From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Trump’s Undeclared State of Emergency
Date October 11, 2019 2:25 AM
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[ Trump is counting on his base to endorse his increasingly open
law-breaking. It may not end well. His public appeal to China last
week to help uncover dirt on the Biden family was both a brazen
flouting of the law and an astute political tactic.]
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TRUMP’S UNDECLARED STATE OF EMERGENCY  
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John Feffer
October 9, 2019
Foreign Policy in Focus
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_ Trump is counting on his base to endorse his increasingly open
law-breaking. It may not end well. His public appeal to China last
week to help uncover dirt on the Biden family was both a brazen
flouting of the law and an astute political tactic. _

Donald Trump says "You're fired!" at a rally in Manchester, New
Hampshire, on June 17, 2015. Now he is refusing to allow government
employees from testifying to Congress, a clear and open obstruction of
justice., credit: Reuters // Newsweek

 

“China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what
happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with
Ukraine,” Trump announced to reporters
[[link removed]] only
moments after saying, about trade talks with Beijing, that “if they
don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power.”

Trump’s move coincides with two other critical revelations in the
impeachment scandal.

The first is the release of texts that provide the proverbial smoking
gun: the Trump administration was indeed promising a _quid pro quo_
[[link removed]] of
a White House visit and/or the unfreezing of military aid for
Ukraine’s assistance in digging up dirt on Joe Biden and his son
Hunter. Then came the announcement of a second whistleblower with
direct knowledge of the phone call between Trump and Ukrainian
President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Taken together — the appeal to China, the damning text messages, the
second whistleblower — these developments add up to what
I’d previously written
[[link removed]] was
missing: a slam dunk in the impeachment of the president. He broke the
law. He has tried to cover up the breaking of the law. He continues to
break the law — and is defying the constitution by refusing to
cooperate with Congress on its investigations.

But Trump, the Republican Party, and their captive media occupy a
different reality, where the president is up against a vast conspiracy
of corrupt officials, do-nothing Democrats, and biased mainstream
journalists. This part of their story is obvious: it’s reiterated
over and over in Trump’s tweets, Republican talking points, and Rush
Limbaugh rants.

What’s not so obvious is that this conspiracy extends to the rule of
law. According to this skewed version of reality, corruption has
penetrated the bedrock institutions of American society: the political
sphere, the intelligence agencies, the mainstream media. Corruption
has transformed the very fabric of politics, culture, and law.

To root out corruption, then, it’s necessary to step outside the
rule of law. Donald Trump hasn’t declared a state of emergency. But
he is acting as if he has (which, in case you’re wondering, is
illegal
[[link removed]]).
His decision not to cooperate with congressional inquiries, including
the most recent impeachment inquiry
[[link removed]],
is also part of this unstated state of emergency.

The phone call with Zelensky was “perfect” not because it
conformed with the conventional understanding of presidential conduct,
but because it corresponded to Trump’s unstated state of emergency.
His appeal to China was equally an attempt to normalize his acts
according to this deep state of emergency.

Trump has tipped over the political chessboard because he believes
that it’s warped. He is continuing to play nonetheless, but on his
own board, with his own pieces, and according to his own rules.

What makes Trump’s move so fiendishly clever is that his paranoid
style of governance has a grain of truth to it. The
chessboard _is_ warped.

A rule of law that permits a vice president’s son to benefit so
blatantly from his father’s position, maintains a revolving door
that transforms “corruption” into business as usual, and creates a
state patronage system (the military-industrial complex) of
astonishing size and influence is something of a contradiction in
terms.

The rules are determined by law — except when they’re determined
by power. American politicians have long traded on their government
connections with foreign leaders for private gain. That they did so
only after leaving office, in accordance with the dictates of the rule
of law, only gives the corruption a veneer of respectability.

Trump, of course, doesn’t even respect this veneer. His violations
of the emoluments clause of the U.S. constitution indicate that he is
so impatient to use his office for personal gain that he isn’t
waiting to leave the White House to start his influence-peddling.
Trump’s chessboard, in other words, is even more warped than the
conventional one.

The astute reader might ask how Trump can simultaneously challenge and
benefit from the corruptions of the status quo. You could have asked
the same question of Nicolae Ceausescu, the leader of Romania, who
purported to lead an egalitarian workers’ state but lived in
unbelievable opulence. Leaders who operate according to unstated
states of emergency can get away with such contradictions through
outright repression or extraordinary lies. Trump, so far, has relied
on the latter.

Such a state doesn’t last forever. On December 21, 1989, Ceausescu
was giving what he believed to be a routine speech in Bucharest. This
time, however, behind the first row of supporters, the crowd began to
boo [[link removed]]. The look on
the leader’s face when he understood what was happening was
priceless. It was his last public appearance. The next day, he and his
wife fled the city by helicopter. They didn’t get far. They were
tried and executed on Christmas Day.

At what point will Trump have his Ceausescu moment, when he realizes
that the base he’d always counted on has turned its back on him?

CHINA SYNDROME

Donald Trump has alleged that Hunter Biden made $1.5 billion in
payoffs from Chinese businesses. As with pretty much everything that
comes out Trump’s mouth, this allegation is false. Biden’s son
served in an unpaid capacity on the board of a U.S.-China joint
venture, BHR Partners. In October 2017, Hunter Biden invested
somewhere around $420,000
[[link removed]] to
acquire a 10 percent stake in the company and reportedly
[[link removed]] hasn’t
received any compensation from his involvement in BHR.

There was no kickback. There was no collusion (Joe Biden wasn’t in
government in October 2017). So, it’s a non-story.

But again, it’s a non-story according to the finer points of the
law. Let’s face it: Biden’s son was following in the time-honored
tradition of trading on his political influence. Indeed, it’s what
Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Kushner’s sister Nicole Meyer all
have done with China as well
[[link removed]] –
receiving most-favored-person status from the country
after _paterfamilias _Donald Trump had already taken office.

In other words, the public is primed to believe that if you lie down
with the Chinese, you wake up with pay-offs. To quote only the most
salient example, Henry Kissinger, who helped negotiate détente with
Beijing in the 1970s, went on to make tens of millions of dollars
[[link removed]] in
consulting fees from parlaying his contacts once he left government.

Even if Hunter Biden wasn’t making out like a bandit in China,
there’s the huge monthly salary he was pulling down as a board
member of the Ukrainian energy company. As David von Drehle points out
in _The Washington Post_
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working people making $50,000 a year may be skeptical of a system in
which a vice president’s addicted son reportedly collected that
sum every month.” It’s not corruption by the conventional
definition, but it’s unseemly.

Corruption: that’s the word that Trump is trumpeting, over and over.
It’s a tricky strategy. Trump knows corruption when he sees it
because, well, he’s soaking in it. But as long as his base continues
to view him as an anti-corruption fighter, a drainer of the swamp
instead of a denizen of it, the president will continue to hold his
party captive and fend off impeachment charges.

Perhaps, however, Trump has overreached this time. The latest polling
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that nearly 20 percent of registered Republicans now want the House to
vote to remove the president from office.

Meanwhile, Trump is upsetting his party in other ways.

PHONY PHONE CALLS

The phone calls that Trump has with foreign leaders read
like something out of an absurdist play
[[link removed]]:
Trump Ubu.

He congratulates Vladimir Putin on his election victory even though
his advisors pleaded with him beforehand not to. He promises to help
Saudi Arabia join the Group of Seven. He praises Rodrigo Duterte’s
murderous drug policy. In his quest for a Nobel Peace Prize, he tries
to enlist the help of Japan’s Shinzo Abe. He drones on about
chocolate cake with China’s Xi Jinping.

But his most recent phone conversation with Turkish leader Recep
Tayyip Erdogan has generated some bipartisan criticism — and all
because Trump is defying the Pentagon and trying to pull U.S. troops
out of Syria. “It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous
Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home,”
Trump tweeted
[[link removed]].

The problem is that Trump is also giving Turkey a green light to
strike against the Kurds in northern Syria. Trump’s critics,
including those in the Republican Party, are worried that the Islamic
State will re-emerge and the abandonment of a steadfast Kurdish ally
will make others around the world think twice about siding with a
fickle United States. Trump’s close pal in the Senate, Lindsey
Graham (R-SC), called
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president’s move “a disaster in the making.”

It’s not clear if Trump will actually go ahead with this plan any
more than he followed through on his earlier declaration of a U.S.
withdrawal from Syria. But all it takes is one phony phone call for
Republicans to realize that the commander-in-chief does whatever he
wants without any consideration of the party’s stated goals.

The Republican Party is not going to get bent out of shape about Trump
breaking the law. Or Trump’s involvement in corruption. Or even his
obstruction of justice. He has been engaged in these activities since
day one. Republicans will continue to blather on about how his
peccadillos don’t rise to the level of the “high crimes”
required for impeachment.

But the president, in his “great and unmatched wisdom,”
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yet piss off his party on some other foreign policy issue. He might,
for instance, make a deal with Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin, or some
other disreputable rival autocrat that the Republicans just can’t
stomach. Perhaps he’ll impulsively pull the United States out of
NATO. Or maybe he’ll start savaging a critical mass of Republican
lawmakers out of sheer pique.

Then Republicans will be forced to acknowledge that Trump’s unstated
state of emergency is an authentic emergency that requires — for the
sake of the Constitution, democracy, and rule of law — the removal
of the perpetrator. They won’t do so out of principle. They will do
so only out of expediency: to save their party and their own skins in
the next elections and maybe the courtroom as well.

That’s when Trump will appear in front of the crowds to give a
speech — perhaps during the impeachment process, perhaps at the
height of the 2020 election campaign — and hear nothing but crickets
from Graham, Fox News, and his previously rock-solid base. Maybe there
will be even some boos. That’s when Trump will have his Ceausescu
moment. And that will be the last moment of his inglorious political
career.

Trump Force One — and a growing majority of the country — awaits
this moment.

[_John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus
[[link removed]] and author of the dystopian novel Frostlands
[[link removed]]._]

 

Shutterstock  //  Foreign Policy In Focus

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