A Banana Republic?

Today on Twitter, Trump posted:

“Ralph Waldo Emerson seemed to foresee the lesson of the Senate Impeachment Trial of President Trump. ‘When you strike at the King, Emerson famously said, “you must kill him.’ Mr. Trump’s foes struck at him but did not take him down. A triumphant Mr.Trump emerges from the biggest test of his presidency emboldened, ready to claim exoneration, and take his case of grievance, persecution and resentment to the campaign trail.” Peter Baker @nytimes The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!”

I and a few thousand others reminded him that he is NOT a king, but some 60,000 people actually liked his post.  I wonder how much more we will tolerate …

More than a few times, I have made the claim that Trump is turning the U.S. into a ‘banana republic’, and it seems I’m not alone in this idea.  On Thursday, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote a column that I think sums the situation up quite well.


America, the Banana Republic

Feb. 13, 2020 at 5:55 p.m. EST

I covered South America for The Post from 1988 to 1992, a time when nations such as Argentina, Brazil and Peru were struggling to reestablish democratic norms after the long, dark night of military dictatorship. One of the biggest challenges was implanting something we take for granted in this country: public confidence that justice, for the most part, is blind and engages in an honest search for truth.

I never thought I’d be living in a country like that again. But thanks to President Trump and the inexcusable damage he is doing to our justice system, South America’s past has become America’s present.

There has been considerable hyperventilation, some perhaps by me, about the grave harm Trump is doing to our democratic institutions. I am not hyperventilating now. Public faith in justice is a delicate, precious thing. Once squandered, it is incredibly hard to regain.

That’s the kind of damage Trump is threatening with his outrageous and un-American attacks on the Justice Department and the federal judiciary for finding his cronies — including longtime political adviser Roger Stone, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort — guilty of crimes and deserving of punishment. I know what the impact of this behavior is, because I’ve seen how it plays out before.

I lived in Argentina, where the president for much of my time there, Carlos Menem, was a populist norm-breaker who nepotistically involved his family in running the government and was widely viewed as corrupt. In 1991, Menem’s sister-in-law and appointments secretary, Amira Yoma, was indicted on money-laundering charges that involved suitcases full of cash allegedly being smuggled in and out of the country. Yoma’s ex-husband was head of the customs service at Ezeiza International Airport outside Buenos Aires, where he allegedly facilitated the cash-smuggling.

Menem was accused of secretly meeting with the prosecuting judge in charge of the Yoma case. The president initially denied having had such a meeting but ultimately admitted it, claiming it was about some unrelated matter. The judge’s secretary alleged that the judge had gone to the presidential residence, where she showed Menem secret prosecution documents about the Yoma case.

That judge was suddenly taken off the case, which was assigned to a different judge, and Yoma was eventually cleared of all charges. It is safe to say that few Argentines were surprised.

There simply was very little confidence in the ability of the justice system to discern truth from falsehood or to punish the powerful and well-connected. There was an understanding, moreover, that prosecutors and the court system could and sometimes would be used as political tools.

Years after leaving office, Menem was convicted on unrelated charges involving weapons smuggling and embezzlement. He maintained his innocence, claiming he was being persecuted by his political enemies.

In those fragile democracies I covered years ago, seeing justice be warped by politics had a corrosive effect on the larger society. A lack of confidence that court proceedings could — or even were intended to — arrive at truth encouraged the propagation and spread of conspiracy theories. Argentina still struggles to escape the widespread belief that unseen forces control events from deep in the shadows.

This is not the sort of path I ever thought the United States could take. Our justice system obviously has flaws, starting with the way it disproportionately punishes people of color. But it has not been naive, at least in my lifetime, to believe that federal prosecutors and judges tried their very best not to let politics influence their decisions — and that they generally succeeded because they took their responsibilities seriously.

When four assistant U.S. attorneys asked to be taken off the Stone case, they were sounding an alarm. We must all pay attention.

Their recommendation that Stone serve seven to nine years in prison for his crimes was tough, but federal prosecutors tend to be tough. Stone was duly convicted in a court of law, and U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson will decide his punishment. But when higher-ups in Attorney General William P. Barr’s Justice Department overrule the prosecutors who handled the case on Stone’s recommended sentence; when Trump tries to delegitimize those prosecutors as “Angry Democrats” because they worked for former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III; and when Trump goes so far as to try to intimidate Jackson, a highly respected veteran federal judge — when such things happen, I have to wonder whether I’m back in Carlos Menem’s Argentina.

It’s All About Me … Right?

Melania-jacketSo … the government has been shutdown for almost two weeks?  So what? I haven’t noticed any difference … and really, my friends, it is all about MOI, right?  We each see to our own happiness, so I’m sorry, but I see no disruption of my life, so in the words of our gracious {choke, cough, spit, sputter} First Lady {choke, cough, spit, sputter} Melania, “I really don’t care, do U?”

They say there is a build up of trash and debris in the National Parks, but … I haven’t been hiking for a year-and-a-half now, so what do I care, right?  I am, after all, still getting my mail.  They say people cannot sign up for food stamps, as the staff of the Food and Nutrition Service branch of the USDA (Department of Agriculture) is only minimally staffed, but what do I care, for I don’t receive food stamps anyway. overflowing-trash.jpgMy Social Security check was deposited to my account yesterday, so why should I worry?  What’s that you say?  The power station that serves my neighborhood isn’t being monitored?  So what?  I have electricity – I know this because every light in my house is burning brightly!

800,000 people aren’t getting paid?  Oh piffle, but really … I got my social security check, so why should I worry, right?  And after all … surely they have enough money in the bank to carry them over the hump? And anyway, I heard that they will get backpay when the government is open again, so what’s the big deal, Lucille?  And anyway, I’ve heard they’re only democrats, so … who cares, right?

Sorry, I cannot even keep up that charade any longer, for it is making me want to smack myself upside the head!  I just thought I’d try it on for size, but I don’t know how people like that live with their consciences at the end of the day, when all is quiet.

Note, my friends, that the above is not just a figment of my imagination but is the attitude of a large portion of the people in this country.  It is also not exclusively a republican attitude, but I have heard very similar statements from democrats.  It is not only an attitude shared by the un-and-under-educated or the ignorant, for just recently I heard a similar statement from somebody who I know to be well-educated and intelligent.  Indeed, this attitude crosses all divisions:  party, race, religion, etc. In some cases, it is a true disdain for others, or a stubborn ‘faith’ that whatever happens today does not matter and will be righted by some magical force at some point.  But, I believe that in the majority of cases it is simply a case of overload leading to apathy.

So much has happened in the last two years in this nation, almost all of it with negative impact, that what once would have been horrifying has now become the norm.  People tire of it, they learn to tune it out, for it wears on the psyche, steals their good humour, their Zen, if you will.  So, we hunker down and concern ourselves only with our immediate family, our present situation, and try to ignore the rest.  It is understandable, but dangerous, for we need people to not only be aware and informed, but we need them to care. We need them to care deeply enough to write those letters to their congressmen and women, to stand up and say, “Hey, this isn’t right!”

One of my biggest concerns is that over the next two years people will become so inured that when the 2020 election rolls around, they won’t even bother to vote, and that could very well lead us to a place I don’t even wish to contemplate.  Yesterday I read a piece in The Guardian by Robert Reich, a former U.S. Secretary of Labor, professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, and author of numerous books.  His thoughts tie in with my own, and I share his words here.

Robert ReichAfter his first bizarre year, his apologists told us Donald Trump was growing into the job and that in his second year he’d be more restrained and respectful of democratic institutions. Wrong. He’s been worse.

Exhibit one: the “Wall.” After torpedoing Mitch McConnell’s temporary spending deal to avert a shutdown, he’s holding hostage over 800,000 government employees (“mostly Democrats,” he calls them, disparagingly) while subjecting the rest of America to untoward dangers.

On-site inspections at power plants have been halted. Hazardous waste cleanup efforts at Superfund sites are on hold. Reviews of toxic substances and pesticides have been stopped. Justice Department cases are in limbo.

Meanwhile, now working without pay are thousands of air traffic controllers and aviation and railroad safety inspectors, nearly 54,000 Customs and Border Protection agents, 42,000 Coast Guard employees, 53,000 TSA agents, 17,000 correctional officers, 14,000 FBI agents, 4,000 Drug Enforcement Administration agents, and some 5,000 firefighters with the U.S. Forest Service.

Having run the Department of Labor during the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns, I’m confident most of these public servants will continue to report for duty because they care about the missions they’re upholding. But going without pay will strain their family budgets to the point that some will not be able to.

Shame on Trump for jeopardizing America this way in order to fund his wall—which is nothing but a trumped-up solution to a trumped-up problem designed only to fuel his base.

In his second year he’s also done even more damage to the nation’s judicial-criminal system than he did before. At least twice in the past month he’s reportedly raged against his acting attorney general for allowing federal prosecutors to reference him in the crimes his former bagman Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to committing.

This is potentially the most direct obstruction of justice yet. He’s now pressuring an official whom he hand-picked and whose entire future depends on him, to take actions that would impair the independence of federal prosecutors.

Last month he blasted Judge Jon Tigar as an “Obama judge” after Tigar blocked the Administration’s limits on asylum eligibility to ports of entry, a decision summarily upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and sustained by the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Roberts issued a rare rebuke. “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges,” he wrote, adding that an “independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

Which prompted his rejoinder: “Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have ‘Obama judges,’” followed by his baseless and incendiary claim that “they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country,” and their “rulings are making our country unsafe! Very dangerous and unwise!”

In his second year Trump displayed even less commitment to keeping the military nonpartisan than he did initially. During last month’s teleconference with U.S. troops and coast guard members he continued his rampage against the judiciary, calling the ninth circuit “a big thorn in our side” and “a disgrace.”

Then he turned last week’s surprise visit to American troops in Iraq and Germany into a political rally—praising troops wearing red “Make America Great Again” caps, signing a “Trump 2020” patch, and accusing Representative Nancy Pelosi and other leading Democrats of being weak on border security.

Some Americans are becoming so accustomed to these antics that they no longer see them for what they are—escalating attacks on America’s core democratic institutions.

Where would we be if a president could simply shut down the government when he doesn’t get his way? If he could stop federal prosecutions he doesn’t like and order those he wants? If he could whip up public anger against court decisions he disapproves of? If he could mobilize the military to support him, against Congress and the judiciary?

We would no longer live in a democracy. Like his increasing attacks on critics in the press, these are all aspects of his growing authoritarianism. We normalize them at our peril.

Our institutions remain strong, but I’m not sure they can endure two more years of this. He must be removed from office through impeachment, or his own decision to resign in the face of impeachment, as did Richard Nixon.

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