Ethics, Law and Bulimic Bombast as Con

The Empty Clown Suit who became a Fake President, short of a majority by 2.8+ million votes because of the elitist Electoral College, is amazingly transparent in his routinely bombastic behavior. Narcissistic sociopaths seek both power and adulation, yet are indifferent to the effects of their behavior on others. Thus, for him the idea of self-pardon is not outside his realm of Fake Reason.

The Fake President’s current gambit is classic Trumpery. Yes, it is a sad comment on the fragile American political culture to see his displays of ignorant arrogance unrestrained by propriety or circumstance. Yet it is also a teachable moment in the American political process as well as the source of a high-risk trajectory that could bring on a constitutional crisis. The response of the Congress to blatant assertion of monarch-like power over established processes of the justice system could lead to tyranny or to liberty. That, of course, depends on the tolerance level of the Republicans, and of the rest of us.

Seeking Totalitarian Rule

Can a sitting president “pardon” himself? The absurdity of such a recursive idea would be hilarious if it were not a tragic travesty by a would-be totalitarian dictator modeled on the behavior of his political idols, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un. He truly aspires to be “above the law.” The only legal principle on which such an act could “justify” itself is the long dead illusion of the “Devine Right of Kings,” in opposition to which the American republic was founded.

Ultimately, only a “Manchurian President” could assert the “right” to pardon himself. Do you remember the movie, “The Manchurian Candidate”? The characters and their power sources may be different, but the metaphor is appropriate. In the present instance, the “Manchurians” are the American, Russian, and international oligarchs who, like the Fake President, have already reaped great financial gain from his corrupt actions in office. The immoral and criminal behavior goes back as far as his early personal corruption in business and his life-long ethical void.

The Fake President acts in the interests of the international criminal power structure – consider, for example, the Panama papers – to the detriment of the people of the U.S. and the world. The exercise of such power can continue only if left unchecked by the institutions the U.S. founding fathers established in order to maintain a balance of power among executive, legislative and judiciary branches of government. Left unchecked, it will surely lead to outright tyranny. (See Timothy Snyder’s book, On Tyranny, 2017, which offers twenty lessions on how citizens can counter such tendencies.)

Democracy Under Siege

The framers of the Constitution were acutely aware of the danger of excessive power in the hands of the executive; they had had it with the tyranny of King George. The American Revolution began in opposition to tyranny, but it was never quite completed. Tyranny is a constant threat and the people can only thwart it by constant vigilance and the continual assertion of democracy over money ruling politics. To the extent that the financial and corporate elites that benefit from presidential corruption have bought and paid for “our” representatives and senators, the reality of a plutocratic coup looms very large. Rebecca Solnit and others argue with lots of evidence that the coup has already happened.

Of course, we must remember that most of what we see and hear in relation to politics on TV and on social media takes on the melodramatic aura of “reality TV.” All historical context is lost to the machinations and rationalizations of pure power and violence. We must also recognize that the Fake President aims his tweeting mostly at generating a smokescreen sufficient to distract most of the public from the reality denied. That is also the role of Empty Clown Suit #2 – Giuliani, whose babbling he spews forth intending primarily to distract and confuse the public.

Trump uses the pardoning of a bizarre assortment of criminals to claim widespread injustice in an effort to de-legitimize the Department of Justice and therefore Robert Mueller, the special council it appointed to investigate the international criminal interference with U.S. elections with which the Fake President increasingly appears involved. That he even mentions a right to pardon himself speaks to that involvment.

We do indeed live in interesting (and dangerous) times…..

The New Normal and the Boisterously Silent Coup

Is the rise of Trumplandia the reflection of a “new normal” in American politics? Or, does it rise, as Rebecca Solnit suggests in a remarkable new piece on the Literary Hub website, to the level of a de facto coup that has already occurred? Has the Trump gang already, if not so skillfully, moved to clandestinely transform our constitutionally framed effort at representative democracy into a de facto authoritarian regime? After all, this sitting president is now directly interfering with the independent investigations of the nation’s highest law enforcement institutions that may well lead to his own downfall.

The Coup

Solnit asserts that, “Sabotage of national institutions, laws, standards, and the greater good has been accepted as part of the new normal, which is staggeringly far from normal.” She summarizes the vast array of diverse forms and sources of evidence that have surfaced since Trump began his initial Fake-Run [i] for the presidency. In addition to the myriad personal scandals, an international complex of illicit deal making adds up to a partnership of plunder between the Putin bossed Russian mob of oligarchs, the American pretender to Mob-Boss status and his gang of thugs and fixers of questionable competence and unbounded hutzpah, and just about any unscrupulous politician, here or abroad, who will pay to play.

As Solnit puts it:

Acts that would have been shocking if committed by previous administrations are overshadowed and crowded by equally transgressive acts that pile up into something that would like us to forget that this is not normal.

Solnit argues persuasively that the coup has already happened and that the only question now is what we are going to do about it. Given the damage already done to institutions, climate action, public health and safety, international relations, and above all the already precarious U.S. political culture, it seems that little time and a narrowing range of options remain.

Decades in the Making

One commenter argued that the coup began decades ago, listing a series of political actions by every administration and congress since, supporting the position that the coup was a long slow process of destroying democracy while elevating an increasingly open kleptocratic authoritarian corporate state. He argued that with Johnson’s resounding defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964 the authoritarian right realized that electoral politics must be undermined to achieve their autocratic goals. Another asserted that the coup began with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In any case, several scholars have documented the efforts of powerful business interests to suppress democratic control of government and the economy since the imposition of controls on the financial elite under the New Deal.

Unfortunately, as is so common in such venues, much of the commentary devolved into typical political bickering over which politician held more guilt, bad faith and evil. The usual dose of ad hominem admonitions and rigid either/or ill-logic circulated around the claimed offenses of Bernie versus Hillary, entirely missing the point of the article in service to internal partisan anger among Democrats.

The Republican Party has devolved into a state where its only principle is to win elections by pandering the alt-right base so effectively exploited by Trumpery. Genuine conservatives have nowhere to turn. The Democratic Party national apparatus, the DNC, remains unwilling to free itself from the corporate and financial elites it serves while hypocritically mouthing old liberal rhetoric. Its disingenuous cultural liberalism and avoidance of the deep issues of rising global and national crises have turned main street Democrats and independents away from the party. Electoral politics seems a long shot, in both substance and time. The convergence of catastrophic crises of ecosystem destruction and climate chaos, as well as global economic and political instability, is well underway. The crisis of American democracy is now. What is a citizen to do?

Precarious Prospects

Solnit finds herself distraught with the prospects, as well anyone who looks at the facts should. However, her recommendations offer little hope:

We still have an enormous capacity to resist the administration, not least by mass civil disobedience and other forms of noncooperation. Sweeping the November elections wouldn’t hurt either, if that results in candidates we hold accountable afterward. Or both.

Solnit seems to believe that we can rescue American democracy and respond effectively to the converging crises of climate chaos, ecological destruction, impending global financial failure, and imminent societal collapse by protests in the streets or by the so-called “centrist” democrats capturing the mid-term elections. Making such assumptions shows little sense of timing or even a deep understanding of the nature of the coup that has suppressed democratic institutions for decades.

The answer is nearly as difficult, but at least possible. Mass mobilization at the local level for resistance in place by turning away from the “inverted totalitarian” regime and its new “strong man” is extremely difficult to achieve. It would require forming new democratic institutions where we live that would become diffused forms of resistance by their very existence. Widespread resistance by withdrawal and replacement could not be stopped by troops in the streets or by bluster from the man who is “the empty clown suit.”

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[i] Mark Danner, “The Magic of Donald Trump,” New York Review of Books 63:4(May 26, 2016) quotes Stephanie Cegielski, Trump’s “Top Strategist-Turned-Defector,” to the effect that initially there had been “no thought of actually winning.” Rather, the goal was to bolster Trump’s celebrity prominence. That, of course, is consistent with Trump’s history of seeking celebrity attention and adulation above all else, aside from money of course. Winning the actual election bolstered his celebrity and profits beyond even the narcissist’s unbounded imagination.