Extraordinary Times

Mar 24

Extraordinary Times

Posted by: George Grundy

Honestly. We are going to need a new dictionary. Unbelievable, unprecedented, astounding – these words have lost their currency in this hurricane of insanity. Without exaggerating, Thursday 23rd March 2017 contained more drama in one day than many administrations see in a year.

President Trump and his Veep Mike Pence met with members of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus yesterday to discuss the future of maternity leave coverage. Pence tweeted a photo of the meeting – not a single woman in the room. Imagine having a meeting to discuss women’s health and no-one in the room saying ‘hang on, there isn’t a single woman here, this is absurd’. Conservative male Republicans believe that it is their right to make decisions solely relating to women’s health, without input from women. Imagine them in robes – how far is this scene from something you would expect in Saudi Arabia? This is the most right-wing government in American history.

Obamacare came into being seven years ago yesterday. Paul Ryan and his Republican friends have had seven years to come up with a replacement, during which they have battled tirelessly to repeal and defeat the Act. But ten days ago the Congressional Budget Office estimated 24-million people will lose their coverage under Ryan’s bill. Republicans actively legislate measures that will kill tens of thousands of their own citizens. Astounding doesn’t come close to describing it. Poor white Americans put Donald Trump in office – look how he is repaying them.

At the very last minute, the Congressional vote on ‘Trumpcare’ was delayed last night. They vote today. Most think they don’t have the numbers. After seven years, Republicans don’t have anything close to a healthcare plan that works. America’s Dealmaker-in-Chief can’t seem to get anything passed.

At the Supreme Court hearing of Judge Neil Gorsuch yesterday, Democrats took the decision to filibuster the nomination, putting them on collision course with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. You might recall that Republicans chose not to even hear Obama’s nomination Merrick Garland last year, another unprecedented move. They now appear to genuinely believe that only the Republican party has the right to nominate SCOTUS’ 9th judge, forever weighting the court in their favour.

We shouldn’t even be here. The hearings should go like this.

Democrats: Are you Merrick Garland?
Gorsuch: No.
Democrats: Then we won’t vote for you.

If Neil Gorsuch (aged just 50) is enabled to steal a Supreme Court seat for life by a party prepared to break every rule in order to do so, during a period in which the sitting President is being investigated by the FBI for possible treason, it will be one of the most disgraceful and consequential decisions in American history. He could conceivably have the deciding vote for the next forty years.

Without the numbers to confirm Gorsuch the mandated way, Republicans are likely to go as far as to change the rules for nomination (from 60/40 to a simple 51/49 majority), in order to get their man onto the Supreme Court. It’s astounding. The Constitution is selectively invoked. When you see how they act when they want something, it’s clear that the Republican party now has no allegiance to law or the Constitution at all – they want what they want, and nothing is going to get in their way. Even the pretense of allegiance to American law has been dropped.

Consider this – if a crisis gives Donald Trump the excuse to declare martial law or suspend the Constitution, are you in any doubt that they will support him? American democracy is very much on the brink of collapse.

But the sheer relentlessness of the words ‘Trump’ and ‘Russia’ being linked together leads the pack for its drama and potential devastation.

On Monday, Sean Spicer said in a press conference that Paul Manafort had helped the Trump campaign ‘in a very limited role for a very limited time’, again demonstrating that these days you can just say anything, no matter how demonstrably false it is. Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager! For five months! Spicer was doing his impossible job to try to convince people not to be too concerned about the news that Manafort has been revealed to have had a secret contract since 2006 with Oleg Deripaska, Russia’s ‘aluminium king’, a billionaire crook and one of Vladimir Putin’s closest friends. The contract was worth $10 million per year, which Manafort explicitly said was in order to influence the highest reaches of America’s politics, ‘to benefit the Putin government’. This is the man Trump chose to head his campaign.

It’s far from clear if Manafort cut his extensive ties to those near the head of Russia’s government before he took the job leading the Trump election campaign. For a man who likes big cheques, Manafort curiously chose to work for Mr Trump for free. They say that where there’s smoke there’s fire, but we’re as close to seeing fire now as it’s possible to be.

Think all this is amazing? Well, as Alec Baldwin would say, hold on to your tits and bits, because yesterday Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff managed to secure the gold medal for drama, from what you could say is a crowded field.

Following FBI Director James Comey’s announcement earlier this week that the FBI has an active investigation into the Trump campaign’s knowledge of, and possible collusion with, Russian interference in the 2016 election in order to favour one candidate (Trump), Adam Schiff (the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee) told the media that he had seen ‘circumstantial’ evidence that Trump’s team had actively colluded with the Russians.

When it was pointed out that the word ‘circumstantial’ appeared to weaken his point, Schiff used a nice metaphor to show how powerful circumstantial evidence can be. If you go wake up in the morning and your garden is covered in snow (he said), you have circumstantial evidence that it has snowed. If you see it snowing, you have direct evidence, but a garden covered in snow still provides pretty strong circumstantial evidence that it has been snowing.

Yesterday Schiff told MSNBC host Chuck Todd that the information he now had was no longer circumstantial. Quick recap here – yesterday the lead Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said that he has direct evidence that Donald Trump’s team colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. !

There followed a bizarre cross-town chase, as his Republican co-chair Devin Nunes took his own information to the White House, to brief President Trump on the investigation which Nunes leads – into Trump! Yet another astonishing and inexplicable move.

Nunes then floored it into reverse, saying he didn’t have the information, he’d only seen it. He couldn’t tell us what the information was, and hadn’t even told his Committee colleagues before he briefed Trump. Again, this would be the scandal of the year in normal times. Nunes’ actions are likely to scupper his own investigation. Perhaps that was the point.

But we appear to have a democratic head of the House Intelligence Committee who possesses direct information showing collusion between the President and his team and the Russian government, in order to affect the outcome of America’s democratic election. Elements within the FBI appear to have taken a similar decision.

Aside from the Kennedy assassination, this is the biggest and most dramatic American political scandal in the last hundred years. This pisses on Watergate. We live in extraordinary times. Do not look away.