The fundamental misunderstanding at the heart of this administration

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Jeff Sessions swearing in as Attorney General, courtesy wikimedia.org

Recent tweets and speeches he’s given have the President throwing Jeff Sessions under the bus – the reasons given for his unhappiness are fairly nebulous. It is reported that he is looking for ways to get a new Attorney General, but this may alienate the wrong people – people Trump not only needs to be a successful president, but continue to be president at all if things get ugly enough for him.

Let’s be clear here – Trump wants Sessions gone because, due to Sessions’ recusal, Sessions cannot fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the Trump campaign and its ties to Russia. If Trump was truly unhappy with the recusal itself, or with Sessions’ unwillingness to investigate Hillary Clinton, he would have voiced this months ago.

There are a number of different ways he could do this. He could outright fire Sessions, Sessions could resign under pressure, or he could move Sessions to a new department. The first two would anger the conservative base and likely cross a red line for the GOP, who almost unanimously respect Sessions as a principled conservative. The third option, while it would anger the GOP less than the others, would still create problems for Trump.

This is coming up now because Trump wants to end the Russia investigation, and he can’t. Sessions recused himself from the investigation, as he said he would in his testimony to the Senate. The next person in charge of the special counsel is the Deputy AG, Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in the first place and would refuse to fire him. Therefore Trump has his hands tied – his only option for firing Mueller would be appointing a new Attorney General.

But this is also a ridiculous idea. Since the Attorney General is a position that would need Senate approval, the Senate would demand absolute independence of any new nominee from the Russia investigation as a condition of confirmation. GOP Senators have already drawn a line in the sand with this. This is especially true since Trump is now distancing his administration from the GOP, maybe even “declaring war” on the Republican Congress, who are increasingly seeing no reason to do Trump’s bidding. It is also reminiscent of Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” where he fired acting Attorneys General down the line until somebody agreed to fire the special counsel. It was later used to justify his impeachment on grounds of obstruction of justice. The world would also see it as an admission of guilt – why burn through all the political capital you don’t have to end an investigation if you are innocent?

The Senate, while they might not move to impeach Trump due to GOP control, might instead use this action to justify hiring their own special prosecutor if Trump finds a way to fire Mueller – possibly hiring Mueller right back.


So what’s the deal? Why go through all this?

A large part of Trump’s appeal was that he was the master negotiator – he “alone” can do what no other politician can do. And a large part of the criticism of Trump was that he has no government experience. Wouldn’t a master negotiator see the bind he has already created for himself, the fact that he has already burned what little political capital he has, and leave well enough alone? Or is there some fundamental misunderstanding here – one that explains all of Trump’s actions so far in his short presidency?

I believe Trump thinks of himself as the boss of the American government. I believe that, lacking even a rudimentary understanding of civics, this is how Trump makes sense of our very complicated federal government. He thinks he is the boss – that the Attorney General is his own personal attorney, that the Justice Department is his personal police force, that the Joint Chiefs are his personal generals, and probably even that the president is the “boss” of Congress. This is why, when any of these individuals act with any sense of independence, he is angered. This is also why Trump thought Obama was weak and ineffective – he didn’t understand that the president doesn’t just tell others in the government what to do.

The man literally doesn’t understand that the president has to work to build political capital by working with others on an equal footing, finding compromises and joint solutions. He thinks the reason we have problems in America aren’t because solutions are complicated, but because other presidents weren’t bossy enough. He thinks, by acting with independence, others in government are “disobeying” him.

This is also why Trump will get weaker and less effective as time goes on. Those people will get thrown under the bus, fired, replaced by people actually willing to take the job, and he will have the same problem all over again. Or in the case of Congress, he will alienate them while simultaneously empowering them to stand up to him as only Congress can.

This time, with Jeff Sessions, Trump will step on a landmine if he tries to replace him with an AG willing to fire Mueller. It will set off a chain reaction that will end with, at the absolute least, a lame duck administration. The founders of our Constitution designed our government this way for a reason – to stop a president exactly like Trump from getting away with crimes and abuses of power. And it’s these same abuses of power that Trump sees as the actual role of the President, confusing checks on the power of the Executive Branch as weakness among his staff and cabinet. Fortunately for us, the Constitution provides guidance on handling such abuses, and Trump will be in for a rude awakening if he doesn’t come to terms to this fact quickly.

If Trump is guilty and pardons himself, it opens a door none of us want opened

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Robert Mueller, courtesy pbs.org

New reports are showing that the President has asked aides about his pardon powers – for his family, his allies, even himself, if the special counsel’s investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia incriminates him.

A lot of Trump supporters have been saying they don’t care. If they haven’t outright denied any of the Russia business is true (#FakeNews!), then generally the refrain goes something like “Russia didn’t tell me who to vote for,” or “I don’t care about any of that, I want better jobs and a better economy.”

I can’t blame people for thinking this way. Of all the scandals and controversy we have seen in the news lately, much of it doesn’t affect our daily lives. If Trump colluded with Russia, it doesn’t directly affect my pay, my job security, my healthcare, or my children’s education. As far as these people are concerned, that’s all on TV, happening far away, for those people in suits in DC to argue about.

But a large part of Trump’s appeal was that he wasn’t influenced by anyone. He stood on his own, against the establishment, paying his way through his own campaign. He owed nothing to the millionaire and billionaire business interests of the party (in fact many of them actively worked against him), to the Washington establishment, to the Republican Party itself – it seemed he owed nothing to anyone besides his supporters. It was believed that he would work for nobody besides the little guy – the factory worker, the coal miner, the laborer.

This was their guy – the guy the working class supported to finally turn the neoliberal establishment on its head, as punishment for screwing them over for decades.

Why was this so appealing? Because of sovereignty. The idea was that Trump represented the power of the working class, pooling their voting power to finally fight back against the establishment which has enacted policy after policy that hurt them. The working class was regaining sovereignty over the federal government.

This is also why Russia meddling in our election is so dangerous, and why it does affect our daily lives. And why, if it does happen to come out that Trump was complicit in this collusion, he cannot be allowed to pardon himself. Putin has threatened our sovereignty, and if he is allowed to get away with it, it will open the door for every other major power on the planet to threaten our sovereignty as well.

A Trump supporter who thinks this doesn’t affect them should think about the possibility of Germany, or the European Union, or China supporting Trump’s opponent in 2020 – using state resources to hack Trump’s campaign or worse. This would weaken your support of your candidate, as you would be up against some of the most powerful political forces on Earth, who are out for their own interest – not yours.

It is already bad enough that Russia is seeing no fallout from the Republican majority for their actions. It would be infinitely worse if the president was guilty and pardoned himself, getting off scot free. This would not only open the door for every other power on Earth to meddle in our elections, but it would also give the President the power to break any law he or she wanted. You may feel that the special counsel’s Russia investigation is a witch hunt, but Trump won’t be in power forever. Do you want a Democrat to be able to break any law they want while in office? What if one day a socialist holds the office of the presidency?

What if a future president (that you may not like) defies the Supreme Court and pardons themself? If this seems far fetched and extreme, look at this headline in the Wall Street Journal this week.

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Courtesy Wall Street Journal, https://www.wsj.com/articles/poland-presses-forward-with-plan-to-remake-supreme-court-1500559212

Imagine what our headlines would look like if the President had no checks and balances on their power.

If you voted for Trump, or voted at all, some part of you must believe in your sovereignty. Don’t be complicit in losing it.

We are due for a recession

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New York Stock Exchange, courtesy wikimedia.org

I hate to say I told you so, but it looks like the world is starting to catch up to the fact that the “Trump Bump” isn’t going to happen. As I detailed in my earlier post, stocks have been rallying around Trump while the real economy (wages, job growth – the types of economic factors that impact our daily lives) has been stagnant or growing very slowly, and that is a cause for concern.

Wall Street had hoped that Trump (and perhaps more importantly a Republican government) would bring them what they had been craving for decades – tax reform and entitlement cuts. This was their moment, the moment the business class had been dreaming about since they were drinking out of kegs, finally arrived with billionaire Trump sitting in the White House. What the business class had not factored in was the obvious dysfunction a Trump White House would bring to Washington (as if we needed more dysfunction in Washington), as well as the fact that the market was rallying far before he had even done anything.

This has been the singular issue in the entire economic recovery since the 2008 crash – the stock market has been rallying to new records while the average American sees no change in their daily lives. They are paying more for the same services, making the same amount of money, and seeing the job market dry up – all while Wall Street is all over their TV in a record-breaking rally. It’s no wonder the one uniting factor in our most divided political climate is a resentment for Wall Street. The only thing keeping demand moving has been the artificially low interest rates, so it’s not like the Fed can just cut rates again.

This time, the stock market had hoped that Trump would provide a foundation for the record growth in stock valuation since 2008, but it seems this will not be the case as Wall Street finds itself built upon quicksand. And worse than what happened in 2008, we do not have competent leadership (or good ideas) to help us ride the storm in case of another crash.

So far Trump’s economy looks a lot like Obama’s, with the exception that Obama had been trying to lead our country towards the movers of the 21st century economy – energy independence through solar, wind, and natural gas energy; easy access to community college and training; apprenticeships in the trades; healthcare; automation; etc. Trump has moved against all of this in a totally reactionary shift in policy in an attempt to protect 20th century sectors like coal and manufacturing. So while the United States moves to protect the jobs of the past, countries like China will pass us by with the jobs of the future.

Every 7 or 8 years since the dawn of the market, there has been a recession, and we are long overdue now. How Trump and the Republican government respond to a crisis like this is anybody’s guess.

Reminder that July 4th is a day to honor and protect freedom

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The Constitution, courtesy pixabay.com
This Independence Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, let’s not forget the institutions that the Founding Fathers felt were so important that they fought a war against an empire to establish them. Institutions that the Founders established to help protect freedom and stave off totalitarian rule in America as long as possible. Institutions like a free and independent press, freedom of assembly, and the freedom to vote and participate in the election of our leaders through representative government.

As the (very) conservative Ronald Reagan once said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Freedom is fragile. It can be taken away in a heartbeat. Especially today, when so many of these institutions are under attack from the very people we have charged to defend them.


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Trump “attacking” CNN – courtesy talkingpointsmemo.com
The President on a daily basis undermines the free and independent press. He calls CNN (and any media outlet that criticizes him, really) “fake news.” As the (very) conservative John McCain put it, dictators get started by attacking the free press.

The free press is the only profession protected by the Constitution. It is this way for a reason – media must be free and independent in order to speak truth to power. In order to hold leaders accountable, a lawmaker or elected official need to constantly believe that every conversation they have or decision they make could end up in the paper the next day. This is why the press is so important in a democracy, and also why authoritarian rulers have sought to undermine them from time immemorial. It’s the same reason the sitting President wishes to undermine them – because they publish politically inconvenient reporting about him and his administration, reporting he would rather not have the public know.

Critics of CNN and liberal or left-leaning media have often said that they are “liars” – that they make things up in order to damage Trump politically. While this is not only false – it is irrelevant, because their existence alone establishes accountability. This is, again, why the free press is protected in the first amendment. It is a cornerstone to democracy.


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Dana Loesch from the recent NRA ad – courtesy pastemagazine.com
Or how about the attacks on freedom of assembly? The NRA released a video that is controversial even among faithful gun owners, because it paints those that protest and assemble as enemies of the state. The gist of the video – while this is left unsaid, it can be inferred – is that we need guns now more than ever because we may need to shoot liberals. The video conjures imagery that is, essentially, a call to violence against those who disagree with conservatives politically. It is a dog whistle for civil war.

Let alone all of the rhetoric that has been swirling since the shooting of Steve Scalise and other GOP lawmakers that paint liberals and Democrats as terrorists, equating them with radical Islamists. This is an attack on the freedom to assemble, a freedom that is once again enshrined in the constitution for a reason. People need legal protection in order to stand up to their government so that their voices cannot be silenced by violent means.


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Donald Trump and Kris Kobach, courtesy salon.com
Or what about the attacks on the right to vote? It is no secret that the Republican party has used Voter ID and other measures as a means to keep minorities from voting for Democrats. This has been proven time and time again. But now it seems the alt-right has taken to voter suppression as a way to retroactively remake the white patriarchy.

As you’ve might have heard, 27 states refused to hand over sensitive voter information to Trump’s voter fraud commission. (Edit: the number of states that refused to send information, whole or in part, is now up to 41) This commission is spearheaded by Kris Kobach, a very intelligent and highly educated white nationalist who believes that immigration is challenging a “white protestant culture” by flipping the political landscape to favor Democrats. To fight this, Kobach’s plan has been to rescind voting rights from those who favor immigration (minorities and immigrants who are most likely to vote for Democrats), and use that power to limit immigration and the “infiltration” of foreign ideas into America.

In other words, Kobach wants to artificially and retroactively protect Republican pluralities by literally keeping those who disagree with him from voting. And states refused to hand this information over for good reason – there is very scant evidence that voter fraud is an issue, while there is simultaneously an overwhelming amount of evidence that Kobach plans to restrict voting rights for some of our most marginalized and most vulnerable citizens. Imagine feeling so insecure in your vision for America that instead of convincing voters that it’s the correct path forward – you seek to keep them from voting at all.

At best this voter fraud panel serves to boost Trump’s ego, and at worst it is an attack on the foundation of our democracy itself.


Let us not forget the foundations of freedom on this July 4th. And let us not forget the need to defend them. As people say, freedom isn’t free.

When taking the Oath of Enlistment into the Army, our soldiers vow to protect our country from all enemies – foreign and domestic. Sadly, right now the most looming threat against the Constitution is domestic. Leaders we trust to defend the Constitution are doing everything in their power to undermine some of our most basic rights enshrined within it. From undermining the free press, to painting peaceful resistance and political disagreement as something we need to arm ourselves against, to taking away the right to vote from the people who are most marginalized – there is an organized campaign against the foundations of democracy that our Founding Fathers established to protect us from tyranny.

Let’s not only hope we won’t some day have to explain to our grandchildren what it was like to be free in America – let’s take action to keep it from happening.