As I write this, on a Wednesday morning, I have no idea whether the column I write today will be meaningful at all when you read it Saturday. The White House has basically refused to acknowledge congressional and judicial oversight of the entire branch – really not just the White House, but State Department as well. And there are signs of other scandals in the offing. I just read a piece where a judge is coming perilously close to finding Betsy DeVos in contempt of court for going after student loan holders who were victimized by the for-profit Corinthian College collapse. A cabinet secretary could go to jail.
When you couple that with the ongoing scandals over acting director of the Bureau of Land Mangement, William Perry Pendley as well as Trump roping Rick Perry, energy secretary, into the Ukraine scandal morass, it’s almost impossible to tell what will happen. Will Democrats just move forward and impeach Trump? Will Trump start handing out presidential pardons like Halloween candy? Will the entire part of the Republican Senate throw our three-branch constitutional system under the bus? It is impossible to tell.
Add to that the president tweeting that civil war will erupt if Congress impeaches him. What kind of leader is that? Of all the things that are going down, this is certainly the least likely. Civil wars require some minimum of organization, and if there’s anything that characterizes this week, it’s the lack of organization on so many fronts.
What does that lack of organization portend? I’m usually pretty good at predicting what will happen next on the local and national scale. But I’m as puzzled as the next person by all this. I thought that money would will out with the Republican Senate, and the titans of Wall Street would have demanded Trump’s head by now. They’ve gotten everything else they wanted, including the lowest taxes in memory. One headline read this morning, “Billionaires are finally paying a lower tax rate than the working poor,” for example. But even in the face of declining markets, that hasn’t happened yet.
Instead, what we really have is story-driven paralysis. If you’re a reporter, you don’t have to dig far to come up with some plausible evidence for wilder and wilder action. I read a story saying that Trump would have no problem enlisting the military to effect a de facto coup if he was impeached. That is particularly hard to believe, with our current system of government. Military personnel are drawn from We the People, and I find it impossible to imagine Trump being able to summon tanks to roll down Pennsylvania Avenue to reinforce his rule. They didn’t even want to commit a small handful of battle tanks for his Fourth of July celebration.
If there is a lesson in any of this, it’s that we have to stop taking government as some kind of meaningless sideshow. A president tweeting out his inner id is not what our system needs. But neither is the breathless, constant reportage on things like military overthrow or civil war.
These kinds of things distract us, like bright, shiny things. I have yet to see folks walking around with their secret cache of AR-15s in Pullman. And my suspicion is that one won’t see that anywhere else in this country except by the mindlessly posturing. If Walmart can implement a ban against open carry in Texas, it’s highly unlikely we’re going to have a civil war anytime soon.
I do think that this is the time for folks in red states to let their senators know that they favor the rule of law, and there will be hell to pay if they don’t execute their duties. Trump is simply an agent of chaos and self-aggrandizement. He can’t run a government. And we need a federal government. Whether one likes the idea or not.
Chuck Pezeshki is a professor in mechanical and materials engineering at Washington State University.