Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
They Said It:
On this 200th day of the Trump Administration, the 45th presidency is under assault as few legitimately elected governments in free stable nations have ever been. . . .
The Deep State isn’t just deep, it’s broad and bloated – and it decided last November that it would not accept the result of a perfectly lawful and proper election. So it doesn’t care about putting the Turnbull transcript all over the press, because, while the Australian Prime Minister may recognize Donald Trump as the President of the United States, the Deep State does not. So anything goes.
From November to January we had three months of blather about the “peaceful transfer of power”, but that is in fact precisely what the losers have denied the winners: Instead, they weaponized the transfer. Do you think, after last week, the Aussies think this is a normal “transfer of power”? What we are witnessing is a slow-motion coup against a duly elected government by people determined to use whatever they have to hand – national-security leaks by the permanent bureaucracy, money-no-object fishing expeditions by hopelessly conflicted prosecutors, domestic surveillance of political opponents by Obama officials, and indifference to most of the preceding by a GOP congressional leadership that has no interest in seeing Trumpism succeed.
If they prevail, they will be teaching the electorate a very dangerous lesson: you can vote for change all you want, but you ain’t gonna get any.
Mark Steyn, “Coup d’etat Profond,” August 7, 2017.
TRUMP AS SYMPTOM, NOT CAUSE.
Last week, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, who is tasked with investigating possible wrongdoing in the Trump campaign and administration, impaneled a grand jury. Needless to say, the media and Trump’s political opponents were tickled pink. This was what they’d been waiting for. This was the news they’d longed to hear for almost nine months. This, they insisted, was solid evidence that their long, personal nightmare might soon be over.
Now, on the one hand, we will concede the point that the seating of a grand jury is hardly a positive development for President Trump or any of his many family members and friends who have been accused of wrongdoing over the last several months. On the other hand, we’ve been around Washington long enough to know that the existence of a grand jury does not necessarily mean that indictments are imminent. We know, for example that four of the previous eight presidents were investigated by special prosecutors (or independent counsels, as the case may be) all of whom impaneled grand juries. We know that two of those presidents were actually compelled to testify before those grand juries. Moreover, we know that one of those two openly lied to the grand jury. And yet neither he nor any of his fellow chief executives was ever indicted for anything. Indeed, the two who were forced to testify – Reagan and the aforementioned liar, Clinton – left office as the most popular presidents in recent memory.
All of which is to say that special prosecutors, grand juries, subpoenas, and the like do not necessarily mean anything. Every case is different, obviously, but if past is precedent, then the excitement the Left currently feels will soon give way to boredom, frustration, and eventually exhaustion. Believe us. We’ve been there.
In the end, we suspect that the grand jury will probably prove little more than a side-show in the great Trumpian drama. Someone may be indicted. Someone may even be tried and convicted of some crime, possibly obstructing or deceiving the investigation itself. Scooter Libby says hi. Nevertheless, we wouldn’t hold our breath waiting for the President to be charged with a crime.
Of course, that’s not to say that President Trump has no worries. The three Furies, Allecto (endless), Tisiphone (punishment), and Megaera (jealous rage) are on the case and working for the Democrats. And they will never give up. They will never stop. No rebuke, however severe, will convince them that their conspiracy theories are nutty and their laments about “unprecedented” lapses are historically ignorant (to say the least). They will fight until he is either thrown out of office, dies, or serves out his term. And so, while it is unlikely that they will succeed, it is imperative that we consider what would happen if. So here goes.
As best we can tell, there are two schools of thought on the future of the country, post-Trump. One of these is proffered by the mainstream press and the Democrats, while the other is oft deliberated, though only rarely discussed, on the opposite end of the political spectrum, among Trump’s most ardent fans and supporters.
The first of these groups starts with its own presumptions, chief among which is the supposition that the problem with American politics today can be defined in two words: Donald Trump. If we can just get rid of Trump, the Left and the mainstream press insist, then everything will be fine again. Everyone will be happy, and things will go on in this country much as they did before. Trump is an historical anomaly, they believe, and his unsuitability will be justly and typically punished.
Consider, if you will, the following piece penned last week for the “Lawfare” blog on the web site of Foreign Policy magazine. The authors – Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes – think they know how President Trump’s travails will end and, by extension, how the next president should begin preparing himself now for the eventual fallout. They write:
Dear Vice President Mike Pence:
A betting man might place odds that, sometime in the next three and a half years, and maybe a lot sooner than that, you will become president of the United States. The present situation in the White House is unsustainable. The time has come for you to consider the possibility that, as a result, it will not be sustained and that you, as a consequence, have a date with history at some point on your calendar. . . .
Your boss is completely out of control. You know this, probably better than we do. You know that he is incapable of controlling his behavior and could lash out at any moment in a fashion that could be ruinous. . . .
Embrace marginalization. It’s your protection, the one thing that may allow you to emerge as a leader not hopelessly tainted by your origin story. Work on that marginalization. Pray for it. Don’t try to come in from the cold. Run out into the cold — and stay there.
The first step is putting meaningful distance between yourself and Trump. . . .
Second, it is critical that you have some credibility. Your association with Trump has already deprived you of most of it for many Americans. But, hey, you go to war with the vice president you have, not the vice president you wish you had. So please, be careful not to ever allow an administration unrivaled in its mendacity to once again make a liar out of you. . . .
Third, reaffirm, wherever possible, your commitment to and faith in all of our three branches of government. We have seen President Trump assault the integrity and independence of the other branches — and his own, for that matter. Remember that he is poisoning the well for you, too. . . .
Finally, study and study again the example of Gerald Ford, who became president with the resignation of Richard Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974. In the days leading up to Nixon’s resignation, Ford was not certain of the outcome. He did, however, make decisions that proved critical in his ability to lead the country out from Watergate. His example is instructive.
After Ford took office, he addressed the nation, saying: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great republic is a government of laws and not of men.”
It’s a good line. You might consider jotting it down somewhere — and practicing it a few times.
Ugh. Where do we even start? First, we should note that this whole piece is hysterical – not in the sense that it’s funny, but in the sense that these two appear to have lost their minds. They accuse Trump of being “out of control,” but he strikes us as far more in control than they do. We admit that we tire of arguments in which Trump’s behavior is compared with that of his predecessors. What they did has no real bearing on what he did or will do. At the same time, if your case hinges on the notion that Trump’s behavior is unprecedented, then you can’t make that case credibly if you overlook the . . . uhh . . . precedents.
Donald Trump never pointed his finger at the American people and told them a bald-faced lie about having sexual relations with “that woman.” Donald Trump never – to the best of our knowledge, at least – lied to a federal grand jury. Donald Trump was never forced to give up his law license in his home state. Donald Trump never settled out of court with a woman who accused him of sexual harassment. Donald Trump never attacked the Supreme Court during his State of the Union Address and then had his surrogates single out one specific justice who instinctively bristled at the attack. For that matter, Mike Pence never tried to convince the American people that he didn’t know he was a criminal offense because he drank too much iced tea and had to leave the room repeatedly to use the facilities. Say what you will about Donald Trump’s honesty and integrity, but don’t pretend that he’s some new and horrific monster the likes of which has never been seen before.
Second, Gerald Ford? Really? To the Lefties, Ford is like George H.W. Bush, which is to say that they love him . . . now. Of course, they couldn’t stand him when he was in office. They called him a traitor and a Nixon stoolie. They hated him for pardoning Nixon and they never let him forget it. They mocked the former Michigan Wolverine football player as a klutz (just as they mocked Bush the fighter pilot, as a “wimp”). They loathed him and they couldn’t wait to have his moral superior – the Southern evangelical, Jimmy Carter – trounce him in the 1976 election. Of course they want Pence to be like Ford. Ford was a short-timer who never had a chance, which is precisely what they want Pence to be.
But that’s not going to happen. Pence can’t be like Ford. He won’t be like Ford, no matter how much Trump’s opponents may hope. Gerald Ford took over for Nixon in the sixth year of Nixon’s presidency, which is to say that he took over for someone who had served in office for some time and had had the opportunity to prove himself unworthy of said office. The investigations into Nixon’s behavior didn’t start before he even won an election; they weren’t the pretext, more or less, to overturn election results that made the establishment unhappy. There was an element of witch hunt involved. That’s politics after all. But there were laws broken and Nixon did engage in a coverup.
More to the point, we suppose, Ford could afford to be a magnanimous and sacrificial lamb, largely because the opposition party at the time was, for the most part, still relatively sane. Mike Pence doesn’t have that luxury. Some in the opposition party – think Congresswoman Maxine Waters, for example – won’t rest until the entire “stain” of the Trump victory is erased from the history books. These alleged public servants think that Pence must be removed from office in addition to Trump. As must Paul Ryan. As must anyone who ever spoke to Trump and has an “R” after his/her name. Trump stole their election, you see, and there is no punishment too excessive for such thievery. They will not rest until the election results are overturned, no matter the fact that such a remedy exists nowhere in the constitutional order. Their loathing of Trump is not so much a political concern as it is a mental health matter. And despite the fact that Mike Pence is, in almost every way, the opposite of Donald Trump, they will never concede his legitimacy, for to do so would be to concede Trump’s as well. And that they cannot do.
The presumption on the Left is that Trump represents a political incongruity. His election was a fluke that never should have happened and that can be rectified if the man is removed from office. Interestingly, that seems to be the presumption among factions of the Right as well, among those who support Trump most ardently and uncompromisingly. Consider, for example, the following, which details the second school of thought about the country, post-Trump. It was written by Roger Simon of PJMedia, a convert to conservatism. Like many former members of the Left, Simon detests his former fellow-travelers and sees through their machinations. Nevertheless – or perhaps as a result – his conclusion is fascinating:
On Friday, Michael Savage — conservative talk show host and Berkeley Ph.D. in nutritional ethnomedicine — referenced Nathaniel West’s classic 1939 novel about the burning of Los Angeles, The Day of the Locust, to describe what will occur in the USA should Trump be brought down by his assorted “Globalist” enemies.
People will “resort to mob violence” when they “are finally aware of the fact that they’ve been tricked by their society, and that no matter how hard they work as middle class people” they are denied.” That is what’s going to happen in this country,” Savage said. “You have not yet seen mob violence in this country. You’ve seen some mob violence instigated by George Soros’ mobs. . . . But you haven’t seen the thing I’m telling you is coming in this country. You haven’t seen the ‘Day of the Locust’ yet.”
“Deplorables” gone wild and burning down our cities? Civil war?
Savage seems to agree that the common man, whom he names Eddie, would not be amused: “And if [the left] take(s) Trump down, through (Special Counsel Robert) Mueller or through any other source and deny Eddie his vote, there will be a civil war in this country.”
As is well known, Savage, a onetime pal of Allen Ginsberg and other Beats, is now considered by many to be a “conservative extremist,” therefore a fringe personality from the fever swamps of conspiracy land. Nevertheless, he is the no dummy and is the author of 40 books on subjects as disparate as Alzheimer’s and beer-tasting, not to mention economics and politics. Few of his critics have anywhere near the vitae.
But that’s the anecdotal part. The more important question is is he right — is our democratic republic about to explode? Can the Deep State co-exist with an awakened populace, even a partially awakened one? Increasingly, beneath all the leaks and counter-leaks, the missing emails and accusations, what we are looking at is a sclerotic system that has become increasingly built on self-preservation and not on the people’s will, in fact is largely disinterested in and disconnected from that will.
Call Savage an extremist or whatever you want, but the truth is we are clearly on the edge of something explosive.
Now, we don’t doubt that there would be some on the Right – or at least on the Trumpian Right – who would take to the streets and burn, loot, and cause general mayhem. We know, in fact, that there are Trump fans who have already done so, albeit in response to the Left’s provocations. Some people in this country are itching for a fight and they would all but certainly find it if Trump were deposed. We suppose it’s possible that Michael Savage is one of those people and that many of his listeners are as well.
That said, the idea of a full-blown civil war is, we think, a stretch. Roger Simon doesn’t strike us as someone who would go looking for a fight, but, as a former member of the Left, he may be more inclined to expect mass movements than he probably should be. For a variety of reasons – some ideological, most temperamental – the Right in this country is averse to mass action, particularly mass action that threatens the destruction of private property, poses a risk to life and limb, or disrupts the general civil order. During the campaign, pro-Trumpers protested and counter-protested, but then they stayed to make sure everything was put back the way they found it. For the better part of a decade, the Tea Party marched – but then cleaned up its mess. Conservatives generally don’t participate in mass action, but when they do, they tend, more or less, to be respectful.
Could that change? We suppose so, but we hardly think it’s likely. Rather, we expect that the Right would do what it always does, even in the event that something cuts the Trump presidency short. It would work within the constitutional order to try to change that which it doesn’t like or which angers it.
With respect to this last point, we should note that those who see Trump as a unique and irreplaceable phenomenon are just flat wrong. Trump is interesting and unexpected, to be sure. But, if anything, he is merely the inevitable expression of frustration that was visible as early as the first year of the Obama presidency, a full seven years before Trump even announced his candidacy. Trump is the Tea Party by another name, whether he knows it or not.
What this means is that removing Trump from office would not restore the previous order, no matter how much the Left might wish. The fact of the matter is that the United States is in a period of transition. The current order – the present-day Ancien Regime, if you will – cannot persist indefinitely. And so the nation will change, is changing. The only question now is what the next stage will look like.
For years now, we have been writing about the administrative state and its corruptions. While most people tend to think of the United States as a democracy or a democratic republic, it has not been either for at least seven decades. Rather, it has been and remains an administrative polity, a corporatist state in which an unelected and largely unaccountable bureaucratic apparatus controls the vast majority of the decisions affecting public policy. Various relics of democratic governance have altered the course of the administrative state mildly over the years, but nothing has stopped it; nothing can stop it, at least in the current political era. Last week, we read the following, published by The Hill, which, we think, encapsulates the problem quite nicely:
Government employees are growing increasingly willing to criticize or defy the White House and President Trump’s top appointees.
A handful of current and former career staffers in the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have openly shredded their superiors within the last several weeks, continuing a trend that has developed throughout the government over the course of Trump’s tenure in the Oval Office.
The growing opposition in the executive branch comes as the White House’s legislative agenda has stalled in Congress and Trump turns to his Cabinet agencies to change course in several policy areas. It also is emanating from career staffers or political holdovers whose resistance to Trump has, at times, been rooted in deep opposition to the president’s agenda.
“From our point of view, it’s kind of obvious,” said Jeff Ruch, the executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), when asked about staffers’ growing pushback.
“You have Donald Trump, who ran and said he would drain the swamp, meaning them.”
Both the reporter and the bureaucrats cited in the story claim that this administrative rebellion is directed at Donald Trump. But that is patently untrue. The American bureaucracy – the permanent executive branch – has been operating on its own agenda for decades, largely free from elected executive control and legislative oversight. Moreover, the very same bureaucratic functionaries would be doing precisely the same thing, albeit likely with much less grandstanding, under any Republican president. Trump is an excuse, not an actual causal factor.
Last week, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice switched parties, becoming a Republican. The switch itself is uninteresting in strictly partisan terms, since Justice was a Republican up until two years ago. In terms of ideological demography, however, Justice’s actions were telling.
As things stand today, there are 26 states that are governed under unified Republican control. There are 6 states under unified Democratic control. In terms of population, 106 million people live under Republican control, as opposed to a mere 50 million under Democratic control (and 109 million under split government). Add to that the fact that the Republicans won the presidency and a majority of seats in both houses of the federal legislature, and it is clear that the democratic preference of the people is for the Republican party and, by extension, Republican policies. All of which is a long way of saying that the bureaucrats preening and patting themselves on the back for their defiance of Trump are, in truth, in defiance of the American people. What we have here is a full-scale mutiny against both the people of the United States and against democratic principles more generally.
We have no doubt that Trump’s election has made the mutiny of the bureaucracy more acute, more visible even to those who are generally uninterested in the minutia of politics. But that doesn’t mean that Trump is the cause of that mutiny. And nor does it mean that the mutiny will collapse if Trump somehow fails to serve out his term as president. Trump is a symptom here, not a cause.
Here, we think, we can dispense with the hypothetical. It doesn’t really matter whether Trump serves out the totality of term or not. In either case, the American polity will never again be the way it was before his election – or frankly, before Barack Obama’s election. The stresses on contemporary governance – the excessive cost plus the incalculable responsibility of near-total statist control – have rendered obsolete the administrative model that dominated American politics for the last century. The United States is indeed a diverse nation. And its diversity is not of the mere politically correct variety. It is demographic, ideological, intellectual, social, and moral. Ironically, the Left’s “one-size-fits-all” federal bureaucracy is neither willing nor able to address the desires and wants of such a diverse nation adequately.
A little less than 220 years ago, John Adams posited that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Today, one might argue whether Americans are still a “moral and religious people.” But even if that case can be made, there is no question that vast factions of the population disagree vehemently about the definitions of “moral” and “religious.” One size does not fit all, in other words.
Unless Donald Trump is a miracle worker with skills as of yet not demonstrated, the administrative state will withstand his presidency, however long it lasts. But it will not withstand it fully intact. And its collapse is nevertheless inevitable. Donald Trump will not cause it. And nor, for that matter will his removal from office prevent it.
This is not to say that the government itself is going to collapse or that the federal bureaucracy will wither and die. Rather, both will adjust, much as they have always done. In this case, it occurs to us – as we have noted before – that the most likely adjustments will, by necessity, be in the direction of embracing (or succumbing to) the nation’s genuine diversity. The federal government’s ability to treat the nation as an ideological or moral monolith is rapidly waning. All of which is to say that the most likely consequence of the Trump presidency will be to accelerate the devolution of power back to the states and localities, where the diverse “moral” and “religious” beliefs can be handled with less drama and anger.
For most of the last 160 years, “state’s rights” was strictly a Republican concern, a reactionary response to the rapid centralization of power under the federal government. Today, of course, the cry for freedom from the federal overlord is, if anything, more prominent on the Left than the Right. This is an immense blessing, inevitable though it may have been. What it means is an immediate reduction in the de facto power and reach of the federal executive – the bureaucracy and the presidency – and, in time, a de jure reduction as well.
And who can argue with that?