The President is the Enemy of the People
Until this week, it was possible to claim that perhaps this President was just an unhinged egotist, a bumbling criminal who stumbled into the top job but would be unable to enact a broad political agenda because of the cumbersome weight of his own stupidity and incompetence. That view is no longer tenable.
Attorney General Bill Barr’s May 1st performance in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmed that a complete takeover of government by Trump is in fact well underway – keeping calm and carrying on is no longer going to cut it. Max Boot’s piece in the Washington Post put it best – ‘this nation is at the mercy of a criminal administration’. The ultimate guardrail against complete democratic collapse is enforcement of the rule of law, and in Barr the President appears to have found a man who believes that legal constraints don’t apply at the White House. Presidents can stop investigations into themselves if they feel the allegations are unfair. Trump can do whatever he wants until election day and there is no-one left to stop him.
It’s been easy to underestimate Donald Trump – the absurd hair, the orange skin, the verbal fruit-salads – these are the external traits of a deeply strange, disturbed mind. But Trump has surrounded himself with corrupt acolytes and chancers, all with their own agenda. This cabal has been quietly effective at stacking the judiciary, tearing down laws put in place to keep people and the environment safe, and dismantling bit by bit the fundamental checks and balances that stabilize and preserve American democracy. The Supreme Court now has two more partisan members, appointed by Trump. The President’s power over the Senate leaves it a footnote in discussions about impeachment, as everyone simply assumes that no matter what malfeasance is exposed, Trump’s loyal senators will not censure him. With Bill Barr now at the Justice Department, the only lever of government left with the power to limit Trump’s quest for complete control is the House of Congress.
You have to wonder what it is going to take for the Democrats to smash the glass and hit the emergency button – Barr now has ultimate control over every investigation that Robert Mueller handed off. He can stymie or extinguish these, one by one, out of sight. Barr is unlikely to have any compunction about aligning the Justice Department and White House’s goals, or assuring the President that he will no longer face any meaningful legal oversight. From Trump’s perspective, what little there was holding him back from criminality is now gone.
This is the greatest constitutional crisis America has faced since the Civil War. It’s not just one crook in the White House who colludes with Russians. This is one of America’s most powerful criminals, surrounded by a craven party who will never abandon him and supported by a state-TV echo chamber with the power to shape and control the idiot President’s thoughts and actions. The election of Donald Trump has opened the gates to the hounds of hell. American democracy is perhaps coming to an end.
Dictators and dictators-in-waiting now run America, Russia, China, Brazil, Turkey and a host of eastern European countries. The post-war alliances and treaties that have kept us from another world war, or nuclear exchange, are falling to pieces. The UN has never been weaker since it was formed in 1945. Trump has nothing but disdain for agreements, allies, alliances or history. Every international relationship is personal, and based solely on how much breathless adoration he is given. Power and mendacity are his drug of choice – he falls in love with Kim Jong-Un but doesn’t much care for people like Theresa May. Yet Trump’s loyalties are made from porcelain – one moment someone can be a great guy, the next he is a total loser. Judgement is based solely on utility and subservience.
For a man who lies with the ease of a flowing river, Trump is the most transparent human imaginable; everything he does is a ‘tell’. Trump has spent the last few years telling us precisely who he is and what he wants, and it is our fault that we told ourselves that perhaps this was just bluster.
The casual acceptance of implied violence has quietly become another norm in the Trump age. People like Christine Blasey Ford have found that speaking out against this President’s interests means death threats and personal disintegration. Surrogates have often spoken in dark tones about the risks faced by those opposing Trump – Roger Stone claimed that any politician who voted to oust the President ‘would be endangering their own life’. Trump’s words have inspired bomb-makers and gun nuts, and it seems only a matter of time before blood is spilt in a way that has national consequence. Just imagine the reaction in these tinderbox times if someone barged their way into the New York Times offices with an AR-15, or found a way to attack Ilhan Omar. Imagine if that person was a MAGA-style Trump fanatic. Several lunatics have already come close to success. Trump has poured liquid gasoline on American public life; it now just needs a spark to light the flame.
America’s last line of defence against a man who wants to be king is Congress, a co-equal branch of government but only if wielded as such. In other times, Democrats calm judgement and avoidance of a rush to emergency is an admirable characteristic. Not now. Sometimes it really is time to panic. If the imminent collapse of American democracy and the takeover of law and order by a deranged authoritarian doesn’t qualify for you as an existential crisis, perhaps you’re in the wrong game.
Bill Barr lied under oath. He’s not going to be shamed into resigning – the man clearly has no shame. Barr needs to be held in contempt. Impeachment proceedings against him need to be commenced today. A who’s who of Trump-dom have also lied during public testimony. Indict them all. Sessions, Whitaker, Prince. Trump only cares about one thing – his family. Indict Donald Trump Junior, for lying under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Make it clear that we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more.
Most of all though, congressional Democrats need to begin impeachment proceedings against President Donald J. Trump. This man is the worst president in American history. He is guilty of collusion, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and a dozen other illegal acts, all of which would have brought down nearly every other president that preceded him. Don’t lost sight of the fact that Nixon was ultimately forced from office by his own party, and before the Senate had the chance to vote. Impeachment is death by a thousand cuts – weeks and months of hearings, day and night, exposing the public to a Vietnam war-style period of relentless political horror on the nightly news. Americans were ambivalent about impeaching Nixon until exposed to the truth. 37% of Americans back the commencement of impeachment proceedings. That’s a good enough number to start with. It’s not hard to imagine where that number will go when Trump’s tax returns reveal the extent of Russian money in his balance sheet, or the fact that he is much, much less rich than he tells us. What happens when the unredacted Mueller report is released, or when Robert Mueller testifies in public about the immense criminality his investigation uncovered.
There may be signs that this self-imposed Democratic wall (against impeachment) is beginning to crack. When Nancy Pelosi was asked if Bill Barr committed a crime, she replied ‘he lied to Congress, and if anybody else did that it would be considered a crime. Nobody is above the law, not the President of the United States and not the Attorney General’. It’s hard to see how Pelosi now proceeds without acting upon her own statement that the AG broke the law.
Pelosi has said that she fears that Trump will not leave office, should he lose narrowly in 2020. We can’t take that chance. Trump has a year and a half to further destroy the public’s faith in democracy, to dismantle the mechanics of American elections, and to solidify foreign governments ability to attack America when it votes. The idea that a Democrat might win a free and fair election mandate, and that Trump will accept the loss and leave quietly, seems more fanciful every day.
Even a frog might perceive that the water is now boiling. It may have been viable to justify not impeaching this President previously, perhaps based on the arrival of the Mueller report or the idea that institutions of state or the rule of law could protect America from a tyrant. That moment has passed. Impeachment proceedings must commence against the President. Now. The republic, democracy, the freedom of Americans and the international order that has saved us from ourselves – all are now in mortal peril with Donald Trump unfettered by the law. This foolish, stupid, strange looking man can and will destroy everything in order to retain power, and to assuage the wound in his heart that forever casts him as the victim who must seek revenge. It is one minute to midnight. Time to panic. Time to act.
‘Death of a Nation’
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– My book ‘Death of a Nation: 9/11 and the Rise of Fascism in America’ is available here.