Some Decisions Should Be Easy

Some smart people make them difficult.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, announced a decision yesterday:

The Mueller report lays out facts showing that a hostile foreign government attacked our 2016 election to help Donald Trump and Donald Trump welcomed that help. Once elected, Donald Trump obstructed the investigation into that attack. 

Mueller put the next step in the hands of Congress: “Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.” The correct process for exercising that authority is impeachment.

To ignore a President’s repeated efforts to obstruct an investigation into his own disloyal behavior would inflict great and lasting damage on this country, and it would suggest that both the current and future Presidents would be free to abuse their power in similar ways.

The severity of this misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty. That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States.

She explained her decision to Rachel Maddow last night. The senator begins speaking at 1:25 of this short video. If you watch it, you’ll see that Sen. Warren is a very smart person who made an easy decision (it’s more evidence that she should be our next president).

Rachel Maddow: “What made you decide to take this step today?”

Elizabeth Warren: “Well, I read the report.”

There are other smart people reading the Mueller report (or being told what’s in it) who believe the issue is much more complicated. They’ve seen polls that say the American people aren’t enthusiastic about impeachment. They’re concerned that impeaching the president would “tear the country apart”. They assume that Republican senators would never vote to remove this president, no matter what he’s done. They’re worried that Democrats would suffer in the next election. They think the election would end up being all about impeachment, not the issues voters really care about. They think most voters are too cynical to care about the president’s behavior. For some reason, they think that publicizing the president’s misdeeds in televised hearings would discourage Democratic voters and energize Republican ones.

It’s unfortunate that some of the smart people having trouble with this decision are Democrats in Congress.

From Jamil Smith, writing for Rolling Stone:

Despite a few outliers, such as freshmen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib [and now Elizabeth Warren], most Democrats in Congress have not recognized that the responsibility of impeachment is now at their doorstep, so I fully expect the Democratic Party as a whole will pull its punches.

The pathetic part is that it isn’t because it isn’t “worthwhile.” Impeaching a man who did nothing to stop a foreign attack on American elections on his behalf, then went on to a presidency where he obstructed justice while locking up migrant kids and letting Puerto Rico drown? Yeah, that’s worthwhile. No, they’ll hold off from impeachment… The common perception appears to be that an attempt at impeachment — with Republicans holding a slight but firm majority in the Senate — would be doomed to failure and the entire enterprise would hurt the chances of swing-state Democrats seeking re-election. But it is foolish to assume that every impeachment effort would go the way of Newt Gingrich in the Nineties, when a harebrained effort to fire President Bill Clinton backfired on the Republicans at the ballot box [and ignoring how impeaching a corrupt Republican president, Richard Nixon, helped the Democrats in the 1970s]….

Should Democrats take impeachment off the table, they would let [him] get away with it. It is that elementary. There is no guarantee that he will not repeat the very same encouragement of those Russian efforts, all the while playing dumb so as to avoid legal culpability.

If Democrats were smarter, they would understand that initiating the impeachment of [this president] might actually galvanize their base because it would demonstrate that leadership was willing to take the obvious, the logical and the constitutional step once presented with such an abundance of evidence. They would grasp that the visual of their party standing up to a president wedded equally to corruption and to his assortment of bigotries would be appealing to an electorate where black voters are increasingly driving the conversation. Democrats would seize upon the Mueller Report as a flashpoint for organization and recruitment, rather than take the task of prosecution that the Constitution assigned to Congress, hand it off to voters and call that “democracy.” It is up to us as citizens to choose our elected officials, not to do their jobs for them.

How about this instead? Since there is plenty of evidence that the president abused his office, the House of Representative should begin impeachment proceedings. If the evidence is there (hardly an open question at this point), let the House send the matter to the Senate for final determination. If they choose to, let each Republican in the Senate argue that the president’s behavior hasn’t been all that bad. But let’s see how all the senators vote when they have to go on the record, after hearing all the evidence and arguments.

Whatever Congress ends up doing, the presidential candidates will proceed with their campaigns, emphasizing the issues they want to emphasize. Then, in the next election, let the voters decide whether they prefer Democrats or Republicans. If our system of government still works, the Democrats will take the presidency, the House and the Senate in the 2020 election.

It’s really that simple.

Avoiding Individual-1 for the Most Part

I’ve mostly blogged about politics since the beginning of the crisis (you know, the crisis known as “Individual-1”). Other topics haven’t seemed worth writing about.

But, even though Individual-1 is still happening, I haven’t posted anything lately. That’s because, two months ago, I took a break from American politics. At the end of June, I stopped reading the digital front pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times and the U.S. edition of The Guardian. I also stopped looking at New York Magazine‘s “Daily Intelligencer” and Twitter. I was sick of my mind being polluted by the latest Individual-1 “news”. 

Instead, I began looking at international or “world” news. (Even in the U.S., we’re part of the world, right?) I’m told my mood improved, which shouldn’t have been a surprise, even though some American news made it through. For instance, The Guardian puts selected American stories on their international page. And any other contact, direct or indirect, with the rest of humanity meant that I might be exposed to the latest turmoil and trouble.

Helped along by last week’s positive legal developments, I started looking at U.S. news again. I didn’t immerse myself in it as much as before, but this wasn’t a great idea. Even limited exposure has been depressing. This means I probably won’t be writing much until the November election — an event on which hope for America’s redemption rests.

Before going, however, I’ll mention a few articles I’ve come across that are worth reading.

First, philosophy professor Bryan Van Norden explains why people have a right to speak, but not necessarily to be heard. He argues that some people aren’t entitled to an audience:

Access to the general public, granted by institutions like television networks, newspapers, magazines, and university lectures, is a finite resource. Justice requires that, like any finite good, institutional access should be apportioned based on merit and on what benefits the community as a whole. There is a clear line between censoring someone and refusing to provide them with institutional resources for disseminating their ideas. 

In other words, outlawing speech is a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean all opinions are equal or deserve equal time in the “marketplace of ideas”. Otherwise, (quoting the philosopher Herbert Marcuse) “the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood”. And it becomes far easier to produce a political crisis like Individual-1.

On a related topic, a former Prime Minister of Australia writes about “the cancer eating the heart of Australian democracy”. The cancer he’s referring to is Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire “operates as a political party, acting in pursuit of clearly defined commercial interests, in addition to his far-right ideological world view”. Murdoch and his outlets like Fox News are one big reason why politics is so screwed up in the U.S. (Individual-1), the United Kingdom (Brexit) and Australia (five prime ministers in five years). Contrast that with politics in two other English-speaking nations, Canada and New Zealand. Their politics is a much more rational affair. Is it a coincidence that Murdoch doesn’t propagandize in either of those countries?

This week, James Fallows pointed out that it would only take one or two Republican senators to “serve as a check on [Individual-1’s] excesses”. As of now, the Republicans have a mere one-vote margin in the Senate. They will be ahead 51 to 49 after the late Senator McCain is replaced. As Fallows says:

Every [Republican] swore an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution, not simply their own careerist comfort. And not a one of them, yet, has been willing to risk comfort, career, or fund-raising to defend the constitutional check-and-balance prerogatives of their legislative branch.

On a related topic, Brian Beutler explains why there is a natural alliance between Individual-1 and Vladimir Putin (who, of course, is no longer a Communist):

For the white nationalists in [the Republican] coalition [including the president himself], Putin seeks a global alliance of white nationalist parties, and is meddling in elections world wide to help those parties gain political power. But … even more garden variety conservatives see their interests and Putin’s coming into alignment. Putin is deeply hostile to LGBT people, and frames his hostility in religious terms. The Russian economy is built on a broken foundation of fossil fuel extraction. American conservatives aren’t killing journalists and … opposition leaders, but they are hostile to journalism and democracy, and increasingly comfortable with both propaganda and exercising power through minority rule…. Russia’s political identity is shaped by its aggrievement over the crumbling of its once-vast empire. The American right is similarly revanchist—not over lost territory, but lost demographic dominance and privilege.

For now, the GOP’s congressional leaders remain nominally committed to the western alliance, and to treating Russia as an adversary. But they will not check [the president] as he advances the opposite view. Elite conservative opinion is already shifting on the Russia question, and should Trump ever convince a majority of Republican voters that he’s right about Russia, the congressional leadership will follow suit. Putin seems to grasp that, too. What we’re seeing, across several different plot lines, is that in many ways Moscow understood Republicans better than Republicans understand themselves. 

But let’s conclude with some good news. In an interview with The Atlantic, Senator Elizabeth Warren discusses “two aggressive proposals for overhauling American business”, i.e. making capitalism work the way it’s supposed to:

One [of her proposals] is the Accountable Capitalism Act, which would require the largest corporations to allow workers to choose 40 percent of their board seats. [This] is meant to provide an antidote to short-term thinking in the biggest businesses—and to short-circuit the ease with which CEOs make decisions that enrich themselves at the expense of workers and the underlying health of their firm. A similar system exists in Germany, and it goes by the name “codetermination.”

A second set of proposals is what Warren calls the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act. Warren has called for a frontal assault on lobbying, including a lifetime prohibition that would prevent federal officeholders (including the president, members of Congress, and Cabinet secretaries) from ever becoming paid influence peddlers. Her argument is that lobbying undermines the functioning of markets, by permitting corporations to exert outsize control over the regulatory state and use government to squash competitors.

It’s also good news that there are only sixty-nine days until the midterm election. On November 6th, we can quicken the demise of the Republican Party. We should make the most of the opportunity.