Tag Archives: Trump

Crime And Punishment

I read the more credible left and right-wing Internet sites with a grain (or cup) of salt, knowing that they may begin with factually-accurate information, but that they will spin that information to make their points. Inevitably imperfect aspects of human society are typically treated as examples of pervasively evil intentions: Democrats are “socialists” who want to deprive you of your liberty and property; Republican businesspeople are “right-wing plutocrats” working night and day to worsen inequality.

It would be refreshing to read “this aspect of society isn’t working very well, and we should probably pay attention to it” rather than “this is the tip of the rotten iceberg and we need armed revolution.”

But a recent post originally from Daily Kos struck me as basically accurate.

In sentencing documents, the special counsel’s office referred to Paul Manafort’s crimes as both “bold” and “brazen.” The word they didn’t use was “overlooked,” but that’s also absolutely true. Manafort is heading to federal prison for the rest of his life on a list of felonies a mile long—but if a special prosecutor had not been appointed, he would, at this moment, be getting fitted for a new vest made from some endangered species.

 Manafort and his partner Rick Gates committed multiple felonies over a span of decades. They weren’t sly about it. They weren’t particularly cautious or clever or even competent in their efforts to cover up illegal lobbying, money laundering, and tax fraud. They just never expected to get caught because guys like them never do. The same is true of Roger Stone, who was another of Manafort’s partners at the lobbying firm charmingly known as the “Torturer’s Lobby” for its willingness to help out brutal dictators and even-more-brutal would-be dictators.

As the post went on to note, the appointment of a Special Prosecutor has uncovered criminal behaviors that probably would not have been prosecuted but for that appointment, beginning with Donald Trump. (Trump’s history of money laundering hasn’t exactly been a secret). That includes Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn and Erik Prince, among others.

The real revelation of the investigations into Trump and his foreign connections isn’t even that the man occupying the White House is a crook, and the man who ran the Republican convention three times and acted as an adviser to a half-dozen presidents is a crook, and so is his partner, and so is his partner, and so are they all. The real revelation is that it took a special counsel to see any of these men face serious prosecution no matter what they did, or how often they did it, or how “bold” their crimes might be.

Stripped of the somewhat florid language (and the unstated but implied accusation that all  rich people and their “fixers” fall into the same category), the post makes a valid point: the rule of law is not equally applied.

What Trump knows, and what should be the most sobering discovery to emerge from the entire investigation, is that, barring the extraordinary circumstances of a special counsel or someone with similar authority, men like him will not face justice for crimes. And in fact, they will go on lying, cheating, stealing, with impunity.

If we are honest, we know that the criminal justice system doesn’t treat rich and poor people–or white and black people–equally. David Cole’s eye-opening book, No Equal Justice, was published in 1999, and little has changed since then.

The problem isn’t simply the unfairness of a justice system that applies different standards to different groups. The problem is that–as evidence of the disparity becomes more obvious–respect for law declines. Precipitously.

The most basic premise of the rule of law is that the rules apply to everyone; that “similarly-situated” citizens have the same rights and duties, and are subject to the same legal constraints. And “similarly-situated” in this context does not refer to finances or skin color.

When government winks at privileged persons’ misdeeds while punishing similar–or lesser– behaviors by less fortunate citizens, there is no justice and no rule of law. And that’s a problem that deserves some florid prose.

 

Trumping The Constitution

I’m not one of those old people who is always looking back in time through rose-colored glasses–“remembering” that families were closer, people were friendlier, children were seen and not heard, etc. etc. Those memories are highly suspect, if not deliberately dishonest.

That said, I do miss the Republican Party of my younger days. It’s true that it always had a right-wing fringe, but before that fringe took control and ran reasonable people out, the GOP I worked for was filled with admirable, public-spirited men and women.

I thought about those “good old days” when I read that a group of former GOP lawmakers had written a letter to Republicans in Congress, urging them to void Trump’s “Emergency” declaration.

A group of 23 former Republican lawmakers, including former Defense Secretary under the Obama administration Chuck Hagel, signed a letter urging Republicans in Congress to pass a joint resolution that would terminate President Trump’s emergency declaration over the border wall.

In an open letter to GOPers, the former lawmakers argued that Congress should not allow the President to “circumvent congressional authority.” They also questioned how willing lawmakers are to undermine the Constitution.

“How much are you willing to undermine both the Constitution and the Congress in order to advance a policy outcome that by all other legitimate means is not achievable?” they wrote.

One of the signatories to that letter was former Indiana Senator Dick Lugar.

The contrast between the Republican Party of Lugar and Hudnut and the party of McConnell and Trump is devastating. The Republicans who currently “serve” Indiana in the House and Senate (please note quotation marks around the word serve) are a sorry group of wanna-be’s, terrified that they will run afoul of the party’s rabid, racist base if they confront a President they know to be corrupt, ignorant and dangerously incompetent.

The letter from party elders was blunt: support for Trump’s “Emergency” is an attack on the Constitution. Failure to oppose it is failure to serve the national interest. And yet, every single Republican member of Indiana’s House delegation caved. Faced with a choice between serving their country and falling into line for Trump, they chose Trump.

Emergency powers are intended to allow Presidents to act when there is not time for Congress to do so. If the President can overrule Congress when it has acted, simply by declaring an emergency, there is no longer a separation of powers. Congress is neutered.

The lawyers in Indiana’s delegation, especially, fully understood the import of their votes. (And yes, Susan Brooks, we are looking at you.)

In an eloquent essay in the Atlantic, Eliot Cohen described these Republicans.

Talk to them privately, and they will confess that there is no emergency at the southern border—there is a problem, to be sure, but one whose seriousness has actually diminished over time. They know that the congressional leadership had the votes to build walls there for the first two years of the administration but did not manage it. They know, for that matter, that border security involves much more than walls. They know that the president is invoking emergency powers as an electoral ploy, and because he is impatient.

They know, in their timid breasts, that they would have howled with indignation if Barack Obama had declared a national emergency in such a circumstance. As they stare at their coffee cup at breakfast, the thought occurs to them that a future left-wing president could make dangerous use of these same powers—because Speaker Nancy Pelosi rubbed that fact in their face. Some of the brighter ones might even realize that emergency powers are a favored tool of authoritarians everywhere.

 But they are afraid. They are afraid of being primaried. They are afraid of being called out by the bully whom they secretly despise but to whom they pledge public fealty. They are afraid of having to find another occupation than serving in elective office. And the most conceited of the lot—and there are quite a few of those, perhaps more in the Senate than in the House—think that it would be a tragedy if the country no longer had their service at its disposal.

I didn’t always agree with Dick Lugar’s policy preferences. (I didn’t always agree with Bill Hudnut’s, and I worked in his administration.) But I respected them both, and I respected the many, many other persons of integrity and intelligence who called the GOP their political home before it devolved into a cult composed of racists and moral midgets.

I miss them.

Wehner On Tribes

Peter Wehner is one of those “homeless” Republicans--a category composed of principled people whose primary allegiance was to their country and intellectual honesty, not a political party. He is currently a contributing editor to the Atlantic. Wehner titled a recent article for the magazine “What I’ve gained by leaving the Republican Party,” and noted that he is “more willing to listen to people I once thought had nothing to teach me.”

Like so many of the people who have left the GOP, Wehner was anything but a “casual” Republican.

For most of my life, I’ve been closely affiliated with the Republican Party. My first vote was cast for Ronald Reagan in 1980. I worked in his administration, as well as that of George H. W. Bush; for seven years, I was a senior adviser to President George W. Bush.

Most of my professional friends and almost all of my former colleagues—those with whom I served in government as well as in the think-tank world—have been Republican. The GOP has been my political home since college, a party I was once proud to be a part of, and a source of cherished relationships. Part of my identity was undoubtedly shaped by my party affiliation.

Leaving a political party, or a religion, or a cause in which one has been deeply involved is like losing a limb. In my more charitable moments (which are admittedly few and far between) I sympathize with the lifelong Republicans still standing with their party despite its metamorphosis into an irrational and dangerous cult.

It’s their tribe, and we live in a very tribal age.  Wehner is eloquent on that subject.

When I was a card-carrying member of a political party, I wasn’t automatically blinded to other points of view, or unable to challenge conventional orthodoxy. I did it on issues ranging from climate change, to the Tea Party’s anti-government rhetoric, to the characterological and temperamental defects of Newt Gingrich; so have many others. Nor did I knowingly put party above country. That’s a common charge made against party loyalists, when in fact most members of a political party believe that the success of their party is tied to the success of their country. They might be wrong, but that’s how many of them see things.

 But here’s what I think does happen. People who are part of a tribe—political, philosophical, religious, ethnic—are less willing to call out their own side’s offenses. That’s human nature. To be sure, some are more willing to show independence of judgment than others, but none shows complete intellectual independence. I certainly didn’t.

Some of this has to do with feelings of solidarity, of not wanting to alienate those whose affirmation and support are important to us. Some of it has to do with the fact that our brains filter information differently, depending on whether it confirms or challenges our preexisting political commitments and affiliations. When we’re part of a team, we have a natural tendency to let our sympathies shape our views and opinions of others. As a result, we perceive the world differently, often more narrowly and sometimes incorrectly.

The entire essay is well worth the time it takes to read it.

The thoughtful Republicans who drew a line at Donald Trump–whose intellectual honesty demanded that they leave what had become of their “tribe”–deserve our profound respect. We can only hope that whatever ultimately replaces today’s GOP is their creation, and not that of the troglodytes who control the current remnants of a once Grand Old Party.

Negativity Isn’t Bias

I recently came across a blog post making what I think is a pretty important distinction between biased media coverage and negative media coverage.

A common complaint of President Trump and others in the GOP is that a high percentage of media coverage of him is “negative.” The official GOP Twitter account often tweets about this, sometimes citing a statistic from a Harvard study stating that over 90% of media coverage of Trump is negative. This, the President and his allies complain, is evidence of bias. In this post I argue that “negative” coverage itself isn’t necessarily “biased,” and is often perfectly fair. However, it is often easy to confuse negativity and bias, and it is similarly easy for them to overlap within the reporting of a story. As a result, many casual media observers feel like media sources have become recently more biased against Trump because of a seeming increase in negative reporting about him.

When is negative reporting simply unbiased reporting of the facts, and when is it bias? Almost 100% of stories about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults are negative, but no one says it is because newspapers are biased against Weinstein himself. Almost 100% of stories about drunk drivers are negative, but no one says it is because the local news anchors are biased against drunk drivers. We intuit that the reporting is appropriate because the sexual assaults and the drunk driving themselves are bad things. Often, when the news reports that someone did a bad thing, it’s because the thing was actually bad.

With their accusations of “fake news” and complaints that equate critical coverage with bias, Trump supporters are trying to de-legitimate reports on this President and this administration. That in itself isn’t new–partisans of all sorts engage in spin intended to counter bad publicity.

I think there are aspects of this pushback that are new, however. One is fairly obvious: this is the first President in my lifetime who is seemingly incapable of generating good news.  This administration is so ignorant of governance, not to mention venal, incompetent and mean-spirited, that the negative coverage isn’t a consequence of emphasizing the bad stuff and ignoring the good. There isn’t any good.

The second element that is new is demographic. The President’s critics are, by and large, educated people–both Democrats and Republicans. (I can’t think of any other President who has repelled so high a percentage of his own party’s elder statesmen and intellectuals.) His defenders tend to be people whose arguments–on Facebook, Twitter and right-wing publications–disclose a lack of even superficial familiarity with history, the Constitution and democratic theory. There are obviously exceptions to this broad characterization, but a case can be made that Trump appeals to people who share both his ignorance and his racist and sexist animus.

As the author of the quoted blog put it,

What does it mean when an historically conservative and/or Republican writer writes a piece that is “negative” about Trump? Does it mean that the conservative/Republican is now a liberal/Democrat? I argue that the answer is no, and many such journalists/writers have argued the same themselves.

Principled conservatives have recoiled from an administration that is anti-science, anti-democratic, anti-free-market, and anti-rule-of-law. Principled liberals who were prepared to work against a traditional Republican agenda have instead confronted a President whose only fidelity to that agenda has been its alliance with big money and its Southern Strategy.

No wonder genuine journalists from credible news organizations aren’t writing positive articles.

Grateful For Our Nation Of Immigrants

NBC, among other news outlets, recently ran an article showcasing Jin Park, a Harvard student who recently won a Rhodes Scholarship. Jin is a DACA recipient; he was brought to the US when he was seven years old.

“I’m thankful and I think it’s a testament to if you give immigrants in America an opportunity, if you allow us to live fully in our truth and see us totally in our personhood, this is the kind of thing that can happen,” he said.

Park is currently completing his bachelor of arts at Harvard in molecular and cellular biology,according to a biography provided by the Rhodes Trust. Park plans on pursuing master’s degrees in migration studies and global health science and epidemiology at Oxford, according to the biography.

Whatever one’s feelings about undocumented adult immigrants, Jin and other DACA recipients were brought here as children. They didn’t have the capacity to make a decision to enter the country illegally, and they shouldn’t be punished for their parents’ actions.

DACA aside, there are many reasons America should be welcoming immigrants, not trying to wall them out.

I’ve previously posted about the incredible contributions to the American economy made by immigrants–both documented and not– and their children.

More than 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Collectively, companies founded by immigrants and their children employ more than 10 million people worldwide; and the revenue they generate is greater than the GDP of every country in the world except the U.S., China and Japan.

I was reminded of those contributions when I opened last week’s issue of the Indianapolis Business Journal. The IBJ has a yearly feature called “Forty Under Forty,” in which the publication showcases up and coming “movers and shakers”–young people who have made a demonstrable impact in Indianapolis’ business, nonprofit and public organizations and civic life. Over the years, the diversity of those included has steadily grown–there are more black and brown faces and many more women than was the case some ten or more years ago.

There are also a lot more immigrants or children of immigrants. I didn’t count, but I’d estimate that the descriptions accompanying the photos identified nearly a quarter of this year’s honorees as either immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants. These young men and women are already making substantial contributions to our city and state–contributions from which all of us benefit.

Sentient Americans understand that Trump’s fevered and stubborn insistence on building a wall is both stupid (most undocumented people have flown in and overstayed a visa) and racist (he doesn’t want a wall between us and Canada, and he issued an invitation to Norwegians). That isn’t to say the wall wouldn’t have an effect, but that effect would be symbolic: it would send a message to brown people that they are not welcome here, and it would reaffirm the real basis of Trump’s appeal in the eyes of his supporters: his promise to make America White again.

As I looked through the accomplishments of this year’s list of 40 Under 40, all I could think of was the incredible amount of talent, entrepreneurship and work ethic that Indiana and America stand to lose if Trump and his supporters prevail.

I for one am immensely grateful I don’t live in a nation populated with versions of Don Jr. and Eric.