While Putin Questions Our Democracy, Trump Obstructs Our Justice
After Comey’s sudden firing and Trump’s hushed meetings with Russian officials, it may be time to answer Putin’s question about the strength and resiliency of American democracy
Never missing an opportunity to kick an opponent once he’s down, Putin responded to the serious allegations that his hackers and army of bots on social media tried to meddle in last year’s election with a scoff. He asked if Americans really think they’re so weak as a nation that a foreign, not all too friendly power, and historical rival, could interfere with their elections. This is classic Putin as Russia knows him, linking an accusation of his dirty work to barbs intended to wound an opponents’ pride, forcing him to admit a very painful weakness before pursuing the question any further. It’s like the geo-political version of “have you stopped beating your spouse yet?”
But with yesterday’s sudden firing of FBI Director Comey based on a flimsy excuse about his treatment of Clinton’s e-mails during the campaign, put together so hastily there was no way for it not to look bad as information made its way to the public, it might be time to take up Putin’s challenge and answer that question. It could well be that growing hyper-partisanship and a laxness in enforcing the rule of law for the wealthy and politically powerful made us weak, and we need to fix it, especially as we’re suffering from self-inflicted wounds while too many of us are busy denying the damage.
And this is really what Americans do best, and a key difference between our governments. While the Kremlin almost never admits fault and continues to rule as it sees fit, Washington listens to problems and tries to fix them. Now the biggest question we have with a president who fired someone in charge of investigating him for improper ties to Russian kleptocrats to then — in the sort of move even a hack screenwriter would have called a bit much — meet with the Russians behind closed doors the very next day, is whether we can still rely on our government to actually care about what the majority of its people think, not just the political tribe that votes primarily for them.
Consider what this looks like to the public, or the optics here, in poli-speak. Not only is Comey testifying on a regular basis as the President screams at the TV in the White House, he was issuing subpoenas in his probe, now out and with more on the way, and asking for more money and staff to tackle more leads. In response to this, Trump summoned Jeff Sessions, who we’re told recused himself from the Russia probe after the bizarre slip about not meeting any Russians during his confirmation, to come up with any reason to fire him immediately and brutally, upsetting agents in the process. There are even rumors of loyalty pledges being demanded from Comey during the investigation, pledges he allegedly refused to maintain his integrity.
This already follows Trump’s and his team’s pattern of trying to put out the smoke over his shady ties by starting fires and acting even shadier, but how does this not scream that something bizarre is going on? Doubling down on this sequence of events, the White House sent a spokeswoman to Fox News to tell Americans that “it’s time to move on from the Russia thing” while it’s getting ready to welcome who else, but Russian officials. Their only defense for all this is saying that liberals wanted Comey fired as well for his rather bizarre and haphazard handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation blamed by some experts for losing her the election in the home stretch.
That may be true, but no one wanted him fired just out of the blue, in the middle of an investigation by the person he was trying to investigate on the eve of meeting the people he might have been conspiring with in the White House. Investigations like this are not transparent and it was always going to take a very long time to figure out what actually happened. Comey was not going to be dropping bombshells not to alert whoever he was closing in on, knowing full well that something like what happened yesterday was a very, very real possibility if his hunches were right, and enough people are being spooked by all his investigating and legal maneuvering.
Why exactly should we move from the Russia thing when Trump is trying to fire anyone probing anything near or next to it, especially when it seems the first actions to really get the ball rolling were being taken? We could ask the Republicans but they’re too busy hedging their bets and watching the polls before committing to special investigations or pausing typical operations for something as trivial as a move straight out of Nixon’s playbook coming from the leader of their party. It’s very hard to tell what’s more important to them than something as basic as maintaining the rule of law, polls or executing on their agenda without worrying that it may need bipartisan input to pass.
And this is where that weakness Putin tried to mock comes into play. While the majority of the nation is shocked or outraged that the President failed to even pretend to care about the optics of what he just did, a disturbingly big minority is cheering about this, thrilled that Trump is just doing whatever he wants, whenever, because it enrages “the libtards,” which is what they really wanted all along. His biggest supporters, after all, are fans of authoritarians in general and their tactics in particular, and dive into conspiracy theories to explain their setbacks, say researchers who studied their leanings. They are happy to have won the election, how and why doesn’t matter, just as long as their will becomes law. Anyone who disagrees is fair game.
You see this manifesting itself in their no longer contained disgust about the temerity of voters in urban hubs to insist that blue votes should count every bit as much as theirs. It spawns pseudo-historical legal technobabble which tries to discredit the idea that coastal megacities and inland boomtowns, which two thirds of the nation calls home, should have a valid voice at the ballot box. It shows up in wild accusations of millions of people voting illegally with zero proof to back it up beyond, quite literally, a tweet by a random guy that was picked up by “performance artist” Alex Jones. And the media that preaches to the populist crowd has been busy casting anyone who disagrees not as a fellow citizen with a different opinion, but an existential threat.
Faced with millions of voters to whom all that matters is lashing out at their fellow citizens to avenge whatever injustices they claim they’ve suffered, real and imagined, the GOP is largely silent on tackling a President who cares so little for the rules, customs, and laws intended to govern his tenure, he even stopped pretending they apply to him. They control the line of succession so even if they were to impeach him or force him out of office, they would still be in charge. But they can’t move against him because to his base the idea of working together with Democrats or putting restrictions on their actions is a far worse offense than colluding with a foreign power. That’s how much die hard far right voters today seem to hate their fellow citizens.
Remember when Paul Ryan said that the last thing he wants is Trump trying to work with Democrats on healthcare after the ACHA’s first iteration failed? That’s where we are. For the party controlling every branch of government bipartisanship is a dirty word and the core of their most devoted base says that we have no use for true, direct, one-person-one-vote democracy. We’re in a situation where leaders with the minority of the popular vote are busy trying to pass wildly unpopular laws, and scoffing at the notion that they’re unpopular, using maps that substitute acreage for voters in stark colors. And this attitude of needing to rescue a nation supposedly in chaos and ready to collapse for its own good, despite majority opinion, can lead to a disturbing future that’s a lot like Russia’s “managed democracy.”
So just for argument’s sake, let’s say that Russia really didn’t meddle in the election and had no horse in the race. I find this hard to believe, but again, let’s go with this premise for a moment. The very fact that so many people in America do not care or are sure its impossible and thrilled with running roughshod over 66% of the public and 64% of the economy, with a media that can’t understand statistics and pretends that being in different parties means living in two literally different worlds, means we’re a weaker nation in the long run. We’re already divided for anyone willing to conquer. That’s the juncture where authoritarians gleefully rub their hands, survey the many problems we created ourselves and let fester for the sake of tribalism, and run for office, promising to fix all of them with an iron fist…