Thursday, July 25, 2019

7 takeaways from 7 hours of Mueller's testimony. What's next for America.

What are the take-ways from the Mueller hearing? Why was that show so alarming? And what’s next for America?

The take-aways

For those of you who didn’t watch the Mueller hearings (and for those of you who got bored and tuned out), the NY Times offers up What We Learned From Mueller’s 7 Hours on Capitol Hill. Here are the headers and a few snippets.

Mr. Mueller batted down President Trump’s claims about his report and threw a few barbs.

The most helpful moment to Democrats may have come as Mr. Mueller faced his first questions, from Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. It is a sequence that is likely to play out on television and in political ads for months to come.

“Director Mueller, the president has repeatedly claimed that your report found there was no obstruction and that it completely and totally exonerated him. But that is not what your report said, is it?” Mr. Nadler asked.

“Right, that is not what the report said,” Mr. Mueller replied.

The exchange went on in that fashion, with Mr. Mueller shooting down Mr. Trump’s claims.

Time and again, Mr. Mueller defied Democrats looking for a flashy new moment.

Republicans tried to sow doubts, but Mr. Mueller frustrated them too.

Whither impeachment? Mueller did not help advocates much.

… some [Representatives] sensed new openness by Speaker Nancy Pelosi Wednesday evening to pursuing such a case. But with a six-week August recess looming and the views of most Americans fixed on what is now a two-year-old story line, a lasting shift in public opinion appears unlikely.

Mr. Mueller appeared a little shaky at the witness table.

Scriber is more forgiving. The 450+ page report was the product of (at least) several staffers, I think. Cramming all that into one head is daunting.

… during the afternoon hearing with the Intelligence Committee. Mr. Mueller appeared more at ease and more willingly strayed from his written report.

The Justice Department’s opinion that bars charging a president brought confusion.

Mr. Mueller offered a defense of his investigation, belatedly.

… a retort ready for Republicans who accused him of filling his office with partisan Democrats who were out to tank Mr. Trump.

“We strove to hire those individuals that could do the job,” Mr. Mueller, a Republican, said. “I’ve been in this business for almost 25 years, and in those 25 years, I have not had occasion once to ask somebody about their political affiliation. It is not done. What I care about is the capability of the individual to do the job and do the job quickly and seriously and with integrity.”

But Republican questioners made integrity an antiquated concept …

… which is my take on New Yorker’s John Cassidy’s view of Why the Mueller Hearings Were So Alarming. Here is some of Cassidy’s column.

For the past two and a half years of Donald Trump’s Presidency, I have consoled myself with the argument that, despite all the chaos and narcissism and racial incitement and norm-shattering, the American system of government is holding itself together. When Trump attempted to introduce a ban on Muslims entering the country and sought to add a citizenship question to the census, the courts restrained him. When he railed at nato and loyal allies like Germany’s Angela Merkel, other members of his Administration issued quiet reassurances that it was just bluster. When the American people had the chance to issue a verdict on Trump’s first two years in office, they turned the House of Representatives over to the opposition party.

All of this was reassuring. But, while watching what happened on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, when Robert Mueller, the former special counsel, testified before two House committees, I struggled to contain a rising sense of dread about where the country is heading. With Republicans united behind the President, Democrats uncertain about how to proceed, and Mueller reluctant to the last to come straight out and say that the President committed impeachable offenses, it looks like Trump’s blitzkrieg tactics of demonizing anyone who challenges him, terrorizing potential dissidents on his own side, and relentlessly spouting propaganda over social media may have worked. If so, he will have recorded a historic victory over the bedrock American principles of congressional oversight and equality before the law.

The morning session was largely devoted to Volume 2 of Mueller’s report, in which he relates ten instances of Trump seeking to interfere with the Russia investigation. Sitting before them, the G.O.P. members of the House Judiciary Committee had a seventy-four-year-old registered Republican and decorated hero of the Vietnam War, who subsequently spent decades as a public prosecutor, was appointed to the position of F.B.I. director by George W. Bush, in 2001, and served twelve years in that post. Yet some of the Republican members of the Committee treated their distinguished witness with thinly disguised contempt.

[Condensing:] Louie Gohmert, of Texas did some “scaremongering”, Matt Gaetz, of Florida “sneered”, “Ohio’s Jim Jordan threw his arms in the air and mocked Mueller”, John Ratcliffe, another Texan, asked why Mueller bothered to write his report at all, and Wisconsin’s Jim Sensenbrenner went further, questioning whether Mueller should have even carried out the investigation, which he described as “fishing.”

Yet none of these Republicans questioned any of the factual accounts of Trump’s behavior contained in Mueller’s report, which included attempting to fire Mueller, and, when that effort failed, trying to get the Attorney General to limit the special counsel’s remit. Rather than trying to refute Mueller’s findings, the Republicans sought to switch attention to the origins of the Russia investigation, which is, of course, precisely what Trump has been doing for the past two years.

The wanton disrespect that these elected Republicans showed Mueller was perhaps the most alarming testament yet to Trump’s total conquest of the Party. In today’s G.O.P., as in Stalin’s Russia, evidently, decades of loyal public service count for nothing when the leader and his henchmen decide someone represents a threat and the apparatchiks have been ordered to take that person down. …

Despite Mueller’s reticence, the Democrats succeeded in countering the White House’s messaging, and showed that the report provides ample legal justification for opening an impeachment inquiry. In his opening statement, Mueller undermined months of White House obfuscation, saying, “We did not address collusion, which is not a legal term.” And, during his initial exchange with Nadler, the former special counsel completed the demolition job by stating unequivocally that his report hadn’t exonerated Trump on the obstruction question.

… the overriding impression that Mueller left was that the President knowingly attempted to obstruct his investigation, and that such attempts can be criminal even if they don’t succeed. In the afternoon session, he also left hanging the question of whether Trump made false statements to the investigators, affirming “generally” that the President’s written answers to his questions weren’t always truthful.

The tragedy is that this might not matter. Even as Mueller was still testifying, some media commentary was intimating that his appearance wouldn’t change anything. …

It is now up to the House Democrats. Leaving a meeting of her caucus on Wednesday afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters, “The American people now realize more fully the crimes that have been committed against our Constitution.” But, in a subsequent press conference, she indicated that a move toward impeachment wasn’t imminent. “We still have outstanding matters in the courts,” she said.

After the hearings it will get worse for America …

… because, in Trumplandia, it always does.

Matt Lewis writing in The Daily Beast thinks that The Cult of Trump Will Outlast Him. If you think that after four—or, ahem, eight—years of a guy who so captured the party it can just go back to being what it was… think again. Pining for the previous Grand Old Party of our fathers is an example of that wishful thinking.

Nobody serious thinks we’re all going to wake up after Donald Trump and have things go back to the way they were before he descended that escalator. To paraphrase Rick Pitino, Ronald Reagan ain’t walking through that door.

One question lingers: Can Trumpism survive without Trump? (Assuming he ever leaves or doesn’t install Ivanka as a puppet leader.)

Trump is, after all, a cult of personality. Aside from the economic protectionism and racially inflammatory rhetoric, his agenda tends to be capricious, ad hoc, and often incoherent. …

“So how might this play out?” asks Lewis. He offers three scenarios.

One scenario ends with a party that is led by someone like Mike Pence or Nikki Haley. Although both have, to some degree or another, bowed to Trumpism (Pence much more so than Haley), both had successful political careers and fairly coherent conservative worldviews that long preceded Donald Trump. It stands to reason that, given the autonomy granted to the party’s top of the ticket, they might revert back to some of their pre-Trump beliefs.

…. [A] reimagined party wouldn’t completely reject Trumpism, but would instead introduce a kinder, gentler version that could be tolerable and (possibly) even salutary.

Unfortunately, the window for returning to a pre-Trump conservatism is dwindling. That’s because of the other, increasingly likely, scenarios.

A second (and very real) scenario has Trump winning reelection. If you don’t think this is likely, consider that his approval rating just reached a record high, and that the Democrats and the media seem to keep taking his bait. Trump wants to make the election about the Squad, a maneuver that could make it harder for Nancy Pelosi to govern, and for Joe Biden (Trump’s most difficult potential foe) to win the Democratic nomination.

It’s hard to imagine the GOP reverting to its pre-Trump platform after two winning elections on Trumpism. At some point, you’ll have an entire generation of Republican politicians, commentators, thinkers, activists, and voters who came of age in the Trump era. They will be committed to sustaining the current paradigm. If we are not there already, we are on the verge of Trumpism being fully ensconced as the GOP’s new normal.

That’s because, whether he wins or loses, Trump has already hung around long enough now for an intellectual movement—the product of nationalistic ideologues and ambitious entrepreneurs—to have grown up underneath him.

A third scenario is that Trump will be succeeded by someone who is actually committed to a coherent form of Trumpism—that there will, in fact, be Trumpism after Trump.

The reason for this is that there is demand for it. There is a very large base of Republican voters who simply prefer Trumpism. As I wrote in an otherwise forgettable 2015 column, “there is a huge underserved constituency in the GOP—and that constituency is what might best be termed populist conservatives. These folks tend to be white and working-class and who feel they’ve been left behind in America.”

There is no doubt that Donald Trump has transformed American politics and the Republican Party.

I would prefer to extirpate every last vestige of Donald Trump, but that is not possible. This is his party now. The GOP will surely remain more populist and more nationalistic …

The question is not whether Trump’s legacy will endure, but… how much.

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