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America’s On Fire.  So, What?

America’s on Fire. So, What?

This essay is adapted from a Twitter thread posted by the author on April 21, 2019.

In today’s America, the president and those who work for him are above the law. The president can’t be indicted for crimes he commits. A majority in the Congress believe holding him accountable for his crimes is too politically divisive for justice to be done. Trump has already been cited for violating campaign finance laws with no effect. Mueller has shown conclusively he has obstructed justice and no consequences are likely. The Treasury Sec and head of the IRS have broken the law—likely with the WH advice—without consequences. The Commerce Sec has lied to the Congress and nothing is done. The president’s son and other chief advisors have done so as well, and nothing is done. Subpoenas are ignored without consequence. Rules are broken from the Constitution’s emoluments clause to the guidelines that protect our national security information–and it does not seem to matter.

Those who seek to guide the White House to follow the law—like senior employees at the Department of Homeland Security—are fired for upholding their oaths.  Not only does the president lie serially to his employers, us, but those who are on the government payroll to provide transparency in the government—like the WH press secretary—lie as well with complete impunity. The attorney general, supposedly the nation’s top law enforcement official, acts instead as the president’s private attorney, lying and twisting the law to suit his personal ends. His predecessor, the acting attorney general, did likewise, also misleading Congress repeatedly.

Illegal laws are promulgated. Funds are allocated contrary to the wishes of the Congress—and thus in violation of Constitutionally mandated processes and roles. Treaties are attacked and their abrogation is threatened. A foreign enemy attacked us during the last presidential election and helped elected an unfit and illegitimate candidate.  And while there is no doubt this is precisely what the founders meant when they spoke of high crimes, it seems the treasonous will not only go unpunished but will be rewarded with more power including perversely, the power to obstruct justice without consequence and thus make it impossible for prosecutors to prove crimes of conspiracy were committed. (As Mueller implied was happening in the report thanks to Trump team lies, destroyed evidence, etc.)

The president is a serial sex abuser. So what? The president paid off his mistresses to help win an election. So what? The president gave the Russians classified information, met in secret with Russian leaders, changed US policies to aid his Russian sponsors. So what?  The president has committed tax fraud for years. So what? His sister, a federal judge, had to step down to quash an investigation into her implication in those crimes. So what? Money laundering? So what? Rampant corruption? So what?

This is where we are, America. We have found a loophole in our Constitution that lets presidents and their families and their cabinet secretaries and their cronies in business or in Congress trample our laws, disregard ethical guidelines, make a mockery of our system.  All it takes is a majority in the Senate and a corrupt Senate Majority leader. For two years it was helped by partisan and corrupt GOP leadership in the House. They are immoral and disgusting, but don’t fault them alone. They are after all, living the American Dream.  They are playing hardball. They are getting everything they can get away with. They are hard-boiled realists who are assessing the weaknesses of the system and of their opponents and perhaps rightly concluding, “It’s open season for criminal government in the US, boys and girls.”

And they have great allies. They have Americans who do not read or understand. They have party loyalists who do not care. And they have opponents who are afraid to act, to step up, to challenge their power. They have opponents who fear defeat more than they are committed to doing what is right. They have opponents who value caution above their constitutional obligations, the sanctity of our system, the long term consequences of their enabling behavior.  Those consequences should not be downplayed. If Trump goes this far, how far will his heirs in criminality, venality, lack of morality go? How bad can it get? 

We must wonder now if we have passed a tipping point. Is this system too far gone to be saved?  Or will a courageous few step up to use the courts to successfully challenge these miscreants? Will members of the Democratic leadership start to actively and aggressively seek enforcement of subpoenas and punishment for those who violate the law?  Most importantly, will enough of the leadership come around to realize that impeachment hearings are vital to the health and future of the country?  They are critical to the preservation of our rule of law, and are what the founders require in the wake of the stomach turning wrong-doing revealed by Mueller and that is compounded daily before our eyes. They must start to realize that regardless of what might or might not happen in the Senate, successful impeachment hearings will at the very least reveal the truth.

Successful impeachment hearings will make the case to the American public that crimes have been committed. Perhaps that case, well made, can turn the Senate however unlikely that may seem. But if it does not, but is solid and true, it will reveal the Senate for what it is.  And then, it may serve two more purposes. It will send the message to the American electorate that Trump’s criminal enterprise and those like McConnell who support must be brought down. And it will send a message to the leaders of tomorrow.  That message is that we are a nation of laws founded on the principle that no man or woman among us is, can or should be above the law, and that there will always be those who, regardless of the odds, will respect and honor that principle and dare to do what is right.

Right now, our system is dying before our eyes. Failure to act will lead to further, perhaps irreversible decay. This is not a situation that offers the luxury of further musing, of waiting until tomorrow. American democracy has entered the intensive care ward.  It is up to us to act now to save it or to reconcile ourselves to begin the process of mourning for what was lost, of mourning for a tragic end to the great American experiment in giving power to the people and denying it to those who would exploit us like tyrants past.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. David lays out the essence of a clear and present danger to our society today and into the future. We know this is all true but we are stymied. What can I do? What can we do?

    If one steps back and examines the sources of real change in organizations, economies and societies, I think you will find the common element is that it really only occurs “from the bottom up.” By definition, failing systems are led by people, practices, and behaviors learned and embraced as a means to gain authority and power in that system. Those at the top are wedded to what worked in the past and become maintainers of old systems even as they begin to fail.

    If we think we can actually be effective confronting our challenges by trying to influence or attack those at the top, we will continue to be frustrated. We need to take the time to recognize that we actually surrounded today by a growing crowd of dedicated, innovative, and purposeful individuals and groups across all sectors who are seeking to create that better future we need. They are “hidden” because our natural tendencies and, of course, our sources of news and information, stay focused on those at the top. And they are, for the most part, young, diverse and disruptive.

    Check where progress is actually being made today regarding healthcare, housing, alternative energy, environmental stewardship, justice, etc. It is alive locally. In thousands of places, in communities, in states, in the private sector individuals like us have their shoulder to the wheel in spite of the chaos and destruction being caused by those at the top of a dying (sorry to insert this) paradigm.

    We can only really challenge and replace the current power structures if all of us work at solutions locally and if we really support the youth who are already ahead of the curve. Momentum comes when we all understand that our local work is not trivial or isolated but that it is really part of a broader wave of positive change. And for those whose perspective is guided by politics, it is this local/grassroots activity that produces the new leaders we will need going forward. We can see some of them today without looking very hard!

    Somehow, we need to help everyone move their energies from fighting against a terribly broken socioeconomic morass toward the building and celebration of a new and better alternative. The models are there. The early leaders are there. If we all move over to help we can establish the foundations of a society actually able to meet the challenges ahead.

    This probably sounds idealistic but it always is a choice. We can do nothing, attack the power structure, or build better alternatives. It certainly appears that a couple of decades of doing nothing was a lousy choice.

  2. Thank you, David. As wearied, appalled, shell-shocked, PTSD’d, nauseated as we all are about the state of our nation’s highest office – and its immoral, mendacious inhabitant – we must continue to beat the drums for impeachment proceedings.

    Now is not the time to disengage, whether out of disgust or exhaustion or both. Tom Steyer’s Need to Impeach (https://www.needtoimpeach.com/) is a great place to check in and sign on.

    And thank you, Jeff, for the reminder that good and important initiatives are moving ahead at the local level. If more of us could shake off the mantle of hopelessness and “stop doing nothing” even in a small way, we really can turn this tide.

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David Rothkopf

David Rothkopf

David J. Rothkopf (born 24 December 1955) is a professor of international relations, political scientist and journalist. He is the founder and CEO of The Rothkopf Group, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a visiting professor at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, and a prolific author.

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