High stakes for the 2018 midterm elec­tion in US

To hold Trump ac­count­able legally, even po­lit­i­cally, may not be pos­si­ble even if Democrats con­trol both House and Sen­ate

Gulf News - - Opinion -

very pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is rou­tinely called “the most im­por­tant elec­tion” in his­tory, pro­duc­ing sighs and eye rolls from po­lit­i­cal science types. But if you’re fond of democ­racy in Amer­ica, the 2018 midterm elec­tion makes a stronger case for a su­perla­tive la­bel than most pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

It ap­pears in­creas­ingly clear that the Repub­li­can ma­jori­ties in Congress would pose no se­ri­ous ob­sta­cle to pres­i­den­tial law­less­ness. True, com­mit­tees in the House and Sen­ate are look­ing into Rus­sian sab­o­tage, in the form of sup­port for can­di­date Don­ald Trump, dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign. But it’s un­clear if Repub­li­cans on those com­mit­tees are will­ing to blame Rus­sia for wrong­do­ing, let alone Trump.

In his brief pres­i­den­tial ten­ure, Don­ald Trump has al­ready “de­fied, ig­nored, or shred­ded the whole pre­vi­ous sys­tem of norms about avoid­ing fi­nan­cial con­flicts of in­ter­est and the use of pub­lic of­fice for pri­vate en­rich­ment”.

Trump has openly sig­nalled that his Wash­ing­ton ho­tel and Palm Beach club — where he dou­bled the fee to $200,000 (Dh735,600) after his elec­tion, thereby putting an ex­plicit dol­lar value on pres­i­den­tial ac­cess — are po­lit­i­cal souqs. “He has, in short, drawn a very clear map to for­eign in­ter­ests about how to en­rich him and his fam­ily and how to gain di­rect ac­cess to him in the process,” Ja­cob Levy, po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist, re­cently wrote.

Is­su­ing the equiv­a­lent of eq­uity shares in a pres­i­dency has his­tor­i­cally been frowned upon. But Repub­li­cans in Congress have taken no ac­tion. As Levy said: “Ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism and law­less­ness can be hemmed in and checked, but not fully con­strained by courts, the crim­i­nal law, or the writ­ten Con­sti­tu­tion.” In other words, Trump will see your Madis­o­nian mumbo-jumbo and raise you an Elec­toral Col­lege.

This has ob­vi­ous im­pli­ca­tions for the crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion by spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor Robert Mueller. In the wake of the in­dict­ment of Trump’s cam­paign chair­man, Paul Manafort, and a plea deal signed by for­mer Trump White House na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn, along with the ex­po­sure of a se­ries of lies (which keep com­ing) by se­nior White House aides and Trump him­self about Flynn’s dis­cus­sions with a Rus­sian diplo­mat, the ev­i­dence of a con­spir­acy looks to be mount­ing.

Repub­li­cans in Congress, how­ever, ap­pear mostly de­ter­mined to see and hear no evil. Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee chair­man Or­rin Hatch (Repub­li­can, from Utah) last week called Trump one of the best of the seven pres­i­dents he has served un­der. Like­wise, con­ser­va­tive me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions from Fox News to Bre­it­bart have thrown a pro­tec­tive cor­don around Trump. This only in­creases the pres­sure on Repub­li­can of­fice hold­ers to do like­wise. Mean­while, the Jus­tice De­part­ment, which em­ploys Mueller and his team, con­tin­ues to be run by At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, whose com­mit­ment to un­cov­er­ing the truth, let alone act­ing on it, ap­pears sketchy at best.

The ful­crum

The law may sim­ply not be strong enough to bring down a pres­i­dent who de­fies it with the aid of a com­plicit Congress. Pol­i­tics, backed by law, is the ful­crum re­quired to ex­pel a crooked, yet de­ter­mined, ex­ec­u­tive. Without it, im­peach­ment or res­ig­na­tion are a dis­tant reach.

Daniel Drezner wrote in a Wash­ing­ton Post com­men­tary that 2020 will be the bell that tolls for Amer­i­can democ­racy, ei­ther send­ing it spi­ralling with Trump’s re-elec­tion or an­nounc­ing its resur­gence. But it’s taken less than a year for lies to be­come stan­dard­ised and bo­gus counter-nar­ra­tives op­er­a­tionalised. Imag­ine if crim­i­nal charges were to hang over Trump’s head for the next two years while the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem grows even more tat­tered and the le­gal sys­tem is jammed.

If Mueller tar­gets Trump, there is dwin­dling rea­son to believe that the Repub­li­can coali­tion will ac­com­mo­date his ev­i­dence. Mueller would be sub­jected to daily char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion, his ev­i­dence vi­ciously dis­torted, and his en­tire in­ves­ti­ga­tion dis­missed as the prod­uct of a ne­far­i­ous “deep state” too shad­owy to iden­tify.

A size­able seg­ment of Repub­li­can vot­ers will deny even the most in­con­tro­vert­ible ev­i­dence of Trump wrong­do­ing, and they will de­mand that Repub­li­cans not only in­habit their al­ter­na­tive uni­verse, but de­fend it to the death. Con­ser­va­tive ju­rists — John Roberts, the chief jus­tice of the Supreme Court, above all — will be sim­i­larly pres­sured.

Hold­ing Trump ac­count­able legally, even po­lit­i­cally, may not be pos­si­ble even with Demo­cratic con­trol of the House or Sen­ate and the in­flu­ence a Con­gres­sional ma­jor­ity pro­vides. But it’s even more un­likely without it. And four years is a long time to live above the law.

Fran­cis Wilkin­son writes ed­i­to­ri­als on pol­i­tics and US do­mes­tic pol­icy for Bloomberg View. He was ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor of the Week. He was pre­vi­ously a na­tional af­fairs writer for Rolling Stone.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.