2020 Election, Idaho Politics, Impeachment, Trump

The Senate on Trial…

You may have heard a number of references this week to the Senate impeachment trials of two former presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, both of whom, given the long verdict of history, likely deserved to be convicted. Neither was, of course, and Donald Trump almost certainly will not be convicted either. 

“The proceedings there look like a flimsy excuse for a trial,” David Graham wrote in The Atlantic, “and they are. But under the surface, a series of real trials is going on. Vulnerable senators sit in the dock, the jurors are voters, and the verdicts won’t come back until November.” 

“A flimsy accuse for a trial…”

While the serially lying president is technically on trial for abuse of power and his corrupt obstruction of Congress, additionally it is the Senate itself and individual senators on trial and among the accused are Idaho’s get-along by going-along Trumpians, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch. 

Neither Idahoan did anything this week to warrant the high public trust that voters have repeatedly bestowed upon them and their craven political opportunism may yet bite them. By repeatedly rejecting the notion that the Senate should actually conduct a trial of the president as the Constitution demands, Crapo and Risch have put the interests of the Republican Party – not to mention their own interests – ahead of the truth. 

Both men voted over and over again not to seek witnesses or documents that the Trump White House has systematically refused to produce. This knowing disregard for information that could either convict or exonerate Trump may prove to be an effective strategy to prevent the truth from catching up immediately with the president, but the known unknowns of what is to come, a steady drip, drip of harmful revelations, should bring shivers to what is left of the spines of Crapo and Risch. 

Risch also unintentionally provided what will both be a lasting image of Trump’s impeachment and a metaphor for his own bootlicking in service to the president. Since still cameras are not allowed in the Senate chamber an old-school sketch artist for the New York Times captured Risch in pen and ink, head buried in hand snoozing at length during the trial’s opening day.  

New York Times artist sketch of Idaho Senator Jim Risch sleeping during the Trump impeachment trial in the Senate

Ironically, Risch’s afternoon nap came at the precise moment the Senate was debating whether to require the production of documents from the State Department, the agency of the federal government that Risch’s Foreign Relations Committee is supposed to oversee. It is worth noting that not once in the first year of his chairmanship has the napping Risch required an appearance before his committee of the Secretary of State who is positioned squarely at the center of the Ukraine scandal that engulfs Trump’s presidency. So, Risch’s sleeping is more than a metaphor it is a pattern.  

But set aside the comparisons to the racist, bullying Johnson in 1865 and the womanizing, dissembling Clinton in 1999, the true historical analog to the current Trump trial happened in 1954. In December of that long ago year of the Eisenhower presidency the United States Senate actually acquitted itself very well by condemning the outrageous conduct of one its own – the junior senator from Wisconsin Joseph McCarthy. 

As much as Trump’s presidency reminds us of Richard Nixon, another vulgar Republican who at least had the good grace to confine his bigotry to private conversations and eventually had the decency to resign the presidency short of being impeached, Joe McCarthy is Trump’s true political ancestor

McCarthy, as the superb new documentary in the PBS American Experience series makes clear, based what became his celebrity and his Republican power on a lie. McCarthy rode the fiction of widespread communist infiltration of the federal government all the way to the top much as Trump rode the lie about Barack Obama’s citizenship to his own takeover of the GOP. Both men are bigots: McCarthy an abuser of homosexuals and “elites” in the entertainment world, while Trump attacks any critic, but particularly immigrants, Muslims and African-Americans like the black listed athlete Colin Kaepernick or Congressman John Lewis

McCarthy was a bully. Trump is, too. Both count the repulsive Roy Cohn, McCarthy’s Senate aide and Trump’s long-time lawyer, as a godfather. Each attacked and skillfully manipulated the press and intimidated fellow Republicans into support or silence. Each tapped into something dark and sinister in the American psyche, the uncommon willingness to embrace the paranoid and ego driven impulses of a blustering demagogue. But there the parallels end because in 1954 the Senate, unlike today’s Senate, did something about McCarthy

Utah Republican Arthur Watkins’ investigation led to McCarthy’s 1954 censure by the Senate. Naturally McCarthy attacked him

Led by Republicans who had had enough of McCarthy’s nonsense – a hero of the story was Utah Republican Arthur Watkins whose role in bringing down McCarthy featured in the first paragraph of his obituary twenty years later – 67 senators condemned McCarthy, as one biographer has noted, “for obstructing the business of the Senate, impairing its dignity, and bring the entire body into dishonor and disrepute.” 

Yet with Trump Senate Republicans can’t muster the guts to even seek let alone confront the truth. As journalist Susan Glaser wrote the Trump defense team, much like the president, is “loud, intemperate, personally nasty, ad hominem, factually challenged, and often not even bothering to have a tenuous connection to the case at all.” The word “Ukraine” did not pass their lips. 

A Senate on trial and found wanting may well have even longer-term consequences for the increasingly fragile American experiment than ignoring the crimes of an individual president. Once the sideboards of Constitutional constraint where the legislative branch holds to account the executive are chopped into kindling the whole structure weakens and slides toward collapse. Have no doubt that is happening. 

In 1954 when Senate was on trial along with Joe McCarthy, Idaho’s then Republican senators, like Crapo and Risch today, took the path of party loyalty rather than institutional honor. Herman Welker, a one-term Idaho senator who if he is remembered at all is remembered as “an unflagging supporter” of his pal McCarthy, was one of 22 Senate Republicans – Idahoan Henry Dworshak was another – who refused to sanction McCarthy. 

“I wonder,” Welker said after the McCarthy censure, “if we did not injure the reputation of the Senate more than we could have in any other way.” Welker’s prediction was blindingly wrong and history honors not him, but those like Arthur Watkins who defended the honor of the institution. 

For Crapo and Risch it’s one thing to be a knee-jerk partisan, but an altogether more serious matter to be a wrecker of great institutions in service to a criminal president. 

—–0—–

Idaho Politics, Impeachment, Simpson, Trump

The GOP Prairie Fire…

In his scathing takedown of the modern Republican Party – How the Right Lost Its Mind – the conservative former Wisconsin radio talk show host Charlie Sykes ponders – and worries – about the state of American politics. 

“Did I – did we,” he asks of fellow conservatives, “contribute to this prairie fire of bigotry and xenophobia that seemed to grip so many on the right? How did the elites miss the signs of division that turned to schism that became a veritable civil war? Did we play with fire, only to see it spread out of control? Did we ‘make’ Donald Trump? Or is he merely a cartoonish bizarro version of conservative values?” 

“Sometime in the last decade, conservative commentator Matt Drudge began linking to a website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. By doing so he broke down the wall that separated the full-blown cranks from the conservative media, injecting a toxic worldview into the Right’s bloodstream. The conservative movement never recovered.

Charlie Sykes in “How The Right Lost Its Mind.”

Sykes, like many other observers of our crazy, divided political moment, trace the decline of American democracy to the rise of the so-called Tea Party midway in Barack Obama’s first term. 

“You can’t fix crazy,” former John McCain strategist Steve Schmidt says in a remarkable new edition of Frontline on PBS that tracks the arc of our division. “And the fact of the matter is you had a fair number of crazy people who started getting elected to the Congress on the Tea Party wave who there was no dealing with.” 

One of the Tea Party arrivals with the Class of 2011 was, of course, former Congressman Raul Labrador. Labrador quickly embraced the nihilist politics of The Freedom Caucus and became one of its leaders, challenging the leadership of then-Speaker John Boehner, as reporter Tim Alberta recounts in his book American Carnage

Labrador infamously helped orchestrate the government shutdown in 2013 – you can’t fix crazy – hoping to force a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. Somewhat reluctantly Labrador came into the orbit of Trump World after the sketchy real estate developer became the last Republican standing in 2016, but then he went all in. 

Raul Labrador, the former Idaho Congressman elected with the Tea Party class of 2011, helped lead the Freedom Caucus and the GOP off a political cliff.

“Right now,” Labrador told Alberta for his 2019 book, “they’re (the GOP base) happy with Trump,” but Labrador predicted strong blowback should the national debt explode (it has), the immigration crisis remain (it has) or if working wages didn’t improve (they haven’t). 

But it looks as though Labrador, now quietly laboring in the Idaho GOP vineyard as party chairman, underestimated – as many have – the extent of Trump’s wholesale remodel of the Republican Party. The long term crisis for the GOP – and for the country – and the extent of the moral and intellectual degradation of the Grand Old Party requires looking not at the Labradors or at a Jim Jordan, the histrionic Ohio congressman, or even Doug Collins, the Georgia congressman who recently accused and then apologized for saying Democrats were coddling terrorists. 

Sadly, indeed tragically, a real accounting of who has fanned the present prairie fire rests with the handful of elected Republicans who truly know better, including Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, and who have willingly failed to mount an effective pushback against what conservative writer Kevin Williamson has called “a big market for servility.”

Simpson, an affable, capable, serious legislator who learned his brand of get something done politics in the Idaho Statehouse, has never been a bomb thrower. He openly disdained the craziness of the Tea Party and the guerilla tactics of the Freedom Caucus. When Labrador was bashing John Boehner, Simpson was supporting the speaker and the House as an institution. Before his election in 2016, Simpson said Trump was “unfit to be president” and he could not support him. 

Idaho’s Mike Simpson (center) in happier days working with the Obama Administration and conservation groups to protect Idaho wilderness. Simpson’s been critical of Trump, but at every critical stage as gone along with the president.

To his credit Simpson has called BS on the Trump Administration a few times. He said the Republican response to Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency in order to redirect congressionally authorized funds from the Pentagon was hypocrisy and Republicans would have rightly raised hell had a Democrat done something similar. 

“I mean I’ll be real honest,” Simpson said at the time, “if Obama had done this Republicans would be going nuts. That’s just the reality.” But then Simpson went along with the president who is poised to again raid the Pentagon budget

A year ago when Trump undercut members of his own administration and backed out on an immigration agreement Simpson said the president couldn’t be trusted not to renege on any commitment. “The one thing you’ve got when you come into this place is your credibility,” Simpson said, “and once you lose it, it’s gone and it’s gone forever. He’s lost it.” But then Simpson went along with the president. 

Even farther back, six months into the Trump presidency in 2017, Simpson expressed his frustrations with the president in comments to Politico. “I don’t even pay any attention to what is going on with the administration because I don’t care,” Simpson said. “They’re a distraction. The family is a distraction, the president is a distraction.” 

As reporter John Bresnahan wrote at the time, Simpson went on to say, “Quite frankly, I’m starting to wonder if anyone in the (Trump) family knows what the truth is.” Then Simpson went along with the president. 

“It’s all just a bunch of bullshit,” Simpson said on the first day of the Trump impeachment inquiry and then admitted he had not read the testimony of career diplomat William Taylor who provided one of the first detailed accounts of Trump’s effort to shakedown the Ukrainian government in order to smear former vice president Joe Biden. And then Simpson went along with the president and voted against articles of impeachment labeling Trump’s sordid mess a political hit job by Democrats. 

But wait. Now comes Lev Parnas, the Rudy Giuliani pal, who earlier this week turned over records to the House of Representatives that appear to show, as the Washington Post reported, that “Ukraine’s top prosecutor offering an associate of President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, damaging information related to former vice president Joe Biden if the Trump administration recalled the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.” Other newly released records seem to show that Trump knew of these efforts and sanctioned them.

Mike Simpson has had a long political career, an often-distinguished one, but now he confronts a harsh reality, what Steve Schmidt calls the “guts-and-courage crisis in American politics.” By going along with Trump when he knew what a destructive force he would be not only to his party, but also to the country, Simpson has become the problem.   

“So we’re a country that now is willing to accept serial lying,” says Charlie Sykes, “that’s willing to accept overt racism; that’s willing to accept a president of the United States who behaves in a way that we would not find acceptable from any corporate executive, any other community leader. So what does that say about us?” 

And what does it say about Mr. Simpson? 

—–0—–

2020 Election, Russia, Trump

A Bad Time for Truth…

I came of age in politics when it was considered a sin – a near mortal sin – to be caught in a lie or to be deemed guilty of a flip-flop. Now shameless lying and blatant position shifting are at the center of American politics. 

It is a bad, awful, distressing time for facts. Everywhere you look politicians are shading and shifting or more often bald faced lying and changing positions for political advantage. 

America’s chief dissembler.

Nowhere is this denial of facts more obvious than Republican efforts to shuffle off the extent to which Russian influence has come to rest at the center of American politics. Republican senators and members of Congress regularly repeat Kremlin talking points on national television. The attorney general dismisses his own Justice Department inspector general’s report that concluded that the 2016 counter intelligence investigation of Donald Trump’s campaign was justified. And on the very day articles of impeachment are prepared against the president, Trump invites the Russian foreign minister to the Oval Office, a blatant display either of the president’s hubris or proof that he really is under Vladimir Putin’s thrall. 

It is worth remembering, which is difficult to do amid the chaos that has marked American politics for the last three years, that the trail that leads to Trump’s seemingly inevitable impeachment by the House of Representatives always arcs back to Moscow, and not the one on the Palouse. 

Trump will be impeached, of course, if not convicted for his efforts to bribe the president of Ukraine into announcing an investigation into a political rival. The operative word here is “announcing” since Trump could care less about political corruption in Ukraine. He merely wants a Twitter bat to swing repeatedly at Joe Biden, an outcome he has perhaps already succeeded in achieving. The mere announcement of investigations could be used, in the absence of real facts, to bludgeon a political opponent in the same way Hillary Clinton’s emails drove the narrative for Trump in 2016. 

But the real connecting tissue here is Russia. Let’s review.

In 2014, Russia “annexed” Crimea, a part of Ukraine, a former Soviet republic. Subsequently pro-Russian forces invaded eastern Ukraine. The Obama Administration led a unanimous Europe in condemning these actions, forced Russia out of the bloc of leading economic nations and imposed the first of a series of sanctions. Obama later sanctioned Russia for election interference.

Putin rebuilds the Russian Empire with an assist from the White House and Republicans

For Putin these moves against the old Ukrainian Soviet republic, as Konstantin Skorkin wrote earlier this year in Foreign Affairs, “signaled Russia’s rebirth as a great power, ready to ignore world opinion in the pursuit of its national interests.” 

Enter the whole Trump-Russia thing, which is explicitly connected to Ukraine in a dozen very specific ways. 

“The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were,” Trump told an interviewer in 2016 as he echoed Kremlin talking points. Earlier this year Trump bizarrely claimed Crimea “was sort of taken away from President Obama,” effectively absolving Putin of his obvious responsibility for an invasion and the resulting deaths of 10,000 Ukrainians. 

The Mueller investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election makes clear – you really should read it – that Russia broadly and blatantly interference with the election to assist Trump and that he encouraged and welcomed the helped. Putin has admitted he was happy to see Trump elected knowing he would be a soft touch for continued Russian interference in Ukraine and elsewhere.  

Former national security advisor Michael Flynn is awaiting sentencing for lying about contacts he had with the Russian ambassador in December 2016 aimed at signaling the incoming administration would work to ease Obama’s sanctions related to Ukraine. Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort is in jail for, among other things, money laundering related to work he did for pro-Russian elements in Ukraine, almost certainly at Putin’s behest. 

Trump yucks it up with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador the day after he fired the FBI director as part of the “whole Trump-Russia thing”

When Trump first met with Russian diplomats in the Oval Office shortly after he had fired the FBI director, he boasted that James Comey’s dismissal took the heat off him. For good measure Trump then disclosed national security secrets to his Russian friends. That information was subsequently leaked to the Washington Post and Idaho’s Jim Risch – bizarrely is the word here too – blamed the leakers and said Trump was within his rights to cavalierly declassify secret information. Risch was correct that Trump has that right, but doing so doesn’t make it right. 

In the summer of 2018 Trump met face-to-face with Putin in Helsinki and when asked if he believed Russia had interfered in the election the American president sided with the former KGB operative over the unanimous opinion of U.S. intelligence officials. He then spun a word salad of misdirection and lies about the FBI, “the server” and Clinton’s emails, a debunked conspiracy theory that Trump eventually connected back to… Ukraine.   

This chain of events, a Manchurian Candidate-like screenplay, rolls off the backs of Putin Republicans like water off a duck. Or perhaps a more apt metaphor: Russian disinformation clings to these Trumpian disciples like breadcrumbs on Chicken Kiev. 

Now we daily confront the systemic lying by Republican elected officials who join Trump in advancing a totally fanciful narrative that Ukraine, the country Putin continues to war with, was really responsible for American election interference. Congressman Russ Fulcher has been sipping this crazy conspiracy Kool Aid lately, suggesting without a thimble of evidence, that former vice president Joe Biden is corrupt and that’s why Trump was justified in pressuring the Ukrainian government. 

Trump meets with Putin in Helsinki and sides with the Russian dictator rather than U.S. intelligence agencies

You’re left asking – and every member of Congress should be forced to answer – who really benefits from this embrace of Russian propaganda inserted into the American political bloodstream? Who benefits from advancing a false narrative about Ukraine and working to weaken a new pro-western government there? Who benefits from efforts to delegitimize career diplomatic officials, intelligence agencies and the press that has uncovered much of this sordid mess? Who benefits when Republicans like Fulcher side with Russia over the Constitution and labels an impeachment inquiry, one obstructed from the get go by the president, as a “shameful, sham of a coup.”

How did the Republican Party get from Ronald Reagan’s condemnation of “the evil empire” – the Soviet Union in the 1980s – to the embrace of a president who has courted, praised and enabled a Russian president who was once an intelligence agent of that evil empire and today seeks to rebuild it? 

The times are ripe with irony. The party that once prided itself on tough-minded reality in opposition to brutal authoritarians now celebrates a homegrown con man who embodies the kind of lawless thuggery Reagan once condemned. 

Congressman Mike Simpson, the last Republican I would expect to embrace Russian fables, lamented Trump’s looming impeachment by saying, “today is a dark day for our country.” Simpson is right, but for all the wrong reasons. 

—–0—–

Impeachment, Trump, Watergate

Country or Party?

Two old-school Republicans from Washington state have been in the news recently. And the political careers of William Ruckelshaus and Slade Gorton offer a stark reminder of just how far the modern GOP has descended into a culture of lies, corruption, conspiracy theories and general incompetence.

Ruckelshaus, who died last week at age 87, is rightly remembered, as the Seattle Times said in an editorial, “as the upright Cabinet figure who served under two Republican presidents as an effective Environmental Protection Agency leader, and resigned when President Richard Nixon asked him to sign off on firings to block the Watergate investigation.”

William Ruckelshaus sworn in 1970 as Nixon’s EPA director. He later quit rather than carry out Nixon’s order to fire the special counsel investigating the president.

As the current Congress grapples with the immensity of President Donald Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors, it’s worth remembering that in another time with another corrupt Republican president, Ruckelshaus, a lifelong Republican, stood for principle and honor. He refused to be a part of Nixon’s efforts to cover up the Watergate affair and discredit those investigating the wrongdoing. Ruckelshaus quit rather than be an enabling toady. We know it today as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”

It is little surprise that Ruckelshaus’s courage in 1973, when he defied a president of his own party, ended up being the first paragraph of his universally praiseworthy obituaries.

Ruckelshaus was also a Republican conservationist, a species now as rare as a Snake River salmon. His tenure as EPA director was marked by pragmatic, balanced approaches to protecting the environment. He was neither an apologist for industry nor the Sierra Club, but a professional who understood that you could protect the environment and still engage with care in the business of a modern economy.

Just days before Ruckelshaus’s death, the last Republican senator from Washington state, Slade Gorton, a very conservative guy, published an op-ed in the New York Times. In typical Gorton no-nonsense language, he wrote: “To my fellow Republicans, I give this grave and genuine warning: It’s not enough merely to dismiss the Ukraine investigation as a partisan witch hunt or to hide behind attacks against the ‘deep state,’ or to try to find some reason to denounce every witness who steps forward, from decorated veterans to Trump megadonors.

Former Republican Senator Slade Gorton: Impeachment is justified.

“History demands that we all wrestle with the facts at hand. They are unavoidable. Fifty years from now, history will not accept the position that impeachment was a referendum on the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. It must be a verdict reached on the facts.”

Gorton’s conclusion: “There are multiple actions on this president’s part that warrant a vote of impeachment.” He urged fellow Republicans to use the House process and a Senate trial to find and act on the facts. And as Ruckelshaus did nearly 50 years ago, Gorton said it was time for Republicans to “put country above party.”

Yet, instead we see a blizzard of obfuscation, a storm of conspiracy theory-spinning, a downpour of misinformation and a near total willingness on the part of Republicans to absolve Trump of the most impeachable conduct since Nixon ordered Ruckelshaus to fire a special prosecutor.

And Idaho’s all-Republican congressional delegation is quietly poised to go all the way with their corrupt leader. No amount of evidence and plainly observable conduct will deter the Idaho four from ignoring their oath of office in support of their personal political standing. Indeed, Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch along with Congressmen Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson have gone beyond merely ignoring presidential misconduct to actively abetting it.

Risch is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the committee that produced a bipartisan report identifying Russia operatives as the guilty parties exploiting state-level election systems and engaging in a vast disinformation campaign in 2016.

“Masquerading as Americans,” the committee’s report says, “these operatives used targeted advertisements, intentionally falsified news articles, self-generated content, and social media platform tools to interact with and attempt to deceive tens of millions of social media users in the United States. This campaign sought to polarize Americans on the basis of societal, ideological, and racial differences, provoked real world events, and was part of a foreign government’s covert support of Russia’s favored candidate in the U.S. presidential election.”

And, of course, it was done at Vladimir Putin’s direction to assist Trump’s election. Based upon Trump’s public statements — “Russia, if you’re listening” — and the conduct of his son and chief advisers, Trump clearly welcomed the foreign interference.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian interference in 2016. Republicans endorsed the finding and then ignored them.

Have you seen any member of the Idaho congressional delegation talking about this? Quite the contrary.

Risch said in February he wasn’t worried about Putin, calling Russia “the most overrated country on the face of the planet.” Meanwhile, Russia, with Trump’s assistance, has strengthened its position in the Middle East, meddled in the Brexit process in the United Kingdom, continued its war against Ukraine and furthered its ambition to weaken NATO.

Or has any Idaho member pushed back when House Republicans, and at least one GOP senator, invoked a debunked conspiracy theory promoted by the president and his most fevered supporters that Ukraine is actually the bad actor here?

Again, quite the contrary. Fulcher has been actively trafficking in the Ukraine smokescreen that Trump really cared about investigating corruption in Ukraine, even though the only “corruption” he’s ever concerned himself with involves Joe Biden and his son. Not a single piece of evidence has emerged regarding the Bidens, but that hasn’t stopped Fulcher from spinning the testimony of Ambassador Gordon Sondland to suggest it exonerated Trump when it did precisely the opposite.

“Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’ ” Sondland said before the House Intelligence Committee. “With regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.”

Fulcher, on his Twitter feed and echoing Trump, seized upon Sondland’s reported phone call with the president where, according to Sondland, Trump denied any quid pro quo in withholding aid to Ukraine in exchange for doing “a little favor” by announcing an investigation of a political rival. Fulcher is content to take the word of a fabulist president against a mountain of evidence to the contrary, and in fact new reporting indicates there is ample reason to believe that Sondland’s call with Trump never happened.

The Idaho four have really only two options: Conclude that all the evidence — the record of Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president, phone records, every single witness, the obstruction on testimony and documents and what there is to see with our own eyes — is incorrect, or they can conclude that the engineers of the Ukraine shakedown are lying.

Actually, there is a third option: Pull a Slade Gorton and a Bill Ruckelshaus and really search for the truth. But to do that you would have to put the country first.

GOP, Impeachment, Trump

Vichy Republicans…

You might have thought the modern Republican Party had reached its nadir back in 2016 when the party’s presidential candidate attacked an American Muslim family whose military officer son had died during a car bombing in Iraq.

It was widely reported at the time that Donald Trump’s attack, particularly on the Gold Star mother of a dead American military officer, “drew quick and widespread condemnation and amplified calls for Republican leaders to distance themselves from their presidential nominee.” Hardly any Republican leader did so.

Khizr Khan, who’s son Humayun was killed serving in the U.S. Army ten years after September 11, 2001, was attacked by Donald Trump.

The assault on the Khan family came, of course, after Trump had vilified John McCain, the Navy veteran, Vietnam POW, Republican senator and presidential candidate. It’s been downhill ever since.

Not only have Republican elected officials refused to “distance themselves” from the president, they have, as the ongoing House impeachment inquiry makes crystal clear, joined Trump in his fever swamp of threats, lies, political vilification, gas lighting and hatred directed at various groups and individuals.

In real time last week, the president himself bashed a nonpartisan, career Foreign Service officer. And earlier this week, the White House and many congressional Republicans openly questioned the loyalty of a decorated career military officer. Earlier the president had publicly slammed a foreign policy aide to his own vice president.

Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, attacked by Republicans for pointing out Trump’s impeachable behavior. Vindman is an immigrant, Jewish and a combat veteran

“This White House appears to be cannibalizing itself,” William C. Inboden, a former national security aide to President George W. Bush told the New York Times. “While many previous White House staffs have feuded with each other and leaked against each other, this is the first time in history I am aware of a White House openly attacking its own staff — especially for merely upholding their constitutional duties.”

The ghost of Joe McCarthy — and McCarthy’s loathsome henchman Roy Cohn, once Trump’s personal attorney — inhabits the modern GOP. When the president slanders people in his own administration or those who dare to differ with him, the attacks bring only deafening silence from cowed conservatives. This servility brings to mind nothing so much as the craven acquiesce of Vichy collaborators in France after the 1940 French surrender to Nazi Germany.

The stains on the character of these cowardly opportunists, like the shame that continues to cling to long-dead French politicians who dishonored their country for personal advantage, will be remembered long after their petty political careers are a footnote to history.

At the ultimate moment of reckoning, the collaborators accepted personal dishonor rather than courageous principle. That is the bottom line on the modern Republican Party.

Scholars who study the rise of authoritarian leaders have identified a “playbook” that defines how politicians with dictatorial aspirations behave. As Shelley Inglis, the executive director of the human rights center at Dayton University, wrote recently, “Democracy is in trouble.” And in fact, the upward arc of democratic governments around the world may well have peaked in 2008 and is now surely in decline.

“The mainstay of today’s authoritarianism,” Inglis says, “is strengthening your power while simultaneously weakening government institutions, such as parliaments and judiciaries, that provide checks and balances.

Trump has repeatedly embraced authoritarians like Turkey’s Erdogan and Russia’s Putin

“The key is to use legal means that ultimately give democratic legitimacy to the power grab. Extreme forms of this include abolishing presidential term limits, which was done in China, and regressive constitutional reforms to expand presidential power, like in Turkey.”

During his chaotic presidency, Donald Trump has repeatedly denigrated the pillars of American democracy. He’s vilified judges who rule against him. He labels a free press that attempts to hold him accountable “the enemy of the people.” He has hammered the intelligence community because it hasn’t agreed with Vladimir Putin.

While Trump once proudly proclaimed that “my generals” surrounded him, they are now all gone. James Mattis, the Marine four-star Trump called “just a brilliant, wonderful man” became, after he quit over a disagreement with the president on the Syria cut and run policy, “the world’s most overrated general.

Trump’s capture of the Republican Party is total and the moral and intellectual rot behind that takeover is complete.

Trump this week pardoned three men deemed criminals by the military justice system, a move that horrified believers in a system that holds Americans accountable for war crimes, including senior officers who put their careers on the line to voice their disapproval. Not a single Republican uttered a peep of protest.

The case being made in lame defense of the president on charges that he obstructed justice and abused his authority in the Ukraine affair is truly the height of Vichy Republicanism. The evidence is clear, confirmed by people inside the White House, that Trump employed, indeed ordered, an extortion scheme involving his personal lawyer to try and force a foreign government to investigate a domestic political opponent. Yet the president’s collaborators, including the entire Idaho congressional delegation, twist themselves into knots; debasing the truth and themselves in service of this would-be despot.

Devin Nunes, a leader of the fever swamp, conspiracy theory embracing GOP
(Credit Image: © Ron Sachs/CNP via ZUMA Wire)

This is how democracy comes apart: party over principle, personal interest ahead of national interest and collaboration before common sense.

In order to believe that the president of the United States did nothing wrong in soliciting foreign help in an attempt to smear a political rival, Vichy Republicans have to ignore the clear public comments and unmistakable actions of our emerging despot.

In an interview with ABC last summer, Trump said: “If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent’— oh, I think I’d want to hear it.” During his campaign he called on Russia to continue its attack against his opponent by finding her emails. His actions in Ukraine are just clear.

The president has no trouble seeking any political advantage, no matter how odious and he has completely co-opted Vichy Republicans — or sufficiently neutered them — so that most all of them think all this is just fine.

Many of them know it is not just fine, but collaboration is more convenient than the cold, clear truth. Their dishonor will remain even as a functioning democracy is diminished. What a legacy.

2020 Election, Carter, Trump

Political Crazy…

The cowboy humorist Will Rogers famously said, “I’m not a member of any organized political party . . . I’m a Democrat.”

I celebrated Will’s 140th birthday recently by remembering that my dad like to quote him saying things like: “A politician is not as narrow-minded as he forces himself to be.” Or this classic: “Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously, and the politicians as a joke, when it used to be vice versa.”

The humorist and social commentator Will Rogers

Which brings us to the absurdity of modern American politics, an unprecedentedly divisive president and those who would replace him. 

Donald Trump has, as one-time GOP strategist and John McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt said recently, “completely remade the American presidency through his debasements of its traditions.” Trump is the first president in any of our lifetimes who has consistently sought “to incite and divide as opposed to unifying around core principles.” 

Yet, Trump is betting that he can avoid, despite ever mounting evidence of abuse of power, being forced from office and that he can again thread the Electoral College needle next year, while losing the popular vote. Trump’s only path to victory is to become ever more shrill and demagogic in bashing his opponents. “Our radical Democrat opponents,” Trump said recently, “are driven by hatred, prejudice, and rage. They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.” 

That is palpable nonsense, but it’s all he has. Donald Trump wants the coming election to be about anything but him and Democrats will make a historic – hopefully not also tragic – mistake if they allow the election to be anything but a referendum on Trump and his presidency. 

Yet, Democrats like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are playing directly into Trump’s small hands with their own crazy divisiveness. It comes in a vastly expensive and vastly controversial “Medicare for All” plan. Trump will re-brand this as “socialism” in a New York minute. 

Every American with the possible exception of a few hospital administrators, medical device manufactures, insurance company CEOs or orthopedic surgeons knows that our “system” of health care is an ultra-expensive joke. We spend more money for worse outcomes than almost any other developed country. Yet our political leaders go into partisan lock down mode to prevent sensible efforts that could make things better. Mitt Romney once proudly embraced – you can look it up – what essentially became Obamacare, but when Romney’s reforms became identified with a Democrat open political warfare ensued. And Republicans effectively conceded the entire issue to Democrats. 

Remember Trump promised, “I am going to take care of everybody … Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.” Right. The only policy the GOP has is repeal of Obamacare and they haven’t done that. 

So with all this running room to maneuver on a fundamentally important issue for millions of Americans Democrats are debating who can raise taxes the most to fund “Medicare for All.” The plan is not only unrealistic because it can’t been enacted, but also because it cedes the health care issue to a president who can’t remotely articulate a true policy but can say “socialism.” 

It turns out that the worst president in modern times, even one who is a narcissistic sociopath, will beat a socialist every time. 

Meanwhile, Democrats are focused on macro contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, two of the least representative states in the nation, as the means of winnowing their gang of potential candidates. 

Jimmy Carter, who most Americans now regard as a not particularly skillful president, but a remarkable former president, needs to share some of the blame for why we place such outsized importance on Iowa. Democratic presidential candidates who couldn’t find Dubuque on a map two years ago can now not only locate the river town on the Mississippi but also name the local party chair in Osceola County, population 6,040. 

Jimmy Carter made the Iowa caucus what it is today.

Former vice president Walter Mondale once disavowed any presidential ambitions – it was fake news – when he said, “Life is too short to be spent in Holiday Inns,” but that’s what you do in Iowa. 

Until Carter in 1976 made the curious, which is say insane Iowa caucus process central to selecting presidential nominees the quaint local tradition was, well, a quaint local tradition. Now the political universe turns on the latest Iowa Poll and whether Biden is slipping or Mayor Pete surging. 

I like Iowa. I worked there years ago at a small radio station where I interviewed Rosalyn Carter late in 1975. But I’m still not sure a few thousand people gathered at a school gymnasium in Waukon or at a Lutheran Church in Corning is the best method to select the next Democratic candidate who has a minor charge: save the country. 

For one thing the logistics of getting people out from in front of the television on a Monday night in February in Iowa is a daunting challenge. As one organizer recently told the Des Moines Register, “It’s like … trying to plan a wedding reception at the same time at 86 locations and you don’t know who’s going to show up.” 

No sane political party – at least no organized one – would select candidates this way. And no organized party confronted with one overriding objective in less than a year would flirt with let alone adopt some of the positions Democrats are espousing. 

“Medicare for All” may be the undoing of some Democratic primary candidates and, if so, they deserve the undoing. Come on, Iowa! 

Democrats, at least some of them, seem to have forgotten that they don’t need a policy prescription for every single issue confronting the world. They just need to not scare a lot of Americans who are dog-tired of Trumpian nonsense and incompetence and are looking for a change, but not a scary change. 

Democrats need to remember their task is to defeat a historically unpopular president by realistic appeals to women, young people and Latino and African-American voters who are repulsed by Trump’s chaos, lying and corruption. The old white guy crowd is lost to Democrats, but the right Democrat can appeal to the remaining genuine swing voters who will take a dim view of a plan that eradicates 150 million private health insurance plans and raises taxes to do it.  

Idaho Politics, Impeachment, Trump

It Will Get Harder…

The Trump defending Idaho congressional delegation was reminded yet again this week of the dangers involved in shielding a president who can’t tell the truth and won’t let most of his subordinates even try. 

Spoiler alert: Defending the president is only going to get more difficult; more difficult by the minute. 

An unlikely villain with Pacific Northwest roots emerged fully this week to vastly complicate the calculus for Trump defenders and expand the abuse of power allegations that ensnarl the White House. A widening cast of characters ranging from the Secretary of State to Rudy Giuliani to Roger Stone, a guy who went on trial this week for lying the Congress about interactions with WikiLeaks and Russians in 2016, is now involved in scandal and cover-up. 

Gordon Sondland, the Northwestern at the center of the Ukraine extortion scheme

The old Sopranos television series offered a no less motley collection of mountebanks, grifters, crooks and sycophants. 

A star witness this week turned out to be a guy named Gordon Sondland, owner of a chain of boutique hotels in Portland and Seattle, who, clearly afraid that he was starring down a perjury charge, told House investigators that he had “refreshed my memory” since first testifying in the Trump impeachment inquiry in October. Sondland is the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

As Willamette Week’s Nigel Jaquiss wrote, Sondland’s “recollection needed help: The transcript of his initial, October 17 testimony shows Sondland used the phrase ‘I don’t remember’ 36 times and ‘I don’t recall’ another nine times.” 

On November 4 Sondland’s memory recovered and he produced revised testimony confirming there was a quid pro quo – better descriptions might include the word extortion – that connected Ukrainian aid to Donald Trump’s desire to see a political opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, investigated by a foreign government. What’s more Sondland admitted he personally delivered the extortion promise.

Ukraine: So much trouble for Trump, the GOP … and Ukraine.

Republicans will continue to use the “angels on the head of pin” approach to all this by saying Sondland did not specifically connect the quid pro quo to Trump personally. Stay tuned others will make the connection. And make no mistake this is the very definition of abuse of power.

It turns out Sondland is a classic character in Trump World, a transactional namedropper with a fondness for the gaudy and grandiose. Mostly a financial supporter of Republicans, Sondland has also made significant contributions to Democrats, including the Portland mayor who just decided to hand over the $16,000 Sondland gave him to non-profit groups, including ironically one pushing for impeachment.

Sondland originally supported Jeb Bush for president in 2016, but when Trump won the Republican nomination he scrambled to get on the right side. Sondland was scheduled to host a Trump fundraiser in Seattle during the campaign but abruptly pulled out when Trump trashed the family of a Muslim soldier who died in Iraq. It was a momentary speed bump in his plans. 

After Trump won Sondland donated a cool $1 million to the inaugural committee and angled for an ambassadorial job and finally landed the plush position at the European Union. The job comes with a nice house in Brussels that Sondland immediately began to redecorate using $1 million of U.S. taxpayer money. 

Sondland had, of course, no previous government or diplomatic experience and is demonstrably unqualified for the post he holds. Nevertheless, the Senate confirmed him on a voice vote after a pro forma hearing. It turns out $1 million buys a lot in politics, both prestige and, in Sondland’s case, big trouble. 

Since Ukraine is not part of the EU, Sondland’s involvement in the Ukraine affair is almost certainly due to his having expressed undying loyalty to Trump and a willingness to implement the president’s basest desires.

“His behavior in all this tracks perfectly with his personality,” an Oregonian who knows Sondland told me. “He wanted to be relevant to Trump so he made himself useful to Trump and Rudy. He is 100% transactional with no scruples. This all fits.”

Now that Sondland his rolled his quid pro quo hand grenade into the middle of the impeachment investigation, Politico reports that, “Republicans are starting to turn on him.” After speaking to a host of Republican lawmakers about Sondland, Politico said he was variously described as “a lackey, a chest-thumper and a rube. Of course, perhaps that’s because he turned on the president.” 

Of course none of this will move the most loyal of Trump defenders, the faction of the Republican Party that former Florida GOP congressman David Jolly calls “spineless politicians rotten to the core without virtue, without any level of human integrity, devoid of self respect … Without courage and without the moral compass to recognize their own malevolence.” 

Still the Sondland memory refresh this week vastly complicates the Republican defense of Trump. They’ve tried the argument that the process is unfair, they’ve tried smearing career foreign service officers and career military people, but to defend the president now they must admit that demanding a quid pro quo from a foreign leader in order to influence domestic politics does not constitute corruption and abuse of power. Trouble is it does.

It will get harder to defend Trump.

Some Republicans – I’m thinking of Sen. Jim Risch and Rep. Russ Fulcher – will have little trouble justifying such presidential behavior, but what of Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson? Are they really willing to go there? Are they willing to sanction presidential behavior they would completely reject if the other party had done it? 

Crapo, after all, voted to impeach Bill Clinton for lying about consensual sex. Simpson is a pragmatic institutionalist who you know in your heart of hearts loathes Donald Trump for a host of reasons. Simpson serves in Congress because he wants to do important things not because he enjoys covering for a charlatan who looks more and more like a common crook. 

And there will be more, including public testimony soon from William Taylor, a career foreign service officer who has been the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and whose earlier testimony (under oath) confirmed the quid pro quo. 

The day is fast approaching when Idaho’s members of Congress will need to reflect profoundly on the oath they took, hand on the Bible. That oath was to protect and defend the Constitution, not to protect and defend Donald Trump. 

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Iraq, Politics, Trump

Thank You For Your Service

For decades the national Republican Party literally owned the political debate over national security issues. Polls repeatedly indicated that American voters trusted Republicans more to properly handle military and foreign policy.Republicans ruthlessly — and occasionally shamelessly — exploited this advantage.

In his 1976 vice presidential debate with Walter Mondale, Republican Bob Dole infamously referred to “Democrat wars” and then he denied he had said it. “I figured up the other day,” Dole really did say. “If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit.”

Walter Mondale and Bob Dole debate in 1976.

The implication was clear, if altogether sleazy: Democrats caused wars and Republicans prevented them. That logic mostly held until George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 on what turned out to be false pretenses. We still have troops there, but they long ago gave up searching for weapons of mass destruction.

Polls now show that Americans are tired of what the president calls “endless wars,” which predicated his slipshod decisions of the last month to abandoned longtime Kurdish allies and create a foreign policy in the Middle East that changes hour-by-hour, based on the latest Twitter messages from the White House.

Republicans once owned the “we support the troops” trope as well, even if they occasionally slimed an opponent with a service record. You could at this point Google “swiftboating” or just remember a U.S. senator from Georgia by the name of Max Cleland.

Cleland was a wheelchair-confined Vietnam veteran who was elected to the Senate in 1996. He lost an arm and both legs at age 25 when another soldier’s hand grenade exploded near him. He was awarded a Bronze Star and a Silver Star and spent much of his Senate career working on veterans and security issues. When Cleland ran for reelection in 2002 his Republican opponent, a nonentity named Saxby Chambliss, broadcast one of the sleaziest attack ads in recent political history.

Georgia Democrat Max Cleland lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam. Republicans attacked him for being soft on national defense.

Cleland, the veteran without legs and missing one arm thanks to his service to the nation, was depicted in the ad along with photos of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. The message: The Democrat was “soft” on national security. John McCain was one of the few Republicans to condemn the slander, calling it “worse than disgraceful. It’s reprehensible.”

Cleland lost.

Still, Republicans continued to claim the mantle of support for veterans, at least until Donald Trump shredded all pretense of trying to uphold that fiction.It was a remarkable moment this week when a combat veteran of five deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, a career military officer with a master’s degree from Harvard who has also served abroad in three different U.S. embassies and on the staff of the Joint Chiefs, came to Capitol Hill.

By now everyone knows that Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, who at age 3 emigrated from Ukraine with his parents, actually listened to the now infamous telephone call Trump held in July with the president of Ukraine.

Vindman confirmed, according to his written testimony, that Trump sought help from a foreign government to collect dirt on a U.S. citizen and political opponent. Vindman also confirmed what many suspected, the public version of the White House “transcript” of the call was incomplete.

Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman arrives on Capitol Hill to offer testimony about “the call” with the president of Ukraine.

Trump signaled in his very stable genius Twitter account that the military officer assigned to his National Security Council staff, who is the council’s Ukraine expert, was a nonentity who the president had never met, but was nonetheless branded “Never Trump.”

The Trumpian universe of apologists, enablers and sycophants took the cue and within minutes Vindman, who was wounded in Iraq, was trashed as an unworthy immigrant, a man with, as former GOP Congressman Sean Duffy said on CNN, “an affinity for the Ukraine, he speaks Ukrainian, and he came from the country, and he wants to make sure they’re safe and free.”

Or put another way, a guy who has chosen to make his career one of service to the United States, who has a twin brother who is also an Army colonel, who is an expert on that volatile piece of the globe, is somehow because he’s an immigrant a suspect patriot. And because Vindman believes the president acted improperly, he’s suitable to attack.

The reprehensible Laura Ingraham, a Fox News Trump toady of the first order, went even farther and without a scintilla of evidence. “Here we have a U.S. national security official who is advising Ukraine while working inside the Ukraine, apparently against the president’s interest. … Isn’t that kind of an interesting angle to this story?”

Ingraham’s guest, a lawyer named John Yoo, who will be remembered, if at all, for authoring the memos providing legal justification for George W. Bush’s “enhanced interrogation” methods, suggested Vindman might somehow be involved in “espionage.”

In fairness to Yoo, which is more than he offered a decorated military officer, he later tried to walk back his comments, saying they had been deliberately misconstrued. (Yoo also misspelled the colonel’s name three times in his statement, but then little mistakes are inevitable when you slander on the fly.)

For Trump, the American military is just another prop, convenient for a photo op or to soak up the deference the military affords any president. It’s the individual accomplishment and sacrifice he disparages and the list of people who have served that have received his insults is as long as his own military record is short.

No one in the Idaho congressional delegation — to a man deeply concerned about due process for the president — rose this week to defend a military man slimed in the rightwing echo chamber. And we’ll almost certainly see most Republican officeholders quietly go along with these outrages because that’s what they do in the Age of Trump.

Trump is like many Americans who enjoy the little rituals that indicate we support the troops. We gladly let them board a flight first and maybe even mutter “thank you for your service.” But most of us are as removed from Americans in uniform as Trump is from the bone spurs that kept him from Vietnam.

Trump — and most of his followers — value “the troops” in the abstract; it’s the reality of the principled, ethical Gen. Jim Mattis, or Gen. H.R. McMaster, Sen. John McCain, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Ambassador William Taylor or Lt. Col. Vindman that they hate.

GOP, Trump

Corruption in Plain Sight

The ultimate danger of the Trump presidency, even beyond the potentially catastrophic consequences of the recent abandonment of northern Syria to the Turks, Russians and ISSI, has always been that Trump will completely and permanently warp the simple notion of facts and destroy the idea of acceptable political behavior. 

There was always going to be days of reckoning with the rabble-rousing, norm busting, and corruption pushing president. Those days have now surely arrived and the ultimate question has been framed for Idaho’s all-Republican congressional delegation. 

“It is no longer a question of whether this happened,” the veteran and very measured Dan Balz of the Washington Post wrote this week concerning he latest revelations about the Ukraine shakedown. “It is now a question of how the president explains it and how lawmakers — especially Republicans — choose to respond to it.”

That is the question for Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Congressmen Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson. Also a question for Gov. Brad Little and all the other Republicans who have shelved their sensibility about ethics, while bowing at the Trump alter.

As my friend David Parker, a political scientist at Montana State University, wrote this week on Twitter: “Imagine the following: Churchill, calling FDR: ‘We could really use some help here to stop the Nazis…’ FDR: ‘Winston, sure thing – but not until you give me some dirt on that bastard Dewey.’” David was factiously, of course, referring to the unthinkable: Franklin Roosevelt withholding critical aid to Great Britain in exchange for shaking down the prime minister for help defeating his 1944 Republican opponent. 

Unthinkable, at least until Trump created a shadow State Department, put the criminally incompetent Rudy Giuliani in charge and used a Portland hotel operator who gave a $1 million to his inaugural fund as his messenger. All this – the illegality of seeking a political campaign favor from a foreign leader, the rogue foreign policy, the fundamentally venal corruption – is right there in plain sight. 

Trump corruption was also glaringly on display with the president’s decision to award the upcoming G-7 summit of leaders of major industrial nation to his own Florida golf resort. Under intense pressure from among others Mike Simpson, who admitted it was getting a bit difficult to defend such blatant Trump corruption, the president backed down. Of course he blamed Democrats and the press and dismissed Constitutional prohibitions against his sleazy behavior as “phony.” 

Donald Trump in his element at his Doral golf course in Florida.

So, why exactly was it difficult for many Republicans to condemn such corruption? The president awarded a huge contract to himself after all, which in a simpler, more ethical time would have been the very definition of improper, self-dealing. The fact that the Constitution directly addresses such misconduct ought to have made reproaching Trump an easy call. And, of course, the president never admitted his scheme was wrong, just that it had been criticized.   

Imagine if Gov. Brad Little owned a hotel in downtown Boise rather than a ranch. And imagine that he ordered all visiting Republicans or traveling state employees to stay at his hotel. Would that be improper? 

Or imagine that House Speaker Scott Bedke owned a printing business rather than a ranch. And then imagine that he ordered all state agencies to do their printing with his business. Would that be corrupt? 

That type of scandal would be spread across every front page in Idaho. There would be demands for investigations and calls for resignation. Yet, some Republicans actually defended Trump’s corruption before he cut off the limb they crawled out on. 

“It may seem careless politically,” said North Dakota Republican Senator Kevin Cramer, “but on the other hand there’s tremendous integrity in his boldness and his transparency.”

Forehead hit table. 

And there was Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s “economic development defense” of Trump corruption. “Anything that draws a major event like that to Florida is not something I would discourage,” Rubio said. 

That’s a far cry from the Rubio of 2016 when he was warning fellow Republicans about Trump. “On issue after issue, what he’s saying to people isn’t true,” Rubio said then. “It’s called a con job. And we’re not going to allow a con artist to take control of the party of Lincoln and Reagan.” 

Yes, yes we are. In fact, we have. 

I would never have imagined that Mitt Romney would have become the keeper of the Republican soul, but that is precisely what has happened. Virtually alone among major GOP officeholders, Romney clearly has a conscious and clearly knows that character must still count in public life. 

The Atlantic’s profile of Mitt Romney positions the former presidential candidate as the “ethical hall monitor” of the modern GOP

“Berating another person, or calling them names, or demeaning a class of people, not telling the truth—those are not private things,” Romney told journalist McKay Coppins who wrote about the Utah Mormon recently in The Atlantic. “If during the campaign you pay a porn star $130,000, that now comes into the public domain.” 

Romney told another interviewer this week, “We certainly can’t have presidents asking foreign countries to provide something of political value. That is, after all, against the law.”

The House impeachment investigation will grind on and there will certainly be more – perhaps many more – revelations of corruption, illegal activity, dishonesty and debasement of the truth. The Giuliani cesspool alone will provide enough content for two new seasons of “Law and Order.”  

The question is this: what do we do about it? Do members of the Idaho delegation continue to accept this profound level of corruption at the very top of the American government? Will they continue to be party to resetting the ethical sideboards for future presidential behavior? Will they uphold their oath to “protect and defend” the Constitution? Will they finally realizing that defending the indefensible is just too hard? 

The days of reckoning are here. And, if irony had not died when Donald Trump moved into the White House, we could shake our heads at the fact that the president proclaimed this week “National Character Counts Week.” 

“May we never forget that our Nation is only as strong as the virtue and character of our citizenry,” Trump’s proclamation read. He obviously forgot the line about the “virtue and character” of the president. 

Middle East, Russia, Trump, U.S. Senate

Blood on the Floor…

On April 6, 2017 President Donald Trump ordered a cruise missile strike on airfields in Syria in response to Syrian dictator Basher al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Idaho Senator Jim Risch immediately praised Trump’s action as “a game changer” that signaled a new American approach to the entire Middle East and would impress the international community. 

“The airstrikes of April 6 were a good first step,” Risch wrote the next day in piece in TIME, “but the United States must go further to push back against Assad and his allies, Russia and Iran. This will require a more comprehensive strategy toward Syria.” 

A buffer zone has been put in place in the wake of President Trump’s appeasement of Turkey’s invasion of Syria

Risch went on: “We also need to build and support a coalition that can effectively ensure the safety of Syrians at home and ensure neither Assad nor the Islamic State can destabilize the country. This would include working with our Turkish allies and Syrian opposition, and supporting Kurdish forces fighting on the ground against both the Islamic State and Assad’s forces.” 

The senator, now the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, assured us that the “Trump Administration has proven to the people of Syria, and the world, that the United States is once again willing to confront growing instability and inhumanity.” 

Of course, Risch could not have been more wrong as events of the last week gruesomely prove. In fact Risch has displayed a stunning combination of ignorance and arrogance over the last two and half years in his unconditional support for the administration’s persistently failing foreign policy. 

Not only has Risch been wrong about Syria, but also about Iran, North Korea, China and a dozen other places where the chaotic and feckless Trump foreign policy has produced one disaster after another, fracturing what is left of U.S. global leadership, strengthening Russia, creating the opening for a revived ISSI, weakening NATO and leaving America increasingly without dependable friends in the world. 

Idaho Senator Jim Risch, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee

Perhaps never before in Idaho political history has one member of the state’s congressional delegation been in such a position of potential power and influence at such a perilous time and squandered it all in subservience to a failed president. It is simply a shocking display of political and moral misconduct.  

Risch has made much of his access to the president, regularly bragging about his phone calls, briefings and ability to influence Trump. As Risch told the Idaho Press’s Betsy Russell recently he intends to maintain influence with Trump by never uttering a public criticism. Well, if Risch’s logic is correct and he is only able to exert influence over U.S. foreign policy by not exercising independent leadership then he also owns the outcome of Trump’s disastrous policy. 

We should assume that Risch is in the group that David Sanger, the New York Times national security correspondent, wrote about this week. “Mr. Trump ignored months of warnings from his advisers about what calamities likely would ensue if he followed his instincts to pull back from Syria and abandon America’s longtime allies, the Kurds. He had no Plan B, other than to leave.”

Among the many Trumpian disasters arising from the precipitous decision to cut a run on the Kurds in Syria is the opportunity it affords Vladimir Putin to obtain what every Russian leader since Stalin has desired – a lead role in the Middle East

“Putin continues to get whatever he wants and generally doesn’t even have to do much,” said a NATO official quoted by the Washington Post. “He got to sit back and watch the Turks and the Americans unravel five years of success and not only did it not cost him anything, he didn’t even have to try to make it happen. Small wonder he’d interfere on Trump’s side in an election.”

And here is Martin Indyk, a two-time U.S. ambassador to Israel, writing this week in Foreign Policy: “The Trump administration likes to see itself as clear-eyed and tough-minded, a confronter of the hard truths others refuse to acknowledge. In fact, it understands so little about how the Middle East actually works that its bungling efforts have been a failure across the board. As so often in the past, the cynical locals are manipulating a clueless outsider, advancing their personal agendas at the naive Americans’ expense.” 

“So, Turkey and the Kurds have been fighting for hundreds of years,” Trump said this week. “We are out of there.” That may well turn out to be “the Trump Doctrine.” 

For days the junior senator from Idaho said exactly nothing beyond an innocuous, boilerplate statement of “serious concern” about Turkey’s invasion of Syria in the wake of U.S. troop departures. By week’s end he was promising to introduce “soon” legislation to sanction Turkey, but without acknowledgment that the president himself had made such legislation necessary. 

BBC image of Kurdish position being shelled by Turkey’s forces in Syria

Meanwhile, daily revelations about Ukraine continue, a scandal that one commentator reduced to its essence: “The president’s personal lawyer was paid by crooked businessmen from a foreign country, and then the president gave him authority over American policy toward that country. This is precisely what the founders meant by ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’” Risch has not answered a demand from Democratic members of his committee that he hold hearings on this debacle and he dodges questions about his views.

When Boise State Public Radio reporter Heath Druzin attempted last week to ask Risch about the appropriateness of an American president asking a foreign leader to gin up dirt on a political opponent, Risch refused to engage. “I’m not going there,” he said before walking away and then adding “Don’t do that again.” 

In a subsequent interview with KBOI Radio’s Nate Shelman, a venue where conservatives comfortably expect to be offered up softballs, Risch fell back on the oldest and most discredited line in American politics. Shelman asked Risch if pulling U.S. troops and green lighting Turkish attacks on the Kurds was correct. “I’m not in the position right now to criticize,” Risch said, “what I want to do is get behind our troops and get behind our commander, and where we are right now and get us to a better place.”

Trump has facilitated a wholesale disaster in Syria that will ripple and roll across the region for years. American credibility has never been lower or our security so abruptly and catastrophically threatened. 

But politically Jim Risch relies up on the same thing Donald Trump counts on – the credulity and partisanship of supporters, each man hoping they can get away with fomenting a catastrophe because, well, in the name of Trump they can do anything. 

Little wonder Risch wants to avoid answering legitimate questions about the president. He’s like a guy caught at the scene of a crime that wants you to believe he’s had nothing to do with all the blood on the floor.

—–0—–

(Note: Since this piece was written a “cease fire” was agreed to by the Turkish government. Senator Risch applauded that move – without referring to the president – and said the situation remains “very fluid.” But as Eric Schmidt and David Sanger wrote in the Times: “The cease-fire agreement reached with Turkey by Vice President Mike Pence amounts to a near-total victory for Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gains territory, pays little in penalties and appears to have outmaneuvered President Trump.”)