[sticky entry] Sticky: Micro-mini self-intro

Sep. 16th, 2017 05:39 pm

My name is Thomas Harold Edelson. Welcome to my journal.


To repeat the most important sentence from my profile:


Spiritually, I am some combination of Quaker, Taoist, and pagan.



 

Pencils down, boys and girls.  I asked you for your opinions on whether it is useful to call attention to threats of violence by Trump supporters.  I held back on expressing my own opinion on the subject, so as not to bias yours. But that grace period has now ended.


So, do I think it is useful?  A little. Not as much so as I thought as recently as yesterday.


The small amount of usefulness that I still perceive comes from this: if these threats of violence ever do turn into real violence, on a large scale, I think most people will find it easier to cope with this if it isn't a complete surprise.  But that is, at most, a good reason to bring it up occasionally; to keep harping on it would be counterproductive.


I had another kind of alleged usefulness in mind, when I made the original journal entry which contained samples of threats.  I thought that the existence of these threats was relevant, somehow, to a question currently facing us: whether to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump.


I've changed my mind about that.  I no longer think it is relevant, one way or the other.


If you disagree, I would [still] welcome your input on the subject.  But otherwise ....


We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.


 

Yesterday, I shared with you some reader comments that I found on Breitbart, on the subject of what would happen (according to the commenters) if President Trump is impeached.  What did they think would happen? In a word, violence.


I also said I "might" follow up with some comments and/or questions of my own, about those Breitbart comments.  And today, I shall, in a baby-step sort of way. All I have for you today is one question ... and I'm only going to ask it, not answer it.


The question is one which, I imagine, you might have voiced after reading yesterday's entry.  Namely: "Why is he telling us this?"


What I said was true: those comments were, in fact, posted on Breitbart.  But not everything that is true is worth saying. If I reported the comments to you, I must have had some point I wanted to make.  What was it?


But like I said, I'm not going to answer that -- not today.  Instead, I'm going to turn around and ask you the same question.  Well, not exactly the same question: I'm not asking you to try to guess what was in my mind.


What I want to ask you is this: do you think that there's any good reason to do what I did: to take selected violence-oriented comments that were posted on a right-wing site like Breitbart, and copy them here, for what will presumably be a different audience?

Or even more simply: rather than asking you whether you think there's a good reason to do it, let me just ask you whether you think it's a good idea to do it.  And why or why not?


I'd really like to hear from you on this.  Ideally, by posting a reply right here on Dreamwidth.  You don't have to be a Dreamwidth member in order to do that.  Just click on "Reply", below.


 

Sigh.  I return once again to the topic of politics, and specifically Donald Trump, and specifically impeachment.  In this particular journal entry, though, I am not going to offer any opinions on the subject, only facts.


First, a bit of background.  There has been more talk of impeachment recently: specifically, since the release of [the redacted version of] the report of Robert Mueller, the special counsel.  Yesterday, The New York Times reported that Elizabeth Warren had declared that "... the House [of Representatives] should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States."


I have noticed, in the past, that talk of impeachment [of this president] often leads to talk of violence: for example, to the prediction (or threat) that a move to impeach would result in "civil war."  I have observed this in various places, but mostly on the Web site which calls itself "Breitbart News Network."


(To be clear, I have never noticed threats of violence in the actual "news stories" on Breitbart -- only in the comments on those stories posted on the site by readers.)


So yesterday, I became curious as to whether any of that sort of comments would be attached to their [presumed] story on what Warren had said.  So I went to look. Did I find any?


Boy, did I ever.  Here is a selection.


...


Pitching gas on impeachment fire! ...

These folks shall find themselves on the business end of pitchforks and weapons...

They are oblivious to the massive fire needing but the spark of impeachment to ignite....


...


Didn't Warren lie on her applications about her race so she could get goodies? She should be in prison not the Senate. Democrats, keep pushing it. You are making it easier by the day to accept suspending the Constitution to round you up and put an end to your sedition and treason. Pigs.


...


Initiate impeachment and we declare open season....


...


Trump Disorder Syndrome can be cured with a .45 cal enema :)


...


Initiate it and the people will rise up and pound the Dems out of existence. Time to make Dems extinct.


...


I wouldn't mind one itty bitty bit if the next time PRESIDENT Trump leaves D.C., either Iran, north Korea, china, or Russia were to conduct a laydown consisting of 12 20-MT thermalnuclear devices while congress is busy in the capital building.

They would be doing the nation a world of good getting rid of those 500 plus leaches.

For a bonus they should lob 3 of the same weapons on each of the following; SHITcago, NYC, Boston, L.A., San Fran, Portland, and Seattle.


...


"Mueller Report Shows Obstruction, ‘Initiate Impeachment’"... Better idea...Lets break out the Rope and start mass ex e cutions of lying DemRats and MSM talking heads and take our country back


...


(End of quoted comments.)


I may, in future journal entries, have some comments on these comments, and/or questions about them.  For now, I shall let them speak for themselves.


A friend, whom I haven't seen in person in several years, recently expressed the hope that I am "well and able to travel if [I] choose."  A reasonable question, since I am 72 years old (about the same as she is), and since she knows that I haven't traveled very much lately.


I am happy to say that I am [well enough].  Some types of travel may be a bit more of a hassle than they used to be for me; long car trips, for instance.  But I am confident that I can still handle, for example, the occasional plane ride.


And I intend to verify that.  I am determined to take a "real vacation" this summer.  And where do I intend to go? This is not definite until the reservations are made, but would you believe ... Iceland?


And I may even take one of those bus tours around the island.  Which would be an absolute first for me: I have never taken a bus tour of anything bigger than a city, in any of the various countries I have visited.


Don't worry, I am not about to stop being an eccentric.  But this could count as another instance of my deciding that sometimes, it's okay for me to do things that "regular people" do.
 

I'm thinking it might be a good idea to change the way I use Dreamwidth. Here are some of my goals:

  • Post more frequently.
  • Post on a wider variety of topics: not almost always about politics and, in particular, about that awful man in the White House.
  • Take a more informal approach: closer to stream of consciousness, less like I was trying to write a paper for an academic journal.
  • More often, post about personal stuff.

In aid of all that, I am also experimenting with using a different "technology" for posting.  Probably more like the way that most other folks do it: just type my post into the window here on the site, using the "Rich Text" tab.


(You see, I have a well-established tendency to convince myself that I need to do things the hard way.  Or, I should say, a hard way; often, I invent my own.)


So we'll see how it goes.


I've been wanting to post a clarification—or, if you prefer, a correction—of my most recent post ("Q: How do you respond to a national emergency? A: Impeach the man who created it.").  A recent reply to that post has further prodded me to attempt that clarification.  So here goes.

In the original post, I certainly sounded like I was beating the drums for impeachment: "Do it!  Do it now!."  This doesn't make clear what question I was trying to answer.

A vague, generic formulation of the question would be something like: "Should we impeach (and remove) President Donald Trump?"  But here are two more precisely formulated questions:

  • Given what we know so far, would impeaching (and removing) Trump be justified?

  • Given what we know so far, would impeaching (and removing) Trump be advisable?


And my main point, today, is that these are two different questions, to which an individual might reasonably give different answers.  And when we talk about impeachment, we might understand each other better by making clear (as I did not), in any opinion we state, which question we are answering.

So what are my own answers to these two different questions?

To the question of whether removing Trump is justifiable, I answer "yes."  This is the question I was really focused on answering; in particular, whether removal is justified by his blatantly unconstitutional "declaration of emergency," even without considering his various other transgressions.

And behind that opinion, by the way, is a more general opinion, which I didn't even state explicitly: that an "impeachable offense" (an action which justifies impeachment and removal) need not be a crime: need not be something to which the law attaches a criminal penalty.  An attempt by the president to exceed his powers by doing something obviously unconstitutional is also an impeachable offense.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that, other things being equal, a blatantly unconstitutional power grab, like this "emergency" declaration, is, other things being equal, more clearly an impeachable offense than is committing a crime, as such.  Abuse of power is, fundamentally, what the impeachment provision in the Constitution is for.

So I am doubling down on my original position, as clarified.  I strongly believe that, given the emergency declaration and its context, impeaching Trump and removing him from office would be justified.

But do I believe that it would be advisable?  My answer to that one is, in fact, different, at least in degree of conviction.  I lean toward believing it to be advisable, but I am far less certain of that.  I don't want to be a crusader for it, at least not at this time.  As I said in my reply to the anonymous comment, I think it may be just as well that that decision is not mine to make.


Now he's gone and done it.  Donald Trump has declared that a decades-old situation at the US - Mexican border has suddenly become a "national emergency."  He thinks that, having done so, he can now spend money on a "big, beautiful wall": money that Congress has, just now, refused to appropriate.

I don't think so, and I'm not alone.  The media have published various pieces on ways that he could be prevented from doing this.  One of those is Answers to 4 Key Questions About Trump’s Declaration of an Emergency, by Nicholas Fandos, published yesterday in The New York Times.

From the second paragraph of that story: "Lawmakers seeking to block the president have two paths — one in Congress, the other in the courts."  It becomes clear, a little further down, that the path "in Congress" that he has in mind is this: "Under the National Emergencies Act, the House and the Senate can take up what is called a joint resolution of termination to end the emergency status ...."

Well, yeah, they can do that.  What surprisingly few people have mentioned, so far, is that there's something else, something more decisive, that they can do.  That something is called impeachment.

I have posted a comment on that Times story.  The full text of my comment reads as follows:


From the story: "Lawmakers seeking to block the president have two paths ...."

That is not correct.  There is a third option, and it is the one that I recommend.

The House of Representatives can vote to impeach the president, and the Senate can remove him from office.

This so-called "state of emergency" is utterly unlike any declared before.  Let's call it what it is: an attempt to overthrow the Constitution.

As such, it is fully sufficient, even without the other high crimes and misdemeanors of which we know or suspect, to justify removing him from office.

And there is no need for committee hearings.  The House, at least, could have its floor vote today.


You already know, I assume, that it's not just improbable that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be the Democratic nominee for President in 2020; it's Constitutionally impossible.

But just for giggles, let's nobody tell Trump that, okay?


Have you heard about the caravan of farmers that's formed up in Iowa and is heading for the Canadian border?


President Trump has proven me wrong about something.  I never thought I'd see the day when he did something that was memorable for its originality.

But he has!  He has created a highly innovative, and quite effective, method of terrorism.

Think about it.  The people of this country have been attacked with bombs, with guns, and with crashing airplanes.  But it took the genius of Donald Trump to realize that you could bring the United States of America to its knees by committing political suicide.


Thank you for taking the position that the government shutdown needs to end. If I understand correctly, you have recognized that some compromise is likely to be necessary.

Something else that is clearly necessary, if reopening the government is to happen: a bill [or several] must be passed by both houses, and sent to the president for his signature. The majority leader has it backwards: he wants not to bring anything up for a vote until after the president has already agreed to sign it. Please tell him that this approach does not work for you and your constituents.

I deliberately say nothing about *how* you should vote. That's a separate issue. But not to vote at all? I'm afraid that most people will see that as the Senate not doing its job.

Thanks for your attention. / Tom Edelson


I certainly hit a speed bump at the end of the last post (the one dated 2018-12-27, with subject line "... but we should fire the poor bastard anyway.").  And it has taken me this long to figure out what the source of the difficulty was, and how to get past it.

To put it simply, I lost track of what point I wanted to make.  Here's the part of the text where, I now believe, I went off the rails:

... how can I say that it's time to get to work on firing the poor bastard, when in just the last post, I said that we need to emphasize Donald Trump's incompetence more, and his evil nature less?

That quote implies that there is some sort of a contradiction between emphasizing Trump's incompetence, and suggesting that the new Congress should be looking seriously at impeaching him.  What made me think that those things were, or even sounded, contradictory?  Answer: the idea that you can't impeach the president for being incompetent, only for doing something wrong, something with [at least] the "flavor" of criminality.

Well, I might actually believe that, and I might not.  But if I hadn't lost track of my point, I would have realized that it was a mistake to even raise that question, let alone go off, as I did, on a long detour on the subject of whether or not it is possible to give a positive definition of what constitutes an impeachable "offense."  That may be a worthwhile question, but for purposes of the point I was actually trying to make, it doesn't matter.

Why not?  Because I never intended to suggest that Trump should be impeached "merely" for being incompetent.

On December 25, I posted a journal entry with the subject line, "Pity our underprivileged president ...," whose central point was that Trump's critics, myself included, "tend to focus too much on his being bad, and not enough on his being incompetent."  Two days later, I posted the one already mentioned, the one that said (though not in these words) that I thought it was now time to begin impeachment proceedings.  By posting those two statements in quick succession like that, I may have misled the reader into thinking that I wanted to claim that they were very closely related: that we should be looking at impeaching and removing the president, because of his incompetence.

Whether or not I did give any readers that mistaken impression, I now realize that I somehow managed to give it to myself.  Why, actually, did I follow a statement about incompetence with a statement about impeachment?

Not because I wanted to say that he should be impeached for incompetence.  No, in my original train of thought, mentioning impeachment was meant to be nothing more than an aside to the reader.  "Don't misunderstand me," I wanted, in effect, to say.  "Just because I think Trump's incompetence deserves more attention, doesn't mean that I believe that he shouldn't be impeached.  I do think he should be (or at least that Congress needs seriously to be considering the possibility)."

And if someone were to object that incompetence isn't grounds for impeachment, there would be no need to argue with that person.  I could just say, "Oh, you mean that there needs to be a flavor of criminality, an intent to do something wrong?  No problem.  He's got those, too."

And then, having gotten that out of the way, I could have returned to my main thread: clarifying, and arguing for, the claim that with all the focus on Trump's unethical character, we tend to forget that his incompetence is a major factor in the situation, the mess in which we find ourselves, as well.

Exhibit A: the government shutdown.  A competent individual would never have let himself get caught in the double-bind in which Donald Trump finds himself now.

Things move so fast that I can't be sure what I will write about next.  But I will surely find an opportunity, sooner or later, to expand on this point about the shutdown.  Just not today.

What's that?  You say you can't stand the suspense?  Okay, here's a hint.  Whose shutdown is it?

Does Trump "own" it?  A good guess, but I don't think it gets to the heart of the matter.  Ask yourself this: can you think of anyone who is active in American politics, and who actually benefits from the shutting down of the United States government?  If you give that some serious thought, I think you will come to the same conclusion that I have: that we should be calling this the "Putin shutdown."


Just a few things to clarify, in relation to the last post (the one with the subject line, "Pity our underprivileged president ...").

Do I really think we should pity him, or consider him "underprivileged"?  Absolutely.  If you could choose, wouldn't you prefer being mentally privileged, rather than financially so?

What do I mean by "we should fire [him]"?  I mean that the House of Representatives should impeach him, and the Senate should remove him from office.

I've written, in this journal, on the subject of impeachment before.  I made myself sound dubious on the subject.  But I never really said we shouldn't impeach him; only that the time didn't seem right to put energy into promoting the idea.

I think that has changed.  Don't you?

Specifically, I am now prepared to say that it's time to begin impeachment proceedings.

Why?  Well, I won't pretend that a Democratic majority in the House is totally irrelevant to my coming to this conclusion.  But it's not really the reason for it.

Then what is?  I won't attempt a comprehensive, general answer to this (not here and now, at least).  For one thing, new facts have come to light.  Also, other contributors to the public debate have, in the interim, come to the same change in, or clarification of, their positions; I generally agree with their reasoning.

There's really only one [more?] substantive point that I want to make, here, and even that one will be somewhat abbreviated.  I just want to take a shot at answering this question: how can I say that it's time to get to work on firing the poor bastard, when in just the last post, I said that we need to emphasize Donald Trump's incompetence more, and his evil nature less?

Now, why is that even a question?  Because the Constitution has that infamous phrase: a president (or other official) may be impeached for (and, apparently, only for) "high crimes and misdemeanors."

There is nothing like consensus on what, exactly, that phrase means.  Indeed, there may simply be no answer as to exactly what it means.  There does, in my reading, seem to be something close to a consensus on one thing that it doesn't mean: the most respected scholars on the subject seem to agree that an "impeachable offense" is not, always and necessarily, a crime in the penal-code sense.

And yet, and yet.  Those words, "high crimes and misdemeanors," continue to bedevil us.  So, for that matter, does the phrase "impeachable offense" (emphasis added).  These usages nudge us into thinking that valid grounds for impeachment must be something like being guilty of a crime.  In particular, they make us reluctant to think that it would be proper to "fire" someone, under this process, "merely" for incompetence.

And shouldn't we be reluctant to do that?  At this point, the best I can do is to answer the question with a question: how reluctant should we be?  I agree with the intuition that we don't want the House and Senate to feel that they can remove the president whenever they feel like it.  But that doesn't give us a set of criteria, an algorithm that will tell us, or them, when it is Constitutionally proper to take this step.

Maybe it's just not possible to frame a usable set of criteria for this.  Maybe such decisions can only reasonably be made in examining the facts of a concrete case.  Maybe we need to say, today, about "impeachable offense," what I believe a Supreme Court justice did say, years ago, about pornography: "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it."

Essentially, I do believe that.  At least the part about its being impossible to frame an explicit, algorithm-like set of criteria for what constitutes an impeachable offense.  But I also think that there is more that can usefully be said about what would constitute a fair-minded approach to such a decision, in the matter of Donald Trump.

There is more to be said, but I am not prepared to say it now.


In the last week and change, something has come into clearer focus for me.  It's not really a new thought, but it's gotten much more vivid and concrete.  Namely: those of us who think Donald Trump is a lousy president tend to focus too much on his being bad, and not enough on his being incompetent.

Here's a thought experiment.  Imagine a child born on the same day that he was: June 14, 1946.  Imagine that child's genetic endowment, and his parents' personalities, to be the same as they were for the real Trump.  But imagine that family's economic status to have been lower middle class.

What would this child have become, 72 years later?  My best guess: a wino.

Assuming he even lived that long.


I wrote a letter today to Richard Burr, one of the U.S. Senators for the state in which I live. (Or, to be more exact, I left a message on his Web site.)

My subject line was "Please vote no on Kavanaugh." And here is the body text:

Full disclosure: I am a Democrat, and I have multiple reasons for not supporting the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice. But today I learned of a new reason, which can be stated in the title of a New York Times story: "Trump Taunts Christine Blasey Ford at Rally".

You might say, "Huh? Surely even a Democrat can see that a comment by the president changes nothing .. that is, nothing relevant to whether Kavanaugh is qualified for the job." True enough, it doesn't.

But someone has to let Trump know that he can't get away with making such disgusting remarks. Since he clearly has no shame, the only way to get that message to him is to show him that his words have consequences.

And it is in your self-interest to rebuke him in that way. Not despite the fact that you are a Republican, but because you are. Republican politicians who let the president say such things, without consequences, are tying themselves to him in a way that will not be good for you. You are tying yourselves, not just to his political views (to the limited extent that he has any coherent political views), but to his character.

If you don't think that that will be detrimental to your own political prospects, sooner or later, then all I can say is: Good luck with that.

This just in: the President of the United States is nuts.  I know, I know, it's a shock.  I mean, we all had no idea, right?  (Shut up.)

Now here's the bad news.  Just knowing he's crazy, that doesn't tell us exactly what his diagnosis is.  You see, there's more than one way of being crazy ... more than one way, even, of being crazy with the exact same symptoms.

To be able to talk about this more clearly, let's drop the word "crazy" and use "irrational" instead.  We call someone's behavior irrational when we think that it is -- in a way that should be obvious to a normal person -- ineffective in getting him what he wants.  In order to draw that conclusion, though, we have to know, or assume, what it is that he does want.  More often than not, we can't know; we have to assume.  Because more often than not, there's more than one answer to that question (what the person wants) that makes sense in the light of his observed behavior.  Faced with this ambiguity, we generally end up assuming that what the person wants is like what most other people want.

For example, suppose the president frequently says things that are so obviously untrue that hardly anyone is going to believe them.  In fact, it's so obvious (that he won't be believed) that we feel that he must be aware of it.  Or at least, he would realize this if he thought about it.

This is puzzling behavior, because, when a person asserts something, we usually assume that he wants to be believed.  This is a pretty safe assumption if he's telling the truth, or thinks he is.  But it's also pretty safe if he's lying.  What purpose could possibly be served by saying something when, not only do you know it's not true, but you also know that you won't be believed?  (Or "should" know: remember, we've already ruled out simple ignorance as the explanation.)

The behavior is puzzling because we usually expect, by default, that people will act rationally, and that doesn't seem to be the case here.  However, it can be irrational in more than one way.  I will mention two.

The first way we could interpret it is to figure that the president doesn't want what we originally thought he did; in this case, that he doesn't want to be believed.  Why wouldn't he?  Maybe he doesn't want to go on being president.  Maybe he's actually hoping that people will notice that he's acting irrationally, and rescue him from the job in which he feels trapped.

Interestingly, this is not just something that "someone might think": it has actually been put forward as an explanation of President Trump's recent behavior.  In the cases I've seen, the writer doesn't explicitly use the word "unconscious" (as in "has an unconscious desire to be removed from the presidency"), but I take it to be implied.  It's certainly more plausible that way.

But as I said, there could be a different kind of irrationality at play here.  This one's a little harder to explain, but that could be merely because we're not used to talking about it in such detail.

Under this theory, if you ask whether he wants to be believed, the answer isn't a simple "yes" or "no."  Instead, it needs to be something like this: generally, he does want to be believed.  And presumably, he would in this case too ... if he took the time to think about it.

But he didn't.  Someone said something negative about him.  That made him feel bad.  Snapping back and contradicting what they said will make him feel better, so he does that.  The reaction is so automatic that he literally never thinks about whether he will be believed.

This is called being impulsive.  And this, also, has, in the real world, been put forward as an explanation of some of Trump's behavior.  I believe that this is what people are referring to when they say Trump acts like he's nine years old (or thereabouts).

For what it's worth, this seems pretty plausible to me: more plausible, in general, than the theory that he has an unconscious desire to be removed from the presidency.  But that's not very important.  What matters is that both theories have some plausibility; each is sufficiently consistent with the observable facts that it can't be easily, and with certainty, ruled out.

So that's what I meant by different ways of being irrational.  Same observable behavior, different possible explanations of what's going on inside his skull.  What to do?

Perhaps we need to fall back to a behaviorist approach, also known as stimulus-response theory.  The basic idea here: since you can't directly observe what's going on inside the subject's head, don't even try to guess.  Just look for patterns in what stimulus produces what response.  If you think you see a pattern, then ideally, you should confirm it experimentally: predict the response to a new stimulus, apply that stimulus, and see whether your prediction was correct.

Here's a really simple example.  First, the observation from which you will be asked to infer a pattern.  (Normally, one would prefer to have many more observations, but in this case it hardly seems necessary.)  Stimulus: Trump learns that a number of people, who interacted with him one-on-one in the White House, have been saying that he's an idiot.  Response: he produces a tweet saying that he's a genius.

Now the test question.  How do you think Trump would respond if he were told that he is suffering from gravitosis (a disease which I just made up)?  The symptoms, we explain, are that the body feels as if the force of gravity were steadily getting stronger.  And it looks that way from the outside, too.  In a case like his, the prognosis is not good: chances are that, in about two months, he will no longer be able to walk.

What's he gonna do if we talk that way?  My own guess: the next morning, he will deliver himself of a tweet announcing that he can fly.

And then ... this is admittedly less certain, but maybe ... he will declare that he intends to prove it.  The following day at noon, he's going to jump out of Air Force One, from an altitude of ten thousand feet, without a parachute.

If this experiment were to be performed, and the result were to be as I have suggested, then what?  Presumably, everybody with half a brain would then agree that the man is not playing with a full deck.  (Um, right?)  And so someone would lead him away to a nice safe place.

What?  You were thinking of letting him go through with it?  You should be ashamed of yourself.


The last three entries in this journal, like this one, all had subject lines beginning with "Impeachment: Why Not?"  None of them, however, was about reasons not to impeach President Trump.  Instead, they were about reasons why one might not choose to spend time, in the current situation, promoting the impeachment of President Trump.  See the difference?

The same is true of this one, except for one thing.  This isn't about why "one" might not "choose to spend time ... promoting the impeachment of President Trump."  This is more specific: not why "one" might not, but why I, personally, might not choose to keep on spending time on this.  (In fact, the chances are that, in the near future, I won't.)  There's more than one such personal reason, but, to a first approximation, they all boil down to one thing.

Reason Four: I Don't Want To

Okay, why don't I want to?

For one thing, I've developed a real craving to spend some time on things that have nothing to do with politics.  Computer programming, for instance.  It would be such a relief to take a break from worrying about mushy things like how to persuade someone of something.  With programming, it's much more straightforward: you write the program, you run it, and it either works or it doesn't.

And besides that, even when it is about politics -- even when it is about dealing with the nightmare that is the Trump presidency -- I'm not that sure that working for impeachment is the only way to go.  I can't shake the feeling that maybe what I, personally, really need to do is to move to Canada.  I'm not 100% sure about that, but I've reached the point where I am sure that I need to devote some serious time and energy to exploring that possibility more deeply.

At this point, my divided self manifests again.  To say such things, even in my head, provokes an angry response from another part of my mind.  It's a little like the argument I had with the lady in the peanut gallery, back in the entry headed "Impeachment: Are We There Yet?"  But this time, I will make it more obvious that I am arguing with myself, by presenting it as a dialogue between two "sides": the prosecution and the defense.

Prosecution: I am shocked -- shocked! -- that you would even consider such a selfish response.  You want to go off and write computer programs?  Isn't that a lot like fiddling while Rome burns?

And as for moving to Canada, that may be even worse.  You'd really save your own sorry butt, without a thought for the poor souls left behind?  I thought you were better than that.

Defense: That seems a little harsh.  With regard to the computer programming and other such alternate activities: when you have a big long-term project, sometimes you just need to take a break and do something else for a while.  It will probably benefit the project, in the long run, because you will come back to it fresher.

But more fundamentally, I'm not sure that this impeachment process is meant to be my project ... any more, at least.  Maybe I've already done the part of it that I'm even minimally qualified to do.

I can convince myself that there are good grounds for impeachment, in principle, based on what we already know, and on my own understanding of the Constitution.  But I already noted, back under "Impeachment: Why Not? (Reason 2)," that I am likely not the best person to convince others of this, if only because I am not a lawyer.

Besides, the question before us is not merely whether impeachment is justified, "in principle."  It's whether we should be throwing our efforts into making impeachment (and removal from office) actually happen.  And even if you assume that we could succeed in that -- maybe after the midterm elections? -- are we sure that it would be the best thing for the country?  (Assuming, again, that the grounds for impeachment are "just" the things we already know: that Trump hasn't, in the interim, made a blatant grab for dictatorial power.  If he does, that will change things.)

Because speaking for myself, I am not convinced, at least not yet (that removing Trump from office, before the end of his first term, and absent the "smoking gun," would be the best thing for the country).  I am not, however, aiming to start a discussion of whether it would be.  My point is simply that I don't feel like I'm the best qualified person to render an opinion on this.

In fact, I am sure that I am not qualified -- let alone the "best" qualified -- to render such an opinion.  Not at the moment, at least.  I am sure of this because I find that I don't even have an opinion on it ... not one that I'd feel comfortable sharing.

Perhaps I could develop one, in time.  But that's just "perhaps."  And, even if you assume that I could, I have no idea how long that would take.  I am almost sure that the only way I could do it, with real confidence in the result, would be ... wait for it ... first to clear my mind by taking a break from struggling with these issues, and, yes, to spend some time writing computer programs or something.

Prosecution: Unbelievable.  You are such a wimp (even if I, being you, say so myself).  Do you think that this is some sort of game?  The fate of the world may, quite literally, be at stake.

And you seem to be assuming that you can just take a pass, and someone else will take care of it.  But maybe you are the only one who can!  Maybe you are the one person who can think this through deeply enough, and find the right words to explain your conclusion, so that any rational person can read, and learn the truth.

Mind you, I can't prove that you are "the one."  But with so much at stake, since you can't prove that you're not the one person who can do it, aren't you obligated to try, whether you "want to" or not?

Defense: Got you, you self-righteous son of a bitch!  You fell right into my trap.

Prosecution: Huh?  What trap?

Defense: Let's grant you, "for the sake of the argument" (as we philosophers like to say), that you could get me, with continued liberal application of the whip, to write something that was ... acceptable.  Something that got the job done: that showed us all the safest way to get out of the Trump mess.

Except that in the real world, we'd never be really sure how much the outcome had been influenced by this thing I wrote.  Nor would we really know whether someone else could have written it, and maybe would have, if I had not.

But never mind that.  Here's something you can take to the bank.  If I actually did write something that was even potentially that important, then, before I finished it, I'd have at least half convinced myself that I actually was the only person who could have written it.  I know this for a fact, because it's happening to me right now.  And you know it too, because I'm you.

Prosecution: Yadda yadda.  What's all this about a trap?

Defense: You're going to have to put some big boy pants on, and be patient.  I'm getting there.

Now where was I?  Oh, yes.  I was saying that I would at least half convince myself that I really was the only person who could have written it.  And that would start me down a very dangerous path.

Prosecution: What are you talking about?

Defense: Once you start believing grandiose things like that about yourself, you can't stop.  It becomes an addiction: you keep on convincing yourself of more of them.  I -- we -- would be in serious danger of turning into another Donald Trump.

Prosecution: What ... oh.  I think I see where you're going with this.

Defense: Good; that means you're not as stupid as you look.  You remember, it was part of his standard stump speech.  He'd do his bad imitation of a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher, except he wasn't talking about the hereafter, he was talking about how awful everything supposedly was right now.  And then he'd finish that riff with these five words: "Only I can fix it."

Prosecution: [nods]

Defense: Which would have been fine, I guess; it was great theater ... for a certain sort of audience.  But then he had to go and win the damn thing.  So then everybody was watching him, to see if he could deliver.  And you know how that turned out.

So think about it.  Do you really want us to end up like he did?  The laughingstock of the planet?

Prosecution: [remains silent]

Defense: I didn't think so.


In the last entry (http://edelsont.dreamwidth.org/3099.html), I had more to say about some possible grounds for impeachment of Donald Trump, grounds which I had originally laid out two entries earlier than that.  I said that impeachment on those grounds (while I do think it justified) would be difficult: in particular, that it would be difficult to get public acceptance for it, because it doesn't fit very well with people's preconceptions about what "grounds for impeachment" ought to look like.

This is as good a place as any to acknowledge a sad fact.  There is a segment of the public which will, almost certainly, never "accept" the impeachment of Trump, no matter what grounds are given.  Perhaps not even if he stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shot someone (to repurpose an example which he himself offered, during the 2016 general election campaign).  I'm not sure how they would justify rejecting impeachment after he did that, but I am confident that they would find a way.  Calling it justifiable homicide, perhaps.

But I digress.  It's probably true that you'll never convince everybody, but still.  My original suggested grounds for impeachment, namely failure to defend against Russian hacking, face some particular obstacles which are not common to every imaginable case for impeachment.  So it's not unreasonable to ask whether we really need to undertake to do it the hard way.  In other words ....

Reason Three: Perhaps an Easier Way Will Turn Up

Perhaps, for example, solid evidence will turn up that Mr. Trump has, indeed, committed an actual crime.  A serious one, and one that is clearly relevant to whether we can continue to entrust him with the powers of the presidency.  Alternatively, maybe he will commit one, with those same properties ... and nice and easy to prove.

Or, of course, perhaps not.  Perhaps no such evidence of a suitable past crime will turn up.  There's more than one reason why it might not; in particular, we can't rule out with certainty the possibility that he hasn't committed one.

And it's conceivable that he might manage to avoid criminal transgressions going forward, as well.  So where does that leave us?

I shall answer that question with another question: What do we mean by "us"?

What I mean is: people who would prefer that Donald Trump not finish his first term as president.  That is, in effect, an unspoken assumption behind this whole series of journal entries.

Now let me clarify right away: I don't mean to assert that I am entitled to assume this.  I don't claim that "any reasonable person" would share this preference.  All I mean, in calling this an "assumption," is that what I am writing is primarily addressed to those who do share it.  That's because those are the people who have the clearest reason to care about the questions that I am raising.

The most recent of those questions is "Where does that leave us?"  In the context, what that means is: given that we would prefer that Trump not finish his term ... and given that I have offered a case for impeachment that could, perhaps, be successfully pursued, but with difficulty ... and given that an easier way to make the case for removing him from office might turn up, but also might not ... what should we do now?

That depends.  (Of course it does, but on what?)  Well, each of the three considerations noted in the last paragraph is a matter of degree.  Here are three questions:

  • How important (and urgent) is it to you that Trump not finish his first term?

  • How feasible do you think that it would be to bring about an impeachment based on grounds like my suggested "failure to protect us from hacking by the Russians"?

  • How likely do you think it is that more straightforward grounds for impeachment will come along?

Now imagine that you could express your answer to each of those questions in the form of a number.  And let's make the question, "What should we do now?", more specific: "Should we be trying to make a case for impeachment based on 'failure to protect'?"

Then I suggest that:

  • The higher your numerical answer to the first question ("How important?"); and

  • the higher your answer to the second ("How feasible?"); and

  • the lower your answer to the third ("How likely?") ...

... the more likely it is that you "should" answer the final question, "Should we be trying to make a case ...?", with a "yes".  Or in summary: if you want the result, and you think "doing it the hard way" is feasible, and you aren't very confident that an easier way will come along ... then go ahead and try to do it the hard way.

I've presented a sort of decision procedure: suppose that you are a member of the House of Representatives, and you are already personally convinced that impeaching President Trump is a good idea (meaning some combination of: it would be better for the country, and the reasons for doing so also fit the "permissible" grounds for impeachment, under your own interpretation of the Constitution).  So you have to decide whether publicly to start a move for impeachment, now, or wait.  What goes before, in this journal entry, is offered as a possible framework for making that decision.

Before finishing, I want to mention that this "decision procedure" could, perhaps, be generalized somewhat.  In particular, one might allow for different versions of what counts, within the procedure, as "doing it the hard way."

So far, I've used that phrase to represent a particular "hard way" of arguing for impeachment: the one based on the theory first laid out three entries ago, under the heading "Impeachment: Are We There Yet?" (http://edelsont.dreamwidth.org/2719.html).  That theory, again, was that we have an "impeachable offense" sitting right in front of us, with no need to wait for more findings from the special prosecutor's investigation; and that "offense" consists of a failure to defend us against Russian efforts to interfere with our election (even if Trump had done nothing actively in support of that interference).

But our hypothetical Congressbeing could have something else in mind, as her example of "doing it the hard way."  That is, she could believe that something else that Trump has done, and that we already know about, constitutes grounds for impeachment.  Furthermore, in order for it to count as "the hard way," it would have to be similar to my specific example in some ways: her "impeachable offense" would have to be something other than a crime explicitly defined as such in the statute books, and/or something for which we do not [yet] have evidence sufficient to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

In any such case that we could imagine, she would be in a similar position to the one we found ourselves in, starting with my own specific example of an alleged, publicly-known "impeachable offense."  That is, in deciding whether to wade in, and make an all-out effort to procure an actual vote for impeachment on her chosen grounds, she'd have to balance how strongly she felt about it, and the difficulty of persuading her colleagues to agree, against the likelihood that the same result might be procured more easily, if she waited for something more like a "smoking gun" to be offered up by the special prosecutor's investigation.

And therefore, my "decision procedure" could be useful in a wide range of cases, not just in the particular one which I dreamed up, having to do with failure to protect the nation from Russian hacking.

That "decision procedure" is way cool, is it not, even if I say so myself?  It's almost like an algorithm that could be run on a computer.  You just plug in your three input numbers, turn the crank, and then act according to the results.

You're welcome.


Two entries back, I offered you an admittedly half-baked argument for impeaching (and removing) President Trump, based only on what we knew at the time.  I also promised you an explanation of why I was not planning to press forward, right away, to make that argument more fully baked.

One entry back, I gave you part of that explanation.  I said that I saw no hurry about building out the case for impeachment, given that there was at least one thing that the Congress needed to attend to more urgently than impeachment.  That would be the passage of a "no first use of nuclear weapons" law.

In that same entry, I said that this "nuclear thing" was only one of the reasons "why not," and that I had three more reasons in mind.  This time around, I plan to tell you about one more of the reasons.

But first, I want to clarify a couple of points.  The first is to emphasize that when I speak of a "reason why not," I don't mean -- at least, not primarily -- a reason not to impeach.  I mean a reason why I am not devoting my energy to arguing for impeachment.  Sometimes, a reason for the one may also serve as a reason for the other.  But not always.

And furthermore -- here comes the second clarification -- I'm also not giving reasons not to argue for impeachment, as such.  Rather, they are reasons why I'm not devoting energy to strengthening the particular argument for impeachment which I introduced two entries earlier.

(As you may recall, the crux of that argument was that it was the president's duty to improve our defenses against foreign manipulation of our election processes, and that his abject failure to perform that duty could be grounds for impeachment, even if we assumed that he was not himself actively complicit in those manipulations.)

With those points made, I am ready to get on with telling you about the second reason.

Reason Two: There's a Lot of Groundwork Involved

It is something of a truism that impeachment is a hybrid process: quasi-judicial, but also quasi-political.  One way that the latter is true is this: the process is actually performed by elected officials, that is, politicians (members of the House of Representatives, and then the Senate).  Unlike federal judges, these people are elected for finite terms; if they want to remain in their respective positions, they need to be re-elected.  And it is a simple fact, whether we like it or not, that this need has an effect on the way they do their jobs.  In particular, it means that they are concerned about what the voters will think of their actions.

Yes, in the real world, they are also concerned about what potential donors of campaign funds will think.  But in this particular discussion, I think we can afford the luxury of not focusing on that.  Instead, I am drawing attention to the difference between "What will the voters think?" and "What is the right thing to do?"  Federal judges are appointed for life, and the framers of the Constitution made that decision so that judges, unlike members of the House and Senate, could do what they thought was correct, in interpreting the law, and be relatively unconcerned about public opinion.

So ... the framers took this particular pair of responsibilities (impeachment and removal), and put it in the hands of people who -- by the nature of their jobs -- do care about public opinion.  In particular, it is safe to assume, when they think about impeaching or removing a public official, that they care about whether the voters back home will think that what they are doing is proper.

What are the voters likely to think about that?  That depends, partly, on whether those voters want to see the official in question -- in this case, President Trump -- remain in office.  And that in turn depends, partly, on their political views.

But not entirely.  A fair fraction of the voters are aware, if only vaguely, that impeachment is also a quasi-judicial process.  They know that the Constitution says something (though not much) about the permissible "grounds" for impeachment; that is, about the criteria that Congressbeings are supposed to use in making impeachment-related decisions.  Quite a few, by now, have at least heard the phrase "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors".

In short, many people do understand that this is a difference between our system and a parliamentary democracy.  In the latter, the legislature can dismiss the chief executive simply because they no longer approve of the way she is doing her job.  Under the US Constitution, it's not supposed to work that way.

Furthermore, not only do quite a few people know this, but a significant fraction of those people care about it, too.  They believe in following the rules.  So there are many people who would like to see President Trump gone (including, but not limited to, most of those who did not vote for him), but not all of those people automatically favor impeachment.  They won't favor that until and unless they are convinced that it is being done on Constitutionally authorized grounds.

On the other hand, there isn't a lot of clarity about what that phrase -- particularly the "high Crimes and Misdemeanors" part -- means.  Particularly among the general public.  I suspect that most folks are under a mistaken impression about this.  They think that impeachment requires the subject to be guilty of an actual crime: something explicitly prohibited in the statute books.  Along with this, they probably also think that, in the Senate "trial" phase of the impeachment process, this guilt must be established by the same standard of proof that is used in criminal trials: "beyond a reasonable doubt."

I call these beliefs "mistaken," because, having read one short book on the subject, I think I know that neither of them is the consensus view among legal scholars.  On the other hand, "mistaken" may be the wrong word, if only because there is no person or institution empowered to rule authoritatively on these things.  Gerald Ford was probably thinking about this latter fact when he expressed the opinion that an "impeachable offense" is whatever the members of the House and Senate, at the time, think it is.

That opinion about the permissible grounds for impeachment -- we might call it the "Ford doctrine" -- amounts to saying that impeachment is a political process, not a judicial one.  Whether or not you believe that it should be that way, one thing seems clear.  Assume I was right, earlier, in saying that most Congressbeings, when considering impeachment or removal, will give some thought to whether "their" voters will approve of what they decide.  If so, then, as a matter of practical fact, the Ford doctrine is at least partly correct.

That brings us close to the conclusion that I teased in the section heading, above: "There's a lot of groundwork involved."  To establish that, I just need one more premise, concerning the particular "case for impeachment" that I laid out two journal entries ago.  Namely: that argument did not claim that President Trump has committed a literal, on-the-books crime.

Given that fact about my argument ... and given the supposition that most of the public thinks, mistakenly or not, that crime is the only legitimate grounds for impeachment ... and given that the Congressional mind cares about public opinion ... it follows that you aren't going to get an impeachment, on the grounds I suggested, without doing a lot of public education first.  (If you prefer a more neutral word, substitute "persuasion" for "education.")  People will need to get used to the idea that the permissible grounds for impeachment are not that narrow.

Some voters will be much less receptive to the idea than others.  That will depend, at least partly, on whether the voters in question, legal arguments aside, like the idea of removing Trump from office.  In other words, it puts us squarely back in the political side of the process.

With the particular "case for impeachment" that I presented, it may be even a little more challenging than that.  Based on my extremely limited reading in the legal literature, that is.  That's because ... while those authors seem to have a consensus that a genuine, lock-'em-up-style crime is not required for impeachment ... almost all of what they say still uses the language of "offense" (as in "What constitutes an impeachable offense?")  My "case," on the other hand, turns on a failure by President Trump to perform the duties of his office, and it's not entirely clear how to fit that into the concept of "offense," even when the latter is taken in the looser, not-necessarily-criminal sense.

I'm not saying that it can't be done, just that it will take some work.  And in fact, there are places where the scholarship does seem to referring, obliquely, to cases of failure to perform one's duty.  I just haven't seen anyplace where "grounds" of that type are addressed head-on.

If they haven't been, then that's another chunk of "groundwork" that needs to be done.  Of course, that again raises the question: if it needs to be done, why don't I just get on with it?

Part of the answer to that question is quite simple: I am not a lawyer, let alone a "legal scholar."  Someone with those qualifications could probably do a better job at clarifying these points about "proper" grounds for impeachment.  And that person would definitely stand a better chance of being listened to.


Last time out, in the entry headed "Impeachment: Are We There Yet?," I presented a rough sketch of a claim that President Trump is impeachable right now.  I readily admitted that it wasn't complete: that I myself didn't really think I had proven my case.  Furthermore I said I would not, in the near future, attempt to make it complete.  I promised that I would, in the following entry (this one), give my reasons why I don't plan to do that.

Events have intervened, so that my plans have partly changed: I now intend to fulfill, in this entry, only part of that promise.  As recently as two days ago, my intention was to list as many as four reasons "why not."  But as it turns out, I will list only one of them, leaving the others for another time.

By the way, the one reason I will mention today is the one that I was planning to mention first.  So without further ado, here it is.

Reason One: The Nuclear Thing Takes Priority

By "the nuclear thing," I mean the position that I took, principally in http://edelsont.dreamwidth.org/2160.html, to the following effect: Congress needs to pass a law saying that, absent a declaration of war (or similar Congressional authorization), the president may not order the "first use" of nuclear weapons.  "First use" means attacking with nuclear weapons, other than in response to a prior nuclear attack by the enemy.

And what do I mean when I say of this "thing" that it "takes priority"?  I mean that Congress needs to attend to it first, because the need for it is greater, and more urgent.  Once they have protected us from nuclear war, then we can allow them to move on to the fun stuff, like impeaching Trump.

That's really all that needs to be said, under the heading of stating "reason one," and offering some justification for it.  One might ask, however: what made me change my mind?  Why did I decide to present only "reason one" today, when I had been intending to include three more reasons in the same journal entry?

The short answer to that: in my view, over the last few days, the "nuclear thing" has gotten even more urgent.  So I want to post something fast, and not to dilute the impression that it makes.

Okay then; what has happened to make me say that this issue has gotten [even] more urgent than it already was?  For one thing, North Korea has tested another ballistic missile.  And so it seems likely that the Trump administration is now engaged in deciding what, if anything, should be done in response.  Military responses (perhaps among others) are possibly being considered.

Notice that I am not taking a position as to whether a military response should seriously be considered at this time.  For all I know, if one had all the relevant intelligence information, a reasonable person might conclude that military action is now, regrettably, necessary.

To me, though, that makes it even more important that Congress act now to prevent the one deadliest kind of military action: the first use of nuclear weapons.  That is one option which should not even be on the table.

Besides the ballistic missile test, there is one other recent development which pushes my thoughts in the same direction.  (Well, maybe more than one; but one can stand in for the others.)  This one is different in that it has no obvious connection with the subject of nuclear weapons.

What might that be?  Why, the "Access Hollywood" tape, of course!  (I am kidding about the "of course" part, but only about that.)  More specifically, I am referring to the fact, which has only recently been published, that President Trump is now denying that the tape is real: denying that he even said those regrettable things, such as the bit about grabbing women by the feline parts.  (When the tape first came to light, he didn't deny saying it, and in fact he made a sincere-sounding apology for doing so.  He only denied actually doing the things that he boasted about on the tape.)

Here's a link to a one-day-old New York Times story about this: http://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/28/us/politics/trump-access-hollywood-tape.html.

You may be thinking: yes, Trump seems to be unmoored from the truth on that one.  But so what?  It's not like that's anything new.  How can I claim that this relatively trivial thing is important enough to affect such a weighty matter as a law on the first use of nuclear weapons?

A fair question.  I certainly do agree that there's nothing new or surprising about Donald Trump's saying something that isn't true.  However, this one feels different.  The difference isn't in the intrinsic importance of the subject matter; it's in what this particular untruth seems to say about the mental state of the man who uttered it.

Ironically, you see, what's so disturbing about this one is that it doesn't sound like a lie.  It sounds, instead, like a delusion, and I don't mean that metaphorically; I mean a full-blown, psychotic delusion.  (I am not a mental health professional, but I do have some experience with such phenomena.  By all means, let's get some shrinks to weigh in on this.)

Why does this particular departure from reality seem, to me, more like a delusion than like a lie?  My best guess: because it sounds like a man who is not even trying to check his notions against the facts.  And, perhaps an even stronger indication of this: he also doesn't sound like he's even pretending to try.  When he makes such a statement, having previously said the opposite, the impression I get is that the question "But is it true?" just never arises in his mind.  It's as if the very possibility of asking that question is outside his realm of awareness.

Which scares you more, a man who lies or a man with delusions?  I rather think that that depends on the context.  If you are negotiating a business deal or a tax bill, lying might prove the greater obstacle to a satisfactory result.  The motivating force behind a lie is what the liar wants someone else to believe.

What if, instead, the subject of concern is the president, and he is currently engaged in deciding whether to order a nuclear attack?  Then "what he wants someone else to believe" doesn't enter into it.  At least not under the present state of the law, where there is no constraint on his power to decide as he chooses ... including, in particular, no requirement that anyone else concur with his decision.

In that situation, what is, instead, relevant is what he himself believes -- at the moment.  Has he convinced himself that all the people in North Korea are engaged, right now, in a magical working which will, if not immediately stopped, throw the planet out of its orbit?  Then his decision will be based on that, exactly as if it were real.

And that's why Donald Trump's recent denials of the reality of the Access Hollywood tape scare the hell out of me.  And out of you too, I hope.  Let's get this man's finger off the nuclear trigger.


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