Cassandra Frum Speaks

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I liked this observation from Cassandra Frum:

Trump is driving a poorly packed egg cart over stony roads. He holds too many secrets, too ill-concealed, shared with too many people and companies with too little loyalty to him. Michael Cohen’s prison sentence stands as a reminder of the ultimate consequences of loyalty to Trump. Gordon Sondland jumped off before that point, and so, sooner or later, will Mulvaney. Everybody turns on Trump in the end, if only because they can no longer endure the abuse.

Pollyanna liked it, too.

Pollyanna happy

The Words on the Page

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David Frum, A Realist’s Guide to Impeachment: Trump should face the consequences of his misdeeds, but the road ahead is perilous.

Jeff Greenfield, 5 Ways Impeachment Could Play Out

Greg Sargent. Trump is cornered, and his ‘civil war’ threat stinks of panic

Jonathan Chait, Lindsey Graham Rests Entire Trump Defense on Word He Doesn’t Understand

The words on the paper that Trump released as an accurate account of his conversation with the president of Ukraine demonstrate a gross misuse of office.

The logical counter to the claim made in the previous sentence is to assert, “No, the words on the paper don’t show any such thing”—or, at the very least, to assert “The words on the paper are ambiguous, and there is a plausible implication that is different from your claim.”

It is Monday morning, Trump’s spokesbots have had a few days to think about their response, and their response is to run headlong away from the words on the paper Trump released. There is preliminary polling evidence that twenty percent of Republicans support the impeachment inquiry. Meanwhile, Trump is tweeting about inciting a civil war and arresting his accusers for treason.

In the piece cited above, Frum writes, “Nobody should have any illusions: Bringing anything like justice to President Trump will be neither easy nor safe. The exposure of Trump’s Ukraine extortion scheme forced impeachment on the country. It could not be ignored, and devices like censure are inadequate. But the days ahead are dark.” That seems a fair prognostication.

I think the four posts cited above are worth the reading, but please read for yourselves. I won’t discuss the substance of them. Instead, I want to set out some reflections on the first and second of Frum’s six suggestions, namely, “Keep the story simple” and “Be political, not legal.”

How to Defend Your Guy from Impeachment

There are four ways you can go.

One: he didn’t do it. In other words, you are drawing the wrong inference from the documents and testimony.

Two: he did it, but it was OK.

Three: he did it, and it wasn’t OK, but it wasn’t impeachable.

Four: stick your fingers in your ears and go “la la la la la.”

Defending Your Guy Against Impeachment—Some Examples

The Andrew Johnson impeachment illustrates argument two. He did violate the Tenure of Office Act, but the statute was unconstitutional. A rough analogy might be an article of impeachment based on Trump’s bogus “national emergency” declaration. It was illegal and wrong, but there’s enough legal confusion surrounding the issue to give Trump’s defenders a lot of wiggle room. So it would be a bad idea to include such a charge in the final articles of impeachment

The Clinton impeachment illustrates argument three. Yes, he lied under oath about sex, and yes, there might be some legitimate legal consequences that should flow from his perjury, but impeachment is not warranted. A rough analogy might be an article of impeachment based on Trump’s payment of hush money, just before the election, to a couple of well upholstered women of easy virtue. A lot of people would jump up and down charging the Democrats with hypocrisy for a sex-related allegation. So it would be a bad idea to. include such a charge.

As of this morning, it seems that some of Trump’s spokesbots are giving argument three a whirl, along the lines of, “there was nothing in the phone call that was impeachable.” But they’re coupling this argument with a manful refusal to face what was actually said in the call, as proved by the “transcript.” That would be the very same “transcript” Trump ordered released, in the delusion expectation that it would prove his innocence.

The Nixon near-impeachment illustrates the first argument. For quite a while, his defenders just tried to cover up the facts. But it didn’t work. And it never works—as long as there is an investigative body that is competent and determined.

OK, How Many Bad Acts Should be Charged in the Articles of Impeachment?

Good question. But it’s premature, so I won’t offer an answer. I will instead offer a blueprint on how to find the answer.

The key is to include only charges that can only be “refuted” by

  • denying the proven facts, or by
  • defending the indefensible.

The Ukraine scandal meets this test. Many others do not. Example: the charge of collusion with Russia in 2016 is factually complicated and murky. Example: the bogus “national emergency” to fund the Mexican wall is unconstitutional and contrary to our system of government. But the relevant statutory law is complicated, giving the Trump side the opportunity to make us all lose our way in the weeds. So leave it out.

The second key is to avoid accusing Trump of specific statutory crimes, and keep the focus on the overall concept of abuse of office. Impeachable offenses need not be statutory crimes, and statutory crimes need not be impeachable offenses.

What’s Left, Other Than Ukrainegate?

Three come to mind.

One, there is talk about how Trump may have actually said he was unconcerned about Russian electoral interference during his 2017 meeting with the Russian ambassador. If proved, I think that would fill the bill.

Two, if it can be proved by irrefutable evidence, misusing office for pecuniary gain would qualify.

Three, obstruction of Congress during the course of the impeachment inquiry would probably be on the list. (Prior numerous acts of obstruction should be impeachable in principle, but probably do not qualify for inclusion because of the legal quibbles that each obstructive act would engender. Keep it simple, stupid. Obstruction of the impeachment inquiry itself is a different breed of cat.)

So, How Many Articles Should There Be?

As many as meet the stringent tests I have laid out. If they fill the bill, put ‘em in. If not, leave ‘em out.

**

Greetings to today’s reader. The U.S. leads, followed in second place by Kenya, but with Canada in strong contention to overtake Kenya. Mauritius is in solid fourth place. Go Mauritius! Also in the running so far: Japan, Taiwan, the U.K., and Russia. HELLO VLADIMIR!

Never Again

Michelle Boorstein and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Trump appears to attack ‘The Squad’ on behalf of the Jewish people. Here’s what that sounds like to Jews.

David Frum, What If They’re Not Coming for the Jews This Time? Trump poses a new test for the American Jewish community.

To sum up the two articles: it’s complicated.

To sum up Trump: if anyone thinks he wouldn’t turn on the Jews in a New York minute, they are sadly mistaken.

Remember, back last year, when George Soros was financing all those migrant caravans full of scary brown people?

Well, sure as shootin’, come 2020, old George is gonna be back at it again, a-financin’ of them there caravans.

And, if you don’t believe me, than I can make you a really good deal on some Heights in Golan.

* *

This evening I see that I have my first reader from the Bailiwick of Jersey. I was going to say, “Sorry about Brexit.” But Wikipedia tells me y’all have a “special relationship” with the European Community, so I hope that continues.

Humpty Trumpty Sat on a Wall

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I don’t know how the government shutdown will end, though I still count on the plutocracy to do the right thing.

I do not feel as quite as optimistic as the image above might imply. That said, there is some good ground for optimism. Take a look, for example, at this average of polls, from early December to date, showing Trump’s popularity from early December to date, by an average of polls of all adults:

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And I like what David Frum, who is nobody’s fool, had to say yesterday in The President’s Hostage Attempt Is Going Miserably Wrong:

The sometimes Trump ally Senator Marco Rubio tweeted Saturday afternoon that it is not reasonable for Democrats to demand unconditional surrender by the president. But it was Trump who rejected the path of compromise when he shut down the government.

The shutdown was a demand for unconditional surrender. Unfortunately for him, the president lacks the political realism to recognize that he doesn’t have the clout to impose that surrender. He’s the one who will now have to climb down, and very soon, probably within days. The end of a hostage taking is not a surrender. But it will surely feel that way to the hostage taker—and deservedly, too.

Just About Sums it Up

Trujmp monumnet

Around the world, democracy looks more fragile than it has since the Cold War. But if it survives for now in America, future historians may well conclude that it was saved by the president’s Twitter compulsion. Had he preserved a dignified silence for a few consecutive months, he might have bled less support and inflicted more damage on U.S. institutions. Then again, a Donald Trump with impulse control would not be Donald Trump.

David Frum, America’s Slide Toward Autocracy

Fascisti

Given yesterday’s dramatic events, it is entirely understandable that the pundits in the reality-based world have worked themselves into a lather. I wish to commend two commentators to your attention.

Peter Beinart

Like so many others, including your humble scrivener, Mr. Beinart ponders the imponderable: why are so many Trumpistas sticking with him? In Why Trump Supporters Believe He Is Not Corrupt, Beinart writes,

The answer may lie in how Trump and his supporters define corruption. In a forthcoming book titled How Fascism Works, the Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley makes an intriguing claim. “Corruption, to the fascist politician,” he suggests, “is really about the corruption of purity rather than of the law. Officially, the fascist politician’s denunciations of corruption sound like a denunciation of political corruption. But such talk is intended to evoke corruption in the sense of the usurpation of the traditional order.”

Fox’s decision to focus on the Iowa murder rather than Cohen’s guilty plea illustrates Stanley’s point. In the eyes of many Fox viewers, I suspect, the network isn’t ignoring corruption so much as highlighting the kind that really matters. When Trump instructed Cohen to pay off women with whom he’d had affairs, he may have been violating the law. But he was upholding traditional gender and class hierarchies. Since time immemorial, powerful men have been cheating on their wives and using their power to evade the consequences.

The Iowa murder, by contrast, signifies the inversion—the corruption—of that “traditional order.” Throughout American history, few notions have been as sacrosanct as the belief that white women must be protected from nonwhite men. By allegedly murdering Tibbetts, Rivera did not merely violate the law. He did something more subversive: He violated America’s traditional racial and sexual norms.

Once you grasp that for Trump and many of his supporters, corruption means less the violation of law than the violation of established hierarchies, their behavior makes more sense.  …

Why were Trump’s supporters so convinced that Clinton was the more corrupt candidate even as reporters uncovered far more damning evidence about Trump’s foundation than they did about Clinton’s? Likely because Clinton’s candidacy threatened traditional gender roles. For many Americans, female ambition—especially in service of a feminist agenda—in and of itself represents a form of corruption. “When female politicians were described as power-seeking,” noted the Yale researchers Victoria Brescoll and Tyler Okimoto in a 2010 study, “participants experienced feelings of moral outrage (i.e., contempt, anger, and/or disgust).”

David Frum

Writing today in The President Is a Crook, Frum begins by marveling at Republican tolerance for corruption (in the commonly understood sense of the term), but quickly turns to the point where the rubber meets the road:

Trump has apparently calculated that the cost of closing down Robert Mueller’s inquiry is greater than the cost of enduring it. That always looked a gamble against the odds. Now it looks a proven bad bet, and a bet that will only worsen over time.

Can Trump’s own affairs survive the scrutiny applied to Cohen’s and Manafort’s? Can his company’s? Can his family’s?

Before Trump entered politics, nobody ever bothered to look very hard into Trump’s affairs. Now they are looking. Trump imagined that holding the usual powers of the presidency would safeguard him. He has learned his mistake. …

Trump’s whole philosophy of life is of a kill-or-be-killed competition. It’s an old question: Is Trump an authoritarian, or a crook? The answer is shaping up. Trump must be an authoritarian precisely because he is a crook. The country can have the rule of law, or it can keep the Trump presidency. Facing that choice, who doubts what Trump’s answer, or the answer of his supporters, will be?

Aardvark’s Animadversions

For what it is worth, and that is probably not much, I share Frum’s surprise that Trump has not already provoked a constitutional crisis. And I share his prognostication that Trump WILL provoke a crisis, and that right soon.

And then we shall see how many among us are fascisti and how many are willing to protect the republic. I think it will be about 30 to 70.

And by the way, be sure to note Beinart’s point about gender. Lots ‘o ladies gonna decide they don’t want to live in a fascist country.