If Nixon Were Alive Today

Nixon smoking

My attention has been called to this opinion piece in the Guardian: Richard Wolffe, It’s painfully clear: today’s Congress wouldn’t have impeached Nixon.

First of all, let me say that I agree with Mr. Wolffe’s conclusion: if Nixon were president, and if the House passed articles of impeachment, the Senate would not vote to remove him from office. Now for some context.

Moral Decline over Time: the Tobacco Industry Example

In the early 1950’s, the main health threat posed by cigarettes was thought to be throat irritation. When epidemiologists showed a very strong statistical linkage between smoking and lung cancer, some of the top executives in the tobacco industry were heard to say, in words or substance, “Holy cow, if this is true, we will just have to go out of business.” Several years later, though, the big tobacco companies joined in a conspiracy, coordinated by their advertising agency, to discredit the science, so that they could keep on addicting young people, to replace their more mature customers, whom they were willfully killing with their deadly product.

People of ordinary morality were pushed out, to be replaced by a cabal of moral monsters.

Why? Because of a mortal threat to their business.

My father smoked Lucky Strikes, and later Winstons, because they tasted good, like a cigarette should. I well remember him sitting at the dining table speaking the word “statistics” with the same angry disdain he would have referred to “pederasty,” if he had known what “pederasty” meant.

He died, of course. You might say he died of gullibility.

The 1960’s: The Party of Money Invites an Alliance with the Party of Racial Reaction

With the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960’s, some in the Republican Party saw an opportunistic opening: encourage the Southern herrenvolk democrats to exit the Democratic Party and join the Republicans. By the time Nixon resigned in 1973, the alliance of Big Money and Big Racial Resentment was under way, but it still had a long way to go. That’s why some people of moral conviction and courage could still find a place in Republican politics.

An Unholy Alliance, of Which Each Party Faces a Mortal Threat

Fast forward to the second decade of the 21stcentury. The two parties to the unholy alliance that is the Republican Party—the Party of Big Money and the Party of Big Racial Resentment—each have a big problem.

Paradoxically, the grave threat to the Party of Big Money is the natural consequence of its great success in vastly increasing economic inequality in the United States. The situation is unstable in the short run, and untenable in the long run. Like the situation faced by big tobacco.

And what about the other party to the coalition—I’ll call them My Peeps? My Peeps made two grave mistakes in the nineteenth century. They embraced slavery, rebellion, and massive racism. In the 20th century, they couldn’t unembrace it. And it’s with them today.

And a great many of them made another serious error of an intellectual or ideological nature. They let themselves be persuaded that evolution was wrong, and that, by extension, science was not a reliable way of understanding nature. And they let themselves be talked into a literal interpretation of scripture. The Book of Jonah, for example, is an inventive, fanciful tale, made up to illustrate a great moral truth. My Peeps, though, learned to ignore the moral truth and take a work of fiction as historical fact. They confused the moon with the finger that points at the moon.

Thinking like that equips you very badly for life in the 21st century.

Now, racism and know-nothingism are under mortal threat, just as obscene economic inequality is under threat.

The Only Hope: a Joint Dictatorship over the Normal

The Party of Big Money and the Party of Big Racism have decided that the only way to overcome the threats they face is to jointly exercise dictatorship over all the normal people in this country.

I believe they have correctly assessed the situation.

Only the Romney

In Romney, Alone, Charles Sykes writes of “foot-shuffling, denial, and silence”:

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst said [when asked to comment on the Mueller report], “I think we all know who the President is, he has a brash demeanor, that’s about all I can say.”

Maine’s Susan Collins thought the report offered an “unflattering portrayal of the president,” while Ohio senator Rob Portman was only able to muster enough indignation to declare that the report had revealed “ a number of actions taken by the presidents or his associates that were inappropriate.” [Emphasis added.]

Our coverage will resume following this editorial observation.

still nothing

Meanwhile, a couple of early, post-Mueller polls show Trump approval slipping back to his 37 percent lower asymptote. That may or may not turn out to be real, and if it’s real, it may or may not be lasting.

If it is real and lasting, it’s also quite surprising, because the Mueller report gave us lots of cumulative facts, but it contained no surprises. So what’s up with the non-trivial number of our fellow citizens who “approved” Trump just before the Mueller report but “disapproved” him just after the report?

The most logical explanation is that these are Tax Cut People, Fetus People, and probably some Anti-Brown People People who previously held their noses for pragmatic reasons, but now sense that Trump is headed down the crapper: a formerly useful idiot who is still an idiot but won’t be useful very much longer.

But it’s also possible that the Trump base’s seemingly insatiable appetite for narcissism, mendacity, criminality, and general bullshit has been just slightly overestimated by the Republican political establishment. See, for example, this by one J.W. Verret, a professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School: The Mueller Report Was My Tipping Point: I was a Trump transition staffer, and I’ve seen enough. It’s time for impeachment.

If, in fact, the Republican pols have overestimated their voters’ craving for more shit sandwiches, their error is entirely understandable.

Meanwhile, Dear Leader has been seen in public wearing a sign on his back that says “Please Impeach Me! Please, O Please, with Whipped Cream and Sugar on Top!”

Actually, I just made that up, but it might as well be true. Trump craves a House impeachment resolution as the moon-blowing, moon-flower’s swelling heart pines for the moon.

I continue to advocate exposure over impeachment, but I do think that lots of people are misreading the Clinton impeachment fiasco. Compare and contrast the Nixon example with the Clinton example. What happened in both cases was that the facts came out—after lots of lying, lots of drama, and lots of stonewalling. But the facts came out. And when the facts came out, and when John Q. Public got a really good sense of what was going on, the public reached a consensus that Nixon had to go but that Clinton, despite his objectionable—and at times illegal—behavior, did not merit removal from office.

So let the facts come out this time, too.

A great many of my fellow Mericans are dumb. But being dumb doesn’t have to mean that you’re also stupid.

 

 

 

Impeachment

Kool Aid

Lawfare, The Mueller Report Demands an Impeachment Inquiry

Ezra Klein, The Problem with Impeachment

So, here’s the thing about public policy decisions. Sometimes, all or almost all of the relevant factors point one way, not the other, in which case it’s pretty easy to decide which is the right option. (Doing the right thing may still require some moral courage and intestinal fortitude, but, even so, you can pretty much figure out what the right thing to do is, even if it’s hard to do.)

Sometimes, however, the relevant factors point in all sorts of different directions. Sometimes, there isn’t a rule to determine which of these factors are more important than which other factors. Typically, in such cases, a member of the punditocracy will seize on one factor and proclaim it dispositive. Typically, your Uncle Ralph and your friend Butch will do the same thing. And so will you. And so will I, if I’m not careful.

Thinking about tough choices is really hard. And generally unpleasant. It’s much more convenient to seize on one piece of the picture and go with it. Pretty much the same error made by all six of the Six Blind Men of Indostan.

If you don’t want to think about the hard issues around impeachment, then by all means, go somewhere else, like here.  If, however, you do want to investigate the issues, you would do well to consult the two articles cited at the top of this post.

For me, Ezra Klein makes the more compelling case. Please read him, because he’s very wise and very learned, and I won’t repeat every important issue he raises.

My bottom line is this: the Constitution provides a good way to get rid of an asshole president. But the framers of the Constitution—who both loathed and feared extreme partisanship—did not write a governing document for a nation of assholes. Nor did they write a document for a country where 42 percent of the population would give their full-throated endorsement to a reality TV show star. (Or maybe only 37 percent.)

Trump is a rara avis. Some people may have enough star power to come within spitting distance of the presidency, yet lack the intellectual capacity for the job. Some may have the intellectual capacity, but lack the moral authority. Some make have intellectual capacity and moral authority, yet suffer from major character flaws, such as laziness. By contrast, Trump is egregiously unfit on all three grounds.

Even so, it seems that at least a third of the population and around half of the senators will not support the Senate’s removing him from office. At this point, it seems that an effort to impeach him is likely to strengthen the resolve of the third of the population who have drunk the Kool-Aid. And it’s likely that when the Senate fails to remove him, that will only dishearten the progressive base. Ezra Klein makes a persuasive case that we don’t need to go down this road.

Some will “argue” that eschewing impeachment evidences lack of manhood.

Some will assert that it shows a lack of moral courage.

Think in clichés is so much more fun than actual analytical reasoning.

In re Impeachment

politicians

Recently, Nancy Pelosi was asked this (implied) question:

There have been increasing calls, including from some of your members, for impeachment of the president.

And she gave this answer:

I’m not for impeachment. This is news. I’m going to give you some news right now because I haven’t said this to any press person before. But since you asked, and I’ve been thinking about this: Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.

The interviewer then chose to move on to other topics.

Problematic Reasoning

Regrettably, Speaker Pelosi’s language was imprecise and her stated reasons were ill considered. (Hear me: I speak of her “stated reasons,” not what she might have been thinking, or what she might have articulated poorly.)

One. Contrary to the apparent implications of her language, there are already many “compelling and overwhelming” bases for articles of impeachment.

Two. Mere “divisiveness,” in and of itself, is not a sufficient reason to avoid doing that which is constitutionally compelled, in the present circumstances.

Three. “And he’s just not worth it” doesn’t make much sense, in the context in which she uses the phrase.

But is Her Overall Point Nevertheless Sound?

Yes, she probably is correct.

As matters now stand, impeachment based on the “compelling and overwhelming” things we already know about would result in a vote not to covict in the Senate. The effect might be to drive away some traditional Republican voters who might otherwise vote Democratic in 2020.

That said, one could certainly make an argument that constitutional duty should trump, so to speak, mere political calculation.

But the big point is that there is no need to resolve that difficult question right now. Don’t tie yourself in knots over hypothetical issues. Wait till all the facts are in. See if there isn’t something there that will make most of the Republican senators want to vote for impeachment. Or, at least something that will severely harm them when they try to defend it and vote to keep Trump in office.

If there’s something that will make them want to vote for impeachment, then well and good. Problem solved.

If there’s something in the facts that just puts them in a terrible political bind, that’s also fine. Just grab those Republican senators down where the hairs are short. Squeeze them hard. And keep on squeezing.

In short, wait for all the information to come in before making whatever difficult choice you have to make between constitutional duty and political expediency.

Because it may well turn out that constitutional duty and political expediency will both point in the same direction.

And wouldn’t that be nice?

**

Today’s readers come from six countries, the largest number being from Canada. Hey, guys! Try not to laugh at us too much, OK?

Impeachment?

before its time

Let me be clear. The case against Trump, damning as it is, has not yet been fully developed. My advice would be: impeach no president before his time.

That said, in light of my two immediately prior posts, here and here, and in light of the spectacle that took place on Michael Cohen Day, let me say this about that.

Many of my progressive brethren and sistern have feared impeachment, because it might “turn off moderates and independents.” That is certainly a metaphysical possibility. But in law and business and politics, you have to play the odds. And after Wednesday, I think it’s the unhinged Republicans who are much more likely to “turn off the middle.”

So, I say, when the time is ripe for impeachment, just bring it on.

be sure youre right

All Seriousness Aside

As I said, all seriousness aside.

An Abstract Scenario: Admit the Truth and Explain It, Or Just Keep on Fibbin’

Let us say you have a client with a problem. If I were cute, I would call him Individual-1 or Client-1. But cuteness is alien to my nature, so I shall call this abstract, hypothetical client, Client X.

Client X has a problem, and his problem is that he has engaged in a course of conduct that is highly embarrassing, particularly in view of the fact that he is running for high public office. Though embarrassing, this conduct is not illegal. Or at least it isn’t illegal in any obvious and easily demonstrated respect.

You will immediately see that you and Client X have two choices. One choice is that, when confronted with the facts, your client admits the facts, gets you to explain persuasively that there is no illegality, and then brazens out the bad publicity.

This is plainly the better of two unpleasant choices.

But Client X does not want to take the better choice. Client X wants, instead, to lie through his teeth.

And why, pray tell, is Client X so determined to lie like a rub? First of all, for the blindingly obvious reason that the truth is both embarrassing and politically damaging. Second, and almost equally salient, is the fact that Client X is a lying liar who has been telling whoppers all his life. In consequence, Client X is firmly convinced that he is an accomplished liar and can keep on getting away with his prevarications. So why not risk the embarrassment?

The Downsides of Fibbin’ Instead of Explainin’

In the fever swamp of your client’s brain the second choice seems the better option, but in fact it is the worse option, for at least these three reasons.

First, it’s not going to work: given the fishbowl in which Client X now operates, the lie will be found out.

Second, as and when the inevitable occurs and the lie is discovered, many will assume (not necessarily correctly, but assume they will) that Client X would not have lied in the first place unless the facts were really damning.

And third, having learned of Client X’s lie, they will be less inclined to believe him about other matters, even if, mirabile dictu, he is speaking the truth.

“That’s My Story, and I’m Stickin’ to it—Until I Can’t Stick with it Any Longer”

Trump’s current story about the Trump Moscow Tower appears to be that, yes, he was trying to do a deal up to mid-2016; and yes, he has been lying about it ever since; but no nevermind, because now that he has been caught, he can explain it all away.

Given all that, he asks rhetorically, where lies the harm in the fact that I have been pulling your leg?

This is what I have flippantly called the so-I-lied defense and the so-you-caught-me defense.

These phrases, by the way, are not original with me. It was a not uncommon in the world of corporate defense litigation to see people choosing the lie over the embarrassing explanation.

But What About the Kompromat?

If, however, we go beyond the abstract question–lie or admit and explain–and look at the actual circumstances, we see that Trump–Client X–has another big problem: by lyiingl, he has given kompromat, blackmail material, to the Ruskies.

Haven’t heard a Trump response to that one.

On the other hand, I don’t think that argument will bother the base.

So, as a matter of prudence, probably the you-make-yourself-vulnerable-to-blackmail-by-an-enemy-of-the-United-States argument won’t justify impeachment, because it probably won’t carry enough weight with the base.

And What if the Facts Show the Ruskies Actually USED the Kompromat to Try to Bend Trump to their Will?

Then, I think, we would be in impeachment territory. Mr. and Mrs. Jones would not, I believe, be amused.

And What if the Facts Show that Trump Actually Succumbed to Russian Blackmail?

Then we will be off to the races.

Don’t Get Ahead of the Facts, Don’t Explain the Significance of a Document You Haven’t Seen and Read

be sure you're right

BUT WHEN THE FACTS DO COME IN, TAKE APPROPRIATE ACTION

Michael Tomasky: Planning with a Straight Edge Ruler, Assuming the Continued Viability of the Cult of Trump

Right now, I have the sense that some of my progressive brethren and sistern are thinking as if they have been lobotomized. Over in the left brain, careful, fact-based conversations are going on, trying to project conditions into 2020 and beyond, on the assumption that nothing much will have changed by 2020 and beyond, and we will still be divided into the same warring tribes, of nearly equal sizes, each trying to vote the other into submission.

The latter phrase I owe to a fine article I just read. It’s by Michael Tomasky, it’s titled The Midterms: So Close, So Far Apart, and I believe it’s behind the pay wall of The New York Review of Books. (But then, if you don’t subscribe to The New York Review of Books, then you really should remedy that oversight.)

Tomasky does an excellent job of laying out a very guardedly optimistic picture, and includes some good thoughts on what Democrats might do to remedy the tribalism and gain some needed votes over in Trumpland. He focuses on agriculture, rural and small town development, and the opoid crisis. I would add in a coherent immigration policy.

But Tomasky, like many other left-brained thinkers, ignores whatever new crises are coming Trump’s way. Tomasky thinks House Democrats should investigate and expose all of Trump’s misdeeds, but should eschew impeachment, on the ground that it would surely fail in the Senate, and do more harm than good to progressives.

I, myself, have been of this view, until recent days. But recent developments, I believe, should cause us to begin to rethink this view. Cautiously, prudently, but fearlessly, where the facts take us.

Opining on an Unseen Document

My headline urges, Don’t [Try to or Pretend to] Explain the Significance of a Document You Haven’t Seen and Read. That document would be Trump’s written interrogatory response to Mueller, a document on which vast numbers of talking heads have opined, though none has seen it.

If Trump lied in writing to Mueller, on a matter where he clearly knew the truth but chose to prevaricate, then Trump would have committed a clear criminal violation. And that would be a significant change in the situation.

But did he lie? To have a fully informed opinion, we would need to see the exact words of the questions and scrutinize the exact words of the answers. The answers may have been carefully framed and they may have been ambiguous. We just don’t know till we read the document.

Wait for the Facts—But Think Ahead, Contingently

More generally, don’t get over your skis. Wait for the facts.

That said, it’s OK, it’s prudent, and it’s highly appropriate to think ahead about what to do if the facts turn out to be as clear and as damning as they probably will be.

So let’s not make a prediction. Instead, let’s do a thought experiment and assume, solely for the sake of the discussion, that the facts turn out to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that

  • Trump has acted in such a way as to supply kompromat to the Kremlin,
  • Putin has used that kompromat to affect Trump’s behavior, and that, accordingly,
  • Trump has willfully placed his personal business against ahead of American national interest,
  • Trump has committed perjury, e.g., in his written responses to Mueller, and that, as a general matter,
  • the Trump Organization is a criminal enterprise, engaged in money laundering and other felonious conduct.

then here’s what I say.

I say the House of Representatives has a duty to draw up articles of impeachment and to force a trial and a vote in the United States Senate.

And if there are senators who want to gaslight, who want to defend treason and financial corruption, and  want to cast a wholly unprincipled vote against impeachment, then they can just go ahead and do it.

Make my day.

For one thing, I think about one tenth to one fifth to one tenth of the 44.9 percent of our population who voted Republican in 2018 are not in the Cult of Trump, but voted Republican for other reasons.

Will that minority of the minority put up with Trump’s vile behavior? Yes, they will. Will they go for financial crime? Not so sure. How about proven treason? I don’t think so.

We need to peel those people off. And if we do peel those people off, then Republican voters are no longer 44.9 percent of the population. They are maybe 40 percent, maybe 38 percent, maybe even 35 percent.

And we vote them into submission.

Not forgetting, of course, to add in the rural redevelopment and opoid addiction treatment programs.