Monday, July 24, 2017

Is American Democracy Dying? On 3Quarks Daily

Is American Democracy dying? For months, as I have watched the bizarre spectacle of the new Marshal in town and his posse, there's been a phrase rattling around in my head—the historian Allan Nevins' observation that "Democracy must be reborn in every generation."

For Nevins, the man who met the moment was Lincoln, who persevered through failure and terrible loss of life to lead "a new birth of freedom." For me and many of my generation, it was Watergate—a crime met with the deliberative process leading to bipartisan consensus that a sitting President needed to resign. For others, it might have been the Reagan years and the restoration of American power, or the astonishing rise of Barack Obama.

What rebirth might this generation, marinating in the glory that is the Age of Trump, see that would reaffirm their faith in first principles?

For the moment, it's not coming from the Right. We have a Tweeter-in-Chief who demonstrates his policy chops by sending out 140 character jeremiads. A substance-free Speaker who practices posing three quarters' front with chin upraised, affecting a scholarly but manly demeanor. And a Senate Majority Leader who periodically emerges from whatever underwater den he schemes in to gum a little lettuce while spreading his own bilious joy. This is not a trio that inspires confidence.

Meanwhile, on Stage Left, La Résistance (sounds chic and très Macron, n'est-ce pas?) bravely fights the good fight with banners and words and marches—but without victories in Congressional Special Elections, or on cherished policies. And, besides a Democratic version of #nevertrump, without a coherent ideology.

Drama, poor judgment, and just malfeasance we have in abundance. The White House seems to be stocked with people who spend their time watching their backs. Most of the Executive Branch jobs that require Senatorial oversight are unfilled, either because of benign or malign neglect. The State Department is so understaffed that they are considering setting up a search party to find anyone who might know anything about foreign policy—or just anyone who knows anything about anything. 

It goes on. There's Russian meddling, a tragi-comedy in three acts. Trump meets privately and alone with "Friend of the Show" Vladimir Putin and Putin's translator. Donald Jr. had a chinwag with seven caviar salesmen bearing gifts of opposition research. Jay Sekulow, one of Dad's platoon of lawyers, does a "Full Ginsberg," appearing on all five Sunday talk shows, in each one showing his remarkable intellectual dexterity by seemingly claiming simultaneously that Senior has never met Junior, and if he had they would have never talked about the campaign, and if they had talked about the campaign, no laws were broken—because Jay Sekulow says so. I'm certainly satisfied. And, again, the Democrats chasing every thread as if it were catnip, and, again, taking their eyes off the ball. Please, boys and girls, I beg of you. This is why the Almighty invented Robert Mueller. Look to your own house first. It's not like you don't have work to do.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Messing With The Founders--On 3Quarks

The Founders are having a collective posthumous fit—and it's not because of Donald Trump.

Yes, it's true, Trump is not ever going to be one of the guys on Mount Rushmore—unless he buys the place and converts it to a luxury spa and personal shrine. He's just not a Rushmore type. We want our Presidents brave, eloquent, decisive, visionary, caring, gracious. That's not Trump. They need to have the intellectual ability and knowledge to integrate multiple sources of information to facilitate making complex decisions in rapid real time. Still no. Plus the emotional pliancy to cope with wrenching moral choices as a surrogate for the nation, taking upon themselves the responsibility for life or death choices and providing absolution for the rest of us. Yet another no. And a thick skin that enables them to do all these things with equanimity as a polarized electorate and a media hungry for scoops and gotcha tear at them. Definitely, absolutely, not our Donald.

At the risk of offending roughly a third of the electorate, let me make an obvious point: Whatever his talents in business or otherwise, as a President, Trump is a disaster, utterly unfit to hold the office. To offend the other two-thirds, I am going to suggest something radical: Unless he literally blows up the world (admittedly, not completely impossible) it doesn't matter. The Trump Presidency is a temporary problem—a big one, likely to be remembered for emotional vandalism, a hard-right agenda, and some crushing disappointments for his loyal base—but a temporary one. His Presidency will end. We will have another election, pick someone new, rebalance ourselves domestically, and reintroduce ourselves to the world as the rich, powerful, and reliable partner we were before. And to be truthful, the world isn't going to have that much of a choice, because we are still the Indispensable Nation—and because we really can be the good guys when we try.

We will get through the Trump Presidency. I say this because I have faith in our system. The Founders anticipated a Trump problem and built into the Constitution a variety of checks and balances that would either keep him from office (through the Electoral College), remove him (if he merits impeachment), or legally constrain him and limit the institutional damage he could cause if elected. And if all else fails, he still has to face the electorate in 2020. Sooner or later, he's going to have to take his Twitter account and his golf clubs and go home.

So, why are the Founders spinning in their graves? Because of the one man who, under the radar, is doing a lot more damage to Madison's delicate mechanism than Donald Trump. That would be the Senior Senator from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell. He's the guy with the can of gasoline and the box of matches burning down Independence Hall.

McConnell is in the public eye right now for sending the Gang of Thirteen into the treehouse (Girls Keep Out) to decide healthcare for the country. Whatever you think of Obamacare, you have to admit that a little sunlight might have been useful before the GOP decided to move on something so critically important to so many people. Mitch clearly didn't agree. There were oppressed one-tenth of one percenters who desperately needed help, and far too many Americans living the good life in ERs.

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