Terry H. Schwadron
Feb. 5, 2020
Not only do we have a deep divide over presidential right and wrong, we have a serious divide over what the State of the Union is, about the cultural lean of traditional “American values, and, of course, how to call balls and strikes.
And it is all coming together on three fronts at the same moment in a deeply disconcerting manner that, aside from which side of these divides one finds oneself, ought to be bothering us plenty in the quiet dark of night.
For openers, we are about to witness the total disappearance of impeachment charges against Donald Trump, who somehow scored the highest public approval grades of his presidency in a new Gallup poll. The final acquittal vote is set for today, and regardless of the final vote, it will be, as we know, a largely partisan vote, confirming the insistence of the Senate Republican majority to decide on what reflects Fact and what reflects Moral Right, based solely on Might.
Though there were late-inning mewls about adopting a formal Censure to punish Trump for wrong-doing acknowledged even by Republicans who would not vote conviction and removal from office for shaking down a foreign government to provide dirt on Joe Biden, a Trump opponent, Senate Majority Leader was moving quickly and quietly to snuff out rebellious senators who might give that thought the time of day.
Censure, of course, would require that Trump acknowledge the wrong-doing, and he seems in no mind to say that his behavior in running a months’ long rogue campaign for personal gain was anything other than “perfect.”
Of course, you might argue the same, with opposite results, in the Democratic-majority House that moved very carefully and slowly to impeachment, while still leaving the effort open to criticisms about haste.
It is a vote that only begins the formal adoption of an Imperial Presidency that vastly expands the power of a Donald Trump to do whatever he wants in the name of the Constitution, with a Congress meant for oversight reduced to a substantially subordinate role.
Make no mistake, it is another big step for the destruction of traditional American values. The number of hypothetical dangers that lurk ahead are just awaiting how brusquely and brazenly Trump makes his inevitable victory lap.
While advisers were busily whispering to Trump to avoid mentions of impeachment and to play up the possibility of bipartisanship, it is difficult for Trump to avoid smugness that borders on insult for those who would rise in challenge to him. Instead, Trump’s boastfulness was about the country, and, naturally, about his own role in being the only leader to recognize the need for jobs, school choice, international respect and the rest. And snubbing a handshake with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who tore up his speech at end of the night) and turning the event into a reality tribute show, including a surprise reunion between a sergeant and family.
Even the most sober Trump comes fully engaged with a passel of personal boasts about the economy, anti-immigration policy, credit-grabbing for only what he perceives as positive impacts in the Middle East, for reaching agreements on a first-level tariff war with China and a rewritten North American Trade agreement. The would-be visionary Trump who offered his State of the Union message added his personal embrace for a Space Force, for boundless improvements in health, opiate fighting, deregulation, social benefits and childcare.
This is where there is a Fact problem, of course. Let’s remember that “bipartisanship” for Trump means agreeing with him, not compromise and debate that produces better policy for all.
For each of the policy components, there is a context that create a much more mixed view of success to date and the needs ahead. On the economy, for example, it is clear that annual growth is hovering just above the same 2%-3% range as it had under Barak Obama, that there is a huge income gap that is growing, that unpaid deficits are soaring, that while unemployment rates are low, there are still massive pockets of unemployment. On his trade agreements, Trump fails to credit Democrats with getting the North American compact sufficiently changed to allow adoption, and he has failed to recognize the structural and temporal business problems remaining with China. Trump wants badly to think that he is lowering prescription drug prices and advancing health care efforts while his government, in fact, is acting in a consistent manner to undercut health care access. In his telling, there is only good news that was brought about by Trump.
Along the way last night, Trump curiously managed to stack his guests and public mentions with black and brown residents — a general, a couple of students, a job trainee.
That’s the Fact problem. At best, Trump misleads, talking selectively about policy. At worst, of course, he outright lies.
The third unstable leg of the week’s angst-ridden news came from Democratic caucuses in Iowa, where it seemed that technical glitches apparently knocked out the release of the results of voting — though plenty of people were willing to accept some kind of conspiracy or rigging of results. It even re-raised the issues connected with any perceived foreign intervention or hacking in transmission software, all without any evidence. All of that was worsened by an abysmal performance by Iowan Democratic officials who released partial figures and had a hard time explaining it all.
But for me, setting aside the idiocy of relying on a new phone app that clearly had not been properly tested, what was more alarming is that there remains no clarity about the emergent leading candidates, about the nature of a message or strategy to oppose Trump. Indeed, the partial results showed such small difference in elections as to be troubling by itself: Who wants a Democratic presidential candidate who “wins” with a quarter of the available vote (including small precincts where a single vote might make for percentage gain in delegates) with a smaller-than-expected turnout to face a Trump boasting the economic boom with both hands.
The effect of all of the mess was to undercut belief in elections themselves, and caucuses in particular.
While it was wonderful to seeing true democracy in action in the town hall settings of high school gyms, we are in an era in which the need for clear, focused messages seem an electoral requirement for running successfully against Trump.
Frankly, Democrats have not yet arrived at such a concise statement of purpose and campaign.
Instead, we have a lot of silly internecine, personality-based pushing and pulling going on instead of focused challenge of Trumponomics, of anti-immigration and pro-business agendas.
The week stands as a reminder that Trump, particularly an enraged Trump turbo-boosted by acquittal in impeachment, is going to double and triple down on policies are destroying Constitutionally held values and institutions.
It is clear that November has emerged anew as the Court of Appeals on impeachment and as a public vote on TrumpWorld itself.
Let’s get busy.