quote marks are mine) into ties between President Trump and Russia when he was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

¤ Twitter and a couple of parody accounts, including @DevinCow, who has called Nunes “a treasonous cowpoke.” He is asking for $250 million to assuage his hurt feelings.

¤ McClatchy, parent company of Nunes’ hometown paper, the Fresno Bee, for writing that he had a financial interest in a winery sued by an employee who was asked to work on a charity cruise where men behaved very, very badly.

¤ And, most recently, Esquire magazine and the journalist Ryan Lizza, who Nunes claims have defamed him to the tune of $75 million in writing about the Nunes family dairy farm, which is not in California, but in Iowa, a fact Lizza alleged Nunes has sought to downplay. Lizza also wrote about how undocumented workers form the backbone of the Iowa dairy farm industry, and how the industry would collapse without them.

(The New York Times says the cow now has 600,000 followers, far more than Nunes…)

Each of Nunes lawsuits describe him in the following glowing (arguably wildly inaccurate) terms:

“Nunes’ career as a U.S. Congressman is distinguished by his honor, dedication and service to his constituents and his country, his honesty, integrity, ethics, reputation for truthfulness and veracity.”

Then there’s language from his suit against the more popular cow. I think it’s fair to characterize it as somewhat over-the-top:

“In 2018, during his last re-election,” says his lawsuit against Twitter and the cow, “Nunes endured an orchestrated defamation campaign of stunning breadth and scope, one that no human being should ever have to bear or suffer in their whole life.”

As the author of the column put it,

It’s almost as if Nunes thinks he is the victim of a vast bovine conspiracy, when what he is really doing is weaponizing the American legal system in an effort to shut down criticism, punish his antagonists and prove to Trump World that, like the president, he will stop at nothing to destroy those who would dare to oppose him. Or call him names like “Milk Dud.”

In all fairness, Nunes isn’t the only Republican clown on the Intelligence Committee. Jim Jordan is only slightly less ridiculous; his high-decibel expressions of righteous indignation over suggestions that the Emperor/Commander-in-Chief might not be wearing any clothes was in striking contrast to his utter lack of such indignation–or appropriate action– over the sexual exploitation of numerous wrestlers by the team doctor while Jordan was assistant coach at Ohio State.

Gotta give Jordan props: when he’s on your team–be it wrestling or governing– he’ll cover for you. After all, what are friends for?

There are others, of course, who haven’t exactly been models of legislative comportment–let alone integrity. Feel free to identify your personal favorites in the comments.

Despite the number of contestants, it’s my view that Devin Nunes has gone above and beyond (far, far beyond) and is richly deserving of the title of Head Clown. Despite what has definitely been a valiant effort, Jim Jordan falls short.

That said, as the proceedings move to Judiciary, Nunes may have to increase his quotient of batshit crazy in order to keep the Clown crown. Louie Gohmert is on the Judiciary Committee…

 

 

Who Do You Resent?

Political polarization has created newly rigid political identities, complete with required enemies. Not only do partisans detest each other, devout Republicans and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Democrats also coalesce around those common enemies.

Democrats disparage the “un-woke,” distrust billionaires and powerful corporations, and rail against climate-change-deniers.

Republicans sneer at higher education, fear immigrants, use “socialism” as a dirty word (despite considerable evidence that most of them have no idea what it is), and really, really hate “elitists” –i.e., experts who actually know what they’re talking about.

“Elitists” populate the equally despised and mischaracterized “deep state.”

Frank Bruni recently had a column in the New York Times in which he explored the GOP’s resentment of professionalism–especially the patriotic public servants that Trump’s current, despicable press secretary labels“radical unelected bureaucrats.”

The impeachment inquiry and the events that led to it tell many stories. One, obviously, is about the abuse of power. Another illuminates the foul mash of mendacity and paranoia at the core of Donald Trump.

But this week, as several longtime civil servants testify at the inquiry’s first public hearings, a third narrative demands notice, because it explains the entire tragedy of the Trump administration: the larger scandals, the lesser disgraces and the current moment of reckoning.

That story is the collision of a president who has absolutely no regard for professionalism and those who try to embody it, the battle between an arrogant, unscrupulous yahoo and his humble, principled opposites.

Bruni notes that Trump’s contempt for professionalism is part and parcel of his aversion to norms of all sorts, including tradition and simple courtesy, and that such contempt has been a “distinct theme” in his business career, which has been “rife with cheating, and his political life, which is greased with lies.”

Go back to his initial staffing of senior posts and recall how shoddy the vetting process was. Also notice two prominent classes of recruits: people who had profoundly questionable preparation for the jobs that he nonetheless gave them (Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos, Stephen Miller, Javanka) and genuine professionals who wagered that their skills would be critically necessary — and thus highly valued — and that Trump would surely rise to the established codes and expected conduct of his office.

Now look at how many of those professionals (James Mattis, H.R. McMaster, Gary Cohn, Dan Coats) are gone. And tell me whether Trump has ever had the epiphany that the presidency is, in fact, a profession.

Interestingly, the Trump Administration’s sorry excuse for vetting came to public notice again just this week, when multiple media outlets reported that a senior official had embellished her résumé with highly misleading claims about her professional background, and had gone so far as to create a fake Time magazine cover with her face on it. She had invented a role on a U.N. panel, claimed she had addressed both the Democratic and Republican national conventions, and implied she had testified before Congress, none of which was true. Lying at this level should have been easy to uncover, but she was appointed–and continues to serve–as a deputy assistant secretary in the State Department.

As Bruni says

A crisis of professionalism defines his administration, in which backstabbing is the new glad-handing, firings are cruel, exits are ugly, the turnover is jaw-dropping, the number of unfilled positions is mind-boggling, and many officials have titles that are prefaced with “acting” — a modifier with multiple meanings in this case.

Trump slyly markets his anti-professionalism as anti-elitism and a rejection of staid, cautious thinking. But it’s really his way of excusing his ignorance, costuming his incompetence and greenlighting his hooliganism.

Two of the professionals who have come forward to testify about Trump’s effort to blackmail the President of Ukraine were described by Michael McFaul, a former United States ambassador to Russia, in a recent essay for The New York Review of Books titled “The Deeply Dedicated State.”

Both always have struck me as first-rate government servants, singularly focused on advancing American national interests. Both have served Republican and Democratic presidents, and even after decades of interacting with them both, I could not guess how either of them votes.”

He characterized them as “accidental heroes” who aren’t “likely to seek the limelight.” “They are extremely well trained, competent, and highly regarded professionals,” he summarized.

That’s why they bucked Trump. And that’s why he can’t bear them.

When people resent competence, when they sneer at honorable public servants as “elitists” or label them members of a nefarious “deep state,” it tells you a great deal about their own deficits.

Such resentment permeates today’s Republican Party, and that explains a lot.

 

So Here’s Where We Are….

I did it again. This should have posted tomorrow morning. Sorry.

 

This week saw the start of the public phase of the House Impeachment process. Media outlets–left, right and center–have reported on testimony, the behavior of various Representatives, the White House and a multitude of partisans. Still other outlets have reported on those reports.

In other words, there has been a lot of noise. Amid the clamor, though, I think Josh Marshall has made the most incisive observations.As he points out, the question commonly asked is whether the Democrats can make their case convincingly to the American public. And as he also points out, that really isn’t the question.

What’s really being asked is whether Democrats will be able to convince not the American people but Republican partisans and more specifically congressional Republicans. And that is by design an all but impossible standard because they are deeply and unshakably committed to not being convinced.

This is not only the obvious verdict of the last three years. It’s even more clear with the questions which have emerged since September. Congressional Republicans have hopped from one argument to another: from no evidence of wrongdoing, to the wrongdoing is actually fine, to a rearguard action against a corrupt process. The chaos of arguments has zero logic or consistency beyond the simple and overriding one: of refusing to accept that the President did anything wrong no matter what evidence emerges and simply use whatever argument is available to justify that end.

Marshall is right. The pundits who are evaluating the Democrats’ “performance” by their success in moving immovable Republicans are applying a ridiculous standard. As he says, no sane person willingly plays a game or has an argument or even wages a war in which the adversary gets to decide who wins or loses.

That not only guarantees failure it breeds a a sense of helplessness and mawkish begging. It demoralizes supporters and puffs up opponents with a sense of unmerited power.

Public opinion surveys show the public is already pretty well convinced even in advance of public hearings. Overwhelming numbers see this kind of extortion and foreign election interference as wrong. Similar numbers believe the President did these things. Even in advance of public hearings roughly 50% of the voting population already supports the extreme step of removing the President from office – something that hasn’t happened in almost a quarter of a millenium of American history.

Marshall points out that the evidence of illegal behavior and abuse of power is already overwhelming. Damning testimony has come from Trump’s own appointees, and to the extent details are still missing, it’s because Trump has kept people who could fill in the blanks from testifying.

Certainly it is important to air the evidence publicly, clear up good faith confusions and nudge as many people who believe the President did something wrong but are hesitant about the upheaval of impeachment in the direction of supporting impeachment and removal. But the basic case simply makes itself. The evidence is overwhelming.

His conclusion–with which I entirely agree–is sobering.

It’s not the Democrats who are on trial here, needing to prove themselves with some magisterial performance. Indeed, it’s not even really the President whose guilt is obvious and not even questioned with serious arguments. Who and what is on trial here is the Republican party, which has made it pretty clear that they are willing to countenance any level of law breaking and abuses of power so long as it is done by a Republican or at least as long as it is Donald Trump.

The Democrats’ job is to lay out the evidence in a public setting and get elected Republicans to sign on the dotted line that this is presidential behavior they accept and applaud. That won’t be difficult. They have one last chance to change their answer. Democrats real job is to clarify and publicize that that is their answer.

This isn’t pollyannish. It is simply recognizing the nature of the crisis in which the country finds itself and avoiding nonsensical, bad-faith exercises that can only end in frustration. The aim for Democrats is to set forth, calmly and clearly, what the Republican party accepts and what it is and consolidate the non-Republican, non-authoritarian nationalist vote which supports the rule of law and the constitution. Since the GOP is self-indicting, President Trump will almost certainly not be removed from office and these questions, properly set forth, will go before the people in one year.

What We The People do then–and the margin by which we do it– will tell us who we really are.

A Depressing Analysis

I frequently cite Talking Points Memo. I have found it to be an excellent source of information about what’s going on in Washington–clearly progressive, but scrupulously accurate in its reporting and very thoughtful in its analysis.

I have a lot of respect for the site and for Josh Marshall, the journalist who established it. That’s why I found the following discussion both persuasive and depressing. It was an explanation of the dilemma facing GOP Senators, who–Josh explains– cannot simply rid themselves of Trump. Some of his observations..

There is simply no scenario in which the GOP can easily quit the President or do so without driving a major, divisive and lasting wedge through the center of the party…

Trump’s rule has been so durable because despite his unpopularity he maintains the intense support of a large minority of the electorate. For a mix of demographic and geographical reasons it is a minority that generally over-performs in electoral terms…

But probably 30% and certainly more than 20% are deeply attached to Trump, not only for his few relative points of ideological heterodoxy (trade restrictions, isolationism, etc.) but much more for his embodiment of an authoritarian and illiberal worldview both at home and abroad. These voters will have a very hard time forgiving any Republican leaders who turn on Trump and try to drive him from office. He has simply remade the party so thoroughly around an emotive ecosystem of dominance, obedience and betrayal.

Trump has built his political movement and persona around the politics of grievance and resentment. These are the taproots of the version of American conservatism we now call Trumpism. But Trump embodied and thus sealed and deepened those tendencies in a transformative way. Any partisan would resent politicians who turned on a leader to whom they felt a profound loyalty. But none like pro-Trump diehards.

Josh is convinced that a Senate Republican defection remains unlikely– that there is no substantial number of Republicans who will vote to remove Trump from office. But–as he points out–if facts continue to emerge confirming what we already know about the President’s perfidy, “there’s really no scenario in which most Republican senators won’t face a damaging outcome whichever side of the impeachment question they come down on.”

Don’t expect major defections. But that’s not really the question. The real issue is that Republicans are trapped with someone they can’t cut loose.

I have just one quibble with this otherwise compelling analysis. It begins with the assumption that these Republican Senators want to be re-elected more than they want to do the right thing.

A vote to convict would secure the Senator who casts it a favorable mention in the history books–and it would be a vote for Constitutional accountability and the rule of law.

A vote to acquit will mark the Senator who casts it as a moral coward–but probably an employed moral coward.

Josh has placed his bet on the choice most will make. It pains me to say it, but he is probably right.