Trial by Fire: Donald J. Trump vs. Democracy
A third or more of the country is going to be brainwashed into believing that, because there’s politics involved, congressional subpoenas of Trump officials are illegitimate.
So, if you’re an average person who gets your information from a standard variety of mainstream news sources, here’s what you know:
The FBI started a counterintelligence investigation of the Donald Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in 2016 after campaign aide George Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat in London that Russia was in possession of emails relating to Hillary Clinton, and the Australians passed that information on to the FBI.
The investigation was kept quiet throughout the campaign, even as then-FBI Director James Comey made public a renewed investigation into Clinton 11 days before the election. After Trump became president, Comey confirmed the existence of the investigation. Trump fired him. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Trump probe. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller to investigate. Nearly two years later, Mueller issued a report that didn’t directly accuse Trump of committing any crimes, explaining that he accepted that a sitting president can’t be indicted. The report could not establish that collusion with Russia happened but did find plenty of evidence that Trump obstructed justice.
Now, if you’re a Trump fan who consumes only Fox News and other right-wing media, this is what you “know”:
Hillary Clinton hired this shady guy, Christopher Steele, to go find some dirt on Trump. He talked to a lot of Russian sources—and incidentally, there’s your real collusion right there, between Hillary and the Russians, not Trump. The Steele dossier was a put-up job from start to finish, nothing but lies. But on the basis of it, not this Papadopoulos character, the FBI started investigating Trump.
But this wasn’t just any normal investigation. They spied on the Trump campaign. Trump’s phones were tapped on Barack Obama’s orders—Trump himself has said so. This was the Deep State, which hates Donald Trump with a passion because its members are elites just like the Clintons, who want to preserve the corrupt status quo and don’t like it that Trump is taking power away from them and giving it to good, salt-of-the-earth people like me. It’s the biggest witch hunt in American history, but even so, the FBI found nothing on Trump. Mueller found nothing on Trump. But the fake news media reported very little of this. And now, Democrats in Congress are trying again. They must be refused all forms of cooperation. The real investigation we need, one that hopefully Lindsey Graham will conduct, is into the Deep State’s efforts to bring down Trump. And, of course, into the role in all this of Hillary.
As you can see, these aren’t just disagreements about certain facts. These are warring realities. Well, one of them is a reality. The other is a paranoid fantasy of totalitarian revenge, invented by a president who has no moral code and advanced with vigor by his protectors and enablers in the Republican Party and at his state propaganda cable network. And millions of people—some of them stone-cold racists, some of them neo-fascists, but others of them, dare I say it, very fine people in other respects—believe it.
And if this is what you believe, how are you going to think that maybe Trump should cooperate with Congress on its investigations, that Don McGahn and Stephen Miller and others should answer those “Democrat” subpoenas and appear before House committees? There is no way you’re going to think that. You will believe Dear Leader’s spin, that it’s all just politically motivated and therefore illegitimate.
Well, sure, it’s politically motivated (although not wholly, which is a fact that Republicans, for whom everything is solely about political power, couldn’t begin to grasp). Duh. This is politics. But that doesn’t make it illegitimate. Anybody who learned about the Constitution in eighth grade ought to know this.
What we learned then was this: We have three branches of government; they are separate but equal. That’s the standard phrase we all learned in school. But, as we also learned, if one branch is by design a little more equal than the others, it’s the legislative. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention discussed it first, and placed it first in the document they produced, for a reason.
So, for the executive branch to give the finger to the legislative branch in this comprehensive a fashion is, without question, a constitutional crisis of the first order. Trump, Lindsey Graham, every Republican who defends Trump or stays silent (that is to say, every Republican), the hosts on Fox (save Judge Andrew), and the millions who follow them are all explicitly now participating in a conspiracy against the Constitution.
I used the adjective “totalitarian” above for a reason. These are not small-d democratic people.
As my regular readers know, I’ve been unenthusiastic about impeachment. As I wrote last week, it will fail. Trump will not be removed from office. And I say it’s irresponsible not to think about the political consequences of that. If Trump gets to play the victim, it could help him get reelected, and that would be a disaster of epic proportions, not just legally and constitutionally, but in a hundred different real-world impacts on people’s lives. Making sure he’s a one-term president is the highest moral duty of all.
But after seeing what Trump said last week about refusing to cooperate with any House investigations, well, I’m not quite there yet but I’m warming to the idea. And news broke Sunday that Bill Barr may back out of testifying before the House Judiciary Committee this week because he doesn’t like the terms they’re setting.
These are direct cannon shots at a coequal branch of government and at the very concept of same. Obstruction of justice is a “mere” law. The powers of the legislative branch, though, are derived from the Constitution, our most sacred document. No, the Constitution doesn’t specifically mention oversight powers, but the reason it doesn’t is that everyone assumed that Congress would conduct oversight into the executive branch. They didn’t think it even needed to be said. The first select committee to investigate an administration official dates to the very first Congress, in 1790.
Yet, int the coming weeks, a third or more of the country is going to be brainwashed into believing that, because there’s politics involved, congressional subpoenas of Trump officials are illegitimate. So a sentence along those lines can be added to the above revenge narrative. They’re going to believe what they’re going to believe. But in the real world, Congress, the Democrats, cannot let this stand.