“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”—Martin Luther King Jr.
All I wanted was a couple of days of rest. Not much. Just a couple of days to recharge the batteries and relax without once thinking about the president, the Russia investigation, North Korea, Iran, the economy, tax cuts, immigration ad infinitum.
The immediate cause was a Friday briefing by a senior White House official, embargoed until Saturday, during which press in the White House learned the theme of the President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address: "Building a safe, strong and proud America.”
That particular phrase raised questions rather immediately: Doesn’t pride come before the fall? Aren’t we already strong? What about that Benjamin Franklin quote about those who want to sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither?
I chose to ask the last question to the “senior official” giving the press briefing, and the answer I got gave me indigestion: “Americans have gained liberty through deregulation.” At that moment, I decided to take the weekend off and watch reruns of Sliders as I was obviously living in an alternate universe and needed to find my way back to the universe from whence I came. The only other cogent explanation for this turn of events was that I was suffering an LSD flashback and, at any moment, I’d wake up to find Ronald Reagan still president—which was a bad trip when I’d lived through it the first time.
I took the weekend off and tried to enjoy the Grammys, but that ended up being more proof of my alternative reality, as rock ‘n roll had clearly died in this universe. Meanwhile, this world exploded because of the politics of the Grammys, with several people upset about Hillary Clinton’s surprise appearance specifically. Several GOP supporters even tweeted that entertainers have no business being involved in politics—which is so disingenuous it made me laugh—especially if you consider the GOP’s favorite president, Mr. Reagan, once starred in a movie called Bedtime for Bonzo. But hey, that’s just me.
Melania Trump apparently had enough over the weekend too. Reportedly fuming over the Donald’s alleged payoffs to porn star Stephanie Clifford (Stormy Daniel, Misty Muffins or some other porn name that makes for fodder on the talk show circuit), Mrs. Trump spent the weekend away from her husband, though she was back in the fold this week for the State of the Union address.
The Russia investigation, steaming toward uncharted waters, was again the topic of discussion Monday. The House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to release a classified memo written by Republicans alleging abuses in the FBI’s surveillance, an aggressive move that could fuel a GOP push to undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. It is also, apparently, full of half-truths, and the Republicans who supported it decided not to release the Democrat’s counter-memo. That decision should put the GOP memo in context.
That party line vote led to reports from several publications that President Trump blew up at his staff regarding the classified memo and his inability to control the Department of Justice. Andrew McCabe, the FBI Deputy Director, under fire by Trump, decided to step down early to avoid being brow-beaten by the Commander in Chief of the Swamp he swore he’d drain but hasn’t.
We are at a Constitutional crisis, brought here by a president who still faces a steep curve trying to learn his job while doing his job.
While that was going on, the United States released a sweeping list of prominent “Russian business and political figures, in defiance of Moscow and implementing a Congressional law designed to punish Russia for election meddling,” according to CNN. The Trump administration was required to publish the list by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAASTA), which is meant to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, as well as alleged human rights violations, the annexation of Crimea and ongoing military operations in eastern Ukraine.
The release occurred just before midnight on Monday and while some of those named by the U.S. are already sanctioned, the president did not recommend new or additional sanctions. Russian leader Vladimir “The Impaler” Putin was noticeably upset about the list, saying it condemned his whole country.
The Act was supported by Democrats and Republicans who wanted to try and prevent President Trump from watering down U.S. sanctions on Russia. The president described it as “seriously flawed” when he signed it into law in August.
“I’m fed up waiting for this administration to protect our country and our elections,” Representative Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. “They’ve now shown us they won’t act, so it’s time for Congress to do more…The Trump administration had a decision to make whether they would follow the law and crack down on those responsible for attacking American democracy in 2016. They chose instead to let Russia off the hook yet again.”
On Monday, “The White House successfully forced out FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. In contravention of the protocol followed by both Democratic and Republican administrations, chief of staff John Kelly—not the White House counsel—was the point person for the effort. Kelly, who holds a purely political role, was tasked with badgering and haranguing the very same entities conducting an investigation of the president,” Jennifer Rubin reported in The Washington Post.
On Tuesday, according to MSNBC, “House Republicans voted to release the “secret” Russia memo, voted to block a Democratic “rebuttal” and the House Intel Committee is also planning to investigate the FBI and Justice Department.” In other words, Russia gets a pass, but the Justice Department has to be investigated. That same day, former FBI chief James Comey was busy tweeting about McCabe: “…I wish Andy well. I also wish continued strength for the rest of the FBI. America needs you.” Former Attorney General Eric Holder added, “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is, and has been, a dedicated public servant who has served this country well. Bogus attacks on the FBI and DOJ to distract attention from a legitimate criminal inquiry does long term, unnecessary damage to these foundations of our government.”
Carl Bernstein referred to McCabe’s Monday resignation as the Monday Night “Slaughter,” in reference to Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre. During a lunch with anchors Tuesday, prior to his first State of the Union address, a reflective Trump said, “I would consider it a great achievement if we could make our country united. If I could unite the country—that’s not an easy thing to do because the views are so divergent.”
Later, when asked what he’d learned in his first year in office, he riffed a bit. "I think I’ve learned—I’ve really learned a lot. You know, governing—when you’re a businessperson, you don’t have to worry about your heart, the heart. You really do what’s best for you, you know, for almost purely monetary reasons. You know, you make your money. You’re competing against people. In many cases, you don’t like them, you want to beat, and all that stuff.
And when you're—in doing what I’m doing now, a lot of it is heart, a lot of it is compassion, a lot of it is far beyond money, such as immigration, such as the things we’re talking about. From a purely economic standpoint, if I was doing this purely from an economic standpoint, I would sit down and tell you in one second what I’d be doing, okay? It’s so simple. But I’m not. I’m doing it because millions of people are affected. I mean, I just—I put myself in their position. Millions and millions of people are affected…So it’s much different, in that way, than I thought it would be.”
The president couldn’t even get his basic facts correct. He said the national motto is “In God We Trust.” No.
Then there was the most ominous of veiled threats from Trump as he spoke to the network anchors at lunch: “I would love, I would love to be able to bring back our country into a great form of unity. Without a major event where people pull together, that’s hard to do. But I’d like to do it without that major event, because usually that major event is not a good thing. I would love to do it.”
At the end of the day, you cannot deny the facts: The GOP is complicit in destroying an independent justice system. As the president stood in front of Congress and promised a stronger Union, he—and those who support him in Congress—are actively destroying, undermining and belittling the founding principles of our Republic. The president couldn’t even get his basic facts correct. He said the national motto is “In God We Trust.”
No. The National motto historically has been “E Pluribus Unum”: through many, one. But Trump has no idea what that means and neither do his Republican toadies. God, according to him, is where we place our faith—not in ourselves.
Their zeal for wanton destruction is surpassed by their ignorance of what made this country great and their ability to manipulate those who are easily taken by a con job. There is a reason why it is said there’s a sucker born every minute. There’s a reason why snake oil salesman on the frontier thrived. There’s a reason why people watch professional wrestling, believe in astrology, a flat earth, chem-trails and a host of pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo.
Trump and his minions appeal to conspiracy theorists, charlatans, the uneducated and those who naively dream of a world that never existed. The GOP is involved in this subterfuge to derail the investigation of one man—their guy, the president of the United States.
As much as we all would like to take an extended rest from this nausea, there can be no rest as long as the president of the United States engages in behavior detrimental to the survival of the Constitution. We are now indisputably at a Constitutional crisis, brought here by a president who still faces a steep curve trying to learn his job while doing his job. At the end of the day, the president of the United States wants to be a despot. That cannot happen.