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Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

One of Donald Trump’s few substantive defenses against the allegations that brought about his impeachment last week is that he didn’t try to extort an investigation into Joe Biden and a crackpot DNC server conspiracy theory for his own political benefit—but rather, he sought “a favor” for the good of the country.

The evidence for this, the president and his defenders say, is in the not-quite-a-transcript that the White House released of the July 25 call between Trump and then-newly elected Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. Zelensky thanks the U.S. for pressuring Russia through sanctions, then expresses interest in buying more missiles.

And Trump, of course, replies: “I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. … There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the attorney general call you or your people, and I would like you to get to the bottom of it.”

Zelensky mentions that one of his assistants had spoken to Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer. Trump says, “I will ask him to call you along with the attorney general.”

In Trump’s telling, the fact that he referenced Attorney General William Barr shows that he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine.

Put aside that this runs contrary to every known fact about Donald Trump. Instead, focus on how casually Trump lumps in the attorney general of the United States with his lawyer, who’d spent the better part of a year in Ukraine trying to manufacture a sham investigation into the Bidens—and who, incidentally, is reportedly under federal investigation.

In Trump’s mind, they’re the same They’re his guys. That should be a red flag.

The attorney general is not the president’s lawyer. The attorney general is—in theory—the lawyer for the American people, whose fidelity is to the country and the Constitution.

Trump doesn’t see it that way, however. So a year ago, Trump forced out his first AG, Jeff Sessions—the first U.S. senator to endorse his presidential campaign —because he deemed Sessions insufficiently loyal during Russiagate. For his second AG nominee, Trump wasn’t taking any chances.

Bill Barr believes in the unitary executive theory—put simply, the president is essentially above the law and has total control of the government’s law-enforcement system. Barr was also willing to play lackey.

So, for instance, when the Mueller report came in, Barr dashed off a letter to Congress saying—deceptively, it turned out—that Trump had been cleared of wrongdoing, obscuring Mueller’s findings that the president had repeatedly obstructed justice and that he was only not charged with a crime because he Department of Justice policy forbade it.

And when, with Trump staring down impeachment, the DOJ’s inspector general released a long-awaited report demolishing Trump’s batshit claims about a Deep State vendetta against his presidential campaign, Barr sent out an unprecedented statement contradicting his department’s IG. If nothing else, he’s a company man.

More troubling was his speech to the Federalist Society in November, in which he leaned into his role as a partisan actor, accusing anyone to the left of Attila the Hun of “undermining (the) rule of law” and Congress of—as a “pursuit of choice”—“drown(ing) the Executive Branch with ‘oversight’ demands for testimony and documents.”

These are not co-equal branches, Barr believes. If the president finds congressional oversight annoying, he should ignore it.

Also, progressives—what with their “civil rights” and other such nonsense—are snowflakes, while conservatives are grounded in reason and as such at a political disadvantage.

“In any age,” Barr opined, “the so-called progressives treat politics as their religion. … Conservatives, on the other hand, do not seek an earthly paradise.  … Conservatives tend to have more scruple over their political tactics and rarely feel that the ends justify the means.”

Obviously, Bill Barr has never heard the name Mitch McConnell or watched C-SPAN in the last decade or so.

But gaslighting—or, more charitably, being obtuse—isn’t what bothers me most about Barr; that’s par for the course in the modern GOP. It’s this: Earlier this month, Barr told a roomful of cops that “the American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers. And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves. … (If) communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.”

In other words, show your cops love—i.e., don’t protest if they beat up or shoot a person of color—or, well, you just never know, do you?

This is an attorney general, of course, who has criticized local district attorneys in Philadelphia and St. Louis for calling for police accountability, and has demanded zero tolerance for “resisting police.”

To recap: Trump should be able to do whatever he wants. Trump should have unchecked control over the law-enforcement apparatus. Law enforcement should be able to do whatever it wants. Resisters? Zero tolerance. Protesters? It’d be a shame if something happened to them.

All hail the police state.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

Editor’s Note: Informed Dissent is a column, by alternative newsmedia veteran Jeffrey C. Billman, that explores the age of Trump, mixing political and historical insights with biting, unapologetic commentary. It will appear a couple of times per month at CVIndependent.com.

By my count, Robert Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees last Wednesday, July 24, produced six significant headlines.

He confirmed that he had not exonerated President Trump. He said that Trump asked his staff to falsify records. He suggested there were “currently” FBI investigations into whether people in Trump’s orbit were compromised. He agreed that Trump’s written answers to his questions were not “always truthful.” He admitted (more or less) that Trump had met the three elements of obstruction of justice. And, though he tried to walk it back, he let it slip that, had Department of Justice policy not prohibited him from doing so, he would have indicted Donald Trump.

But this being Washington, D.C., those six headlines were muddled in the kind of second-rate political theater only Congress can deliver: backbenchers desperate for a moment in the spotlight; Democrats eager for the kill; Republicans slobbering for the president’s affection; and, most significantly, a halting, underwhelming and reluctant star witness.

The Beltway media mainly judged it on those terms—the spectacle. For a prime example of the genre, see NBC’s Chuck Todd, who offered this trenchant analysis on Twitter: “On substance, Democrats got what they wanted: that Mueller didn’t charge Pres. Trump because of the (DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel) guidance, that he could be indicted after he leaves office, among other things. But on optics, this was a disaster.”

It says a lot about this moment—about the failures of the media, about the perils of polarization, about the frailty of our democratic norms—that a special counsel could tell Congress under oath that the president had committed crimes, but, because of the 74-year-old’s lack of verve, this is considered a win for the president. But it also speaks to how thoroughly Democrats have botched this whole affair.

This spectacle, after all, was unnecessary. Mueller had already said what he needed to say. He’d laid out a report—448 pages—that all but begged Congress to do what he could not: Hold Donald Trump accountable.

After the Mueller report became public, House Democrats should have started impeachment hearings, even though there was no chance the Senate would convict Trump, and even though such a course could prove politically treacherous. It was their constitutional obligation.

They’ve obviously not done so. Speaker Nancy Pelosi—though she talks of “crimes that were committed against our Constitution” and Trump’s “existential threat to our democracy”—wants to go slow, waiting until they have the “strongest possible hand.” She’s deemed impeachment too risky, especially for her caucus’ freshmen, many of whom come from moderate suburban districts. She’s also worried that voters don’t understand how impeachment works, and that the base will ultimately be disappointed when the Senate shrugs aside the House’s indictment, and Trump declares vindication.

These aren’t unreasonable arguments. But they miss the point.

It’s the same point missed by those who caution against focusing on Trump’s racism. Talking about his attacks on U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, or his border concentration camps, or his embrace of white nationalists, they say, could detract from “kitchen table” issues that matter to voters—health care, the environment, education, jobs.

To the degree it matters, Democrats should, of course, offer an agenda. But the dirty secret of American elections is that big policy proposals don’t matter all that much. In our polarized electorate, people are more motivated to vote against the other side than for their own. The 2018 blue wave, for instance, didn’t happen because suburbanites fell in love with Democrats’ plans; rather, they were fed up with Trump’s antics, pissed off that the GOP tried to gut the Affordable Care Act, and desiring some adult supervision in Washington.

Another thing: If you’re closely attuned to policy decisions, you probably see an administration that stumbles between dangerously inept and actively malevolent on most issues. If you’re not, however—and most people aren’t—you see an economy doing pretty well. And for any other president, absent a recession in the next year, that would probably be enough to win re-election.

But Donald Trump isn’t any other president. He’s not a normal president. And treating him like one could prove self-defeating.

Consider this: On the one hand, Democrats are telling Americans that Trump is, in Pelosi’s words, an “existential threat to our democracy”—a corrupt, racist liar who has obstructed justice, violated campaign finance laws and welcomed foreign interference into elections. He’s defying congressional subpoenas. And he might be a sexual predator.

On the other hand, they’re not going to do anything about it—at least not yet. Eventually, perhaps.

How does that not signal that this is all a game? This is the worst kind of mixed messaging, the kind that muddies any sense of moral clarity. And it’s the kind that could give Trump a second term.

Of course, Donald Trump shouldn’t be impeached because it’s good politics. Donald Trump should be impeached because he is uniquely unfit to be president; because he’s a criminal; because impeaching him is the right thing to do.

If Trump truly poses a threat to our democracy, should we be talking about anything else?

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

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Published in Comics