an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

Posts Tagged ‘impeachment

Trump: the slo-mo train wreck is far from over – it’s likely to get much worse

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some semi-reluctant future reading – or maybe I’ll just watch the video

This morning I heard an American pundit saying Trump has got to change his approach and become more co-operative with investigating authorities, because his strategy isn’t working. Everybody is offering Trump free advice but he’s unlikely to take it because he’s Trump. People don’t change very much, they certainly don’t become completely different people, certainly not after the age of seventy. Trump has spent his life among crooked rich people, he was brought up by crooked rich people, he only admires crooked rich people, and he will die as crooked as he has lived. That’s his fate.

What pundits should really be working on, IMHO, is limiting his power and curbing his destructive tendencies. Now that the cognoscenti are coming to realise that better vetting processes should have applied to candidates for the overly-powerful position of POTUS, they should be doing their utmost to put obstacles in the way of that power (followed by root and branch reform of the entire political system once Trump is dumped). For example, putting real pressure on White House staffers, many of whom should know by now that the writing’s on the wall, to resign en masse. Or even just to suggest that they do so? Rats tend to desert a sinking ship, but perhaps not if they don’t sense any land in the offing, a safe haven to run to. So maybe it would be the most ethical thing to do, now, to entice Trump’s enablers to abandon him, not entirely without penalty, but with less penalty than if they stick with him to the end. A bit like offering limited immunity. And in the same way, the media should be onto those in Congress who are enabling Trump, or are not being sufficiently vocal in their opposition, or their position in general, to speak their minds more clearly. It’s time for more media hounding, for the sake of the beleaguered nation. Two of Trump’s most vocal supporters in Congress are now being prosecuted as swamp creatures, not surprisingly. More needs to be made of this.

I’m not talking here about ‘weaponising’ the media, or being partisan. This is clearly about corruption and the law. My own early recognition of Trump as a boorish, tasteless, noisome, proudly ignorant, self-serving buffoon had little to do with politics. I’ve learned over this year that he was a ‘lifelong Democrat’ until a few years ago. I didn’t believe it any more than I believe he’s a Republican now. He knows as much about politics, history and international affairs as he does about science. But I’ve also learned more about his inherent dishonesty and crookedness. The responsible media generally recognise this, and they should play, more openly, a heroic role in bringing him down. It wouldn’t be a partisan role, it would be about nation-building, or nation-repairing.

It’s important here not to be partisan, and that’s why it’s essential to focus on the law rather than on politics. Certainly there needs to be a political backlash against Trump, and against his Republican enablers, but I’ve already expressed my skepticism of impeachment, a political process, as a means of dismissing political leaders. All citizens should be subject to the law, regardless of position or profession. This is not to say the mid-term elections aren’t important, as the country needs more liberals and democrats in positions of authority to counter Trump’s fascistic or mafioso-style approach to government. However, the mid-term elections are over two months away, plenty of time for more damage to be done to the country’s political institutions by an increasingly desperate ‘Commander-in Chief’.

The preposterous and disgustingly juvenile, and typically American, idea that their POTUS may be above prosecution simply because he’s too important and vital to the workings of the State, needs to be punctured beyond repair. This seems to me a high-priority issue. Of course, the fact that the USA has given its POTUS too much power will make things difficult in the immediate post-Trump period, but this is a tough lesson that needs to be learned. It seems a constitutional crisis may be just what’s needed to get the nation to wake from its jingoistic slumber and start working on a better, more collegial and distributed power system than the current hero-worshipping laughing-stock it has created for itself.

So let’s go to the issue of indictment, and later we’ll go to the aftermath, which will presumably be a Pence Presidency – not a pleasant prospect, from what I’ve heard.

Unfortunately the indictment of a sitting President is regarded as a constitutional matter – unlike the indictment of any other citizen, presumably. This is a situation that should be rectified. Section 3 of Article 1 of the US Constitution puts it thus:

“Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust,or Profit under the United States; but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”

Note the unclear wording here. It talks about impeachment first, which to my mind, is irrelevant. It’s the last part that is relevant, though it gets entangled with impeachment – ‘The party convicted shall nevertheless be liable to and subject to indictment’, etc. But impeachment is not about being convicted. The law convicts, surely. The Constitution was signed into law in 1787, and is a source of understandable pride to the American people, but it’s hardly to be expected that it would make everything clear and precise for the next two hundred-odd years. It looks as though indictment should follow impeachment, which is, it seems, misrepresented as ‘convicted’, but it cannot surely be the case that if the President commits what constitutes a ‘high crime or misdemeanour’ (and I really hope that term is clear in US law) he has to be impeached before being charged. That, to me, would be outrageous. It’s very obviously the wrong way round – though of course, you’d have to be sure that the Justice Department had a very sound case before proceeding – perhaps with a speaking indictment (I really like them things). And then, of course, if conviction occurs, impeachment wouldn’t be an issue. It would just be a matter of a change of residence.

It’s astounding, and frankly appalling, that some soi-disant constitutional lawyers really do argue for immunity (while in office) due to the heavy duties of the Presidency  (duties that Trump largely avoids), while other experts argue that Presidents really do have the power to pardon themselves. It’s yet another indication that Yanks, even high-powered legal eagle ones, are in thrall to the wankeries of their worst movies, featuring the vigilante superhero out to save the State from itself, with collateral damage just being part of the thrill.

Considering such jejune but baked-in attitudes about their ‘commander-in chief’, it’s unlikely that Americans will learn much from the current debacle. Still no proper vetting at the outset, still no reduction of pardoning and other powers, still no integration of the Presidency with Congress, still insufficient checks and balances, still the same childishly carnivalesque two-horse races every four years, still the same embarrassing, unreflective jingoism. And still, I find it all quite fascinating. I’m just glad I’m not actually there.

So what will happen by years’ end? Presumably impeachment proceedings, depending on the numbers in both houses – I haven’t yet read up on impeachment, what it requires and entails, and I’ll be doing that soon. But presumably impeachment isn’t easily enforceable, and Trump will ignore it and rely on his base to protect him. That’s when things will get really interesting.

Written by stewart henderson

August 27, 2018 at 1:04 pm

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Relaxing time: let’s talk about Trump again

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Trump’s mental health usually only gets publicity when it’s questioned by political insiders – medical experts aren’t given enough credence

Jacinta: We like to explore the Trump debacle when we feel too lazy to focus on other subjects, which generally require research and diving into unfamiliar and taxing fields, such as palaeontology, microbiology, geology, astrophysics or remote historical epochs. So now, since we’re on holiday, let’s have fun fun fun.

Canto: So first, some comments on Sam Harris’ interview with Niall Ferguson, conducted some weeks ago. Ferguson is primarily a financial historian, though I know him through his book War of the World, which I found interesting but questionable at times – though of course I can’t remember my objections now. I think I basically disagreed with his thesis that the twentieth century was more hateful and violent than other periods – IMHO, it was just more effective at killing people, and of course there were more people to kill than in previous centuries. Anyway, on listening to Ferguson talk to Harris, I found myself disagreeing on more points than I can go into here, but I’ll restrict myself to his comments on Trump. He seemed overly complacent, to me, about Trump’s destructive capacities, describing him as a populist (a rather watered-down description) who would probably only serve one term, though maybe two. He also felt that, quite possibly, it would’ve been worse for the USA had Clinton won, as the Trump supporters would’ve felt cheated, while all the old elite cronies would’ve returned to office…

Jacinta: We’re not sufficiently au fait with Yank politics to ‘get’ that feeling, to feel it under the skin so to speak, though we understand in an abstract way that many sectors of US society feel left behind, and Ferguson seemed to be claiming, strangely, that it was better for the disadvantaged and under-educated that ‘their’ candidate, who of course hasn’t the slightest interest in the Presidency except to make money and be the centre of attention, won the election and immediately betrayed them, than that Clinton won and protected the Affordable Care Act, promoted education and science, and didn’t introduce massive tax cuts for super-rich corporations, while continuing to hob-nob with their own kind.

Canto: A couple of books we’ve read lately, The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, and Chasing the scream, by Johann Hari, have provided glimpses into the struggles of blacks and immigrants in the US, but so many of we non-Americans smugly look askance at the inequalities and harsh divisions there, the hapless health system and the hideous gun culture. What I don’t get with Ferguson is how he can claim that someone like Trump, who only exacerbates these inequities, was perhaps preferable to Clinton – who, presumably, does have liberal values of the ‘nobody left behind’ type, which she would surely have tried to act on to some degree – simply because his betrayal would’ve shown to his supporters that he had feet of clay. It’s a bizarre and really quite cruel argument.

Jacinta: He also seemed not to give too much credence to the Mueller investigation. We’re both in agreement that Trump will be out of office by the end of the year, a prediction made last December. The Cohen raid and the charges they will inevitably lead to have boosted these chances, but I feel it was slam-dunk, as the Yanks have it, well before that. The only problem I see is getting Trump to accept the verdict.

Canto: There’s also the question of whether team Mueller will play the Trump card before the end of the year. He wants all the President’s men first. Ferguson considers impeachment, but argues there’s only a fifty-fifty chance that the Dems will be in control after the mid-terms, and that even then Trump could survive impeachment, as Clinton did. He didn’t consider the obvious fact that Trump will never have more than fifty percent approval (unlike Clinton), and I think he grossly underestimates the turn against him in the electorate. The way things are going now, the mid-terms will see a massive turn-around. I think the majority now not only want to see a Democratic congress, they want to see Trump impeached.

Jacinta: And yet we don’t want impeachment, right? We want Trump charged, convicted and imprisoned. We don’t want politics to play any role whatsoever.

Canto: Probably a forlorn hope but, yes, we’d like to get the Yanks to accept finally and forever that their head of state isn’t above the law. In this instantiation, he’s a criminal, pure and simple.

Jacinta: So let’s have a nice schadenfreudesque time contemplating how the crim and his henchmen – they’re all men naturally – will get their just desserts.

Canto: So many things. Three guilty pleas – I doubt if Papadopoulos has much to offer, but Flynn and Gates are major figures, co-operating with the enquiry. Campaign manager Manafort facing major charges and guilty as fuck. Cohen certain to be charged with bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations…

Jacinta: What is wire fraud?

Canto: That’s simple – it’s any kind of fraudulent activity involving, or by use of, telecommunications systems – computers, phones, TV, radio – it’s been on the books in the US since the nineteenth century. The Cohen situation is most obviously dire for Trump, from a public perspective, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the info team Mueller has garnered from Deutschebank is damning as fuck as well. And there are other matter that should be criminal too. There’s this thing in their constitution called the Emoluments Clause, which Trump has basically ripped to shreds and used as toilet paper, but I’m not sure if that’s the criminal act that it should be.

Jacinta: It’s interesting that the high-profile Stormy Daniels lawyer, Michael Avenatti, has recently predicted that Trump won’t finish his first term. Do you think he’s been reading our blog posts?

Canto: C’est evident. However, he’s predicting Trump will resign. We, on the other hand, feel that Trump isn’t the resigning type. Has he ever resigned in his life? He’s never been in a position to do so, never having been an employee.

Jacinta: Haha, when he was campaigning he talked about ‘we workers’. He really is a blow-harding genius. Yes, we’ve already said that Trump would rather lock himself in the White House toilet than go quietly…

Canto: That would certainly get him lots of publicity, and any publicity is better than none for Trump, according to Maggie Haberman, not to mention Oscar Wilde.

Jacinta: So assuming team Mueller has an embarrassment of riches to choose from – the DNC hack, the lies about meetings with Russians, financial crimes, conspiracy, obstruction of justice multipled by x – and that their findings, or some of their preliminary findings, are out by year’s end, and are comprehensively damning, how will Trump be ousted? Assuming that he says they’re all fake charges and refuses to resign?

Canto: I wish I could answer that. I do think, though, that both the Senate and the House will ‘flip’ as they love to say there, and the animus against Trump will harden. He’ll be impeached and it will be a popular move, but considering that may not happen until after the mid-terms, it leaves little time for our prediction to succeed.

Jacinta: Stop press – Trump has just gone on a massive rant at Fox News, in which he has incriminated himself more than once and proved how obsessed he is with his own petty affairs and how utterly indifferent he is to running the country. It was darkly hilarious, with the Fox anchors trying to shut him up and finally coming up with the ultimate bullshit line, ‘I know you must have a million things to do, Mr Prez’….

Canto: Yes he clearly does fuck all, not that anyone in their right mind would want him to do anything Presidential, much better if he devotes the rest of his life to golf.

Jacinta: The sport of bores, as James Watson would have it. So who is to blame for this monumental disaster? Where do we begin?

Canto: We begin with a lack of vetting for candidates to putatively the most powerful job on the planet. You can’t just let anyone become your President. You certainly can’t take breast-beating pride in a democracy that let’s any moronic thug have power over you. And that can be fixed. They have to change their laws, of necessity. And if this can’t be done without altering/amending the constitution, then do so, of necessity. Sure, okay the American Constitution was the greatest document ever written by any humans on the face of the earth for the past ten thousand years…

Jacinta: Get your facts straight and don’t be sacrilegious, it was written by angels not humans.

Canto: But if it was able to bring about this fiasco, it still has a few problems. Anyway, I think I’ve gone through most of the problems and their solutions before. Far stricter laws on making money from the office, scrapping pardon powers and veto powers, more straightforward and streamlined rules of succession, and of course making it clear that a president is as liable to prosecution while in office as any other law-breaker. And considering the power he wields in office there should be no statute of limitations for the prosecution of presidents. He should be held to a higher standard, not a lower one as is clearly the case now.

Jacinta: As for removing him, I think the best way is on medical grounds. He’s a sociopath, of the malignantly narcissistic kind. This is argued forcibly in an essay by Mitchell Anderson:

Sociopaths are neither crazy nor necessarily violent, as so often misrepresented by Hollywood scriptwriters. Likewise, they typically possess normal intelligence. The one superpower sociopaths do possess is an emotional deafness that allows them to act with a shark-like self-interest beyond the moral bounds of even the most hardened normal humans. People with this frightening condition can act without conscience, effortlessly lying to manipulate those around them.

Anderson refers to the book The dangerous case of Donald Trump, released last year, in which some two dozen medicos deliver their views on Trump’s sociopathic condition. For example, a long-standing professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School says this:

Donald Trump’s speech and behaviour show that he has severe sociopathic traits. The significance of this cannot be overstated. While there have surely been American presidents who could be said to be narcissistic, none have shown sociopathic qualities to the degree seen in Mr. Trump. Correspondingly, none have been so definitively and so obviously dangerous.

And there are other quotable quotes. So in this case there is a mechanism for removal – the 25th amendment to the constitution. Unfortunately, severe psychiatric conditions which yet allow people to function okay physically, are still not taken seriously enough by the general public to be called out. Mental health experts need to be listened to more on this one. Otherwise the USA’s current political nightmare will go on and on.

Written by stewart henderson

April 28, 2018 at 8:15 am

How bad is the American political system? Outsider talk

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fantasies notwithstanding…

Jacinta: As we await hopefully the downfall of Trump, we keep experiencing shocks as we listen to all the commentary and events…

Canto: I wouldn’t call it shocks, because I for one have followed US politics, albeit vaguely, for decades, but as some of the implications of their system have been brought into clearer focus, and their complacent and often jingoistic attitude to it, yes, it tends to make the jaw drop a little.

Jacinta: Presidential pardons and vetoes, actually serious discussions as to whether or not their head of state is above the law or indictable, and then much rabbiting on about how they’re the greatest democracy on earth, and how they have checks and balances like nowhere else, which is such arrant bullshit….

Canto: Well I agree that if your head of state is granted the right to pardon criminals, that’s a large stride towards dictatorship right there. And here’s an example of complacency: one commentator talked proudly of his country’s political system being largely a response to tyranny. He was explicitly referring to the monarchy of George III. Yet the power of Presidential pardon is taken directly from the British monarchy! And of course British monarchs virtually never use it – there would be a massive uproar if they did in that very politically literate nation.

Jacinta: Alan Turing was the last person to receive a royal pardon, in 2013, some fifty years after the poor bloke committed suicide. That would’ve been a very popular decision, and the Queen would surely not have been the one to make it, she just signed off on it. I’m sure it’s been a long long time since any British monarch made a personal decision to pardon a convicted individual.

Canto: So compare the latest US Presidential pardon, only days ago. Scooter Libby (such an American name) was convicted of lying to the FBI during the Bush administration, and I don’t know the details of all that, but no matter, more than one US pundit has argued, credibly enough, that for Trump, Scooter Libby is no more than a silly name. Now here’s what Wikipedia has to say about US Presidential pardons:

Almost all federal pardon petitions are addressed to the President, who grants or denies the request. In rare cases, the President will, of his own accord, issue a Pardon. Typically, applications for pardons are referred for review and non-binding recommendation by the Office of the Pardon Attorney, an official of the United States Department of Justice.[27] The percentage of pardons and reprieves granted varies from administration to administration; however, fewer pardons have been granted since World War II.

The pardon power has been controversial from the enactment of the United States Constitution.

Controversial indeed. And I’m willing to bet that this recent pardon was one of those ‘rare cases’, no doubt suggested to Trump by one of his Mar-a-lago mates. Under Trump, such pardon cases will become a lot less rare, if he can get away with it. It seems reasonably clear, as many pundits avow, that Trump is signalling to such mates as Flynn and Cohen that he can and will pardon them when the time comes.

Jacinta: And this is surely corruption writ large. But what astonishes me is the Americans never seem to be capable of considering changes to their beloved but obviously flawed constitution. Their second amendment pertaining to bearing arms is a piece of shite of course, and I’m not sure about their fifth, which seems to obstruct justice in a lot of cases, and this pardon power is expressed in the body of their constitution, in Article 2. To me it’s screamingly obvious that this pardon power should be thrown out. When will they ever effing learn?

we shall see

Canto: It seems they need outsiders to point out to them the massive flaws in their system. It’s way too ‘presidential’. You could also possibly argue that it’s too democratic. The fact is, although all westerners tend to extol democracy, there’s no purely democratic system, and that’s a good thing. If our understanding of the world, the universe – our science in other words – was decided by democracy, we’d still believe the earth was flat and we would never have invented a single tool.

Jacinta: Yes, and imagine if our judges and our laws were voted on by pure democracy – given current and past levels of education. It hardly bears thinking about.

Canto: And in the USA the President is directly voted on by the people in a two-horse race, unlike in the Westminster system where we vote on parties, or on local reps, and the winning party chooses its captain based on her proven abilities, be they populist or strategic or otherwise, and that party gets to dump its leader if she proves ineffective.

Jacinta: So such a system never places anyone above the law, and where there are pardon powers, they’re hedged about very heavily, though certainly the leader does have powers above others in choosing her cabinet and such.

Canto: A cabinet of members previously elected by constituents, not plucked possibly from obscurity by the whim of the Prez. But can you think of any advantages of this Presidential system over the Westminster system?

Jacinta: Well the Presidential system might be more streamlined, which can be positive or negative depending on the competence of the leader. Quick decision-making can be life-saving or totally disastrous. Personally, I wouldn’t take the risk. But certainly a system can have too many checks and balances.

Canto: But as you’ve said, the Americans seem incapable of considering reforms to their system, even in the light of the Trump disaster. And there are barriers to effecting constitutional change.

Jacinta: You need a two-third majority in both houses of congress to propose a constitutional amendment, and that might be possible after November, but unlikely. And it seems, from the current case involving Michael Cohen and his ties to Trump, that the laws regulating the President’s powers in all sorts of areas are a bit thin.

Canto: I suppose that would be Trump’s greatest legacy, exposing the dangers of an insufficiently regulated head of state.

Jacinta: Yeah but they’re unlikely to face up to those dangers, I suspect they’ll have to be hit on the head by more than one Trump-like figure before they do anything about it.

Canto: They’re very good at feverishly talking about all their woes…

Jacinta: We’re all good at that. But you’ll notice that they often mention a ‘constitutional crisis’. That’s a situation arising where’s little clear guidance from their constitution as to resolution. For example, the indictment of a sitting President. As you know, I’m not keen on the impeachment process, which doesn’t exist in Australia or within the Westminster system. I would want Trump to be dealt with by the law, for which he has such contempt. That would be poetic of course, but it would also be the right course, IMHO.

Canto: But there’s a problem with indictment of a sitting President. Of course in Australia we rarely use the term ‘indict’, we just use the term ‘charge’, as verb and noun. The problem with charging the Prez is that he will then have to go through a court process, which will significantly  affect his ability to discharge the duties of office. Of course, this isn’t such a problem under Westminster, the PM will simply step down, either permanently or temporarily until the case is completed. Under Westminster, change of leadership isn’t such a big deal, and it often happens within electoral cycles. Under the Presidential system, it may happen that a Prez is indicted but hearings are delayed until he leaves office…

Jacinta: But if the charges relate to his becoming President, or to his current handling of the role – e.g. collusion with a foreign power, or obstruction of justice, what then?

Canto: From what I’ve read, you can indict a sitting President, and publish the charges. If the charges relate to the President’s fitness for office – but who decides this? – then action should be taken to remove him – but what action? Other than impeachment, it’s not clear.

Jacinta: And impeachment isn’t in itself removal from office. And Trump won’t go quietly. It’s all a bit fuzzy. And as we get closer to the pointy end, it gets fuzzier, paradoxically speaking….

Canto: How to sack a President, that is the question. It appears he’s virtually unsackable, and that’s an offence.

Written by stewart henderson

April 18, 2018 at 7:34 am