Mort Sahl, the comedian, observed that anyone who maintains a consistent political philosophy will eventually be tried for treason. We are there.
President Trump is nothing if not consistent in that he is what the British would call a bit “daft,” or, in plain English, nuts. Consider these statements:
“I am the chosen one.”
“I can do whatever I want with the Justice Department.”
“I have the absolute right to do what I want with the Department of Justice.”
“Article II allows me to do whatever I want.”
The trouble with Trump, as the French would say, is that he was born an asshole (humor me this once) and never was able to overcome it.
A “stable genius,” as he describes himself, is not packed off to military school for an attitude adjustment.
A stable genius, especially one of financial means, does not pass up Harvard, Princeton or Yale for a neighborhood college.
A stable genius does not use family friendships to influence admissions officers or take his wealthy father along to college interviews.
When anthropologists unearth Trump’s skull 2,000 years from now and try to discern just what the heck was going in America in 2019, they will be flummoxed because nobody really knows, least of all Trump.
What they are likely to learn is that Trump is really Chauncy the gardener from the Peter Sellers movie, “Being There.” Everything Chauncy knows he learns from television.
Trump’s single greatest skill is the power of transference. Whatever blame, fault, failure or blunder accrues to him, he immediately transfers ownership of the problem to someone else.
Impeach him and the stock market will crash, so Trump says, when, in fact, market analysts say the market will go up if Trump and his tariff wars would just go away.
Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, appeared ready to soil himself when Trump forced him to utter “nobody pushed me” at their joint news conference at the United Nations. The truth is that there were two comedians at the news conference. Zelenky is the real one. But Trump is one of the few people in Washington doing humor these days.
“No push, no pressure, no nothing – it’s all a hoax, folks. It’s all a big hoax.”
The Trumpster always saves his most familiar line for last: “Fake news.”
But there is something to be said about Trump’s claim of absolute authority over the Justice Department. Twice, now, the DOJ has shoved aside impartiality and fairness to bail Trump out of legal hot water.
First (and who knows what else) Attorney General William Barr – himself a possible subject of impeachment – whitewashed the Mueller Report to absolve Trump of wrongdoing from a whole string of suspicious offenses. The report actually details 10 occasions when Trump might have engaged in obstruction of justice and other suspect activities that Congress could pursue.
And second (and still looking for others) we have at hand the whistleblower’s complaint that Trump repeatedly encouraged a foreign official, Zelensky, to investigate Joe Biden, one of Trump’s chief political rivals in the 2020 election cycle.
It was reported that the White House scrambled to cover up the whistleblower’s seven-page complaint by sending it to a super-secret coded “lock down” file, in other words, bury it. Remember, it’s not the deed itself but the cover-up that usually incriminates.
Throughout the conversation, Trump offered Zelensky the services of Barr and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, in the suggested effort to dig up dirt on Biden and his son, Hunter, whom Trump, in another rant, accused of walking away from China with $1.5 billion, a claim that has been thoroughly discredited. The incumbent Ukrainian prosecutor has cleared Joe Biden of any involvement or wrongdoing. Giuliani, a blowhard like his client, has boasted that “I will be the hero” when this is over. Even Republicans are fed up with Giuliani’s incoherent babble.
Meantime, Kurt Volker abruptly resigned as special envoy to the Eastern European nation after disclosures that he had connected Giuliani with Ukrainian officials. Volker is scheduled to testify in a congressional deposition this week.
As persuaders, Trump withheld $391 million in military aid and dangled a possible visit to the White House which Zelensky had been seeking. (Take a bow, comedian Mort Sahl.) Zelensky has made it loud and clear, in a very public suck-up, that he stayed at Trump Tower during another visit to New York, raising again issues of conflicts of interest as well as new questions about violations of the emoluments clause whereby representatives of foreign governments attempt to influence the president by paying to use his properties.
Zelensky responded with appropriate fawning and curtseying, praising Trump for his skills and knowledge and being properly obsequious before a president who craves flattery and adoration. Zelensky, the comedian, knows how to work an audience. (For those who are unaware, Zelensky is a comedian who ran for Ukrainian prime minister as a lark and won in a landslide.)
Lawyers at DOJ reviewed the whistleblower’s complaint and rough transcripts of the phone call and decided there was no violation of campaign finance laws. They pursued the matter no further. (It is worth noting here that Barr had earlier telegraphed to the White House that he has booked the Trump International Tower, in Washington, for a Christmas party that is estimated to cost $30,000. Talk about a toady.)
Trump, trusting his ample (two scoops of ice cream) gut and insisting he did no wrong, ordered a rough transcript of the Zelensky phone call released to Congress and the public. Trump’s celebrated gut, which he substitutes for a brain, was wrong. It backfired. What Trump apparently viewed as exculpatory was, implicitly, a guilty plea. His decision baffled everyone around him who must now support him and justify his thunderclap call.
In his turn, the nation’s acting intelligence chief, Joseph Maguire, was reported ready to resign if the White House forced him to stonewall Congress on the whistleblower’s complaint. Maguire denied the report. But he also insisted that the release of the material was not his call. Go figure.
And now the Kremlin has weighed in with a statement of hope and a hint of mockery that the White House does not issue a transcript of talks between Vladimir Putin and Trump. The suggestion, of course, is that there might be some damaging trash talk there, too, and then again there might not be. Putin enjoys a good prank.
It came to this: Speaker Nancy Pelosi must have felt akin to King Canute trying to hold back the tides from rising. After a summer of resisting calls for impeachment, she finally yielded and turned loose the dogs of war.
Trump had been using Pelosi as an argument in his favor by saying she was against impeachment. But when the House headcount passed 218 (224 as of this writing and still counting), Pelosi had no choice but to submit to the majority and order an impeachment inquiry – the fourth in the nation’s history (Andrew Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Bill Clinton and now Donald Trump.)
So now the decision is this, and it’s purely a political calculation, and aren’t they all: Should the House follow Pelosi’s roadmap and pursue a narrow impeachment inquiry? Or should they take a scattergun approach and hope to inflict as much damage as possible, with equal risk to themselves?
The polls, after flatlining for months, are now rising in favor of impeachment since the squall over the whistleblower’s complaint began to shift public opinion.
The communal wisdom within the House leadership is that the Ukrainian inquiry is explosive enough in itself and a quick, single-shot impeachment undertaking that would be lethal enough. What’s more, it is a clean and simple narrative for the public to understand – an abuse of power wherein Trump attempted to pressure a foreign government to interfere in a U.S. presidential election. (Recall, too, that in 2016 he had invited Russia to expose Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 missing emails.)
Trump’s response to the latest knot tangling his shorts is that Democrats are using impeachment to try and dethrone him because they know they’ll lose the election in 2020. Or an alternative excuse, Democrats are attempting to undo the people’s choice for president. Three million votes wrong! The people did not choose Trump. The electoral college did.
The consequences for Democrats are equally fearful. They could end up with Trumps’ bobblehead, Vice President Mike Pence, as president wherein his evangelical order would go forth that no married man can have a meal with any woman but his wife and cannot attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side. That likely means that Pence could not go stag to Barr’s holiday party at Trump’s hotel.