Tag Archives: Congress

Monday Musings: Beyond Impeachment

I really didn’t want to write another Monday Musings post about Donald Trump. I would like to be shot of him, just like a majority of the country. And (this is Washington’s dirty little secret) just like a majority of elected Republicans.

Clearly they remain terrified of the man and his rabid supporters, too many of whom have proven themselves willing to resort to violence. And so only ten Republicans in the House of Representatives supported impeachment. And only seven Republicans in the Senate voted to convict. And yet it is worth noting that these are the highest levels of support from members of a President’s own party in the history of American impeachments. Yes, that’s right. Never before have as many as ten House members voted to impeach a President in their own party. Before Trump’s 2019 impeachment trial, no Senator had ever voted to convict a President of the same party. Seven GOP votes for conviction this time around, in what was the equivalent of a landslide.

Don’t get me wrong: I am utterly disgusted by the cowardice and capitulation of most Congressional Republicans. Their continued support of this man — a man who incited his supporters to a murderous frenzy in order to overturn the legitimate results of a free and fair election — makes me sick and leaves me fearful for the future of our republic.

Yet, I think the impeachment trial was not only worth pursuing, it was also largely successful. The House impeachment managers were masterful in presenting their case. They established beyond doubt that the assault on the U.S. Capitol was a coordinated effort fueled by Trump’s false claims about the election and enabled by those in the Republican party who parroted Trump’s lies.

We have known for some time now that Congressional Republicans are spineless, that they are more interested in partisan gain than in the health of our political system. We knew there weren’t seventeen men or women in the party’s Senate caucus with the guts to vote for a conviction. And the specious and largely discredited argument legal argument they clung to — that a President can’t be impeached after leaving office — gave them the excuse they needed to vote for Trump without defending his indefensible actions.

But it’s worth noting that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Lord, how I LOVE typing that) took to the Senate floor just after the vote to acquit, and essentially endorsed the case laid out by the House “prosecutors.” Trump, he admitted, incited his supporters to riot. The former President did so over the course of months, repeating his “big lie” about the election being rigged, and he did so that very day with a speech that pushed an already agitated mob to do the unthinkable. The Capitol Building was ransacked; former Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and others were nearly murdered; police officers were assaulted and wounded. One died that day. Two others have died since. Six people died in total. And all of this is Donald Trump’s fault.

Many seem to believe that Donald Trump still has a political future. I suppose that’s possible. But I would remind everyone of something that activist/journalist Bill Palmer mentioned on his site shortly before Trump left office: After Barack Obama’s victory over John McCain in the 2008 Presidential election and his triumphant inauguration in January of 2009, everyone in the country assumed that the Republican Party would be led going forward by Sarah Palin, McCain’s running mate. She was considered a rising star, the face of the new GOP, a virtual lock to be the party’s 2012 Presidential nominee.

Of course she proved to be none of these things.

In the same way, we shouldn’t assume that in four years Donald Trump will wield anywhere near as much power in the Republican party as he does now. He faces criminal proceedings in New York for his questionable finances. He faces prosecution in Georgia for his blatant violations of state election laws. He may face Federal charges for his incitement of the Capitol Hill riot. We simply can’t know what his future may hold. And I guarantee you that even Trump’s most vocal supporters in the Senate — guys like Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley — would love to see him prosecuted, humiliated, and turned into a political pariah. They’d never admit as much, of course. They’re too eager to claim Trump’s supporters for themselves. But they know that as long as Trump remains the ostensible leader of the GOP, the party itself will be vilified and their own Presidential ambitions will be thwarted.

When it comes right down to it, they have no reason to support the man a day longer than political expediency demands. The trick, of course, is pinpointing that precise day, and I doubt any of them has the acumen to time this well. They will make themselves look like fools, undermining their own political hopes in the process. Ultimately they will have no choice but to throw Trump under a bus, just as he would do to them if need arose. They will, in short, wind up destroying themselves, Trump, and each other.

And, to my mind, on this President’s Day, that is a comforting thought.

Monday Musings: It’s Not Like We Didn’t Know

“Is it possible to be astonished and, at the same time, not surprised?” — Jed Bartlet (Peter Noah, The West Wing, Season 7)

It’s not like we didn’t know he was capable of this. It’s not like we haven’t known all along that his Presidency represented an existential threat to the American experiment. On election night in 2016, I texted my brother, “I fear for our republic.”

It’s not like we didn’t know.

Yet seeing it unfold in real time, was utterly shocking. And as we learn more of who was in the crowd, what was done to the building and to the victims, and what was being said and done by Trump, Giuliani, and others as the siege of Congress unfolded, I cannot help but believe that we were, all of us, very fortunate it didn’t turn out far, far worse. Trump is desperate now to minimize the danger after the fact, to claim that he only wished to see “protesters” put pressure on Congress to heed his calls for an investigation into “voter fraud.” His two minute “Please-Don’t-Throw-Me-In-Jail” video on Friday night was a gambit designed to lessen the possibility of a last minute impeachment or invocation of the 25th Amendment. Naturally, his Republican enablers are lapping it up and spewing it all over social media, still doing his bidding.

But make no mistake: This was an attempt at a coup. This was terrorism. This was the most blatant, violent assault-from-within on our republic since the Civil War. If those who inspired it, and those who carried it out, had been successful, it might well have been a fatal blow to our nation’s most revered institutions.

I remain wary. I fear what Trump’s most crazed supporters might attempt on January 20th, when Joe Biden is inaugurated at the Capitol Building. Having resorted to violence on this level once, it will be that much easier for them to take this step a second time, a third, and beyond, until the path becomes well-trod, and the results are normalized in some way. I am deeply alarmed by how many of Trump’s lackeys on Capitol Hill and in the media are willing to gaslight us less than a week after the fact. “It was Antifa,” they claim. “Antifa radicals posing as Trump supporters.” Seriously — several have said this. According to a DoD report on the National Guard response, it was a “First Amendment protest.” In short, I see too many reasons to expect that Wednesday’s events presage more of the same.

Yet, I can also find cause for hope. Sometimes it takes a crisis, a near catastrophe, to open our eyes to the folly of our own actions. Sometimes, we must step to the very edge of the abyss before we can convince ourselves to back away. This, I believe, is happening now within Republican circles. It is telling that Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, the most prominent of those Congressional enablers who incited the mob on Wednesday, are being condemned and shunned by people on both sides of the partisan divide. It is telling that several GOP elected officials, as well as the Wall Street Journal, the National Association of Manufacturers, and others, are calling for Trump’s removal from office by one method or another. It is telling that Big Tech is finally, belatedly, kicking Trump off their platforms, citing the danger of further incitement. It is telling that officials within his Administration are running for the exit doors.

Notwithstanding the threats to our country that remain, Trump is disgraced, likely beyond the possibility of redemption. His inexcusable call to Georgia’s Secretary of State (all but forgotten in the wake of the attack on the Capitol Building), and his willingness to risk people’s lives in pursuit of his own anti-democratic ambitions, have exposed him for what he is: a lawless, self-absorbed, authoritarian thug who cares nothing for this country or its people.

I believe it’s possible that he believes his own lies. Maybe he’s so utterly incapable of accepting any sort of loss, that he has convinced himself others deprived him of victory. Maybe it makes perfect sense to him that Democrats AND some Republicans AND Mike Pence AND his own Supreme Court and Federal Court picks have joined together in a vast conspiracy to deny him a second term. As I say, it’s possible.

More likely, though, is the obvious: That he is a self-serving grifter who has used his spurious election claims to raise money for himself, his family, and his future ambitions, whatever they might be. That he is so obsessed with his own brand that he will literally risk the future of our nation in order to avoid admitting he lost.

The good news is that despite the blood-chilling events of this past week, and the falsehoods spread by Trump and too many of his sycophants since November 3, he will be leaving office on January 20. In a rare and welcome bipartisan display of resolve and courage, Congress returned to its duties the very night of the attack, and in the small hours of the morning completed the certification of the Electoral College. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be taking power. Trump himself admitted as much on Friday.

Our nation will likely be tested again, perhaps soon. But the dark days of the Trump Administration will soon be over.

Monday Musings: Court Wars

Sometimes I write my Monday posts on Saturday morning. It’s just a convenient time. And so right now I am at my desk, trying to marshal my thoughts, and rein in my emotions.

I am devastated by the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. It pains me that her last hours were spent thinking as much about the political chaos that would follow her death as about her family and a momentous life well-lived. Within an hour of her passing, tributes to her stunning career were already being drowned out by the fight over how and when she ought to be replaced. She deserved better.

And so do we, as a nation. I am enraged by the staggering hypocrisy of Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues in the Senate. In 2016, after the death of Antonin Scalia, they refused to allow hearings or a vote on Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. It’s too close to the election, they said. The new President, whoever that may be, ought to have the opportunity to fill the vacancy. No, it’s not ideal to leave a seat on the Court open for so long, but this principle is worth the risk. Scalia died in March. His seat remained open for more than a year.

We are now forty-five days from another Presidential election. If the Senate were to follow McConnell’s “rule” on allowing new Presidents to choose a Court nominee, we might have to wait a total of five months. But now Republicans say, There is plenty of time for the current occupant of the White House to select a successor. It would be dangerous to leave the seat open for so long. Fucking unbelievable.

And yet, utterly predictable. Because the real problem is that we have allowed the Court to become completely politicized. The judiciary was designed and intended to be the least political branch of our government. It was supposed to be above politics, the institutional referee between the two elected branches. How far we have fallen from that ideal. Just today, a friend asked me if I could think of any other nation on the planet whose selection of judges was more riven by politics than ours. I couldn’t.

Like everything else in our system of government, in our whole society, all matters pertaining to the courts have become hyper-partisan. It is almost impossible to believe this now, but when Scalia’s nomination came to a Senate vote, he was confirmed 98-0. Ginsberg, as liberal as Scalia was conservative, won confirmation 96-3. I doubt we’ll see another vote like that on a Supreme Court Justice in this century.

Conservatives point to Ronald Reagan’s unsuccessful nomination of Robert Bork as the start of the Court’s politicization. They claim that liberal Democrats, opposed to Bork’s ideology, misrepresented his record and vilified him. I remember that fight, which took place during my first semester in graduate school, quite differently. Bork’s very nomination was a provocation. Before becoming a candidate for the Court, Bork was best known as Richard Nixon’s Solicitor General, who, on what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre,” fired Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. He did this after Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned in protest rather than carry out Nixon’s order. By the time of his Supreme Court hearings, Bork had long since revealed himself as a man who placed party before country, and as an advocate for unbridled executive power. He had been a villain to the Left for more than a decade. He never should have been nominated.

The fact is, it doesn’t matter who started the trend. It’s here now. And with McConnell’s brazen disregard for Constitutional norms in the case of the Garland nomination, it has been escalated to full-scale political war. If McConnell pushes through a Trump nominee before the election, or during a lame-duck session after it, and if, as polls currently predict, the election brings a Biden victory and a Democratic takeover of the Senate, I expect Democrats to attempt to change the structure of the Court in next year’s Congressional session. The Constitution says nothing about the number of justices who can serve on the Court, and it grants to Congress wide discretion in creating and maintaining all levels of the Federal Judiciary.

The problem with this is, as soon as the Democrats lose control of the Senate, the Republicans can change the composition again. And so on, until the Court becomes a caricature of itself, and one of the bedrock institutions of our republic is destroyed for all time.

One solution would be for Senate Republicans to recognize their own hypocrisy and refuse to vote on a Trump nominee. It would only take four of them, and I wish I believed that among the fifty-three members of the GOP Senate caucus there are four people of integrity. But I don’t.

That leaves few options and little hope for a near-term de-escalation of the Court battles. I am as pessimistic right now about the future of our system of government as I have ever been. Another legacy of this dark era in our history.

And I end this piece as I began it: with regret that the life of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a gender pioneer, a brilliant jurist, a champion for the dispossessed, the disadvantaged, and the downtrodden, should be obscured by ridiculous and unreasonable political machinations.

We should be better than this. I grieve that we are not.