Impeachapalooza

Ask the typical conservative what he thinks about the looming, likely impeachment of one President Donald Trump, and he will likely turn the question around by indignantly claiming that liberals have been plotting to impeach Trump “since the day he was sworn in.”

As one such liberal, I can assure you this is incorrect. In fact, we have been plotting to impeach Trump since before he was sworn in.

Not that he hasn’t made it exceedingly easy to do so. The precise meaning of “impeachable offense” may well be in the eye of the beholder—Gerald Ford immortally called it “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history”—but it seems reasonable to conclude that the cumulative behavior of the sitting commander-in-chief, both before and during his tenure, amounts to a veritable buffet of disgracefulness wholly unbecoming of the highest office in the land.

The question isn’t “Has Trump committed an impeachable offense?” Rather, it’s “Which impeachable offense is the most offensive of them all?”

Is it the emoluments, i.e., Trump’s personal profiting from foreign dignitaries lodging at his many luxury hotels? Is it the campaign finance violations surrounding his silencing of Stormy Daniels mere days before the 2016 election? Is it attempting to collude with Russia to swing the election itself and covering up the subsequent investigation of same? Is it repeatedly putting in a good word for (or being silent about) the domestic terrorists who have attempted to murder his political opponents and/or members of the press?

Or—as Nancy Pelosi would argue—is it leaning on the leader of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, tacitly threatening to withhold millions of dollars in military aid if he doesn’t?

As Democrats and Republicans in Congress squabble about the precise nature of the president’s questionable July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky—was it extortion, a quid pro quo or a friendly suggestion?—let us remind ourselves that impeachment doesn’t require a specific act of criminality on the president’s part—or, indeed, a specific act of any sort.

As Republicans were quite happy to point out when they attempted to hound Bill Clinton from office in 1998, impeachment can simply be a referendum on a president’s character—that is, on his collective personal flaws as they relate to, and impinge upon, the carrying out of his constitutional duties as commander-in-chief. As no less than Alexander Hamilton wrote in no less than the Federalist Papers, objects of impeachment are “those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”

That’s a fairly open-ended standard for censure by the legislative branch, and in the face of Donald Trump, the case could scarcely be clearer or more damning. Surely, if Bill Clinton’s single lie about extramarital sex constituted a “violation of some public trust,” it stands to reason that Trump’s 13,000-or-so lies about just about everything—including extramarital sex—constitutes roughly the same thing, with interest.

As a moral issue, impeaching Trump is a question that answers itself. The real quandary—the practical one—is whether actually following through on the impeachment process will make any damn difference in the long run.

When it comes to this president—and this presidency—the closest we have to a statistical constant is the fact that virtually every scandal of Trump’s own making tends to fizzle out within 72 hours. Through the sheer volume of Trump’s offenses against common decency and the body politic, no single idiocy—however appalling—retains its outrageousness from one end of the week to the other before the next abomination takes its place. There have been exceptions to this rule, to be sure—Charlottesville and locking kids in cages chief among them—but they are, in fact, exceptional.

As such, are we so sure that impeachment, should it come, won’t be more than yet another ephemeral three-day story? That formally indicting Trump for various high crimes and misdemeanors, however legitimate, won’t be supplanted by some new, unrelated ridiculousness shortly after the official vote is tallied?

Political pundits have been breathlessly wagering about whether Trump’s impeachment would redound to the benefit of the left or the right come Election Day 2020. However, both conclusions assume that, 385 days from now, the electorate will even remember that impeachment was ever a thing.

Color me skeptical that they will—that impeachment may yet prove a mere minor episode in the reality TV show from hell that is America since November 8, 2016. That, like the two-year Mueller investigation that preceded it, it will evaporate like mist from the nation’s collective consciousness almost immediately after reaching its denouement.

The truth is that we may never know for sure what impact impeachment will have on the next election—we’re still arguing about the causes of the last one, with no consensus in sight—and this fact ought to be liberating for the Democratic Party. After all, so long as the consequences of moving forward with this inquiry remain indeterminate, there is all the more incentive to do the right thing for its own sake. “Tis not in mortals to command success,” intoned a character in Cato, George Washington’s favorite play. “[B]ut we’ll do more […] we’ll deserve it.”

Donald Trump should be impeached because he has abused the powers of his office above and beyond what should be tolerated by either Congress or the public. If he is to be re-elected in 2020, it might as well be with his full record of criminality on display for the electorate to either endorse or reject. In such a scenario, no voter could decently claim to have filled out his or her ballot under false pretenses. Everyone’s cards would be on the table, with no stone left unturned.

There are worse ways to run a presidential campaign.

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Trailer Treasure

Not all heroes wear capes, and some of them live in trailers.

As reported by Dugan Arnett in last Friday’s Boston Globe, somewhere in Maine there resides a man named Bobby Stuart. A 65-year-old white-haired, white-bearded widower, he works 11-hour shifts for a concrete-mixing company by day and patronizes the local diner for burgers and hot dogs by night. In between, he keeps mostly to himself, relaxing in front of the TV on his comfy recliner in the trailer he has called home for the past four decades. It’s a simple but satisfying existence: He bothers no one and no one bothers him.

Earlier this year, Stuart won $1 million on a lottery scratch ticket. A few months later, for good measure, he won $100,000 more.

So what has he has been doing in the weeks since this sudden brush with unexpected wealth?

Why, he’s been working his 11-hour shifts every day, grabbing dinner at the greasy spoon every evening, and settling into his trusty rocking chair every night.

Asked if he plans to hire a lawyer or a money manager, he shrugs. Why bother?

Does he foresee any world travel in his future? Maybe to New Hampshire.

Has he used his winnings on any splurge of any sort? Yes, in fact: He installed new windows on his house. At a discount.

Here, I submit, is a model American: The sort of man we thought they didn’t make anymore and forlornly wish they did. Specifically—on the basis of the Globe story, at least—the type of person I myself hope to be someday.

While I haven’t purchased a lottery ticket in years, I have absolutely no trouble fantasizing (as one does) how I will react when I inevitably hit the jackpot. Given the opportunity, what would I do with a million dollars? Or $10 million? Or $100 million?

On my better days, I imagine giving most of it away—to my family, to my favorite charities—and sticking the rest in a retirement account and forgetting all about it. In more extravagant moments, I picture embarking on a grand tour of all the exotic foreign countries I would never visit otherwise—of hopping on a 747 and never coming back.

If history is any guide—which, generally-speaking, it is—the likeliest answer is that I will immediately blow most of my winnings on silly impulse purchases—yachts, beach homes and the like—and plunge swiftly into bankruptcy and decrepitude, as an alarmingly high proportion of lotto mega-winners tend to do. While I’d like to think I know myself well enough to assume I’d be wiser and more circumspect than the average American with a sudden infusion of unearned disposable income, I’m not quite so arrogant to take that assumption to the bank (so to speak).

To the extent that I know myself at all, however, I cannot help but wonder if a million-dollar scratch ticket wouldn’t make a heck of a lot of difference in my day-to-day comings and goings. If I wouldn’t keep the whole business to myself and a small handful of confidantes, and modulate my behavior as minimally as possible.

The prevailing research on the relationship between wealth and life satisfaction concludes that while money can, in fact, buy happiness, the effect is subject to diminishing returns as you climb ever-higher up the income ladder. According to one estimate, the typical American requires roughly $75,000 in annual earnings to be perfectly content; after that, one’s overall happiness more or less plateaus and becomes increasingly less a function of money.

I don’t know about you, but I find this highly encouraging—an indication that our national obsession with wealth and power is even more misplaced than we previously thought—and Bobby Stuart would seem to be proof positive that winning the lottery needn’t fundamentally change one’s behavior or outlook on life, for better or for worse.

In a scene from Before Sunset on this very subject, Ethan Hawke regales Julie Delpy about a study (possibly apocryphal) that tracked the lives of lottery winners and paraplegics over many years, which concluded, in Hawke’s words, “If they were basically an optimistic, jovial person, they’re now an optimistic, jovial person in a wheelchair; if they were a petty miserable asshole, they’re now a petty miserable asshole with a new Cadillac, a house and a boat.”

Sounds about right to me.  If (to quote Pascal) all of humanity’s problems arise from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone, there is something to be said for the Bobby Stuarts of the world:  They know exactly who they are and what they need, and have no greater ambition in life than to enjoy the modest fruits of their labor.

You could do worse.

Ed Markey, Time Lord

Congressman Joe Kennedy III scrambled Massachusetts politics last weekend by announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2020, setting up a high-profile—and high-cost—Democratic primary contest between himself and the incumbent, Ed Markey, who was first elected to Congress in 1976, four years before Kennedy was born.

While I leave my fellow Bay Staters to make their own decisions on this potentially agonizing race, I will not be coy:  Come next September 15, I will be voting for Markey.

Not just because he is the lead Senate sponsor of the Green New Deal (partnered with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the House). Not just because of his unmatched zeal in defending net neutrality against corporate internet giants and the FCC. Not just because he is a more galvanizing public speaker than Kennedy—or, for that matter, his Massachusetts comrade-in-arms, Elizabeth Warren. Not just because I once sat directly behind him on a JetBlue fight from Washington, D.C., to Boston. (Who knew senators still fly commercial?)

No, I’m voting for Ed Markey in 2020 because he alone among U.S. senators has altered the laws of time and space to make the days longer and the nights shorter from sea to shining sea.

How’d he do that? Simply enough: By extending Daylight Saving Time by a total of four weeks.

“Through 2006, the clocks changed on the first Sunday in April and the last Sunday in October,” explained MassLive in 2013. “But as part of a 2005 energy bill, Markey, the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sponsored an amendment to extend Daylight Saving Time beginning in 2007. From then on, Daylight Saving Time started the second Sunday in March and ended the first Sunday in November.”

That’s right, people of Massachusetts and beyond: Midway through the Bush administration, back when he was a mere congressman virtually unknown outside his home district, Markey was co-responsible for giving America an extra 30 hours of late-afternoon sunlight per year—including on Halloween!—by tinkering with the Daylight Saving calendar for the first time in two decades.

(Fun fact: In 1987, when Congress moved up the start of DST from May to April, the effort was then spearheaded by a young representative by the name of…Ed Markey!)

I don’t know about you, but few things bring me more joy than being able to go for a bike ride after dinner without strapping a flashlight to my helmet—and few things more depress me than the sudden encroachment of premature pitch blackness by the first round of the baseball playoffs. While autumn is, in many ways, the most lively and enjoyable season of the year, is it really too much to ask that, on Thanksgiving, we not be forced to choose between eating a fourth slice of pumpkin pie and tossing a football around before it’s too dark to see?

Research shows a clear correlation between prolonged exposure to natural light and one’s overall well-being—a conclusion generally borne out by common sense—and any effort to keep the sun shining deep into the evening gets my personal seal of approval 10 times out of 10.

Ed Markey has done more than any other public official to make Daylight Saving cannibalize as much of the calendar as possible. Quite apart from his many other accomplishments—and particularly in this era of near-total obstinance by both houses of Congress—Markey deserves enormous kudos for the immediate, concrete difference his work on DST has made in our daily lives.

And if he wants to ensure his own political survival against the electoral steamroller that is the Kennedy family, he should take the logical—nay, inevitable—next step by drafting a bill to permanently stretch Daylight Saving to all 12 months of the year, so that Americans will never again need to biannually tweak their clocks—and their circadian rhythms—for no good reason, nor be subjected to 4 o’clock sunsets and all the seasonal ennui that goes with them.

There’s a campaign platform for you:  “Ed Markey: Candidate of Light.”

Taking the Bait

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

So said Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French polymath, with what can only be described as masterful understatement and timeless wit.

Indeed, the more time passes, the more I’m convinced Pascal’s words should be framed on every wall and stitched into every pillow in America. That way, the message might eventually sink in, ushering in a new era of cooperation and world peace.

Speaking as someone who has absolutely no trouble sitting quietly in a room alone—on my trusty couch, reading a trusty book or watching my trusty TV—I find myself perpetually annoyed by my fellow citizens’ penchant for raising a ruckus and making an unholy spectacle of themselves in the name of whatever supposed injustice is befalling them that week.

In the final days of August, that injustice turned out to be the existence of odious heterosexual trolls and their “Straight Pride” parade through the streets of my hometown of Boston.

That event—announced several months in advance and very obviously meant as a snarky, cynical provocation—achieved precisely what it intended: To compel members of the LGBTQ contingent to overreact with hysterical, self-righteous rage and—in some instances—actual violence.

The resulting brouhaha—a counter-demonstration several times larger than the actual demonstration—yielded some three dozen arrests on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to assault and battery, some of it against Boston police officers, who themselves resorted—unnecessarily, perhaps—to the use of pepper spray in subduing the supposedly rambunctious crowd. The subsequent arraignment of the offending protesters has led to a veritable circus of legal maneuvering on the part of prosecutors, defense attorneys and the presiding judge.

And all because a few thousand queers and their allies couldn’t sit quietly in a room alone while a gang of homophobic idiots had their fun.

Before we go any further, let’s get something clear: As previously stated, this whole so-called “Straight Pride” march was, in every sense of the word, a joke. Organized by a group calling itself Super Happy Fun America and headlined by the über-obnoxious (and über-gay) Milo Yiannopoulos, the event was little more than an exercise in ironic, “owning the libs” tomfoolery. In claiming the mantle of victimhood as heterosexuals—a manifestly ridiculous claim by any measure—this ragtag band of misfits was hardly the Klan or the Nazis or the multi-pronged menace that terrorized Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

At worst, SHFA was a right-wing internet message board come to life, and there was no compelling reason to take them seriously or to respond to their idle silliness in any way. They posed no particular threat to LGBTQ rights specifically or to public safety in general. They obtained permission to march from the city through the proper legal channels, despite the mayor’s personal disapproval. They weren’t carrying torches or chanting anti-gay slurs.

They could’ve easily been ignored from the get go, and their entire existence would’ve been forgotten within a day, if not sooner.

But that’s not what happened. What happened, instead, is that the right laid the bait, and the left took it. As it always does.

One would think—some 30 months and 9,000 tweets into the Trump era—that liberals could distinguish between a battle worth fighting and a total waste of their time. That not all moral slights are created equal. That there is more to life than being outraged 24 hours a day and loudly expressing said outrage in the most conspicuous environment possible.

Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley seemed to catch on to this dynamic in July, responding to President Trump’s tirades against “The Squad,” of which Pressley is a member, by saying, “I think we all have to not take the bait, and get off the ride that the occupant of this Oval Office has us on,” adding, “Every tweet he sends is meant to be a distraction from the real problems that this country is facing.”

True enough, but then Pressley and her three counterparts didn’t exactly brush off Trump’s (appalling racist) taunts to “go back” to where they came from, did they? Is holding a joint press conference—and, later, a formal condemnation on the House floor—really their idea of ignoring the president’s petty cruelties and moving on to more important issues? If turning a single tweet into a major news event is an example of not taking the bait, what would the alternative look like?

The rejoinder to this, of course, is that the Squad simply had no choice but to respond with force to an act of overt racism by the most powerful man in the world.  That silence would’ve equaled consent. That any act of ugliness in the public square must be pushed back against, lest the offender be granted both the first and last word on the matter.  In the words of John Stuart Mill, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men should look on and do nothing.”

While one argues with this high-minded philosophy at one’s peril, I return to my original contention—borne out by my experiences in middle school—that ignoring a bully’s taunts is nearly always preferable to confronting them head-on.  Insecure sociopaths that they are, strongmen crave attention and feed on conflict but are utterly bored by indifference, eventually concluding that if action X fails to provoke reaction Y, perhaps a shift in strategy is in order.

You may well argue that some bullies—and one in particular—are so irretrievably juvenile that the silent treatment would have no effect whatsoever and cost you the moral high ground in the process.  To which I would politely retort that, in the case of Donald Trump, this hypothesis has yet to be tested—not once in 73 years—and it may well be high time to give it the old college try.

It’s the Court, Stupid

There was a moment last week—thankfully, it was only a moment—when American liberals’ hearts stopped and it felt like the world was about to end.

It came when the U.S. Supreme Court announced that Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had recently undergone radiation treatment for a tumor in her pancreas—the latest in a long line of cancer scares for Ginsburg going back several decades. (She was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1999 and pancreatic cancer in 2009.)

While this most recent brush with mortality apparently ended well—“The tumor was treated definitively and there is no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body,” the court said—it served as a reminder—which we most certainly needed—that, at 86, the Notorious RBG will not be on the Supreme Court forever; that she is as susceptible to the ravages of age as the rest of us; and that her long and storied history of cheating death will one day come to an end.

Sooner or later, one way or another, Justice Ginsburg will be forced to relinquish her seat on the Supreme Court, enabling the then-president to nominate a successor—someone who, in all likelihood, will serve for the next 30 or 40 years.

As four out of five actuaries will tell you, that president will be Donald Trump.

Consider: Beyond Ginsburg’s own series of health calamities, only three Supreme Court justices in history have lived longer while on the bench than Ginsburg already has. Should Trump be defeated in 2020, Ginsburg would be two months shy of 88 when the new president is sworn in, at which point she could safely retire without the court’s center of gravity swinging irreparably to the right.

But if Trump is re-elected and serves until January 20, 2025? Well, what’s 88 plus four?

Did I mention that Stephen Breyer, the other long-serving liberal on the court, is just five years younger than Ginsburg and possibly less indestructible than she is?

I bring all of this up for one exceedingly simple reason: While the 2020 election may come to signify any number of things—about America, about democracy, about the future of Western civilization writ large—it will most assuredly determine the composition of the Supreme Court for a generation or more, and there is no more compelling reason for left-leaning voters to support the eventual Democratic nominee than that.

Long story short: The re-election of Trump all but guarantees a 7-2 conservative majority on the nation’s highest court. Just for starters, that means the disintegration of Roe v. Wade; the end of Obamacare as we know it; the solidification of the so-called “unitary executive theory,” whereby the president can do pretty much whatever the hell he wants for any reason. It means further erosion of the Voting Rights Act and firmer entrenchment of unchecked voter suppression. It means LGBTQ equality is no longer guaranteed but corporate personhood is. It means guns for all and unions for none.

It’s the great flaw of the Democratic Party (among many others) that its leaders can’t turn these dire, self-evident truths into a foundational election year issue—that they can’t seem to impart the monumental importance of the judicial branch in Americans’ day-to-day lives, and the singular role the president plays in shaping the composition thereof.

You know who did understand this dynamic and communicated it repeatedly, and to great effect, in 2016? Donald Effing Trump.

For all his blabbering, unprincipled incoherence on the campaign trail, candidate Trump made it crystal clear at every available opportunity—particularly when his back was against the wall and it looked like his entire candidacy was going up in smoke—that a vote for him was a vote for a right-wing judiciary from one end of the federal government to the other. That if Republicans entrusted him with control of the executive branch, he would bequeath them an unimpeachably conservative roster of judges—all with lifetime appointments—in return.

It was a brazen quid pro quo of the first order, and boy oh boy, did he deliver.

Ask a certain breed of conservative—the sort who found Trump by turns offensive, odious and embarrassing—why he held his nose and voted for him anyway, and he’ll simply rattle off two names: Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

That’s to say nothing of the president’s myriad appointments to the all-important circuit courts, filling vacancies that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cynically—and, in retrospect, brilliantly—kept open while Barack Obama was in office.

This is neither to excuse nor justify the conscious enabling of an authoritarian, racist windbag by millions of voters who supposedly knew better.

Rather, this is to remind Democratic presidential candidates and their advocates that scaring their own voters about the future of the Supreme Court is an entirely valid and potentially fruitful strategy, and if self-preservation is an instinct they possess—a debatable question, at best—they could do a lot worse than to order a few million yard signs reading, “Democrats 2020:  Because RBG Isn’t Getting Any Younger.

You Have No Choice

Two telling moments from the political dog days of summer.

First, from President Donald Trump at his most recent Triumph of the Will-style rally, in Manchester, New Hampshire: “If, for some reason, I were not to have won the [2016] election, these markets would have crashed. That will happen even more so in 2020. You have no choice but to vote for me, because your 401(k), everything is going to be down the tubes. Whether you love me or hate me, you gotta vote for me.”

Second, from former Second Lady Jill Biden, at a bookstore in nearby Nashua, speaking on behalf of her husband, Joe: “Your candidate might be better on, I don’t know, health care, than Joe is, but you’ve got to look at who’s going to win this election. And maybe you have to swallow a little bit and say, ‘OK, I personally like so-and-so better,’ but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.”

Here we have two very different people speaking in two very different tones to two very different audiences, yet somehow the message is exactly the same—namely, the message conveyed on the famous 1973 cover of National Lampoon: “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog.”

That, in so many words, is where we stand with our two likely presidential nominees in 2020: Vote for me, or else. Nice country you have here; it’d be a shame if something were to happen to it.

Our votes are not being sought. They are being extorted. Democracy at the point of a gun.

To be fair, Jill Biden is not her husband; nor, in any case, could her comment reasonably be taken as a direct threat to those who might take their electoral business elsewhere. (Trump, as ever, is another story.) No doubt she would characterize her “swallow a little bit” plea merely as an appeal to strategic pragmatism, seeing the big picture, etc. Indeed, if anything, her tacit acknowledgment that the former vice president isn’t anybody’s idea of a perfect candidate betrays a level of modesty and class that too few candidates (and/or their spouses) possess—not least in the crucible of a campaign.

All the same, there is something profoundly dispiriting about the wife and leading spokesperson for a major presidential contender resorting to lesser-of-two-evils talk a full 11 months before the party’s nominating convention. How sad—how pathetic—that the woman who knows Joe Biden’s strengths and charms more deeply than anyone alive finds it necessary to pitch her husband for the highest office in the land like he’s a used car with a better-than-decent chance of making it over the state line without losing all four tires.

Is it really too much to ask that our actions in the voting booth be motivated by something other than fear, dread or a sense of grudging, soul-crushing obligation? Must we be told that the primary—if not sole—reason to fill out a ballot a particular way is to head off an extinction-level event (e.g., four more years of Trump)? That if we don’t fall in line behind The One True King, everything we hold dear in this world will be flushed down the toilet?

Not to be overly sentimental, but what ever happened to the happy warrior? The guy who enters the arena with such joy—such clarity of moral and civic purpose—that he earns not only the public’s vote but also its admiration and respect?

Will there be anyone in 2020 who campaigns on the audacity of hope?

At a fundraiser in the closing days of 2016, Hillary Clinton reportedly quipped, “I’m the only thing standing between you and the abyss,” unwittingly channeling the resignation so much of the American left felt about voting for such a nauseatingly flawed candidate. On the right, meanwhile, were the likes of Michael Anton, whose inflammatory but widely-read essay, “The Flight 93 Election,” argued more or less the same thing from the opposite direction—namely, that Trump was the bulwark and Clinton was the abyss.

Across the political spectrum, it became both a joke and an article of faith that no one was truly happy with their options on November 8, and that a vote for Candidate X was meant primarily—if not exclusively—as a vote against Candidate Y.

But did it really need to be so?

Perhaps my memory is marred by unwarranted nostalgia, but I do not recall checking the box for Barack Obama in 2008 on the grounds that John McCain presented an existential threat to democracy or world peace (his running mate notwithstanding). Nor did I feel as such about Mitt Romney four years later, weird and obnoxious though he was.

In fact, I voted for Obama because I liked him a very great deal—his character, his ideas, his unique place in U.S. history—and affirmatively wanted him as both the chief executive and figurehead of the great nation I call home, and I am quite satisfied with what I ultimately got.

There is no compelling reason why every presidential election shouldn’t follow this same rubric, whereby candidates for high office present themselves as the means to a bright future irrespective of the alternative, whose victory would represent something more than the mere dodging of a painful historical bullet.

In 2016, with the slogan “Make America Great Again,” Donald Trump won by campaigning on yesterday.  With any luck at all, the winner in 2020 will be whoever campaigns on tomorrow.

Above the Law

Karl Marx famously intoned that history tends to repeat itself, “First as tragedy, then as farce.”  Upon last week’s death-by-suicide of noted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who hanged himself in his Manhattan jail cell while awaiting trial—itself both a tragedy and a farce—I couldn’t help but wonder if the whole thing weren’t an ominous prelude to the ultimate fate of Donald Trump.

Not that Trump would ever kill himself, of course.  After all, suicide requires a level of nerve, resolve and concentration that our president plainly doesn’t possess.

What I mean is that, no matter how much comes to light about the crimes our 45th president has perpetrated against the republic—financial, political, sexual, moral—he will somehow find a way to skirt ultimate accountability for them, if only by not living long enough for the justice system to work its magic.

In the case of Epstein, you’ll recall, charges of gross sexual improprieties with underage girls were first leveled in 2005, resulting three years later in a jaw-droppingly lenient 13-month jail sentence whereby Epstein spent six days of each week in his own home.  It was only earlier this summer, following exhaustive sleuthing by Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown, that Epstein was treated as the pathological monster that he was, arrested and hauled off to the Metropolitan Correctional Center as details of his child sex-trafficking ring piled up like delinquency notices at the Massachusetts RMV (but that’s another story).

Finally, it appeared, this wretched specimen of a man—friend of presidents and princes, who successfully bought his way into high society, even after registering as a level-three sex offender—would face the full force of the American justice system, providing his countless victims at least a small measure of rectitude.

But that all ended last Saturday when Epstein wrapped a bedsheet around his neck and shuffled off to the great beyond.  He may well be burning in hell and his estate may soon be torn apart limb from limb, but Epstein himself will never be found guilty by a jury of his peers, will never be confronted by his accusers in open court, will never be able to confess or repent for his sins, nor to formally repay his debt to society by rotting away in prison, where he so richly belonged.

Death may or may not be a fate worse than life behind bars, but as far as we here on Earth are concerned, Jeffrey Epstein spent decades getting away with committing the most heinous crimes imaginable, and when the going finally got tough, he channeled his inner Groucho and said to the world, “Hello, I must be going.”

The arc of the moral universe is long, and sometimes it bends toward scumbags.

Such, I fear, is how it will go for Donald Trump:  He will continue to flout every law and convention he finds inconvenient; he will continue not to be held to account for them by the American legal system, Congress or the general public; and when his moment of reckoning finally arrives, he will slink off, ever-so-adroitly, to the great Taco Bell in the sky.

Following the Mueller report—and subsequent testimony of Robert Mueller himself—it has been firmly established that Trump cannot be indicted for any criminal offense while he is in office, thanks to a Justice Department policy asserting, in effect, that the leader of the free world is simply too preoccupied to adhere to such trivialities as the Constitution and rule of law. 

What’s more, should Trump manage to be re-elected next November, the statute of limitations for several of the crimes of which he stands accused will lapse before he returns to private life in January 2025.  And make no mistake:  Barring some major national catastrophe, he will be re-elected next November.

The fact is, historically-speaking, American presidents are like casinos:  In the end, the (White) House always wins.  Lest we forget, even Richard Nixon—the one commander-in-chief who was actually hounded from office ahead of schedule—was granted lifetime immunity from prosecution via a blanket pardon from his hand-picked successor, Gerald Ford.  If need be, does anyone in America believe Mike Pence would hesitate for a moment to take that precedent and run with it?

True:  Presidential pardons can only be granted for federal crimes, not state ones, which means investigations undertaken by, say, the New York attorney general would remain fair game should Trump be defeated next November and return to his Trump Tower penthouse, alive and in one piece, on January 20, 2021.

I don’t know about you, but that seems like a rather flimsy reed on which to hang all of one’s hopes for justice ever catching up to America’s worst president.  While we can bank all we want on the assumption that Trump will become the first incumbent in a quarter-century to be unceremoniously dumped by the electorate after four measly years, I find considerably more stock in the old I.F. Stone adage, “History is a tragedy, not a morality tale.” 

Trump does tragedy better than almost any living human being.  And that, among other things, is what makes his presidency such a farce.