Constitutional Crisis or Tactical Stalemate?

New Orleans      The latest gambit by the Trump White House is to simply refuse to cooperate with any investigation by the House committees tasked with the job.

The lawyers for Trump make the specious claim that no investigation is legitimate without an actual vote on impeachment, which of course denies the reality that the House has special and standing committees, whether under Republican or Democratic control, that do nothing but investigate actions of governmental bureaucracies, officials, and the executive branch, including the actions of the President.  Checks and balances, as most school children would remember, are a distinctive fundamental of the American system of government, much admired around the world.

The equally ridiculous assertion by the President is that all of this is much ado about nothing and an effort to rerun the 2016 election, making Trump’s claim to the seat illegitimate.   Trump is obsessed with the 2016 election.  The only person who wants a rerun there might be Trump himself, hoping this time he might actually win the popular vote, rather than end up with an asterisk by his home run, as not the fan favor of the majority of the electorate.  Every day we all live with the horror of this presidency translated into domestic and international policy.  There is not one iota of doubt about the results of the 2016 election and the grieving is permanent.  Trump needs to get over it, even though millions never will because they have been sentenced to the adverse consequences of his policies or at least the policies of people acting in his name.

This fabricated stalemate looks like the most cynical of political calculations from Trump and the White House.

First, it is about delay.  Trump would love to be able to run as the aggrieved, underdog in 2020, making the issue of impeachment and investigation the centerpiece of his election rather than the diminishing of America’s position in the world and the division and pain he has inflicted on the country domestically.  If he can stretch this process out or frustrate it in some way another six to nine months, he will be in full-on campaign mode and will no longer have to pretend to be governing.

Second, it’s a sucker move.  Trump would love to bait Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats into an impeachment vote that forces his House Republicans to drag themselves prematurely into the boiling cauldron with him and take all the Democrats off the sidelines as well.  Luckily, Pelosi has proven herself immune to this so far, but…the press and various media are spoiling for a fight and a constitutional cage fight, and that amps the pressure up on everyone.

I’m not a fan of impeachment no matter how much Trump provokes or deserves it.  I would rather beat him at the polling booths than in the courts.  I hope Trump’s gambit fails.  Let the investigations bleed him out and wear out the public and his base with the thousand inflicted cuts he has administered to himself.  Let the polls favoring him being gone rise higher and higher, so they look more like an exit poll than an opinion poll.

Don’t take the bait.  Stay the course and dig the knives deeper.

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Washington, A Town without Shame

Lake Buckhorn, Ontario    For some reason reading about the latest outrages of Trump and the wildness in the White House and Washington, the 1962 Gene Pitney song, “A Town without Pity,” has been rolling around in my head with a slight variation.  Where the famous line was, “No, it isn’t very pretty what a town without pity can do,” in my mind it has morphed to “it isn’t very pretty what a town without shame can do.”  One of the tactical propositions that has somehow disappeared in the modern public sphere is the role of shame.  President Trump has almost succeeded in establishing that shame has, like integrity, has no weight any longer in political life.

Sure, shame still works at a certain level in the marketplace.  Companies that depend on the good will or at least the ambivalence of consumers can still be impacted to a certain level by “naming and shaming,” but perhaps political leaders less so.  We are simultaneously watching the drama play out with four political figures in arguably democratic countries, America’s Donald Trump, Britain’s Boris Johnson, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, and India’s Narendra Modi all prove that in post-modern political life, you can ignore levels of shame and defeat that under the norms of previous public norms would have – and did – devastate public figures.  They can lose elections, be indicted for corruption, be accused of crimes high and low, initiate purges and inspire ethnic and racial hatred, ignore laws and court orders, and more, yet still hang on not only to power, but large levels of support.

In organizing, I have long argued that you “only really lose when you stop fighting.”  Trump is a master of this principle applied to the political sphere, as are the others, even when there is huge condemnation of their actions within their own countries and horror globally.  Trump has been under investigation and facing resistance even before he took office as President, yet in a town without shame, he has learned nothing and never adapted his behavior to what were thought to be the accepted norms of public office at the highest level in this country.  Now, cracking the egg once again in his self-dealing with Ukraine where he has clearly attempted to lure another country into involvement in US-domestic politics to his own interest, he is proving that the entire experience with Russian involvement in 2016 never impacted any of his thinking or instructed future action.

Is there even such a thing as impunity, when there is no norm that would establish shame?  With the ability to mobilize popular support outside of institutions and structural power, is there even an establishment in the way we once understood a status quo?  Does reputation matter in a post-modern politics, if you can continue to control your own narrative without shame, making everything water-off-a-duck’s-back?

Maureen Dowd pointed out recently in her New York Times’ column that Trump is redefining politics and the Democratic list of excellent professional politicians is inadequate and groping to understand the new reality of public contest.  In a world, Washington, and White House where shame has disappeared and every reality is contested and fabricated, anyone trying to navigate the new world needs to realize what Trump and his mimickers have already learned, and re-calibrate how to operate differently.  If not, we will all be mired in the consequences.

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