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Coming up lemons / March 08, 2017
Can we talk a moment, Trump voters? I promise to keep this amicable. Or try, at least.

Let’s start with a little story. Years ago, I needed to buy a car. So I paid a visit to a local auto dealership and immediately took a shine to a used Jeep Cherokee on the lot. It was just the thing I was looking for — the type of vehicle a person could throw a canoe and a kayak on top of and drive off with a minimum of fuss. So I took it out for a spin, happy to go on a test drive, but was disappointed when the frame rattled at highway speeds. The Jeep also cost more than I really wanted to spend so in the end I bought a perfectly fine but unexciting sedan. The experience strikes me as being similar to (if less intense than) the sensation one might get from a muscle car that burns up the asphalt and turns heads but then you pull up in the driveway and the transmission drops out. I’ve never actually purchased a car that was an out-and-out lemon. There but for the grace of God go I.

To err is human, to forgive others when they do it is something that most of us are pretty bad at. So I’ll plead guilty to a certain degree of crankiness — still — about the outcome of the 2016 election. But c’mon, folks. Is there any doubt after this weekend that the transmission, the doors, the car radio and the dashboard GPS of the Trump White House have fallen out? That there is no conceivable way to fix this piece of junk? The man is simply not up to the job of being president. You do understand this, right? Be honest.

To ask these questions is not to demand that Trump voters admit bad choices or lord it over the political opposition. We all made mistakes, at the ballot box and elsewhere, and a little humility in recognizing this fact is something that liberals, moderates and conservatives alike could embrace to our shared benefit. We’d be better people for the experience. There’s also no way the country moves forward if all we’re capable of doing is litigating the battles of the past. I have come to understand, in part, the appeal of presidential candidate Donald J. Trump; he was the muscle-car candidate in the race, and there’s nothing wrong with being tempted by the sexy hot rod. Except in this instance, there were flashing signs that said “DO NOT BUY THIS CAR, YOU’LL BE SORRY YOU DID.” My own preference in the past election is well-known and remains an object of derision among some folks. If that’s something people refuse to let go of, well, that’s their right.

But let’s be clear about this much: The jackassery (not actually a term I ever envisioned using in this space) of President Donald J. Trump might be amusing in a different context — such as, say, a reality TV series — but it promises nothing but ongoing emotional trauma for America and the world, and that has to change if for no other reason than national traumatic stress syndrome is hardly the worst outcome one can envision with this menace in charge for the next four years. In fact, Trump as conventional jackass is something of a best-case scenario for his presidency and for America. Things could get so much worse, and fast.

As the whole world knows by now, this weekend Trump went on a Twitter tear for the ages. On Saturday morning, he accused his predecessor, Mr. Obama — who, by the way, was the picture of dignity, intelligence and grace during his entire eight years as president — of ordering the wiretapping of Trump Tower. “This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” tweeted one president about another. “Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!” Trump ranted on, seemingly oblivious to the need to present evidence to back up his audacious claims about alleged spymaster Obama. In a telling indication of just how seriously everyone should take this nonsense, the President of the United States then moved on to another scandalous affair, the withdrawal as host of Celebrity Apprentice by Hollywood tough guy Arnold Schwarzenegger. Somewhere in heaven, Deep Throat must be choking on a chicken bone.

The conclusion most people will draw from this episode is that we have a president who has no compunction about telling preposterous lies. Yet here again, this represents the best-case scenario. As has been widely noted elsewhere, the president doesn’t actually have the legal authority to wiretap anyone: such actions must be authorized by a judge as part of a criminal investigation or, in matters of counter-intelligence, by a special FISA court comprised of a panel of federal judges. (FISA stands for Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act, enacted by Congress after 9/11.) Since winning his surprise election victory, Trump has been dogged by suspicions that he’s somehow in the clutch of the Kremlin or individuals closely tied to it. If there actually was a wiretap of Trump Tower, that means a judge or judges were satisfied by evidence that Trump or his associates may be in cahoots with the Russians, thus justifying a request for surveillance. If that’s true — set aside talk of Obama’s involvement, it’s nothing more than tin-foil-hat stuff — then we as a country really do have a problem.

Do I really believe Trump is a Russian plant? No, and frankly I would worry less about the Russians than the House Republican leadership right about now. Yet that doesn’t mean Trump couldn’t be in hock to Russian oligarchs who may have kept his empire afloat through his past bankruptcies. (Compelling the release of Trump’s tax returns seems like a really good idea right about now.) Trump has expressed contempt on many occasions for the Western alliance, particularly in Europe, and that’s something the Russians no doubt would love to encourage. Still, the theory of a poor man’s Manchurian Candidate is a bit hard to swallow with Trump. He’s too erratic to justify the investment.

What isn’t hard to understand is the need to get to the bottom of Donald Trump’s curious affection for Vladimir Putin and the bizarre tendency by not only Trump but members of his administration to lie about contacts with Russian government officials. (Looking at you, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.) It doesn’t help matters any when Trump and members of his administration act so squirrely over Russia-related accusations. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer may have put it best when he said of the Trump White House, “They only do the right thing when they are caught doing the wrong thing.” Congress’s role in this matter should be straightforward — authorize an independent investigation, with a special prosecutor in charge, and let the chips fall where they may.

Needless to say — though we’ll say it anyway — if these same facts were swirling around President Hillary Clinton, a special prosecutor would already be on the job, unless Congress opted to skip the evidentiary phase altogether in favor of impeachment and conviction. (Which is possible.) Clinton, of course, endured years of subpoena-backed investigations regarding her role in the Benghazi attack, which has been aptly described as a tragedy in search of a crime. There was no crime, and none of the accusations against Clinton ever stuck, except insofar as they apparently helped to lead millions of voters to the conclusion that where there’s smoke, there must be fire as far as our former Secretary of State was concerned. Now there’s a tall tower of smoke billowing around our current president, and few congressional Republicans see any need to investigate. With such leadership by the cowardly lions of the GOP, it’s tempting to believe the sheeple will simply fall in line.

Please don’t. It should be apparent to all but the most deluded of Trump supporters that something is seriously wrong with this president, and we owe it to ourselves as neighbors, countrymen and patriots to get to the bottom of it. If it’s simply a matter of Trump spewing bombast and buffoonery on a given Saturday morning and that’s it, well, America has survived worse. If, on the other extreme, we have a president who is guilty or susceptible to high crimes of treason, we need to know that, too. Even President Trump himself has called for an investigation — of former President Obama. Fine. Why not. Only those who have something to hide have anything to fear. Trump’s recent behavior is so aberrant and beyond the pale of what is expected from a president that a careful investigation of possible Russian interference in the election is required — not only to protect the country’s best interests, but to clear the air if the White House is to proceed effectively over the course of the next four years.

During the campaign, people employed all kinds of arguments to dress up Trump’s candidacy, from patriotic embellishment to pseudointellectual claptrap to appeals to party loyalty and ideological cohesion. Trump has made a mockery of it all. But unless Republicans in Congress are willing to hold Trump to account for his failings, it will fall to voters to decide whether the chaos he has stirred up should define American politics, if not our entire way of life. The first big opportunity for the voters to weigh in comes this November, with governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey. The real moment of truth comes in 2018, with mid-term elections to decide if Congress should remain under Republican control, a compliant tool for President Trump, or regain some measure of independence and integrity as a co-equal branch of divided government. Maybe some Congressional Republicans will surprise on the upside between now and then and insist on transparency and accountability from the Trump administration, and thereby render the choices ahead less stark. I wouldn’t count on it.

So it falls to the people to decide, as it should be. If Trump voters want to make America great again, they have an obvious place for where to start.

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