Thursday, January 2, 2020

Impeachment - this was the year that Trump 'got caught'

This last year Trump’s misdeeds resulted in impeachment. “He got caught.”

With that we begin a not-so-new year. Trump, gleefully, will continue to wage war on everything that it means to be American. Republicans, or rather those who apply that label erroneously to themselves, will take offense (or worse) when Trump’s bad character is exposed. They’ll defend him to the death (of their party). Conservative they are not.

Another prospect for the new year is increased economic inequality. We are already at historically the largest difference between CEOs and workers since the Great Depression and it will get worse. But I’ll address that in a different post.

So here are the first of my musings.

Late-Stage Trumpism

About a year ago (Jan. 6, 2019) Charlie Sykes, writing at The Bulwark told us What Romney Exposed About Late-Stage Trumpism. For some reason, Trump supporters get angry when critics discuss the president’s character.

Last week’s op-ed from Mitt Romney was interesting not just for what it was, but for what the response to it revealed. Because the defense mounted by Trump World tells us quite a lot about the decadence of late stage Trumpism.

Romney’s central heresy was his observation that “policies and appointments are only a part of a presidency.”

To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation. A president should unite us and inspire us to follow “our better angels.” A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect. As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit. With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable.

Not only is this passage not especially controversial—it’s almost a boilerplate restatement of what conservatives have claimed to believe for decades.

[Skipping to the end ….]

In reference to ‘Roger Kimball who has heroically taken up Jonah Goldberg’s challenge to “come up with a definition of good character that Donald Trump can clear." … ’

[Peter] Wehner recognized the intellectual antecedents of the strutting bully-boys of Trumpism, even if they were oblivious of the source. Nietzsche would have fit seamlessly into the pages of American Greatness or on Fox News’ primetime lineup. His twitter feed would have been lit. As Wehner wrote:

Whether or not he has read a word of Nietzsche (I’m guessing not), Mr. Trump embodies a Nietzschean morality rather than a Christian one. It is characterized by indifference to objective truth (there are no facts, only interpretations), the repudiation of Christian concern for the poor and the weak, and disdain for the powerless. It celebrates the “Übermensch,” or Superman, who rejects Christian morality in favor of his own. For Nietzsche, strength was intrinsically good and weakness was intrinsically bad. So, too, for Donald Trump.

This is what Romney exposed. While mouthing pieties about Christian values, late stage Trumpism is edging ever closer to explicitly embracing Nietzsche’s upside down moral universe. And this is as dangerous as it is disappointing.

What Trump costs America

In a word, trust.

Michiko Kakutani, ‘a former book critic for The Times’, shows us How social media, the Great Recession and Donald Trump combined to bring out the ‘indigenous American berserk.’. She says “The 2010s Were the End of Normal.” Following are excerpts.

Apocalypse is not yet upon our world as the 2010s draw to an end, but there are portents of disorder. The hopes nourished during the opening years of the decade — hopes that America was on a progressive path toward growing equality and freedom, hopes that technology held answers to some of our most pressing problems — have given way, with what feels like head-swiveling speed, to a dark and divisive new era. Fear and distrust are ascendant now. … and since 2017, the United States has not only abdicated its role as a stabilizing leader on the global stage, but is also sowing unpredictability and chaos abroad.

The biggest casualty of the decade was trust. … As with many things, Donald Trump is both a symptom and a radical accelerant of the decline in trust. While exploiting the anger at the establishment that snowballed around the world in response to the 2008 financial crisis, Mr. Trump has also cruelly amplified existing divisions and resentments in America, fueling suspicion of immigrants and minorities and injecting white nationalist views into the mainstream, in efforts to gin up his base.

Mr. Trump’s improbable rise benefited from a perfect storm of larger economic, social and demographic changes, and the profoundly disruptive effects of new technology. His ascent also coincided with the rising anxieties and sense of dislocation produced by such tectonic shifts. Around the world, liberal democracy is facing grave new challenges, authoritarianism is on the rise and science is being questioned by “post-fact” politicians. …

… As a candidate, Mr. Trump sold himself as the champion of such voters — whom he called “the forgotten men and women” — and he promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington. But once in office, he enlarged the swamp, hiring some 281 lobbyists, and set about cutting taxes for corporations and the very rich.

He also began a war on the institutions that were the very pillars of the government he now headed. [Trump is] nihilistically trying to undermine public faith in the efficacy, the professionalism, even the mission of the institutions that are crucial for guarding our national security, negotiating with foreign governments and ensuring the safety of our environment and workplaces. Mr. Trump also launched chilling attacks on those he reviled — from the F.B.I. to the judiciary — for having failed to put loyalty to him ahead of loyalty to the Constitution.

This is familiar behavior among authoritarians and would-be dictators, who resent constitutional checks and balances, and who want to make themselves the sole arbiters of truth and reality. A reporter said that in 2016 when she asked Mr. Trump why he continually assailed the press, he replied: “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.” It was fitting, then, that in January 2017, the month of his inauguration, George Orwell’s classic novel “1984” shot to the top of best-seller lists. The nearly 70-year-old novel suddenly felt unbearably timely with its depiction of a world in which the truth is whatever Big Brother says it is.

One of the terrible ironies of Mr. Trump’s presidency is that his administration’s dysfunction — little to no policymaking process on many issues, impulsive decision-making, contempt for expertise and plunging morale at beleaguered agencies — creates a toxic feedback loop that further undermines public trust in the government and lends momentum to his desire to eviscerate the “deep state.” The conflicts of interest that swirl around Mr. Trump and his cronies further increase the public’s perception of corruption and unfairness.

… in an era of data overload and short attention spans, it’s not the most reliable, trustworthy material that goes viral — it’s the loudest voices, the angriest, most outrageous posts that get clicked and shared.

Without reliable information, citizens cannot make informed decisions about the issues of the day, and we cannot hold politicians to account. Without commonly agreed upon facts, we cannot have reasoned debates with other voters and instead become susceptible to the fear-mongering of demagogues. When politicians constantly lie, overwhelming and exhausting us while insinuating that everyone is dishonest and corrupt, the danger is that we grow so weary and cynical that we withdraw from civic engagement. And if we fail to engage in the political process — or reflexively support the individual from “our” party while reflexively dismissing the views of others — then we are abdicating common sense and our responsibility as citizens.

84 days of schemes and corruption: “He got caught.”

The NY Times has a comprehensive time-line of the Quid Pro Quo: Behind the Ukraine Aid Freeze: 84 Days of Conflict and Confusion. The inside story of President Trump’s demand to halt military assistance to an ally shows the price he was willing to pay to carry out his agenda.

WASHINGTON — Deep into a long flight to Japan aboard Air Force One with President Trump, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, dashed off an email to an aide back in Washington.

“I’m just trying to tie up some loose ends,” Mr. Mulvaney wrote. “Did we ever find out about the money for Ukraine and whether we can hold it back?”

It was June 27, more than a week after Mr. Trump had first asked about putting a hold on security aid to Ukraine, an embattled American ally, and Mr. Mulvaney needed an answer.

The aide, Robert B. Blair, replied that it would be possible, but not pretty. “Expect Congress to become unhinged” if the White House tried to countermand spending passed by the House and Senate, he wrote in a previously undisclosed email. And, he wrote, it might further fuel the narrative that Mr. Trump was pro-Russia.

Mr. Blair was right, even if his prediction of a messy outcome was wildly understated. Mr. Trump’s order to hold $391 million worth of sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, night vision goggles, medical aid and other equipment the Ukrainian military needed to fight a grinding war against Russian-backed separatists would help pave a path to the president’s impeachment.

The Democratic-led inquiry into Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine this spring and summer established that the president was actively involved in parallel efforts — both secretive and highly unusual — to bring pressure on a country he viewed with suspicion, if not disdain.

One campaign, spearheaded by Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, aimed to force Ukraine to conduct investigations that could help Mr. Trump politically, including one focused on a potential Democratic 2020 rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

The other, which unfolded nearly simultaneously but has gotten less attention, was the president’s demand to withhold the security assistance. By late summer, the two efforts merged as American diplomats used the withheld aid as leverage in the effort to win a public commitment from the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to carry out the investigations Mr. Trump sought into Mr. Biden and unfounded or overblown theories about Ukraine interfering in the 2016 election.

Interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials, congressional aides and others, previously undisclosed emails and documents, and a close reading of thousands of pages of impeachment testimony provide the most complete account yet of the 84 days from when Mr. Trump first inquired about the money to his decision in September to relent.

The key players knew that something was wrong.

“Given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate your keeping that information closely held to those who need to know to execute the direction,” Mr. Duffey wrote in his note, which was released this month to the Center for Public Integrity.

In spite of that attempt at concealment, the word got out. Senators were putting pressure on, the whistle blower filed a complaint, and committees in the House were gearing up for an investigation. So …

Still, White House officials did not expect anything to change, especially since Mr. Trump had repeatedly rejected the advice of his national security team.

But then, just as suddenly as the hold was imposed, it was lifted. Mr. Trump, apparently unwilling to wage a public battle, told Mr. Portman he would let the money go.

White House aides rushed to notify their counterparts at the Pentagon and elsewhere. The freeze had been lifted. The money could be spent. Get it out the door, they were told.

The debate would now begin as to why the hold was lifted, with Democrats confident they knew the answer.

"I have no doubt about why the president allowed the assistance to go forward,” said Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “He got caught.”

The AZ Blue Meanie weighs in.

The New York Times report is a “game changer” that shows the need for witness testimony in the president’s impeachment trial, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday.

The Meanie cites Greg Sargent’s take in the Washington Post.

What makes all this new information really damning, however, is that many of these officials who were directly involved with Trump’s freezing of aid are the same ones Trump blocked from appearing before the House impeachment inquiry.

If Republicans bear the brunt of media pressure to explain why they don’t want to hear from witnesses, that risks highlighting their true rationale: They adamantly fear new revelations precisely because they know Trump is guilty — and that this corrupt scheme is almost certainly much worse than we can currently surmise.

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