Shared Psychosis at the National Level

That was an odd day. The House Judiciary Committee held its first impeachment hearing, with four quite impressive legal scholars debating whether President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine constituted impeachable offenses. Three said yes, definitely. The fourth said maybe not, or maybe not yet. And the Republicans on the committee were very angry. This shouldn’t be happening. The whole process was illegitimate. This was a coup. And this was what everyone expected. Both sides had dug in long ago. No one was going to give an inch, or give a damn what the other side said.

But odd things were happening in the background:

A group of mental health professionals led by a trio of pre-eminent psychiatrists is urging the House Judiciary Committee to consider Donald Trump’s “dangerous” mental state arising from his “brittle sense of self-worth” as part of its inquiry into whether to approve articles of impeachment against him.

“We are speaking out at this time because we are convinced that, as the time of possible impeachment approaches, Donald Trump has the real potential to become ever more dangerous, a threat to the safety of our nation,” said Yale Medical School Professor Dr Bandy Lee, George Washington University Professor Dr John Zinner, and former CIA profiler Dr Jerrold Post in a statement which will be sent to House Judiciary Committee members on Thursday.

The statement will be accompanied by a petition with at least 350 signatures from mental health professionals endorsing their conclusions.

All three psychiatrists have said they are willing to testify as part of the impeachment inquiry.

This was a bit off-topic. They offered no opinion on whether Trump should be impeached or not. They were issuing a warning – keep this up, or even worse, pass articles of impeachment, and we all could die:

Dr Lee acknowledged that members of congress – especially Republicans who are supportive of the president – might dismiss the warning she and her colleagues are delivering as just a product of differences of political opinion, but stressed that the fact that they should be taken seriously because their training enables them to recognize Mr Trump is exhibiting “definitive signs of severe pathology of someone who requires an advanced level of care” and who “meets every criterion of lacking a rational decision making capacity”.

“The one thing that we are trained to do is to distinguish between what is healthy and what is abnormal, and when the pattern of abnormality fits, then we recognize that it is pathology and not part of the wide variation of which healthy human beings are capable,” she said. “What we recognize is a pattern of disease and that may look like another political ideology or another political style to the everyday person who is unfamiliar with pathology, but to us it is a very recognizable pattern.”

Dr Lee explained that the president’s continued embrace conspiracy theories was actually a public health issue because of his ability to draw members of the public into a “shared psychosis at the national level”.

And of course they were ignored. What was Congress supposed to do with that? One party’s shared psychosis at the national level they will call the flat-out truth. There is a “deep state” – the CIA and NSA and FBI and all the other intelligence services, and the state department too. They conspired to defeat Trump in 2016 and they’re trying to overthrow him now. The voters don’t matter. The “deep state” hates democracy. The “deep state” hates America. And the “deep state” hates Donald Trump.

This is a conspiracy, a secret plot to take over the government, and the Trump folks can prove it, and then that blew up:

The prosecutor handpicked by Attorney General William P. Barr to scrutinize how U.S. agencies investigated President Trump’s 2016 campaign said he could not offer evidence to the Justice Department’s inspector general to support the suspicions of some conservatives that the case was a setup by American intelligence, people familiar with the matter said.

Some conservatives – everyone at Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones and all the rest, and Donald Trump – got the bad news:

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s office contacted U.S. Attorney John Durham, the prosecutor Barr personally tapped to lead a separate review of the 2016 probe into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, the people said. The inspector general also contacted several U.S. intelligence agencies.

Among Horowitz’s questions: whether a Maltese professor who interacted with a Trump campaign adviser was actually a U.S. intelligence asset deployed to ensnare the campaign, the people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the inspector general’s findings have not been made public.

But the intelligence agencies said the professor was not among their assets, the people said. And Durham informed Horowitz’s office that his investigation had not produced any evidence that might contradict the inspector general’s findings on that point.

John Durham looked where he was told to look. He dug deep. There was nothing there. Michael Horowitz’s office asked again and again. Was there anything there? Nope. There was no “deep state” conspiracy:

The previously unreported interaction with Durham is noted in a draft of Horowitz’s forthcoming report on the Russia investigation, which concludes that the FBI had adequate cause to launch its Russia investigation, people familiar with the matter said.

And that hurt:

Trump and his allies have relentlessly criticized the FBI probe, which was taken over by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, as a “witch hunt” and pushed for investigations of those who launched it. They have been eagerly anticipating the release of Horowitz’s report in hopes the watchdog with a nonpartisan reputation might validate their attacks.

Barr told CBS News in May that some of the facts he had learned about the Russia case “don’t hang together with the official explanations of what happened.” He declined to be more specific…

Horowitz’s draft report concludes that political bias did not taint how top FBI officials running the investigation handled the case, people familiar with the matter said.

So much for that shared psychosis at a national level. That was madness. But that trio of pre-eminent psychiatrists may be worried for nothing, because this president can control himself:

The British Conservative Party was given a huge boost on Wednesday when Donald Trump left the U.K. without smashing up its election strategy. The U.S. president was supposed to hold a press conference at the end of a gathering of NATO leaders but canceled it, saying he had answered enough questions.

“We won’t be doing a press conference at the close of NATO because we did so many over the past two days. Safe travels to all!” the commander-in-chief said on Twitter.

And then he left early. He got the hell out of town as fast as he could, but no one had a problem with that:

This means U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived the Trump visit without any extra obstacles being put in his way ahead of the December 12 vote.

“There are huge sighs of relief all round,” said Conservative ex-Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell, who is fighting to keep his Sutton Coldfield seat in the election. “It’s a great triumph for the prime minister.”

That is to say, Johnson dodged a bullet:

Johnson spent two days working hard to avoid being pictured with Trump, who is deeply unpopular in the U.K. He did not greet the president at the door of Downing Street when world leaders arrived for a reception on Wednesday night. The only photos of Johnson and Trump together were the full NATO group shot and the obligatory opening handshake snap.

They also didn’t hold a joint press conference. Instead, they had a late-night, one-to-one meeting in Downing Street’s grand White Room, which was not announced in advance and was mentioned on the U.K. government website with little fanfare afterward.

Johnson even swerved mentioning Trump by name when he held his own press conference at the end of the NATO meeting. Asked if he thought the president was good for the West, the PM said the U.S. had “massively contributed to NATO, has been for 70 years a pillar of stability for our collective security.”

Trump? Who? Johnson doesn’t like the guy:

On the campaign trail on Tuesday, he insisted he wanted to push ahead with a French-style tax on U.S. tech giants – a major point of contention between Trump and Macron. “I do think we need to look at the operation of the big digital companies and the amount of tax that they pay,” Johnson told reporters. “They need to make a fairer contribution.”

During his press conference on Wednesday, he also appeared to reject a demand from Trump that the U.K. take back British-born Islamic State fighters currently held by the U.S. in Syria.

Trump bit his tongue:

Trump helped Johnson when he said he would not want the British health service included in a U.S.-U.K. trade deal after Brexit, even if it were offered “on a silver platter.” The opposition Labour Party has made hay with leaked documents which they claim show U.S. and U.K. negotiators discussed drug patents in preliminary talks on a deal…

During his press conference on Wednesday, a relieved Johnson insisted the NHS would not be on the table in a trade deal with the U.S. “Everybody by now has rumbled this for the nonsense it is,” he said.

But it wasn’t nonsense for a bit – we should be able to sell the NHS our pharmaceuticals at our prices – nine hundred percent higher than they’ve ever seen over there – and then that wasn’t what Trump wanted. Trump needs friends. He also needs to prove that he forced all NATO members to chip in ten times more, because that’s the Art of the Deal and he is the master of that. He needs something good he can point to next year, a reason he should be reelected. He fixed NATO. He loves NATO. So he behaved himself this time.

That wasn’t easy, as the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker report here:

President Trump, who has demeaned his domestic political rivals for being laughed at around the world, found himself the scorned child on the global playground at a NATO summit here Wednesday, as widely circulated video showed leaders gossiping about and mocking him.

The video, captured at a Buckingham Palace reception Tuesday evening, appeared to show Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and others laughing about Trump’s freewheeling news conferences earlier in the day. “I just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor,” Trudeau told the others, dropping his hand toward the ground to dramatize his retelling.

And so it was Wednesday morning that Trump presented a sulking, brooding president, as he slapped down Trudeau as “two-faced” and engaged with other foreign counterparts at a secluded estate here outside London.

He was snide but that was about it:

Though his conduct here fit his pattern of disruption at international summits, Trump did not make the fiery threats that have punctuated previous gatherings. NATO leaders were almost giddy as they survived another encounter with Trump with their alliance intact. Trump’s canceled news conference – eliminating one last chance for him to take aim at them – was to many the departure gift.

And that was that, but not quite:

The day’s drama centered on Trump and Trudeau, who previously feuded at the Group of Seven summit in 2018. Asked Wednesday by journalists about Trudeau’s mockery, Trump fired back at the Canadian prime minister.

“Well, he’s two-faced,” Trump said of Trudeau. “And honestly, with Trudeau, he’s a nice guy. I find him to be a very nice guy. But, you know, the truth is that I called him out on the fact that he’s not paying 2 percent, and I guess he’s not very happy about it.”

During their Tuesday meeting, Trump needled Trudeau over Canada’s defense spending, labeling the country “slightly delinquent” for failing to meet NATO’s defense spending guidelines for member nations of 2 percent of gross domestic product.

Trump was later caught on an audio recording bragging to an unidentified summit attendee, “That was funny when I said that guy was two-faced.”

No, that was just a junior high girl lashing out. He’d been slammed. And the New York Times’s Katie Rogers and Annie Karni see that French President Emmanuel Macron is the one who really knows how to play Donald Trump:

By the time their 45-minute appearance at the American ambassador’s residence in London was over, the French leader had managed a rare role reversal, putting Mr. Trump on the defensive about his vision for NATO and his handling of a military conflict involving Turkey, and swatting away the president’s joke about sending Islamic State fighters from Syria to France …

When asked during the afternoon meeting to address his earlier comments about Mr. Macron, Mr. Trump, a leader averse to face-to-face confrontation, initially demurred. When it was his turn to speak, Mr. Macron was direct.

“My statement created some reactions,” Mr. Macron said. “I do stand by it.” …

Mr. Trump slumped back in his chair, while Mr. Macron sat on the edge of his chair, bobbing and gesturing energetically.

Mr. Macron’s aggressive approach appeared at times to unsettle Mr. Trump.

Dan Drezner has a theory about why that is so:

Manipulating children into doing what you want by pretending to demand they do the opposite thing is a trick most parents learn to use. It usually stops working around the age of five.

Trump is biologically older than five, but his oppositional behavior has been prominent throughout his political life. During the 2016 campaign, Howard Kurtz reported that Trump’s aides labeled this “defiance disorder.” In 2017, Axios’ Mike Allen reported, “Aides say the quickest way to get Trump to do something is to tell him he can’t.” There’s an entire chapter in my forthcoming book devoted to how Trump’s oppositional behavior is akin to that of a toddler.

So is it that simple? Did Macron figure out that the way to get the best of Trump is to exploit his psychological weaknesses such as defiance disorder and an abhorrence of direct confrontation to get him to support NATO?

It’s not quite that simple. Politico’s David M. Herszenhorn suggests that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also deserves some credit, as he has spent the past three years doing what he can to make Trump happy.

There is something to that, although the degree to which Stoltenberg has attempted to please Trump seems like toddler psychology as well.

That trio of pre-eminent psychiatrists might have been right after all:

What will be interesting to see is whether other leaders, sick of flattering Trump with little to show from it, follow Macron’s example. There is another possibility, however: Trump reads stories about Macron getting the best of him and throws a temper tantrum at the actual meeting.

With Trump, one is never entirely certain which toddler trait will come to the forefront.

Paul Waldman puts that this way:

For someone who has spent much of his life obsessed with the idea of being laughed at, desperate to gain acceptance from the elites he simultaneously scorns and seeks approval from, whether it’s Manhattan’s moneyed establishment, Ivy League intellectuals or the leaders of other countries, it must have cut him to the bone.

And he may be a bit crazy:

Trump’s preoccupation with the idea of being laughed at borders on the pathological. It was his primary theme as a candidate whenever he discussed foreign affairs or international trade: China is laughing at us, Europe is laughing at us, the Taliban is laughing at us, OPEC is laughing at us, the world is laughing at us. But once he became president, he promised, the laughter would stop. And so he has asserted many times since taking office. “We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won’t be,” he said.

Yet now, there is literally not a single person on Earth who gets laughed at more than Donald Trump.

It becomes particularly vivid when Trump finds himself amid foreigners, when he lacks either the solid background of his own White House behind him or a cheering crowd of Republicans in front of him. In those contexts, he is exposed, vulnerable, trying to assert command and primacy to people who see him as a buffoon.

And that actually may be dangerous:

Trump’s global unpopularity can affect American interests. When other world leaders find political advantage in distancing themselves from our president, it means they’ll be more eager to find ways to oppose American initiatives. Our alliances won’t collapse, but they’ll be weaker than they would be if the American president wasn’t viewed with such contempt around the world.

And Trump certainly is. Since he took office, publics in other countries have been far more likely to view America as a threat and far less likely to have a favorable view of the United States, which makes everything we try to accomplish in cooperation with other countries more difficult.

And as the time of possible impeachment approaches, Donald Trump has the real potential to become ever more dangerous, a threat to the safety of our nation. Didn’t someone just say that?

Yes, and this was inevitable too:

Former Vice President Joe Biden released an ad on Wednesday capitalizing on the viral video showing several top NATO leaders appearing to chuckle about Trump, saying that the “world is laughing at” the president.

“The world sees Trump for what he is: insincere, ill-informed, corrupt, dangerously incompetent, and incapable, in my view of world leadership.” Biden’s voice says. “And if we give Donald Trump four more years, we’ll have a great deal of difficulty of ever being able to recover America’s standing in the world, and our capacity to bring nations together.”

Biden’s ad also highlights the moment Trump appeared to be mocked by world leaders during a speech at the United Nations last year.

“In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” Trump declared, and audible laughter is heard from the audience afterward.

This sort of thing could drive Trump over the edge, but he will be impeached:

The spirited exchange unfolded as the Judiciary Committee began determining which impeachment charges to lodge against Mr. Trump based on an investigation by the House Intelligence Committee. The president abused his power, sought to subvert an American election and endangered national security when he pressured Ukraine for political favors, Democrats said.

In an investigative report released on Tuesday, they also concluded that Mr. Trump pressured President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to announce investigations into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats, while withholding a White House meeting and $391 million in vital security assistance.

Within days and despite unanimous Republican opposition, the panel could begin drafting and debating articles of impeachment, eyeing a vote by the full House before Christmas. Democrats signaled on Wednesday that the charges could be based not just on the Ukraine matter but also on earlier evidence that Mr. Trump may have obstructed justice when he sought to thwart federal investigators scrutinizing his campaign’s ties to Russia’s election interference operation.

This was intense, for four quite impressive but rather nerdy legal scholars:

Invoking arguments between the framers of the Constitution and impeachment precedents dating to monarchical England, the scholars dissected the quality of the evidence before the House and how to define at least one possible impeachment charge, bribery.

The three law professors invited by Democrats said that Mr. Trump’s behavior was not only an egregious abuse of his power for personal gain, but the textbook definition of the kind of conduct that the nation’s founders sought to guard against when they drafted the impeachment clause of the Constitution.

“If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable,” Michael J. Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina, told the panel. “This is precisely the misconduct that the framers created the Constitution, including impeachment, to protect against.”

But a fourth witness, Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, cautioned House Democrats against rushing into an impeachment based on an incomplete set of facts and overly broad standards. He conceded that the president’s conduct may have been impeachable, but said Democrats risked tainting the validity of the Constitution’s only remedy for grave presidential misconduct outside an election.

“I am concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger,” he said.

Well, there was a lot of that:

Within the first half-hour of the hearing, it was clear that the proceedings had entered a more cantankerous stage. The panel, stacked with some of the House’s most ideologically progressive and conservative lawmakers, lived up to its reputation. Republicans repeatedly sought to halt the proceedings with parliamentary demands, while the Democrats pressed forward.

Republicans on the panel, some of Mr. Trump’s most ardent defenders, sought to portray the case against him as a political hit job. And they disputed forcefully that Democrats had proved that Mr. Trump directed a pressure campaign on Ukraine.

“This is not an impeachment,” said Representative Doug Collins, Republican of Georgia. “This is simply a railroad job, and today is a waste of time.”

That’s what the Big Guy said:

Mr. Trump, in Britain for the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, called impeachment “a dirty word that should only be used in special occasions.”

When the hearing concluded, his spokeswoman dismissed the proceedings as a “sham process,” proclaimed the president’s innocence, and branded the opinions of the three legal scholars called by Democrats as the product of “political bias.”

Stephen Colbert explained that well enough many years ago – “It is a well-known fact that reality has liberal bias.”

And then there’s his 2007 book I Am America (And So Can You!):

Tomorrow you’re all going to wake up in a brave new world, a world where the Constitution gets trampled by an army of terrorist clones, created in a stem-cell research lab run by homosexual doctors who sterilize their instruments over burning American flags. Where tax-and-spend Democrats take all your hard-earned money and use it to buy electric cars for National Public Radio, and teach evolution to illegal immigrants. Oh, and everybody’s high!

Trump has the ability to draw members of the public into a shared psychosis at the national level? Ah hell, that’s been going on for a long, long time.

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Forcing the Issue

Things came to a head. On one side there’s what the Washington Post’s Robert Costa and Karoun Demirjian report here:

Much of the Republican Party is pressing ahead with debunked claims about Ukraine as they defend President Trump from possible impeachment, embracing Russian-fueled conspiracy theories that seek to cast blame on Kyiv rather than Moscow for interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

The increasingly aggressive GOP efforts continued Tuesday on Capitol Hill and were amplified throughout conservative media, one day after House Republicans released a 123-page document that insisted that Trump’s handling of Ukraine was founded on “genuine and reasonable” suspicions – despite mounting evidence rejecting that assertion and warning of its consequences.

So, the defense of Trump will be that Ukraine is evil and Russia is not, so Trump was right to withhold military aid to them unless they announced they were going after Joe Biden’s son and Joe Biden himself, to take them both down and take them both out. They didn’t have to do any of that, but they had to announce that they were. That would do. That would prove that they weren’t totally evil. Because they were, unless you believe people like this:

“I am not,” David Hale, the No. 3 official at the State Department, said Tuesday at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, when asked whether he was aware of any evidence of Ukrainian interference in the U.S. presidential election.

Hale’s statement’s echoed last month’s testimony by Fiona Hill, a former White House adviser on Russia, who dismissed claims of Ukrainian interference as “a fictional narrative” spun by Russian intelligence.

Anyone who knows anything at all about Ukraine – from amateurs to experts – knows they didn’t much like Trump saying that he was okay with Russia taking the whole of Crimea back from Ukraine, because “he’d heard” that the people there wanted that to happen, and they all spoke Russian there anyway. There were reminders. That’s what Hitler said about the Sudetenland in 1938 – all those people there spoke German, so they were ethnically German, so that part of Czechoslovakia should be part of German. And then it was all of Czechoslovakia. And it was the same with the German-speaking parts of Poland – what used to be Prussia. Hitler grabbed that the next year. This worried the Ukrainians. And some of them said so. That meant they were out to destroy Trump, all of them – and of course Russia, then, had done nothing much. Russia liked Trump. Good for them.

But this has upset a few Republicans:

Republicans’ promotion of Trump’s Ukraine conspiracy theory is the latest example of their capitulation to him and of the GOP’s rapid transformation on Russia – from a party that for decades celebrated its hawkish stance toward the Kremlin to one that is reluctant to take a hard line and risk Trump’s wrath…

For some seasoned Republican foreign policy voices, the GOP’s refusal to back away from Trump’s position on supposed interference by Ukraine risks erasing values forged in the Cold War and defined for a generation by President Ronald Reagan’s prescient call for the Berlin Wall to come down…

Lanhee Chen, a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University who has advised top Republicans on global affairs, said “it’s entirely a reflection of the political reality of where we are and the gravitational pull of President Trump and his singular hold over the Republican political establishment. … They don’t just ignore the Democrats but embrace alternative theories.”

But they have to do that now:

There is also a growing view inside the GOP that the party’s core voters will not revolt if the party takes a softer position on Russia – a calculation backed by polling during Trump’s presidency. Gallup’s surveys, for instance, show that an expanding group of Republicans – 40 percent in July 2018 – now says Russia is a U.S. ally or is friendly, up from 22 percent in 2014, while “25 percent of Democrats say the same, little changed from 2014.”

“The base supports the president, and every Republican knows that – and they don’t think that this issue will rise high on the list of issues that matter to voters when they go to the polls,” said Republican consultant Michael Steel, who worked for John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) when Boehner was House speaker. “Whether what some of them are saying on Ukraine is consciously intellectually dishonest or not, they think the election will turn on jobs and the economy, not on Russia.”

That’s a shrug. Jobs and the economy matter more than Russia, so let the base love Russia – Putin does hate gays – and let Trump be Trump:

Trump’s claims on Ukraine are part of the long list of incendiary conspiracy theories he has championed while paying little to no political cost within his own party, including questioning former president Barack Obama’s birthplace and patriotism, linking the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to John F. Kennedy’s assassination and alleging that Trump Tower was wiretapped during the 2016 campaign.

Many Senate Republicans who spoke with reporters around their weekly lunch Tuesday argued that the way Ukrainian officials spoke about the 2016 presidential campaign constituted interference on par with Russian interference – a position that is directly at odds with the conclusion of U.S. intelligence officials.

They voiced their worries, the Russians hacked away and flooded Facebook and Twitter with fake accounts full of anecdotes to enrage the right bring down Hillary Clinton, but somehow one is just like the other, or worse, so this was inevitable:

Conservative media figures, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson, have been at the forefront of right-wing claims that Russian interference has been overstated by U.S. officials and the national political establishment, fueling the congressional Republican push to shrug off talk about Russian hostility.

“It never happened. There was no collusion. Russia didn’t hack our democracy,” Carlson wrote on Fox News’s website Tuesday. “The whole thing was a talking point, a ludicrous talking point, invented by the Hillary Clinton campaign on or about November 9th, 2016 to explain their unexpected defeat in the last presidential election.”

That column by Carlson came hours after he said on his Monday broadcast that “I think we should probably take the side of Russia, if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine.”

When the Russian tanks roll in we send in a tank battalion or two too, to destroy those evil Ukrainians once and for all. Tucker Carlson may be loony, but he chats with the president daily, letting him know what’s best to do and what America, as Carlson sees it, wants the president to do. Trump listens, and of course Attorney General Barr has been traveling the world – to Italy and Australia and Britain – to ask each country to help him prove that the CIA and NSA and all our intelligence services hate Trump and commit treason every single day trying to bring him down. The Brits were stunned, but this is about defending Trump. That must be done. Tax cuts! Judges!

But there was one surprise:

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham on Tuesday said he is “1,000% confident” that Russia, not Ukraine, meddled in the 2016 US presidential election, breaking from President Donald Trump and others in his party who have pushed the discredited conspiracy theory.

“It was the Russians. I’m 1,000% confident that the hack of the DNC was by Russian operatives, no one else,” the South Carolina senator told reporters on Capitol Hill.

He reiterated his stance to CNN saying, “I’ve got no doubt that it was the Russians who stole the DNC emails. It wasn’t Ukraine. Russia was behind the stolen DNC emails and (John) Podesta and all that good stuff.”

That’s odd. His one best friend for fifty or more years was John McCain. Trump told him to renounce McCain as a fool and coward and no hero at all. Trump told him to spit on McCain’s grave. He did. And it was the same with Joe Biden, a close friend for just about as long – a man Graham called on of the best men he had ever met – and Graham just opened a Senate inquiry to show that Biden and Biden’s son were thieves or worse. Biden finds this sad, and a bit pathetic, but this makes Graham a hero on the right. He betrayed two lifelong good fiends because Donald Trump told him to. That’s real patriotism. Wouldn’t you betray your best friends for Donald Trump? Ah, but letting Russia off the hook was another matter. Graham just couldn’t do that.

But forget Graham. The defense is set, and this is the offense:

House Democrats accused President Trump on Tuesday of systematically abusing the powers of his office by pressuring Ukraine to launch politically motivated investigations, as their inquiry shifts to a new phase that will almost certainly lead to a vote this month on whether to impeach the president.

A blistering, 300-page report produced by the Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee concluded that Trump had “compromised national security to advance his personal political interests” and then engaged in an “unprecedented campaign” to prevent Congress from uncovering the truth.

“The President’s actions have damaged our national security, undermined the integrity of the next election, and violated his oath of office,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), whose panels have overseen the inquiry, said in a statement. “They have also challenged the very core of our constitutional system of checks and balances, separation of powers, and rule of law.”

While the report does not outline the specific articles of impeachment the president could face in the House, it signals that Democrats are at least preparing to accuse of him of obstructing Congress, finding that a dozen witnesses “followed President Trump’s orders, defying voluntary requests and lawful subpoenas, and refusing to testify.”

There was no discussion of whether or not the Ukrainians were the enemies of Trump, and thus the enemies of America, because that was beside the point:

At the heart of Democrats’ case is their allegation that Trump tried to leverage a White House meeting and military aid, sought by Ukraine in the face of Russian military aggression, to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch investigations of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as an unfounded theory that Kyiv conspired with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

This was about Trump, not Ukraine, and Trump was not happy:

Trump has repeatedly said he did nothing wrong and has derided the impeachment inquiry as a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.”

“I think it’s a disgrace. I think the Democrats should be ashamed of themselves,” Trump said during a bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in London, where he is attending a NATO meeting. “If you look at impeachment, the word ‘impeachment,’ here there was nothing wrong, nothing done wrong.”

That’s the secondary defense. Any inquiry into whether he did something wrong is absolutely invalid if he stipulates, as he sees it, that he did nothing wrong. He has so stipulated. This impeachment is therefore invalid. Case closed.

It’s not closed:

Democrats’ findings are primarily drawn from the testimony of witnesses who appeared before the Intelligence Committee last month, as well as the rough transcript of a July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky released by the White House, in which Trump asks the Ukrainian leader to “do us a favor though” with regard to the investigations.

But the report also includes records showing that Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, who orchestrated the pressure campaign against Ukraine, made phone calls to the White House and its budget office during key moments of the investigation.

The records show he called the White House repeatedly on April 24, the day then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was summoned to Washington and removed from her post in Kyiv. Giuliani publicly alleged that she was anti-Trump, although Yovanovitch’s colleagues, including senior State Department officials, have defended her as an exemplary public servant.

Giuliani called the White House at least seven times on April 24 between 7:47 a.m. and 8:09 p.m. He also received a call from a White House number and spent more than eight minutes speaking to someone identified only as “-1” in the report.

The records do not provide any details about the nature of the calls or whether Giuliani spoke with Trump. On Twitter and in television appearances that day, Giuliani promoted the debunked theory, embraced by the president, about alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

But he was blowing smoke, because this was about destroying the Biden family using all available resources:

The report also details calls Giuliani made in August to people whose phone numbers are associated with the White House Office of Management and Budget, at a time when an Oval Office meeting for Zelensky was being sought and Trump had placed a hold on the military aid for Ukraine.

And the report reveals new contacts between the Intelligence Committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), and Giuliani, as well as other newly disclosed phone records that suggest Giuliani may have talked to Trump and Fox News host Sean Hannity on April 25, the same day Joe Biden declared his presidential bid.

Trump was a guest on Hannity’s show that night and discussed a column by the conservative columnist John Solomon that described Biden’s efforts to oust a Ukrainian prosecutor while he was vice president and questioned whether Biden had acted to protect his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. There is no evidence to back up that claim.

There’s all this evidence. But, but, but Ukraine is evil! Things have come to a head. How can anything be resolved when each side is talking about something else entirely?

But it was the same in London. Mark Landler, the New York Times’ London bureau chief, notes how things came to a head there:

President Trump has always relished throwing European leaders off balance, antagonizing allies, embracing insurgents and setting off a frantic contest for how best to deal with him. Now, as Europe undergoes dizzying political changes of its own, it is throwing Mr. Trump off balance.

In London for a NATO summit meeting, Mr. Trump was subjected to a rare tongue-lashing on trade and terrorism by President Emmanuel Macron of France, who dismissed his attempt to lighten the mood with a curt, “Let’s be serious.”

Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump held his own tongue about British politics, heeding Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plea not to barge into Britain’s election at the 11th hour.

Trump asked Macron how he’d like some ISIS terrorists to return to France. His snide little jokes didn’t work. Macron told him to get serious – he had abandoned  the Kurds who had fought ISIS alongside France too, with the NATO contingent over there, and now Turkey was going to wipe them out like they wiped out the Armenians in that 1915 genocide. Think, Donald, think! And why is a NATO nation, Turkey, buying advanced Russian weapon systems and siding with Russia all the time? This is no time for quips.

This was a surprise:

For a president who prides himself on being the Great Disrupter, it was a startling turnabout, one that underscored how Europe’s shifting landscape – with an ambitious president in France, a lame-duck leader in Germany and a breakaway populist in Britain – has scrambled the calculus for Mr. Trump.

For now, at least, Mr. Macron has replaced Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany as Mr. Trump’s chief antagonist on the Continent. The French president’s recent assertion that NATO was exhausted and strategically adrift – or in a state of “brain death” as he put it in an interview with The Economist last month – angered both Mr. Trump and Ms. Merkel and has created an improbable, if perhaps fleeting, alignment between those two leaders who spent much of the last three years on opposite poles.

As for Mr. Johnson, his most natural ally, Mr. Trump bridled almost visibly as he tried to stay out of the British election on Dec. 12. “I don’t want to complicate it,” he said, in a grudging admission that he is so unpopular in Britain that a full-throated endorsement of the prime minister could backfire.

This was not the time for Trump to quip that a vote for Johnson was a vote for Trump, because Johnson will do what he says, because everyone does, because everyone loves him – their next real prime minister. But he held his tongue. Those folks over there have his number now:

Since Mr. Trump took office, Europeans have labored to adjust to his prejudices and preferences. They praised him for his success in calling on NATO members to increase their payments to the alliance, flattered him with invitations to military parades, as Mr. Macron once did, and stoically bore his attacks on their trade surpluses with the United States, like Ms. Merkel has.

But Europe is changing, too, with Britain seeking to leave, Ms. Merkel nearing the end of her tenure, and Mr. Macron staking his claim to European leadership with a vision of the future that depends less on the United States. His criticism of NATO is inevitably, if indirectly, a criticism of Mr. Trump and his “America First” policy.

As Europe changes, Mr. Trump is finding that he has to recalibrate his approach. With his own re-election campaign looming, he also wants credit for what he views as his foreign policy accomplishments, including NATO.

He caved on that and on more:

The president who once threatened to pull the United States out of NATO suddenly emerged as the alliance’s defender. The president who once exchanged a death-grip handshake with Mr. Macron sat by wordlessly while his much-younger counterpart lectured him on the need to fight the Islamic State. The president who championed Brexit and hectored Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, about her deal-making skills suddenly had nothing to say about it.

Asked about the British election, Mr. Trump resorted to talking about how his campaigning had helped Republican gubernatorial candidates in Kentucky and Louisiana – never mind that both men lost – before implicitly acknowledging that his involvement in Britain would probably not help.

“I love this country,” Mr. Trump said. “I love a lot of countries, but I’m representing the U.S. They may not like me because I’m representing us, and I represent us strong.”

And no one believed him.

On his last trip to London, Mr. Trump declared that “everything will be on the table” in a negotiation, including the National Health Service, before walking back his comments the following day. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump said he did not even know how those rumors got started.

“We have absolutely nothing to do with it, and we wouldn’t want to,” he said. “If you handed it to us on a silver platter, we’d want nothing to do with it.”

Even the ceremonial parts of Mr. Trump’s schedule attested to a changing of the guard. Before attending a reception given by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday evening, the president and the first lady, Melania Trump, visited Prince Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, at their residence, Clarence House.

Prince Charles has assumed a more central role in the royal family’s affairs in the aftermath of the scandal involving Prince Andrew’s ties with the disgraced financier, Jeffrey Epstein. Prince Andrew, who had withdrawn from public life, was conspicuously absent from the festivities on Tuesday.

“I don’t know Prince Andrew, but it’s a tough story,” said Mr. Trump, who was photographed with the prince during his state visit to London earlier this year and at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach estate, nearly two decades ago.

He seemed a bit lost. But everything has come to a head now. And he probably senses none of this can end well. But it will end. It has to, now.

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A Pretty Strong Betrayal

Brazil has always been problematic. The first Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie was Flying Down to Rio in 1933 – still a hoot and filmed at the old RKO studios at Melrose and Gower, now part of Paramount Pictures. That would be RKO Radio Pictures:

The business was formed after the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) theater chain and Joseph P. Kennedy’s Film Booking Offices of America (FBO) studio were brought together under the control of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in October 1928. RCA chief David Sarnoff engineered the merger to create a market for the company’s sound-on-film technology, RCA Photophone… Howard Hughes took over RKO in 1948. After years of disarray and decline under his control, the studio was acquired by the General Tire and Rubber Company in 1955. The original RKO Pictures ceased production in 1957 and was effectively dissolved two years later.

So, President Kennedy’s father’s movie studio made a cool film about Brazil, sort of, and then he and Sarnoff sold the studio to Howard Hughes, who ran it into the ground. Joseph P. Kennedy would go on to serve as FDR’s ambassador to Great Britain and the rest is history. And everyone forgot about Brazil. It didn’t matter. It never mattered.

And it still doesn’t matter. Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and explains what just happened:

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been called the “Trump of the Tropics” because of his aggressive populist style. He’s gone out of his way to praise and court President Trump, distinguishing himself among the world’s elected leaders in that pursuit. Monday morning, he learned what others who have tried to get close to the mercurial U.S. president have already grasped: The only people Trump treats worse than his enemies are his friends.

It was those predawn tweets from the lonely insomniac president that ended it all:

Bolsonaro’s rude awakening came from Trump’s unexpected tweets declaring that he was reimposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from Brazil and Argentina. By all accounts, the Latin American countries had not been informed about this beforehand, nor had they been given any indication such a move might be forthcoming. Taken by surprise outside the presidential residence, Bolsonaro said he would “call Trump,” adding that he has “an open channel with him.”

But that may not be true now:

Bolsonaro will likely find himself in the same boat as others who thought their relationship with the president means more than it does. The list of former friends who are now public enemies is long and growing…

Bolsonaro’s Brazil has turned from a country often at odds with the United States to one of its firmest allies in the Southern Hemisphere. It is the eighth-largest economy in the world and is struggling to grow again after a serious recession from 2014-2016. It is in the U.S. interest to help Brazil grow and provide a counterweight to the populist and undemocratic socialism that always simmers just below the surface in Latin America.

Instead, Trump is treating Bolsonaro like he treats his senior staff with whom he has tired: Bad news comes via the morning tweet.

But by now Trump’s impulsiveness is legendary and what Olsen sees as dangerous:

Even his own staff doesn’t know what’s coming next. Markets and other nations that depend on the United States need some measure of predictability to plan accordingly. Rapid changes of policy unsettle these relationships and make it impossible to plan. Alternating between hugging and bullying his associates and business partners may have worked for Trump in his private and business lives, but they wreak havoc for the country in his public life.

Olsen also doesn’t understand why Trump is obsessed with the farm sector:

In his tweet, he said he was reimposing tariffs because Brazil and Argentina were weakening their currencies, “which is not good for our farmers.”

But what about the U.S. firms that import steel or aluminum from these countries, in part because they had been exempted from prior tariffs while steel and aluminum from China was not? They will now have a significant price hike in a key input material and might have to again switch their source countries, something that takes time and costs money. Don’t they deserve consideration, too?

Trump’s impulsiveness moots that question, and the world is now even more on edge:

Trump is flying to London today to meet with our 28 NATO allies. After this debacle, many world leaders are surely dreading his arrival, wondering whether a similar fate awaits them after he lands.

Who knows? David Nakamura and Anne Gearan provide additional detail to what is becoming a bit of a problem:

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who staked his political fortunes on close collaborations with Trump over nuclear negotiations with North Korea, is now facing the president’s demands that Seoul increase its payments fivefold to support U.S. troops stationed on the Korean Peninsula.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has courted Trump relentlessly, with nearly four dozen meetings and phone calls and an elaborate state visit to Tokyo in the spring. But Tokyo was not spared from steel tariffs early in Trump’s tenure, and Trump contradicted Abe over the summer by refusing to declare North Korea’s short-range missile tests a violation of U.N. resolutions.

For Bolsonaro, a far-right leader who had patterned his campaign after Trump’s and aggressively sought to ingratiate himself with the White House, the tariffs represented an embarrassing reality check on his strategy of gambling his administration’s foreign policy largely on good personal chemistry with a president who craves validation – but who views virtually all relationships as transactional and, potentially, disposable.

All world leaders will now have to deal with that:

“This is a president who will develop close relationships but who will not necessarily be fully loyal to those close relationships,” said Fernando Cutz, a Western Hemisphere expert at the Cohen Group who served on the National Security Council under both Trump and President Barack Obama. “I don’t think Brazil understood that, but maybe they will now. I think this was a very big surprise to Brazil’s political system and its people. They really see Bolsonaro as a close friend of the president. This will feel like a pretty strong betrayal.”

But get used to that:

For Trump, “what takes precedence is what’s good for him personally and what increases his power,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue. He pointed to Colombian President Iván Duque, who had a warm first meeting with Trump in February, only to be criticized a month later by the president in response to illegal drugs smuggled into the United States.

Duque has “done nothing for us,” Trump declared.

“All of a sudden Trump decides to do something, presumably for his own political benefit,” Shifter said. “One by one the Latin American presidents are learning that being a close ally of Trump doesn’t pay off and you can’t really rely that you’re going to get favorable treatment.”

In short, no one can rely on Trump’s word about anything, and he likes it that way:

Foreign-policy experts acknowledged that no U.S. president has based decisions solely on personal relationships over larger geopolitical concerns. But Trump has long placed an overriding emphasis on personal fealty to him, forcing fellow leaders into an uncomfortable choice over what tone to take in dealing with his administration.

Some leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto have at times struck a confrontational tone over Trump’s demands, provoking angry responses. Others, including Abe and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have lavished Trump with praise and tied their administrations closely to his.

But nothing works:

In a warm bilateral meeting at the White House last spring, Trump pledged to support Brazil’s efforts to become a full member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Then Trump shocked the Brazilians and his own aides by suggesting that Brazil should become a member of NATO, an organization reserved for North Atlantic nations.

In August, with Brazil facing international condemnation for its handling of massive fires in the Amazon rainforest, Bolsonaro called Trump and persuaded him to represent Brazil’s position and push back against the criticism during the Group of 7 summit in France.

Trump agreed to that. Bolsonaro can burn down he entire Amazon rainforest and pave it over with asphalt. Trump was sending a massage the Climate Change crowd. They’re stupid and he and Bolsonaro can do whatever they damned well please. But that was about Trump, not Bolsonaro, so there was this:

On Monday, Brazilian officials struck a tempered tone on the new tariffs. In a statement, the Bolsonaro government said it will “work to defend Brazilian trade interests and to safeguard trade flows.”

In private, diplomats were dumbfounded, emphasizing that the country has sought to strengthen its currency, the real, against the dollar, contrary to Trump’s contentions.

But what can one say? The man is impulsive, and now the French know that:

The Trump administration said on Monday that a new French tax that hit American technology companies discriminated against the United States, a declaration that could lead to retaliatory tariffs as high as 100 percent on French wines.

It could also jeopardize international efforts to negotiate a truce on so-called digital taxes.

The announcement from the Office of the United States Trade Representative ended a months-long investigation into the French tax, which hits companies like Facebook and Google even though they have little physical presence in France. The investigation concluded that the tax “discriminates against U.S. companies, is inconsistent with prevailing principles of international tax policy and is unusually burdensome for affected U.S. companies.”

It recommended tariffs as high as 100 percent on certain French imports valued at $2.4 billion, including cheese, wine and handbags.

The administration suggested it could open similar investigations into digital taxes proposed by Italy, Austria and Turkey.

These countries want to tax companies doing business in their countries if those companies aren’t physically located there. Trump say that’s picking on America, on him, and he always hits back ten times harder:

The finding does not immediately impose tariffs on French products such as wine, which was already hit with a 25 percent tariff in October in a separate dispute, but it allows the president to impose them if and when he chooses. It could also upend an effort led by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to unite 135 countries around a shared system of taxing technology companies and other multinational corporations, which leaders had hoped would come together in 2020.

An escalation of tensions between France and the United States would complicate any resolution to those negotiations.

That’s because Trump doesn’t give a shit about any shared system of taxing technology companies, but neither does France:

The French government approved a new “digital service tax” this year on online economic activity, which would hit large American tech companies widely frequented by French citizens. French leaders have expressed concern that their government has not been able to capture revenue from companies that sell or advertise online in France, a concern that is shared by a growing number of countries, including Britain and India.

President Trump’s trade representative responded to the French tax by opening the investigation into whether it unfairly targeted American companies.

Yeah, yeah, everyone is out to get us, and to destroy Trump, but Natasha Bertrand reports that may be a Trump delusion:

With the impeachment inquiry charging forward, President Donald Trump’s allies have defended his demand for political investigations from Ukraine by claiming that the government in Kyiv tried to sabotage his candidacy and boost Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“Russia was very aggressive and they’re much more sophisticated, but the fact that Russia was so aggressive does not exclude the fact that President Poroshenko actively worked for Secretary Clinton,” Republican Sen. John Kennedy claimed on Sunday in an interview with NBC, referring to the former Ukrainian president.

But the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee thoroughly investigated that theory, according to people with direct knowledge of the inquiry, and found no evidence that Ukraine waged a top-down interference campaign akin to the Kremlin’s efforts to help Trump win in 2016.

It seems that President Poroshenko wasn’t on the Clinton payroll, enthusiastically working for her for big bucks:

The committee’s Republican chairman, Richard Burr of North Carolina, said in October 2017 that the panel would be examining “collusion by either campaign during the 2016 elections.”

But an interview, that fall, with the Democratic consultant at the heart of the accusation that Kyiv meddled, Alexandra Chalupa, was fruitless, a committee source said, and Republicans didn’t follow up or request any more witnesses related to the issue.

There was nothing there:

The Senate interview largely focused on a POLITICO article published in January 2017, according to a person with direct knowledge of the closed-door hearing, in which Chalupa was quoted as saying officials at the Ukrainian Embassy were “helpful” to her effort to raise the alarm about Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort in 2016.

But they merely pointed her to the public information that Manafort was being paid millions by Putin’s guys in the Ukrainian government to keep them in the Ukrainian government:

“If I asked a question, they would provide guidance, or if there was someone I needed to follow up with,” she said at the time. She cautioned, however, that the embassy was “very careful” not to get involved politically because of the bipartisan support Ukraine has traditionally enjoyed from U.S. lawmakers. As the POLITICO article noted, there was “little evidence” of a “top-down effort” by the Ukrainian government to sabotage Trump’s campaign. And the article did not allege that Poroshenko “actively worked” for Clinton, as Kennedy claimed.

In short, there was a lot of nothing here:

Senate Intelligence Committee member Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, declined to comment on what the committee has or hasn’t investigated.

But he said in an interview that he’s “probably been to between 20-30 briefings and hearings on this subject of election interference in 2016, and I have never heard one word about any culpability on the part of Ukraine.”

“It has never been mentioned in any of the briefings I’ve had on the Intelligence Committee,” King said. He called the claims about Ukraine’s interference in 2016 “unfortunate” because “it muddies the waters,” and noted that Russia’s attempts to blame Ukraine are not inconsistent with its standard disinformation tactics.

And there was this:

The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in a bipartisan report – after conducting interviews of key individuals who have provided additional insights into these incidents – that Russia hacked the DNC, and agreed with the intelligence community’s 2017 assessment that “Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton.”

Two volumes of the committee’s final report, entitled “Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election,” have been released so far, and neither addresses the theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.

But there is the matter of motive:

In Volume 2, which focuses on Russia’s use of social media to wage disinformation campaigns, the committee flagged another episode in which Russia sought to blame Ukraine for its own misconduct: specifically, the “menu of conspiracy theories and false narratives” Russia introduced in 2014 to account for the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17.

Russia has repeatedly pointed the finger at Kyiv, despite the conclusion by a team of international investigators that the plane was destroyed by Russia-backed Ukrainian separatists – aided by three Russians close to Russian intelligence services – operating in separatist territory using Russia-provided weapons systems.

Putin needed distance from that. One should never shoot down a commercial airliner and kill two or three hundred civilians all at once. The Ukrainians did it!

Trump would surely buy that, but those Ukrainians can be sly:

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is taking his anti-corruption, pro-reform agenda seriously, with plans to boot more than 500 Ukrainian prosecutors from the governmental payroll by the end of the month.

And some of those prosecutors are directly tied to President Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and his pressure campaign to get Ukraine to probe the Biden family, one of Trump’s top 2020 political rivals. According to the Washington Post, a prosecutor named Kostiantyn Kulyk will be among the officials pushed out this month. Kulyk is one of the key Ukrainian officials who aided Giuliani is his effort to churn out fabricated dirt on the Bidens. The prosecutor has denied he ever met with Giuliani, but his ex-associates say he wrote a seven-page memo that Kulyk’s boss later handed off to Giuliani, according to the Post.

Kulyk was fired because he did not provide officials with proof that he took an exam that’s now part of the prosecutor review process across the country.

The message was clear. Hey, Donald, you want us to clean up corruption? We just did a bit of that! Rudy’s guy is gone!

But wait, there’s more. Nicole Lafond covers that:

With the firing of more than 500 Ukrainian prosecutors, several of whom played key roles in Rudy Giuliani’s pressure campaign, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sent a message to President Trump – that his promise to root out corruption in Ukraine may be more important than pleasing Trump.

The subtle push-backs continued during an interview with TIME Magazine and several European outlets published Monday. While the comedian-turned-president didn’t outright break with Trump on any given topic, Zelensky created some noteworthy distance between his country and the White House’s stance on issues relevant to the impeachment probe.

He certainly did do that:

While he denied there was any quid pro quo associated with the withheld aid, Zelensky called out the U.S. for keeping aid from a country actively at war with Russia. Trump has made a number of claims about the hold on the military funds, initially suggesting he wanted European countries to pitch in more for Ukraine’s defense.

“Look, I never talked to the President from the position of a quid pro quo. That’s not my thing. I don’t want us to look like beggars,” Zelensky told TIME and others present for the interview. “But you have to understand. We’re at war. If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us. I think that’s just about fairness. It’s not about a quid pro quo. It just goes without saying.”

Zelensky knows a jerk when he sees one, and there was this too:

Zelensky appeared to call out the U.S. and Republicans for peddling conspiracy theories about Ukraine and 2016 election. Conservatives have been arguing for years that Ukrainian officials worked with the Democratic National Committee to try to bolster Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“The United States of America is a signal, for the world, for everyone,” Zelensky said when asked about the U.S.’s role in peace efforts between Ukraine and Russia. “When America says, for instance, that Ukraine is a corrupt country that is the hardest of signals. It might seem like an easy thing to say, that combination of words: Ukraine is a corrupt country. Just to say it and that’s it.”

“But it doesn’t end there. Everyone hears that signal,” he continued. “Investments, banks, stakeholders, companies, American, European, companies that have international capital in Ukraine, it’s a signal to them that says, ‘Be careful, don’t invest.’ Or, ‘Get out of there.’ This is a hard signal.”

Zelensky would rather that Trump didn’t destroy his country that way, and there was this too:

Whether intentional or not, Zelensky warned against other global leaders using Ukraine as a “piece” on the chess board to use for their own political or foreign policy purposes. It might be a stretch to suggest that messaging was targeted at Trump or Giuliani, but it’s notable that he called out the type of behavior that’s placed Giuliani and his pressure campaign in Ukraine at the center of the Trump impeachment inquiry.

“First off, I would never want Ukraine to be a piece on the map, to be on the chess board of big global players, so that someone could toss us around, use us as cover, as part of some bargain… As for the United States, I would really want – and we feel this, it’s true – for them to help us, to understand us, to see that we are a player in our own right, that they cannot make deals about us with anyone behind our backs,” he said.

So, did Trump understand any of this? Of course not:

While speaking to reporters on Monday, President Trump argued the Zelensky interview offered him some sort of exoneration, telling reporters that the Ukrainian president said he did “absolutely nothing wrong.”

“If you noticed there was breaking news today, the Ukrainian president came out and said very strongly that President Trump did absolutely nothing wrong,” Trump said Monday. “That should be case over.”

Zelensky never says that.

That’s okay. Trump betrays everyone. That’s what strong leaders do? In private, diplomats are dumbfounded. But now everyone is dumbfounded.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

While Waiting

Everyone knows the 1953 Samuel Beckett play – “two characters, Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo), wait for the arrival of someone named Godot who never arrives, and while waiting they engage in a variety of discussions and encounter three other characters” – and Godot seems to be God. That would make this play about the meaning of human existence and the place of God in that existence, and the Big Guy never shows up. Maybe there is no Big Guy. And life isn’t a waiting room for something better that will happen later, or something worse for “evil” people. Waiting for what never was or is or ever will be, and certainly will not appear, is absurd in the Camus and Sartre sense. The play did premiere in 1953 Paris – their town at the time – but the play was also seen as an allegory of the Cold War or of French Resistance to the Germans. Or maybe is sexual in some way, or Freudian, or something. Beckett said no – “Why people have to complicate a thing so simple I can’t make out.”

Okay. Life is waiting. All of life is waiting. For what? It doesn’t matter. Will “it” arrive? That doesn’t matter either. Expect nothing. Or whatever it is will not be what you expect. Deal with it.

But what are you supposed to do while waiting? That’s easy. Appreciate the ambient absurdity. It’s all around. Donald Trump seems to be in trouble but the nation is waiting for the actual impeachment hearings to begin. There has been public testimony as to the facts in question – and no one disputes those, or disputes the applicable law – but now it’s time to discuss what to do about those facts – in a few days – when the House is back from their Thanksgiving recess.

That should be dramatic – or boring – the current key Republican talking point. The press will report that something unprecedented and important just happened. Democrats will say it sure did and this man must go. Republicans will say something boring just happened and no one really cares. But until then, we’re all those two guys in the Beckett play, waiting and waiting and waiting, and sensing the rising absurdity all around.

Matthew Dessem senses that:

Scientists aren’t sure exactly how many sentences it is theoretically possible to construct in English in which every single word makes things unfathomably worse for everyone, but however many there were, now there’s one more: “Roseanne Barr will headline a Super Bowl gala at Mar-a-Lago for the Trumpettes.”

The Palm Beach Post broke the news, which has already prompted leading linguists to publicly ask whether the development of language was a terrible, terrible mistake. “Who are these … Trumpettes?” you almost certainly did not ask.

But yes, they seem to be a political cheering squad of sneering late-middle-age white Republican women – like the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes – metaphorically of course. But they are real:

The Trumpettes gala is scheduled for Feb. 1, the night before the Super Bowl, in hopes that President Trump will be in town to host his annual Super Bowl party. This is the third time the Trumpettes have hosted a gala at Mar-a-Lago, but the first time that disgraced comedian Roseanne Barr will be headlining it.

“Roseanne is a really loyal Trump supporter,” said Kramer. “If there was anybody who really put their lives on the line and said how much she loves the president, she is one of them.”

But there was the May 2018 controversy covered by Sam Adams here:

Roseanne Barr’s Twitter feed has long been a cesspool of right-wing conspiracy theories and dogwhistle racism, but early this morning she swapped out the dog whistle for a foghorn. In response to a tweet about former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett, who is black, Barr tweeted “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.”

ABC was appalled and threatened to cancel her new television show, about crude white working-class folks what don’t like blacks and Muslims and Asians and Mexicans and Jewish bankers, and get angry and say so, loudly, with no apologies. No one was going to push them around. It was a comedy. The first weeks’ ratings were great. Trump called Barr and congratulated her. Now he knew he had a friend in Hollywood, and so did Real Americans everywhere.

But Barr caved – “I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans. I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me-my joke was in bad taste.”

Adams covers the rest:

Barr’s apology is hardly sufficient: Comparing a black person to an ape is not making a joke about “her looks,” and falsely accusing her of belonging to a radical Islamist group nods to a long history of discredited rumors about Barack Obama being a secret Muslim. Even as the controversy around her Jarrett tweet was building, she was still tweeting disinformation about Chelsea Clinton being married to George Soros’ nephew and Soros himself being “a nazi who turned in his fellow Jews to be murdered in German concentration camps & stole their wealth.”

ABC cut her loose and reconfigured her show without her and moved on. She was out of work for a time. But now she’s queen of the Trumpettes, providing entertainment for everyone waiting for what actually comes next, if anything.

But wait, there’s more. Daniel Politi notes this:

A majority of Republicans say Donald Trump is a better president than Abraham Lincoln. According to a new Economist/YouGov poll, 53 percent of Republicans say Trump is a better president than Lincoln, who led the country through the Civil War. That feeling though is clearly confined to Republicans because when all Americans are taken into account, 75 percent say Lincoln was the better president and among Democrats the number is even larger – 94 percent.

The poll immediately caused a bit of an uproar on social media. “53% of Republicans apparently don’t even know who Abraham Lincoln was…,” wrote Billy Baldwin. David Rothkopf also expressed shock: “Many of these people have jobs. Operate heavy equipment. Move freely in society. Can that be safe?”

But no one should be shocked:

Trump has previously celebrated his approval ratings within the GOP, comparing his popularity to that of Lincoln. “You know, a poll just came out that I am the most popular person in the history of the Republican Party,” Trump said in an interview last year with the Sun. “Beating Lincoln. I beat our Honest Abe.”

Yes, compare the Gallup Polls from 1863 and 2019 and see for yourself. One does think of Beckett and the Theater of the Absurd way back then, updated. But look at it a different way. Lincoln freed “those people” and Trump said that if one more ungrateful uppity black football star kneels during the national anthem that “son of a bitch” should be fired and then kicked out of the country. What do these people want? We ended slavery. Make any more trouble and we’ll bring it back. Some seem to think that’s better than anything Lincoln ever did to address the racial issues here.

Some people don’t think that. Some people tire of the absurdity. The Los Angeles Times’ Mark Barabak reports on that:

For decades, there was an unvaried rhythm to life in America’s suburbs: Carpool in the morning, watch sports on weekends, barbecue in the summer, vote Republican in November.

Then came President Trump.

The orderly subdivisions and kid-friendly communities that ring the nation’s cities have become a deathtrap for Republicans, as college-educated and upper-income women flee the party in droves, costing the GOP its House majority and sapping the party’s strength in state capitals and local governments nationwide.

The dramatic shift is also reshaping the 2020 presidential race, elevating Democratic hopes in traditional GOP strongholds like Arizona and Georgia, and forcing Trump to redouble efforts to boost rural turnout to offset defectors who, some fear, may never vote Republican so long as the president is on the ballot.

Barabak then offers anecdotal information – individual stories from Mesa, Arizona – but anecdotes are not data, and this is:

The erosion of support among suburban women began during the 2016 campaign – for many the breaking point was the “Access Hollywood” video, in which Trump boasted of grabbing women by their genitals – and increased dramatically in the 2018 midterm election, costing Republicans control of the House.

The trend continued in the recent off-year elections, in suburbs from Wichita, Kan., to northern New Jersey to DeSoto County, Miss. Democrats won two of three gubernatorial contests, in Kentucky and Louisiana, in good part because of their strength in those Republican redoubts.

The sentiment extended down ballot as well. Outside Philadelphia, Democrats took control in Delaware County for the first time since the Civil War. In suburban Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., the party won every state House seat in Fairfax County, a shift nearly on a par with the 2018 Democratic sweep of congressional seats in Orange County, California.

“It’s amazing the change, in just the last few years,” said Q. Whitfield Ayres, a pollster who has spent decades strategizing for Republican campaigns and causes. “It’s not any one place. It’s everywhere.”

It seems that some people have had just about enough of the nonsense:

Surveys have consistently shown most suburban women have little regard for Trump.

The exodus stems not so much from his policies – many of which are standard GOP fare, like cutting taxes and regulations – but rather the president’s behavior: the bullying, belligerence and ad hominem insults.

“Sometimes I want to print out every single one of his Tweets and tape them to people’s doors,” said Christie Black, a 35-year-old stay-at-home mom who abandoned the GOP and voted independent in 2016 rather than support Trump. “I want them to see in writing that these are the things he’s saying. Those are worth tax cuts to you?”

“Yeah,” her brunch companion, Kaija Flake Thompson, chimed in sarcastically. “We have no moral compass, but, hey, we have conservative judges!”

So they look to alternatives:

Neither lapsed Republican has decided on a 2020 candidate, though both like Pete Buttigieg, the youthful mayor of South Bend, Ind. Black, a self-described conservative, said she could even vote in good conscience for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, with her vision of a vastly expanded federal government.

“We would still have our checks and balances,” Black said, which she fears are steadily eroding under Trump. “I think right now the most important thing is to get those principles of democracy tied down, get that return to regular order, and then we can worry and get back to squabbling about conservative versus liberal.”

But then there’s this:

Trump is not ceding the suburbs. While relying heavily on massive rural support to win reelection, the president and his political team hope to win back many disaffected women by leaning into the strong economy and promoting issues like paid family leave, school choice, female entrepreneurship and aggressive efforts to secure the border with Mexico.

Trump will rely heavily on that last one. Mexican Banditos are coming to rape you and murder your children, but there is one more thing:

Perhaps most crucially, Trump and GOP strategists are counting on Democrats fielding a nominee whom women voters, whatever their feelings toward the president, will find even more off-putting.

But no one knows who that would be, and Fareed Zakaria is worried:

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s a secular celebration of America, and as an immigrant, I feel I have much to be grateful for. I am an optimist who tends to see the story of this country as one of addressing its shortcomings and making progress. Lately, it has been tough to maintain that sunny outlook. America’s greatest assets – its constitutional republic and its democratic character – seem to be in danger of breakdown.

Listen to the language of the president. “Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice and rage,” he thundered at a June rally to kick off his reelection campaign. “They want to destroy you, and they want to destroy our country as we know it.”

That’s a warning sign:

Words such as “treason” and “coup” are now casually tossed around in political discourse. Some had imagined that the impeachment inquiry might provide evidence and facts that would cut through the spin and fantasies, but in fact the opposite has happened. It’s clear now that the intensity of polarization is so great that everything is viewed through a partisan prism. Can America survive through such poisonous times?

Ah, it can survive that:

The American republic is an extraordinary creation, built to accommodate very different people with utterly different ideas and values. It has survived the battles between slave owners and abolitionists, the First Red Scare and McCarthyism, Vietnam and Watergate. All of those struggles were high-stakes affairs, each aroused passions, and each eventually ended, though not without bitterness and disappointment. History, even the history of a powerful and successful country such as the United States, is not a collection of merry tales with happy endings. It’s full of fights, with wins, losses and draws.

Or else it cannot survive this:

Could this time be different? Yes, says Yoni Appelbaum in a thought-provoking essay in the Atlantic titled “How America Ends.” Appelbaum argues that “the United States is undergoing a transition perhaps no rich and stable democracy has ever experienced: Its historically dominant group is on its way to becoming a political minority – and its minority groups are asserting their co-equal rights and interests.” Ezra Klein notes a related transformation: “Almost 70% of American seniors are white and Christian. Only 29% of young adults are white and Christian.”

So here we go again:

It took a civil war to end slavery and then almost 100 years of struggle to end Jim Crow. The United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act and interned 120,000 U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent before opening its gates to immigrants from all over the world. Women had to wage a long campaign to secure the right to vote, and gays had to overcome systematic discrimination and persecution before gaining acceptance. Today, the country is locked in a new battle over sweeping demographic shifts.

And that may not end well, and while waiting for either Godot or Trump’s impeachment, Zakaria notes one of the things the impeachment is about:

Whatever you think of the charges against President Trump on Russia or Ukraine, his position of resolute noncooperation with Congress should trouble you deeply. If Congress cannot exercise its core oversight capacity, obtain documents and subpoena administration officials to testify, the essential system of checks and balances has broken down. The presidency will have become an elected dictatorship.

Trump is working on completing that long-term project:

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote about “The Imperial Presidency” in 1973. The legislation and culture after Watergate led many to believe that matters were under control. People actually began worrying about a weakened and emasculated White House. In fact, as Schlesinger noted in a 2004 reissue of his book, the presidency in recent years has become stronger than ever. The fear after 9/11 proved to be the gateway for an out-of-control executive branch. The president gained the ability to snoop on private Americans, use military force at his whim, torture prisoners and detain people indefinitely. The president can now order the execution of American citizens who are deemed – by him – to be terrorists, without due process.

And that’s how some think it should be:

In Attorney General William P. Barr, Trump has found an extraordinarily useful aide, who appears to believe, despite all this history, that the great problem in the United States is that the presidency is too weak. He has enabled a policy of stonewalling and silence, in which top administration officials almost behave as though Congress does not exist.

People often ask themselves what the founders would think of America today. It seems to me that the greatest shock to them would be the incredible growth of presidential power. Congress and the courts are recognizable from their times; the White House is not.

Zakaria is deeply worried, and Robert Reich sees this:

Not even overwhelming evidence that Trump sought to bribe a foreign power to dig up dirt on his leading political opponent in 2020 – and did so with American taxpayer dollars, while compromising American foreign policy – will cause Trump to be removed from office.

That’s because there’s zero chance that 20 Republican senators – the number needed to convict Trump, if every Democratic senator votes to do so – have enough integrity to do what the constitution requires them to do.

These Republican senators will put their jobs and their political party ahead of the constitution and the country. They will tell themselves that 88% of Republican voters still support Trump, and that their duty is to them.

It does not matter that these voters inhabit a parallel political universe consisting of Trump tweets, Fox News, rightwing radio, and Trump-Russian social media, all propounding the absurd counter-narrative that Democrats, the “deep state”, coastal elites, and mainstream media are conspiring to remove the Chosen One from office.

So if there’s no chance of getting the 20 Republican votes needed to send Trump packing, is there any reason for this impeachment proceeding to continue?

That’s the question. Those two characters in the Beckett play wait and wait and wait for Godot, for something, anything, to resolve matters, and nothing will ever be resolved. This may be like that, but Reich does see reasons to impeach the guy anyway:

The first is the constitution itself. Donald Trump has openly abused his power – not only seeking electoral help from foreign nations but making money off his presidency in violation of the emoluments clause, spending funds never appropriated by Congress in violation of the separation of powers, obstructing justice, and violating his oath to faithfully execute the law.

A failure by Congress to respond to these abuses would effectively render the constitution meaningless. Congress has no alternative but to respond.

The second reason is political. While the impeachment hearings don’t appear to have moved Republican voters, only 29% of Americans still identify as Republican.

That could change things:

The hearings do seem to have affected Democrats and independents, as well as many people who sat out the 2016 election. National polls by Morning Consult/Politico and SSRS/CNN show that 50% of respondents now support both impeaching Trump and removing him from office, an increase from Morning Consult/Politico’s mid-November poll.

Presumably anyone who now favors removing Trump from office will be inclined to vote against him next November. The House’s impeachment could therefore swing the 2020 election against him.

So pass the articles of impeachment, even if the Senate won’t convict him. And perhaps that’s absurd. But’s it’s all absurd now. And here we wait.

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No Thanks

Thanksgiving was always problematic. In 1959 it was particularly problematic. There was a Thanksgiving church service, because the church was a Congregational church – one of those churches “in the Reformed tradition that have a congregational form of church government and trace their origins mainly to Puritan settlers of colonial New England” – so some kid had to dress up as a Pilgrim and be the greeter for the day. And when you’re twelve years old you have no say in the matter. You do it.

And you feel like a fool. This wasn’t New England way back when. This was Pittsburgh. This was the big church downtown on Smithfield Street between Sixth and Strawberry Way that started out as a log cabin there in 1782 – by German Lutherans who argued with each other a lot. In 1787, William Penn’s heirs deeded to the church that property on Smithfield Street – now several city blocks – and the church grew and grew and grew, and grew rich. Finally, in 1925, the church affiliated with the National Council of Congregational Churches – the Pilgrim People – but in 1960 joined the United Church of Christ founded four years earlier – kind of a conglomerate – so this Pilgrim stuff faded away.

Bur what did the Pilgrims have to do with any of this? Add another oddity – a lot of us were there because the Slovak Congregational Church down the river had been torn down to make way for massive warehouses and we were there because the people downtown took us in. And there are no Slovak Pilgrims. But there was one long ago. He was feeling uncomfortable that day.

But it was a good story, as Charles Blow notes here:

When I was a child, Thanksgiving was simple. It was about turkey and dressing, love and laughter, a time for the family to gather around a feast and be thankful for the year that had passed and be hopeful for the year to come.

In school, the story we learned was simple, too: Pilgrims and Native Americans came together to give thanks.

We made pictures of the gathering, everyone smiling. We colored turkeys or made them out of construction paper. We sometimes had a mini-feast in class.

I thought it was such a beautiful story: People reaching across race and culture to share with one another, to commune with one another.

And it was nonsense:

Like so much of American history, the story has had its least attractive features winnow away – white people have been centered in the narrative and all atrocity has been politely papered over.

He does make that argument:

What is widely viewed as the first Thanksgiving was a three-day feast to which the Pilgrims had invited the local Wampanoag people as a celebration of the harvest.

About ninety came, almost twice the number of Pilgrims. This is the first myth: that the first Thanksgiving was dominated by the Pilgrim and not the Native American. The Native Americans even provided the bulk of the food, according to the Manataka American Indian Council.

This is counter to the Pilgrim-centric view so often presented. Indeed, two of the most famous paintings depicting the first Thanksgiving – one by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe and the other by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris – feature the natives in a subservient position, outnumbered and crouching on the ground on the edge of the frame.

The Pilgrims had been desperate and sick and dying but had finally had some luck with crops.

That was about it, but wait, there’s more:

As Peter C. Mancall, a professor at the University of Southern California wrote for CNN, Gov. William Bradford would say in his book “Of Plymouth Plantation,” which he began to write in 1630, that the Puritans had arrived in “a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men.”

Mancall further explained that after the visits to the New World by Samuel de Champlain and Capt. John Smith in the early 1600s, “a terrible illness spread through the region” among the Native Americans. He continued: “Modern scholars have argued that indigenous communities were devastated by leptospirosis, a disease caused by Old World bacteria that had likely reached New England through the feces of rats that arrived on European ships.”

This weakening of the native population by disease from the new arrivals’ ships created an opening for the Pilgrims.

King James’ patent called this spread of disease “a wonderful Plague” that might help to devastate and depopulate the region.

In short, we wanted those people to die, all of those people, and Blow cites Grace Donnelly on that:

The celebration in 1621 did not mark a friendly turning point and did not become an annual event. Relations between the Wampanoag and the settlers deteriorated, leading to the Pequot War. In 1637, in retaliation for the murder of a man the settlers believed the Wampanoags killed, they burned a nearby village, killing as many as five hundred men, women, and children. Following the massacre, William Bradford, the Governor of Plymouth, wrote that for “the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory,” thanking God that the battle had been won.

Ah, so, officially, and originally, Thanksgiving had to do with the Pequot War and giving thanks that we wiped out five hundred pesky men, women, and children in a single day in 1637 – not with a pleasant dinner.

But this is us – “The edge territory between white man’s civilization and the untamed natural world became a shared space of vast, clashing differences that led the U.S. government to authorize over 1,500 wars, attacks and raids on Indians, the most of any country in the world against its indigenous people.”

And then there’s Charles Blow:

I was blind, willfully ignorant, I suppose, to the bloodier side of the Thanksgiving story, to the more honest side of it. But I’ve come to believe that is how America would have it if it had its druthers: We would be blissfully blind, living in a soft world bleached of hard truth.

Charles Blow is black. Donald Trump is white. Max Boot knows where this is heading:

Do you plan to spend Thanksgiving cowering in the basement, taking surreptitious bites from a turkey hidden beneath the floorboards, terrified that at any moment the Political Correctness police might burst in and haul away your entire family for celebrating this traditional holiday? Are you worried that, once Thanksgiving is over, you might be exiled to a Political Correctness reeducation camp in Alaska if you are overheard saying “Merry Christmas” or seen displaying a crèche in your home?

If not, you haven’t heard about the war on Christmas – or the new war on Thanksgiving that President Trump announced Tuesday.

Yes, that was inevitable:

For years, Trump has been claiming that he is saving Christmas from the secular grinches, making it safe to say “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays” again. Now, he claims that the liberal spoilsports are trying to eliminate Thanksgiving, too.

“You know, some people want to change the name ‘Thanksgiving.’ They don’t want to use the term ‘Thanksgiving.’ And that was true also with Christmas, but now everybody’s using Christmas again,” Trump said at a rally in Florida. “But now we’re going to have to do a little work on Thanksgiving. People have different ideas why it shouldn’t be called Thanksgiving, but everybody in this room I know loves the name Thanksgiving, and we’re not changing it.”

So, he, and he alone, will lead the brave charge to stop the overwhelming forces that are about to change the name of Thanksgiving any day now. The crowd went wild. Mac Boot retreated to being realistic:

On one level, this is simply absurd: This is like a politician defending “motherhood and apple pie” while congratulating himself on his political courage. No one is trying to prohibit anyone from saying “Merry Christmas”; the more inclusive “Happy Holidays” has simply gained more social favor in recent years because of the awareness that lots of Americans might be celebrating not Christmas but Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, or even Festivus. Late-night comedians have had a ball with Trump’s phony war on Christmas – and for good cause.

But once again there is a dark bit of history here too:

Snopes.com notes that one of the first to claim that Christmas was under siege was the notorious racist and anti-Semite Henry Ford. “Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone’s Birth,” the automaker complained in 1921, going on to blame “Jewish opposition to Christmas, Easter and certain patriotic songs.”

Ford would go on to distribute free copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion everywhere and anywhere – the Jews were well on their way to taking over the world and they must be stopped – but then it was the communists:

During the McCarthy era of the 1950s, the far-right John Birch Society picked up the theme with a pamphlet called “There Goes Christmas?!” It warned that “one of the techniques now being applied by the Reds to weaken the pillar of religion in our country is the drive to take Christ out of Christmas – to denude the event of its religious meaning. … What they now want to put over on the American people is simply this: Department stores throughout the country are to utilize UN symbols and emblems as Christmas decorations.”

Boot finds that curious, but one thing leads to another:

I’m not aware of any department stores displaying United Nations rather than Christmas symbols, but that hasn’t stopped this enduring trope on the right. Snopes attributes the modern war on Christmas coinage to Peter Brimelow, the founder of Vdare, a noxious website described as “racist, anti-immigrant” by the Anti-Defamation League. In a 2000 post, Brimelow called “the War Against Christmas part of the struggle to abolish America.”

Bill O’Reilly, the now-disgraced Fox News anchor, took up the cry in 2004, claiming that Christmas was “under siege.” He attributed this to an “anti-Christian” blitz by “secular progressives” intent on foisting “gay marriage, partial birth abortion, euthanasia, legalized drugs, income redistribution through taxation, and many other progressive visions” on innocent, God-fearing Americans. The following year, O’Reilly’s colleague John Gibson published a book called “The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday is Worse Than You Thought.”

It did not take long for Trump – Fox News’s most faithful and credulous viewer – to join the “War on Christmas” as a full-throated combatant. By doing so, he gets to portray himself as a champion of white Christian America against insidious “Others” who, his followers fear, will destroy the country they know and love.

So it’s 1637 again, the Pequot War again. Wipe out those who would wipe us out. This is about worried white people:

Fueling these concerns are America’s changing demographics. Writing at Vox, Ezra Klein cites estimates that “when Barack Obama took office, 54 percent of the country was white and Christian; by the time he left office that had fallen to 43 percent. This is largely because young Americans are less white, and less Christian, than older Americans. Almost 70 percent of American seniors are white Christians, compared to only 29 percent of young adults.”

And one thing really does lead to another:

Trump’s white evangelical followers – the core of his base – are terrified that they are fast losing power in a country they once dominated. Hence their fanatical support for Trump as “the chosen one” and their disparagement of his critics as “demonic.”

A skilled demagogue, Trump unerringly taps into their anxiety with his risible claims about a war on Christmas and now a war on Thanksgiving.

Yeah, but it works. Every boomer on Facebook is now outraged. These people must be stopped! NO ONE will change the name of THIS holiday!

Who are these people? Kevin Drum sees this:

At a rally yesterday, President Trump gave his fans the red meat they craved: “You know, some people want to change the name Thanksgiving,” he said. “They don’t want to use the term Thanksgiving.”

This confused a lot of people, and we should get something straight right off the bat: no one wants to change the name of Thanksgiving. So where did this come from? Did Trump just make it up out of whole cloth?

Not really.

Drum cites the Los Angeles Times:

A family learns to tell a new kind of Thanksgiving story… “It’s hard to say when or how it started, but but a few years ago my husband and I quit celebrating Thanksgiving… As immigrants from El Salvador and Armenia…, we know about the sorrow of having our pasts rewritten, our genocide and massacres, time and time again, neglected or denied.”

And then there’s the New York Times:

“Everything You Learned about Thanksgiving Is Wrong”… Plymouth, Mr. Loewen noted, was already a village with clear fields and a spring when the Pilgrims found it. “A lovely place to settle,” he said. “Why was it available? Because every single native person who had been living there was a corpse.” Plagues had wiped them out.

And there’s Huffington Post:

“Six Things Every Non-Native Should Do On Thanksgiving”… Of all the Native American communities whose distinct histories are worth knowing about, the Wampanoag tribe should be at the top of your list… Following the Wampanoag’s lead starts with learning about the “National Day of Mourning.” Since 1970, the Wampanoag and other tribes in the New England region have hosted a gathering on Thanksgiving Day at Plymouth Rock to recognize the holiday’s authentic history.

And there’s Vox:

“Trump’s made-up war on Thanksgiving, explained”… For all you Thanksgiving aficionados out there, nobody’s coming to take away your turkey… But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth considering that the holiday isn’t the same for everyone and for all communities. For Native Americans, the holiday can be a painful one, not a time to celebrate but instead a time to remember the atrocities they suffered when Europeans landed in America.

So it seems that Trump was sort of kind of right, but not really, not as Drum sees it:

Once you account for Trump’s bizarre habit of misunderstanding things and then making up vaguely related stories, it’s clear where his statement originates. There may be no organized effort to rename Thanksgiving, but there’s certainly an organized effort from some precincts on the left to make sure everyone understands that Thanksgiving is largely a celebration of white atrocity. This is pretty obvious grist for the white grievance mill that Trump uses for a brain, and its appeal to the white grievance base that attend his rallies is equally obvious.

It’s Charlottesville without the statues of Confederate generals – there are good people on both sides of any genocide – and everyone is seething in anger now, as Trump seems to have intended.

Kevin Drum is fine with that:

Americans should understand their own history better. That said, there’s a price to be paid for sticking up for the truth, and that price is hostility and bitterness from traditionalists and conservatives who consider this stuff not just ridiculous, but a personal attack on their own heritage and beliefs. In other words, it’s a microcosm of the price to be paid for being a liberal.

But no one is attacking anyone’s own heritage and beliefs. The verifiable facts of history are attacking their heritage and beliefs. And no one is trying to rename anything. And it may be time to let this go. The present matters more than the past. Be thankful for that.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Not Too Heinous For Even Fox News

Work on the Berlin Wall began on August 13, 1961 – the German Democratic Republic built their Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart (Antifaschistischer Schutzwall) cutting off West Berlin from East Germany and East Berlin, protecting its citizens from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the “will of the people” in building a socialist state in East Germany – but everyone wanted to leave. This couldn’t last, and on the night of November 9, 1989, Germans on both sides were taking sledgehammers to the thing. This was freedom. This was joy. That’s what the world saw on television. So, the wall was gone, and then the Soviet Union was gone. The world changed. Francis Fukuyama said this was The End of History – “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government” – quite a popular concept at the time.

And then Western liberal democracy died. America didn’t triumph. America tore itself apart with Donald Trump’s inauguration address:

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.

He told America that everyone is out to get us. He told America to sneer at the rest of the world – to get angry and get tough. The world was laughing at America. He also said that the rest of America – the blacks and the gays and the urban hipsters and the fancy-pants experts and the goofy scientists and all “politicians” in general – was laughing at Real Americans. Mexicans and Muslims were laughing at us too.

He could fix that. When someone hits you, hit them back ten times harder. We’ll build that wall and Mexico will pay for it. Muslims would be banned from entering the country – once he got a few more judges who saw things his way. Hit back ten times harder. That way no one messes with you ever again. That’s the way America should deal with the world. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.

The angry and resentful loved that. Obama was arrogant and had despised them, so they hated him, and they hate smug city people with fancy degrees, or any degrees, or who know another language, or who like sushi, and so on. They had felt left out but now they had their champion. He was crude and nasty and he’d find a way to hurt those arrogant bastards. Everyone else, those who thought that community and cooperation and tolerance and respect for all were good things, those were the ones who were left out now. And it’s been almost four years of Donald Trump making sure that the angry and resentful remained completely angry and resentful.

But that had a side-effect. Fukuyama saw the End of History – wrongly – but now everyone can see the End of Democracy. There will be no more compromise. There won’t even be any discussion. What’s there to talk about? They hate us and want us dead. Both sides say that in one form or another. Each side seems to believe that. And no one can agree on anything, because no one thinks that would be a good thing anymore.

And that makes the impeachment of President Trump a bit pointless. It’s not going to happen. Half the country wants that. Half the country doesn’t. And no one will give an inch. Why should they? And that leads to what Chris Cillizza reports here:

A new CNN poll shows that half the country believes that President Donald Trump should be not only impeached by the House, but also removed from office by the Senate.

That result is being spun in some corners of the internet as great news for Trump, because that 50% number is unchanged from a CNN poll in mid-October, the conclusion being that the last 10 days of public impeachment hearings have not convinced more of the public that the President needs to go.

Cillizza finds that odd. A majority of the country still believes the current President of the United States should be impeached and removed from office. This is not good news at all, given the history of such things:

The peak of support for the impeachment and removal of then-President Bill Clinton in 1998 was 29% in CNN polling. That’s the highest that number ever went, despite the fact that the House Republican majority did vote to impeach late that year…

In a 2006 CNN poll, 30% of the public wanted George W. Bush impeached and removed from office; in 2014, 33% said the same of Barack Obama. Unlike Trump and Clinton, neither Bush nor Obama ever faced any sort of formal impeachment investigation or vote.

What those historical numbers tell us is that for at least the last two decades, there is roughly 30% of the country that is ready to impeach a president (usually of the party to which they do not belong) at all times.

Trump, however, is another matter:

What makes the Trump number so remarkable, then, is that 20% more of the public is now convinced not only that he should be impeached but that he should be removed from office – despite the fact that, unlike Clinton, Bush and Obama when those CNN polls were taken, Trump will face voters in a bid for a second term in less than a year’s time.

Now, it is fair to say that Democrats – if you gave them truth serum at the conclusion of last week’s public impeachment hearings – believed they had hit a home run, and that polling would reflect that. That polling so far hasn’t changed all that much is worth noting.

So that point is right – for now.

Yes, things can change, and they are changing just a bit:

Public support for impeaching President Donald Trump has tracked steadily higher over the past few weeks while a U.S. House of Representatives committee held a series of televised impeachment hearings, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Tuesday.

The latest poll, conducted on Monday and Tuesday, found that 47% of adults in the United States felt Trump “should be impeached,” while 40% said he should not.

The result, combined with Reuters/Ipsos polling over the past several weeks, showed that the number of Americans who want to impeach the president increasingly outnumbers those who do not.

But the change is small:

Just before the hearings started on Nov. 13, the Reuters/Ipsos poll found that “net support” for impeachment, which is the difference between the number who support impeachment and the number who oppose, was 3 percentage points.

That increased to 4 points after the first week of hearings, and then to 5 points as the second week of hearings started. The latest poll shows that net support for impeachment is now at 7 points.

And of course some things cannot change at all now:

Public opinion about impeachment remains split along party lines, with about eight in 10 Democrats supportive of impeaching Trump, and eight in 10 Republicans opposed.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that seven in 10 Republicans believed the House inquiry had not been conducted fairly, and most Republicans opposed impeachment for anything short of outright lawbreaking by the president.

Four in 10 Republicans agreed that a president who uses his powers for financial gain should face an impeachment inquiry, while three in 10 said it would be justified for a president who obstructs justice or harms U.S. interests abroad.

Only two in 10 said an inquiry would be justified for a president who uses his powers for unfair political advantage over an opponent, as Trump is accused of doing.

Everyone is locked in and Kevin Drum sees this:

The crosstabs pretty much tell the story here. Roughly speaking, Democrats are 90 percent in favor of impeachment, Republicans are 90 percent against impeachment, and independents are split 50-50. As usual, Democratic and Republican leaners feel the same way as Democrats and Republicans, so the only truly undecided group is the tiny number of genuine indies in the middle. That’s maybe a tenth of the electorate or so, which means that public opinion just doesn’t have very far to move. The only way to change that is for something to become public that’s too heinous for even Fox News to paper over.

But don’t expect that. Forget impeachment. Concentrate on the election:

This is unfortunate in a rule-of-law sense, but perhaps not so much in an electoral sense. Barring some kind of spectacular meltdown, this means that Democrats can’t rely on some external force helping them out next November. They just have to win. No whining about the Electoral College; no whining about voter suppression; no whining about the unfairness of the Senate. Just figure out a way to appeal to lots of different people and win the election.

And forget the big issues too:

Most people are really self-centered. They’ll vote for the candidate who promises them specific things that will help them personally. Students? Free or reduced-cost college. Young women? Childcare. Working-class men? Unions and big infrastructure programs. Middle-class folks? More generous Obamacare. The elderly poor? Higher Social Security payments. Environmentalists? Big bucks for climate change R&D. You get the idea.

Democrats don’t have to propose gigantic, universal programs that cost a fortune. They just need to propose targeted programs that will bring in votes from the middle-class groups they need.

That’s practical, but Rick Brown considers that dead wrong:

We need to push back on this idea that maybe we should just skip the impeachment, and let the upcoming elections decide the impeachment question.

The problem with that is that elections and impeachments are not the same thing, and serve two totally different purposes.

Elections ask the people to choose who (and also who’s vision) they want to run the country, whereas impeachment asks the government to determine whether the president committed any “crime” or “crimes” against the country, and should be removed from office because of it. Just as a priest who sexually molests a child should be fired and reported to the police, even if the Bishop likes the guy’s work, a president who commits a serious breach of law or rule should lose the job and shouldn’t even be allowed to run for future office, no matter what the voters think. (And by the way, part of the impeachment process includes an option allowing the Senators to vote to bar him from serving in any elected office in the future.)

And the evidence in this case continues to mount:

The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled its first impeachment hearing for Dec. 4, as Democrats released transcripts Tuesday of the depositions of two more Trump administration officials.

The depositions of Mark Sandy, an Office of Management and Budget official, and Philip Reeker, the diplomat in charge of U.S. policy for Europe, were released hours after Trump said he would “love” for several senior administration officials to testify in the impeachment inquiry. He then argued that the White House was preventing them from doing so to protect the institution of the presidency.

Later Tuesday, Trump headlined a campaign rally in Florida, where he renewed his attacks against Democrats and what he described as their “impeachment witch hunt.”

That line is wearing thin, and even if Trump will never lose even one voter in his base, it was time to cover one’s ass:

Donald Trump denied directing Rudy Giuliani to go to Ukraine to look for dirt on his political rivals, in an interview with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

“No, I didn’t direct him, but he is a warrior, he is a warrior,” Trump told O’Reilly in an interview streamed on the internet on Tuesday.

Giuliani has said publicly that he conducted an investigation “concerning 2016 Ukrainian collusion and corruption” on Trump’s behalf. Asked by O’Reilly what Giuliani was doing in Ukraine, Trump said “you have to ask that to Rudy.” “Rudy has other clients, other than me,” Trump said. “He’s done a lot of work in Ukraine over the years.”

In short, Rudy does what he does. Trump said that he had and now has had nothing to do with that any of that, which is curious:

Giuliani is under investigation by federal prosecutors related to his activities in Ukraine. Trump’s effort to force Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to open investigations that could be damaging to his political rivals including former Vice President Joe Biden is the subject of the House impeachment inquiry.

Witnesses in the inquiry have testified that Giuliani directed a shadow U.S. foreign policy in Ukraine aimed at securing the investigations Trump desired.

That’s not helpful, but Trump can still make sure that democracy doesn’t work:

President Trump on Tuesday raged against the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, lobbed attacks at his adversaries in the Washington establishment and angrily defended his health during an unfettered, raucous rally that marked his return to Florida as a formal resident.

Hours after the House invited the administration to present its defense next week in the impeachment investigation, the president railed against House investigators for being “very sick and corrupt people” unwilling to give him a fair chance to defend himself.

“The failed Washington establishment is trying to stop me because I’m fighting for you,” he told the roaring crowd, offering a key election battleground a fiery preview of what is probably going to be his foremost defense after a series of career officials testified that he had engaged in a pressure campaign to force Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.

No one should listen to anyone but him:

Mr. Trump also defended his decision this month to absolve three service members of war crimes, arguing that he had “stuck up for three great warriors against the deep state.”

No soldier should obey his commanding officer ever again. All commanding officers are “deep state” operatives out to ruin America, and then he rambled a bit:

He took particular offense with coverage of his recent visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and speculation about his health, describing unverified reports that he had “a massive, unbelievable heart attack.” He described at length the process of getting examined by doctors and being asked to “take off your shirt, sir, and show us that gorgeous chest.”

But he didn’t rip off his shirt right then and there, to show everyone his gorgeous chest, settling for this instead:

“Hey, if I wasn’t feeling great, I wouldn’t be ranting and raving to 21,000, 22,000 people,” he told the crowd, which broke into boisterous applause. Buoyed by a deafening soundtrack, the crowd frequently bellowed “four more years” and waved “Keep America Great!” signs.

And then he drifted:

During the nearly 90-minute speech, Mr. Trump frequently toggled between promoting his administration’s accomplishments and airing his grievances with his Washington adversaries. Tossing a few “Make America Great Again” hats into the crowd at the beginning of the rally, he treated the attendees as confidants. Mr. Trump wrapped them into the “fight to take our country back” and waxed nostalgic about his 2016 victory, his inaugural parade and the days when the news media did not scrutinize his every move.

“Can I be honest, in front of these fakers back there?” Mr. Trump asked the crowd, which responded with a variety of gestures in the direction of the media pen. He painted a world in which he and the audience united once more in 2020 to fight back against a number of adversaries, including those who wanted to stop saying “Happy Thanksgiving.” (It was unclear who those people were and what they wanted to say instead.)

Even as he reminisced about his victories over the Bush and Clinton dynasties, he would pivot mid-thought to lament the distortion of his “perfect phone call” with Ukraine’s president and the “very sick and corrupt people” investigating his administration. But, he assured the crowd, they would ultimately be unsuccessful.

“A lot of bad things are happening to them – you see what’s happening in the polls?” he said.

He hasn’t seen what’s happening in the polls. A majority of the country still believes that this particular President of the United States should be impeached and removed from office. But maybe that does matter. There really is nothing that’s too heinous for even Fox News to paper over. And this democracy is over.

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Our Neighborhood Now

Gregory Peck was just right for Atticus Finch. Tom Hanks was the best choice for Mister Rogers. Decent men who do the right thing should play decent men who do the right thing. Ethan Sacks notes that:

In this era of partisan divisions, Joanne Rogers often laments how much this generation of children could use the kindness radiated by her late husband.

“I’ve never known it in my life to be like this (time period),” she told NBC News ahead of the Thursday release of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

“One of the most important things to Fred was reconciliation. I think he would be appalled,” she says of the political discourse of this era. “I am appalled.”

But he’s dead, so someone else has to take up the slack here:

It’s no coincidence that “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” – inspired by the true story behind Tom Junod’s 1998 Esquire cover profile on children’s television icon Fred Rogers, and the salve the experience had on the journalist’s own fractured family life – is coming out now at a time when a majority of Americans are angry at the country’s political establishment and pessimistic about its future.

“When Peter Saraf, one of the producers, sent the script to me, it made me weep,” director Marielle Heller said. “It felt so important and it felt like something I wanted to spend my time doing and I could feel like I’m putting something good out into the world by making this movie. We’re living in scary times and I think we all have that feeling that we’re losing touch with each other and we’re losing touch with the ability to listen to each other and empathize with each other… it feels like we need Mr. Rogers more than ever.”

And right now there doesn’t seem to be an obvious heir.

So Heller hired Tom Hanks to do the best he could.

There was only one person that Heller could picture donning the red cardigan sweater of the children’s television icon – Tom Hanks, a regular fixture atop polls of the most trusted Americans and, as Ancestry.com ferreted out, a distant cousin of Rogers himself.

“There are few people we feel as warmly towards as Tom Hanks,” Heller said. “And he represents some part of our heart that feels similar to how we feel towards Mr. Rogers. And there’s almost nobody else I can think of who we feel that way about.”

And of course Donald Trump is no Tom Hanks and he’s certainly no Fred Rogers. He pardoned Americans soldiers convicted of war crimes – let our soldiers slit the throats of children if they feel like it. We train our boys to be killing machines. These generals and admirals talk about duty and honor and disciple and doing the right thing, and about the chain of command – but Trump is talking about freedom. No commander can tell Real Americans what to do or not to do. No one should be forced to follow orders. Freedom! Freedom from government!

Trump was telling every soldier and sailor and marine and airman that he (or she) didn’t need to follow orders from those old farts, any orders at all, which infuriated the military. And by the he second day of this there was this:

If Donald Trump gets his wish, he’ll soon take the three convicted or accused war criminals he spared from consequence on the road as special guests in his reelection campaign, according to two sources who have heard Trump discuss their potential roles for the 2020 effort.

Despite military and international backlash to Trump’s Nov. 15 clemency – fallout from which cost Navy Secretary Richard Spencer his job on Sunday – Trump believes he has rectified major injustices…

Right-wing media has portrayed all three as martyrs brought down by “political correctness” within the military.

But that’s just not so, as Richard Danzig, a Navy secretary in the Clinton administration, and Sean O’Keefe, Navy secretary in the George H. W. Bush administration, say right here:

An American service member shared a photograph of himself with a corpse along with the message: “I have got a cool story for you when I get back. I have got my knife skills on.” Our president’s endorsement of the perpetrator will be taken as a representation of our values. Our own troops, many of them teenagers, will be misled by the president’s sense, or lack of sense, of honor.

That’s part of a longer argument, about honor. This is not Mister Roger’s neighborhood, and Max Boot lists the reasons why:

When the Republican Party sold its soul to Trump in 2016, the price included overlooking his attacks on Mexicans and Muslims, on Gold Star parents, on a disabled reporter, even on John McCain; his abysmal ignorance of basic matters of public policy (he had never heard of the nuclear triad); his open collusion with Russia (“Russia, if you’re listening”); and, of course, his boasts about sexually assaulting women.

A pretty high price, that, but, like a landlord raising the rent because he knows you’re too lazy to move, Trump has dramatically escalated the cost his supporters must pay to stay in his good graces as we approach his fourth year in power. The price came to include overlooking his racist rants (e.g., telling congresswomen of color to “go back” to where they came from); putting kids in cages; kowtowing to Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other tyrants; abandoning America’s Kurdish allies; obstructing justice and stonewalling Congress; declaring a state of emergency to spend money that Congress has not appropriated for a border wall that we don’t need; lying nonstop; using the presidency to enrich himself; and disparaging the press as “the enemy of the people.”

Now, as the impeachment proceedings have made clear, the price includes turning a blind eye to Trump’s attempt to solicit a bribe from Ukraine in return for releasing military aid – and his disparagement of the dedicated men and women in the Foreign Service, the military and the intelligence community who have revealed his self-dealing.

And yet no price is too high for the Republicans to pay; no sacrifice of truth or dignity is too abject to make.

This is not a nice neighborhood:

To support Trump, too, the party of war heroes such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole and McCain is willing to trash a combat veteran who had the courage to testify about Trump’s attempted extortion of an ally.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) called this hero “Vindictive Vindman,” and other members of her party questioned his loyalty. It tells you all you need to know about the Republicans’ moral insolvency that they evidently prefer service members who commit war crimes to those who uphold the Constitution.

And then Boot finds it finally got absurd:

The wretched Republican attempts to vindicate Trump reached the level of self-parody this weekend when Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, who makes Sean Hannity’s slavish devotion toward the president seem lukewarm by comparison, actually called Gordon Sondland a “deep state bureaucrat” who “is not a fan of the president.”

Yes, this is the same Sondland who gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and continues to serve as his ambassador to the European Union. By telling the truth about Trump’s quid pro quo, he has become an ex post facto Never Trumper – a term of art that Trump uses to describe anyone who does not lie or make excuses on his behalf.

But everyone knows what comes next. The House impeaches Trump – the formal charges – and the Senate evaluates those charges – the trial – and then acquits him of all charges. He becomes both a martyr and an even bigger hero to just enough people in just the right places and is reelected. And nothing changes. This is our neighborhood now, and forever.

Lee Drutman doesn’t think so:

As impeachment mania grips Washington, it is easy to descend into an ever-deepening political pessimism. But as odd as it may seem, for the first time in years, I’m optimistic about the future of American democracy. It might be because I’ve been reading more history and less news. And from the long arc of American political history, I see the bright flashing arrows of a new age of reform and renewal ahead.

And here are those bright flashing arrows:

Eras of reform follow a general pattern. First, a mood of impending crisis prevails. Unfairness and inequality feel overwhelming, and national politics feels stuck and unresponsive to growing demands. But beneath the shattered yet still stubborn national stasis, new social movements organize. Politics becomes exciting and full of moral energy. New writers, empowered by new forms of media, invent new narratives. And future-oriented politicians emerge to channel that energy and challenge the old establishment.

America has gone through periodic eras of political reform, every sixty years or so.

Drutman lists those, but he zeroes in on one in particular:

Of the reform periods, the Progressive Era holds the clearest parallels to ours. In the 1890s, inequality, partisanship and discontent were all sky-high. The depression of 1893-97 shattered faith that a growing industrial economy would lift all boats. New leviathan railroad and public-utility corporations seemed imposingly powerful, and partisan politics seemed thoroughly corrupted by them. Mass immigration was changing the face of the nation.

As public dissatisfaction built, and pressure grew from multiple directions, the political system eventually responded, led by a new generation of reform-oriented activists and politicians. New forms of participatory democracy – the primary, direct elections for the Senate, the initiative and the referendum – reshaped a political system that seemed to privilege the few over the many.

Women achieved the right to vote, first in cities and states, then finally nationwide in 1920. New regulatory agencies wrestled with the size and scope of giant corporate enterprises, cutting some down to size, putting stricter boundaries on others.

And that could happen again, but Drutman argues that this happening right now, even if no one is paying attention:

A crucial Progressive Era lesson for today is that reform had no obvious order, and there was no one unified progressive movement – only a long list of social movements that sometimes made common causes and sometimes bitterly disagreed and often worked separately. Populist farmers caught in debt mobilized against the railroads. Liberal professional-class cosmopolitans grew disgusted with urban graft and devoted themselves to good-government municipal reforms. Many efforts suffered repeated setbacks before making progress.

But this was happening, and similar things are happening now, and Drutman adds this about the Progressive Era too:

Nor was there one leader, or even one political party, that drove change. A menagerie of ambitious politicians fused together different platforms and programs, and fought over fundamental issues: How much should rest on direct as opposed to representative democracy? Was it better to break up big companies, or just strengthen the ability of government to regulate them? Theodore Roosevelt, Robert La Follette, Woodrow Wilson and the coalitions backing them all had different ideas. Reform was incoherent and chaotic. It is inherently experimental – new problems demand new solutions. In short: Don’t expect one politician or one reform to hold all the answers.

But that doesn’t mean that nothing was happening, and after all, things might happen now, maybe:

The history of American democratic reform has been on balance progressive. In each era, reformers achieved at least some of their goals, and new political and economic rules tamed the most striking injustices, at least for a while.

But history never repeats itself perfectly. And we’ve never quite had a president as defiant and hostile as Donald Trump before. The hyperpolarization that powered and sustains Mr. Trump is the first and essential challenge a coming era of reform must solve. Left to escalate further, the current partisan ratchet of constitutional hardball will break our democracy.

Or not:

Here’s why I’m ultimately optimistic: I see how much the election of Mr. Trump acted as an impetus for people who care about democracy to get involved. The 2018 election registered the highest turnout midterm election in 104 years, and the smart money is on a similarly high turnout election in 2020. It may sound strange to say, but Mr. Trump’s election may yet turn out to be the shock and near-death experience that American political system needed to right itself.

And that’s the new neighborhood:

When political conditions become intolerable, people eventually stop tolerating them. And when old rules and power structures crumble, new ones emerge. Now is the time to participate.

And it was certainly time to use the courts, as CNN’s Stephen Collinson notes here:

Donald Trump is not going to like his Constitution 101 lesson: “Presidents are not kings.”

A federal judge’s stunning rebuke of the White House on Monday came as the result of a case by House Democrats to force former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify. But it serves as a thematic frame for an entire presidency that has never played by the rules.

All of Trump’s scandals are fusing together into a momentous fight over his staggeringly broad claims of expansive presidential power. How it turns out will shape his personal political legacy, the nature of the office he has held for nearly three years and potentially the American political system itself.

The impeachment battle over Ukraine, Trump’s efforts to keep Americans in the dark over his financial past, the lingering questions left over from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report and Trump’s determination to rule as an unchallenged commander in chief now all boil down to two simple questions.

How much power does a President have? And how long can the governing institutions that he has incessantly challenged stand his wielding of instinctive yet often-erratic executive authority?

And the answers were “not that much” and “not much longer” because this ruling was brutal:

Kicking off a frenzied half hour in Washington on Monday night, federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ordered McGahn to testify before the House of Representatives, which has been trying to force his appearance since April over Mueller’s findings that suggest Trump obstructed justice in the Russia investigation. Jackson dismissed the President’s claim that McGahn was subject to blanket immunity.

Getting right down to the basics that most Americans learn in school, the judge quoted Founding Fathers James Madison and Alexander Hamilton and French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville to explain the nature of the presidency.

“Stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings,” Jackson wrote.

“It is indisputable that current and former employees of the White House work for the People of the United States, and that they take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” the judge added.

The Justice Department quickly said it planned to appeal the ruling, which has profound implications for the impeachment inquiry, since Trump has launched a similar effort to prevent administration officials from testifying under another sweeping claim of presidential immunity.

The tide is turning. It wasn’t exactly a beautiful day in the neighborhood, but the weather is getting better.

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