existential threats

Interesting bits and pieces of the George Stephanopoulos interview with Comrade Trump had been scattered all over teh Intertubes over the last couple of days. So I decided to watch the interview on television.

Okay, I need to digress for a moment. I don’t watch a lot of television. I like television and I’d like to watch more of it, but there’s just so many other things to do. I watch a couple of hours of television a night (except, of course, when the World Cup is on; I watch the hell out of that). And when I say ‘television’ I generally mean something on Hulu or Netflix. I can’t recall the last time I watched a show on commercial network television. Until last night and the interview with Comrade Trump.

It was awful. I mean, Trump was Trump — a despicable human being incapable of relating to any aspect of life and the world around him except through a lens of how it affected HIM. He lied, he was arrogant, he denied reality, he asserted ‘facts’ that didn’t exist, he kicked his own acting Chief of Staff out of the Oval Office for coughing during the interview, he accused his so-called ‘enemies’ of treason, he maligned President Obama, he said the Director of the FBI was wrong in stating that political figures should report contacts from foreign nations who offer ‘dirt’ on political opponents, he claimed to be ‘an honest guy’, he insisted he had polling data that showed he was winning ‘everywhere’, he accused his former White House Counsel of lying under oath, and he complained that he’s been treated more unfairly than President Lincoln (who, it’s worth remembering, was shot in the back of the head).

It was, as I said, completely awful. But here’s an indication of how Comrade Trump has normalized lying, hypocrisy, victimization, and the abuse of power: to me, the most shocking thing about last night was how completely and irredeemably horrible commercial television is.

It was an hour-long show purportedly based on thirty hours of material of which maybe 40-45 minutes of actual interview was presented, and which was routinely interrupted in order to sell products. The commercial interruptions were not only annoying and disruptive to the flow of the interview, they were LOUD. And stupid. And repetitive. There were, for example, at least two commercials for some sort of miniature golf-based game show.

Think about that for a moment. An interview in which the President of the United States makes a number of startling admissions that in ordinary times would lead to immediate impeachment proceedings is interrupted to promote a sort of celebrity miniature golf contest. How fucked up is that? (Hint: pretty fucked up.)

I make an effort to expose myself to a variety of political opinions; I make an effort to have a variety of experiences; I make an effort to avoid the existence-in-a-bubble mentality that I believe makes communication so difficult between folks who hold different opinions. But it turns out I do live in a sort of bubble — a non-commercial bubble.

I don’t know how anybody could process any information or narrative in a meaningful way when it’s presented in the way commercial television presents it. No wonder we live in such a fragmented, disorganized, disruptive, and jangled society. And no wonder Comrade Trump is able to get by with so much bullshit. The whole experience left me struggling to properly place Trump’s unabashed awfulness within a context of luxury car adverts and mini-golf promotions.

After we impeach the motherfucker, we need to think about addressing commercial television. It’s also an existential threat to society.

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what will we do?

I’m here to wreck your Sunday. You’re probably sitting quietly, having your morning tea or coffee, maybe listening to music, maybe doing the Sunday crossword, maybe looking out the window and evaluating the weather and planning how to spend this last lazy day before having to go back to work tomorrow.

Dude, I’m about to fuck up your day. I’m going to ask you to consider the following sequence of events:

  • Comrade Donald Trump is impeached by the House, voting along party lines.
  • The Senate refuses to convict, voting along party lines.
  • Trump is defeated in the 2020 election.
  • Trump refuses to concede the election. He claims the election results were rigged by the ‘deep state’. He claims the results were skewed by voter fraud and that millions of illegal immigrants voted. He claims he really won the popular vote AND the electoral vote, and news reports otherwise are fake news. He states he is the real winner of the election, and what’s taking place is a coup attempt. He holds a series of rallies between election day and the day of the new president’s inauguration encourages his supporters to resist. He tells news reporters that he’s worried his supporters will resort to violence unless the coup is stopped.
  • Trump rejects and prevents an inauguration event. He refuses to leave the White House or acknowledge the legitimacy of the new president.

What happens next?

I’m not an alarmist by nature. I tend to be a skeptical optimist. I keep my expectations low, but my hopes are moderately high. I don’t expect things will work out well, but I always hope they will. About a month ago I wrote about the probability that Comrade Trump would make the transition of power as ugly and messy as possible. But the notion that he would refuse to give up that power was, for me at that point, unthinkable.

But behaviors that were unthinkable two years ago are now commonplace in the Trump administration. A presidential candidate accepting the help of a hostile foreign nation to skew an election in his favor? Unthinkable. A president openly using the office of the presidency to line his pockets? Unthinkable. A president attacking traditional allies and openly supporting totalitarian regimes? Actively and persistently undermining the law enforcement and intelligence communities? Ordering his staff to ignore Congressional subpoenas? Calling the news media the ‘enemy of the people’? Lying blatantly and openly about everything from golf scores to domestic policies to military situations? All of that used to be completely and entirely unthinkable. Not anymore.

Refusing a peaceful transition of power? Refusing even to give up that power? It ought to be unthinkable. But Comrade Trump and his fellow Republicans have already been laying the foundations for the unthinkable for a couple of years with their repeated lies about voter fraud and the ‘deep state traitors’ inside the government and ‘fake news’ agencies staffed by reporters who hate Trump.

It’s not only ‘thinkable’ that Trump might refuse to accept defeat, it’s somewhere between ‘very possible’ and ‘an absolute certainty’. We HAVE to think about Trump refusing to give up his power and consider the implications of the unthinkable. We have to ask ourselves what the military would do in such a situation. What would the Secret Service do? What would Congress and the Supreme Court do?

What would WE do? Think about that, because it’s a very real possibility. What would YOU do?

Okay, you can go back to your quiet Sunday now.

mueller — itmfa

I watched Robert Mueller’s brief public statement yesterday. And dude, the operative term there is ‘brief’. Under ten minutes. He slid over behind the DOJ podium, said his piece, then was gone like Kyzer Soze.

I know a lot of folks were disappointed by his statement. I guess they were hoping for something dramatic — some sort of revelation maybe, or a political call to arms. But that’s not Mueller. Mueller’s a professional prosecutor. Here’s the thing: political processes always involve some level of passion and partisanship. But we’re supposed to keep that shit out of legal processes. Legal processes are supposed to be sober, deliberate, and dispassionate.

This is where the problem lies. Because Mueller’s legal process has big-ass political implications. In his statement yesterday, he said his report:

“…contains our findings and analysis, and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself.”

But the work doesn’t really speak for itself on account of 1) it’s a prosecutor’s document and even though there’s juicy stuff in it, the report is written in a legal fashion that’s boring as fuck to read, and 2) the report is almost as long as a Game of Thrones novel, and as a result of 1) and 2), we get 3) ain’t hardly nobody actually reading it.

And that’s a damned shame, because the report is pretty fucking clear. It says Russian military intelligence agents interfered with the 2016 election to help Comrade Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. It says the Trump campaign was hip deep in Russian contacts, all of which had some sort of connection to Russian intelligence agencies. It says folks in the Trump campaign lied their asses off about those contacts. And it says Trump and his people obstructed the investigation in lots of ways, but since he’s the president (and the DOJ has a policy that a sitting president can’t be indicted) they couldn’t consider charging him with a crime.

In his statement yesterday, Mueller reminded everybody — including Congress — that there are options to charging Trump with a crime. He said,

“[T]he Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.”

That’s about as close as Mueller can get to saying, “Congress, y’all need to impeach the motherfucker already.” And let’s face it, when he’s saying ‘Congress’ he basically means ‘Democrats’ because nobody, including Mueller, expects the Republicans in Congress to hold Trump responsible for anything.

I think that’s at least partially why Mueller made a public statement. He’s a Republican his ownself, and I sorta kinda think he’s trying to shame Republicans into stepping up and earning their paychecks. I think Mueller is telling everybody that serious shit took place, and as a nation we can’t allow that to happen. That’s actually the very last thing he said in his statement:

“I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments—that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American.”

Every American. Including Republican-Americans. If gutless Democrats refuse to start impeachment hearings, they’re freeing gutless Republicans from having to take any responsibility for Trump’s behavior. Impeachment proceedings will force Republicans to state publicly if they’re willing to allow the ratfucking of US elections by hostile foreign nations if it helps them win elections.

Mueller isn’t going to show up at demonstrations wearing a ITMFA tee shirt or appear with Colbert drinking from a ITMFA mug. He’s not going to write an op-ed in the New York Times or Washington Post advocating impeachment. That was never his job and he’s not that sort of guy. He’s written his report and he’s made a statement. He’s said what he can say and done what he can do.

It’s up to us and to Congress now.

 

tire iron transition of power

I had a horrible thought yesterday afternoon. It led to a horrible belief that has now solidified into a horrible certainty.

A Facebook friend had said, “I want to scream when Pelosi says, about impeachment: ‘We’re not there yet.‘” I’ve heard lots of folks say that, and sometimes I’ve felt the same way. But I’ve also been telling myself that Nancy the Knife Pelosi has been around the block a few times. She’s cagey enough to say ‘not yet’ to impeachment in order to seem reluctant to engage in a process that could most definitely would be seen as primarily political. But all the while she’s prepping for impeachment like a boss.

I said as much to my friend — and when I said it, I believed it. Or at least I wanted to believe it. This morning, I think there’s a pretty fair chance that I was just full of shit. Why? On account of I’ve now read that Pelosi says the only real way to rid ourselves of this turbulent fuckwit is to defeat him in 2020 by a margin so big that he can’t challenge the validity of his loss.

Which is when I had the horrible thought. Which was as follows: There IS no margin of victory so large that Comrade Trump wouldn’t challenge it. And that led to this horrible belief: Even if he was impeached by the House and convicted in the Senate, he’d refuse to accept it. Which led inevitably to this horrible certainty: Motherfucker ain’t gonna leave without an ugly fight, no matter what.

Let’s face it, Trump has ignored every norm, every standard of presidential behavior, every yardstick of diplomacy, and every rule of protocol so far. So why in the hell would we assume he’ll abide by our tradition of a peaceful transition of power?

He won’t. He just fucking won’t. It’s horrifying for me to say this, but even though he doesn’t really even want to be president, I can’t imagine him just giving it up. No matter whether he’s impeached or defeated in 2020, he’s going to claim the system has been rigged against him. He’s going to claim his enemies have conspired against him. He’s going to claim his defeat is a fraud perpetrated by deep state traitors. He’s going to rage and complain and threaten and bellow that he was somehow cheated.

And a lot of his supporters will believe him.

Here’s another horrible but true  thing: Trump won’t care how much damage he does before he leaves. He won’t care about the harm done to the office of POTUS, to the system of checks and balance, to our entire system of democracy. He won’t care if he leaves the nation in shambles. Trump is the kind of guy who’d shit in the driver’s seat if he thought you were going to repo his car.

I really believe we need to start thinking in those terms. I think we need to accept the fact that no matter the circumstance, Comrade Trump is not going to make a peaceful and dignified exit from the White House. He’d rather burn the place down.

With that in mind, there’s no reason the House of Representatives shouldn’t start a long, detailed impeachment process. We’re going to have to pry this jamoke out of the White House with a tire iron; we might as well take a few deep breaths and get started.

we’re not that stupid

Now that we’ve had a couple of days to calm down and/or sober up, let’s take a more rational and dispassionate look at AG William Barr’s letter summarizing the Mueller report. Specifically, let’s look at the way ‘coordination’ is defined in a footnote.

Before we can look at the footnote, we need to read the sentence referred to in the footnote.

As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

On the surface, that seems pretty clear, doesn’t it. But it’s not. I mean, Barr doesn’t even give us the entire sentence. We don’t know if the phrase that precedes that bracketed [T] reinforces or undermines the conclusion of the sentence. For all we know, the entire sentence could be something like this: “Despite extensive circumstantial evidence to the contrary, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.” Until/unless we get to see the unredacted version of the report, we’re expected to assume Barr is accurately stating what Mueller found.

Even if Barr IS being accurate, there’s the problem of the footnote. It contains the operative definition of the term ‘coordination’. It’s a very narrow definition. According to Barr, coordination is:

an “agreement — tacit or express — between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.”

I’m no counter-intelligence expert, but I’ve been around the block a time or two. I know enough about people and conspiracy to know that definition is absurd. That’s not how intelligence services work. Hell, that’s not even how normal people operate.

Now THERE’S some collusion. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

Here’s a simple example. Let’s say you’re the sort of dick who wants to upstage your ex-spouse by giving your kid a better birthday present. You don’t call up your ex and ask what she’s going to give the kid; you get a friend to chat with your ex and find out what she’s giving the kid. You don’t tell your friend you want the information so you can be a dick. You might just say you want to give the kid something of similar value.

Guess what: intelligence agents are just as smart as you are. I mean, the whole point of having spies and covert intelligence agents out doing shit is to avoid tacit or expressed agreements. It’s all about plausible deniability, putting distance between what you seem to be doing and what you’re actually doing.

Barr’s definition becomes even less useful because he restricts coordination to the actual Russian government. When Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort and Comrade Trump Jr. met with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower to discuss ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton, they could deny she was there representing some facet of the Russian government. When Maria Butina hosted a party attended by Trump campaign aides, they could accurately claim she  deny she wasn’t actually employed BY the Russian government. Veselnitskaya and Butina might be serving the interests of the Kremlin while not actually being directly paid by them.

Finally, Barr’s definition of ‘coordination’ caves in on itself when he confines it to deliberate electoral interference. When Manafort shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, who has ties with Russian intelligence agencies, he could claim he wasn’t trying to interfere with the election — he was just trying to demonstrate the probability of Trump being elected.

Barr limits the meaning of coordination to tacit and express agreements, then restricts it to actual members of the Russian government, and further confines its use to blatant election interference. By doing so, he basically claims there couldn’t be any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia unless somebody from the Russian government met with somebody from the Trump campaign and clearly stated he wanted to work with them to disrupt the election.

The Russians aren’t that stupid. Barr isn’t that stupid. But apparently he thinks the American public is that stupid.

One more example. Let’s say you wanted to be the Attorney General in order to protect the President of the United States from being impeached and/or indicted for a criminal act. You wouldn’t announce that, would you. No, you’d write a 19 page memo arguing that the president could only be guilty of obstruction of justice under very specific circumstances, then you’d repeat that argument in a confirmation hearing controlled by supporters of the president, and you’d tell the opposition party that of course you’d obey the law, and you’d promise to give the public as much of the Mueller report as possible.

Plausible deniability, y’all. We can’t allow ourselves to be that stupid.