The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Category: Trump Era Page 1 of 11

Trump Found Guilty: Will It Matter?

As for the politics, I don’t know. My guess is it won’t make much difference. Even if he’s given prison time, he’ll appeal and I can’t see him having to run his campaign from prison.

In the larger American domestic context, I think this may presage an era of lawfare. One of the norms of American politics is that elites, unless they betray other elites, are immune to prosecution for a wide variety of crimes which would ruin an ordinary person. Democrats, of course, consider Trump, thru the Jan 7 riot/coup attempt, to have betrayed, but many Republicans don’t see it that way and the likely response will be to use their prosecutors in Red states to go after Biden, just as Democrats used prosecution in a blue state.

This will go until one side wins and other submits, or until both get sick of it and decide to go back to old norms or create new ones.

As for the crime itself, there’s no question that Trump paid blackmail money then tried to hide the payments. As crimes goes, it’s pretty lame. The real crimes Trump committed, like helping kill over 350,000 Yemenis, are crimes where the norm of never charging elites still hold solid. Mass murder IS the business of US government, after all, and virtually every still-living President has engaged in it.

Meanwhile, Obama helped banks steal people’s houses with forged paperwork: literally forged. If you want to prosecute white collar crime, that seems a little more consequential than a payment covering up extra-marital sex.

But hey, that’s just me. I’m in that small un-American group of people who think mass murder and using fraud to steal people’s homes are more serious than covering up adultery, but, hey, whatever.

Anyone, Trump’s guilty, and I’m entirely sure he really is guilty of the crime, such as it is, and it’s not like I have any sympathy for the schmuck: he was a crook all through his business career (and, note was never prosecuted, even though it was common knowledge) and committed plenty of crimes as President. Prosecuting him for what is one of the least his crimes (even among his frauds) is pretty lame.

The entire episode really displays how screwed up American values and the US legal system are.

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Trump Has Been A Fraudster All His Career, So What’s Changed?

Trump was found guilty in a very interesting suit.

Judge Arthur Engoron, ruling in a civil lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, found that Trump and his company deceived banks, insurers and others by massively overvaluing his assets and exaggerating his net worth on paperwork used in making deals and securing loans.

Engoron ordered that some of Trump’s business licenses be rescinded as punishment, making it difficult or impossible for them to do business in New York, and said he would continue to have an independent monitor oversee Trump Organization operations.

There are a few interesting things about this case.

  1. It’s was brought by the New York Attorney General, not any of the people Trump defrauded.
  2. It was a civil and not criminal case. The Attorney General first considered criminal charges, but then decided on a civil case. Guilt is found in civil cases on the “preponderance of evidence”, where criminal cases are decides on “reasonable doubt.” Guilt is a lot easier to find in civil cases.
  3. Everyone has known, for decades, that Trump was a fraudster and pulling various shenanigans. He wasn’t charged. Why? Because the sort of fraud he committed is endemic in the real estate industry: it is normal. So while it’s against the law, it isn’t usually enforced.
  4. This means Trump is being charged for something most real-estate developers are being allowed to slide on.
  5. The end effect here is to remove Trump’s control of a big chunk of his own empire, thus reducing his power and ability to fund his own campaign. (That isn’t likely to matter, he will be able to fund it with donations, unlike the first time.)

Obviously what has changed is that Democrats, and the cases are being brought by Democrats, don’t want him to be president again. This isn’t necessarily unreasonable: he did try and launch a coup, after all.

But as I’ve written before, it’s a change in elite consensus. This sort of thing used to be done rarely, and not at the Presidential level. It’s going to lead to a situation where both parties go after the other party’s leaders in jurisdictions they control.

In a sense, this is bipartisan. Republicans are using this mostly to challenge laws they hate, like those allowing abortion or trans-therapy. They do it in a jurisdiction they control, then count on the Supreme Court (under Republican control) backing them up in the end. Most, but not all of the time, the Supreme Court does.

Which leads to the question, what happens when all of these cases against Trump make it to the Supremes? All the Republicans aren’t Trumpists, some aren’t fans.

But a judicial hit policy is dangerous when you don’t control the supreme court.

Something to think about.

And, overall, this indicates a new era in American politics: the gloves are coming off, even more, on both sides and previous elite norms are changing.

This makes some sense when you consider that the US, in certain terms, is in decline. In the old days, there was plenty for everyone. But with the US is relative decline (and arguably absolute decline), and with elites having taken so much from the poor and middle class that there’s little more to loot, any further gains must come from each other.

Welcome to decline.

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The Jan 6th Case Against Trump Is The Right One

As readers will remember, I didn’t think much of the other cases against Trump, not because he isn’t likely guilty, but because none of them were the important thing he did: try a coup.

They also violated the cultural rule that elites don’t get indicted for such things. Of course, they should, but doing it only against Trump and not against other very senior politicians who have clearly committed crimes is likely to cause an escalation of intra-elite fighting, but that’s a minor thing.

The US isn’t much of a democracy, but to the extent it still is, protecting what remains is important, and there’s little question in my mind that Trump did try to overthrow an election which clearly went to Biden. (I didn’t endorse either Biden or Trump, this is not a partisan question to me.)

So I’m pleased to see this indictment.

There are, however, some consequences. If the trial is fast enough to convict him before the election, then the likely Republican nominee is DeSantis. Whatever you think of Trump, DeSantis is worse: a pure culture warrior who will use executive power to crush human rights and civil liberties, and who will use the full power of the government against anyone who opposes him.

Likewise, if Trump is convicted, Biden can expect to be charged once he leaves office over various corruption charges. Hate to say it, but I’m in the camp that says Biden is clearly corrupt and likely it will be provable.

The US is going to become a lot more politically unstable over the next few years.

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Consequences Of Indicting Trump

So, a New York DA has charged Trump. There’s some posturing by DeSantis, but Trump will almost certainly go to New York and surrender. This is a watershed moment, no former President has ever been charged with a crime.

  1. This is a political act. Many President have committed crimes and have not been charged.
  2. It will lead to red state DAs indicting Democratic politicians with crimes to stop them from running or to damage them.
  3. This is a worldwide trend. Lula in Brazil and Rahul Gandhi in India are other examples.

Viewed from a wider context, there has been a catch-22. America and most nations let their elites slide on crimes that don’t  harm other elites. This has allowed a whole lot of evil acts to occur unpunished and for elites to act knowing they will never be held responsible for their actions. This goes beyond political acts, notice how somehow almost none of the people who took advantage of Jeffrey Epstein’s smorgasboard of underaged teenaged girls has been charged with a crime.

My judgment is that almost every powerful politician and every CEO of an important company has done things which are criminal acts: violations of red-letter law.

But when you change a norm like this, it becomes open season and causes political instability. Politicians may be guilty, but they will be charged not based on whether they are guilty but based on political expedience.

This is a further step towards America becoming ungovernable, and potentially a step towards a break-up of the Union, since red-state elites will be persecuted by blue state elites and vice-versa. With no norm of what laws elites are immune to, no member of the elite will feel safe. Either one side or the other must win and set a new norm, or the country must divide.

Globally, as I noted below, this is an extension of a new norm of not running against one’s opponents but simply getting rid of them politically.

This has nothing to do with my sympathies, to forestall obvious comments. I despise Trump and if he had been charged with crimes he had committed long before becoming President, this would be all null and void. But the type of crimes he committed as real-estate Mogul were the acceptable sort of crimes that real-estate moguls commit and aren’t charged for and if they had gone after him then, they would have made many other important people vulnerable.

This is the consequence of having a two-tier justice system where some crimes are only crimes when committed by little people and then weaponizing that.

What Trump should have been charged with, if elites were smart, was his actual crime against elites, where he broke a norm: trying to stage a coup. By charging him with something lesser, they have shattered a consensus norm and a great price will be paid for it.

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Trump Outflanks Dems from the Left

So, as you’ve probably heard by now, Trump is opposing the Covid “stimulus” bill and asking it be amended to include a $2,000 check, not a $600 one. Pelosi says he should pass the bill then they’ll pass another bill with the extra $1,400 (which is a ludicrous lie and we all know that).

The cries from many liberal supporters of the bill are that it is a good bill because it includes unemployment insurance relief increases of $300 a week. That’s sort of true, it’s the main good thing in the bill, but the problem is that a lot of people who need help aren’t currently getting UI.

Trump’s simply right about this, whatever his motives. Moreover, throughout the year he’s fairly consistently advocated more relief than Congress has provided.

But the standard play is unfolding. Screamed warnings that if the bill doesn’t pass no one will get relief, and that if it isn’t passed by the 26th, 12 million people will go off UI, so pass the bill, even if it’s inadequate. “We’re giving you something, in a bill packed with pork, and that’s not nothing, so take something.”

This is based on standard economic-neoliberal thinking. There’s a little decision game about it. You and another person are given a hundred dollars. The other person decides how the money is split. You can’t change how it is split, but you can veto getting any money.

The theory is that even if the person deciding how the money is split offers you a cent, you should take it. After all, you’re better off, right? In the real world, people don’t do that. If the split gets too low, they veto any money.

This is correct if you are dealing with a situation where the “game” will be played more often than once. If you don’t do it, you get a cent each time, and the other person gets almost all the money.

The correct action is a veto.

It’s why the Squad should have taken down Pelosi if she didn’t meet some essential demands — to show that they can’t be bullied, and that they have to be dealt with. If you wont use whatever power you have, you have no power, and you get nothing but table scraps.

In this sense, Trump is able to be “wrong” because he’s lame duck now. If he was going to be around for another four years, this threat would have real power because he could gum a lot of things up and he could insist those 12 million people be put back on UI (it’s not like an amended bill couldn’t do that). Biden is very unlikely to veto such a bill.

But he’s not wrong that $600 checks are too little and an insult. That’s not even a month’s rent for most people.

And if he runs in 2024, a lot of people will remember this attempt to get them more money as his last fight.

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The Flynn Pardon Is The Right Thing To Do + Mishandling Russia

So, Michael Flynn has been pardoned by Trump. His crime was lying to the FBI about talking to the Russians before Trump was inaugurated.

Even a man like Trump can do the right thing occasionally, usually for the wrong reasons. It is entirely reasonable and routine for a President-elect’s advisors to talk to foreign governments. Flynn asked the Russians to not retaliate against the US, because Trump did not intend to let the sanctions for Russian election interference stand, once he was President.

This is not a crime. It was prosecuted as one under the Logan act, which has never been used for this purpose. Plenty of other politicians have done this, indeed, as Greenwald points out, Biden is doing so right now.

Next, lying to the FBI about something which is not a crime, should not be a crime. (Honestly, just never talk to the FBI or cops if you aren’t forced to. Ever. For any reason. Remember, they can lie to you.)

You really don’t want it to be the case that you have to tell the truth to any group of police, just because they ask.

There are a great number of tragedies in US foreign affairs under Trump, though less tragic than under Obama or Bush Jr (no Libya, no Iraq). One of the greatest is that, contrary to what you constantly hear, he in fact made US/Russia relations even worse, slamming the Russians with more and more sanctions and withdrawing from nuclear weapon treaties. This is the actual fact, for someone supposedly a Russian “asset” Trump sure acts awfully strange.

“He’s their asset,” I yell, as he kicks them repeatedly in the ribs.

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The Russians likely had an influence project in the 2016 election, it was minor, and only “cost” Clinton the election in the sense that everything did. They have a smaller economy than California and one-third the population of the EU. Yes, they punch above their weight militarily, but the real threat is just that they still have a lot of nukes. The Russians are only a threat to the West if they are pushed into a corner.

Further, in raw geopolitical terms, what has happened over the past 30 years is that they went from wanting to be Westerners to being China’s key strategic partner. They will be at the core of China’s new alliance, providing muscle and resources.

Acting as if Russia is the USSR is deranged. They aren’t nearly that powerful. Acting as if they are some third world country one can push around is also deranged: they aren’t that weak, they’re still a continental power with high tech and nukes, and they have options like allying with China.

Imagine the geopolitical situation if Russia was a firm western ally. Rather different, isn’t it?

It is probably as well they aren’t, simply because there needs to be a counterbalance to the West. Since the fall of the USSR America and its allies have proved that absolute power in the hands of a sole-superpower will be abused, over and over again. The cold war sucked, but when the USSR was around, it put some limits on Western bullying, only because there were other options.

The China/Russia axis (which will wind up including much of Africa) will provide that alternative again.

In the broader sense, this is a pity, but when Americans “won” the Cold War they decided it meant they were victorious for all time, it was, in Francis Fukuyama’s utterly foolish phrase “The End of History”.

History never ends, imperial arrogance always leads to horrible behavior and stupid mistakes, and here we are, staring down a new cold war.

One of the only smart things Trump appeared serious about at the start was having good relations with Russia. That it didn’t happen is one the bad things about the Trump administration, not one of the good things.

As for Flynn, he had every right to do what he did, and, again, a free standing lie to cops should not be a crime. Hatred of Trump or Russia is not a good reason to normalize anti-civil liberties behaviour or apply a double standard to something like a President-elect’s people talking to foreign countries.

If it is, I look forward to Biden apparatchniks being charged with the same crime.



Trump Covid Thread

Use this post for comments about the Trump situation.

I’m not a doctor, but I’m seeing a lot of doctors speculate that Trump is essential high on medicinal steroids “Feel better than I did 20 years ago” and shouldn’t have left the hospital. No idea if it’s true, but  having been on a lot of medicinal steroids in my 20s for colitis, let me tell you, that stuff has real mental effects, right up to psychotic episodes.

Anyway, I have no idea how Trump’s doing, it’s not clear the doctors are being transparent, so it’s wait and see.

A Quick Note on Trump Having Covid

I’m not going to be a pious hypocrite about this. And if anyone who has been saying that Trump’s a fascist dictator planning a coup if the election doesn’t go his way claims to not want him to die, well, that’s beyond pathetic. (The only argument is if you think Pence would be worse, but why not pray for them both to die?)

Moreover, Trump buggered up America’s Covid response beyond belief. If he dies now, well, he sure didn’t care about other people dying.

Probably this is another thing polite, sanctimonious hypocritical middle class society won’t allow you to say, and I’ll get emails and comments telling me I’m a Baaaaddddd person.

Oh well. Trump hurt tons of people, even before he was President. It’s a pity that Boris Johnson recovered. Trump’ll probably make it, despite being high risk, because he’ll get the very best care, the sort of treatment he’s never cared (despite saying he did) if other Americans have. Won’t go bankrupt paying for it either.

(None of this has much to do with empathy or sympathy. I feel empathy and sympathy for Trump and have for a long time. He’s clearly a miserable  and damaged person.)

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