Either Trump is Toast or We Are

The flipping of Michael Flynn from Trump insider to FBI informant is the John Dean moment for Donald Trump. It is a seminal event that I believe signals the beginning of the end of the Trump administration. I am not alone in this belief or in comparing the current administration to the Nixon White House. But while Watergate was a tragedy for the nation, the coming constitutional crisis is better described as a farce of epic proportions. John Dean was the key to unlocking Nixon’s inner circle and misdeeds. General Flynn plays the same role for the current clown car that is the Trump presidency. Meanwhile, Trump’s sons and son-in-law are a Three Stooges’ version of Nixon’s “Plumbers Squad.” Whether history repeats itself, or our democratic institutions collapse under the strain of Trump’s populism is the real issue IMHO.

Trump’s supporters lionize him because he “tells it like it is” and because he is a Washington outsider who defies conventions. After decades of getting screwed by “business as usual” in the capital, Trump’s supporters wanted change. I understand. As a child of the Sixties, honesty and ignoring conventions are part of my DNA. The ultimate insult for my generation was to be called “plastic”, someone who appears real but is fake. But I don’t see any truth or authenticity in Donald Trump. I see the opposite. I see Trump as a plastic Pinocchio.

There is no objective doubt now about whether Trump’s team knew about Russian interference in the 2016 election. The evidence to support what the U.S. intelligence community has been saying all along is now available for everyone to see. There is also no doubt that Flynn had illegal and improper contacts with the Russians. The question is now what Trump and his brain trust knew and when did they know it? And the small matter of what to do about it.

The most important thing to come out of the Watergate scandal was a reestablishment of public trust in American government. Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement had destroyed many people’s faith in our democratic institutions. Seeing that President Nixon was not allowed operate above the law restored public confidence in the primacy of our legal system. His defense that “if the President does it it’s not illegal” led to his forced resignation and proved again that we are nation of laws not men.

I don’t care that Trump has violated certain conventions like being the only modern president to not have a dog or using Twitter instead of press conferences; these behaviors have no real impact on our unraveling democracy. Working with Russia, before and after the election, is a different story altogether. But for Trump to be held accountable will require a number of things to happen. As the Republicans found out with Bill Clinton, it’s not enough that the President has broken the law. It takes more than an impeachable offense to take out one of the most powerful men on the planet.

First, the general public has to be opposed to the President. We can check that box right now. Trump didn’t win the popular vote and every misstep he has made since taking office has dragged his poll numbers down even more. Trump’s thirty percenters are loyal as hell, but the majority of the country is either angry or embarrassed by him. Second, he has to have committed an impeachable offense. While not 100% certain yet, the evidence that Trump has done this is already pretty strong. His admissions that he knew about the Russian hack of the DNC and that Flynn lied to the FBI both constitute felonies since he was aware of a crime and did not report it. And firing Comey is pretty much a slam dunk in terms of an obstruction of justice charge. There’s still a matter of proving motive but that doesn’t seem too much of a stretch. The interrogations of Trump’s staff as well as an examination of his bank records are likely to produce the rest of the evidence needed for this charge.

The last piece of the puzzle for removing the president is political. Since Republicans control both the House and Senate, Trump might seem safe on this front. But is he and is that a good thing? Trump has a lot of enemies in the Republican Party. And his attacks on the press and the FBI have done nothing to improve his base of support in the government or among voters. Nixon faced the same issues. He was not a Republican favorite and his hatred of the press and misuse of the FBI and CIA prompted the leaks that undermined his presidency. Sound familiar?

If voters punish Republicans in 2018, a definite possibility after most people see what is really going to happen to their tax bills, then Trump’s political safety net will disappear. If revelations about Trump’s actions before and after the election prove too onerous and offend too many voter sensibilities, then Republicans will jump ship as well.

I will take no satisfaction if it turns out I’m right and Flynn is the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency. I had hoped Trump’s supporters were right about him and that I was wrong. I am a proud American who holds allegiance to no political party. I am afraid of what the fight to remove Trump will do to the country. But I’m more afraid of what will happen if it isn’t the end of his tenure. I’m more afraid that Russia and China will feel emboldened to hack future elections. I’m more afraid that Trump’s refusal to put his businesses in a blind trust will be duplicated by more and more politicians.

The oligarchy is openly running the country. Exhibit A is the tax bill that permanently gives huge permanent tax breaks to the rich which will eventually be paid for by the shrinking middle class. Whether the oligarchy continues to run our lives or whether democracy makes a comeback will depend exclusively on the fate of Donald Trump. Leader of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. I am hopeful but not optimistic.