In Trump’s America, this is the no longer out of the ordinary, but it reveals that the erosion of American political institutions and the American people’s confidence in those institutions is not a peripheral effect of the Trump presidency, but is indeed the goal of the Trump presidency. The Nunes memo was an effort to discredit the FBI, Robert Mueller and indeed the rule of law in America. This may be essential for the survival of the Trump administration, but the impact on American democracy, and the American state, will be profound.
A year into the Trump administration and the marches are still massive and widespread, if underreported, but marches do not translate directly into victories at the voting booth. This is not an issue of those who attend marches not voting. There is no reason to believe that is the case. However, although there were marches all over the country this year and last, the biggest demonstrations occurred in safely blue districts. The march in Manhattan was inspiring, but we New Yorkers have little ability to affect the 2018 election directly through our vote, as many New Yorkers, like San Franciscans or Angelenos are represented from the City Council to the US Senate by Democrats who rarely face competition.
Trump’s descents to into the most blatant forms of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment are now frequent enough that the responses are predictable. His apologists assert that he was misquoted or that he is simply saying what many Americans believe. The former approach is essentially dishonest, but the latter explanation is significant. There is a fair amount of truth to the belief that many Americans disparage countries whose populations are largely non-white, but that does not make Trump’s remarks less offensive. Instead it is evidence that racism is not some rare condition that Trump happens to have, but rather a widespread set of opinions that remains a cancer on American politics and society.
The question Americans should be asking ourselves in not whether or not Donald Trump has the mental facilities and stability to be President-he doesn’t, but why so many in the Republican Party ignored that reality for the last two years. In fairness to those Republicans who had significant concerns about Donald Trump, it was not clear what they could have done to stop him from getting the nomination, but it is also clear that once he was the likely nominee, no meaningful effort to derail his nomination was made by any in the GOP leadership. Moreover, those same Republicans elevated hatred for Hillary Clinton to a sacrament, in pursuit of which anything, including supporting a deeply unstable man like Donald Trump, was acceptable.
Election outcomes may be the next target of Trump’s relentless effort to define anything he doesn’t like as fake news. This could take the form of Republican candidates, particularly those with strong support from the President, refusing to accept defeat in close races. This may sound extreme and unlikely-and it would have even three years ago, but this is a different America. Donald Trump himself made it clear during the 2016 election, that he would not simply accept the election outcome if he were to lose.
Through a relatively steady drumbeat of accusations of partisanship, behind the scenes shenanigans and consistently lying to the American people, the Trump administration, mostly with support from the Republicans in Congress, has largely defanged the Mueller investigation. Mueller may or may not be fired, but it probably does not matter. If he is fired it will not be the major paradigm shifting event that many hope. Instead, it will be a two day story. If Trump, or a subordinate at the Department of Justice, fires Mueller on December 22nd, America will be talking about something else by New Years Day at the latest and perhaps by Boxing Day. If Mueller remains in his position, any further indictments, findings or statements will be mostly grist for the partisan mill that is Washington.
The shift among many on the right from disagreeing with the opinions or reporting slant of The New York Times, The Washington Post or CNN, to seeing any negative story in those outlets as simply not true is the cause of this and deeply threatens not just our democracy, but the future of a unified and cohesive US as well. This has not happened by accident, but as the result of concerted effort by the Trump team done with the support and encouragement of the rest of the Republican Party. We see this every day when Sarah Huckabee Sanders questions the veracity and the motives of an article or report she doesn’t like or when Donald Trump sends out a Tweet with the words “Fake News,” frequently in all capitals. As long as this continues, the Mueller investigation, almost regardless of what it turns up, will move very few voters or members of Congress and change very few minds.
Despite the fear of a President Pence being somewhat overblown, those hoping for a combination of Mueller indictments and a big Democratic win in 2018 to combine to save us must consider what impeachment would mean for the country. One of the unique characteristics of the Russiagate scandal, which is the most likely series of events that could potentially lead to impeachment, is that none of the news we are hearing now is actually news. While some details are new and Robert Mueller III is doing a great job of connecting the dots, the evidence of Russian meddling in our election with the knowledge of the Trump campaign was present well before the election. In fact, the GOP leadership was briefed about this in fallof 2016.
If the major news media, other than Fox calls the election in 2020 for the Democratic ticket, which of the following Tweets from Donald Trump is more likely “I congratulate the Democratic candidate on her/his victory and look forward to working with them on the transition,” or “FAKE NEWS CNN is saying I lost. Other FAKE NEWS media will do the same soon. But Fox hasn’t called the race yet. I WON despite illegal votes cast.” If you think the first Tweet is more likely you have either been living under a rock for the last two years or are allowing blind optimism to outweigh all the evidence that surrounds us. Moreover, if Trump sends out the second Tweet roughly 35% of the American people will believe his notion that he is the victim of election fraud.
If Al Franken is not held firmly accountable for his behavior, it will make it almost impossible for progressives to hold anybody accountable for sexual harassment in the near future. It will also create further barriers for women seeking to tell their stories of sexual harassment, provide cover for somebody because of his politics, make progressives vulnerable to the charge of being hypocrites, and provide rhetorical ammunition for all those on the right who would love to claim that much worse accusations against Moore, Trump and potentially others are simply political witch hunts. This may mean than an otherwise distinguished progressive who has made himself one of the most outspoken and compelling voices of the resistance will have to leave the Senate. That would be very unfortunate, but the alternative is worse.
The Democratic victory lastTuesday was significant not because of its size-there were only a few key races in a handful of states-but because of its scope. Democrats and progressive causes won in the Northeast, where voters in Maine approved medicaid expansion over the wishes of the Trumpist governor and in New Jersey where Democrat Phil Murphy won the race for governor by 12 points. They won in the South where Ralph Northam beat Ed Gillespie by nine points in the race for governor of Virginia. The Democrats also won in the west where a special election flipped the Washington State Senate Democratic, giving the Democrats solid control of the three west coast states.
There were, however, an awful lot of other people who were either involved in this untoward relationship between a presidential campaign and a less than friendly foreign power or who, at the very least, were aware of it and chose to say, and do, nothing. This probably includes people who were deeply involved with the campaign like Mike Pence and Jeff Sessions who now hold positions at the highest level of government, as well as many others who are less well known. In addition, people were around the campaign and had access to this knowledge in summer of 2016, like most of the congressional leadership, numerous Republican campaign and policy people and many others. Not all of these people were silent about their knowledge of these activities, but the overwhelming majority were. Many Democrats sought to draw attention to it, but in the heat of the campaign, or its immediate aftermath, only Republicans could have raised a sufficient hue and cry about it. Almost to a person they chose not to. That is a damning indictment of a political party.
If the Republican Party, in a collective act of cowardice on an historic scale, comes to the support of the not yet embattled President, rather than to our already imperiled democracy, the nature of our politics will continue to change. By doing this the Republican Party will make themselves even more complicit in both the Russia scandal and the erosion of American democracy. The first step in this complicity will be even greater efforts to delegitimize or fire Robert Mueller, something for which that the Wall Street Journal, among others have already begun to advocate. The next steps for this Republican Party will be further efforts either to stop the investigation and to keep mobilizing those Americans who believe that this is all fake news cooked up by Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party and Vladimir Putin.
Honest discussions about our military, as distinct from our foreign policy, are difficult because they are so emotionally laden, but when those conversations do not occur, or are deliberately repressed by the government as Ms. Sanders has sought to do, our country is weakened. Democracy requires not just civilian control of the military, something already under stress during the Trump presidency, but a civilian culture that is never intimidated or silenced by military brass. Accordingly, frank discussions about who serves in our military and why, or what the purpose of all of these wars, conflicts and military bases make our country, and our democracy, stronger.
It is also unfortunate that the Trump Batumi project that was described in The New Yorker may become one of the few things that readers of that venerable and very high quality periodical now know about Georgia. Although, as the article noted, high level corruption remained a problem even as rates of low level corruption plummeted under President Saakashvili, Georgia today is considerably less corrupt than Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan or many other countries in the region.
The Secretary’s statements about the condition of our country are why many opponents of Trump were heartened by the video, but if they paid close attention a minute or so earlier in the video, they would have heard Mattis say, “We’re gonna keep right on fighting until they are sick of us, (and) leave us alone.” That sentence is a good encapsulation of what is wrong with US policy in Afghanistan and elsewhere, particularly Iraq. Continuing to fight until they, presumably our enemies, are sick of us, is an absurd idea. It overlooks the central reality that the terrorists never get sick of us, and in fact rely upon the American military presence to recruit more people to their cause. Mattis’s formulation, in other words, is a recognition that there is no end in sight in Afghanistan and that our efforts there amount to permanent war for permanent peace.
It is, of course, unlikely that chattel slavery will return to the US, or that genocide against Jews and wholesale murder of LGBT people will happen in the US, but history has made it clear that there are never any guarantees about questions like these. Given that, a strong argument can be made not just that occasional violence can be excused in response to these symbols, but that violence is the only rational and morally acceptable response. That may sound extreme, but it was not that long ago that young American men were required to violently oppose Nazis, while those who refused were called traitors.
It is frightening, although not as surprising as we might like, that despite Trump's clearly tenuous mental health, most Republican leaders have been complicit in trying to conceal this for months or longer. The reason for this, is similar to the reason why the likes of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have been reluctant to probe deeply into Trump’s Russia ties-once the issue was ignored initially, Republican leaders became complicit in the cover up. For Ryan, McConnell or any other influential congress member to recognize what is palpably obvious to millions ofAmericans would force them them to confront their previous silence on the issue and lay bare the reality that for the Republican Party lower taxes and partisan victories are more important than to have a president who is sane. Rather than do that, the GOP leadership avoids confronting the reality of Donald Trump’s mental instability.
These are sad days for the United States. A petulant, willfully ignorant, bigoted man-child has encouraged the most bigoted, ugliest, vulgar and intolerant among us to wave their racist flag high, knowing they have support from the White House. It is significant that the violence in Charlottesville originated as citizens gathered to defend a statue celebrating a traitorous regime that sought to destroy the union more than 150 years ago. If the US surveys this current crisis, it is likely that is how historians will view the Trump administration as well.
That Trump wants his most effective cabinet member to resign because he was insufficiently protective of the President himself suggests that Trump is moving the country not towards the authoritarian white nationalist regime that Steve Bannon would like, but towards being a more straightforward kleptocracy. In that model, the role of the government is to enrich the President and those around him, rather than to remake the country based on an ideological vision. This does not mean that Trump is not racist-he is. However, his racism is less central to his governing philosophy than his desire to use government for his personal advantage.