Fascism is Eyeing This Republic Like Lunch

Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, writing on Twitter:

Trump's assault on Inspectors General is late-stage corruption. The canary in the coal mine was the government ethics program, which began engaging with the Trump team long before the election. The general public got it, but too many people in positions of influence missed it. /1
Then, there was the open presidential profiteering and clues that hard-to-prove conflicts of interest were significantly influencing policy. But Republicans in Congress ensured that no one could dig too deeply into those, and they enabled it by refusing to conduct oversight. /2
Next came Trump's tests of the enforceability of laws--a little push against the tent wall here and a big jab against it there, followed by even bigger tests and a growing awareness that many laws don't have teeth or depend upon the executive branch to enforce them. /3
Along the way came the firings of the two most critical law enforcement officials precisely because they permitted investigations of Trump. The Attorney General's firing should have triggered his removal from office. But wild-eyed Senators were hot on the trail of more judges. /4
This emboldened Trump and taught him a lesson. He had come into government unaware that "personnel is policy." Now he both understood that and knew the Senate would let him treat the government like The Apprentice: only the most slavishly obedient appointees would survive. /5
Ordinarily, the game of musical appointees would have concerned members of Congress, particularly as Trump began to find replacements who didn't care about their oaths of office. But those judges continued to excite Republican Senators, and Trump's base made them nervous. /6
Oversight began only after the Democrats took the House. But Trump's hold on the Senate was absolute. We don't know what assurances he received behind the scenes, but we saw even longtime Republican Senators abandon previously espoused principles to protect him in plain sight./7
With that protection, Trump engaged in a previously unthinkable level of resistance to congressional oversight. The collapse of this Constitutional safeguard was a potentially mortal wound. It didn't go down without a fight, the House included "obstruction" in his impeachment. /8
But the Senate has the final say. With one exception, Republican Senators didn't even maintain a pretense of honoring their oaths. They ended the sham impeachment trial quickly. The failure of this second constitutional safeguard, moved the republic into a life-or-death crisis./9
What remained was the hope that whistleblowers and witnesses could still come forward. Maybe the people could demand action—if they knew the facts. But Republicans in Congress and their staffs, aided by fringe media outlets, worked to terrorize a suspected whistleblower. /10
Witnesses faired no better. Even some Senators who had spent their careers professing support for witnesses, gave Trump free rein to retaliate against them too. The stakes became high enough that whistleblowers and witnesses would henceforth think twice about coming forward./11
But Trump wasn't done. The White House began to speak of expanding its purge beyond political appointees to include career Feds, whose due process rights exist to prevent politicians from harnessing them for corrupt aims or, at least, silence any who might report wrongdoing. /12
The head of the Office of Special Counsel, which protects career Feds from political retaliation, remained silent—as did Republican Senators. Whether or not Trump follows through, the mere threat pressures career Feds to put loyalty to Trump above loyalty to the Constitution. /13
Individual government officials may have the moral fiber and ethics to resist the pressure. But the legal safeguards that help the federal workforce as a whole remain loyal to the American people and the rule of law over a rogue politician have been weakened. That's dangerous./14
A last line of defense in this war on ethics and law is the Inspector General community. They're the eyes of the American people, objective investigators traditionally freed to pursue accountability by the safeguard of bipartisan congressional protection./15
But the Trump era is a bad time for safeguards. Trump's eye has turned to the IGs, and Republican Senators have forsaken them—no hearings, no media blitz, only a few meek chirps of mild concern. Even the self-anointed patron saint of IGs, Chuck Grassley, has abandoned them. /16
What began with the fall of the ethics program is entering the end game with the potential fall of the Inspector General community. The government is failing us, safeguards that took two centuries to build have crumbled, and fascism is eyeing this republic like lunch. /17
It's down to the people. There is a chance in November to reclaim this land for democracy and reject fascism. But the obstacles are tremendous. Trump has the advantage of incumbency, decades of Republican voter suppression, and a third branch that increasingly seems political./18
A sign of things to come, the Supreme Court ramped up the voter suppression by sending Wisconsin voters into a war zone in our species' fight against an ancient enemy, disease. A global pandemic has ground America to a halt, complicating the upcoming presidential election. /19
Republican Senators are trotting out their Hillary Clinton playbook, hoping to abuse their authority again and wound Trump's leading political rival by Benghazi-Uranium-One-But-Her-Emailsing him. And they've given Trump their blessing for him to solicit foreign interference. /20
Trump's Attorney General has even opened a special channel for Trump's private attorney to funnel information from abroad to the Justice Department. Fascism is having a hell of a day in America, and things will get much worse before November. /21
All is not lost. The American people are fired up. But it'll be hard and the outcome's uncertain. That's why I want you to understand how big a deal it is that Trump is going after Inspectors General. This is a late-stage move in an authoritarian coup against the rule of law. /22


In the News

There's so much to read today, it feels sort of like a feast day.

First up is a Smithsonian article by John Barry, author of the engrossing "The Great Influenza."  The article is receiving attention today because it details how a government that lies or distorts the facts about an epidemic can make its effects so much worse than they would have been otherwise.

The last five paragraphs are particularly interesting.


Next, Paul Solman for the PBS NewsHour interviews David Enrich about his new book, "Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump and an Epic Trail of Destruction."  The bank seems to have been helping launder money far longer than I ever knew.


Related: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/06/us/trump-deutsche-bank-tax-returns.html

Finally, for me Anne Applebaum's writing is simultaneously dry and overwhelmingly intense.  (After 14 years of trying I still haven't finished "Gulag".)  She has just been to Venezuela.


The country’s National Assembly, which is controlled by the opposition, passed special measures to address the health crisis; the Supreme Court, which is controlled by Maduro, rejected them.
Most Venezuelans—80 percent according to a recent survey—now rely on boxes of food, containing staples such as rice, grain, or oil, from the government. Agencies known as Local Committees for Supply and Production hand the packages out to people who register for a Patria (“fatherland”) card or smartphone app, which are also used to monitor participation in elections... The hungrier people get, the more control the government exerts, and the easier it is to prevent them from protesting or objecting in any other way.
Like the destruction of [Venezuela's] economy, the destruction of the political culture took some time, because there were several decades' worth of democratic institutions to destroy.
...once in power [Chávez] slowly changed the rules, eventually making it almost impossible for anyone to beat him. In 2004, he packed the Supreme Court; in 2009, he altered the electoral system.
Chávez began to transfer the wealth of the country to his cronies. This process was extraordinarily well documented, in real time, by many people.
And yet it happened anyway.
...the two strongmen [Chávez and Maduro] have made it almost impossible for the independent press to function, undermined the credibility of experts, and distracted supporters,
...Chávez made up names for his enemies...
Over time, Chávez successfully polarized society into groups of fanatical supporters and equally dedicated enemies—warring tribes who felt they had little in common.
Extrajudicial murders... are now common."
Echoing Hannah Ahrendt:
Polarization adds to this cynicism by creating suspicion and mistrust on both sides; people hear politicians shouting diametrically opposing slogans or presenting contradictory facts, and their instinct is to cover their ears.
The second person I met who started to cry was a translator... As the translator put my answer into Spanish, she broke down. “I suddenly thought of my nieces and nephews,” she told me afterward. “All of those hopeful young people, all gone.”


If at first you don't succeed...

Twitter turns up the most depressing things. See for example the newspaper clipping below, which was tweeted by @AndrewFeinberg.

This commentary, which you can find in the archives of the Florida Flambeau for 18 November, 1991, shows that Barr has been a thug, and that he has been seeking the A.G. position, for a long time.

Reading this, I was reminded that Barr auditioned for his current position by sending an unsolicited memorandum to Deputy Atty Gen. Rod Rosenstein in June, 2018.

Source: https://twitter.com/AndrewFeinberg/status/1229222393425616896.


Nixon was an amateur

From Emptywheel:

This is not about spying on a campaign, much as Pete Williams wants to pretend it is. This is about telling Trump and his associates they will not be prosecuted by DOJ, going forward, for the same crimes they’ve committed in the past.


Generation Gulag: How Russia Rewrites its Soviet History

Generation Gulag: How Russia Rewrites its Soviet History:

As a newsroom we’ve [been] tracking rewriting history stories around the world to better understand how distorting the past is serving regimes today as part of our disinformation coverage.
As they note, regimes all around the world are rewriting national histories.


Conservatives and the False Romance of Russia - The Atlantic

Anne Applebaum:

Fortunately for all such critics, they don’t have to spend much time in the country they are “rooting” for, because there is no greater fantasy than the idea that Russia is a country of Christian values. In reality, Russia has one of the highest abortion rates in the world, nearly double that of the United States. It has an extremely low record of church attendance, though the numbers are difficult to measure, not least because any form of Christianity outside of the state-controlled Orthodox Church is liable to be considered a cult.
As usual it's tempting to quote the article in full, so well does Anne Applebaum write. Worth a read.

The House Judiciary Committee Talks the Trump Impeachment to Death

Susan B. Glasser, writing for The New Yorker:

I listened closely throughout the entire two days and did not hear Collins or any of the other Republicans claim, as Trump has urged them to, that the President had a “perfect” phone call with the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky. Or that Trump did not seek the investigations that he had specifically mentioned in the White House’s own publicly released record of the call. Instead, Trump’s defenders complained that the articles did not charge Trump with an actual crime, such as bribery, but accused him of abuse of power, which is not specified in the Constitution and therefore should not count as an impeachable “high crime and misdemeanor.” Some of their arguments were notably implausible, such as the contention that the President was a noble anti-corruption fighter seeking to get Ukraine to clean up its act. Or that his scheme to pressure Zelensky to investigate Biden, his possible 2020 opponent, and to outsource the matter to his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was a mere matter of foreign-policy preference.


Death by Demagogue

Our country is accepting the unacceptable - The Washington Post:

When this presidency began, it was commonplace to write off fears that our political and journalistic systems would eventually “normalize” the president’s abuses. The worry was that however strong our system might have been in the past, we would come to accept behavior that had never been acceptable before.
This is exactly what has happened.