Muder on Barr’s Speeches

What Does Trump’s Inner Party Believe” is Doug Muder’s The Weekly Sift post from December 2. I value Muder’s effort to walk a mile in another man’s shoes, to see the issue from the other side even when he disagrees. That’s empathy–and as a country we have far to little of it.

The heart of this post is Muder’s analysis of two recent speeches by William Barr, Trump’s Attorney General (and long time supporter of unfettered Presidential power). Muder dissects Barr’s cultural arguments point-by-point.

Once again, I urge my readers to click the link and sign up to receive Muder’s weekly Monday emails from “The Weekly Sift.” (Signup is in column on the left side of the post.) This post struck a chord with a lot of people. This is my effort to get Muder’s clear thinking further reach. Please read and share.

What Does Trump’s Inner Party Believe?

by weeklysift

Like a lot of liberals, I have spent more time than I care to admit thinking about Trump supporters. Who are they? What do they want? What are they thinking? And most of all: How can they possibly support this man?

One reason this task is so difficult is that the Trumpist message is not meant for me. St. Paul was an apostle to the gentiles, but there is no Trumpist apostle to the liberals. No one in the administration is out there translating for me, explaining what parts of the message to take seriously and what parts to ignore. No one is trying to resolve the apparent contradictions, or to make the case that my goals can be achieved by his methods. One symptom of this is White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, who appears on Fox News, but doesn’t hold briefings for the press in general. (Trump’s previous press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has joined Fox News outright.)

As a result, the most widely available version of Trump’s message is the one intended for committed supporters, who already live inside the Fox News alternate reality, where climate change is not real and racism was solved in the 1960s. So if, like me, you live in a world where Russia (and not Ukraine) meddled in our election, where health insurance companies would happily let people die if they could make bigger profits, and tax cuts don’t pay for themselves — well, there is no message for you. Trump’s world has an Us and a Them, and you’re a Them. You’re never going to be invited in.

The Inner Party. It’s easy (and very human) to reflect this attitude back at them: People support Trump because they’re uninformed and gullible. Or because he appeals to their deplorable passions: racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, or Islamophobia, to use Hillary Clinton’s list. Or because they’re rich and selfish; they just want to pay less tax and stop worrying about how much their industries pollute. Or because they just want power.

And if you look, you can confirm that bias: There certainly are Trump supporters who fit all those descriptions. (I’m not denying that point, so don’t argue it with me.) And I am capable of imagining a movement made up entirely of a cynical core surrounded by gullible and manipulated masses. But I have a test that I run when I’m considering such a theory: I picture it from the other side. If I were in that cynical core, how confident would I be that I could make this plan work?

And the answer in this case is: not very. A conspiracy of pure evil-doers is actually fairly hard to hold together, because the vast majority of people don’t like to think of themselves that way. Once you have a core bigger than a cabal, you need some kind of self-justifying story — not just for the gullible masses, but for your own people. There needs to be an explanation of why you are the good guys and why the things you are doing are right, or at least necessary.

To use Orwellian terms, you need an Inner Party message in addition to your Outer Party message. There are, I assume, lots and lots of Trumpists who understand that the Outer Party message is bullshit. I’m sure that a lot of Evangelicals, for example, realize that Trump’s knowledge of Christianity is superficial at best; that he has lived a life of licentiousness, infidelity, and fraud; and that his current administration is full of corruption. They may say “We are all sinners,” as Jerry Falwell Jr. acknowledges, and explain that Christianity is a religion of forgiveness rather than perfection. But they also know that forgiveness requires repentance, a step Trump has never been willing to take.

Republican politicians, likewise, are not generally stupid or gullible people. Lindsey Graham used to see Trump fairly clearly (and used terms like “loser” and “nut job”). They can’t all be intimidated by Trump’s sway over his base voters, either. Ted Cruz surely remembers Trump’s attacks on his father and wife, and having just won re-election in 2018 (along with ten other GOP senators), he doesn’t have to face the voters again until 2024, by which time everyone may have conveniently forgotten that they ever supported Trump. (George W. Bush was once immensely popular among Republicans, but by the 2008 campaign he had become an unperson.)

A lot of people who support Trump are not ignorant, and they are not all motivated by greed or fear. If this is all hanging together, and it seems to be, there has to be an Inner Party message for such people. What could it be?

The Barr speeches. That’s the context that I put around the recent spate of articles examining two Bill Barr speeches. Both of these speeches were given to what I think of as Inner Party audiences.

  • In October, he spoke to the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at Notre Dame, an organization “committed to sharing the richness of the Catholic moral and intellectual tradition”.
  • In November, he delivered a named annual lecture to the Federalist Society’s 2019 National Lawyers Convention. The Federalist Society is a conservative legal organization that is responsible for vetting Trump’s nominees for federal judgeships.

In short, these are both audiences friendly to the Trump administration, but are not the MAGA-hat-wearing yahoos that show up at Trump’s public rallies. Both groups see themselves as having intellectual heft as well as moral purpose. Neither would be satisfied with a screed of obvious lies or slogans like “Lock her up!” or “Build the Wall!”

So this is what Barr offered them: To the Catholics, he spoke about the impossibility of maintaining  liberty without Christianity. To the Federalists, he advocated for the Presidency to shake itself free from the “usurpations” of Congress and the Judiciary.

The Notre Dame speech. Barr’s Notre Dame speech lays out the problem like this:

Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites, and, if unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large. No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity. But, if you rely on the coercive power of government to impose restraints, this will inevitably lead to a government that is too controlling, and you will end up with no liberty, just tyranny.

On the other hand, unless you have some effective restraint, you end up with something equally dangerous – licentiousness – the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good. This is just another form of tyranny – where the individual is enslaved by his appetites, and the possibility of any healthy community life crumbles. …

But what was the source of this internal controlling power? In a free republic, those restraints could not be handed down from above by philosopher kings. Instead, social order must flow up from the people themselves – freely obeying the dictates of inwardly-possessed and commonly-shared moral values. And to control willful human beings, with an infinite capacity to rationalize, those moral values must rest on authority independent of men’s will – they must flow from a transcendent Supreme Being.

This cries out for annotation, which I’ll try to keep short so that I can get on with Barr’s argument: If you wanted a poster boy for “the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the public good”, you could hardly do better than to choose Barr’s boss, President Trump. If you allow corporate persons into the discussion, Exxon-Mobil (which knew the danger of climate change decades ago, but spent millions to keep the public confused about it) or one of the pharmaceutical companies that promoted the opioid crisis would be a good choice.

And unless the “transcendent Supreme Being” decides to express Their authority much more directly than They currently do, God’s will is going to be presented to us through “willful human beings, with an infinite capacity to rationalize”. For example: the Catholic hierarchy, which for decades — perhaps centuries — had no trouble enabling and covering up the sexual misconduct of its priests.

This far I agree with Barr: If a free society is going to work, the public good needs to be supported by moral values freely chosen, rather than rules enforced solely by government power. However, the countries that seem to be doing the best job of maintaining a free society in today’s world are the least religious ones: the Northern European humanist crescent the flows from Finland to Iceland. In the real world, moral values and religion have (at best) a tenuous relationship.

However, Barr takes this relationship as given and proceeds from there: Traditional Christianity is losing its hold on America, and at the same time a number of social ills have gotten worse: births outside of marriage, divorce,

record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence, and a deadly drug epidemic.

The causality here is clear to him: All these negative consequences come from an increase in “secularism”. Thomas Edsall offers a counterpoint here: If this were true, you’d expect the worst effects to show up in the most secular parts of society, but this seems not to be the case.

The white working class constituency that would seem to be most immune to the appeal of the cultural left — the very constituency that has moved more decisively than any other to the right — is now succumbing to the centrifugal, even anarchic, forces denounced by Barr and other social conservatives, while more liberal constituencies are moving in the opposite, more socially coherent, rule-following, direction.

Similarly, the highest rates of births outside of marriage are in the Bible Belt states.

Barr continues: Ordinarily, we’d expect the pendulum to swing back towards social conservatism. As people saw the calamitous results of social change, that change would be stopped, and then turned around. But this time is different, because America is not just dealing with the ordinary tides of culture. This time the story has an active villain: people like me, as best I can tell.

[T]he force, fervor, and comprehensiveness of the assault on religion we are experiencing today … is not decay; it is organized destruction. Secularists, and their allies among the “progressives,” have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values. These instruments are used not only to affirmatively promote secular orthodoxy, but also drown out and silence opposing voices, and to attack viciously and hold up to ridicule any dissenters.

Speaking of ridicule, here how cartoonist Jen Sorensen responded to Barr’s speech:

It is very popular in conservative circles to talk about being “silenced”, despite the awesome wealth and power conservatives command. But the truth doesn’t stretch quite that far: Conservatives, and especially religious conservatives, are used to being the only voices in the room. In the days of mandatory Christian prayer in public schools, there was no equal time for atheists or Buddhists. Gays could be characterized as “deviants”, and women who made their own decisions about sex as “sluts”. Conservative Christians could say these things in public, and no one would respond. No one would dare stand up and say, “Wait, I’m gay, and there’s nothing deviant about it.” or “What happens in my bedroom is none of your business.” No one would strike back and say that the Christian was “judgmental” or “bigoted”.

Now, someone will. Maybe lots of someones. That’s what the Constitution calls “freedom of speech”, but Christians are not used to hearing it. When their opinion is not the last word in a discussion, it seems like persecution to them, even though it’s the normal situation for everyone else.

Barr uses another religious-right buzzphrase when he talks about “a comprehensive effort to drive [our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system] from the public square”. As best I can tell, this refers to another revocation of a special privilege. Christians used to be able to use public resources to promote their point of view: prayers at public events, nativity scenes on the town green, and so on. In recent decades, Christians have often been treated like everyone else and limited to promoting their views with their own resources. (Barr may say “Judeo-Christian”, but when have Jews ever tried to install a Moses-parting-the-Red-Sea model on the town green?) This is quite a come-down, but it is not persecution.

Secular moral values, Barr claims, are different from Christian ones, not just in content but in kind.

Christianity teaches a micro-morality. We transform the world by focusing on our own personal morality and transformation. The new secular religion teaches macro-morality. One’s morality is not gauged by their private conduct, but rather on their commitment to political causes and collective action to address social problems. This system allows us to not worry so much about the strictures on our private lives, while we find salvation on the picket-line. We can signal our finely-tuned moral sensibilities by demonstrating for this cause or that.

This is absurd on both ends: One one side, the anti-abortion movement Barr champions elsewhere in the speech is not a micro-morality; it is an attempt to use the law to constrain the choices of other people. Conservative leaders (Trump, for example) often exhibit horrible personal morality, but they signal their virtue by opposing abortion or gay rights. On the other side of the question, Barr has completely written off a long Catholic social-justice tradition, from Dorothy Day to liberation theology. As Archbishop Hélder Pessoa Câmara once put it, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.”

To sum up: Christianity is at war against an active enemy. Secularists are not just trying to live their own lives as best they can, they are working to tear down the transcendent moral order. If they succeed, the result can only be anarchy or tyranny.

The Federalist Society speech. Barr’s Federalist Society speech inadvertently illustrates a point from his Notre Dame speech: Willful human beings have an infinite capacity to rationalize.

The claimed topic of the speech is “originalism”, the legal doctrine that tries to find the meaning of Constitution in the thinking of the Founders. Since the Founders faced a world far different from ours and could barely have imagined the issues of the 21st century, originalism provides boundless fields for rationalization. Like scripturalism in religion, the resulting propositions don’t have to justified on their own merits, because we did not think of them ourselves, but only found them in the texts written by our prophets.

What Barr finds in the Founders’ collective mind in this speech is a vision of executive power unbound by the other two branches of government.

In the orthodox reading of American history, the structure of American government got remade on two occasions: by Lincoln during the Civil War and by FDR during the Depression and World War II. In each case, executive power expanded, and has kept expanding in recent years, reaching the point where a President can unleash a global nuclear holocaust completely on his own authority. In my view, relating the apocalyptic power of today’s Presidency to Hamilton’s praise of “energy in the executive” is insane.

But that’s not how Barr sees it:

In recent years, both the Legislative and Judicial branches have been responsible for encroaching on the Presidency’s constitutional authority.[original emphasis]

Congress has encroached by refusing to rubber-stamp Trump’s unqualified and often corrupt appointees, and also by attempting to exercise oversight of questionable (and again, often corrupt) administration actions.

I do not deny that Congress has some implied authority to conduct oversight as an incident to its Legislative Power. But the sheer volume of what we see today – the pursuit of scores of parallel “investigations” through an avalanche of subpoenas – is plainly designed to incapacitate the Executive Branch, and indeed is touted as such.

In Barr’s view, this is pure harassment. There is nothing unusual in the Trump administration’s actions that invites these investigations. The most he will grant is this:

While the President has certainly thrown out the traditional Beltway playbook, he was upfront about that beforehand, and the people voted for him.

Of course, the people did not vote for him; the Electoral College did. But leave that aside. Fundamentally, the conflicts with Congress arise because, as in the Notre Dame speech, liberals are villains.

In any age, the so-called progressives treat politics as their religion. Their holy mission is to use the coercive power of the State to remake man and society in their own image, according to an abstract ideal of perfection. Whatever means they use are therefore justified because, by definition, they are a virtuous people pursing a deific end. They are willing to use any means necessary to gain momentary advantage in achieving their end, regardless of collateral consequences and the systemic implications. They never ask whether the actions they take could be justified as a general rule of conduct, equally applicable to all sides.

It’s weird to pull this back to the Notre Dame speech, where conservatives treat religion as their politics. What is an illegitimate “abstract ideal of perfection” for liberals becomes the “moral values” of a “transcendent Supreme Being” when conservatives do it. And what is the conservative project, if not to push women and gays back into an Eisenhower Era “abstract ideal of perfection”? What Barr says here in polemic terms about liberals is just the plain and simple truth when applied to the politics of the Notre Dame speech: Barr quite literally is on a “holy mission” to “remake man and society”. He literally, not figuratively, sees himself “pursing a deific end”.

And that conclusion about using “any means necessary to gain momentary advantage” without asking “whether the actions they take could be justified as a general rule of conduct” is a hair-pulling bit of projection. I mean, does Barr think withholding appropriated funds to coerce a foreign government into doing the President a political favor should be a “general rule of conduct”? Should the President routinely declare a state of emergency whenever Congress refuses to appropriate money for his pet projects? Should the Senate routinely refuse to hold hearings on Supreme Court nominees when the President is of a different party?

Conservatives, in Barr’s view, have failed by being too nice.

conservatives tend to have more scruple over their political tactics and rarely feel that the ends justify the means. And this is as it should be, but there is no getting around the fact that this puts conservatives at a disadvantage when facing progressive holy [fire], especially when doing so under the weight of a hyper-partisan media.

His judicial encroachments on executive power are similar: In his view, the number of court orders stopping Trump from doing what he wants has nothing to do with Trump wanting to do illegal things (like discriminate against Muslims or ignore our asylum laws); it’s just harassment.

Also, he sees no judicial power to arbitrate disputes between Congress and the President, like the current cases about the Wall “emergency” or whether Trump can stop his officials from testifying before impeachment hearings. What this means in practice is that the President has whatever powers he says he has. If, say, the President were simply to instruct the Treasury to start writing checks for all kinds of things Congress had never voted on, it would be a gross usurpation of Congress’ power. But what could Congress do about it on its own? It could pass more laws that the President could ignore, and the usurpations would continue.

He concludes with this:

In this partisan age, we should take special care not to allow the passions of the moment to cause us to permanently disfigure the genius of our Constitutional structure. As we look back over the sweep of American history, it has been the American Presidency that has best fulfilled the vision of the Founders. It has brought to our Republic a dynamism and effectiveness that other democracies have lacked. … In so many areas, it is critical to our Nation’s future that we restore and preserve in their full vigor our Founding principles. Not the least of these is the Framers’ vision of a strong, independent Executive, chosen by the country as a whole.

The underlying issue. Ezra Klein brings in this bit of context.

Robert Jones, president of the Public Religion Research Institute, estimatesthat when Barack Obama took office, 54 percent of the country was white and Christian; by the time he left office, that had fallen to 43 percent. This is largely because young Americans are less white, and less Christian, than older Americans. Almost 70 percent of American seniors are white Christians, compared to only 29 percent of young adults.

In 2018, Americans who claim no religion passed Catholics and evangelicals as the most popular response on the General Social Survey. … [T]he age cohorts here are stark. “If you look at seniors, only about one in 10 seniors today claim no religious affiliation,” Jones told me. “But if you look at Americans under the age of 30, it’s 40 percent.”

That’s at the root of the sense of panic Barr is voicing. This time really is different, because the white Christian majority in America is being lost forever. But Barr portrays this not as a simple changing of the guard, but as the end of a civilization: White Christians must hang onto power, because the alternative is a society without the moral values necessary to maintain a free society.

This, I think, is the essence of the Inner Party message: Trump offers himself as the bulwark against this looming catastrophe. He is the alternative to the too-nice conservatives who have let immigrants keep coming, let liberals secularize the youth, and have been too slow and too tentative about rallying the white Christian vote, stacking the courts with conservative white Christians, and suppressing all other votes. If he cheats in elections, say by getting illegal help from foreign countries, that’s a necessary evil. If he suppresses any attempt to check his power or investigate his corruption, that, too, is a necessary evil. Ultimately, if he loses at the ballot box and has to maintain office by violence, that may be necessary as well, because the alternative is the end of American civilization.

I’ll give Thomas Edsall the last word:

The reality is that Barr is not only selling traditional values to conservative voters, some of whom are genuinely starved for them, he is also marketing apocalyptic hogwash because, for his boss to get re-elected, Trump’s supporters must continue to believe that liberals and the Democratic Party are the embodiment of evil, determined to destroy the American way of life. Relentless pressure to maintain the urgency of that threat is crucial to Trump’s political survival.

And that, I believe, is the Inner Party message.

Keep to the high ground,

“Independent” Money in the Spokane Elections

Spending by special interests in the 2019 Spokane municipal elections shattered the prior record by a factor six. Who spent it? What were they able to buy? What was the timeline and who was the instigator?

By October 30, a week before the November 5th voting deadline, “independent” expenditures topped a million dollars. The previous record for PAC spending in City of Spokane municipal elections was a mere $176,000 (established in 2013).

The 500 pound gorilla of independent expenditure was the Washington Realtors Political Action Committee (WA RPAC). Consider:

1) WA RPAC’s spending in Spokane elections in 2019 totaled $620,000, well more than half of the total $1,114,000 of all the independent expenditures in the Spokane elections.

2) WA RPAC’s $620,000 exceeded the money raised and spent by the official campaigns of the four candidates they supported ($601,000 was the total directly controlled and spent by the Woodward, Wendle, Rathbun, and Cathcart official campaigns combined).

3) WA RPAC’s $620,000 spent on Spokane is more than half of all the money WA RPAC spent on the 2019 elections statewide. Why us?

Spokane Valley resident Tom Hormel and chairman of WA RPAC takes credit. Here he is quoted in the Spokesman two days before the general election:

“If you’re going to get involved, you got to get involved to win,” he said. “If you’re going to spend $300,000 and lose, that’s insanity.”

He spent $620,000 of mostly outside money (See P.S. below), pissed off a lot of people, and still mostly lost.

The timeline of WA RPAC’s and other special interest “independent” spending is worth examining. Without the timing, there is a tendency to dismiss the whole affair as the usual political infighting, a face-off between builders, realtors, and various unions, ho hum, the usual stuff of politics. The data tell a different story, a surprise attack and a gross attempt to buy an election using outside money. The spending totals and the timing of the expenditures are all available at (The numbers I present are rounded to the nearest thousand.)

The opening salvo came from the Washington Realtors Political Action Committee (WA RPAC) with $176,000 expended in support of Woodward, Wendle, Rathbun, and Cathcart, reported to the PDC on July 23th and 26th.* All of this was in advance of the August primary election and long before any countervailing independent expenditures could be gathered and made. Directed by Tom Hormel, WA RPAC waded in with electoral equivalent of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

For a Spokane election this was a never-before-seen incursion of outside funds. It wasn’t until October 9, more than two months later, that the first opposing independent expenditure (of more than $75 dollars) was reported to the PDC. An existing, but very new PAC (established on a shoestring in March of 2019), called Citizens for Liberty and Labor (confusingly listed as “CIT FOR LIBERTY AND LABOR, 2019” at the pdc website) was enlisted and mobilized to respond to the onslaught of money from the Washington Realtors PAC.

With WA RPAC in the lead, Republican interests lavished a total of 870,000 dollars ($620,000 of that was RPAC money) in support of Woodward, Wendle, Rathbun, and Cathcart. (See below at the ** for the breakdown.) Citizens for Liberty and Labor, playing catch-up, managed to gather and spend just 244 thousand in support of only two candidates, Ben Stuckart for Mayor (235K) and Breean Beggs for City Council President (9K).

Republicans, supported by WA RPAC and local wealthy interests, outspent Democrats and Progressives by a 3 to 1 margin. What did they get for their money? The answer depends on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist:

Optimist: All the Republicans achieved with all that money, organization, and strategizing was to maintain the status quo. Woodward replaced Condon for Mayor, Cathcart replaced Mike Fagan for City Council (NE Spokane). Both Condon and Fagan termed out, both have Republican views. The balance of power in city government didn’t change with their replacements.

Pessimist: Trump lost among voters in the City of Spokane in 2016 by a margin of more than 10,000 votes. That $870,000 the Republicans spent counteracted what could have been a massive loss for them. Moreover, they got Michael Cathcart, a realtor/developer favorite, instead of a far right Northwest Grassroots type who might have been a problem for real estate interests (Tim Benn).

Keep to the high ground,

*The “Spokane Good Governance Alliance,” funded by a few wealthy localswith interests in real estate and Republican politics, reported a $10,000 expenditure in favor of Woodward on July 30, further upping the ante before the Primary.

P.S. The galling thing about WA RPAC is its support of a slate of obviously doctrinaire Republican (but nominally “non-partisan”) candidates, mostly political neophytes, using money from all over Washington State. The money that came from local realtors was largely gathered in $35 amounts from often unsuspecting realtors who checked the box on their membership renewal. If I were a realtor, I’d be pissed.

The total contributions to WA RPAC’s coffers from the 986 contributing members with Spokane addresses was only $68,000 (of the $620,000 WA RPAC spent on Spokane’s elections). Nine hundred and ten of those 986 Spokanites (presumably realtors) made donations of $35 or less, i.e. they “checked the box.”

P.P.S. One more optimist viewpoint: Maybe, just maybe, Tom Hormel and his Realtors fouled any reputation for fairness they might once have had with the general public.

**Breakdown of outside expenditures:

Nadine Woodward for Mayor (423K)
Cindy Wendle for City Council President (343K)
Andrew Rathbun for City Council (NW Spokane) (66K)
Michael Cathcart for City Council (NE) (38K).
Total: 870K

Ben Stuckart for Mayor (235K)
Breean Beggs for City Council President (9K)
Total: 244K

Presidential Resignation?

Why did Richard Nixon resign just before the House would have held a vote on his impeachment? We were taught, I think, that the evidence against him was so compelling, the threat to our ideals so clear, that he resigned because it was clear to him that conviction in a Senate trial was inevitable. Maybe Nixon’s reasoning was simpler than that, as Robert Reich points out in a recent piece in The Guardian. Passage of articles of impeachment by the full House may render a President unpardonable. It’s right there in our Constitution (the bold is mine):

The Constitution of the United States, Article II, Section. 2.

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

That’s plain English. Remember that impeachment is equivalent to indictment, not conviction. Impeachment is “the action of calling into question the integrity or validity of something.” It is the Senate trial that determines whether an official is removed from office. The House impeaches, the Senate holds a trial.

If Trump understands this, then he understands what is at stake in a full House vote on impeachment, a vote that could occur before Christmas. He is already under investigation for alleged crimes in the State of New York, state crimes that the federal President (Pence?) is not authorized to pardon. Were Trump impeached by a full House vote, he would be rendered unpardonable for federal crimes as well. He and his allies now claim that, as President, he is not currently liable, but once he is no longer President that immunity evaporates. A full House vote to impeach him would cost him the chance of a pardon, precisely the pardon Nixon got (negotiated?) with Gerald Ford. Does this awareness help explain Trump’s and his defenders’ increasing shrillness as the House proceeds?

Will Trump make this calculation and resign? Not likely. His instinct is to push division and conflict, hoping the propaganda machine he has assembled, his blaming the supposed evil forces of the “deep state,” will keep him in power by harnessing public opinion–broader concerns about the integrity of our governance and our Constitution be damned.

Much has been written over the years about Republicans and Democrats in the time of Nixon, statesman who leaned on Nixon to resign for the good of the country, fearing for the foundations of our governance, statesman who put their oath to the principles upon which this country was founded above their allegiance to their party and to Richard Nixon the man. Nixon chose an abruptly announced, face-saving exit, an exit complete with a presidential library and a mixed legacy. Nixon got all that in part because he resigned. The country was saved by Ford’s pardon of Nixon from a broader convulsion that would likely have followed a prosecution of Nixon’s crime after he left office. It is this chance of a pardon that Trump may be about to give up.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. My initial reaction to Robert Reich’s article was to dismiss it, noting I hadn’t heard any such thing before and there was probably some precedent, some legal opinion, that would undercut the plain words. However, consider this: We have never before had a President in office with so much obvious legal liability swirling around him, so many possibilities for prosecution after his presidency. There is no precedent–there are just the plain words of our Constitution. Bill Clinton didn’t need a pardon to protect him. Andrew Johnson’s impeachable offenses were arguments around Presidential vs. Congressional power, not crimes committed in the private sector. Nixon had enough sense of honor and respect for the country that he resigned rather than fight. If Trump has any such noble instincts he has yet to show them.

P.P.S. Andrew Johnson, after survival of his impeachment trial in the Senate, returned to Tennessee after his presidency ended in 1868 (Johnson did not run in the 1868 election). He eventually returned to politics. He went back to Washington in 1875, elected to the U.S. Senate by the legislature of Tennessee (that was before the 17th Amendment in 1912 that made Senators subject to the popular vote). Johnson’s return to Washington was made possible in part by the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the suppression of voting of African Americans, and their resultant lack of voice in the Tennessee legislature, all of which Johnson’s policies as President tended to promote. Can you imagine Donald Trump quietly leaving office and pursuing a career as a politician? (See the section under Andrew Johnson “Post-presidency and return to Senate” in wikipedia.

Our Regional Reputation

Matt Shea, Northwest Grassroots, and Rod Higgins, Mayor of the City of Spokane Valley, are making national news, this time in the Los Angeles Times, further sullying our region’s reputation in the eyes of the rest of the country. We need to pay attention, not by decrying the publicity, but by reacting to it in a way that makes news and deals with these putrid ideologies that have once again emerged in our midst. The last time our regional reasons for shame were so much on display was during the time of Richard Butler and the Aryan Nationscompound near Hayden Lake (intermittently in the news between 1980 and 2000). The implicit message of the article: the Aryan Nations compound has been bulldozed, but the ideology it nurtured never went away.

I encourage everyone to click and read the LA Times article, “Far-right Washington state lawmaker faces backlash against white nationalism.” Besides Matt Shea (WA LD4 Rep) and Rod Higgins, the Mayor of the City of Spokane Valley (at least until January), the article ties in the Marble Community in Stevens County and “…Spokane’s Covenant Church, whose Pastor Ken Peters, the end-days preacher who told congregants recently that the government was coercing Christians.” Peters leads the disruptive protests near Ruby and Division in Spokane, disguised as a church, “The Church at Planned Parenthood.

The results of an independent investigation into Shea’s activities was presented to the Washington legislature last Monday, December 2. It will be made public in the coming weeks. The terms under which Shea will continue to “serve” (or not) as a State Representative from Legislative District 4 (Spokane valley north to Mt. Spokane) to the legislature in Olympia, Washington, will likely depend on that investigation.

These folks deserve all the negative publicity we can provide them.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. During the time of Richard Butler and the Aryan Nations there were two schools of thought as to how to deal with such hate groups: 1) Ignore them, don’t give them a platform, and they’ll eventually get tired and go away vs. 2) Shine a spotlight on them, shame them, attack them by all legal means. With people like Shea, Higgins, and Heather Scott (ID State Rep from North Idaho) having infiltrated our governance and with websites and Facebook already providing a glossy platform  (check out the Church at Planned Parenthood website or the Liberty State website) the time for ignoring these people is long past.

Senate Impeachment Trials

So far only two U.S. Presidents have been impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives and only those two Presidents, Andrew Johnson (in 1868) and William Jefferson Clinton (in 1999), have been tried by the U.S. Senate. Richard Nixon (in 1973-74) was not impeached. He resigned right after the majority (including six Republicans) on the House Judiciary Committee passed three articles of impeachment to the House floor and before the full House had a chance to vote on those articles. This week (of December 2) the House Judiciary Committee takes up the crafting of articles of impeachment against Donald J. Trump, responding to the report from the House Intelligence committee (chaired by Adam Schiff).

Leaving aside Nixon, the evidence and the crimes that led to his resignation, we would do well to review the two U.S. Presidential impeachments that went to a trial in the Senate.

The Senate trial of Bill Clinton in 1999 was held on two articles of impeachment, Perjury and Obstruction of Justice, both stemming from sexual acts, not direct matters of state. (This was back in the time most Republicans still pretended to care about sexual indiscretions.) The Senate acquitted Clinton of both articles. The overall vote on each count fell well short of the 2/3 supermajority (i.e. 67 votes) necessary to convict. In fact, neither article reached even a simple majority of 51, even in a Republican majority Senate. “The perjury charge was defeated with 55 “not guilty” votes and 45 “guilty” votes. On the obstruction-of-justice article, the chamber was evenly split, 50-50.” For the roll call vote click here. Ten Republican Senators voted “not guilty” on the article of Perjury, five voted “not guilty” on the article of Obstruction of Justice.]

The Senate trial of Andrew Johnson was held in 1868, a tumultuous time in our history, three years after the close of the Civil War. The nation was focused on deciding the terms under which the southern states might be re-admitted to the union, as well as social and political reorganization following the abolition of slavery. Andrew Johnson, a Democrat from Tennessee, the only Confederate state readmitted to the Union at this time, was not an elected President. He was elevated to the office from the vice presidency after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. (See P.S. below) In the manner of Democrats of the time, Johnson wanted the former Confederate States readmitted with minimal federal restrictions around the treatment of former slaves. He was extremely unpopular in the North–and with the representatives of those northern states that dominated the Congress. Such support as he had was derived from the border states still in the Union or Tennessee, his home state and the only Confederate state readmitted at the time of his presidency. At the time of Johnson’s impeachment trial in the Senate the other ten of the former Confederate States remained outside the Union with none of their twenty Senators seated in the U.S. Senate.

The articles of impeachment under which Andrew Johnson was tried in the Senate revolved around presidential power to appoint members of his cabinet. The dispute in 1868 was over Johnson’s defiance of a law the Senate had passed seeking to block him from dismissing any member his cabinet. In particular the law was meant to protect the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, a Radical Republican of the Lincoln administration who did not share Johnson’s views on re-admittance of Confederate states.

An aside: It is ironic (and confusing for the reader) that the Republican Party in 1868 was the party of the north, abolitionist and generally disposed toward integrating African Americans into society, whereas the current Republican Party coddles its white supremacist and Christian Identity voters to remain in power.

In spite of a supermajority of Republican Senators (45 Republicans to 9 Democrats served in the Senate in 1868) the Senate failed to convict Johnson, falling one vote short of the necessary 36 votes (2/3 supermajority). Ten of the Republican (northern, ordinarily abolitionist) Senators voted against convicting President Andrew Johnson in 1868. Not one of them ever served in public office again. Northern voters were in no mood to forgive Senators who were seen as coddling the South. The wikipedia article on the Johnson impeachment and trial is instructive.

The likely trial of Donald J. Trump in the U.S. Senate will turn on a crime that threatens the foundation of our democracy. Donald Trump attempted to extort a personal electoral favor by withholding essential funds authorized by Congress. The favor was the mere announcement of an investigation into a likely electoral opponent, an announcement meant to sow doubt to influence the 2020 election. That allegation against Donald Trump is at the same level of national importance as the crimes of which Nixon was accused and over which Nixon resigned. Both the Clinton and Johnson trials were both focused on narrower issues, Senate prerogative and sexual misconduct. It is non-sensical to argue we should not impeach Donald Trump, but instead rely on electoral judgement in November of 2020 when the very nature of his crime was to sway the election.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. What? Did you notice that Abraham Lincoln, often thought of as the founder of what was then called the Republican Party, ran in 1864 with Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, as his vice president? A Republican and a Democrat on the same ticket?! They ran on the National Union Party ticket, a temporary name for the Republicans. They won by an overwhelming majority (55% of the popular vote) in 1864 in a nation (composed only of northern states) that was exhausted by the ongoing Civil War. The name, National Union Party, was calculated to attract votes from the many who would under no circumstances otherwise vote Republican. Politics was complicated then, too, something we ought not forget.