Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Nation in Crisis, Again


Statue of Abraham Lincoln in Portland, Oregon. Is there one more like him in our future?

by Gaius Publius

What an odd and frightening place we've found ourselves.

Before about a month ago, I'd have agreed with the person who wrote, "The Trump-Russian investigation was a rabbit hole with no rabbit at the bottom." To twist the metaphor, I'd put it this way: The Clinton part of the Democratic Party, in an effort to maintain Party control and advance a "she didn't lose" narrative, kept looking at "Russia did it" angles like Alice looking for a hole deep enough to jump into.

They looked at a lot of holes, but none that seemed to have real evidence in them. Recently, though, information started coming out about Mike Flynn, and potentially Jared Kushner, that made it look like Russia-hunting Democrats had actually found something of substance — actual documentable election collusion with actual Russia, as opposed to "maybe Russia gave emails to WikiLeaks" or "maybe Trump cheered them on a little too loudly," with a strong side of "it had to be Russia somehow, right? because Clinton won the popular vote."

The comparison that comes to mind is Bill Clinton and Whitewater, another investigation in search of a crime, any crime. The Whitewater inquiry, initially about a land deal, eventually turned up Paula Jones, then Monica Lewinsky, then Bill Clinton's perjury (finally, a crime!) — but still, the investigation ended miles from where it started.

Same with this. I now think there's a there there, but it's not the "there" that Russia hunters were chasing when they set out. I believe they've now found something of real substance — the cover-up certainly looks vigorous — but that substance is now miles from where they started looking. As with Whitewater, it seems the investigators got lucky, though I'm glad or our sakes they did.

The Effort to Remove Donald Trump

So where are we now? I'll lay decent odds the administration will appoint no special prosecutor, and if they do, no independent special prosecutor. It would take a revolt from congressional Republicans to prove me wrong. That could happen, but odds that it will? Less than 50-50 as I see it now.

Which means the country stays in its current state, ruled by a man and a party actively perverting the Constitution to enable obvious corruption and — finally, what the Democrats alleged all along on no evidence — apparent collusion by that man with a foreign power to gain domestic power. Whether that collusion was decisive or not in his victory, matters not at all.

(Interestingly, this is the same activity that Reagan and Bush I were accused of, the foreign power in that case being Iran. Neither political party, though, nor the media of that day would allow a complete investigation, and even went so far as to ostracize from mainstream employment a very good investigative reporter, Robert Parry, for pursuing it anyway.)

All of which means that if Trump's Russia doings aren't formally investigated, either by a special investigator or by Congress, elites who want him gone will have to force him out by extra-constitutional means.

Which suggests three questions. One, who wants him to go, since that will determine the shape of the opposition he faces? Two, who wants him to stay in office? And three, what are those means? Others may answer differently, but I'll offer these.

First, those in elites positions who want him to go include:

     • All Democratic officeholders.

     • Many Republican officeholders (those who would much prefer a President Pence).

     • Many of those who work in the bowels of the CIA, FBI, and NSA — highly placed rank-and-file operatives in position to leak information and do other substantial damage. (Note what happened during the election when those in the DC office of the FBI leaked damaging Clinton material because they disagreed with Comey's refusal to recommend an indictment. It's six months later, but the same dynamic.)

     • Others in the national security establishment who don't trust Trump to be warlike enough. This ropes in neocons both in and out of the military.

     • The broader neocon establishment/infrastructure, people who would have supported Clinton's wars and staffed her administration, all of whom hate Trump's statements (true ones in my view) about NATO's irrelevance. Saying goodbye to NATO starts the tearing down of American military-backed hegemony. NATO's sole relevance is to structure that hegemony in Europe.

Note that the list of Trump's elite enemies is likely to grow in number of individuals, if not in number of groups. Note also that the key group is the second, Republican officeholders. If they turn against him in large numbers, even if only in private, Trump won't remain in office. Also, if they support him sufficiently, even if only in private, it will be up to the last three groups, working together, to pressure Trump to leave.

Second, who are Trump's supporters? Who in real power wants him to stay in office? I believe it's a small list:

     • Many in his family.
     • Steve Bannon types (who are, note, anti-NATO).
     • The Rex Tillerson deals-with-Russia crowd.
     • The Scott Pruitt anti-regulation crowd.
     • Some Republican Tea Party officeholders.

As I said, a small list, and I think a shrinking one.

Finally, what are the "extra-constitutional means" of making him leave?

The Constitution provides impeachment by Congress — articles of impeachment voted in the House, a trial in the Senate — as the only structural redress to a "Charles I" problem. (The goal of congressional impeachment is to permit our version of Parliament to "kill the king" without actually killing anyone. Charles I must have been fresh in the founders' minds when they wrote that provision.) That's all the constitutional remedy there is.

If Trump doesn't get the "Nixon treatment," official investigation and trial by Congress, elites who want him to leave have to work outside the Constitution. Options include:

     • Relentless, damaging leaks and innuendo from all quarters aimed at turning public opinion against him.

     • Privately issued threats and rewards — sticks and carrots — to induce him to step down. Remember, intelligence agencies of various stripes likely have almost all the goods on almost all officials who matter to them. Imagine what's hoarded in NSA databases, or what FBI background checks reveal. Imagine what secrets angry CIA field agents might dig up.

If you doubt that issuing private threats like these could happen, do you imagine that agency use of damaging information to influence politics ended with Hoover? No Praetorian Guard, once it grows muscular, reverts back to a simple barracks unit just because new leadership arrives. When groups like that change culture, they rarely change back.

The threats are already coming out. Consider this post-firing report in the Washington Post: "Many [FBI] employees said they were furious about the [Comey] firing ... One intelligence official who works on Russian espionage matters said they were more determined than ever to pursue such cases. Another said Comey’s firing and the subsequent comments from the White House are attacks that won’t soon be forgotten. Trump had 'essentially declared war on a lot of people at the FBI, one official said. 'I think there will be a concerted effort to respond over time in kind.'"

"Attacks that won't soon be forgotten" and "a concerted effort to respond over time in kind." The covert State is at war with the overt State. (Be sure to ask yourself, if you like these comments, if you'd like them if someone else were president.)

     • Threats amounting to blackmail and, if not physical violence, violence to his wealth, business interests, and "brand." ("We will destroy your brand forever, you will never do business again, if you don't get out. Here's how we'll do it. First...")

I'll say at the outset that real physical violence against anyone involved in this is almost certainly off the table. For one thing, if something did happen physically to Trump, his family, or his close advisors — regardless of who did it — everyone in the country would assume Trump's enemies' guilt, and assume it with the same fervor and conviction they now assume his own.

The Next American Constitution

One last thought. This country has had a constitutional crisis every 70 years, after which the government restructured itself. In effect, we have been ruled by three Constitutions, not just one, each producing, in practice, very different governments and societies. We're rapidly producing a crisis that will produce a fourth.

In order, our constitutional crises are:

     • 1789, the Revolutionary War and transition from colony to slave-holding republic.

     • 1865, the Civil War and transition from divided slave-holding nation with two competing economies to united freed-slave state. This change took down the Southern agricultural aristocracy (by depriving it of the nearly free labor it depended on); made the Northern industrial economy nationally ascendant; and put us firmly on the path to first-world industrial powerhouse.

     • 1933, the Great Depression and transition from a light-handed pro-business government to a heavy-handed regulatory state.

     • And now, this.

What will the next American Constitution look like? Turkey's and Hungary's, with their dictators and single-party governments wrapped in the old constitutional forms? A naked kleptocracy, where constitutional forms are simply ignored, like those in many third-world countries? A state in which forms are observed but the hand with real power belongs mainly to the "security" apparatus? In many countries, coups by segments of the elite, blatant or covert, are welcomed as correctives and tacitly approved (another way constitutions are revised without being rewritten).

If Trump is not successfully impeached, and it looks for now like he won't be, our government as practiced will once more dramatically change, as it did when Bush's crimes were not addressed, and Obama's after him (never forget that targeted assassination is an innovation Obama made lawful).

But whatever happens next, whether Trump is impeached or not, I think we've already been changed as a nation forever by what's already led us to this moment. After all, in 2016 the nation wanted someone like Sanders to be president, wanted an agent of change, and look what it got. This is in fact our second failed attempt this century at change that makes our lives better.

I don't think that point's been lost on anyone. We're in transition no matter what happens to Trump. Transition to what, we'll have to find out later.

And something else to consider. The last three times the government fundamentally changed, we got lucky. We found leaders — Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt — up to the task, in chaotic and troubling times, of steering an altered ship to calmer water and a safer port.

Will we get lucky once more? We can only hope.


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At 1:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We're always in crisis because nobody ever fixes anything. They just take the normalized crises and expand them... occasionally breaking new ground.

Interesting how everything seems to come back to the emoluments clause, which is overt and should have been investigated ANYWAY. But still...

There HAVE been nothing but coverups disguised as "investigations". Recusals for conflicts have been the only outcome so far. The coverups are ongoing but no investigations are being done. I suspect that's going to be the standard meme from now until elections are suspended as anachronistic or archaic... by the money.

Democraps do NOT want him to go. They always welcome a horrific R exec so they can win, but never earn, gains in the immediate future. That's how Pelosi got her gavel ("impeachment is off the table") and how the democraps think they're going to be handed the house in 2018. If he goes, they remain the irrelevant minority money party.

NATO's only legitimate function any more is the military capitalist complex that enforces American CORPORATE hegemony in the EU and beyond. The wet dream of the many, many neocons in government (mostly in the democrap party it would seem) is that NATO will some day wage a large-scale war, probably against Russia or their proxies, somewhere in Europe. Would keep the domestic CMIC in gold coins.

"What will the next American Constitution look like? Turkey's and Hungary's... (or) A naked kleptocracy, where constitutional forms are simply ignored..."

Answered your own question. We've been a naked kleptocracy feigning a constitutional democracy for decades. Voting is corrupted by both sides. Voters are suppressed. Counting is almost surely corrupted as well as ineptly administered. Courts regularly find that counting votes is to be avoided lest it damage the media-declared winner. Reread your Molly Ivins from the '80s. She called it a corporate oligarchy 30 years ago. She understated even then. Then reminisce about the last time Sherman was invoked and the Vienna torture accords were enforced. When was the last war the senate actually declared, and how many wars have we prosecuted since then. When last did the congress actually impeach someone for treason or other high crimes (not trying to be discreet about a blow job)? And how many of those crimes have been committed by an exec or veep or cabinet member since?

We've been in a crisis since 1968 when Nixon committed treason in order to win an election and LBJ turtled so as to not upset the voters' delicate sensibilities (to be fair, RFK had just been assassinated). That crisis only gets deeper because neither party ever rectifies any part of it, and voters never demand change for the better.

Voters only, occasionally, demand that change for the worse is a little less worse than it could have been.

At 3:32 PM, Anonymous Hone said...

Gaius, let's not forget the American people, who will stand up and protest this horrific state of affairs. Protests help to end the Vietnam War. If protest become massive, the Republicans might, just might, be pushed into doing something.

At 9:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hone, the most effective protest is the one at the ballot box. American voters have not demanded any substantive change since the 1972 D primaries. The last change mandate, in 2008, was totally betrayed and the sumbitch got re-elected so he could make things even worse than the bushbaby left it.

So in 2016 the worsest D candidate still got 65 million votes to make things even worser still. She lost. But only on a technicality. You watch. She and her corporate donors will run again ... and lose. And we'll end up with drumpf 2 and that will probably be our last ever election.

This is 2017, not 1968/72. Americans don't know shit, don't do shit and don't give a shit any more. If we did, we wouldn't have had the string of horrors since 1980 that keep getting much worse.

At 2:24 AM, Blogger Ten Bears said...

Sadly, anon is correct. Meircans are stupid, don't know they're stupid and are just fine with that.

When peaceful change is impossible, violent revolution is inevitable.

At 2:24 AM, Blogger Ten Bears said...

Sadly, anon is correct. Meircans are stupid, don't know they're stupid and are just fine with that.

When peaceful change is impossible, violent revolution is inevitable.

At 9:50 PM, Blogger Kuhio Kane said...

Sadly, Publicus has zeroed in on the reality of presumptions, giving where we've come from some and definitely where we find ourselves now. Violent revolution is the least likely means to an end to our current form of state. A more likely alternative would be the taking of the means of profit from the donor class, the rentier class, through instigation of their means of how they profit.

At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, here's Who N0T to consider for further "leadership" : In a WORD, Poppy*
* Since WWII, Poppy Bush's CIA (Company) has been merged with the Mafia (e.g., Batista Cubans) in everything from opium to political campaigns topresidential termination with extreme prejudice. If one refuses to Borg with DEM; you're safe from assassination by Omerta; BUT, if otherwise and you go back on DEM, you'll be Seth Riched, Arkancided or JFK'd ! For instance, as a former federal public servant of unimpeachable integrity; I witnessed (and blew the whistle on many occasions of) the perfidy of the majority of federal programs and personnel, including Poppy Bush (yet remain alive, though neutralized) because of Omerta bypass for US "Untouchables".
Presently, I have reluctantly concluded that Poppy & Company have now co-opted up to, and including All DEM (e.g., Billary und DingleBarry; Republicans (e.g, Dubya and his PNAC Attacking putschists) AND, Trump (as ill as, Bernie and "green" Company 'recount' woman, Clinton$tein). They're ALL the President's MADE Men, bababy !
In contrast, the other undead whistleblowers remaining At-LARGE are National HEROES ! As my favorite such HERO, Sibel Edmonds would say, since At LEAST 11/22/63; Poppy & Company have had the criminal means, motive and opportunities for their serial crimes against US. Their CIA are its ZEROE$ ! Poppy's even predicted its 0wn S0LUTI0N :
“George Herbert Walker Bush: ‘Sarah, if the American people ever find out what we have done, they would chase us down the street and lynch us.’ That is a famous 1992 quote by George Herbert Walker Bush to Sarah McClendon, a Texas journalist who Bush had known for years and who was the grand dame of the White House press corps at the time."

At 5:14 PM, Anonymous Karl Kolchak said...

Excellent assessment. Will we get lucky again? I hate to say it, but that "luck" requires a real leader will to attack the rot at the core of the system in a way even Sanders is not prepared to do. Since there is no "change agent" out there who matchesthat description, I'd have to say no.


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