The Arpaio Pardon: One More Shake of the Wobbly Pillars of our Republic

As you all probably know there is a huge storm lashing and flooding the Texas coast.  It is creating mass destruction but at least it will blow over in a few days.  What will remain are Donald Trump’s efforts to corrupt our political system, a growing storm of a different kind.

It would take a book to portray the numerous incidents whereby Trump has weakened the pillars of our political system, lambasting the press as fake, our intelligence agencies as politicized and/or incompetent, the judiciary as overreaching and the congress as impotent.  Of course,  many of us may share such sentiments as the public image of all of those institutions has suffered for some time now.  However, it is one thing to be critical of them and another to have no respect for them at all, to act with impunity as if the health of those institutions is not vitally important to the maintenance of our Republic.

Trump’s basic message is we cannot trust anyone but him.  The basic message of all demagogues.

The pardon Friday of Sherriff Joe Arpaio  exemplifies this attitude.   As described by Yahoo News, Arpaio, a Trump supporter, had  “been convicted of criminal contempt last month for failing to obey a federal judge’s order to stop targeting Latinos on the basis of their suspected immigration status.”

Trump’s position is Arpaio was just “doing his job.”   In other words, it is fine for law officers to ignore laws they find inconvenient.   Senator John McCain reacted by charging Trump with undermining the “law and order” emphasis of his campaign, but Trump has always emphasized order over law, contemptuous of legal niceties.

Arpaio’s tactics suit the Donald to a Tee.  That is really what the “president” has in mind by law and order.   I imagine police across the land have taken note.

Besides an ignoring-civil-rights tone to police work, the pardoning of Arpaio sends a message to all in Trump’s immediate orbit that the Donald is basically free to pardon any of them if they get in a tight spot.   How reassuring.

So often we hear of the wisdom of the founders in setting up the institutions of American government, but Trump may have found a loop hole.   The founders seem not to have imagined the possibility of a president pardoning with abandon.  Even using the pardon as a negotiating tool for his own self-protection.

I have heard some discussion as to whether the president can pardon himself.  I have no idea if the matter is clear cut.   Certainly if he thinks it might be of help, he’ll give it a try.

Have Fact Checkers Become Obsolete?

The NY Times has come out with an analysis of Trump’s early days in the White House that “verifies” a hundred or so lies he’s told as president.  I’m glad they did it and that they plan to continue to uncover Trump’s lies.  I believe it will be useful over time, but at the moment I don’t care much.

I’m interested in what could make Trump supporters jump ship and a log of Trump lies isn’t likely to do it.  Yes, polls do show that the percent of Americans who think Trump is not honest has jumped from 53% to 60% since the election and maybe the revelations of fact checkers helped with that.  But my sense is many of his backers don’t believe exactly what he says anyway.

They just think it works because it has so far.  Trump has maintained the image of a winner.  Yes, he’s a vulgar bully, but he’s their vulgar bully, their battering ram against the powers that be.  And don’t bother to point out that rather than draining the swamp he’s added alligators of his own.  Their minds are made up and you are not going to confuse them with facts.

At this point you either believe most of what Trump says is B. S. or you believe his B. S. about fake news and all the rest, OR you think of his B. S. as a host of cunning maneuvers to win yet again, and since he’s gotten this far you’ll keep the faith until the end.

There is a nihilism in many Trump voters in that they think, what the hell, the same ‘ol  same ‘ol isn’t going to work for me and at least with Trump we get to watch those in power fidget and get frustrated and angry like we are.   As rocker Kid Rock observed months ago, “if the businessman doesn’t work out we’ll put someone else in.”

So, while I’m impressed by the “truth” project of the Times, it’s greatest value may come after Trump falls, falls in a way that chips off all but his most fanatic fans, falls because it is hard not to notice how badly he has mucked things up.

It has been commonly noted that we have reached an age of post truth, post fact politics.  If facts don’t matter, fact checkers can’t matter much.

Hopefully, some day they will again.

P. S. –  Thinking of the fact checkers I recall the “book people” in the dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451.  In a world of complete conformity and apparently completely fireproof, the work of the firemen is to burn books not fight fires.  Books because they have the propensity to prompt questions and in turn nonconformity.  In reaction a group of rebels form in the woods and each memorizes a book to hopefully be passed on until some better future time.  For us it will be a time when a degree of shared political reality can be reestablished.

Fareed Zakaria on Trump’s Rocking Chair Presidency

President Trump’s news conference/tirade last Thursday was really something.   Much of the 70 or so minutes was Trump blasting the media for “fake news” that ignored his many achievements thus far as president and cast an unwarranted pall over his White House staff.  In the process Trump told several easily verifiable falsehoods himself and made illogical arguments, but to dwell on them is to dwell on distractions.   He always does that.

The heart of the matter is:  “….. in the midst of it all, what has he actually done?” That question is raised by Fareed Zakaria, one of my favorite political  commentators.  And his answer detailed in a recent column is:  “Hardly anything.”

Zakaria employs an analogy proffered by philosopher Alfred Montapert:  “Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.’ We are witnessing a rocking-horse presidency in which everyone is jerking back and forth furiously, yet there is no forward movement.”

Here is a synopsis of Zakaria’s main points.  Trump has claimed “There has never been a presidency that’s done so much in such a short period of time.”  Zakaria points to several presidents who accomplished much more in their first 100 days than Trump is likely to, including Barack  Obama.

Trump has said his White House “is running like a fine-tuned machine”, but it “has not even begun serious discussions with Congress on major legislation. (also) According to The Washington Post, of the 696 positions that require Senate confirmation, the president has yet to nominate 661 of them.”  

Also, while Trump has “issued a series of executive orders with great fanfare” the only one that affects much is the travel ban that was so badly conceived and written that it got stuck in the courts.  Seems like that machine has a lot of important parts missing.

Zakaria quotes a piece by Zachary Karabell in a recent Politico Magazine that sums up Trump’s presidency.  “So far, Trump has behaved exactly like he has throughout his previous career: He has generated intense attention and sold himself as a man of action while doing little other than promote an image of himself as someone who gets things done.”

In short, the fine-tuned machine works best blowing smoke.

Zakaria concludes with two aspects of the Trump presidency.  There is the “freak show” that dominates the headlines but there is also “the savvy businessman” who picked some intelligent heavy weights like Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis to key positions.

It seems to boil down to this:   “For many people, the bargain of the Trump presidency was that they would put up with the freak show in order to get tax reform, infrastructure projects and deregulation. That may still happen, but for now at least, reality TV is in overdrive, and not much is happening in the realm of serious policy.”

Those interested in reading the full editorial can go here.

Dear Undecided Voter: Trump is Unfit to be President…REALLY!

I am a supporter of Hillary Clinton but I understand how a distrust or just dislike of her combined with a disgust for politics as usual incline you elsewhere.   Maybe towards Donald Trump, but not quite, maybe elsewhere.  Maybe nowhere, so you are still on the fence.

The claims and counter claims by the campaigns make everything a jumble of information and confusion.   Here I want to make one point about the race that is not debatable.  Then you can decide if it helps you with your decision.

In all previous presidential elections, newspapers have split on endorsements of candidates, the split tied to the political leanings of their editorial boards.

This election is unique in that ALMOST ALL major newspapers that give endorsements have endorsed someone other than Trump.  Most of the endorsements have gone to Hillary, even from papers with strong conservative roots that have either never endorsed a Democrat for president or did so before any of us were around.   These conservative endorsements have come reluctantly, but the fact they have come at all reflects a common dislike and disrespect for Donald Trump.

In short, almost all of our major newspapers are for someone other than Trump.  While Clinton endorsements from the likes of the liberal New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times go without saying, there are numerous conservative papers who have endorsed her as well.  Doing so did not come easily, especially as it cost their papers subscriptions and invited much angry mail.

Last week my home town San Diego Union Tribune endorsed Clinton, the first time it had endorsed a Democrat in its 148 year history.   While indicating no great enthusiasm for Hillary, they call her the safe “choice” while a “vengeful, dishonest and impulsive Donald Trump” might be the kind of leader that can “knock a nation off course.”

The conservative Arizona Republican has also endorsed Clinton, the first time they have chosen a Democrat over a Republican for president.  Describing Trump’s flaws they go on to say “Clinton retains her composure under pressure. She’s tough. She doesn’t back down. Trump responds to criticism with the petulance of verbal spit wads.”

The Dallas Morning News, which has only endorsed Republican presidential candidates for the past 75 years, first indicated it would not support Trump and later endorsed Hillary Clinton, a decision not made easily because they have often criticized her in the past….  “But unlike Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton has experience in actual governance, a record of service and a willingness to delve into real policy,” wrote the editorial board.

It is not only that all of these papers have not endorsed him, they have uniformly argued he is “unfit” to be president.  When it comes down to normal political disagreements these various editorial boards would be all over the place.  But when it comes to Trump it is not a matter of left or right but one of decency and common sense.  It boils down to their sense of who the candidate is and whether he or she is some one we can look up to, or at least doesn’t scare or embarrass us, as president.

Reflecting this one unifying principle among otherwise disparate political stances by editorial boards was the USA Today last Thursday.   For the first time in its 36 year history it took a stance on a presidential race, because unlike any of the others it felt compelled to do so by Donald Trump’s candidacy.

As part of a scathing critique of the Republican candidate they wrote:  ““This year, the choice isn’t between two capable major party nominees who happen to have significant ideological differences,” ….. “This year, one of the candidates — Republican nominee Donald Trump — is, by unanimous consensus of the Editorial Board, unfit for the presidency.”

The nine member board was too split to endorse someone else.  They just wanted to make it clear who was beyond the pale, who should never be elected, as have so many other editorial boards.  In the end the board suggested voting our consciences.

Trump’s VP candidate Mike Pence had an opposing editorial in the paper that day: “By electing Donald Trump, the American people have the opportunity to choose a bold leader…  I’ve come to know the man who invited me to join him on the Republican ticket as thoughtful, compassionate and steady. Above all, I know he is ready to lead the United States as our next president and commander in chief.”

So, dear undecided voter, is Donald Trump a bold and thoughtful leader or a man totally unfit to be president?  You must either discount the integrity and knowledge of all these professional journalists or dismiss the assertion of Trump and his surrogates that they alone are telling the truth about a rigged system supported by a crooked press.   It boils down to which you judge to be real.

They really are alternative universes that cannot coexist.

P. S.   As for major newspapers for Trump, both the  New York Post and the National Enquirer  endorsed Trump in the Republican primaries, and I imagine both will endorse him again if they haven’t done so already.   I’ll give the Post credit for being a major newspaper.  I’ll leave it up to you to judge what the Enquirer is.