Two millennia ago in ancient Rome, one of the gravest punishments the Senate was empowered to hand down was the damnatio memoriae – literally damning the memory of a failed leader by erasing them, as completely as possible, from the historical record.
It’s an official forgetting. It’s a bold statement that some people, some actions, are unworthy to even serve as a warning to others. Some people can best serve history by being exiled from it.
I have no idea at all what pulled that little nugget of information to mind this afternoon. Yep. No idea at all.
I like to think that finding a sitting President of the United States hectoring a state election official for over an hour to just make up results beneficial to the president’s reelection is unprecedented. Maybe it isn’t, but even if it’s not, it’s a rare enough occurrence that it’s something I’ve never heard of before during an adult lifetime keeping at least one eye on politics.
Having listened to the audio and read the transcript of President Trump’s call to the Georgia Secretary of State, it at best an utterly graceless act and at worst it’s a felonious attempt to subvert the electoral process through intimidation. Even with the benefit of the doubt, it trends strongly towards the latter, in my opinion.
With 16 days left to run in the Trump administration, there’s hardly enough time to haul him up on impeachment charges again, but I almost hope there’s some intrepid young US Attorney sorting out what charges can be brought as soon after noon on January 20th as possible.
Look, I voted for the guy the first time around. I supported (and still support) a fair number of his overall policy positions even though he didn’t earn my vote in 2020. I’m willing to overlook all manner of his historic quirks and foibles, but I can’t and won’t abide a direct assault on the democratic process without speaking out plainly in opposition.
Donald Trump and I both swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. The difference between us is I aim to keep mine.
It will come as a surprise to no one who really knows me that I stayed as far away from math and science as possible during my four years as an undergrad. I could muddle through the work and scrape through with C’s, but I had no aptitude for it, no talent. Turn me loose in Dunkle Hall for History of Whatever or Guild for political science and I was in my element.
Increasingly it feels like many of the old maximums of political science I learned 20+ years ago don’t really apply to the study of politics in 21st century America. Despite the formal education and a few decades of reading I find myself feeling like a stranger in a strange land more and more often.
Still, though, some of the old truisms were true for a reason. While lecturing on the role of the Judiciary, Dr. Simpson was fond of reminding us that “the Supreme Court isn’t final because they’re right – They’re right because they’re final.” It’s one of those deeper truths wrapped in a easy to understand package. For good or bad, short of amending the Constitution, there’s simply no mechanism to allow for appeal beyond the Supreme Court.
Listning to the talking heads today, many of them seem to forget that the same is true when the Senate sits as a court of impeachment. That body has sweeping latitude to set the terms of the trial and the outcome belongs to them alone to decide. What the House thinks, or the president thinks, or what the latest polls show is a bit of interesting, but not particularly relevant detail.
In cases of impeachment, the Senate is right simply by virtue of being final. If you don’t like the results, if you don’t like how you’re being represented in this republic of ours, then the onus is on you to secure different representation at the ballot box… but running around whimpering that “the Senate got it wrong” makes you sound like a schmuck.
Judging from the ill-informed eruptions across social media, the consensus seems to be that impeachment by the House of Representatives is precisely equal to removal from office. That, of course, is not true and I can only assume that the cheering masses on Twitter and Facebook have now discovered that impeachment is the first step in a two step process outlined by the Constitution for removing an elected official from public office.
So, what did I learn this week? Basically that despite the best efforts I made many years ago and that a veritable army of civics teachers are currently making, the American public is woefully uninformed about how their system of government is supposed to operate. I refer them to the Constitution. I mean it’s the basic operator’s manual, so go ahead and start there and then we can assign some more detailed reading.
1. President Trump. Say what you want about Europe and the NATO alliance, but they represent most of our oldest and strongest allies. Maintaining strong working relationships there is a key element of American national security. If ever there was a moment for the president to reign in his normal impulse to ratchet up the drama, it would have been this week’s London summit. Pitching a hissy fit in the face of mean words isn’t a good look internationally.
2. Impeachment. The House of Representatives seems to have the votes to move forward with articles of impeachment against the president. The Speaker is a good enough politician not to bring the vote if she didn’t have the numbers. Soon enough the whole thing will be thrown over to the Senate for trial… where I can only assume the Majority Leader will manage the case every bit as politically as the Speaker has done laying the charges. Prediction: The president remains in office while Republicans and Democrats retrench and emerge more divided than ever.
3. Lyft assault accusations. About a million years ago when I was growing up, we were all consistently warned about the dangers of getting into cars with strangers. Now, here in the oh so advanced 21st century we’re suddenly surprised when bad things happen when you get into cars with strangers. It’s the kind of thing we use to call having some goddamned common sense.
1. Surprise. In between reports on Epstein’s guards being arrested, the impeachment hearings, and the weekly report on a random husband who killed his family, there are a few reports this week of China finally cracking skulls in Hong Kong. What coverage it is getting is the standard breathless, hand wringing that we’ve come to expect in reporting on bad things that are happening internationally. Mostly I’m just over here thinking that China is just being China. Given its track record from the late 1980s to today, I have no idea why anyone would be surprised that a student protest would be brought to a sudden, violent halt. There’s a track record there. You don’t have to look a lot further than the formation of the Chinese Communist Party and the Cultural Revolution to see how dissent is handled sooner or later. History may not tell you exactly what will happen in the future, but it leaves plenty enough clues if you bother to look.
2. What I can’t say. I can tick off a list of at least five things off the top of my head that I’d desperately like to write about this week. Each and every one of them would be fertile ground for its own post… and all of them remain firmly embargoed indefinitely because there’s no good way to change the names to protect the guilty or obfuscate the origins of the tale. The “maybe someday” file got a bit thicker this week, that’s something, but not something that’s helping me out here and now.
3. Cashless tolls. It’s not the cashless tolls I hate, so much as I hate the other people driving through the cashless toll system. Removing the option for people to stop and fish through their pockets, purse, and ashtray for toll money, the State of Maryland opted to make the Hatem Bridge a E-Z-Pass or video toll only facility. It should have radically sped up the throughput at a particularly constricted stretch of Route 40. What no one took into account, though, is the people who can’t seem to grasp that the tolls are now taken (by overhead scanner and camera) at the west side of the bridge rather than on the east side where the toll booths are being slowly deconstructed. It’s been more than a month and these asshats are still stutter-stepping or doing the slow crawl through the place that’s distinguished by empty brackets where the scanners use to be and where there is currently no reason to slow down below the posted limit. No reason aside from people who wander through life without noticing a goddamned thing happening around them.
1. Short term memory. Since the weather was set to turn frosty, I made a giant pot of chicken barley soup Sunday afternoon. I enjoyed exactly one bowl of it. Then I cleaned up, put the soup on the counter to cool before sticking it in the fridge, did some evening reading, and then promptly went to bed while my lovely soup sat out at room temperature for the better part of 14 hours. Could I have eaten it and not gotten violently ill? Probably. Even so, the soup is now feeding the wildlife across the fence line in my backyard woods and I’m utterly disgusted by my apparent inability to remember one simple thing to do.
2. Standard time. It’s my rant every fall, but it needs to be said. When you work in a room without windows, it’s pretty irrelevant to your life how early in the morning the sun comes up. Even if I did have a window, what it’s doing outside is of fairly limited significance. It could be dark until noon and it wouldn’t change my typical day in any meaningful way. But sure, I guess there are people who for no explicable reason put a premium on driving to work with the rising sun directly in their eyes. Personally I’ll take my daylight in the evenings when there’s a chance I might actually be able to do something with it. Maybe I should just work a deal with the boss to spring forward and fall back my work schedule periodically since we can’t seem to stop fiddling with the actual clock.
3. Impeachment. We should all, regardless of party, be deeply embarassed at how the House of Representatives impeachment hearings are being covered. The impeachment of a sitting official is the real “nuclear option” afforded by the Constitution. Far from a moment of deepest gravity, both parties have inevitablely contributed to the breathless media coverage that has given the whole process thus far a carnival atmosphere. We should all be embarassed that this is the best the elected representatives of the world’s oldest continualy operating republic and the professional journalists who cover them can muster. We should be embarassed, but we shouldn’t be surprised.
You’d have to be living deep in the wilderness not to at least catch some of the reporting on the ongoing drama in Washington. I tune it in and out, mostly interested in keeping informed of the broad strokes of who’s up and who’s down. Even if you’re not paying attention, the coverage is hard to miss – no matter how hard you’re best to stay out of the day-to-day details.
Given the nature of of our representative republican form of government, the simple fact is the biggest chance I have to influence national-level policy direction and political questions happens every two years. Getting myself twisted around each news story doesn’t accomplish much other than raising my blood pressure. I have no interest in spending my days picking fights on social media or plotting to storm the damned barricades. We’re watching a political process unfold between the two political branches of our national government. Standing around waving a sign is about as influential as standing on the front porch waiving my fist. I’ll take a pass, thanks.
The one thing I know for sure is that the ongoing battle between the executive and legislative branch is sucking just about all the available oxygen out of the room. It makes the more cynical and jaded part of my brain wonder what’s not being reported. It makes the paranoid part wonder what slight of hand is being carried out while we’re all collectively busy following the drama that surrounds talk of impeachment.
I don’t think this is some grand Illuminati plot or anything, but stealing the lawn tractor out of the backyard shed is a hell of a lot easier when everyone is busy trying to figure out why there’s smoke coming out of the house. It would be a good time for all of us to remain vigilant.
There are approximately 76 million news and commentary sites you can go to today that are perfectly happy to drone on and on about what they expect Democratic control of the House of Representatives, a more entrenched Republican position in the Senate, and the host of other election results to mean. What’s going to happen when the 116th Congress is gaveled into session on the 3rd of January? Opinions will range from the president and congressional leaders finding some compromise on massive infrastructure spending to a wildly vindictive House leadership that will investigate the president to within an inch of his political life and then impeach him. On this Wednesday after election day, either one feels like it’s within the realm of possibility.
What’s really happening, though, is that across the country 435 current and elect-members of the House are waking up, smiling at their good fortune, and kicking off their fundraising efforts for the 2020 election cycle. Current and future senators will be doing the same thing, although some with a slightly less focused sense of urgency with their next election cycle as far as 6 years off. Political pros from across the spectrum are dusting off their presidential election year plans and looking for ways to fill up their war chests. Those with an eye towards the presidency in 2020 have already been building their machine, quietly, for two years or more.
Campaigns are never really over. There may appear to be a pause between one and the next, but that’s just because the news cycle focuses on something else for a little while – Firing an Attorney General is an especially effective distractor if you have one you can spare. The fundraisers, staff, and key volunteers who under-gird elections in this country are hard at work laying the groundwork for the next iteration of Who Wants to be a President.
If you thought 2016 was bad, or 2018 made you clutch granny’s pearls, you ain’t seen nothing yet.