A Disgrace to the Nation, a Disgrace to the Presidency

I have not been shy about my fierce antagonism to Donald Trump. But his Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin culminated in a show stopping trainwreck that should’ve shocked nobody but generated bipartisan outrage across the United States. On Monday, July 16, 2018, Trump held a friendly rendezvous with Putin who sabotaged an American election on his behalf. And he has been rewarded by seeing an American foreign policy turn in a pro-Russian direction.

When Donald Trump issued a plea on a podium in Doral, Florida on July 27, 2016, he stated, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” We all know he was referring to the emails Hillary Clinton had deleted as irrelevant to her work as Secretary of State. But for those who don’t understand, Trump was publicly asking for Russian agents to break into her computer systems, steal documents she had erased, and release them to the public. And according to recently released indictments Special Counsel Robert Mueller revealed a few days before, that same day, for the first time, Russian hackers attempted to hack into, “email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.” They also, “targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton campaign.” Now Russia’s campaign to interfere in the election had been an ongoing campaign as early as March that year. What Trump’s request seems to have done was focus efforts on Clinton’s inbox. There are plenty of plausible explanations of wat happened here. Maybe the Russians heard Trump’s call and heeded it. Perhaps Trump’s invitation was attached to a private plea to Russian contacts like one sent by either Paul Manafort or Roger Stone. It’s possible the whole thing was just coincidental. But we should resist the tendency to speculate since it’ll just distract us from what we do know. And it’s damning.

Nonetheless, it should be glaringly apparent that Vladimir Putin is not our friend. He does not share our values nor does he care for democracy. In fact, he rules Russia as a kleptocratic dictator with a repressive iron fist. For God’s sake, the guy had his critics and political opponents murdered, including journalists and ex-spies like Alexander Litvanenko in Great Britain. It’s obvious that Russia couldn’t have meddled in the 2016 presidential campaign by hacking into the DCCC, DNC, and Hillary Clinton’s team without his orders. And we know they orchestrated this massive information theft on the Dems and used it to help Donald Trump win. Not to mention, Russia’s efforts to help Trump win included social media campaigns to inflame racial divisions on his behalf with armies of bots meant to elevate stories boosting him and hurting Clinton along with efforts to compromise state voting machines. None of this is in doubt.

Even before Donald Trump decided to run for president, the Russian ties were there. In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. said of the Trump Organization, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” And in 2014, Eric Trump added, “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” From 2003-2017, “buyers connected to Russia or former Soviet republics made 86 all-cash sales — totaling nearly $109 million — at 10 Trump-branded properties in South Florida and New York City.” Trump’s onetime campaign manager Paul Manafort had ties to the Kremlin and was deeply in debt to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch, closely connected to Vladimir Putin. And he was keeping in touch with this guy’s team during the election as well as asked of his powerful position in the Trump campaign, “How do we use [it] to get whole?”

Yet, we also know that Donald Trump has repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin even at considerable political cost after asking Russia to hack into Clinton’s emails, which it did. We know that Trump associates like Roger Stone seem to have advanced warning of the hacked emails’ release. We know that the willingness to cooperate with the Russians wasn’t one of Trump’s idiosyncratic musings. It was suffused in the Trump campaign’s top ranks since members of his inner circle like Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort eagerly accepted a meeting with Russian operatives promising Hillary Clinton dirt. And that Trump dictated the statement lying about the infamous Trump Tower meeting’s purpose. Additionally, we know the Trump campaign interfered in the Republican National Committee’s platform drafting to softening the language on Russia and Ukraine. We know that Jared Kushner sought a secret communications channel with the Russians so the US government couldn’t hear their negotiations.

The Russia strokefest even carry on to Donald Trump’s presidency for there has never been a single issue haunting his administration as long or as much as his Russian ties. Since his election, he’s bucked his party, his administration, and decades of foreign policy in attempts to shield Russia from sanctions for electoral interference, pull American support back from NATO and the European Union, and forge a closer relationship with Vladimir Putin. Then there’s Trump’s own testimony about firing FBI Director James Comey to end his investigation into Russia’s role into the 2016 election. In addition, he wanted to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for failing to protect him from the investigation. An it’s no wonder the Trump administration has moved from arguing that Trump didn’t obstruct justice to arguing that by definition, the president can’t obstruct justice. All of this leads to Trump insisting on the Helsinki meeting with Putin over his staff’s objections and despite the absence of any clear agenda.

Indeed, Donald Trump addressed the election hacking during his joint press conference with Vladimir Putin. “I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” he said. Well, you think? Because of course he’d deny that he’d have anything to do with election hacking despite all evidence to the contrary. Trump then added, “And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.” Uh, no it’s not. If anything, that’s like having Al Capone offering to help the cops with the investigation over the guys involved in the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. You know that things won’t turn well. If anything, Putin isn’t interested with working with the Mueller investigation. More likely he’d offer to help with respect to draw people from the Mueller team into Russia to kill them.

Donald Trump then attacked US intelligence services and again mused how much better it might’ve been if Russia cracked into Hillary Clinton’s server and gotten her documents. “What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails?” he demanded as if anyone cared about her emails 2 years after the 2016 election. “33,000 emails gone — just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily.” Even his allies were dumbstruck, with former Bush press secretary Ari Fleisher tweeting: “I continue to believe there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. But when Trump so easily and naively accepts Putin’s line about not being involved, I can understand why Ds think Putin must have the goods on him.” Asked if Russia had compromising material on Trump, Putin replied, “it’s difficult to imagine utter nonsense on a bigger scale than this. Please disregard these issues and don’t think about this anymore again.” Though you can imagine him privately laughing maniacally with fellow Russian officials. When asked about whether he holds Russia accountable for their actions contributing to the deterioration in the US-Russia relationship, he replied in an answer reeking of treason:

“Yes, I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think the United States has been foolish. I think we have all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago, a long time, frankly, before I got to office. I think we’re all to blame. I think that the United States now has stepped forward along with Russia. We’re getting together and we have a chance to do some great things, whether it’s nuclear proliferation in terms of stopping, we have to do it — ultimately, that’s probably the most important thing that we can be working on.

“I do feel that we have both made some mistakes. I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it’s kept us apart. It’s kept us separated. There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it. People are being brought out to the fore. So far that I know, virtually, none of it related to the campaign. They will have to try really hard to find something that did relate to the campaign.

“That was a clean campaign. I beat Hillary Clinton easily and, frankly, we beat her. And I’m not even saying from the standpoint — we won that race. It’s a shame there could be a cloud over it. People know that. People understand it. The main thing — and we discussed this also — is zero collusion. It has had a negative impact upon the relationship of the two largest nuclear powers in the world. We have 90 percent of nuclear power between the two countries. It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous what’s going on with the probe.”
He’s basically saying that the US is no better than Russia. And that he won a clean campaign so all what the Mueller probe is doing is hurting our relationship with Russia.

Despite that 12 Russian agents hacked into Democratic emails on Putin’s orders and for Trump’s benefit. And the Trump team was eager to let it all happen. Later, when asked specifically about Russia-backed hackers stealing Americans’ private correspondence, Donald Trump replied: “My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me, and some others, and said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have confidence in both parties.” Uh, Coats and his team didn’t think it’s Russia. They said it was Russia. But anyways, as president of the United States, Trump stated that he has equal confidence in Vladimir Putin and the American intelligence community the same way he believes that both the white supremacists and counter-protestors in Charlottesville were “very fine people.” Such remarks are politically baffling since such remarks only undermine his position. The simplest explanation for why a president who happily outsources his domestic policy to Paul Ryan and his judicial nominations to the Federalist Society insists on freelancing around Russia is that there’s a genuine meeting of minds between Trump and Putin on a wide range of issues.

Take the matter of the natural gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 Germany plans to build which Russia hawks in the US and Europe have long been concerned about. Such pipeline would give Russian fossil fuels more access to the European market. Donald Trump often likes to criticize Germany but rarely likes to bash Russia. But somehow, he surprised many observers by criticizing this pipeline at the NATO Conference in Brussels. On the surface, it appears that Trump had tried to ingratiate his passion for making trouble with German Chancellor Angela Merkel with something resembling routine American foreign policy. But the Helsinki summit quickly dashed those hopes. Asked by a Russian journalist about the pipeline and how he’d characterize the US-Russia relationship, Trump made it clear his pipeline concern isn’t that it would give Russia undue political leverage over Germany, but simply that would be bad for fossil fuel interests:

“I called him a competitor, and a good competitor he is. I think the word competitor is a compliment. I think that we will be competing when you talk about the pipeline. I’m not sure necessarily that it’s in the best interests of Germany or not. That was a decision that they made. We will be competing. As you know, the United States is now, or soon will be, but I think it is right now the largest in the oil and gas world. So we’re going to be selling LNG. We’ll have to be competing with the pipeline. I think we will compete successfully. Although there is a little advantage locationally. I wish them luck.

“I discussed with Angela Merkel in pretty strong tones. But I also know where they’re coming from. They have a very close source. We will see how that all works out. But we have lots of sources now. The United States is much different than it was a number of years ago when we weren’t able to extract what we can extract today. So today, we’re number one in the world at that. I think we will be out there competing very strongly. Thank you very much.”

Essentially, Donald Trump’s view on the relationship with NATO to Nord Stream 2 make absolutely no sense. But it’s consistent with his overall worldview. While a normal US leader may worry that Russo-German energy ties might undermine Germany’s ability to lead an independent Europe at a political level, Trump’s objection is backward. He doesn’t think it’s worth America’s while to contribute to Europe’s defense through NATO if Europe turns around and buys Russian gas. He defines Russia as a “competitor” to the United States exclusively in the commercial sphere rather than a geopolitical one. That’s why he called the EU a “foe” in much stronger terms in regards to competition levels in export markets. If you view world affairs through a mercantile like Trump does, then America’s closest allies who are mostly rich democracies are our biggest enemies and deterring Russian expansionism is a waste of cash. Nonetheless, it’s time to accept that this is what Trump really thinks and that’s how he’s governing accordingly.

In New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait published a speculative idea that Donald Trump had been a compromised Russian agent since the 1980s, which though chilling borders more on conspiracy theory than anything else. It’s more likely that Trump is more concerned on how the Russian election meddling for his behalf may render his electoral victory illegitimate. Though he doesn’t care much about how to win since he’s employed dubious means in the past. In fact, he’s more worried about getting caught. Nevertheless, like much of the debate, Chait’s piece reflects the view we’re still largely in the dark about the Trump Organization’s true nature of its relationship with Russia. Except we’re not. In fact, we know a vast amount about Trump’s Russia connections, Russia’s role in the 2016 election, the Trump Organization’s efforts to conceal Russian contacts, Trump’s efforts to impede the investigation into the matter, and about his treatment of Russia, Putin, and NATO since his election. As former NSA official and executive editor of Lawfare Susan Hennessy told Vox, “Every single time we’ve heard of that the Russians reached out to offer something — dirt on Hillary Clinton, access to another trove of emails, secret meetings, back channels — the common theme of every single individual in Trump’s orbit was, ‘Yes. Help us out.’ That is the really astounding picture that has emerged.”

While there is much left to find out, learning the truth is important for its own sake. Yet, the obsessive focus on what we still don’t know reflects a hope among Donald Trump’s opponents that Mueller will find something, reveal something, or bait Trump into doing something that will trigger consequences of some kind. However, there’s nothing so automatic in the system. And there’s no reason to believe further revelations would call forth that kind of response. At this point, the big issue isn’t what we don’t know. It’s what to do with what we do know.

Thanks to politics, the 2018 and 2020 elections can’t and won’t act as a clear way for accountability on Donald Trump and Russia. From issues such as Supreme Court justices, tax policy, Obamacare’s future, civil rights, workers’ rights, and environmental regulations, there is too much at stake at any given election these days and there are too few choices available for voters for them to answer a problem as complex and unusual as this one. This is especially true since Republicans control both houses of Congress and many in the House have went out of his way to protect him. Because they know their future is tied to Trump’s survival. Anything that weakens his administration weakens their 2018 reelection prospects, their ability to fill judgeships, and their ability to pass tax cuts. Thus, their political lives depend on Trump’s political strength.

It’s hard to remember now that Donald Trump entered the White House with an unexpectedly low level of support from his own party. Vulnerable Republican senators and House members refused to admit voting for him while Speaker Paul Ryan stated he’d no longer defend him. As a candidate, Trump was personally hostile to a number of established GOP figures like US Senator Ted Cruz and expressed heterodox views on a wide range of policy issues. Theoretically, it could’ve led to an unusual dynamic where congressional Republicans subjected Trump to an uncommonly stringent level of oversight for a same-party president, and Trump engaged in an uncommonly high level of policymaking cutting across established party lines. In practice, Trump and the GOP reached a Faustian compromise. Republicans would give no restraint whatsoever on Trump’s personal corruption or financial conflicts of interests. While Trump won’t attempt to pursue heterodox agendas on infrastructure, healthcare, anti-trust, etc. that he promised on the campaign trail, which was easy enough since he made them to give socially conservative white working-class voters no incentive to vote with their economic interests. And he doesn’t care much about those supporters anyway and had no plans on fulfilling what he promised them. The deal has worked well on domestic issues, culminating in the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to succeed Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

But it’s begun falling apart on foreign affairs after a successful 2017. Coats, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and others with conventional conservative Republican views hold key advisor jobs in the Trump administration. However, Trump had no interest taking their advice since he thinks that advice is wrong. And now he’s acting to unravel America’s global trading relationships, doing what he can to undermine NATO and the EU, trying to find excuses to get out of defense obligations to South Korea, and otherwise implement a mercantilist vision he’s articulated over and over again. Thus, it’s time for congressional Republicans to stop issuing gutless statements denouncing him and start taking this seriously as his policy agenda. But since Republicans place a higher value on party unity than the foreign policy issues they claim to stand for, they will do whatever they can to stay in Trump’s good graces and avoid angering his base before the upcoming midterm elections. Because they don’t want to jeopardize their legislative agenda, they’ll let their Snowflake King take a sledge hammer on decades of US foreign policy on Russia and other issues. At the same time, the mainstream GOP tries desperately to at least pretend they can be anti-Putin and pro-Trump. However, the Trump-Putin presser makes it clear that it’s impossible.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats don’t have the power to do anything right now and are more focused taking back Congress back in 2018. But even if they do win the election, their priority will be retaking the presidency in 2020. So they’ll more likely focus on healthcare and Social Security, not Russia and the 2016 campaign. Thus, it’s best we don’t expect impeachment down the line in the foreseeable future. Since while the Democrats can successfully impeach him and remove him from office quite easily once they’re in power, that might mean President Mike Pence. And no one in the Democratic Party wants that.

As for the rest of the legal system, well, there’s nothing necessarily illegal about Donald Trump publicly asking Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. Just as there’s nothing illegal about him pursuing a stunningly pro-Putin foreign policy after receiving Russia’s aid. The actual hacking was illegal, no doubt. But who’s going to hold Russia accountable for that? It won’t be the Trump administration who asked for and benefitted from their help. For when asked by a Reuters journalist “Do you hold Russia at all accountable for anything in particular” that has contributed to the decline in the US-Russia bilateral relationship, Trump delivered the defining answer of his foreign policy that he doesn’t. Nor did he object to Vladimir Putin’s oppression, Russia’s 2008 effort to dismember the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, Russia-backed forces shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 and killing hundreds of civilians, Russia’s invasion of Crimea, its subsequent invasion of Eastern Ukraine, Russia’s apparent use of a deadly nerve agent in the UK, or of course, the computer hacking associated with the 2016 election.

Though Mueller’s indictments were announced just before the infamous Trump and Putin summit, it first led to talk of whether Trump might cancel it meeting (which he didn’t) and then speculation over whether and how he’d confront Putin over Russia’s actions. But everyone knows that Trump’s actual response to Russia’s intervention on his behalf has always been of gratitude and solicitousness. So what other response is there to a world power doing exactly what you asked of them in a time of political need?

Nevertheless, after a massive bipartisan condemnation of Donald Trump’s disastrous press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki where he questioned Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Trump held a surprise press conference the next day to walk back on his comments. Sitting at a table with members of Congress, he read clearly prepared statement asserting he had “accepted” US intelligence’s findings that Russia was behind cyberattacks leading up to the 2016 election. He claimed he had misspoken about the press conference when he questioned the idea of Russian interference which might be plausible in theory. But take his statement in the context of what Trump actually said, it makes no sense. And it’s very clear he’s still expressing skepticism about Russia’s guilt as he states:

“My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others; they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have confidence in both parties. … I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.

“So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people [Russian agents indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for election interference]. I think that’s an incredible offer.”

What he’s saying is that there’s a conflict between US intelligence and Russia claims, that he’s not sure who’s right, and that he’d appreciate Russian intelligence’s help in clearing up what happened. Despite the fact that the 12 newly indicted Russians were intelligence agents so we’re in no position to trust Russian intelligence on such matters whatsoever. What’s more he still reiterated his skepticism when he said, “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” following it up with, “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.” He still doesn’t believe Russia is involved and he’s trying to convinced us that he didn’t mean what he said. Let’s not kid ourselves that Trump’s trying to gaslight the entire world and assert something he didn’t by sheer force of confidence. He’s brazenly lying to us and we shouldn’t let him get away with it. Russia meddled with the 2016 presidential campaign of which can there be no doubt. We shouldn’t believe otherwise.

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Yes, Virginia, There Was a Manchurian Candidate and Now He’s President

While Donald Trump was out of the country acting like a complete disgrace toward our closest ally, Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed an indictment against 12 Russian officers for crimes related to hacking and publicly releasing the Democrats’ emails as part of an effort to interfere with the 2016 presidential campaign. As long suspected, Mueller alleges it was Russian intelligence officers behind the high-profile hackings of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and various Hillary Clinton campaign staff emails, including those of her campaign manager John Podesta. Many of these were posted by 3 separate entities. Two of those, “Guccifer 2.0” and “the DCL Leaks website” were created and controlled by GRU officers from Russia’s intelligence agency. The third, Wikileaks, got the stolen DNC emails from these officials (and eventually, the Podesta emails), but referred as “Organization 1” it’s not yet charged with anything.

The indictment presents significant technical evidence on precisely how these Russians pulled off the hack, including electronic communications and transfers of information between the various figures involved. However, there’s no allegation that any Americans or any Trump campaign member were criminally or knowingly involved in the hackings or leaks. Or at least not yet. But nonetheless, this new slew of indictments brings the entire total in the Mueller probe to 32 individuals and 3 companies.

The new indictments released on Friday, July 13, 2018, provide concrete evidence that the release of the hacked DNC emails was timed for maximum political impact. And they suggest Russian intelligence agents and Wikileaks planned to engineer discord between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters during the 2016 Democratic National Convention. According to the latest Mueller statement, a conversation between Russian intelligence and Wikileaks on July 6, 2016 had the latter correspond with GRU officers with “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” After the Russians responded with, “ok … i see,” Wikileaks explained their motives for wanting information that would reveal tension between the Sanders and Hillary camps. They replied with, “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary … so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.” Of course, tensions between Sanders and Clinton existed long before the hacked emails were released since it was why the DNC was such a splash. But Russia and Wikileaks knew that releasing the information at the opportune time would have ripple effects. The Democratic National Convention was meant to be a coming together moment to focus on defeating Donald Trump and the Republicans after a long and bitter primary between Clinton and Sanders. In fact, Sanders actively encouraged his fans to vote for Clinton in his convention speech. Yet, with the leaked emails as backdrop, he was booed at every turn and some Berniecrats didn’t heed his call to vote at all in 2016. Though there is a lot of speculation about how the trove of leaked DNC documents spurred discord between the two groups, the indictments suggest that this is exactly what the Russians wanted.

Mueller’s indictments also detailed a Russian hack into a state board of elections website (believed to be Illinois) in July 2016. According to him, Kremlin-linked hackers, “stole information related to approximately 500,000 voters, including names, addresses, partial social security numbers, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers.” In addition, Russian spies penetrated a US vender that supplied voter-registration verification software and, in November 2016, sent over 1,000 spearfishing emails to “organizations and personnel involved in administering elections in numerous Florida counties.” They even visited election websites in Georgia, Florida, and Iowa in an attempt to find vulnerabilities. The incursions into the US voting infrastructure have been widely reported. But Mueller’s indictment present clear evidence that Russian intelligence probed into the systems. Though there’s no proof that these hacks altered the vote count or election outcome. Yet, Russia wasn’t poking around for kicks since spies were likely gathering information and searching out vulnerabilities.

But these 12 new indictments of Russian intelligence officers are a powerful reminder of the 2 hard core truths of the Trump-Russia story that often go missing amid the political controversy and amateur detective work. First, whether the anyone in Trump campaign was knowingly involved or not, real crimes were committed in 2016 with real victims. Second, since announcing his candidacy for the presidency in 2015, Donald Trump has gone out of his way to shield those who committed these crimes from exposure or accountability. But whether that’s because his campaign colluded with Russia or that he merely benefited from these crimes remains to be seen. Yet, these points are worth dwelling over because they cut against 2 commonplace narratives about the case. One renders the entire issue as a question of mystery and spycraft, leading ultimately to things like Jonathan Chait’s maximalist speculation that perhaps Trump had been a KGB asset since the 1980s or anything comparable to the stuff of Cold War fiction like The Manchurian Candidate. The other renders it as a narrowly political question where passionate Hillary Clinton fans should feel robbed of an election win. Though her critics across the political spectrum can smugly feel self-assured there were other reasons she lost.

Obviously, illegal hacking and invasion of privacy is a bad thing on its own terms regardless of election outcome. When Russian hackers pilfered John Podesta’s Gmail inbox, they didn’t exclusively obtain material highly relevant to Hillary Clinton’s career and political prospects. In fact, the vast majority was simply the personal correspondence of a man involved with Democratic Party politics. Wikileaks then laundered through his emails to disguise their origins and posted their entirety online with no regard to privacy or newsworthiness. The contents include a risotto recipe, an email birth announcement by a friend, a performance evaluation on a previous job, and hundreds upon hundreds of examples that had nothing to do with Clinton or American politics. But once the emails were out, there were few visible alternatives but to cover them. It’s understandable why Republicans chose to opportunistically take advantage of the crimes by gleefully citing them as a damning indictment on Clinton. However, fundamentally, all Americans using email have a genuine interest not seeing this form of privacy invasion not to become a routine aspect in our lives. It’s illegal for a reason, and it would be good for people committing this kind of crime to be caught and punished.

But Donald Trump has consistently acted to prevent any form of accountability. In fact, during the 2016 campaign, he publicly lauded the criminals on TV. Of course, he shouldn’t have done this since it was in poor form. But the fact he did this probably deserved to be a bigger point of emphasis in the coverage at the time. Yet, what’s really remarkable is that Trump has kept operating as a kind of de facto accessory after the fact of the crimes. He’s repeatedly denied the existence of a Russian hacking campaign by over and over again suggesting that Mueller and the federal investigators looking into the crime are nothing but a partisan political ploy. However, at best, it’s Trump rather than Mueller who’s exclusively viewing the whole thing through a partisan lens. But a less generous interpretation of Trump can be that he’s deliberately trying to stymie the investigation because he’s aware that he’s personally guilty of serious crimes. And he fears a thorough investigation will expose them.

Even if that’s not the case and Donald Trump is merely reacting to the partisan interest in the Trump-Russia investigation with his own partisan antics, the misconduct involved is serious. A president has obligations to the country and to its citizens, including those who didn’t vote for him. Donald Trump’s inability to even feign anger or outrage at the real crimes committed against real American citizens is remarkably relative to the context of what’s ordinarily considered acceptable presidential behavior. That it seems banal from Trump itself is perhaps not surprising given how flagrantly and consistently he reminds us that he doesn’t care about anyone outside his narrow circle of support. Yet, that’s merely a measure of how far we’ve fallen as a society in the Trump era. But it’s not a real reason to ignore it.

Still, you have to wonder about Donald Trump’s conduct over the whole Russia investigation. On July 27, 2016, in front of TV cameras in front of the whole world, he said he hoped Russia would, “find the 30,000 emails that are missing … I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” Apparently, Russian intelligence officers were happy to oblige since they launched a new attack to hack and publicly Democratic emails, according to Mueller’s latest indictments. To be clear, the DNC emails had been hacked and leaked by then while Podesta’s inbox was already compromised. In fact, the Russian email phishing expeditions against the Democrats were well underway by March 2016 when the Podesta emails were infiltrated. In May, George Papadopoulos drunkenly bragged about Russians having dirt on Hillary Clinton to an Australian diplomat. The infamous Trump Tower meeting involving Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort took place in June. Thus, Trump’s comments can’t be claimed as the start of Russia’s digital attacks against American political parties and figures. But the timing is nevertheless uncanny. Because the same day he called for Russia to find Clinton’s missing emails, the hackers went after Clinton’s personal email within hours. As the indictment states:

“The conspirators spearphished individuals affiliated with the Clinton campaign through the summer of 2016. For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton campaign.”

Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s brazen comment urging a foreign power to hack his opponent has always been difficult to decipher. Was it a typical Trump bluster, at a time when hacked emails and Clinton’s email server were huge news stories? Or was there something more sinister going on. The new Mueller indictment doesn’t answer that. But it sure looks like when Trump asked Russia to find Hillary’s emails, Russia heard him.

In addition, the White House’s reaction to Mueller’s new indictments included zero condemnation of Russia for interfering in a US presidential election. But instead focused on bolstering Donald Trump’s longtime assertions that there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia and that interference didn’t change the 2016 election’s outcome. Apparently, calling out Russia for launching a malicious attack against American democracy wasn’t a Trump White House priority. Since it was a glaring omission people noticed immediately as one guy tweeted: “The White House statement on today’s indictment includes no condemnation of Russia. It also refers to “alleged hacking.” The fact that hacking happened is not an allegation.” Except that Russia intelligence was behind the high-profile DNC and DCCC hacking breaches during the 2016 campaign. And while the indictment doesn’t allege any American or Trump campaign involvement yet (at least knowingly), it seems that was the message the White House wanted us to take away.

Despite that the new indictments don’t prove that the Trump campaign was entirely innocent either. In fact, far from it. During the 2016 campaign, it was apparent enough that Donald Trump was unusually friendly to Russia and that the Russian interventions seemed aimed at trying to help his electoral chances at Hillary Clinton’s expense. After the election, more and more attention became devoted whether any Trump’s associates and Putin’s government coordinated to intervene in the campaign in some way. Though there’s no smoking gun yet, it’s not mere idle speculation either. As of July 2018, there are at least 6 instances in which Trump associates tried to get Russian dirt communicated with hacking and leaking figures. The FBI investigation kicked off when George Papadopoulos drunkenly bragged to an Australian diplomat about getting Russian dirt against Hillary Clinton. Then there’s the infamous Trump Tower meeting that June involving Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort meeting with Russians to discuss “adoption” through Next, we have Cambridge Analytica, Roger Stone, and Donald Trump Jr.’s contacts with Wikileaks. In addition, Roger Stone corresponded with Guccifer 2.0 while remaining in Trump’s orbit as an impromptu adviser. Last, there’s the matter of Republican operative Peter Smith trying to find the missing Hillary Clinton emails who claimed he was in contact with Michael Flynn and other Trump staff.

Nonetheless, the 12 new indictments of Russian intelligence officers come at a very bad time for Donald Trump who’s supposed to meet face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin within three days at the time. It’s more likely Mueller announced the indictments on July 13 because that’s when they were ready since they reflect months and months of work by him and his team. While the Putin meeting only materialized just weeks ago. According to Assistant Attorney General Rob Rosenstein, the timing of the release “is a function of the collection of the facts, the evidence, and the law and a determination that it was sufficient to present the indictment at this time.” But even if that wasn’t intentional, it’s extremely awkward for Trump since he’s about to meet Putin for a high-stakes diplomatic meeting in Helsinki, which they’re expected to discuss Russia’s election hanky panky among other things. While that’ll be contentious, Putin will again deny Russia interfere at all while Trump will say he believes him as a matter of course. Yet, thanks to the Mueller indictments proving that Russian spies were behind the Democratic hacking breach, Trump will find it a lot harder to say he believes Putin without looking like a complete fool in the process at best or complicit a worst. In fact, Trump will at least find it harder to avoid the topic altogether.

For in Vladimir Putin’s tightly controlled Russia, it’s nearly impossible to believe all these people operated for months to sway the US election without their boss’s green light, as 3 US intelligence concluded in January 2017. At the minimum, it stretches credulity to think Putin at least didn’t know about the efforts. Yet, with all the evidence piling up, there’s a miniscule chance Donald Trump will challenge Putin’s denial when they meet. Hell, he might even stop praising Putin and Russia as he has over the past few days despite knowing the imminent indictments days ago. If any of this happens, it’d be a huge shift in his approach toward the Russian dictator and the Mueller investigation. But don’t bet on that because admitting that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to get Trump elected will likely tarnish his victory which he likes bragging about. He could heed Democratic calls to cancel the meeting entirely.

On Saturday, July 14, 2018, Donald Trump fired off a series of tweets with, “The stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama Administration, not the Trump Administration. Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?….Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t the FBI take possession of it? Deep State?” Indeed, Barack Obama was president during that time. But the hacks at the DNC, DCCC, and the Hillary Clinton campaign were meant to hurt her and help Trump, which the US intelligence community has repeatedly asserted. Furthermore, why Obama didn’t act sooner is complicated but he did send Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, CIA Director John Brennan, and other administration members to look into it as soon as he knew about it. But he didn’t make a show of it due to squabbles among Democratic and Republican leaders. Vice President Joe Biden even said that during an event or the Council of Foreign Relations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to sign a bipartisan condemning Russia’s 2016 activities. And that the Obama administration worried that without a bipartisan front, it would look like they were trying to sway the election, which he didn’t want. As Biden told Politico, “Can you imagine if the president called a press conference in October, with this fella, [Trump campaign CEO Steve] Bannon, and company, and said, ‘Tell you what: Russians are trying to interfere in our elections and we have to do something about it.’ What do you think would have happened? Would things have gotten better, or would it further look like we were trying to delegitimize the electoral process, because of our opponent?” Though the Obama administration formally accused the Russian government that October, it came just a half-hour before the infamous Access Hollywood tape leaked. And we all know which story got more publicity.

In the meantime, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned of the intensifying threat of cyberattacks against US digital infrastructure, calling Russia “the most aggressive foreign” in attempts to disrupt and divide America. He told the audience at the Hudson Institute, “These actions are persistent, they’re pervasive and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not. The warning signs are there. The system is blinking. And it is why I believe we are at a critical point.” Coats has been one of the more vocal voices in the Trump administration about the very real threat of Russia incursions into US digital infrastructure and its meddling to sow discord and division. He has previously warned that the 2018 midterms could be a Russian hacking target and according to the New York Times, he indicated that the federal government was working with state and local jurisdictions to secure their infrastructure. Yet, Russia isn’t the only offender for North Korea, China, and Iran are also waging cyberattacks at all fronts: federal, state, and local governments along with private entities. However, Coats stated that so far analysts haven’t seen, “electoral interference in specific states and in voter databases that we experienced. However, we realize we are just one click of the keyboard away from a similar situation repeating itself.” So it pays to remain vigilant of future Russian hacks.

None Dared Called It Terrorism

While the country was swept in the Supreme Court Justice media frenzy, Donald Trump issued pardons for two Oregon cattle ranchers whose conviction for setting fire to public lands became a rallying cry for militia groups in 2016, leading to a tense, days-long standoff with federal officials. On Tuesday July 12, 2018, Trump gave clemency to Dwight Lincoln Hammond Jr., and his son Steven, whose convictions and a court order that they return to prison, inspired the militia group standoff at Oregon’s Malheur Wildlife Refuge during January 2016. There is no doubt their pardon is Trump’s latest example using his pardon power as a cudgel in the culture war. After all, granting pardons or commuting sentences to figures waging partisan warfare or have become right-wing folk heroes.

In 2010, the Hammonds were convicted of setting 2 fires that burned on federal land. The father-son duo stated they set the fires to reduce the invasive sagebrush and juniper tree growth for wildfire prevention, thereby accelerating rangeland grasses for cattle feed. But a 2015 statement from the US Attorney’s Office read, “Witnesses at the trial, including a relative of the Hammonds, testified the arson occurred after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer on BLM property. Jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out ‘Strike Anywhere’ matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to ‘light the whole country on fire.’ One witnessed testified that he barely escaped the eight to ten foot high flames caused by the arson.” That fire consumed 139 acres of federal property and destroyed all evidence of game violations. As for the other fire Steven started in 2006, prosecutors stated that he set several back fires, violating a burn ban, to save his winter feed after lightning stated numerous fires nearby.

We should also note that the Hammonds had been fighting for the feds to get out of the land management business since the 1980s. The federal pursuit of these men followed years of permit violations and unauthorized fires, but they never accepted responsibility. Late in the 1980s, Dwight began trading barbs with the US Fish & Wildlife employees. Both father and son had previously been accused of making death threats against federal officials and were arrested in 1994 after trying to stop federal workers from fencing off a canal at Malheur. The elder Hammond had even reportedly “threatened to kill” the manager of the refuge that they used for their cows. As former US Attorney Dwight Holton told KGW News, “The Hammonds were serial arsonists who stole from United States taxpayers for years.”

Anyway, in 2012, since US District Michael R. Hogan said the mandated 5-year sentence under the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, he sentenced the Dwight Hammond to 3 months and Steven a year. But because that was less than the mandatory minimum sentence federal law mandated, the federal government challenged the sentence. In 2015, an appellate court ruled that the Hammonds had been illegally sentenced and had to return to prison. Such decision sparked outcry among their local community and across the rural West, with critics slamming the federal government for their aggressive tactics. However, Oregon US Attorney, Billy Williams, justified the mandatory sentencing, saying they’re, “intended to be long enough to deter those like the Hammonds who disregard the law and place firefighters and others in jeopardy.” This sparked a flashpoint in the ongoing dispute between cattle ranchers and the federal government over land-use rights.

The Hammonds’ case became a rallying cry that kicked off a tense stand-off. In January 2016, armed anti-government militias and “patriot” groups seized Malheur Wildlife Refuge headquarters. To reflect their belief the federal government has only a limited right to own property within a state, they changed the refuge’s name to Harney County Resource Center.They stayed for more than 3 weeks with the standoff only ending after state troopers shot and killed one of the militia members and arrested 6 others. The Hammonds’ importance to the standoff was mostly symbolic. They may have initially welcomed the militia’s help, only to rejected it later and told the groups to go home. In addition, the groups occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge had broader disputes with the federal government about public land use than just the Hammonds’ case. Nonetheless, the case became a focal point for armed militias that violently occupied federal land in order to achieve their goals. Nonetheless, leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy, (sons of the infamous Cliven Bundy of the Nevada standoff with feds over unpaid grazing fees) along with 5 other defendants were eventually acquitted of charges stemming from the takeover by a federal jury in Portland.

But it’s the latest example of Donald Trump using near-limitless presidential power in the service of a cause celebre for extreme segments of the right. While George W. Bush and Barack Obama relied on Office of Pardon Attorney recommendations that used a multi-step application process to determine whose cases get relief, Trump has bypassed all of that. Instead, he’s used his pardon power to commute the sentences of ideological fellow travelers such as prominent right-wing figures or folk heroes caught up in legal trouble. Before the Hammonds, it was conservative writer and conspiracy theory enthusiast, and troll Dinesh D’Souza who pleaded guilty in 2014 to violating campaign finance laws after falsely claiming he was targeted for political retribution. Before him, was Dick Cheney’s former Chief of Staff I. “Scooter” Libby who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying to the FBI during an investigation into who leaked the name of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. And before him, it was ex-Maricopa sheriff Joe Arpaio known for his cruelty to anyone he suspected as undocumented immigrants and was convicted of contempt of court.

Regardless of what you think about public land use or federal overreach, as Center for Western Priorities Executive Director Jennifer Rokala said the Hammond pardon sends a, “dangerous message to America’s park rangers, wildland firefighters, law enforcement officers, and public lands managers. President Trump, at the urging of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, has once again sided with lawless extremists who believe that public land does not belong to all Americans.” Oregon Wild’s Arran Robertson told the AP about the pardon’s darker impact, stating, “From the Bundys to logging and oil companies, special interests are working with the Trump administration to dismantle America’s public lands heritage, and this will be viewed as a victory in that effort.” Yet, the Hammond pardons come as some federal employees in the rural American West are nervous of what they say is a high likelihood more standoffs can break out. According to NPR’s Kirk Siegler, citing soil scientists, cattle range managers, and those staffing recreation sites, “It’s also not clear yet if other ranchers who graze their cattle on public lands might decide to openly defy federal laws, [with] the Hammonds being pardoned.”

Nonetheless, the matter of the Hammonds and the armed militia takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge is one I find particularly disgraceful. It’s plain to see that the Hammonds clearly committed an act of domestic terrorism and for endangering lives in their arson crime. So, a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence for setting fire to federal land is hardly government overreach. Yet, somehow the District Court judge finds such a sentence too lengthy and harsh for two cattle ranchers who burned 139 acres of land to cover up an illegal deer hunt. As he noted, “would not meet any idea I have of justice, proportionality … it would be a sentence which would shock the conscience to me.” It just seems like the guy sympathized with them enough to let them off so easily. Despite that according to Think Progress, the prosecutors’ choice was rooted in the firefighters’ earnest belief that the Hammond ranchers have been indifferent to their lives at best and seeking to harm them at worst. In the wake of their pardon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a briefing, “The Hammonds are devoted family men, respected contributors to their local community and have widespread support from their neighbors, local law enforcement and farmers and ranchers across the West.” She basically describes these guys like they’re some friendly neighborhood Though mandatory minimums have their share of critics all across the political spectrum, the Hammonds were serving a sentence that was established for terrorists which they undeniably were. Besides, there are plenty of other people languishing in prison under mandatory minimums for far lesser crimes. Yet, none of them get the kind of sympathy these men received by the media, the government, or the criminal justice system.

Then there’s the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by armed anti-government militia and “patriot” groups. Despite that these guys seized a wildlife refuge carrying weapons for political purposes, somehow the media referred their clear act of domestic terrorism as a “protest.” And yet, despite holding the place hostage for about 40 days until an armed standoff with federal authorities prior to arrests, the Bundy brothers who led this takeover and 5 walked free. Look, I have no problem with protesting about public lands and use rights though I do believe that this land was made for you and me and have no problem with the federal government setting aside lands for preservation of our national heritage. But once you bring loaded guns to threaten federal employees and take over a wildlife refuge, that’s terrorism. And yet, none called it terrorism. Despite that while the locals were sympathetic with the Hammonds’ plight, they weren’t interested in Ammon and Ryan Bundy’s takeover of a federal building. The fact the Hammond case was so connected to the Bundys makes their pardon seem like Donald Trump is signaling the noxious Nevada ranchers that it’s okay to seize and destroy public lands when someone has a beef with the feds. There are plenty of ways to lawfully address grievances. Domestic terrorism shouldn’t be one of them nor should be condoned, much less pardoned. Since that undermines Americans’ rights to our shared public lands and national parks.

Nonetheless, I can’t help but imagine how different the legal system and the media would perceive this circus if the Hammonds and the anti-government militia groups at Malheur weren’t white. I’m sure none of them would’ve received the sympathy or the positive recognition for their efforts. Hell, if the Hammonds were Hispanic, I’d bet any money that Judge Hogan would’ve sentenced them to at least the mandatory minimum with no outcry other than their sentence wasn’t harsh enough. And they’d certainly not receive a pardon from Donald Trump. In fact, he’d be ranting about them at his ego-stroking, hate-filled rallies and use them as an example to illustrate how Hispanics put America to shit with their crime and violence. In addition, if those anti-government militias and “patriot” groups were all Muslims, well, you can guess they wouldn’t have held onto the Malheur Wildlife Refuge for long. Mostly because the authorities would’ve called law enforcement at all levels akin to the Standing Rock protests until all the ranchers were cuffed and put into a truck to the jail. The media and the country would universally condemn them. A federal jury would convict them while a federal judge would hand them a sentence to make sure they’d never see the light of day again. If not, then perhaps give the jury an option of instilling the death penalty. I know that implying that race was a factor in how the Hammonds and the right-wing militia groups at Malheur were treated less harshly than other terror incidents may make people uncomfortable. Yet, I can’t ignore the fact that race has been a determining factor on why the country doesn’t seem to take right-wing and white supremacist terrorism much more seriously. Another reason has to do with that millions of white conservative Americans may share their principles to certain extents and don’t want to look in the metaphorical mirror whenever a right-wing terror event occurs or take that responsibility.

However, the Hammonds’ pardon deserves special attention and more media coverage than it got because it’s an extremely irresponsible one. Not just because Donald Trump granted them clemency on partisan grounds, but because it sets a dangerous message that threatens our national security and the lives of millions of Americans. In a time of rising hate crimes and right-wing terrorism, presidential pardons to domestic terrorists are among the last things America needs right now. By pardoning Dwight and Steven Hammond, Trump not only lets them out of jail but also that the fires they lit were perfectly acceptable. These pardons mark the first time anti-government militia groups opposing federal land laws have their issues validated at the federal level. Not to mention, they speak to the ways the Trump administration is emboldening the far-right patriot movement more generally. It’s as if Trump’s signaling the radical right not to worry about facing criminal charges. Southern Poverty Law Center reporter Ryan Lenz told The Daily Beast, “This is the latest in a long string of setbacks for federal efforts to bring anti-government extremists to justice for their actions. The militia movement sees this as further vindication and further proof that their cause is just.”

The worst implications of the Hammond pardons may have nothing to do with desecrating public lands with no consequence. The rise of right-wing extremist terrorism is a threat to national security that Donald Trump and millions of Americans don’t want to acknowledge or solve. And it doesn’t help that many of these white supremacists, right-wing terrorists, and extremists comprise of a key part of Trump’s base and count among his most ardent supporters. The Hammond pardons send a glaring message that he has their back in the White House. If any of them are facing federal convictions and sentencing, Trump will make sure they get off scot free to terrorize whatever facet of America they please. As long he could use his pardon power for terrorists to outrage liberals and inflame culture war tensions, then millions of Americans’ lives could be in danger to political violence. And there’s nothing they could do about it. Nonetheless, suppose his next pardon was the man who ran over Heather Heyer at Charlottesville and he goes free. After all, Trump once called the white supremacists responsible for the violence in Charlottesville, “very fine people.” I’m sure a pardon for some of those guys will be around the corner should they have legal troubles. As former Colorado National Monument superintendent Joan Anzelmo tweeted on the matter: “This is so very wrong. No one is safe from felons with friends in high places. Terrible. Dangerous. Wrong.”

Who Will Rid Us of This Activist Judge?

In the wake of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, there is so much for Americans, particularly the Democrats to be worried about. After all, him stepping down during the Donald Trump nightmare would shift the Court to the right for the next few decades. Now that Lord Cheetohead has nominated DC Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, there is plenty of talk about how his tenure of the court might overturn Roe v. Wade, gut the Affordable Care Act, undermine labor rights, weaken environmental regulations, hurt civil rights, and give more free rein on large corporations to do whatever the hell they want. But while all these issues are very important to consider, it’s not exactly on my mind at the moment.

Before I get to the point, I must acknowledge that during the 1990s, Kavanaugh worked on an independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s extremely zealous team of prosecutors pursuing what they believed to be wrongdoing by President Bill Clinton. For those who were either too young like me or not born yet, this independent counsel investigation into Clinton began with a land deal in Arkansas and eventually ended with a report recommending his impeachment for lying under oath and obstructing justice over his affair with Monica Lewinsky. According to Ken Gormley in his book, The Death of American virtue, Kavanaugh was a particularly committed team player. Since at one point, he wrote a memo to Starr which included the following:

“After reflecting this evening, I am strongly opposed to giving the President any “break”… unless before his questioning on Monday, he either i) resigns or ii) confesses perjury and issues a public apology to you [Starr]. I have tried hard to bend over backwards and be fair to him… In the end, I am convinced that there really are [no reasonable defenses]. The idea of going easy on him at the questioning is abhorrent to me…

“[T]he President has disgraced his Office, the legal system, and the American people by having sex with a 22-year-old intern and turning her life into a shambles—callous and disgusting behavior that has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle. He has committed perjury (at least) in the Jones case… He has tried to disgrace [Ken Starr] and this Office with a sustained propaganda campaign that would make Nixon blush.”

As much as I think Clinton’s impeachment was stupid, I can see the guy’s point on the perjury part and the fact Lewinsky hasn’t been able to escape the infamy of the whole scandal since. Yet, to be fair, men in elected office publicly lie about their extramarital proclivities happens all the time and most usually don’t face any legal trouble whatsoever. Besides, perjury over an extramarital affair doesn’t seem like an impeachable offense compared to, well, making money off the presidency, firing the FBI director while under criminal investigation, ignoring the Emoluments Clause, and possibly colluding with the Russians. Kavanaugh’s memo went on to propose asking President Clinton questions like:

“If Monica Lewinsky says that you ejaculated into her mouth on two occasions in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?

“If Monica Lewinsky says that on several occasions you had her give [you] oral sex, made her stop, and then ejaculated into the sink in the bathroom off the Oval Office, would she be lying?

“If Monica Lewinsky says that you masturbated into a trash can in your secretary’s office, would she [be] lying?”

However, fast forward a decade and Kavanaugh seems to do a 180 on the topic after later working for a president from his own party. From 2001-2006, he served in President George W. Bush’s White House, first in the White House Counsel’s office and later as White House Staff Secretary. In 2006, he was confirmed to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. And in 2009, he wrote an article that would be published in the Minnesota Law Review. Now this piece addressed several issues related to the presidency and separation of powers. Yet, the most relevant section comes right after the introduction, focusing on civil and criminal investigations of sitting US presidents:

I. PROVIDE SITTING PRESIDENTS WITH A TEMPORARY DEFERRAL OF CIVIL SUITS AND OF CRIMINAL PROSECUTIONS AND INVESTIGATIONS

He then opens here by describing his work for President Bush and how he learned to appreciate “how complex and difficult that job is” and continues (emphasis added):

“I believe it vital that the President be able to focus on his never-ending tasks with as few distractions as possible. The country wants the President to be “one of us” who bears the same responsibilities of citizenship that all share. But I believe that the President should be excused from some of the burdens of ordinary citizenship while serving in office.”
He next calls on Congress to consider passing a law that would relieve some of the burdens and expresses his doubts that investigations of a sitting president can rise above politics.

“In particular, Congress might consider a law exempting a President—while in office—from criminal prosecution and investigation, including from questioning by criminal prosecutors or defense counsel. Criminal investigations targeted at or revolving around a President are inevitably politicized by both their supporters and critics.

“As I have written before, ‘no Attorney General or special counsel will have the necessary credibility to avoid the inevitable charges that he is politically motivated—whether in favor of the President or against him, depending on the individual leading the investigation and its results.’”

Look, I understand that the presidency is a complex and difficult job. But while I may agree that investigations regarding sitting presidents may not be able to rise above politics, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t excuse them from “some of the burdens of ordinary citizenship while serving in office.” Our country was built upon the idea that presidents must obey the laws and suffer the legal consequences like everyone else. This is especially because the presidency is the highest office in the nation and the fact they can be sued, criminally investigated, and prosecuted like everyone else is a major check on the President’s power. But while the Mueller probe may be politicized among the American public, the rationale behind it such as the FBI investigation on the Trump campaign and George Papadopoulos drunkenly bragging about Russians digging dirt on Hillary Clinton had nothing to do with politics.

Nonetheless, Kavanaugh bemoans the consequences if the sitting president was indicted:

“The indictment and trial of a sitting President, moreover, would cripple the federal government, rendering it unable to function with credibility in either the international or domestic arenas. Such an outcome would ill serve the public interest, especially in times of financial or national security crisis.”

Indeed, this is a genuinely unsettled legal question. While Justice Department opinions have typically stated that sitting presidents can’t be indicted, some experts have argued otherwise. The question has never been tested in the courts, but it was revived last year with the scandal over Donald Trump, Russia, and possible obstruction of justice. Special Counsel Robert Mueller seems unlikely to defy Justice Department policy with a legally questionable indictment of Trump. But if he does, the Supreme Court would surely decide on the matter. And since he’s been nominated to the Court, Kavanaugh’s 2009 article on the subject takes on a significant importance.

Kavanaugh goes on to the civil suit arena:

“Even the lesser burdens of a criminal investigation—including preparing for questioning by criminal investigators—are time-consuming and distracting. Like civil suits, criminal investigations take the President’s focus away from his or her responsibilities to the people. And a President who is concerned about an ongoing criminal investigation is almost inevitably going to do a worse job as President.”

This will also likely resonate with Donald Trump, who’s spent an enormous amount of time on the Mueller probe while plagued by other lawsuits as well. Indeed, the question on whether Trump should have to sit for Mueller’s “questioning” is a current discussion topic. If Trump should refuse questioning (which he will), Mueller could subpoena him, which will culminate in a battle likely rising to the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh concludes by briefly trying to address two possibly critiques on his arguments. First, he says that the president could always be prosecuted after he leaves office. Second, if the president does anything bad, Congress could use the impeachment process.

“One might raise at least two important critiques of these ideas. The first is that no one is above the law in our system of government. I strongly agree with that principle. But it is not ultimately a persuasive criticism of these suggestions. The point is not to put the President above the law or to eliminate checks on the President, but simply to defer litigation and investigations until the President is out of office.

“A second possible concern is that the country needs a check against a bad-behaving or law-breaking President. But the Constitution already provides that check. If the President does something dastardly, the impeachment process is available. No single prosecutor, judge, or jury should be able to accomplish what the Constitution assigns to the Congress. Moreover, an impeached and removed President is still subject to criminal prosecution afterwards.”

However, his conclusion falls short on to points. First, waiting until the president is out of office to investigate him doesn’t prevent the damage he may cause during his tenure as well as gives him free rein to abuse his power while in office. Second, while Donald Trump has done really bad things over his presidency and before then, that doesn’t mean Congress will impeach him. Because it’s controlled by the GOP who has no interest to check his power. Besides, Kavanaugh doesn’t address what happens when it’s not yet clear and hotly disputed whether not a president has done “something dastardly” like colluding with Russia to intervene in the 2016 election, or obstructing justice. It appears he’d be happy to leave that to Congress to decide, without any investigation from the executive branch. Now this is disturbing since I consider such investigation from the executive branch necessary before Congress can decide whether to impeach a president.

He concludes the section:

“In short, the Constitution establishes a clear mechanism to deter executive malfeasance; we should not burden a sitting President with civil suits, criminal investigations, or criminal prosecutions. The President’s job is difficult enough as is. And the country loses when the President’s focus is distracted by the burdens of civil litigation or criminal investigation and possible prosecution.”

Of course, the country loses when a president’s focus is distracted by the burdens of civil litigation or criminal investigation and possible prosecution. But the country loses more when a president suspected of egregious wrongdoing is allowed to abuse his power however he pleases without any way to hold him accountable. Stating that we shouldn’t “burden” a sitting president with civil suits, criminal investigations, or criminal prosecutions because the presidency is a difficult job as it is simply doesn’t cut it. Yes, such processes might be a pain in the ass but they ensure that sitting presidents must answer to the law regarding their actions. If a sitting president doesn’t want to be distracted by lawsuits, criminal inquiries, and prosecution, then he shouldn’t have done what got him there in the first place. This especially goes with a president who believes he’s above the law and can do whatever he damn well pleases without consequence.
So why did Kavanaugh change his mind? Probably because he spent 5 years working for a president from his own party who gave him a big promotion. As he admits in his 2009 article:

“This is not something I necessarily thought in the 1980s or 1990s. Like many Americans at that time, I believed that the President should be required to shoulder the same obligations that we all carry. But in retrospect, that seems a mistake.

“Looking back to the late 1990s, for example, the nation certainly would have been better off if President Clinton could have focused on Osama bin Laden without being distracted by the Paula Jones sexual harassment case and its criminal investigation offshoots. To be sure, one can correctly say that President Clinton brought that ordeal on himself, by his answers during his deposition in the Jones case if nothing else.”

I may be no legal expert. But unlike Kavanaugh, I still believe a president should shoulder the same obligations we all carry. And yes, the nation would’ve been better off if President Clinton wasn’t distracted by the Paula Jones sexual harassment case and the criminal investigation offshoots. But to say that prevented Clinton from catching Osama Bin Laden is quite a stretch. However, just because the whole Bill Clinton impeachment circus might’ve been a mistake that made nobody happy, doesn’t mean we should exempt sitting presidents from civil litigation or criminal investigations and prosecution. Donald Trump and his team have been under criminal investigation by the FBI for possible collusion with Russia long before he was even elected to the presidency. And his efforts to stop it like the firing of FBI Director James Comey have only verified suspicions that they did. Or at least saw no problem with it. Besides, Robert Mueller’s team has already either indicted or accepted guilty pleas from 4 former Trump advisers, 14 Russian nationals, 3 Russian companies, a California man, and a London-based lawyer. Furthermore, the US intelligence community and the Senate Intelligence Committee all say that Russia tried to help Trump win the 2016 election and that Russa President Vladimir Putin ordered his government to do so. The real question now is whether Trump and his team colluded with Russia’s effort to sow seeds of division through the internet and running ads to stir up racial tensions.

What Kavanaugh wrote in 2009 about executive power sounds nice to Donald Trump and may be the major reason why he chose the guy to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy. It’s not too far-fetched to assume the Supreme Court may hear an element of the Russia investigation like subpoenaing a sitting president or less likely indicting one. There’s also a strong possibility that Kavanaugh can be one of the justices to decide on such matters. Sure, he advocated passing a law to protect the president from civil and criminal scrutiny but he didn’t say such notion is unconstitutional. Yet, to suggest that a president shouldn’t be subject to a civil suit or criminal prosecution while in office appears to fly in the face of decades of precedent stating that no one, including the president is above the law. While we don’t know if Trump has any criminal exposure at this point, Kavanaugh’s position could influence how he ruled on the appropriateness of any future actions by prosecutors against him. What impact that might have on the Mueller investigation remains to be seen. But should the Supreme Court rule in Trump’s favor that would neutralize the Mueller probe until he leaves office, America is in serious trouble.

Nonetheless, we must acknowledge that Brett Kavanaugh’s entire career has been in service to the Republican agenda. His old writings from the 1990s show that he was certainly a true believer in the Starr investigation before the Bush administration made him skeptical on the wisdom of litigation and investigations involving a sitting president. Donald Trump’s legal team has prepared to argue that the president isn’t obligated to sit for a Mueller interview and has limitless power to shut down the investigation or pardon anyone involved, including himself. Though this argument is basically summed as: Trump isn’t above the law, he is the law. The Kavanaugh from 20 years ago would’ve vociferously disagreed since he urged his boss, Kenneth Starr not to cut Bill Clinton any slack in his inquiry on the Lewinsky affair. When time came to help write the Starr report, Kavanaugh argued for Clinton’s impeachment for lying to his staff and misleading the American public. Had he still held that belief today, Trump would’ve never considered him for the Supreme Court. Yet, after working for George W. Bush, Kavanaugh apparently changed his tune as indicated in his 2009 article for the Minnesota Law Review. Not only did he contend that the president can’t be indicted, he also took his interpretation of executive power one step further by suggesting Congress pass a law allowing the president to defer such investigations until they’re out of office.

Still, I think it’s more likely that his awakening on presidential power during the Bush administration and his 2009 apology for the Starr report conceals more partisan motivations. Should the Russia investigation culminate in a Supreme Court battle, could we expect Kavanaugh to rule Trump’s case impartially and without favor? Or would he rationalize bending over backwards for the outcome he’d want to see? Because from my standpoint, I think he’s an activist judge willing to hold certain views that would be in his party’s favor. And I strongly believe Trump selected him to protect him from Mueller’s Russia investigation. He shouldn’t have seat on the bench of the most powerful court in the land.

To the Honorable United States Representative Conor Lamb of the Pennsylvania 18th District

Dear Congressman Lamb:

As your constituent of the 18th District, I have been satisfied with your efforts to represent the interest of Southwest Pennsylvania in ways your hypocritical sellout predecessor Dr. Tim Murphy ever could. Though you may not be my representative for much longer due to a new congressional map, I wish you the best of luck beating Keith Rothfus. As a liberal who supports gun control and environmental protection, I know you may not share my views on everything. But since I live in a heavily red district, I know I have to make due with whoever Democrat has a fighting chance in the polls and be as inoffensive to the electorate as possible. Unlike Murphy, your support for affordable healthcare and unions seems genuine while you appear very keen on fixing the opioid crisis ravaging our nation. From looking at your priorities list, you seem honestly committed for actions that benefit working Pennsylvanians and their families.

However, while your site states that you have a bias for action, I am not sure if any of your stated goals are feasible at the moment. You may be today’s Senator Jefferson Smith in Washington, but sometimes a fresh face with good ideas can only go so far. You may be willing to work with anyone to protect our people and bring good jobs. But so has any politician willing to work across the aisle for the greater good. Yet, sometimes it does not matter whether you are willing to work with those who do not agree with you. But whether those on the other side are willing to work with you. And from what I have seen with the Obamacare repeal nightmare last year and since, I honestly believe that as long as Donald Trump is in office and Republicans control both houses of Congress that our nation’s problems will not get better and even exacerbate in years to come.

Yet, if there is anything requiring direct action by our leaders in Washington, then it is on the matter of Donald Trump in the White House. I am painfully aware he enjoys a credible following among a significant contingent in the 18th district since so many in my community, neighborhood, and extended family have disturbingly supported him and continue to do so despite all the unconscionable things he’s said and done. I know you make it a priority not to criticize Trump by name in your public life out of reluctance to offend potential constituents and voters. However, as my US Representative who genuinely cares about the issues affecting working Pennsylvanians and their families, I strongly urge you do. Now you do not have to talk about Russia or Stormy Daniels. Nor do you need to address his other numerous scandals and controversies. But I do believe if you really care about and respect your Trump-supporting constituents, you need to at least tell them the cold, hard, truth they do not want to hear: that the man they see as their champion has no interest in solving their problems and is not on their side. Trump knows how to give wins to interest groups he actually cares about, many of these are large corporation who support unpopular measures such as letting health insurance companies discriminate against those with preexisting conditions, doing away with key environmental regulations protecting our access to clean air and water, letting financial advisers deliberately give their clients bad advice on their money, eliminating essential banking regulations that will pave way to another recession someday, getting rid of key labor protections like those against wage theft, and handing a sweetheart tax cut deal boosting corporate profits to record levels.

But more importantly, you need to address the undeniable fact that Donald Trump has never been the friend of ordinary working Americans and never will. Throughout his entire career he has reaped in millions from the remains of failing businesses at the expense of investors, small businesses, and American workers. For decades, according to a 2016 USA Today article, Trump has been subject to at least 60 lawsuits along with hundreds of liens, judgements, and other government filings documenting people accusing him of failing to pay them for their work. These include a Florida dishwasher, a New Jersey glass company, a carpet company, a plumber, painters, 48 waiters, dozens of bartenders and other hourly workers at his resorts and clubs, real estate brokers who sold him his properties, and even several law firms that once represented him in these suits and others. Since 2005, Trump’s companies have also been cited for 24 Fair Labor Standards Act violations for failing to pay overtime or minimum wage according to the US Department of Labor at the time. In addition, USA Today’s review found more than 200 mechanic’s liens on wage theft claims filed by contractors and employees against Trump, his companies, or his properties since the 1980s. These range from a $75,000 claim by a New York heating and air conditioning company to a $1 million claim from a president of a New York City real estate banking firm. For Trump Taj Mahal casino project in Atlantic City, New Jersey Casino Control Commission records state that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, if at all. These comprise of workers who installed walls, chandeliers, and plumbing.

Nor do all these wage theft cases date from the 1980s. In May 2016, Trump Miami Resort Management LLC settled with 48 waiters at Trump National Doral Miami golf resort over failing to pay overtime for a 10-day Passover event. The lawsuit contended that some even worked 20-hour shifts. In Trump’s facilities at California and New York, bartenders and wait staff have sued with a range of allegations from not letting workers take breaks to not passing along tips to servers. And in January 2017, several contractors who worked on his D.C. Hotel project with renovating the Old Post Office on wage theft claims.

In sum, these actions paint a picture of Donald Trump’s sprawling organization consistently failing to pay small businesses and individuals before tying them up in court and other negotiations for years. Sometimes Trump’s team financially overpowers and outlasts much smaller opponents by draining their resources that some give up the fight or settle for less, some declare bankruptcy, and some end up out of business entirely. Of course, Trump and his associates have shrugged off these wage theft claims on the excuse that they did a terrible job despite that he often offered to rehire those same contractors again. But the sheer number of companies and others he hasn’t paid either suggest two things. His companies have a poor tract record hiring workers and assessing contractors. Or more likely as alleged in dozens of court cases that Trump’s businesses renege on contracts, refuse to pay, or consistently attempt to change payment terms after the work is done.

Mind-boggling wage theft practices is just one way Donald Trump has screwed his over ordinary Americans. Though he has done well after his multiple Atlantic City casino bankruptcies, his own casino employees have collectively lost millions of dollars in retirement savings after Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts’ value plummeted. According to a class action lawsuit filed against the company following its 2004 bankruptcy, starting in 1996, THCR encouraged its employees to invest their 401(k) savings in company stock. That same year, it sold $1.1 billion in junk bonds to offset Trump’s personal debt and buy more ill-fated casino properties in Atlantic City. Then when the stock price neared its nadir amid bankruptcy, the company forced its workers to sell at a huge loss. More than 400 employees lost more than a combined total of $2 million from their retirement accounts. One worker who put $1,000 into her 1997 retirement account had her savings withered to just $59 by 2004. Trump has never had to declare personal bankruptcy but the company he set up to operate his Atlantic City casinos went through numerous corporate restructurings to reduce its debt load. Since Trump used his company as a means to of transferring his personal debt, issuing rounds of junk bonds to build cash that would erase them. As he prospered, his companies floundered. In other words, he put up little of his own money, shifted personal debts to his casinos while collecting millions of dollars in salary, bonuses, and other payments. Any burden of his failures fell on his investors and others who bet on his business expertise. While Atlantic City casino employees had their retirement savings wiped out, the share price rose from $.57 to $2.04/share, and Trump kept his $2 million salary after THCR emerged from bankruptcy, and took in more than $44 million in compensation over the course of 14 years he served as the company’s chairman.

Despite how many publications like the Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and others have done stellar work on reporting Donald Trump’s history of corrupt business practices which have left a trail of destruction and destruction in its wake, especially in Atlantic City. But I was deeply disappointed by how little the televised media and our leaders in Washington have touched upon his sordid history of corruption and abuse of power which I strongly believe are the core of his character and give an idea of what he really thinks about his white working class base. To him, they are just a means to the end meant to be cast aside once they’re no longer useful to him. I know their racial resentment and anxiety over demographic change was the main reason why so many of them voted for this unrespectable con artist to the presidency. But I think another big reason why he is in the White House today is the fact that many Americans don’t seem to take corporate crimes as seriously as they should since they hurt those with the least resources to defend themselves. Yet, when corporate executives steal from their employees and use their company to leverage debt and free themselves from responsibility for their bad decisions, ordinary working Americans suffer. And that is especially the case when workers are underpaid and in precarious situations that will result in termination if they ever dare complain or challenge their bosses. Trump’s crimes may be egregious but he’s far from the only man in Corporate America who’s screwed over his investors and employees. Wage theft is so endemic in this country that the average American has either been a victim of it or knows someone who has. And even when caught, employers who steal from their workers usually face little or no consequences. Since no Wall Street banker has been convicted for causing the Great Recession, I think addressing Trump’s shady business practices is a conversation is sorely needed on Capitol Hill and in our public squares, at least to make an example out of him.

I know criticizing Donald Trump in front of your constituents won’t be easy for you. I understand you don’t want to alienate potential voters. Yet, if not enough people in Congress don’t address Trump’s abuses of power and corruption as a businessman, including what he did to Atlantic City, then I deeply fear he might be on his way to winning a second term as president. Since the Constitution limits presidents to serving two terms, it’s very possible that Trump won’t need his white working class base anymore to retain power in the White House. I really don’t want to face the prospect of a Trump reelection victory. I have been through that nightmare once in my life resulting me crying myself to sleep afraid of what would happen to me and waking up early when I couldn’t sleep anymore. As a young woman on the autistic spectrum, I was almost inconsolable over the notion of losing my Medicaid coverage when the American Healthcare Act passed the House until the Senate’s ACA repeal plan died on the floor last summer. Since finding a job is difficult for me at the moment, I don’t ever want to go through that again. And since Medicaid is so essential for fighting the opioid crisis in this country which is now a national emergency, neither do you.

I know you are a good man and are nothing like the good for nothing piece of shit in the White House. You have made sacrifices to your country such as your time in the Marines and you support the welfare of those who served. And I do believe you care about ordinary Americans and their families. However, being a true advocate for your constituents shouldn’t just be about making stump speeches on what potential voters might want to hear. Though I know you do your best to fulfill the promises you’ve made. I am aware you don’t want to cause controversy among the public in Southwestern Pennsylvania. And considering you won your seat in a highly-contested special election by 755 votes, I wouldn’t blame you.

However, there comes a time when you must state the inconvenient truth that might make your constituents view you as a pariah in anger, which may put your political future at risk. Yet, if you want to prove that you’re truly on your constituents’ side and that you’re willing to put their interests first, then you must make a compelling, respectful, honest case to prove that Trump is taking them for suckers and has no intention to fix their problems. His history as a corrupt businessman who’s exploited employees and investors to enrich himself perfectly illustrates this. In fact, I have compiled a blog post in The Lone Girl in a Crowd highlighting decades worth of his corruption scandals with links if you’re interested. Yet, however vague and substance-lacking they were, Trump campaigned on some ideas similar to yours and promised similar things which unlike you, he had no intention to deliver. Many voters in the 18th District fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Living in a rural area, I witnessed the worst of it with people in my community flaunting Trump signs everywhere I went, of which I found deeply distressing. But even then, I knew Trump was working his art of the con since I had been conducting research on his past and building a case against him. Nonetheless, if you truly respect Trump voters, then you must tell them the truth, even if it brings you fits of rage from potential voters already sold on his brazen lies and false promises or costs your nascent career. Your constituents in Southwest Pennsylvania deserve nothing less.

Asking you to criticize Donald Trump at the risk of losing your career may not be the wisest of requests. Yet, with the Republican Party so deep in his support for this unrespectable man, I am desperately pleading you to stand up to him on behalf of the people in your district. Yet, while you denounce him as a fraud, assure your voters you will work with him if that’s possible and do everything you can to protect them against his cruel and hostile policies that only benefit him, his allies, and his corporate backers. Trump may value loyalty of his subordinates and supporters, but that doesn’t mean he will return the favor for he’s known to stab people in the back once they cease being useful to him or suddenly become a liability. And though he will provoke controversy to please his base, he will not go out of his way to help his supporters in any meaningful way that doesn’t benefit him in return. Since you’ve been a Marine, I’m sure you can show him what true loyalty means as you represent constituents who may not have voted for you and may not be able to give you anything in return.

What Is Civility?

On Friday, June 22, 2018, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to dine at a table reserved for 8 reserved in her husband’s name at a Lexington, Virginia restaurant called the Red Hen. When she arrived, restaurant employees called co-owner Stephanie Wilkinson asking what they should do. While she drove to the place, the staff served Sanders and the rest of her party cheese boards and took their orders. But once Wilkinson arrived, the workers took a vote, she asked Sanders to come outside, told her the restaurant has “certain standards” to uphold, “such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation,” and asked her to leave. Sanders complied along with the rest of her party who didn’t need to. They offered to pay, but Wilkinson told them it was, “on the house.”
Like many incidents these days, this episode found its way on the internet. An end-of-shift note appeared on Twitter with “86 – Sarah Huckabee Sanders” (an 86 meaning in restaurant lingo as someone who isn’t allowed to be served or an item that isn’t on the menu or in stock). A waiter wrote a Facebook post about serving Sanders “a total of 2 minutes” before the owner asked her to leave. On Saturday morning, the press secretary tweeted, “I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so.” Wilkinson told the Washington Post that she doesn’t regret her decision asking Sanders to leave, “We just felt there are moments in time when people need to live their convictions. This appeared to be one.”

Nonetheless, the Red Hen incident is the latest in a string of events where Trump administration officials have found themselves unwelcome in their efforts to dine out in peace. Last week, protestors confronted Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen at a Washington D.C. Mexican restaurant over the administration’s family separation policy. White House adviser and Josef Goebbels lookalike Stephen Miller was called a fascist while dining at another D.C. Mexican joint. But when the Red Hen’s owner politely asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave her establishment, it ignited a debate over civility, political protest, and how Trump officials should be treated in public swirled over the weekend and spilled over that Monday. It was a fight pitting self-styled defenders of civility and political norms against angry progressives arguing that the Trump administration should be resisted by any means necessary, including confronting its officials in public. In fact, the Washington Post’s editorial board criticize the decision to refuse Sanders service as signifying the breakdown of civility and basic manners in American culture. They called for Sanders, Nielsen, and Miller to “be allowed to eat dinner in peace,” writing, “Those who are insisting that we are in a special moment justifying incivility should think for a moment how many Americans might find their own special moment in which only the most zealous sign up for public service.” Others, including Democratic California Congresswoman Maxine Waters argued administration officials have forfeited their right in expecting public niceties by aligning themselves with Donald Trump in the first place. As she told MSNBC, “I have no sympathy for these people that are in this administration who know it is wrong what they’re doing.”

At any rate, this public debate around the concept of civility in the political discourse is utterly ridiculous. For one, American politics are uncivil for as long as this country existed with countless incidents of political violence with those pertaining civil and labor rights being among the most contentious. During the Civil Rights Movement, you’ll find plenty of demonstrators jailed, beat up, or killed for peacefully standing up against racial segregation. The notion of a White House press secretary being asked to leave a restaurant as signaling the breakdown in civility and basic manners in American culture is laughable in the trainwreck presidency of Donald Trump, let alone American history in general. Secondly, the incivility is mainly coming from the Trump White House since Trump and his administration have flouted the norms of political discourse far more often than their opponents. Seriously, in the 2016 presidential campaign alone, Trump called Mexicans rapists, mocked a disabled reporter, encouraged his supporters to beat up protestors, attacked a Muslim Gold Star family, attacked John McCain for being a POW, promoting a conspiracy theory alleging Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination, launching deeply personal attacks on Hillary Clinton during the presidential debates, humiliating Clinton by parading her husband’s ex-mistresses at one of them, pathological lying, and so much more. In fact, as far as politicians are concerned, Donald Trump, his administration, and his supporters don’t give a shit about civility. Nor does Sarah Huckabee Sanders since she’s been complicit in all of this. For God’s sake, her job requires providing cover for Trump’s most egregious lies, which undermines a vital part of public discourse in the idea of fair and open public discourse about the truth. So much so that complaining about civility after being kicked out of a restaurant seems just as hypocritical as Count Olaf telling the Baudelaires to get a shower. Third, politely kicking out a White House press secretary from a restaurant without requiring her to pay for appetizers seems rather civil compared to other uncivil acts like a Trump rally. Still, if refusing service to Sanders puts the spotlight on the notion of fair and open public discourse on the truth, it might not harm America’s political civility. Hell, it might even improve it.

According to the great 20th century American philosopher John Rawls, “incivility” in politics in the Trump era isn’t about rude tweets but lies. A major topic in his seminal work Political Liberalism revolves around the problem of disagreement or how it’s possible to have a democracy when people disagree so much among themselves. The crux of Rawls’ answer is that democracy depends on a certain set of principles that almost every reasonable person can accept like “all citizens deserve to be treated equally” and “it’s wrong to imprison people on the basis of faith.” But for the system to work, Rawls argued that public debate must be free and open for people to clearly explain how their policy convictions can be justified according to these shared beliefs at the heart of a democratic society. Rawls called the obligation to adhere to these public discourse rules, “the duty of civility.” However, if citizens in general, especially politicians, hide and confuse their arguments, then people’s ability to give their informed consent to the administration vanishes. In this respect, “civility” as akin to politeness in everyday conversation. It’s about treating those of the opposition like reasonable people. Because it seems more “civil” to honestly state disagreements with individuals, even impolitely, than to try to bamboozle them.

Of course, Rawls never really entertained with the possibility that a democratic government might make dishonesty one of its core political principles. But this is exactly what Donald Trump has done. Since he constantly and completely disregards the truth as a tactic to advance his heartless agenda and keeping his base loyal to him. And the sheer gravity of such assault is monumentally jaw-dropping. According to the Toronto Star’s Trump lies database, he’s made at least 1,726 certifiably false statements since becoming president as of 2018 at an equivalent of 3 lies a day. When the New York Times compared Trump’s lies to Barack Obama’s, they found a huge discrepancy in that in his first 10 months as president, Trump told 6 times as many lies as Obama did during his entire presidency. Maxine Waters also told MSNBC in response to her critics, “As to the Chairman’s comments about civility… let me just say that every reasonable person has concluded that the president of the United States of America has advocated violence, he has been divisive and he has been the one that has caused what we see happening today.” If there is anyone who fails to uphold any rendition of civility in today’s American political landscape, it’s Donald Trump.

Now if Stephanie Wilkinson had kicked out a run of the mill Trump supporter out of her restaurant, any public outcry on civility over the incident might’ve been well-deserved. After all, Wilkinson told the Washington Post that she has regular politically conservative customers all the time and has no problem serving them. She kicked out Sarah Huckabee Sanders out of the Red Hen because she’s a public official working for Donald Trump and playing a critical role in his administration, As White House press secretary, Sanders’ job makes her especially complicit in Trump’s egregious agenda. Because her boss constantly lies, a major part of her job is defending those lies whether covering for them, deflecting them, or lying herself to cover them. Because of Trump’s uniquely hostile approach to telling the truth, just doing her job makes Sanders uncivil according to Rawls’s terms. As the Trump administration attacks the very heart of the US democratic political system, Sanders’ repeating and defending her boss’s lies is a vital part of this scheme.

As voters, we have a responsibility to confront incivility that threatens democracy rather than prioritize letting senior government officials dine in peace. When asked why she kicked out Sarah Huckabee Sanders out of her restaurant, Red Hen owner Stephanie Wilkinson meant exactly that when she told the Washington Post, “This feels like the moment in our democracy where people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.” In other words, Wilkinson acted to punish a political official for a specific set of severe wrongs, not to harm an average customer whose political views she happened to disagree with. Wilkinson’s actions at the Red Hen should be seen as a way to hold political elites accountable and force them to answer for their actions. For ordinary citizens rarely have the opportunity to do that. Given that the next elections are months away and the next presidential race is in 2020, Wilkinson doesn’t have much of an opportunity to punish the White House for its egregious behavior going on right now. In addition, Wilkinson had no intention to be a culture warrior and wasn’t looking to divide Americans against one another. In fact, it’s unlikely she didn’t even want this incident to go public or inspire copycats. One of her employees posted about it on Facebook and Sarah Huckabee Sanders brought the matter wider attention on Twitter. If it weren’t for these postings, nobody would’ve known. Kicking Sanders out of the Red Hen would’ve just been a modest act by a private citizen to hold a public official accountable or a way of registering dissent on how the government conducts itself. Kind of like when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, which is consistent with Rawls’ view of civility. And it’s exactly the kind of confrontation that Maxine Waters was talking about and encouraging people to do when she said, “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”

Like Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus kickstarting the Civil Rights Movement, Stephanie Wilkinson’s refusal of service to Sarah Huckabee Sanders is a political statement that could even be a way to bring about change. In fact, there’s evidence that inflicting personal punishments on political leaders does cause them to grapple with their actions and even change their behavior. Though I think it might be unlikely in Sanders’ case. One looked at fines for skipping important committee meetings that were imposed on legislators of the French National Assembly. Looking at the fines’ effects as well as the impact of it being widely publicized on a legislator skipping out, the scholars found the fines “strongly increase their committee attendance both after the private experience of sanctions and after their public exposure.” Thus, there’s reason to think that public officials in the private and public eye do mind being sanctioned. And since the United States is in the middle of a particular political emergency with the failure of America civil discourse as a democratic practice, a little impoliteness of the right kind can help restore it. Thus, in this debate over civility, Maxine Waters is correct.

Nonetheless, controversy erupted over the Red Hen incident and Maxine Waters’ comments made critics seize on how they both undermine the idea of civility. In wake of Waters’ comments, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Fox News, “The people who claim tolerance seem to be the most intolerant in this process. We need civility in this country, but the idea that you’re asking people to go forward, that becomes very dangerous and it becomes a risk inside our country as well.” House Speaker Paul Ryan asked Waters to apologize, saying that “no place for that in our public discourse,” while neglecting to critique Rep. Steve King for promoting a Neo-Nazi. Donald Trump tweeted, “Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an extraordinarily low IQ person, has become, together with Nancy Pelosi, the Face of the Democrat Party. She has just called for harm to supporters, of which there are many, of the Make America Great Again movement. Be careful what you wish for Max!” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also criticized her, tweeting, “Trump’s daily lack of civility has provoked responses that are predictable but unacceptable. As we go forward, we must conduct elections in a way that achieves unity from sea to shining sea.” Former Obama adviser David Axelrod also expressed his disagreement with Waters’s tactics and called people to organize and volunteer to convey their discontent with the Trump administration. Former Obama Secretary of Education Arne Duncan argued that driving people out of different businesses is a tactic echoing historic segregation policies.

However, what Maxine Waters’s critics miss in her remarks could be said best by Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond, “In exercising her constitutional right to freedom of speech at a recent rally, Congresswoman Waters did not, as she has made clear, encourage violence, like President Trump has been doing since the election. She, instead, encouraged Americans to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly by letting President Trump and members of his Administration know that separating young immigrant children from their parents is not who we are as a country.” It’s quite clear that when Waters urged attendees to keep “push[ing] back” she referred to the attention-grabbing incidents where Trump administration officials were subject to public confrontation. At worst, she encouraged people to create a public nuisance heckle and protest Trump officials in public on their off-hours in an effort to hold them accountable. And since Donald Trump has gone all his life without having to grapple with any real consequences whatsoever, we need to hold him and his swamp cronies and enablers accountable in whatever way we can.

Nonetheless, such talk over “civility” among Republicans is just a masked tactic to tell anyone who dare confront, protest, or challenge Donald Trump and his administration to shut up. In other words, I don’t think their beef isn’t that Stephanie Wilkinson and Maxine Waters weren’t being civil in their words and actions, but that they were actively resisting at all. Since I remember when Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem as a way to peacefully protest police brutality and racism. He was being civil in his grievances but his actions pissed many white football fans decrying he was disrespectful to police, to the troops, and the American flag. But the true reason was that white people had a problem with black people protesting on matters that don’t affect them. Besides, Trump supporters don’t care about civility among their own ranks, since many have been terrorizing people on line and through white supremacist demonstrations like last year’s Charlottesville rally.

White Americans had the same problem with Martin Luther King Jr. in his day for protesting racial segregation since 63% of whites had a negative perception of him back in 1966. And it wasn’t just King as a person, but also his commitment to direct action, many white people frequently described as fundamentally threatening civic norms. One Chicago Tribune anti-King editorial reads, “Families ordinarily would be enjoying the chance to sit on the front porch reading the paper, to sprinkle their lawns and work in their gardens, or to go to the park or beach. Instead, they are confronted by a shuffling procession of strangers carrying signs and posing as martyrs. The spectacle is repulsive to right-thinking people.” In sum you can translate this piece as, “Can’t those rabble-rousers leave Chicagoans alone and enjoy their weekend in peace?” Of course, King understood these calls to civility for what they were as attempts to shut down or at least slow the movement for equal rights. And they served a moral cover for the immoral laws he was protesting as the civility of segregation was upheld by threats of violence. His “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” to moderate white religious leaders in Alabama who encouraged their congregations to reject King since they saw him as an outsider disturbing the South’s peaceful atmosphere. King’s famous letter spoke directly to these calls for a more “constructive and realistic” response to oppression where he denounced “the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” King knew the status quo was never as peaceful as it appeared to white Americans and existed precisely was because society had created enough legal and social mechanisms to enforce inequality and oppression without obvious acts of state violence and extrajudicial terror. While civility and nonviolent resistance works as a form of protest, but only in combination with the background threat of much less civil tactics. While civility is nice idea, it should be a reward for securing a more just nation. It’s not the surest way to achieve justice and can be a method denying it. Unfortunately, those longing to return to an era of centrism, consensus, and civility usually don’t grapple with the way those ideas have historically worked to protect the powerful and sustain the status quo.

An Assault on Decency

While I was on my Minnesota vacation, everything in my country seemed like going to shit. Before I left Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending the family separation “zero tolerance” policy. Though tempting to hail such measure as a victory since overwhelming public pressure and outrage forced him to do it. But the notion that Trump has “ended” family separation is a questionable matter of law. Children are still in detention camps with no sign of seeing their parents again who now face criminal charges and deportation for illegal entry. Despite that most of these migrants’ choice to enter the country illegally is more akin to Harry Potter’s choice to cast a patronus against a Dementor attacking his cousin. Most of these families were desperately fleeing violence in Central America and have already gone through the legal channels for seeking asylum. Yet, border patrol agents either turned them away or told them to come another day. Sure, they knew they were breaking the law by crossing the border. But they didn’t have much of choice to do so. And as Harry later found out, these people were essentially tricked into doing so by spiteful authority figures who hated them. There is no established protocol to reunite families and sign that his administration plans to do so. Nor does Trump’s executive order ban the practice. Rather, it merely directs the Department of Homeland Security to detain migrant families together instead of separating them. Such policy also poses legality question as well. Should courts overturn it, it’s entirely possible that family separations can start again.

However, the “backlash works” analysis also skips a more fundamental political question. The disturbing truth is that huge number of mostly Republican Americans were willingly to back such separation policy. In fact, they’re even more excited about the underlying policy of arresting every undocumented immigrant crossing the border a la “zero tolerance” policy giving rise to family separations in the first place. What’s most telling about this dark and cruel incident isn’t Donald Trump stepping back in the face of public outrage. It’s the millions of Republicans willing to support an obviously cruel immigration policy. In turn, points to perhaps the deepest problem in American politics in the Trump era, which is the lethal conjunction of white identity politics and partisanship has made the Republican Party willing to sanction injustices that had previously been unthinkable in modern America. It’s as if politics seems to justify anything at this point for them. As long as they get what they want in the culture wars, they’ll sell their souls to supporting a sociopathic authoritarian demagogue who cares nothing for them regardless of whoever gets hurt, how much he undermines American values, or the damage he’s caused in these United States.

While most Americans strongly oppose Donald Trump’s family separation policy, Republicans generally support it by a significant margin despite there’s a substantial minority who don’t. After all, massive margins of them usually favor Trump. Yet, this still means that millions of Americans back a morally grotesque policy separating children from their parents for an unknown period of time, possibly permanently. The fact most Republicans seem to favor this unconscionable “zero tolerance” policy illustrates the degree to which Trump’s position and partisanship has shaped Republican moral thinking. What’s more depressing is that the debate over family separation policy in its relatively early stages. So there’s a good reason to believe if Trump returns with the idea, Republicans will be more likely to support it, not less. If there is a moral crisis in American politics these days, it’s that a large contingent of Americans are willing to support morally indefensible policies from a sociopathic and unrespectable man for the sake of “law and order” or “national security.” Despite that a moral repugnant “zero-tolerance” policy at the border achieve neither.

Yet, if you doubt such shift in public opinion will happen, consider Republican opinion on the infamous Muslim ban. When Donald Trump first announced his proposal for a “total and complete shutdown” on Muslim immigration in December 2015, scores of prominent Republicans including his future Vice President Mike Pence condemned the idea in roughly the same moral indignation some Republican leaders have used to discuss family separations. A poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC found GOP primary voters evenly split on the idea. But when it became clear Trump was likely to become the GOP standard bearer in March 2016, things changed. Exit polls from 5 states comprising of Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, and Illinois, found that Muslim ban support among 2/3 of Republican voters. When Trump actually implemented a version of the now infamous Muslim “travel” ban in January 2017, Republicans overwhelmingly backed him with 84% support according to a June 2017 poll. Hell, despite court challenges and its flagrant unconstitutionality on grounds of religious discrimination, the US Supreme Court still ruled in favor of it.

So what happened with the Muslim ban? Obviously, the clearer it became that supporting it was a core Trump position, the clearer it became that being a Trump supporter in good standing required backing the travel ban. When Donald Trump became the Republican nominee and later president, Republican partisanship became more about backing this unrespectable man. Of course, such behavior isn’t unprecedented among a president and their supporters. Since the more closely a policy is identified with the president, the more people from the president’s party are willing to support it. As Texas A&M professor George C. Edwards III told Vox, “The president’s association with a policy is an especially powerful signal to those predisposed to support his initiatives. By reinforcing his partisans’ predispositions, presidents can counter opposition party attacks and discourage his supporters from abandoning him. In addition, co-partisans appear to be resilient in returning to support after periods of bad news.” Under a normal presidential administration, this isn’t a huge deal. But when the president is a vile sociopath who only cares about enriching himself and his corporate backers while doing the minimal to convince his base that he’s on their side by enacting cruel policies that really don’t help anybody, you have a national crisis in American moral values on your hands.

Fortunately, the family separation debate didn’t actually go on for very long so far. Thus, public opinion didn’t have time to harden along partisan lines. The Trump administration sent mixed signals about what to think of it. Sometimes they claimed it’s a shame and the Democrats’ fault (despite it really wasn’t). Other times they justified it as necessary to deter more undocumented migration. Under these conditions along with the moral shock from headlines feeling fresh and some prominent Republicans like Laura Bush willing to condemn the policy, it’s easy to see why Republican voters felt comfortable opposing Donald Trump this time.

Yet, despite all that, millions of Republicans still supported this morally egregious policy of ripping children from the families and putting them in cages at a relatively significant margin. However, suppose the Trump administration resume family separations while Donald Trump provides a sustained defense in public appearances and tweets. Chances are that Republicans most likely will rally around him the same way they came to support the equally morally obscene Muslim ban. And what’s truly scary is that if Trump stayed the course on this one and allowed the media and public outrage to dissipate, he might’ve gotten away with it.

Nonetheless, if this was just a matter of partisanship and Trump support, it wouldn’t be the very assault on decency that it is. But it’s not. Rather it’s by going after overwhelmingly Latino immigrants from Central America, Donald Trump is playing on his political home turf like it’s “Mexicans are rapists” all over again. In 2015, two political scientists named Marisa Abrajano and Zoltan Hajnal published a book looking closely at the way mass Latino immigration was shifting American politics. According to Abrajano in the book’s summary, she and Hajnal concluded that the influx of Latino immigration had driven a large number of white voters into the Republican Party. This effect appears to track media coverage. When people in the news talk about the threat posed by Latino immigration such as Donald Trump talking about how Latino migrants are responsible for gang violence, Republicans benefit. Another group of researchers polled white Americans on how their view of diversity affected their likelihood of voting for Trump. They found that when whites were reminded that America was becoming an increasingly black and brown country, they were more likely to support Trump and favor immigration restrictions.

This is the crux of the moral crisis of the Trump era in a nutshell. The most Un-American and morally reprehensible parts of Donald Trump’s presidency such as his crackdown of undocumented immigrants, the Muslim ban, his shocking moral equivalence during the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia tap into the forces that are the most responsible for making him president. While stories of separated families in the media have wracked neutral observers’ hearts, Trump’s most hardcore supporters (like white supremacists and the Alt-Right) may very well have the opposite reaction. This intersects in a particularly dangerous way in partisanship for if Trump can maintain his hardcore base’s support enough to retain majority GOP support, he won’t need to immediately cave. And the longer and harder he fights for a policy, the more support for it will become GOP orthodoxy.

Disturbingly enough, it’s an established fact Donald Trump’s racial politics are genuinely popular with millions of white Americans who have significantly supported such vicious and morally inexcusable policies like the family separations at the border. It’s also a demonstrably and theoretically so that the GOP’s partisanship strength can enable Republican presidents to attract their party base’s support along with its political establishment. Both facts mean that despite the depravity of everything he says and does in the White House, Trump will always get the Republican Party to back his attacks on members of minority groups, given the time and effort. Indeed, ending family separation for now is a good thing and it’s understandable for liberals to pop the cork and call it a win. But the fact the separations happened at all and that millions of Americans were perfectly fine with them should trouble us all. This is especially since many of these children ripped from their parents will have to grapple with the traumatic implications for the rest of their lives.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump has resorted to his race-baited fearmongering. During an event on Friday, June 22, 2018, he returned to his old argument about undocumented immigrants, highlighting families who lost loved ones to crimes committed by them. While losing a loved one to a crime is tragic, Trump held this emotionally charged event on “permanent separation” certain families have faced to undocumented criminals in an effort to shift the focus of the immigration conversation from family separations at the border. Granted there are undocumented immigrants who commit crimes. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that Trump’s event with these families is just a publicity stunt to capitalize on their tragedy. First of all, undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native born Americans and more likely to be crime victims due to their lack of protected status making them unable to call the authorities. But undocumented criminals pose no more a danger to society than their counterparts with legal status. Had many of these families experienced a loved one killed by a legal immigrant or US citizen, Trump wouldn’t be parading them for his own ends to smear an entire group of people as violent criminals to justify his morally inexcusable policies against them. As he said in the event, “We’re gathered today to hear from the American victims of illegal immigration. You know, you hear the other side. You never hear this side. These are the American citizens permanently separated from their loved ones because they were killed by criminal illegal aliens. These are the families the media ignores.” I’m sure anyone who loses their loved ones to undocumented immigrants are featured on the local news and maybe a spot on a Fox News show since they devour stories revolving around nonwhite murderers killing white Americans, undocumented or otherwise. Yet, here Trump seems to paint undocumented criminals as a special kind of evil they’re not which is an effective way to dehumanize a vulnerable population.

Even worse, not only does Donald Trump often blame congressional Democrats for “weak” immigration laws, his hardline stance on immigration makes it practically impossible to even the most bipartisan legislation for comprehensive immigration reform. Hell, he’s even in complete disagreement with members of his own party on how to solve immigration problems that he created. This isn’t an accident. As the crisis at the border puts the Trump administration under fire from humanitarian groups, Democrats, and even many Republicans as the biggest story in the nation, there’s a belief among senior White House officials, including the dead-eyed longtime adviser Stephen Miller, that fostering controversy is a winning strategy for them and that it will galvanize conservatives ahead of the November elections. Trump’s actions regarding ending DACA while sabotaging any chance for Congress to pass a bill protecting Dreamers is a glaring example.

Yet, that’s not the worst of it. In the wake of the family separations outrage, Texas US Senator Ted Cruz introduced legislation that would halt family separations and double the number of immigration judges from 375 to 750 to process detention cases more efficiently as the system has been backlogged for years due to a judge shortage. . In response, Trump extensively and derisively laughed off the idea of expanding the immigration courts as part of a plan to end the crisis, asserting that asylum seekers’ lawyers coach their clients on what to say so they’ll be allowed to stay in the United States. He said, “We have to have a real border, not judges. I don’t want to try people. I don’t want people coming in.” On Sunday, June 24, 2018, he tweeted, “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.” Apparently, Trump doesn’t think the immigration backlog is a problem. In fact, he doesn’t believe that undocumented immigrants should have a right to present their cases to immigration judges at all.

Since the Supreme Court has repeatedly maintained the due process requirements of the 5th, 6th, and 14th Amendments apply to everyone regardless of legal status, including undocumented immigrants. Thus, theoretically, if you deny anyone due process, you deny everyone due process. Not to mention, denying due process flies in the face of America’s basic democratic and moral values. At an immigration standpoint, this means we’re all undocumented immigrants because your documents are useless if you can’t show them to a judge while being identified as a suspect is the same as being guilty. For without due process, the government has all the power while the individual, citizen or otherwise has none.

In practice, denying due process to suspected undocumented immigrants would make all Latinos living in the US subject to the kind of hell akin to what those in Maricopa County were subjected in Joe Arpaio’s sheriff days. Except that instead of corrupt sheriff deputies putting them in a horrifying tent city jail with pink underwear, they’d be arrested by ICE and sent up on a one-way ticket to the country they at least allegedly came from. Many US citizens have already been arrested and/or detained under suspicion of undocumented immigration due to racial profiling by law enforcement. Because so many Americans already associate a Latino presence in their communities with undocumented immigration, especially where there aren’t many of them. Despite that a Spanish-sounding name and brown skin mean nothing as far as legal status is concerned. Do away with due process for undocumented immigrants and Latinos caught in ICE’s crosshairs will be unable to prove their legal status to a judge to challenge that claim. Even if they’re in the US legally or are a native-born US citizen who has lived in the country their whole lives. We should also take into account that 90% of those arrested in Arpaio’s deportation raids had legal status. But that didn’t save them for being suspected for illegal entry and having their constitutional rights violated by their local sheriff because they were Latino. But thanks to due process, Arpaio’s victims were able to prove his rampant abuse with racial profiling to get him convicted.

Nonetheless, this debacle over the family separations at the border demonstrates that supporting Donald Trump means leaving your spine and conscience at the door while having the gall to defend the morally indefensible and torching anything remotely relating to decency as “weak” or “reeking with political bias.” Though there is no question that Trump is a divisive figure, I am deeply afraid of the morally reprehensible policies his supporters are willing to tolerate and even agree with. As deeply disturbed I am about their loyalty to a man who will sell them out if he hasn’t already, I really want to believe they have some semblance of a political conscience or at least principles that they’d never be willing to compromise like the basic notion of democracy, equality, liberty, and civil rights. I want to believe that as polarized our country is that I have some common agreement with these people on key American principles. Not because I am a white woman who’s been alienated by her extended family, friends, and community by jumping on the Trump Train which almost cost me my access to Medicaid last year. But because I really find it difficult to believe that millions of Americans would be willing to sell their souls to support a vile and unrespectable man who’d put US Democracy in danger just to enrich himself with the presidency. Nor do I want to believe that the United States is so broken that the very notions of basic human decency become the source of heated political contention. However, I’m not so sure of even that anymore since Trump’s acolytes seem to stand by him despite all the morally egregious things he’s said or done, even if they previously seemed virtually unthinkable. And ideas I’ve long been taught and believe as basic principles of morality and American democracy now seem politically controversial.

There is no question that having Donald Trump as president poses a grave danger to the United States and the world since he’s a narcissistic sociopath with authoritarian ambitions who has no respect for the country he leads, its values, its institutions, or its people. Yet, what I fear most is what his presidency is doing to this country’s soul since a large contingent of Americans have embraced him as their champion because he says whatever inflammatory screeds they want to hear. And no matter what inexcusable thing he says or does as president, they loyally stand by him and enable his destructive behavior and policies against those who stand to suffer the most. But his entire presidency has been an assault on decency since Trump is an unrespectable man who has absolutely none as his moral degenerate words and policies reflect. Yet, the question isn’t whether his actions and rhetoric define who we are which they sort of do and since our country isn’t innocent from human rights violations separating families. But whether he embodies what we Americans want to be as a nation, which I fervently hope isn’t the case. For while Trump projects an image of strength, business know-how, and patriotism to his supporters, I see him as a manipulative swindler, shameless fraud, spineless coward, pathological liar, and an unrepentant bully with self-delusions of grandeur who has to surround himself with sycophants to enhance his gigantic ego and viciously rage on Twitter or settle petty scores when he doesn’t get his way. To me, Trump embodies the worst of America that it’s fair to see him as the current face of evil in the modern American life. As he stages his assault on decency along with the American values we hold dear from the White House, we must resist him at every turn as citizens. We must not normalize or legitimize his presidency. Nor let his destructive words and policies that undermine democracy with each passing day drag us through the mud. Donald Trump may be president, but he must not receive the respect his office entails him. Because he’s not a man deserving of such recognition or worthy of being referred to as “President of the United States.” His morally bankrupt character makes him only worthy of our scathing contempt and criticism that we should make known wherever he goes. And we must shame his followers to remind of our disgust over their support for such an unrespectable man they think is on their side as he stabs them in the back with his empty promises.