Trump Wants To Be King

I was able to listen to the hearing before the DC Circuit this week in which Trump’s lawyers argued that the President can commit literally any crime and get away with it so long as he manages to get through impeachment. It is, to be blunt, a profoundly stupid argument. What Trump says is that the political process of impeachment of the President is a prerequisite to the criminal prosecution of a President. This is a deliberate misreading of the Constitution. Here is what the Impeachment Judgment Clause actually says:

Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States: but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law.

US Const. Art. I, §3

In other words, impeachment only removes an official from office, it is not a criminal sanction, but someone who is impeached and removed may still be charged criminally. The idea behind this clause (as made clear by the Founders at the time) was that impeachment was only a political solution, and an official still remained criminally chargeable after impeachment.

What Trump’s lawyers are arguing is that a President cannot be charged criminally unless they are convicted in an impeachment proceeding first. This argument is patently ridiculous, as the DC Circuit noted right at the outset. Under Trump’s argument, the President of the United States could order the assassination of the entire opposition party in Congress on January 19th and because there was no chance for the President to then be impeached, the President could not be criminally charged for murder. If you think that hypothetical is crazy, that is literally one of the first questions asked at the hearing, and Trump’s attorney was forced into saying that is exactly what Trump’s position is.

If there is any question why someone who was once a rock-ribbed GOP-supporting conservative is now not only voting for Joe Biden, but openly campaigning for the Democrats, that is it. The most fundamental thing in American government is that the power of the government is constrained by law. My whole disagreement with the left has been that they are too eager to use the coercive power of the state to remake society. But now the “right” is arguing that there should be no guardrails at all against Presidential power. That position is fundamentally anti-American. And while I still have a healthy skepticism of the Democratic Party, the GOP is now the biggest threat to this country out there. The January 6th insurrection was the point where anyone still supporting the GOP crossed from being a rube to being a danger. The second the GOP party line went to supporting the insurrection, it became not a political party but a terrorist organization.

Trump’s position before the Court this week is the position that the President is accountable to no one. So long as the President can either delay impeachment or keep their party to the party line, the President is free to murder, accept bribes, sell secrets, or do whatever the hell they want. That is not a position that is remotely American or remotely acceptable.

Trump wants to be a King, and the GOP is perfectly happy to let him. That is why the GOP is neither American nor conservative. That is why this conservative is all in with the Biden campaign in 2024.

Donald Trump Is a Fascist

Tom Nichols has a great piece in The Atlantic in which he comes around to the idea that Donal Trump is a literal fascist. I have long thought that Trump is a textbook fascist—he has a cult of personality around him, he pines for an imagined past, and he is perfectly fine with using the power of government to punish his enemies. That America did not fall under the first Trump “administration” was due to the fact that Trump is also profoundly lazy and he had some guardrails around him. A second Trump term would still see a lazy Trump, but he would be empowered by a burgeoning movement of radical right-wing elements that have openly declared their intention to turn America into a one-party police theocracy. As Nichols defines fascism:

Fascism is not mere oppression. It is a more holistic ideology that elevates the state over the individual (except for a sole leader, around whom there is a cult of personality), glorifies hypernationalism and racism, worships military power, hates liberal democracy, and wallows in nostalgia and historical grievances. It asserts that all public activity should serve the regime, and that all power must be gathered in the fist of the leader and exercised only by his party.

That is the Trump ideology (such as it exists) in a nutshell. Trump is playing from the same old playbook that every fascist and caudillo has since time immemorial. And sadly, it is a playbook that works.

Where I disagree with Nichols is here:

But here I want to caution my fellow citizens. Trump, whether from intention or stupidity or fear, has identified himself as a fascist under almost any reasonable definition of the word. But although he leads the angry and resentful GOP, he has not created a coherent, disciplined, and effective movement. (Consider his party’s entropic behavior in Congress.) He is also constrained by circumstance: The country is not in disarray, or at war, or in an economic collapse. Although some of Trump’s most ardent voters support his blood-and-soil rhetoric, millions of others have no connection to that agenda. Some are unaware; others are in denial. And many of those voters are receptive to his message only because they have been bludgeoned by right-wing propaganda into irrationality and panic. Even many officials in the current GOP, that supine and useless husk of an institution, do not share Trump’s ambitions.

I have long argued for confronting Trump’s voters with his offenses against our government and our Constitution. The contest between an aspiring fascist and a coalition of prodemocracy forces is even clearer now. But deploy the word fascist with care; many of our fellow Americans, despite their morally abysmal choice to support Trump, are not fascists.

This is technically true—most Trump supporters might not be in favor of turning America into an anti-democratic police state. But that also does not matter in the slightest.

When the Nazis rose to power, the German people did not vote for crematoria and conquest. But they got both anyway. Most Germans were not ardent Nazis, but the Nazis controlled Germany anyway. The fact that most GOP voters are not on board with a fascist America means very little. Enough are, and history has shown time and time again that an illiberal and dangerous minority is all it takes to transform a society into a totalitarian hellhole. Anyone who supports Donald Trump is voting to end American democracy. Period. Whether they do so out of ignorance or malice does not make anything more than an academic difference.

I disagree that calling Trump what he is is dangerous. The threat that Trump poses is enhanced by euphemizing his conduct and treating him like just another political sideshow. In 2016 the media breathlessly covered his every move because it goosed the ratings. The results were Trump magnifying his bullshit personal “brand” to the Oval Office and the near destruction of this country. And today, the media is still too cowardly to openly speak the truth. The media still lavishes coverage on Trump, still tends to treat him like a normal candidate rather than an abject fascist. Trying to hide the truth will not serve this country’s interests.

We cannot afford another four years of Trump, because if he gets power again he will ensure that he remains in power for the rest of his life. There will be no guardrails, no people who will tell Trump no, no limits on what Trump will do. The best outcome we can hope for is what amounts to a civil war or coup. We cannot afford this. It might be that many of Trump’s supporters do not call themselves fascists, but at the end of the day they are enabling it. We can either grapple with that fact honestly and boldly or we can risk watching this country fall. I, for one, am tired of the euphemisms. Trump is a wanna-be dictator, a fascist, a totalitarian. He may be a stupid, unstable, and lazy dictator, but that makes him potentially more dangerous, not less.

The Fall of the House of Trump

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked. “Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

A New York judge has issued an order that essentially gives the Trump Organization the corporate death penalty. Judge Arthur Engoron’s order rescinds the Trump Organization’s business charters and puts Trump’s corporate empire into a receivership. Ultimately this may do just as much or more to end Donald Trump’s reign as the many criminal indictments against him.

The Trump Organization is in the bullshit business. Real estate is just the side hustle. Trump shamelessly slapped his name on anything he could—golf courses, steaks, a failed airline, even vodka (which tee-totaling Trump does not drink). Trump is right that the main source of his revenue was through his “brand,” a brand which is now synonymous with right-wing extremism. But ultimately Trump is incredibly cash poor and highly leveraged. His real-estate empire was basically an attempt to get more and more money from lenders to keep his incredibly-leveraged empire afloat.

Now, that scheme is falling apart. Trump was already radioactive to most banks, forced to go to less savory banks connected to Saudi and Russian oligarchs. But Trump needed legitimate assets to do that, including Trump Tower and his Mar-a-Lago club. Now, Trump has run out of both legitimate assets and likely the revenue streams he needs to keep his secured creditors at bay.

Trump’s money, real or imagined, is what kept everything together. Now Trump has a voracious need for cash, not only to keep his quasi-campaign afloat, but to pay his lawyers in his numerous criminal cases and keep his standard of living going. Right now Trump is quite adept at fleecing his followers with everything from t-shirts to worthless NFTs. But that is likely not going to be enough. While their may be a sucker born every minute, Trump needs a lot of suckers to keep himself afloat, and sooner or later that well will run dry.

The question becomes what happens next. Trump will certainly appeal Judge Engoron’s ruling. That appeal is highly unlikely to change anything, but it may delay the process. However, no matter what happens, Trump’s access to credit through conventional means is likely to be incredibly curtailed. That leaves Trump even more at the mercy of Saudi autocrats, Russian oligarchs, and other unsavory characters than he already is. Whether Trump can get enough support outside of banks depends on whether the Saudis, Russians, etc. see him as a valuable investment or simply damaged goods. The more legal hot water Trump gets into the less his “Teflon” appearance becomes.

Just as in Hemingway’s quotation above, Trump’s downfall could be gradual then incredibly sudden. Trump has so far been incredibly adept at avoiding the consequences of his actions, but this ruling strikes at the heart of who he is and who he makes himself out to be. At some point Trump’s luck and bluster will run out. His only hope at this point is to win the Presidency and use the power of his office to make his legal troubles go away. Sadly for the country, there remains a precipitously high chance that could happen. But the entire Trump mystique is based on him being the world’s greatest businessman. That has never been true, and the collapse of Trump’s empire of bullshit might be more personally devastating to him than even a jail sentence.