Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The long road to President Pence, and the long road after

MSNBC has been agog over the steady flood of revelations, day by day, about Donald Trump, about his behavior, his possible obstruction of justice, the possibility that he is enriching himself by his policies in office, the possibility that he or his staff colluded or conferred with Russia in the subversion of an American election, and all the rest.  Lawrence O’Donnell told those currently employed by the White House that it was time for them to “lawyer up”, in the (probably justified) belief that many of them will be caught in the legal shredder as the Trump presidency disintegrates.

 Yes.  Maybe.  Probably, in fact, at this point.  But I want to caution against excessive giddiness among progressives about ending the Trump presidency, either by impeachment, which seems more than warranted, or by simply declaring him mentally incapable of doing the job, which seems to be clearly true: neither path is easy, and the result wouldn’t be the great relief it sounds like it should be. 

Yes, we are now in the grips of a child president, utterly selfish, arrogant, dumb, bullying, blind to ethics, numbly ignorant of history, and of civics, and of the details of any issue whatever.  He is both a delusional fanatic and completely out of his depth.  But removal by impeachment requires a majority of the House to impeach, and two thirds of the Senate to convict.  Removal by declaration of unfitness to serve is easier in the very short run: the Vice President and a majority of the “principal officers of the executive departments” can write to the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate declaring the President to be “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”, and it’s (very temporarily) done.  But what are the odds that we can get 8 Cabinet Secretaries to sign such a document?  And that’s not the hardest part: once it’s signed and delivered, the President can simply write to these same two people, the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tem of the Senate, and declare that he is able to discharge his duties, and he is back in power as President again.   After that Congress is required to determine the issue.  Finding the President to be unable to discharge his duties after all of that   requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress, and both houses are still in the grip of Trump’s party.  So: removal by impeachment requires two-thirds of the Senate, and removal by declaration of unfitness requires, if the President contests it, two thirds of both the Senate and the House.

What this means is that the outcome of any effort to remove him is uncertain, and will in any case take time, possibly a lot of time.  If he doesn’t resign, if he’s determined to stay as President, then we’re stuck with Trump for the near future.  I wish that were not true, but it is.

But even if Trump is eventually removed---what is the result?  Mike Pence as President?  At least Pence is sane, I guess, but it’s not exactly every liberal’s dream situation, is it?  Ah, but what if the “Russia thing with Trump” (Trump’s phrase) snags Pence as well, so both are gone at once?  To which I have to ask, as a first reply, how far into fantasyland are we willing to go?  How likely is it that both the President and the Vice President will be impeached?  And then, as a second reply, I have to say that even if such a miraculous thing did happen, we’re not much better off. 

Here’s the line of succession after the President:

Vice President:  Mike Pence.
Speaker of the House: Paul Ryan.
President Pro Tempore of the Senate: Orrin Hatch.
Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson.
Secretary of the Treasury: Steve Mnuchin.
Secretary of Defense: James “Mad Dog” Mattis.
Attorney General: Jeff Sessions.

We can keep going, but it doesn’t get any better lower on the list.  Ben Carson is on the list (13th in line); Betsy DeVos is on the list (15th).   The Republicans control all of the government at the federal level, and at the state level too in most states.

So we get back to the issue I’ve been raising, clumsily, with friends for a very long time:  the Democratic party needs to look for the radical solution, in the actual meaning of that word.  It needs to return to its roots.  It used to be the party of working people---all working people.  In Minnesota the official name of the party is the Democratic Farmer Labor party, and that used to be an apt description of the party nationally as well.  Farmers no longer believe that to be true---and labor has been increasingly skeptical as time passed, and, in my opinion, for good reasons.  A large fraction of the Democratic party, for a time at least, succumbed to neoliberal third-way politics that accepted the rational-expectations, free-market economics of free-trade, small government, tax cuts and deregulation.  The economy grew, slowly, but wages didn’t; businesses grew,  sometimes quickly, but middle class jobs vanished.  And much of the country has just given up on Democrats caring about their neighborhoods, their towns, their industries, or about them.  And the result is the county-level election maps that look almost uniformly red across most of the country.  Democrats will respond that Hillary got more votes than Trump did, and Democrats get more votes much of the time for Congressional seats as well (when the whole of the country’s votes are added together).  But the problem can be seen in this 3D map of election results.  The Democratic votes are very localized, mostly to big cities.

The Democrats, IMHO, forgot, for a time, the base that brought them to the dance.  All of those people who don't fall into the special categories the modern Democrats care about have to look somewhere else for a champion.  They look to Republicans because they're the only other game in town.  It's a mirage: the Republicans won't be their champions either.  Can't be, if they want to stay free-market Republicans.  And if the Democrats won't, and the Republicans can't, those people are just out of luck.

Trump’s presidency, I think, presents all of America with a hair-on-fire emergency that will be difficult to fix.  Fixing it, removing him from office, may take years.  It might take until the 2020 election.  But even after it’s fixed, progressives might still have lost, and might still be lost, if we don’t fix ourselves as well, if we don’t reconnect with a significant number of the people who no longer believe we even want to represent them.  We have a lot of fence mending to do.  We’d better get to it.

Or, alternatively, we can just get used to the idea of President Pence and a permanently Republican House.

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