The Sentimental Imperialists 1 15 August 2019.

There’s this interesting book by Alan Weisman, The World Without Us (2008).  Weisman asks how long would our massive physical creations—buildings, dams, roads, tunnels—survive if humans were not constantly maintaining them?  He answers Not long at all.  Flooding, erosion, deer, those weeds that sprout through cracks in the sidewalk, would need only decades to begin erasing the human scar on the Earth.  Things that seem unimaginably durable and solid can quickly disappear.

What if we apply the same approach to political institutions?  What if we stopped maintaining them?  It wouldn’t matter much with domestic political traditions and institutions.  Those tend to be the product of long periods of development and bargaining.  They survive both triumph and disaster.  Trying to graft foreign or theoretical arrangements onto a long-existing political tradition isn’t likely to work.[1]  So, “tribes” (local identities) would survive.

But what if you apply the same approach to the cob-web of links between countries in what political scientists like to call an “international system” or “cosmopolitanism”?  There the approach seems more valid, at least at first glance.  Take Asia as an example.

China has grown into the second largest economy in the world.  Its wealth has allowed a massive military build-up and an aggressive posture in the Western Pacific.  Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has challenged the West in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East, and in the conduct of democratic elections.  North Korea’s acquisition of advanced missile technology—from whatever source—poses a grave security threat to American forces and American allies in Asia.  Meanwhile a combination of refugee problems with a revolt against the “Eurocrats” of the European Union’s “administrative state” have disabled Europe as a force in international affairs.

That’s why the “Nervous Nigels” and “sissies in striped pants”[2] who populate the diplomatic corps of many nations and of international agencies have been bleating so hard.  Where will many millions of people be without the World Health Organization, the World Agriculture Organization, or the United Nations High Commission on Refugees?  Malaria, malnutrition, and massacres, that’s where.

Normally, many people would grudgingly look to the United States for leadership in crises.  The Trump Administration’s “America First” strategy challenges this reflex.  However, there are real limits on what the United States could accomplish under any administration.  Hong Kong has been a part of China since 1997.  China claims Taiwan.  If it buckles on Hong Kong, then its future with Taiwan may be in doubt.  The Uighurs are Chinese subjects.  Kashmir is a part of India.  North Korea already has been plastered with sanctions for decades without abandoning its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  The Philippines resents the United States and forced the closure of American bases decades ago.  Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton either opposed or backed away from the Obama administration’s “Trans-Pacific Partnership.”  Loathsome person though he may be, Donald Trump isn’t far off the mark in Asia.

[1] This was the position of early 19th Century Conservatives.  You couldn’t make Britain into Prussia and you couldn’t make the Austrian empire into the United States just by writing some documents.  However, the experience of the Third Reich and its adventures proved sufficient to make Germans open to new approaches.  Which proves my point.

[2] The Economist and Franklin D. Roosevelt respectively.

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The News 6 August 2019.

Pro-Trump News.

The Supreme Court (5-4) allowed the administration to—temporarily–shift $2.5 million from the defense budget to building border walls.[1]

Anti-Trump News.

During the first segment of the second round of the Democratic debates, rivals–of most of whom no one has ever heard–heaped abuse on Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders for their “radical” proposals—like “VA for All.”[2]  According to the critics, their plans are too extreme for many Democratic voters and for all “swing” voters.  So, in sports terms, “Go Big AND Go Home.”  “Mayor Pete”—what were the Immigration clerks on Ellis Island thinking that day?—tried to sell a more middle-of-the-road plan: “Medicare for all who want it.”[3]

There was a strong backlash against President Trump’s criticism of Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD).[4]  Congressman Cummings had criticized the treatment of the large numbers of people being held in border detention facilities.  As with his criticism of “The Squad,” the president basically said “Go back where you came from [Baltimore] and fix that before you criticize me!”  The president described Baltimore as a “disgusting rat and rodent infested mess.”

As with his criticism of “The Squad,” Democrats denounced Trump’s attack as “racist.”[5]  So, what is “racism” in the liberal understanding?  Slavery was racist.  Jim Crow was racist.  “Red-lining” was racist.  Racial and religious real-estate “covenants” are racist.  Employment discrimination is racist.  Is “white flight” racist?  Are “bourgeois values” racist?  Is affirmative action racist?  Is criticism of individual persons of color, on whatever grounds, racist?

Still, is Donald Trump a “racist”?  Very likely.[6]  Michael Cohen, once his attorney, recalled riding through Chicago with Trump.  Not-yet-President Trump remarked that “only blacks could live like this.”  For how many American voters does Donald Trump speak?

[1] “Supreme Court accepts wall construction,” The Week, 9 August 2019, p. 6.

[2] Petty self-interest prompts a question.  If you wipe out all private health insurance, what will happen to the stock value of the companies that provide health insurance?  About half of American workers have 401k retirement plans.  Most of these include health insurance company stocks in their portfolios in various mixes.

[3] “Moderates vs. progressives in Democratic debates,” The Week, 9 August 2019, p. 5.

[4] “Baltimore: Why Trump called it ‘disgusting’ and ‘infested’,” The Week, 9 August 2019, p.6.  My guess would be that he took a break from “Fox and Friends” to binge-watch “The Wire.”  I can’t imagine him in a limo going north on I-95, then suddenly telling his Secret Service driver to “Get off here, go west on Pulaski Highway, and then look for a sign for “The Gold Club.”  Wait.  What am I saying?  Yes, I can.  See: https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-gold-club-baltimore?osq=Full+Nude+Strip+Club

[5] Prominent denouncifiers included Charles Blow, a columnist for the New York Times.  Apparently, Blow does not read the Times.  Back in March 2019, the NYT Magazine ran a scalding piece on the collapse of city government and public order in Baltimore after Freddy Grey got arrested-to-death by the BPD.  Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun confessed that Baltimore does have a problem with rodents.

[6] At least he is anti-African-American, anti-African, and anti-mestizo.  It isn’t clear what are his views on East Asian and South Asian people.  Trump pretty clearly isn’t an anti-Semite.  But is Philo-Semitism “racist”?  If so, a bunch of Americans are in trouble.  Does one have to think all races are inferior to one’s own race to be a racist, or is it enough to think that one race is inferior to all other races to be a racist?  On the other hand, the attack by both Mayor Bill DiBlasio and the Editorial Board of the New York Times on Asian students attending the elite high schools in New York City might strike some people as racist.

An Imaginary Account of Robert Mueller Before Congress 4 22 July 2019.

Mueller: Dangling the possibility of presidential pardons in the media during the trials of people like Flynn and Manafort.  Did that prevent any of them from testifying?

Republicans: You got a bunch of people to roll.  You got Manafort on the tax and fraud stuff from 2014 and earlier.  You got Rick Gates on the same stuff.  What did they say about Trump-Russia contacts?  You got Flynn on the lying to the FBI thing and on some other stuff.  What did he say about Trump-Russia contacts?  You got Cohen on a bunch of stuff.  You got Papadopoulos on lying to the FBI.  He was the first contact reported between the campaign and the Russians.  What did he tell you?  Do you have any evidence that President Trump’s words altered their decisions about co-operation?  Is it your theory that President Trump is incredibly artful?  That his continued public sympathy for Flynn after Flynn abandoned the shared defense agreement with Manafort was just for show?  Do you suspect that each of these people held out some essential secret that would otherwise have revealed the true Trump-Russia conspiracy?

Mueller: Cohen provided false testimony to Congress and the President had to know that this testimony was false.  But we can’t tell if the President got Cohen to give the false testimony.  (p. 316.)

Republicans: So, this would be the first real danger to the President from your investigation?  Yet it is actually unrelated to Russian intervention in the election.  And you “failed to establish” any collusion between Trump and the Russians.  And Cohen is unlikely to have been called to give the testimony without the investigation into that alleged collusion.

Mueller: “Obstruction of justice can be motivated by a desire to protect non-criminal personal interests, to protect against investigations where underlying criminal liability falls into a gray area, or to avoid personal embarrassment.  The injury to the integrity of the justice system is the same regardless of whether a person committed an underlying wrong.” (pp. 320-321.)

Republicans: Fair enough.  Most of us have been to law school.  Given your interest is in defending “the integrity of the justice system,” then can you comment on the Randy Weaver and Ted Stevens cases?

Mueller: While the investigation did not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference, he may have had other personal motives for his actions.  For example, he may have thought that the 2016 Trump Tower meeting or advance knowledge of the Wikileaks would be construed as crimes that delegitimized his election.  These could fall under the definition of obstruction of justice.  (p. 321.)

Republicans: And Justice is?

Mueller: Much of this was done “in public,” but he’s the President and he has the power to pardon.

Republicans: And so you yourself and your subordinates felt intimidated?

Mueller: The President ordered subordinates to do many things that might have obstructed justice, but mostly those subordinates didn’t do them.  (p. 322.)

Republicans: Is there a federal statute that bars “wanting to obstruct justice” as differentiated from actual obstruction of justice”?

An Imaginary Account of Robert Mueller Before Congress 3 22 July 2019.

Mueller: Although the team did not establish that the President and his campaign had conspired with the Russians, he might have wanted the investigation to end because of things that it might have (and did) reveal about the campaign.  It’s possible that the President would have feared that these were crimes: the public misstatements about Trump Organization’s pursuit of Russian business deals into Summer 2016, and Trump tried to get information about future Wikileaks.

Republicans: And these were crimes under which laws?

Mueller: “More broadly, multiple witnesses described the President’s preoccupation with the press coverage of the Russia investigation and his persistent concern that it raised questions about the legitimacy of his election.” (p. 256.)

Mueller: Finally, he didn’t tell the truth at first about why he had fired Comey. (pp. 256-257.)

Republicans:  And you discovered the real reason how?  He went on national television a few days later and told a journalist.

The Post-Comey Phase.

Mueller: The team immediately added an investigation of President Trump for obstruction of justice to its mandate.  President Trump reacted strongly against the appointment of a special prosecutor.  (p. 257.)

An example.

Mueller: On 9 June 2016, Manafort, Kushner, and Trump, Jr. met with some Russians in hopes of hearing about Russian “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.  That turned out to be false advertising on the part of the Russians.  Receiving such information might have been a violation of campaign finance laws, but they got skint.  When news of this meeting first became public, President Trump repeatedly tried to mischaracterize the intended purpose of the meeting.

Mueller: It would have been obstruction of justice to prevent either Congress or the Special Prosecutor from receiving relevant documents when demanded.  The President did not do that.  (p. 280.)

Mueller: “The evidence does not establish that the President intended to prevent the Special Counsel’s Office or Congress from obtaining the emails setting up the June 9 meeting or other information about that meeting.” (p. 281.)  The only evidence we have is that the President told people to hand over emails and other information to whomever needed to have them. (p. 280.)

Republicans: This phrase you keep using—“did not establish”—what does that mean exactly?  Because in this particular case, what you have is evidence of a media strategy directed against the Democratic media combined with a demonstrated willingness to provide requested information to Congress and the Special Prosecutor.  So, does “did not establish” mean the same thing everywhere else in the Report?  As in, “did not establish” collusion/co-ordination/conspiracy with the Russians.  Does that really mean “we didn’t find any evidence of this at all”?

An Imaginary Account of Robert Mueller Before Congress 2 22 July 2019.

Mueller: The team came to think of the investigation as covering two periods.

There was the period up to the firing of James Comey.  During this period, people repeatedly told the president that he himself was not under investigation.

There was the period after the firing of James Comey, when the President found that firing Comey had put him in danger of an obstruction charge.  Thereafter the President did many things directed against the team’s investigation.

Republicans: So, you could not establish an underlying crime by the President; officials told him that he wasn’t personally under investigation, but Democrats and their share of the media kept up making accusations, and Comey would not make a public statement that the President wasn’t under investigation.  Did that lead you to inquire into Comey’s behavior during this period?

The Comey Phase.

Mueller: The team decided that none of the statutory or constitutional objections by the President’s lawyers justified NOT investigating the facts. (p. 202.)

Mueller: During the campaign, candidate Trump said a bunch of pro-Russian things; denied to the media all sorts of reports; after election, he doubted reports that the Russians had tried to help him win the election; and expressed concern that the reports would de-legitimize his victory. (p. 212.)

Republicans: So what?  He’s got a right to his own opinion on Russia, even if it differs from President Obama’s opinion; lying to the media isn’t a crime; and the Democrats have been using the Russia investigation to de-legitimize the Trump administration for better than two years now.

Mueller: Michael Flynn, the National Security Adviser, lied to the FBI about a couple of phone calls to the Russian ambassador.  Trump fired him, but asked Comey to “let Flynn go.”  (pp. 217-218.)

Mueller: President Trump fired Comey after Comey refused to discuss the scope of the Russia investigation in testimony before Congress and did not state that President Trump himself was not being investigated.  Three times previously, Comey had told Trump in private that he was not being investigated.  (p. 244.)

Republicans: Did you try to evaluate the state of mind and intent of James Comey?  The IG Report on his handling of the Clinton investigation indicated some curious behaviors.  Comey’s press appearances on his book tour and afterward also might cast some light backward on his time at the FBI.

Mueller: The President believed that the Russia investigation was hurting his ability to govern.  (pp. 245, 256 and fn. 500.)

Mueller: Firing Comey could have a chilling effect on the investigation.  On the other hand, it wouldn’t stop the investigation.  (p. 253.)

An Imaginary Account of Robert Mueller Before Congress 1 22 July 2019.

Robert Mueller has said that the report is his testimony.   The following imagines what Republicans might ask or say during Mr. Mueller’s testimony.   They probably wont.

Mueller: One, the Special Prosecutor’s team chose not to make a traditional charge/decline-to-charge decision.  The DoJ’s Office of Legal Council has ruled that a sitting president cannot be charged and the team accepted the reasoning behind this ruling. (p. 194.)

Republicans: However, you didn’t have to charge President Trump.  You could just have found that he did commit obstruction of justice, then leave it to Congress to follow through.  Impeachment is a constitutional process.  Why didn’t you find this conclusion?

Mueller: Two, the team investigated the facts in order to document occasions where other people had committed obstruction of justice[1] and to document cases where the President may have obstructed justice in order for him to be prosecuted after he leaves office.  (pp. 194-195.)

Mueller: Three, the team chose NOT to apply the common legal standard to the evidence that might have led to a decision that the President had committed a crime.  (p. 195.)

Republicans:

1) Why not?  Such a finding would lead to impeachment by the House.  See above.

2.) Or was that because he had not committed a crime?

Mueller: The Federal Government is a sieve, so news of a secret finding would leak.  This would cast a shadow over the President’s ability to lead.  (p. 195.)

Republicans: So has the Mueller Report cast a shadow over the President’s ability to lead?

Mueller: Four, the team can’t tell if President Trump obstructed justice or did not obstruct justice. (p. 195.)

Republicans (incautiously): Why is that?

 

Overarching factual issues.  (pp. 201-202.)

Mueller: It could not be a typical obstruction case because it concerned the President.

Mueller: First, some of his actions were “facially lawful,” but he also had official powers that could influence other people’s conduct. (p. 201.)

Mueller: Second, obstruction usually is intended to cover-up another crime, but the team did not establish that the President had committed any crime.  So the team had consider whether other motives inspired his actions.

Republicans: like punching back against what he believed to be an un-fair investigation?

Mueller: Third, the President often acted in full public view, rather than in secret.  Still, this might have been meant to influence witnesses.

[1] Such people can be prosecuted immediately.