One Step Forward, A Half Step Back?

A few days ago, the leading Democrat in the House of Representatives finally said the word “impeachment”. That was a big step forward. She announced that several committees will decide whether the president has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” that fall within their jurisdiction. Now, however, it appears that House Democrats want to focus their efforts on the Ukraine scandal, possibly voting whether to impeach the president in a matter of weeks.

Brian Beutler of Crooked Media summarized the situation in two columns this week. Here is some of his commentary:

Donald Trump entered the White House uniquely vulnerable to impeachment, the owner of an opaque web of private companies who obtained the office through criminal and corrupt means. Over the next two and a half years he piled increasingly brazen offenses on to that bill of particulars, emboldened at each juncture by Congresses—one Republican, one Democrat—that were determined for different reasons not to set an impeachment process in motion.

In the days after Special Counsel Robert Mueller produced a report showing Trump encouraged and expected to benefit from a foreign attack on the 2016 election, then abused his powers of office to obstruct the ensuing investigation, one of the few Democrats who recognized that taking impeachment off the table would create an unacceptable level of moral hazard was Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). She warned, “If Donald Trump can do all that he tried to do to impede an investigation into his own wrongdoing and an attack by a foreign government,” and Congress takes no action, “then it gives license to the next president, and the next president, and the next president to do the same thing.”

The only thing her analysis missed is that Congress’s inaction also gave Donald Trump license to commit the same crimes all over again, this time with the awesome powers of the presidency at his fingertips.

And that is exactly what happened.

Members of the Trump campaign escaped indictment for cooperating with Russia’s attack on the election by the skins of their teeth. Trump himself escaped indictment for obstruction of justice only because the Justice Department prohibits its prosecutors from indicting sitting presidents. In lieu of an indictment, Mueller effectively referred Trump to Congress for impeachment, and in the face of hard evidence that he’d committed grave impeachable offenses, Congress took a pass….

It is probably no coincidence that Trump involved himself directly in the Ukraine extortion scheme the day after Mueller’s valedictory testimony to Congress, when it was clear Democratic leaders remained intractably opposed to impeachment. Had they treated the report with the seriousness it deserved, and unified their caucus behind impeachment, they might have discouraged Trump from inviting another foreign power to interfere in our election….

And it’s not as though Trump’s recent conduct is so different from his past offenses that the case for impeachment has changed dramatically. To the contrary, the arguments now prevailing are the very same ones impeachment supporters have been screaming themselves hoarse about for months—since before Democrats won back the House: That impeachment is the only way for Congress to alert the public to the seriousness of the threat Trump poses, and deny his enablers veto power over accountability; that it’s the only way to force all Republicans to vote on whether they think Trump’s crimes are acceptable; that a president who faces no consequences for law breaking will eventually discover that an election is nothing but a patchwork of laws, and begin to break them.

 

What we know today that we didn’t before hasn’t changed much either…. [The] plot to coerce Ukraine to involve itself in the 2020 election came to light before the summer. The vicissitudes of politics—a whistleblower who decided to take matters into his or her own hands; the existence of a corroborated complaint becoming public; Trump’s effort to cover it up—have made it easier for Democrats to step up now…. But Trump is only incrementally more deserving of impeachment now than he was two weeks ago. What’s changed is that the untenable nature of doing nothing has become impossible to deny. Having pulled their heads out of the sand, Democrats [could] now breathe again.

[However], as the political world processed the gravity of President Trump’s efforts to force Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election, and to cover it up, House Democrats debated among themselves whether to limit their impeachment inquiry, then less than 24 hours old, to the issue of Ukraine, and even whether they should aim to complete the impeachment process by the end of October….

What we’ve learned should quiet the Democrats’ anxious desire to rush articles of impeachment to the Senate, because the Ukraine scandal turns out to be much larger than it appeared…. Running it all to ground will take time, and may lead us back to the other areas of corruption these Democrats had apparently hoped to sideline….

The Ukraine scandal might thus be a single thread in a web of corruption and criminality that implicates a large number Trump officials and connects back to other impeachable offenses that seem unrelated until you zoom out far enough.

It’s difficult to imagine that Democrats will have plumbed the full depths of this misconduct by late October, and that should serve as a reminder to those Democrats who, for whatever reason, instinctually want to get this all over with as quickly as possible: artificially limiting the probe will place most of Trump’s misconduct beyond the reach of accountability and provide Republicans a road map for weathering the deluge….Shutting avenues of inquiry out of the impeachment process makes no sense….

Democrats must recognize that if they rush articles of impeachment over to the Senate before the fullest-possible accounting of Trump’s corruption is complete, Republicans will likely acquit Trump as quickly as possible, and not only will the impeachment process come to an end but all regular oversight investigations of Trump’s corruption will as well. There will not be a second impeachment process; Democrats had to be browbeaten into launching this one, would be even more reluctant to launch another, and if they did Senate Republicans would shut it down with the simple argument that the House shouldn’t be allowed to commandeer the Senate into putting the president on trial over and over again.

The same House Democrats who were determined to avoid an impeachment process altogether now want to dispose of the one that’s working wonderfully as quickly as possible, and their judgment hasn’t improved much …. since they relented.

It is possible that the Ukraine matter is such a raging fire of corruption that it starves other parts of the inquiry of media oxygen, but those investigations should continue, as forcefully as possible, until they run dry.

In the unlikely event that Republicans signal a willingness to remove Trump from office, it’d be irresponsible of Democrats not to … end this emergency as quickly as possible. But short of that, their lodestar has to be maximizing the political value of the process, which includes both public hearings and a trial. Now is the time for chairs of the relevant committees to accelerate their inquiries, not dial them back, to bombard Trump with subpoenas, and enforce them aggressively, not to let their subpoena power lay fallow. Now, moreover, is the time for officials up and down the government with undisclosed knowledge of impeachable offenses to approach Congress, and for Congress to welcome them, and bring any credible allegations they make too light.

Only when that part of the process is complete should the House force the Senate into a trial. If Republicans intend to protect Trump from the penalty of removal then the only source of accountability available to Democrats is the thorough airing of his abuses—with respect to Ukraine, yes, but also with respect to his obstruction of justice, acceptance of bribes, lies, and attempts to use federal power to punish his enemies….

It’s one big story. But members of the public deserves to know all of it, and we’ll only have one chance to tell it to them.

Unquote. 

Don’t forget that the leading Democrat in the House of Representatives is very easy to email by clicking right here.

Tribalism On Parade

People often say left-wingers and right-wingers aren’t that different. Whichever side we’re on, we all belong to a political tribe. We’re all live in our own bubbles. None of us really think for ourselves. We simply go along with the rest of our tribe.

It’s not true. Left-wingers are open to more sources of information and less likely to automatically follow their side’s leaders. Compared to the Democratic Party, the Republican Party is a cult.

Here’s an example. In 2013, a poll showed that 38% of Democrats supported bombing Syria because of the government’s use of chemical weapons. So did 22% of Republicans.

Last year, when asked the same question, the same poll showed 37% of Democrats still supported bombing Syria. But, remarkably, 86% of Republicans did!

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You might say, well, 64% of Republicans must have changed their minds over the course of four years because the situation in Syria changed. Maybe Democrats were too stupid or ignorant to recognize how different Syria 2017 was from Syria 2013. 

You could say that, but, from the Republican perspective, the real difference between 2013 and 2017 was which tribe occupied the White House and which position was being pushed by Fox News.

Breaking the Cycle

Brian Beutler of the Crooked site has an excellent article called “Boycotting Republicans Isn’t Enough”. This is most of it:

Republicans spent the full eight years of the Obama presidency making arguments they didn’t believe, claiming to be outraged about things that didn’t really outrage them, fabricating controversy out of things they knew to be uncontroversial. They spent four years pretending to believe an attack in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans was a historic scandal, eclipsed only by the revelation (which they also didn’t really care about) that Obama’s secretary of state used a private email account to do work. When they were rewarded for this plain-as-day bad faith with control of the entire federal government, they immediately forgot about Benghazi, ignored botched operations for which Trump bore responsibility, and continued to use private email and encrypted third-party communication applications with impunity.

It’s a matter of absolute certainty that if voters “boycott” Republicans in sufficient numbers to throw control of government to Democrats, Republicans will return to the same playbook. They will feign remorse over having lost their way, then demand credulity from the public when they insist they genuinely care about deficits, that the next Benghazi is a real scandal, that every downward tick of the stock market should be laid at the feet of the Democratic president. Alongside that, they will continue engaging in partisan attacks on any mediating institution—whether the Congressional Budget Office or the FBI—that confounds their political ambitions.

The Republican Party isn’t going to “right itself or implode” unless that kind of unprincipled behavior is rendered toxic. It should be considered disreputable outside of movement conservatism to work for Fox News or for the same [Republican National Committee] that propped up Trump, and then backed Roy Moore in Alabama. If you conduct yourself the way Devin Nunes has conducted himself as Trump’s agent atop the House Intelligence Committee, you shouldn’t just have to worry about losing your seat, but about your name being dirt.

I can dimly envision how that might happen, but hold almost no hope that it will.

The institution with the most direct power to shape post-Trump Republican politics will be the Democratic Party. Obama came to power having promised to transcend partisanship and amid multiple national crises. For these reasons and others he determinedly avoided the kind of retrospective inquiries that might have boxed Republicans into accounting for their Bush-era political sins; for how they contributed to corruption, the salesmanship of the Iraq war, the torture regime, the financial crisis and so on.

Republicans do things a bit differently. When Republicans gain power—even against the will of the voting public—they aim to crush their political enemies. Obama’s signature legislative initiative transferred billions and billions of dollars from blue states to Trump states to help the citizens of the latter afford health care. Months after it passed, Republicans captured governments in multiple swing states, where they set about dismantling public-sector unions, suppressing the Democratic vote, and gerrymandering congressional districts, to guarantee themselves enduring power, whether their constituents approved of their governance or not. In December, just a year after losing the national popular vote by a substantial margin, Republicans designed their signature legislative initiative to inflict maximal punishment on the Democratic voters of high-tax blue states.

Warfare between the parties has been asymmetric in large part because liberals generally reject these kind of nakedly antidemocratic power grabs. But Democrats could be more determined to win political fights than they are.

After Trump, Democrats could adopt a more aggressive approach than they have in the past, on the fool-me-twice principle. They could abolish the filibuster, expedite legislation to widen the franchise and reform campaign finance laws, right Mitch McConnell’s theft of a Supreme Court seat, and conduct oversight of the institutions of government Trump corrupted. They could set up a commission to examine, the role of propaganda in American media, and report out how and why, under Trump, the Republican Party entered a de facto partnership with hostile foreign intelligence to influence American politics.

I think they can and should do all of these things and more, so long as they can be done on majoritarian and representative bases.

But to truly marginalize the GOP’s political style would require a level of cooperation from many conservatives that doesn’t exist, and a level of buy-in from generally non-partisan institutions—the media, the bureaucracy, corporate America, and civil society—which have proven ill-equipped to defend themselves from Republican efforts to co-opt or discredit them.

Corporate America has giddily joined a banana republic-style public relations campaign to thank dear leader Trump for his corporate tax cuts, and portray them as a boon to workers. Mainstream journalists are so petrified of bad-faith accusations of liberal bias that many of them genuinely can’t grasp how hostile the American right is to the vocation of journalism, or how to report on bad-faith in the public square more generally….

Which is all to say, even if post-Trump Democrats refuse to turn the page, other powerful institutions and individuals will do so happily.

In a world where Sean Spicer remains respectably employable, corporate America loves regressive tax cuts, mainstream news outlets refuse to make pariahs of people who seek their destruction, and the cult of false equivalence remains the analytic foundation of political journalism, voters can “boycott” Republicans in historic numbers, only to watch Republicans return to power unreformed a few years later.

Another thing we could do is convince a progressive billionaire or two to buy Fox News and get it out of the right-wing propaganda business. To quote Mr. Beutler, however: “I can … envision how that might happen, but hold almost no hope that it will”. The best we might hope for is that Rupert Murdoch, age 86, drops dead and his heirs aren’t as satanic as he is.

Democrats and Republicans

Today, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, gave the longest speech in the history of the House, which goes back to 1789. After it was discovered that the House rules allow party leaders to speak as long as they want, Pelosi stood and spoke for a little over eight hours.

The longest speech in the history of the U.S. Senate lasted 24 hours. It was given in 1957 by a racist Southerner in opposition to that year’s Civil Rights Act. At the time, he was a Democrat (because most Southerners were), but he became a Republican after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights act (as most Southerners did). He remained a Republican for the next thirty-nine years.

That basically sums up our two political parties. A woman wants people illegally brought here as children to be protected against deportation and to have a chance to become American citizens. A man wanted to stop everyone from having equal rights, especially black people.

Mapping the 2016 Election

As the president and his co-conspirators plumb even deeper depths of evil and stupidity, it’s worth reminding ourselves how a serious candidate for Worst Person in the World got his new job. A good way to start is to take a look at this new map from the xkcd site. Each little blue person represents roughly 250,000 people who voted for Clinton. Each little red person represents the same number who voted for the evil, stupid guy. (There are also a few little gray people who represent third-party voters.)

xkcd

As you can see, the blue voters are clustered on the coasts and around Chicago. The red voters are spread more evenly around the country. There are 263 blue people vs. 252 red people. That roughly corresponds to the fact that Clinton got 66 million votes while her opponent got 63 million.

Since the United States tries to follow its 228-year old Constitution, however, each state actually held its own separate presidential election. Unfortunately, the Terrible Person won more states (30 to 20 for Clinton), including many of the relatively empty states in the western part of the country. Since almost all of those separate elections were and continue to be “winner-take-all”, whoever won a given state received all of that state’s “electoral” votes, no matter how large or small their margin of victory was. 

Thus, Clinton got 55 electoral votes for winning California by a very large margin and the Worst Candidate got 46 electoral votes for winning Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by very small margins. (Which shows that if you want to become president, it’s better to win lots of states, even by very small margins, instead of winning fewer states, even by very large margins.)

So, after all the electoral votes from all the states were added up, the Very Stable Genius won a big victory in the “Electoral College” (304 electoral votes to 227) and an important new job, despite getting three million fewer votes nationwide.

If nothing else, next time you see a map like the one below, showing who won America’s 3,000 counties, keep in mind that it’s a poor way to represent an election, assuming the election is based on people voting, not cows or tumbleweeds.

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