Escalation Dominance

Donald Trump always wins, even when he loses. That’s what all the bankruptcies were all about. Declare bankruptcy, say you’re broke and cannot pay off any outstanding loans or pay any vendor for any goods or services, and the courts will recover what they can for those who want to be paid – maybe ten cents on the dollar – but you’ve already made your money. No one can take from you what you’ve already spent. And you move on. No bank will ever lend you money again, but there are ways around that. Trump turned to the private division of Deutsche Bank to lend him perhaps two billion dollars over all the years. The commercial side of that back would have nothing to do with him – no bank would – but this was a private matter. Yes, Deutsche Bank has paid heavy fines for money laundering – billions in funds for rich Russian oligarchs – and will pay even more fines – but that Russian connection seems to be a coincidence. Both of Trump’s sons have also said most of Trump’s funding comes from Russian sources – and then they said they never said that at all, even if that’s on record. Who knows? There’s Saudi money too. It’s all a mystery, but Trump declares bankruptcy, no one gets paid, but there’s always money out there. He loses and he wins. When he doesn’t pay vendors – he’s notorious for that – they sue – and he sues them right back, for defamation. He has deep pockets. They don’t. They lose. He wins. He doesn’t pay his bills – he’s a real loser – and he wins. The guy who painted the walls at his new hotel can’t un-paint those walls, and there are always other vendors. Those vendors who merely warn others get sued too. That’s defamation too, and he has the deep pockets to ruin them too, and they know it. They shut up. He wins.

He always wins, because losing is, one way or another, winning. The Mueller report made him look like a total jerk, but he won that one too. He came across as such an awful person that the Democrats had no idea what to do:

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report gave House Democrats a road map for investigating President Trump and the cue they were waiting for – but the party was divided Friday over what, ultimately, should be their end game.

In one camp, a faction of Democrats determined to pursue impeachment of Trump was emboldened by the report, seizing on Mueller’s detailed findings about 10 potential instances of obstruction of justice to revive calls for delivering the ultimate congressional censure.

Ramping up the pressure for impeachment Friday were two presidential hopefuls – Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Julián Castro, former Housing and Urban Development secretary in the Obama administration.

“The severity of this misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty,” Warren said. “That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the president of the United States.”

Well, maybe not:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her leadership team have tamped down talk of impeachment, with a sense among top Democrats that the Mueller report – which many Democrats see as incriminating in its details of a president trying to undermine the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election – has changed nothing when it comes to the impeachment question.

Democratic leaders appear to be coalescing around a strategy of continuing their investigations of Trump, while arguing that their constitutional mandate doesn’t necessitate that they impeach the president — even if they agree he broke the law. Rather, they argue that Congress can unearth corrupt information about him – then take it to voters in the 2020 election…

Some Democrats see impeachment as a political exercise that could cost them the House majority and the presidency in 2020, and is largely futile with Republicans controlling the Senate.

That is, they’d fail to get rid of Trump – they just don’t have the votes in the Senate – while angering and energizing his base and disgusting swing voters, who’d wonder why they were wasting everyone’s time on something that was never going to work anyway, when they could have been doing something useful:

Democratic leaders have been in touch with lawmakers hosting town halls throughout the two-week congressional recess, and voters are rarely expressing a desire to impeach the president, according to one leadership official. Instead, constituents are focused on health care, transportation, jobs and prescription drugs…

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) highlighted that view during a CNN interview Thursday night when pressed on whether Congress had to impeach Trump for his actions.

Jeffries argued that “our primary focus has and will continue to be on executing our ‘For the People’ agenda as it relates to kitchen table pocketbook issues.” Rather, Congress, he said, would do their utmost to allow Mueller to tell his story in public through testimony, and promise to try to get the full document released to the public to illuminate the extent of what Democrats call Trump’s corruption.

“The avenue is not impeachment,” he said. “The avenue is further disclosure to the American people.”

And then let the American people decide, but there will be little disclosure:

The House Judiciary Committee, which would be tasked with starting any impeachment proceedings, on Friday issued a subpoena to the Justice Department for the full Mueller report by May 1, after the release of the redacted version on Thursday…

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec called the subpoena “premature and unnecessary” in light of how much of the report is already public, and because the Justice Department has already made arrangements for lawmakers to see a less-redacted version of it.

It’s all there. What is the matter with these folks? That would be this:

Democrats have maintained that it is difficult for them to weave all their potential lines of inquiry into one focused trajectory because they don’t know how it came together for Mueller – and for that, they fault Barr, who has not yet given lawmakers access to Mueller’s un-redacted product, much less the evidence that informed it.

But they actually will be able to see all of that, or four of them will, in a windowless soundproof secure room, for a few minutes, but they cannot take notes or discuss what they saw with anyone else at all. If they don’t like that they can sue, but Trump’s DOJ and his AG will sue right back. This could be in the courts for years, and here even if Trump loses he still wins. He could instruct Barr not to give the Democrats anything even if the Supreme Court eventually rules, unanimously, that Barr must do that. Who is going to enforce that Supreme Court decision? How many divisions does John Roberts have?

But impeachment is still possible:

Some Democratic investigators say it’s too early rule out an effort to oust the president.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, unequivocally backed impeachment in a statement Thursday evening, arguing that “Congress’ failure to impeach is complacency in the face of the erosion of our democracy and constitutional norms.”

“Congress’ failure to impeach would set a dangerous precedent and imperil the nation as it would vest too much power in the executive branch and embolden future officeholders to further debase the U.S. presidency, if that’s even possible,” said Waters, who is investigating Trump’s businesses and plans to continue to do so.

Maxine Waters will get what she needs from Deutsche Bank, eventually. She does have subpoena power. House Republicans have been sending letters to Deutsche Bank and major consulting firms – do NOT comply with any congressional subpoena if you know what’s good for you – but they may have to stop doing that. That seems illegal. No one has ever tried that before so that will have to be litigated, but that seems illegal.

That will have to be worked out, but for now it seems that Trump has won, by losing, again, and Andrew Sullivan rules things this way:

The merit of the Mueller report is that it gives us the whole narrative again, a chance to review the last three years with new perspective and fresh eyes, to get above the daily drizzle of short-attention-span disinformation and lies.

First of all, it lays out a foreign government’s extraordinary attempt to corrupt our democratic system – in very close and damning detail. At the same time, the report comes very close to destroying the notion that Donald J. Trump was and is a Russian agent, that his campaign was actively conspiring with a foreign government to hack and defeat his opponent in 2016, that Putin had (and still has) something that could be used to blackmail Trump, and that his foreign policy since has been dictated by the Kremlin.

The much more believable truth, in fact, is a large-scale version of that infamous “I love it!” Donald Jr. Email. The Trump campaign had no problem with foreign interference if it could help them, were eager and hopeful it would occur, publicly encouraged it… but never initiated this or followed through.

Team Trump was too disorganized and incompetent for any of that Russia stuff to be true. That’s winning by losing. And there’s a simple answer to that one big question:

Why the mutual love between Trump and Russia? The answer is overdetermined. Trump is an authoritarian; he reveres thugs and bullies and murderers and mobsters; he believes in an economy based on fossil fuels; he has a thing, believe it or not, for cult-worshipping kleptocracies. From Trump’s point of view, what’s not to like? Trump prefers Kim Jong-un to democratic leaders; and Bolsonaro and Duterte over May or Merkel. Putin has said nice things about him; and the CIA worried Trump might be compromised. Of course Trump prefers Putin to his own intelligence services. The idea that Trump could only be pro-Putin because Putin has some dirt on him is silly.

But then there is that other matter:

The conspiracy question is far less important than what Mueller discovered on obstruction of justice. Mueller quite rightly notes that obstruction of justice can easily occur even without an underlying crime. And his report, quite simply, is devastating. To be fair to the conspiracy believers, the lies and obstruction and abuse of power would, in most cases, suggest that the president is guilty of something criminal – and was obviously trying to cover it up. But this is not most cases and Trump is different. He needed no fear of being found guilty of treason to obstruct justice. He merely had to believe that the investigation would cloud his presidency and subject him to an authority beyond his control. This is something we now know his psyche cannot tolerate. In a contest between his own diseased ego and the rule of law, there has never been any contest.

And the rest just falls into place:

Of course he lied when he didn’t have to. And of course he tried to kill an investigation that might have embarrassed him, even if it would not convict him of a crime. Mueller spells it all out in agonizing detail. He kept pressuring his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to curtail or end the inquiry; he asked James Comey to be personally loyal and to go easy on his first national security adviser; he then fired the FBI director because he wouldn’t preemptively exonerate the president and because of the “Russia thing.” Once the investigation began, and Trump realized he could be vulnerable on obstruction of justice, he stepped up the obstruction!

Of course he did. He instructed White House counsel Don McGahn to get Mueller fired; he engaged in character assassination of potential witnesses; he “launched public attacks on the investigation and individuals involved in it who could possess evidence adverse to [him], while in private, [he] engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation.”

Mueller cites ten separate cases of obstruction. In six of them, he establishes an obstructive act; a link with an official proceeding; and a corrupt intent – which is to say there is no doubt that this is what Trump did six times. In another case, Mueller found substantial evidence of obstruction.

But wait, there’s more:

He dangled pardons for anyone who might incriminate him. His initial blandishments toward Michael Cohen shifted to calling him a “rat” as soon as he started cooperating with legal authorities. Donald McGahn’s recollection under oath of being told by Trump to get Mueller fired was met with Trump’s attempt to get McGahn to “do a correction” and lie to Mueller and the press. (Trump was amazed, like any criminal, that McGahn took notes.) He tried to identify someone “on the team” at the DOJ who could replace Sessions. He told his press secretary to lie to the public. Then there was a relentless, outrageous attempt to accuse the FBI of spying on Trump for partisan reasons, the CIA of trying to oust him, and to promote the Roy Cohn tactic of arguing that the only Russia conspiracy was actually that of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. He continuously described the investigation as a “hoax”, a witch hunt, entirely staffed by partisan Democrats, and is now angling to get his docile attorney general to initiate an investigation of public servants doing their job. All of this is outside the boundaries of any previous president, including Nixon. It’s appalling.

But wait, there’s more:

And then there is Trump’s persistent claim that a president is effectively above the rule of law. This is attorney general William Barr’s belief – that a president has total executive control over the administration of justice and can direct it away from himself for any reason with complete impunity. Yesterday Trump tweeted that “I had the right to end the whole Witch Hunt if I wanted to. I could have fired everyone, including Mueller, if I wanted to.”

Worth noting this claim for the future, don’t you think? The only reason he didn’t get rid of Mueller was because a handful of his underlings – Priebus, McGahn, and Sessions among them – resisted him. And so this is not just about past obstruction; it is about the very high likelihood of future obstruction. It’s about recrafting the rule of law into one where one man controls everything and can do anything he pleases.

And that’s the final straw:

All of this is an unprecedented series of impeachable offenses. It is a textbook definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It is the story of a president assaulting the rule of law, attempting to manipulate the justice system, dangling pardons to induce perjury, and reflexively putting his own personal interests – or simply ego – before any interest of the country as a whole.

Mueller openly states that his own investigation was thwarted by the president to the extent that the “the justice system’s integrity [was] threatened.” When a president openly threatens the integrity of the justice system, and says he has unlimited power to do so in the future, he not only can be impeached, he must be impeached.

Fine, but Sullivan sees issues with that:

I worry about pushing Trump into outright insanity. And I worry that the contemporary GOP is all too happy to create a presidency – as long as it’s theirs – beyond the rule of law. Even though no previous impeachment process has ever engaged in the kind of assault on our entire system of government that we see now before us, the GOP will protect their cult leader. They are far gone. There will never be enough Republican votes to convict.

So don’t do it, but for this:

What are the consequences of not impeaching? They are, it seems to me, real and immediate. Trump now has a Justice Department run by a loyalist who believes in total executive supremacy, and who has just revealed himself as a man willing to lie and deceive and distort to please his master. Every official who might have restrained this president is gone. There are almost no heads of agencies, and no dissent in the Cabinet. The country is effectively being ruled by a monarch and his court. Foreign policy has been given to family members. The Fed is being rigged to remove professionals and install loyal toadies. The judiciary is being filled with judges who defer to presidential power in every circumstance. We have a president who only last week told his new acting DHS secretary, Kevin McAleenan, to break the law if necessary to stop asylum seekers from entering the country, and that he’d have his back and pardon him if he got into trouble. In any other time, that alone would demand impeachment. We know now, however, that this is just one instance of a clear pattern of lawlessness.

So do it:

What more do we need to know? To refuse to use the one weapon the Founders gave us to remove such a character from office is more than cowardice. It is complicity. It is surrendering to forces which aim to make the world safe for authoritarianism. It may not work. But if we acquiesce, pretend it isn’t happening, or look away, it cannot work.

So do it:

How long before we take a stand? Mueller has given us the road map. He has done his duty. Now it’s our turn to do ours: “to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Impeach Trump now? And, after the Democratic House impeaches him, and then the Republican Senate holds the trial and refuses to convict him, and he stays in office, smirking, then what? He will have exited one more bankruptcy again, winning by losing.

What should the nation do about this guy? Michael Hirsh, in an item in Foreign Policy, finds this strange hint:

Following in the footsteps of Alexis de Tocqueville, Gérard Araud has made a study of the United States while serving as France’s ambassador to Washington for nearly five years. Araud has also frequently expressed frank opinions on the fate of the West, sometimes on Twitter. After a stellar career in the French Foreign Service that earned him a reputation as an able negotiator on Middle East issues and took him to an ambassadorship in Israel, as well as to senior positions at NATO and the United Nations, Araud officially retired on April 19. He plans to publish a memoir of his experiences this year. Araud, 66, sat down with Foreign Policy to give his parting reflections on how to handle U.S. presidents -based on his own experience with Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

Gérard Araud says this:

On one side, you had this ultimate bureaucrat, an introvert, basically a bit aloof, a restrained president. A bit arrogant also but basically somebody who every night was going to bed with 60-page briefings and the next day they were sent back annotated by the president. And suddenly you have this president who is an extrovert, really a big mouth, who reads basically nothing or nearly nothing, with the interagency process totally broken and decisions taken from the hip basically.

Trump and his seemingly random tweets were a major problem:

I will tell you the advice I gave to Paris about the tweets. He once criticized the French president [Emmanuel Macron], and people called me from Paris to say, “What should we do?”

My answer was clear: “Nothing.” Do nothing because he will always outbid you. Do nothing because he can’t accept appearing to lose. You have restraint on your side, and he has no restraint on his side, so you lose. It is escalation dominance.

So do nothing. Let him think he’s won. And then go about your business. And win. He probably won’t notice.

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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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1 Response to Escalation Dominance

  1. David White says:

    I think the Trump era will end in the dissolution of one of the political parties; I’m just not sure at this point which one.

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