"Uncle" Charlie Pierce wrote a post on his blog the other day about Trump's giving a finger to the emoluments clause that illuminates something really important about how this whole Russiagate affair might play out. Emphasis mine:
"Once again, we have an example of how the biggest problem may not be that we are ruled by a cabal of grifters, but how shameless and bad they are at it. NBC News got ahold of a Trump Organization document concerning how the Organization is handling payments from various foreign entities. One way that it's handing these is by not handling them. […]
At first, I thought complaints about the president* and the emoluments clause was too arcane a constitutional quibble to go anywhere. But if it's part of a general business plan, a business plan that has been imported wholesale into how this bunch presumes to run the government, then that's a whole 'nother thing. Looked at, whole and complete, the entire operation now looks like a coherent and lawless enterprise. And the people running it are either too arrogant or too oblivious to even be cute about it."
What struck me the most about this is not so much that Trump would violate the emoluments clause; given his character and the circumstances, it would be weird if he didn't do it. But this “coherent and lawless enterprise” is no accident. It’s what happens when realpolitik comes home to roost.
“Useful Idiots” Of The Proxy War
Just about every tyrant or dictator of the post-Hitlerian world has been, by and large, a buffoon. After World War II, it would seem that the nations of the world collectively decided that one supervillain was enough for the next century or two, and struggled mightily to ensure that the incubators for such malevolent brilliance were destroyed.
Most of them, anyway. The power vacuum created by the destruction of the Third Reich, when coupled with the spectre of nuclear aggression in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, created the conditions for history’s first global proxy war, wherein any number of subordinate nations to the twin superpowers of Russia and these United States were used as pawns to either spread or halt the expansion of communism or democracy. As you might imagine, there was little room in this equation for anything resembling the “consent of the governed” of course, a fact which has not substantially changed in over half a century. Getting populations on board with doing their part to spread or contain intellectual contagion required the sort of “managed democracy” that only comes at the end of billy clubs and rifle barrels, giving birth to the neoliberalism we know today, yet in a much more overt, muscular style that many contemporary autocrats clearly yearn for a return to.
Hence the “useful idiot” nature of authoritarianism that rises in the wake of the cold war, wherein petty tyrants and dictators are valuable as long as they remain fungible. One easy way to keep them that way is by turning a blind eye to the pursuit of vast personal enrichment at their nation’s expense. I don’t think there’s a single knucklehead that’s declared himself Dear Leader on behalf of a foreign interloper that hasn’t absconded with large portions of his nation’s treasury, or used their position to secure juicy contracts or revenue streams for themselves or their co-conspirators, or executed private grievances by using the tools of the state. Such things are not the fringe benefits of state power; they are the prime reasons for billionaire thugs like Donald Trump to seek state power in the first place.
Incredulity in the face of such behavior belies a gullibility at the heart of American exceptionalism. As a stratified conglomerate of regional powers, authoritarian strongmen (and women, because what description of petty tyranny would be complete without ball-cutters like Joni Ernst?) have dominated American “electoral” politics for as long as anyone can remember, and longer. The Republican Party is chock-full thuggish miscreants who brook zero fucks about putting a boot to the throat of the (particularly black and brown) masses in order to pursue their aims, and it’s over the backs of this bigoted cohort that Donald Trump scuttled his way into the presidency, having been offered many of the same promises our own deep state might promise a Saddam Hussein, or an Augusto Pinochet.
There’s nothing surprising or shocking about any of this, other than the fact that we’re not used to seeing such blatant, obvious corruption in its full, brutal glory. Those who would ignore or deny such systemic malfeasance are either on the receiving end of its largess, or are content with people they’ve judged as wanting suffering as much or more than they are. The question looms, however: what happens when Donald Trump is no longer fungible?
To The Mattresses!
I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t been following Russiagate with nearly the obsession of many of my colleagues. This sort of political theater, no matter how salient, has always left a bad taste in my mouth. But it doesn’t take a Louise Mensch to realize that the Cheetocracy collapsing under the weight of its own bullshit is rapidly approaching a foregone conclusion. Even if Trump didn’t directly collude with Russia to swing the election, the White House appears to be riddled with more than enough Russian confidantes to sink the whole administration, which couldn’t be leaking faster if you unloaded a few Kalishnikovs in the West Wing.
What matters, then, is how Trump’s eventual deposition will unfold; what form it will come in, how long it will take to get there, how much damage his administration can and will do along the way, and how many people can and will be held accountable for that damage once the smoke clears.
The options for deposing Trump have been well documented, as visions of Watergate loom large in the public imagination. Impeachment? Doubtful. It’s up to Paul Ryan to green light impeachment proceedings, and given how absurdly high the skeletons are stacked in his closet along with a great many other Republicans, greed and fear of exposure will surely stay his hand far beyond reason.
Resignation, then? Don’t make me laugh. Donald Trump is the penultimate manifestation of Dunning-Kreuer leadership at its most depraved; with such tiny hands, small wonder that is head is so big. When it comes to either Ryan or Trump, getting someone to do the right thing when their entire career has been dedicated to doing the wrong one promises to be an exercise in futility.
How the Cheetocracy responds as their backs continue to flatten against the wall, on the other hand, is a different story. Will they go gently into that good night? Don’t bet on it.
“The proposed war room, Axios reported, will be filled with "experienced veterans from the campaign trail who recognize the gravity of the situation." In an apparent acknowledgment of the seriousness of the situation, Trump staffers have reportedly begun using the phrase, "Go to the mattresses," a line from "The Godfather," meaning to go to or prepare for war. The White House could turn to figures like former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former deputy campaign manager David Bossie, for help in the "war room," the Post noted. Lewandowski was fired last year after a series of campaign trail blunders, and Bossie is known for his 20-year-long investigation into Bill and Hillary Clinton. White House chief strategist and former Breitbart leader Steve Bannon is reportedly spearheading the "war room" effort.”
Circling the wagons around Dear Leader is usually one of the last acts of a dying administration. But what will they do? What can they do?
When The Gloves Come Off
Ultimately, there is a chance that, whether he’s impeached or forced to resign, Trump will refuse to leave office. Now, we’re not in Chile, and Trump is no Pinochet; if anything, the generals seem to adore him much less than he adores them. Granted, Trump’s private security forces should give anyone pause, as they form a layer between him and the Secret Service that is heretofore unprecedented. But unless Betsy DeVos has already convinced her kid brother to keep a few mercenary squads on standby to back up The Don up if/when things go tits up, the odds of a coup don’t seem high.
All the same, Trump doesn’t strike me as the kind of person that would consent to the inevitable arrest/perp walk media fiasco that would happen if he failed to cooperate. The only real support Trump has is political and financial, both of which are melting away faster than a Hershey bar under the July sun as the Republicans continue to whittle down their bucket list. Without them, he is nothing; deflated, weak, at the end of his rope, Trump would not be able to tolerate such humiliation. Better to spin his deposition with the same sense of perpetual aggrievement that put him in the White House in the first place, and keep that Trump TV dream alive…
He does have the nuclear launch codes, however, along with access to a fuckton of state secrets. These two things alone make him very dangerous. According to Bloomberg, it takes roughly five minutes to launch a land-based nuclear strike, long enough for such a catastrophic event to be interrupted, but not by much…
Be that as it may, something tells me he wouldn’t become so belligerent as to throw a tantrum in the form of a nuclear strike, but that’s reading him as of today, not after Lord-only-knows-how-much-more relentless scrutiny into his administration’s thoroughly corrupt practices. But we already know that the Don can’t keep his trap shut when it comes to keeping classified information, and that’s only when trying to impress foreign dignitaries. Bringing hatchetmen like Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie back into the fold indicates that once the kid gloves are off, the Trump Train will likely use whatever information they have at their disposal to throw as many of their own people as possible under the bus, up to (and maybe even including) members of Trump’s own family. The administration is leaking like sieve as it is; why let such a good crisis go to waste?
No matter what happens, we still end up with Mike Pence as president, one of America’s top theocrats and a very unpleasant human being. Say what you will about the guy – and believe me, I could say plenty – but it’s difficult to picture him not respecting the constraints of the office were he to inherit it. As relieving as such a thing might be for preserving our global reputation, the Republican PR machine will undoubtedly strive with utmost endeavor to use Pence as a beard against their party’s corruption, claiming a “crisis of conscience” forced them to step back from the ledge rather than admitting that the whole party jumped off of it some thirty-plus years ago. But don’t you worry: they have more than enough media outlets ready, willing, and able to catch their fall, if only for long enough that they can scramble back up Bullshit Mountain and jump off again.
At Face Value
Masha Gessen’s number one rule in “Autocracy: Rules For Survival” is to believe the autocrat...
“He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization… He has no political establishment into which to fold himself following the campaign, and therefore no reason to shed his campaign rhetoric. On the contrary: it is now the establishment that is rushing to accommodate him…discarding their long-held scruples to embrace his radical positions.”
...despite whether he keeps any of his promises or not. If Trump’s dumb rhetoric starts to turn increasingly vengeful as Russiagate marches inexorably on – which for a guy like him, would really be something – we’ll want to start paying closer attention.