How bad is it?
Really bad. Abysmal. As in, staring into the abyss.
You could check the long list of clues to know that Trump engaged in criminal conduct on his way to the White House and after. Or you could just observe his behavior. From the repetition of “no collusion” a thousand times to the release of an inept memo against the warnings of his own Justice Department and FBI to the false equivalency attacks on Hillary Clinton to the firing of James Comey, everything Trump does screams “I’m guilty.”
But that’s not what brings us to the edge of the abyss. Richard Nixon’s criminality was on a par with Trump’s, as were his self-incriminating words (“I am not a crook”) and actions (Saturday Night Massacre).
In one crucial respect, Nixon was far more menacing than Trump. In my simple mind, the danger posed by an evil actor, by himself, is a function of two factors: (1) his level of moral turpitude — that is, his capacity for evil ends, and (2) his raw intelligence — that is, the means he possesses to achieve those evil ends. We could debate endlessly how Nixon and Trump compare on the first of those factors, but not the second. Nixon was an intellectual giant; Trump is a mental midget.
Ultimately, however, the danger presented by an evil actor is a function less of the actor than of the actor’s surrounding environment. And that’s what brings us so much closer to the edge today than we ever were in Nixon’s time.
Consider the forces aligned against democracy today that weren’t present 45 years ago.
Like the behavior of Trump’s lackeys in Congress, whose willingness to lie, obfuscate and obstruct seems limitless.
Like the propaganda machine at Fox News.
And the 40 percent or so of the adult population that buys the Fox News propaganda.
Like the plutocrats, all too willing to look the other way as long as long as their tax rates are reduced and their regulatory burden lightened.
And the nazis, white supremacists and others — the so-called alt right — emboldened by the not so thinly veiled racism of Trump and his senior staff members.
And the white working class, with their livelihoods savaged by mechanization and globalization, who have found common cause with the alt right after being duped into blaming their economic plight on immigrants and others of dark skin color.
Like a Republican Party, whose solution to demographic trends favoring non-whites has been not to appeal politically to those non-whites, but to undermine their voting rights, while preying on the fears of white Americans.
And the willingness of that Republican Party to place politics over policy even when doing so threatens the safety of American citizens and the stability of our society, by allowing a massive, decades-long buildup of military-style weaponry in the hands of an angry segment of the population.
Against that background, consider where the investigation of Trump and his associates stands today, brought into sharp focus by the resignation of one Rachel Brand, who otherwise would have been next in line to Rod Rosenstein at the Justice Department with authority over Bob Mueller. Rosenstein, according to many reports, was the target of the Nunes memo. By all appearances, Trump is angling to fire Rosenstein or force him to resign.
Does that mean Trump still wants to fire Mueller, as he ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to do last summer?
Logically, no. After all, if Trump’s objective were to fire Mueller, he could just instruct Rosenstein to do so and, if Rosenstein chose to resign instead, continue instructing those in the line of succession to do so, Saturday Night Massacre style, until he found one willing to do his bidding.
Consider the circumstances surrounding Brand’s resignation. She’s leaving for a position at Walmart that she described as one she couldn’t pass up. Here’s Walmart’s description of that dream position:
Walmart (NYSE: WMT) announced Rachel Brand will join the company as Executive Vice President, Global Governance and Corporate Secretary. Brand will report to President and CEO Doug McMillon. She will be responsible for the organization’s Legal, Global Ethics and Compliance and Global Investigation, Security, Aviation and Travel departments, along with her role as corporate secretary.
Perhaps Brand’s new position at Walmart involves dream compensation, but put that aside for a moment. It’s rare that a person with Brand’s experience would choose a position at Walmart over a partnership at a premier law firm. Consider this: When Walmart faces a high-level legal challenge, Brand will higher a private law firm to handle the litigation, including the challenging work of crafting the strategy, arguing in court, and playing the lead role in negotiations. There will be a partner at that law firm coordinating that effort. Compare that to Brand’s role, which will be to monitor the litigation, offer comments on major pleadings, and bring decisions to be made in negotiation to the Walmart board. From that perspective, does Brand’s new position seem all that dreamy?
Was Brand bribed? Did she bail? We’ll never know, but we do know the situation her departure leaves in its wake. And that suggests Brand’s departure was orchestrated. The individual overseeing the Mueller investigation is likely to be one of Trump’s own choosing should Rosenstein be forced out. That might be Solicitor General Noel Francisco. Or it could be someone installed by Trump, with the acquiescence of Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans, into the position vacated by Brand or Rosenstein.
In other words, Trump is posturing to control an investigation into his own actions and there is no foreseeable way to stop him.
Trump’s objective won’t be to fire Mueller. Instead, it will be to indirectly hamstring his action by having an ally of his choosing call the ultimate shots. Mueller will be stymied at every turn. Funding will not be approved. Indictments will be blocked. Areas of investigation will be foreclosed.
Mueller’s investigation easily could end with Trump unscathed. And boasting about it. And tweeting about it. And riling up his alt right, gun toting base.
Against that backdrop, Trump is planning a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Pundits believe that’s all about Trump’s ego. But what if it’s worse? What if it’s a show of brute force intended to squelch any sign of an uprising over Trump’s abuse of power to shield himself from investigation and prosecution?
Meanwhile, the Koch network is funding a massive campaign to block Democrats from making gains in November. The combination of those efforts with actions by Republican state legislators and election officials to undermine voting rights easily could succeed.
Could that incite an uprising? Perhaps, but opposed to that uprising would be the “Blue Lives” that Trump believes matter more than Black Lives, and the alt right crowd. Yes, the alt right is still much in the minority… of people. But not of guns owned.
Lastly, consider the possibility, I’d say the likelihood, that Trump starts a war, with nationalist frenzy that undoubtedly will go with it. Could dissidents be rounded up? If the war is against a Muslim nation, will law enforcement protect American Muslims from angry, right-wing mobs?
Yes, these are dark days.