Political violence in America has taken many forms, but in contemporary America left wing violence has not been a major problem. The days of the Weather Underground, for example, have now receded into history. State sponsored killing of innocent African Americans, on the other hand, continues to be a major problem. Just last week, we saw this ugly phenomenon once again as, Jeronimo Yanez, the killer of Philando Castile, was acquitted. The word for being concerned about left wing violence but not the killing of innocent African Americans is racism.
Comey’s remarks have led to a spate of discussions about what constitutes obstruction of justice, whether the President obstructed justice and how this concept applies to a sitting president. These are questions with which better legal minds than mine should wrestle. However, they are not important at the moment because with regards to Donald Trump, the definition of obstruction of justice is very clear. Obstruction of justice, or any other abuse of power or illegal contact with Russia, are what Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell say it is. That is good news for the President as Congress continues to be very loyal to the President with whom they share a party affiliation.
As the Trump administration descends further into paroxysms of corruption, obstruction of justice, shady ties to Moscow and authoritarian tendencies, it still has one major strategic advantage. Too much of the punditry, Congress, the media and even people in the resistance continue to underestimate the extent to which the old rules of politics, constitutionality and even rule of law no longer apply. This has made it possible for the Trump administration despite its many ethical, legal, strategic and tactical missteps to stay at least one step ahead of its many critics.
While the Trump presidency, desperately tries to present itself as normal, advocates of restoring democracy must recognize that this struggle is going to be difficult, and potentially take a long time. No special counsel, even one with Robert Mueller’s impressive credentials, is going to bring this presidency to a premature end absent political pressure from Republicans in Congress. Similarly, while the 25th amendment solution is attractive, simple and neat, it is very unlikely to happen until the political climate changes significantly. For these, or any other approaches, to reign in the excesses of the Trump presidency, and perhaps the presidency itself, extreme vigilance is essential even when there is a shiny object in the Middle East or elsewhere.
The growing Republican support for AHCA, and for the Trump agenda generally, suggests that the GOP is transforming from a political party in a competitive system that advocates for its far right positions but that must also be aware of political considerations, into the ruling party of a government committing to restricting democracy. It also is more evidence that Republican Congress is comfortable ignoring Trump’s efforts to limit democracy if the administration supports their far right policies. If this continues not only will there be no rigorous congressional investigations or impeachment hearings, but very possibly elections in 2018 that will not meet international standards of democracy.
The revival of urban America over the last quarter century or so is one of the important and impressive changes in America during that period. There are many reasons for this ranging from demographic to technological, but also pubic policies for which both major parties can take credit. Trump’s new tax proposal could begin to reverse this. That would be bad the entire American economy as our cities are engines of economic growth, magnets for tourists and hubs of innovations, but this President, whose major goal is to consolidate his power, and restrict all other sources of power, apparently doesn’t care about that.
The problems with air travel today do not, however, originate with these employees. It is not hard to feel anger towards these people, but they are often overworked, underpaid and asked to take on more responsibilities so that the airlines can squeeze just a little more profit out of the rest of us. Threatening a harried flight attendant, even when he behaves terribly, may make passengers feel good, but it is not going to solve any problems.
Over the past few months, several different developments in the Trump administration, as well as statements and actions by the president and those around him, provide useful insight into the direction and nature of this White House. To understand this fully, it is necessary to take a bigger-picture view of what Donald Trump is doing and what that means for our political system.
There are many foundations underpinning the hawkish elements of mainstream American foreign policy, importantly an approach that Donald Trump appears to embracing with increased fervor with every passing day. One of these is the belief that the US has a unique role in the world. At its best, this view emboldens the US to provide assistance to people and need and even occasionally intervene in foreign conflicts to save lives. However, there is another side of this approach as well, one that we see in the rhetorical dance too many in the foreign policy establishment make. That is the view that is so deeply held that it is rarely noticed, let alone questioned-that the rules don’t apply to us. For example, it is much easier to feel righteous in our criticisms of Assad’s use of chemical weapons, if we make sure that our collective memory does not include our own use of those horrific and murderous weapons.
The Trump administration’s decision to launch a missile attack against Syria was, for the moment, a triumph of the President’s desire to appear tougher than his famously cautious predecessor over Trump’s wish to have the US less involved in the rest of the world and more sympathetic to Moscow. Since the early days of his campaign Trump’s foreign policy positions have reflected these two different, and seemingly contradictory ideas. The President’s belief that the US should focus on domestic concerns and no longer seek to be so deeply involved in politics, conflicts, crisis response and state building in virtually every corner of the world has long been in tension with his view that that the US should be stronger, less afraid to use force and should “win” more, whatever that means.
An administration that within its first three months in power, has become concerned largely about simply staying in power is capable of all kinds of things when a difficult election approaches. Based on what similar regimes have done, this likely does not mean overt election fraud, but a combination of misinformation, legal shenanigans and intimidation to ensure reelection. This may seem like an extraordinary assertion. However, given the enthusiasm with which this administration has already broken from many democratic norms, sought to undermine various institutions and question the veracity of any information that does not portray the President in a positive light, ignoring this concern altogether would be a mistake.
It is not hard to imagine a scenario where Trumpcare does not make it through congress and investigations continue on several fronts, leaving the administration frustrated, but still without the competence or expertise to pass new laws or even engage maturely in the legislative process. Should that happen, the administration will, metaphorically speaking, hunker down and rely on executive orders, administrative policy changes in various agencies and Trump’s madcap and dangerous words and Tweets to set policy and, for lack of a better word, govern. In the short run, that strategy will, given the current political environment, be enough to keep Trump and people in office and out of trouble with the law, but over the long term the impact on American democracy could be devastating.
It is important for universities to both expose students to a range of ideas and to be an arena where scholars can discuss their ideas freely. When I was a professor I frequently invited speakers with whose views I disagreed. I have appeared on many panels with other speakers who do not share my views. This is part of the give and take of academia that is beneficial for students and scholars alike. This also has very little to do with events at Middlebury because Charles Murray is not a conservative scholar or rigorous academic thinker. He is a discredited racial theorist who, most notably in The Bell Curve, sought to tart up 19th century racist thinking with flawed methodological pyrotechnics.
The biggest threat to Donald Trump for now will not come from the Democratic Party, as they simply do not have enough power in Congress or anywhere else at the moment. The President and his powerful supporters in Congress also have significant leverage over Republicans like Lindsay Graham who occasionally seem to be aware of the President’s conflicts of interests and disturbing relationship with Russia. The President is clearly rattled by critical media and massive demonstrations, but, at least for now, neither is going to bring him down. Instead, the biggest threat to the President could be the one person, any one person, who is both a senior figure in his administration and can plausibly claim to have not been involved with Russia.
The central lessons of the Trump administration have been that it is as bad as we thought it would be and that illusions of normalcy are just that-illusions. The odd decent speech, rational appointment or presidential gesture must be understood as ephemeral and frequently a deliberate attempt to deceive. We would be foolish to expect anything else from a regime committed to rolling back our democratic rights. Sadly, we are also learning that too many who have spent their lives in and around politics at the highest levels, even if they are generally critical of Trump, are too deep inside that world to understand this.
The WBC, unlike the World Cup or the Olympics is not run by an international governing body, but by Major League Baseball (MLB) a for profit American corporation that is immensely popular among American Jews. MLB uses what they call a “heritage rule” to allow players who are eligible for citizenship in any country to play for that team. The primary reason for this is to dilute American talent so that the tournament proves more competitive. Accordingly, some Italian Americans can play for Italy, some German Americans for Germany and the like. Israel is a big beneficiary, because all Jews anywhere are eligible to become citizens of Israel. MLB, for its part, has encouraged American Jews to play for Israel, because, unlike many international organizations, it recognizes the organic connection between all Jews and the state of Israel.
The ongoing failure of congressional Republicans to investigate Donald Trump’s financial conduct or his relationship with Russia is strong evidence that the GOP is not going to emerge as a force for democracy or the constitution. Instead, it is increasingly clear that in the next few years the Republican will either evolve into the governing party of a non-democratic regime or collapse entirely. With each passing day, the middle ground between these two outcomes becomes even smaller.
What makes this scandal unique in American history is that, while it is an offense that is impeachable, and that makes both Watergate and the Clinton scandals that brought about his impeachment, but not his conviction, look like a day at the beach, it all occurred and was known before the election. Other presidents committed offenses that drew attention, scrutiny and even impeachment once they were in office. Trump did it all in the year preceding the election. This has brought him immunity of a sort, because if he is impeached, it will be very easy to bring down much of the Republican Party with him. This is the Faustian, and poorly thought out, that the Republicans made when they nominated and then rallied behind this more than slightly unhinged kleptocrat with authoritarian, and perhaps treasonous tendencies.
We are now at a place politically where if the President goes a few days following a legal decision without sending an abusive Tweet, we see it as a victory for democracy, but we should be a little cautious here as well. The White House has suggested there will be another executive order that will reflect the court’s decision. While this order is being crafted, Trump will continue to rally his base, the 35 or so percent of the population that matter for Trump’s short term political future, by saying that if the courts continue to rule against him, it is proof of the liberal conspiracy against him and, implicitly, for the terrorists.
When Netanyahu consistently aligns himself with the Republican congress, and gratuitously attacked President Obama — a man who despite right-wing talking points remains extremely popular with American Jews — and most egregiously embraces a new President whose campaign associated itself with anti-Semites, he sends a clear message that he cares little about the majority of American Jews.