Shameless

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.

14 responses to “Shameless

  1. Thinking bigger than the mess in Congress, I am not sure anyone has ever found a need for “shame.”

    Shaming is a bully move and being ashamed is a form of self-deprecation. Neither serves any useful purpose.

    Zooming into politics, it appears it is the same as the rest of life–our memories fail us. I am old enough to remember LBJ and Nixon. Within four years, we had forgotten LBJ and condemned Nixon for the routine. Norms had shifted and no one had told Dick. Neither were ashamed, although both were shamed.

    Just as LBJ and JFK would have laughed at Nixon, Nixon would have laughed at Trump. And maybe “at” is the wrong word; they would not have understood all the fuss. Politics has been dirty since war began, and the end of the British monarchy did little to change that.

    So, let us ship the shame game and move towards something the serves a useful purpose.

    I advocate a healthful debate on the roles of government and the three branches. A look at the foundation, the Constitution, would be welcome too. I would prefer a positive approach–say what the various parties are to do, rather than what they are not to do, but I would be interested in other approaches to update and consolidate the expectations. Realize opening up the Constitution is risky, but is it as risky as what has happened since 1787?

      1. Semantics in act upon others v. act upon oneself. Both are always harmful to many.

        I am not sure when that world was. I was born in 1966 and that world never existed in my lifetime. And in my political science studies, I never heard of it. Was it a Disney(R) movie that I missed?

      2. Your jargon post jarred my memory that maybe I thought “No BS” meant “no blame or shame.” It seems fitting as none of the three serve a purpose.

  2. I loved reading this. I read everything related to this topic and it’s seriously affecting my mental health. Reading this allowed me to smile and realize that I was still rational.
    I’m not sure how the country will recover its reason and integrity, but if my own response to the last 3 years is at all common, we will pay more attention, get more involved and try to understand how to communicate with each other.

    And seriously restaff our elected officials.

    1. I agree with Jean. I feel a low anxiety daily on what else is going to happen or be destroyed. Worrying absolutely affects my work. I do hope that there is backlash against these lawless senators …. and shameless group that supposedly works for the people. It is a long and scary year ahead. I do wonder a bit if Pelosi was prepared for this scenario and if she has anything in her back pocket.

  3. Extensive piece. You spent a lot of time on this, and I applaud you for being as ‘level’ as you can. In these days of journalistic malfeasance, that is a rare trait indeed.

    I will not comment except for my opinion IMHO, the media shares a lot of blame in this current state of affairs.
    * The media turns opinion and hearsay into facts and truth.
    * The media is above the law and can commit slander, defamation and fraud as they wish
    * The media spreads their opinion and misinformation before the facts are discovered
    * When one outlet publishes misinformation, they all repeat it instead of proofing it
    * Social media then fans the flames of misinformation spread by the main stream.
    * Even when an outlet is correct, society may reject it because it’s not main stream.

    Remember, if the media had not flamed the hate surrounding the Charlottesville protests, and nobody came, nobody would have died. Then the media invented and spread “The Charlottesville Lie”*. It was echoed far and wide, a hundreds of thousands of times, flaming hatred even more.

    People have forgotten or don’t remember that everything they see on the internet and social media may be an opinion, which may have nothing to do with logic, facts, or the truth.

    I”ve spent thousands of hours debunking fake news and false memes that my friends have shared or posted on Facebook — so much so that I’m starting to feel like it’s a waste of time. Some of my “teachable moments” have been blocked by Facebook, Twitter and Google because they do not agree with the main stream narrative. Most of my researched corrections are met with vile, pernicious comments flaming me — for trying to do what’s right.

    My fear is that the level voices, or the calm voices that need to be heard will be ignored by those who need to listen the most — we’re shouted down, denied, berated and lost in the din of the tunnel-vision, narrow minded, biased, and angry. Maybe those who don’t say anything at all, are the ones that everyone should be listening to!

    Your essay above attempts to support intelligence and logic in the approach to all the garbage we’re bombarded with on a daily basis. I applaud you for that. Keep up the good work.

    Fred Showker

    * The Charlottesville Lie : http://bit.ly/2vFzGEX
    * Bolton’s Brilliant Bombshell : http://bit.ly/2S5p4Xv
    #TheLastDayOfTruth

  4. I think you hit the nail on the head. We spend a lot of time being ashamed of shame, and it’s time we recognized that it plays a role in holding society together and inside the guardrails. I trembled a little at the potential for false equivalence, but in the end I think you’re right – the problem is that we are each certain that our viewpoint is the right one, and we don’t care any more about who gets hurt when we push our agenda. Thanks for writing the piece.

  5. Thoughtful post, Josh. The sad truth is that it is all about what we as a public will accept.

    We get a president that is shameless only because a large portion found him acceptable.

    To put the onus on the president, (and/or the media, as someone mentioned) implies that the public is easily manipulated. Maybe so – Scott Adams of Dilbert fame believes much of the populace are meat-puppets, shaped by whatever message fills their heads.

    Perhaps, we have given too much power to our governments!?

    As a result, it makes our elections much too important, and attracts many of the wrong kinds of people. We certainly see plenty of bad examples in the House and Senate, as well as the president.

    The Dems (and their advocates in the media) have over-wroughtly played their hand on the issue of impeachment, since 2017.

    The GOP (and their media acolytes) have no backbone to stick to the principles they espoused since the Clinton era, and cower under this president, looking for any incoherent, non-sensical argument to avoid accountability and responsibility.

    We each need to (continue to) be the examples we want to see, and advocate for such.

    Just because there always were people for whom shame wasn’t a barrier, doesn’t mean we don’t hold to and expect a standard of behavior (there were enough GOP Senators who were prepared to hold Nixon accountable – not so much today).

    Ultimately, we need to be advocating a draw down of what government does for us, lest we, one day, with this to and fro team sport between parties, end up with a true autocracy, as we no longer seem to have anyone in any branch of government to say “No!”

  6. Impeachments are by definition political acts and are decided by political means. Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon (who dodged the bullet by resigning), Bill Clinton, and now Donald Trump were all essentially impeached because the opposition party loathed them and had the votes.

    The scenario you lay out is in some senses far fetched but not so much in others. The country is so divided on watershed issues that only naked political power applying means justified only by the ends shamelessly will tip the balance prematurely.

    This is far from unprecedented. FDR changed the nation forever through just that type of ruthlessness. The scales tipped via backlash that prevented him from his resolution to pack the Supreme Court. Once the depths of the depression passed, the country wasn’t ready for the full blown socialism he espoused. He shamelessly broke sacrosanct precedent by securing four terms, the last of which he was obviously unqualified for based on his failing health, While MacArthur was deemed the American Caesar, FDR was in fact just that, and he essentially turned the republic he inherited into the imperial presidency we’ve had ever since.

    At some point his work will be completed, probably by The Squad generation. Their constituents will have been conditioned by union educators to view what is contested today as obvious. The real risk is how the unconverted will react when the scenarios you cite become realities.

    In my view, the blue states should become more closely aligned with the Federal government, while the red states remain independent as intended by the Founders. The former will be driven into Puerto Rico style receivership by their unsustainable finances, The latter can serve as a safety valve for the powerful emotions unleashed by the inevitable triumph of the progressive majority.

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