Bouncing tire

>> Thursday, November 30, 2017

The question is whether this cure is worse than the disease. For all the dangers Trump poses, his removal poses dangers too. In August, the New Yorker posted a viral piece questioning whether America was barreling toward a new civil war. In it, Yale historian David Blight warned, “We know we are at risk of civil war, or something like it, when an election, an enactment, an event, an action by government or people in high places, becomes utterly unacceptable to a party, a large group, a significant constituency.” Invoking the 25th Amendment seems, to me, like the precise sort of event Blight describes. The bitter political polarization that marks Trump’s America would look gentle compared to America if Trump were removed from office.

But this analysis leaves us in a place that seems absurd when stated clearly: Though we have mechanisms for removing a dangerous president, those mechanisms are too politically explosive to actually invoke. President Trump could order a nuclear holocaust before breakfast, but unless society can agree that he is either criminal or comatose, both America and the world are stuck with him and all the damage he can cause.

Can this really be our system?
Vox, November 30th, 2017.

The rhetorical question has a simple, awful answer: yes.  Yes, that is exactly our system.

Look, the Constitution of the United States has been failing in bits and pieces since practically its inception.  It failed to produce an effective national defense after we provoked a war with Britain in 1812.  It failed to hold the nation together in 1861.  From ratification to the Civil War, it allowed the United States to expand without addressing any of the issues raised by that expansion, especially the slave question but not exclusively.  As technology made the world smaller and the flow of events faster, and as the United States emerged as a world power following the Spanish-American War, the ways in which the founding document tried to split military and diplomatic powers between the Senate and Executive became increasingly obsolete and cumbersome, leading to the Senate effectively (and often formally) ceding its share of responsibilities to the Presidency without being able to preserve much in the way of effective supervision or accountability; meanwhile the complexity of the bookkeeping and regulation required to keep a great power on its feet and in forward motion resulted in the House of Representatives making its own concessions to the Presidency.  And all the while, the factionalism of the Founding generation quickly led to a series of Party-based political systems (something Klein does talk about effectively and at some length), so that the region-based checks and balances the Founders assumed would stabilize the system turned into our current regime wherein the political process is defined and controlled by two public corporations whose agendas are set by a mix of ideology, varying levels of corruption, and an existential impulse to define themselves simply by being the opposite of what they think the other party is.

And now we have an existential threat in the form of a President who is unfit for his office by any objective measure other than the fact he won enough Electoral College votes to be sworn in.  He is not a statesman.  He is not a leader.  He is not wise.  He is not politically savvy.  He does not have a moral vision.  He is, remarkably and ironically enough, not even especially political.  He is motivated, as best anyone can tell, entirely by vanity, childish impulse, greed, lust, racism, and an unusually petulant vindictiveness.  To the extent he's followed any kind of political portfolio not handed to him by various handlers, that agenda apparently consists simply of trying to reverse the actions of his predecessor in the White House because he's gotten it into his head that his predecessor was some kind of illegal foreigner who somehow conned his way into the country and into office, and then his predecessor responded not by producing proof of his legitimacy, but by being mean to him and publicly humiliating him at a press correspondents' dinner.

How unfit is Donald Trump for office?  He's so unfit for his office, that even when he tries to do something that might be within the scope of the overbroad powers we have ceded to the modern imperial presidency, he nevertheless manages to completely fuck it up.  The presidential power to set immigration policy, for example, which any other President could do by simply drafting a memo and yet the Occupant-In-Chief is so hapless and has surrounded himself with such ineptitude that his efforts to do what he can clearly do re: immigration policy have ended up being blocked repeatedly by courts that are generally sympathetic to exercises of executive power and privilege.

One thought that George W. Bush had unfortunately surrounded himself with hacks like Donald Rumsfeld and John Yoo; Trump has managed to somehow discover that particular barrel had a false bottom and there was another one to be scraped underneath.  And lo, the wretched bastard even went and scraped it where most men making his discovery would have backed away slowly and looked for something with which to apply purifying fire to the barrel.

And yet the terms and conditions of our system of government are such that merely being horrifyingly, incomprehensibly bad at his job are not, as Klein might like, grounds for removal.  The Constitution says he can be removed upon conviction in the Senate for high crimes and misdemeanors, and it says (as a recently applied afterthought) that there's a procedure for having him declared unable to perform his job (something that appears on its face to be different from merely being terrible at it).  

The remedy for simply being incompetent is to be voted out of office.  And, it should be noted (and Klein notes it) that in the present situation, Trump is the same incompetent he was before the election.  While the majority of voters in the country presumably took this into account when they voted against him, the system we have (where distribution of votes is what matters, because the Founders created a system in which Presidents were chosen by the states, which the states then turned over to the popular mobs), the voters who lived where it mattered nevertheless decided that having a racist, misogynistic, financially irresponsible, dishonest, amoral, beholden-to-foreign-powers, ignorant, loudmouthed yutz was preferable to a woman / a Democrat / Hillary Clinton / a woman Democrat who was Hillary Clinton.  Not knowing what the nuclear triad is isn't as important as securing that ninth Supreme Court seat; bragging about sexual assault is of less significance than having a signature for corporate tax cuts.  He was a lout, a bully, an ignoramus, a conspiracy theorist, a bigot, a vulgar prick, a joke, the punchline to that very same joke, a public disgrace, a conman, a lousy investment, a lousy investor, a disaster when they voted for him.  

The biggest difference between the man who asked the Russians to continue to perform acts of computer sabotage against American interests and the man who bragged to the Russians about American intelligence receipts in a way that jeopardized our reciprocity arrangements with Israel and possibly outed and jeopardized the life of an Israeli intel source is, perversely, that while both men display a contempt for American security, it's only the first man who possibly committed a quasi-criminal act.  I.e. it's the same asshole, but now he has the latitude and immunity that the Executive is granted by the Constitution and custom.

So, yes, he can tell the American military to launch nukes against whichever Korea we're against, or maybe both of them just to be sure we get them all, and there's nearly nothing that can be done about it because this is how we've done up our 1787 suicide pact when we were cute and innocent and more concerned about trade between Virginia and Massachusetts than we were with multilateral trans-Pacific partnerships.  (Something which, oh by the way, under the new management, it turns out we aren't that interested in anymore because the fucking moron is abdicating American international responsibilities and leadership in a way this country hasn't seen since the Spanish-American War marked our great coming out--goddamn, goddamn, goddammit.)  We are obligated to wait for him to be demonstrably incapacitated (not just dumb) or demonstrably guilty of malfeasance (not just incompetent) because that's what our rules tell us to do.  And it's quite nice and charming for Ezra Klein to suggest we set aside what the words say and are taken to mean in order to do what's necessary, but to do so is hardly constitutional.  And what I'd submit to you (not, I think, for the first time), is that the flaw isn't within our reluctance to invent a bold new interpretation of the words in which they no longer mean what they appear to mean, but rather in the words themselves.

Which, you know, effectively means we're fucked.  I mean, we might as well come right out and say it: we need a new Constitution, a new document, new rules, a new government, a new order.  But to get there we'd need women and men who would be competent for such a grand task, not the bootlickers and cumjobbers and hacks who burden and plague our politics.

The rational constitutional convention wouldn't be a lot of Republicans and Democrats arguing about Jesus and guns and how much corporate financing is too much.  We'd look to the most important elements of American culture--artistic, military, scientific, historical, technological, economic, political, whatever--and we'd pick out the most highly regarded minds in those fields, and we might throw in some wild cards to make sure we had a diverse mix of ideology, ethnicity, gender, and creed; and we'd have them look at what was working and not working in other democratic systems and work from there.  Which is exactly the kind of convention we wouldn't end up with; what we'd end up with is the Republicans would pick x delegates and the Democrats would pick x delegates, and they'd grandstand and preen a bit and we'd end up with much of what we already have except it would turn out upon close inspection to be sponsored by Verizon and funded by the Kochs.

Ezra Klein ponders future historians wondering what was wrong with us.  As if it will be that hard to answer.  What was wrong with us was that we got ourselves deeply embedded in a broken system that was carried tumbling along into a ditch by inertia until it got wobbly enough to fall over and everyone died.  The loose tire came off the broken axle and it went on down the road and there wasn't a good way to get off of it because there just wasn't.  They won't actually wonder what was wrong with us, assuming they exist and we don't end the planet (because that's certainly not completely out of the question, what with the nukes and the global warming and the poisons and the plagues and what-all); they will diagram the forces that tore the vehicle apart, like FAA investigators or historians of the Roman Empire.  They will identify a hundred causes and also just one: a dozen systems and subsystems systematically failed, also wasn't tightened and man it just fell out you know, damn.  Obviously I don't have a lot of hope.  I don't know think we can fix this.  I don't know if this can be reset.


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