The New Normal

This week, Northern California had its first significant rain and our fire season ended. (Unfortunately, as I write this, there is a big fire burning in Southern California near Santa Barbara.) For the last several years, fire season has lasted longer than it once did, and the fires have been more ferocious. Californians are beginning to acknowledge that this is the new normal.

Here in Sonoma County — north of San Francisco — we’re still recovering from the mammoth Kincade fire, which started on October 23rd and was fully contained on November 6, 2019. It burned 77,758 acres and destroyed 374 buildings.  Amazingly, no one was killed; probably because the County Sheriff ordered a massive evacuation and our local utility company turned off almost all the county’s electricity.  (Once the evacuation order was lifted, it took several days for power to be restored.)

Most of the locals see the Kincade fire as a consequence of three factors: global climate change, reckless building in the “wildland-urban-interface” (WUI), and infrastructure decay.  Climate change has caused our summers to become much drier and the fall winds to be more intense.  (During the Kincade fire there were 96 mile-per-hour winds.)  For a variety of reasons, California’s suburbs have pushed into the wildland-urban-interface and shortsighted city planners have let developers build in locations there were once thought to be too dangerous because of the possibility of wildfires.  Finally, our energy infrastructure has not been properly maintained by the primary Northern California provider, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E); now, when the winds kick up, we are at risk because of aging transmission lines and transformers.  (Belatedly, PG&E acknowledged this; early in the course of the Kincade fire, the utility shut off all electric service in the projected path of the firestorm — most of west Sonoma County.)

The question Californians now face is how to adapt to the new normal.  One option would be to relocate, but that would likely mean a move out of state because all parts of California are now threatened by wildfires.  (Indeed, most of the western states have this problem.)  And, of course, moving to another state means moving to an area that is subjected to another consequence of climate change, such as hurricanes.

The other option is to remain in California and support substantial action to mitigate fire risk.  Two approaches have been suggested; both of them involve major financial expenditures.  One is to upgrade the electrical grid in a way that minimizes the fire risk.  The other is to “harden” vulnerable communities.

As a consequence of the 2017 Tubbs fire — also in Sonoma County — and the 2018 Camp Fire — up the road in Butte County — PG&E declared bankruptcy. (https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-pge-bankruptcy-filing-20190129-story.html)  Now Californians are embroiled in discussion about what to do with the utility.  This will take several years to work out.

In the meantime, Californians, who live outside big cities, must be prepared to have their power shut off for days at a time — during fire season. In other words, Californians who live in rural areas, or the “WUI,” will have to have substantial backup power — generators or solar panels plus batteries  — or do without.  This new reality applies to both homes and businesses — one of the problems uncovered during the October Sonoma County evacuation was that many gas stations did not have power and therefore their pumps didn’t work.  (Obviously, the prospect of continuous power outages places a singular burden on the less fortunate members of the community.)

Regardless of the ultimate disposition of PG&E, the electrical grid needs to hardened.  In many cases this means burying transmission lines and distribution lines.  In other cases this means fortifying electrical substations and transformers.

Vulnerable communities also need to be hardened.  City planners need to severely restrict further building in the WUI.  (A restriction that runs head-on in California’s desire to provide more housing units.)  Communities must provide incentives for landowners to maximize their defensible space.  Evacuation routes need to be widened and adjacent foliage needs to be cleared.  Substantial fire breaks need to be created between communities — spaces at least one-quarter mile wide.  Finally, funding should be provided so that communities can provide “shelter-in-place” fire refuges.

(If these steps aren’t taken, insurance companies are going to declare large swaths of California as uninsurable.  Meaning that many rural communities will disappear.)

If you live outside California, and think none of this relates to you, you’re mistaken.  Global climate change will impact all regions of the United States.  If you live in areas along the Atlantic or Gulf coast you will be subjected to hurricanes and rising tides.  If you live in the midwest, you will be subjected to ice storms and tornados.  When you recognize that this is the new normal, you will be faced with the same decisions that confront Californians: either move or take dramatic action to accommodate these new challenges.  You can run, but you cannot hide.

Talking to Republicans About Impeachment

The holidays are coming.  And with them,  more opportunities to talk to those recalcitrant Trump supporters in your family.  Such as Aunt Bertha who believes God sent Donald on a mission.  And Uncle Bert who wants Trump to blow up Washington. Here are ten tips on how to talk to them about the impeachment process.  Ten responses to familiar Republican (false) arguments.

Contention 1: “Democrats are trying to overthrow the 2016 election.”  This a good place to start the conversation because there is an element of truth in this Republican argument.  Response: Yes, impeachment is about removing the President from office and replacing him with the Vice President.  Democrats are using this process because they believe Donald Trump has committed grave offenses that threaten our Democracy.  (Helpful hint: Don’t mention that Vice President Mike Pence could also be a candidate for impeachment because of his involvement in the Ukraine scandal.)

Contention 2: “Democrats are making a false charge.  Trump’s call to Ukraine was perfect.”  Helpful hint: take a deep breath.  Response: have you read the White House memo on the July 25th call?  (It’s not a transcript.) Trump discusses U.S. aid to Ukraine and then says “I would like you to do us a favor” and mentions an investigation of Hunter and Joe Biden. Many constitutional lawyers have stated that Trump’s action is bribery. That’s why there is an impeachment inquiry.

Contention 3: “The Whistleblower was out to get Trump.”  Time for another deep breath.  Response: everything that was mentioned in the Whistleblower report has been confirmed by the White House memo on the July 25th call and witnesses to the event.  Trump has admitted the basic facts so the Whistleblower is no longer relevant to the investigation.

Contention 4: “All the evidence is second hand.”  Response: While the original Whistleblower report was indeed second hand, this information has been confirmed by the White House memo on the July 25th call and witnesses to the event.  For this reason, the critical evidence is first hand; it’s been provided by Donald Trump or others who listened to the phone call.

Contention 5: “What about the Bidens?  Shouldn’t they be investigated?”  Response: Democrats have no objection to an investigation of the Ukraine activities of Hunter and Joe Biden.  However, this investigation has nothing directly to do with the impeachment inquiry; it is a separate matter.  [Pause for emphasis.]  Donald Trump controls the Department of Justice and and the FBI and they have yet to initiate an investigation into the activities of Hunter and Joe Biden.  [While this was being written, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham — chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee — launched a problem into the Bidens (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/graham-launches-probe-into-bidens-burisma-and-ukraine/2019/11/21/5a5675b4-0ca5-11ea-97ac-a7ccc8dd1ebc_story.html ). ]

Contention 6: “There was not a crime because no damage was done; Ukraine got the money.” Take another deep breath.  Response:” After the July 25th phone call, military aid to Ukraine was put on hold by Trump.  The aid was not released until September 11th, after the whistleblower report and after the House of Representatives launched related investigations.  Because of this sequence, many characterize what happened as a failed bribery attempt.  Nonetheless, a bribery attempt that fails is still a crime.

Contention 7: “The Impeachment process is flawed.”  Response: The Impeachment process is similar to that used in previous impeachment inquiries — for example, the Clinton impeachment — except for the fact there is no special counsel involved.  This process follows the rules set down by the House of Representatives and those rules include the involvement of Democrats and Republicans at each phase.

In addition, it would help the process if Donald Trump did not forbid the testimony of relevant witnesses.  (Of course, it would also help if Trump testified before the impeachment panel.)

Contention 8: “Trump should be able to confront his accusers.”  Take a deep breath.  Response: There are two phases of the impeachment process; the inquiry — held in the House of Representatives — and the trial — held in the Senate.  Trump will be able to confront his accusers during the Senate trial.  In addition, House Speaker Pelosi has offered Trump a chance to give testimony during the inquiry and offered his counsel an opportunity to present evidence during the House process.

Contention 9: “Whatever… it’s not an impeachable offense.”  Take two deep breaths.  Response: Whether or not Trump’s acts — bribery, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power — are impeachable offenses needs to be decided after the process has played out — by a vote in the Senate.  It’s serious enough that it should not be dismissed on a purely partisan basis.

Contention 10: “I don’t care what Trump did.  As long as the economy works for me and my family, I’m supporting Trump.”  Take many deep breaths.  Response: “I will pray for your moral compass to be restored.”

Ranking the Democratic Candidates

 While the impeachment inquiry continues to command most of the attention of the mainstream media, in the background the Democratic presidential candidates continue their slog towards the February 3rd Iowa caucuses. Here’s the BB perspective on how these candidates are doing.  And a prediction as to what the race will look like coming out of “Super Tuesday,” March 3rd.

1.Elizabeth Warren: Massachusetts Senator Warren garners the number one slot for two reasons: she has the most momentum and she has “out wonked” all the other candidates.  Elizabeth has a plan for everything stretching from the very serious (how to deal with global climate change) to the other extreme (how to get Americans to eat more vegetables).

In addition to would-be-dictator Trump, Americans are beset by a frightening array of problems:, including climate change, wealth inequity, and cancerous capitalism.  Senator Warren is the only candidate to have a well-thought-out plan on all of these.  It’s convenient to characterize Warren as a candidate of the left and others, such as Joe Biden, as a candidate of the “center,” but the reality is that Elizabeth wants big change in American society and many of the other candidates — such as Biden — seek modest changes.  The BB perspective: The U.S. needs big changes.

2. Joe Biden: Former Vice-President Biden is a nice guy who was a worthy sidekick to Barack Obama.  Can he run the show on his own?  I’m not convinced.  Biden seems old — he’ll turn 77 at the end of the month — and lacking the energy required to run the big show.

Some Democrats are attracted to Joe because he’s a “safe” choice.  They believe he’s the most likely to beat Trump: The current Real Clear Politics poll of polls shows Biden beating Trump by 10.2 percent.  However the same poll shows Warren beating Trump by 7.3 percent.  So they both beat Trump — and Biden has way more name recognition than Warren does.

The election has two steps: beat Trump and fix America.  Warren would do a better job on second step.

3. Bernie Sanders: Bernie doesn’t seem to have the same fire that he did in 2016.  He seems tired — although not as tired as Biden, who is one year younger.  Bernie has been “out wonked” by Elizabeth Warren.

On October 1st, Senator Sanders had a heart attack.  A month later, the attack doesn’t seem to have slowed him down.  Nonetheless, while his fundraising is ticking along, Bernie has slipped slightly in the polls. (For example, the latest New Hampshire Quinnipiac poll shows Bernie running behind Biden, Warren, and Buttigieg.)

BB prediction: after losing the New Hampshire primary, Bernie will drop out and support Elizabeth Warren.

4. Pete Buttigieg:  So far, the big surprise of the Democratic presidential primary contest has been Mayor Pete.  (In the second quarter, Buttigieg raised more money than all other Democratic contenders — $24.9 million.)  Mayor Pete is very smart and has a remarkable public presence.

If Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are candidates of the left, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg are “moderates.”  For those Democrats who initially supported Biden, and now think he is too old, many have shifted to Mayor Pete.  (Who is 37; forty years younger than Biden.)

BB prediction: After “Super Tuesday,” March 3rd, Biden will drop out and the competition will narrow to Warren, Buttigieg, and the billionaires.

By most accounts, Warren, Biden, Sanders, and Buttigieg have more than 75 percent of the primary votes of Democrats.  No other candidate has double digit support.  Why?

The women: Harris, Klobuchar, and Gabbard.  Six months ago Senator Kamala Harris was a hot political property — challenging Warren, Sanders, and Biden as a frontrunner.  Now her support has greatly diminished.  Two problems: Harris didn’t give voters a clear reason to support her and she got out wonked by Warren and Sanders.

I’ve expected Senator Amy Klobuchar to surge in Iowa.  For “moderates” she seems like a good alternative to Joe Biden.  Instead, Pete Buttigieg has taken this role.

Tulsi Gabbard keeps hanging around.  The “maverick” candidate.  Some say that if Bernie Sanders wins the nomination, Gabbard will be his choice for VP.

The billionaires: Bloomberg and Steyer. The big news this past weekend is that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has jumped into the race for the Democratic nomination.  (He’s the sixth richest person in the U.S.; one of our 2153 billionaires.)  Bloomberg has good liberal credentials — for example, his positions on climate change and gun control — but he isn’t an exciting candidate.

For months San Franciscan Tom Steyer has been pushing for the impeachment of Donald Trump.  (And for taking action on climate change.)  HIs hearts in the right place but I don’t see Steyer becoming a frontrunner — the latest California Democratic primary poll shows Elizabeth Warren in 1st place with 27 percent of the vote and Steyer in ninth place with 1 percent.

The “outsiders”: Yang, Booker, and Castro.  Andrew Yang is another “maverick” candidate — who has gotten more traction than Tulsi Gabbard.  Nonetheless, his national support continues to languish in the single digits.  If Biden or Sanders falter, will Yang get more support?  I don’t think so.

What’s the story with Cory Booker?  He does well in the debates but it doesn’t seem to translate into more voter support.  I expect Booker to drop out before Iowa.

Several months ago, Julian Castro surged and then faltered.  He’s a candidate who looks better on paper than he does in person.  I expect him to drop out before Iowa.

(As this was being written, former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick entered the New Hampshire primary.  It’s another indication that “moderate” Democrats aren’t happy with Biden.)

Summary: The competition for the Democratic nomination will come down to Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg.

Impeachment and Ukraine

Although the impeachment inquiry is cloaked in legalese — such as whether Donald Trump committed an impeachable offense — it’s also about the relationship between Trump, and his associates, and Ukraine.  There is a counterintelligence aspect: Trump was trying to manipulate the Ukrainian government on multiple fronts.

The Crime: There are two pivotal documents in this matter.  The first is the “Unclassified Memorandum of [Juy 25th] Telephone Conversation” between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky (https://www.politico.com/story/2019/09/25/trump-ukraine-phone-call-transcript-text-pdf-1510770 ).  Early in this conversation, Trump says: “We do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are doing.”  Zelensky says, “We are almost. ready to buy more Javelins [missiles] from the United· States” and Trump responds, “I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it.”  

The second pivotal document is the “Unclassified Whistleblower memo to Senator Richard Burr and Congressman Adam Schiff.”  (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/26/us/politics/whistle-blower-complaint.html) In this memo the whistleblower says that during the July 25th phone call, Trump pressured Zelensky to do three things:

    • “initiate or continue an investigation into the activities of former Vice President Joseph Biden and his son, Hunter Biden;
    • assist in purportedly uncovering that allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election originated in Ukraine, with a specific request that the Ukrainian leader locate and turn over servers used by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and examined by the U.S. cyber security firm Crowdstrike, which initially reported that Russian hackers had penetrated the DNC’s networks in 2016; and
    • meet or speak with two people the President named explicitly as his personal envoys on these matters, Mr. Giuliani and Attorney General Barr, to whom the President referred multiple times in tandem.”

Three things jump out of these documents.  The first is there was a quid pro quo.  Trump mentions aid to Ukraine and then says “I would like you to do us a favor.” Many constitutional lawyers have stated that Trump’s action is a violation of U.S. Government Code title 18 Section 201(b) ( https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/201), which states that any public official who “corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for… being influenced in the performance of any official act” is breaking the law.

The second thing that jumps out is the sequence of the ask: first Trump asks for assistance in “uncovering that allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election originated in Ukraine;” and then he asks for helps investigating the Bidens.  It’s clear from the memorandum of the July 25th telephone conversation that the former is what’s on Trump’s mind — he spends more time talking about it.

The third thing that jumps out is that Trump goes out of his way to malign the previous U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. “The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news… she’s going to go through some things.”

Ukraine and Paul Manafort: What lurks in the background is the unsavory relationship between Trump, and his associates, and sketchy characters in Ukraine.  This relationship first became apparent in June of 2016, when Trump hired (former Ukraine) political operative Paul Manafort as his campaign manager.  Manafort served in this position for three months, resigning in August of 2016.  During this period — which included the Republican convention — three significant event happened: Manafort was part of the notorious Trump Tower meeting with Russian agents; Manafort intervened to weaken a Ukraine policy item in the Republican platform; and Manafort’s connection to former former Ukrainian President Yanukovych, and his for-Russian party, was revealed to the American press.  (In addition, the Mueller report noted that, during this period, Manafort passed proprietary campaign polling data to pro-Russian Ukrainians.)

On October 30, 2017, Manafort was arrested by the FBI after being indicted by a federal grand jury as part of the Mueller investigation.The indictment charged Manafort with conspiracy, money laundering, failing to register as an agent of a foreign country, and making false statements.  In March of 2018, Manafort was sentenced to seven and a half years in Federal prison.

Many have reported that Manafort maintains contact with Trump.  Recently released Mueller documents reveal that, in 2016, Manafort told Trump that he thought Ukrainians had been responsible for hacking the DNC during the presidential campaign. (https://www.alternet.org/2019/11/paul-manafort-pushed-ukraine-conspiracy-theory-on-trump-during-the-2016-campaign-mueller-documents/?)  Whatever the reason, Trump has long nurtured resentment towards Ukraine (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/for-trump-ukraine-is-a-story-of-personal-resentment-and-political-opportunism/2019/10/04/a256eb70-e6d8-11e9-a6e8-8759c5c7f608_story.html).

Ukraine and Rudy Giuliani: The “memorandum of the July 25th Trump-Zelensky phone call” makes it clear that Rudy Giuliani is Trump’s man in Ukraine.  Trump encouraged  Zelensky to talk to Attorney General Barr and Rudy G.  There’s some (baroque) logic to the involvement of Barr — he’s leading an investigation into the origins of the Mueller investigation.  But there’s no clear logic to Giuliani’s involvement.

Rudy G has been involved in Ukraine for couple of years.  He’s worked as a U.S. lobbyist for Ukrainian businessmen and he’s tried to get American companies lucrative Ukrainian contracts.  Giuliani was part of a small group that, apparently, worked outside the U.S. State Department to influence the government of Ukraine.  One member of this group was Trump-donor turned Ambassador-to-the-EU, Gordon Sondland.  Another member was Energy Secretary Rick Perry.  (Recently the Wall Street Journal noted that, “Rick Perry wanted to put two U.S. energy industry veterans on the board of Ukraine’s state-owned energy company, according to text messages written by the former Ukraine special envoy.”)  Giuliani also has ties with controversial Ukrainian Oligarch Dmytro Firtash (https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/10/how-an-indicted-oligarch-became-a-key-player-in-trumps-ukraine-scandal/ ).

Giuliani pushed for the replacement of U.S.Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.  On November 7th, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent told the House Intelligence Committee: “Throughout March 02019], Giuliani trafficked in ‘slander’ designed to get… Marie Yovanovitchhas  fired from her posting in Kyiv and clear a roadblock to the agenda Giuliani and his clients were pursuing there.”  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/trumps-demands-of-ukraine-came-down-to-three-words-investigations-biden-and-clinton-officials-testimony-shows/2019/11/07/d5ffab54-0197-11ea-8bab-0fc209e065a8_story.html ) Now Rudy’s activities are under investigation by Manhattan-based Federal Prosecutors (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/11/us/politics/rudy-giuliani-investigation.html ).

Summary: There are four part of this affair.  First, Trump came into the White House with animosity towards Ukraine.  Second, Trump did not trust the State Department to manage relations with Ukraine so he commissioned Rudy Giuliani to represent him with President Zelensky.  Third, Giuliani and Trump deliberately withheld much needed Ukrainian military aid in order to coerce Zelensky into launching two investigations: possible Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the activities of Joe and Hunter Biden.  Fourth, Giuliani and (no doubt) Trump conspired to have Ambassador Yovanovitch removed from her position.

And, of course, Trump has abused his position by not cooperating with the impeachment inquiry.

Impeachment and the Supreme Court

As the House of Representatives’ Impeachment Inquiry rolls along, it continuously runs into non-cooperation from the Trump Administration.  Dems could chose to ignore this but if they did they would deprive the investigation of potentially vital information.  On the other hand, fighting this non-cooperation means going through the legal system — and likely appearing before the Supreme court — and that takes time.  The longer the inquiry takes, the more likely that the public will lose interest and the more likely that support for impeachment will diminish.  The House Democratic leadership is engaged in a balancing act between keeping the public informed and wrenching vital information out of the Trump Administration.

It’s unlikely that Trump will ever voluntarily cooperate with the House investigation.  Trump has had a checkered business career and, in the process, engaged in more than four thousand lawsuits.  (In 2016, USA Today (https://www.usatoday.com/pages/interactives/trump-lawsuits/) counted 4095 lawsuits.) Since entering the White House Trump has been as litigious, and over the past 34 months, he has precipitated dozens of additional legal actions.   Some of these — such as those involving sexual misconduct — do not bear directly on the impeachment proceedings.  Many of the others — such as those involving alleged violations of the Constitution — are related.

In all the legal cases, the Trump pattern is the same: Trump unapologetically pushes limits and, when challenged, defies his adversary to prove their case in court.  (Typical is the legal case regarding Trump University that took four years to reach a $25 million settlement in 2017 — Trump’s response was,  “The ONLY bad thing about winning the Presidency is that I did not have the time to go through a long but winning trial on Trump U. Too bad!”)  Trump never acknowledges that he did anything wrong.

The House Impeachment Inquiry alleges three basic offenses, detailed in Speaker Pelosi’s October 20th memorandum (https://www.speaker.gov/sites/speaker.house.gov/files/Trump%20Shakedown%20and%20Coverup.pdf ) “The Shakedown.  The Pressure Campaign.  The Coverup.”

1.The Shakedown: The key transaction took place on July 25th during a telephone conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President (“Unclassified Memorandum of Telephone Conversation” between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky (https://www.politico.com/story/2019/09/25/trump-ukraine-phone-call-transcript-text-pdf-1510770 ).) In return for the promise of U.S. assistance, Trump requested, “I would like you do us a favor,” and asked Zelensky to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.

Many constitutional lawyers have stated that Trump’s action is a violation of U.S. Government Code title 18 Section 201(b) ( https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/201), which states that any public official who “corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for… being influenced in the performance of any official act” is breaking the law.

From the Whistleblower complaint (“Unclassified Whistleblower memo to Senator Richard Burr and Congressman Adam Schiff.”  (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/26/us/politics/whistle-blower-complaint.htm )) we know that “Senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call… the transcript was loaded into a separate electronic system… used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature.”

Therefore, it is reasonable for the impeachment inquiry to insist upon the “official word-for-word transcript of the call.”  It is also reasonable for the Impeachment Inquiry to subpoena Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who was present during this call — and anyone else in the room.

2. The Pressure Campaign:  During the past several weeks, we’ve learned that the Trump Administration used a variety of means to pressure Ukraine to deliver dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden.  The key person in the effort is Rudy Giuliani — Trump asked Zelensky to work with Giuliani.  Also involved in this pressure campaign were Vice President Pence, Attorney General Barr, acting White House Chief-of-Staff Mulvaney, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

It is reasonable for the impeachment inquiry to command the testimony of all these individuals — and to demand that they deliver related materials such as texts, emails, transcripts and notes.

3. The Cover Up: During the past several weeks, we’ve learned that the Trump Administration used the power of the White House “to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”  They then took extreme steps to hide these actions, such as hiding the official transcript on a highly classified electronic system, or forbidding witnesses to appear before Congress.  This is an abuse of presidential power.

It is reasonable for the impeachment inquiry to command the testimony of the applicable Trump Administration officials — and related materials.  If they fail to do this, that would constitute an additional offense.

Summary: We’re in the middle of the first of three phases of the impeachment process: investigation.  During this phase there will be multiple hearings, some public, some not.

At the conclusion of this phase, Democrats will initiate the second phase and construct the articles of impeachment.  (These will be voted on by the house and, if passed by a majority, the process will move into the third phase: an impeachment trial in the Senate.)

It’s clear there is enough evidence to construct three article of impeachment: bribery, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice.  It would be helpful if some the related lawsuits were settled by the Supreme Court before the trial in the Senate.  (For example, the Supreme Court could rule that Secretary Pompeo must testify and must turnover his related notes and texts.)  However, this is not necessary for construction of the articles of impeachment.

However, there is enough evidence to start the impeachment trial and Trump’s non-cooperation can be litigated during the trial — after all, Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts will preside over the Senate trial.  In this sense, the Supreme Court will be involved in the final phase of the three-phase process.

Ten Impeachment Realities


Ready or not, the Impeachment of Donald Trump is coming. Before the end of 2019, the House of Representatives may vote on a variety of impeachment charges and the issue will be passed to the Senate. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

1. During the next 90 days, there will be an impeachment vote in the House of Representatives.  The House Intelligence and Judiciary committees have already assembled enough evidence to call for a House vote.  (It’s not a matter of if, but when the vote will occur.)  Trump appears to be guilty of multiple violations of the U.S. Government code including bribery, extortion, obstruction, and campaign finance misdeeds.  (He’s also guilty of obstruction and, quite possibly, conspiracy.)  The House Dems are going forward, at a deliberate pace, to build the strongest case possible before year end.  Some of the impeachment counts require information that will be provided only if ordered by the Supreme Court.

2. Regardless of what happens in the Senate, once the House votes for impeachment, the Republicans’ fate is sealed.  While there is no doubt that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will mess with the Senate Impeachment trial — attempt to doctor the proceedings so they favor Trump — the evidence is too damning: Trump has committed a variety of high crimes and misdemeanors.  Trump will lose in the court of public opinion, and he will drag down those Republican Senators that side with him.

There are 100 Senators: 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and 2 Independents who vote with the Dems.  Therefore, the two-thirds majority will require 20 Republican Senators to vote with Democrats.  At the moment, it’s difficult to see more than 10 who will shift: Alaska (Murkowski), Arizona (McSally), Colorado (Gardner), Georgia (Perdue), Iowa (Ernst, Grassley), Maine (Collins), Nebraska (Sasse), North Carolina (Tillis), and Utah (Romney).   When the Senate vote occurs, every swing-state Republican Senator will be between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.”  (Trump has already gone after Romney for indicating that he is appalled by Trump’s actions and might vote for impeachment. (https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2019/10/16/club_for_growth_ad_democrat_secret_asset_mitt_romney_is_colluding_with_democrats_to_impeach_trump.html ) )

As long as there is a Senate majority that favors impeachment — and public opinion that favors impeachment — Republicans will lose.

3. The Democrats’ impeachment message must remain simple.   Over the past month, public sentiment has shifted in favor of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.  To maintain this momentum, Dems have to move quickly and keep the impeachment charges simple — Trump violated the law by manipulating foreign policy for his own benefit.  If the message gets too complicated, voters’ attention will waver and support for impeachment will diminish.

At the same time that House Democrats go forward with the impeachment inquiry, they must ensure that they are perceived as also doing the people’s business: working on legislation.  So far, Speaker Pelosi has done a good job advertising that the House Dems are working on three paths: “Legislate; Litigate; and Investigate.”

4. Democrats must retain public support.  On September 24th, Nancy Pelosi announced the House had initiated an impeachment inquiry — based upon the Ukraine affair.  Since then there’s been a 17-point swing in favor of the impeachment inquiry.  (And the positive sentiment is growing.)

The majority of Americans support the impeachment inquiry.  Democrats have to build upon this and carefully construct a case to present to the Senate.

Over the next three months there are six other factors that will influence this drama.

5. Count on Trump to “self impeach.”  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi predicted that Donald Trump would eventually”self-impeach” — that his behavior is so warped that he cannot resist committing illegal acts.  That’s happening at least once each week: On October 3rd Trump seemingly admitted to reporters that he tried to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens == Ukraine needs a “major investigation” into the Bidens — and  volunteered that China “[also] should start an investigation into the Bidens.”  On October 17th, Trump announced that in June he will host the G7 Summit at his failing Doral resort  in Miami.  (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/17/us/politics/trump-g7-doral.html )

By the time the Senate votes on the articles of impeachment, there will be overwhelming evidence against Trump — but that may not be enough to produces a two-thirds majority.

6. Trump loyalists will turn.  Even though the Trump White House leaks like the proverbial sieve, during the lengthy Mueller inquiry there weren’t any significant defections from the Trump inner circle — with the exception of Michael Cohen.   With regards to the Ukraine scandal, the opposite is the case — there are major defections.  Numerous members of the Federal government have defied Trump and testified before the House Intelligence Committee.  (For example, former Trump national-security aide, Fiona Hill.)

On October 17th, Trump’s acting Chief-of-Staff, Nick Mulvaney, admitted there was a Ukraine quid pro quo ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/10/17/white-house-chief-staff-mick-mulvaney-admits-it-there-was-ukraine-quid-pro-quo/).

There are a variety of theories about what’s different now.  It may be that Trump’s behavior is so egregious — badgering the Ukraine President to dig up dirt on the Bidens — that the vast majority of Administration officials recognized it was wrong.  It may also be that the involvement of Trump’s pal, Rudy Giuliani, has had a catalytic impact — most insiders don’t like Rudy.

7. Trump’s behavior will get more extreme.  Over the past few months we’ve seen many experienced folks leave the White House.  (Most recently, Dan Coats resigned as Director of National Intelligence and was replace by a less-experienced person, Joseph Maguire.)  Like or not, Trump is now operating without training wheels and is making decisions primarily based upon his gut feel.  (Abandoning the Kurds is an example of this.)  Because of the pressure, Trump is decompensating.

8. Trump will do anything to stay in power.  We already know that Trump is a liar.  As the impeachment process plays out, Trump’s lies will become more extreme.  (For example, his claim that the Kurds are worse than ISIS.)

We already know that Trump will insult his opponents.  As the impeachment process plays out, Trump insults will become more extreme.  (For example, calling Speaker Pelosi a “third-grade politician” and saying she favors ISIS “because they are communists.”)

We already know that Trump will use false claims of executive privilege  to keep Administration officials from testifying before Congress and to deny lawful document requests.  What else will Trump do?  At the moment, there seem to be no limits to extreme behavior.

9. Social Media will be an issue.  Facebook is permitting Trump to run blatantly false ads and Twitter is allowing him to promote damaging lies.  Democrats have called upon the social media companies to regulate Trump’s online behavior but they are unwilling to do this.(https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/10/17/facebook-ceo-mark-zuckerberg-says-interview-he-fears-erosion-truth-defends-allowing-politicians-lie-ads/ )

10. The Supreme Court will be involved.  Even though many Trump-Administration insiders have begun to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, there are others that have declined to do so — based upon Trump’s broad assertion of executive privilege.  In addition, House Dems are demanding access to the complete Mueller Report including Grand Jury Testimony.  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/house-pushes-for-release-of-mueller-grand-jury-testimony/2019/10/08/a88a504e-ea3a-11e9-a329-7378fbfa1b63_story.html )

Both of these matters are wending their way through the courts and will likely be decided by the Supreme Court.  Therefore, the conclusion of the House impeachment inquiry probably depends upon the Supreme Court schedule.

Impeachment Messaging

With the September 24th initiation of a formal impeachment inquiry, the political battle lines have formed. Democrats will subpoena witnesses and gather material that will be presented before the House Intelligence committee; eventually the House Judiciary Committee will construct the formal impeachment measure and submit it to the entire House of Representatives. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, and his Republican acolytes, will do everything they can to discredit the inquiry. Their obstruction will take (at least) ten forms.

By the way, before you consider what follows, it would be a good idea to read the “Unclassified Memorandum of Telephone Conversation” between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky (https://www.politico.com/story/2019/09/25/trump-ukraine-phone-call-transcript-text-pdf-1510770 ).  It would also be a good idea to read the “Unclassified Whistleblower memo to Senator Richard Burr and Congressman Adam Schiff.”  (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/26/us/politics/whistle-blower-complaint.html)

One Trump strategy will be to ignore the allegations of Trump misconduct and to attack.

1.Harassment: Trump loyalists will insist that Democrats have been “hounding” Trump for three years and this impeachment inquiry is the latest example of unfair treatment.  Republicans will assert, “Democrats aren’t interested in governing; they spend all their time attacking Trump.”  Republicans won’t address any of the specific accusations against Trump but rather demean them as “more of the same” and claim that Dems are trying to “steal the election.”  (That’s the theme of the latest Trump campaign ad (https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2019/09/27/trump_campaign_ad_democrats_want_to_impeach_trump_for_trying_to_drain_the_swamp.html).)

2. Setup: Some Trump supporters will go into more detail and assert that the Trump-Zelensky affair was “a set up.”  These Trump stalwarts will, in essence, be claiming that Democrats fabricated the phone conversation and the related whistleblower information.  (That’s the drift of the claims by Republican stalwart Liz Cheney (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/09/30/liz-cheney-ukraine-phone-call-political-set-up-donald-trump/3826791002/).)

3. Vendetta: Other Trump supporters will claim that the impeachment inquiry is a personal vendetta being lead by House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff.  Republicans will personally attack Schiff — Trump has already called Schiff a traitor and urged him to resign.   (On September 29th, Trump tweeted, “I want Schiff questioned at the highest level for Fraud & Treason.”)

4. Deep State: Many Trump supporters will assert that the inquiry is a conspiracy launched by “the deep state” — that is, by the intelligence community including the CIA and FBI.  Many Trump loyalists have long claimed that elements within the intelligence community have been out to get Trump since he entered the White House.  (Recently, Republican stalwart Newt Gingrich wrote, “[The impeachment inquiry] is a legislative coup d’etat. It is an effort by the hard left, the news media, and the deep state to destroy the president chosen by the American people,” )

5. Biden: Finally, some Trump advocates will take the position that not only is there nothing to the Trump-Zelensky affair but rather the mainstream media is missing the real story: Joe and Hunter Biden’s illegal involvement in Ukraine.  (On September 29th, White House staff member Stephen Miller claimed “Trump is the real whistleblower.” (https://www.foxnews.com/politics/stephen-miller-says-trump-is-real-whistleblower).)

For each form of these attacks, the Democrats response is straightforward: they should return to the known facts of this case as detailed in the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone call and the whistleblower memo.  The problem Dems face is that Trump is launching a multi-million dollar attack campaign over social media (https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/30/politics/facebook-trump-impeachment/index.html).  Democrats have to make sure that their side of the story is widely publicized.

Another core Trump strategy will be to attempt to undermine the whistleblower report.

6. Hearsay: Republicans will assert that the whistleblower report is based on “hearsay;” that is, it is inaccurate, because the whistleblower was not present during the actual phone call(s).

The Democratic response should be to point out that the Inspector-General has already conducted an investigation and has corroborated the whistleblower assertions.

7. Illegal Act: Another way to demean the whistleblower claim is to assert that he or she broke the law.  That is, regardless of the facts of the matter, Republicans will claim that the information was obtained illegally.   (On September 30th, Trump tweeted: “The Whistleblower knew almost nothing, its 2ND HAND description of the call is a fraud!”)

Again, the Democratic response should be to lean on the report of the Inspector-General, who has determined that the whistleblower acted within the law.

8. Obstruction: The Trump Administration can seek to undermine the whistleblower report by blocking Congressional verification of the elements of the report; that is, keeping congressional committees from recreating the investigation already conducted by the inspector general.  That seems to be the strategy of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (https://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/pompeo-house-depositions).

9. No Crime: A more sophisticated tactic would be for Republicans to argue that no crime was committed.  That is, Donald Trump may have asked Ukrainian President Zelensky to for a “favor” — to investigate the Bidens — in return for military aid but that is not a violation of the law.  On October 3rd, Trump seemed to take this position when he asked both Ukraine and China to continue to investigate the Bidens.  (https://www.cbsnews.com/live-news/trump-impeachment-inquiry-latest-updates-today-2019-10-03/)

Many legal experts believe that Trump’s action was a violation of Federal campaign finance law and possibly Federal laws related to bribery and extortion.  (Separate from that is consideration of whether, in this action, Trump launched both a conspiracy and a coverup.)

10. Not Impeachable: Finally, Republicans may ultimately argue that even if Trump’s actions technically broke the law they are not of sufficient severity to constitute an impeachable offense.  At the moment, that seems to be the attitude of most Republican Senators.  (That’s the position taken by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey on the October 3rd PBS News Hour ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9fELgg6718 ).

Again, Democrats should return to the known facts of this case as detailed in the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone call and the whistleblower memo.  (They can also use the recent statements of Donald Trump where he appears to be admitting to the accusations; taking the position that he is above the law.)  Democrats have public opinion on their side and should press forward with impeachment proceedings.

Ready or Not, Here Comes Impeachment

The recent revelations about Donald Trump’s attempt to bribe the President of Ukraine, in order to get political dirt on Joe Biden, once again raises the specter of Trump’s impeachment. What’s involved?

On Tuesday, September 24th, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, announced the commencement of a formal impeachment inquiry:

“…the Trump administration’s actions undermine both the national security and our intelligence and our protections of whistleblowers… For the past several months we have been investigating in our committees and litigating in the courts so the House can gather all the relevant facts and whether to exercise its Article 1 powers, including a constitutional power of the utmost gravity of articles of impeachment.

…this week, the president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically. The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable facts of betrayal of his oath of office and betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.

Therefore, today I’m announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry and directing our six committees to proceed with their investigation under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry.”

Pelosi’s actions carry political risk.  Until this week, the national polling on impeachment has been discouraging.  In July Quinnipiac asked, “Do you think that Congress should begin the process to impeach President Trump, which could lead to his removal from office, or don’t you think so?”  Only 32 percent of respondents said that Congress should begin the impeachment process. Now, the polls indicate positive movement.  The September 26, NPR/PBSNewsHour/Marist Poll (https://www.npr.org/2019/09/26/764724904/npr-pbs-newshour-marist-poll-americans-split-on-house-impeachment-inquiry ) indicates that 49 percent of respondents are in favor (46 percent opposed) and Independents are split.

It will be a slog to get impeachment to happen.  But it’s not impossible.  Here’s what’s necessary:

1.The Impeachment process has to move rapidly.  American don’t have the patience to stay with an impeachment process that drags on and on.  (That was one of the problems with the Mueller investigation and the arduous release of the Mueller report.)

One of the inherent problems is that Trump is a master at distraction.  He’s likely to do something bizarre — invade Greenland — in order to move public attention off impeachment.

Speaker Pelosi indicated that she plans to get the House to vote on impeachment this year.  That feels like the correct timeline.

2. The impeachment process must be focussed.  If the process is going to move rapidly and keep public attention, then it has to be focussed.  Pelosi is mindful of this; on September 26th, she indicated that the impeachment inquiry will focus on the whistleblower complaint about Trump’s interaction with Ukraine. (Many observers have noted that the complaint is very detailed (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/09/26/key-takeaways-allegations-trump-whistleblower-complaint/).)

That doesn’t mean that the six House committees that are investigating Trump’s improprieties should stop work.  What it does suggest is that all their findings should be funneled first through the Intelligence committee — chaired by Adam Schiff — which will do the bulk of the work on the whistleblower complaint, and then through the Judiciary committee — chaired by Jerry Nadler — which will present the impeachment motion for a vote by the House.  (That is, over the next couple of months, any relevant committee findings have to be funneled to Intelligence and Judiciary.)

3. The process has to sway independents.  We know that Trump is a polarizing figure.  With regard to impeachment, typically 90 percent of Republicans don’t want Trump impeached; around the same percentage of Democrats want him impeached.  So the critical voters are independents.  The impeachment inquiry has to be conducted in such a way that it moves the opinion of independents.  The inquiry has to be quick, focussed, and evenhanded.

4. The evidence has to be overwhelming.  In order to be seen as evenhanded the impeachment inquiry has to present overwhelming evidence of the Presidents’s culpability — there has to be “a smoking gun.”  There seems to be, in the whistleblower complaint, three very clear examples of the President’s wrongdoing:

a. Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and the Ukrainian government, to investigate Joe Biden.

b. There was a conspiracy.  Trump involved Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo, Attorney General Barr, and other Administration officials in his attempt to get The Ukrainians to investigate Biden.

c. The White House made multiple efforts to hide evidence of the Ukrainian effort.  There has been an obvious coverup.

5. The White House must cooperate.  The Trump Administration is between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.”  If they fully cooperate it will move the House inquiry closer to a vote.  If they don’t cooperate, the House Democrats will have further ammunition for their “cover up/obstruction” charges.

The whistleblower report contains evidence of the equivalent of the infamous Nixon tapes.  The report indicates:

“White House lawyers directed White House officials to ‘remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored’ and place the word-for-word account on a server typically reserved for highly classified information, according to the complaint… White House officials said this was ‘not the first time’ that a presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system to shield politically sensitive information.”

The House Intelligence committee must be granted access to this special server.  If necessary, they will have to go to the Supreme Court to obtain this information.

6. The House Vote Has to Attract Some Republican Support.  If the House vote was held today, it would pass but with only Democratic support.  If the impeachment inquiry is quick, focussed, and produces overwhelming evidence of Trump’s guilt, then it should attract the votes of some Republican House members — certainly those in swing districts.

It’s possible to bring the House impeachment process to a vote before the end of the year.  Let’s worry about the Senate process in 2020.

Consequences of the Saudi Oilfield Attacks

On September 14, Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil fields were attacked by drones and cruise missiles, and approximately half of the Saudi oil capacity was “disrupted.”  The details are in dispute but Yemen’s Houthi rebels took credit for the attack that appeared to originate across the Persian Gulf — either in Kuwait, Iraq, or Iran.

These attacks have three consequences.  First, they illustrate that we have entered into a new phase of terrorist activity.  Second, they put an end to Trump’s recent attempts to forge a new “deal” with Iran.  And third, they remind us — once again — that Trump, and his family are beholden to the (effective) Saudi leader, Mohammed bin Salman — referred to as MBS.

The terrorist attacks were carried out using sophisticated drones and cruise missiles.  The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/16/saudi-arabia-oil-attacks-everything-you-need-to-know) stated: “The Houthis recently acquired much more powerful drone technology that has given them the power to strike targets up to 1,500km (~1000 miles).  [An Aramco oilfield]  is within about 1,000km of Houthi-held territory.”  (It’s widely reported that Iran helped the Houthi rebels master this more sophisticated technology.)  CNN (https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/19/middleeast/saudi-air-defense-analysis-intl/index.html ) observed: “Saudi Arabia has spent billions on state-of-the-art air defense and early warning systems, but a mix of cruise missiles and drones was able to penetrate its airspace…That suggests serious shortcomings in where Saudi systems are placed and what they’re designed to do.”

The success of the attacks on the attacks on the Saudi oilfields should be a wakeup call for Americans.  The use of sophisticated drones and cruise missiles to attack critical infrastructure suggests that most U.S. assets are now vulnerable.  For example, California is roughly 350 miles wide — west to east.  Thus, all California oil resources would be vulnerable to an attack launched at sea — as would the state’s lone nuclear facility at Diablo Canyon.

The terrorist attacks came during a period where Trump seemed to be reversing his stance on Iran.  After cancelling U.S. participation in the Iran nuclear agreement — the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” or JPA — Trump had taken a hard line with Iran.  However, recently Trump appeared to be softening his stance, indicating that at the September 24th United Nations General Assembly, he might be willing to meet with Iran President Rouhani with no preconditions for the talks.  (This reversal was one of the reasons that Trump parted ways with his national security adviser, John Bolton.)  However, immediately after the Aramco attacks, Trump blamed Iran and appeared to, once again, be taking a hard line.

On September 18, Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo described the Aramco attacks as an “act of war” orchestrated by Iran (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/18/world/middleeast/us-iran-saudi-arabia.html)  Pompeo said the U.S. intends to build a “coalition to deter further attacks.”  Trump ordered further economic sanctions against Iran and muttered about military action — although he’s backed down in the last couple of days.

It should be noted that the world community does not hold Iran responsible for the Saudi oilfield attacks.  On September 18th, Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono remarked, “We are not aware of any information that points to Iran.  We believe the Houthis carried out the attack based on the statement claiming responsibility.”  (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-aramco-attacks-japan/japan-defense-minister-not-aware-of-any-iran-involvement-in-saudi-attacks-idUSKBN1W30KV )

Trump has no coherent Iran policy and has lost the support of our allies.  According to the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/17/world/middleeast/iran-saudi-arabia-oil-attack.html ), an Iran expert observed: “Iranian hard-liners consider Trump’s inconsistency to be weakness… [They believe] their policy of ‘maximum resistance’ is working.”

Trump has extensive financial ties to Saudi Arabia.  During the 2015 presidential campaign, Trump boasted: “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me… Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much… They buy all sorts of my stuff. All kinds of toys from Trump. They pay me millions and hundred of millions.”(https://www.cnbc.com/2018/10/16/trump-says-no-financial-interests-in-saudi-arabia-but-makes-money.html )  There’s also evidence that Trump’ son-in-law, Jared Kushner has ties to the Saudis. (https://www.npr.org/2018/10/16/657923244/jared-kushner-faces-scrutiny-for-his-ties-to-the-saudi-crown-prince ).  Recently the Saudi’s have been frequent visitors at Trump hotels.  According to Jonathan Chait, writing in New York Magazine (http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/09/trumps-saudi-arabia-iran-oil-war-corruption.html): “The Saudis spend extravagant sums of money at his hotels in Washington and New York. Earlier this summer, a Saudi entourage of more than two dozen stayed at Trump’s resort in Scotland.”

At the moment, Trump’s strongest ally in the Middle East is Mohammed bin Salman — who is a thug,  (Readers will remember that most observers blame MBS for the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/09/19/after-oil-field-attacks-saudi-arabias-mohammed-bin-salman-straddles-line-between-victim-villain/ ).)  If MBS decides to attack Iran, then Trump will probably go along.  Such a war would have catastrophic consequences.  It would involve the entire region.  And the United States.

Most of us have grave concerns about Donald Trump’s ability to lead the United States.  We worry that, in a time of national crisis, he would be woefully inadequate.  The Saudi oilfield attacks are a wakeup call.  If terrorists can successfully attack the Aramco oil fields — penetrating Saudi Arabian and U.S. defenses — why do we think terrorists would spare domestic oil fields or other critical U.S. targets?

Trump’s Search for a Big Win

After a disastrous August, Donald Trump staggered into September. To some observers, Trump appeared to exhibit symptoms of a nervous breakdown; for example, spending a week defending his claim that Hurricane Dorian had threatened Alabama. He’s cracking under pressure.  Trump knows he is in political trouble.  He’s desperately searching for a big win.

On September 7, Trump called off a secret Camp David meeting with Taliban leaders, where he planned to sign an Afghanistan “peace agreement.”  This was Trump’s ill-considered attempt at a big win.

In the 100 plus days between now and the end of the year, there are eight areas where Trump will search for political capital: the economy, foreign policy, gun control, government funding, healthcare/drug policy, impeachment, national security, and trade.

Impeachment:  On September 12, House Democrats launchd a formal impeachment inquiry.  Trump will not be able to make the multiple inquiries go away — there’s no big win for him with this situation.  Instead, Trump will be subjected to more pressure, which will feed his desperate search for political capital.

Don’t expect Democrats to actually hold a vote on impeachment.  That won’t happened in 2019 and probably won’t happen in 2020 unless something surfaces that is so egregious that it causes a massive shift in public opinion — which is currently running about 60 percent against impeachment.

Expect Democrats to get into Trump’s face every week with some new information about his malfeasance or incompetence.  Enough to accelerate Trump’s descent into madness but not enough to change the minds of members of the Trump cult.

Gun Control: During the next couple of months, discussions about gun control will dominate the airwaves but in the end it will amount to a big nothing.  93 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun buyers, but the NRA is opposed and Trump — and Mitch McConnell — are beholden to the NRA.  Trump will bloviate and confabulate.  McConnell will say that the Senate won’t pass any legislation that Trump won’t sign.  The ball will get passed back and forth.  And then dropped.  No big win here.

The economy: The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll (https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/ten-call-recession-trump-approval-drops-points-poll/story?id=65414875 ) indicates that sixty percent of respondents feel the U.S. economy will slide into recession during the next 12 months.  However, the economic signs are mixed — the stock market is up, consumer confidence is down.

The reality is that there’s not a lot Trump can do to directly influence the economy — other than demonstrate steady leadership, which he is incapable of.  There are certain strategic actions that he might have initiated a year or two ago — such as a massive infrastructure initiative — but Trump isn’t going to do that now.

Trump will harass the Federal Reserve Board and give stock traders collective atrial fibrillation — by lying about trade progress with China.  But, there’s no big win here.

Trade: Trump’s biggest opportunity to positively influence the economy would be to stabilize trade relations with China.  That’s unlikely to happen because Trump has dug in too deep and is constitutionally incapable of admitting he made a mistake.

Lurking in the wings is congressional approval of the NAFTA-replacement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).  Trump wants this but Democrats won’t pass it unless the labor and environmental provisions are strengthened.

Will Trump agree to Democratic demands in order to secure a win with USMCA approval?  Possibly, but I bet that Speaker Pelosi will want some quid-pro-quo  — such as White House cooperation with a phase of the impeachment proceedings — and it’s unlikely that Trump will go along with that.  There’s a possibility of a Trump win here, but not a big one.

Government Shutdown:  On September 30, various federal agencies run out of money.  The latest information indicates that Senate Republicans and House Democrats will agree to a short-term funding bill to avert a shutdown.  (https://www.politico.com/story/2019/09/09/mitch-mcconnell-government-shutdown-1486886 )  This will kick the can farther down the road — likely until the Thanksgiving recess.

The question is whether Trump will use the threat of government shutdown to press for a big win — such as massive funding for “the wall.”  A year ago, December 22, 2018, Trump forced a  35-day shutdown but it didn’t achieve his objectives; so, it’s unlikely he will repeat this action.

Drug Prices:  There’ve been recent suggestions that Trump will seek to accomplish his big win by doing something major about drug prices.  Recently Speaker Pelosi has promoted a significant drug-price-reduction plan (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/10/us/politics/pelosi-trump-drug-prices.html ).  Will Trump support this?  (Possibly as the quid-pro-quo  for support of his USMCA.)  It’s certainly conceivable.

Foreign Policy: Between now and the end of 2019, Trump will be desperately seeking a big win.   His best bet is to do something dramatic in the arena of foreign policy.

As this was being written, Trump fired John Bolton,  his National Security Adviser, because Bolton didn’t approve of Trump’s desire to make a big foreign policy “splash” but cutting some sort of deal with Afghanistan, Iran, or North Korea.  Now that Bolton is gone, it’s more likely that Trump will push for some sort of deal with Iran — possibly during Trump’s visit to the United Nations’ General Assembly at the end of the month.

National Security: The 18th anniversary of 9/11 reminds us that one of the reasons the United States was surprised by the terrorist attacks was that then President George W. Bush didn’t pay attention to critical briefings (https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/11/opinion/the-bush-white-house-was-deaf-to-9-11-warnings.html ).  Now we have another President that doesn’t pay attention to critical intelligence briefings.  Worse yet, Trump has systematically fired all the experienced White House intelligence experts and replaced them with sycophants.

The current national-security situation suggests that, between now and year end, while Trump will not get the big win he so desperately seeks, he is increasing the odds of a big loss for the country.

 

 

Dealing with the Trump Cult

 Four weeks have passed since the El Paso Walmart shootings and Donald Trump’s incredibly insensitive response. During this period the nation has witnessed multiple episodes of Trump’s bizarre behavior. His judgment — always questionable — has evaporated. As a consequence, many Americans have concluded that Trump is incapable of fulfilling the duties and responsibilities required of the President of the United States. But some, most notably the Trump cult, continue to support him.

The latest 538 Summary (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/ ) found that 54.2 percent of respondents disapproved of Trump, while 41.3 percent approved.  It’s a remarkably constant finding: Trump’s disapproval seldom goes above 56 percent and his approval rarely dips below 40 percent.

On the one hand these polls suggest that Trump will have trouble getting reelected in 2020 — his recent swing-state polls have been terrible — but on the other hand the polls indicate that Trump has a solid base of support.  There are millions of Americans who either don’t care about Trump’s behavior or refuse to believe the mounting evidence of his incompetence.  There are millions of Americans who belong to the Trump cult.

In recent months, many have written about “the cult of Trump.”  A couple of months ago, Chris Hedges savaged Trump and his supporters (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/06/10/cult-trump), noting that Trump shares the characteristics of cult leaders such as Adolph Hitler, Jim Jones, and David Koresh:

“Cult leaders are narcissists. They demand obsequious fawning and total obedience. They prize loyalty above competence. They wield absolute control. They do not tolerate criticism. They are deeply insecure, a trait they attempt to cover up with bombastic grandiosity. They are amoral and emotionally and physically abusive… All those outside the cult are branded as forces of evil, prompting an epic battle whose natural expression is violence.”

Hedges continued: “Donald Trump has transformed the decayed carcass of the Republican Party into a cult… Trump did not create the yearning for a cult leader. Huge segments of the population, betrayed by the established elites, were conditioned for a cult leader.”  Seeking to explain Trump’s power, Hedges wrote: “Domestic terrorism and nihilistic violence are the natural outcomes of the economic, social and political stagnation, the total seizure of power by a corporate cabal and oligarchic elite, and the contamination of civil discourse by cult leaders.”

Let’s start with the assumption that Donald Trump is, at best, incompetent, and, at worst, deranged, “a danger to himself and others.”  Nonetheless, when Trump is removed from office — either by impeachment or as the result of the 2020 election — those of us who are currently shouting, “the Emperor has no clothes,” will be stuck with the toxic residue of his cult.  Trump may go away but his cult members will still be with us.

There are, at least, four major components of the Trump cult:  The first constituents are conservative evangelical Christians.  Many have been conditioned by their brand of Christianity, which teaches that the word of God does not come from revelation or studious Bible study but instead from the teachings of their minister — typically a white male.  Writing in The Washington Post, Elizabeth Bruenig (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/08/14/evangelicals-view-trump-their-protector-will-they-stand-by-him/?wpisrc=nl_rainbow&wpmm=1) observed that conservative evangelical Christians typically do not condone Trump’s behavior.  Rather, they see him as the means to an end: Trump is the only major politician who seems to stand up for their desire for a theocracy.  Trump is, in effect, “God’s mercenary,” their agent in “spiritual warfare.”  Trump does what they want — whether it’s appointing ultra-conservative judges or opposing abortion or supporting Christian schools — and they, in turn, ask no questions. “Trump is able, by being less Christian than your average Christian, to protect [evangelical] Christians who fear incursions from a hostile dominant culture.”

The second component of the Trump cult are white supremacists — aka “white nationalists.”  (hpps://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/09/30/donald-trump-now-owns-white-supremacy )  They are more supportive of Trump’s day-to-day behavior — this group pointedly eschews “political correctness.”  The white nationalists also see Trump as a means to an end: the establishment of an autocratic government run by white males.

The third component of the Trump cult are the owners and employees of fossil-fuel companies.  Like the conservative evangelical Christians, many members of this constituency do not condone Trump’s behavior but see him as a means to an end: long-term job and profit security.  Trump has gone out of his way to favor this group, whether by denying the reality of global climate change or by doing everything he can to keep coal mines operating.  (There are similar industrial groups — such as chemical companies — that are seed beds for Trump supporters; I’ve noted the most obvious.)

The common characteristic of these three Trump constituencies is that they are locked into a rigid anti-democratic worldview that does not have broad popular support.  Among major politicians, only Trump supports them.

The fourth component of the Trump cult are the large segments of America that have lost hope.  This group was described in Arlie Hochschild’s insightful “Strangers in Their Own Land.” (https://thenewpress.com/books/strangers-their-own-land )  From 2012-2016, sociologist Hochschild talked to residents of Lake Charles, Louisiana, a Tea Party stronghold.  These residents felt they had lost their shot at the American dream.  One of Hochschild’s key insights was that these Americans no longer believed that “government” would help them; instead they placed their faith in “corporations” or “capitalism” or — in the period leading up to the 2016 presidential election — Donald Trump.

My point here is not to vilify members of the Trump cult but rather to point out the obvious:  these four groups are going to vote for Trump, no matter what, because they don’t see an alternative.  Whomever the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate turns out to be, the members of the Trump cult aren’t going to switch sides to support them.

Yes, American politics is deeply polarized.  And, no, the Democrats aren’t going to win because their choice of candidate caused some Republican voters to switch sides.  If the Democrats win, it will be because their candidate energized their base and attracted a majority of true independents.  The members of the Trump cult are going to stick with Donald to the bitter end.  And beyond.

How Did We Get Here?

As we reflect on the horrific El Paso and Dayton shootings, it’s clear that we’ve reached an inflection point in our society. We’re teetering on the edge of civil war. Lets take a couple of steps back and consider how we got here.

Donald Trump is a symptom of a set of larger problems.  Yes, he’s cancer; but cancer resulting from a toxic environment.  The product of three poisonous trends with American society.

1.Racism: There’s no doubt that Trump is a racist and that his brand of brand of racism has fomented violence — most recently the El Paso shootings.  But racism didn’t begin with Trump; it’s been around since the founding of this country.

We’re in the modern era of U.S. racism that began with the 1964 Civil Rights Act and culminated with the 2008 election of Barack Obama.  It has three manifestations: Republicans have become the party of white racists; Republicans covertly disenfranchise people of color; and, until Trump, it was politically incorrect to use historic racist jargon — such as the N-word.

It’s not an accident that Trump now leads the Republican Party.  The members are not all racists but they — card-carrying Republicans — are enabling racism.  (How many times have we heard wealthy GOP donors say: “I don’t like what Trump says but I love his tax cuts.”)

Since the passage of the civil-rights act, we’ve seen the demise of “classic” racism — for example, segregation and Jim Crow laws — and the emergence of clandestine racism — for example, redlining and voter-id laws. ( During the past 55 years, in some parts of the country, the living conditions of people-of-color have not changed.)

Donald Trump has embraced the new clandestine racism and added his own flourishes: resentment and antipathy to political correctness.  From the moment that Trump announced his candidacy (June 17, 2015) he embraced the politics of racial resentment: “The US has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems… When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”  He referenced a Hispanic “invasion” a phrase he’s repeatedly returned to.  Trump’s appealed to dissatisfied white (non-Hispanic) voters with a singular trope: “These people are taking what’s rightfully yours, your share of the American dream.”

In addition, Trump has called for an end to “political correctness” — “I shouldn’t be saying this, but….”  We’ve gotten so used to Trump tweets that it’s important to remember that before January 20, 2017, we’d never seen a President act like this.  Goodbye to telling the truth.  Goodbye comity.  Goodbye to setting a moral example.  Goodby to the Golden Rule.  (Goodbye to Christian ethics.)

Trump’s bashing of “political correctness” has opened the door to white supremacists.   Trump has normalized racism and racial violence.

2. Violence: The United States has a culture of violence.  We like violent novels, movies, TV shows, and video games.  We love guns.  Check the front page of any daily newspaper and you’ll find reports of murder and mayhem.  I hesitate to say that we’re addicted to violence but it’s obviously a large part of our culture.

Americans are obsessed with guns.  We have more guns in private hands than does any other nation.  The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the most powerful Washington lobbies.  (The U.S. requires a license to drive a car but — in most states — not to own a gun.)

There’s physical violence and psychological violence.  Trump has normalized violence in our everyday interaction.

Not only has Donald Trump called for an end to “political correctness,” he’s called for an end to nonviolent conflict resolution.  He does not treat people with respect.

Trump’s strategy for resolving conflict is to demean his opponents and insist on getting his way.  (If Trump was a football running back, he would not try to finesse would-be tacklers, he would always chose to run over them.)

Trump doesn’t apologize, he “doubles down.”  Recently Trump tweeted demeaning remarks about four Congresswomen — all women of color — suggesting “they go back” to their countries of origin, even though all but one was born in the United States.  When Trump was criticized for what was obviously a racist remark, he didn’t apologize, he doubled down.  (Trump went to El Paso on August 7th but didn’t apologize to the Hispanic shooting victims for his incendiary remarks about Hispanics; instead Trump told the press how much all the victims loved him.)

3.Pay to Play: The third poisonous trend within American society is unbridled capitalism.  In Trump’s case it has two malevolent faces.  One is the replacement of Christian ethics by Capitalistic ethics — the end justifies the means.  (“Love those tax cuts!”)  The other toxic impact of Capitalism is the buying of politicians.

It’s too easy to write off Donald Trump as an extreme narcissist; someone who has no empathy and is, therefore, incapable of taking responsibility for his actions.  We’ve gotten so used to bizarre Trump tweets that it’s reflexive to dismiss him as mentally ill.  Another explanation is that since Trump only cares about money, he acts the way he does because it brings in huge campaign contributions and fills his wallet.  Trump is the most ostentatious representative of a general Republican position: We’re for sale.

The modern Republican Party has swallowed the ethics of Capitalism — and Ayn Rand.  Their politics begin and end with money.

It’s easy to see this in the behavior of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  He refuses to do anything about election integrity — Russian interference in our elections — because he’s getting donations from Russians.  Similarly, McConnell refuses to do anything about gun control because he’s getting donations from the NRA and Kentucky-based  gun manufacturers.

Trump and McConnell act the way they do because they are being enabled by their Republican colleagues and by wealthy GOP donors.  That’s why a real solution to our problems requires more than defeating Trump in 2020.  Real change requires voting out Republicans at all levels of government.  And, penalizing Republican donors.