We Haven’t Hit Bottom Yet

I want to talk about something Paul Waldman said yesterday — “…  that Trump got within 100 miles of the White House to begin with represents a massive failure of the system.” Yes, the entire system, public and private. And all political parties. Ain’t nobody innocent.

The system has been dysfunctional for a long time. The Obama Administration was like a coat of nice paint covering rotten wood; it was “normal” enough to help us all maintain the fiction that the system still worked, even if the Republican Party was obstructing getting anything done. I say we haven’t hit bottom yet because there are still too many people who think the system is fine and just needs some more paint. And a lot of those people are Democrats.

I’m not saying that both parties are just alike and just as guilty. Republicans have been wallowing in the rot, but Democrats have been entirely too accommodating to it. For the sake of civility, you know.

For example: A couple of days ago I ranted about white-collar crime. Later the same day Matt Yglesias published a post that covered the same points in more detail. And then Eric Levitz wrote,

In 1991 The New Yorker’s Mark Danner wrote the following elegy for the American republic:

Perhaps the most disquieting legacy of Iran-Contra, in which extremely serious political crimes were exposed and then left largely unexorcised, is a kind of pervasive moral lassitude, in which charges that the integrity of the 1980 Presidential election was compromised with the help of the Iranian government evoke an almost bored reaction. It now appears that the charges will be left to linger, unanswered and uninvestigated, because no one with any power sees it to be in his personal political interest to confront them. The dictum that we live in a nation of laws can also be understood ironically-that ours has become a nation only of laws. For laws without the will to enforce them and confront the consequences remain simply words on paper.

Trump’s immediate Republican predecessor reaffirmed Danner’s insight, by overseeing the systematic violation of both domestic and international laws against military torture — while Trump’s immediate Democratic predecessor did so by refusing to bring any of that criminal conspiracy’s masterminds to justice.

This culture of elite impunity has not been confined to the political realm. America’s economic elites avail themselves of its benefits even more routinely. The 2008 financial crisis revealed myriad acts of financial and foreclosure fraud — almost none of which was criminally prosecuted. Barack Obama’s Justice Department explicitly endorsed the principle that some individuals and institutions are simply too economically powerful to be bound by criminal law, when it decided not to prosecute HSBC for laundering hundreds of millions in drug money.

Meanwhile, America’s garden-variety plutocrats escape punishment for white-collar crimes on a daily basis, and pay only a small fraction of the taxes that they owe Uncle Sam. Our government has responded to this well-known phenomenon by spending orders of magnitude more on punishing misdemeanor immigration offenses than policing white-collar felonies, and making international cooperation on combating tax havens one of its lowest diplomatic priorities (far below, say, making life-saving pharmaceuticals more expensive for people in the developed world).

Few American voters fully grasp the extent of the rot, or understand how it happened, but they feel it instinctively. They know the system doesn’t work for them. They just don’t understand why, and neither party explains it, because both parties — to differing degrees — are in on it. So it was that the blatantly dishonest and corrupt Donald Trump, who should have been in jail years ago, got away with painting Hillary Clinton as “crooked.” While I do not believe she ever did anything indictable (although it wouldn’t shock me to learn otherwise), voters instinctively knew that Clinton would have protected the system and do nothing to clean it up. Because if you have power, you don’t have to do anything illegal to benefit from the corruption; the system will reward you for protecting it. And, unfortunately, she lacks Donald’s Trump talent for salesmanship. He got away with pitching himself as a reformer because the network television news (never mind Fox News or talk radio) lacked the guts to tell the truth about him. So here we are.

Democrats intend to use corruption as a midterm campaign issue. I question whether that will work for them, especially if the same old establishment faces (Pelosi, Schumer et al.) are delivering that message. And, again, I’m not putting Pelosi and Schumer in the same pot with Duncan Hunter. But they’ve both been in Washington a long time. They may not be in bed with the corruption, but they are certainly on a cordial first-name basis with it. Meanwhile, the urban professional class — the people not left behind by the global economy — continue blindly to defend the Democratic Party establishment and fervently believe that racism alone made Trump president.

That’s why I say we haven’t hit bottom yet.

As far as the Trump Administration goes, I don’t think it’s hit bottom yet, either. But it’s falling faster now.  What went on with Manafort and Cohen on Tuesday was just a start. (FYI, National Enquirer publisher David Pecker was just granted federal immunity. )

Trump isn’t going to be impeached and removed from office until the Republican Party wants him gone. If the GOP goes down in flames in the midterms, that could happen. But assuming the Dems at least take back the House, here are some more things they could do. Paul Waldman:

* Use their control of the Ways and Means Committee to obtain and release Trump’s tax returns so that we finally learn what he has been hiding.

*Hold hearings on the ways Trump is personally profiting off the presidency and potentially violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause.

*Mount a serious, comprehensive investigation into the Russian attack on the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s cooperation with that attack.

*Investigate accusations of wrongdoing that have been leveled at Cabinet officials such as Wilbur Ross and Ryan Zinke.

*Demand answers from the administration on the decision-making process and effects of controversial administration policies, such as adding a citizenship question to the census, relaxing rules for power plant emissions, making it easier for private “universities” to scam students, and tearing children from their parents’ arms at the border.

In other words, bleep civility. Bleep reaching across the aisle. They’ve got to be as hard on Trump as the GOP has been on Hillary Clinton and every other Democrat they’ve tried to destroy.

Beyond that, see also Charles Pierce, Elizabeth Warren Just Laid Out an Indictment of Our Political System in All Its Corruption and Sleaze.