Am I disappointed that Anthony Scaramucci is not letting us know anything at all, in his first White House briefing, about what stocks to buy. Sad, and low energy. President Trump, on the other hand, is getting brighter, cleaner, and more articulate every week. His interpretation of the Napoleonic wars, for example. Long story short, “Napoleon ended up a little bit bad,” or words to that effect, per his New York Times interview this week. Trump is way too articulate, bright, and clean to end up like Napoleon. No freezing Russian tundra for him, no way. Trump will never end up stuck to the seat of a frozen Siberian toilet. Believe me. The system works. Only the very shiniest golden toilet.
There used to be homes for penitent victims of seduction. The whole United States is, or probably will soon be, such a home–for just about all of us. I am not sure what the true story behind Trump’s utter loss of dignity vis-a-vis Vladimir Putin really is. I do know that Mr. Putin is openly laughing at Trump. H.R. McMaster, Gary Cohn, and Steve Mnuchin did not deny Putin’s claim that Trump accepted Putin’s denials of election hacking. Of course Putin is happy to pocket his victories and move on without “relitigating the past,” as Russian award-winner and U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson put it. And of course no one wants needless confrontation much less war with Russia. But when the president of Russia treats the president of the USA the same way Trump treats his own “lickspittle toadies” (as Josh Marshall writes) it is not a happy day for any American. At least not any American not getting lots of Russian cash.
There are several ways the Trump presidency may end, and not one of them is likely to be remotely normal. How citizens should deal with a problem like him without becoming dragged down into his mess is a challenge. Impeachment seems to me much too good for the 45th president. Beyond that it gets complicated.
Some people of good will (but who may not be paying close attention, perhaps because they have lives to live and problems to solve) may still say, give him a chance. Yeah, I did that. It has not gone well. With his low-class tweets about the Morning Joe hosts, he may or may not have been trying to distract us from his voter suppression commission and the apparent flameout of the Senate tax-cut/repeal of Obamacare bill. Or maybe he had no four-dimensional plan, and just flew into a rage at another rebellious, uppity woman on TV. Whatever was in the president’s mind, it is hard to imagine that he is anywhere near prepared to represent the United States of America properly next week when he is scheduled to meet with Vladimir Putin at a G20 summit in Germany. Trump seems far more interested in being a king or a czar than in serving the sovereign people of our country as the head of an executive branch constrained by checks and balances in our constitutional republic. Whose interests is he going to be serving next week? Has he any clue that he is standing up for values and traditions any different than, for examples, those of the Russian or Ottoman Empires, or is just going to act naturally and channel Caligula or Elagabulus?
Corruption of blood was outlawed by the United States Constitution over 200 years ago. Bills of attainder were specifically forbidden. We have a president who swore an oath to preserve, protect, and defend our Constitution. But he seems to inhabit a mental world where corruption of blood is more real than any fluffed-up enlightened notion of liberty and equality before the law. Trump’s defenders, when he goes way off the deep end, resort to saying that he is a “counterpuncher” who “fights fire with fire.” Maybe Trump should be given a taste of his own preferred medicine. That is, maybe we should bring back the bill of attainder to restrain and neutralize the damage he has been doing. Trump’s stance toward people in his way who are US citizens but whose ancestors were darker than his skin is often to attack them with attaint of otherness. He has little to no feel for the spirit of the 14th Amendment, which granted equal citizenship rights to all persons born or naturalized in the United States. Trump’s voter suppression commission looks to me much like a backdoor weapon to “attaint” voters who were disloyal and disobedient to the “I alone can fix it” man now occupying the presidency. Why not resist his attainder with a “people’s attainder”? How else can we restrain the entire Trump family from continuing to violate the clear words of the Emoluments Clause of the US Constitution? Fancy word, emoluments, but to break it down, it means corruption. If you violate it over and over it means you are not a public servant but no better than a gangster and a thug. In Blackstone’s Commentaries On The Laws Of England, we read (Chapter 7, Of The King’s Prerogative, section 241) that “in the king also can be no stain or corruption of blood; for if the heir to the crown were attained of treason or felony, and afterwards the crown should descend to him, this would purge the attainder ipso facto. And therefore when Henry VII, who as Earl of Richmond stood attainted, came to the crown, it was not thought necessary to pass an act of parliament to reverse this attainder.” Can we agree that our 45th president came to the presidency deeply attainted, and that he seems to have expected that ascending to the presidency should absolve him and purge him and make him clean; but that to many of us who live here the presidency feels horribly tainted and polluted? Also that a minority of Americans, though many millions, feel that the president hasn’t been given a fair shot? (May they take a closer look at what he is doing against much that has made America as great as it is?) And by the way, Blackstone also comments (7:241) that “the law determines that in the king can be no negligence….Nullum tempus occurrit regi [no time runs against the king] is the standing maxim upon all occasions; for the law intends that the king is always busied for the good.” If only! If only we could recognize in Mr. Trump even a little fragment of this idealized picture of the monarch.
Is President Donald Trump guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors? That is a political question more than a strictly legal question. Should he be removed under the 25th Amendment? That is also primarily a political question, though medical, psychological, and psychiatric expertise could be brought to bear. I am ready to cry uncle and say I am ready for President Pence, rightwing meathead though he may be. But first, why not ask the question, is our president guilty of misprision of treason if not treason itself? I agree there is no conclusive proof of this now, but there are tantalizing hints and clues and circumstantial evidence all over the place. Again, this is not a strictly legal question. And we are not, thank goodness, at war with Russia today (though the climate is worse in several ways than during the Cold War). But if misprision of treason is on the table as a live possibility, as I think it should be, no effort should be spared to purify our country of the taint of corruption.
I seem to have woken up from a bad dream. Was I really thinking that bringing back “bills of attainder” makes any sense at all? Could bringing back accusations of “corruption of blood” serve any good purpose? Confiscate President Trump’s property without judicial trial, and leave his wife, children, and grandchildren without any inheritance? Seems crazy. But crazier than a Trump-sponsored “voter fraud” commission getting states to hand over private information about 200 million voters? Crazier than casual suggestions that if 22 million people can’t be tossed off their healthcare plans, why not strip 33 million of health insurance?
This thought experiment is not meant to draw any firm conclusions. It is a snapshot of just how ominous the political situation in Washington seems to be today.
For example, let us consider the unplanned non-obsolescence of NATO. In the same breath, the president reminded us that he had said NATO was obsolete and informed us that NATO was no longer obsolete. Don’t even get me started on trying to figure out where the United States as such stands on Russia, let alone Syria, China, North Korea… I believe I grasp that the important point to remember is this: my president is the big strong man who tells me what is true and what is fake, and when he decides that there is a new, different, and probably opposite truth it is on me to avoid whiplash.
Attorney General Sessions, we now know, is a bad hombre. If he is a true Southerner and has any sense of honor, recusing himself from investigations of Russian ties with the Trump campaign is not enough. He must self-deport pronto. Senator Al Franken did not force then-Senator Sessions to be a lying liar by asking him questions about Russia. Sessions’ false statements are all on him, and to say otherwise buys into the kind of permissive relativism that Mr. Sessions has attacked for many years. The happiness and perhaps even glee of Democrats here is nevertheless not relevant to the problem: if an Attorney General is not believable as the champion of impartial justice, the jig is up.
- Congressman John Lewis’s biography gives him great moral and civic stature, but no special authority to say who is or is not a legitimate president. The issue is, does his accusation against Trump have merit and substance.
- Trump responded to John Lewis with misdirection and non sequiturs. Trump did not challenge the substance of Lewis’s charge that Russia’s efforts to elect Trump damage Trump’s legitimacy. Lewis did not deny that Trump won 300+ electoral votes. He did question the legitimacy of a victory won in part with Russian cyberattacks, hacking, disinformation, and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign. Trump maligned Lewis and his district (crime infested? really, Trump? no crime problems in your own backyard?) but did not address what John Lewis actually said.
- Lewis hit on one of the main reasons Trump could be perceived as illegitimate, and this past week revealed more about others: e.g. James Comey’s thumb on the scale. Something in his classified briefing yesterday enraged congressional Democrats.
- Michael Flynn’s reported five phone calls with the Russian ambassador while President Obama was announcing the expulsion of 35 Russian spies/diplomats (not to mention contacts between Russians and Paul Manafort and Carter Page and, perhaps, Michael Cohen) look suspicious if not illegal if not traitorous.
- If President Obama had good reasons to not go public in a strong and decisive way about all this during the campaign, that is between him and the co-authors of his memoirs. I do not know enough to condemn or approve of Obama’s silences.
- Trump, weighing all the evidence as best I can, is susceptible to Russian (and perhaps Chinese or Iranian?) blackmail as long as he is president. His best defense is that we elected him knowing full well who he is. He was elected despite openly inviting Russia last summer to commit espionage against his political opponent. And that is a big problem.
The Guardian published a commentary yesterday by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accusing the West of “needlessly whipping up tension” in Ukraine, which “still faces complex tasks in constructing a sovereign state.” A sly understater of reality, that Sergei!
Meanwhile two Russian ambassadors (currently serving in southern Africa) were recorded drunkenly bragging that “in the future we’ll damn well take your Catalonia and Venice, and also Scotland and Alaska.” Ambassadors Chubarov and Bakharev observe that it would be better to leave Romania, Bulgaria, and the Baltic countries alone for now, and focus on “Miamiland” and “Londonland.” “Exactly, Miamiland is f–ing 95% Russian citizens. We have a full right to hold a referendum.”
They certainly have the talking points down, even–or especially–while inebriated. Meanwhile Lavrov is given the more tedious task of soberly explaining to Englishmen and Germans why they should feel nervous, guilty, and neutral between east and west while Russia dismembers–oops–brings the eastern half of Ukraine into its fraternal embrace.
Vladimir V. Putin, current President of Russia and future Visiting Professor of Philosophy of International Law, appears to have seized, at least for today, the white man’s burden of duty and rectitude from President Barack Obama. Is he going to be accepting complimentary lifetime memberships from Amnesty International and the ACLU next? Can we handle the truth that “exceptionalism” is largely a dangerous fantasy, coming from such an imperfect messenger as him?
I do not agree with the reaction of some that the op-ed should not have been printed. Putin’s name appears as the author, and he thus assumes responsibility for the contents. Who cares if Russian speechwriters or the Ketchum P.R. firm wrote or edited some or all of it? Barack Obama and (one hopes) John Kerry are perfectly capable of presenting evidence to counter Mr. Putin’s assertion, for example, that the poison gas didn’t come from the Syrian Army. They can also supply relevant context that Putin conveniently omitted. If Mr. Putin is taking advantage of worldwide suspicion of American veracity and arrogance, and who do we blame for that?–he is setting himself up to be judged by higher standards when Olympic time rolls around. Hendrik Hertzberg in The New Yorker notes, by the way, that “American exceptionalism” was coined as a negative reference point by Stalin-era Russian propagandists!
It is at least possible that the sometimes Mr. Magooish spectacle, as some have noted, of the last few days’ diplomacy may yield some good results
- White House responds to Putin’s NYT op-ed (thelead.blogs.cnn.com)
- Putin warns US against unilateral military strike on Syria (thehindu.com)
- The Tsar of All the Concern Trolls (newyorker.com)
The top right headline across four columns in Friday’s NY Times was “Defiant Russia Grants Snowden Year’s Asylum.” Please, spare us the parroting of the official story and just give us the news. Other sources led with the press secretary’s “extremely disappointing” or versions thereof. The WSJ used “defying” to refer to Russia in the first paragraph, though the headline was that the grant of temporary asylum “Hits U.S.-Russia Relations.”
One problem with “defiant” is that Russia and the U.S. have no extradition treaty. The broader issue is that the Times does readers no favors by insinuating that we are not living in a multipolar world where if we force down the plane of a South American head of state whose flight began in Moscow, we can hardly expect Russia to hand Snowden over without losing face. As Alexei Pushkov, head of Russia’s State Duma Committee on international affairs, put it, “Even though Obama said that he wouldn’t ground a plane over some ’29-year-old hacker,’ they trapped Snowden after they grounded the Bolivian president‘s plane.” The U.S. government is quite understandably eager to arrest Snowden–but their actions had the consequence of compelling Snowden to stay where he was and effectively compelling Putin, who was apparently eager to see Snowden leave Russia, to let him stay. Just because Putin has been wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove in all this is no reason to misreport Russia’s actions as “defiant.”
- Edward Snowden has been welcomed by Russia – but it had little choice | Natalia Antonova (theguardian.com)
- White House ‘extremely disappointed’ with Russia (aurorasentinel.com)
Hand him over and we will not torture him or execute him. No, this is not a tribal warlord in one of the ‘stans. This is the Attorney General of the United States today, telling Russia that we are not going to abuse or kill Edward Snowden.
- US tells Russia: ‘We won’t torture Edward Snowden if he is extradited home’ (independent.co.uk)