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Hiding in plain sight / October 23, 2019
We’re a year out from the 2020 election and voters deciding for themselves who should lead the United States over the next four years, but in the meantime it’s getting pretty hard to ignore that our current Commander-in-Chief is losing it on a daily basis. I mean, c’mon. The daily doings of the White House are not only not remotely normal, they’re downright frightening as an increasingly erratic Donald Trump skitters and flails towards disaster. The country can’t live on borrowed time forever.

It would take an unlimited amount of newsprint to document the blunders, lies, slanders, acts of blatant corruption and other missteps by Trump and his administration since taking office, so let’s just focus on the past week. Here’s a short list of jaw-droppers:

» The President’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, held a press conference Thursday in which he outright said Trump held up security aid for Ukraine — authorized by Congress to help that country defend itself against Russian aggression — for the simple reason that the president wanted Ukraine’s government to investigate Democrats. When asked by a reporter how this wasn’t a quid pro quo, an attempt to compel Ukraine to do Trump’s political dirty work, Mulvaney replied that people should “get over it” and “it happens all the time” in diplomatic affairs.

After making this incriminating admission, Mulvaney tried to deny he said what he’s on camera saying. This clumsy attempt to gaslight the American public may be the dumbest episode of the past week, but not for lack of competition.

» Mulvaney’s original purpose in holding the press conference was to announce that Trump had decided to host the G-7 conference of world leaders next year at his Doral golf resort in Miami. Trump later backpedaled on the choice of a G-7 site after it became clear that not even Congressional Republicans, a laughably pliant lot, could support such a blatant act of self-enrichment. Later, Mulvaney admitted on one of the Sunday morning talk shows that his handling of the press conference had been “less than perfect.” No kidding. How about “perfectly inept”?

» During a Cabinet meeting on Monday, Trump foamed on about the impeachment inquiry that Congressional Democrats have launched to investigate the Ukraine scandal. Trump also had a lot to say about the Doral fiasco, going off about the “phony Emoluments clause” of the Constitution.

In case anyone neglected to take out their pocket Constitutions before running the shirt through the wash, the word “emoluments” — that is, gifts, compensation, items of value — appears several times in Articles I and II of the Constitution. Article I bans the corrupting influence of foreign emoluments, and Article II does the same with the domestic variety. Of course, Trump has no idea what’s in the Constitution, even after swearing an oath to protect and uphold it upon taking office, but the unfathomable ignorance of the President of the United States is no longer a matter of serious debate — even if the risk of his whiny, narcissistic, detached-from-reality behavior is.

» Mulvaney’s hapless turn at the microphone — coupled with testimony by State Department officials and others in the administration who have appeared before the House impeachment committee — make it abundantly clear that Donald Trump tried to pressure a foreign country to smear his domestic political rivals. There are important facts about this scandal that still need to be unearthed, but there is zero chance at this point that some surprising new revelation will come out to clear the administration. The Ukraine affair is quite plainly a dirty quid pro quo, a corrupt deal of this-for-that with the clear intent of subverting U.S. elections, and it that almost certainly meets the standard set under the Constitution for impeachment of a president: “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

So now what?

Well, first thing to note — and it’s an obvious point — is that our reality today will not be the reality tomorrow. (Or by the time you read this.) There are plenty of shoes left to drop; what happens if, say, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney and Ukraine emissary, is arrested for alleged crimes? Four of Giuliani’s associates have been charged by federal prosecutors in New York for campaign finance violations connected to Ukrainian corruption. In “Trump’s Rudy Problem,” the news site Axios reported Monday that “[a]mid near-daily revelations of Rudy Giuliani’s ‘shadow’ foreign policy, senior administration officials are worried that more information could surface connecting official Trump administration policy to Giuliani’s personal financial gain.” Corruption begets corruption — lather, rinse, repeat. There’s lots more dirty laundry where the current load came from.

And what are the dangers of Trump losing whatever marbles he still has left rolling around between the ears? Earlier this month, Trump announced the pullback of American troops in Syria, leaving our former allies, the Kurds — emphasis on “former” — exposed to slaughter by Turkish forces at the Syria-Turkey border, where the Kurds lived in their own semi-autonomous state. I realize none of this stuff may register here at home, but every American should be ashamed by our abandonment of an ally that did much of the dirty work in the U.S.’s fight against the Islamic State. There’s no justification for a policy decision that does nothing but serve the interests of adversaries — Russia, Iran, Syria and ISIS. Why is it, by the way, that Russia keeps coming up in these conversations?

On the domestic front, Trump has pursued a half-baked, counterproductive policy on trade and tariffs, which in tandem with other factors is having a real impact at home — American manufacturing arguably has fallen into recession, and farmers have been hurt by Trump trade policy, even if most won’t make the leap and turn against this president. A reasonably healthy economy is all that is keeping Trump afloat; without it, whispers in Washington of Trump’s possible ouster from office would become shouts. As pressure mounts and events run their course, the prospects rise for a Trumpian self-immolation. We’re just lucky that a major crisis hasn’t hit that would cause an unhinged president to come further apart.

If the House of Representatives impeaches Trump, as appears likely, the next step is a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, which has the duty under the Constitution to decide whether to remove Trump from office. It’s nearly impossible to imagine that happening — it takes a two-thirds majority vote, which means 20 Republican senators would have to vote to convict Trump — but it’s also becoming increasingly likely that some members of the GOP will join Senate Democrats in voting “yes” on impeachment and removal. The politics of the matter notwithstanding, Trump is unpopular and becoming even more so, and his outrageous and possibly criminal behavior is not something that is particularly difficult for the public to grasp. Voters have taken notice; support for impeachment and removal of Trump from office hit 51 percent in a CNN survey Tuesday, with 44 percent of voters opposed, which is roughly in line with what other polling shows.

In all likelihood, of course, Trump will not be driven out of office — not until the next November, anyway, when we shall see what happens. But events in the present must be allowed to play out, as a matter of Constitutional and small-D democratic prerogative. Will tomorrow’s headlines bring more revelations of wrongdoing by the president and his associates? Will this cancer on the presidency metastasize out of control? Will Congressional Republicans continue to prop up a corrupt and duplicitous administration? So many questions heading into a presidential election year, such diminishing time for answers.

To be continued ….

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