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The plot against America


I’m front paging this comment from Mark Jamison, because I think it makes about a good a case as can be made for at least a certain degree of optimism about how American institutions are withstanding Trump in particular, and the contemporary authoritarian ethno-nationalist mutation of the Republican party in general:

I am not by nature an optimist but the way this is playing out gives me some hope that our institutions are weathering Trump. Between his fundamental incompetence and his total disrespect for institutions Trump is actually allowing those institutions to work.

Hiring Bill Barr was an unforced error. Barr’s history was bad enough to weaken his credibility but the asinine memo he wrote that brought him to Trump’s attention in the first place places him solidly in the territory of a partisan hack. The two pieces mentioned in the OP shred him completely.

We don’t know what’s in the Mueller report. What we do know is that Mueller is professional and circumspect. He’s not the sort to pull a Comey and scream, “Look what a hero I am.”. Instead he’s a methodical prosecutor who is not going to get out over his skis. I have a feeling that when the report finally hits the light of day that Barr’s memo will look even more risible than it seems now.

Some folks are decrying the fact that Mueller didn’t indict Junior or Jared but I suspect Mueller was very circumspect in his indictments sticking as closely as possible to his brief. That he didn’t indict anyone that close to Trump is most likely an indication that he made a decision to only file indictments that he felt totally secure with in terms of getting a conviction. Marcy Wheeler has said over and over that Mueller’s indictments will tell the story. There are still trials to be held, most notably Stone’s, and the evidence presented in those trials will likely be pieces in future investigations and indictments.

Mueller and his team endured months of Trump’s crap. The best way to have handled that was to stick to the facts and cases he could prove and let the system work down the line. Trump and his minions may be taking a victory lap but this is and has always been a long hard slog. Multiple investigatory bodies have a myriad of threads to pull. For all his bluster and bullshit Trump hasn’t been able to stop the sweater from unwinding.

Getting rid of Trump and more importantly eviscerating the Republican Party was never going to be easy or quick. Impeachment won’t remove Trump and McConnell would turn the trial into a circus. I would like Trump gone tomorrow, preferably naked and broke and in some fashion that would make Mussolini feel better about his end. I would dearly love to see the Republican Party reduced to the sort of ashes that Sherman left in his wake.

But I wonder if letting the process work, if letting our institutions take the blows and respond not in a Capraesque happy ending but in a slow, thorough, and methodical march towards justice isn’t just what we need to scare the shit out a portion of the American public. Trump has polled consistently around 40% never going higher than 42% and rarely sinking to 38%. Half of his supporters are deplorables, irredeemable racists and greedheads but some portion of the other half are the people who join a mob and at some point become ashamed of themselves – Oxbow Incident but hopefully before the lynchings.

I am not trying to make a heighten the contradictions argument, there are too many decent Americans who don’t deserve this shit and far too many who don’t deserve the utter cruelty embodied in the Trump administration. Barr’s memo on the investigation was too slick. The 40% of the public that support Trump would have believed anything, Barr’s job was to sow some doubt in at least a portion of the other 60%. Instead he wrote such a worthless piece of crap memo that Trump didn’t get a whole news cycle – he got a stunned weekend with the pushback growing each day – see the polling Steve LaBonne referred to.

So Trump remains in office and each day he does he proposes something more egregious and evil than the day before. One day it’s Betsy Devoes shredding the Special Olympics and the next it’s total war on the ACA which the American public broadly supports. And each day a few people in the mob start to go WTF. And slowly but surely our institutions tighten the noose on Trump. I hope the final drop comes before he gets us in a war but I am more and more certain it will come.

Getting rid of Trump isn’t enough. Shredding the Republican Party but leaving it with some life isn’t enough. We can’t return to a status quo ante where 40% are an existential threat to whatever decency remains in the American project while thinking that the majority of the country is an existential threat. There will always be crazies and maybe our system and history means the paranoid style will always be with us but given that we are more or less stuck with a constitution that is deeply flawed we cannot live with an element of crazies that approach 40%, that’s just about enough to take advantage of the structural flaws in the system. Trump and the Republicans need to be so damaged and discredited that a significant percentage of the mob will wake up or at least feel shame.

I think that can happen. I think this is a long way from over. Barr’s memo is a piece of shit, we know it and they know it too. Mueller’s actual report will be a significant piece of the puzzle and it must be made public. The investigations in the House must go forward. The pieces of investigations with various state and federal prosecutors must go forward.

And the people who care about justice better be ready for a long hard slog. That means contesting every election and challenging. Some folks can do more than others but everyone must do what they can.

I am not an optimistic man by nature. I have a hard time believing Dr. King’s vision of the long arc of history bending towards justice. But I have to believe that there are enough decent people in this country to stop a slide into fascism and chaos. For all its flaws I have to believe, if only for my own sanity, that America can mean something good and worthwhile.

A critical question of fact is the extent to which Mark’s estimate here is at least roughly correct:

“Trump has polled consistently around 40% never going higher than 42% and rarely sinking to 38%. Half of his supporters are deplorables, irredeemable racists and greedheads but some portion of the other half are the people who join a mob and at some point become ashamed of themselves – Oxbow Incident but hopefully before the lynchings.” [emphasis added]

I assume various social scientists have been trying to tease out the answer to exactly how big that redeemable portion of the electorate actually is.  (We’re going to have a nationwide natural experiment on that question next year of course).

Trump got elected with just about the lowest possible percentage of the overall vote that it was possible for the winning candidate to get in what was still basically a two-candidate race.  He has no margin for losing any support and then getting re-elected, unless a real third party challenge should throw a monkey wrench into the calculus. (Side point: This is why you shouldn’t buy anything at Starbucks until Howard Schultz abhors himself and repents. I agree with people who say its far from clear whether Schultz can attract more support than the usual nitwits who vote for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, and that it’s also unclear whether he would hurt the Democratic nominee more than he would hurt Trump. The point is that Democrats should win a straight-up contest with Trump, so complications of this sort are presumptively undesirable).

So there are plenty of reasons for optimism in regard to the specific matter of getting rid of Trump relatively soon.  As Mark and many others here and elsewhere have pointed out, getting rid of Trump is just one step in a very long hard struggle to overcome the fascist turn in American politics.  But its an absolutely essential step in that journey.

Speaking of fascism, here is Umberto Eco’s boyhood memory of the day Italy was finally liberated from far more desperate circumstances:

In April 1945, the partisans took over in Milan. Two days later they arrived in the small town where I was living at the time. It was a moment of joy. The main square was crowded with people singing and waving flags, calling in loud voices for Mimo, the partisan leader of that area. A former maresciallo of the Carabinieri, Mimo joined the supporters of General Badoglio, Mussolini’s successor, and lost a leg during one of the first clashes with Mussolini’s remaining forces. Mimo showed up on the balcony of the city hall, pale, leaning on his crutch, and with one hand tried to calm the crowd. I was waiting for his speech because my whole childhood had been marked by the great historic speeches of Mussolini, whose most significant passages we memorized in school. Silence. Mimo spoke in a hoarse voice, barely audible. He said: “Citizens, friends. After so many painful sacrifices … here we are. Glory to those who have fallen for freedom.” And that was it. He went back inside. The crowd yelled, the partisans raised their guns and fired festive volleys. We kids hurried to pick up the shells, precious items, but I had also learned that freedom of speech means freedom from rhetoric.


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