Auribus teneo lumpum.

DISCLAIMER: All predictions should be viewed through the lens of how wrong I was when that I said there would never be a special prosecutor.

Since Douthat’s now-infamous Amendment XXV op-ed brought the constitutional shenanigans out of the depths of the Blawgs into the mainstream discourse, I’ve found myself asking yet again what we the opposition are expecting to accomplish.  Not-Trump is, in the abstract, a worthy goal, especially with no one worse looming on the horizon yet.  In practice, achieving not-Trump by not-electoral means is likely to bring with it a host of other, more interesting problems.  As a connoisseur I find these fascinating, but as a citizen I’m not so enthusiastic.  There are three constitutionally legitimate ways of achieving not-Trump before 2020: resignation, impeachment, or Amendment XXV. Resignation is boring and I’ll eat my hat if it happens. The other two options have a common obstacle: neither of them would have any popular legitimacy.

The advantage of impeachment is that it’s hard to call it undemocratic: it’s right there in the constitution and only elected officials are involved. However, the absence of consensus makes it unlikely that Congress will risk the process in the first place. Impeachment has to follow public opinion. Most likely we will only see action from Congress if a critical mass of Republican voters are demanding Trump gets the hook, otherwise it’ll just be Clinton Redux.  Then, I’m not persuaded by the argument that Amendment XXVing him is inherently undemocratic: it’s initiated by the cabinet, but it still requires the consent of 2/3rds of Congress if you’re going to make it stick. It doesn’t seem to be within the original intent of the amendment, which was to provide a mechanism for replacing the president if he was incapacitated but not killed in an assassination attempt, but creatively literalist legal interpretation is a noble American tradition.  Of course, that doesn’t matter: when the average member of the People can’t name their own senator, we shouldn’t expect them to grasp, let alone get behind, this sort of casuistic constitutional contortion.

The practical objection to Amendment XXVing him out is that the now-infamous groveling meeting where everyone except Mattis pledged their eternal love for Our Glorious Leader suggests that the cabinet would not be interested in doing any such thing. The speculative objection to Amendment XXVing him is that, if successful, it does nothing to solve any crisis of legitimacy—  it makes it far worse.  Theoretically it puts him where he can’t trash institutions or start a war on Twitter, but as soon as the process is started, we’ve got ourselves a Type II constitutional crisis. It begins with the most spectacular Twitter hissy fit ever seen in this mortal vale of tears and probably the firing of the entire cabinet. Next comes exhausting quarrels over the meaning of “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” both on the floor of Congress and in the public discourse. No consensus will ever be reached.  We’re stuck with a Mexican standoff in DC.  The conflict totally consumes Congress. Trump and Pence are both insisting on their authority, and the rest of the executive is trying to function with even less leadership than usual, since there’s neither the time nor the inclination to confirm replacements.  SCOTUS is trying to referee a situation that has no precedent except perhaps the Western Schism. At least half, and likely more, of the People won’t be having it.  The National Mall could fill with dueling protest camps. After that it’s probably not safe to make predictions.

In a piece called “The Guardrails Cannot Contain Trump”, Krauthammer vagueblogs at Douthat and despite the title goes on about how when guardrails are failing we must strengthen the guardrails. Krauthammer and all the other Very Serious People are correct insofar when you’re trying to keep a constitution together, tricks tend to be an own-goal, but we cannot say in advance that Trump will be worse than some kind of strange state of exception any more than we can say that such a state of exception will be worse than Trump.  The problem is that the Very Serious People don’t offer any serious suggestions on how we’re supposed to shore up the norms and institutions.  Our legislative deadlock is not new, and it’s not improving.  “Congress should redouble oversight” is just screaming into the void: the failure of the system is largely due to the longstanding unwillingness of Congress to properly perform its oversight role, or to exercise a number of other powers it constitutionally possesses over the executive.  The bureaucracy will fall: when the principled resign in protest, their positions get filled by weasels or go unfilled altogether.  Douthat’s idea is crazy, but at least he’s aware that we’ve run out of good choices.

When I started this post, I was convinced that neither impeachment nor Amendment XXV would happen.  After tonight’s Russia-Thing-related stories, I’m not so sure.   We’re out of good choices, but we have to choose anyway.

Advertisements

Everyone needs to take several deep breaths and read a book about the Spanish Civil War.

Swear to God this is how you get masked centrists storming a building and threatening to shoot a hostage an hour until everyone sits down and has a civilized cross-factional dialogue.

I did my civic duty and went to Tax March DC yesterday, because lord knows il Douche needs to see yelling hordes demanding to see his taxes.  I went to Tax March DC expecting to march about the tax returns.  I had a flag and a sign and a snarky t-shirt and everything.  In retrospect this was foolish of me and I never should have allowed myself to be taken in.

There are many more people angry about the lack of tax returns than there are people who happen to share the specific economic agenda of some of the organizers of the event.  If the priority here is getting Congress and OGE to do something about creeping kleptocracy, the best tactic is to make the march as non-ideological and broadly appealing as possible.  This is not what they did.  Instead, they mixed in a menu of progressive economic policy items which alienated a lot of people who despise corruption but hold different policy positions.  There were also a series of identity-based non-sequiturs: there’s a prize for anyone who can tell me what his tax returns have to do with intersectional feminism.

We need to get back to a place where we can have a normal policy debate.  That is not possible right now.  The authoritarian populist thrives on polarization: he needs an internal enemy to demonize, or everyone will notice that he has no clothes.  When progressives rightly demand that Republicans denounce and oppose Trump, and then shut them out of the resistance on other policy grounds when they do, they are playing directly into his tiny tiny hands.  A resistance that apparently goes out of its way to alienate opponents of the populist who do not share their policy goals will drive those potential allies back towards the populist in the end.  Take alliances where you can get them.  An opposition party adequately alarmed by the threat that the populist poses in himself should try to build as broad a coalition as possible, rather than attempting to hitch their own economic wagon to the fortunes of the opposition.  This is going to end in the failure of both of their goals.  There are many people with substantial policy disagreements who share a determination to stand up against authoritarian populist horseshit.  Americans hate corruption and tax cheaters: we threw the British out and bonded into a nation over our shared hatred of unfair taxation.  It’s sort of our hat.  If you seek alliances, they will join you.  If you demand ideological purity, you might still get Evan McMullin and Country Over Party to show up, but you won’t get a coalition.

Instead I’m left with the impression that certain progressive factions are trying to use warranted alarm over the regime to mobilize the base, when they should be panicking about democracy and seeking alliances wherever they can find them.  Certainly economic solutions are part of the strategy to crowbar some support away from the populist, but that’s for the campaign trail, not for an anti-corruption demonstration.  The insistence on ideological purity suggests that either progressive organizers aren’t aware of the scope of the threat or even that in some cases they don’t believe their own rhetoric.  Perhaps they’ve managed to cry wolf on themselves: when you’ve been telling yourself and your supporters for years that your opponent is a wannabe tyrant and an existential threat, you find you’ve lost your sense of urgency when that turns out to finally be true.  Or perhaps it’s cynical political calculus combined with failure of imagination.  Or maybe they’re just short-sighted and strategically illiterate.

No one ever got into a position of authority by gleefully celebrating ideological impurity, however, so I’ll probably have to content myself with grumbling in cheap kabob restaurants after protests and yelling on the internet.  We’re all fucked.

Anyway Happy Easter.

What noise does a pigeon make?

In the last week or so there has been a lot of loose— if mostly somewhat deniable— talk about coups flying around in both the blogosphere and parts of the mainstream press.  Some of it has been Kremlinological divination of the worst sort, as in the case of this post from Yonatan Zunger on Medium, which later was justly mocked by Politico.  The rest of it has been apparently neutral speculation: for example, the textbook example of apophasis at the end of this piece by David A. Graham at the Atlantic, a throat-clearing Morsi analogy from Ross Douthat (who should certainly know better), and this here bit of pseudonymous blatancy at the Daily Kos.  There are certainly other examples out there for the finding.

First off, not only is this sort of talk almost cartoonishly antidemocratic, but a coup is invariably at least as bad as the disease, and a failed coup is always worse.  However, I’m not particularly interested in the chances of actual tanks rolling any time soon when no one should even be talking about this in the first place.

Not that it hasn’t been making the rounds: in fact I’ve been waiting for coup talk to jump the air gap between the infrasonic Beltway buzz and the press for about two months now.  Up until this point it’s mostly been confined to the realm of whispered conversations between panicking political scientists in the darker corners of the more dimly-lit U Street bars on Thursday nights, where it tends to be brought up in the course of a worst case risk-assessment exercise, alongside the much more plausible horrors of il Douche and Bannon with technically-constitutional emergency powers (the only person I’ve heard speak of the idea favorably was my Uber driver on New Years Eve, who suggested it as a solution to the emergency powers problem, clearly under the impression that I was much drunker than I actually was).

But troubled wonks may say things in private that no responsible citizen committed to the Constitution or even, at bare minimum, representative democracy should ever release into the national discourse.  If we’re worried about the regime’s erosion of the rule of law, we shouldn’t indulge anti-democratic fantasies about throwing the bums out at tankpoint.  This sort of preposterous chatter serves nothing but democratic deconsolidation.  Knock it off.

Regarding Beers With The Common Man

The mainstream print media handwringing surrounding their supposed role in the recent ascension of a certain safety-orange populist with a dead badger strapped to his pate is really starting to get to me.  The sin of us coastal elites is supposed to be coastal elitism, of which the Platonic bloody ideal has got to be this condescending notion that the heartland is full of a bunch of goofy hicks who voted for the bombastic day-glo nationalist because they just didn’t know any better and journalists failed them.  This nonsense is vastly more infantilizing than Obamasplaining or thinkpieces about diversity or whatever else it is that sad, self-important urban journalists like to point to as the cause of the populist backlash.  It’s not some backward wasteland, for fuck’s sake: they’re 21st century Americans.  They have smart phones and the same access to fact-checking resources as the rest of us.  Do not try to deny them agency and responsibility.  They chose the Yam despite everything, and if they were underinformed about him, it was because they chose to be underinformed.  The People are just the People: the greatest risk of democracy is that sometimes they are catastrophically wrong.

The one point on which the press has legitimate grounds for self-flagellation is insufficient attention to mob involvement, the Russia thing, the Bondi bribery case, the repeat bankruptcies, and other tentacles of the Trump business octopus.  But to have been mislead by that, one would have to be reading print journalism in the first place.