About Ronnie Nathan
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As expected, Mueller and his team accomplished the assigned mission with distinction and excellence. The report gives us a complete and thorough picture of the Russian attack on the 2016 election, the Trump campaign’s complicity or non-complicity in that attack and the president’s attempts to thwart the investigation into that attack. It confirmed and documented many things we already knew:
- The Russians launched an unprecedented multi-level attack on our election, including staging ersatz competing protest demonstrations, a major all-encompassing disinformation campaign and illegal computer/email hacking.
- They did it to benefit Trump and defeat Hillary Clinton, including feeding Wikileaks documents hacked from the Clinton campaign dumped at strategic times that would maximize the damage to Clinton and help Trump.
- The Trump campaign had over 100 contacts with the Russians and lied about it.
- Trump and his campaign, while welcoming aid from the Russians, did not coordinate with them.
- The Trump campaign coordinated with Wikileaks.
- President Donald Trump absolutely attempted to obstruct the investigation and was saved from criminal obstruction of justice by two things:
- His staff saved him from himself by either ignoring or refusing to carry out Trump’s explicit orders
- The DOJ Office of Legal Counsel’s finding that a sitting president cannot be indicted
That’s what the report states. It DOES NOT exonerate the president. It EXPLICITLY says it does not exonerate the president. So, what does it do?
It documents the indisputable fact that the counter-intelligence investigation was completely justified.
It effectively takes impeachment off the table.
The statute of limitations on obstruction of justice is five years, so it creates the road map and predicate for indicting ex-President Trump for obstruction of justice if he loses re-election.
It gives the Democrats a potentially effective campaign issue if they don’t over-play their hand, and Trump one, if they do.
A personal note: This will be my last column for several months. My wife and I are that rare breed of horizontal snowbirds and live in New York State from May – November and SoCal from Thanksgiving – Easter/Passover.
Thank you, Linda W. You are the author of the first Letter to the Editor of my short writing career! I’m sincerely moved by the fact that someone is reading my column besides my wife. Also, thanks to you, I have changed my byline. Linda questioned my centrist bona fides, so let me explain.
On a variety of specific issues – abortion, gun control, entitlement reform, fiscal responsibility, a balanced budget amendment, tax policy, capital punishment, Israel and others – my views are much more consistent with traditional orthodox conservatism than anything else. My fantasy candidate for president is John Kasich. Unfortunately, that will remain a fantasy, because the GOP has morphed from a party of conservatives into the Cult of Trump, which translates into an extreme right-wing populist party that has abandoned anything resembling traditional conservative orthodoxy.
But Linda W. is correct. I despise Donald Trump. As a New Yorker approximately the same age as Trump, I have known him to be a thoroughly despicable human being throughout his entire public career, for the past 45 years or more. I support a few of his policies, but no one as consistently amoral and dishonest as Trump can ever be trusted, except by either a hopelessly naïve political neophyte or a fool. The man is evil. Linda, I’m in very good company and I can, upon request, refer you to a dozen or more traditional conservative pundits who share my “Never Trump” views.
This brings me to what may be the strangest week in the strangest presidency of my lifetime. It began with the president firing his DHS secretary because she refused to break the law at his direction. She wasn’t cruel enough for the Trump/Miller policy of deterrence through cruelty, even after enforcing the cruelest policies at the border in anyone’s memory. Her exit was quickly followed by a purge (worthy of Stalin) of the entire DHS leadership. Firing the entire leadership of the department responsible for border security in the midst of a border security/humanitarian crisis may not seem – to most rational folks – like any way to run a government. Or does it? I guess if you belong to the “Alice through the Looking Glass Cult of Trump World” it does. As if this wasn’t strange enough, by the end of the week, we learned that our president, the man ultimately responsible for implementing and enforcing the law, asked the new acting DHS secretary, Kevin McAleenan, to break the law, promising to pardon him if he complies! This begs an obvious question. How can we demonize illegal border crossers as criminals breaking the law, when our president is the Law-Breaker-in-Chief?
Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up! Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. Mid-week, we learned that Trump/Miller twice considered dumping the overflow of asylum seekers into Democratic-dominated “sanctuary” cities as political retribution for opposing the Trump/Miller draconian illegal policies, even his own appointees resisted. Just when we breathed a sigh of relief because we assumed in a rare moment of sanity the policy was rejected, Trump once again pulled the rug out from under his own administration and congressional party, tweeting and publicly announcing that this incredibly stupid certainly illegal idea would be implemented. As of this writing, that appears to be his plan. By the time you read this, however, it is entirely possible that Trump will back down before blowback for the umpteenth time, claiming he never said what he is on the record saying. In a world where truth has no currency and where his supporters consciously close their eyes to Trump’s serial lying, there is no political price for lying, and that’s what Trump does best. The worst part of all of this is the absence of any legitimate policy. Instead of honoring the fact that all of this touches real human lives in very real ways, Trump intends to bully his way, using vulnerable, desperate people as human pawns to wreak revenge on political enemies. Welcome to Trump-style reality TV government.
Let’s be clear. I am an extreme centrist and I’m NOT in favor of admitting all these migrants and granting them asylum. I am in favor, however, of treating them humanely while detaining them legally for adjudication of their claims and establishing a more efficient system for doing that. A normal president would have and could have negotiated with Congress to change the law and fund the resources to make that happen. But, Trump is not a normal president.
This same week, Attorney General Barr, in testimony before a Senate committee and absent of any evidence he was prepared to share, mused that our own intelligence community, the folks specifically charged with protecting America from espionage, spied on the Trump campaign. Yes, he used the word spy! Upon questioning, he softened his speculation somewhat, but not before giving Trump more fuel to control the narrative regarding the Mueller investigation, lying that he had been exonerated, which even Barr’s memo specifically denied, and accusing Barr’s own DOJ colleagues of treason. Until this week, I have given Barr the benefit of the doubt. Now, I am not so sure if he is the competent, dedicated public servant I had hoped for and expected, or just another Trump stooge in a cabinet of Trump stooges. I guess we’ll find out when he releases the Mueller Report. Will it be so completely redacted as to render it useless, or will it be as transparent as possible as Barr promised?
This suggests another question. Is it possible that Trump’s bluster of escalating the policy confrontation over the migrant families and Barr’s foolish public musings from a normally circumspect, disciplined man are a conscious strategy to control the public narrative before the release of what may be damaging information in the Mueller Report?
Yes, Linda W., I am assuredly an extreme centrist. I am a dedicated institutionalist and traditionalist. I prefer compromise and incrementalism to radical change. I am deeply religious. While no specific religious doctrine should be codified into law, I firmly believe all laws, law enforcement and governance must be grounded in morality. The Trump presidency and Trump himself, in all these areas, stand for the exact opposite. Frankly and sadly, I don’t see how one can be a centrist, a traditionalist, and support Donald Trump. It’s like being a meat-eating vegetarian!
Donald Trump’s wall is an attempt to solve the wrong problem. The masses gathering at our southern border are more like refugees from Syria flooding Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey than single men from Mexico looking for work, who used to constitute the majority of our illegal crossings. Single Mexican men represent less than a trickle of the folks attempting entry into the U.S. The vast majority are migrant families who gather at legal ports of entry. Most of those who do cross illegally actually report to the authorities so they can file for asylum. A wall simply won’t do the job.
Trump, however, is correct about two things: There is an emergency, and the culprit is the Flores Decision mandating that unaccompanied minors be released within 20 days. But his policy is all wrong. The Democrats, for their part, have been expending all their political capital denying a problem exists, and they are as culpable as the president.
This is a refugee problem, and that is how it must be addressed. We have to figure out how to protect both our national interests and our values. The first moral/ethical imperative is to treat these people humanely. The second is to protect our national interests. We must have secure borders. Our economy simply can’t absorb all the Third World refugees who want to come here. They place too great a burden on our social services and schools, and they depress wages for low-skilled Americans. The root problem driving this wave of migration is the failed states in Central America where economies and the rule of law are collapsing. If we want to mitigate the problem in a way consistent with our values, we must make a choice. Do we address the root causes, or the symptoms?
The first step is for Trump to go to Pelosi with a deal. Give up on wall funding for now, beyond what was funded in the deal that reopened the government last January. Do this, in exchange for legislation allowing us to treat this as a refugee crisis, overturning the Flores decision, allowing the establishment of semi-permanent refugee camps in partnership with NGOs and other international refugee organizations. That will allow us to both treat the migrants more humanely and effectively dedicate the resources needed – more immigration officers, courts and judges – to rationally and expeditiously process the claims for asylum and send those who don’t qualify back home.
The second step is for Trump to organize a coalition of western hemisphere nations to cooperatively deal with the problem. Then we have to make the really hard choice: Do we want to stabilize the nations of Central America? Do we want to engage in the kind of nation building we have spent two decades attempting in Iraq and Afghanistan? Alternatively, do we want to house refugees in permanent camps for the foreseeable future, like the Palestinians for the last 70 years? Neither “solution” is easy or pretty. There is one huge difference, however, between Central America and the Middle East. This isn’t half a world away, and the armed thugs are street gangs, not highly organized international terrorist groups funded by Iran and Saudi Arabia. So, this problem may be somewhat less intractable for us, and it is immediate and local. The bottom line is that if Trump succeeds with his current policy, which essentially amounts to simply locking these people in Mexico, the problem will only get worse. Mexico will eventually and inevitably become a failed state, with a collapsing economy as well. If that ever happens, our current problems will look like a cakewalk.
There is yet another piece of this puzzle that no one seems to be addressing. The drug trafficking issue that Trump complains about in every immigration speech and at every rally isn’t a one-way street. Something like 85 percent of the guns confiscated from the drug and street gangs in Mexico and Central America come from the United States. United States gun manufacturers profit from the chaos that drives our immigration/refugee crisis, much like the opioid crisis was originally driven by legitimate drug manufacturers. But guns are the third rail of Trump/GOP politics. When I look at places like Yemen, where millions of people are literally starving to death because no one can get enough food aid into the country, I ask myself, how is it that they never run out of guns, mortars and bullets? How do weapons flow in so easily, but food is effectively blocked? Why can’t we put restrictions on gun manufacturers and control the illegal flow of guns to the criminals who are driving refugees to our southern border?
The fact is that neither political party, nor Donald Trump, is as committed to solving the problem as they are to exploiting it as a political issue. Politically, the problem works really well by mobilizing their respective bases. It is a great catalyst for creating primal anger — the mother’s milk of identity politics — and the driving force in both political parties and the fuel that feeds Trump-ism.
Also, while I acknowledge the current crisis, calling it a crisis is misleading. It is actually a chronic condition affecting the entire world, and it will never go away. Human beings will always flee violence and economic desperation. Climate change will only increase mass migration. The coffee and corn crops in Central America are suffering from long-term drought caused by climate change, where what water fallen comes in floods caused by extreme weather events, resulting in more damage than relief, and the impacted peasants join the migration caravans.
The longer we pretend we can solve this problem ourselves by simply keeping people out, the worse it’s going to get, both for us and the migrants. The only long-term solution is to acknowledge this as a long-term, chronic condition of the modern world and the only effective approach is to develop international humane protocols to deal with it.
My mother was born in the Ukraine, part of Czarist Russia, before WWI. For the first decade of her life, her village was literally a battleground through the Great War, Russian Revolution and Russian Civil War. The armies that invaded and successively occupied her village – Germans, Poles, Cossacks, White Russians, and Red Russians – all had one thing in common: They hated and massacred Jews. Mom and my family finally got out, trekking across Europe to Antwerp, sailing across the Atlantic in steerage, arriving on Ellis Island in 1922, one of last boats before the doors of immigration slammed shut with the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924. Most of those who remained behind and survived Stalin became Holocaust victims 20 years later.
About 25 years ago, I had an incredibly moving experience as an assistant principal in a Brooklyn high school. While most of our students were Latino, we had a small but significant Muslim Arab population. A very bright Palestinian girl in our senior class came to me crying. She wanted to apply to college, but her family had planned an arranged marriage that would take place soon after her 18th birthday. They refused to allow her to stay in school past graduation. She agreed to let me meet with her parents. At the end of our conference, which was amazingly successful, her father asked me if I was a Jew. I said, “Yes, I am!” Literally, with tears in his eyes, he told me that in his country the two of us wouldn’t be talking. Instead, we would be killing each other. He said that only in America could a Jew and a Palestinian talk to each other with respect and trust to help his family. We hugged each other and, for a moment, became brothers … Only in America!
When I was a young man, America’s incredible diversity was an anomaly. Typically, most nations were largely homogenous, sharing a common ethnicity, language, religion, history and culture. Historically, America coped with our unique diversity with a strange stew of institutional prejudice, second generation assimilation and ultimately increasing tolerance. In a peculiar way unique to America, our abiding racial tensions, the legacy of slavery, America’s original sin, mostly distracted us from conflict between white ethnicities. If one was white, no matter where you came from, you could eventually blend into the melting pot.
Ironically, in 21st century America, just when our racial tensions based on blatant racism are subsiding, even electing our first “black” president, tensions over class, culture, politics and immigration are approaching a boiling point. Republicans and Democrats demonize each other. Our own leaders, rather than working toward common sense solutions, serve their selfish political interests instead of the national interest by stirring the pot to increase tensions. The same folks charged with making the system work, a political miracle invented by our founders, are tearing our norms and institutions of governance apart, increasing the distrust in government and the very institutions that made America great.
President Trump, you can’t make America great again by dividing us. Your job, as the only nationally elected official, along with your V.P., is to unite us. Your job isn’t to destroy the norms of civil conversation. Your job is to be a role model of civility. More than ever, we need our president and political institutions to cool the raging waters of conflict. We have huge challenges ahead of us; climate change, national debt and deficits, health care, immigration, international and homegrown terrorism, issues of race, sexual orientation, gender identity and the environment. They aren’t going away. This is the world we are passing on to our kids and grandkids. We can’t solve these problems. That will take generations. But we need to give them the tools for solving them. President Trump didn’t invent our political conflicts. But he has built his political career and his presidency on fanning the flames.
My mom and grandma often cooked in a pressure cooker. It happened a few times when they forgot to lower the flame, the pressure cooker exploded, literally launching the pressure valve and the entire contents of the pot as high as our kitchen ceiling. I’ll never forget the hole made by the valve and pea soup dripping from the ceiling. I think of our precious nation at its best as a salad bowl. All of us, as diverse as we are, combined together in a common cause called America. Pressuring us to give up our unique differences in a melting pot was hard enough for first generation Americans like me. Remaking America into a pressure cooker is a prescription for disaster.
I completely accept the Mueller findings! I always said that the Mueller investigation’s success is NOT dependent on finding the president guilty of a criminal conspiracy with Russia or criminal obstruction of justice. A finding that the evidence against Trump is insufficient for criminal charges is also a success.
The suggestion by some that the report validates any claim that this was a witch-hunt is patently ridiculous. Witch-hunts ALWAYS find witches! This was a real investigation by an incorruptible, extremely competent investigator, based on 100 percent justifiable probable cause. Mueller has produced far more indictments and convictions in fewer than two years than Starr produced in four. The nation and our system of governance would have suffered immeasurably without the Mueller Investigation. Every American – whether a Trump voter or opponent (like me) – should be incredibly grateful to Mueller, Barr and the system. THE SYSTEM WORKED! For that, however, we should be even more grateful to someone else.
Full disclosure: I am not a fan of Jeff Sessions! That said, Sessions is a true profile in courage. He suffered 20 months of unrelenting pressure and public humiliation from a president he spent two years working tirelessly to elect. He was the first major GOP politician with a national reputation who publicly endorsed Trump, when even the GOP still recognized Trump for the conman that he is. As he was being abused by his boss and president, knowing that time in his life-long dream job was on a death watch, Sessions pursued that president’s agenda more effectively than any other Trump official. He could easily have not recused himself. He could have fired Rosenstein and/or Mueller and made his recusal purely academic. He could have kept his job! But he didn’t. Jeff Sessions served a higher authority. He did what he knew was right, despite personal, public and professional sacrifice. There are many things in Sessions’ public record that I despise, but Jeff Sessions, at the critical moment for him and our nation, proved himself to be a man of principle and I respect him for that.
Despite the Mueller findings, the fact is, we already know there was collusion. There were over 100 documented contacts with Russian intelligence officials from 17 different Trump campaign officials all covered up by lies. The fact is, the word collusion has been grossly misunderstood and distorted. Collusion is not a crime. Criminal conspiracy is. Mueller cleared Trump and his campaign of criminal conspiracy with Russia. It explicitly DOESN’T clear him of obstruction of justice. Essentially, Mueller and Barr kicked that can to Congress. Thus, Trump’s defeat will no doubt depend on Election Day 2020, not an impeachment trial in the Senate – and that’s a good thing for the nation. However, this is no time for a Trump victory lap. The show is far from over with Mueller. There’s SDNY, EDVA, the NYS Attorney General, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and several committees in Congress. There are still more threads to pull than sheep at shearing season. Stay tuned. The beat goes on!
Headline from the NYT, 3/15/2019:
Two New Zealand Mosques, a Hate-Filled Massacre Designed for Its Time
“I went to Friday afternoon prayers at my local mosque today. When one wakes up to overwhelming incomprehensible tragedy, you feel helpless and want to do something. The only thing I could think of was to go to the mosque and pray with my Muslim brothers and sisters, to share their pain, pray to the same G-d we also share and in a very small way reach out to them as best as I can. As they prayed to Allah and recited verses from the Quran, I silently recited the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. The imam’s sermon was all about love, about reaching out across religious and ethnic differences to Jews and Christians, to listen to each other with peace and understanding, to confront hate and evil with love and understanding. My goal was to be as inconspicuous as possible. My yarmulke is not that much different from the head coverings most of the men were wearing. Most wore street clothes much like mine. I took off my shoes and sat on the floor just like everyone else. Still, as the service ended, the imam recognized me from the podium as I had been there during happier times about 2 years ago with my friend Jamshed, and thanked me for coming. He recognized me as an observant Jew. And literally 1 day after rockets had flown between Israel and Gaza and 49 of their brothers and sisters had been massacred in a mosque just like this one, during Friday afternoon prayers half way around the world, over 100 Muslim men came up to me and individually embraced me, a Jew, thanking me for my small gesture. It was all I could do to hold back my tears.”
My question of “Why?” is NOT why horrors like this occur. We know why! My question is why do White Power Supremacists, from David Duke after Charlottesville to the shooter in New Zealand, see in Donald J. Trump – our president – a kindred spirit? Donald Trump is not responsible for Charlottesville or the massacre in New Zealand. I want to be very clear about that still.
On March 11, just four days prior to the massacre, Trump gave an interview to Breibart, the online right-wing propaganda site masquerading as news, where he said the following:
“I can tell you I have the support of the police, have the support of the military, have the support of the bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”
What are we to make of this comment? Is he threatening violence in the streets if he doesn’t get his way with the wall or if he loses in 2020? Is this an appropriate threat for an American president to make to the American people?
During his campaign, he advocated for a Muslim ban. After Charlottesville, he declared there were good people on both sides. Less than 24 hours after the massacre in New Zealand, in response to a reporter’s question in the Oval Office during the Veto Signing Ceremony, he declared that White Power Supremacists and the violence they advocate and perpetrate are not serious problems in the United States.
My Trump-supporting friends can legitimately claim that the president’s words in all these cases are being grossly misinterpreted, that his intent and meaning carry no racist or poisonous purpose. That may be so; however, the David Dukes of the world and other White Power Supremacists all take comfort from these words. Why? The president of the United States, whether he likes it or not, is the spokesperson for the moral/ethical soul of all of us.
At times like these, he should never speak in a way where his words must be parsed to determine what he really means. They must be clear to everyone! It’s hard to interpret the words “Muslim Ban” as anything but racist! After the torchlight parade of Nazis screaming “Jews will not replace us” into the Charlottesville night, Charlottesville was no longer about Confederate monuments, at least for those Americans like me, who are the targets of Nazi hatred. It was only about Nazis marching in American streets. After the Charleston church, Pittsburgh synagogue and Christchurch, New Zealand massacres, White Power Supremacist hatred and violence are serious problems for everyone in America who isn’t white and Christian; and I pray even for the vast majority of American white Christians.
In Judaism, we hold leaders to a higher moral/ethical standard than the general population. Moses was denied entry into the Promised Land by HaShem because he struck a rock in anger in front of the Israelites! I honestly don’t know if Trump consciously carries favor with Nazis and White Pride Supremacists with his consistent equivocations. But it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that he consistently fails America when it matters most with his words. He should be ashamed of himself and every American who takes America’s ideals of tolerance and brotherhood seriously. Those of you who voted for him should loudly and proudly shame Donald J. Trump for this failure. It is inexcusable!
Steven Baron wrote a 900-word opinion piece in last week’s Gazette rebutting my column of the previous week. He attempted to rip my arguments apart piece by piece. For the record, I think Donald J. Trump is a despicable human being and his presidency is a national disaster. Baron is an ardent Trump supporter. Despite that, Steven Baron is one my best friends in California. I literally love the man, not like Trump “loves” Kim. I really love Steve. More than that, I deeply respect and trust him. I am confident he feels the same way about me.
Since we met in synagogue several years ago, we have been debating each other politically and have been fast friends. In the years we have known each other, despite our political differences, not a single angry word has passed between us and we see each other and break bread together at least two times a week in synagogue. That is what America is really like, or at least the America Steve and I live in.
Once upon a time, our politics were more like that and less of the take-no-prisoners blood sport it has become. In the ‘80s, political rivals Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neal were friends who enjoyed each other’s company. About 20 years earlier, LBJ introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but Everett Dirksen got it passed. Think about that for a minute. A Democratic president and the top Republican in Congress worked together to forever change America for the better! Where have we gone wrong?
LBJ’s Vietnam and Nixon’s Watergate made many Americans, if not most, into political cynics who distrust government. I’ve always thought that had Robert F. Kennedy lived to become president, everything since then would have been different. We would have left Vietnam before the worst domestic conflicts concerning the war had occurred. There would have been no Watergate. RFK was the last national politician who could give the same exact speech on the same day to black working class Roxbury and white ethnic working class South Boston crowds, getting enthusiastic ovations from both groups. Ronald Reagan restored some of that with his Morning in America politics, but with Talk Confrontation Radio, Newt No Compromise Gingrich and Slick Will, the dye was cast and it has only gotten worse, climaxing in the most divisive president since the Civil War in Donald Trump.
It didn’t have to be this way. Trump essentially won the election on his signature issues, immigration and unfair trade relationships – both of which bleed away secure American blue-collar high-wage jobs. He won the immigration debate with the American people. The reason the bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013 failed to become law is that no one trusted the Democrats to secure the border. Everyone trusts Trump to secure the border. After winning the election, he was in a perfect place to finally resolve the immigration issue by securing the border and using the Senate bill as a starting point for dealing with the issue in an equitable, fair and sensible way, and with the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants who have been living here for years. He could have chosen to unite the nation and resolve a simmering issue. If nothing else, Trump has proven how he can command the congressional GOP to fall in line and slavishly follow his lead. The Democrats would have jumped at the chance to give Trump his wall in return for something resembling that 2013 Senate bill. Instead, he chose to demagogue the issue because he calculated it works better for him politically as a highly charged wedge issue than would a solution. Don’t get me wrong; the Democrats have consistently made the same craven calculation. So, an issue that reasonable sensible people can solve remains an open wound in the nation. And the exact same dynamic drives several of the most contentious issues dividing Americans. Trust me, if Steve and I were locked in a room with a few technocrats who know the technical esotericism of the issue, we would solve the whole thing in a day or two. Why? Because we respect each other and have no ulterior motives other than doing what is right for America. We listen to each other and we are open to reasonable compromise.
Our current political process, especially the presidential contest, works in a way that exacerbates conflict and undermines solutions. Winning the primaries demands extreme uncompromising positions from the candidates. If the nominee moderates his/her positions during the general election campaign, he/she risks the hypocrite flip-flopper tag. What can be done to break this self-destructive cycle? In Donald Trump, we have a president that a third of the nation hates, a third loves and a third distrusts, but that middle third is also very suspicious of Democrats, mostly for very good reasons. The Democrats who vote in the primaries must vote for a moderate. They must center their main campaign themes on unifying America, character, honesty and a willingness to compromise to resolve issues. They also must nominate a candidate with the record and credibility that the middle third of America can believe. Right now, with Sherrod Brown out of the race, unless Biden announces, that looks like Klobuchar. Personally, I’m fantasizing a Democratic dream team ticket of Biden/Klobuchar. I once fantasized registering as a Republican to vote for Kasich in the GOP primary, but that’s not going to happen. The GOP is the party of Trump. As an extreme centrist, I’ll remain a registered Democrat and hope for the best.
Congressmen Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan of the so-called Freedom Coalition, famously or infamously (depending on your POV) filed a criminal referral with the DOJ against Michael Cohen, accusing him of perjury before the House Oversight Committee.
Strangely, it had nothing to do with Cohen’s describing the president as a racist, liar or conman. Perhaps it was Cohen’s suggestion that Trump was guilty of a criminal conspiracy while president to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels? Or, that he was guilty of bank fraud by knowingly inflating his net worth to Deutche Bank to obtain a 1 billion dollar loan? Or lying about actively pursuing a deal to build a Moscow Trump Tower during the campaign? Or stiffing small businessmen 500 times out of money he owed them? Nope! It was none of those things. They accused Cohen of lying about his own ambition, or lack of same, for a job in the Trump White House. Uhhh… Compared to this other stuff, who cares?
What’s notable about this is that their criminal referral exactly reflects the strategy employed by every GOP member of the committee. Not a single GOP questioner either defended the charges against the president, or attempted to debunk any of Cohen’s substantive accusations against Trump. Their lone attack against Cohen’s testimony was that Cohen is a liar. Well, that’s not news. The obvious weakness of that strategy is that Trump is the Liar-in-Chief! If Cohen can’t be trusted because he is an admitted liar in the service of Donald J. Trump, how does that help the president who makes Cohen look like the most honest man in the Trump organization? Moreover, whom do they expect to get testimony from? Finding a close associate of Donald Trump who hasn’t pled guilty to a felony, isn’t under indictment or an immunity deal or isn’t the subject of a criminal investigation is like finding a virgin in a house of ill repute.
The irony of all this is that 24 hours hadn’t elapsed before Trump himself and the latest Trump White House scandal completely sabotaged the GOP congressional narrative. Jordan, Meadows, and others all hung their hats on the argument that if you lie once, nothing you say can be trusted. Cohen is a convicted liar, so nothing he alleges should be taken seriously. Trump himself undermined that argument from the summit podium in Vietnam as he declared Cohen’s honesty regarding collusion with Russia. Cohen, according to Trump, testified that there was no collusion and that part of his testimony can be trusted. Of course, that isn’t what Cohen actually said. Then, less than a day transpired before it was absolutely and irrefutably documented that Trump, Ivanka and Jared Kushner’s attorney all lied on TV about how Jared received his Top Secret security clearance over the objections of the FBI, CIA, Chief of Staff Kelly and White House Counsel McGhan. Compared to Trump and his family, Cohen’s credibility and trustworthiness in the committee appears stellar, which I admit isn’t saying much.
The common wisdom is that we didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know as a result of Cohen’s public testimony, but I disagree. One thing we learned is that the Mueller investigation is almost certainly the sideshow. Cohen produced enough documents and names of potential witnesses to keep several congressional committees and federal and state prosecutors very busy for years. I literally can’t wait to hear from Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s long-time CFO who appears to have had a hand in every dollar coming in or going out in Trump World. We heard first-hand from the most inside man in the organization (whose name isn’t Trump) just how amoral and corrupt the everyday business culture of the Trump organization is and always has been.
But we also learned something else. We learned how the corrosion of public morality, ethics and trust works. For two years, the congressional GOP has turned a blind eye to Donald Trump’s daily lies, bullying tweet-storms and destruction of the norms and guardrails that have governed presidential behavior until now. They have silently watched our president wage rhetorical war against our/his own intelligence community, DOJ, the press, his former employees and even members of his own party who have the temerity and integrity to criticize him. They hitched their own political ambitions to the Trump train, knowing exactly what this president is all about.
Jordan, Meadows and their GOP colleagues who once stood for fiscal responsibility, and literally screamed bloody murder about Obama-era executive overreach, are now silent in the face of the biggest deficits in the history of the republic – all accrued during a period of economic growth, and defend what they know is a fictitious national emergency. They have sacrificed even the appearance of values and political integrity in a Faustian bargain with Donald J. Trump. And the real tragedy is that they seem totally unaware of the bargain they have made or the cost of that bargain, and it’s not a pretty sight! If the clock isn’t ticking on the Trump presidency, the road back to normalcy will be very long, indeed.
As I sit here writing, we are awaiting the impending release of the Mueller Report. I will fully accept those findings, whatever they are. Unfortunately for America, I am probably in the minority.
If the 2016 election taught me anything, it is to be very circumspect before making any predictions. If I had to predict, however, it would be that almost no one will be really satisfied with its findings. The reason? The true believers from both sides, and in these troubled times far too many Americans have become true believers, simply won’t believe the report unless it fully corroborates exactly what they already believe.
I have several friends who absolutely hate the Clintons. They think both of them deserve very long prison terms. When the names Comey and McCabe come up, they almost foam at the mouth. But Donald Trump can do no wrong. Let’s face it. There simply has never been such a prolific liar in the White House in the history of the Republic. Even Tricky Dick is a piker in the sheer shamelessness of Trump’s monumental mendacity. The man is a life-long serial liar! Every informed objective observer should agree to that. My Trump enthusiast friends, very bright and very well-informed people, when confronted with a well-documented Trumpian whopper, with complete sincerity and righteous indignation fully rationalize and explain away the lie. While their mastery of selective amnesia and denial of objective reality is truly impressive, however, it is highly corrosive to the foundations of representative democracy. We certainly don’t have to agree with each other about anything requiring an opinion, but if we live in alternative political universes, where for them up is down and down is up, elections don’t resolve anything. They only make things worse.
On the other hand, and there is almost always an “on the other hand” for an Extreme Centrist, I seriously doubt Mueller will find an indictable or what should be an impeachable offence against the president. Ultimately, the Southern District of New York may, but I doubt Mueller will. For my Trum- hating true believer friends, simply nothing short of that will do. It is not against the law to lie in public, even to the American people, or particularly unusual for a successful politician to be morally corrupt. In fact, it is almost a job requirement. For some reason that eludes me, however, they almost universally give the Clintons a pass while waxing eloquent over the moral turpitude of Donald Trump.
So, what is so special about the Trump presidency? Why is his presidency a disaster for America no matter what Mueller has found?
Other presidents have had illicit sexual affairs. Other presidents have lied, although not with the frequency and consistency of Trump. Other presidents as candidates engaged in questionable, perhaps even illegal campaign tactics. Other presidents may have determined foreign policy based on selfish personal interests. I’m not aware of any other president as a candidate paying hush money to mistresses. However, what no other president has ever done is normalize all these behaviors; to flaunt them in plain sight, express no shame and convince his political party and core base that even if he did all these things, it just doesn’t matter.
The bizarre “Alice Through the Looking Glass” aspect of all of this is:
- His party was once the party of family values.
- He and his supporters claim the mantle of conservatives, returning America to its traditional core values.
- His strongest most consistent voting bloc is Evangelical Christians!
I once lamented, soon after the Inauguration, that Trump was undermining the moral authority of the presidency. The reality is much worse. By normalizing these behaviors, by succeeding in convincing his constituency that none of this matters, he has destroyed the moral compass of America. When other presidents did these things and were caught, they experienced shame and disgrace. Indeed, the very folks who are Trump’s most committed supporters shamed his predecessors the most, even for much less egregious lies and behaviors. They still do, even while accepting the very worst in Donald Trump and with absolute conviction deny their gross hypocrisy. They believe their own horsehockey! They accept that American foreign policy doesn’t need to stand for any values other than crass self-interest, that America stands for nothing other than what Donald Trump tells them it stands for. They know he lies, believe his lies and, when his lies are revealed as lies, simply shrug their shoulders and implicitly say, “So what?”
This is what Post-Modernism looks like. A Trump world is a world without truth or objective reality. It is a world without morals or values. The very Americans, self-described conservatives and Evangelical Christians, who once resisted Post-Modernism the most, are now its prime enablers. Will America survive Donald Trump? Will we rediscover our moral compass as a society and political culture? The 2020 election may be our last best chance and it will likely depend on the character, charisma and competency of our next president. I pray to G-d for America’s sake he/she is the anti-Trump.