In 2020 America, members of the two political tribes can largely go their own ways without having to pay attention to the other side. Except for last week: The Republican controlled Senate had to sit silently and listen to the Democrats as they methodically made their case that President Donald Trump should be removed from office.
Fidget spinners spun. Milk was served. A crossword puzzles and doodle were spotted. But for the most part, senators followed the rules. One tough one: no phones or other digital devices. It was a “digital detox,” Peggy Drexler observed, something “most of us could use.”
The most surprising moment came when President Trump’s staunch defender Sen. Lindsey Graham paused at the elevator to congratulate Rep. Adam Schiff, who led the House impeachment managers presenting the case against Trump. The South Carolina senator told reporters Schiff was “well spoken” and “did a good job.” But that doesn’t mean Schiff won over Graham or anyone else on the GOP side.
On Saturday, the tables were turned as Democrats had to listen to the President’s lawyers begin their defense. Their arguments, Elie Honig wrote, ran “the gamut from marginally convincing (at best) to transparently flimsy, outright misleading and disingenuous.”
Where’s the trial heading? “It is crucial for the Democrats’ case for Trump’s removal to establish the danger of inviting foreign interference in American elections,” wrote Errol Louis. “But partisan politics stands in the way. Republican senators appear to have decided to protect Trump at all costs.”
Graham was far from the only one praising Schiff’s presentation. Raul Reyes called it “masterful: it was eloquent, thoughtful and – most importantly – restrained. While he invoked everyone from Alexander Hamilton to John F. Kennedy, he never slipped into histrionics or hyperbole, which any trial lawyer knows can backfire. Instead, he methodically went through a timeline of the President’s alleged improper conduct.”
At the same time, Republican commentators like Scott Jennings didn’t buy the Democrats’ argument: “Schiff’s reckless statements in the runup to the Mueller report and now this week’s impeachment arguments were a continuation of the Democratic emotion to never concede the 2016 election – and to never acknowledge the legitimacy of a man they detest,” Jennings wrote. “Schiff is, in effect, arguing that America’s political institutions have already failed and will fail again unless a singular individual is no longer allowed to exist in the system.”
Jennings argued that Schiff was playing into the hands of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in destabilizing American democracy, while Louis and others made the case that it was Trump’s conduct in the Ukraine affair that helped accomplish Putin’s goals.
New evidence emerged last week in documents released by the Office of Management and Budget suggesting that the administration was already preparing to withhold aid from Ukraine before Trump’s fateful July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. They show, Anne Milgram wrote, “that the President’s effort to bully Zelensky to ‘do us a favor’ was premeditated, planned and timed to give the President a hammer to compel a foreign leader to do Trump’s personal bidding for his personal gain.”
Even so, “Senate Republicans continue to maintain a united front against impeachment and removal from office,” wrote Alice Stewart. “Unless there is a new blanket of information, the Senate scales of justice will side on acquittal.”
In 2003, journalist Laurie Garrett covered the spread of the SARS virus as it reached “37 countries, sickening 8,098 people and killing 774 of them.” The news of this year’s Wuhan coronavirus outbreak gave her “a chilling sense of déjà vu.”
‘No magic wand’ against deadly virus
In the wake of the new virus’ outbreak, China is restricting travel, closing off Beijing’s Forbidden City and parts of the Great Wall and shutting movie theaters. And other nations, including the US, are seeing the first cases of the virus.
“While 17 years has brought significant improvements in virology, diagnostics development, international health regulations and the WHO, and we know more today about the nCoV2019 virus (as the Wuhan coronavirus is awkwardly dubbed) than we did one month into the SARS epidemic, there is no magic wand that can wave this highly dispersed, airborne-spread, human-to-human transmitting microbe away,” Garrett wrote.
“Beijing is now executing the playbook that ultimately stopped SARS. The city of Wuhan is now on lockdown and fever checkpoints are operating in most major transit hubs across the country while Lunar New Year celebrations have been canceled. Instant contagious quarantine, 1,000-bed facilities are under construction, with one due to open next week outside Wuhan.”
‘Nobody likes him’
In a new documentary, Hillary Clinton blasted her former primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders: “Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician,” Clinton said. “It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.”
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Clinton wouldn’t even promise to back Sanders if he wins the Democratic nomination this year, although she later said she would back whoever wins the primary. Sanders noted “on a good day, my wife likes me, so let’s clear the air on that one.” (It’s not hard to imagine Larry David saying that on one of his SNL impersonations of Sanders.)
Jill Filipovic took Clinton’s part, mostly: “Clinton is finally being her authentic self,” she wrote “and it turns out that she’s a human being with normal human emotions. She is angry at someone she perhaps rightly sees as contributing to her stunning loss in 2016, and the ushering-in of one of the most dangerous presidents in American history. We say we want female politicians, and prominent women generally, to be authentic and honest.”
Filipovic said that at a time when Donald Trump is president, waffling on supporting Sanders if he wins the primary is “wildly reckless,” but Clinton is not wrong “about the online culture that has coalesced around Sanders — it indeed can be toxic, and often misogynist, and just plain uglier, more aggressive, and more venomous than anything else you see on the left side of the political aisle.”
The founders, the framers – and Trump
Joseph Ellis has devoted his career as a historian to studying the USA’s founding generation. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his book on the founders and the National Book Award for his biography of Thomas Jefferson. This week he brought it all to the question of impeachment.
When the framers of the Constitution met in Philadelphia in 1787, Ellis wrote, they were “haunted by conversations that had occurred in that very same room 11 years earlier, in July 1776” when representatives of the American colonies gathered to declare their independence from the tyranny they argued resulted from British rule. “The ghost at the banquet was George III.”
“Trump’s chief offense is his own defense,” wrote Ellis. “Namely, that as president he cannot be indicted, convicted or investigated, and has no legal obligation to provide documents or witnesses when requested by the House or Senate. That means President Trump is claiming he is an elected monarch who is above the law.”
Nullifying the checks and balances spelled out in the Constitution and failing to grant that Congress is a coequal branch of government would be fatal to American democracy, Ellis observed. “For in doing so we are siding with George III rather than Thomas Jefferson. We are saying that the American Revolution was a mistake. We are announcing that we are no longer a republic. And that, so it seems to me, is self-evidently a price not worth paying.”
Other takes on impeachment:
William Cohen: Rule of law must be more than a mantra we repeat
Julian Zelizer: What’s behind Dershowitz’s brazen claims
Mystery of the jet fuel dump
Retired pilot Les Abend noted that there are still questions about the January 14 dumping of “thousands of pounds of jet fuel at a too-low altitude over a populated area that included six Los Angeles schools at recess, dousing children and others.” Teachers at one of the schools sued Delta and the FAA is investigating.
“Aviation officials were surprised at the pilots’ decision—particularly because in their transmission to air traffic control when they requested return, the pilots asserted that they would not need to dump fuel.” Abend said we should wait for the results of the investigation to know for certain. But one of his remarks stands out: “Assuming that an immediate return wasn’t necessary, if the pilots had told controllers that dumping was required, the flight likely would have been vectored out over the ocean to an area where the fuel particles would, for example, not land on people.”
Mark Hertling: A ‘headache’ could mean brain trauma, President Trump
Navaz Ebrahim: My sister died in the Iran plane shootdown
Abigail Pesta: What Nassar judge did isn’t bias. It’s empowerment
Rafia Zakaria: ‘American Dirt’ has an American problem
Tom Udall and John Sarbanes: The US cannot afford another 10 years of Citizens United
Samantha Vinograd: Intelligence agencies pull punches for fear of upsetting Trump
Andrew Cohen: What Harry and Meghan could teach Canada
Dollars for doughnuts
Buying several boxes of gourmet donuts and then tweeting a picture of himself carrying them out was by no means Justin Trudeau’s biggest recent stumble. But it sure annoyed some of his fellow Canadians who, when it comes to donuts, worship at the shrine of Tim Hortons. Michael Bociurkiw noted that the donuts at the Winnipeg store “Oh Doughnuts” cost as much as $4.25 Canadian each (for the “gluten friendly” kind).
“It didn’t help that he committed this sin at a Liberal cabinet retreat in Winnipeg, a predominantly working-class, central Canadian prairie city,” wrote Bociurkiw, a Canadian who worked there as a reporter for a year.
“Winnipeggers pride themselves on being thrifty and resilient – especially during long, bone-chilling cold winters. And it also didn’t help that his NATO ‘hot mic’ scandal (in which Trudeau appeared to mock US President Donald Trump at a Buckingham Palace reception) – was still ringing in the ears of Canadians as they watched him carting out his fancy doughnuts with his fancy new beard.”