Reflections on the Present Danger

Reflections on the Present Danger
By David Depew

Is Trump, decorum aside, betraying Republican hopes? Is the media capable of talking to Americans about what is going on? Has the impeachment trial produced a constitutional crisis? Read on.

Ever since he was tutored by Roy Cohn, Trump’s principle of action has been never to get himself on the defensive. Always accuse your opponents of doing what you are doing (a tactic that, incidentally, makes it easy to read him; you simply attribute to him what he projects onto others). McCarthy, for whom Cohn worked, tried it but his bluff was called.

But what if the facts are not on your side? Simple. Discredit appeals to fact in general, a view so confusing to the media that they are helpless. Not really knowing the history of politics outside of the consensus of the last 75 years and basking in their received ideology of reporting both sides “objectively,” the speaking voice to which mainstream journalists in every medium are professionally obliged to restrict themselves makes it impossible to understand, let alone discuss, the current situation or estimate its dangers. That is my theme.

It is true that the Republicans are afraid of Trump. But contra the impression given off by the liberal media, I don’t think Congressional Republicans, at root, are supportive of Trump because they are scared of him and his base. True, he has crossed a line of decorum that protected and has now revealed the hypocrisy of the Bush dynasty. True, too, he has turned the Republican base back toward its traditional white nativist isolationism. But otherwise Trump has given the Republicans everything they have been aiming at since Reagan: no federal intervention into or supervision of the compliance of southern states with the Voting Rights Act; systematic disenfranchisement and other forms of voter suppression; mass incarceration of minorities, also known as “the new Jim Crow;” low taxes; indifference to the national debt covered up by demonstrable falsehoods about how the policy will produce jobs, higher wages, savings, balanced budgets, and debt reduction; dismantling of the regulatory system, especially in relation to the environment; purely private, market-driven health care; destruction of the welfare system just when people have become hostage to an indifferent market; unrestrained license to garner white votes by stirring up racism and xenophobia; de facto if not de jure repeal of Rowe v. Wade; and a lock on the judiciary for the foreseeable future. Why should the GOP kick? This is what they have been aiming at since before many of its current voters and politicians were even born.

It is true that the Clinton administration did done nothing to stop this “American carnage,” leaving workers full of rage and resentments that can easily be turned into votes for the party that mostly caused the problem, the Republicans. With the exception of a minor and to some a burdensome shift in health care policy, Obama’s administration was also ineffective. At the root of the problem is that the centrism of the Clinton and Obama administrations abandoned the Democrats’ core working class constituency. No wonder a new New Left has arisen on its flanks, threatening to divide the Democrats badly and render its electoral success doubtful. No wonder Joe Biden couldn’t get much traction.

Most, but not all, Republicans are in denial that withdrawal from international treaties and organizations that have kept the peace and increased global wealth for 70 years entails setting up a New World Order in which appealing to human rights, and being willing to interfere in the affairs of authoritarian and dysfunctional states, is abandoned, leaving room for unchecked racism at home and a global entente cordial in which the United States will be in de facto alliance with Russia, China, Pakistan, Modi’s India, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. That’s a big price to pay just to get some votes and make some money.

This shift helps us parse the claim of Trump and Republicans like Lindsay Graham that the federal bureaucracy is a “deep state” that is resisting them for purely political reasons. The witnesses from the State Department, the National Security Council, and the Pentagon who testified during Trump’s impeachment hearings do not think they are political all. They are merely applying laws whose rationale has been settled American policy since the end of World War II, no matter which party was in power. The trouble is that not being political in this sense is possible only because of a wide and deep consensus that Trump has summarily upended without bothering to form a new policy or get the laws changed by Congress to implement it. The problem this poses for civil servants is analogous to what hampers the mainstream media. Their professional language does not give them the means to talk about what is happening. In consequence, they are easily portrayed as pursuing a political agenda of their own.

I come by this route to what is perhaps the most ominous fruit of Trumpism. In the impeachment trial, Alan Dershowitz articulated the view ardently held by Bill Barr as a reason not to convict Trump: The president can’t be indicted or convicted because even if he did something criminally wrong the powers of the head of the executive branch cannot be challenged. Acquitting Trump on these terms is in effect to implement the so-called “unitary theory” of the executive branch. That spells real trouble. The “theory” has been around since the administration of George W. Bush. The problem is that any implementation of it will ipso facto violate, and indeed abrogate, the constitutional balance of powers. I regard that as a reductio ad absurdum of the theory. But now that a failed impeachment has given it free range, it is also a coup d’etat.

Why don’t we hear more about this in the press? Are they too uninformed not to have noticed? I understand Speaker Pelosi’s notion that Trump’s behavior in his dealings with Ukraine made it impossible not to pursue his impeachment. But I am tempted to think that her original instinct to avoid impeachment was right. Her reason was that impeaching Trump would endanger seats in her caucus. My reason is that the constitutional shift that has resulted is terrifying.

Remember that, at least in retrospect, it was taken as a sign that the Roman republic was dead when Caligula nominated his horse as a member of the Senate and got away with it.