Total Pageviews

Monday, August 28, 2017

Chaos in the Country: Eight Months of Trump’s Presidency







From the time he announced he was running for the presidency in 2016 (“Mexicans are rapists”) until last night’s news broadcast (and by that I mean last night whatever night that would be when you read this—they’re a predictable steady horror stream) Donald Trump has convincingly proven himself totally and completely incapable of possessing even minimal competency for his job.


Of course we all suspected as much, even if we hoped we’d be wrong.  DJT was never anything other than a sometimes rich (and sometimes bankrupt) TV personality, whose history shows he has the attention span of a child, the ego of Mussolini [see http://www.salon.com/2016/03/11/trumps_not_hitler_hes_mussolini_how_gop_anti_intellectualism_created_a_modern_fascist_movement_in_america/], the morals of Caligula, and the self-control of an angry chimpanzee. 







[Click to enlarge]
When he first entered into the race I was rewriting my textbook “Problems and Materials on Consumer Law” (8th edition), and had decided to reprint a judicial opinion finding that Trump University was committing fraud in selling worthless financial advice to his most faithful followers (a really despicable thing to do).  The book went to press before Trump won the election, and I’m not sure what I’d have done if I’d have foreseen (which I did not) he would actually win.  But there it is: our new president found liable for deceiving thousands of people and absolutely ruining many of their lives.  I’ve written about this before (see Related Posts below).  Trump, once in office, promptly settled the three class action lawsuits against him for $25 million dollars, hardly the tactic of someone innocent of the ugly fraud with which he was charged.  The sleaziness and criminality of Trump University alone should have kept him from winning the highest office in the land, but, like many of his numerous scandals, nothing came of it.  Now this lowlife is our president.


The voters who chose him didn’t care about his sleazy past.  “Time for a change,” “Anyone but Hillary,” etc. were the slogans that energized his base.  One suspects—particularly in light of recent events in Charlottesville—that the real message was “No president should be elected who is negro, female, Jewish, gay, atheist, or liberal,” and “White conservative males only—preferably bigots.”


Trump has certainly met those expectations, and that is what is causing a crisis only eight months into his presidency. 


Crisis?  Yes.  Responsible people are very disturbed by what Trump is doing or threatening to do.  I suspect that even most Republicans are very uncomfortable with his antics and would do almost anything to replace him if only that were possible.  They should be embarrassed by the clown the Republican Party has put in charge of our precious country.


Might Trump actually start a nuclear war?  Oh, yes.  He’s “locked and loaded,” even anxious to show the world what he can do if provoked (which happens daily).  Most people think there are checks and balances that would make such a decision require consensus among governmental officials, but that’s wrong.  The whole system these days is set up for “rapid response,” and it’s totally up to the president to choose that response.  Under relevant law Donald Trump is the only person who can launch the nuclear bombs.  He is required to consult with two military officers, but they cannot change or interfere with his ultimate decision to bomb or not to bomb.  


Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper recently explained “In a fit of pique, [if] he decides to do something about Kim Jong Un, there’s actually very little to stop him . . . The whole system is built to ensure rapid response if necessary. So there’s very little in the way of controls over exercising a nuclear option, which is pretty damn scary.”






In February at Mar-A-Lago The Donald thought it fun to have a photo taken of a guest and the military aide who carries the nuclear football.  I have worried in prior posts that perhaps late at night, in between tweets, bored but still awake, our sleepless president sometimes gets out that device and explores how easy it would be to wipe out, say, North Korea.  Or Iran.  Or CNN.



The Nuclear Football 


David Remnick, the editor of New Yorker Magazine wrote a column in the August 28, 2017 issue in which he penned the following paragraph:

When Trump was elected, there were those who considered his history and insisted that this was a kind of national emergency, and that to normalize this Presidency was a dangerous illusion.  At the same time there were those who, in the spirit of patience and national comity, held that Trump was “Our President,” and that “he must be given a chance.”  Has he had enough of a chance yet?  After his press conference in the lobby of Trump Tower last Tuesday, when he ignored the scripted attempts to regulate his impulses and revealed his true allegiances, there can be no doubt about who he is.  This is the inescapable fact: on November 9th, the United States elected a dishonest, inept, unbalanced, and immoral human being as its President and Commander in Chief.  Trump has daily proven unyielding to appeals of decency, unity, moderation, or fact.  He is willing to imperil the civil peace and the social fabric of his country simply to satisfy his narcissism and to excite the worst inclinations of his core followers.


Perhaps worst of all is that Donald’s presidency has loosed the hounds of hate, most notably in his quasi-praise of the actions of the instigators of the Charlottesville riot.  Sure, he was made to read a clarifying statement that he condemned the KKK and white supremacists, but he did so with all the enthusiasm of small boy forced by his parents to apologize to a neighbor’s kid he beat up.  When off the leash the next day at the Trump Tower our president happily went back to his original effusive blessing of those who started the riots, saying there were “good people” mixed in with bad ones carrying Nazi flags and chanting things like “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil” (an old Nazi phrase celebrating racial purity).






I was in law school when Martin Luther King was assassinated in April of 1968 and I moved that summer to Chicago just in time for riots that had the city (and many others) reeling with blood in the streets and burned buildings.  Is that what’s coming next?  Again?  Is this what our president is cheering on?


Tribalism.  The word of the day.  An apt word because we are truly now dividing into tribes, and in 2017 we are no longer listening to the same sources of information, making dialogue impossible. 


My husband and I recently watched the astounding documentary “The Brainwashing of My Dad” (available on Amazon Prime and as a DVD) in which a woman explores why her father, a once liberal man became a raging bigot when he started watching Fox News and listening to Rush Limbaugh each day.  When he was weaned away from this and began viewing normal new channels he was himself amazed at the lies he’d routinely been fed and foolishly believed.  The documentary details those lies and how cleverly far right news sources brazenly push them out there as unassailable truths.


[Click to enlarge]



Conversely, if all you watch is MSNBC you will get only the message of the left, an attitude with which I am more sympathetic though I never watch that channel.  Why not?  Because I don’t want to hear only what I already agree with.  I want to know what’s going on without a slant to it.  That way I can make up my own mind.  All news has some sort of slant, but I want those that are at least striving to stay objective.


Republicans don’t have a happy history in the last 100 years of playing fair with minorities, having a particular problem with African-Americans.  Trump pretends otherwise, but he is one with those who would keep blacks in their place were it left to him alone.  Trump is big on purging “voter fraud,” code words meaning that far too many people of the wrong color are voting for Democrats.  Next he suddenly sympathizes with those who want to protect statues erected to honor traitors who led a war against the United States government, a war fought over the right to own slaves.  [Every state that seceded from the Union as Lincoln took office declared in its statement of secession that its primary reason for leaving was to keep slavery firmly in place or to protect “slave-owning” states; see https://www.civilwar.org/learn/primary-sources/declaration-causes-seceding-states.]  Trump himself was sued for racial discrimination when he rented out housing early in his career.



However Trump doesn’t care deeply about these or any particular issues.  Their chief value is in keeping him firmly in the public eye.  Nor does he bother over the wisdom of any of his decisions.  What matters is that people are saying the word “Trump” over and over on a daily basis.  He squirms in ecstacy with the constant attention.  But he will stifle criticism as viciously as any tyrant in history and is annoyed he doesn’t have their power (yet) to use police force to do so.




So now what?  With a crazy leader urging on the demons all around are we destined for the collapse of the United States of America?  It’s frighteningly possible, a thought I’ve never had before.  My husband nightly says “someone should do something.”  Yes, but just who is that “someone” and just what could they do?  There is—damn it—no mechanism in place for removal of a president whose only offence is wildly bad judgment and slapdash stupidity.


Our system of government presumes that the person at the helm will try to keep the ship on course.  How do we, or the passengers on any ship, deal with a captain who thinks spinning the wheel first one way and then the other is a fun thing to do?


I’ve written before about the difficulties of impeachment, and with using the 25th Amendment’s power allowing the vice president to take over if the president is deemed crazy.  Both of those seem improbable at this state of things, but who knows . . . maybe that will change next week.


And if in the meantime the bombs go off, which is eerily possible at any time now, that will certainly solve the Trump problem.  Good luck to those who happen to survive that solution.





Okay.  Enough of this.  Time for me to publish this post, fix the Whaley martini, put my feet up, pet the first cat that climbs into my lap, and tell my hubby I love him.







------------------------
Related Posts:


“Comparing Donald Trump to a Badly Infected Big Toe,” August 3, 2016, http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2016/08/comparing-donald-trump-to-badly_3.html

“Trump University: A Fraudster for President”? March 10, 2016; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2016/03/trump-university-fraudster-for-president.html

“President Preposterous: Donald Takes the Helm,” November 14, 2016; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2016/11/president-preposterous-donald-takes-helm_14.html

“Calm Yourself: What Trump Can and Cannot Do About LGBT Rights,” November 16, 2016; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2016/11/calm-yourself-what-trump-can-and-cannot_16.html

“Careful What You Wish For: Making Trump an Illegitimate President,” January 20, 2017; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2017/01/careful-what-you-wish-for-making-trump.html

“Fake News You Might Like to Read,” February 17, 2017; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2017/02/fake-news-you-might-like-to-read.html

Embracing Michael Pence’s Coming Presidency,” February 28, 2017; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2017/02/embracing-michael-pences-coming.html

“Is Trump Clinically Insane?  The Goldwater Rule Revisited,” June 29, 2017;

“Impeaching Donald Trump:  A Lawyer Looks at the Legal Issues,” August 16, 2017; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2017/08/impeaching-donald-trump-lawyer-looks-at.html




Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Impeaching Donald Trump: A Lawyer Looks at the Legal Issues






Impeach Trump!  Impeach Trump!  Impeach Trump!  You hear it everywhere, and it grows daily.  But just how easy a process is that?  What are the rules?  What can history tell us about its efficacy?  Before we sling around a dangerous word like “impeachment” we’d better be very sure where that step could lead us and what the outcome might be.






First let’s be clear that the word “impeached” does not mean “thrown out of office” as many people assume.  Three of our presidents have been impeached but none of them have been thrown out of office as a result.  The word “impeached” as used in our Constitution has the same meaning as “indicted” in criminal law.  Under Article 1 of the United States Constitution the House of Representatives has the sole power of impeachment, but this only means that the House must decide there are sufficient grounds for removal from office.  If so the same Article gives the Senate the power to try the case, presided over by the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (currently John Roberts), where a vote of two-thirds of the senators in favor of that action is required for conviction.  Removal from federal office is the only penalty.  Any actual crimes would have to be separately prosecuted in the usual criminal courts.


The Constitution gives the following grounds for impeachment and conviction in Article II, section 4: “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”  Treason and bribery are obvious enough, but what are “high crimes and misdemeanors”?  Ah, there’s the rub, as Shakespeare would say, and that question has bedeviled our three attempts to impeach a president.  There have been other federal officials (usually federal judges) impeached for a variety of offenses , but those cases have had little sway in the presidential impeachments.


Let’s look at the presidential impeachments one by one.


The first one, of course, was Andrew Johnson, and his impeachment has been wonderfully described in great detail in a recent new book that I just finished reading:  “Impeached: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy” by David O. Stewart.  When I first picked the book up I thought it would be heavy slogging to get through it, but I was wrong.  It was fascinating, starting with a detailed discussion of Andrew Johnson’s drunken speech in 1865 as he was being sworn in as Lincoln’s second Vice President just months before Lincoln was assassinated.  Johnson, amazingly, was a Democrat suddenly serving in a Republican administration and a Southerner (from Tennessee) now running the country that had just put down a Southern rebellion.  Lincoln had hoped that choosing Johnson as his new Vice President for the second term would encourage a healing of wounds and the reconstruction of the country as the Civil War ended.  But once sworn in as president Johnson promptly returned to his roots and restored the defeated Southern officials to their prior positions in their home states and helped them make sure that the newly-freed blacks were kept in something like slavery, most importantly kept from being able to vote in elections.  The Republicans, with an overwhelming majority in Congress and in those days very liberal (to the point where they were known as the “Radical” Republicans) were outraged and kept passing statutes to restore blacks to full citizenship while ousting those Johnson had restored to office, only to have Johnson veto the statutes, followed quickly by Congress passing them again by huge margins that overrode the vetoes.  Things got very bad and there was talk of a new Civil War.


[Click to enlarge]



Johnson tried to fire his own Secretary of War and appoint someone else, and in theory this violated a federal statute then on the books (though there was major arguments that this was either not a violation or that said statute was unconstitutional).  Along with other trumped up charges, including that Johnson was unfit to serve as president (“abuse of power”), the House voted a total of eleven articles of impeachment and trial was had in the Senate, presided over by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase.  Senatorial votes going either way were arguably swayed by bribes, and the trial lasted months before Johnson was acquitted by just one Senatorial vote.  His four year term was up months later and Ulysses S. Grant, war hero, was elected president.


The Trial in the Senate, Chief Justice Chase Presiding


The major problem with this impeachment that caused its failure was that Johnson had not clearly committed an impeachable offense: “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”  In Stewart’s book his conclusion is that it’s impossible to throw a United State President out of office simply because he’s a bad president.  Instead there has to be a serious crime.  Stewart adds that such a conviction is much easier when the opposition party has an overwhelming majority in both the House and the Senate.


In the 1970s it became clear that Richard Nixon had committed major crimes in connection with the famous Watergate burglary and cover-up thereof, and the House of Representatives, in much televised proceedings, held public hearings and began voting on various articles for his impeachment.  During a hurried visit to the Oval Office by Senator Barry Goldwater and other Senators the president was informed that conviction was almost certain in the Senate.  Nixon, trapped, resigned his office (our only president to do so).  His Vice President, Gerald Ford, after taking the helm made one of his first presidential acts the pardoning of Nixon for all crimes, known or unknown.  This was a very controversial act (though clearly legal—as Donald Trump knows from his recent study of the broad presidential power to pardon), but many Americans (me among them) were so sick of the whole Watergate mess that the country grumbled, sighed, and promptly got back to a more normal state of things—precisely what Ford desired.


[Click to enlarge]



Bill Clinton was very unpopular with a lot of Republicans in Congress, and this led to an investigation of his involvement in an business enterprise called Whitewater.  While that was going on Clinton was sued by a woman who contended he had sexually harassed her.  Quickly thereafter Clinton’s affair with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky was revealed, and then scandal ruled the headlines.  There was an argument that Clinton had lied during the sexual harassment trial, and, since that would be perjury, the House voted to impeach him in late 1998.  But Clinton was a very popular president (unlike both Nixon and Johnson) and neither of the impeachment articles received even a majority vote in favor of conviction, much less the two-thirds that would have been necessary to pitch him from office.




This brings us to Donald John Trump.  In just the first seven months of his four year term he proved himself to be totally wrong for the job, and things are getting dramatically worse.  Every night in our household when we turn on the evening news we take in a deep breath and hold hands tightly, alarmed at what new folly our President might be committing and pondering whether it will just lead to more bad press or to something much more serious—such as bombs going off all over our trembling planet.




I’ve written much on this blog about what a disaster Trump is (see Related Posts below), and you’ll get no argument from me that we’d all be better off with him gone.  People say, “Well, but then you’d get Pence as president!”  Yes, and I dislike Pence greatly, but Michael Pence is not bat-shit crazy.  He does not want bombs going off.  Sure, I suspect Pence would be a bad president, but, hell, we’ve had lots of bad presidents in our history.  Give me Pence as President of the United States tonight and I’ll put my feet up, have a martini, and be a much happier man.


From all of the above there emerges this clear guideline: before Donald Trump could be impeached by the House (controlled by Republicans) and convicted by a two-thirds vote of Senators in a trial (also controlled by Republicans), he would have to clearly be guilty of a major crime.  Not a little crime; a big one.  Without that impeachment has no chance of succeeding.


But buck up, Trump detractors!  There’s a good chance the Donald has committed or will commit just such a crime.  Concentrate on establishing that.  That current investigation into his administration’s dealing with the Russians, for example, is quite interesting.  Hmm.






In some ways a high bar for impeachment is a good idea.  In the United States we do not impeach a president merely because he is bad at his job in the eyes of the current Congress.  Were that not true we’d have had many more impeachments than the few described above.  In such a world we’d have something like the British system where a vote of “no confidence” by the legislature leads to a new election right away.  If you like this British system, fine.  But know that implementing it would take an amendment to our Constitution, a process that itself is very difficult to navigate successfully. 






------------------------------------
Related Posts:


“Comparing Donald Trump to a Badly Infected Big Toe,” August 3, 2016, http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2016/08/comparing-donald-trump-to-badly_3.html

“Trump University: A Fraudster for President”? March 10, 2016; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2016/03/trump-university-fraudster-for-president.html

“President Preposterous: Donald Takes the Helm,” November 14, 2016; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2016/11/president-preposterous-donald-takes-helm_14.html

“Calm Yourself: What Trump Can and Cannot Do About LGBT Rights,” November 16, 2016; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2016/11/calm-yourself-what-trump-can-and-cannot_16.html

“Careful What You Wish For: Making Trump an Illegitimate President,” January 20, 2017; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2017/01/careful-what-you-wish-for-making-trump.html

“Fake News You Might Like to Read,” February 17, 2017; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2017/02/fake-news-you-might-like-to-read.html

Embracing Michael Pence’s Coming Presidency,” February 28, 2017; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2017/02/embracing-michael-pences-coming.html

“Is Trump Clinically Insane?  The Goldwater Rule Revisited,” June 29, 2017;