Yes, this is a political post. If you don’t like those, don’t read it. In fact, it could very well offend every single one of my readers.
Based on news reports, it now seems likely that the Senate will call no witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Trump. The Senate could vote not to remove him by the end of the day.
I was struck by the reasoning of retiring Republican Senator Lamar Alexander on why there is no reason to hear from former National Security Advisor John Bolton:
Of all the things that have changed since Trump was elected, perhaps the most important is the end of shame. Shame used to keep presidents from demonizing journalists, and from saying things that were provably untrue. Shame used to force lawmakers to vote their conscience, not just follow the party. Shame kept Congress from generating record deficits, and shame prevented presidents from becoming cozy with reprehensible strongmen like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un.
Now that shame is gone, either party can do whatever it wants. And this cuts both ways. Consider this parable of a future highly leftist president elected in the Trump backlash. President L does not seem like any of the candidates now running for the Democratic nomination, but that’s not the point — the point is what could happen.
The triumphal reign of President L
President L took office amid a wave of disgust and outrage. The Democratic party had reinforced a commanding majority in the House, flipped the Senate to a Democratic majority, and swept governors’ mansions and state houses across the land. President L took the oath of office, and looking out over the enthusiastic crowd, thought, “I’d better get things done.”
And under a new banner — Fairness for All — President L began the work.
The first step was the journalistic license. It had become clear that Fox News and Breitbart were at the center of the cancer that had created Trumpism. So President L appointed a new FCC head and created a new journalistic license regime. All outlets — broadcast, cable, or internet; text-based or video-based — would have to pass a test of journalistic balance and require equal time for all viewpoints, much like the once-revered Fairness Doctrine. The new fairness doctrine required that all government press conferences be covered live on all news channels. This gave President L and the president’s surrogates instant access at any desired moment to the public.
This was accompanied by a law that required an annual license examination. Republicans in the Senate were incensed. So at President L’s urging, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader finally abolished the filibuster rule, and a simple majority passed the law.
Having removed a constant source of criticism, President L turned to voting rules. It was clear that red-state and rural voters had been receiving unfair advantages. The recently completed census had clearly undercounted urban and immigrant residents. So President L implemented a new rule that added a 20% “city fairness correction” to the counts of urban voters in each state. Another law required that all voting districts within 100 miles of a city include at most 75% city residents. This dramatically changed the voting landscape — in blue states, it demanded new gerrymanders that favored Democrats, and in red states, it prevented gerrymanders that diluted blue-voting city dwellers. Another voting rule required that, for efficiency, rural voting places must be at least 50 miles apart — but had the net effect of making voting much more difficult for rural residents.
The law seemed headed to the Supreme Court, so President L nominated six new Supreme Court justices. (The number of justices is not specified in the Constitution; President L just requested and got enthusiastic support for a law that packed the court with the new nominees.) “After all we’ve been through, this is the only way to restore fairness — and quickly,” proclaimed the president.
On the foreign policy front, President L began to reach out to governments that had been shunned by President Trump. France, Norway, and Canada received warm welcomes. But President L also made new connections with the pariahs — the presidents of Cuba, Venezuela, and the newly recognized state of Palestine. Russia and Saudi Arabia received the cold shoulder.
In a stroke, private ownership of guns became illegal. The new Supreme Court backed the executive order, ruling that the Second Amendment applied only to well regulated militias, and none of the gun owners could prove they were part of such a group.
Money flowed into the government after a shift in taxes that reached into the deep pockets of billionaires and corporations. Facebook and Twitter were taken over by the government, which generated even more profits. Some of the same money flowed out once again in the form of guaranteed income for all residents. This immensely popular redistribution of wealth ensured that previously disenfranchised urban and immigrant voting blocs were firmly behind the president. And they also began to win over rural folks who no longer had a constant stream of right-leaning media to tell them what to think.
Republican critics continued to claim that President L had abused the Constitution, neutered the Congress, swamped the courts and thwarted the will of the people. They pointed to corrupt deals that encouraged billionaires like George Soros and Michael Bloomberg to advertise and fund Democratic candidates with unlimited advertising, but prevented corporate PACs from doing the same for Republicans. “Free speech is only fair,” responded the president.
In the subsequent presidential election, it became increasingly clear that President L had encouraged Iran to hack into voting machines in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. There was talk of impeachment. But the Trump precedent, as articulated by Lamar Alexander and stridently represented by Alan Dershowitz, stated that any action taken by the President in the interest of the country — which, by definition, was also the interest of the president — was not grounds for impeachment. In any case, the party regulars in Congress dared not vote against the immensely popular president, at the risk of being flamed by their captive media outlets. So the talk of impeachment died down, and the scandal made no difference.
When President L was finally reelected — despite some precincts in Florida with some very odd voting results on screen-based voting machines — it was clear that the change in government was here to stay.
On the first day of the new presidential term, President L began the push for a constitutional amendment repealing the two-term limit on presidents. Nothing remained in the way.
We must step back
The objective of this parable is not to get you to vote Republican, or to vote Democrat. I hope that you will vote for the candidate whose principles you trust — and one who, still, will feel shame at the worst practices that politics now embodies.
If we lurch between imperial, unstoppable, and shameless presidents of either party, we are lost. Trump has shown that in the absence of shame and without limits on intimidation, there are no boundaries to presidential behavior. No matter who is president, this is a threat to the checks and balances that have made America relatively workable despite its divisions — until now.
We must restore shame and balance. This is the most important question before you as you vote and engage with government. The founders feared imperial presidential power and corrupt leadership — regardless of the politics of the person wielding it.
Trumpism terrifies me. But a dictatorial American system terrifies me more.