Friday, February 12, 2021

Impeachment: What’s the Message?

The mantra of the moment is that impeachment is not a trial and shouldn’t be governed by the same rules that apply to a court of law.  True, but that means it’s really a political event, where the verdict matters less than the message.

What’s coming through the media reporting is “Trump incited a riot.”  Well, he did, more or less, but that just means he’s a bad person.  It’s not news that Trump is a pretty nasty role model, and I fear the reaction of many people will be that the campaign to impeach him for it is just more of the same.

I would have preferred a different message: America needs to protect its democracy from the refusal of political leaders to accept defeat.  Around the world we see many countries where elections settle nothing.  Defeated parties routinely claim the election was rigged and only they have the right to hold power.  Street violence accompanies voting.  Military coups occur regularly to impose temporary stability.  The reason we should impeach Trump is to draw a line against this development in the US.

If that’s the message, the key evidence is not a single speech on January 6 or even the rhetoric leading up to it.  Rather, it was the drumbeat of assertions that the election was stolen without evidence to back them up.  After all, if the election had been stolen and the proof was in front of us, it would have been justified to throw sand in the gears of the system in any way possible up to and including an occupation of the Capitol building.  The crime was systematic lying, of a sort that, if not identified and rejected, will lead to a breakdown of democratic power rotation.

Now I can understand why Democrats might be reluctant to make this case, since it implicates not only Trump but much of the Republican leadership as well.  That would make it impossible to pick up the votes they need for impeachment, but they are unlikely to get those votes anyway.  If the real goal is to do everything possible to reverse the descent of America into a country where any political defeat threatens to be permanent and triggers violent resistance, then that’s what needs to be said.

13 comments:

Milton D. Lower said...


you say that the Democrats need to send a different message:

'if that’s the message, the key evidence is not a single speech on January 6 or even the rhetoric leading up to it. Rather, it was the drumbeat of assertions that the election was stolen without evidence to back them up. After all, if the election had been stolen and the proof was in front of us, it would have been justified to throw sand in the gears of the system in any way possible up to and including an occupation of the Capitol building. The crime was systematic lying, of a sort that, if not identified and rejected, will lead to a breakdown of democratic power rotation."

One must wonder if this was written before the hearings began. In my view, the Managers did everything you suggest to perfection, as if following your instructions to a tee.

Peter Dorman said...

Agreed, the Dems did attack Trump for lying about the election, but didn't they do this to buttress their central claim that he incited an ugly and violent insurrection? I'm arguing their central claim should have been that we need to prevent America from becoming a country no longer capable of a democratic rotation of power.

I'll admit I didn't follow the presentation very closely, and I'm relying on the summaries by political honchos and the media. But messaging at that level is the point of the post.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

How to tackle the monstrous predicament Trump left behind

Robert Reich - February 12

This week’s Senate impeachment trial is unlikely to convict Donald Trump of inciting sedition against the United States. At least 17 Republican senators are needed for conviction, but only five have signaled they’ll go along.

(In the end, seven went along.)

Why won’t Republican senators convict him? After all, it’s an open-and-shut case. As summarized in the brief submitted by House impeachment managers, Mr. Trump spent months before the election telling his followers that the only way he could lose was through “a dangerous, wide-ranging conspiracy against them that threatened America itself.”

Immediately after the election, he lied that he had won by a “landslide,” and later urged his followers to stop the counting of electoral votes by making plans to “fight like hell” and “fight to the death” against this “act of war” perpetrated by “radical left Democrats” and the “weak and ineffective RINO section of the Republican Party.”

If this isn’t an impeachable offense, it’s hard to imagine what is. But Republican senators won’t convict Mr. Trump because they’re answerable to Republican voters, and Republican voters continue to believe Mr. Trump’s big lie.

A shocking three out of four Republican voters don’t think Joe Biden won legitimately. About 45% even support the storming of the Capitol.

The crux of the problem is that Americans now occupy two separate worlds — a fact-based pro-democracy world and a Trump-based authoritarian one.

Mr. Trump spent the last four years seducing voters into his world, turning the GOP from a political party into a grotesque projection of his pathological narcissism.

Regardless of whether he is convicted, America must now deal with the monstrous predicament he left behind: One of the nation’s two major political parties has abandoned reality and democracy. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

(Ok, some wishful thinking maybe...)

What to do? Four things.

First, prevent Mr. Trump from running for president in 2024. The mere possibility energizes his followers.

An impeachment conviction is not the only way to prevent him. Under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, anyone who has taken an oath to protect the Constitution is barred from holding public office if they “have engaged in insurrection” against the United States. As constitutional expert and former Yale Law School professor Bruce Ackerman has noted, a majority vote that Mr. Trump engaged in insurrection against the United States is sufficient to trigger this clause.

Second, give Republicans and independents every incentive to abandon the Trump cult.

The white working-class voters without college degrees who now comprise a large portion of the Trump cult need good jobs and better futures. Many are understandably angry after being left behind in vast enclaves of unemployment and despair. They should not have to depend on Mr. Trump’s fact-free fanaticism in order to feel visible and respected.

A jobs program on the scale necessary to bring many of them around will be expensive but worth the cost, especially when democracy hangs in the balance.

Big business, which used to have a home in the GOP, will need a third party. Democrats should not try to court them; the Democratic Party should aim to represent the interests of the bottom 90 percent.

Third, disempower the giant media empires that amplified Mr. Trump’s lies for four years — Facebook, Twitter, and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and its imitators. The goal is not to “cancel” the political right but to refocus public deliberation on facts, truth and logic. Democracy cannot thrive where big lies are systematically and repeatedly exploited for commercial gain.

The solution is antitrust enforcement and stricter regulation of social media, accompanied by countervailing financial pressure. Consumers should boycott products advertised on these lie factories, and advertisers should shun them. Large tech platforms should lose legal immunity for violence-inciting content. Broadcasters such as Fox News and Newsmax should be liable for knowingly spreading lies. (They are now being sued by producers of voting machinery and software that they accused of having been rigged for Mr. Biden).

Fourth, safeguard the democratic form of government. This requires barring corporations and the very wealthy from buying off politicians, ending so-called “dark money” political groups that don’t disclose their donors, defending the right to vote, and ensuring more citizens are heard, not fewer.

Let’s be clear about the real challenge ahead. The major goal is not to convict Mr. Trump of inciting insurrection. It is to move a vast swath of America back into a fact-based pro-democracy society and away from the Trump-based authoritarian one.

Regardless of whether Mr. Trump is convicted, the end of his presidency has given the nation a reprieve. Unless America uses it to end Trumpism’s hold over tens of millions of Americans, that reprieve may be temporary.

Thankfully, Joe Biden appears to understand this.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Why Are Republicans Still This Loyal to a Mar-a-Lago Exile?

NY Times - Peter Wehner - February 14

... how troubling the alliance between Mr. Trump and the Republican Party turned out to be, with Mr. Trump’s senatorial defenders (or should I say praetorian guard) — Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson and others — not only shameless and remorseless, but belligerent.

So why did Republicans, with seven honorable exceptions — Senators Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Pat Toomey, Bill Cassidy, Richard Burr and Ben Sasse — profess their loyalty to a sociopath who has been exiled to Mar-a-Lago? Why do they continue to defend a man who lost the popular vote by more than seven million votes, whose recklessness after the election cost Republicans control of the Senate, and who is causing a flight from the Republican Party?

There are different, sometimes overlapping explanations. For some, it’s a matter of cynical ambition. They want to win over the loyalty of Trump supporters, who comprise a huge part of the base of the Republican Party. For others, it’s recognizing that standing up to Mr. Trump might make life quite unpleasant and even dangerous for them, exposing them to hazards that range from primary challenges to physical attack. And for still others, it’s driven by such antipathy toward the left that they will not do anything Democrats ask them to do, even if doing so is the right thing to do. These Republicans would much rather “own the libs” than side with them against a corrupt, corrosive former president.

There’s also the natural human reluctance to take a stand that puts you in conflict with your own political tribe, your colleagues, your friends. And there’s this: Over the course of the Trump presidency a lot of Republicans repeatedly — sometimes daily — quarantined their conscience in order to justify to others, and to themselves, their support for an unscrupulous man.

For people who are not themselves deviant to publicly defend a person who is creates cognitive dissonance and psychological conflict. It puts people at war with themselves. But over time, one step at a time, people condition themselves to make compromises. They twist themselves into moral knots as a way to justify their stance. They create a community to reinforce their rationalizations. And with each step down the moral staircase, it gets easier.

There is a reason that in the Trump era we keep returning to Eastern European analogues. Upon taking office as president, the Czech dissident and playwright Vaclav Havel said, in a New Year’s Day address in 1990, that “the worst thing is we are living in a decayed moral environment. We have become morally ill, because we have become accustomed to saying one thing and thinking another.” ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Pelosi says independent commission will examine Capitol attack

AP via @BostonGlobe - February 15

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that Congress will establish an independent, Sept. 11-style commission to look into the deadly insurrection that took place at the US Capitol.

Pelosi said the commission will “investigate and report on the facts and causes relating to the January 6, 2021, domestic terrorist attack upon the United States Capitol Complex . . . and relating to the interference with the peaceful transfer of power.”

In a letter to Democratic colleagues, Pelosi said the House will also put forth supplemental spending to boost security at the Capitol.

After former President Trump’s acquittal at his second Senate impeachment trial, bipartisan support appeared to be growing for an independent commission to examine the deadly insurrection.

Investigations into the attack were already planned, with Senate hearings scheduled later this month in the Senate Rules Committee. Pelosi, Democrat from California, asked retired Army Lieutenant General Russel Honoré to lead an immediate review of the Capitol’s security process.

In her letter Monday, Pelosi said, “It is clear from his findings and from the impeachment trial that we must get to the truth of how this happened.”

She added, “As we prepare for the Commission, it is also clear from General Honoré’s interim reporting that we must put forth a supplemental appropriation to provide for the safety of Members and the security of the Capitol.”

Lawmakers from both parties, speaking on Sunday's news shows, signaled that even more inquiries were likely. The Senate verdict Saturday, with its 57-43 majority falling 10 votes short of the two-thirds needed to convict Trump, hardly put to rest the debate about the Republican former president’s culpability for the Jan. 6 assault. ...

An independent commission along the lines of the one that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks would probably require legislation to create. That would elevate the investigation a step higher, offering a definitive government-backed accounting of events. Still, such a panel would pose risks of sharpening partisan divisions or overshadowing President Biden’s legislative agenda.

“There’s still more evidence that the American people need and deserve to hear and a 9/11 commission is a way to make sure that we secure the Capitol going forward,” said Senator Chris Coons, Democrat from Delaware, a Biden ally. “And that we lay bare the record of just how responsible and how abjectly violating of his constitutional oath President Trump really was.”

House prosecutors who argued for Trump's conviction of inciting the riot said Sunday they had proved their case. They also railed against the Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, and others who they said were “trying to have it both ways” in finding the former president not guilty but criticizing him at the same time.

A close Trump ally, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, voted for acquittal but acknowledged that Trump had some culpability for the siege at the Capitol that killed five people, including a police officer, and disrupted lawmakers’ certification of Biden’s White House victory. Graham said he looked forward to campaigning with Trump in the 2022 election, when Republicans hope to regain the congressional majority.

“His behavior after the election was over the top,” Graham said. “We need a 9/11 commission to find out what happened and make sure it never happens again.”

The Senate acquitted Trump of a charge of “incitement of insurrection” after House prosecutors laid out a case that he was an “inciter in chief” who unleashed a mob by stoking a monthslong campaign of spreading debunked conspiracy theories and false violent rhetoric that the 2020 election was stolen from him. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Lets not fprget, a majority of Senators
voted to convict Trump of impeachable offenses.

Just not a large enough majority. Too many lacked
the courage of their convictions or feared
the voters back home.

Trump 'morally responsible' for Capitol riot

Reuters - February 13

The top Senate Republican explained the unexpected turnabout at the end of a five-day impeachment trial, by declaring it unconstitutional to convict Trump of misconduct now that the former president has left office and become a private citizen.

The Senate earlier in the week found that the trial was constitutional in a 56-44 vote.

“There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” said McConnell, who along with the rest of the Congress and former Vice President Mike Pence fled the mob that descended on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor.

The remarks came soon after the 100-seat chamber acquitted Trump on a single charge of inciting insurrection in a 57-43 vote that failed to reach the 67-vote threshold necessary for conviction. Seven Senate Republicans joined Democrats to vote for conviction.

The House of Representatives had impeached Trump on Jan. 13, a week before he left office.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi denounced the senators who made Trump’s acquittal possible as a “cowardly group of Republicans” and blamed McConnell for not allowing the House to deliver the impeachment charge to the Senate while Trump was still in the White House.

“Senator Mitch McConnell just went to the floor essentially to say that we made our case on the facts,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, who had led the nine House Democrats who prosecuted Trump before the Senate.

McConnell was not the only Republican to castigate Trump for his behavior after voting for acquittal.

“The question I must answer is not whether President Trump said and did things that were reckless and encouraged the mob. I believe that happened,” Senator Rob Portman in a statement.

“My decision was based on my reading of the Constitution,” the Ohio Republican added. “I believe the Framers understood that convicting a former president and disqualifying him or her from running again pulls people further apart.”

Senator Chuck Grassley, the Senate’s most senior Republican, described Trump’s language in a fiery speech to supporters just before the Capitol assault as “extreme, aggressive and irresponsible.”

But he said the Senate had no jurisdiction to hold a trial, agreed with Trump’s legal team that the former president deserved more “due process” and said the prosecution had not made their case.

In comments that echoed the prosecution’s case, McConnell said Trump had orchestrated “an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories” and described the former president as “determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.”

McConnell suggested that Trump could still face criminal prosecution for his acts.

“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office as an ordinary citizen,” McConnell said. “He didn’t get away with anything. Yet.” ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Trump, in Scorching Attack on McConnell, Urges GOP to Replace Him

NY Times - February 16

Former President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday made a slashing and lengthy attack on Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, calling him a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” and arguing that the party would suffer losses in the future if he remained in charge.

“If Republican senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again,” Mr. Trump said.

The 600-word statement, coming three days after the Senate acquitted him in his second impeachment trial, was trained solely on Mr. McConnell and sought to paint Mr. Trump as the best leader of the G.O.P. going forward.

The statement did not include any sign of contrition from Mr. Trump for his remarks to a crowd of supporters who then attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6. Nor did it include any acknowledgment of his role during the violent hours in which his own vice president and members of Congress were under threat from the mob of Trump supporters. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

The latest from Trump seems like
scenes from a Godfather sequel, or
perhaps something very Shakespearian.

(Possibly Lear, or Julius Caesar?)

You have the aging Emperor, cast out
of office, still with 73 million supporters,
yet eligible for yet another term of office,
the next one being the one where we does away
with term limits, trashing those who have
cast aspersions at his glorious first term.

He is surrounded by worthy acolytes who
will assist him in his return to office,
as well as an army of ruffians
for his praetorian guard.

Even though cast out of office by eighty
million ingrates, he has seventy-three million
on his side, and he is eligible, so eligible.

As acolyte Lindsay insists, he is a force to
be reckoned with, and he will return!

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Newsweek: Lindsey Graham to ask Donald Trump to help GOP in 2022

"We can't get there without you"

Senator Lindsey Graham has said he will ask former president Donald Trump to lend his political weight to the Republicans' quest to take back the House and the Senate in 2022.

The South Carolina lawmaker said that after the impeachment process, he would meet Trump to try to persuade him that the former president holds the key to the GOP's future electoral chances.

"I'm going to try and convince him that we can't get there without you, but you can't keep the Trump movement going without the GOP united," he told reporters, according to Politico. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Trump is ‘alive and well’ as a Republican party force, Lindsey Graham says

via @BostonGlobe - February 14

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Donald Trump remains the party’s “most potent force” even after his second impeachment, and suggested Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hurt the GOP by blaming the former president for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

“The Trump movement is alive and well,” Graham, one of Trump’s most consistent allies, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “All I can say is the most potent force in the Republican Party is President Trump. We need Trump-plus.”

The South Carolina senator’s comments reflect the internal struggle facing the party after a minority of Republican senators sided with Democrats on Saturday and voted to convict Trump of inciting supporters to breach the Capitol, clash with police, and interfere with the certification of his election defeat by the Senate. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Trump Era in Atlantic City Ends With 3,000 Sticks of Dynamite

NY Times - February 17

... The implosion of what was once the premier gaming destination in Atlantic City came less than a month after its best-known former owner, Donald J. Trump, left the White House after losing re-election and became the first president in history to be impeached twice. He was acquitted on Saturday of inciting the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

The tower came down shortly after 9 a.m. amid a huge cloud of dust and an eruption of cheers.

“It’s an end of a not-so-great era,” said Jennifer Owen, 50, who bid $575 to win a front-row seat at a V.I.P. breakfast in an oceanfront pavilion with a direct view of the implosion. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

(I admit it. I'm a Gail Collins fan.)

Trump’s Dreaded Nickname

NY Times - February 17

I’ve got to say I loved it when Joe Biden described Donald Trump as “the former guy.”

This was at a CNN town hall, and Biden was pursuing his goal of changing the subject from … his predecessor. Part of the strategy seems to be avoiding his actual name.

Excellent agenda. Sitting in disgraced, double-impeached political purgatory, Trump has been trying to retrain the world to refer to him as “the 45th president” during his unwelcome retirement. (If you are lucky enough to get a mass email from him, the return address will be “45 office.”) How cool would it be if he had to sit in front of the TV listening to people talk about “the former guy?”

D.J.T. = T.F.G.

Biden’s current mission is to make the world focus on his $1.9 trillion plan for a coronavirus comeback. It’s currently in the House, where the Democratic majority is expected to pass it readily, once the poor bill makes its way through all the subcommittee chairs who want a little poke at it. But sometime in March it’ll be in the hands of Senator Chuck Schumer, whose majority consists entirely of Kamala Harris breaking tie votes. ...

You’ve got to be a little grateful to the senators for staging this big game. The Super Bowl is over. The weather’s deadly. You can’t go out to a party, and you don’t want to admit you’re still watching “The Bachelor.”

Schumer is up against now-minority leader Mitch McConnell, who isn’t exactly what you’d call charismatic. But he did make a very big play with his public denunciation of Trump’s behavior during the Capitol riot: “a disgraceful dereliction of duty.” Which would have been extremely moving had it not come right after he was voting against impeachment conviction. ...