Sunday, October 13, 2019

The absolute right of kings absolutely corrupts this presidency

Dana Milbank (Washington Post) makes the case for Donald Trump, absolutely corrupted.

President Trump has proved to the 21st century that Lord Acton’s 19th-century maxim still holds: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Trump began staking his title to absolute power in his first weeks in office. “The whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned,” White House adviser Stephen Miller announced.

When I first heard/saw Miller’s remark on a morning news show I dismissed him as a blusterous bullsh!tter. I shouldn’t have. Subsequent actions by the absolutely corrupt president proved me wrong. As Milbank wrote about Miller, “He wasn’t kidding.”

Consider the list of “absolute right” claims by Trump.

  • Trump soon stated that “I have the absolute right” to fire FBI Director James Comey.
  • He subsequently proclaimed the “absolute right” to provide Russia with an ally’s highly classified intelligence;
  • the “absolute right” to pardon himself;
  • the “absolute right” to shut down the southern border;
  • the “absolute right” to fire special counsel Robert Mueller;
  • the “absolute right” to sign an executive order removing the Constitution’s birthright-citizenship provision;
  • the “absolute right” to contrive a national emergency to deny Congress the power of the purse;
  • the “absolute right” to order U.S. businesses out of China;
  • the “absolute right” to release apparent spy-satellite imagery of Iran; and, most recently,
  • the “absolute right” to ask other countries to furnish evidence that Joe Biden is corrupt.

And on top of all that:

  • Kellyanne Conway asserted Trump’s “absolute right” to give his son-in-law a security clearance over security professionals’ objections.
  • White House counsel Pat Cipollone said current and former White House officials are “absolutely immune” from testifying before Congress.
  • As others have noted, Trump has repeatedly said the Constitution’s Article II empowers him “to do whatever I want” and bestows on him “all of these rights at a level nobody has ever seen before.”

Now Trump is exercising his “absolute right” to do things that most sensible folks are finding appalling. Among them is the absolute right over life and death.

Without troubling himself to engage in the usual consultations with lawmakers, allies and military leaders, he ordered a pullout of U.S. troops from northern Syria, setting off a Turkish invasion as well as fears of a massacre of our Kurdish allies and religious minorities (including some 50,000 Christians) and of a revival of the Islamic State. He did it at the request of the repressive leader of Turkey, where Trump has boasted of his extensive business interests.

Now that is “absolutely corrupted.” You would think that will dislodge Trump’s supporters, like the evangelical right.

Belatedly, the Syrian situation led some of Trump’s biggest champions to recognize something has gone awry. “The president of the United States is in danger of losing the mandate of heaven if he permits this to happen,” Pat Robertson warned on his Christian Broadcasting Network.

Calling all right-wing Christians: Trump lost the “mandate of heaven” with the exposure of the Hollywood Access tapes and the hush money he paid to porn star Stormy Daniels. You just chose to look the other way. See what turning the other cheek got you.

Maybe the Kurdish tragedy will finally make more principled evangelicals rethink their Faustian bargain. Maybe they, and other Trump backers, will begin to see that absolute power, though tempting when wielded for things they like, becomes alarming when used against their wishes.

The test for these and other Trumpublicans is coming in November 2020, sooner if articles of impeachment go to the Senate. Milbank reminds us that “The highest moral obligation for all who favor a democratic future is to stop an absolutely corrupted man.”

Friday, October 11, 2019

Republicans sell their souls to the idol of the Offal Office

[Scriber’s Note]: I’ve added another blog to my repertoire. I explain at the end of this post.

The NY Times reports that At Minneapolis Rally, an Angry Trump Reserves Sharpest Attack for Biden. The audience mob lapped it up with enthusiasm fueled by Trump’s cruel and crude remarks.

MINNEAPOLIS — A fired-up President Trump lashed out against Democrats at a combative campaign rally on Thursday night, deriding them as “very sick and deranged people” who were only investigating him for abuse of power in order to “erase your vote.”

Facing impeachment in the House, Mr. Trump took his case to his core supporters, arguing that Democrats were trying to overturn the 2016 election because they knew they could not beat him in 2020. He singled out former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as nothing but a toady for President Barack Obama.

“He was only a good vice president because he knew how to kiss Barack Obama’s ass,” Mr. Trump said, a line that drew huge roars of approval from the crowd.

Let’s stop there. (You can read more from the target post if you wish to endure Trump at his crudest.)

Here is another instance of Trump’s serial sexual abuses via 538’s significant digits email. Is this going to draw huge roars of approval from the crowd?

43 new accusations
Two dozen women have already publicly accused President Trump of inappropriate behavior, but a new book details 43 new allegations, including more than two dozen cases of “unwanted sexual contact.” The book is “All The President’s Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator” by journalists Monique El-Faizy and Barry Levine, and draws upon more than 100 interviews to illustrate the president’s relationship with women across different periods of his life. Assistant Esquire editor Adrienne Westenfeld writes, “What emerges from the authors’ reporting is a portrait of a serial predator who hides behind wealth and institutional power to frequently harass and abuse women.” [Esquire]

Michael Gerson (Washington Post via the Daily Star) exposes Trumpublican lack of principle in Trump’s supporters are complicit in the moral decay of politics. I’ve tried to capture the essence in a few excerpts.

Trump is effectively setting a new standard of political morality and requiring his supporters to defend it. He is asking elected Republicans in particular to agree with his claim that a practice uniformly viewed as corruption in the past is actually an example of fighting corruption. That is the little thing, the small thing, which Trump demands of his followers: To call hot, cold. To call black, white. To call wrong, right.

Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s idea of “incommensurability” strikes me as relevant here. If all moral claims are merely “emotive” — statements about ourselves rather than the nature of reality — then there is no way to argue between them. The statement that “stealing is wrong” can be debated. The statement “I feel that stealing is wrong” is not subject to rational dispute. Someone else could simply assert, “I feel that stealing is right,” and the argument would be at a stalemate.

Republicans are being called to follow their leader down a relativist rabbit hole. Trump is not only asking them to accept his arguments on policy matters like building a wall or provoking a trade war. To be loyal foot soldiers, they must affirm that morality means what Trump says it means — even when it violates their clearest instincts. They know, deep down, that if a Democratic president had asked France or China for help in destroying a prominent Republican rival, they would be in a fever pitch of outrage. But, in the Trump era, this isn’t supposed to matter anymore. Consistency means nothing. Principle means nothing. Character means nothing. It only matters who wins.

So we are left with positions that can’t be reconciled. Trump honestly seems to have no moral objection to what he did. His opponents are left sputtering: But this has always been seen as serious corruption! The president simply doesn’t care. And, if his GOP supporters remain loyal, they will be further implicated in the moral decay of American politics.

Writing in The Bulwark, Robert Tracinski asks of Dear Republicans, Is This the Idol to Whom You Have Sold Your Souls?.

In the past few weeks, Donald Trump has gone from saying that no, he didn’t collude with a foreign dictatorship to interfere with the U.S. election, to doing it on live TV, asking the government of China to investigate Joe Biden and his son, for no clear reason.

Exactly two prominent Republicans denounced this: Ben Sasse and Mitt Romney. Marco Rubio took the brave course of pretending it didn’t happen, dismissing it as “not a real request.” Other Republicans, and much of the conservative rank and file, made a seamless move from declaring that Trump never did it to affirming that of course he did it. And it was good.

All of this has me wondering: Is this the idol to whom conservatives have decided to sell their souls?

The big thing we’ve discovered over the past four years is the number of people for whom the actual content of ideas and policy is largely irrelevant, compared to the pure tribal satisfaction of venting their hatred for the “elites” and the “mainstream media.” The source of Donald Trump’s bizarre allure among conservatives is the constant, unrelenting intensity with which he allows them to indulge in this—a form of tribal hatred that is all the purer precisely because it has been freed from any pretense of having to be loyal to abstract principles.

In short, conservatives have sold their souls for the sheer pleasure of partisan hatred. And it’s not going to be easy to break this spell.

For the last few years, outside observers have believed, time and again, that surely the latest revelation will be so blatant that conservatives will have to draw back from their support of Trump.

Well, that’s not how it works when you have sold your soul. Once people are corrupted and drawn in, there is a kind of sunk-cost fallacy that pulls them farther down. Having already compromised their principles to go along with Trumpism, they need to keep on justifying their original investment by minimizing or making excuses for every new awful thing he does.

They have to keep on justifying Trump, because otherwise they would have to face up to the reality of how foolish and venal they have been all along.

… spare a moment to contemplate the fate of Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina who first resisted Trump, then reluctantly supported him, then became a reliable Trump sycophant.

One of the central issues of Graham’s long political career is that he is a foreign policy hawk, advocating that America be active and vigilant in the fights against tyranny and radical Islam. Now observe Graham’s reaction when, late Sunday night, Trump decided to sell out our best allies in the Middle East, the Kurds—the people who stood and fought effectively against the Islamic State when nobody else was doing it, and who are now about to be attacked by the Turkish dictatorship with Trump’s go-ahead. Where does this leave Senator Graham? Completely on the sidelines:

I don’t know all the details regarding President Trump’s decision in northern Syria. In process of setting up phone call with Secretary Pompeo. If press reports are accurate this is a disaster in the making.

There is nothing more pathetic than being a senator whose signature issue is foreign policy—and having to confess publicly that you were left out of the loop and you’re begging for a meeting just to figure out what the hell is going on. But why should Trump have consulted Graham? He’d already sold his soul. He’d already indicated that he will back Trump no matter what, so why should Trump bother to inform him about future compromises that will be required?

This is where everyone will end up, eventually.

Conservatives have been drawn from small compromises to bigger and bigger ones, from venial sins to mortal ones. There is no bottom to it.

That is the inevitable logic of selling your soul.

I ran across a conservative blog, The Bulwark. I know it’s conservative, if for no other reason, than by noting its founders: Charlie Sykes and Bill Kristol. Yesterday and again today I’ve featured a post to that blog that maps nicely onto my view of politics in the age of Trump. I am not delusional - there are many issues covered in that blog that will cause me to take exception. I know the prospect of Elizabeth Warren as president, for example, is a source of joy for me and a source of horror to conservatives. I won’t hesitate to take issue with the Bulwarkians when appropriate. But reading conservative posts in that blog might get me off the civil discourse hook as I steadfastly refuse to watch Faux News.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The first 'Nobody would ever do that' quiz features the Trumpkins ...

Here’s Scriber’s first “Nobody would ever do that” quiz featuring the Trumpkins aka Trump’s kids.

Which of these two stories is more likely to be true? (Hint: only one is.)

No peeking at the answer until you write down your answer and your reasoning. The quiz starts now.

Story #1

Donald Trump Jr. plans to speak at the University of Florida [this last] Thursday, and the fact that he will be paid with school funds has sparked protests among students.

Trump Jr. has been invited to campus by the college’s student government, along with his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle — a senior advisor for the President’s 2020 reelection campaign and former Fox News personality. Steve Orlando, spokesperson for the University of Florida, tells TIME says there is no specific topic Trump Jr. is expected to speak on but notes that it “can’t be a campaign appearance,” which is banned under the University of Florida’s student government regulations on money used for speakers. He adds that there will be increased security at the event and local, state and federal law enforcement will be present.

The duo will be paid $50,000 according to Orlando.

The event is funded by money from an activity and services fee, which is mandatory for students attending classes on the campus. And students say they are not happy about their money being used to fund an event they say “disrespects various communities on campus, misuses student fees and poses a safety risk for marginalized groups.”

Just cancelling the event is not enough for protestors, who are also demanding an apology from organizers of the event for “causing undue stress to the student body and allowing student fees to subsidize a partisan political campaign,” according to a press release they issued.

"They look forward to the opportunity to engage in meaningful and thoughtful dialogue with everyone in attendance about the importance of freedom, capitalism and our Constitutional rights,” the [university] spokesperson said.

Story #2

In what insiders are calling an audacious move to get his older brother cut out of their father’s will, Eric Trump has accused Donald Trump, Jr., of being the whistle-blower.

According to White House sources, Eric marched into the Oval Office on Wednesday morning and announced to his father, “You can stop wondering who this quote-unquote whistle-blower is. It’s Don.”

Reportedly, no sooner had the young Trump made the startling accusation than Don, Jr., himself burst into the room, turning the tables on his sibling by claiming that Eric, and not he, was the actual whistle-blower.

Within seconds, the Trump brothers were viciously wrestling on the Oval Office carpet, while their father looked on, seemingly pleased by the spectacle.

Later in the day, the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, issued a statement in the hopes of defusing this latest controversy. “A forensic analysis of the whistle-blower’s complaint reveals that it was written entirely in complete sentences, thus eliminating both Trump boys as its author,” she said.

Find out the answer after the break.

Regarding stonewalling Congress, Trump and his lawyers are just making sh!t up.

OK, so that’s not really news. From the last fact-checking count, we know that Trump does that - make sh!t up - most hours of most days (12,019 lies in 928 days as of this last August). But his lawyers are resorting to made-up legal arguments to defend him.

For example, consider the recent letter sent from Trump’s lawyer to the Speaker and chairs of three House committees. Via the Washington Post, in part it reads:

"As you know, you have designed and implemented your [impeachment] inquiry in a manner that violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process. For example, you have denied the President the right to cross-examine witnesses, to call witnesses, to receive transcripts of testimony, to have access to evidence, to have counsel present, and many other basic rights guaranteed to all Americans.”
— White House counsel Pat Cipollone, in a letter to House Democratic leaders, Oct. 8, 2019

On Twitter, Renato Mariotti writes that “It is signed by an attorney but it is no sense a legal document. It’s a political document and the arguments in it are not legal reasons that would excuse failure to comply with the inquiry.” Jamal Greene responded: I believe the technical legal term is “argle bargle.” h/t Justice Scalia

Salvador Rizzo at the Washington Post Fact Checker explains why the Trump defenders’ misleading claims about the House impeachment inquiry are legal argle bargle.

President Trump’s lawyers and allies say House Democrats are running roughshod over his right to defend himself from impeachment.

As talking points go, this one is constitutionally illiterate.

Defendants in court have the right to legal counsel and to call witnesses. They have the right to examine the evidence against them and confront their accusers.

Impeachment in Congress is a different animal. The common analogy is that the House acts as a prosecutor filing charges, and then the Senate holds a trial.

That’s the process laid out in the Constitution, and the process House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democrats have followed thus far. If the House voted to impeach Trump, he would have the opportunity to mount a defense in a Senate trial, as President Bill Clinton did in 1999 after his impeachment.

The short of it is that Cipollone’s claims fail the Pinocchio Test.

It is grossly misleading to say Trump is unable to call or cross-examine witnesses, or have counsel present, in the House impeachment inquiry. The Constitution says the Senate holds impeachment trials. The House, on the other hand, acts as the prosecutor. The founders thought about it, and that’s how they split their roles.

Especially bonkers is Giuliani’s comparison to the Salem witch trials and McCarthyism. But it should not go unnoticed that the White House counsel’s letter, though more sober in tone, makes the unfounded claim that House Democrats are violating Trump’s “constitutionally mandated due process” rights. The Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that impeachment proceedings are different from those in the criminal justice system and that judges could not referee impeachment questions.

These claims are worth Four Pinocchios.

Philip Rotner writing at The Bulwark provides additional evidence on why Trump and Cipollone’s Made-Up Defense of Stonewalling Is a Fraud.

Donald Trump’s sweeping attempt to prevent witnesses from testifying before the House committees conducting impeachment inquiries is an act of lawlessness. Full stop.

In theory, there’s nothing wrong about a president pushing back against congressional encroachments into legitimately perceived executive authority.

But there’s a difference between protecting executive turf and stonewalling.

And Trump has crossed that line, by a mile.

… Cipollone is entitled to his political opinions. But this isn’t about political opinions. It’s about the law. His legal argument, such as it is, has two prongs:

(1) The inquiry is “constitutionally invalid” because the full House hasn’t voted to authorize it; and
(2) The inquiry violates Trump’s due process rights to cross-examine witnesses, call witnesses, and present evidence.

This “constitutional-validity” argument is simply made up.

There is nothing whatsoever in the U.S. Constitution requiring the full House to vote on an impeachment inquiry (as opposed to passing articles of impeachment), and Cipollone doesn’t cite a single provision of the Constitution—or even a single statute, or court decision, or even a dodgy law-review article in support of his proposition.

The due process argument is just as bad.

Cipollone understandably cites no authority of any kind in support of an argument that the target of an impeachment investigation has due process rights to call and cross-examine witnesses or present evidence during the investigation phase of the inquiry (as opposed, of course, to the trial phase, should the inquiry ever reach that point).

The failure to cite any authority requiring such rights is not a matter of negligence on Cipollone’s part. He doesn’t cite any such authority because there is none.

The very idea that targets have a right to fully participate in investigations of their own misconduct is laughable. Such rights are unheard of — whether the investigation is conducted by Congress, regulatory agencies, or law enforcement. Indeed, in many cases, the targets of law enforcement investigations don’t know that an investigation is being conducted, much less have an opportunity to participate in it.

It is difficult to believe that Cipollone’s legal arguments are being made in good faith. They are not debatable, or matters of interpretation. They are just wrong. A first-year law student would know better than to cite either of the cases Cipollone cites in support of an argument that a president has a constitutional right to participate in impeachment proceedings while they are still in the investigation/inquiry phase.

Trump’s order preventing witnesses from testifying before Congress has no legal justification. It is stonewalling and obstruction, pure and simple.

Congress should treat it as such.

Now I know that Trump keeps his own counsel, such as it is being devoid of expertise and evidence. But he might want to consider this advice: hire a first-year law student.

Trump's 'great and unmatched wisdom' might lead to a massacre of the Kurds

Judd Legum in this morning’s subscribers post at updates us on what Trump has said and done regarding Turkey’s incursion into Syria.

After functionally giving Turkey the go-ahead to invade Kurdish controlled territory inside of Syria, Trump broadcast mixed messages.

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off-limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).”

But in spite of that bit of megalomania, Trump took no action against Turkey but instead denigrated our ally in the war on ISIS.

Kurdish forces … asked for U.S. assistance to create a no-fly zone to reduce the carnage. Trump reportedly refused. In remarks on Wednesday afternoon, Trump dismissed the alliance between the United States and Kurdish forces.

Trump on the Kurds: “They didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy.” He says they’re only interested in fighting for “their land.” He adds, “With all of that being said, we like the Kurds.”

Goes to show ya: you don’t want to be liked by the U. S.

Trump’s mysterious motivations

The question is: Why? Why would Trump sell out a close U.S. ally to make Erdogan happy? What, exactly, is he getting in return?

The answer might have less to do with U.S. policy than Trump’s private businesses.

Trump has maintained ownership of his wide-ranging business operations as president. This was an unprecedented and unconstitutional decision that created a host of conflicts-of-interest. Among them is Trump Towers, Istanbul.

Trump’s property in Turkey opened seven years ago and “Erdogan, then the country’s prime minister, attended the grand opening of the twin skyscraper project.” Ivanka Trump “praised him for doing so.”

Trump has earned “earned between $100,001 and $1 million from the Istanbul project in the past year.” Meanwhile, “Turkish officials, including the trade minister, the defense minister and the ambassador to the United States, have made 14 separate visits to Trump’s hotel a few blocks from the White House since his inauguration.”

Trump's Turkish caper proves U. S. to be a dangerous ally

Not just unreliable but downright dangerous. With friends like these …

Background: NY Times reports Turkey Launches Offensive Against U.S.-Backed Syrian Militia.

Turkey launched a ground and air assault on Wednesday against a Syrian militia that has been a crucial American ally in the fight against ISIS, days after President Trump agreed to let the operation proceed.

As Turkish warplanes bombed Syrian towns and troops crossed the border, the chaos in Washington continued, with President Trump issuing seemingly contradictory policy statements in the face of strident opposition from his Republican allies in Congress.

Mr. Trump acquiesced to the Turkish operation in a call with Turkey’s president on Sunday, agreeing to move American troops out of Turkey’s way despite opposition from his own State Department and military.

On Wednesday, hours after the operation began, he condemned it, calling it “a bad idea.”

By that time, Turkish fighter jets were streaking through the sky over Syrian towns, while artillery shells boomed overhead. Traffic was jammed with terrified civilians fleeing south in trucks piled high with possessions and children.

Fact #1: Kurds were valuable allies in war against ISIS.

A military coalition led by the United States teamed up with a Kurdish militia beginning in 2015 to fight Islamic State extremists who had seized a territory that was the size of Britain and spanned the Syrian-Iraqi border. That militia grew into the Syrian Democratic Forces, which led the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and eventually took control of the areas it liberated.

Fact #2: American military provides support to Turkish attack on the Kurds.

The United States military, which had been working with the Syrian Democratic Forces to fight remnants of the Islamic State in Syria, has cut off all support to the militia, two American military officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential military assessments.

The officials said the United States was not providing support to Turkey either, but for the last few weeks, as Turkish military officials planned the assault, they received American surveillance video and information from reconnaissance aircraft. The information may have helped them track Kurdish positions.

One official said that United States warplanes and surveillance aircraft remained in the area to defend the remaining American ground forces in northeast Syria, but said they would not contest Turkish warplanes attacking Kurdish positions.

Trump’s acquiescence triggered another humanitarian crisis. Thursday morning news reports that Kurd civilians are running to escape the Turkish invasion but they have nowhere to go. Is this ethnic cleansing unfolding?

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Trump going public does not make his corruption right

In one of this last Sunday morning’s news programs, South Carolina Republican voters were interviewed about their views of the case for impeachment. I was shocked by one voter’s opinion: that Trump’s asking for foreign assistance with his re-election campaign was OK so long as he was public about it. There are two things here that should cause bipartisan concern.

One is that it is plainly unconstitutional. From Article I Section 9 of the Constitution: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” Congress has not granted its consent and my guess is that they are not about to do something to put our national well-being in the hands of a foreign State - such as Ukraine or China.

The second issue is the deeply flawed logic. Trump is on record for claiming he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters.” Does Trump’s going public mean that his shooting somebody is OK?

Trump is trying to make “corruption” a new normal and thereby excusing his own nefarious acts. That bugs me. Here is one reason why.

I served in the U. S. Army for three and a half years (1963–1966) including two tours in the Far East. I would have recited this Oath of Enlistment.

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” (Title 10, US Code; Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962).

Today I could not honestly take that oath. You see, in the age of Trump “support and defend the Constitution” is fundamentally at odds with “obey the orders of the President.” Whoever holds public office cannot in good conscience support the Constitution and defend the President. The evidence of his corruption is just too broad and deep. Trump’s acceptance of emoluments originating both here at home and abroad is unconstitutional. His pathological lying (12,000 and counting) makes any of his orders immediately suspect.

It’s time to revisit an anthem from another time of crisis for our nation. Stephen Sills (then of Buffalo Springfield) penned these lyrics (with a change from me in italics):

There’s something happening here
What it is is perfectly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down