Frank DeFilippo: Whiplash

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rips up pages of the State of the Union speech after U.S. President Trump finishes his address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives last week. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

News happens. So does stuff. Often the two converge, or conflate, as they did the past week.

The three most important letters in the word news are N-E-W. To keep pace with events of the past few days could’ve caused a severe case of whiplash.

In a nutshell: Democrats screwed up, Trump won. Schiff won, Trump lost. Trump’s impeached, his poll numbers improve. Mitt Romney defected, Trump curses. Trump rejected Nancy Pelosi’s hand, Pelosi shredded Trump’s speech. Mitch McConnell won, Pelosi lost. Washington prays, Trump fumes. The Senate prevailed, the Constitution is trampled. Iowa caucuses collapse, so does Joe Biden. Straights are out, gays are in. Socialism’s kaput, Democrats go socialist. Trump’s State of the Union speech was about another Planet, Rush Limbaugh was Trump’s lifeline back to earth. Trump bites back, the stock market soars. Kweisi Mfume is reborn, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings is snuffed. Gov. Larry Hogan smiles, the General Assembly smiles back.

And it’s only early in February.

America installed cameras in its chambers of power and turned on the greatest television show of the new decade. Many Americans, and even news hawks in other nations, now have a better sense of how a Constitutional democracy’s strengths are also its weaknesses.

America put its system of governance on global display and it failed. Blind loyalty triumphed.

Frank!
Frank A. DeFilippo

Nearly 250 years of democracy in action, Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison cited often, the founding fathers’ foresight and insight on trial as well as the president of the United States, and the Constitution itself a paper trail that traces way back to ancient Greece and Rome, flushed down a golden porcelain bowl because of a single churl and all but one of his Republican accomplices in the U.S. Senate.

There’s a line in one of Elmore Leonard’s novels, “Glitz,” wherein one of the main characters constantly reminds himself and others that, “If you’ve got to go through life worrying about getting even, it means you’re a loser.”

Meet President Donald J. Trump, the man who projects his own inadequacies onto others. And because of it, he believes in the politics of vengeance.

No grudge goes unpunished. The first real victim of Trump’s post-impeachment ire is Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated Iraq War veteran and member of the White House National Security Council staff. Vindman testified before Congress that Trump had, indeed, tried to blackmail Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeny, also a lieutenant colonel and an NSC lawyer, was also dismissed. Both were escorted out of the White House.

In a swift follow-up on the hit-list, Trump fired Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, who testified during the impeachment hearings that Trump tried to pressure the Ukraine for political help in his reelection campaign.

The next victim could very well be Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, who spluttered the truth about Trump’s phone call during a news interview.

Consider the impeachment. Most Americans who’ve reached the age of reason should ponder the alternative – whether they’re better off with a historically damaged though non-contrite despot of a president or a lineal successor who’s a slightly smudged hard-core ideologue and religious zealot. (Do not forget that Vice President Mike Pence had a hand, too, in the Ukraine affair. Pence is also Trump’s anchor to the religious right.)

This is what America has come to – a choice between two flavors of authoritarianism.

That would have been the outcome if the Senate vote had flipped the other way. So maybe we’re better off with the president who gloats and boasts but in reality, gets little done. He was acquitted by party-line vote in the Senate though not vindicated, as he will brag, as he did by flashing newspaper headlines at a bizarre, often incoherent and profane victory rally in the East Room of the White House.

Only Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) had the moral courage to defy the party line and stand up for his oath of office and the Constitution. But in politics, being right can be a terribly lonely position, which is the isolation booth where Romney now finds himself.

Much of Trump’s defense, which didn’t contest a single fact, centered on the ill-founded argument that in an election year the people should decide and not the Senate. Wrong! The impeachment provision was written into the Constitution for a specific and clear purpose, and nowhere does it assign the unsavory task to the people nor does it mention election years. It is the Senate’s duty, and the Senate failed.

Judge Judy, where are you when we need you? The Senate trial was a proceeding unlike the real deal where jury tampering and witness intimidation are strictly prohibited under penalty of prison.

Republican senators acquitted Trump partly because witnesses were not allowed during House proceedings, but the Senate voted to prohibit them during their part of the show trial. Historians say it was the first impeachment, of the three that have occurred, that failed to include witnesses. It’s easy to understand why. All the blabbers who were on the call-list could or would incriminate Trump. Mitch McConnell loves to win.

Get used to the loutish liar. The direction the Democrats are headed signifies that Trump will be around awhile, one or five years, though likely five. And go figure: Trump is impeached under the broad headline of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and his poll numbers shoot up to the highest rating of his presidency, 49 percent approval. It has to be the economy, stupid, not him.

At his victory celebration, Trump continued to be Trump without missing a beat.

He characterized certain Democrats as “vicious and mean.” He described the impeachment proceedings as “evil” and “corrupt,” adding they were conducted by “some very evil and sick people.” Trump said that he and his family “went through hell.” He described the impeachment proceedings as “bullshit.” And that was just the warm-up before Sinatra.

‘I feel very liberated’

The tetchy roundelay between Trump and Pelosi was, by far, the most fascinating sideshow of the week’s playbill. A sampler:

He said: “These people are vicious. Adam Schiff is a vicious, horrible person. Nancy Pelosi is a horrible person.”

She said: “It’s appalling the things that he says. And then you say to me: ‘Tearing up his falsehoods, isn’t that the wrong message?’ No, it isn’t. I feel very liberated. I feel that I’ve extended every possible courtesy. I’ve shown every level of respect.”

She said: “I pray hard for him because he’s so off the track of our Constitution, our values, our country. He really needs our prayers. So he can say whatever he wants, but I do pray for him and I do so sincerely and without anguish, gently, that’s the way I pray for everybody else.”

He said: “Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you’ when they know that’s not so.”

Trump continued his defensive screed of victimhood by saying the House should vote to “expunge” his impeachment because it was a “hoax.”

Pelosi responded by saying “They [the Republicans] can’t do that. First of all, they’re not getting the chamber back. If they don’t want to honor their oath of office, then they’re going to expunge from their own souls the violation of the Constitution that they made.”

Consider, if you will, that the very same Medal of Freedom – the nation’s highest civilian honor – that hung around the necks of Mother Teresa and Rosa Parks now dangles over the hoary and diseased chest of Rush Limbaugh, a late-stage rally-around-the-president made-for-TV gift from his golf buddy, Trump.

And therein is the Democrats’ problem. They can never equal Trump’s mastery of theatrics and the vast influence of the conservative media-industrial complex.

Imagine a Sunday-go-to-meeting Methodist or Baptist steering some John Deere machine through the wheatfields of Kansas while a transistor radio (or have they caught up with Bluetooth?) blares out Limbaugh railing against binaries, transgenders, homosexuals, immigrants, welfare recipients and the rest of the conservative text and suddenly the country is headed to hell in a handcart. These folks see their way of life as threatened and vanishing.

They view the rules and the cultural memes as being directed by a handful of coastal states and a cohort of liberal media outlets. But Trump and his allies employ the social media as a way around the madness that the Democrats have yet to penetrate or match.

Trump’s followers, the 40 percenters, believe whatever Trump says. Thus, he says whatever will please his audience, most of it factually incorrect and made-up nonsense that has fact-checkers on overtime.

They will drink nuclear waste for Trump.

Timothy Snyder, a Yale historian and modern-day pamphleteer, writes in his frightening tract, “On Tyranny”: “The founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.”