The Brutal Politics of US vs. Them

Yale Historian Timothy Snyder, author of the 2016 On Tyranny,  has been all over media lately, analyzing our ravaged nation’s rapid slide toward open autocracy.   His quote on the lesson of history resonates strongly with my own view on the matter — since the future is entirely an exercise in imagining possibilities, informed by knowledge of the past:

[H]istory does not repeat. But it does offer us examples and patterns, and thereby enlarges our imaginations and creates more possibilities for anticipation and resistance.[19]

I recently saw his 2018 talk at Harvard on youTube.  Snyder lays out the recent history of the politics of US and THEM, the dividing line of current Western politics (America is one case, Hungary is another, UK another, Brazil another, India, etc.)  He discusses how a politics based on defining friend and enemy, (and the appropriate treatment for each category), is antithetical to  the democratic goal of a rules-bound politics of consensus, a system of institutions and laws designed to protect the weak and restrain the impulse of the powerful to favor friends and punish enemies. 

Snyder cites our increasing reliance on the internet as the biggest single factor fostering this Us and Them oversimplification and distortion of our politics.  He argues that the unreal online world of the internet has been the biggest single factor in flattening a complicated three dimensional world to a largely self-affirming two-dimensional one.   

Rather than increasing our critical abilities, with this unprecedented access to the total accumulated information of the world, our online lives have flattened our range of exploration by instantly and robotically providing us opinions and glosses that affirm our preconceptions.   The internet now serves us personalized content tailored to what the algorithms know we already prefer.  The hours most of us spend on online every day deaden our ability to reason our way to conclusions based on actual facts, real things that actually happened in the real, three-dimensional interactive world.  Time spend online, in a virtual cocoon of like-minded thinkers, also saps our will to meet other humans in the real world to strategize with and take concerted action with.  

In cyber space it is easy to magnify certain things while disappearing others.  In an immersive cyber world it is fairly easy to erase the very real problems confronted by the actual humans who make up the abstract, hated “Them” — rendering “them” nonexistent.  Millions of refugees fleeing real atrocities and climate disasters in far away countries?  Their existence and their terrible dilemmas can easily be erased on the internet, reducing them solely to their use in tropes, memes and bots shaping “our” opinion toward “them.”

If you stay in your internet silo the chances for real-world participation start to seem less real than the stimulating and addictive interactions (with humans or bots, one never knows) you can constantly have on-screen.   I had a dramatic example of this recently, in trying to leave the online space for human interaction in the real world.  I found that the large militant nonprofit clearinghouse’s website I’d visited with great anticipation that it would provide options for live participation in the struggle to retain democracy offered no possibility of live interaction with other activists, only online petitions and donation buttons, along with press releases about the many successes in this well-funded group in fighting back against oppressive policies.   Leaving me with only online options for “action”.

To complicate matters, and make the determination of what is fact and what is fabricated bullshit supremely hard, on-line there’s no way to know which comment is from a like-minded human being (or one you don’t agree with) and which is simply a comment fabricated for influence, expressed by a bot. The influence of this false “Us” is huge.

The human troll plays an outsized role in political outcomes on the internet.  The troll can sit anywhere in the world.   Snyder gives the example of Michael Flynn and Russia, how Flynn found himself citing numerous Russian bots for definitive answers to questions of American political opinion.

Our addiction to the cyber world is, at this moment in time, moving us toward a fascistic view of the world as the battlefield for eternal war between irreconcilable enemies, not toward increased liberalism or interconnectedness.

In order understand the potential of internet to move toward greater human understanding and freedom we need to see it through the lens of history. Snyder says.  The printing press and the radio were at first very destructive social forces as well.   The current polarizing power of the internet can be fixed over time, but it is best to understand and be wary of its present outsized power to evoke and affirm strong feelings to drive political outcomes.  At present human emotions are being manipulated by robots, brought into “existence” by coders.  This is a one way transaction in evoking strong feelings, since the robots stoking these feelings are incapable of any feelings at all.

Snyder calls for the  “revalorization of factuality” — the notion that it’s actually heroic to analyze and understand the world based on facts, discoverable in the three-dimensional world, easily compressed into unreality in a two-dimensional world.   The project of all tyranny begins in the destruction of “fact” in favor of a strong, emotional call to fight an inhuman enemy.   Good local news coverage by independent reporters, increasingly hard to come by, is one antidote to this trend that Synder singles out as something essential to support.

The US and Them distinction powerfully cuts across all discussion, debate, every chance of human understanding.   It’s hard to even have a discussion about justice without immediately falling into one of two artificially drawn political camps. 

A recent email discussing institutional injustice, opposition to it and the debate between moderate incrementalists vs. urgent “justice delayed is justice denied” types (especially in the context of acting to save the planet before it is actually uninhabitable), and my strong sympathy for the latter, convinced an old friend that I had to be “all in for Bernie”.  This immediately caused him to fear an ugly confrontation with me, as he’s had with other friends lately, since he feels he is supremely pragmatic and “realistic” and will happily vote for whoever the DNC selects as a candidate.   Trump, he says (and I don’t disagree) must be defeated and it’s as simple as that.

So instead of a back and forth discussion of principles, we are instantly reduced to arguing about our feelings about the individual celebrity horses in a zero-sum celebrity horse race, covered mainly by dishonest brokers serving a profit-driven corporate agenda. 

Here, of course, with no intention to do it, I’ve indicated my preference for a Sanders or Warren and my extreme distaste for a Bloomberg or Biden.  As we are simplemindedly taught to do here, on the politically “reasonable” side of the aisle, nobody’s right, nobody’s wrong, the main thing is to defeat a would-be autocrat, let’s split the difference and have someone electable who won’t upset anybody as much as a “radical” harping on vast, long-time inequalities of opportunity.   It’s US vs. THEM after all, and the main thing is not to let those Nazi fuckers cheat, and win, again.

A rant full of sound and fury, ultimately saying nothing, outside of a scream of inchoate pain and frustration at the powerlessness we all feel as isolated citizens staring at our screens for hope.   The best thing to do to deny Nazis their ultimate triumph, is to fight them where they stand — based on superior ideas about the future of humanity.  The enemies of progress, those who want to turn the clock back to 1953, stand strongly online, to be sure, but they also stand everywhere else.   We need to stand against them in the real world (he said firmly, online).

A Cabinet of Sycophants and Acting-Idiots, Bill Barr edition

Donald Trump, as part of the unsolicited expert advice he gave to businessmen while he was campaigning for the presidency in 2016, advised would-be titans of industry to surround themselves with people less intelligent than themselves.   This way, he pointed out, you can always literally be the smartest man in the room, an important advantage for the boss.  Particularly if you’re the boss of a family business given to you by a demanding and ruthless father who never really had faith in your smarts.

In office, Trump’s been as good as his word, if we add the important caveat that if you are smarter than the smartest man in the room, you must hide your intelligence behind heroic loyalty to even the boss’s most idiotic and indefensible whims and policies. 

This caveat, obviously, does not apply to people like Betsey DeVos.  It applies directly to the most dangerous man in America: Bagpiper Bill Barr.   Follow the chain of events:

When, on May 17, 2017, after lawfully firing FBI director James Comey to end the Russia thing and the Flynn thing, and, obviously, the Comey-loyalty thing,  the president was confronted with the awful news that traitorous Acting A.G. Rod Rosenstein  (who stepped into the role after AG Sessions followed the advice of DOJ ethics lawyers and correctly recused himself from the Russia investigation — his recusal was seen by most lawyers and legal observers as mandatory) had appointed a Special Prosecutor, Trump was beside himself.

“Oh my God,” a note-taking witness quoted Trump as saying, “This is terrible.  This is the end of my presidency.  I’m fucked.”   He became angry and lambasted A.G. Sessions “How could you let this happen, Jeff?”   Trump said “Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels [sic] it ruins your presidency.   It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything.  This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”   source

To grasp the full weight of these words, here is John Lithgow’s excellent dramatic reenactment. 

The Mueller Report, Volume Two, details the undeviating pattern of presidential actions intended to obstruct the investigation into presidential obstruction of justice.   Don McGahn, Trump’s White House counsel, refused to fire Sessions, as he was asked to do by the president, and refused to write a knowingly false letter for the files at the president’s request, a letter denying that Trump had ever asked him to fire Sessions.  Trump pressured Sessions, accepted Sessions’ resignation letter, refused the resignation, but held on to the letter for leverage against his disobedient but very loyal AG.   

He called on several other people, including the pugnacious Corey Lewandowski who was not in the government at that time (a “back-channel,” just like unofficial Rudy in Ukraine), to deliver coercive messages to Sessions about his refusal to “unrecuse” and to fire the Special Counsel.  That his servants did not carry out his orders was later used by the president’s defenders to justify the lawfulness of Trump’s actions under the absurdist rationale that mere attempted crime is not a crime.   After all, as every schoolchild knows, there’s no such crime as attempted murder.

Trump later lawyered up and (following new AG Barr’s advice in a letter that was published) asserted a ridiculously broad and audacious privilege (one that would require a major 5-4 Supreme Court reversal of strong unanimous precedent if Trump’s claim was to be upheld) against ever, under any circumstances (including during his impeachment), allowing testimony or evidence that could be adverse to his interests in remaining the Unitary Executive and the businessman most well-shielded from investigation in the world, as long as he remains POTUS.   

Volume Two of the Mueller Report was a catalogue of the president’s seamless pattern of guilty-looking actions to obstruct an investigation into his obstruction of justice, a pattern that contained all the elements for sustainable obstruction of justice charges.  Take a few moments to go watch a bit of that marvelous dramatic reading of the Mueller Report, Volume Two.  Mueller famously wrote that he could not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice, even as he was prevented, by an OLC legal directive, from charging him with a crime, regardless of the seeming weight of the evidence that Trump had actually done what the sworn witnesses said, as long as Trump was the sitting president [1].   

Enter Bill Barr, the new AG, the man who took the AG job just in time to make the Mueller findings disappear, as he’d promised to in his published audition for the job.  There were calls for Barr to resign the other day after some public, transparently partisan presidential DOJ ass-licking on Barr’s part (no judgment, Barr clearly just likes the taste).  1,100 former federal prosecutors had signed a letter calling for his resignation, citing his unfitness to oversee all federal law enforcement.   I went on-line to read their letter.   

The letter that came up first was another letter signed by more than 1,100 former DOJ prosecutors,dated May 6 2019.  It was a reaction to Barr’s lies about the findings of the Mueller Report as well at least one lie to Congress,    That letter, which will be familiar to many, is here.

As for lying to Congress, Barr famously pretended, under oath, not to have received the politely indignant letter Mueller sent him immediately after Barr publicly, and deliberately, mischaracterized the findings of Mueller’s report.  Barr claimed he had no knowledge of how Mueller felt about Barr stating that Mueller’s report had, basically, completely and totally exonerated the president, an innocent man whose innocence completely justified all the lawful actions he took to try to end the baseless investigation into his obstruction of justice.   Mueller had written Barr with his strong objections to Barr’s mischaracterization immediately after Barr’s public dismissal of Mueller and his findings.   So?

Barr’s successful obstruction of public knowledge of what Mueller’s report actually contained about Trump’s obstruction of justice made the contents of the report a dead letter in the public mind.  Nothing to see here.  Just angry, loser partisans going after an innocent and all-powerful man, based on their own crippling loser inadequacies.   

Mueller’s fully-redacted summary of Volume Two, which was made available to Barr along with the report itself, was withheld by Barr for a month while Barr’s own “summary” publicly substituted its far-fetched story-line for the one Mueller’s sworn witnesses had told under oath. 

Mueller, by all accounts a good and honest man, a Boy Scout who believes in the rules,  is said to have shit the bed by writing his report with the prissily ornate disclaimer-laden legalistic prose that requires a law degree to parse (read the report, counselor!) , and in a real way he certainly did, At the same time, as was he charge, Mueller also preserved a trove of eyewitness testimony and other evidence, indicted and secured the convictions of several of the president’s closest associates (Flynn, Manafort, Cohen and Stone come to mind).   In a functioning participatory democracy, one whose chief law enforcement officer is not an unprincipled God-fearing toady, Mueller’s report would have performed the duty that had been entrusted to Mueller’s team, by turning over an impressive pile of evidence and letting the facts speak for themselves to the American people.

Barr’s disinformation campaign to squash Mueller’s findings to protect the president was so successful it convinced iron-willed Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful Democrat in the country, that most Americans are already too brainwashed, too stupid, or both, to understand the immense gravity of the facts Mueller set out, the ones Barr successfully made to disappear.   She made a political calculation and restricted the impeachment to very limited, much weaker grounds, although there was the planned benefit of a relatively straightforward, easy to follow story, Trump’s shakedown of the new president (of a country nobody in America can find on a map [2]) to get dirt on a political rival. 

In my mind, Pelosi used her outsized power (which I compare to Moscow Mitch’s awesome power in the Senate — in neither case does it speak well of democracy to have a single strongman in each House speak for the will of the People) to silence the voices of anyone who argued for a third article of impeachment — Obstruction of Justice, a federal crime-in-progress by our untouchable, lawyered up Boss-in-Chief.  In the context of a three year continual process of obstruction and abuse, of court processes as well as subpoenas from Congress and attorneys general all over the United States, the president’s actions in Ukraine actions could be seen in their proper perspective, as part of an ongoing pattern of the president committing the federal crime of obstruction of justice.   Pelosi made a strategic decision to play a weaker, but  arguably more straightforward, easily understandable, number card instead of the most powerful face card in her hand to play.  Oh well.

In December 2019, at the end of the Inspector General’s  investigation into the sordid origins of the what, unaccountably became the vicious partisan Mueller Witch Hunt conspiracy against Mr. Trump, the Bagpiper sucked his own bagpipe, as follows:

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The “intrusive investigation”  started on the “thinnest of suspicions,” suspicions in Barr’s view “insufficient” to start the Mueller probe (and, of course, in fairness, the investigation only only led to the conviction of a mere six (6) of Trump’s many close 2016 campaign associates for crimes related to a cover-up of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign and other improprieties.  Just yesterday the innocent, unfairly persecuted Roger Stone was unfairly sentenced for several arguable non-crimes, including jail time for the non-crime of “Obstruction of Congress.”  Horrible and very unfair, according to our nation’s Chief Law Enforcement Officer, Donald Trump. 

The country’s other, secondary Chief Law Enforcement Officer, Bagpiper Bill Barr, continues to stand by his arguably untruthful positions.   The conclusion by Mueller, our intelligence agencies and even in McConnell’s own Senate Report, that Russian efforts to sway the outcome of the 2016 election in favor of Donald John Trump were “sweeping and systematic” — SO?  That the efforts are ongoing and absolutely planned for the 2020 election, in progress now, urgent, danger, Will Robinson.   No action whatsoever needed to protect the integrity of the American electoral system, according to no less an authority than Moscow Mitch … puzzling, isn’t it?

The February 16, 2020 letter from 1,100 ex-DOJ officials calling for Barr’s resignation (that number is now over 2,000)  the one I was actually looking for is here.      The outcry came about when Trump whined on twitter that his friend Roger Stone was facing a long prison sentence for his numerous so-called crimes to protect the president, totally SAD! horrible and very unfair!  After the tweets DOJ withdrew its sentencing memo, a memo that asked for the seven to nine years prescribed by law for those serious crimes of lying and corruption to advance a corrupt scheme.  Not to mention witness intimidation (pretend I didn’t mention it) and defying a judge’s gag order.  (The charges in that case were based on Stone’s repeated lying and obstruction in connection with Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election.  Talk about grounds for twitter recusal, Mr. President…)

The lawyers formerly employed by the Department of Justice make another excellent case in their recent letter calling for Barr’s resignation.  It is a case that  the DOJ should really look into.  Whoops.  (ROTFLMAO!)

When Trump was in his moment of political and personal agony, on May 17, 2017, when he cried out to his inner circle that he was “fucked”, in his anguish, he cried out rhetorically for his Roy Cohn.  The evil and self-hating Roy Cohn, among his other destructive life achievements, was, for years,  the unbeatable attorney to all five major organized crime families in the United States.  The Trump family business was a long-time client of Roy Cohn’s.

Cohn was the man who taught Trump how to use the law as a sword and a shield.  Countersue audaciously, when you lose, appeal, drag it out, make them go bankrupt, break their balls with motions, kill them with process, make ’em spend millions if they want to try to beat them, make them pay while at the same time destroying them in the press.  Cohn’s taught Trump that unscrupulousness was no vice, if your aim was to keep a guilty person out of prison.  He showed Trump how to use the mass media to influence public sentiment, introduced him to friendly contacts at the tabloids, showed him how to publicly bully foes real and imagined and how to lie confidently (Trump probably didn’t need tutelage in that, he’s a Hall of Famer in that category).   In the end, when Cohn was disbarred, indicted, dying alone of AIDS he swore was cancer because everyone knew he hated fucking fags (don’t ask…) Trump, a man known for loyalty and his many deep friendships, turned his back on his longtime mentor. 

But in that moment of agony, on May 17, 2017 when Trump cried out for his Roy Cohn, the unprincipled Bill Barr’s ears pricked up.   Opportunity was knocking, history was knocking, Barr’s destiny was knocking.   Barr presented himself, a fatter, slicker version of Roy Cohn.  You an picture his courtly bow “at your service, my liege.”

Barr, the president’s current Roy Cohn, is a long believer in the infallible authority of the powerful and well-connected.  He is ever mindful of his own righteous version of truth and justice.  His public credibility (among the credulous) is bolstered by his sober demeanor: judicious in his pauses, utterly certain in his pronouncements, his cynical but authoritative-sounding use of legal chicanery. 

He argued to the American public, during a live appearance after he told America what Mueller’s report had actually concluded (while concealing Mueller’s actual summary for weeks), without betraying the slightest hesitation or irony, that Trump’s innocence was apparent, from the report itself.  Barr said that the crucial element of corrupt intent, necessary for proving the crime of  “obstruction of justice” could not be established.   Barr said, without breaking expression, that the president was simply understandably angry and frustrated at the persecution by Mueller and so did what any of us — knowing we were 100% innocent victims of a vicious conspiracy — would have done– used every one of his legal, self-defending powers to intentionally protect the rights of an innocent man.

Barr looked at the camera calmly, feeling no need to add at that moment what a weaker person would have blurted out:  so suck it!

Barr is Trump’s Roy Cohn, not much more to say about that.  Truth, particularly if potentially incriminating, will not be allowed to stand in the way of carrying out God’s will on earth, and God, clearly, demands a Unitary Executive to rule over these corrupt and evil generations.  Without vast powers to enforce the will of God, the soul of America will be lost to the invading haordes and wicket “social justice warriors”.

 

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[1] It’s fair to say Mueller punted in his noncommittal report, turning the ball over to the Congress for impeachment, after he performed an insanely legalistic ballet that enabled him to remain civil, polite and scrupulously unbiased, even when his investigation was documenting clearly very bad behavior by the president and his inner circle. 

[2] Not to get too far afield here, but Paul Manafort made tens of millions in Ukraine using his brilliant campaigning techniques to help get a Russian-backed thug named Yanukovich elected president of Ukraine.  (Unfair to call him a ‘thug”, I suppose, it was decades before his election, the convictions and two prison terms for assault)   Manafort’s efforts succeeded and Yanukovich was elected president of Ukraine, only to be ousted a few years later by a popular uprising.   After Yanukovich fled to Russia he was tried in absentia in Ukraine and found guilty of treason.   Manafort’s next client was Donald Trump, for whom he worked for free and on whose behalf he gave polling data to Russian agents.  Just sayin’… Nothing to see here!!!

Perfect President

If your goal is to destroy the administrative state, end all regulation and stop the enforcement of coercive laws that protect only the poor, those demanding and parasitic “takers”, while ensuring maximum liberty for the most privileged to enjoy the unfettered pursuit of happiness, the shambolic [1] Mr. Trump is the perfect president  for you.  Mr. Trump, shameless showman and all-star sower of chaos, is the perfect president for those interested only in preserving, or enhancing, their own vast privilege.   

Trump’s manifest lifelong unconcern with law, rules and norms, his constant pursuit of self-interest above everything else, his mania for “winning”, coupled with his very limited attention span,  makes him the perfect man for the job.   His inattention to detail is catnip for those who have specific targets of  attack to cripple the impediments to their complete freedom from government coercion.  He is always happy to do nothing, if it benefits his biggest donors.   The devil in any regulatory scheme is in the details, as any high-stakes white collar criminal knows, so create enough havoc and certain key details will get lost in the shuffle.  Leave open appointments for agency heads, don’t fill government jobs as they become vacant, employ acting-directors so as not to require Senate confirmation, and so on. 

For example, we learn (from the excellent investigative podcast Trump Inc.) that the Federal Election Commission is currently unable to enforce federal campaign finance law.  All the perfect president has had to do to ensure this is nothing.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is an independent regulatory agency whose purpose is to enforce campaign finance law in United States federal elections. Founded in April 1975, after adoption of the 1974 amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act, the Washington, D.C. based agency employed 339 Americans as of 2006 and, as of 2017, an annual budget of $79,000,000.  Its six commissioners, three from each major party, are appointed by the President.      See: Wikipedia

In order to vote to refer a criminal prosecution for violations of campaign finance law, a law the president himself appears to have violated when he was named as Individual One in a campaign finance violation that put his personal lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen in prison, the six commissioners, three Democratic, three Republican, must vote do do so [2].  Republicans have been historically reluctant to bring these complaints to enforce campaign finance laws, which require, at minimum, a quorum of four to vote on.  

There are currently only three FEC commissioners, making it impossible to have a quorum.  No quorum, no vote to enforce the federal campaign finance laws.   So all Trump had to do to ensure that there is no enforcement of federal campaign finance law, and, obviously,  no penalty for its violations, was — nothing.   Which he always does with aplomb.   He has been otherwise very busy, since the day he was inaugurated in 2017, focusing on his reelection campaign and driving huge rally crowds into continual frenzies.

Interesting note: Don McGahn is a former FEC commissioner, nominated by George W. Bush in 2008 and confirmed by the Senate for his six year term.  He was elected FEC chairman soon after his confirmation.   Read all about it:   Here is a  beautiful example of Mr. McGahn’s legal prose, an opinion in a 2013 enforcement case ruling that Trump, Michael Cohen and the Trump organization did absolutely nothing wrong in connection with the 2012 presidential campaign.

 

As Wikipedia puts it: Due to multiple members resigning and no confirmed replacements, the commission lacks a quorum and cannot conduct most of its regulatory functions.[5]

Before we get too excited, there is powerful criticism of the FEC, summarized here:

Critics of the FEC, including campaign finance reform supporters such as Common Cause and Democracy 21, have complained that it is a classic example of regulatory capture where it serves the interests of the ones it was intended to regulate. The FEC’s bipartisan structure, which was established by Congress, renders the agency “toothless.” Critics also claim that most FEC penalties for violating election law come well after the actual election in which they were committed. Additionally, some critics claim that the commissioners tend to act as an arm of the “regulated community” of parties, interest groups, and politicians when issuing rulings and writing regulations. Others point out, however, that the commissioners rarely divide evenly along partisan lines, and that the response time problem may be endemic to the enforcement procedures established by Congress. To complete steps necessary to resolve a complaint – including time for defendants to respond to the complaint, time to investigate and engage in legal analysis, and finally, where warranted, prosecution – necessarily takes far longer than the comparatively brief period of a political campaign.

My advice to anyone outraged by the kind of nonchalantly autocratic moves Mr. Trump routinely makes to weaken regulations, oversight and democracy itself, look away, vote for whoever the DNC puts up as a “centrist” presidential candidate.  Nothing you can do about any of it anyway, you powerless, worried citizens, short of doing the near impossible thing of figuring out how to join with others to organize and have a voice.  Just keep looking away.  You’ll hardly feel it when the bottom drops out from under us all.   The world is being destroyed anyway, and will be beyond salvaging shortly at the present rate of destruction, so no worries.

 

[1]  Just learned this great word from James Risen.  Shambolic:  chaotic, disorganized or mismanaged, (syn: muddled, confused, in total disarray).

[2] National disgrace Bill Barr (who recently joined the line of bagpipers at a police rally, so help me God) made the case against Trump in the Southern District go away, though Cohen, now in federal prison,  was reimbursed the $130,000 he paid porn-star Stormy Daniels in October 2016 (the campaign finance crime) and produced the $130,000 personal check Trump signed in his now familiar jagged Sharpie scrawl to reimburse him for the criminal act.  Oh, well.  That’s the Unitary Executive for you!

 

The Nicest Thing About the Recent Impeachment

During the days leading up to the Impeachment Trial, where partisan acquittal was ensured beforehand by a gentleman’s agreement to allow no fact witnesses or blocked documentary evidence to interfere with the smooth public exoneration process, and during the “trial” itself, there was a merciful silence from Attorney General Bagpiper Bill Barr.

Other Trump accomplices, (henchmen, if you prefer) were also blessedly silent during the “trial”.  We heard virtually nothing from Mick “I’ve got your Quid Pro right here!” Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo, or even the unstoppable, self-indicting (under any other DOJ) Rudy Giuliani.  

Most blessed of all the silence was that of the most openly corrupt Attorney General in modern U.S. history, the president’s deeply religious Roy Cohn, Bagpiper Bill Barr.

I loved that I didn’t have to hear his caviling, often unreasonable, legal-sounding braying, his false gravitas and pretensions of integrity, the piety of this malignant right wing provocateur, strong legal right arm of the unbound malignant narcissist president.  Barr’s public silence in defense of the lifelong scofflaw at whose pleasure he serves was the single nicest thing about the recent impeachment, to me.

Sadly, that shit is now over, back to business as usual (the business of angry, privileged white men, anyway) making America 1953 again.  USA!  USA!!!   (etc.)

Fuhrerworte haben Gesetzeskraft, yo

The hallmark of autocracy is unquestioning fealty to the unfailing wisdom and absolute power of the autocrat.   If the leader did it, it cannot be wrong.  If the leader said it, it must be the law, in a dictatorship.  That was the express credo and supreme legal principle of the Nazi regime, “the leader’s word is law” to wit:

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After his party-line acquittal in the first trial in American history free of witnesses and evidence, the President’s impeachment “trial” in the Senate, the President exercised his legitimate power to punish the civil servants who had complied with legal subpoenas and testified honestly in the impeachment inquiry. 

The purge included the blameless twin brother of Alexander Vindman, one of the officials who gave sworn public testimony that directly contradicted the President’s claim that his 7/25 call to the new president of Ukraine was “perfect” (leaving aside a: what a “perfect call” even means and b: why the only record of the perfect call was hidden in a top secret government server until the Barr-squelched “credible”  and “urgent” Whistleblower complaint became known on September 9th).   

Although the vindictive purge by the President looked like the act of a petulant dictator, the firings were within the absolute right of every head of the Executive Branch, to purge the ranks of his enemies.   No reason to get all morally indignant about that.   Purges happen, the law says it’s fine, everyone in the Executive Branch works “at the pleasure of” their boss, the President, as we all know.

A few days later, late the other night, the President tweeted that the upcoming sentencing of his longtime ally Roger Stone was “horrible” and “very unfair”. 

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All Stone had been convicted of, after all, was loyalty to his old friend while the sick and dangerous Democrats were getting a pass on all their many crimes.  Barr’s DOJ, by the way, is conducting criminal investigations into some of these sick bastards, including two sick and dangerous former FBI directors who refused to swear personal loyalty to the President, even when directly asked by the President [1].

Stone was only trying to help the President by lying under oath to federal investigators about his role in Russia’s sweeping and systematic attempt to help Trump eke out a 78,000 vote Electoral College win over an almost equally reviled opponent in the 2016 presidential race.  Where is the crime in that?!!!   Being a loyal friend is now a crime?!  Stone’s open defiance of the judge’s gag order?   He was nervous, because he’s INNOCENT!  What don’t you understand about “very unfair” and “horrible”?!

Asked yesterday, after the unabashedly corrupt Bagpiper Bill Barr’s Justice Department modified their own sentencing memo to the judge in the Stone case, based on the President’s sophisticated legal arguments in his “horrible” and “very unfair” tweet,  the President was asked if he has learned anything from impeachment.   Here is the question and the dumber than a pile of scats fiery red meat response:

Reporter:  What lesson did you learn from impeachment?

POTUS:  That the Democrats are crooked, they’ve got a lot of crooked things going.  That they’re vicious, that they shouldn’t have brought impeachment…

Reporter:   … anything about yourself?   

POTUS:   … and that my poll numbers are ten points higher because of fake news like NBC which reports the news very inaccurately, probably more inaccurately than CNN, if that’s possible, uh, MSDNC, and you’re MS… uh, and if you take a look at NBC… no, I think they’re among the most dishonest reporters of the news.

Case closed.  Trump 2020. 

The mass media (except for FOX, Breitbart, Der Sturmer and a few other reliable outlets) is the Enemy of the People, some very sick and dangerous people lying about truly great Americans while covering up the crimes of other sick and dangerous Democrat traitors!  It is finally almost time to turn the tables and bring justice to these sick and dangerous criminals.

Trump 2020.  Say it with me:  “Fuhrerworte haben Gesetzeskraft, yo.

 

[1] The investigation into one, Andrew McCabe, was ended shortly after this post was weitten, with no finding of an actionable criminal charge.  

Look Away at Your Peril, Citizens

Terrible things happen regularly in our world, under the heading of “man’s inhumanity to man.”   At any given time one group of humans are catching hell from another.  For example, in 1921, a group of angry men in Tulsa, Oklahoma decided it was an intolerable outrage that another group of men, men who didn’t look like them, were prosperous while they themselves were struggling economically.   They went on a full-scale rampage, burning down a large section of Tulsa and killing an untold number of the other, hated, ethnic group.  After the pogrom, the survivors of that orgy of destruction, their former fine homes in ruins, were herded into an outdoor holding camp, presumably for their own protection from the still murderous mob.  

We don’t hear much about this particular racist massacre by a group of men who honestly believed they were superior to the people they were slaughtering, and fully justified in their violent actions.  Next year, when the centenary of the massive Tulsa Pogrom comes around, this particular little known slaughter will be placed before the public again. as if for the first time.

We can observe the sickening echoes of history, the sequences of unfolding events that “rhyme” with the most troubling episodes of the past.   We can see a familiar progression before every outpouring of mass rage:  legitimate grievance, harnessed and enflamed by finger-pointing demagogues, an “other” vilified (often as rapists and child murderers) and then, after sufficient time for this malignant brew to fully ferment, the chants begin, torches are lifted, men with guns ride to the rescue, the villains are brought to “justice,” swiftly, violently, without regard to the ordinary niceties for determining guilt or innocence.

It is a human instinct to look away from this kind of horror.   The impulse is understandable, even if it can also be fatal.   Historical comparisons are always slippery, often used to advance supremely idiotic arguments.   Certain things, however, always follow the same pattern.   In times of vast economic insecurity, for example, when massive transnational corporations employ armies of the world’s poorest, at slave wages, to maximize their profit margin, it is predictable that masses of their former decently paid workers, now without the prospect of employment for a fair wage, will rightfully feel betrayed and angry.  Angry people look for somebody to blame.  Demagogues direct their righteous rage towards some historically powerless group, the scoundrels who are to blame for this savage injustice.

It is predictable that when hundred year killer storms become the norm, instead of rare exceptions to the natural order — despite the robust right wing cries of hoax, fraud, lies, hysterical liberal alarmism — people affected by the storms will feel enormous desperation.  Every news report of a deadly tornado in an area that had never seen one, earthquakes in areas that had never had them, another large city flooded by a killer hurricane, landslides, wild fires, drought, rising sea levels causing floods … increases anxiety.  

It’s impossible to fully quell the thought, with the regular front page news of these now frequent natural disasters, that maybe this increasing natural destruction is not all a Chinese hoax invented by evil job-killing enemies who want to destroy our freedom.   The awful thought that maybe a hundred years of man’s wanton pollution has caused this scary change of the climate will creep in from time to time, especially after your own home is destroyed by an aggrieved Mother Nature.

Look away if you must.  Politics has become an ugly blood sport, the instinct to look away is stronger than it’s ever been, by deliberate design of the game.   As you turn your gaze inward to your own life, and making it as good as you can, in spite of the horrors around you, understand that only one side in the tribal wars has been actively and energetically organizing and preparing for this war for decades.  

Right now that side is winning bigly, while the other side cowers, afraid, torn by debate, many of its would be advocates turning away from “politics” and clinging to the things in life that make them feel most comfortable as the terrible rhymes of the worst episodes of history are jangling like ominous, maddeningly loud wind chimes agitated by a killing breeze.

Here in America only one side of our political divide, the extreme right, has organized a methodical long game to “right the scales” in the culture war.   One party now embraces views that, forty years ago, were the unthinkably paranoid, self-interested (and, frankly, racist) magical thinking of extreme fringe fanatics like The John Birch Society  [1].   The well-funded, smartly engineered campaign that created and funded influential “think tanks” to intellectually argue for their preferred public policies and shape national debate, endowed chairs at hundreds of universities for professors who espouse their liberty-loving views, founded, and funded, an influential national society of ambitious young lawyers and law students to ideologically indoctrinate and promote, through a fellow-traveler career ladder, future federal judges who will act as one to advance their agenda, given a case with the wiggle room to do so, funding national “grassroots” campaigns that appear on television to give the appearance of a massive, spontaneous public outcry, really has no analogue on the left. 

The protection of vast financial privilege, inequalities of wealth and grotesquely unequal chances for life or dignity, has long been the project of the privileged.  There is nothing mysterious about this; you or I, if we were cynics, would probably do the same, under these conditions.   If you stand to inherit a billion dollars from the family trust, and the government seeks to claim half of that in a punitive Death Tax, you will donate however many millions you are required to kick in for the cause of keeping it all.

Liberty, in fact, according to this orthodoxy, demands that the government not be allowed to coerce its citizens or unfairly confiscate the rightful property of  citizens.    An army of desperate poor people will be assembled to stand on the mall in Washington D.C. and every other major city and, in one voice, rail against this vicious government intrusion on human freedom!   Give ’em each fifty bucks and a free lunch, pay an additional ten if they make their own signs.   Why not?   That’s democracy in action, after all.   USA!  USA!!!!

The radical right has played a clever long game, learning from its mistakes, tweaking the program like a skilled engineer does to fix bugs in it.  It doesn’t hurt that they have unlimited money to deploy in sustaining their ever more effective long game.  Every beneficiary of the tangible privileges accorded to wealthy followers of the ideology will gladly kick in to advance the agenda for her own children and the children of her children’s children.   This is simply human nature, which you are free to judge, but powerless to do anything about.  

On the progressive side, historically, and presently, we tend to argue from entrenched positions — incremental change advocates (the practical art of the possible) versus institutional change advocates (justice delayed is justice denied).  We have moderates, urging us to not attempt to frontally attack long-time institutional injustices.   We have liberals, telling us that certain intolerable social evils should be reformed, must be reformed, to the extent possible in our divided political culture,  but that it may take a generation or two, or perhaps, as our recent history shows, a century or more.  

We have a few public radicals on the organized left, pointing out, correctly in my view, that the long slide toward autocracy (and bear in mind, the wealthy architects of the right wing revolution, in their hearts, prize their own liberty to be free of social coercion of any kind above everything else– autocracy for all!) cannot be countered with half measures.  We are fighting unscrupulous reactionary radicals, controlling untold wealth, who are busily spending to entrench themselves in permanent power, and only an equal and opposing energy, organizing and willingness to fight can make any difference.

The dilemma in a nation trained from birth to be pliant consumers — if you are appalled by the rapid advance of an extreme right wing agenda, there is really no place you can visit today, and directly participate to fight, that compares to any of the effective and massively well-funded one-stop shops of the formerly radical right.   If you are a young Libertarian, there is an easily findable career network and ready funding, from a variety of sources, for your liberty-enhancing ideas and a group of likeminded idealists ready to welcome you to their ranks.   Young leftists?  Good luck to you finding an organization to work with, finding people to organize, strategize and march with, in your city or town.

So, to the traumatized people of good conscience I know, I understand 100% your revulsion, and the reason you turn away from the ugly spectacle as our nation drops even the pretense of democracy.   It is painful and scary to witness, and a feeling of helpless anger is difficult to sit with.   There are wonderful entertainments to take our minds off this unsettling state of affairs, a host of diverting and excellent, healthy things to do– rather than watch in horror as the dark clouds of autocracy blot out all hopes of the light ever returning.   I get it, absolutely.   

And I will do my best to console you, sickeningly insistent realist (or unhinged, overwrought imaginer) that I am, in the cattle car, on our trip toward the relocation center.   At that point it will be senselessly cruel to remind anyone that all evil needs to flourish is for people of good conscience to look away, to do nothing.   How were you to really know how bad it was actually getting?   The New York Times was not freaking out, that much.

And, more to the point, it is not as if it was our children, or the children of anyone we know, who were snatched from their mothers’ arms and lost in a system of cages spread across many states, in the name of enthusiastically chanting crowds, for the profit of politically connected entrepreneurs who, flushed with a love of liberty, increased their bottom line bigly with government contracts to house these miserable sons and daughters of rapists and drug dealers.  

Do you think that on our way to the retraining center I would be crass enough to reproach anyone for their natural turning away from horror?   Not at all.   You won’t hear a word of reproach from me.  Why would you?

 

[1]  One of these wingnuts, the wildly influential, opiate-addled Rush Limbaugh, was decorated with the nation’s highest medal for a civilian, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, hung around his neck by First Lady Melania.   Why not?   Rush was one of the pioneers of this brutal new politics, and one of the most successful promoters of ideas previously considered too insane to publicly advocate.  Without Limbaugh, you don’t get to Trump.   A grateful president acknowledges his debt, without getting too close to Rush, whose late stage cancer might be contagious, after all.  Wind farms also produce cancer, a shit ton of cancer, people are saying.  You can’t be too careful, if you want to live to see the full ripening of your movement towards absolute liberty from government coercion.

This will come as no surprise

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Hannah Arendt writes, in her masterpiece Eichmann in Jerusalem:

there had existed two categories of Jews in the camps, the so-called “transport Jews” (Transportjuden), who made up the bulk of the population and who had never committed an offense, even in the eyes of the Nazis, and the Jews “in protective custody” (Schutzhaftjuden), who had been sent to German concentration camps for some transgression and who, under the totalitarian principle of directing the full terror of the regime against the “innocents,” were considerably better off than the others, even when they were shipped to the East in order to make the concentration camps in the Reich judenrein [“free of Jews” — ed.].    (In the words of Mrs. Raja Kagan, an excellent witness on Auschwitz, it was “the great paradox of Auschwitz.  Those caught committing a criminal offense were treated better than the others.”  They were not subject to the selection and, as a rule, they survived.)   [1] 

Think about any fundamentally lawless regime, ruled by a dictator, using terror, the threat of certain, merciless, violent reprisal, to enforce its absolute will in the face of potential resistance.   These regimes conduct one-sided unappealable show “trials” without witnesses or evidence, where loyalists take oaths in vain and vote on straight party lines to endorse their leader’s abuses of power and obstruction of justice.   These trials can also be used to publicly humiliate, convict and eliminate all enemies, real or percieved.   

In totalitarian societies actual criminals are often regarded as a lawless (outside of the leader’s will, which has the force of law) regime’s bold and beautiful, rewarded as men worthy of respect because they take what they want, rejecting weak, liberal social constraints, and the restraints of liberal “conscience” on their great appetites.  Criminals are the natural aristocrats of a totalitarian society, as long as their crimes remain above politics, or are committed in the service of the leader.  Punishment is for the weak and the timid, for the millions and millions of cowering losers who, even momentarily, seem to refuse to obey blindly.  They must all be made examples of!

Here’s another angry Jew, Eli Valley, a fine artist with brilliant brushwork, and a wicked sense of humor,  making a related point that some will find overwrought.   We who read history somberly, taking careful notes, never dismiss the murderous power of an angry crowd whose passions are stoked by a master of enflaming grievance and rage.  There are many, many, many examples of irrational appeals to fear, resentment and rage resulting in mass murder. 

Of course, even though it’s happened here many times, more times than most of us are aware of,  it can’t happen here.  Of course, of course!

 

 

[1] Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Hannah Arendt, (c) 1963-64   Penguin Classics edition,    p. 214