After examining the Mueller report, it is understandable that President Trump lied about a public relations strategy with Russian agents and the extent of the organization of the fruits of those efforts. Russians did conspire to influence the 2016 election and there was an agreement to work with one another, but not necessarily for the same end point. This agreement to work with one another is the basis for the criminal conspiracy charge for possible collusion with Russian operatives. The Mueller report is the findings of a counterintelligence investigation against a sitting president, which also has vestiges of evidence that provide a framework for a criminal case.
So what was the conduct of the president? What is not clear (redacted) is President Trump’s knowledge of the coordination activities of his campaign staff with Russian operatives. What the report establishes is that Trump is not a willing agent of the Russian government. But did the campaign luck into not violating the law? The report does not prove criminal intent even with Trump’s public declaration to find Hillary’s missing emails by publicly asking for Russia’s help. There was coordination with Russian agents, where a foreign power did attempt to influence the 2016 elections, but not to an extent where the evidence presented in the report could be used to give power to the Justice Department to prove that Trump had the criminal intent to be compliant and knowledgeable of Russian operations.
What we have is an illustration of evidence without an indictment.
Was there obstruction of justice? The Mueller report indicates there were ten potential instances of obstruction of justice where the president may have tried to influence the investigative proceedings. As a legal matter, Attorney General Barr may have concluded that no obstruction took place, but Trump’s actions as described within the Mueller report indicate a willingness to subvert the rule of law. Thus, it is important to note the beginning of the Mueller report that states, “A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.”
Mueller didn’t subpoena the president. Was this the right judgment? His reason was that it was not politically expedient to litigate the president. We don’t know if Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege, which grants the right of an individual to refuse to answer questions before a court of the law, especially if the prosecution could led to self-incrimination. This is an important detail especially because he did not assert it publicly. So what does this imply? Was he fully cooperating or not? Did he pretend? We don’t know if he refused to answer investigative questions.
We may not see Trump indicted on counterintelligence charges, but it is very likely that once Trump leaves the presidency he will face a litany of criminal charges. It is difficult to say if Donald Trump will walk a free man once the constitutional protections granted to sitting presidents cease to accord him a legal safety net.
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Is impeachment a higher constitutional obligation?
Many Democrats believe it is a higher moral obligation but it is more so a discretionary provision. President Trump’s impeachment would rely on how many votes you can get in the Senate in order to approve a conviction. In the case of impeachment, Congress acts as a check and balance against the veracity of charges brought up against a sitting president. Do we want to leave the fate of this president to Congress or the public to vote out? In light of the evidence from Mueller, what would it mean for Congress not to act? It will force us to think about our system of separation of powers and how we choose to defend this system in the future.
The problem for most people, especially Democrats, is that Mueller did not render a judgment on obstruction of justice or even if a crime was committed. He did not publicly evaluate the question and chose to leave it up in the air. This is likely because Mueller worked within the Department of Justice and not as an independent counsel. Thus, by not recommending charges he did not burden the seat of the presidency. He could not prosecute the president within the structure of the law, so Mueller carefully chose a principled approach to not bring forth criminal charges.
Does this mean Trump has been duly exonerated from charges of criminal conduct? Not exactly. Mueller does not have the legal power to put a sitting president under a criminal trial so he laid out facts for another branch of government. It is truly on Congress or the public. More troubling is the fact that Mueller decided not to add any legal provisions within the report that would aid Congress in setting a solid framework for impeachment.
So how has the country responded to the Mueller report?
According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 37% of the American public favor impeachment proceedings, while 56% oppose. Independents are split on whether Congress should continue any form of investigations.
What about Democrats?
In the aftermath of the Mueller report, Democrats have publically demonstrated divisions on whether the impeachment process should begin. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) thinks that the weight of American public opinion could change and is being careful by managing Democrats’ political expectations and calculations. At the moment, Pelosi believes impeachment proceedings will hurt the Democrats chance at gaining back the presidency in 2020.
Nancy Pelosi has also said there is not enough evidence that would make impeachment politically expedient or prudent. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, Senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and countless news hosts from CNN and MSNBC think otherwise and contend that it is within the scope of Constitution to indict the president for obstruction of justice. Such a split on a vital constitutional matter within the Democratic Party will open it up to political turmoil and deeper public scrutiny of its own moral compass. An already frustrated American public might deem the Democrats willingness to impeach President Trump as a tactical ploy to smear him with non-conclusive evidence even when the Mueller report indicates that the legal theories to prove obstruction of justice are not sufficient enough to obtain a prosecution. The Trump Administration will aim to fight off the resurrection of the Mueller report as an act of political diatribe and not one of legal recourse.
The Trump White House is already refusing the subpoena of former White House counsel Donald McGahn to testify before a congressional panel, while also ordering other aides not to comply with congressional demands. In addition, the Treasury Department has refused to comply with congressional Democrats’ request to obtain the president’s tax returns. These events may seem trivial at the moment but have the potential to lead to major constitutional clashes between the Executive and Legislative branch. The Constitution will be put to the ultimate test, as the law will have to arbitrate power in an era where not even the Supreme Court is seen as independent.
Are Democrats Going To Survive What Comes Next?
On the April 23rd episode of Progressive online news show The Young Turks (TYT), host Cenk Uygur discusses the Mueller report by advocating for the impeachment process against President Trump. He says it is more important to put “principle above politics,” thus viewing impeachment hearings as a legitimate tool that can overwrite the execute authority of a criminal presidency and thus once wielded will prove Trump’s complicity in obstructing justice. Progressives seek to use the Mueller report as a roadmap to impeachment, where our elected representatives decide the fate of Trump’s presidency, leaving judgment on Trump in the court of public opinion. If Democrats in the House of Representatives decide to start the process of impeachment, it will be imperative upon them to ensure that the process will not devolve into a showy, overly politicized spectacle and that they have enough evidence to prove Trump of criminal conduct grave enough to disqualify him as president.
Enacting impeachment during an election year will cause many problems, one being that it will be almost impossible to impart a fair trial of Trump’s conduct, potentially becoming retribution for Trump’s style of presidency rather than an impartial removal of an unambiguously unfit president.
But Progressives are taking the tactical path to war with President Trump. It may fire up their supporters but it might not be a strategically successful move to help shift moderate and independent voters to their camp in 2020. Progressives on The Young Turks (TYT) are advertising to their viewers that fighting is good politics and that Nancy Pelosi is surrendering by not explicitly endorsing an impeachment hearing. TYT hosts have said that Mueller proved obstruction of justice and that Mueller made a mistake by leaving it to Congress. TYT does not believe impeachment proceedings would be politically destabilizing because of other investigations against him, like the attempt to release Trump’s taxes. TYT believes that this is the way that “you are supposed to fight the other party” and cites that 49% of the American public will definitely vote against Trump.
Progressives believe that Congress has the power of the law on their side due to the evidence given in the Mueller report and that Congress can weaken Trump’s executive powers by cutting off funds and impeding his legislative agenda. More so, they contend that Trump is very likely to be impeached under the charge of “high crimes and misdemeanors” that foster the misconduct of public officials that aid in the violation of public trust. This shows that it may be easier to prove Trump’s guilt by charging him under abuse of power (obstruction) clauses, whereas having the power to unseat an acting president under criminal charges is more constitutionally arduous. It is the Constitution that makes Congress the sole body accountable for checking the powers of the Executive.
But do many Americans believe that there is explicit evidence in the Mueller report that would give Congress the legal right to start impeaching hearings?
Even if Americans view impeachment as legally viable, would they view it as politically justifiable?
Is there a majority of Americans on the side of some Democrats and most Progressives in favoring using Congress to remove Trump from the presidency?
Most importantly, will Americans be able to look past mainstream media’s efforts to confirm Russian collusion before the release of the Mueller report?
Progressives believe their ideology is at the political center due to somewhat similar economic interests with some Trump supporters. Policies like Medicare for all and social security poll high among a majority of Americans, but favoring these programs does not correlate to having a holistically Left-leaning view. For example, Left-wing political commentator Jimmy Dore says that presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s redevelopment plans and housing policies have or will lead to gentrification and that he does not have any ideas on how to alleviate income inequality. For whatever are Pete Buttigieg’s flaws in the case of his housing policies, he presents himself as a rational thinker who is willing to try to speak to both the Left and the Right. Jimmy Dore’s claim he has no policy positions because he is not a total leftist ideologue is not a fair critique of Democrats and bends more toward a nihilistic framework for judging the ideological pedigree of potential presidential candidates. A presidential candidate cannot speak one political language. The hurdles that the candidate will have to face will be enormous, especially because the extreme on both the Left and Right is the major problem in American politics right now.
The ideological center does not exist anymore in part because Progressives have vilified establishment Democrats as corporatists and Wall Street lackeys. If one does not agree with the total package of ideological expectations on the Progressive platform, they are thrown to the political dogs. Having such a rigid ideological manifesto is not endeavoring to most Americans, as people are quite complex when they are allowed to think for themselves. Instead, in this era of reactionary politics and intransigent ideologies the radicals would prefer if the masses choose their politics based on where their line is drawn in the culture wars.
Progressives are attacking anyone who dare attempt to use the moderate label. Recently they have condemned not yet announced presidential hopeful and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. As an outspoken and self-labeled moderate, Schultz has stated that Republicans and Democrats are unwilling to work together and have become ideologically inflexible. The Young Turks hosts say that Schultz misunderstands the problem and that Democrats and Republicans get along. Host Cenk Uygur claims that Democrats and Republicans are bribed by political donors who gain from the broken system. Progressives on The Young Turks do not believe that someone trying to come from the center, or for that matter someone not totally beholden to the label of a party, can bring Republicans to the table to negotiate. They tiptoe around Shultz’s attempted bipartisanship by stating that it is not a plan. They understand that Shultz is somewhat of a centrist Democrat but is getting snubbed because he will run as an Independent. The panel on The Young Turks program believe that people will not connect to Shultz’s intonations of meeting voters in the center and that voters want to connect to an ideology where they don’t vote away their interests by negotiating with the other side. The Young Turks host then explicitly expresses the emotional underpinnings which define the majority of his political imperatives by stating that he does not want to come together with the national Republican leadership.
So how do we get anything done?
Isn’t this also “not a plan?”
Cenk Uygur says that he is willing work with them to get money out of politics but will not concede to Republicans. He says he wants to defeat Republicans while proclaiming that Progressives are the true moderates. Because of the popularity of economic reforms amongst many Americans, he states that this polling indicates that Bernie Sanders is a moderate and that it is the Washington establishment that is Right-wing. A Young Turks correspondent then says that centrism is the dangerous ideology and that moderation is an ideology of the status quo, where meddling in the Progressive platform is what leads to more money in politics. It will take a lot to unpack the absurdity of these claims.
But, there is more.
As on queue, TYT state that the rich can’t change the system because they want to keep the status quo i.e. Capitalism. So, if we see the rich getting richer, the only way to stop that is to take away capital as a function of the economy, I suppose?
So These Are The Moderates, Right?
The Young Turk Progressives are insulted when Howard Shultz indicates that an empty chair put between Democrats and Republicans represents the American people. They can’t conceive that their ideology is not representative of America as a nation. The language they foster speaks idealistically of economic justice and in a way that most Americans can agree on, but this does not mean that a majority will vote for a Progressive platform. Thus, talk of alleviating economic inequality peeks the interest of all Americans, but most Americans do not agree with the Left’s ideological prescriptions to these problems.
The root of Progressivism is socialism, an ideology whose labeling is highly contestable in American politics. Socialist programs do need to be debated, negotiated, and then implemented only if there is an agreed upon way to provide the funds for more social and economic services. But most Americans are not ready for a socialist president, especially one whom would further centralize Washington’s political institutions in order to remake our economic institutions. According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 25 percent of respondents ranked socialist as a desirable trait for a presidential candidate. Do most want Wall Street reform? Yes. Do we want it under the banner of a socialist presidency? Not really.
A socialist presidency would mean so much more for the American Republic than an attempt by the executive branch to weed out the worst practices of corporatist capitalism. It would be an all-encompassing endeavor in not only re-defining how we manage the economy to work for all classes of Americans, but also in how a socialist presidency would define America’s role in a changing international order where Washington is no longer a hegemonic power.
Where Is The Center?
Trump and Sanders supporters both think they are fighting for the center and assume their political viewpoints represent the American majority. But the reality is that these are two intransigent political blocks that represent more radical views in both the Republican and Democratic Party. They are fighting for a center that does not exist at the moment because they crushed it.
The status quo may be corrupt and moderates may prefer to work within the establishment but that does not mean that all moderates are corrupt. Labeling all moderate Democrats as corporatists will only empower the Far-Left faction, which will lead to more unyielding forms of ultra-nationalism on the Right. America was founded as a Republic, where “we the people” pick leaders that represent the mass of the citizen body to exercise power within the confines of the Constitution. If we allow the ideologues on both the Left and Right to control the language of Democrats and Republicans, each party will become totally uncompromising and obstinate to a point where they will represent new nation-states within the existing United States. Today, one look at the dysfunction in Washington shows us that we have chosen to start at the beginning of this road.
Majority of Americans may want Wall Street reform but they do not agree on the vehicle of change. Thus, in an era where anti-government sentiment has become popular on both ends of the Left and Right, each have their own ideological interpretations in how they seek to redefine America. The problem is that the populism ushered in with the Trump presidency will not cease once he leaves office and will continue to manifest in different ways. Having prudent forms of ideology on both the Left and Right will mean that only one will win the trust of the populists.
There is a low probability that Trump supporters will vote for any one of the Progressive candidates in the 2020 Election. Bernie Sanders stands a chance only if he is able to emphasize the economic interests of middle-class Americans in a way that prioritizes the safety and political power of working-class white Americans. If not, they may view Sander’s version of democratic socialism as a tool to be used against their interests. Trump supporters idealize and support a strong executive branch, where there is a strong man to keep government excess to a minimum but where there is still a strong national security state. It is highly unlikely that they would support a president whom would wield strength by expanding government power to centralize the authority of left-wing politics. For now, it appears that the populists have tendencies that venerate authoritarian politics rather than the totalitarianism of socialist nations.
But, Sanders supporters and Trump supporters do have some similarities. Presidential candidate from South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) made comments implying that both supporters view the Washington establishment as the source of their problems, as both think a total remake, even usurping of the powers of Wall Street and the Washington elite is the only way to bring about economic reforms that would help the middle-class. Anti-establishment views are what may connect Sanders and Trump supporters, but they differ in how much power they would give to government. In overly simplistic terms, Sanders supporters would favor big government programs whereas Trump supporters seek similar reforms but not through the process of centralizing more power to government institutions.
One similarity between Trump and Sanders is their stylized approach, the way in which they speak about overturning corruption in Washington. It is their principled approach that is vastly different. Bernie Sanders is a pure ideologue whereas President Trump is an ideological void who relies on the personal loyalty of both his staff and supporters. Plus, when it comes to foreign policy both may seek to minimize the American footprint on the world stage, with each attempting to redefine the virtues of American empire, but differ in the way they would use American power to enhance strategic interests. Trump has chosen a unilateralist approach by withdrawing from multilateral institutions in order to pursue power by force. Sanders may not be known for having a detailed foreign policy but has spoken out against foreign interventions and American global supremacy while promoting the sanctity of international institutions. The fervor of their language and supporters may be similar, but their vision for American power and empire are different.
Progressives may deny the comparison, as there are real ideological differences, but there is no denying that both appeal to populists who seek a loud, somewhat crudely spoken figurehead to break the power of the establishment from the top of the bureaucratic structure, where both believe the possibility of reform and/or revolution of ‘the system’ is achievable by top-down executive order.
What needs to be made clear is that populism is not the center. Populists derive their power through majoritarianism and use mass appeal to build a bully pulpit. Populists will often have a framework of an ideology to build a political agenda as an outlet for power. Populists are not moderates. They seek to upend the status quo by the power of mass mobilization, where pursuing their agenda is the ultimate end point. Negotiating with the political opposition will dilute the purism of their political belief system, as populists will only be able to enact their specific set of radical political reforms by defining the opposition as the enemy.
In the 2020 presidential elections the instrument of populism might be either the radical nationalism of Trump or the democratic socialism of Sanders, where the radicals of both the Right and Left will battle to define 21st Century America in their image. Although both the Trump and Sanders camp are unable to view themselves as radicals, both hold political worldviews that are entrenched and angry.
America 2020 will be a place where the radicals are loud and proud and moderates are seen as appeasers to a corrupt establishment. It will be the Trump nationalists and the Sanders democratic socialists who will fight for the vote of the Independents and those whom are non-political. There will be no middle ground in this election. Unfortunately, the only way the 2020 vote becomes a little easier is if there is a major economic recession before the election. This is what happens when we break the center.