As we approach November’s midterms, the new is still not normal. The novelties and abnormalities of the Trump presidency multiply as fast as the president’s thumbs can tweet and his jaw can flap. Trump cannot see a cuff without wanting to talk off it.
On Labor Day, when the rest of the country was occupied with sensible activities like scraping the grill and massaging pounds of raw meat with secret spice recipes, Trump tenderized Jeff Sessions on Twitter for proceeding with the Obama-era investigations of two popular Republican congressmen, Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York. Both had been early Trump supporters in 2016, and both would now be charged just ahead of the midterms: ‘Good job, Jeff…’
The suggestion being that Jeff, also known as the Attorney General, should hold off from charging Hunter and Collins for political reasons. Collins faces 13 indictments, including securities fraud, wire fraud and making false statements about an insider trading scheme.
Hunter is merely charged with using campaign funds for personal use, wire fraud, falsifying records and conspiracy. He is also charged with campaign finance violations. But these, as Trump recently told Fox and Friends when asked about Michael Cohen’s payments to Stormy Daniels, shouldn’t be thought of as criminal. Good job, Donald.
Ben Sasse, Republican senator from Nebraska, replied to Trump by claiming that the United States ‘is not some banana republic with a two-tiered justice system — one for the majority party and one for the minority party’. Sasse is not paying attention.
In 2017, US banana exports were worth $445m. The US is also the world’s biggest banana importer, spending $2.8bn on our little yellow friends. Trump’s public request that the Justice Department time its prosecutions to suit the Republicans attempt to retain the House of Representatives — an attempt that looks ever more doomed with each passing primary — is pure banana Republicanism.
The mainstream Republican response is to protest that the Obama administration tried to put its thumb on the scales too. This merely confirms the corrosion of public life by partisanship. Obama said that the arc of the universe bends towards justice. Which is to say, history is shaped like a banana. It is, in the sense that the arc of the history of republics curves towards banana republicanism, in which oligarchic private interests manipulate the processes of government for their own profit.
In the past, politicians used to intrigue privately. The baleful precedent in Trump’s intriguing is its brazenness, and its conversion into a kind of entertainment. No wonder the opposition are doing everything they can to ‘resist’. The problem, for Democrats anyway, is that Trump keeps suckering them into partisanship. It’s no good appealing to the law, and then trying to bend it towards the aims of the minority party — especially when the minority party has lost both tiers of Congress.
Which brings us to this week’s main event, the confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s second nominee for the Supreme Court. Chuck Schumer, an accomplished bender of the facts, claims that Kavanagh is “not seasoned enough”. But Kavanaugh has issued around 300 opinions as a judge on the District of Columbia Circuit. Democrats are also combing through records of Kavanaugh’s service in the George W. Bush administration. This, though, seems likely to confirm nothing more than what everyone already knows.
Kavanaugh is a conservative. This will tip the Court’s balance, with implications for the next decades, but it not against the law. Nor is Kavanaugh a fanatic. According to a statistical analysis by the Washington Post, Kavanaugh would not be the most conservative Justice on the bench. The Post placed Kavanaugh in a cosy ideological right pocket, between Neil Gorsuch, who sometimes leans towards the middle, and Samuel Alito, who Court-watchers place at the rightmost end of the bench.
The resistant faithful supplied the sideshows of the Kavanaugh hearing. A small mob led by Linda Sarsour, the friendly face of American Islamism, interrupted proceedings. This was a curious way to behave, given that the self-described Resistance claims to be defending due process and the rule of law. As we saw this week, the by-all-means-necessary approach is the mirror-image of Trump’s attitude.
Meanwhile in the parallel universe of Twitter, some mad tweeters claimed that Kavanaugh’s aide Zina Bash had given a secret ‘white power’ hand signal while her boss was being examined. Bash seems to have given an ‘OK’ signal. Presumably she meant to communicate that the hearing was going well, rather than that, with Kavanaugh on the bench, the Supreme Court could get down to passing some Mussolini-style racial laws.
Bash’s husband, John Bash, was obliged to remind people that his wife’s mother is Mexican, and her father a Jewish child of Holocaust survivors. This has not stopped Twitter ‘personalities’ like Amy Siskind and Dr. Eugene Gu from continuing their slander of Bash. Siskind runs New Agenda, which describes itself as “dedicated to the empowerment of women” — just as long as they’re not Republicans. Eugene Gu is a doctor. If he’s working on you, best not to tell him if you’re a Republican.
Back in the real world, Kavanaugh takes a generous view of presidential immunity. So the anti-Trump crazies see his nomination as yet another attempt by Trump to bend the arc of the justice system in his favour. You can see why they might think this, and why Trump might have need of presidential immunity once he leaves office. But the excitement about this aspect of Kavanaugh’s record has more to do with the fantasy of impeachment.
The Democrats’ left wing are not delusional in their expectation that their party can recover control of the House of Representatives in November. The historical pattern suggests a swing against the incumbent party and president, and so do the particular circumstances of recent special elections and polls. Trump remains unloved by a majority of voters, even as the economy bounds ahead. But that doesn’t make impeachment inevitable.
The Democrats are split between centrists and leftists. Regaining the House will not create an instant consensus in a party divided. Beginning impeachment proceedings in the face of a Republican-controlled Senate would be a reckless gamble. The effort is almost certain to fail. Worse, the Democrats, instead of bending the process in their favour, would stand a good chance of rebounding the process against themselves. Like someone who attempts a similar move with a banana, they may find themselves with a mess on their hands.
Impeachment proceedings would confirm Trump’s claim that a complex of left-wing politicians, media and governmental institutions are out to get him. Which of course they are. So far, their efforts have proved futile, and they are likely to continue to be so. Trump will brazen out the Mueller Enquiry, just as he will brazen out impeachment. But a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives would have the ability to stifle his legislative legacy. If, that is, he gets around to making one.