Not the End of the World

“Ten years from now we’ll look back at all this and laugh.” Someone always says that when things seem dire, and it might be true. It might even be helpful. No one remembers what the dire crisis was ten years ago, or if they do, it doesn’t seem all that important now. Ten years ago the markets crashed – the subprime mortgage crisis – but the world didn’t end. That sort of lending nonsense ended. No one really looks back and laughs about all of that – there was too much pain – but the nation elected a Democrat, Barack Obama, to put the brakes on the deregulate-everything Republican nonsense that caused the pain. A totally free-market system doesn’t fix itself because foregoing quick easy profits is in the rational self-interest of everyone involved. That didn’t work. Taking those quick easy profits, and then hiding, was too tempting. That was rational self-interest too – but all that is over now. Of course it will happen again. That deregulate-everything Republican nonsense has returned – it always does – but, for now, there’s no crisis. It’s okay to look back and laugh, at least a little. The world didn’t end.

Ten years from now we may all look back at all this Trump nonsense and laugh, if we’re not all dead. This week did end in a flurry of nonsense:

President Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani sought Friday to clean up a series of comments he had made about a settlement with an adult-film actress who allegedly had a relationship with Trump, backtracking on his previous assertions about what the president knew and why the payment was made.

The cautious wording of the written statement released by Giuliani stood in sharp contrast to his previous two days of wide-ranging television and print interviews in which, according to legal experts, he exposed his client to greater legal risks and might have compromised his own attorney-client privilege with the president.

And by the end of the week no one knew what anyone’s story was in this matter, or what might be true, and this Washington Post item goes on to cover all the possibilities and contradictions and implications in detail, which in ten years will be good for a loud long laugh and not matter very much. But this might matter:

Despite the fallout from his comments, Giuliani still appeared to be in good graces with the president, according to people familiar with his standing. The two men continued to confer privately about how to handle the Daniels matter, without consulting with the White House communications shop or the White House counsel’s office.

In an interview Friday with The Washington Post, Giuliani said Trump was not mad at him. “He says he loves me,” Giuliani said.

For his part, Trump told reporters Friday that Giuliani, who joined the legal team April 19, “just started a day ago” and is “learning the subject matter.”

“He knows it’s a witch hunt,” the president added. “He’ll get his facts straight.”

That’s odd. Trump and Giuliani are making this up as they go along, not telling the White House communications shop, and specifically Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary, anything at all – and she goes out there almost daily to explain to the press, and to the American people, what’s really going on. Now she has had to say, on this and other matters, that she has no idea what’s really going on. Sooner or later someone in the White House press corps will ask her a simple question or two. Why are you up there talking to us? Why should anyone believe anything you say?

She’s an unhappy woman, but she’s not alone:

In his statement, Giuliani also said it was “undisputed” that Trump had the constitutional power to fire former FBI director James B. Comey, which he did last year. Trump’s action is among those under scrutiny by Mueller as part of his investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 election.

Giuliani appeared to be backing away from an assertion he made earlier this week that the president acted out of frustration that Comey wouldn’t publicly state that the president was not under investigation by the FBI.

That statement raised concerns among some legal experts who said that Giuliani seemed to indicate Comey was fired over the Russia investigation – and that such an admission could further an obstruction-of-justice probe involving the president.

Inside the White House, there is sensitivity among his counsel Donald McGahn and others about the Comey firing, an official said, and Giuliani’s comments were seen as “not helpful.”

And this wasn’t helpful either:

Trump also told reporters Friday that if he could be treated fairly, he would “love to speak” to federal prosecutors investigating ties between his campaign and Russia. He said he would do so even over the objections of his lawyers – if he could be convinced that the Russia probe is not a “witch hunt.”

“I would love to speak. I would love to go,” Trump said. “Nothing I want to do more, because we did nothing wrong.”

But, he added, “I have to find that we’re going to be treated fairly. Right now, it’s a pure witch hunt.”

His lawyers are tearing their hair out, but the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus sees this:

We’re missing something important, indeed fundamental, in all the legal-political chatter about whether President Trump will answer questions from the special counsel and what might happen if he refuses.

We need to keep in mind: This is the president, not an ordinary witness – or, to be more precise, ordinary subject – in a run-of-the-mill criminal investigation. That fact counsels, on the part of prosecutors, more respect for the president’s time and office than in the usual case. But it also calls for, on the part of the chief executive, more respect for and accommodation of the reasonable needs of the criminal justice system.

Please stop laughing. I know.

There’s no need to wait ten years. This president is not big on respect and accommodation:

This president has, for months, demonstrated the precise opposite, seeking to undermine the legitimacy of the Justice Department generally and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in particular. “This is a witch hunt like nobody has ever seen before,” Trump said Friday of Mueller’s probe. “The problem we have is that you have 13 people – they’re all Democrats, and they’re real Democrats; they’re angry Democrats.”

No, they’re mostly Republicans, and Trump appointed some of them to office. Trump cannot be that misinformed. He may be losing it if he now actually believes that – or, more likely, he’s just lying, knowing the rubes will believe that. That has always worked for him before, but Marcus says this is the behavior we should expect from a president:

In the current context, that would not only mean refraining from the kind of scurrilous criticism that has emanated from the president and his minions about the Justice Department and the Mueller investigation. See, for another example, Rudy Giuliani describing the New York FBI agents who raided the office, home and hotel room of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen as “Stormtroopers.”

It would also include a pledge to cooperate, to the extent possible, with investigators’ requests for documents or testimony. (This was, in fact, the approach of soon-to-depart White House lawyer Ty Cobb.) Yes, attorneys for an ordinary person in Trump’s circumstances would strongly advise him not to voluntarily answer questions from Mueller’s team. That advice would be amped up a thousand-fold by the reality-bending nature of Trump’s ordinary discourse, and the attendant additional legal jeopardy that presents.

But do we not, or at least, should we not, demand more of a president than that he protects his own legal interests? Not out of the goodness of his heart – that naive I’m not – but out of a sense that the public expects more than simple compliance with the letter of the law and, more to the point, will punish a president who fails to live up to a higher standard.

Will the public punish a president who fails to live up to a higher standard? Ten years from now we may all laugh about that, but at the moment, Marcus isn’t laughing:

That it is possible, now, to imagine Trump taking the Fifth and surviving is a measure of the brilliance and effectiveness of his scorched-earth strategy to discredit the investigation and investigators. If everything is rigged and everyone is crooked, good-faith compliance is for chumps. But buying Trump’s narrative would make chumps of us all and a laughingstock of the rule of law. We cannot let that happen.

What if no one cared? John Harwood reports that is happening:

Most Americans have considered Trump dishonest throughout his time in office. They judge his character indecent. But that no longer drives change in their judgments of his presidency.

The president’s legal jeopardy seized this week’s headlines. Exposure of specific falsehoods concerning the Daniels case scandalized even Trump-friendly quarters of the political world, drawing condemnations from Fox News and The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Yet pollsters in both parties say the rank-and-file voters who will decide this year’s midterm elections are more apt to yawn. By now it takes blockbuster information to shift their assessments of Trump, and details about porn-star hush money, as titillating as they sound, do not qualify.

In fact, no one cares:

In a Quinnipiac University poll last month, six in 10 Americans said they believed Trump had an affair with Daniels and knew about the hush money. But seven in 10 said it wasn’t important.

Quinnipiac has measured views of Trump’s honesty since his term began. The proportion of Americans who consider him dishonest has never fallen below 54 percent.

Of two big targets he frequently accuses of lying, ex-FBI Director James Comey and the news media, Quinnipiac found that majorities trust them more than the president. Fully 55 percent overall – 16 percent of Republicans, 53 percent of independents, and 92 percent of Democrats – said Trump lacks “a sense of decency.”

Those assessments have damaged the president and fellow Republicans. Fewer Americans approve his job performance than that of any recent predecessor at the same point, even with the economy humming and international affairs comparatively calm.

But all of that doesn’t matter:

Views of Trump’s character have largely lost their ability to change his current standing. As unflattering information keeps accumulating, the share of Americans approving of him has ticked up from slightly below, to slightly above, 40 percent.

After 16 months, Americans have grown accustomed to Trump in the White House. The longer he serves without economic downturn or war, the more inured they become to his behavior.

“People have concluded that he’s a liar,” explained Mark Mellman, a leading Democratic pollster. “He lies every day. People know it.”

At the same time, “The world hasn’t come to an end,” Mellman added

That’s the key thing here. There’s no need to wait ten years to shrug and laugh ruefully, but Republicans aren’t laughing:

History shows that any president’s standing represents a crucial determinant of his party’s fate in midterm elections. Trump’s weak ratings mirror the significant Republican deficit in polls measuring preferences for control of Congress this fall, giving Democrats a chance to recapture the House and Senate.

As it stands now, said Democratic pollster Margie Omero, deepening Trump scandals harden existing opposition to the president and “make it incredibly hard for Republicans to turn their fortunes around.”

That’s a bit dire, as is this:

Views on the economy pose a larger and more immediate variable. Passage of tax cuts last December showed a GOP-controlled Washington could get something done. But relatively few voters tell pollsters they believe they’ll benefit. So far, the tax cuts have produced little political or economic dividend. Potential fallout from the trade wars Trump keeps threatening has alarmed Republican lawmakers from agriculture and auto-producing states.

More critically for Republicans, the small minority of voters most susceptible to changing their minds still haven’t arrived at a verdict about Trump’s effect on their lives. One in five of his 2016 voters viewed him unfavorably even as they elected him.

Still, the world hasn’t come to an end. He might be fine, but Adam Schiff, a former federal prosecutor and the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, does note this:

It is clear that if President Trump participated in a conspiracy to defraud the United States during the campaign by colluding with the Russians, there is a historical basis for the Senate to remove him from office. It is even more clear that if he committed the offense of obstruction of justice while in office, that would provide a legal basis for removal…

At the beginning of this investigation, it was a strictly a matter of counterintelligence. On the routine level, we needed to know if members of Trump’s campaign were putting themselves in a position to be blackmailed. On a more nefarious level, we needed to know if people around Trump were making promises to the Russians in return for assistance with the campaign. Some of the information that was collected was alarming enough to turn a counterintelligence investigation into a criminal investigation, meriting FISA warrants and other surveillance.

When Trump unexpectedly won, there were two immediate problems. One was that it looked probable that his incoming national security adviser was compromised by the Russians, at best, and actively working as their agent at worst. There was also extremely concerning information on former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates. And the intelligence community had evidence that members of Trump’s campaign – including some of his foreign policy advisers – had been in direct contact with Russian intelligence and had been tipped off about the DNC hacks. We were going to swear in a president who could be exposed by the Russians at any time and who had a long list of subordinates who were subject to blackmail.

Schiff, however, is urging his fellow Democrats, who may win the House and even the Senate, to stop all this talk about impeachment:

The legal standard for what constitutes a high crime or misdemeanor is less important than the practical and political standard that must be met in any impeachment case. And while that political standard cannot be easily or uniformly defined, I think in the present context it means the following: Was the president’s conduct so incompatible with the office he holds that Democratic and Republican members of Congress can make the case to their constituents that they were obligated to remove him?

If they cannot, if impeachment is seen by a substantial part of the country as merely an effort to nullify an election by other means, there will be no impeachment, no matter how high the crime or serious the misdemeanor.

In short, this is not the time to talk about any of that:

Should the facts warrant impeachment, that case will be made more difficult politically if part of the country feels that removing Mr. Trump is the result that some of their fellow Americans were wishing for all along.

During the course of our investigation in the House Intelligence Committee, we have found troubling evidence of both collusion and obstruction of justice. The special counsel, Robert Mueller, has no doubt seen even more than we have, but his investigation is not complete, and our efforts continue as well. There is much more work to do before any of us can say whether the evidence rises to the level that we should consider a remedy beyond the one that voters will render at the ballot box.

Schiff advises this for now:

Given the evidence that is already public, I can well understand why the president fears impeachment and seeks to use the false claim that Democrats are more interested in impeachment than governing to rally his base. Democrats should not take the bait.

Let President Trump arouse his voters as he will, while Democrats continue to focus on the economy, family and a return to basic decency.

And ten years from now we’ll look back at all this and laugh, but Martin Longman is having none of that:

If you look at the Articles of Impeachment that the House Judiciary Committee adopted on July 27, 1974, you’ll notice that there is nothing in there to suggest that either of the presidential campaign victories that Nixon enjoyed were illegitimate.

In part, this was because Congress did not yet have the evidence to prove that Nixon had actively worked to scuttle peace talks in Vietnam during the 1968 campaign. In part, it was because his 1972 victory had been so decisive that no one could plausibly argue that anything underhanded that Nixon did during that campaign was necessary for his victory.

At the time, the reasons for removing Nixon from office had nothing to do with the integrity of his elections or whether or not he should have ever assumed the presidency in the first place.

Trump’s case is different.

Longman says this is more serious than Watergate:

While the third-rate burglary of the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee did not produce damaging information that harmed George McGovern’s prospects of victory, the Russians’ electronic burglary of the Democratic National Committee was almost definitely a decisive factor in the 2016 election. With an election so close that it was decided by a narrow margin of votes in three states, you can point to a long list of things that were consequential enough to have changed the outcome. Some of those things can be laid right on the door of Hillary Clinton and her strategists, like the decision not to campaign at all in Wisconsin. But absent the leaks from the Russians, it’s highly doubtful that Donald Trump would have won.

This is why this controversy is more serious than Watergate. It’s more comparable to Nixon’s decision to tell the South Vietnamese to delay making a peace deal with the North Vietnamese before the 1968 election. President Lyndon Johnson called Nixon’s move “treason” and it certainly wound up costing a lot of people, including Americans, their lives. Concern about his treachery being exposed probably played no small part in Nixon’s later criminal activities once in office. He had definitely handed the South Vietnamese government some leverage against him, although they were too dependent on America to seriously contemplate using it. Russia doesn’t have the same limitations, and their leverage against the president is ongoing and will be perpetual until he is removed from office.

If people had known what Nixon had done to assure himself victory in 1968, they would have considered it grounds for removal far more compelling than anything that was contained in his actual articles of impeachment – and that’s precisely because it implicated the legitimacy of his election. Once a president is legitimately elected, there’s always an argument that the people should take the responsibility for punishing his bad behavior by voting him out of office. That’s certainly preferable to Congress having to take on that responsibility.

In the case where the election was illegitimate, however, we have to consider the importance of future deterrence. We don’t want candidates for office thinking they can become president by enlisting a foreign power to commit burglaries against their political opponents. We also can’t leave the application of justice to the voters. If the voters reelect a criminal president, then not only do the crimes go unpunished but crime is rewarded and entrenched.

That is something to consider, if anyone cares anymore, but maybe they should:

We have a president who is compromised by the Russians and who is only president because of their illegal assistance. Even if he were otherwise competent, these factors would make his removal justified and urgent. The way to get consensus on this is not to argue the case, as I have been doing. Consensus will come, to the degree that it will ever come, from the presentation of the evidence… When the time comes for elected Democrats to make the case, we will all know it. In the meantime, the rest of us can and should say what we want.

Longman just told Adam Schiff to stuff it. Democrats and everyone else should be talking, right now, about impeachment to follow as soon as possible. But for many, the world hasn’t ended just yet, and ten years from now perhaps we’ll all look back at all this and laugh, if we’re still here, and if America is still here. It may not be here.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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