Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Manafort Found Guilty, Cohen Cuts a Deal

A few thoughts on the state of democracy in the wake of more Trump administration convictions for corruption.

The election of Donald Trump has presented the country with a shock test. What happens when a demagogic, racist autocrat with no interest in democracy or democratic norms becomes president? How well equipped to address this shock are the various components of our democracy—the other branches of government, the media, the voters?

We’ve failed the test. The Republican Party has not just ignored Trump’s corruption, they’ve actively tried to prevent investigation into it. The judiciary is wonderfully personified by the person of Brett Kavanaugh, a judge whose record on the exercise of executive power changes depending on the party of the man in office. The media has extended to both the Trump administration and its GOP abettors an assumption of good faith that is logically torturous. Imagine how the US media would cover the corruption of the Trump administration if he headed, say, Poland or Kenya? They would inform their readers of the self-serving justifications, highlight lies, and not look past race-baiting demagoguery. They would not turn credulously to members of the President’s party for quotes, treating them as neutral, good-faith informants and their comments. 

Finally, the voters are the most disturbing of all. I was given the political education of my lifetime in Nov 2016, when 46% of my country voted for a man whom we knew then was incompetent, corrupt, and racist. It’s no surprise that he has only lost 4% in the polls since then. Americans have supported this man *because* of who he is, not in spite of it. What does he have to do to lose their support? As long as he keeps waking up a white man, that support will hold. As if to emphasize it, Trump held a rally last night in which “lock her up” and “drain the swamp” were regular chants. Angry white voters have signaled they have no interest in democracy or law, just that the raw exercise of power remains in their faction’s hands. All the verbal tics of their rhetoric serve to emphasize it. MAGA, libs.

So yesterday Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort joined the sprawling list of convicted or accused/indicted members of Trump’s inner team (on a day when another GOP congressman was indicted by the DOJ). What has changed? Nothing. The Trump shock test has never been about the law. It has tested how committed to democracy we are. We knew Trump was a crook before these convictions and we know it still. The GOP will continue to support him, install a Supreme Court Justice who will allow Republican presidents—including Trump—to act above the law, and try to hold onto Congress to further protect him. The media will continue to fail to report the actual news of what’s happening, and voters will continue to support Trump.

These convictions are a particularly florid plot twist in this farce of a presidency, but nothing has changed. We continue to fail the test.

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