Posts Tagged ‘Trump’

Yeah, I suppose it was inevitable that sooner or later I’d have to write about… him: the walking excrement that currently occupies the big round room in the big white house.

I’m sure I wasn’t the first person to employ the phrase ‘the orange poltroon’ to describe Donald John Trump, but I was certainly unaware of anyone else using it when I started to use it in tweets. And I’d said for years that ‘poltroon’ was one of my favourite words so… anyway, I’m claiming it for the UK side of things.

I mean, sure, I’ve occasionally mentioned President Poltroon before on here; days after he was elected, I observed that he now had a power that genuinely scared me, and no, it wasn’t the power to obliterate countries leaving only a mushroom cloud in its place.

I’m only faintly surprised he hasn’t excercised the full extent of the power-that-scares-me already, that some maniac supporter hasn’t killed a federal judge, say… and received a pardon from Trump for doing so, or killed those serving on a grand jury investigating the orange poltroon, and then been pardoned by said poltroon.

Pardoned, I hasten to add, with no deleterious consequences for said poltroon.

For the current iteration of the Republican Party have made it crystal clear in their behaviour the past couple of years that, no matter what the orange poltroon does in office, they’ll follow the exact same strategy as they followed during the election campaign… once it became apparent that Trump was [going to be] the nominee:

That Trump is a racist misogynist bully, a sexual abuser, a fool, who rarely reads, knowingly plays to the worst of the worst, lies like he breathes, and wants to bang his daughter, is beyond doubt. His ego and his vanity were well known long before he ran for office, and no-one expected that to change after sixty million or so people marked their ballots in his favour.

And, sure, no one was overly surprised at the sheer venality expressed by others in the GOP who turned the supineness and submissiveness of the cowardly bully, when faced with a bigger bully, into a bloody art form. Partly because he serves their purposes, partly because of their contemptible fear that Trump will turn against them at any moment.

And, of course, having given him their support, they’ve got too much personally and politically invested to back down now.

But of all the norms that Trump has shattered, has ignored, has completely crapped over, what no one truly predicted however was the breach of the most basic norm of constitutional government.

The most basic, the fundamental, tenet of American government. No… not that he’d ‘do something unconstitutional’; it’s possible that any President could do that; that’s in part why the Supreme Court exists, and in whole why the impeachment power exists.

The fundamental constitutional norm that Trump’s pissed on from a huge height is something that John Ramm¹ was at pains to point out to students:

“The American system of government works as it should, and only works as it should, if and only if, each branch of government respects the authority and legitimacy of the others.”

And Trump doesn’t. It’s as plain as that.

There was a throwaway comment Trump gave in a recent interview which I was mildly surprised wasn’t picked up more, since it revealed so much. He’d been told – let’s face it, he didn’t read it himself – that the Presidency is covered in Article II of the Constitution of the United States.

Article II.

And it so obviously irritated him, so plainly irked him. That The Presidency wasn’t in Article I, I mean.

Because, despite the Constitution giving – obviously – different powers, different rights and responsibilities, to each of the three branches of government, Trump clearly believes with every fibre of his being that it shouldn’t. It’s beyond comprehension to him that the other two branches, Congress (the legislature) and the Supreme Court (the judiciary), are equal branches of government; he plainly believes that they’re not only lesser than the Presidency (the executive) but that they inherently hold less legitimacy and authority… because they’re lesser.

And that’s a tough position for him to even state, let alone argue… if the Presidency is Article II. I mean, he’ll try, obviously. Because he’s a fool. But even someone with his… unique kind of intelligence… will struggle.

His view of Congress, of members of Congress, of Senators, is transparent: he views them with contempt. All of them. The ones who hate him, the ones who profess to love him, those who condemn him, and those who support him. Because they’re not Presidents, because they’re not him.

And the message to Republican Senators and members of Congress isn’t: ‘if you back me, I’ll say nice things about you’; it’s ‘if you pieces of crap support me, I might not shit on you… today‘.

And they take that. They take it every day, and then come back for more.

I mean, when it comes to Republican members of Congress and Senators, who knows, maybe he’s right – practically, not morally – to treat them like that, because it’s bloody worked. And it continues to bloody work.

Even those in the GOP who once criticised him in the harshest possible language have all sucked at his teat since, and voted to pass legislation of which he approves. And without in any way repudiating their previous criticisms, they’ve pretended those criticisms were never made, those statements were never issues, the video of them doesn’t exist.

As for the judiciary, well, the orange poltroon’s expressed his contempt for how it operates in the US any number of times, while both praising and condemning the court system, and individual justices of the Supreme Court.

But again, remember that

“The American system of government works as it should, and only works as it should, if and only if, each branch of government respects the authority and legitimacy of the others.” 
 
Thirty five years ago, about now, during the impeachment of the hearings of them President Nixon, it was revealed that in Nixon’s secret recordings of what happened in the Oval Office, there was an 18½ minute gap. In the resulting litigation, the Supreme Court (an 8-0 decision, in US v Nixon) ordered Nixon in July 1974 to deliver tape recordings and other subpoenaed materials to a federal district court. He did so. he followed the Court’s ruling. And sixteen days later, Nixon resigned.

I’ve been wondering, since 2017, what happens when (not if but when) the Supreme Court rules against Trump on something big (‘Watergate 18½ minutes’ big, say) and Trump effectively responds ‘No. Now what are you going to fucking do about it?’

SCOTUS’ authority rests on the other branches respecting its legitimacy and authority.

And Trump doesn’t.

The other week, I went to see Michael Wolff being interviewed by Matthew D’Ancona, the former promoting his new book Siege, covering the second year of Trump’s [first] term in office, after Fire and Fury covered the first year.

 
Genuinely fascinating, and there was a Q&A afterwards; some good questions, some great answers.

So I asked the question above, what would happen if SCOTUS ruled against Trump on something huge, something genuinely important… and Trump effectively said ‘fuck you’ to SCOTUS.

Wolff paused a moment, thought of his answer, and then simply replied “I don’t know. But it’s a scary thought. And, personally, that’s why I think Robert Mueller ‘punted’ in the report, didn’t go as far as he could have, as he should have. Because he didn’t want to provoke, to create, that problem, what would be a genuine constitutional crisis.”
 
I’m not sure I wholly agree that Mueller did punt the report; genuinely think there’s strong arguments on both sides of that one, none of them conclusive.

But it’s certainly not something I wholly disagree with either.

I miss the days when the branches of government at least pretended to respect the authority and legitimacy of the others in public, and mostly did so in private.

Something else tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.


¹my tutor in A Level “Government and Comparative Political Systems”, which I studied at Luton VI Form College (1980-1982)

I’ve not written for a bit about the shitstorm hitting the US at the moment; in some ways it’s felt like I would be intruding on private grief. But something happened at the weekend, and the coverage of it yesterday and today, and the reaction to that coverage, has been bugging me all day. And I’ve been getting angrier about it.

OK, so last weekend, a large group of neo-nazi/nazi/white nationalist/white supremacist/alt-right* (*delete as appropriate, no wait, actually, don’t; all of them apply) folks got together for a convention in Washington DC. You might have seen it reported here and here and here and here and here and here and here. As well as a few other places.

While those and other reports refer to the Nazi salutes, the odious and racist comments from the self-styled leader of the alt-right, Richard Spencer, I want to concentrate on one specific thing, and why the reaction to it – or non-reaction from some – is bugging me so much.

Over the weekend, Spencer, president of the white-nationalist National Policy Institute, said he thinks Jews control the media to protect their personal interests, and said “One wonders if these people are people at all, or instead soulless golem.”

OK, white supremacist says antisemitic statement. Not exactly news. It is news that a President was elected with this man’s support. It is news that he was elected with the vigorous support of the Ku Klux Klan, with the overt and eager support of racists, white supremacists, antisemites, and that said President-elect has gone out of his way not to directly criticise them… but it’s hardly news that these people don’t like Jews.

CNN then did a segment on the statement and the reactions to the statement. I’m not entirely convinced the question “Should President-elect Trump condemn and denounce the remarks?” needed to be asked, but apparently so because they had a fucking discussion on the subject.  Screencaps from the segment then did the rounds on Facebook and Twitter, along with the hashtag #AreJewsPeople. Really, folks? Really? You didn’t for one moment think that might be incredibly offensive to Jews reading that? You didn’t think that every time a Jew read that, there would be an instant of “ok, now I’ve got to find out whether the person thinks ‘no'” before they read the tweet?

But, anyway, those screencaps. It’s important to note that none of the people on screen below are the people who made the comments about Jews.

(As I was writing this, CNN issued an apology for the crawl at the bottom of the screen.)

Now, being fair, plenty of people have criticised the comments. It’d be nice if more did, but yeah, I’m not denying that the comments have been condemned and denounced by many, criticised and decried. Not by Trump, though, nor by any of his senior people. But yes, condemnation by lots and lots of people. (Edit to add: it’s now being reported that Trump has condemned the gathering.)

Not by enough though. Not by nearly enough. Or not by some people I would hope would condemn. I’d expect them to condemn not because it’s the right thing to do – although surely it is – but because by not condemning they’re revealing their own hypocrisy.

And here’s what’s bugging me. I dredge the following example up every so often, so you’ll forgive me if I resurrect it one more time.

A meme did the rounds some time ago, viz:

“Why is it that, as a culture, we are more comfortable seeing two men holding guns than holding hands?” – Ernest Gaines. We would like to know who really believes in gay rights on Livejournal. There is no bribe of a miracle or anything like that. If you truly believe in gay rights, then repost this and title the post “gay rights.” If you don’t believe in gay rights, then just ignore this. Thanks.

Simple, easy to do, so you should do it, right?

No. It’s trite, insulting, patronising emotional guilt-tripping. And it’s wrong.

Why?

Well, suppose the message was this:

We would like to know who isn’t antisemitic on LiveJournal. There is no bribe of a miracle or anything like that. If you’re NOT antisemitic, then repost this and title the post as “I hate antisemitism”. If you are antisemitic, then just ignore this. Thanks

I’m supposed to then, presumably, believe that anyone who doesn’t post the comment in their own blog is antisemitic?

Utter nonsense.

Silence doesn’t indicate consent. Not in law, not ethically, not in practice. Everyone has their own ‘red buttons’ that can be pressed and the mere absence of condemnation of something is not in any way indicative of agreement with, nor support for, the thing you or I would like condemned.

While I support the aims and sentiments of Black Lives Matter as a movement, I’ve not marched on their behalf, and I’ve not blogged about it. And yes, while I think the UK government’s welfare benefits cuts have been wrong, cruel and dismissive of the consequences, I’ve rarely blogged about it. My non-blogging or non-tweeting about the coming cut in Employment Support Allowance doesn’t mean I support it.

BUT…

Oh, come on, you knew there was a ‘but’ coming… BUT if you ARE someone who protests that silence is consent… if you ARE someone who says that silence means acquiescence or support for something…

People of colour who’ve been saying that silence means you don’t really support Black Lives Matter? LBGTQI folks saying silence means you effectively support homophobic/transphobic acts and laws? Benefits campaigners saying silence means you don’t care… Anti-austerity campaigners protesting that silence means acquiescence to austerity… Where’s your outrage over #AreJewsPeople? Where are your blogs and your tweets and your condemnation?

Because that’s what you’ve said.

You’ve said silence means consent.

You’ve said silence means acquiescence, that silence means apathy, that silence means support for the other side.

Again, this isn’t aimed at anyone who hasn’t used that argument, but those of you who have previously said “Silence means…” but have not condemned the rampant antisemitism of the alt-right, the overt antisemitism of “Are Jews People?”, the clear and present antisemitism that’s taking place…

Which is it? Is it consent, or acquiescence, or apathy, or support? Do you agree with the statement or do you just not care about it? Or it is just that you’re hypocrites, claiming silence means consent when it suits you but never when it’s your silence?

You know what? Fuck you with your “silence means…”

With all the horror that’s beginning to strike people about what President Trump could and could not do in office, something’s been missed, I think. Something fairly important, and I’m not sure why. It could be that there’s so much else worrying people, and it’s only been 36 hours since he was elected…

OK, let’s get this preamble out of the way. With the system of checks and balances inherent to the US Constitution, yes, there are limits to a President’s power.

Indeed, there’s a piece doing the rounds saying – I summarise – “don’t panic, he can’t pass new laws on his own, he can’t repeal laws on his own, he needs Congress to do this and that and the other.” Before he puts anyone on the Supreme Court, for example, he’ll need Senate consent (as he will for any federal appointment). And while the immediate nominee will be to replace Scalia, let’s face it, there’s likely to be more than one nominee to the Supreme Court during his time in office. He’ll also need their consent for signing treaties.

So he’ll need congress and while, for the next two years at least, the Republicans control both the House and The Senate, neither Bill Clinton nor President Obama got everything they wanted when their party controlled both of them. Let’s face it, the truism that the President needs Congress is – for the main part – accurate. Further, there’s a chunk of the Republican Party who will for their own reasons obstruct President Trump’s proposals. Not for nothing is the old saw “A President Proposes, Congress Disposes”.

As for taking the country to war, while that is indeed a power reserved to Congress, it hasn’t stopped previous Presidents for a second, and it won’t stop Trump.

So, what’s been missed? 

Now, for all of the following, bear in mind that I’m no lawyer. I don’t even play one on telly. And I haven’t checked this with any lawyers, so any errors, mistakes or otherwise are mine, all mine.

That caveat aired…

I think what people – in their immediate shock – have skipped is one power the Constitution does give to The President, one power unfettered by anything other than morals, ethics, basic honesty and a respect for the institution of the Presidency and the rule of Law, with all of which Donald Trump has at best a distant relationship. This power, in Article II, section 2, reads as follows:

…he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

Trump will have the power, from the first day, the first minute, of his Presidency, to pardon people. Now, sure, it’s limited to federal crimes; he can’t pardon someone for a local speeding ticket, say, or even a serious crime if it’s solely a state matter; that’s a governor’s responsibility. 

But that leaves a large number of criminals found guilty in federal court which Trump has the unlimited power to pardon or reprieve.

While the power to pardon has been used responsibly at times in the past, as an appeal of last resort, it’s also been been controversially used, to put it mildly.

Richard Nixon pardoned union leader and wannabe mobster Jimmy Hoffa, albeit with conditions attached; in due course, Nixon was pardoned by his successor Gerald Ford.

While we’re on Nixon, President Ronald Reagan pardoned New York Yankee’s owner George Steinbrenner (convicted of conspiring to make illegal contributions to President Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign.)

Bill Clinton pardoned both his half-brother, and Patty Hearst (who’d had her sentence commuted by President Jimmy Carter). Oh, and of course there’s Marc Rich, who Clinton pardoned for tax evasion.

Sometimes, Presidents attach conditions to pardons: Steinbrenner only got his pardon after he admitted the crime.)

Sometimes Presidents give explanations for their pardons: Clinton said he pardoned Rich because Rich’s charitable donations to the Middle East helped the peace process.

However, they’re not obliged to make conditions nor give explanations: Aslam Adam served eight years of his 55-year federal prison sentence, for conspiracy to posses and distribute $1 million worth of heroin. President George H W Bush pardoned him just before he left office and Bush never said why.

In order to prevent abuse, in the past, there have been suggestions that a Constitutional Amendment be enacted to limit a President’s authority to pardon people who are or have been a member of his Administration, and/or have donated cash to the President, or his party.

Worth recalling at this point that one of George W Bush’s pardons was revoked – by Bush – upon it being revealed that the criminal’s father had donated $28,500 to the Republican party.

Here’s the thing, though: President Bush didn’t have to revoke it, legally I mean; he chose to.

The Constitution gives a President the power to issue pardons; it doesn’t limit that authority to “people who ain’t worked for you”, or somesuch. And even ethically, if you’re going to give the authority to a single person to override the courts and issue pardons, then that in itself should be the thing that people go “what the…?” over, not who he pardons.

In about ten weeks, the Oval Office will be occupied by a person who could – unless or until he’s impeached – interfere to an unprecedented degree in the operation of federal justice in the United States.

Anyone he likes personally? Pardon. Guilty of a federal crime with which Trump personally disagrees? Pardon. Already in prison for federal crimes, but you said nice. things about Trump? Commutation or Pardon.

Last week, two of Chris Christie’s aides were found guilty on federal court re ‘Bridgegate’. Rudolph Giuliani, rumoured to be Trump’s pick as Attorney General, today said that they shouldn’t have been prosecuted, and that it wasn’t that big a deal. Assuming this is the first step in a cunning plan entitled “While Everyone’s In Shock, Let’s try And Rehabilitate Chris Christie”, I wonder if pardons for Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni are already being drafted.

In seventy or so days, Donald Trump will have the power and legal authority to pardon anyone convicted of a federal crime.

Any federal crime.

Treason, mail fraud, aircraft hijacking, kidnapping, bank robbery, child pornography, obscenity, tax evasion, counterfeiting, violation of the Espionage Act, wiretapping…

Murder. Well, not all murders, but Murder of an Elected/Appointed Federal Official (18 U.S.C. Section 351, 1751)? Oh yes.

Someone could kill an elected federal official, be found guilty in federal court, and Trump could pardon them.

Similarly, Murder of a Federal Judge or Law Enforcement Official (18 U.S.C. Section 1114) or Killing of an Immediate Family Member of Law Enforcement Officials (18 U.S.C. Section 115(b)(3))

And if someone was found, in the words of The Producers, “incredibly guilty”, President Trump could pardon them.

Oh, and killing Designed to Influence the Outcome of a Court Case (18 U.S.C. Section 1512), which prohibits murders of court officers and jurors, or killings that are intended to prevent testimony from a witness, police informant, or a victim. It’s also a federal crime to commit murder in retaliation for testimony given at a trial.

And President Trump could pardon them on a whim.

Then there’s Murder Related to Rape, Child Molestation, and Sexual Exploitation of Children (18 U.S.C. Section 2248, 2251).

Now, I’m not suggesting that President Trump would pardon people found guilty of any of the above.

But he could. Any bloody time he wanted to, from 12:01 pm on 20th January 2017.

And that’s a scary, scary thing indeed.